When looking at any subject in Scripture, the approach is often to gather together as many proof texts as possible and hang them all out to dry next to each other like so many items of washing on the line left to blow about in the wind. In doing this, what we fail to capture is the ‘big picture’ found in Scripture. The ‘proof text’ method of argument usually ends with those on each side hurling one verse after another at each other. For every verse the protagonist finds, his opponent will find one that seems to say the opposite. This is the method used by many sects. Every verse in Scripture needs to be considered not only in the context of the immediate passage in which it is found, but also in respect of its place in the overall picture in Scripture of the unfolding redemptive purpose of God in His Son. In this way, we build a sure foundation and shall not be easily blown about by every wind of doctrine. Years ago, grocers used to stack up cans of food in a huge pyramid in the shop window. Only one critical can had to be removed for the whole lot to come tumbling down. There is nothing in Scripture that is superfluous or even in the wrong place. Remove one verse, or even alter it in some way, and the whole structure will be affected in one way or another. Those who tinker with Scripture cannot avoid the error, or the false teaching that inevitably follows such reckless behaviour. Every single verse is there, because its place in the overall structure is essential. God put it there. Those who tamper with God’s Word cannot do so without immediate consequences to the ‘big picture’ of biblical belief. We alter Scripture at our peril. What at first seems to be just a tiny shift will have far-reaching repercussions. The ripples from a small stone thrown into a large pond will be detectable even at the furthest edges.
In the same way, no doctrine can be said to rest on an isolated verse of Scripture. This atomistic approach will lead to distortion, because each verse fits neatly and purposefully in its place as part of the much wider whole. At the centre of this overall structure is what the Bible says about God Himself.
Should this process continue, we shall be found in the end to be worshipping someone other than the God of Scripture. As an example, we cannot deny the literal historicity of the early chapters of Genesis without at the same time be saying something about the kind of God in whom we believe. We cannot assert that this God has revealed Himself in the pages of a book without at the same time implying that such a revelation is necessary to us. We must then ask ourselves what it is about us that puts us in need of such a revelation, and what it is about God that makes that same revelation authoritative. In this way, one teaching links intimately with all the others so that we cannot disturb one without affecting all the rest. That this authoritative Word should reach us without blemish or error, God inspired apostles and prophets to record perfectly in Scripture what He would have us know. As revelation and inspiration are linked to each other, so preservation is linked to them both. No one would sit for very long on a two-legged milking stool, all three legs are needed! We cannot remove what the Bible teaches about preservation without immediately affecting its teaching on inspiration or revelation. There seems little point in God inspiring original autographs, in making them infallible and inerrant, if they are no longer available to us today. Of what use to us is a Bible of which we can never be sure it is in every detail the Word of God? In the end the whole doctrine of Scripture will be undermined. By insisting that God preserves His Word, we are saying something about the kind of God in whom we believe. We believe in an almighty God to whom the transmission of the inspired text, the translation into any language on earth, all of which He created and comprehends more fully than any native speaker, is but a small thing to accomplish. What kind of a god do they worship who scrabble about among the manuscripts thinking to do the work of God themselves, relying on finite human reason? The God who holds the stars in place, who turns the earth on its axis, who holds the sun in the sky, shall He not also give us His own Word written in a book as it came forth from His own mouth, and that in a language we can understand?
"The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in the furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." Psalm 12:6-7
Bible critics have a very long pedigree. The first instance of an attack on the trustworthiness of God’s Word is recorded for us in the earliest chapters of the Bible itself. It all began in the Garden of Eden with the words of the serpent,"Yea, hath God said...?" (Genesis 3:1). Since that sad day when the seeds of doubt and denial were successfully sown in the human heart, men have sought to escape the voice of God, covering their sinful shame with the fig leaves of human ingenuity, hiding themselves in a futile attempt to escape His presence. God seeks still and calls, "Where art thou?". In a world torn and cursed by sin still can be heard the promise of salvation through cleansing in the Saviour’s blood, a promise found only in the written Word of God. Man cannot live without the Word of God, not before the fall, not after the fall, not ever. "Man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" Deuteronomy 8:3.
We cannot live without it, we dare not die without it. Satan’s aim has ever been to separate man from the Word of God and so from God Himself and salvation. First he instills doubt, this is followed by denial, and then a defamation of God.
The attacks made on Scripture have always been made on the same basis as in the Garden of Eden, the pretended autonomy of the human mind, the illusion that one can think what one will about what God has said quite apart from God and still be right, the belief that human reason is the final arbiter of truth, and that we can be left to make up our own minds as to whether what God says is true. If God has said it, then it cannot be anything other than true. "Let God be true, but every man a liar" (Romans 3:4).
The only proper stance where God speaks is unquestioned acceptance and willing submission. This is the only way we can be sure of knowing the truth about anything. Any other course than this means to accept the lie, to follow error, to rebel against our Creator. This false ideal of a free-booting human reason must be rejected, as this is the basic assumption supporting every type of infidel Bible criticism.
Our first parents were faced with the Word of God. They were told that they could eat of every tree in the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they were not to eat (Genesis 2:16-17). Satan was the original ‘spin doctor’, and his modern counterparts simply follow in their father’s footsteps. Look at the ‘spin’ he puts on what God said to Adam, "Hath God said? ...God doth know..." Eve is quick to learn the technique, she appears to be adding to what God originally said with the words, "...neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die." (Genesis 3:3). Human reason is no judge of the truth of revelation. Even to suggest that there is a need to test the Word of God for truth at the bar of human reason is to concede the possibility that God could be in error, or to imply He could even lie. It is to attribute to the human mind an authority and facility of judgment it does not possess. It is to assert that there can be truth that differs from the thoughts of God. It is to presume to possess the same attributes as God Himself.
In the pages of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments we have the infallible, inspired, revelation of God, all that we need to interpret everything we encounter. The Bible is an ‘oracular’ book, when it speaks, God speaks. We can, we must, trust every word. As the Word of the living God, it demands we submit.
It is to worship and serve "the creature more than the Creator" (Romans 1:25). Such a mind can only submit to Scripture and to God by first denying its own ultimacy. Those elevating their own critical judgment to a position of final authority will tolerate no rivals, especially one such as Scripture that claims to be a verbal revelation from the only source of truth. Whilst there are those who will seek to discount Scripture altogether, others adopt a kind of presumed objective neutrality and will seek to retain Scripture as one source among many from which truth is to be obtained; but in doing this, the ultimate decision about what is to be accepted or rejected they keep for themselves. God is placed on the same level as man and faces the same difficulties. This is the approach taken by all unbelieving Bible critics and so it must be challenged. The idea of a God is quite acceptable to unbelievers, but it will always be a ‘god’ who leaves with them the final decision as to what is right or wrong. We preach the Word of God without compromise, we make no concessions to the rebellious, godless, natural thoughts and opinions of men. Everyone is not entitled to his opinion; anything not in accord with Scripture is in every possible sense wrong. Every thought is to be brought under the rule of Christ. We must show the thoughts of godless men to be what they are: falsehoods! There can be no middle road, no mixture of God’s thoughts with man’s thoughts. There is no independent human thought to which God can add His. What is not of God is error.
We either submit unequivocally to God, or we oppose Him. There is truth and there is falsehood, with nothing in between, no midway position, no neutrality. God being the only source of truth, to claim a position of neutrality is itself to be in error, to be outside that truth. We can only arrive at the truth by relinquishing all presumed neutrality. The idea that one should go to God alone for the truth is not even considered as an option by unbelievers. In paradise Eve faced the choice: is God right or Satan? That she even entertained for a second the thought that Satan could be right demonstrated that she had already moved from the truth. Her position of ‘neutrality’ in which she was free to make up her own mind was one of unbelief and denial. She was considering God and Satan on an equal level and making herself the final judge of both. The question could not be decided by taking a vote, one was for and one against! Having abandoned God as the only source of truth, she believed that she was in a position to decide from what God said whether what He was saying was true or false, good or bad. To assume that there is any such a choice to be made carries with it the thought that God could be wrong. Who is in a position to know? That is the question, one to which there is only one answer. To suggest there is a choice to be made is to call upon men to be obedient and to rebel at the same time.
Let no one imagine it is possible to accept God, receive His Son, and at the same time refuse the authority of His written Word. A refusal of God’s revelation as sole source of truth is a refusal of His person. An acceptance of Satan’s lies is an acceptance of his person, the two cannot be torn apart. We cannot claim at one and the same time to love God and yet doubt, deny, disallow, or in any way diminish the absolute authority of Scripture. On this point we heartily endorse the words of C. H. Spurgeon:
"I do not understand that loyalty to Christ which is accompanied by indifference to His words. How can we reverence His person, if His own words and those of His apostles are treated with disrespect?"
Satan had become the god of this world, the father of lies, in making himself an alternative source of truth. To whom would Eve submit, whom would she worship?
The Scriptures and the Lord
Bear one tremendous Name.
The Written and the Incarnate Word,
In all things are the same.
(Joseph Hart, 1712-68)
Deny the authority of the Scriptures, deny the authority of the Saviour, it is precisely the same. Writes the apostle Paul,
"For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe." 1 Thessalonians 2:13
The Bible is the one, authoritative, verbal revelation of God, there is no other. It speaks with absolute authority, no less than were we hearing the voice of God thundering down from the heavens. It is to be obeyed to the letter. It cannot be questioned.
"For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount. We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts." 2 Peter 1:16-19
It is this immovable, authoritative word before which sinful men will not bow, and therefore neither do they bow before the One whose Word it is. They reserve to themselves the right of veto.
Not everyone will reject the authority of the Bible outright. There are those who seek to add to Scripture or to supplement it in some way from other sources. Some even make the often blasphemous claim that this supplementary revelation comes from God in the form of dreams, visions, ‘tongues’ or prophecies. Many in pentecostal and charismatic circles may deny that such ‘revelation’ and ‘prophecy’ supersedes Scripture, relegating it to a secondary level. Nevertheless, anything placed alongside God’s Word actually deprives it of its final authority in the same way as does tradition and the ‘living voice of Christ’ in the church of Rome. Clearly, such people are not really submitted to the Word of God at all, rather they show themselves to be dissatisfied with what God has revealed in the Bible. Perhaps they do not like what He has said, it is certainly not sufficient for them.
There are many ways in which the authority of Scripture may be set aside even inadvertently and by some who ought to know better. Many read the Scriptures, but take account at the same time of church councils, creeds, the testimony of science, and Bible commentators and critics. We must remember that, whilst we may value the writings of saints now with their Lord, we may well have benefited from creeds and confessions formulated many years ago, they remain the writings and comments of men, however godly. Too many explain the Bible in terms of confessions and statements of faith, so that they have in practice acquired an authority virtually on a par with the Bible itself. Statements of Faith are important these days, when every heterodox sect the devil ever invented claims its teaching is based on Scripture, but we must not forget that the purpose of such Statements can only be to explain to others what we mean when we say we believe the teachings of the Word of God. They can never be more than their name suggests, Statements of Faith. They should never be used as the determining factor in the interpretation of Scripture, but they are themselves subject to correction by Scripture.
It would appear that for some, the results of long hours spent poring over hardbound tomes of Systematic Theology, along with a constant examination of the minutiae of historical theology, have been mistaken for the word of Scripture itself and submission to its authority. We need to be most careful in this respect. Many of us have reason to give thanks to God for the writings of godly men, when deprived of regular Bible teaching. We thankfully recognise with C. H. Spurgeon that not all light comes through a cracked tile in our own roof. Helpful though all these things may be, nothing can replace personal study of the Bible, and everything else we read must be subject to the scrutiny of God’s Word. Many, we fear, would not have fallen into imbalance and error had they, rather than dipping their noses deep into the writings of men, spent that same precious time prayerfully consulting the Scriptures. Some prophetic interpretations seem to owe more to newspaper blather and internet dross than to careful biblical exegesis. We must rather interpret what we read in the Telegraph or the Mail by the Scriptures and not the other way round. Some look to history and thank God for the wonderful way in which God has worked in the past, but they then go to Scripture and, hardly realising what it is they are doing, read into its pages what they have read of history. We must all be so careful. Yet others restrict the authority of the Bible, referring it only to ‘matters of faith’, thus marking out for themselves an area of autonomy where God does not have the last word. All these viewpoints have one thing in common: they will not allow the Bible its unique place of authority. Everything we do or even think is a matter of faith, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
Supplementary revelation also sometimes slips in under the guise of ‘guidance’. It is said that, as the Scripture speaks only in general terms, what is required in addition is individual revelation for specific and personal situations. Individual Christians do not need individual revelation, but each one of us does need the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit in our study of the Scriptures. In Scripture we shall find deposited there all the revelation we shall ever need and more besides. As we read its pages under the influence of God’s Spirit, we shall begin to see and understand as God does. God has promised to believers, collectively and individually, that He will indeed lead us all into all truth, into a progressively more comprehensive understanding of the revelation He has given us. Let not those who throw Scripture back in God’s face by failing to study it, or by implying its inadequacy, suppose for one minute that God is going to stoop down from heaven and make a special revelation just to pander to their whim! It is ‘misguidance’, first to neglect Scripture then to claim to receive specific details about our lives directly from the throne of God!
