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0 Lecture Outline (4) : DOCTRINE OF THE WORD OF GOD

By: Dr. John Frame

Lecture Outline (4)

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 (3) “The Fuctions of The Word In And For Creation

IV.The Message of the Word: 
In the broadest sense, the Word utters a declaration of God's Lordship (cf. II, above). It expresses that Lordship in a great many ways as it directs all things to the fulfillment of God's purposes. The unity and diversity of the message must both be guarded.

A.The Content of Covenant Revelation: Meredith Kline (StructureOf Biblical Authority) argues that the Decalogue and the book of Deuteronomy are examples of an ancient near eastern literary genre known as the "suzerainty treaty," of which extra-biblical examples (from the Hittite culture) have keen discovered. In Kline's view, the decalogue and deuteronomic "treaties" are the origin of the biblical canon, and the rest of the Bible is but an expansion of these "treaties," both in its character and content. Whether or not we endorse this analysis in detail, Kline's outline of the elements or the treaty form provides a useful tool for organizing the aspects of God's revelation as a whole. Note references to the decalogue.

1.Declaration of Lordship: "I am the Lord thy God..."
a. Revelation as exposition of God's name--cf. above I, C, 3.
b.Includes all aspects of his character and works--cf. references just noted, also Prologue.
c.Declares God's relation to his covenant people: "Lord" (relational term) "thy" God. Cf. "book of life", above, III, C, 2, c, (2), (b).

2.Historical Prologue: "...who brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage." Recitation of past blessings, grace; emphasis upon deliverance, redemption. "Situational perspective."

a.Note priority of grace to law. Though the whole covenant is "law", the grace of God is set forth before specific commands are given.
b.Note intimate "I-thou" language. God addresses Israel as if it were one person.
c.In Psalms, especially, the "marvelous works" include, not only redemptive history in the narrow sense, but also the works of creation and providence, Ps. 136:4, 145:4-6, 12; Ps. 107, 136:25, Job. 37:5ff, 14ff, 42:3 (Cf. Ps. 77:14-20), Prov. 30:18, Ps. 8,104. Cf. Van Til's "revelation about nature from God," etc.

3.The Love Command: "Thou shalt have no other gods before me..."; cf. Deut. 6:4f, Matt. 22:37, parallels. "Normative perspective,"

a. "Love"--exclusive covenant, loyalty, rejection of allegiance to any other lord. Jesus demands such allegiance for himself (Matt. 10:37, etc.)--proof that he claimed deity.
b.The love-command follows the historical prologue, for the Lord desires love out of gratefulness for past blessings. "We love, because he first loved us," 1 John 4:19.

4.Specific Commandments: "Honor thy father and mother," etc.

a.This legislation follows the love-command. We obey the Lord, not out of slavish deference, but out of love. "If you love me, keep my commandments," John 14:15; cf. many parallel verses.
b.The law is comprehensive, covering all areas of human life. Cf. Prologue, I B, 2, c.

5.Sanctions: curses for disobedience, blessings for obedience. "Existential perspective."

a. Curse sanction: "The Lord will not hold him guiltless..." Law as a way of death, Gal 3:12, Rom. 7:8ff, II Cor. 3:6.
b.Blessing sanction: "That thy days may be long in the land..." Law as a way of life, Ps. 119, Lev. 18:5, Ezek. 20:11ff, Luke 10:28, Deut 5:33,8:3, 11:13-15,28:1-14, 30:11-20,32:47, Jer. 38:20, Amos 8:11ff, Josh. 1:8, Ps. 1:2.
c. Response of people noted.

6.Confirmation of Sanctions:

a.he blessings sanction: This is not part of the Hittite  treaty form, but Kline argues that the promise of guaranteed blessing which is so prominent in the Abrahamic Covenant (and also present in the Mosaic) may be seen as a variation on the usual structure. In this "variation," the Lord promises that the blessing sanction will certainly be fulfilled, for he will see to it that the requirements are met. Note how this brings eschatology into the covenant.
b.The curse sanction: Scripture as a whole (though, again, not the treaty form as such) contains not only unconditional promises of blessing, but also predictions of certain destruction. Eschatology of judgment

7.Covenant Continuity: Not found in decalogue, but prominent in the Deuteronomic "treaty," Deut. 31-34. Provisions for continued administration of the covenant--"church government"

a.Executive branch: the royal succession, Deut. 31: 1-8, 34.

b. Judicial branch: the witnesses
(1)Nature:("heaven and earth," replacing customary list of gods), Deut. 4:26,30:19,31:28,32:1; cf. III, C, 1, a, above.
(2)Scripture: Deut. 31: 14-29. The covenant document is itself a "witness"--of God against the people (not a witness of tile people concerning God, as often asserted in modern theology). It is placed in the holiest location, the ark. Note that within the covenant structure it is natural for the covenant document to contain an account of itself.

