“Give ear, O my people, to my law; Incline your ears to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, Which we have heard and known, And our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, Telling to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, And His strength and His wonderful works that He has done. For He established a testimony in Jacob, And appointed a law in Israel, Which He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments”
How many people do you know who have too much time on their hands? They are simply not busy enough and wish they could find more to do? How many families do you know that are burdened by too much free time?
We live in a busy world. Ours is a microwave, fast-food, sound-bite, instant world. USA Today is a popular newspaper primarily because it contains short sound-bite articles written on a basic level. Many do not possess the concentration level to read an entire book; television is much easier because one does not have think deeply or use one’s imagination. It is not uncommon to work over thirty minutes away from home and to spend much of life in traffic, irritated at all the other busy people rushing somewhere at two miles per hour in a traffic jam.
If this is the reality of the situation for most people, we must ask a question of utmost importance to Christians. In the midst of our busy lives, who is given the responsibility of rearing the next generation in the Christian faith? Who is given the responsibility of calling the next generation to hope in God?
First, let us begin by emphatically declaring it is parents (fathers in particular) and not the church who are given the primary responsibility for calling the next generation to hope in God. The church serves a supplementary role, reinforcing the biblical nurture that is occurring in the home. It is not the job of “professionals” at the church to rear the children of believers in the faith. Far too often, Sunday Schools, children’s ministries, and youth ministries have become substitutes for the home training of children. Christian parents have largely abdicated their God-given responsibility to insure that their children are instructed in the things of God.
Consider the biblical testimony:
- “And that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done . . . that you may know I am the Lord” (Exodus 10:2).
- Exodus 12:26-28, speaks of explaining to your children when they ask about the symbols of the faith (the Passover in context).
- “And teach them [the statutes of the law] to your children and your grandchildren” (Deuteronomy 4:9).
- “Gather the people to Me, and I will let them hear My words, That they may learn to fear Me all the days they live on the earth, and that they may teach their children” (Deuteronomy 4:10).
- “You shall teach them [God’s words] to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 11:19).
- “He commanded our fathers, That they should make them known to their children; That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children” (Psalm 78:5-6).
- “The father shall make known Your truth to the children” (Isaiah 38:19).
- “Fathers . . . bring them up [children] in the training and admonition of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).
- 2 Timothy 1:5 speaks of the faith that was passed down to Timothy from his mother “Eunice” and his grandmother “Lois.” (See also 2 Timothy 3:15).
It is parents, and specifically fathers, who are given the primary responsibility to propagate the faith to their children. As Jonathan Edwards stated, “Family education and order are some of the chief means of grace. If these fail, all other means are likely to prove ineffectual.” Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote:
The more of parental teaching the better; ministers, and Sabbath-school teachers were never meant to be substitutes for mothers’ tears and fathers’ prayers . . . The first lesson for a child should be concerning his mother’s God . . . Around the fire-side fathers should repeat not only the Bible records, but the deeds of the martyrs and reformers, and moreover the dealings of the Lord with themselves both in providence and grace . . . Reader, if you have children, mind you do not fail in this duty . . . As far on as our brief life allows us to arrange, we must industriously provide for the godly nurture of our youth. The narratives, commands, and doctrines of the word of God are not worn out; they are calculated to exert influence as long as our race shall exist. The one object aimed at is transmission; the testimony is only given that it may be passed on to succeeding generations.
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach then diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:4-9).
When God established Israel as His chosen covenant people, He established responsibility for parents to nurture their children in the faith. This is a clear charge given by the Lord God to moms and dads.
The passage cited above is known in Jewish tradition as the Shema (vv. 4-5). It is named after the first word in verse 4; “Hear” which is the Hebrew word “shema.” The word is a command, which denotes the urgency of what is about to be said. Also, in the Hebrew mindset, “to hear” is tantamount “to obey” because to hear God and not to obey Him is to really not hear Him at all. Everything about the context reveals the weightiness of the command.
It is interesting to note that it is Moses who is God’s instrument to convey this command to His people. When God first came to Moses and called him to speak as His messenger Moses said, “I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (Exodus 4:10). God quickly reminded him who it was that was giving him the command, “who gave man his mouth” (Exodus 4:11). Many parents need to be reminded that it is God who gives this command for them to teach their children the faith. All of the excuses (“I’m not smart”, “I don’t speak well”, “I am shy”, “others are more qualified”) fade away in light of this reality. God reminds parents, “Who created you? Who gave you those children?” Moses, the one who could not speak, now proclaims the word of God, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one!” Many parents who are not now speaking the Word of God to their children need to “hear” and obey.
With All Your Heart, Soul and Strength
Every parents’ supreme responsibility is to live out a passionate love for God in their lives. This is the platform that gives credibility to their instruction. Deuteronomy 6:5, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”, is quoted by the Lord Jesus Christ three times in the New Testament (Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). Notice the intensity of this command with the repeated use of the word “all.”
“All your heart” is not simply a reference to emotional love. The word translated “heart” carries the idea of “inner man”, “mind”, “will”, “soul”, and “understanding.” The clear implication is that it means “all of oneself.” This is genuine love that permeates all of one’s being. John Gill, in his commentary on Deuteronomy, writes: “[All your heart] includes . . . knowledge of God, esteem of Him, delight in Him, faith and trust in Him, fear and worship of Him, and obedience to Him.” “With all your heart, with all your soul [“essential being”], and with all your strength” are different ways of saying essentially the same thing- “with all of you!” Deuteronomy 6:6 again points to the weightiness of these commands: “These words I command you today shall be in your heart [inner man, mind, soul, understanding].”
Teach Them Diligently
Deuteronomy 6:7 makes it clear that the commands of the Lord, that are to be in the heart of the parent (Deuteronomy 6:6), should be passed on to the children. “You shall teach them diligently to your children.” The New International Version translates the phrase, “Impress them on your children.” The word translated “teach” is a word that means, “to pierce.” It carries the idea of being “sharp.” Parents are to teach (pierce) their children diligently (carefully and repeatedly) with the truth of God. Eugene Merrill suggests the image of an “engraver” chiseling with painstaking care into a solid slab.
Some parents take the approach that they are not going to push Christianity onto their children. Their plan is to simply live Christianity out before their children and then let them decide for themselves. First of all, this position is in direct conflict with Deuteronomy 6:7 and many other portions of Scripture. Second, the culture is not neutral and passive. Christian parents must not be passive in the task of passing on the faith and calling their children to hope in God. It is a dangerous position to be in a war and be the only one not fighting. Carefully, Christian parents teach to pierce their childrens hearts with the truth of God.
When should Christian parents do this teaching?