Some set aside the authority of Scripture by interposing a human interpreter between the Word of God and the reader. At this point, the occasion for Satan to slip in his own falsehoods has arrived. This intermediary may be an infallible pope or church; it may be ‘scholars’ and ‘experts’ mediating God’s Word to us through a maze of manuscripts and supposed exegetical complexities. By intermediary we understand, a situation where the interpretative principle is the assumed autonomy of human reason, which must by definition be adrift from God and be functioning in unbelief and rebellion. An interpretation is being sought from within the mind and heart of the person making it instead of from Scripture. Such is the nature of a false prophet whose word we ought not to heed, he has no word from God.
Denying the need for a human intermediary is not to deny that there are those gifted by God to preach and expound the Word. The essential principle of exegesis remains, the Scriptures themselves provide their own infallible interpretation. The Word of God, even as His providence, is best explained by God Himself.
"God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain."
If Scripture is to speak to our hearts with divine authority God intends, it will be both clear and immediately accessible to every believer. Saying that the Bible is clear in its meaning is not the same as saying every part can be understood with equal ease.
Does the Bible put an end to all use of reason? Not at all, but there is a marked difference in the use of reason by believers and unbelievers. The unbeliever makes his fallen reason the last court of appeal in all matters, whereas for the Christian believer his ultimate source of authority is God’s infallible Word illuminated to his mind by the same Spirit who inspired it.
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:20-21
There is no conflict between reason and faith for the believer. He will recognise his mind to be a gift of God, but at the same time has faith in the divine Author of Scripture and an implicit and unquestioning trust in His Word. This is the continual cry to God from the heart of the believer:
"Shew me thy ways, O Lord; teach me thy paths. Lead me in thy truth, and teach me: for thou art the God of my salvation; on thee do I wait all the day." Psalm 25:4-5
"For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:16
The unbeliever throws most of his energies throughout his life into escaping from and denying the truth. Even as sinners men cannot live without God. He mercifully restrains them from living completely according their godless philosophies. Furthermore, in His infinite goodness, God continues to permit His sun to shine upon all men without distinction. He sends rain to water the ground and prospers what they do, all to the end that they may yet repent and turn to Him. It is of God’s mercy that sinful men are not left to reap right now what they sow daily in rebellious unbelief and wickedness. Even as the prodigal was able to spend each day in sin and riotous living only by misuse of his father’s substance, so the sinner daily abuses the good gifts of God.
If men are to know the truth about anything, they need to know what God thinks. To know what God thinks, He must tell us. We need revelation in the first place because we are finite creatures. Adam from the outset needed God to speak to him. The matter has now become more complex because of the entry of sin into the world. We now need revelation additionally, because we are guilty sinners. Sin has seeped into every corner of man’s being, he is soaked in sin. He is born in sin, greets each day with sin in his heart, lives each day in sin, and each night lays down his head on the pillow with yet more guilt laid to his account.
"The wicked are estranged from the womb: they go astray as soon as they be born, speaking lies." Psalm 58:3
If he will not repent, it were better that such a person were cut off by God. He is cumbering up God’s earth, he is of little use to anyone, least of all to himself, and he is only storing up more judgment for the moment he stands before his Maker! Such a person as this, such as we all once were, will only submit to the authority of His Word when God, by a gracious working of His Spirit, breathes life where once death reigned. Only then will the light chase the darkness from the deepest corners of the mind, to see and believe.
The guilty sinner will do all he can to deny the truth, for to admit it leaves him condemned before God. His mind, along with the rest of his personality, has been twisted by sin so that it distorts everything it sees. The sinner will often understand very well what is being said to him in the Gospel, but his natural inclination because of sin is to pervert it. The sharper the mind, the more effective will be the distortion. The unrepentant sinner is thus hardly a person to be trusted to give us an unbiased opinion of the Scriptures. It is rather like asking an unreformed criminal to be judge and jury at his own trial! We are not going to get to anything like the truth out of such a person. A mind in flight from God is seeking only to hide in yet further darkness. Sin is synonymous with darkness and the truth with light. Presented with the Word of God, the powers of the unbelieving intellect will be set in motion to escape the light of truth.
"And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather then light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be manifest, that they are wrought in God." John 3:19-21
Not only is the sinner on the run from the truth, but he has allied himself with Satan against God. In return for his willing cooperation rather than making him wiser, instead of ‘becoming as gods’ as promised, Satan has blinded his mind. He now moves across the face of God’s earth with all the vision and discernment of a man who has colluded in the removal of his own eyes in order to see better! Satan was a liar and a deceiver from the beginning!
"The god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them." 2 Corinthians 4:4
To ask someone to judge the truth of Scripture for themselves is to accede to their assumed ultimacy whilst all the time demanding they submit to God. Here is a clear contradiction, we cannot do both of these things at once. Only the acceptance of the authority of our Saviour speaking to us through the pages of the Bible provides any ground for fruitful discussion.
In view of the veritable Babel of contradictory claims to the truth, we need an infallible criterion by which the authentic Gospel of Christ can be immediately recognised, and that God has given us in the completed revelation given by the prophets and apostles.
"For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ." 1 Corinthians 3:11
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone." Ephesians 2:20
That which has not come from the apostles must be judged by that which has. No non-apostolic writing stands on the same ground. There can be no other foundation. Without apostles there can be no further revelation. The prophets and apostles are long since gone, but we still have their teaching perfectly preserved for us in the pages of holy writ. We have no other source texts, and nothing can be added to what they have said. There is nothing else to be said. Indeed, an apostolic anathema rests upon everyone seeking to do such a thing. Adding to, or changing in any way, the Word of God once given is a perversion; it is another gospel, which is not another. Paul is most emphatic:
"I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another Gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed." Galatians 1:6-9
This anathema must also apply to those who tamper with the text of Scripture, mess with the manuscripts, transform translations to make them say what they would have preferred God to have said. ‘Revelations’ other than the one final revelation of Scripture must in the nature of the case be bogus. There is no possibility of them being other than the product of the human imagination or worse, a demonic diversion destined to lead those who follow them away from the Gospel of Christ and into an endless fog of false mysticism. To add to Scripture is to bring down the apostolic curse upon one’s own head. Scripture, when interpreted by Scripture, is clear, authoritative, and our necessary spiritual food. It permits no additions or alterations to it, and no subtractions from it. Every single interpretation is subordinated to Scripture as a whole. We cannot concentrate on some passages to the exclusion of others, if our understanding is to be balanced and accurate. Darker passages are to be explained in the light of those more readily understood.
When our Lord was among them, the Jews had obscured and disallowed the testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures by their vain tradition. Jesus tells them they are guilty of "Making the word of God of none effect through your vain tradition" (Mark 7:13). Moses had been elevated by the Pharisees almost to deity, yet even his writings were not sufficient for them. Their real allegiance was to a continuing, living voice of tradition, the product of apostasy, and so they were unable to see Christ in Moses and the prophets.
"Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. ...Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words? ...But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name." John 5:39, 45-47; 20:31
The Roman Catholic Church too has so obscured the Scriptures with tradition that Christ is no longer visible. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), arguably the most significant of all Roman Catholic theologians, wrote, "no error or untruth can be found in Scripture". Despite this, the ‘living voice’ of Christ in the Roman Church is his real final authority. The Council of Trent (1545-63) determined to oppose the revival of Gospel truth and anathematised any thought of sola scriptura, cornerstone of the Reformation. The source of all saving truth and discipline of conduct is said to be "... contained in written books and in unwritten traditions, which were received by the Apostles from the lips of Christ himself, or, by the same Apostles, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and were handed on and have come down to us; following the example of the orthodox Fathers, this Synod receives and venerates, with equal pious affection and reverence, all the books both of the New and the Old Testaments, since one God is the author of both, together with the said Traditions, as well those pertaining to faith as those pertaining to morals, as having been given either from the lips of Christ or by the dictation of the Holy Spirit and preserved by unbroken succession in the Catholic Church... if any one receive not [the books of Old and New Testaments, plus Apocrypha] as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema. ...[no one must] presume to interpret the said sacred Scripture contrary to that sense which holy mother church, - whose it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the holy Scriptures, - hath held and doth hold; or even contrary to the unanimous consent of the Fathers; even though such interpretations were never to be at any time published." ‘On Scripture and Tradition’, Session IV, 8th April 1546 [emphasis ours]
The Decrees of the First Vatican Council of 1870 open with the teaching that the church, meaning Rome, is the spouse of Christ and the teacher of truth and morals. In the second chapter the subject is revelation, where it is argued that some things may be known truly by the light of human reason on its own.
"The same holy mother church holds and teaches that God, the beginning and end of all things, may be certainly known by the light of reason, by means of created things; ...but that it pleased his wisdom and bounty to reveal himself, and the eternal decrees of his will, to mankind by another and supernatural way: as the Apostle says, ‘God, having spoken...’"
The Roman Catholic church recognises that, using the methodology of Aristotle, by the ‘natural light of reason’ a proper understanding of ‘nature’ and some knowledge of God may be acquired; what is then required additionally is the teaching of the church on things supernatural in order to acquire a comprehensive picture of reality. In things ‘natural’, reason is said to rule. Science and philosophy may uncover truth and knowledge in the natural realm, but their ultimate significance can only be ascertained through the ‘living voice’ of Christ incarnate in holy mother church!
The Bible teaches that as man came forth from the hand of God, he was possessed of a righteousness that was a natural part of his overall make-up in every part of his being. God made man morally upright and good. When he fell every part of man was affected by it. Body, soul, and spirit were all warped by sin. Contrary to this, Roman theology supposes original righteousness to have been supernatural and additional to human nature. Following Greek philosophy, the body is said, even from creation, to be in constant conflict with the unseen spiritual part of man. In order that the flesh should be kept subject to the spirit, God gave original righteousness to keep everything under control. This ‘original righteousness’ was lost to man at the fall. Spirituality was equated with denying the material and physical, the problem was not one of the sins of the heart (cf. Mark 7:15-23). Celibacy and monasticism were seen as ways of denying the demands of the body, escaping the material and physical world which was intrinsically flawed. The Roman Catholic view of sin and salvation is defective and must necessarily be other than biblical.
The meaning of all this is very straightforward: contrary to the teaching of the Bible, Rome maintains that although having this lost original righteousness the image of God in man remains intact, his mind, his will, and inclinations are largely what they were before the fall. Any imperfections are found in his non-rational physical make-up and that is simply the way he was created by God. Man’s mind, his will, his heart, remain largely unaffected by the fall. What he does and thinks is therefore not affected by an inherently sinful nature as Scripture teaches, but by a less than perfect physical constitution for which he is not to blame. Sin is said to be only in part rebellion against God, it is also a non-ethical deterioration of natural ability. A man in this condition, were this the true nature of the case, stands in need of no revelation, no Scripture, no illumination of the Holy Spirit, in order to understand himself aright or the world around him. Christian teaching is just additional to what he is still able to find out for himself without God. Man’s ability to reason, being part of his nonphysical make-up, has not been warped by an inherently sinful nature as Scripture teaches, anymore than his ability to do works pleasing to God has been altogether lost. Rome thus agrees with every godless unbeliever who relies on his reason and discards Scripture, and it also defends to the last, the filthy rags of homespun righteousness.
All within Rome are bound not to the Word of the eternal God, but to the perfidious teachings of an apostate institution. In a chapter dealing with ‘Faith and Reason’, the Vatican I documents endorse the earlier decrees of Trent, retaining for Rome alone the right to determine and declare the sense of both Scripture and Tradition.
"For the doctrine of faith which God hath revealed has not been proposed, like a philosophical invention, to be perfected by human ingenuity, but has been delivered as a divine deposit to the Spouse of Christ, to be faithfully kept and infallibly declared."
The relationship between faith and reason is not found in submission and trust in the infallible revelation of the sacred Scriptures, but each constitutes in itself an equally valid source of truth. Indeed, by mixing one with the other, the attributes of both are heightened. There is said to be a ... "...twofold order of knowledge distinct both in principle and also in object; in principle, because our knowledge in the one is by natural reason, and in the other by divine faith; there are proposed to our belief mysteries hidden in God, which, unless divinely revealed, cannot be known. ...And not only can faith and reason never be opposed to one another, but they are of mutual aid one to the other;for right reason demonstrates the foundations of faith, and enlightened by its light cultivates the science of things divine; while faith frees and guards reason from errors, and furnishes it with manifold knowledge." [emphasis ours]
So that we are in no danger of missing any of the infallible declarations of the church, the ‘perpetuity of the primacy of blessed Peter in the Roman pontiffs’ is added. What we are really left with is a Bible of very watered down authority; indeed, with no real authority left at all. After being filtered through Rome’s error, blasphemy, and heretical teaching, the precious Word of our God is set alongside a good mixture of autonomous Christ-hating human reason, but the final insult is that it is replaced as the ultimate word in all matters by a fraudulent successor to the apostle Peter, an impostor, a bogus representative of the Saviour on earth. Tradition, human reason, but crowing all, the pope is declared to be the ‘supreme judge of the faithful’ with ‘supreme jurisdiction over the universal church’, possessing ‘the supreme power of teaching’. When he speaks ex cathedra, ‘when in discharge of the office of pastor and doctor of all Christians, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority’ his definitions of morals and faith are ‘irreformable of themselves, and not from the consent of the church.’ When the pope speaks, when the church speaks, the astounding claim is that it is the voice of Christ! What a lie, what sinful arrogance this all is! Unity with Rome? You have got to be joking.
