A Concise Doctrine of the Word of God

Introduction

Over five hundred years ago an Augustinian monk by the name of Martin Luther found himself at the most pivotal point in his life. Perplexed by the unbiblical practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic church involving the use of indulgences, papal bulls, and abuse of papal authority, Luther penned what is now seen as one of the most pivotal documents in church history—The ninety-five theses. After completing the theses, Luther nailed them to the door of the church at Wittenberg, Germany to confront and clarify every major doctrinal aberration within the Roman Catholic church with hopes of setting it back on a biblical trajectory.
 
Throughout the centuries, men like Martin Luther devoted a great deal of time and study to understanding the foundational importance and relevance of the Word of God. For Protestant Christians, it is through his Word, the Scriptures, that God speaks makes himself known. Regarding the importance of God’s Word to the Church, noted Dutch Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck declared, “Scripture is essential, indispensable for grounding the truth of the Christian Gospel.”[1] John Feinberg adds, “Scripture is both the hallmark and foundation of evangelical theology.”[2]
 
However, a greater question arises. Is this the testimony of Scripture for itself? Does the Bible claim itself to be the very Word of God? Is it sufficient to be the complete foundation upon which all other Christian Doctrine stands? The answer would be an overwhelming “yes”—an answer this essay intends to show. This essay, through an exegetical inspection of passages from the New Testament books of Acts, 2 Timothy, and Hebrews, will present a systematic summary of the foundational concepts of the doctrine of the Word of God. In doing so, I want to format this essay into two parts: The nature, and the usefulness of the Word of God.  
 
 

The Nature of the Word of God

The first part of this systematic theology of the Word of God is to present its nature. An investigation into the nature of the Word of God looks to answer the following questions: What is it? Where did it come from? What does it do? What is its purpose? Is it correct? Can it be trusted? Scripture supplies answers to these questions and more when it comes to its nature. These answers can be divided into three categories: Its source, purpose, and trustworthiness.
 
Its Source: The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture
The Greek word for “inspiration” is theopneustos which literally means “God-breathed.” In the entire New Testament, theopneustos is only found once here in 2 Timothy 3:16. In the English Standard Version (ESV), the Apostle Paul states, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” (emphasis added). The term “inspiration,” as Benjamin Warfield notes, came into the English language from the French around the fourteenth century[3] though the Greek “has nothing to say of inspiring or inspiration: it speaks only of a spiring or a spiration.”[4] Carl Henry provides an extremely clear definition of the inspiration of Scripture:
Inspiration is that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit whereby the sacred writers were divinely supervised in their production of Scripture, being restrained from error and guided in the choice of words they used, consistently with their disparate personalities and stylistic peculiarities.[5]
 
So, when it is said that Scripture is “inspired” or “God-breathed,” it means “‘All Scripture’ is…the product of a specifically Divine operation.”[6] In other words, the source of Scripture is the very breath of God.
 
Though theopneustos appears only once in the New Testament, the writers were convinced that Scripture in its entirety was inspired.The Old Testament (OT) had a profound impact upon the New Testament (NT) writers. A true count of all the OT texts referenced in Acts, for example, would be nearly impossible. However, by observing some introductory formulas used by Luke, such as “as it is written,” twenty-seven explicit OT quotations can be found in Acts. The primary purpose of the most OT references in the New Testament is the inspiration and authority of Scripture. Luke clearly viewed the OT as words directly from God even though they were written by men—a doctrine known as verbal plenary inspiration which holds that though Scripture was written by humans, each word was exactly as God intended.[7] For example, in Acts 13:35 Luke ascribes David’s words in Psalm 16:10 directly to words from God stating, “Therefore he (God) says also in another psalm, ‘You will not let your Holy One see corruption.’” Because these words are credited to God by Luke, though the OT gives no such indication, lets us know that even he believed they were directly from Him. Another example comes from Acts 3:17-23, where Luke and Peter are in agreement that it was God speaking through the prophets (v.18, 21) quoting in v.22 specifically the words of God through Moses from Deuteronomy 18:15. It is not remiss to say that the most logical reason for quoting OT passages is that in the mind of Luke, if the OT said something, then it was God who was saying it, regardless if the words were credited to Him.
 
Furthermore, many of the Old Testament passages quoted in Hebrews 1 were addressed TO God by the psalmist, yet the writer to the Hebrews refers to them as the words of God (Heb. 1:5, 6, 7, 8-9, 10-12, 13). For the NT writers, if it was in Scripture, it was inspired by God.
 
Following on the heels of inspiration is the authority of Scripture. For the biblical writers, since God spoke the very words of Scripture, then they carry his authority. To the writers, as John Frame asserts, the Word of God has “no higher authority, no greater ground of certainty” than God himself.[8] The Greek phrase logos theou, which literally means “The Word of God,” occurs more than forty times in the New Testament. It was the central message of the Apostles in Acts 4:31 where after Peter and John’s first arrest and questioning by the Sanhedrin, they “continued to speak the Word of God with boldness.” In Acts 11:1 Peter preached “the Word of God” to the Gentiles. Furthermore, It was the “Word of God” that Paul preached on his three missionary journeys (Acts 13:5, 7, 44, 48, 49; 15:35–36; 16:32; 17:13; 18:11; 19:10). Its rapid spread was the focus of Luke throughout the book of Acts (6:7; 12:24; 19:20).
 