Deuteronomy 6:7b continues, “and shall talk of them when you sit in your house.” Sitting suggests inactivity. To put it in the common vernacular, this would be times when the family is simply “hanging out” together. The word translated “talk” in this verse is elsewhere translated speak, declare, command, promise, warn, and even sing. It calls for teaching about the commands, character, and nature of God to occur in those “sitting” times. Mealtime is a wonderful time for parents to talk to their children about the things of God. Parents should discuss the sermon and Sunday school lesson with their children every Sunday afternoon as they rest together as a family. These are wonderful times for transmitting the truths of the faith.
As a point of application and a plea for every Christian parent, set a daily (or at least routine) family worship time. This centers the family’s life around what is most important. Families probably will not talk about the things of God around the house if Bible study is not shown to be a priority by the leadership of the parents. Families should schedule a time to “sit” and talk about the things of God and respond to Him by worship. Parents, we must not dishonor God and forsake our children by failing to provide them vigorous instruction in the faith.
Deuteronomy 6:7b also admonishes parents to teach their children “when you walk by the way [the routine goings of life].” All of life should serve as teaching opportunities to talk to one’s children about the greatness of the great triune God of the Bible. Mountains can lead to conversations about the immensity of God. The stars in the night sky can cause parents to consider with their children the sovereignty of our creator God. A windy day can help parents direct their children’s thoughts to the Holy Spirit of God. Driving by a courthouse can lead to a discussion of justification. Parents must instill in their children a vision to see all of life from a God-centered perspective. Contemplate and speak of His perfections in all of life. Traveling, playing, and even yard work, can be transformed into wonderful teaching times for the parent who is leading a God-centered life.
In case the argument has not been sufficiently clear; Deuteronomy 6:7 concludes that this diligent teaching of one’s children should occur, “when you lie down, and when you rise up.”
Touching and Seeing, Coming and Going
“You shall bind them as a sign on your hand [all you touch] and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes [all you see]” (Deuteronomy 6:8). This verse has been taken literally by some Jewish people who actually wear small containers (phylacteries) containing the “Shema” on their hands and foreheads with straps of leather. While this verse is not meant to be taken in such a literal fashion, it nonetheless provides a graphic illustrative picture of what it does mean. The parent is to never be away from the truth of God. It is to be so much a part of the parent’s life that it should affect everything they touch and all they see. Deuteronomy 6:9 continues this line of thought: “You shall write them on the doorposts of your house [a reminder of your priority as you enter] and on your gates [a reminder of your priority as you return].” In all of life parents are charged with the responsibility to teach and pass on the faith to their children. When a child sees a parent hoping in God in this way, it provides a strong attraction to call him to hope in God.
This writer (pastor and father) is absolutely convinced that the starting point in obeying the command that has been set forth, to “diligently teach our children” the truth of the faith, is a set family worship time that centers around the Word of God and prayer. If this is established as a priority in the home, then perhaps all of family life can be transformed into a pursuit of God.
Family worship could include singing and catechizing as well as studying the Scripture and praying. Catechize is the anglicized form of the Greek word “katecheo” (see 1 Corinthians 14:19; Galatians 6:6; and Acts 18:25) which means, “to instruct.” The Webster’s New World Dictionary defines catechize as “to teach by the method of questions and answers.” This is a method of instruction that arises out of the biblical testimony itself and has stood the test of time throughout the history of the church as a profitable method of transmitting the faith to the next generation.
But far more important than the specific forms that are used in family worship is to actually commit ourselves to consistently doing family worship with an infectious passion. J.I. Packer said of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “He gave more of a sense of God to the text than any other man.” That is exactly what parents must desire to do for their children in family worship- give a sense of God to every text that is taken up. There should be a sense of importance and weightiness to the consideration of the things of God that provide a sense of awe and wonder. The parents’ teaching of the children must flow out of a passion for God in their own lives. Passion cannot be faked if the goal is to be reached. “That [by God’s grace] the generation to come might know them [the things of God]” and “that they may set their hope in God” (Psalm 78:6-7). As a believing parent, is that not what you want for your children?
What kind of message do you send to your children when you do not have family worship? What if you say you are too busy? Do you eat? Then you say that physical food is more important than spiritual food. Do you watch television? Then you declare that entertainment is a higher priority than worship. Do you do extra-circular activities? Then you are saying that recreation is more important than their spiritual well being. Do you sleep? Then you are telling them that comfort has a higher priority than godliness. These are dangerous messages to communicate to children, not only for their temporal well being but for the sake of their soul.
Heed the words of Dr. Tom Ascol:
The primary responsibility for teaching your children about God is yours, dear parent. It is not the Sunday school’s, the Church’s, nor the Pastor’s. God has entrusted this important work to you. If you do not invest your time and effort to teach your children about God, be assured someone else will. The television and the theater will teach them that God, if He exists at all, is an irrelevant, indulgent being that is little more than a nice kindly old man. If you do not teach your children truth and righteousness, be assured that there are a multitude of teachers in this world who would deceive them into thinking that “truth” and morality are relative ideas and can be shaped to fit anyone’s beliefs or standards.
There was a time when this matter of family worship was viewed with utmost seriousness by churches. The Directory for Family Worship of 1647 states:
The Assembly doth further require and appoint ministers and ruling elders to make diligent search and enquiry, in the congregations committed to their charge respectively, whether there be any among them any family or families which use to neglect this necessary duty; and if such family be found, the head of the family is to be first admonished privately to amend his fault; and, in case of his continuing therein, he is to be gravely and sadly reproved by the session; after which reproof, if he be found still to neglect Family-worship, let him be debarred from the Lord’s Supper, as being justly esteemed unworthy to communicate therein, till he amend.
To forsake family worship was such a serious offense that a father would be barred from the Lord’s Supper if he continued with such callous disregard for his family and his Lord. Oh, for a return to these kind of God-centered priorities today!
The Puritans viewed the family and the household as a “little church” (Perkins). Lewis Bayly taught, “what the preacher is in the pulpit, the same the Christian householder is in his house.” Parents, we must not shirk our God given responsibility to teach our children about God. In Matthew 22:21 in response to a question, Jesus says to his disciples, “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” We must render our children to God. The only other alternative is to passively sit back and by inaction render them to the world. Caesar’s image was stamped on the coin; God’s image is stamped on our children. May believing parents, by God’s grace, awake from their slumber, and for the sake of the next generation and the glory of God, call their children to hope in God.
This article originally appeared here at CBMW.org.
As a child I spent countless evenings with my family huddled in the bathroom of our Montgomery, Ala., home listening to the wails of tornado sirens. As the cooler temps of spring began to give way to summer during March through April in Alabama, dealing with tornado watches and warnings was simply a part of life. Most often nothing materialized in our neighborhood and I have fond memories of those unusual family times.
Since I was a boy I have possessed a sense of awe, wonder and fear, mixed with disgust at the amazing destructive power of tornadoes. There is nothing quite like walking or driving through the aftermath of the path of a tornado. When trees that no force for hundreds of years has budged have been snapped and tossed around like toothpicks, it’s an unnerving sight. One cannot help but think that this is not the way it is supposed to be and to long for something better.
