The Whole Counsel of God
Lecture Notes Chapter 4: The Four Characteristics of Scripture:
26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all,
27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God
How do we know that the Bible is God’s Word?
In the previous chapter our goal was to determine which writings belong in the Bible and which writings do not.
The major teachings of the Bible about itself can be classified into four characteristics (sometimes termed attributes): (1) the authority of Scripture; (2) the clarity of Scripture; (3) the necessity of Scripture; and (4) the sufficiency of Scripture.
Today we are looking at (1) The Authority of Scripture.
Authority of Scripture– The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.
A. All the Words in Scripture Are God’s Words
1. This Is What the Bible Claims for Itself.
a. Thus saith the Lord…In the Old Testament, this is frequently seen in the introductory phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” which appears hundreds of times. In the world of the Old Testament, this phrase would have been recognized as identical in form to the phrase, “Thus says king …,” which was used to preface the edict of a king to his subjects, an edict that could not be challenged or questioned but that simply had to be obeyed. Thus, when the prophets say, “Thus says the Lord,” they are claiming to be messengers from the sovereign King of Israel, namely, God himself, and they are claiming that their words are the absolutely authoritative words of God.
b. God spoke through prophets…Furthermore, God is often said to speak “through” the prophet (1 Kings 14:18; 16:12, 34; 2 Kings 9:36; 14:25; Jer. 37:2; Zech. 7:7, 12). Thus, what the prophet says in God’s name, God says (1 Kings 13:26 with v. 21; 1 Kings 21:19 with 2 Kings 9:25–26; Hag. 1:12; cf. 1 Sam. 15:3, 18).
c. NT writers viewed OT as God’s very Words…
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (ESV)
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Paul here affirms that all of the Old Testament writings are θεόπνευστος (G2535) “breathed out by God.” Since it is writings that are said to be “breathed out,” this breathing must be understood as a metaphor for speaking the words of Scripture.
A similar indication of the character of all Old Testament writings as God’s words is found in 2 Peter 1:21. Speaking of the prophecies of Scripture (v. 20), which means at least the Old Testament Scriptures to which Peter encourages his readers to give careful attention (v. 19), Peter says that none of these prophecies ever came “by the impulse of man,” but that “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” It is not Peter’s intention to deny completely human volition or personality in the writing of Scripture (he says that the men “spoke”), but rather to say that the ultimate source of every prophecy was never a man’s decision about what he wanted to write, but rather the Holy Spirit’s action in the prophet’s life, carried out in ways unspecified here (or, in fact, elsewhere in Scripture).
Other NT Passages…
Many other New Testament passages speak in similar ways about sections of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 1:22, Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 7:14 are cited as “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet.”
In Matthew 4:4 Jesus says to the devil, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” In the context of Jesus’ repeated citations from Deuteronomy to answer every temptation, the words that proceed “from the mouth of God” are the written Scriptures of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 19:5, the words of the author in Genesis 2:24, not attributed to God in the Genesis narrative, are quoted by Jesus as words that God “said.”
In Acts 2:16–17, in quoting “what was spoken by the prophet Joel” in Joel 2:28–32, Peter inserts “God declares,” thus attributing to God words written by Joel, and claiming that God is presently saying them.
2. We Are Convinced of the Bible’s Claims to Be God’s Words as We Read the Bible.
It is one thing to affirm that the Bible claims to be the words of God. It is another thing to be convinced that those claims are true. Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God’s words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance.
Just after Paul has explained that his apostolic speech consists of words taught by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 2:13), he says, “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). Apart from the work of the Spirit of God, a person will not receive spiritual truths and in particular will not receive or accept the truth that the words of Scripture are in fact the words of God.
B. The Truthfulness of Scripture
1. God Cannot Lie or Speak Falsely.
Since the biblical writers repeatedly affirm that the words of the Bible, though human, are God’s own words, it is appropriate to look at biblical texts that talk about the character of God’s words and to apply these to the character of the words of Scripture.
Because God cannot lie, therefore, His written Word cannot be a lie or cannot be untrue.
Titus 1:2 (ESV)
2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began
Hebrews 6:18 (ESV)
18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
2 Samuel 7:28 (ESV)
28 And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.
2. Therefore All the Words in Scripture Are Completely True and Without Error in Any Part.
Since the words of the Bible are God’s words, and since God cannot lie or speak falsely, it is correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness or error in any part of the words of Scripture. We find this affirmed several places in the Bible.
Psalm 12:6 (ESV)
6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
Proverbs 30:5-6 (ESV)
5 Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.
3. God’s Words Are the Ultimate Standard of Truth.
In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17). This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives ἀληθινός (G240) or ἀληθής (G239, “true”), which we might have expected, to say, “Your word is true.” Rather, he uses a noun, ἀλήθεια (G237, “truth”), to say that God’s Word is not simply “true,” but it is truth itself.
The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being “true” in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth.
C. Written Scripture Is Our Final Authority
It is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form. It was the words of God written on the tablets of stone that Moses deposited in the ark of the covenant. Later, God commanded Moses and subsequent prophets to write their words in a book. And it was written Scripture (γραφή, G1210) that Paul said was “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16). Similarly, it is Paul’s writings that are “a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37) and that could be classified with “the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16).
1. If you want to persuade someone that the Bible is God’s Word, what do you want that person to read more than any other piece of literature?
2. Is there anything in the Bible that you do not want to believe? To obey?
3. Do you know of any proven fact in all of history that has shown something in the Bible to be false?
4. Do you ever find yourself believing something not because you have external evidence for it but simply because it is written in Scripture? Is that proper faith, according to Hebrews 11:1? If you do believe things simply because Scripture says them, what do you think Christ will say to you about this habit when you stand before his judgment seat? Do you think that trusting and obeying everything that Scripture affirms will ever lead you into sin or away from God’s blessing in your life?