Category Archives: 2 – The Doctrine of the BIble

The Sufficiency of the Bible – Part 4

Yesterday my family and I finished reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time chapter 8, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency,” and thus Part 1, “The Doctrine of the Word of God,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. We discussed the application questions and hymn with which the author closes the chapter (along with a bibliography and memory verse).

I’ve observed on previous occasions that I’d have to give the application questions to report here on our discussion of them, which would violate the book’s copyright. However this time I will share one aspect of our discussion. In response to questions about subjects that we have been wondering about and wish that the Bible would say more about, we referred to the problem of evil happening to Christians. According to the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible, the Bible contains all that God wants us to know about that problem. Next month the Life group that my wife and I attend will begin a study of the problem, guided mainly by Randy Alcorn’s If God Is Good. I plan to report on our discussion at Open Theism.

Grudem closes the chapter with the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,” drawing attention to the statement of the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible in the first verse.

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said,
You, who unto Jesus for refuge have fled?

In every condition, in sickness, in health;
In poverty’s vale, or abounding in wealth;
At home and abroad, on the land, on the sea,
As thy days may demand, shall thy strength ever be.

Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid;
I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand
Upheld by My righteous, omnipotent hand.

When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of woe shall not over thee overflow;
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

Even down to old age all my people shall prove
My sovereign, eternal, unchangeable love;
And when hoary hairs shall their temples adorn,
Like lambs they shall still in My bosom be borne.

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to its foes;
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake,
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.

The Sufficiency of the Bible – Part 3

Yesterday my family and I finished reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time the section of Chapter 8, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in which he considers seven practical applications of the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible.

5. The sufficiency of the Bible means that nothing is sin that is not forbidden by the Bible either directly or by implication. In our family discussion we observed that women’s wearing slacks was considered a sin in the churches that my wife and I grew up in even though slacks were commonly worn by women and thus wearing them was not a violation of Deuteronomy 22:5, “A woman shall not wear a man’s clothes, nor shall a man put on a woman’s cloak, for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). Of course churches and families can make rules for their group, such as this one that our family used to have, “Children may watch television
for no more than a hour on school nights.” Such a rule would deny the sufficiency of the Bible only if it were generalized to apply to all Christians.

6. Similarly the sufficiency of the Bible means that nothing is required of us by God that is not commanded in the Bible either directly or by implication. This means that we aren’t required to do what someone claims that God has revealed to them for us to do unless it can be confirmed by the Bible. It also indicates, according to Grudem, that the focus of our search for God’s will should be on the Bible rather than on praying for changed circumstances or feelings or for direct guidance by the Holy Spirit. He says that doing so will enable us to say with the Psalmist, “Great peace have those who love your law, nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165).

7. The sufficiency of Scripture also means that in our doctrinal and moral teaching we should emphasize what the Bible teaches and be content with what God tells us in it. We should remember that “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29) and that God has revealed to us in the Bible exactly what He wants us to know. Unfortunately, as Grudem points out, the doctrinal matters that divide evangelical denominations from one another are mainly matters on which the Bible places little emphasis, such as the “proper” form of church government. That doesn’t mean that the issues are unimportant or that the Bible doesn’t give solutions to them, but it is too bad that they separate denominations.

The Sufficiency of the Bible – Part 2

Yesterday my family and I began reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time the section of Chapter 8, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in which he considers seven practical applications of the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible. That doctrine says that the Bible contains all the words of God that we need to know to be saved and to do His will and that it contains all the words of God that He intended people to have at each stage of redemptive history. Yesterday we read what Grudem says about the first four applications that he considers, and later today we’ll read what he says about the other three.

1. The sufficiency of the Bible should encourage us as we try to find God’s answers to our questions on doctrinal and moral issues. We won’t find answers to all of our questions because “the secret things belong to the LORD our God” (Deuteronomy 29:29, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV). And sometimes the answer that we find will be that the Bible doesn’t speak directly to our question, such as how long we should spend reading the Bible each day. However in many cases we will find direct guidance so that we will be “equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).

2. The sufficiency of the Bible reminds us that we are not to add anything to it or to consider any other writings of equal value to it. Almost all cults do this, the Mormons for example claiming divine authority for Joseph Smith’s The Book of Mormon. But even in orthodox churches people sometimes go beyond what the Bible says.

