By: Dr. John Frame
DOCTRINE OF THE WORD OF GOD
Lecture Outline (6)
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 (5) “VI.The Power Of The Word”
VIII.The Clarity of the Word ("Perspicuity")
A.Clarity and the Divine Presence
1.Connection with covenantal blessing and curse: Deut. 30: 11-20.a.Israel's problem: not understanding, but choosing.b.The reward and curse are also near (v. 15)--God's covenantal presence.2.Presence of Christ in the word preached: Rom. 10:4-11.3.Since God is near, word is near. "Direct revelation in history," vs. much modern theology.
B.Clarity and Human Responsibility
1.Nearness of the word underlines the responsibility of the people (the curses and blessings).
2.Unclarity is impossible--for that would give man an excuse for disobedience (same passages).
C.Clarity and Mystery - the more we know, the more we fail to comprehend!
D.Clarity and Unclarity: Isn't there ~ sense in which ~ Scripture is unclear--II Pet. 3:16? 1.
1.Scripture "unclear" to the unregenerate, Isa. 6:9ff, parallels, II Pet 3:16, Isa. 28:9-13, I Cor. 14:21, II Cor. 3:14ff, yet clear enough that they ought to understand and are responsible for their failure to do so.
2.Not all Scripture equally clear, even to the regenerate (Westminster Confession, I, vii), but the Scriptural way of salvation is plain even to the unlearned (Ps. 119: 105, 130).
3.Even regarding those teachings of Scripture which are "less clear," we may not use that obscurity as an excuse for our ignorance. God has provided teachers, and has promised wisdom to those who ask (James 1:5). No Scripture is clear to one who has no wisdom.
4.General principle: Scripture is always sufficiently clear to make us aware of our present responsibility to God. Its unclarities will never lead us into sin.
E.Implication: vs. clericalism, tyranny of human experts. The job of teachers is not to lord it over their students or to set themselves up as mediators of God's truth. Nor ought we ever to insist that the Scriptures must be funneled through some philosophical or hermeneutical scheme in order to be made intelligible. Scripture is intelligible. The problem is with us, and the teacher ought to "explain" or "interpret" Scripture only to resolve our obscurity and our obscurities are often best resolved through pastoral care rather than through scholarly ingenuity.
IX.The Necessity of the Word
1.Sections VIII - X dealt with attributes of the word arising out of the lordship attributes. XI-XII, though also grounded in the lordship of God, are perhaps best described as categories showing the logical relations between God's word and his purposes. The word is necessary and sufficient to fulfill God's purposes. Necessity and sufficiency "cut across" the attributes of VII-X: the power of the word is necessary and sufficient, the authority is, etc.
2.I have found that this matter of the "necessity" of the word is a good place to begin with people who are relatively uninstructed in these matters. No one ever becomes a militant defender of biblical authority until he sees the importance of the doctrine, its centrality. Here is where that fact becomes most evident.
A.No Word, No Lord
1.The word is inseparable from God himself (II, A).
2.It is, of course, not necessary to God's being that he speak to us. He might freely have chosen not to speak to us, and would still have been God.
3.When, however, God freely chose to create and rule us within a particular covenant structure, he thereby determined to speak to man. That speaking is a central element of that structure. Without that speaking, there is no covenant. Cf. "the necessity of the atonement."a.The word is implicit in the very concept of lordship. The Lord is one who commands. No word, no commands; no commands, no lord.
b.The covenant document (IV) is the covenant. To break its provision is to break the covenant. Without the document, the covenant has no constitution, no documentary witness. No word, no covenant, no lord.
c.Without the word, therefore, there would be no criterion of sin or of godliness (IX, B).
d.Without the word, no discipleship, for Jesus made obedience to his words the criterion of discipleship (IX, B, 7). One may not say " Jesus is Lord" (the basic Christian confession) unless one has his words and obeys them.
e.We must not say, therefore, that the Lordship of God or Christ is a central matter while the authority of the word or Scripture is peripheral. Without the word, we have no lord.4.Form of the word: even in paradise God spoke not only through nature, but also through words and sentences. Without that, the probation is unintelligible, IX, B,
B.No Word, No Salvation
1.Salvation is a particular exercise of God's lordship. It is an aspect of the covenant structure (IV). Thus, it presupposes a word from God, since lordship and covenant presuppose such a word.