What do a left-handed assassin (Judg 3:12-30) and a head crushing wife who is grotesquely handy with a tent peg and a hammer (Judg 4:17-22) have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ? This is a dilemma that every person preaching, teaching, or studying the book of Judges has to grapple with. One response is to suggest that the book of Judges is simply sub-Christian literature. Evangelical Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible cannot affirm that proposition but frequently express squeamishness with the notion that the book reveals deliverers who can genuinely be called heroes of the faith along with the prophets and patriarchs (Heb 11:32-35).1
Without a doubt, few verses from the book of Judges ever make it on Hallmark greeting cards or will accompany precious moments Jael figurines. The warfare, blood, gore, and wide-eyed depiction of sin and costly salvation in the book of Judges does not fit too well with much of the baptized sentimentality passed off today in the name of Christianity. But the actual biblical story is one of cosmic warfare and kingdom conflict from beginning to end. One in which the promised Seed born of woman, the great Warrior-King, would crush head the head of the Serpent and destroy his parasitic kingdom (Gen 3:15; Rom 16:20; Rev 12:9). When Jesus of Nazareth came as the fulfillment of this ancient promise His arrival marked the onset of the last days (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 1 Pet 1:20). After His crucifixion and resurrection He issued His followers a battle plan in this cosmic warfare known as the Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20).
When the book of Judges is considered as a part of the fabric of the grand narrative of redemptive history then the books dramatic, suspense filled stories of sin, salvation, and violent warfare do not seem as foreign to us as followers of Jesus. In fact, we begin to realize that we are the ones who have lost touch with the biblical storyline of the unfolding triumph of the Kingdom of Christ. Jesus is at the center of God’s Kingdom plan and purposes for all eternity as unfolded in the unified, progressive drama of redemption recorded in Scripture. There are twists and turns, trials and triumphs, myriads of authors, diverse settings and genres of literature but every word must be understood in the context of one story line that centers on Jesus and His Kingdom (Luke 24:25-27; 44-47). Theologian Millard Erickson rightly points out that any approach to interpretation that rules out later revelation from informing our understanding of earlier revelation is ignoring God as the divine co-author of Scripture and is proceeding on antisupernaturalist assumptions.2
We do not have to wonder whether or not the message of Judges is applicable for believers over 3,000 years after it was initially written, the apostle Paul reminds us that events in Old Testament history were “written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Cor 10:11). All Old Testament narrative, including the book of Judges, was meant to be interpreted and applied in light of Jesus Christ, the One who, in His very person, brought the glory of the age to come into this present evil age. Jesus is our hermeneutical key for preaching the book of Judges and the entire Scripture. Because the book of Judges is about Him we can know that its message applies to all who are in Him.
The traditional translation of the title of the book as “Judges” does not aid our understanding of the books Christocentric focus. The word could be translated as leaders, deliverers, heroes, or perhaps best as warrior-saviors. Our modern thought of judges who wear long robes and sit in clean, safe courtrooms obscures our ability to comprehend how these judges functioned. They were charismatic military leaders raised up as an expression of God’s mercy to deliver a stiff-necked and rebellious people. The book of Judges describes the task of the judges in this way, “Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them (Judg 2:16)” and “But when the people of Israel cried out to the LORD, the LORD raised up a deliverer for the people of Israel, who saved them” (Judg 3:9). The LORD provided these warrior-saviors who fought for an undeserving people who could not save themselves. Rather than being titled the book of Judges it could be fittingly titled the book of Saviors.
These warrior-saviors functioned over a period of over 300 years from the death of Joshua to the rise of the monarchy in Israel. They were raised up during a period of rebellion and apostasy in Israel when the people “did evil in the sight of the LORD” (Judg 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 10:6; 13:1). Their rebellion aroused God’s anger and he chastised them by allowing them to be conquered and oppressed at the hands of foreign invaders. The people eventually cried out to the LORD who heard their cries and provided them a warrior-savior to deliver them from the hands of the enemy. The pervasiveness of the reality of Israel’s sin and rebellion must not be minimized by anyone who preaches Judges but neither should the triumph and the heroism of the warrior-saviors God provided to deliver an undeserving people. The very framework of the book of Judges mirrors the framework of the gospel of Jesus Christ which deals with the problem of sin by providing salvation (Rom 3:23-24).
The first promise of the gospel was a declaration of a promised future Messianic Seed who would be born of woman, engage in mortal combat with the serpent, and ultimately crush his head (Gen 3:15). Throughout redemptive history there is a recurring echo of this glorious promise as seeds born of women crush the heads of the enemies of God (John 8:44). There are various saviors in the Bible who serve as types of the promised skull crushing Savior. Death by head wound marches through the book of Judges with Sisera and Abimelech and continues in the Old Testament narrative with the likes of Goliath and Absalom.3 Jael’s handiness with a tent peg on display in Sisera’s temple is described as the means of God subduing the enemy (Judg 4:23) leads to a song of praise in the next chapter (Judg 5:24-31).
Many modern commentators seem tormented by the fact that these warrior-saviors who are rescuing a rebellious people are so sinful and flawed themselves. After all a reluctant farmer, left-handed assassin, sex addicted strong man and others less than loveable characters provide us a rather strange list of heroes and saviors. Nevertheless, the text of Judges makes plain that these deeply flawed, odd people were indeed saviors of Israel (Judg 2:16; 3:9). Without these warrior-saviors rebellious Israel would have remained in bondage to the enemies of God.
The New Testament commits all who affirm the unity and inerrancy of the Bible to the truth that these flawed warrior-saviors often had misplaced actions but not misplaced faith (Heb 11:32-35). In fact, they are a part of that great cloud of witnesses calling us to look unto Jesus who fulfills the promises they hoped in (Heb 11:39-12:2). Their sinful actions and flawed reasoning reminded God’s people that these God given warrior-saviors were but echoes of the ancient promise that would be fulfilled in the incarnation of the Warrior-Savior-King who was a mighty horn of salvation raised up for us in whom there was no sin (Luke 1:69; 1 John 3:5).
After preaching verse-by verse through the book of Judges over a period of several months one elderly lady in our congregation stopped me after the last sermon in the series with tears in her eyes and said, “That is one of the most powerful series of gospel sermons I have ever heard in my life. Thank you pastor, I understand the gospel better.” Either that is a terrible indictment on my New Testament preaching or the book of Judges is a tragically neglected portion of the Word of Christ (Col 3:16) for the preaching of the gospel. The narrative surrounding each warrior-savior in the book of Judges provides a suspense filled, literary rich, inspired Word from God for proclaimers of the Kingdom of Christ. The book of Judges is messy and bloody and so is Christianity. As much as we wince at the sin and rebellion we read about in the book of Judges, the picture of our own hearts is desperately wicked and the only answer is a Warrior-Savior with a bloody robe who says, “It is finished” (John 19:30).