3. The sufficiency of the Bible tells us that we do not have to believe anything about Him or His redemptive work that is not found in the Bible. In explaining this application Grudem focuses on collections of alleged sayings of Jesus that weren’t preserved in the Gospels, asserting that it doesn’t matter if we never read any of them because the Bible contains all that we need to know about Jesus’ words and deeds.

4. The sufficiency of the Bible tells us that no modern revelations from God are to be placed on a level with the Bible in authority. This would include revelations made through the operation of the spiritual gifts of prophecy and of tongues with interpretation.

Grudem points out that whenever challenges to the sufficiency of the Bible has come by other documents being placed alongside the Bible, such as the accumulated teachings of the Roman Catholic Church and The Book of Mormon, the teachings of the Bible have been made less central and things have been taught that are contrary to what the Bible teaches.

The Sufficiency of the Bible – Part 1

The doctrine of the sufficiency of the Bible says that the Bible contains all the words of God that we need to know to be saved and to do His will and that it contains all the words of God that He intended people to have at each stage of redemptive history. These are the topics of the first and third sections of Chapter 8, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which my family and I are reading in our after breakfast Bible reading time. Between them is a section showing that we can find what God says about getting saved and doing His will. (Although I’ll share from all three sections here, we read just the first two in our family reading.) We expect to spend two or three more days reading from the chapter in our family reading.

That the Bible contains all the words of God that we need to know to be saved and to do His will is shown by Paul’s telling Timothy, “From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture [the Old Testament and, in light of 1 Timothy 5:18, at least some of the New Testament] 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 competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).

Other Bible verses that show this are:
– “Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” (Psalm 119:1).
– “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Peter 1:23).

That the Bible contains all the words of God that He intended people to have at each stage of redemptive history is suggested by His occasionally warning them not to add to what He’d already given to them. For example:
– “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
– “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18-20).

Accepting the sufficiency of the Bible means that we can focus on the words of God in the Bible to find His will for us by collecting the passages in it relevant to the various aspects of Christian life, such as marriage. It also means that we can collect the passages in it relevant to doctrinal issues, such as the atonement. Various aids are available to help us collect passages on particular topics, including concordances, topical indexes, systematic theologies, and books on Christian life.

Here evangelical theologians differ from Roman Catholic and non-evangelical theologians. The former view the church’s official teaching throughout history as also being the words of God and so say that we should consider them too. The latter don’t view the Bible as being the words of God in an authoritative sense and so say that we should consider other early Christian writings as well as the Bible in determining what viewpoints Christians can hold. Evangelicals view the Bible as being the unique Word of God and thus say that we need and should consider only it.

The Necessity of the Bible – Part 4

In my earlier posts on the necessity of the Bible I observed that the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel (and being saved), maintaining spiritual life, and knowing God’s will but that it isn’t necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about His character and moral law. The latter can be known through observing what God has made, seeing His actions in history, and sensing His moral laws by means of one’s conscience and is often called “general revelation.” It should be emphasized that although people can know that God exists and know something about His character and moral law through general revelation, they cannot know the Gospel and get saved apart from God’s words addressed to specific people, which is called “special revelation.”

First though I’ll explain why I’m devoting this post to expanding on what I said about general and special revelation instead of to reporting on what my family and I read from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading yesterday. Yesterday we discussed the application questions which Wayne Grudem provides for Chapter 7, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity.” To tell you about our discussion, I’d have to give the questions that prompted it, which would violate the book’s copyright, and so I decided not to. As well, not being familiar with the hymn with which Grudem closes the chapter, “Teach Me, O Lord, Your Way of Truth,” I decided not to share it in our family reading or here. Thus, not having our discussion or a hymn to report on, I decided to expand on what I’d said about general and special revelation instead.

The general revelation of God is found in nature, history, and conscience; is accessible to everybody; and is intended to persuade people to seek God. In my last post I quoted some verses illustrating how nature and conscience reveal God, but I didn’t say anything about how history reveals God. Although the Bible describes God’s dealings with different countries, it concentrates on His dealings with Israel, His revealing Himself in the continual cycle of sin, repentance, and deliverance that it experienced not only to it but also, as Deuteronomy 28:10 (“And all the peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they shall be afraid of you,” ESV) promised, to the whole world.