It is often suggested that within the Roman Church since Vatican II (1963-65) there is now a new climate of open-mindedness towards Scripture and Protestants. A wind of change is blowing, some wind, some change! We are led to believe there has been a change of heart since Trent. Those who were once heretics have become ‘departed brethren’. The softened and beguiling tones call for dialogue. Are there really now more hopeful sounds coming from Rome than was the case in the 16th century? To find the answer we need look no further than the documents of Vatican II. By the confession of her own mouth there has been no change. What can be said on the theological level is that many Protestant theologians, in particular those in the neo-orthodox tradition, have joined their Roman Catholic counterparts in opposing the authority of Scripture. On the first day of the Council, 11th October, 1962 pope John made his opening speech and this was hardly encouraging.
"In calling this vast assembly of bishops, the latest and humble successor to the Prince of the Apostles who is addressing you intended to assert once again the magisterium (teaching authority), which is unfailing and perdures until the end of time, in order that this magisterium, taking into account the errors, the requirements, and the opportunities of our time, might be presented in exceptional form to all men throughout the world...."
The greatest concern of the Ecumenical Council is this: that the sacred deposit of Christian doctrine should be guarded and taught more efficaciously.
"...the renewed, serene, and tranquil adherence to all the teaching of the Church in its entirety and preciseness, as it still shines forth in the Acts of the Council of Trent and First Vatican Council ... The substance of the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith is one thing, and the way in which it is presented is another. And it is the latter that must be taken into great consideration with patience if necessary, everything being measured in the forms and proportions of a magisterium which is predominantly pastoral in character." (all quotations from The Documents of Vatican II, ed. Walter M. Abbott, London, 1966)
Given that the teaching magisterium is absolute and therefore above question, it follows that in Roman Catholic terms, it matters little that Scripture and tradition may be two equal sources of revelation, for both are subject to this infallible teaching office. The only changes we find in Rome are those of a shameless chameleon changing its outward appearance to accommodate the changed environment of our age, but essentially the beast is the same. The second chapter of the Vatican II documents deals with the transmission of divine revelation, where we read:
"Sacred tradition and sacred Scripture form one sacred deposit of the word of God which is committed to the Church. The task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted exclusively to the living teaching office of the Church."
Clearly, no change! It is a reiteration of Trent without the anathemas. In the bosom of the Roman church alone can men hear through the pope or the body of bishops an authentic and infallible interpretation of the mysteries of God. The ends are the same though the means may have changed. The Catholic church now
"...desires to show herself to be the loving mother of all, benign, patient, full of mercy and goodness toward the brethren that are separated from her."
For the time being at least, the Roman church no longer openly anathematises and burns heretics at the stake, instead her siren voice lures them to destruction within herself. As martyrs were not terrified by her threats, no more shall we be deceived by her false charms.
If we read these documents from the Roman church with care, we shall see that she places herself not in submission to the Word of God, but in a very real way above it. She determines what it is that God has to say to men. By contrast, the Bible makes it very clear that it is the Holy Spirit alone who is the infallible guide to the believer reading God’s Word. Roman Catholic theology teaches that Christ is so identified with the church in His incarnation that it is actually continued in her, so full is she with the living Christ. There remains an ongoing incarnation, an ongoing sacrifice, an ongoing revelation, a ‘living voice’ of Christ in the Church. In such a situation the idea of a finished salvation and a finished revelation is impossible. There is no finished history, no finished revelation, no finished salvation and man has a hand somewhere in them all!
To show that she really cannot submit to one, final authoritative revelation requires yet a little more investigation, and this will be something like disentangling a kitten playing with a ball of wool — try not to lose the thread! Again, we must begin with creation. Important to a biblical understanding of creation is the divide that exists between God and all that He made. There is God and there is all He created. There are all those things God made, all have a beginning; there is God, who had no beginning, but exists in eternity. In becoming man, this divide between God and His creatures was crossed by the Lord Jesus, but this same divide has never been, and can never be crossed in the other direction. It is important to note that the Lord Jesus became fully man whilst at the same time retaining His deity, nor was there any mixture of His divine and human natures. They each remained distinct in one person and this must ever be so. Thomas Aquinas, however, established within Roman Catholic theology a synthesis with Greek philosophy, removing any distinction between the being of God and the created being of men. Being was all one, any difference is thereby made one of degree rather than of kind. The indissoluble distinction between the Creator and His creatures is blurred or completely disappears.
In absorbing this heathen notion, the Roman church seems to have some interesting bedfellows. The same idea lies at the heart of the mysticism of Meister Eckhart and Jacob Böhme, and the romantic philosophy of Schelling, who in turn influenced Coleridge. It is present in some Pentecostal and holiness teaching, and is characteristic of much New Age thinking. Feuerbach, the German philosopher, wrote,
"To predicate the personality of God is nothing else than to declare personality as the absolute essence" (in The Essence of Christianity).
All this is a futile attempt to bring God down to the level of man and elevate man to the level of God. Feuerbach again, "theology is nothing else than anthropology ... the knowledge of God is nothing else than a knowledge of man."
Divine attributes are to be snatched down from the skies to earth again from whence they were supposedly originally stolen, projected heavenwards onto a heavenly Being before whom man now falls in abject humility. Deity is to be restored to man. The deification of man could only have one outcome: the death of God in Western civilisation and the emergence of the superman in the blasphemous philosophy of the German pastor’s son, Friedrich Nietzsche, a man condemned by the God he so maligned to tragic and irreversible insanity. Atheism is redefined. No longer is atheism a denial of a God who anyway is long since gone from the scene, but it is a denial of His attributes as now being possessed instead by man. God has gone, and those who deny man has taken His place, they are the atheists now! Feuerbach:
"The true atheist is not the man who denies God, the subject; it is the man for whom the attributes of divinity, such as love, wisdom and justice, are nothing. And denial of the subject is by no means necessarily denial of the attributes."
Other members of this motley band of academic brigands include the Marxist disciple of Feuerbach, Bakunin, who spoke of the ‘mirage of God’; and the demythologising theologian, Rudolf Bultmann, who wrote, "I am trying to substitute anthropology for theology, for I am interpreting theological affirmations as assertions about human life." Kerygma and Myth, vol. 1
Quotations from men of similar ilk could easily fill our pages: Tillich, Bonhoeffer, Kierkegaard, and many more.
Those attributes thought to be the peculiar and distinguishing characteristics of deity are now said to be common to all human experience. Professor John Macmurray writes, "The conception of a deity is the conception of a personal ground of all that we experience. ...Religion is about fellowship and community. ...The task of religion is the maintenance and extension of human community."
Reading these words, it is easy to see why this man is so admired by ‘new Labour’ prime minister, Blair; and we need to remember this is what he means when speaking of Christianity. We should beware of all those who speak of ‘communal experience’. This idea is somewhat reminiscent of a statement in Mao Tse Tung’s infamous ‘little red book’, "Our God is none other than the masses of the Chinese people".
In the Roman Catholic version of these ideas, all being is said to be one, with God having fullness of being. This continuity of being enables man to ascribe to himself attributes and prerogatives that in reality belong only to God. When Roman Catholic theology declares that man is free, it means more than simply not being so radically affected by sin as the Bible says he is, it means man actually sharing the same being as God is to some extent ultimate. Man may have tripped, but he has not fallen very far. The will of man is of the same kind as that of God and so he is able to initiate that which is totally new. Men have autonomy and independence of thought and will of the same kind as God. Men can make decisions and generate thoughts that are right, without reference to God. God, therefore, does not have any real control over history as man can also determine what comes to pass. Any act, any thought of man is ultimate in its own right and is not dependent upon God. At first it appears there is an absolute authority in Rome in the figure of the pope. However, his authority is not absolute at all, but relative to the free and autonomous human will, his own and that of every human being. In Roman thinking, whilst the pope may be the highest on a sliding scale of human authorities, the will of every human being can be exercised alongside and outside the purposes of God and as such constitutes an independent authority in its own right. As the pope himself will also rely to some extent on his own autonomous mind, it being a source of knowledge of the same kind as that of God, even by his own standards it is not possible for him to speak authoritatively from God. The whole idea of an infallible pope is nonsensical and contradictory gobbledegook.
Roman Catholicism is a humanistic religion, it is also pure, unadulterated mysticism. This makes it one with many other false teachings and turns it effectively into the largest cult there ever was. It is in the nature of mysticism to claim that those initiated into the secrets enjoy direct access to God, effectively bypassing the Scriptures. This may be through the offices of a church or sect, or an ‘inner light’, intuition of some kind, mysterious teaching, experiences, dreams, prophecies, or visions. All who deny or limit the definitive once-for-all revelation of the Bible in this way have embraced a false mysticism. There is one faith, once delivered.
"Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write to you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints." Jude 3
With the coming of the Son of God to earth, the revelation of God since the beginning was now brought to a climax. The revelation of all previous ages was now complete.
"God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high." Hebrews 1:1-3
Today our Lord is no longer on earth, but is seated at the Father’s right hand having finished the work His Father gave Him to do.
"I have glorified thee on the earth: I have finished the work thou gavest me to do." John 17:4
There is no longer any personal, physical revelation of Christ in our midst outside of the Scriptures, nor can there be, for He is seated in heaven (Acts 2:33-36). After our Lord’s ascension into heaven and at a time before the canon of Scripture was complete, all who were granted a vision of the risen Christ saw Him reigning not on earth, but in heaven.
"But he [Stephen], being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God. And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God." Acts 7:55-56
All claims to the contrary are bogus. Christ cannot be in more than one place at once in His physical body. Until that day when every eye shall see Him, He will not leave His Father’s side to return to earth.
"Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise many false Christs, and false prophets" Matthew 24:23-24. Such as lay claim to a physical revelation of Christ outside the Scriptures are false prophets. This fact alone reduces the Roman Mass to a blasphemous absurdity.
These eyes do not see our Saviour, nor these ears hear His voice. How then can we who are on earth have access to God’s final and perfect Word, who is no longer on earth? We need an authoritative Word. Where shall we find a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path? There is one objective, verbal, authoritative revelation of Christ today on earth, one direct line, one voice from heaven: the inspired Scriptures, preserved perfectly by God, and illuminated to our hearts and minds by the Holy Spirit. With this last inscripturation, revelation is completed. Men may cry to heaven for a word from God, they will hear nothing, and see nothing. The work of Christ is complete, God has nothing more to say than He has said in Christ and this we find infallibly recorded in the Bible. How can we possibly think we need more than is to be found in Christ, who is "made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" (1 Corinthians 1:30)? Shall we exhaust the riches in Christ and then still ask for more?
As all before pointed to a coming Christ, so all afterwards points back to His completed work. Without faith in that finished work there is no way to be saved. There is no blessing God has to give to anyone apart from in Christ. There is nothing that does not stem from our Saviour’s once-and-forever sacrifice of Himself. Even the godless experience God’s goodness day by day only for our Saviour’s sake, they would otherwise not be spared. Having given His Son, God has nothing more to say to anyone than that He has said in Him. What more must God do in demonstration of His love than to give His only begotten Son? To expect more is wicked and insulting.
"He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" Romans 8:32
Only were the redemptive work of Christ still ongoing would we need further information, further revelation.
Beware dear friend, if you are among those claiming new revelations, be clear what it is you are denying and the danger you are in.
"But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God" Hebrews 10:12
God will add nothing more to Scriptures, nor dare we. Those then who make such claims are liars.
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" Proverbs 30:5-6
What we are being told is that the Word of God must have something added to it. What is really happening is that men are heaping their own inventions upon what God has given us in Christ. The Scriptures say, "God imputeth righteousness without works" (Romans 4:6). Should our faith embrace Christ plus anything, then we remain lost sinners. There is nothing to be added to what Christ has done on our behalf, there is nothing new to be added to what God has said about what Christ has done.
Martin Luther said that he would rather obey than work miracles. Longing for more than is found in Scriptures is not a sign of spirituality and faith, but of apostasy and unbelief. This is as true of those who demand miracles, signs and wonders as it is of those who expect God to somehow step into our age and do something more than is to be found in the Gospel given in Scripture. There is nothing we can possibly need that is not already ours in Christ.
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Ephesians 1:3
All present blessings stem from what God has already given us in His Son. God has done all there is to do in Christ, and all we need to know about Him is in the Bible!