Ultimately, it is because of its authority that Paul commanded young Timothy to “preach the Word” (2 Tm. 4:2). Richard Mayhue expounds, “This declaration is not with the authority of the preacher, but rather the authority of God embedded in Scripture.”[9]
 
Its Purpose: Scripture as Special Revelation
God reveals Himself through two forms of revelation, Natural and Special. Natural revelation in its simplest form is God’s revealing of Himself through creation. All people at all times and in all places, with even a limited capacity for reason, can use; their senses to grasp that the facts of the universe reveal some sort of limited truth about God. Special revelation differs from natural revelation in that it goes further to teach people not only that God is real, but how to have a relationship with Him—i.e., salvation. Whereas natural revelation is found in the created order, special revelation is found in Jesus Christ and in His Word.In the opening verses of Acts, Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples. They were no longer going to be able to walk with the Incarnate Son of God on this earth. However, Jesus promised His disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).  His promise that the disciples would be His witnesses gives the indication that they would be heralds of a special message—the message of the Gospel, God’s Word; a message that could not be perceived from a simple observation of created order. This promise was fulfilled in Acts 2 when the apostles, filled with the Holy Spirit, preached the gospel, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls” (2:41). Those who heard and received were given God’s special revelation of Himself through the preaching of his Word—the gospel. John Feinberg adds, “Even the most avid Bible student can read it again and learn something he never saw before.”[10]
 
Its Trustworthiness: The Inerrancy and Infallibility of Scripture

Paul Feinberg presents what is the most clear and concise definition of inerrancy in his essay “The Meaning of Inerrancy.” He states:

Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences.[11]

 
It would seem that those who believe God inspired and revealed Himself in Scripture would naturally hold to the inerrancy of Scripture, but that is not always the case. Nevertheless, though the term never appears in Scripture, the concept of inerrancy is clearly taught within its pages. However, to what extent is Scripture inerrant? Erickson provides a clear answer when he defines the various conceptions of inerrancy. Scripture, as Erickson explains, should be interpreted with a view of “full inerrancy.” He states:

“While the Bible does not primarily aim to give scientific and historical data, such scientific and historical assertions it does make are fully true…reported the way they appear to the human eye. They are not necessarily exact, rather, they are popular descriptions…yet they are correct…in the way they teach it.”[12]

 
What he means is that Bible’s purpose isn’t to tell us the exact science of whether the earth is flat or spherical, or exactly how many people were saved during Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, but its declaration of 3000 souls saved (Acts 2:41) would still be a correct statement though it may not be exact.
 
One of the clearest testimonies of the Bible’s inerrancy can be found in Hebrews 6:18 which states that it is “impossible” for God to lie. If He were able do so, He would cease to be God. The implications of this verse can then be applied back to 1 Timothy 3:16 and the “God-breathed” Word. If Scripture is really “God-breathed,” and it is “impossible” for God to lie (Heb. 6:18), then Scripture is also without lie or error and can be trusted completely. Another example can be found in Hebrews 4:13 which teaches of the All-knowing attribute of God. Because God knows everything, and cannot be mistaken about anything, and because Scripture is “God-breathed,” then Scripture cannot be mistaken about anything. Early Church Father Irenaeus rightly concluded, “The Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and his Spirit.”[13]
 
Not only is the Word of God inerrant, it is also infallible, that is, it is incapable of leading the reader astray. The terms, as Feinberg notes, are ultimately synonymous with one another.[14] If Scripture contains no error, then they cannot possibly lead the reader astray.
 
In conclusion, the nature of God’s Word ultimately reveals who God is and whether His Word can be trusted. With a resounding “yes,” Scripture is trustworthy, but is it useful? This question will be answered in the second part of this essay.
 
 

The Usefulness of the Word of God

The second part of this systematic theology of the Word of God will present its usefulness, that is, is it clear and relevant for the twenty-first century reader? Is it sufficient for doctrine and practice? Is it life-changing? The answers to these questions will be my aim for this part of the essay. It will do so through three themes: the animation, perspicuity, and sufficiency of Scripture.
 
Animation: Is Scripture life-changing?

If the reader of Scripture can develop a proper understanding of its power, and what that power can do for his life, he would be inevitably led to a continual reading and obedience to it. Scripture would become the focal point of his life. Feinberg notes that Scripture’s power is often referred to by theologians as animation.[15] Animation “speaks to the power of God’s word to accomplish God’s purposes in people’s lives.”[16]

Animation is the most pressing theological theme of the Word of God in Hebrews. Hebrews 4:12-13 states:

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

To understand the fullness of what the writer is trying to present in this passage, the context must be put into view. Hebrews 4:11 states, “Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.” The “disobedience” here refers to the example of Israel’s disobedience in the wilderness (3:11)—the disobedience of unbelief in God’s Word, for “For good news (God’s Word) came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened” (4:2). The Israelites did not believe the promise God had given to them through Moses. Instead, they complained and grumbled in their struggles and desired to return to Egypt rather than follow God.
 
