Commentary Revised and Updated 12.19.14
1. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church; and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Isaiah 8:20; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20; Romans 1:19-21; Romans 2:14, 15; Psalms 19:1-3; Hebrews 1:1; Proverbs 22:19-21; Romans 15:4; 2 Peter 1:19, 20)
It is by design that the Confession begins with Scripture. It is the foundation upon which the Confession is built. The Confession does not desire to promote mere tradition or opinion, but the Word of God. The Confession begins with a statement which indicates its high view of Scripture: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.
When we analyze the sentence using the diagram above we are able to see the core meaning: Scripture is the rule. From this, the rest of the clause is formed. The word rule here refers to a particular criterion that this body of writing meets. What is that criterion? It is all saving knowledge, faith and obedience; we will get to each of these words in a moment.
We see that the Scripture is Holy. There are several meaning-senses of this word ‘holy.’ The Oxford English Dictionary lists four main senses. Context indicates which sense is correct, and even with some overlap of the various senses, we can conclude that ‘holy’ means sacred, consecrated, or set apart. Thus the Bible is called the Holy Bible or the Holy Scriptures—indeed a fitting title. It is holy because it is set apart, thus we see the word only. The word only is a narrow and restrictive word that modifies (i.e. describes or explains) the adjectives: sufficient, certain, and infallible. The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule or standard. As well, by use of the word ‘only’ we are reminded of the doctrine of sola scriptura (Latin for ‘Scripture alone’), and indeed that Reformation principle is the focus of this entire chapter. We should not miss that the Confession here submits itself to the Holy Scriptures, for Scripture is the only sufficient, certain and infallible rule. Of course, the clause goes on to explain what Scripture is the rule of, but since we are attempting to take this clause one step at a time, we will need to hold that thought for a moment.
The use of the term sufficient is very important. Sufficient in this context means “of a quality, extent or scope adequate to a certain purpose or object.”  The Bible contains and is the standard or rule, and that rule has particular characteristics; in regard to its sufficient rule, it is fully able to accomplish its aim. But what is the rule sufficient for? It is the sufficient rule or standard to effectively show us saving knowledge, faith and obedience. Sufficient here does not mean merely adequate. Samuel Waldron helpfully states: “It is often said that the Scriptures are sufficient for showing us the way of salvation. This is liable to be misunderstood today because of the minimizing mentality abroad, which is intent on reducing the way of salvation to its barest elements. It surely must be clear that such an understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture is a deviation from the historic Reformation understanding articulated in the Westminster Confession. “All things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life” is far more than the “Four Spiritual Laws.” It is nothing less than sufficiency for the redemption of man both individually and corporately in the whole ethical and religious sphere of life that is asserted.”  This begs the question, “If the Bible is the only sufficient… rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, are there things for which it is insufficient?” Yes. Waldron states: “The Bible is not “omni-sufficient.” It is not “all-sufficient” for every conceivable purpose. The Scriptures, for instance, are not sufficient as a textbook for math, biology or Spanish. The sufficiency of the Scriptures does not mean they are all we need for the purpose of learning geometry or algebra.” 
The Bible is the only sufficient rule, but it is also the only certain rule. The word certain is defined as “sure, unerring, not liable to fail, to be depended upon, wholly trustworthy or reliable.”  Indeed, the Bible is the certain rule. It is sure; it is a firm foundation. It is the only certain rule. We can and should build our lives upon its certainty. Jesus said: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (Matt 7:24-27 ESV). I am reminded of the first stanza of the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation ye Saints of the Lord,”
- How firm a foundation, you saints of the Lord,
- Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
- What more can He say than to you He has said,
- To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled? 
The Bible is also the only infallible rule. The word infallible is defined as “incapable of error.”  It is compatible with our modern word inerrancy. The belief that the Bible is incapable of error has been attacked. In the modern era these attacks have become rather sophisticated, but the Bible’s authority depends not upon man’s testimony; the Word of God stands forever (Isaiah 40:8). Infallibility is what we would expect from God, for God is truth. It is ultimately the Spirit that convinces us of its infallibility, but it is also reason. The attacks by liberalism have not shown the Bible to be fallible, but have only further shown the rationality of believing it is infallible (i.e. inerrant).
Having commented on the nature of the rule of Scripture (i.e. it is sufficient, certain and infallible), we now turn to that which the rule or standard pertains. The Confession states that the rule is over all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. What kind of knowledge, faith and obedience? The answer is the saving kind. What kind of saving knowledge, faith and obedience? The answer is all. I believe saving is to be applied to each individual word it modifies (i.e. saving knowledge, saving faith, and saving obedience).  Saving refers to salvation, of course, but salvation from what?
We often use the term ‘saving’ in relation to redemption, but we may forget what it is we are saved from. In order to be saved, there must be a danger which threatened us. It is God that threatens us, and it is him that we are saved from. We often refer to salvation “from sin”, or “from hell”, but these are all secondary threats to us. God himself is our greatest threat. What did Jesus tell us? “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5 ESV). The criminal should not fear jail as much as the judge who can put him in the jail. God will cast all sinners he has not pardoned into hell, and thus it is God who is the greatest threat to the sinner; this makes sense since it is God we have provoked–to his face–with our sin. To be saved is to be saved from God, the judge of all. We can never forget this fact. When we think about being saved from God himself, we realize that the glory of the gospel is this: we are saved from God, by God, for God. Is that not profound to consider? Of course, salvation is not just being saved from something (God’s wrath), but it is being saved to something—ultimately for God himself.
When it comes to all saving knowledge, the Scripture provides the knowledge needed for salvation. Consider this passage: “and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15 ESV). Knowledge is required in order to be saved, but what kind of knowledge? Well, the answer is saving knowledge. What is that? The knowledge that saves is the knowledge of the gospel. Does knowledge of the gospel save you? No, but when saving knowledge is accompanied by saving faith it does. We are justified by faith alone, not by knowledge alone. The knowledge or wisdom referred to in Second Timothy did not save Timothy, but it made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Rather than expand in detail upon what saving faith is, we will have to save that (no pun intended) for chapter 14, Of Saving Faith. Scripture is the standard of what constitutes saving faith. I might also commend you to chapter 11, Of Justification, where faith is explained in relation specifically to justification.
As we come to the last phrase, there is no need to stumble over saving… obedience, as if the Confession is promoting an obedience-works salvation. It is not, but salvation is not just from God’s wrath for our sin, but to obedience. The Bible tells us, “He chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him” (Eph. 1:4 ESV). We know that we are saved by faith alone, but saving faith is not alone (James 2:17). In other words, true faith is followed by a saving obedience. Obedience does not save us; but obedience indicates something saving exists in us. What does Scripture tell us? “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10 ESV). So, though we are saved by grace through faith alone, we also grow in sanctification: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thess. 4:3a ESV). The objective of the gospel is salvation from sin and a conforming to the image of Christ; the point of the gospel is not grace, grace is the means. The point of the gospel is that we will be made like Christ for God’s glory. If we are not moving that direction, then the Scripture tells us we ought to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5; 1 Peter 1:3-11).