In my last post I defined special revelation as “God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the Bible.” Thus besides the Bible it includes words spoken by Jesus and possibly words spoken by Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles that are not recorded in the Bible; I said “possibly” because the only words spoken by prophets and apostles that would be special revelation would be those inspired by God. Moreover, special revelation is generally taken to include miracles, prophecy, Jesus Christ, and personal experience as well as the Bible. With all of those means of special revelation, why would the Bible be necessary? Possible reasons are that it provides an objective standard for testing the various claims of religious belief and practice and that it is the best way of preserving and transmitting accurately what God has revealed.

In conclusion, we can know that God exists and something about His character and moral law by general revelation but special revelation is necessary for knowing the Gospel (and being saved), maintaining spiritual life, and knowing God’s will. And the Bible is a vital part of that special revelation.

The Necessity of the Bible – Part 3

Although the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel (and being saved), maintaining spiritual life, and knowing God’s will, it isn’t necessary for knowing that God exists or for knowing something about His character and moral law. This is the topic of the two sections of Chapter 7, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which my family and I read in our after breakfast Bible reading time yesterday morning.

The following Bible verses show that people, even wicked people according to the third verse given, can know that God exists and know something about His nature by observing what He has made:
– “The heavens declare the knowledge of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork” (Psalm 19:1, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– (Paul to a Gentile crowd in Lystra) “In past generations he [God] allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways. Yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness” (Acts 14:16-17).
– (Paul to the Christians in Rome) “For what can be known about God is plain to them [unrighteous people], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20).

Following the passage from Romans cited above, Paul argues that the consciences of people who don’t have the Bible can show them something of God’s moral laws:
– “For when the Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them” (Romans 2:14-15).

The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law which comes to all people is often called “general revelation.” It comes through observing what God has made, seeing His actions in history, and sensing His moral laws by means of their consciences. God’s words addressed to specific people, such as the Bible, is called “special revelation.”

The knowledge of God’s existence, character, and moral law that people have through general revelation is a blessing to society because it restrains the evil that they might do without it, it makes them more willing to work with Christians to improve society, and it prepares them for accepting the Gospel.

The Necessity of the Bible – Part 2

The Bible is necessary for more than knowing the Gospel and getting saved, which my last post demonstrated. It is also necessary for maintaining spiritual life and for knowing God’s will. This is the topic of the two sections of Chapter 7, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology which my family and I read in our after breakfast Bible reading time yesterday morning.

These Bible verses show the necessity of the Bible in maintaining spiritual life:
– (Jesus to Satan, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3) “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4, ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
– (Moses to the people of Israel) “For it [the law] is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess” (Deuteronomy 32:47).
– (Peter to the Christians to whom he is writing) “Like newborn infants, long for the spiritual milk [likely “the word of God” referred to in 1 Peter 1:23-25], that by it you may grow up into salvation” (1 Peter 2:2).

Although all people have some knowledge of God’s will through their consciences, as I’ll demonstrate in tomorrow’s post, that knowledge is often vague and uncertain because of their weakened consciences. However the Bible gives clear statements of God’s will, as the following Bible verses show:
– “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29).
– “Blessed is the man who walks not in counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
Thus the Bible is necessary for having certain knowledge of God’s will.

Grudem goes on to argue that the Bible is necessary for having certain knowledge about anything. A philosopher might claim that our not knowing everything requires us to be uncertain about everything that we think we know because some fact unknown to us might prove that what we thought we knew is false. Thus the only way that we can have certain knowledge about any fact is either to learn all facts about the universe or to have someone who knows all facts about the universe tell us the truth about the fact that we want certain knowledge of. Since the latter is what we do when we turn to God’s words in the Bible, it is correct to say that the Bible is necessary for having certain knowledge about anything. My family and I weren’t convinced by the argument, thinking that we can have certain knowledge of some things without the Bible.

On the other hand, we agree with Grudem that the Bible is necessary for having certain knowledge of God’s will. Thus it is necessary for knowing the Gospel (and being saved), maintaining spiritual life, and knowing God’s will.

The Necessity of the Bible – Part 1

Yesterday my family and I began reading Chapter 7, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (3) Necessity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time. We read the chapter’s introduction and its first section, which aims to show that the Bible is necessary for knowing the Gospel. We expect to spend two or three more days reading from the chapter.

In Romans 10:13-17 Paul argues that no one can be saved without hearing the preaching of the Gospel:
“For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’ [quoted from Joel 2:32]. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” … So faith comes come hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV.)

Many other Bible passages show that people can be saved only through faith in Jesus Christ. A few of them are:
– (Jesus to Nicodemus) “Whoever believes in him [Jesus] is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18).
– (Jesus to Thomas) “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).
– (Peter to the Sanhedrin) “And there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by whom we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
– (Paul to Timothy) “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6).