8.History of. Covenant Administration: Like 6 above, this is not part of the treaty structure as described by Kline. Yet in fact God has added to the covenant document a record of the history of the response made by the people to the covenant and of the administration of blessing and curse sanctions.

a.Note how human response is incorporated into revelation. Cf. V, below.
b.Fulfillment of curse sanction: the "covenant lawsuit" Prophet charges people with breaking the covenant, invokes curse.
c.Fulfillment of blessing sanction: Despite covenant breaking, promise still proclaimed, history of faithfulness set forth, fulfillment noted.
d.This history can become the historical prologue to a later covenant--cf.books of generations.

B.Some Formal Features of this Structure

a.Consistency of elements, vs. sundering of modern theology.
(1)revelation of person (cf. A, 1,2, b) and word, person and fact.
(2)revelation of act (A, 2,8) and in word (Barr, Old and New in Interpretation ).
(3)grace and law (A, 2, a, vi).
(4)giving the law is an act of grace (Deut. 5:33, etc).
(5) obedience is the result of grace, and means of grace
(6)love and law (A, 3,4)
(7)judgment and blessing
(8)God's word, man's response (A, 5, 8)
(9)history and eschatology (A, 2, 5, 8) redemptive history, abiding norms
(10)nature and Scripture (A, 7)
(11)redemptive focus, application to all of life (Beware of any narrowly "redemptive" interpretation of Scripture's "purpose" or "message").
(12)Person, character of God and divine acts (A, 1,2).

b.Perspectival relation of elements: each is a perspective for viewing the whole revelation. All Scripture is history, law, prophecy, promise, etc.

(1)All is history: everything in Scripture relevant to a description of the historical process.
(2)All is law: everything in Scripture imposes obligation of some sort upon the reader, and the total obligation is a function of the entire Book. John 10:34,15:25.
(3)All is promise: all in Scripture speaks of Christ.
(4)Revelation may be described under any of these categories as long as other categorizations are neither excluded nor their contributions ignored. Each includes (never excludes) the others.

c.Perspectival unity of various styles, types of language, illocutionary and perlocutionary functions: Statements of fact ("propositions"), commands, questions, promises, VOWS, expressions of emotion, poetry, wisdom sayings, songs, parables, letters, apocalyptic, etc. Is Scripture "propositional truth"? It does contain propositional truth, and all Scripture communicates that truth (propositional truth as "perspective"). But Scripture is not only propositional truth; it contains other sorts of language, and these also may be seen as perspectives on the whole: all Scripture is command, question, promise, love-letter, song of triumph, etc.


a.Elements and language forms are not all synonymous.
(1)not all revelation says the same thing.
(2)different perspectives supplement one another.
b.Nature, general history , and the constitution of unregenerate man (III, C) do not communicate the full message of God to man; they do not communicate the way of salvation. Rom. 10: 13-17.

V.The Recipients of the Word

A.Intro:  Relation of Word to Response

1.Word includes descriptions, expressions of man's response (IV, A, 2,5, 8); but these are ~ descriptions and divinely chosen expressions. Hence these "responses" are properly the Word of God, not something merely human mixed in with the Word.
2.Does revelation exist where there is no response? No. All revelation provokes some response, for it always achieves its purpose (Isa. 55: 11).
3.Does the word exist if I fail to acknowledge it? Yes for the word as decree and address (II, C), no for the word as presence--at least presence in blessing.
4.Is the response part of the revelation? Does the response "complete" the revelation?
a.Yes, in the sense that the revelation contains descriptions and expressions of the response (above, I).
b.Yes, in the sense that the word as presence involves an identification of word and response: the word is the obedience in that case (II, C).
c.Yes in the sense that all revelation demands response and accomplishes its purpose only when response is given.
d.No, in the sense that the canon is incomplete until all responses have been given and noted, nor in the sense that the canonical word cannot be distinguished from the response to it, nor in the sense that it is not revelation until I accept it.

B.Enumeration of Recipients

1.Inter-trinitarian Communication: Gen. 1:26, Ps. 2:7-9, Ps. 110, 45:6-8, Matt.11:25-27, John 5:20, 17: 1-26, Acts 2:33-36, John 4:34, 6:38f.
2.The Word to All Creatures
a.The decree (II, B, 1).
b.The covenantal "address"--Gen. 1:9, 20, 22, 24, 4:9-17 

3.The Word to All Humanity
a.The decree and the address in nature, general history, and man's natural constitution have already been communicated to all, so as to leave none without excuse, Rom. 1.
b.The redemptive address is given to the church to be proclaimed to all men, Matt. 28: 19f.