2.Salvation involves God writing the covenant words upon the heart (Jer. 31:33), efficacious calling, gospel promise, declaration of righteousness, declaration of forgiveness. All of these are utterances of the word of God. Only God can promise salvation, declare sinners to be righteous, forgive sins, call sinners into union with Christ, write his words on their heart.
3.Salvation necessitates, not only the word as such, but a special utterance of the word distinct from the word given through nature (IV, B, 2). Scripture is a "republication" of natural revelation, but not only republication; for it contains a distinct message not found in nature, the message of salvation.
4.Necessity of written prophecy:a.When predictions come true, the prophet is vindicated; thus the predictions ought to be preserved: Isa. 8: 1, Deut. 18, Hab. 2:2.
b.Written document bears witness against the unbelief of the generation in which it was written; Isa. 30:8ff
c.Written prophecy also preserves the promise for a more responsive generation: Isa. 30:8ff, 34: 16f, 59:21. Attests the permanence of God's revelation (Isa. 40:8).5.Conclusion: as " Jesus is Lord" presupposes a clear verbal revelation, so does " Jesus is Savior." Without a clear word from God, a clear promise, we are without hope. To "accept Christ as Savior" while denying the reality of such words is an impossible position.
C.The Alternative: Modern theology in general tries to uphold just such an impossible position. Cf. Introduction, A, 2, substitutes.
1.Lordship without the Word: Especially since Barth, theologians have said much about the "lordship" of God. They frequently offer, however, a word devoid of intelligible content, a word with no clear meaning, a word which imposes no concrete demands. In Barth's view, this ability to speak without saying anything accentuates the divine sovereignty. From a Scriptural standpoint, however, we must characterize this position as idolatry--worship of an unknown god on the basis of human wisdom.
2.Salvation without the Word: The salvation offered by most modern theologians is based upon wishful thinking, not upon divine promise Such a salvation is no hope at all.
D.Proposal for a Reformation
1.The situation:a.In the 4th century , Origenism, a clever synthesis of Christianity and Greek philosophy, had captured the Christian intellectual establishment, producing confusion over the person of Christ.
b.In the 16th century , the "medieval synthesis," a clever synthesis of Christianity, Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism developed by Thomas Aquinas and others, had captured the Christian intellectual establishment, producing confusion about justification.
c.In the 19th and 20th centuries, a series of syntheses between Christianity and Kantian philosophy (developed by man, led by Schleiermacher and Barth), have captured the Christian intellectual establishment, producing confusion about Scripture (and many other things).
2.The breaking point:
a.In the 4th century , Arius maintained that the Son of God was a creature.
b.In the 16th century, the monk, Tetzel, went about huckstering salvation
c.In the 20th century, what? "Christian atheism" and "Christian Marxism" don't seem to have done the trick. What must happen to arouse us?
a. In the 4th century, Athanasius stood courageously in the breach, against an often vindictive Arian establishment.
b.In the 16th century, Luther showed the same courage and zeal for the truth.
c.In the 20th century , who? You? Kuyper was Wycliffe; Machen, Huss.
4.The reformer's message:
a.Athanasius: Abandoned subtle philosophical points, stuck to religious simplicities from Scripture.(1)Arianism is idolatry: it would have us worship a creature.
(2)Arianism leaves us no salvation, for there can be no salvation through a mere creature.b.Luther: Same. A simple, biblical message, showing how basic was the issue.(1)The Mass is idolatry .(2)Salvation through the Roman church gives no certain hope.c.You? Don't try to be more subtle than Barth. Go to the heart of it, show how basic the issue is, how simple.(1)The Kantian synthesis is idolatry, for it would have us worship God after our own imaginations.
(2)The Kantian synthesis leaves us no salvation, for it takes away the forgiving, promising word.
a.After Athanasius came Augustine, who found in the Nicene trinitarianism a key to the whole biblical teaching, who gave to the church a profound insight into the grace of God.
b.After Luther came Calvin, who found in Luther's soteriology the key to a full-orbed Christian world view.
c.After you will come.... Moral: the greatest achievements in Christian thought develop out of the momentus of reformations.
e.Conclusion: When people see the necessity of the word, they see something of monumental importance--something of the importance upon which reformations are built. We must proclaim the authority of the Word as something necessary, not as something peripheral or of secondary importance. When they see the necessity of the word, they will see the urgency of locating the word in Scripture, and of learning the word for themselves.
