The London Baptist Confession seeks clarity. So, there are 10 paragraphs about the doctrine of Scripture. And not only that, but the authors placed the doctrine of Scripture before the doctrine of God. They say less about the Trinity that they do about Scripture. Why would that be?
When it comes to the Trinity, you either believe that it is the teaching of Scripture or you don’t. To say that you’re a Trinitarian Christian is like saying you have a chickeny chicken. Trinitarianism is so part-and-parcel of the Christian doctrine of God that to lose the Trinity is to lose the particularity of the Christian faith.
All that is to say that the argument for Trinitarianism proceeds from a robust doctrine of Scripture. That’s why the authors began there.
I think we can summarize paragraphs 7-10 about the doctrine of Scripture without losing the essence today.
Paragraph 7 speaks to the clarity of Scripture, saying that anyone “in a due sense of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding” of the necessary teachings of Scripture. That does not mean that all you have to do is drag your eyes across the page and you will understands the deep things of God. What it does mean is that what God has revealed can be understood through regular effort, or “ordinary means”.
Someone might say that he has read the Bible several times and there are still passages he doesn’t understand. That fact alone does not bring this doctrine into disrepute. We must realize that clarity does not equal easy. And what might cause you to be unable to sleep at night might very well be as clear as a freshly cleaned window to someone else and vice versa.
Peter even says that some of the things that Paul wrote were hard to understand (2 Peter 3:16). But he also says that people twist his words to distort its meaning. So, difficulty of understanding does not mean impossibility of understanding.
Clarity is also understood to mean that the church does not need an authoritative teaching office to decide the meaning of Scripture. Remember that these confessions came out of the Reformation, the response to the abuses of the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Rome has the magisterium, which has the authority to interpret Scripture and the authority to demand the people accept its interpretation. The problem with that notion is that the authority is removed from Scripture and given to the magisterium. Protestant denominations may diverge on particular points of doctrine, but that’s because we share the belief that Scripture is the final authority. We follow the teaching of Scripture wherever it leads us.
Paragraph 8 essentially makes a statement that it is right and good for the Scriptures to be translated. From the start, Christianity has been a translating religion. Before the time of Christ’s incarnation, the Jews had already translated their Bible into Greek from Hebrew and Aramaic. This Greek translation of the Old Testament is called the Septuagint. In places like Luke 4, Jesus read from the scrolls, and it seems as though he was reading the Greek instead of the Hebrew. Either way, what comes to us in the gospels is quoted from the Septuagint. When Jesus quotes Isaiah, the quote follows the Greek (the translation), not the Hebrew (the original).
Besides that, Jesus would have spoken Aramaic. But there’s no Aramaic in the New Testament! At minimum, that means that under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and their associates were quoting a translation of both the Old Testament and Jesus’ words. Christianity is a translating religion.
Paragraph 9 says, “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.” That’s it! Basically, let the clear passages interpret the difficult passages.
You should never ask yourself, "What does this passage mean to me?" Have you ever asked yourself what the instructions on the back of your detergent mean to you? Of course not. You simply ask what it means period. You might very well apply a passage in a number of ways, but it only means one thing. Cults are formed because people love novelty. I generally tell people to avoid cults.
I have loved doing this read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan with the church. It’s basically a daily Bible study with about 50 people so far for a whole year. People are asking all sorts of awesome questions, which tells me they’re hungry for it. And when people have questions, I do my best to answer questions about Scripture with Scripture. I have no delusion that I have all the answers. But if there are other interpretations, then they also require evidence from Scripture.
Finally, paragraph 10 applies the authority of Scripture to decrees made by man. Our highest judge is none but “the Holy Scriptures delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved.” All church councils, all seminary textbooks, all free daily devotional literature published by para-church organizations, and blog posts must be judged for truthfulness by the standard of Scripture.
Having said all that, I want to leave you with a helpful acronym that was once given to me to help summarize the teaching of the Confession. If you want to remember the doctrine of Scripture, just remember SCAN.
Sufficient: Scripture is the sufficient source of knowledge concerning matters of salvation. Where Scriptures is silent or charitable, so must we be. In those matters, the light of nature must be brought to bear.
Clear: Scripture is clear in its teaching. With the required amount of effort and energy, the Bible can be understood and, more importantly, obeyed.
Authoritative: Scripture is the revelation of God to his creatures. As the highest authority both inside and outside of creation, his word carries the same authority.
Necessary: Scripture is necessary to knowing and understanding God’s way of salvation for mankind. Without God’s divine revelation, we are lost in our sins and destined for eternity apart from him.
Next week, we’ll see what the Confession says about the Three-in-One.