4.The Word to the Church

a.The redemptive address, though proclaimed to all, is savingly appropriated only by the regenerate. As such it has a special reference to them.
b.The word as God's presence in blessing (which is nearly synonymous with the regenerate life itself) is only to the regenerate (II, B, 3).

C.The Response Demanded (cf. triadic scheme )

1.Belief: When God describes his mighty acts, we are expected to accept his description and interpretation. When he promises blessing or threatens judgment, we dare not call his word in question (cf. VI, below).
2.Obedience: What God commands in word must be obeyed without question.
3.Participation: Since the word is not exclusively propositional or imperative, God expects more from us than is easily summarized in the above two headings (though either of them may be taken as a perspective on the whole of our response). Since the word includes poetry , symbol, parable, exhortation, etc., God wants us to take his word into our heart, to let it work upon us in all the subtle ways in which poetry changes people. The word thus changes our interests, our priorities, our perspectives, our preoccupations. God wants us not only to believe him and obey him, but to be involved with him personally in a wide variety of ways.

a.To believe is to obey God's command to believe.
b.Belief and obedience are both aspects of participation.
c.Obedience presupposes belief that God is who he says he is, etc.
d.Participation is required by a wholehearted belief and obedience.
Excursus: "General" and "Special" Revelation These terms are not found in Scripture itself, but are a common theological device for making various sorts of distinctions concerning "revelation" under a simple two-fold division. In my view, however, the twofold division is inadequate, for the two concepts require so much explanation and modification that they tend to over-complicate, rather than simplify, the questions. Following are the areas where the terms come under discussion:

D. The Functions of the Word (above, II):

1.It is tempting to say that general revelation is the word as decree, special the word as address, while a third category ("existential revelation"?) designates the word as presence. But general revelation, as commonly understood, is also an address (Rom. 1:32, etc.).
2.It is often said, rightly that man is blind to general revelation apart from regeneration; but the same is true of special. Thus neither can produce a "word of presence" apart from a divine work.

E.The Media of the Word  (above, III):

1.It is sometimes said that general revelation is "natural" while special revelation is "supernatural." It is not clear what is meant by this. Is this an indirect/direct distinction? Cf. III, preface.
2.Or: on some accounts, general revelation is "natural" in the sense of coming through nature, general history, and man (as existing prior to redemption), while the next categories under III above, from B, 3 through H, are "special." On other accounts (e.g. Van Til) theophany at least could function as "general" revelation before the fall. And if theophany, why not prophecy, etc. ?

3.In some theologies, special revelation is "verbal" or even "written," while general revelation is not. However:
a.If general revelation is not verbal, are we to conclude that, say, The World Almanac is not revelation at all? Clearly it is not special revelation!
b.If special revelation is "verbal," what about the redemptive acts of God?  What about the apostolic example? Of course, all of this is verbal in the broad sense of proceeding from the word of God; but it is not verbal in the sense of being documentary in character. There ! what is often called "nonverbal communication" in redemptive revelation.
4.Neither category does justice to the sense in which preaching, teaching, Christian insight are revelatory. We don't want to say that these convey new special revelation. Nor do we want to say that these are "general" (i.e. non-redemptive).

F.The Message of the Word (above, IV)

1.It has been said that general revelation communicates a message which does not presuppose man's sin. But if this be the case, what of the revelation of God's wrath in Rom.1:18?  If that is not general, what is?
2."Special revelation presents the way of salvation; general revelation does not." On the whole a good observation. However, some, such as Vos, have spoken of "redemptive special revelation" to describe the speaking of God to Adam before the fall. The question depends on whether special revelation is defined in terms of its distinctive message or in terms of the distinctive media of its communication. It would be less confusing if the two questions (media and content) were handled separately.

G.The Recipients of the Word  (above, V): "All men are aware of general revelation; special revelation is given to a few, to be proclaimed to all." On the whole this is a good observation. Note, however, that the original redemptive promise was given to the whole human race (Gen. 3:15), and there are in the O.T. some indications or a knowledge of redemption existing outside the messianic family line.

H.Conclusion: The general/special distinction is used to make some valid points. However (1) there is not universal agreement as to its proper formulation; (2) it sometimes confuses issues under discussion; (3) at best it ties questions together which are best discussed separately. If a more simplified scheme is needed, try a contrast between "nature" and "scripture," saving other categories for more advanced students.

Next : Part V “VI.The Power of the Word”

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