X.The Sufficiency of the Word
A.God’s word always is sufficient in power, authority and nearness to accomplish God’s purpose for it (Isa.55:11).
B.God’s Word through Nature is Sufficient for its Purpose: to declare the glory of God to all men, to leave all without excuse for their sinfulness before him, and to provide the necessary background for understanding the redemptive revelation. It is Quite sufficient to proclaim salvation, but that was not its purpose.
C.The General Sufficiency of Redemptive Covenant Relation:1.The "inscriptional curse" on the covenant document forbade anyone to add or subtract from the contents of the document, Deut. 4:2, 12;32, cf. Prov. 30:6, Rev. 22:18f. Note sharp polemic against substituting man's words for God's: Deut 18, I Kings 13, Isa. 29:13, Matt. 15:1-10, Gal. 1:8f, II Thes. 2:2.
2.The fact that Joshua and others added to the document despite the curse (Josh. 24:26) suggests that they regarded these additions as words of God, not merely words of men. For the logic or these "additions," see IV, A, 8.
3.At every point in redemptive history, the covenant revelation is sufficient for salvation and good works (II Tim. 3: 15ff). No one of God's people from earliest times can claim insufficient revelation as an excuse for sin. Yet God graciously gives much more as the history develops, opening the veil, leading us from shadow to glorious reality.
D.The Particular Sufficiency of the New Covenant Revelation
1.During the development of the canon, the objective sufficiency of covenant revelation was compatible with divinely authorized additions. Ought we to expect more of those?
2.No, for Jesus Christ is the final word of God to men (Heb. 1: 1-3, 2: 1-4). In Him we receive everything pertaining to life and godliness (II Pet. I :2f). On his word rests all sanctification until the eternal kingdom (II Pet. 1:4-11)
3.Scripture contains the all of the authorized (apostolic) new covenant revelation. Therefore, Scripture has the particular sufficiency noted here (D) as well as the more general sufficiency noted in C.
E.Misunderstandings Of Sufficiency
1.Sufficiency is not limited to "matters of salvation" in some narrow sense. Rather it is comprehensive. Scripture is sufficient to reveal God's will in all matters.a.The statement in Westminster Confession I, vi, does mention salvation explicitly. However,(1)The Confession does not regard salvation as something narrowly "religious" as over against other areas of life. Salvation is of the whole person.(2)Besides salvation, the Confession refers to "all things necessary for his own glory," "faith," and "life."(3)Nor is it possible to restrict "faith" and "life" to some narrowly defined compartment. Faith is what we believe, and life is what we do (cf. Shorter Catechism, Q. 3).b.Scripture places no limit on the sufficiency of Scripture in telling us the will of God. Rather, it speaks comprehensively of the sufficiency of Scripture to equip us "for every good work."
c.This is not to say that Scripture contains all the world's information or instructs us in all human skills. The point: in any area of life, our duty toward God will be an application of Scripture. Cf. 3, below, on the concept of "application."
2.Scripture is not merely sufficient as a general guide by which we discover divine norms beyond Scripture. Scripture contains all of God's authoritative requirements upon us.a. Scripture draws a sharp distinction between the sufficient word of God and the traditions of men. To promulgate a norm as God's will which is not an application of Scripture is to lie or at least to deny that distinction.
b.This misunderstanding gains its plausibility from the fact that indeed we do need extra-Scriptural information to apply Scripture. But that fact does not imply that we have duties which are not applications of Scripture (cf. 3, below).
c.Scripture never speaks of any extra-biblical norms which are not also found in Scripture. Romans 3: 1 f, in fact, may imply that the Scriptures contain a fuller transcript of God's will than what is available to the Gentiles in natural revelation.3.Scripture does not rule out the use, even the necessity, of extra-biblical information in the determination of our duty before God (cf. the relation of presuppositions to evidences in apologetics).a. God is revealed in the whole creation, though that revelation is opposed by the natural man.
b.Creation is the necessary medium by which the law is applied to specific situations.(1) Note the moral syllogism: Sabbath breaking is wrong; operating a factory on Sunday is Sabbath breaking, therefore operating a factory on Sunday is wrong. In order to evaluate that syllogism, you need to know, not only something about the Bible, but extra- Scriptural information as well (What is a "factory"?). Most moral reasoning is of this kind.
