By: Dr. John Frame
DOCTRINE OF THE WORD OF GOD
Lecture Outline (5)
These are Dr. Frame's systematic theology lecture outlines for the doctrine of the Word of God. Though only in outline format, they are highly detailed and hopefully useful to all.
Previous : Lecture Outline (4) “IV.The Message Of The Word”
VI.The Power of the Word
Sections VI through VIII deal with perfections of the word which derive from the attributes of Lordship. If the function of the word is to express God's lordship, then it will express his control, authority and presence. This fact is the basis of its power, authority, clarity. Although the control of God is particularly associated with the word as decree, his authority with the word as address, and his presence with the word as presence, the power, authority and clarity of the word pertain to all forms, all utterances of the word.
A.The Greatness of the Power: The word is not just an intellectual object, but a great power, indeed the divine omnipotence itself. It has this power because of its union with God. We tend to ignore its power because we are insufficiently aware of the presence of God in the word. With such power, with such a God, we dare not trifle.
1.The Word as God’s Decree: for its power in creation, providence, judgment and grace, cf. above, II, A.
2.The Word as God’s Address
a.The Utterance from Heaven
(1)In judgment: Gen.3:17ff, 11:6f,Ps.46:6,JoeI2:11,Amos 1:2, II Pet. 3:5-7, "fire" (Ps. 18:7f, 13f, I Kings 18:24, I Chron. 21:26, Job 41:49, Rev. 9:17-19,11:5).
(2)In grace: Gen. 3: 15, "efficacious calling".
b.Prophecy: Gen. 9:24-27,27:27-29, 39f, 49:2-27, I Kings 17:1, II Kings 1:17, Isa. 40:1-8,55:11,59:21, Jer. 5:14,20:9,23:28, John 15:24f.
(1)The word and the hand, Isa. 30:30,66:6, II Chron. 6:15, Ezek.1:1ff, 3:22, Hos. 6:5.
(2)The fire, Ezek. 1, Jer. 5:14,20:9,23:28.
(3)The weapon, Isa. 14:29, Jer. 23:28, Isa. 49:2, Hos. 6:5.
(4)The Gospel as blessing and judgment, Isa. 6:9[, Matt. 13:14f, Mark 4: 12, Luke 8: 10, John 12:36-40, Acts 28:26ff, Rom. 11 :8, John 15:22.
(5)The commandments as blessing and judgment, Ex. 20:7, 12, Deut 8:3, Deut. 27ff, Lev. 18:5, Ps. 19,119:25,50, Rom. 7.
c.Scripture: Ps. 12:6f, 19:7-11, II Kings 18:6, II Kings 22-23, Neh. 8, II Tim. 3:16. Cf. other categories under this section (A, 2), for all the words in question have been incorporated into Scripture.
d.Jesus: Luke 24:19, Matt. 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33.
(1)Judgment: Isa. 11:4, Rev. 1:16,2:16,9:17-19,19:15, John 9:39, Matt. 13:14f, Mark 4:12, Luke 8:10, John 12:40.
(2)Grace: Luke 7:7ff, Matt. 8:16, Ps. 45:2, Luke 4:22, John 5:25,6:63, 68,8:51,14:23,15:3.
e.Apostles: Rom. 15:19,16:25, I Cor. 2:4f, II Cor. 6:7, I Thes. 1:5.
f.Note: no lessening of power from one medium to the next. Cf. Ps. 19, which implicitly compares the power of the word for creation to that of Scripture. Also Ps. 147:15-20.
3.The Word as God’s Presence: The word in this sense is virtually synonymous with a transformed life, at least when used of believers. To have the word written on your heart is to be faithful, obedient to God's address. This obedience is the result of this address being driven into the heart by the power of the Spirit
B.Word, Power, Spirit: On the relations among these three, cf. references above under A, etc.;II, C; III, C, 3, c.
1.Although the Holy Spirit is not always mentioned as the source of the "power," it is clear from a number of passages (e.g. I Thes. 1:5) that the power of the word is the power of the Spirit.
2.The power, therefore, is not simply the "perlocutionary" power which pertains to all language (though it is often described in such terms), nor is it the "power" of true doctrine and morality (rationalism), nor is it a deposit of divine supernatural power residing in the word as such (Lutheranism).
3.It is a personal power, the power of the Spirit, who works as he wills.
4.As such, it is a sovereign power. The differences in the effects of the word upon men are not ultimately due to man's free will (Lutheran, Arminian doctrine), but due to the sovereign working of the Spirit.