"An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas: for as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." Matthew 12:39-40
This is the only sign with power to save, we refuse it at our peril. If we refuse the greatest sign of all, let us expect no other from God. The truth is, if we are not ready to accept what God has already given, shall we respond any differently should He speak again? Clearly, we would not.
"If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" Luke 16:31
Those who ask for more would be no more ready to submit and believe even were God to grant their request. Those who would meet Christ Jesus today will receive no blinding flash from heaven. Would we be led to Christ? We shall meet Him as the Holy Spirit illuminates the pages of Scripture until what we read there becomes our own experience by faith.
Only when we adhere to the biblical teaching of a self-sufficient, unique, and sovereign God, dependent upon no one, can we call people to confess their sin and submit, repent, and turn in unreserved faith and dependence upon Christ alone for salvation. Only then does the voice of our Creator God come to us in the pages of Scripture with real authority. Because, according to Roman theology, men participate in one ultimate kind of being, man is free not under the sovereign will and plan of God as Scripture teaches, but because his own will is said to be of the same sort as that of God. Man, like God, can determine how history will turn out. So it is that the deeds of men can never in any final sense be subject to the will of God. God cannot even predict what is going to happen. He must wait and see what millions of people will first decide to do, each one able to do that which is entirely new and unpredictable. There can be no infallible final revelation in Scripture in such a situation. God needs to keep adding new information. Rome makes man sovereign in his own realm, and God in His. There is no sovereign grace in the Roman church and man can thwart God’s purpose at every turn, in the end he is above God Himself. Only where God has all things in His hands can there be a once-for-all revelation, and a once-for-all act of salvation on behalf of sinners. The biblical view of Scripture strikes at the heart of Roman error. The two stand together. His work is finished, and God has given us a completed interpretation of it in Scripture through the apostles. We have a finished work and a finished revelation in the Bible, a true and certain salvation. Believers submit to Scripture; no tradition, no pope stands between.
It is not surprising that Protestant charismatics should link arms with their Roman ‘brethren’ for both recognise the authority of ongoing extra-biblical revelation. The collateral to the authority in the Roman Catholic church of an apostolic succession is in modern Pentecostal churches the continuance in this day of ‘apostolic gifts’, gifts that in fact passed away with the apostles. These so-called charismatic ‘gifts’ not only make continued revelation possible but give it apostolic authority. There is no way round this conclusion, despite protestations to the contrary by more moderate Pentecostals. The authority of Rome is an ‘apostolic’ office, whilst ‘apostolic’ gifts constitute the authority of pentecostalism and the charismatic movement. The only apostolic ‘succession’ recognised by true believers is the succession of apostolic teaching perfectly preserved for us by God in the Scriptures. A genuine gathering of the Lord’s people is very easily recognised.
"Then they that gladly received his word were baptised ...And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers." Acts 2:41-42
What is surprising to observe is the rush of so many evangelicals to ‘kiss’ the pope; a Judas kiss, if ever there was one. Very recently this has been exemplified in the ‘Evangelicals and Catholics Together’ movement in which Dr Jim Packer has been so prominent. Whilst it is sad to behold this shameful toadying to Rome, a careful reading of his book Fundamentalism and the Word of God (1958) is enough to demonstrate that the foundation for such a move had already been laid long ago. His views on faith and reason share common elements with Rome.
"We shall, therefore, continue loyal to the evidence both of Scripture and empirical enquiry, resolved to do justice to all the facts from both sources ...The truth is that the facts of nature yield positive help in many ways for interpreting Scripture statements correctly, and the discipline of wrestling with the problem of relating the two sets of facts, natural and biblical, leads to a greatly enriched understanding of both." [Emphasis ours]
This is straight from Aristotle, straight from Aquinas! Here are two sets of authoritative ‘facts’. One set comes straight from the mouth of God, the other from the observations of a fallen human mind. Indeed, the musings of sinful man about the world in which he lives may help him to understand the Bible better! Unless submitted to Scripture, the thoughts of even the best of men will be as lost as their souls. The truth is that the ‘facts’ we observe are what the Bible says they are.
Unity with Rome is sought on the basis of teachings supposedly held in common, particularly from the early Christian creeds. As we have already begun to see, whilst the labels may be the same that is where the similarity comes to an end. The Roman Catholic understanding of the incarnation or the atonement, two areas where there is said to be common ground, is far removed from what the Bible itself teaches; as is her understanding, for that matter, of the early Church creeds, particularly since Aquinas brewed his cauldron-mix of theology and philosophy. Roman ‘grace’ is not the amazing free grace of God reaching out to wretched sinners, it is a heathen fabrication. Wrong in these matters means wrong everywhere else. We have nothing in common with these people, we do not even worship the same God!
We need to exercise the utmost caution and be clear in our own minds what is meant, when we read in a ‘Statement of Faith’ that the Bible is the final authority in all matters of ‘faith and practice’. Sometimes one is left with an uneasy feeling that a fence has been erected around those areas of which the Word of God is said to speak, the remainder being left to the vagaries of the human mind to do with it what it will. Territories are marked out where man believes he can operate undisturbed. In other words, human reason is said to be adequate in all areas of non-faith, God only needs to lend a hand with the ‘religious’ aspects of life. Whatever it is we are studying, be it mathematics, physics, language, you name it, we cannot leave God out of the picture. Unbelievers recognise this, for they will not tolerate His intrusion in any domain they claim as exclusively their own country. Yet God cannot be excluded from the world He created. We are not adding a spiritual dimension to our understanding of the material world. We are not setting up an altar to an unknown God alongside all the other gods in the pantheon. The Lord, He alone is God. God’s Word demands of sinners a complete abandonment of their former way of thinking in all things. We cannot lower these demands to make them more acceptable to men without God in the hope they will then seek Him. Salvation reaches us in recognising our own guilt and bankruptcy before God, it means throwing ourselves upon His mercy, seeking life through faith in Christ, but also turning round and walking in the opposite direction, leaving behind our former deeds and ways of thinking. When everyone else is walking one way, we turn round and go in the opposite direction; and in doing this, we shall of necessity be called upon to bear the offence of the Cross. A true believer has "...put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him." Colossians 3:10
Only the Holy Spirit can bring men to do and think that which they do not do by nature.
We should be clear in our minds that there is nothing that is not touched by God’s Word. God has something to say about everything. The reason for this is quite straightforward, God made everything, everything He made belongs to Him, there is nothing He does not know about anything, and He reveals His glory in the things He has made. To know anything about everything, we need to know what God has said about it.
There is nothing likely to appear on the horizon that will once and for all put paid to the Christian faith. Nothing can contradict Scripture and at the same time be true. The Christian will know from Scripture that he is wasting his time looking for a ‘missing link’ between men and apes. Godless men may entertain curious notions as to the identity of their forebears, we do not. The believer will not talk of the stars as being billions of years old. All things are what they are because of their place in God’s creation. They can have no meaning apart from this. Science is not neutral territory to be observed and interpreted from a purely objective standpoint. Everyone interprets what they see around them according to their own belief system. This will either be according to the truth or according to lies, there is no middle ground. If according to the truth, it will accord with Scripture. We do not measure the Bible according to a human understanding of science or history, which in any case is always changing, but we look at the world around us instead with a reliable and truthful Bible in our hands. Science, history, linguistics, or any other field of human knowledge must follow Scripture and not the other way round, if they are to be according to the truth. Let’s face it, it is all just a ruse to try to push the true Sovereign, our Lord and Saviour, out of the world He has made, to exclude Him from everyday life. The cry from the rebellious human heart will always be: "We will not have this man to reign over us" (Luke 19:14). One day, every knee shall bow.
Even in Eden, Adam was not left to study nature on his own, simply observing and experimenting without any input from God. There is no way we could discover the nature of the physical universe on our own, its beginning, its meaning, without reference to the Bible. It is because he tries to do just this that the unbeliever comes to grief and ends up with a string of fairytales about monkeys instead of the dignified truth of man being made in the image of God. We can never learn all there is to know about the world simply from observation, just as intense introspection will never tell us all there is to know about ourselves. We need the Word of God to tell us what is in the heart and mind of man. Freud’s fraudulent psycho-fables are no substitute for the teaching of the Word of God, but this is all we are likely to get when man looks only to himself. (To find this junk being paraded in evangelical and fundamentalist Bible seminaries as part of ‘counseling’ courses is beyond belief, and we draw the appropriate conclusions about these places.) In Paradise, Adam would have been able to reason about nature, think about what God had made. He would have known how the worlds came into being, where he and his wife had come from, because God told him. It seems his scientific knowledge was far in advance of his modern counterparts!
Since the fall, revelation has become even more important to us because man interprets everything in terms of his own ability to work things out for himself, leaving God out of the picture wherever possible. Even when he allows for God, he makes Him as dependent on learning for what He knows as he is himself. He always asks, "How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (Psalm 73:11). The present situation is not normal and we must recognise the disturbance that sin has brought with it. Man interprets nothing aright on his own, and especially not his own relationship to God. God must show him the true nature of his lost condition and need of Christ. This He does in Scripture. Adam before the fall thought normally, he did not see himself as the beginning and the end of all judgment. It is we who are twisted in the way we see things. As the universe was created by God and is upheld by the word of His power, no ungodly philosopher can ever really come up with a proper explanation of the universe, because he rules out the truth before he even begins. He must then start looking around for an explanation from within the things he is looking at, he employs an immanistic principle of interpretation. Here he will find no explanation. Listen to the words of Job:
"But where shall wisdom be found? And where is the place of understanding? Man knoweth not the price thereof; neither is it found in the land of the living. The depth saith, It is not in me: and the sea saith, It is not with me. ...God understandeth the way thereof, and he knoweth the place thereof. ...When he made a decree for the rain, and a way for the lightning of the thunder: Then did he see it, and declare it; he prepared it, yea, and searched it out. And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding." Job 28:12-14, 23, 26-28
The weather, the storm, the thunder still escape the predictions of man; and thankfully, still less does he have any control over these matters. Yet, God determines and controls it all, every droplet of rain. Wisdom, knowledge and understanding are found only with God, search elsewhere and you will not find it. Do we seek true knowledge? Then it is with the Lord Jesus we must begin, "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). Scripture replaces the voice of God in the garden, no other authoritative word is to be expected. Non-Christians see this as to give up a scientific approach, whilst we see their approach as being closed to the truth from the outset. Despite their protestations to the contrary, godless scientists are in reality quietly drawing upon Christian truths when making any scientific progress. After all, they are working with materials and facts that God has created, they are uncovering what God has placed before them. They watch God at work every day of their lives whilst at the same time denying His involvement, devising instead other explanations for things. Science is dependent on phenomena repeating themselves in the same way given the same circumstances. That an apple always falls to the ground is due to the fact that, in His providence, this is generally the way God chooses to work. This observation of God at work is what men call ‘natural law’. How they then go astray is by leaving out God, erroneously assuming that the causal power behind what they observe lies in some way within the ‘laws’ themselves. God could also just as easily cause an apple to float upwards in the air, as He once made an axe-head to float on water. This out-of-the-ordinary action by God, which we call miracle, is nothing very difficult to the One who already causes everything else to happen. That our world functions at all, that scientists can do their work, formulate their ‘laws’, is dependent on the fact that God is faithful. Without God’s faithfulness, without His longsuffering, His goodness towards His sinful creatures, science would disintegrate. Scientists live in a contradiction, denying the foundation upon which their work depends. They ought to recognise what God has plainly revealed in Scripture. True science rests on Scripture fact.
Sadly, many ‘Christians’ working in science also operate using this same contradiction. They assume there is a common neutral ground for all men. They may do this to gain academic recognition or to avoid the scorn of their godless academic peers. "God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Ecclesiastes 7:29). Probably most great scientists were not Christians in any biblical sense and yet they have known far more about the world than we do as individuals. We must not, however, conclude from this that Christians know about heavenly things, and scientists about earthly things; anymore than we can say the Bible tells us about spiritual matters and everything else is left to human reason.
It has become increasingly common over the last decade or so to find many in Churches where once the Gospel was preached in some purity who now cast doubt on the historicity of the early chapters of Genesis.
In fact, as with many controversial matters, the serious issues can avoid exposure to question and discussion when attention is focussed upon lesser matters, and this is not to deny their relative importance. Creation out of nothing by the eternal God is a fact that ‘pulls the plug’ on all godless philosophies and for this reason invites the hostility of the enemies of the truth. Some find it convenient to seek some kind of rapprochement with the scientific speculations of unbelievers, but this really amounts to gross folly and is neither wise nor scholarly. It is a retreat from biblical Christianity into unbelief. It is to give credibility to the lie. Making such a compromise does not strengthen the Christian position over against unbelievers but undermines it. It makes it impossible to challenge unbelief, it gives credibility to the claims that godless men make about the authority and abilities of their own reason whilst at the same time remaining at enmity with God and at odds with His revelation. Reduce the doctrine of creation, and man’s responsibility is also diminished. Deny God as Creator and there is no need for him to live by the revelation of God, then he must not even obey God. This is the whole point of it all.