To sum up this section and include the ellipses, the Confession is saying: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, [only] certain, and [only] infallible rule of all saving knowledge, [all saving] faith, and [all saving] obedience. This portion has established the starting point: all that we need to know and can know about saving knowledge, faith and obedience is found in the Holy Scriptures. There is no other source and rule in this regard.
The Scriptures are sometimes referred to as special revelation. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology defines special revelation, or particular revelation as “redemptive revelation conveyed by wondrous acts and words.” While special revelation is sufficient to bring about redemption (i.e. saving knowledge, saving faith, saving obedience), general revelation (i.e. natural or universal revelation) is not. General revelation is insufficient to bring about redemption. The Confession now enters into an explanation about the insufficiency or inability of general revelation to redeem sinners.
The Confession states: although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable. There are three sources of general revelation mentioned here that manifest (reveal) the goodness, wisdom and power of God. These three things are so plain and clear that they leave all men inexcusable.
The first source of general revelation is the light of nature. Light here ought to be understood metaphorically, and it refers to knowledge, not physical light. This light (knowledge) must come from somewhere; the phrase tells us the light comes from nature. But should we understand nature simply as a synonym for creation? I do not think so. The light of nature is used in 5 other places in the Confession.  The other contexts relate to issues of natural or general revelation, but seem to reference not the external evidence of creation or providence, but to both conscience and consciousness. Robert Letham helpfully states: “The light of nature” is a reference to the consciousness of God that he has imprinted on the human mind.” God placed his law in man’s heart (Rm. 2:15) to which conscious witnesses to, and God put in man an awareness of God (Rm. 1:19). What makes the light of nature distinct from the works of creation and providence is that it is internal, whereas creation and providence testify of God externally—or objectively if you will.
General revelation also comes to us through the works of creation. This refers to God making creation in six days. Chapter 4, Of Creation, will deal in detail with the works of creation. Paul indicates: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Romans 1:19-20 ESV). Creation testifies of God. We see this in Psalm 19. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun” (ESV).
God’s works of providence are the third source of general revelation. How does providence manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God? The simple answer is that since God provides (i.e. PROVIDEnce) for his creation, and we can observe this, it is evidence of his goodness, wisdom and power in that action. We will discuss this in more detail in chapter 5, Of God’s Providence.
The Confession continues, yet are they not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation. R. C. Sproul states: “General revelation, unlike special revelation, comes to us basically through nature and is called general for two reasons. First, the audience is general; God gives knowledge of himself universally, so that every human has this revelation, which is built into nature. Second, the content of general revelation gives us a knowledge of God in general. It reveals that he is eternal; it reveals his power, deity, and holiness. General revelation, however, does not disclose God’s way of salvation. The stars do not reveal the ministry of Christ. In fact, general revelation reveals just enough knowledge of God to damn us, to render us without excuse.”  This is sobering. Not only is general revelation insufficient to bring the saving knowledge of the gospel, but the revelation it does bring “is just enough knowledge of God to damn us.” The lost sinner cannot deduce the gospel from general revelation. This point is covered in more detail in the Confession in chapter 20, Of the Gospel and the Extent of Grace Thereof. Since the gospel is not revealed by general revelation, this makes the preaching of the gospel essential. And this brings us to the next section of paragraph one.
The Confession states: Therefore it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal himself, and to declare that his will unto his church. The word therefore points both back to the fact that general revelation is not sufficient to give that knowledge of God and his will which is necessary unto salvation, and points forward indicating that as a result of that insufficiency: it pleased the Lord… to reveal himself and to declare that his will unto his church. The Lord graciously of his own free-will—God is always most free to do as he pleases—revealed two things. One, he revealed himself…unto his church. This should not be passed over too quickly. God who is infinite, unchangeable, incomprehensible, invisible, who dwells in unapproachable light revealed himself! That is remarkable. And we also do not want to miss that he revealed himself to the church. Secondly, the Lord declared his will unto the church. This is another astonishing act of God. God has not only revealed himself to us, but has made clear to us his will. Again the direction of this declaration is to the church. The reference to the church here is to all God’s elect in all ages, including the Old Testament period. We will touch upon that later in the Confession, but we should not simply think of the church as those from the New Testament forward; we need to also think of the elect from the New Testament back to our first parents.
The Confession states that it pleased the Lord at sundry times and in divers manners to reveal and declare his will to the church. This phrase is a direct quote from Hebrews 1:1; presumably from the King James Bible. The New American Standard Bible translates this as: “in many portions and in many ways.” The phrase at sundry times (or in many portions) means that God spoke at various times and epochs, and that revelation was not given all at once; it was given in portions—each new portion added to the prior revelation. In this way the revelation progressed until its fullness in Christ and the New Covenant (see Rm. 16:25-27). The phrase in divers manners (or in many ways) means that God transmitted the revelation of himself and his will to the church in various or different ways (i.e. various methods, or modes). What are those ways or modes? In David Dickson’s book, Truth’s Victory over Error, he asks: “What were the sundry times and divers manners?” He answers citing six modes of revelation. We do not have the space here to review each mode, but this list is helpful, and the references are provided for further study:
- By inspiration (2 Chron. 15:1; 2 pet. 1:21)
- By visions (Num. 12:6-8)
- By dreams (Job 33:14-16; Gen. 40:8)
- Urim and Thummim (Num. 27:21; 1 Sa. 30:7-8)
- By signs (Gen. 32:24-32; Exod. 13:21)
- By audible voice (Exod. 20:1, Gen. 22:15)
Dickson then adds, “All which do end in writing (Exod. 17:14), which is a most sure and infallible way of the Lord’s revealing his will unto his people.”  This last statement sums up much of this paragraph of the Confession.
The Confession continues: and afterward for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing; which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
We will need to break this down for clarity sake. Let’s clear away some of the so-called non-essential statements and see if this helps us. I will do this for the whole paragraph so we have a context:
- The Holy Scripture is the…rule.
- Natural knowledge…creation…providence…manifest…God; [thus to] leave men inexcusable.
- Yet…[nature…creation…providence are] not sufficient to give… knowledge of…salvation.
- Therefore it pleased the Lord…to reveal himself, and to declare…his will unto his church;
- and afterward…to commit the same wholly unto writing;
- …those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased.