5.This doctrine should not be formulated, however, in such a way as to suggest that the word is sometimes powerless. The word always has ~ effect, the effect intended by God (Isa. 55: 11, Luke 1:37). That effect upon man may be blessing or judgment; the Spirit will decide. But the Spirit never abandons the word. Those who appear to be unaffected are in fact affected, generally for the worse.
VII.The Authority of the Word
A.The Concept of Authority
1.Divine authority: God's sovereign right to govern the conduct of his creatures. Cf. Prologue, I, B, 2.
2.The word has the same authority because of its union with God (above, II, A, also VI).
3.Meaning is a prerequisite of authority, and authority is fundamentally a characteristic of meaning. Cf. the distinction between "power" and "meaning" in I, B. If the word is to be authoritative, it must say something:. A blind power or raw force can be effective, but cannot be authoritative. Thus any view which reduces the word of God to such bare power cannot have a meaningful view of the word's authority.
4.Unity and diversity
a.The authority of the word is always the ~ in degree and in basic character; it is an absolute authority because it is the authority of God Himself.
b.The authority of the word ~ in the specific requirements it imposes on its hearers. Cf. IV, B.
(1)Differences in illocutionary functions: questions, commands, assertions, promises, threats, etc., determining different types of responses. Cf. "acteth differently," Westminster Confession, XIV,ii. Do not limit authority to the propositional function, as if authority = the infallibility of statements. Authority includes more than infallibility in that sense.
(2)Differences in literary forms: narrative, poetry, treaty, proverb, etc. What is an "authoritative poem"? Think! Let the question surprise you. Do we have too narrow a concept of "authority"? Cf. e, below. Differences of content between literary and illocutionary forms of the same type.
c."Does the authority of the word depend on its content?" (cf. later discussion of inerrancy).
(1) No. Whatever its content, it is authoritative because God has spoken it.
(2)Yes. The specific requirement imposed upon us by this authority depends upon what the word says-its content. Christian Reformed "Report 44". This fact does not in any way relativize inerrancy; see below.
(3)Yes. For truth, justice, consistency, etc. are necessary (though not sufficient) conditions of authority , and they are qualities of the content. Since God is God, he cannot speak in ways which contradict his character .
B.The Word as Criterion of Godliness
As mentioned earlier II, B), the Bible is a story about God's address to man and man's response to that address in belief or unbelief, obedience or disobedience, participation or rejection (alienation). At each point in redemptive history, the word of God is the thing at issue. That word may be in the form of command, promise, name of God (Gen. 4:26, etc.), covenant, law, gospel, prophecy, song, history, letter, teaching. Whatever form it takes, man's response to it (under God's providence) has eternal consequences.
1.Before the Fall:
a. Gen. 1:28f: Man's first experience, determines course of his life, defines his ethical status.
b.Gen. 2: 17: The Probation:(1) The Word defines an exception to its general principles.
(2) Issue is obedience to the word. No independent means of determining the character of the trees.
a.The tempter as talking animal: attempted reversal or the pattern of linguistic authority--animal, woman, man, God.b.The tempter's strategy: questioning the veracity of God's word, asserting the veracity of his own.
3.Fall to Noah:
a.God's word in judgment; promise: Gen. 3:8,9-19.b. Man takes God's word on his lips--in faith: Gen. 3:20, 4: 1, 26.c.Further disobedience to the word: 4:1-15.
4.Noah: Gen. 6:22, 7:5, 9, cf. Heb. 11:7, II Pet. 2:5, II Pet. 3:5- 7, Matt. 24:32-44; Gen.1:8, 17ff, 9: 1ff (8: 17). At each point, the word is at issue.
5.Abraham: known for his faith--specifically faith in God's word. Gen. 12:1ff, 15:1ff, 17:1ff,22:2f.a. Land: owned none, but trusted the promise--Gen. 23: 17ff, Heb. 11:9f.
b.Seed: perseverance through delay, threat: Rom. 4: 17ff, Heb. 11:8-19, Gen. 18:14, Jer. 32:17,27, Luke 1:37f, Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3, Gal. 3:6, Jas. 2:23.
c.Isaac, Jacob, the Twelve Patriarchs: Grasping at the promise, though often unrighteously. Gen. 26:3ff, Gen. 25,27,32:9-12,50: 24f(cf. Heb. 11:21f).
6.Moses: cf. III, E, 5, F, 2, IV.