(2)Scripture itself assumes that man will use his knowledge of creation in applying God's law. When God told Adam to abstain from the forbidden fruit, Adam had the knowledge of creation to distinguish trees from other things and to single out the particular tree in view, etc. God does not spell out explicitly in his revelation all this information. To do so would be ludicrous. It would also be impossible; for no matter how much detail is written down, there will always be need for a human act of application, i.e. seeing the relation between the writing and the situation and translating the writing into concrete obedience.
(3)In Scripture, men are rebuked for failing to make such applications to current questions: Matt. 16:3,22:29, Luke 24:25, John 5:39f, Rom.15:4, II Tim. 3:16f,II Pet. 1:19-21 (in context).
(4)If such applications of Scripture are not permitted, we could not ~ Scripture at all. We would then lack, in effect, not only the applications, but the norm itself. The meaning of Scripture 1'? its application. (Cf. Doctrine of the Knowledge of God.)4.Sufficiency does not rule out the necessity of the illumination of the Spirit for a saving understanding of Scripture, for its proper use and application. Note statement in the Confession to this effect. In a sense, that illumination is a form of "revelation" (cf. II, C). Thus Scripture, even in its sufficiency, must be taken in correlation to event-revelation (point 3, above) and to person-revelation (this point). The concept of sufficiency must not be taken in such a way as to destroy the unity of the triad.
F.Will there be New Revelation?
1.The Word as decree continues every day, every moment.
2.God's address to all men in nature, history and man's constitution--likewise.
3.Redemptive covenant revelation has ceased because completed in Christ There will therefore be no more Scripture.
4.The word as God's presence, the application of the covenant revelation to God's people, continues. Note: do not be over intellectualistic in your conception of how this happens. It is essentially a work of God's grace. It operates on the mind, the will, the emotions, the whole person. It is not directly proportional to one's academic theological achievements.
5.At the return of Christ will come the apokalupsis, the revelation "par excellence,"' when every eye shall see the Lord. This is revelation of an entirely different order. I Pet. 1:7,4:13, I Cor. 1:7, Rom. 8:19, Luke 17:30, II Thes. 1:7.
G.Response to Alternative Positions
1.Roman Catholicisma. Recent Roman Catholic thought regards Scripture and tradition, not as two distinct sources of authority, but as a single stream.
b. That stream, however, is the stream on tradition. On this view, Scripture itself is a tradition. So its authority is correlative to the authority of post-canonical tradition. Roman Catholic theology still fails to maintain a clear distinction between the scriptural Word of God and the words or men.2.Charismatic Theologya. Most Charismatics do want to maintain a clear distinction between the authority of Scripture and that of the continuing prophecies they acknowledge.
b. However, they are unclear, and somewhat divided among themselves, as to how this distinction should be drawn.
C.These lectures provide "talking points" between Reformed and Charismatic Christians:i. The senses in which revelation continues.
ii.The sense in which God gives words to uninspired preachers and teachers.
iii. The importance of the Spirit's illumination or "existential revelation.
a) When we feel we need enlightenment beyond our normal reading of Scripture, this is what we need.
b) Noti) Mere academic study of the Word, as some Reformed would advocate.
ii) Continuing prophecy, as Charismatics typically want (Desiring more prophecy is also intellectualist, assuming that what we need are more words to examine.)c) Our real need at those times is for God to impress on our minds and hearts the content of his written Word, so that we can understand and apply it.3.Protestant Traditionalism: In my view, there is much confusion today in the protestant churches between what God has actually commanded and what comes only from human tradition:
a.Fundamentalism on the use of wine, etc.
b.Strict subscription to confessions. (Two forms)i.Required subscription to every statement in the confession.
ii.Allowance for exceptions, but prohibitions against teaching those exceptions.
iii.Comment: on these views, the confession may never be questioned in the church, so it can never be reformed according to the Word of God. Such a position, therefore, in my view, violates the principle of Sola Scripturac. Traditionalist orientations regarding worship and other aspects of church life. See Frame, "Traditionalism." Many today would limit, for example, the ways in which the church may worship, not on the basis of any credible biblical argument, but on the basis of dubious aesthetic criteria, or out of a desire to follow a historical model. This type of approach does not do justice to sola Scriptura.