It should not surprise us that those presently casting doubt on the Bible account of creation are the very same people urging us to ditch the Authorised Version. The reason ought to be obvious, they apply the same interpretative principle of unbelief to what they say about the content of the Bible as to what they say about the Bible itself. No longer are unbelievers called upon to submit, but the contents of Scripture must be so twisted out of shape until they are acceptable to everyone — a gospel to suit all tastes! This is called ‘speaking to our age’, keeping up with pace of culture, a culture that is rapidly degenerating into a new barbarism before our very eyes! Is the Gospel to go down the drain as well? God forbid it! It means that in the end men still soaked in their sin dictate what may or may not be believed. This is the only ‘gospel’ godless men will accept. The gospel being preached in many churches is one where it appears that men come to God on their own terms and relinquish very little. It would seem that God has a long wait ahead, perhaps they will choose Him, perhaps they will not! Who can say? What a dreadful travesty of the truth! The sinner is in no position to dictate anything to Almighty God. The sinner can be thankful God still gives him daily breath, when all he does by way of thanks is to use it to proliferate his sin instead of using his days to find the way to repentance and faith. Let the sound go out around the world whilst it is still day, let all men hear the unequivocal word of God.
"Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon." Isaiah 55:7
This is the only way and there is no need of another. Why then try to enter by another way that is sure to fail? What a wonderful and merciful God we have who makes such an invitation to those who continually spit in His face! Who can understand it, perhaps those who once did the same?
Men do not naturally know their need of Christ, so when they hear the Gospel, they do not believe this meets their need. An offer of salvation on its own is not enough to save, men need the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. More than information is needed, the Gospel must be experienced in order to escape eternal death, men must see that Christ has met their need. The Word must come to them in deed and in power. After the entrance of sin into the world, God could no longer walk, talk, and fellowship with man in the way He had done previously. In the days of the Old Testament, God dwelt with man in the tabernacle and the temple. God was approached once a year by the high priest, with blood offered for himself and the people. There was no direct access into the presence of God, there lay between a thick veil. God spoke through His Word, more particularly to His chosen people, custodians of God’s revelation, for"unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). With the New Testament we reach a critical point, when God dwelt among men on earth in the person of Christ. Never was there a greater revelation of God among men. The incarnation was a high point in the history of redemptive revelation.
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. ...No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him." John 1:14, 18
In Christ once more fellowship with God is restored, we "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Hebrews 10:22). As yet we are deprived of the physical presence of Him whom our soul loves, but "...the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17
For this moment we wait, never more to be parted. Until that time He still speaks to us through His Word, and abides with us and in us by His Holy Spirit, whom He gives to all who are His own. The oracles of God are today still perfectly preserved among His people in the pages of Scripture, for the English reader in the Authorised Version.
As with every scientific fact of the universe, so with every historical event: everything from the dawn of time, the laying of the foundation of the earth, from the time when divine hands created the heavens, until, when having grown old as doth a garment, all is folded as vesture and changed and time shall be no more, but gives place to eternity, everything fulfills in every detail the purposes of God. That which we call history cannot be understood just by looking at any single event in isolation. We need to know the beginning, the fall and its results, the spread of sinful apostasy, the climax of human history in the incarnation, death, and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, His glorious return to vanquish His foes and reign in triumph. We need to see God’s redemptive purpose in everything that happens. This is the key that unlocks to us the meaning of history and this we learn only from God in Scripture. Unless we see historical events in this way, we thereby give way to godless alternatives. Everything is what it is according to its place in the eternal plan of God and this we can discover from Scripture.
"Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created." Revelation 4:11
We know from Scripture that God does not change, He is at any point what He always was and ever will be. We do not approach God one day to find Him different to what He is on another day. He does not change His mind about anything, nor does He need to do so. He does not become, nor turn into anything other, neither more nor less, than He already is. He is the "Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). Man is not like God. Instead, he is constantly subject to change, no two minutes in life are ever the same or ever repeat themselves. We should not imagine then, that one bright morning God awoke with this great idea of creating the universe and placing man on earth. The plan of God to create was from all eternity ever in His mind down the very last detail. "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth..." (Genesis 1:1). God is not likely to change His mind as time continues. What God has said and revealed remains for all time the same.
The absolute authority of the Word of God is based upon who God is. We cannot deny or water-down this authority without at the same time be making a statement about who we think God is and what He is like. His works reflect the nature of His being. God is sovereign, He is unchangeable, He is eternal. Were this not so, we could have no authoritative Word from Him. If God were Himself subject to decisions and events outside His control, were anything able to catch Him by surprise, we could never be certain that His Word was utterly reliable. As things unfolded, so He would have to alter His plan; were He to change His mind, a revision of the Bible would be necessary to bring us new truths and revelation. "For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven" Psalm 119:89
We also learn from Scripture that nothing is excluded from creation apart from God Himself. In the beginning only God was there, no one and nothing else, not a scrap of physical material with which to work. The apostle John tells us:
"All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made." John 1:3
It is then, impossible for anything to exist that is not part of His eternal plan. It follows that because He has made everything, nothing can surprise Him, something will not suddenly appear around the corner of which He had no previous knowledge, no incident can happen to catch Him unawares, including the sin of man. The death of Christ was no sad accident and our redemption no wise afterthought to something God could not possibly have foreseen. It was all accounted for long before He actually created the world! There is no escaping the impact of these words: we are redeemed
"...with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: Who verily was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you." 1 Peter 1:19-20
We are blessed with all spiritual blessings in Christ from eternity:
"According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." Ephesians 1:4
We are created to one end: the glory of God.
Nothing is left to ‘chance’; indeed, there is no such thing. As nothing exists that God has not made, so nothing can happen that is not part of His eternal purpose, and so nothing created is devoid of meaning. "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations." Psalm 33:11
The impact of these statements must reach deeply into every area of human life, personal and public, and must guide the way we look at everything we learn and experience. No war, though caused and fought by men, ever did anything other than precisely accomplish God’s ultimate ends rather than those of the participants. Every evil deed freely committed by wicked men, even though afterwards frequently punished directly by God, is made to fulfill His purpose. Is it a thing to be wondered at that "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision" (Psalm 2:4), even when the kings of the earth plot and rage against the Lord, His Son, and His people? Though evil may increase and men may fume and strive against God and each other, God is still on the throne! This is something we all need to remember, whether we enjoy poverty or prosperity, experience good days or bad, all come to us from the hands of our loving heavenly Father. Joseph understood this truth and could speak kindly to his brothers, despite the evil they had done against him. "But as for you, ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive." Genesis 50:20
It was only after having been reduced to madness by God that Nebuchadnezzar was forced to acknowledge the reality of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty in all things:
"And at the end of the days I Nebuchad-nezzar lifted up mine eyes unto heaven, and mine understanding returned unto me, and I blessed the most High, and I praised and honoured him that liveth for ever, whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom is from generation to generation: And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth: and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" Daniel 4:34-35
May God grant to our modern earthly rulers such an understanding!
Now we need to be very clear what we mean when we speak of God’s plan, for there are those who, thinking to defend the sovereignty of God, actually diminish it, or even end up denying the free agency of human actions and consequent responsibility. It is not simply the nature of the human will that such people misconstrue, but they misunderstand rather, the very sovereignty of God they seek to protect. Men are not marionettes manipulated and moved by a sovereign God who pulls the strings. This is little more than deterministic fatalism, and it demeans the sovereign majesty of God. History is not some great chess game where human pawns are moved about willy-nilly on a huge chequered board. There are also those seeking to spare God the embarrassment of being to blame for the evil deeds of men and their refusal of Christ, who go to the other extreme and attribute to the human will an ability it neither possesses nor needs. The Bible makes it very clear why men sin, why they refuse Christ; it is because they will sin and will not have Christ. It is their own free choice, a choice determined only by their own nature, which is sinful. The greatest constraint upon the human will is the will always to do evil. Men end up in the eternal fires because they have chosen to continue in sin and refuse to repent and believe. They are fully to blame and are the cause of their own ruin.
Having said this, we need to remember that God’s will and man’s will do not operate on the same level. Here too the distinction between Creator and creature must be maintained, the being of man is not the same as that of God and so the nature of his will can not be the same as that of God. Man can never be free in the sense that God is free, but neither must we conclude that if God is free, there can be no freedom for man. The problem for the godless man is that he thinks he can be free of God! The will of man, although acting freely and without outside constraint, is at the same time subject in all things to the sovereign will of God. Free acts of the human will in no way violate the reality of God’s sovereign plan, in fact, such freedom is dependent upon the sovereign will of God. The human will can act freely only because it is sustained by God in that way. It can originate nothing that is not part and parcel of God’s ultimate plan and, whether good or evil, every human action is made thus to serve His eternal purposes. Indeed, apart from God’s sovereign plan and purpose there could be no guarantee of the real freedom of human action. Each runs in a parallel line to the other. Men are only able to act in true freedom and escape a merciless and impersonal determinism, or being thrown about to no purpose by feckless contingency, because human freedom is wrapped around by God’s sovereignty. God is sovereign and man’s acts are as a result, free. Were God not sovereign, there could be no freedom for His creatures. Writes the prophet Jeremiah
O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." Jeremiah 10:23
There can be no denying man’s freedom to think and act for himself. Whether a man acts and thinks fully in accord with God’s revealed Word, having had his eyes opened to its truth and being empowered by the Holy Spirit; or whether he acts and thinks contrary to it in a condition of spiritual blindness and separation from God, all is done freely and willingly. Yet, let no one think they can escape God, let no one think that their wicked deeds can somehow thwart God, they only serve His ends. When man by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit thinks and acts according to the will of God as revealed only in Scripture, he thinks and acts rightly. When he thinks and acts independently, in opposition to Scripture, or even takes a neutral stance, he acts wrongly. In both cases he acts freely, but in neither case does he act outside God’s eternally ordained purpose, without which all human activity could simply not take place. Make no mistake, God’s plan has no holes in it. Man can do nothing which is beyond the purposes of God, and we can be very thankful for that as we look back over human history! Anything supposedly outside the plan and purpose of God could have no meaning.
Within the sovereign purposes of God men act freely within the boundaries of their human nature, whether this nature be unregenerate, when his deeds and thoughts will of necessity be as filthy rags before God; or whether he be regenerate, with a will that has been renewed by the Spirit of God, when they will be pleasing to God.
This is equally true of thoughts and actions presumed to be ‘neutral’, but designed to test the veracity of God’s Word, the reason being that such thoughts and actions are grounded in doubt and unbelief and not in confidence and faith in what God has revealed. To the godless, submission to Scripture as the Word of God and the exercise of human freedom are thought to be incompatible. They see each one canceling out the other. The unbeliever assumes without question that he is free to think as he will, he can decide what is what all on his own and still be right! That is rank foolishness. That is precisely what the Bible says, "Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools" (Romans 1:22).
As we look at what is in the world around us, as we watch what is going on, things only are as they are, only happen as they do, because they were from eternity in the mind of God. At the same time this does not deny that men are fully responsible for the wicked deeds they freely commit, but makes those deeds only the more reprehensible. Now this is a very wonderful truth from which we ought as believers to draw great strength and comfort, for not only is it impossible for events in this world to spin out of control, but they are in the hands of our heavenly Father. Every event, every fact in the universe has meaning according to the place it has in God’s eternal purposes. Were it otherwise, there could be no understanding of what is past, what is present, what is yet to come, and prophecy would be just a guessing game and not a certainty. He sets rulers in their place. Let not anyone think they can bring any down before God’s time; no cruise missile, no Harrier jet, no Apache gunship, not the mightiest army can do it. He restrains the sin of men that the Gospel light may shine in the dark corners of this world. He also in His wrath lets men loose to sin as they will and suffer the consequences. He lets the sinner live, He cuts the sinner off when his cup is full. In His mercy He sends flood and fire, wind, and every disaster to remind us of that last day when no sinner shall escape; He calls men to repent and believe, for time is short; He receives all who come to Him through faith in His Son. All that we need to interpret things temporal and eternal, God has caused to be recorded in the pages of the Scriptures. The Word of God, whether coming directly to man as in Eden, or whether revealed through the pages of Scripture as now, is central not only to matters of salvation, but to every area of life. Does this not call forth from our hearts songs of loudest praise, should we not then take up God’s holy Word with yet more reverence than hitherto? "O LORD our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above the heavens" Psalm 8:1
It is precisely because God’s eternal plan and purpose is all-inclusive that His revealed Word is absolutely authoritative. Everywhere the unbeliever turns he is looking straight at the glory of God. There is no escape from God, this reality stares us all in the face every day.