We have already covered one to four. Five states: and afterward…to commit the same wholly unto writing. The phrase afterward refers to the time after God had revealed himself and his will to the church (in the sundry times and divers manners) until it was put to writing. So why did God commit his revelation to writing? The Confession states: for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh, and the malice of Satan, and of the world. This comprises seven reasons the revelation was committed to writing. Let’s briefly look at these one at a time.
One, the benefit of having the revelation written is that it better preserves the truth. Writing is usually more reliable than word of mouth. Writing also makes the truth open for anyone to see, as opposed it being known only to the prophet or his followers. The second benefit is the better propagating (promotion) of the truth. I think of the many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and of the many translations of those manuscripts into other languages. All of this would not have happened if the revelation was not committed to writing to begin with, and thus by the sheer quantity the truth is greatly preserved and promoted.
Reasons three through seven provide five benefits of the revelation being committed to writing; these benefits are directed to the church, whereas the prior reasons were related to the truth itself. The more sure establishment… of the church refers to a strengthening or support. The revelation committed to writing is also for the comfort of the church (see Romans 15:4). This establishment (strengthening) and comfort assists the church against three enemies: 1) the corruption of the flesh, 2) the malice of Satan, and 3) [the malice of] the world. Spurgeon calls these three enemies “the horrible trinity of the world.”  Most believers will immediately understand how the Word of God helps the church against these three enemies.
The Confession indicates that the revelation of God and his will to the church—previously transmitted in different non-written modes—was wholly committed to writing. Samuel Waldron states: “It is not that everything once revealed is written, but that everything now revealed is written. The redemptive revelation contained in the Bible is an accurate and sufficient epitome of the whole of redemptive revelation.” We content ourselves with the knowledge that everything we need for salvation, and to live in Christ Jesus is written in the Scriptures, as the first clause of this chapter’s paragraph stated. When one looks at the breadth of the Old Testament alone, we do not get the sense that we are missing anything. When we add the New Testament to that, we recognize we have the whole revelation of God and his will for the church. Even if we do not have every single thing that was ever revealed committed to writing, we do wholly have the whole counsel of God in the Holy Scriptures.
Paragraph one ends with these words: which maketh the Holy Scriptures to be most necessary, those former ways of God’s revealing his will unto his people being now ceased. Since those former ways that God revealed his will to his people has now ceased, it makes the written revelation of the Holy Scriptures most necessary. Otherwise, that former unwritten revelation which has now ceased would fade, and the truth would not be preserved and propagated; and, the church would not be so surely established and comforted.
Let’s summarize this paragraph: the Holy Scriptures are the rule for saving knowledge, faith and obedience. General revelation is insufficient to reveal saving knowledge faith and obedience. Thus, God revealed himself and his will to the church. But since this revelation that was at first unwritten would cease, it was most necessary that it be written down for the truth and the church.
Baptist Catechism number 6 asks: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures? The answer is: The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man. What follows in the Confession, chapters 2 to 32 can be summarized by these two very things. And thus the Confession itself is a summary of the whole counsel of God (i.e. those things chiefly contained in the Word of God).
- Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:
OF THE OLD TESTAMENT: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, The Song of Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi
OF THE NEW TESTAMENT: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, The Acts of the Apostles, Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, I Corinthians, II Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, I Thessalonians, II Thessalonians, I Timothy, II Timothy, To Titus, To Philemon, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Epistle of James, The first and second Epistles of Peter, The first, second, and third Epistles of John, The Epistle of Jude, The Revelation.
All of which are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life (2 Timothy 3:16).
This paragraph is rather straightforward; having defined the nature of the Word of God, it is important to specifically state which books are part of that rule (i.e. canon). This list of books implies that all other books not mentioned are not a part of the rule. From the outset, the Confession is settling matters of authority; this is necessary before it can proceed further.
The Confession states that all of these books are given by the inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life. This reflects the wording of 2 Timothy 3:16-17: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work (ESV). It is important to notice in this passage the words: “breathed out by God.” The inspiration of God in the Confession refers directly to the word in Greek from which “breathed-out by God” comes from in 2 Timothy. R.C. Sproul states: “When Paul says that all Scripture is inspired, or God- breathed, he is technically saying that Scripture is breathed out of the mouth of God, where it originates.” So, it is not simply that these books are accepted by the church as authoritative, it is that these books are breathed out of the very mouth of God; they are directly from God without error, and thus by their very inspired quality, they are the rule of faith and life. These words are the standard (i.e. the rule) for what we should believe (i.e. faith), and how we are to live (life). The rule of faith and life is not a new statement or idea in the Confession, but rather it is a reiteration—in shortened form—from paragraph one: the Scriptures are the “rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience.”
- The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine , inspiration, are no part of the canon or rule of the Scripture, and, therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings. (Luke 24:27, 44; Romans 3:2 )
The Roman Church holds the Apocryphal books to be inspired along with the books of the Old and New Testament. The Apocrypha was written during the Inter-Testamental period (from about 400 B.C. to Christ’s arrival). The Books of the Apocrypha are: I Esdras, II Esdras, Tobit, Judith, The rest of Esther, The Wisdom of Solomon, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, with the Epistle of Jeremiah, The Song of the Three holy Children, The History of Susanna, Bel and the Dragon, The Prayer of Manasses, I Maccabees and II Maccabees.
Protestants do not hold these books to be inspired for good reason; there are inaccuracies in history and other areas that show them to be fallible, and therefore not inspired. The 1689 states: “Therefore, are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved or made use of than other human writings.” It is not to say that the Apocrypha has no value historically, culturally, or literarily. The 1689 Confession is not saying that the Apocrypha or any other human books are not to be read, or that they have no value, but humans books are not sufficient, certain or infallible as a rule of saving knowledge, faith and obedience.
Scripture is the rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience. The word canon is used in the same sense, as a rule. James White helpfully addresses what is meant by canon: “Canon refers to a standard or rule. In this case, the rule, standard or canon refers to which books are inspired or God breathed. Which writings are inspired and which ones are not.” White also states: “The canon is a function of the Scripture themselves. The canon is not just a listing of books; it is a statement about what is inspired. The canon flows from the work of the author of Scripture, God Himself. To speak of the canon outside of speaking of what “God-breathed” is to speak nonsense. Canon is not made by man. Canon is made by God. It is the result of the action of His divine inspiration. That which is God-breathed is canon; that which is not God-breathed is not canon. It’s just that simple. Canon is a function of inspiration, and it speaks to an attribute of Scripture.”
