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
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.