Chapter 1, Of the Holy Scriptures

Bible by RyanM

  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)

The Confession begins with a single-focus on Scripture.[1]  Robert Letham states: “The first chapter of the [Westminster] 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.”[2] The 1689 Confession has added the first clause which is not present in either the Westminster Confession or Savoy Declaration (see Introduction), but in the main our Confession closely follows the Westminster Confession throughout this chapter. Thus we are privileged to begin our study of the Confession by examining the most thoroughgoing confessional statement on the nature and authority of Scripture in Christendom.

The Confession begins: The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.[3]  In a very real sense, the remaining entirety of the Confession will be addressing this saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. And so, it is essential to establish matters of authority. This opening statement immediately thrusts us into the authoritative source of that saving revelation. Let’s begin by looking at a sentence diagram of this important opening statement.

1689-1-1-diagram

The above sentence diagram helps us to see its core meaning: Scripture is the rule.[4]  The word “rule” refers to a particular standard or authority. Scripture contains the authoritative standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. We will get to each of these words in a moment, but for now, we note that this is a radical claim. In fact, this truth was the impetus of the entire Reformation. For if the Scriptures contain all saving revelation, then no other book, person, institution or church does. As such, the Scriptures are holy. ‘Holy’ means sacred, consecrated, or set apart. Thus, it is fitting that the only book which contains all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience be considered set apart. Indeed, it is appropriate in this sense to refer to the Bible as the Holy Scriptures.

The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. The word “only” modifies (i.e. compliments) the words immediately after it, and so the Holy Scriptures are exclusively the sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving revelation. Again, we note the emphasis on sola Scriptura (Latin for ‘Scripture alone’).

Sufficient, in this context, means “of a quality, extent or scope adequate to a certain purpose or object.[5] The Bible is fully able to accomplish its aim; it is the only sufficient standard for all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.  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.” [6]

The Bible is also the only certain rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.  The wordcertain’ is defined as “sure, unerring, not liable to fail, to be depended upon, wholly trustworthy or reliable.”[7]  The Bible is sure and is a fully-reliable standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. 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” (Matt 7:24ESV). We can rely on the doctrine of the Bible as a firm foundation upon which to rest our souls for their salvation. I am reminded of the first stanza of the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation,”

  • 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?[8]

The Bible is also the only infallible rule or standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.  The word infallible meansincapable of error.[9]  It is compatible with our modern word inerrancy. Theological liberalism has attacked the Bible. But despite these attacks, we see that it is completely rational to believe the Bible is infallible (i.e. inerrant). Infallibility is what we would expect from the Author of Scripture, for God is truth. Since Scripture is the rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, it is imperative that there are no errors in Scripture; otherwise, we could not trust it to reveal the way of salvation. But since it is the only infallible rule of all saving revelation, we can entrust our souls to its saving instruction.

Having commented on the nature of the rule of Scripture, we now turn to that which the rule or standard of Scripture pertains.  The Holy Scripture is the only rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. What type of knowledge, faith, and obedience?  The answer is the saving kind.   It appears that the phrase “all saving” is an ellipsis,[10] and is implied before each word that follows it (i.e. all saving knowledge, all saving faith, and all saving obedience).[11] The word “all” is significant, for if Scripture is the authoritative standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience is in Scripture, then nothing else is. It is all in the Bible; therefore, it is reveled nowhere else.

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).  To be saved knowledge is required, but what kind of knowledge?  Well, the answer is saving knowledge.  What is that?  The knowledge that saves is the understanding 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 2 Timothy did not save Timothy, but it made him “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” Scripture is the standard of saving faith. 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. I might also commend you to chapter 11, Of Justification, where it explains faith related to justification.

As we come to the last phrase, there is no need to stumble over saving obedience,[12] as if the Confession were promoting legalism or works-based salvation. In context, we understand it to mean that Scripture is the rule of all that a saved person is to observe and practice. We are created in Christ Jesus for good works (Eph. 2:10), and the Scriptures reveal exactly what those good works are. Chapter 16, Of Good Works, begins this way: “Good works are only such as God has commanded in his holy Word.” This brings home that radical Reformation point that Scripture is the only rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience. Saving obedience is revealed nowhere else, and is to be based on nothing else. All that we need to live a godly life is found in Scripture alone. We are in fact told in Chapter 21, Of Christian Liberty and Liberty of Conscience, paragraph 2: “God alone is Lord of the Conscience, and hath left it free from the Doctrines and Commandments of men, which are in anything contrary to his Word, or not contained in it.” It is not simply that the Bible has good ideas about how to obey God, or that it contains what we are to do and more can be added. No, all that a person who is being saved from the power of sin is to obey or observe is found in Scripture alone. This is radical even for many Evangelicals today, but it was more radical for those coming out the Roman Church, with her many doctrines and commandments of men. The Judaizers were light weight compared to all the Roman Church has heaped on her adherents.   Scripture alone was that radical fire that ignited the Reformation leading many through the gospel to freedom from the bondage of Romanism.