See, Daniel I Block, Judges, Ruth, New American Commentary, vol. 6 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999), 70-72. Block argues rightly that the point of the book of Judges is not to present the deliverers as virtuous heroes whom Christians should pattern their lives after. Nevertheless, Block wrongly rejects understanding the book of Judges in light of the New Testament (specifically Heb 11:32) because he argues, the writer of Hebrews is simply embracing “the idealizing tendency” found in other Jewish writings of the time.
Millard J. Erickson, Evangelical Interpretation: Perspectives on Hermeneutical Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993), 30-31.
In the David and Goliath narrative (1 Sam 16-17) the author points out four times in twelve verses that David the anointed king removes the head of Goliath, the representative enemy of God (1 Sam 17:46, 51, 54, 57).
Taken from The Journal For Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, Fall 2003, Volume VIII,
Issue 2, pp. 59-65
9In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing,
10but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.
11Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.
12And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.
13For Adam was formed first, then Eve.
14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.
15Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control
(1Timothy 2:9-15, NKJV).
One of the things I always say in premarital counseling concerning God’s design for marriage roles in this: “You have been affected by cultural feminism, and there are certain ways in which you think like a feminist. Whether you are the man or woman is of no import; everyone has been affected by cultural feminism, and to some degree, we all think like feminists.” In saying this, I tend to see what I just saw from many of you—a look of surprise or incredulity and even a tinge of outrage. We think, “No, not me; I reject that! I am not a feminist!” However, someone came to me this very week and said that what I had told him during their premarital counseling was true.
Every single force in our culture is driving us away from thinking biblically about gender roles. For instance, many of you have probably seen the shoe company advertisement that says, “Get your girls sports balls, not dolls. She can be anything she wants to be.” It shows a girl caked in mud, playing some physically challenging sport. The message is that real women are tough, hard-driving, and aggressive, and if you get in their way, they’ll knock you out of it. That’s a real woman.
Our society also pervasively accepts homosexuality, particularly on television. We see the feminization of manhood at every turn, but strong and godly leaders are not portrayed positively anywhere; the television portrays them as bumbling, close-minded old relics. What was once culturally taboo is now commonplace. Just a few years ago, shock struck the nation because a clearly homosexual couple showed affection to one another on television, but now that sort of thing is on every night. Homosexual males are almost always portrayed as loving, kind, and endearing, which is just one more example of how society is pushing harder for gender lines to be blurred. What are girls to be? They should be the ones that knock you out of the way. What are men to be? They are too passive, mild, perhaps even confused about their own gender.
This confusion about gender roles can also be seen in the family and among God’s people in the church. We face these issues within our own area because there are churches in our own city that ridicule that idea that God has ordained role distinctions based on gender. One local congregation has called a woman to be its pastor, and when the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 was embraced by the Southern Baptist Convention, some churches were outraged about the idea that men were to be leaders of their homes, and that the office of pastor was limited to men. We must face these issues knowing that we are not removed from such thinking. The gender confusion is not just “out there”; it is upon us.
However, these types of issues should not surprise us. When we think about Satan’s attack on humanity in the garden, it becomes clear that this was always an issue of contention. The neglect of biblical gender responsibilities has always been a siege on God’s design for the family. Satan has attacked the family model of husbandly headship and wifely submission, both of which were part of God’s design for the created order.
Genesis 2:15 and the following verses show us that the role of Adam as leader, protector, and provider was rooted in God’s created order. Notice that the problem with the Fall was that Adam was not leading in the way that God had intended, and Eve was not seeking the leadership and protection of her husband in the way that God had intended.
15Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it.16And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.
Here, man is given the responsibility to work, to tend the garden, and to exercise his dominion over the land that the LORD has provided. Verse eighteen continues, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Note the word that is used to describe Eve’s role in the relationship. God said that he made Adam to be a provider and protector, and here we see that God is going to make for Adam a “helper,” a complement to him. The passage continues:
19Out of the ground the LORD God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to Adam to see what he would call them. And whatever Adam called each living creature, that was its name. 20So Adam gave names to all cattle, to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper comparable to him.
21And the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.
23And Adam said:
“This is now bone of my bones
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman,
Because she was taken out of Man”
This is a Hebrew play on words that actually comes across in the English rendering, “She shall be called Isha [woman] because she was taken out of Ish [man].” There is a connection, a complementary relationship, between these two in the design of God. Verse twenty-four continues:
24Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. 25And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
31Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?’” 2And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; 3but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”’ 4Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. 5For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate.
We notice that Eve’s sin was not only rebellion against a direct command of God, but also a unilateral decision in complete and absolute independence from the protector that God had provided. Verse six continues by saying, “She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Adam shows his weakness by following his wife into sin.
7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.
8And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.
9Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, ‘Where are you?’”
By the way, that’s one of the most important questions in the text: just where was he? Now, skip ahead to verse 17:
Then to Adam He said, “Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, ‘You shall not eat of it’: Cursed is the ground for your sake…”
Because Adam heeded the voice of his wife and failed to act in his assigned leadership role, Adam has merited the LORD’s judgment.
Let’s examine the context of our passage, 1 Timothy 2:9-15. Paul’s letter to Timothy, one of the Pastoral Epistles, was written after he had left Timothy in Ephesus. In it, Paul is exhorting him to do primarily two things: to deal with false teaching and disorder in the Ephesian church. False teachers were propagating untruths, and problems of disorder in the church were surfacing. One of these was a failure to understand gender roles. Our text begins in chapter two, verse eight:
8I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting;
9in like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing, 10but, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works. 11Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.
12And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.13For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. 15Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.
Here, Paul’s words “I desire” (v.8) could also be translated, “I purpose.” These are very serious words. He is not saying this in his own authority, but with the authority of the Lord. Paul’s desire is that the men pray “everywhere.” These men are the male members of the congregation, and the word everywhere could be translated every spot. In this particular context, it is a reference to corporate worship. It means that in every spot that is marked out men should be found praying. As leaders in the assembly, they are to be men of prayer, and it says that they are to be “lifting up holy hands”; holy hands are set apart hands. The main focus here is not the physical position of prayer, although a common position of prayer included upraised hands, but instead that the lifted hands are to holy and set apart to God, not marked by hypocrisy. Verse eight specifies this by including the phrase, “without wrath.” He desires holy hands to be lifted without doubting, without vacillating, and without anger. The Lord desires the men in the gathered assembly to be men of prayer, and their hands to not be unclean with hypocrisy, disputing, and anger. The men who lift up their hands are to be leaders, and they should lift up hands of integrity.
This entire discussion is set in the context of the church and how it is to be ordered. Paul begins by talking about general issues related to women in the church, but in the end, he focuses on the example of motherhood specifically. Therefore, the matters we will examine today will apply to women in general and mothers in particular.