White then applies this to the Roman Church: “The Roman error lies in creating a dichotomy between two things that cannot be separated, and then using that false dichotomy to deny sola Scriptura.” “Often two separate but related issues get confused when this topic is discussed: (1) the canon’s nature, and (2) how people came to know the contents of the canon. An illustration might help. I have written eight books. The action of my writing those books creates the canon of my works. If a friend of mine does not have an accurate or full knowledge of how many books I have written, does this mean there is no canon of my books? No, of course not. In fact, if I was the only one who knew how many books I had written, would that mean that the canon of my books does not exist? The point is clear. The canon is one issue, and it comes from God’s action of inspiring the Scriptures. Our knowledge of the canon is another. Our knowledge can grow and mature, as it did at times in history. But the canon is not defined by us nor is it affected by our knowledge or ignorance.”
The Apocrypha is declared by the Roman Church to be canonical along with the rest of the Bible, but she has no authority to make that declaration. The only authority of canon is God, who inspired the particular documents; a church council or human decree cannot declare something to be inspired—of what value is that?
The Protestant list of inspired books is based upon the recognition that these books are inspired by God. By the time the churches made a formal list of the canonical books, their usage was already established. Why was that so? Because when a book was recognized as inspired, the church used it. And so, the canonical list of books is a list of recognition, rather than a list of pronouncement.
- The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God. ( 2 Peter 1:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 John 5:9 )
The 1689 Confession states that the authority of the Bible depends not on the: “testimony of any man.” This logically follows the discussion of canon and inspiration. If God has inspired breathed out of his mouth the Scripture of the Old and New Testament, and he has, then it follows that the authority, the rule, of Scripture is not dependent upon any person for its authority. The authority comes from God alone. I am reminded of a passage in 1 Thessalonians: “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.” 1 Thess. 2:13 (ESV)
It is likely that the Confession had the papacy and his claim to the sole right of interpretation in mind. The 1689 Confession adds that the authority of the Bible does not depend on the testimony of any church. It is likely that the Roman Church was in mind here. As David Dickson wrote, near the time of the Westminster and 1689 Confessions: “Well then, do not the popish church err, who maintain the Scripture to be an imperfect rule, and therefore to stand in need of a supply of unwritten traditions?” If Scripture alone is not the sole authority, then it is not the authority at all.
The Confession adds that the authority of the Bible depends but wholly upon God. 1 John tells us: “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9 ESV). We have many commands in Scripture that necessitate we do not add to its words, and if we add non-inspired books to the list we are in a real sense adding to the Words of Scripture. If we assign the authority of Scripture to another besides God, we are in a sense taking away, not words, but authority. Consider these passages from Scripture: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deut. 4:2 ESV). “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Prov. 30:5-6 ESV). “I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Rev. 22:18-19 ESV). The 1689 Confession states that the author of Scripture is truth itself, and therefore it is to be received as the Word of God. If we do not, we are rejecting God’s authority, his word, and his truth.
- We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. (John 16:13,14; 1 Corinthians 2:10-12; 1 John 2:20, 27)
This section points out three ways or means by which we may know the Bible is from God—the third being the ultimate. The first means: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures. If the church is fulfilling its role, we may be moved and induced to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures by the church’s testimony. This is different from the Church being the only testimony to the authority of the Word of God, or the Word of God being dependent on the testimony of a church (see section Chapter 1, section 3).
Many a church is not fulfilling its role to hold up a high and reverent view of Scripture, either by denying the inspiration of the Bible, or by neglecting the exposition of the Scripture. Another way the Church can fail to hold a high and reverent view of the Bible is by denying its full perspicuity (clarity and scope). To deny the perspicuity of Scripture is to deny that particular issues are addressed with sufficient clarity so as to forbid one from believing and practicing something. This argument is often simply a rational so a church can concede to the pressure of a contemporary social issue. For example, a particular denomination I am thinking of determined that women could be elders because, as they rationalized, the perspicuity of Scripture did not forbid it. Of course, if you close your eyes many things become unclear. It is the duty of the church to be a pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The church must hold a high view of the Word of God.
The second means: and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, and the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, and many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God. In addition to the church’s testimony moving us to a high and reverent esteem for the Bible, this list gives arguments and abundant evidence that it is the Word of God. This list indicates things that are internal to the Word of God itself. It is the Scripture’s own testimony of itself that gives abundant evidence to it being the Word of God. Michael Kruger states: “Of all the attributes of canonicity, the divine qualities of Scripture are the least discussed in modern canonical studies. Most scholars prefer to devote their studies to their energies to the corporate reception of these books, or perhaps to their apostolic origins, but attention is rarely given to their divine qualities.” Kruger goes on to point out how the early church fathers and other Reformed confessions and writers also saw evidence from the internal attributes that the Scriptures are the Word of God. We have here a very helpful list of attributes which reflect a historical perspective of the church.
1) The heavenliness of the matter, that is, the glories of which it speaks. Letham says this means Scripture is “speaking of realities that transcend our mundane perceptions.” The efficacy of the doctrine, is referring to the power and capacity of its doctrine to produce effects. 2) The majesty of the style, or we could say the grand and splendid quality. 3) The consent of all the parts, speaks of how the parts all agree with each other. 4) The scope of the whole is speaking of how the whole is unified with the parts. 5) (which is to give all glory to God), is connected with four, and means that the individual parts and the whole both give glory to God. 6) The full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, refers to the full and clear way the gospel is understood. 7) And many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof. These are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.
The third means: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. Even with the consideration of means one and two above, ultimately our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof (the Word of God) comes from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts. We need to recognize that our conviction about the Word of God comes from the inward work of the Spirit in a believer’s life. I recall once hearing John MacArthur, Jr. say that in all his years of ministry in teaching the Word of God, he has never had to convince a believer in Christ that the Bible is the Word of God; he or she is already convinced. The reason for that is the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness (testimony) in our heart that Scripture is indeed from the mouth of God.
It might be helpful to mention that some of the cults (I am thinking of Mormonism in particular) will often cite that they know the Book of Mormon is a true book from God because the Holy Spirit testifies to their heart it is so. I have personally heard this on several occasions as I have attempted to show a Mormon the fallibility of either the Book of Mormon or Joseph Smith. For them this inner witness is an attempt to maneuver out of the trap they have found themselves in. It is certainly not an effective apologetic on their part. But the Christian is not saying the Holy Spirit has given us full persuasion despite all evidence to the contrary; we are saying that while there is external evidence beyond our convictions that give evidence that the Bible is the Word of God, but that is not our ultimate reason (i.e. the reason of observable reality); our ultimate persuasion is the Spirit of God. I am not suggesting that this Spirit given conviction is an apologetic, but it is something we must understand for our own faith and growth.
