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NO SCRIPTURE, NO CHRIST
Note: This article is one of my earliest formulations of the doctrine of Scripture (1972). It focuses on the concept of the necessity of Scripture and therefore supplements chapter 30 of the present book.
Why is it so important to believe in an inspired, infallible, inerrant Bible? Because of Jesus Christ.
We are not here making the usual point about the relation between Christ and Scripture. The usual point is that Christ endorsed the authority of the Old Testament and endorsed in advance the authority of the New. That point is perfectly valid (cf. Matt. 5:17–19; John 5:45–47; 10:33–36; 14:26; 15:26f.; 16:13); but we are now making a different one, namely, that unless we have a fully authoritative Scripture, it is meaningless for us to confess Christ as Lord and Savior.
- CHRIST THE LORD
What does it mean to confess Christ as Lord? Among other things, it means confessing ourselves to be servants. In the Bible, the servant is one who has no claim upon the Lord God. He knows that his Lord owns (Ps. 24:1) and controls (Eph. 1:11) all things, and therefore owes no goods or services to anyone (Deut. 10:14–17). He owes nothing—and has a right to demand everything. The servant has no claim upon God, but God has an absolute claim upon him. Absolute, that is, in three senses: (1) It is a claim that cannot be questioned. The Lord God has a right to demand unwavering, unflinching obedience. God blesses Abraham because he “obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (Gen. 26:5 kjv). He did not waver (Rom. 4:20), even when God commanded the sacrifice of Abraham’s son Isaac (Gen. 22:18). To waver would have been sin. (2) The claim of the Lord is absolute also in the sense that it transcends all other claims, all other loyalties. The Lord God will not tolerate competition; he demands exclusive loyalty. The servant must love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deut. 6:5; cf. Matt. 22:37). One cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:22ff.). In the NT, Jesus Christ demands—and receives—precisely this kind of loyalty from his followers (Matt. 8:19–22; 10:37; 19:16–30; Phil. 3:8). The Lord demands first place. (3) The claim of God is therefore also absolute in the sense that it governs all areas of life. Whatsoever we do, even eating and drinking, must be done to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Rom. 14:23; 2 Cor. 10:5; Col. 3:17). There may be no compartments in our lives where the Lord is left out, where he is forbidden to exercise his authority.
- CHRIST THE SAVIOR
Even if we were not sinners, we would still have a Lord; we are called to be servants of God simply because we are his creatures. But in fact, we are not only creatures but also sinners. We need not only a Lord, but also a Savior; we need not only authority, but also forgiveness for disobeying that authority (Rom. 3:23; 1 John 3:4). Scripture tells us that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, died on the cross to save his people from their sins (Rom. 5:8). But how can we know that this is enough? We know because God has told us. Who else could pronounce our sins to be forgiven? Who else could promise salvation to those who believe in Christ? The Lord, who speaks to demand obedience, also speaks to promise salvation. He who speaks the law speaks also the gospel. As Abraham (Rom. 4:19f.), we are called to believe the gospel simply because it is God’s own promise. We know that believers are saved because Jesus has told us they are (John 5:24). Only the Lord can speak the word of forgiveness, the word that declares sinners to be righteous, the word that promises eternal life.
III. CHRIST THE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE
But where can we find such a word? Where can we find a word that makes an absolute claim upon us and makes an absolute promise of forgiveness? We must have it, or there is no hope. We must have it; else we have no knowledge of our Lord’s demand or our Savior’s forgiveness. Without such a word, truly we have no Lord, and we have no Savior.
Liberal or neoorthodox theologians can provide no such word. They know of no words in our experience that can demand unquestioning obedience, transcend all other claims, govern all areas of human life. They know of no words that can unambiguously communicate the “sure promise of God.” Where, then, can we go? Others suggest that God gives each of us a private, individual revelation; but those who make that suggestion differ widely on what God has in fact said. If they are all right, then God contradicts himself frequently. What test is there to determine when God is in fact speaking and when he is not? How do we distinguish the voice of God from the voices of devils and the imaginations of our hearts?
The God of the Bible directs his people to a book. To be sure, he does speak to some men individually—Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Paul—but he instructs his people as a whole to find his will in a book.