The Woman’s Character
Verses nine and ten discuss the woman’s character in the church. Verse nine says, “In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing.” The phrase in like manner also, suggests that there are things for women to consider about their role in the church body, just as there are for men. The word translated adorn is the Greek word kosmeo, which is where we get the term cosmetics; it means, “to put into order,” or, “to arrange.” You’ll sometimes hear a woman say that she has to put her face in order, meaning that she needs to apply cosmetics and those kinds of things. Adorn here carries the idea of making ready and could be translated beautify. Read this way, the text would state, “In like manner also, let the women beautify themselves.” There is to be a specific way in which they are to beautify themselves, and therefore, we know that not everything that a woman does to beautify herself is acceptable in the sight of God.
What does it mean to “make yourself ready” or to “put yourself in order?” Notice the way women adorn themselves in verse nine—“modestly.” In 1 Timothy 3:2, the word is translated respectable. Understand that decent, modest dress is not a holdover from bygone days; it is the command of a sovereign God. Decency in dressing habits is not embracing the efforts of a past generation to be prudent; modesty is the command of the thrice holy God. The text commands that women dress self-consciously every day to the glory of God. When a woman opens the closet and pulls out the drawers, she should think, “I will dress today to the glory of God; I will adorn myself in modest apparel.” If the apparel is not modest, it does not glorify God. The word modest is the opposite of provocative, seductive, and revealing. Melody Green, the wife of Keith Green, the songwriter and musician who was killed in a plane crash many years ago, wrote a little booklet called Uncovering the Truth about Modesty. In it she pens these words:
Our bodies are precious because they are a gift from God. They are attractive because God has made us in His image for His pleasure, and if we are married, then to please our mates as well. But God never intended for us to flaunt ourselves or exhibit our bodies in an immodest way. Many Christians are either oblivious or uncaring about the effect that they have on others. They may even appear to have a real excitement and love for the Lord, however, their body is sending out a totally different message.
Of course, many people today do not think like this. Many have no knowledge of the pervasive command for modesty in the Bible. I must admit that I was somewhat taken aback by a comment of Randy Stinson’s when he was conducting a marriage conference at our church. He said that one of the things he does to promote modesty in his home is that he will not allow his daughter’s dolls to be naked. He’ll say, “Get some clothes on that doll! We don’t go around this place naked, and neither will that doll.” That may sound strange, but it is a small way to communicate to your children the biblical mandate for modesty. As verse nine continues, it also says that women are to clothed with propriety. Propriety means reverence for God, and it actually connotes a sense of shame; we do not want to do anything or dress in any way that would dishonor God. Oh, how that is lost in our culture today! Including church culture.
Furthermore, the text continues by saying, “In moderation.” The word means discretion and is translated elsewhere as self-control, or sensibly. One is to be dressed in attire that is marked by discretion, or in common terminology, not showing everything! In 1 Peter chapter three we find out that the issues of dress are not merely outward issues. You cannot be godly from the outside in, or measure a skirt length to find out who is godly and who is not. Some people may dress very modestly and be headed to Hell; the real issue for the people of God is the heart. 1 Peter 3:3 says:
Do not let your adornment be merely outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
Verse nine of our text tells us how women in the church should not dress. There is nothing inherently wrong with braided hair, but in the cultural context, the braids were fastened by jeweled combs and pins made of ivory and silver. Paul depicts women who wore their hair very high, filled with expensive jewelry. The braids were just a way of holding all those jewels in place, so it is not the braiding that is the problem, but what the braiding represents—gaudiness, extravagance, and showiness. Women of that time lavished gold and jewels all over their bodies to communicate their wealth or importance. Pliny the Elder, a first century Roman historian, describes a dress of an emperor’s wife that today would cost $500,000. Dressing in this way is a propagation of self, but the goal of the Christian is to glorify God. Verse ten continues this thought: “But, which is proper for women professing godliness, with good works.” There is a way of dressing which is proper for women who profess reverence to God. The point is this: a woman cannot revere God if she disregards what His Word says about modesty.
The Woman’s Conduct
Verse eleven concerns the woman’s conduct in the church: “Let a woman learn in silence with all submission.” You see, not only were there women who were showing a lack of reverence for God in their appearance, but it seems that they were also showing a lack of reverence for God by disregarding the leadership of their husbands in the church. The women whom Paul is addressing wanted to be preachers and teachers, delivering the Word; they wanted the spotlight to be on them. Notice at the beginning of verse eleven it says, “Let a woman learn” — a present active command. Those words were shocking in their day. Paul says here that a woman should learn, which was not a well-accepted thought at the time. In that culture, it was not important if women learned, and in fact, they were often not allowed in the assembly at all. With these words, Paul shows himself to be a great liberator of women. Paul’s words are not shocking because they are so oppressive, but because they are so permissive; Paul says here that God commands women to learn in the gathered assembly.
However, the manner in which a woman is to learn, according to verse eleven, is in silence, with all submission. The all is emphatic in the text. Women were to learn in submission, voluntarily putting themselves under the leadership of their husbands and their church leaders. Women should learn because they have a godly, important role in the church, but it is not the preaching or public teaching role. Rather, they should learn in quietness, submitting themselves to the authority that God has ordained.
Verse twelve says, “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” The phrase to have would be better translated to exercise. The verb permit deals with actions that individuals desire to perform. By virtue of “not permit[ing]” women to teach, Paul communicates that there were women in the church who desired to be teachers or pastors, exercising authority over men in the church.
There are many today that ask, “You say the office of pastor is for men? Who are you to say whom God has called? What gives you the right? Understand, beloved, that God has said it! If anyone has the right to determine who has what role, it is the Maker of heaven and earth! Recently I was in a meeting with some local pastors to talk about these issues. As the discussion went on, one of the pastors said, “You don’t have the right to question anybody’s call! I would never question a person call to the ministry!” I replied, “Okay, sir, what will happen when a young man in your church who is a practicing homosexual or drug abuser comes forward and says that he has been called to preach? Are you going to ordain him?” Of course not! Suddenly, he’s going to question the call—and why? Because it’s wrong! The person struggling with those issues has misunderstood the call of God.1 God’s words on this subject are not ambiguous. He does not permit a woman to teach or have authority over a man, but to be in silence. The person’s desire for the office is irrelevant; God’s desires as He has expressed them in His Word are what matters.
The words translated to teach in verse twelve mean to be a teacher. The text refers to official, doctrinal, biblical instruction for the church. It is not talking about dialogue in an informal setting, but about having authority over a man or over the church. God has designed the office of pastor/teacher to be reserved for men. The Scriptures encourage women to teach other women; it encourages women to teach children; it encourages them to speak evangelistically and informally, but the preaching/teaching seen in this passage, is clearly limited to men.
