Thursday, 4 September 2008

What is the Bible?

What is the Bible? It seems like a simple question, but if we are serious about the Bible being the way we know God and his salvation and the way he directs and comforts his church (as in section 1) then it is an important question.

 Sections 2-4 of chapter 1 of the WCF answer the question in a few ways. First there is a straight forward list of the books of the Bible (the canon) giving the 39 books of the Hebrew canon and the 27 books of NT canon.  All wings of the Reformation church rejected the apocrypha and argued that the canon of Hebrew Scriptures which Jesus accepted was the 39 books and that the church had no authority to add to that.

 The rejection of the Apocrypha became stronger in English doctrinal statements over the years. The Thirty-Nine Articles (1563) (and the earlier forty-two articles) say of the Apocrypha  “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine”. The Irish Articles (1615) say that the Apocryphal Books “did not proceed from such inspiration and therefore are not of sufficient authority to establish any point of doctrine; but the Church doth read them as Books containing many worthy things for example of life and instruction of manners”. (The Irish Articles were the product of the very English Church of Ireland). The WCF has even less concern to express continuity with the Catholic heritage on this point.

These sections also show us what the Bible is in terms two key features: inspiration and authority. Each section states that the Scriptures are inspired by God and therefore are authoritative. Section 2 says this of each individual book, section 3 says that by contrast the Apocryphal books are not inspired and so have no authority in the Church and section 4 says that the authority of Scripture rest on God who is the author of Scripture.

The Scriptures claims both inspiration (that is God is the author or it is the Word of God) and authority and the proof texts point to some of these claims. This might seem circular (that the Bible is authoritative because it says that it is), but it is not a vicious circle. The acceptance of Scripture rests on the recognition of a deeper reality – that God speaks the Scriptures and that he therefore authorises them. The next section talks about how we come to be convinced of the inspiration and authority of Scripture.

The recognition of the inspiration and authority of Scripture is still vitally important for the church. We need to be very clear that God speaks all of Scripture as his own word and that no other writing or anything else can rival its authority. This is the central point of the doctrine of Scripture, and needs careful articulation and defences in every generation. It also has to be put into action in the way we actually treat the Bible – but that comes later in the chapter.

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