"The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheath his handy-work. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge. There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard."Psalm 19:1-3
In the world of science then, realities do not exist in a chaotic jumble which the human mind must then marshal into some kind of comprehensible order. As nothing is excluded from God’s plan, included in its creation is a God-given purpose and meaning for man to discover in submission to His revealed Word. Also, history is not an ever-revolving wheel, always repeating predictable calamities, relieved only by the caprice of a smiling or frowning fortune. This would be human existence with no beginning and no end, just going on and on, no meaning, little sense of purpose, no final destination. There is no way in which events, great or small, can be wrenched from their place in God’s purpose in Christ to redeem to Himself the world He made. Indeed this is the only way they can have any meaning. Language too is a precious gift of God’s creation, any theory of translation, understanding of grammar or semantics that takes no account of this, or denies it, will eventually lead to meaninglessness and chaos. Mathematics, physics, and every other field of study, each one is part of God’s created universe and thus related to His eternal plan to redeem the world in Christ - and all to God’s glory. There is no other way of looking at things, if we are to make any sense of the world in which we live and what goes on in it. Otherwise, we shall not have a clue about anything. There can be no area of life that can be properly understood outside and apart from Scripture. If things were otherwise, our Bibles would be dead in the water.
We must not assume that those who believe in God and trust His Word have faith and those who reject Him do not. Both have faith, the Christian believer has faith in God as revealed in Christ and in Scripture, the faith of the unbeliever is his own reason. Only one of these faith-systems is true, the other is false and blind. We rely either on the authority of Christ or that of man, but not both, the two are mutually exclusive. We do not call upon men to ‘decide’ about God’s truth, but to submit to it.
To the unbelieving scientist, meaning is derived from the application of the workings of the human mind upon the phenomena it observes without reference to the Word of God; similar principles guide the godless historian. According to textual critics, the Word of God too must also be subjected to such testing.
By what contortion of the imagination can the endeavours of those who dare to measure the Word of almighty God by the operations of their own finite and sinful reason be deemed in any sense to be a work of God?
What God has revealed is treated like any other phenomenon these academics may encounter and it must pass any tests imposed on it by their unregenerate and rebellious minds.
It is not our purpose to say that Christian scholarship is not possible, but to establish on what basis it can take place. An a priori commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible is seen as academic harakiri by most evangelical biblical scholars. What matters to most of them is peer approval and credibility before the larger intellectual world.
Perhaps around a dozen or so Christian colleges, universities, or seminaries in the USA and still fewer here in the UK maintain biblical inerrancy. The term ‘fundamentalist’ has been degenerated to a term of abuse, and ‘evangelical’ is already showing signs of disappearing down the same hole. All scholarship of whatever kind, if it is to be scholarship according to the truth, must start by saying that the Bible is the very written Word of God, authoritative, inerrant, sufficient. If as Christian believers we are to maintain the orthodox view of Scripture as confessed in the Church up until the last 200 years or so, it will involve a break with ideas current in modern evangelical circles.
The authority of Scripture rests on the fact of its divine origin.
Since the beginning of time, God’s Word came "by the mouth of his holy prophets" (Luke 1:70). First, God spoke in them, then He spoke by them to us. In the days of the apostles the mode was the same. The doctrines, histories, including the account of the beginning of time, the prophecies, all these things did not originate from within the minds of Scripture writers. They were not the product of their reason, they were not drawn from their memories, nor were they culled from a tradition passed on through generations, but all came directly from God and were received passively into their minds. What they received from God within, they gave out without adding or subtracting the smallest part.
The way in which the Word of God reaches us shows us why we too cannot add to it anything that is purely the product of our own minds. We need a Word that is pure, free of mixture and anything fallible. We cannot rummage about among the manuscripts making decisions about them based upon our own speculations as to what we think God ought to have said! God’s Word itself must be our sole authority, our reason must work in submission to it, according to those reasons God has made known to us and "hath purposed in himself". Would we speak with true authority, it will be only to the degree that we reflect the mind of God as revealed in Scripture.
The Bible is not to be handled just like any other ancient writing.
"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." 2 Peter 1:20-21
Having received God’s revelation in themselves, it was not left then to the writers to give it out as they best thought fit. They were so borne along, activated, by the Holy Spirit to write down nothing but that which was given to them. Though the process involved the instrumentality of their own mind and understanding, the words chosen were given directly to them. The words in which the truths they had received were now couched were words from God Himself. In the Bible, God has given us the counsel of His own will recorded in His own words through many different writers. Where the Bible speaks, God speaks. It exercises absolute authority over all God’s creatures, over those who accept it and over those who reject it. It excludes no one and no thing. We can do no other than submit to it. It is not just the teaching, the doctrine, or the ‘meaning’, that is given by inspiration of God, but every written word, the doctrine as written. This is very important to the consideration of how the Bible ought to be translated.
Spiritual declension rarely begins in the pew, the failure is generally found first in the pulpit. It is easy to point to the negative influence of liberal theological colleges and the godless faculties in secular universities in the training of pastors and preachers. What is rarely so quickly recognised is the extent to which evangelical seminaries and institutions professing a commitment to the proclamation of God’s Word have moved away from the truth. The doctrine where a fraying at the edges first occurs is that of the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. A fairly typical statement of belief would read something like this:
"We believe in the inerrancy of the Holy Scriptures as originally given, their verbal inspiration by God and their supreme authority as the only rule of faith and practice."
What these people are really saying is that, whilst the words originally written down by the prophets and apostles were free of error and inspired, the Bible we have in our hands today has errors in it and so cannot be relied on completely, and some parts are not inspired. Now, of course, they see themselves as the ones able to instruct us in these matters, which is why we need to go to their colleges! Whilst professing to believe the Bible, they deny it. They are facing in two directions at one and the same time.
Clearly, if we would avoid our people being led astray, such colleges and seminaries should be avoided like the plague and men trained in them eyed with caution. It is strange that so many who claim to be heirs of the puritans do not share their view of Scripture, once more we are faced with a ‘pick and mix’ mentality with respect to the authority of Scripture. Many claim to champion the insights of John Calvin on the sovereignty and providence of God, but seem to be unable to accept that this extends to God’s ability to keep His Word free from error and perversion, giving us a Bible we can trust today. It is all very puzzling, unless we understand that, for reasons best known to themselves, there are areas that these people wish to keep free from the authority of God’s Word and open up to the authority of human reason in common cause with rationalistic Bible critics, who are intent not on preserving, but destroying Scripture — an enterprise doomed from the outset. Of course, as we already possess the Scriptures today as originally given because God has preserved them, the future job prospects for these people, along with their Bible critic friends, look very shaky indeed!
We must question both the view that only the original autographs are inspired, and also the ensuing search for a better text nearer the originals. This is a nonsense. It is a case of half a loaf being worse than no bread at all! No one will ever know when this point has been reached, because we have no originals, that allow a comparison. If we were to have the originals the search would be pointless anyway. This point of view is based on a purely rationalistic, humanistic methodology, it completely disregards the providential working of God in preserving His Word in the Church. Rather than shrug our shoulders and question the doctrine of inspiration as do the liberals, what shall we do? We trust God to have kept His promise. This does not prevent us from testing every newly discovered manuscript and discarding all that do not measure up to the received text. There are many possible reasons why God has not permitted the original writings to survive, here are just two. First, there are those misguided souls around who would have inevitably made them objects of veneration. Second, they most likely just fell apart with use, as anyone who has used a Bible over many years will appreciate. It is insufficient to say God’s Word existed as inspired texts once-upon-a-time when what we need is an inspired text today.
One certain way of identifying an invalid argument is to follow it through to its conclusion; this argument is the route to doubt and unbelief and not to Christ. This is where this sidetrack leads: no Bible to trust, no Saviour in whom we can believe.
In passing we should note that this compromised view of Scripture is not that which has generally been held by godly men and women down through the ages. It was first popularised by the American theologian Benjamin Warfield (1851-1921). This is a matter of great sadness for Warfield wrote much that was of value and it only serves to show how very careful we must all be. His view would not have been endorsed by earlier American theologians. It would have found no favour with the Reformers. The fairytale about Luther being weak on Scripture was first promulgated by the German theologian, Dr Tholuck, to support his own error in this area. Those following this more recent view of the Scriptures ought in all honesty to desist from associating themselves with the great and good of the Protestant Reformation as they do, even wishing to be known as ‘reformed’, until they have reformed their views of Scripture and brought them more into line with those whose teaching they claim to emulate. The Genevan Calvinist, Francis Turretin wrote,
"By the original text, we do not mean the autographs written by the hand of Moses, of the prophets and the apostles, which certainly do not now exist. We mean their apographs [copies still existing] which are so called because they set forth to us the Word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit." (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1)
Still less would this new kind of thinking about Scripture have found favour with the English puritans. One of the most powerful pieces of writing comes from this quarter and is by the Englishman, John Owen. We whole-heartedly commend it for careful study: The Divine Original of Scripture (Works, 16). Unlike many modern neo-puritans, Owen also casts doubt on the reliability of the Septuagint. Any departure from what has been the considered belief of God’s people for centuries must be viewed with the gravest suspicion, and a changed stance towards Scripture in particular. John Owen:
"It can, then, with no colour of probability be asserted (which yet I find some learned men too free in granting), namely, that there hath the same fate attended the Scripture in its transcription as hath done other books. Let me say without offence, this imagination, asserted on deliberation, seems to me to border on atheism...."
Owen was of the conviction that to deny the providential preservation of the Scripture texts is tantamount to practical atheism. These orthodox arguments contrast most sharply with the more recent views of A.A. Hodge and Benjamin Warfield. It simply will not do to say that the Word of our God has been preserved other than error-free; even a ‘superior’ text or translation still leaves us with an unreliable Bible, and there then remains little point to a defence of biblical inspiration.
Those who deliberately cast doubt on the reliability of the Bible we have in our hands, even be it only by innuendo, make themselves the enemies of the Gospel and not its friends.
This last point made by John Owen describes precisely the central issue we are discussing. We cannot proceed to examine the Word of God in the way that unbelieving critics handle every other ancient literary text, using a rationalistic methodology to determine the veracity of its source, how it was written, the purity of its preservation, and how it is to be translated and interpreted. Yet this is precisely what many insist upon doing who would otherwise consider themselves defenders of the Bible. The sacred text is thus profaned. It must be taken as the truth, that what we have in our hands is a book that is word for word what God has given, as though we were hearing the very voice of God, a book perfectly preserved down the years by God among His people. We need no other authority than the Bible itself as the veritable Word of the living God. The ground for such an assertion is found in the Bible itself, that it is what it claims to be. If it then is the book it says it is, as the oracles of God, we can do no other than to submit. If it is not the book it claims to be, it can be safely treated as any other historical curiosity and as nothing more. To take this last stance is the only other alternative, we accept unconditionally the Bible’s claims about itself or we reject them, we believe or we refuse to believe. Should we from the outset refuse to believe, the evidence we gather will then only serve to support our false contention and confirm us in our unbelief. Unless that is, God in His grace mercifully brings us to a place of willing submission despite ourselves. In reading the Bible we are dealing with no ordinary book, "the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword" (Hebrews 4:12).
Every single word of the Bible was breathed out by God. We have seen that many evangelical scholars stop at this point in the discussion and seem to switch to what can best be described as a kind of ‘deism’ towards Scripture. Having revealed and inspired His Word, God then, it seems, simply allowed it float unassisted, and by implication virtually unguarded, down through the centuries. They seem to assume that God has now given His Word into their hands to make of it what they will using human means. The work of preservation, as that of revelation and inspiration, cannot be usurped by man, it is the work of God. Let us not be deceived, God has no more taken His hands off the Word He has given than He has off the world He created. Shall then sinful, mortal man take upon himself the task of altering and editing it? The inspiration of Scripture extending down to the smallest word, it is of utmost concern to us that the Hebrew and Greek texts we have at our disposal allow for no mistakes and are perfect in every way. Humanly speaking, this is not to be expected, and godless critics denying its divine origin assume the Bible to be as any other ancient text. John Owen was no scripture-deist!
"Hence, the providence of God hath manifested itself no less concerned in the preservation of the writings than of the doctrine contained in them; the writing itself being the product of his own eternal counsel for the preservation of the doctrine, after a sufficient discovery of the insufficiency of all other means for that end and purpose. And hence the malice of Satan hath raged no less against the book than against the truth contained in it." (Works, 16)
"The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever." Psalm 12:6-7
"Thy word is true from the beginning: and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever." Psalm 119:160
"Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled." Matthew 5:17-18
"Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." Matthew 24:35
His promise to His disciples was:
"But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26
"Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shew it unto you." John 16:13-14
That the Lord Jesus kept His promise is testified to by the apostle Paul:
"Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us, by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God." 1 Corinthians 2:9-11
There is here an unbroken line of communication from God to man in all ages, and at every stage it is the work of God’s Spirit.
"Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God, that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." 1 Corinthians 2:12-13
Spiritual things are spiritually given, spiritually communicated, spiritually received and that all the way along the line.
"But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:14-16
For these promises to be kept, the hand of God in perfectly preserving every jot and tittle must extend beyond the original autographs.