The Woman’s Perspective
Next, I want you to see the woman’s perspective in verses thirteen and fourteen. Many people may ask, “Why shouldn’t a woman be a pastor? After all, I saw a woman preaching on TV last night, and she sure was a lot better than you. Who are you to say she can’t preach?” The Spirit-inspired text often anticipates human arguments and stands ready to answer our objections. The reason given in the text is simply that God has designed it that way. Verse thirteen says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” Paul appeals to the created order to prove his point. Adam was created first as the head, and Eve was created next to be the helper. God created Adam and Eve to complement one another, not to compete with one another.
Many argue today that the position of man as head of the home is a result of the Fall, and that we should try to reverse the Fall by practicing absolute equality, but such as position is untenable. The Bible never roots the issue of male headship in the Fall; it was God’s design, part of His created order from the beginning. No one can say these words are culturally bound, because at the time Adam and Eve were created, they were the culture; they were the only human beings that existed. It is a dangerous thing to take what God created, what He called holy and good, and call it sinful. For someone to say that the issue of male leadership and authority is rooted in the Fall is to take what God called good and declare it not good. I wouldn’t want to answer to God for that.
Verse fourteen continues, “And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression.” Note that Adam was not deceived, yet he is not guiltless. The reason Adam was not deceived was because he was absent! He wasn’t protecting, providing, and leading. When tempted, he willingly fell, following the leadership of his wife. The text says that she was being deceived, and the words are strong, meaning that she was completely and utterly deceived. She was acting outside of God’s design for her, and so she was vulnerable. Thus, we have a role reversal with Eve leading and Adam following, along with the consequences that ensue when we stray from God’s design.
Eve stepped outside of her role, and Adam failed to live up to his, but who does the New Testament hold accountable? Romans chapter five says Adam is responsible for the Fall. We have the tendency to say, “But Adam wasn’t deceived! It was his wife!” Adam gives the same response to God: “It wasn’t me! It was the woman whom You gave me! If that woman wasn’t here, I wouldn’t have done it.” However, Adam is responsible because he was the God-ordained head of his home and the representative for all of humanity, plunging the human race into sin by violating God’s design and God’s command. A woman’s perspective must be that of embracing her role fully, realizing it is God’s design. She must think, “God’s wisdom is perfect, and His ways are right. God’s design is good for me.”
The Woman’s High Calling
Finally, we get to verse fifteen, a notoriously difficult passage to interpret. We have seen that Paul talks about the woman’s character and how it is to be marked by modesty, propriety and moderation. In her conduct in the church she is not to exercise the functions of teaching or exercising authority over men. Rather, she has a role of learning in submission. Her perspective must be that this is not just some cultural dictate, but God’s design.
John MacArthur writes the following concerning this subject: “Women must stop believing the Devil’s lie that the only role of significance is that of leadership.” The world thinks, “Why in the world would you cheat women from having the blessings of being a pastor/teacher? That’s just chauvinism!” Many women today think similarly, but the truth is that while God has made us with different roles, one is not inferior to the other. We are to complement one another, and we can only achieve God’s high calling if we embrace the roles that He has assigned for our lives. The idea is not that an angry woman grits her teeth and says, “Okay, I won’t be a pastor! I won’t wear immodest clothing either, because I’m supposed to be godly.” Instead, a woman should joyfully embrace God’s design for her life, knowing that it is good for her soul and her pathway to joy.
Verse fifteen says, “Nevertheless she will be saved in childbearing if they continue in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control.” The word nevertheless suggests a contrast to what has been said, that Eve was involved in bringing about the Fall through the sin of gender rebellion and that women aren’t to be pastors, having authoritative roles in the church. Nevertheless, the text tells us that a woman has a high calling: she will be saved, or rescued, in child bearing. What in the world does that mean? Does it mean that every woman that has a baby goes to heaven?
Some interpret the verse like this: the she here is a reference to Eve. Eve would be saved in childbearing because, in fulfillment of Genesis 3:15, her seed would crush the head of the serpent. According to this interpretation, Eve will be saved in childbearing because her descendant, the Messiah, will save all His people. Although there may be an allusion to that here, it is not the primary issue. The primary issue of the entire context has been the role of women in general.
Holding that the she refers to Eve cannot be the best interpretation of the text because it ignores the conditional clause at the end of the verse: “if they continue…” Who are “they”? The pronoun here is not referencing Eve, but all women. The she is a generic reference to women in general. Is the text saying that if Eve continues in faith, love, and holiness, with self-control, she will ultimately be saved? No, the conditional clause tells us that the verse refers to women generally. It is very important to note that the verse says, “… if they continue in faith.” The “if clause” shows us that the women about whom Paul is speaking are in Christ. This passage concerns those who are continuing in the faith, those who are showing Christian love and being sanctified. They are already believers, Christian women, who are reflecting Christ in the way they live their lives.
But what does “she will be saved in childbearing” mean? Childbearing is used in this passage to represent the essence of what it is to be a woman. We could say that she will be saved in motherhood. This is one thing that no man can do! Someone told me the other day that Jason is having a baby. Well, that’s a news story! Having children is bound up with the essence of womanhood, so Paul uses it here to represent the whole of God’s design for women. “She will be saved in childbearing,” means that a woman who is embracing the design that God has for her life, living by faith, pouring her life into raising godly seed, children who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, is triumphing through Jesus Christ over the terrible effects of the Fall.
Part of the curse of the Fall was pain for women in childbearing, but by the sovereign grace of God and His calling out of women from the kingdom of darkness, who continue in the faith and pass on the faith to the next generation, the effects of the fall are, in a sense, reversed! Even things initially related to judgment, such as pain in childbearing, can ultimately be means of glorifying God. This is what happens when a believing woman bears children and raises them in the fear of the Lord. God’s high calling for women is not that they would become like men, but that they would be real women, and real women embrace God’s design.
But what does it mean that “she will be saved in childbearing?” The word “saved” here is used in the same way it is used in 1 Corinthians 9:22, when Paul says, “To the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men that I might by all means save some.” Does Paul mean that he is the one actually saving people? Is he rejecting the sovereignty of God or think that by doing these things that he can actually be the one that saves people? Of course not—Paul is committed to the sovereignty of God in salvation! He is saying that he will order his life so that God would be pleased to use him as an instrument to bring people to faith in Christ.
This text does not mean that women are saved by physically giving birth to children. Instead, it means that women who embrace their divinely-assigned role are showing that they know God’s sovereign grace through Jesus Christ. They are showing that they believe in the promises of God and are continuing in the faith and are saved. Joyful Christian motherhood is a magnification of God’s salvation in the world and helps to reverse the curse of the fall, reflecting the kingdom of God on earth—what a high calling!
