Friday, April 28, 2017

The Self-attesting Authority of Scripture (Teaching Outline)

Introduction: The Baptist Confession of 1689 speaks of our strongly held belief in the self-attesting truth and authority of Scripture when it states:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church of God to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God. Yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. [Jo. 16:13-14; 1 Cor. 2:10-12; 1 John 2:2, 20, 27.] (Ch. 1.5)
Thus our confession succinctly describes both the idea of the self-attesting, or self-evidencing, nature of Scripture and the idea that the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts is necessary in order for us be fully persuaded and assured that Scripture really is the Word of God. Today I would like to take some time to briefly review some of the ways in which Scripture testifies to its own truthfulness, inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency, with the hope that the Holy Spirit will indeed work “by and with the Word in our hearts” in order to help strengthen our “assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof.”

I. The Truthfulness of Scripture

The truthfulness of Scripture is assured because Scripture is the Word of God and because God cannot lie. Thus we can be confident that we have the very word of God Himself in Scripture because He worked through the writers of Scripture in order to ensure this very thing. Remember, for example, David’s prayer of gratitude after God established His covenant with him:
NKJ 2 Samuel 7:28 And now, O Lord GOD, You are God, and Your words are true, and You have promised this goodness to Your servant.
Recall also the words that the LORD put in the mouth of Balaam after Balak had asked him to curse Israel:
NKJ Numbers 23:19 God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
In other words, God never lies, and He never fails to keep His promises. This is a fact that the Apostle Paul also affirms in the opening of his Epistle to Titus:
NKJ Titus 1:1-2 Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God's elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began …
The author of Hebrews also stresses this important fact as the basis for our assurance:
NKJ Hebrews 6:11-18 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, ‘Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.’ 15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. 16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute. 17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, 18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.
Because God cannot lie, we also know, then, that Scripture is true, since Scripture is the Word of God. The Apostle Peter describes how God gave us Scripture this way:
NKJ 2 Peter 1:19-21 And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; 20 knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation [NET = “No prophecy of Scripture ever comes about by the prophet's own imagination”], 21 for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture thus testifies of the truthfulness of God and of the fact that God gave us the Scriptures as a revelation of His own Word. We are therefore not surprised to find that Scripture repeatedly proclaims its own truthfulness as the Word of God. For example, the Psalmist asserts the truth of the entirety of Scripture when he writes in praise to God:
NKJ Psalm 119:160 The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.
Our Lord Jesus also asserted that the Word of God – and thus Scripture –  is true when He prayed for us:
NKJ John 17:17 Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.
It is no wonder, then, that the Apostle Paul admonishes pastors to be careful in their handling of the Word of God when he writes to Timothy:
NKJ 2 Timothy 2:15 Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing [or accurately handling, as in NASB] the word of truth.
Thus we see how Scripture testifies both to the truthfulness of God and to its own truthfulness as the Word of God. Yet this has other implications as well. For example, if all of Scripture is true because it is the Word of God Himself, then it necessarily follows that it is also infallible, which leads us to our next point.

II. The Inerrancy of Scripture

Scripture repeatedly assumes its own infallibility or inerrancy, not only as a necessary conclusion to be drawn from its complete truthfulness, but also in other ways. For example, David wrote:
NKJ Psalm 12:6-7 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times. 7 You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
When David says that the words of the LORD are “pure,” the context indicates that he means to say that they are “untainted by falsehood or deception” (NET Bible notes, BibleWorks). This is in stark contrast to the words of the wicked mentioned previously in verse 2, who speak “with flattering lips and with a double heart.” Their words cannot be trusted, and they are also ever changing, unlike the words of the LORD, for he “shall preserve them from this generation forever.” Thus the implication is that the Word of God is also trustworthy; it is reliable.

The truth and reliability of the Word of God is also a repeated theme in Psalm 119. For example:
NKJ Psalm 119:86 All Your commandments are faithful [sure, trustworthy]; they persecute me wrongfully [ESV = “with falsehood”]; help me!
NKJ Psalm 119:151 You are near, O LORD, and all Your commandments are truth.
And, although we have already considered this next verse from Psalm 119, we would do well to consider it again here:
NKJ Psalm 119:160 The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.
The complete truthfulness and trustworthy character of God and His Word, which means also the infallibility or inerrancy of God and His Word, are thus a consistent source of assurance for believers and a consistent reason for praising God.

Our Lord Jesus also constantly assumed the truthfulness and reliability of Scripture when He said such things as, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18), or that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). In fact, when Jesus appeals to Scripture to support an argument against the Pharisees and thus says that “the Scripture cannot be broken,” He assumes not only the truth and reliability of God’s Word but also the complete authority of God’s Word, which leads us to our next point.

III. The Authority of Scripture

Since God is Creator and thus the absolute authority for all men everywhere and at all times, it necessarily follows that Scripture, which is the very Word of God Himself, is also the absolute authority for all men everywhere and at all times. This is a necessary inference.