We must not assume from the outset that the Word of God is lost to us or corrupted, which is where most start, denying the providential care of God over His Word. True enough, we no longer have the original autographs, but the copies we do have will contain everything that was in the originals. God has promised to preserve His Word down to the very last jot and tittle, this He has done. The ancient manuscripts can only be read in this way. Where discrepancies may have occurred in any particular copy, or where through age there are blemishes or marks that obscure words, or even where one word may perhaps have been accidentally or mistakenly written in for another, they will be minor, and it will be obvious that this is what has happened. The transposition of a letter or a variant spelling even in a printed copy of the Bible is simply just that and in no way invalidates the Word of God. God’s Word stands out of the pages of the God-preserved texts we have at our disposal in a way not found in any similar secular literature. Our own Authorised Version is based on these reliable texts, the Hebrew Masoretic text and the Greek Textus Receptus, which are faithful transcriptions of the original writings.
All these manuscripts were carefully kept by believing people to whom were committed the oracles of God. Great care was taken in making precise copies of the originals. Authentic copies were most carefully preserved. Eventually, there were so many in circulation that any wilful or negligent corruption would have been noticed immediately, the words themselves being too well-known, and so it remains to this day.
To attack the authenticity of God’s preserving work by placing reliable texts alongside unreliable ones has ever been a strategy of Satan to undermine Bible faith. The great cry of the Reformation with respect to the authority of God’s Word was sola scriptura. Rome saw then, and still sees today, that to destroy this one Word is to destroy the sole authority upon which the Reformation was built. If they could show that the one Word of God did not exist, a significant blow would have been struck against their enemies. To this end they published a number of polyglot Bibles. The most well-known was the Complutensian (1513-17), although there were others. The Roman Latin Vulgate was placed between the Septuagint on the one side and on the other the Hebrew Old Testament, to compare ‘the position of Christ between the two thieves’ of unbelieving Jews, and of schismatic Greeks. Similar measures were undertaken in England by high church Anglicans, basing their work on Roman Catholic scholars, wanting to under-mine Puritanism by displaying, among other things, ‘variants in the originals’. ‘Versionism’, circulating varying and uncertain texts or translations as a means of unsettling all confidence in the authority of one infallible text is thus nothing new.
There are still many agitating to this day for a wholesale revision of the Hebrew and the received Greek texts; such an undertaking is not only totally unnecessary, but would result in perverted texts. This is precisely what happened in the last century at the hands of Wescott and Hort. Various manuscripts had been newly discovered, although there is some evidence to suggest that the translators of our Authorised Version already knew of at least some of them and had discounted them. As they were older than manuscripts then generally to hand, on their reappearance the claim was made that they were nearer to the originals because of their age. Nearer in time they perhaps are, but in little else. The reason for their survival is testimony against, rather than for their reliability. Early genuine texts would have been quickly worn out with continual use. Spurious texts produced by false teachers would have been cast aside and have consequently survived. This was yet another attempt of Satan to dilute and pollute the sacred Word he so much hates. These unreliable texts were produced in Alexandria in Egypt by false teachers wishing to diminish and weaken the doctrine of our Saviour’s divine nature. They were not so much littered with copyist’s mistakes as deliberately doctored to propagate error. It is then understandable that they should be preferred by destructive textual critics of the last century whose theological bent was similar. That one manuscript was found in a waste bin and another at the Vatican does little to commend either to us! Despite this, these texts were made the basis of a ‘critical’ text by Westcott and Hort in preparation for the Revised Version, the first edition of the New Testament appearing in May 1881. The critical text has been subject to ever more additions and editing, and is used for virtually all modern translations. It is a process keeping many scholars in employment and providing excuse for more and more perversions of the sacred text. There is an abundance of literature on this subject, some recent. Our own preference is for the earlier writings. Anyone wishing to look at these matters in some detail would make a good start by consulting the writings of Francis Turretin (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1), John Owen (Works, 16), or the American theologian of the last century, Robert Dabney (Discussions, 1).
We face a choice of authorities, as did Eve in the Garden of Eden, "hath God said?" Have we too fallen for Satan’s deception, but here in the matter of Scripture? Are we to accept without question the authority of God, or do we rely instead upon another source, that of independent human reason? Will we not instead seek to understand the truth by submitting the functioning of our mind to the illuminating power of God’s Spirit as we read the God-breathed Scriptures, that we may thus comprehend, at least to some extent, what God has given us in His written Word, and in so doing be led to a new appreciation of what He has given us in His only begotten Son? We can take no middle ground, there is none. We submit to Christ’s claims upon us or we die in our sins, so it is with Scripture.
Alterations to the biblical texts, the clamour for ever-new versions and translations almost without exception seek to diminish the Person of Christ, to disqualify Him as the Saviour of sinners. This was true of the revisers of the last century, as it was during the previous century when John Newton penned these words:
"The Socinians and others, in their unhappy laboured attempts to darken the principal glory and foundation comfort of the Gospel, employ their critical sophistry against those texts which expressly and doctrinally declare the redeemers character, and affect to triumph, if in any manuscript or ancient version they can find a variation from the received copies which seems to favour their cause. But we may venture to waive the authority of every disputed or disputable text, and maintain the truth against their cavils, from the current language and tenor of the whole Scripture." (Collected Letters, 5th November,1774)
The infallible, error-free, written revelation of God in Christ in Scripture will arouse the same opposition as that directed towards the person of Christ Himself. It exposes human sin, guilt; it makes men conscious of their evil hearts and need of Christ. Sinners are under Satan’s rule and naturally oppose Christ. The Bible calls upon all men everywhere to repent, to turn from following their own ways, to renounce their own wisdom and submit to God in all things, not only in matters concerning personal salvation. Those living under the power of their sinful hearts will be loathe to do this. Indeed, only those born of God’s Spirit will submit to God’s Word.
The unbeliever refuses to accept that it is possible for the believer to see anything he cannot also see. The godless man is blind to his blindness, he thinks he can see! Biblical criticism springs from the false assumption that Christless men can know and judge these matters accurately because of their learning. The credibility or otherwise of the Scriptures cannot be established apart from a prior conviction that we have in our hands, the revealed, inspired, perfectly preserved Word of the living God.
Ultimately, we know the Scripture to be the Word of God because the Holy Spirit has opened our eyes to this fact. It is an evidence of truly being born of God. Those who diminish or deny the sole authority of the Bible, or accept any other ‘revelation’ alongside it, are casting doubt on any work of God having taken place in their own hearts. It simply is not possible to be a Christian and accept any other authority beside God’s Word. Apart from the Scriptures, we can know nothing of Christ. All other routes lead to another ‘Jesus’.
When we know what the Bible says about its own preservation, then and only then, ought we to set about looking into the history of the various manuscripts and translations. Our task will then be somewhat different to that of others; we shall be looking to see how God has preserved His Word rather than if. Then we shall be able to establish which manuscripts are genuine and which are spurious on the basis of Scripture and not from the pseudo-science of critics. Certainly, those tainted with false teaching should be returned to the waste-bins. The cavalier work of men such as Westcott and Hort can then be discounted, for whatever their knowledge of the biblical languages, their unregenerate hearts and flagrant opposition to the Gospel rule out their work as being of any real value. Giving such people the task of working on the sacred text is like leaving thieves in charge of your valuables, don’t expect much to be left on your return! Their Greek New Testament must be set aside as a deliberate perversion along with all modern versions that are based on it. These men cannot even be possibly right. Do not be browbeaten by the brash bullies who say you cannot judge in these things, because you cannot tell an alpha from an omega, or an aleph from a taw. Whilst you may not read the original languages, anyone with a good knowledge of Bible doctrine is well able to distinguish goats from sheep, truth from error. Look at the translations produced from these texts. Do they honour Christ? Do they diminish His person? Do they even hint that He is in any measure less than God? Look at the people who recommend and use them. Are they people who stay with the faith once delivered, or are they open to every new wind that blows? These are some of the questions everyone can and ought to ask.
Having identified the authentic biblical texts, there remains one more step. Most people have no access to books written in Hebrew and Greek. To stop at this point still leaves the believer in the hands of a ‘priestly class’ of scholars. Does the Word of God come to us through our own, or someone else’s expert knowledge of the original languages? It would leave many able preachers and interpreters of Scripture unsure as to whether they were preaching God’s Word, men like John Bunyan to whom only the English Bible was accessible. Those who have added a second or even third language to their own mother-tongue, even over a lifetime, will confess their knowledge and insights can never rival those of the native speaker. It will not be possible even for the greatest of scholars, and there have been some quite outstanding ones, separated as they are in time and space from the biblical languages, to have the same relationship to them as those who wrote and spoke them every day of their lives. Thus a difficulty still remains. No scholar, however good his understanding of Hebrew and Greek, will understand those languages in the way that the original writers did. This is simply not possible. Although they may come very close, various nuances of meaning will elude them. To rely on their expertise alone would be to trust ourselves to fallible human understanding. Must the Word of God then come to us mediated by the imperfect knowledge of Hebrew and Greek scholars? We still have no reliable infallible Bible in a form understandable to us. What do the Scriptures say on this matter?
Replying to Satan when tempted, the last Adam demonstrated His confidence in the Word of God where the first Adam had doubted and denied it.
"It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matthew 4:4
Man is to live by every word from God’s mouth, something he can only do if God perfectly preserves it and in a language he can understand. If we are to live by God’s Word, He will most certainly give it to us. This is the promise He has given, and our view of the Bible must be governed by this. The question is again not if, but how. If we stop at the Hebrew and Greek texts, languages of which we can at best have only an imperfect understanding, God’s Word is still not really available to us. If we are to possess and live by God’s Word, there can be no point in the whole process by which we receive the Word of God at which the work of the Holy Spirit comes to an end and the work of man takes over. As He revealed and inspired, as He preserved the texts, so God Himself will also superintend the translation to ensure not a word fails. He will also then illumine those same words to our inward eyes as we read it. The understanding of anything revealed to man by God presumes a work of the Spirit of God right to the point where it is being read and its truth enlightens our heart. In order to be born again a man must have access to the Word of God and that must be in a language he can understand. If we are born again, we must have heard the Word of God, and if we do not read Hebrew or Greek, it will have been in our own language. It is essential that we are reading the unadulterated Word of God, if we would be saved.
"Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever. For all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of grass: The grass withereth, and the flower thereof falleth away: But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you." 1 Peter 1:23-25
Our main objection to modern versions is that not only do they rely on spurious texts cobbled together on a whim by infidels intent on destroying the faith once delivered, but that they employ a translation methodology that has its origins in the godless philosophies of men who hate God. They do not preserve, but distort and falsify the sacred Word. Failure in the area of translation can lead to all kinds of abuses. We have all known those preachers who, wanting to secure the best possible support for their teaching, search around in various translations until they find the most suitable. Those with the ability will themselves translate parts, or even the whole Bible, to suit their own emphasis or particular teaching.
At every stage, from the revelation of the truth through to reading the Bible in one’s own tongue, there must be a work of God’s Spirit, if it is to bear fruit in the heart of sinful man. If what we are to have before us is indeed to be God’s perfect Word, there can be no gap in this route for human handiwork, and most certainly none to be filled by godless infidel scholars. It is wholly inconceivable that having taken such infinite care God would not see the task through to the end. Translation is not an area where an exception can be made. What God reveals is written infallibly by inspiration, that which is inspired is perfectly preserved in the text and translation, which is in turn illumined to our hearts, and all by God’s Spirit. There is no way in which anything less can be understood to be the Word of God. The claim to believe the Bible from ‘cover to cover’ can otherwise be nothing but a meaningless chant.
To refuse God’s testimony is to make ourselves the deserving recipients of His wrath. We receive the Bible in every way as the book of the living God, and in faith as befits it. Its authority lies within itself, because its author is God. To quote Owen again:
"The authority of God, the supreme Lord of all, the first and only absolute Truth, whose word is truth - speaking in and by the penmen of the Scriptures - evinced singly in and by the Scripture itself — is the sole bottom and foundation, or formal reason, of our assenting to those Scriptures as his word, and of our submitting our hearts and consciences unto them with that faith and obedience which morally respect him, and are due to him alone." (Works, 16)
Consideration of texts, or matters of the authorship of individual books, of historical events recorded in Scripture, methods of translation, of principles of interpretation, can never enter into a marriage of convenience with autonomous human reason. There can be no discussion of any subject except on the basis of the teaching of Scripture itself and we must always be suspicious of those who water down this position.
We cannot and will not join those who seek to defend Scripture on any other basis than that of Scripture itself. All else is to operate from unbelief, we must first assume it is not the Word of God in order to prove that it is! There is really no need of any further evidence. Whatever anyone says about Scripture, we judge them and what they say by this word:
"To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them." Isaiah 8:20
We may not ourselves be textual scholars, but this does not prevent us being able to recognise at a glance the work of godless and unbelieving men.
As every part of our life is to be lived in complete submission to Scripture, how then can we be obedient and order our lives according to God’s Word, if that Word is not available to us in a perfect transcription of the original in our own language? Is Isaac Watts to be given access to God’s Word, but John Bunyan denied it? Or perhaps, as in the Roman Church, the Word of God is to come to us mediated through a priestly class of scholars?