The responsibility of raising godly children is great, and mothers have a special relationship with their children that cannot be replaced. Women in the church are on the front lines of leading this fallen world out of sin and into godliness by childbearing and raising their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. Who can think that is not a high calling? What are women thinking when they forsake God design and purpose for something else? Motherhood is a very high calling and requires strength for continuance in the faith; there is no spotlight when you’re changing a dirty diaper. No one shows up at my house during the day to congratulate my wife for raising our children well. I sometimes hear, “That was a good sermon,” but my wife is in the trenches of mothering our children without a spotlight, and it is imperative for her to see her role as part of God’s design, rejoicing in being on the front lines of kingdom work!
If you have a godly mother, oh how you should be thankful! She probably wasn’t perfect, but if she taught you the things of God, you should be eternally thankful. What a gift! What a high, holy calling! Praise God that He saves women who are among the fallen children of Adam, who walk in the doomed steps of Eve, and weaves them into the fabric of His redemptive purposes!
1. My only point here is that this man’s logic is not valid. He said that he would never question anyone’s call to the ministry but the truth is that he most certainly would under certain circumstances. If we agree that there are qualifications and certain standards involved with being a minister of the gospel the only question left is “Who sets the standards?” The answer is that God does according to His self-revelation in His word. I am not in any way comparing women to homosexuals or drug abusers. Womanhood is a wonderful blessing from God.
Featured Areopagus Journal,” vol 2 no 1, January 2002: 7-10.
“The Bible is just a book.” So said pastor Anthony Sizemore on the floor of the 2000 Southern Baptist Convention. He uttered those words during the floor discussion of a revision to the SBC’s confession of faith, a revision that strengthened language on the authority of the Bible. Audible gasps could be heard around the auditorium before Dr. R. Albert Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a member of the revision study committee, stepped to the microphone to respond and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, this is what it all comes down to….The issue is whether or not the Bible is the Word of God.”1 The moment was full of drama and Mohler’s words seemed larger than life. A twenty-year denominational battle for the Bible was crystallized in that moment in time.2
But the question must be asked: what is wrong with saying that the Bible is just a book? It is a book, of course, but why is it unacceptable to say that it is just a book? The answer is clear—because that is not what the Bible claims for itself. If the Bible is not what it fundamentally asserts itself to be then the Bible is not just a book. It is just a bad, unreliable book. However, not one single verse could be produced from the text of Scripture itself to justify the description that the Bible is just a book. Rather, as we will see in this article, it claims to be the perfect self-disclosure of God.3
The Word of God
The Bible claims to be the very Word of God. The Bible sometimes refers to Jesus Christ, who came in the incarnation as the living Word, as “the Word of God” (Rev. 19:13; John 1:1, 14; 1 John 1:1). “In Jesus Christ God is present in person”4 and reveals God to man (Hebrews 1:3). The Bible also refers to God’s words of decree (for example, Genesis 1:1–creation), God’s words of personal address (He speaks directly to Adam in Genesis 2:16-17), and God’s words through humans (Jeremiah 1:9, “I have put My words in your mouth.”). But most commonly the Bible speaks of God’s word in written form, the Bible.5
Our knowledge of all of the other forms of God’s words mentioned above is completely dependent on His written Word in the Bible. Jesus is not with us in the flesh. We were not present for God’s words of decree or personal address. All of the prophets through whom God spoke directly are dead. We know of those forms only because God commanded and caused them to be written down in His Word, the Word of God. In the giving of the Ten Commandments, God wrote with His very finger His words (Exodus 31:18). God’s words were written through Moses in the book of the law (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). The prophets and the apostles were used by God to record His words (Joshua 24:16, Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 30:2, John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 14:37). These words written by men are nonetheless God’s own words and to disobey them is to disobey God (Jeremiah 36:29-31).
Two texts in particular make it abundantly clear that the true author of Scripture is God Himself. Paul says that “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). And Peter explains that the words of Scripture did not ultimately originate with the human authors when he wrote, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).
As the Word of God, the words of the Bible bear the authority of God Himself. Robert Reymond writes, “In sum, it receives its authority from heaven….Its authority is intrinsic and inherent….In no sense is its authority derived from human testimony.”6 God Himself is the ultimate authority and apart from God there is no authority. The only way we know God is through His self-revelation, which we have in Holy Scripture. This revelation of God represents His grace to us because He was under no obligation to reveal Himself to us. But the very fact of Divine revelation means authoritative truth (Isaiah 1:2). There is no right standing with God rejecting His Word (Galatians 3:10, John 8:30-31, James 2:9-10). The Bible is the authoritative Word of God. In 1900 James Frost, first president of the Baptist Sunday School Board, shared his biblical conviction concerning the authority of the Bible. May his conviction become ours:
We accept the Scriptures as an all-sufficient and infallible rule of faith and practice. And insist upon the absolute inerrancy and sole authority of the Word of God. We recognize at this point no room for division, either of practice or belief, or even sentiment. More and more we must come to feel as the deepest and mightiest power of our conviction that a ‘thus saith the Lord’ is the end of all controversy.7
Infallible and Inerrant
The Bible is absolutely authoritative because the Bible’s words are absolutely true.8 One of the Bibles central assertions about itself is that it contains no errors. “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7). “Every word of God is pure” (Proverbs 30:5, see also Psalm 12:6). “And the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). These God-given assertions of biblical perfection make it clear that there can only be two logically and intellectually credible positions regarding the Bible. Either it is what it claims to be, the Word of God, without error. Or it is a fallible and untrustworthy document that fails to meet the burden of proof in its own central assertion.
The Bible in its entirety has no mistakes and will not lead its readers astray (infallibility) and has no mistakes in its parts (inerrancy). The Bible claims to always tell the truth concerning everything it talks about. It does not claim to tell every fact on a given subject, but it does claim that when it speaks about a subject it speaks the truth.9 Contemporary claims of partial inerrancy or limited inerrancy of the Bible are intellectually dishonest and illogical. These positions attempt to say that the Bible is true in spiritual matters but contains factual errors. The problem with this position is that it contradicts the Bible’s central thesis about itself! As one person said, “Some people are spot inerrantists—they believe the Bible is inspired in spots and that they are inspired to spot the spots.” All of the self-proclaimed critics of the Bible who place themselves as judges over the Scripture will one day be judged by the authoritative, infallible and inerrant Word of God that they criticize.10
While it is true that some parts of the Bible are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16), it would be a terrible mistake to think that the entire Bible is shrouded in mystery and cannot be understood by ordinary Christians (1 Corinthians 2:1412). The Bible teaches that parents are to teach the Word of God to their children (Deuteronomy 6:6-7), which implies that the truths of the Bible can be understood by children. The simple man can understand the Bible and be made wise by its truths (Psalm 19:7; 119:30). No one should view themselves as too simple or uneducated to understand the Bible. What a word of encouragement that should be to us. Jesus and the writers of Scripture never excuse disobedience on the grounds that the words of Scripture cannot be understood. In fact, Jesus often confronts sin and error by simply asking, “Have you not read…?” (Matthew 12:3, 5). It is also important to remember that many of the New Testament letters were written to churches and were read to entire congregations.