- The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Galatians 1:8,9; John 6:45; 1 Corinthians 2:9-12; 1 Corinthians 11:13, 14; 1 Corinthians 14:26,40)
The Confession states: The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture. This statement echoes what has already been shown in paragraph one of this chapter and it advances it. What has already been established is that the revelation of himself and his will has been wholly committed to writing. So, that whole revelation was wholly committed to writing, and therefore is the whole counsel of God—not merely a part of counsel of God. We see this phrase in Scripture: In Paul’s departing words to the elders at Miletus before he set sail to Cos, he said: “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” Acts 20:26-27 ESV
The whole counsel of God is concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life. The Bible is not just a book full of ancient literature. Years ago, as a young Christian I was attending a community college, and I enrolled in a class entitled, The Bible as Literature. The teacher had no reverence for the Bible as containing the whole counsel of God. To him the Bible was just literature. He did not treat the Bible as a redemptive document. The Bible is certainly literature, and to interpret it correctly we must consider literary issues, but it is literary in a redemptive way, and to ignore what it says about God’s own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life is to ignore the Bible’s aim. Surely a book cannot be understood rightly if its aim is ignored. The things necessary for God’s own glory are in the Scripture. All things required for man’s salvation are in the Bible. All things required for us to believe are in God’s Word. All things concerning how to live and have life are in the Bible.
The whole counsel of God–concerning these things–is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture. Expressly means explicitly or directly stated. Set down means, laid out or explained. Some things are directly stated (expressly set down), such as Thou shall not murder. Other things are necessarily contained in the Bible, and are to be understood by implication. For example, “Thou shall not murder,” implies that we shall do whatsoever is in our power to save and preserve life. So we are not only to accept what is directly stated (expressly set down), but to apply our hearts and minds to discover what is also implied. Whether expressly set down, or necessarily contained, what is needed for the glorifying of God, man’s salvation, faith and life, is contained in the Holy Scripture. It is all there, but it may require diligence to use reason and logic to gather all that is contained in the Bible.
We should become educated in the discipline referred to as ‘sacred-hermeneutics’ (the science and art of interpreting Scripture) so that we will be properly equipped to mine all the riches of God’s Word. Little will be gained by a lazy approach to understanding the Bible. Rather, effort is required. Whatever education we have attained to, all of it, and more will be required in order to study the Scriptures. While I do not want to under-estimate the Spirit’s work in illuminating Scripture to us, we should realize the Spirit is not going to reveal reference material that we may need in order to mine God’s Word. For example, the Holy Spirit will not ‘instruct us’ in matters of say, Hittite culture, the historical background that led to the Jew’s hatred of the Samaritans, or Greek verb endings. We must make the effort to learn these things, and the Spirit will bless that effort and help us to apply that knowledge to better interpreting the Bible. Sometimes the Spirit will only grant illumination by hard work.
The Confession states that since we have the whole counsel of God in writing, nothing at any time is to be added. It’s like the person who says, “I am committed one hundred and ten percent!” Aside from its use of hyperbole, one person can only be committed one hundred percent—mathematically speaking. We have one hundred percent of the counsel of God; there is nothing to add to that percentage. One whole is one hundred percent. We cannot add anything to God’s word, and even if we tried, it would be either redundant or in error. We must accept that all that is necessary is revealed because there is no more. It is mathematically impossible in relation to our illustration to add more to Scripture. Scripture is whole and sufficient.
We are not to add anything, at any time to the whole counsel of God. God’s counsel was given at sundry times and committed to writing. This writing began around 1440 B.C. with God’s own writing (i.e. God’s own finger, an anthropomorphism in Exodus 31:18) writing the Ten Commandments, followed by Moses writing the Pentateuch (i.e. the first five books of the Bible; see Deut. 31:9), and so on until the writing ended with the conclusion of book of Revelation around A.D.95. With these writing complete the whole counsel of God was given; what need is there for further revelation? It is all there in full, in whole. I am afraid many believers fail to appreciate the sufficiency of Scripture, particularly those who seek supplemental revelation.
Whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men, we are not to add anything at any time to the whole counsel of God. During the time of the writing of the Confession, there were various groups who claimed ongoing revelation—just as in our day. Just to name a couple, there were the Quakers who promoted the belief that inner light or revelation continued even after the closing of the canon. The Papists believe that the traditions of the church and their own popes can add authoritative and supplementary revelation. This is practically to add to Scripture something beyond it. David Dickson states of the Roman Church: “Well then, do not the Papists err who maintain that things necessary to salvation are obscurely and darkly set down in Scripture; and that without the help of unwritten traditions and the infallible expounding of the church the Scriptures cannot be understood? Yes. Because the Scripture enlighteneth the eyes and maketh the simple wise (Psa. 19:7-8).”
Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word. While the Confession states that the Scripture contains all that is needed for salvation, nonetheless (nevertheless), the inward work of the Spirit (i.e. illumination) is still needed for a sinner to understand these things in a way that leads to salvation. Scripture tells us: “The natural person does not accept 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 Corinthians 2:14 ESV). So the Spirit of God in conjunction with the Word of God must illuminate a sinner to a saving understanding of the Word of God for it to be an effectual call. We will touch on this illumination in chapter 10, Of Effectual Calling. For now, we want to note that the Word of God alone will not bring someone to savingly understand; the Spirit does that work when the Father calls a sinner to himself.
The Confession is well balanced and acknowledges a wide variety of situations with which a Christian will be seeking to apply God’s Word. If all things necessary for faith and life are contained in the Bible, then we might find ourselves asking: “What about…?” The Confession states: there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. We come across this phrase again, the light of nature. As we discussed in chapter one, paragraph one, it refers to general revelation. So the point here is that there are some situations that may not be expressly stated in the Bible which relate to: the worship of God, and government of the Church. These relate to human actions and societies (i.e. the actions of individuals and/or a group of individuals) in worship and church order. In these situations the rule of general revelation (i.e. light of nature) are to be applied with Christian prudence (godly wisdom). Both of these (worship of God and church order) are to be guided by the general rules of the Word of God. These general rules of the Bible are always to be observed in all situations. What are the general rules of Scripture? They are the principles of Scripture which can be gathered from the whole of Scripture. When I was a younger believer, I was often asked when witnessing, “Since the Bible does not mention marijuana, am then I free to smoke it?” My answer was, “No. For the Bible tells us to remain sober-minded and self-controlled.” I used the general rules or principles of Scripture to answer a specific matter that the Bible does not address by name.
The next few paragraphs of this chapter move us towards some important hermeneutical (interpretative) guidelines that the church ought to utilize as it seeks to interpret and apply God’s Word to its own day.