Yet Scripture also repeatedly testifies of its own authority in other ways as well. For example, we are told that the people of Israel were supposed to have learned to accept the absolute authority of God’s Word as a result of the forty years they spent wandering in the wilderness:
NKJ Deuteronomy 8:1-3 Every commandment which I command you today you must be careful to observe, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land of which the LORD swore to your fathers. 2 And you shall remember that the LORD your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
Later, Moses taught about the prophetic office through which God would continue speak to His people:
NKJ Deuteronomy 18:15-19 The LORD your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your midst, from your brethren. Him you shall hear, 16 according to all you desired of the LORD your God in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying, “Let me not hear again the voice of the LORD my God, nor let me see this great fire anymore, lest I die.” 17 And the LORD said to me: “What they have spoken is good. 18 I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. 19 And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
Thus the Word of God as spoken through the prophets was understood to have the authority of God Himself, and to disobey this Word was to disobey God Himself. There are many examples of this in Scripture, but one will have to suffice for our purposes today. Consider the example of Saul, whom the LORD had commanded through the prophet Samuel to “go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and do not spare them (1 Sam. 15:3a). But Saul did not obey, and we read about Samuel’s confrontation of Saul in 1 Samuel 15:
NKJ 1 Samuel 15:18-23 “Now the LORD sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the LORD? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the LORD?” 20 And Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the voice of the LORD, and gone on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and brought back Agag king of Amalek; I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But the people took of the plunder, sheep and oxen, the best of the things which should have been utterly destroyed, to sacrifice to the LORD your God in Gilgal.” 22 Then Samuel said: “Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He also has rejected you from being king.”
To disobey the Word of God is a very serious thing indeed! For God is the one to whom all obedience is due, as our sovereign Creator and absolute authority. His Word must therefore be obeyed as an absolute authority, and, as we have seen, we have that Word recorded for us in Scripture.

Later, when Jesus began His teaching ministry as the Messiah, He also appealed to the authority of Scripture as the Word of God in His confrontation of the devil:
NKJ Matthew 4:1-4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. 3 Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
Thus Jesus cited Deuteronomy 8:3, which we have already read, after which He twice more cited Scripture in His confrontation of the devil. He clearly saw Scripture as the authority upon which He relied as the Messiah and which even the devil ought to have recognized as such. This is also why Jesus regularly cited Scripture in His teaching and in His refutation of error, and it is why He rebuked those who wickedly undermined the authority of Scripture in their own teaching. Recall, for example, an encounter that Jesus once had with a group of Sadducees:
NKJ Matthew 22:23-32 The same day the Sadducees, who say there is no resurrection, came to Him and asked Him, 24 saying: “Teacher, Moses said that if a man dies, having no children, his brother shall marry his wife and raise up offspring for his brother. 25 Now there were with us seven brothers. The first died after he had married, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother. 26 Likewise the second also, and the third, even to the seventh. 27 Last of all the woman died also. 28 Therefore, in the resurrection, whose wife of the seven will she be? For they all had her.” 29 Jesus answered and said to them, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God. 30 For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels of God in heaven. 31 But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, 32 ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.”
Thus Jesus rebuked the Sadducees for their failure to properly understand and apply Scripture, and He appealed to the proper understanding of Scripture as His authority in correcting them.

Jesus also challenged the Pharisees and scribes for their own undermining of Scriptural authority:
NKJ Mark 7:9-13 He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’ [citing Exod. 20:12]; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death [citing Exod. 21:17].’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, ‘Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban’ -- (that is, a gift to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13 making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Thus our Lord Jesus would not countenance the distortion of Scripture or the undermining of its authority by anyone, especially by those who ought to have known better. In the process, His own appeals to Scripture, and His careful handling of it, demonstrate not only His commitment to the absolute authority of Scripture but also His reliance on Scripture as a sufficient guide to which nothing needs to be added by us. And this leads us to our fourth and final point.

IV. The Sufficiency of Scripture

When we speak of the sufficiency of Scripture, we are talking about the fact that it fully serves the purpose for which God has given it to us. As Wayne Grudem has stated, “We can define the sufficiency of Scripture as follows: The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly” (Systematic Theology, p. 127).

Such a view of Scripture necessarily follows from much of what we have already considered. But we shall nevertheless consider briefly a couple of additional passages in which Scripture clearly testifies as to its own sufficiency. David spoke, for example, of this idea in Psalm 19 when he wrote:
NKJ Psalm 19:7-9 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
 I think John MacArthur correctly states the point David is making in verse 7 when he writes:
In the first statement (v. 7), David says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.” This word “perfect” is the translation of a common Hebrew word meaning “whole,” “complete,” or “sufficient.” It conveys the idea of something that is comprehensive, so as to cover all aspects of an issue. Scripture is comprehensive, embodying all that is necessary to one’s spiritual life. David’s implied contrast here is with the imperfect, insufficient, flawed reasoning of men.
[And he goes on to add:] God’s perfect law, David says, affects people by “restoring the soul” (v. 7). To paraphrase David’s words, Scripture is so powerful and comprehensive that it can convert or transform the entire person, changing someone into precisely the person God wants him to be. God’s Word is sufficient to restore through salvation even the most broken life—a fact to which David himself gave abundant testimony. (TMSJ 15/2 [Fall 2004] 167-168)
Such was also the teaching of the Apostle Paul, when he admonished Timothy that:
NKJ 2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
We need go nowhere else to find all that we need in order to be saved, to be sanctified, and to properly serve God in this world.

Conclusion: Charles Spurgeon is often quoted as saying that “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.”

I have tried not to get in the way of that lion in this teaching! Instead, it has been my hope that the Holy Spirit has worked “by and with the Word in our hearts” in order to help strengthen our “assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof.”

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