The Bible is God’s self-revelation (unveiling) to man. As Carl F. H. Henry has written, the Bible is “God’s free communication by which He alone turns His personal privacy into a deliberative disclosure of His reality.”13 God has spoken and caused His words to be written for the purpose of being understood by His people. One does not have to be a scholar to read the Bible and understand that it teaches that Jesus was “born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, performed mighty miracles, died on the cross as a ransom for many, and rose from the dead on the third day after death.”14 These gospel truths are found on the very face of the Bible. What God has given to His people must not be surrendered to “experts.”
No one could ever be saved apart from God’s self-revelation that we have in the Bible, which is “able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Jesus Christ” (2 Timothy 3:15). From creation (general revelation), all men and women know that there is a God and by nature suppress that knowledge (Romans 1:18-19). All are “without excuse” because of personal idolatry and failure to glorify the One true and living God (Romans 1:20-21) whose knowledge they suppress. It is only through God’s special revelation in the Scriptures that the saving gospel of the God of general revelation is revealed (Romans 10:13-17). The Bible is also necessary for sanctification (John 17:17) and knowing and obeying God’s will (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Saving faith, holiness, and obedience necessarily rest not on human speculation, but on God’s own self-revealed words.
Sufficient and Final
The Bible contains all of the words that God intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history and “now contains all of the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting Him perfectly, and for obeying Him perfectly.”15 There is absolutely nothing else needed to know how to be saved and absolutely nothing else needed to know how to rightly live. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, the apostle Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that [purpose statement] the man of God may be complete [sufficient, able to meet all demands], thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The phrase “thoroughly equipped” is a word used of a workman that was completely outfitted for his job lacking no necessary tool.16
This passage makes the claim, with as much force as possible, that the Bible totally equips the child of God. The Word is totally sufficient, lacking nothing.17 It is sad today that so many professed believers seem to be looking for God in all the wrong places and forsaking His self-revelation in the Scripture. Our focus on God and godly living should be directed to the words of God in the Bible alone. It is also sad that while many pastors profess a commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible, their preaching consists of more stories, humor, and personal anecdotes than straightforward biblical proclamation. In doing so they send a tragic message to the people in the pew about how one should treat the Bible on a practical level.
The Bible also claims that revelation has reached its glorious end in “the making known to men of the one and only God, and Jesus Christ whom He has sent.”18 All prophetic revelation pointed to Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews put it like this, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken [the verb indicates with finality] to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). The phrases “various times” and “various ways” in verse one shows the progressive nature of revelation and verse two transitions to a new era of the finality of prophetic revelation in Christ who is the ultimate Word of God.
What a glorious time it is in which to live! The goal of prophetic revelation has been realized! In the inscripturated Word the believer has the consummation of the prophetic revelation of God in Christ. The truth has been unfolded about the promised Messiah, His sinless life and atoning death, His glorious resurrection and ascension, and His future and final return. And it has all been written down by the work of the Holy Spirit of God (2 Peter 1:20-21). God is actively speaking to His people through His revealed Word. God’s people are not left to dream interpretation and personal impressions to know and obey God. They have the Spirit-given Word, which exalts the Lord Jesus Christ according to the plan of God the Father.
Before one formulates any view of the Bible he must come to grips with what the Bible claims about itself. Then ones response to the Scriptural testimony is either belief or unbelief. The truth is either the Bible is the “living and powerful” Word of God (Hebrews 4:12) or it is “Just a book.” What is also clear is how the Bible answers that question about itself.
In this post modern age where even the notion of truth is slipping away, there has never been a more important time for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to preach, teach, love, cherish, and champion the Word of God without apology and without compromise. When all of the current philosophical fads run their course one thing will still be true “The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Peter 1:24b-25). The Bible is the Word of God, authoritative, infallible, inerrant, clear, necessary, sufficient and final. Ladies and Gentleman, this is what it all comes down to.
1Todd Starnes, “6 words: ‘defining moment’ between conservative and moderate Baptists” Baptist Press (June 21, 2000).
2For readers interested but not familiar with these issues in the Southern Baptist Convention, please consider the following resources. Jerry Sutton, The Baptist Reformation: The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2000); Paul Pressler, A Hill on which To Die (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999); James Hefley, The Truth in Crisis, Volumes 1-5 (Hannibal, MO: Hannibal Books, 1990); Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), 89-105 focuses on the Southern Baptist Convention. For a book that deals with the historic Baptist view of the Bible see: L. Russ Bush and Tom Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1999). For an easy to read volume that reveals a high view of Scripture among those who are Baptists, see: Tom Nettles and Russell D. Moore, Why I am a Baptist (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2001).
3Some might object that understanding the nature of the Bible by what it claims about itself is a circular argument. First, any appeal to an ultimate authority must appeal to that inherent authority for proof; otherwise its authority would not be ultimate and to whatever it appealed to prove itself would be greater authority. Second, all positions about the nature of the Bible must be evaluated in light of what it claims about itself. One cannot have a high view of the Scripture and disagree with what the Bible claims about itself.
4Bruce Milne, Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief (Downers Groves: InterVarsity, 1998), 36.
5Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1994), 47-51. This discussion follows Grudem’s structure.
6Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 73.
7Timothy and Denise George, Basil Manly, Jr., The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1995), 254-255.
8J.I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), 96.
9For a good resource on supposed discrepancies in the Bible, see Gleason Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).
10Grudem, Systematic Theology, 100-101. Grudem provides a list of the consequences of denying inerrancy. 1. A serious moral problem confronts us; May we imitate God and intentionally lie in small matters also? 2. We begin to wonder if we can really trust God in anything He says. 3. We essentially make our own human minds a higher standard of truth than God’s Words Itself. 4. Then we must also say that the Bible is wrong, not only in minor details, but in some of its doctrines as well.
11I mean by “clear” what older theologians have referred to as the “perspicuity” of the Scripture.
12This verse points out that the unconverted lack spiritual illumination to rightly understand the Word. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
13Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority: Volume 2 (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1999), 8.
14Reymond, A New Systematic Theology, 88.
15Grudem, Systematic Theology, 127.
16Cleon Rodgers Jr. and Cleon Rodgers III, The Linguistic and Exegetical Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998), 506.
17For an excellent book on the sufficiency of Scripture, see Noel Weeks, The Sufficiency of Scripture (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1998). Also, for a new book that deals with sufficiency in a thorough and thought provoking way, see Keith A Mathison, The Shape of Sola Scriptura (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2001).
18O. Palmer Robertson, The Final Word (Carlisle, Penn.: The Banner of Truth, 1997), 53.