7.Jesus: His word is the supreme criterion of discipleship. Matt. 7:21 ff, 28f, Mark 8:38, Luke 9:26ff, 8:21, John 8:47,12:47[[, 14:15,21, 23[, 15:7, 10,14,17:6,17, I John 2:3-5,3:22, 5:2[, II John 6, I Tim. 6:3, Rev. 12:17,14:12. Note pervasiveness of this theme.
8.Apostles: Rom. 2:16, I Thes. 4:2, Jude 17[, cf. III, E-G.
9.Scripture: See III, F, I- V, A, 7. Scripture as witness.
10.Note: there is no difference in authority among the heavenly utterance, the word in prophecy, the word from Jesus' life, the word in Scripture. The authority of each is absolute, because divine.
C.Forms Of Authority (cf. Above, A, 4). We have seen that authority may take many forms, may demand many sorts of response from us. Let us look at a few of these in more detail:
a. Clearly, when God utters a command, he does not want us merely to believe that he has said it, or merely to assent to whatever information may be conveyed or presupposed by the command. A command demands obedience, and not only the obedience of intellectual assent.
b.Are biblical commands ever annulled (dietary laws, etc.)?
(I) God does give some commands which are mandatory only in a given situation. In fact, all commands presuppose an appropriate situation for their application, which may be broad or narrow, as the word defines it.
(2)In the history of redemption, no command is "abrogated," but all are "fulfilled" in Christ Fulfillment takes various forms. (cf. Matt. 5:17).
(a)Laws of ceremonial cleanliness (including dietary laws): no longer literally binding, for Christ shows they are a shadow typifying his purity. These laws still admonish us to an imitation of Christ's perfection.
(b)Sacrifice: Christ has put an end to the sacrifice of bulls and goats by the perfect sacrifice of himself. The sacrificial legislation now requires us to trust in that one perfect sacrifice.
(c)Decalogue: In Christ, no longer a sentence of death, but the delight of the redeemed heart.
(3)Application of a particular command depends upon the teaching of the whole Scripture on the subject.
2.Questions: demand an answer." Adam, where art thou?" "Has thou eaten the fruit?" "Peter, do you love me?" "Shall we sin that grace may abound?"
3.Poetry, Music: What is an "authoritative poem?"!a. In Scripture (and in language generally) there are no sharp lines between prose, poetic prose, poetry , chant, song. Continuum.
b.In general, then, poetic and musical language have the same functions as other language. When inspired, they have the same functions as any other form of revelation.
c.Scripture tends to use more lyrical forms to achieve intensity and memorability (related qualities). Deut. 31: 1922, 30ff.
d.The song deals with matters of great importance (contra modern tendency).
e."Lyric authority": The songs orthe word must become the songs of our own hearts, instructing us (Col. 3:16) of redemption in such depth that our deepest feelings are affected and we burst into joyful praise.
4.Propositional Teaching ~ Inerrancy
a.Inerrancy is that form of authority which attaches particularly to the propositional teaching of Scripture. It is not, therefore, the only form of authority, and should not be made synonymous with authority as is common in evangelical circles. However, to say that a piece of propositional (informational) teaching is authoritative involves saying that it is inerrant.
b.Inerrancy is simply freedom from error, whether that error arises out of mistake or deceit. ("Infallibility" is used in a variety of ways--sometimes as synonymous with inerrancy, sometimes as the assertion that error in Scripture ~ exist, sometimes as the assertion that Scripture is trustworthy in a broad, general sense, apart from specific questions of error. The second of these three meanings, I think, is best.)c.In the above sense, Scripture teaches its own inerrancy:(1) God does not lie: Heb., Titus 1:2, II Tim. 2:13, Num. 23:19.(2) God is not ignorant: Heb. 4:13, Ps. 33:13-15.(3) Scripture is his word: II Tim. 3:16.(4) Therefore, Scripture is inerrant.
d.Inerrancy must be further defined, because of ambiguity in the concept "error."
(1)The concept of "error" depends on the context in which error is being discussed. If I say "The book has 300 pages" when it actually has 297, have I made an error?
(a)Yes, if in the situation a precise figure has been expected. (E.g., I am working for a publisher, and he wants to know exactly how many pages to set up.)
(b)No, if in the situation a round figure is acceptable. (E.g., I am answering a student's question, and it is perfectly obvious that I don't claim to give the exact number from memory.)
(c )In the second case, there is no claim to absolute precision, and so no error is ascribed.
(d)An "error," then, arises when one fails to make good on his ~, whether implicit or explicit
(e)In scientific contexts, the claims tend to be rather severe. (A difference of three decimal places between alleged and real figures can be said to be "error." Cf. the phrase "margin of error.")