Because Israel was disobedient in their unbelief of God’s Word, the writer’s desire for the readers to strive to enter that rest of salvation and forgiveness would be the result of believing and trusting it. Feinberg suggests the Word of God that the writer of Hebrews most encourages his readers to obey is the truth of the availability of salvation in Jesus Christ and the “need to trust and follow Him with one’s whole being…The author’s point is that one must follow wholeheartedly whatever God says and in whatever form it is received; otherwise, we won’t enter into God’s rest.”[17]
 
The opening chapters of Hebrews speaks of the Word’s power leading up to its culmination in 4:12-13. Its multiple emphases on Scripture, especially in chapters 3 and 4, and repeated references to Psalm 95 indicates that Scripture is more than a simple book or message. It is living—having more than just the power to accomplish, but actually doing so. Its sharpness, as a “double-edged sword” has the power to pierce and cut through to the very thoughts of the reader. Because Scripture can pierce to the very core of the soul and assess the thoughts and intentions behind them, it is not to be disregarded to disobeyed—doing so would be to the detriment of the reader or hearer. Because of this kind of power, God’s people can be assured of their allegiance, or lack thereof, to their creator.
 
Perspicuity: Is Scripture Understandable?

The Westminster Confession of Faith rightly explains the concept of the perspicuity of Scripture:

“All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Yet, those things that are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or another, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.”[18]
 
In other words, as Burk Parsons states, “not everything in Scripture is easy to understand, but what we must understand in order to be saved is clear.”[19] A prime example of this doctrine can be found in 2 Timothy 3:14-15. Paul is writing this letter in the latter stages of life. He is acutely aware that his own ministry will be drawing to a close very soon (4:6-8). In his final weeks and months, he is working to “pass the torch” to the younger pastoral recipients of his writings. He knows that his death is just the beginning of some perilous times to come. He tells Timothy that the church will be infiltrated by people “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (3:5).
 
How would Timothy prevail against such people? How would he be able to determine what is true and false? Look to the Scriptures— “continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings…” (3:14-15). From Childhood, Timothy was well acquainted with the God’s Word. Specifically, he was well acquainted with the OT writings. This wasn’t some special knowledge on his part. While Timothy did have his mother and grandmother teaching him from a young age, if Scripture was not clear and understandable, he likely would not have grasped what it was teaching. Scripture, even that which is in the OT, must be clear and understandable for even a child to understand what it teaches about having a saving relationship with God.
 
Sufficiency: Is Scripture enough?

Paul follows up his statement to Timothy on the perspicuity of Scripture by declaring its sufficiency. He states, “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” So, not only is Scripture easily understood, but it’s also enough to give the reader all the information they need on how to be saved. This is what is meant by sufficiency. However, Scripture is sufficient for not only how to be saved, but also how to live and serve the Lord for a lifetime. Paul continues, “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” (v.16-17 emphasis added). Though Timothy may not have access to the NT yet, he was very familiar with the OT (v.15). Paul is testifying that even the OT is sufficient to point unbelievers to faith in Jesus Christ, and it is sufficient for Timothy to have everything he spiritually needs in pastoring the church at Ephesus. There is no mystery whether Scripture presents sufficient information for salvation and sanctification.

The power, perspicuity, and sufficiency of Scripture, clearly taught within its pages, gives testimony to the immense usefulness of the Bible. Scripture has the power and clarity to change the worst of lives marred by sin and shame, and it is all one needs to know how to have a relationship with God.
 

Conclusion

I pray this essay, in is systematic presentation of the Word of God through its Nature and Usefulness will supply a great introduction to the biblical development of the doctrine of the Word of God. While much more can be found throughout Scripture on these subjects and more, I believe this essay will lay the groundwork for a young believer to know that the Bible is the Word of God “and profitable” to know and to serve Him.
 
– Pastor Billy – 
 

[1] Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, ed. John Bolt, trans. John Vriend, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 450.

[2] John Feinberg, Light in a Dark Place: The Doctrine of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2018), 17.

[3] Benjamen B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1948), 131.

[4] Ibid., 133.

[5] Carl F. H. Henry, “The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 25.

[6] Warfield, 133.

[7] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 175, 177-87.

[8] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing Co., 1994), 127.

[9] Richard Mayhue, “The Authority of Scripture,” TMSJ 15/2 (2004): 234.

[10] Feinberg, Light in a Dark Place, 108

[11] Paul Feinberg, “The Meaning of Inerrancy,” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1979), 294.

[12] Erickson, 191.

[13] Irenaeus, Against Heresies, II.28.2

[14] Feinberg, Light in a Dark Place, 265.

[15] Ibid., 662.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid., 669.

[18] WCF, 1.7.

[19] Burk Parsons, “The Perspicuity of Scripture,” Ligonier Ministries (Table talk Magazine, October 1, 2015), accessed December 11, 2020, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/ perspicuity-scripture/.

 


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