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] obedienceThis portion has established the starting point: all that we need to know and can know about saving knowledge, faith and obedience are found in the Holy Scriptures. There is no other source and rule in this regard.

The Scripture is referred to in field of theology as special revelation. Baker’s Dictionary of Theology defines special revelation (also called particular revelation) as “redemptive revelation conveyed by wondrous acts and words.”[13] Special revelation is redemptive or saving revelation (i.e. saving knowledge, faith, and obedience). Special revelation differs from general revelation (also called natural or universal revelation)—all terms from the field of theology.  While general revelation is conveyed by God’s wondrous works of creation and providence, it has no words, and it conveys no redemptive or saving revelation. 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.”[14]

The Confession is about to explain the insufficiency or inability of general revelation to redeem sinners. The insufficiency of general revelation to save stands in stark contrast to the saving sufficiency of the special redemptive revelation of Scripture.

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.  “The light” is metaphorically referring to knowledge.  This light (knowledge) must come from somewhere; the phrase tells us the light comes from or is of “nature.” But should we understand “nature” to be a synonym for creation?  The phrase “light of nature” is used four other times[16] in the Confession. [17]   The other contexts relate to issues of natural or general revelation, but seem to reference not the external evidence of creation or providence, but the internal work of 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.”[18]  God placed his law in man’s heart (Rm. 2:15) which witnesses to God’s decree or law (Rom. 1:32), but God also put in mankind 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 these testify of God externally.

General revelation also comes to us through the works if creation.  The works of creation refer to God making all things in six days.[19]  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.  It is sobering to realize that not only is general revelation insufficient to reveal saving knowledge of the gospel, but general revelation provides enough knowledge to damn us. The lost sinner cannot deduce the gospel message from general revelation.  Chapter 20, Of the Gospel and the Extent of Grace Thereof, explains this in more detail.  Since general revelation does not reveal the gospel, this makes the Scriptures most essential.

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 it points forward indicating that as a result of that insufficiency: it pleased the Lordto reveal himself and to declare that his will unto his church.  The Lord graciously of his free-will—God is always most free to do as he pleases—revealed two things. One, he revealed himselfunto his church. We should not pass over that point too quickly.  God who is infinite, unchangeable, incomprehensible, invisible, who dwells in unapproachable light revealed himself to the church! That is remarkable.  Secondly, the Lord declared his will unto the church; that is another astonishing act.  God has not only revealed himself to the church but has made his will clear to her.  The reference to the church here is to all God’s elect in all ages, including the Jewish Church (21:1b) of the Old Testament.  We will touch upon this issue later in the Confession, but for now we should not only think of the church[20] as those from the New Testament forward.

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. That revelation was not given all at once, but it came in portions—each new portion added to the prior.  In this way, the revelation progressed until its fullness in Christ (see Rm. 16:25-27).[21] 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 space to review each, but this list is helpful with the references 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.” [22] 

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 focus on the core meanings of these statements. We will do this for the whole paragraph, so we have context:

  1. The Holy Scripture is the…rule.
  2. Natural knowledge…creation…providence…manifest…God; [thus to] leave men inexcusable.
  3. Yet…[nature…creation…providence are] not sufficient to give… knowledge of…salvation.
  4. Therefore it pleased the Lord…to reveal himself, and to declare…his will unto his church;
  5. and afterward…to commit the same wholly unto writing;
  6. …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. There are seven reasons the revelation was committed to writing. Let’s briefly look at these one at a time.

The first benefit of having the revelation written is that it better preserves the truth.  Writing is usually more reliable than word of mouth, it is open for anyone to see, it preserves words which would others wise be forgotten. The second benefit is the better propagating (promotion) of the truth.  We think of the many Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, and of the many translations of those into other languages.  All of this would not be the case if the revelation had not been committed to writing.  It is by the sheer quantity the manuscripts that the written truth is preserved and promoted.

Reasons three through seven provide five benefits to 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. “Establishment” means “something that strengthens, supports, or corroborates.” [23] The revelation committed to writing is also for the comfort of the church (see Romans 15:4).  This establishment (i.e. strengthening) and comfort from the written truth assists the church against three enemies: 1) the corruption of the flesh, 2) the malice of Satan, and 3) [the malice of][24] the world.  Spurgeon calls these three enemies “the horrible trinity of the world.[25]  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 for 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.”[26] 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 ever revealed in 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. Because the previous way that the Lord revealed himself and declared his will to the church—it being unwritten and no longer given—the writing of the revelation is necessary.  Otherwise, the revelation which ceased would fade, and the truth would not be preserved and propagated; and, the church would not be more 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.  Since God’s prior modes of giving revelation have ceased, it was most necessary that God’s revelation of himself to the church and his will for the church be written down for the sake of the truth and the church.

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 explicitly state which books are part of that rule (i.e. canon). This list of books implies that all other books not mentioned are not 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 these books are inspired by God, and are to be the rule of faith and life. 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” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 ESV). 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.”[27]  These books are accepted by the church as authoritative because these are God breathed; 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.”