Modern versions of the Bible not only use unreliable texts, they also use an inappropriate translation methodology. The methods used are invariably based on a rejection of creation and the providential working of God both in the definition of ‘meaning’ and in an understanding of the nature of language. There are many evangelicals who will tell you that they believe the ‘meaning’ is inspired rather than the actual words. What they all fail to explain is how this mysterious ‘meaning’ is to be conveyed in a book by any other means than words. The meaning is conveyed by the precise choice of words, the way they are used, as well as through the grammar. To alter in any way or to rearrange the words will inevitably result in a change of meaning. A method must be used that perfectly reproduces in the receptor language the words that God has given and in the way He has given them. This can be only accomplished as the same God who gave the word overshadows the word He inspired, in the work of translation, so that the translation too thus becomes a work of God. Any translation that does not meet these criteria is unsafe and unreliable. We are not translating a cookery book. Indeed, if cookery books received the treatment as have some Bible translations, they would contain many inedible recipes. Any translation methodology that takes no account of the special nature of Scripture, but treats it as any other book, or is based on rationalistic assumptions rather than Bible truth, is totally unsuited to the work of Bible translation.
The first recorded piece of scientific activity took place before the fall and involved the use of language, even before Adam was given a wife. Here we see Adam working harmoniously with the Creator of all things and not against or apart from Him. Meaning is linked with creation. We see Adam living harmoniously with the rest of the created universe.
"And out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field, and every fowl of the air; and brought them unto Adam to see what he would call them: and whatsoever Adam called every living creature, that was the name thereof. And Adam gave names to all cattle, and to the fowl of the air, and to every beast of the field." Genesis 2:19-20
We see from these early chapters of Genesis that Adam was created with the facility to act, decide, think and express those thoughts. He was created with language.
It is not the place in an article such as this to lose ourselves in the complex technicalities of linguistics or literary theory. Nevertheless, sufficient can be said to demonstrate the godless sources of much thinking in this area. To reject what the Bible says about creation and God’s eternal purposes is to deprive all things of their God-given meaning. The unbeliever is then left with the impossible task of finding meaning from within the created world itself. Many have tried to do exactly this and in failure, instead of returning to the God they rejected for an explanation, have concluded there can be no meaning to anything. Others have chosen another route. One man, regarded by many as the father of modern linguistics, has had wide influence in the world of linguistics and literary theory, the Swiss professor of linguistics, Ferdinand de Saussure. He is in the realm of linguistics what Sigmund Freud is to psychology and Emil Durkheim to sociology. Saussure rejects any absolute or God-given meaning. God, should He exist, even though He may be better placed to do so, would have to discover any meaning on the same basis as man. He is not the first to have made this mistake. Says God,
"Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee." Psalm 50:21
Nothing can have a meaning given to it by a Creator according to its place in His plan. According to
Saussure the meaning anything may possess is relative, to be defined in terms of the relations objects have with each other. In other words, a cow, for example, is cow because it is not quite the same as anything else with a leg at each corner, a head at one end, and a tail at the other. Its meaning is derived from everything else existing, and were it to exist on its own it could have no meaning, it could be neither described nor defined. Meaning is found once we have identified the relations and oppositions. We should note carefully in passing that this reflects closely the teachings of Karl Marx with respect to human consciousness, found in his early writings.
A central figure in modern Bible translation has been Eugene A. Nida. In a seminal work on Bible translating published in 1964, Toward a Science of Translating, he lists five developments he regards as most significant in their effect upon the theory of translation and therefore upon his own methods. He writes:
"The first of these is the rapidly expanding field of structural linguistics. In Europe the influence of Ferdinand de Saussure has been unequaled." (p.21)
The link between translating the Bible and modern translating ‘science’ is made by Nida himself in the second of these points.
"A second development is the application of present-day methods in structural linguistics to the special problems of Bible translation by members of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, also known as the Wycliffe Bible Translators."
There are two main streams of thought with respect to the origin of language. The behaviourist assumes language can be explained like much else as being ‘habits’ built up in an environment of social ‘conditioning’, similar in many ways to the process by which rats in a psychological laboratory ‘learn’ to obtain food by pressing the appropriate bar in their cage. Prominent exponents of this view would be J. B. Watson, B. F. Skinner, and of particular note, Leonard Bloomfield. The second view maintains there is more to man than what can be observed of his behaviour. He has a mind, and his capacities and activities can be described as ‘mental’ and ‘rational’. Language is innate and not simply acquired. Noam Chomsky holds this view.
Noam Chomsky has been a major influence on the work of Nida, whose Bible translating methods are now used almost universally. Chomsky came to prominence in the 1960s as an outspoken critic of American policies in Vietnam. He was a ‘hero of the New Left’, risking imprisonment for paying only half his taxes, he also gave encouragement to young men to refuse military service. Whilst there may be reason for Bible believers to concur with Chomsky’s view that grammar and language is first innate rather than being purely socially acquired, because he rejects any notion of language as being God-created, his views in the end will not be biblical. We can accept that there exists an intimate relationship between the structure of language and the innate properties and functioning of the mind, and as a result there will be an underlying grammatical structure common to all languages, but we are still not saying the same things as Chomsky. We contend that this is because God made language this way, also that the confusion of tongues at Babel supports this, Chomsky would hardly accept that. There are elements in Chomsky that may at first glance appear to mirror biblical teaching, but we must take care not to assume these things are necessarily the same as the teaching of Scripture.
According to Chomsky, his grammars are concerned with describing language as a purely formal system without necessarily any reference to meaning. Language being the instrument used to express meaning, he believes it is quite possible to describe the instrument without considering the use to which it may be put. The basic idea underlying Chomsky’s ‘generative’ and ‘transformational’ grammar is that by following a number of distinct operations, rather like applying mathematical formulae, a sentence in its simplest form can be extended indefinitely. Theoretically at least, the number of grammatical sentences generated from the simplest form, according to this view, is infinite. Language is not fixed, but is a dynamic mechanism. Translation is perceived by Nida, and others following Chomsky, as something more than a comparison of corresponding structures. This generative mechanism lies at the heart of the so-called ‘dynamic equivalence’ method of translating as used in the New International Version. The sentence in the text in the source language is reduced, using quasi-mathematical formulae, to a simple kernel sentence, it is then transferred like this into the receptor language of the translation. By the same process, the simple sentence in the receptor language of the translation is now made to generate an equivalent to that of the original sentence in the source language.
Our primary objection to this method must be that it disregards the fact that the original words were God-given and so cannot be changed. Should this procedure be followed consistently, words will have been interfered with and changed in the Hebrew and Greek text even before a transfer is made into the language of the translation. To those in evangelical circles who have forsaken the biblical teaching on inspiration this is of little concern, since they feel that as the original document spoke meaningfully to its readers, so "only an equally meaningful translation can have this same power to inspire present-day receptors" (Nida, p.27).
Here inspiration is understood in terms of the response of the reader to Scripture.
Translation is a complex and difficult task to accomplish well. Anyone with anything more than a passing knowledge of a second language will testify to this. A word in one language will not cover the identical range of meaning as its equivalent in another. Tenses may be missing in one language that are found in another, and even should they exist, they will often be used in a different way.
What the French Revolution of 1789 was to the political world, Romanticism was in the world of music, painting, and literature. Its worship of the imagination and human creativity would create the universe anew. It preached a man-centred substitute salvation, often borrowing heavily from Christian phraseology. Translation was no longer a ‘mechanical’ process designed to make known a particular text, be it the Bible or Shakespeare, instead it was a vital creative act spring up from within the translator. A translation is to be inspired by a ‘higher creative force’ so that it is no longer simply an everyday task devoid of the original ‘spirit’ that shaped it, it is a re-creation. Almost pre-empting the work of Chomsky, the god-hating Shelley wrote in The Defence of Poetry:
"It were as wise to cast a violet into a crucible that you might discover the formal principle of its colour and odour, as to seek to transfuse from one language to another the creations of a poet. The plant must spring again from its seed, or it will bear no flower — and this is the burthen of the curse of Babel"
How these infidels knew their Bible! So we uncover the true parentage of modern exponents of ‘dynamic’ translation methodology! They are giving us new bibles, ‘inspired’ recreations and not the inspired Word of the living God.
It needs must be the purpose of the translators to produce an accurate and readable word by word translation of the original languages so that the reader can be certain still to have in his hands the very words God gave and has preserved. In some instances Martin Luther found it necessary to create completely new words in German to reflect the original precisely, something the German language readily allows because of the tendency to use compound words. In his Circular Letter on Translation (1530), Luther uses the verbs übersetzen (to translate) and verdeutschen (to Germanise) almost interchangeably. The translators of the AV succeeded wonderfully in capturing the original phraseology so that all kinds of Hebrew expressions, not native to English, have found their way into our Bibles. It is unique English, biblical English, English formed by the Hebrew and Greek of the texts from which it came and not dictated to by the language into which it was transferred and yet it still remains eminently readable and understandable. It was certainly never the language of the common man, although the literate common man would have easily understood it. Those who accuse us of wanting to preserve ‘Elizabethan English’ have once more either misunderstood the facts, or are themselves guilty of misinterpreting them. A.T. Robertson writes in A Grammar of the Greek New Testament:
"No one today speaks the English of the King James Version, or ever did for that matter, for though, like Shakespeare, it is the pure Anglo-Saxon, yet unlike Shakespeare it reproduces to a remarkable extent the spirit and language of the Bible."
That God was at work in a most wonderful and special way in giving us our Authorised Version must be apparent to every true believer. It was the purpose of all early Bible translators to make the complete text of the Bible accessible to the layman and not to re-create it! The language of the Authorised Version was never spoken by anyone. There was no attempt made by the AV translators to make the Hebrew and Greek conform to Elizabethan or Jacobean speech. The translators were interested in preserving the God-breathed originals in readable English rather than turning it into the ‘language of the street’. When Bible translations are tied in to changeable contemporary language rather than the source texts of the eternal, unchangeable Word of God, new translations will continue to be in demand as present ones become dated. It seems that the publishers of modern copyrighted versions and the merry band of scholars they support have truly found a goose laying golden eggs.
What has been said about translation finds its counterpart in hermeneutics, or the interpretation of the Bible. Many commentators could save reams of paper by turning their often not inconsiderable skills to more profitable occupations than pandering to the doubts of infidel scholars and seeking to answer them on their own level of unbelief. Many ‘problems’ in Scripture are problems only to those denying the authenticity and authority of Scripture: eg. The authorship of the Pentateuch or Isaiah, the identity of Darius, the synoptic problem of the Gospels, etc., etc. All that many of these matters require to solve them is the response of a believing heart to the plain statements of Scripture.
It is hardly surprising that those who would have us treat the Bible as any other book, who prefer to overlook its providential preservation, see its ‘inspiration’ not as describing the nature of the text but the response of the reader, also promote rationalistic systems of biblical interpretation. Methods of interpreting secular literature are being applied shamelessly to the Word of God. Evangelicals, as usual, have been quick to be seen at the forefront in this latest fad. One of the most influential in this field has been the German philosopher, Hans Georg Gadamer, who has elaborated on ideas found in Heidegger. In his study Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer enquires after the meaning of the literary text. Has the author’s intention any relevance to meaning, can we hope to understand texts from which we are separated by time and culture? Language is said to belong to the society in which I live before it belongs to me. The meaning of a literary work can never be exhausted by the intentions of the author. Passing from one culture and historical context to another, new meanings are gained, never anticipated by the author. Applied to Scripture such interpretative methods are disastrous. There can be no once-and-for-all-time ‘objective’ meaning. The possibility of a book containing timeless truths, readily accessible to men of all ages is thus ruled out. The Bible is said to ‘mean’ what it means to me today. At this point translating and interpretation overlap. What the Scripture is saying is determined by an understanding relative to our own modern situation, not by what God intended us and all men in all ages to know, and has caused to be infallibly recorded in His Word. According to these principles of interpretation, the Bible can only have a meaning for us relative to our modern age and in a language appropriate to our age. This sounds all too familiar, does it not? There are many variations on this theme, and even many other tunes, but why should we even listen to them, let alone whistle any of them ourselves?
That we may find life in His Son, and walk aright, God has given us the Bible. He has watched over it with infinite care down through the years. In the Authorised Version God speaks to us in English, infallibly, reliably, with absolute and irresistible authority.
The Christian faith is not something we add to our way of life. It is in itself a totally different way of life. It is not simply an ‘insurance policy’ for the hereafter, whereby we make a down-payment in this life. We leave the rule of one lord, Satan, to be taken over by another Lord, Christ Jesus. We become His alone. There is no area of our life, He does not claim as His.
Repentance is not simply saying sorry for all the wrong we have done, it is to see the burden of sin roll from our back at the foot of the Cross, not to take it up again, but then to strike out in the opposite direction. Faith is not just a decision to ‘accept’ Christ, it is to throw ourselves upon Him and to trust Him for cleansing in every area of our lives. We have parted company with sin in our manner of life as well as in our manner of thought. We have received pardon and the power to overcome it, one day to be taken even from its presence. God’s holy name be praised. Amen.
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