When God first led his people out of bondage in Egypt, he gave them a book (Ex. 24:12). It was a book that he had written himself; the words of the book were his own words (31:18; 32:16). Indeed, he permitted Moses to help with the writing (34:27); but the authority of those written words was a divine authority, not a mere human authority (Deut. 4:1–8; 5:29–33; 6:4–25; Pss. 19; 119; Matt. 5:17–20; John 5:45–47). Later, others wrote books at God’s behest, completing what we know as the Old Testament—books that Jesus endorsed both in word (above, second paragraph) and in deed (for Jesus submitted himself entirely to Scripture, living in such a way “that the Scripture may be fulfilled”). The NT church turned to those books as the definitive transcript of God’s law and promise. The books of the OT were “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16, literal translation)—that is, words actually spoken by God. Also, these early Christians came to recognize further writings, the writings of apostles and others, as having the same sort of divine authority as the OT (1 Cor. 14:37; 2 Thess. 3:14; 2 Peter 3:16). It is to such divine writings that the believer must turn to avoid confusion (2 Tim. 3; 2 Peter 1:12–2:22). It is those writings that pronounce the word of supreme authority and certain forgiveness. It is those writings that utter God’s absolute claim and his sure promise, his law and his gospel. It is those writings by which he speaks to us as Lord and Savior.
Without such a word, there can be neither lordship nor salvation. Without such a word, we have no basis for confessing Christ as Lord and Savior. Lordship and Saviorhood, without authoritative Scripture, are meaningless concepts. That is why the authority of Scripture is so important. That is why we cannot say that we love Christ while disowning the Bible (cf. John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; 1 John 5:3).
And that is why, when we present the gospel, we must present it as a word of authority and sure promise—a word that demands precedence over all other words, a word that will not be judged by the criteria of modern philosophy and science, but that demands the authority to judge all the thoughts of men (John 12:48–50). To present it as anything less is to detract from the very lordship of Christ and from the greatness of his salvation. As our Lord and Savior, Christ is the author of Scripture.
Inerrancy Meets Real Life
“As one might imagine, when trust in the reliability of all of Scripture crumbles, practical ministry becomes extremely difficult to navigate. Consider preaching. No longer can one preach the whole
counsel of God. Instead, we must first discern which texts are worthy and which ones lack authority and credibility. True preaching, argues Packer, occurs when the preacher becomes a “mouthpiece for his text, opening it up and applying it as a word from God to his hearers, talking only in order that the text may speak for itself and be heard.” When doubt seeps in, the preacher begins to wonder (and understandably so) whether the text he is preaching is in fact trustworthy. Are these really God’s words? Lamentably, once such doubt is entertained, preaching with authority becomes impossible. The preacher is simply sharing his own opinions or summarizing what the church has said in ages past. But in that case one cannot, with any confidence, say, “Hear the Word of God.” Could this be why the heritage of evangelical preaching has faded away in many churches today? Could this be why so many Christians have such little confidence in preaching as a means of grace?
Counseling suffers from the same disease. One must now decide what parts of Scripture are acceptable and applicable to the Christian life and which ones should be ignored, even repudiated, as unethical.
It is only a matter of time until the relativism of postmodernism takes hold. In an attempt to rip off the husk to get down to the kernel, subjectivity reigns. One man’s textual treasure may be another man’s textual trash. While some may see texts describing the historicity of Jesus’s resurrection as golden, others, utilizing the same methodology, see those resurrection texts as deeply flawed and find no credibility in the claim to a historical resurrection.
A rejection of inerrancy turns things upside down. Man, not God, has become the arbiter of truth. The reader, not the author, now determines what is good and necessary for the Christian faith. “To say that some parts are more ‘inspired’ than others,” observes Jensen, “is to treat inspiration as a response by the reader rather than as a characteristic o
f the text.” Believing that God has not revealed himself in a completely truthful and trustworthy manner, each individual must decide for himself what parts of God’s self-communication stay and p 301 what parts are to be dispensed with. Without inerrancy, what we are left with is a doctrine of Scripture that looks and feels more like a theology of glory than a theology of the cross. Rather than God stooping down to us (theology of the cross), we are climbing our own ladder up to God (theology of glory).
Eventually, deviating from sola Scriptura leads to a fork in the road. As we elevate man, we see ourselves as the arbiter of truth (modernism) or as the inventor and creator of truth (postmodernism). History teaches us that either road is a dead end. We are no longer thinking God’s thoughts after him, but have reinterpreted God’s thoughts into our own image. Turretin warns, “Unless unimpaired integrity characterize the Scriptures, they could not be regarded as the sole rule of faith and practice.” The truthfulness of Scripture is critical and fundamental to our faith. While belief in inerrancy does not determine whether one is a Christian or not, it is crucial to the Christian faith. It represents the historic position of the Western church and aligns with what the prophets, apostles, and Christ himself all believed about God’s Word. What do we gain by discarding it? Or perhaps the more troubling question is: What do we lose by forsaking it?”
Matthew Barrett and R. Albert Mohler Jr., God’s Word Alone—the Authority of Scripture: What the Reformers Taught…and Why It Still Matters, The 5 Solas Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016), 299–301.