(f)In ordinary language, the claims are less demanding. Ordinarily people do not expect one another to give perfectly precise figures, descriptions, etc. In fact, too much precision ("pedantic precision") --e.g., telling your age down to the hour--can ~ clarity and communication I may tell you that the book has 300 pages (above illustration), even though I know it has 297. I do that because I know that 300 is an easier figure to remember, and that it would give you a better picture of the book's size than if I left you with the impression of some vague figure over 200.
(2)The "inerrancy" of Scripture, then, may be further defined by saying that Scripture makes good on its ~.
(a) It does not always claim absolute precision. In fact, it contains many phenomena which would be incompatible with such a claim:
i)Inconsistency with modern historiographical conventions:
c)anachronistic references (Gen. 14:13, etc.)
d) historical telescoping (Mt. 9: 18, Luke 8:41,49.)
c)pre-scientific phenomenalistic description ("The sun rose")
d)omission of pedantic qualifications (Mark 1:5)
e)use of figures, symbols
(b)Do these phenomena refute inerrancy? Only if Scripture ~ to avoid such practices, while failing to make good on that claim.
(c )Scripture, however, does not make such a claim.
i)Scripture follows historical practices common in its day--e.g. loose quotation of sources, giving the substance, rather than the precise words being referred to.
ii)The purpose of Scripture is not to provide us with a precise scientific treatise, but to motivate us to faith in Christ, with all its implications (John 20:31).
iii)To carry out that purpose most effectively, it was not only permissible, but even necessary, to avoid pedantic side-trips, to speak the ordinary language of the people, to use figures and parables, etc.
(3)Scripture, then, is not inerrant in the sense of being absolutely precise, and/or of meeting every conceivable demand. Rather, it is inerrant in that it makes good on its own claims and carries out its own purpose.
e.Current controversy over inerrancy
(a) Argues that modern man cannot accept the idea of supernatural revelation or submit to the notion of infallible authority; therefore the historic doctrine must be abandoned.
(b)But this argument merely substitutes one infallible authority for another. Instead of the Bible, modern man becomes the supreme judge of truth and falsity . In liberalism, one religion is simply substituted for another.
(2)Neo-Orthodoxy (Barth, Brunner, Hordern, etc.)
(a) God, not Scripture, is ultimate authority. Scripture is only a witness to God.
(b)Revelation is of God himself, not doctrinal or "propositional" truths.
(c)God uses Scripture, though Scripture in itself is fallible.
(d)Comment: Unlike liberalism, neo-orthodoxy speaks of the need of an authoritative God and authoritative revelation. But the refusal of neo-orthodoxy to locate this authoritative word leaves us with no real authority at all, only an empty shell.
(3)"Limited Inerrancy" views among evangelicals
(a) These evangelicals are supernaturalists; they do believe in miracles, resurrection, blood atonement, the necessity of faith for salvation, etc. They do not say "yes and no" to these doctrines as do the dialectical (neo-orthodox) thinkers. Yet they have problems of various sorts with inerrancy.(b)Problems of the "phenomenaof Scripture" (Beegle, etc.)
i) "Phenomena" of Scripture are the full range of facts about the Bible as it presents itself to us.
ii)Some of those facts present problems--e.g., apparent contradictions, apparent inconsistency with scientific opinion, etc.
iii)Beegle argues that to arrive at a satisfactory doctrine of Scripture, we must take into account "all the evidence of Scripture"--i.e., the problems as well as the teaching. We must not assume the truth of the teachings until we look at all the phenomena--an "inductive" approach, as opposed to the merely "deductive" approach of 4, c, above.
iv)Since many of the problems cannot be resolved satisfactorily, Beegle says that "the totality of the biblical evidence does not prove the doctrine of inerrancy to be a fact. It is still a theory that must be accepted by faith."
v)Comments:a)Beegle's statement under (4) could be made concerning any doctrine. For all the doctrines of the Christian faith have problems associated with them. All of them are plagued by some apparent contradiction or some apparent disparity with experience. Does that mean that no doctrine can be asserted with confidence until all the problems are worked out?
b)The last comment indicates Beegle's fundamental misunderstanding of the way Christian faith operates. Its very nature is to believe, to trust in God, even against apparent evidence to the contrary (cf. later discussions of apologetics, Heb. 11, Rom. 4). In no area may we wait for "all the evidence" to speak unanimously before we believe.
c)How, then, do we come to a conclusion, when the evidence is not seen to be unanimous? The biblical answer is that we accept the teaching: of God through his prophets and apostles (above, B), even when other sources of information lead us in other directions.