- All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. (2 Peter 3:16; Psalms 19:7; Psalms 119:130)
The Roman Church was against the idea that the common man should read and interpret Scripture. The Roman Church believed that only her interpretation of the Scripture was authoritative. If untrained, non-Roman Church laypersons were to interpret the Bible, there would be an untold amount “aberrant” interpretation that would vary from the Roman Church. The popery system is aimed in part at one unified system of interpretation of which the Roman Church was the custodian or guardian. The Reformation had a different belief—the Bible ought to be in the common language of the learned and unlearned so that God’s Word was accessible to all. This was diametrically opposed to Roman thinking. From Rome’s vantage point, you can understand her opposition; if you accept that Christ has entrusted his office as Vicar to the pope and that there is indeed one body of doctrine for which the Spirit has entrusted to the Roman Church, then indeed private interpretation would reap havoc to that one so-called body of doctrine.
This paragraph is in a sense a defense against the claims and concerns of the Roman Church. The Confession affirms that the things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation (i.e. all saving knowledge, faith and obedience—see paragraph one) are clear, and can be understood by the learned and unlearned. But, so as to not over-simplify the matter, the Confession acknowledges that: one, all things are not alike plain in themselves, and two, nor [are all things] alike clear unto all. Point one: Some things in the Bible are clearer or more obvious than others, or we could say that some things are easier to understand than others. Anyone who has studied the Bible will immediately concede that point. So this is one variable of Bible interpretation that the Confession acknowledges. But another variable is point two. Nor are all persons equally able to understand all things in the Bible. People have varying degrees of education, mental capacity, and ways of thinking. When you add this variable to point one, the issue of the clarity of the Bible is not exactly simple. But, despite those difficulties the Confession states: all things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
So all things are not equally (alike) plain, but all things which are necessary for salvation are plain. This is the core meaning of this second portion of paragraph seven. The things needed to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are clear. All these things are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or another. To propound means “to put forth, set forth.”  Again, so as to not over-simplify the matter, the Confession concedes that the things needed for salvation are not all in one place, but are found in various places of Scripture. This is why it is important to read the entire Bible—that we may know what all of it teaches (i.e. the whole counsel of God). The implication is that Scripture is a unified whole, and thus we must interpret the parts in light of the whole.
The Confession said all things are so clearly propounded in on place or another that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them. We understand the learned (i.e. the educated) have the mental capacity to read and understand. But he Confession states that even the uneducated (the illiterate) can understand it. In the day of the Confession there were more people who could not read than in our day, although there are certainly plenty of non-readers today. If one could not read the Scriptures to see what was in them, then one could use other means to gain the knowledge needed for faith and obedience salvation. It will require a due use, or an application of the ordinary means. What does this ordinary means? It seems to refer to the preaching of the Word of God rather than reading as a means to gain saving knowledge for faith and obedience. And so if the uneducated cannot study the Scriptures by reading, even the unlearned can know these things by more typical means—hearing. One will find it interesting how little the Bible speaks of reading in comparison to hearing. We should consider the likelihood that not only could the educated read, but by having an education a person was more likely to have access to a Bible; this put the unlearned at another disadvantage for even in the late 1600’s books were still quite expensive, and Bibles were not as accessible as they are now. Thus a more ordinary means of acquiring the knowledge for faith and obedience came by preaching and teaching orally.
The Confession states: may attain a sufficient understanding of them. Thus, to attain salvation does not require a full and complete knowledge of everything the Bible teaches, but what is propounded in one place or another, whether one discovers it by reading and study, or by the more ordinary means of preaching is sufficient to gain the knowledge needed for saving faith and obedience.
- The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope. ( Romans 3:2; Isaiah 8:20; Acts 15:15; John 5:39; 1 Corinthians 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28; Colossians 3:16 )
The Confession states: The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations). The Old Testament was written in Hebrew. This was the common language which the people of God spoke at that time—their native language. The New Testament was written in Greek. Greek was the most common language of the Hellenized nations of that time, though it was not the only language. We ought to note that both the Old Testament and the New Testament were written in a language common to those to whom it was addressed.
Each testament, written in Hebrew and Greek, are “immediately inspired by God.” Immediately means: directly, without any other intervening or mediating means. We are reminded that: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16-17 ESV). God’s words have come—metaphorically speaking—directly from his mouth, his very breath. Of course, God does not have a body or a mouth, but this wording is God’s way of communicating to us how directly or immediately involved he was in putting the revelation of God to writing. God did so using common human language. There is nothing particularly divine about Hebrew or Greek as some have thought; but God was pleased to put to writing his revelation to the church in these languages common to God’s people.  We understand the Confession to mean by immediately inspired that the original autographs were inspired. 
God not only immediately inspired the autographs, but he has “by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages the Old and New Testament. God has done so by his special providence (i.e. by is singular care). God has provided so many manuscripts especially of the New Testament that even though we do not have the original autographs textual critics are able to ascertain what was written in the original autograph with a very high degree of certainty. As a result of God’s personal and special providence the Holy Scriptures are therefore authentic. By authentic it is meant that what we have today represents the authentic, or original, autographs. We are reminded of Jesus’ words: “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18 ESV).
Because we have the authentic Words of God, the Confession states: all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. The word them is a reference to the Old Testament and New Testament that are immediately inspired. Dickson’s statement is to the point: “Well then, do not the Papists err who maintain that the Church of Rome, and the pope are the supreme judges of all controversies of faith; and that his decrees and determinations are to be believed without examination, and implicitly to be believed by all believers? Yes. Do not likewise the Quakers err who maintain that the light within which teacheth the elect is the only judge of all controversies? Yes. Scripture tells us: “To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn” (Isaiah 8:20 ESV).
The 1689 goes on and states: they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come. As the Old Testament was written in the native tongue of God’s people, and the New Testament written in the common language at that time, so should God’s Word be placed into the vulgar language of each nation. The word vulgar refers to the common language used by each nation. The view that the Scripture should be translated for all was not the position of the Roman Church. Those who translated the Bible into the vulgar language of the people, such as Tyndale, were either persecuted or executed at the hands of the Roman Church. As we discussed in paragraph seven, the Roman Church understood that it would not be able to easily maintain Roman doctrine if people saw the Word of God for themselves. Many today continue in this work of translating the Word of God into the common language of all tribes and nations; the Reformation principle of sola scriptura continues to push the Protestant church forward in this work.
Why should the nations have the Word of God in their own language? That the Word of God [would be] dwelling plentifully in all. Scripture states: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col 3:16a ESV). Why should the Word of God dwell plentifully in all? So that they may worship him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope.” The Confession reflects the words of Scripture here as well: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 ESV).
- The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; Acts 15:15, 16)
Here is the first and foremost rule of interpretation. The Confession calls it the infallible rule of interpretation. Often this principle is referred to as, “Scripture interprets Scripture,” or the analogy of Scripture. Why is it the infallible rule of interpretation? Because when Scripture, which is infallible, interprets another passage, we know that it interprets itself without error. Because this is the case, the Confession states: therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly. This principle provides guard rails for interpretation. It requires that any passage we interpret be seen in light of the whole of Scripture, and thus we seek to harmonize any one text with the rest of Scripture on that topic. Since the Scripture is a unified whole, and its parts form that unity, we can harmonize the parts with the whole.
