From the time I was saved in my early teens, God has instilled in me a curiosity of His Word, the Bible. Of all the subjects to be learned I believed biblical studies to be most important. This conviction led me not only to regular reading of the Bible, but also to higher education in biblical studies and my passion for preaching and teaching God’s Word.
Around five centuries ago the leaders of the Protestant Reformation quickly came to the similar conviction of Sola Scriptura (Latin for Scripture Alone), which was one of the foundational pillars of the Reformation. After more than a millennium at that time, the Bible had been mediated by many secondary authorities: popes, priests, church offices, councils, creeds, and traditions. There was tremendous spiritual darkness because the light of God’s Word was but a flicker. Most churches did indeed have a Bible on the premises, but it was the 1,000-year-old Latin version called the Vulgate. It was in a language the common people did not know and it was often chained to a table so that it could not be removed. But the driving conviction of Sola Scriptura was the primary catalyst for the Reformation: the driving view that the Bible is the sole infallible authority on matters of faith and practice concerning Christian theology and living.
Because of the primacy and importance of the doctrine of the Word of God, it has often come under attack. This is not surprising since the most devastating tactic of Satan is to sever people from God’s revelation, authority, and truth to lead them into sin (Gen 3:1-4). The 66 books in the Bible are God’s authoritative revealed truth to humanity. Revelation means “disclosure” or “unveiling,” which is where God discloses His character, plan, purposes, and promises that would otherwise not be known. Since the source of the biblical writings is God Himself, they are authoritative in such a way that to disbelieve or to disobey them is to disbelieve or to disobey God Himself (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Pet 1:20-21). The Bible is also truthful in that every word is dependable, accurate, and trustworthy, making propositions that correspond with reality (Ps 119:160; John 17:17). These truths about the Bible led theologian B. B. Warfield to say, “The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”
Thankfully, conservative theologians have worked hard to refute skeptical and critical claims made against the trustworthiness of the Bible by developing clear doctrines on the Word of God. The doctrine of inspiration clarifies the process by which God’s written revelation was accurately received. Inspiration means the Holy Spirit superintended the writers so that they wrote according to their own styles and personalities with the result of God’s written Word that is free from error in the original autographs (2 Tim 3:16; 1 Pet 1:21). Inerrancy means that in these original autographs there is nothing untrue or contrary to fact regarding any topic (theology, history, science, geography, etc.; Ps 116:160; John 17:17).
Additional doctrines include the clarity of Scripture, which means the main teachings of the Bible are written in such a way that they are readily understood by those who read it and seek God’s help in believing and obeying it (Ps 119:130; 1 Cor 2:10-16). The sufficiency of Scripture means that the inspired writings contain everything God’s people need for salvation, faith, and practice (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet 1:3). The canon of Scripture means that God led His people to discern and recognize the inspired writings comprising the 66 books in the Bible (Deut 4:2; Rev 22:18-19). The transmission of the Bible means that God providentially oversaw the copying of the original manuscripts and preserved them so that they can be accurately reproduced in our time with certainty. God also blesses His people with illumination, which is the ministry of the Holy Spirit where the mind of the believer is enabled to understand the Word of God (1 Cor 2:10-16; 1 John 2:20, 27).
Another important point on understanding and interpreting the Word of God is the practice of letting Scripture interpret Scripture. I have always been amazed by cross references and different passages that state the same truth again, expand an idea, or develop a topic from a different angle. Scripture will interpret Scripture, and the more familiar we are with the entirety of God’s Word, the more connections we will make, and the more clarity we will have. God’s Word is a unified whole speaking with a unified voice because it was superintended by one divine mind, therefore it is never going to contradict itself. It is also helpful to let clearer passages interpret difficult or hard to understand passages and to be suspicious of teachings that lean heavily on one passage but fail to find support in any other passages in the Bible. It is with great confidence that I can say every main Christian doctrine (Bible, Trinity, Salvation, Church, Future) is supported and developed by numerous passages from Genesis to Revelation.
With the new year beginning, I am once again motivated to make a renewed commitment to reading and studying the Word of God. As a pastor, I want to encourage my family of faith here at Congregational Bible Church in the same practice. We should be excited to start off this new year looking forward to all the spiritual growth God wants to do in our lives when we let His Word dwell in our hearts richly (Col 3:16; 1 Tim 3:16-17).