d)Thus we cannot put the teaching of Scripture and the "phenomena" of Scripture on a par with one another as Beegle and others want to do. If Abraham had pointed to the "phenomena" he never would nave left Ur.
e)We must, however, take account of the phenomena. We dare not ignore the problems. However, we dare not treat them, as Beegle advocates, as neutral observers, without any presuppositions at all. We must look at the phenomena from a Christian standpoint presupposing all that Scripture tells us about God and his redemptive purposes. Without any presuppositions, nothing: follows from a study of phenomena.
f)Presuppositions and phenomena are closely linked, of course. The teachings of Scripture about itself are themselves "phenomena;" i.e. they are discovered in Scripture, not imposed upon it. Further, the problems among the phenomena may lead us to ask if we have rightly understood the teachings, the presuppositions. But we must never adopt a position where the two ate set over against one another so that phenomena invalidate teaching. (Cf. apologetic discussions or the relation of presuppositions to evidence.)
(c)Problems in regard to the "purpose of Scripture." (Orr, Fuller, Berkouwer)
i) Some evangelicals have argued that since the purpose of Scripture is to bring saving knowledge of Christ, it should not be expected to provide accurate historical information, at least on "peripheral" matters.
ii)In studying parables, e.g., we consider it beside the point to ask whether the events described really occurred, etc. Such questions show an ignorance or the purpose of the parable. Might not such reasoning apply more broadly to Scripture as a whole?iii)Comments on this view:
a) It is certainly true that we must take into account the purpose of Scripture when we discuss inerrancy. In our discussion (above, d, ii), we argued that the saving purpose of Scripture makes certain kinds of precision unnecessary , suggesting that Scripture does not claim precision in those senses.
b)Does this consideration, then, mean that Scripture makes no claim concerning the place where Jesus was born, or the length of the wilderness sojourn, or the names of the Roman governors to whom Paul spoke?
i)Here we must remember that the salvation of which Scripture speaks is a historical salvation, based on historical events. The fact that Scripture has a saving purpose does not make it indifferent to historical events; quite the contrary.
ii)Even beyond that, the salvation proclaimed by Scripture is a comprehensive salvation (recall earlier discussion of the comprehensiveness of the covenant). It aims to change our attitude toward everything. We dare not exclude history from its scope.
iii)Many historical events are crucial to the biblical story of salvation: the reality of creation, the literal disobedience of the first man Adam, etc.
iv)Most historical references in Scripture make no sense unless we assume that some historical claim is being made--not a claim to detailed precision, perhaps, but a claim to historical accuracy, nonetheless.
v)Such questions cannot be answered without detailed exegesis. If someone wants to show that Scripture doesn't claim accuracy in some historical reference, he ought to show that by exegesis. (If he can show exegetically that Genesis is a parable, then it is.) But the question cannot be answered (as neo-evangelicals tend to answer it) simply by the general observation that Scripture is not interested in such things. In view of the above considerations, that is not at all evident.
vi)The orthodox position, therefore, is the one which repudiates easy answers and advocates hard struggling with the text. It is the limited inerrancy view that would give an easy answer here, contrary to some assertions.
f.Summary considerations on inerrancy:
(1) Scripture claims that it is inerrant, and that claim must take precedence over any difficulties we may have with its "phenomena." That is simply the way faith works.
(2)Inerrancy is compatible with some imprecision, since Scripture does not claim absolute precision. However, Scripture is concerned with telling us a great deal about history and the cosmos, and we must exegete very carefully before rejecting an apparent Scriptural historical claim as in fact no claim at all.
(3)The question of inerrancy, therefore, has everything to do with our faith-presuppositions. To ask about inerrancy is not only to ask about the teachings of Scripture ( normative perspective) and about the phenomena of Scripture (situational perspective), but also to ask about ourselves--our own faith, our own values, our own criteria (existential perspective: cf. the triad scheme). When wrestling with questions about inerrancy, we must constantly ask:(a) Have I rightly understood the text?
(b)Have I rightly understood the problem, the phenomenon?
(c)Is my attitude a faithful, obedient attitude? Am I like Abraham, or like Peter at the cross? Am I willing to hear and accept something from Scripture that goes against my grain, that rebukes the spirit of my age? (On some limited inerrancy views, it is impossible to imagine Scripture teaching anything: that would contravene the assumptions of modern critical scholarship; that, in my view, is the greatest defect of that position.)
Next : Part 6 “VIII.The Clarity of the Word ("Perspicuity")