If this is so, the question arises how believers under the old covenant were saved. These Bible passages suggest that they were also saved by faith in Jesus Christ, with their faith being a forward-looking one based on God’s promise of a Messiah:
– (Jesus to some Jews) “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
– “These [probably Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar” (Hebrews 11:13).
– “He [Moses] considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward” (Hebrews 11:26).
If “these” in Hebrews 11:13 refers to Abraham (with Sarah), Isaac, and Jacob, then the “homeland that they were seeking” referred to in 11:14 would be Canaan. However in 11:16 the writer indicates they also had a desire for the future “heavenly one” which God “has prepared for them” and for all who have faith in Jesus Christ.

The above passages demonstrate that salvation comes through faith in Jesus Christ and that that faith rests on God’s words. The place where we find those words today is the Bible, which means that reading it or having others tell them what it says is necessary for unbelievers to know the Gospel and be saved.

The Clarity of the Bible – Part 4

Yesterday my family and I had an interesting discussion of the application questions which Wayne Grudem provides for Chapter 6, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity,” of his Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time. However to tell you about our discussion, I’d have to give the questions that prompted it, which would violate the book’s copyright, and so I decided not to. As well, not being familiar with the hymn with which Grudem closes the chapter, “Jehovah’s Perfect Law,” I decided not to share it in our family family reading or here. Thus, not having our discussion or a hymn to report on, I decided not to make a post at Open Theism this morning.

However, after our discussion, my wife observed that the hymn with which Grudem closed Chapter 5, which we’d left out in our family reading, was based on the same Bible passage (Psalm 19:7-14) as the hymn with which he closed Chapter 6 and that she’d heard it sung when she was still in the Philippines. I asked her to sing it for us and she did. Neither hymn is in the Pentecostal hymnbook that we have, but I was able to locate both on the Internet. Here are the words of the one which my wife sang, “The Law of the Lord Is Perfect” (author – anonymous):

The law of the Lord is perfect,
Converting the soul.
The testimony of the Lord is sure,
Making wise the simple.

Refrain

The statutes of the Lord are right,
Rejoicing the heart.
The commandment of the Lord is pure,
Enlightening the eyes.

Refrain

The fear of the Lord is clean,
Enduring forever.
The judgments of the Lord are true,
And righteous altogether.

Refrain

Let the words of my mouth
And the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord,
My strength and my redeemer.

Refrain

Moreover by them is Thy servant warned,
Is Thy servant warned:
And in keeping of them there is
Great reward.

Refrain

The refrain is:

More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea than much fine gold.
Sweeter also than honey
And the honeycomb.

The Clarity of the Bible – Part 3

Yesterday my family and I continued reading Chapter 6, “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (2) Clarity,” of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology in our after breakfast Bible reading time. We read its last two sections (Sections E and F), which explain respectively why the doctrine of the clarity of the Bible should encourage all Christians to read the Bible and how Bible scholars can benefit the church.

Realizing that the Bible’s teachings can be understood by all who read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it tells us that when we disagree over the teaching of the Bible it is because we are trying to make affirmations where the Bible doesn’t give answers or because we are making mistakes in interpreting the Bible and not because the teaching of the Bible is confusing. Thus when we are genuinely concerned about some subject that Christians don’t agree on, we should ask God’s help and search the Bible believing that He will help us reach a correct conclusion on the subject.

Sometimes we assume that only those knowing Hebrew and/or Greek or only pastors or Bible scholars are able to understand the Bible correctly. However Grudem points out something that I hadn’t thought about before. The Old Testament was written was written in Hebrew and most of those to whom the New Testament was written didn’t know Hebrew and had to read the Old Testament in a Greek translation, but the writers of the New Testament assumed that their readers could read and understand the Old Testament. Thus we shouldn’t surrender to such experts the right of interpreting the Bible.

However Bible scholars and those knowing Hebrew and/or Greek can perform some important functions for the church, including these ones:
– They can teach the Bible.
– They can explore new areas of understanding the Bible’s teaching by applying it to new areas of life, by answering difficult questions raised about it by believers and unbelievers, and by making more precise our understanding of it.
– They can defend the Bible’s teachings against attacks by other scholars and against the false teachings of cults and sects.
– They can enrich the study of the Bible by lay students of the Bible, such as my family and me.