The beginning chapter of the London Baptist Confession of 1689 outlines the doctrine of Scripture. It covers a range of important points, from infallibility, to inspiration, to clarity. We’ll discuss each of these important components of a robust doctrine of Scripture in turn. The Confession begins in this way:
The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, although the light of nature and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and His will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in diverse manners to reveal Himself, and to declare that His will unto His church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.
Notice the claims made about Scripture in the first sentence alone: Scripture is sufficient, certain, and infallible.
First, Scripture is sufficient, but for what? It is sufficient for all things necessary to have saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. If we desire to know more of God, we turn to Scripture. If we desire to increase our faith, we turn to Scripture. If we desire the means for obedience, we turn to Scripture. We search for applicable texts. We memorize them. We meditate on them and place them in our hearts and minds.
Second, Scripture is certain. Scripture is to be trusted as the standard for truth. When anyone makes a claim to moral or ontological certainty, you must ask them, “By what standard?” Scripture is the standard for truth because of its origin in God.
Third, Scripture is infallible, meaning Scripture is not wrong or incorrect in what it says. Scripture may not give us all the information we desire, but where it does speak, we can trust it with our whole being. There must also be an intelligent way of reading Scripture: is the author being precise in terms of numbers, or is he rounding up or down? Is the birth narrative of Jesus told from Jewish perspective or a Gentile perspective? Rounding does not make a statement wrong or incorrect. Different perspectives on the same event do not make one perspective or another a lie.
Some churches ascribe infallibility to other sources, such as Catholicism to the pope when he speaks ex cathedra. But by only trusting in Scripture, Christians have a clear, agreed-upon source of revelation from God by which all other declarations are measured.
Yes, there is truth about God revealed to us by “the light of nature,” but that truth is not salvific. We may turn to nature to see that God exists, and perhaps even that we need reconciliation to that God, but we will never know the means that God has ordained to make that reconciliation happen. Natural revelation does “leave men inexcusable,” but what we are not pardoned from is knowing that God exists and that we are not innocent. Romans 1:18-32 makes it clear that mankind is not merely ignorant of God but that mankind has rejected God. This means that every one of us knows that there is a God in heaven whose hands formed us and all of creation, yet we have all turned to our own ways and become a law to ourselves.
Nature shows us the goodness of God. The land provides us the food we need. The environment generally forms an inhabitable environment. Animals serve us in a variety of ways, from workmates to companionship.
We also see his wisdom. One such example is the “fine-tune” theory of creation. An unfathomable number of criteria have been met to sustain life on the earth, from the amount of water to the earth’s tilt. God holds every life-giving component in his hands and graciously sustains it.
God has spoken through other means than Scripture, such as the prophets. These are the “diverse manners” of which the Confession speaks. Scripture is history, such as Genesis through 2 Chronicles. But Scripture also consists of wisdom literature such as Proverbs and Job. Scripture consists of Psalms, prophets, and apocalypses. The apostles and their associates left us gospels, epistles, and apocalyptic literature. All of them are to be received as equally divine and fully inspired.
The words of Paul, James, or John are not to be subjugated to the word of Christ. The red letters may help us know when Christ is speaking while on earth, but Christ is speaking in every word of the Bible. There are not levels or degrees of inspiration or infallibility. Paul did not invent a new form of Christianity, as some have erroneously argued.
Perhaps the most well-known passage of Scripture about Scripture is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” From Genesis to Revelation, God is speaking. God is teaching. God is reproving. God is correcting. God is training us in righteousness. They are his words, not the words just of men.
Some have argued that Scripture simply “contains” the words of God. It’s a double-speak kind of way of ignoring the parts of Scripture that offend us. The Christian is responsible for determining which passages of Scripture are actually the word of God and which are not. But that is not within the Christian’s authority. Just as no citizen gets to pick and choose which laws they obey, no Christian gets to choose which passages of Scripture they believe.
The flesh, Satan, and the world are the enemies of Scripture. Our flesh tries to satisfy itself through worldly means. Satan tries to distract us and ask us, “Did God really say?” The world is naturally an enemy of God for going their own way, which we were at one time, also. But Scripture is sufficient to rail against all three.
Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” The confession reminds us that “those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased,” we only turn to Scripture to read and understand God’s will.
We may not have a passage that tells us such things, for example, as who we should marry, but we do read that we should not be unequally yolked with an unbeliever (2 Cor. 6:14). If we need to learn the divinely appointed terms of marriage, how to compassionately and judiciously deal with cases of abuse, and how God will bring in his kingdom, we have no other prophet than Christ, who has set his words in Scripture.
We have not yet exhausted all that the Confession says about Scripture. We will return next week to look at authority, clarity, and more!