There times, for example, when Jesus actually provides an interpretation of an Old Testament text; in such cases, it is easy to understand that Jesus’ interpretation is infallible. But often we do not have such a direct explanation of a passage. In that situation, we search other places that speak more clearly to that particular topic. The Word of God is the best interpreter of itself. This is admittedly a generalized principle, and there are many ways to apply it—some of which are incorrect. There are many other important interpretive principles, but this is the chief of them all.
- The supreme judge, by which all controversies of religion are to be determined, and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits, are to be examined, and in whose sentence we are to rest, can be no other but the Holy Scripture delivered by the Spirit, into which Scripture so delivered, our faith is finally resolved. (Matthew 22:29, 31, 32; Ephesians 2:20;Acts 28:23)
As we come to an end of this chapter, it seems appropriate that the Confession would end with what could be seen as the application of the very first clause in the Confession: Scripture is… the rule. Here it is stated: The supreme judge… can be no other but the Holy Scripture. But the supreme judge of what? Here the rule or standard is the judge of controversies of religion…and all decrees of councils, opinions of ancient writers, doctrines of men, and private spirits. This covers the gamut—from the individual, ancient writers, to the standard of church councils, and to all matters of religion. Controversies in religion are to be determined (judgments decided) by Holy Scripture. All and other matters listed are to be examined (evaluated) by Holy Scripture. We are not to rest in the sentence (i.e. the words) of any but the Holy Scripture. But why is this so? It is because the Holy Scripture is delivered by the Sprit to us. There is no higher authority than God Himself; we are to receive the Holy Scripture as from God Himself, in this way God is ultimately the judge over matters of religion.
A confession is a standard or rule of sorts; there is no denying that, but Scripture is the supreme judge. While a confession may have a certain amount of authority for a local church (i.e. perhaps a standard for membership, or strict subscription for church offices), it is not the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule—only Scripture is that; creeds and confessions are subservient. It is the Scripture that is truth, and it judges whether summaries of Scripture (such as creeds, confessions or catechisms, etc.) are indeed accurate representations of that truth. In the field of theology, creeds and confessions fall under the category called Symbolics. So if you take a Symbolics class in seminary, you will be studying a particular confession, or multiple creeds and confessions. The reason creeds and confessions are called symbols is because they are representations of Scripture (i.e. summaries of Scripture), not actually Holy Scripture. For example, a royal symbol or a country’s flag is a symbol of the king or the country, not the actual thing that it represents. And the very nature of a confessional symbol is that it represents, or seeks to, represent what Scripture teaches. Those who reject “any creed but the Bible” often fail to recognize this distinction. It is only this distinction that allows creeds and confessions a legitimate place in our faith.
Jesus held the Scripture to be the supreme judge in matters of controversy in religion. If Jesus, God Himself, used Scripture as the supreme judge in these matters, clearly we are to do the same. For example we see in the Gospel of Matthew: But Jesus answered them [the Sadducees], “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven. And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not God of the dead, but of the living.” And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching” (Matt 22:29-33 ESV). Jesus judged here by Scripture, and in this passage we see the judgment he rendered: “You are wrong.” Why were they wrong? “You know neither the Scriptures.”
The 1689 Confession has addressed throughout this entire chapter the Reformation teaching of sola scriptura (Scripture alone). The Confession has laid out an excellent doctrine of Scripture. Based upon this foundation, the rest of the Confession presents the whole counsel of God.
 Robert Letham states: “The first chapter of the Confession ranks as the most thorough statement of classic Reformed Protestantism on the subject of Scripture and possibly the finest to date from any source.” Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (P&R Publishing: 2009), pg. 120.
 The Westminster Confession does not begin with this clause. It begins with: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men inexcusable; yet are they not sufficient….”
 The word ‘rule’ is functioning here as a predicate nominative. A predicate nominative is a noun that follows a linking verb and renames or explains the subject. For example, “John is a teacher.” ‘Teacher’ renames or explains the subject. So in the Confession, the word ‘rule’ explains the subject (Scripture).
 Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press). Robert Martin states of this dictionary: “The OED is an indispensable tool for determining the seventeenth-century meaning of English words. This, and not the modern meaning of the words of the Confession, is our first interest. The question is that of authorial intent, a concern which has vanished to an alarming degree in our post-modern world.” Robert Martin, “The Second London Confession on the Doctrine of Scripture: An Exposition of Chapter 1: “Of the Holy Scriptures” (Part 1),” Reformed Baptist Theological Review, Vol. IV No. 1, pg. 61. We will make use of this dictionary as we go through the commentary.
 Samuel E. Waldron, A Modern Exposition of the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith (Darlington, England, Evangelical Press), pg. 43.
 Ibid., pg.43.
 Oxford English Dictionary, (Oxford University Press).
 Trinity Hymnal (Great Commissions Publishing: 1961), Hymn 80. “How Firm a Foundation ye Saints of the Lord.” The author is unknown, and the time of origin is likely the 18th century.
 Oxford English Dictionary, (Oxford University Press).
 See 1689 confession 1:4.
 It seems probable that ‘saving’ is intended to modify not just ‘knowledge’ but the two words after ‘knowledge’ as well (i.e. faith and obedience). This could create a difficulty regarding ‘saving obedience.’ I do not believe it is an insurmountable difficulty in any way—as I explain below. The other alternative is to consider that ‘saving’ is only intended to modify ‘knowledge.’ But, that would also create another difficulty, for ‘knowledge’ by itself is not able to save. Therefore, it seems better to treat ‘saving’ as a modifier for each word (saving knowledge, [saving] faith, and [saving] obedience). The Confession consistently utilizes ellipses (i.e. the omission of a previously used word intended to be implied in words that follow it). The reader can make his or her own judgment.
 See Isaiah 65:3; Jeremiah 25:6; 32:30 to cite just a few examples of this wording in Scripture. This is not to say God has “passions.” The Confession denies that God has “passions” (2:1). To imply God has “passions” would be to suggest that God is subject to change by the external actions of his creatures. The Bible uses metaphorical language when it describes a mere creature provoking him. Specifically, this is called an anthropopathism. It is language of accommodation so that man can understand how an immutable God immutably hates sin. See 1689 Confession 2:1 “without body, parts, or passions.”
 See footnote 11.
 An ellipsis is the omission of an implied word previously stated. It allows one to reduce redundant words while retaining its implied meaning. For example, “The boy went to the store and the library.” It is implied that the same ‘boy’ who went to the store also went to the library. By omitting ‘boy,’ one is able to conserve word usage by leaving out the implied word.
 Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Baker Book House, 13th Printing: 1983), pg. 456-57.
 A metaphor is a literary device that uses figurative, non-literal language compared to something literal. Sometimes common metaphors become so associated with the literal referent that we flatten the figurative and literal meaning—thus we only associate the metaphor with its literal meaning. It is good to keep the figurative speech distinct at some level in order to avoid confusion.
 We find the phrase used at 1:6, 10:4; 20:2; 22:1.
 Article thirty-seven of the Orthodox Creed (not to be confused with the ancient orthodox creeds) states: “Nor yet do we believe, that the works of creation, nor the law written in the heart, viz. natural religion, as some call it, or the light within man, as such, is sufficient to inform man of Christ the Mediator, or of the way to salvation, or eternal life by him;” This was written in 1679, only two years after the framing of the 1677 Baptist Confession. This statement certainly seems to correspond with the concept of the light of nature.
 Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (P&R Publishing: 2009), pg. 122-23. Letham adds that Calvin wrote about what he called a sensus divinitatis (a sense of the divine). Letham cites as support Paul Helm, John Calvin’s Ideas (Oxford University Press, 2004), 209-245.
 Baptist Catechism Question 12 nicely defines the works of creation as: The work of creation is God’s making all things of nothing, by the word of his power, in the space of six days, and all very good.
 R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 6-7.
 The word ‘church’ is used 55 times in the Confession. For example see chapters 26:1; 7:3; 11:6 to illustrate the use of church that is not restricted to the New Testament saints.
 The Confession tells us in Chapter 7:3: “This covenant [of grace] is revealed in the gospel; first of all to Adam in the promise of salvation by the seed of the woman, and afterwards by farther steps, until the full discovery thereof was completed in the New Testament.”
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 4-5. This book is especially relevant for our study of the 1689 Confession because this book is one of the oldest commentaries on the Westminster Confession, being first published in 1684. This puts us fairly close to the time frame that the 1646 when the Westminster Confession was completed, and thus gives us a contemporary lens in which to view the wording of the Westminster Confession, and the 1677 Confession when it parallels the WCF.
 I will use an ellipsis (…) to show where I have removed some of the phrasing, brackets [ ] where I added words, and add some punctuation, but I will not alter any of the words of the Confession.
 Oxford English Dictionary, ‘establishing’: “A means of establishing; something that strengthens, supports, or corroborates.”
 The prior ‘malice’ is left out (an ellipsis) but is clearly implied of ‘the world.’
 C.H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, July 25, Morning.
 Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition (Evangelical Press, Darlington, England: 1989), pg. 32-33.
 R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 11.
 James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy (Bethany House Publishers: 1996), pg. 93-94
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 9.
 Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway: 2012), pg. 125.
 Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context (P&R:2009), pg. 136.
 Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford University Press)
 The Bible has external evidence such as archeology and bibliographic evidence (e.g. other historical documents that confirm statements in the Bible, names, places, events), and internal evidence (e.g. the items the Confession lists). The Book of Mormon, for example, has evidence in each of these areas that show it is merely a human book.
 Baptist Catechism 73 states: Q. What is required in the sixth commandment? A. The sixth commandment requireth all lawful endeavours to preserve our own life and the life of others .
 Brian Lee writes about the ramifications that God was the first to put his revelation to writing by his own finger as recorded in Exodus 31:18. Brian Lee, “Is Reformation Christianity Just for Eggheads?” Modern Reformation, 21, No.5 (September-October 2012): pg. 17-20.
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 11-12.
 See Baptist Catechism 34: Q. What is effectual calling? A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ), and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ freely offered to us in the gospel.
 See Baptist Catechism 27: Q. How doth Christ execute the office of a prophet? A. Christ executeth the office of prophet in revealing to us, by his word and Spirit, the will of God for our salvation.
 R.C. Sproul comments that throughout the church age general revelation has been thought of as infallible just as special revelation is infallible. R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith (New Jersey, P&R Publishing), Volume 1, pg. 22,
 This was and is the ideal in the Roman Church, but in reality Rome has much diversity of interpretation within its own ranks. The ideal of an infallible interpretation is appealing to many of Rome’s adherents, but it is dangerous to entrust any fallible human as the custodian of a supposed infallible interpretation; for then man has the supreme authority—not the Word of God. Rome denies sola scriptura (Scripture alone); in practice she demands sola ecclesia (church alone).
 Oxford English Dictionary
 This hermeneutical principle applies whether one is interpreting individual words in light of the whole sentence, a single sentence in light of the whole paragraph, a paragraph in light of the whole chapter, or a book of the Bible in light of the whole canon of Scripture. This has to do with context, and what is said in one part of the Bible must be interpreted in light of the whole of what the Bible says on that topic.
 Baptist Catechism 94: Q. How is the word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
 Köstenberger and Patterson write: “Rather than write in their native Hebrew or Aramaic, these Palestinian Jews (with the possible exceptions of Luke and the author of Hebrews) composed their writings in the lingua franca of the day, so-called koinē or “common” Greek, that is, the Greek spoken by everyday persons all over the Roman Empire. There is thus no special “Holy Spirit” Greek. Rather, the Greek of the New Testament is the same as that spoken in ordinary language and found in everyday documents, such as papyri recording business transactions, personal letters, and the like.” Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Kregel Publications Academic and Professional: 2011), pg. 580.
 Some have argued that God cannot perfectly communicate his Word to us through imperfect human language, but God is not restricted by imperfect human language; for the same God who decreed to speak to man also decreed the languages of mankind. God is not absent from the natural development of language; his ordinary providence rules over such things. God has ordained the ends just as he has the means.
 Regarding ‘immediately inspired’ Robert Letham writes: “This is an appeal to the original autographs.” The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (P&R Publishing: 2009), pg. 144. The ‘autograph’ is a term often used to describe the original document written by the writer of Scripture. We do not have any of the original autographs. The term ‘manuscript’ is used to refer to copies of the original autograph (copies of copies, etc.).
 David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (Edinburgh, The Banner of Truth Trust), pg. 16.
 Richard Muller defines the analogia scripturae as: “The interpretation of unclear, difficult, or ambiguous passages of Scripture by comparison with the clear and unambiguous passages that refer to the same teaching or event.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms (Baker Academic: 1985), pg. 33.
 It does not remove the need for the exegetical work of the unclear passage, and simply citing other potentially like passages does not constitute exegesis of the unclear passage; perhaps the unclear passage does not mean what the other passages do. So if this principle is used incorrectly it can lead to the importation of meaning that is not actually present (eisegesis). We do not want to teach the right doctrine from the wrong text.