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 as 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 as God breathed for a good reason; there are inaccuracies in history and other areas that show them to be fallible, and therefore not inspired.   The Confession 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 one should not read the Apocrypha, or that it has no value, but humans books are not sufficient, certain or infallible as a rule of saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.

  The word canon is the meaning “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.”[28]  

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 the recognition they 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.

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 Confession states that the authority of the Bible depends not on the: “testimony of any man.” If God has inspired 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. Paul wrote: “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).

The 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?”[29] 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 not adding to its words, but if we add non-inspired books to the canon, 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, God, 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.

 Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 way: We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church of God to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scriptures. It is the duty of the church to be a pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).  One way we do that is to show a high and revenant of the inerrant Word of God.  By this, many will be moved and influenced to see Scripture for what it is.

The second way: 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 Scripture’ itself that gives abundant evidence that it is 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.”[30]The heavenliness of the matter,” in the words of Letham, this means Scripture is “speaking of realities that transcend our mundane perceptions.”[31] “The efficacy of the doctrine” is referring to the power and capacity to produce effects.[32] “The majesty of the style,” or we could say the grand and splendid quality. “The consent of all the parts,” speaks of how the parts all agree with each other. “The scope of the whole” is unified by its parts. “Which is to give all glory to God,” is connected with “the consent of all the parts,” and means that the individual parts and the whole give glory to God.  “The full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation,” refers to the full and clear way the gospel is understood. “And many other incomparable excellencies, and entire perfections thereof.” We gather from this that this is not an exhaustive list; we could go on and on.   These “are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God.” The Confession means here that just this list alone makes the case that the Bible is the Word of God.

The third way: 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 both means mentioned above, ultimately our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof (i.e. of 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 convinced by the Spirit.  The reason for that is due to the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness (testimony) in our heart that Scripture is indeed from the mouth of God.

 Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 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 first addresses the perspicuity of Scripture in four areas, and secondly, how this whole counsel is to be discovered in Scripture.

First, the whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for: 1) God’s own glory, 2) man’s salvation, 3) faith, and 4) life is… found in the Scripture. This resembles the first clause in chapter 1:1 and the last clause of 1:6.  But here the paragraph further adds that all of God’s will (his whole counsel) is in the Holy Scripture. We are again confronted with this radical claim that all that is needed for man to know in these areas is wholly and only found in Scripture. We sometimes fail to grasp the expanse and significance of such a statement.  There are likely several reasons for this, but one is repetition. It is natural for repetition to turn into callousness. If we once grasped the significance of statements like the above or a shorter version such as “Scripture is the rule of all faith and life,” repetition can cause our appreciation of its significance to fade and wane until eventually we just tune it out.  For others who have never grasped the significance, repetition turns into triteness and triteness to contempt given its seeming meaningless repetition. We have attempted to show that for the person at the time of the Reformation such a statement would have stood out like a sore thumb.  It would have been such a contrast to the views of the Roman Church.  Today, such a statement is heard this way: “the Bible contains instructions on how to live the best Christian life.” But that is not what it means. It actually means “only the Bible contains all instructions for how to live the only Christian life that is pleasing to God.” To be a Christian, we must shape and make our lives conform to the whole counsel of God found only in the Bible.  Unfortunately, many professing believers today see the Bible as an optional Christian manual.  For the most part they treat the Christian life like someone who would seek to operate an aircraft without first reading the flight manual.  It is extremely dangerous to do so as any pilot will tell you. If such professing believer grasped what was stake, eternal life or damnation, they might pick up the manual and pay serious and careful attention to what is states.

The Confession provides a hermeneutic for discovering the whole counsel of God in Scripture. The counsel of God is found expressly set down or necessarily contained in Scripture. In other words, the counsel of God is set down in explicitly statements or statements which require necessary inferences.  This hermeneutic is critical to not only a Reformed approach to Scripture, but particularly for a Puritan approach. The Puritan’s were masters at mining the word of God for the necessary inferences of Scripture.  A reading of Thomas Watson’s, The Ten Commandments, will reveal the incredible depths the Puritan’s mined the Ten Commandments. An example of something “expressly set down” or explicit in Scripture is “Thou shall not murder.” An example of something “necessarily contained” or necessarily inferred from the same text is seen in the Baptist Catechism 73: 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. Or for the seventh commandment, “Thou shall not commit adultery”: Baptist Catechism 67: What is required in the seventh commandment? A. The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbors chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior.”

Of course, we have from Jesus himself the same necessary inference principle: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mat. 5:27-28 ESV). This is a hermeneutic of application if anything. But behind this hermeneutic is the principle that there is no other source for the counsel of God to us for all matters related to glorifying God, salvation of men, faith, and life (i.e. obedience or observance). Thus we must mine the word of God deeply to find the whole counsel of God. One suspects that the lack of appetite for such digging is the belief that the Bible is insufficient for such things or is optional.  But there is no other manual for the Christian life, and since the stakes are so high, serious study of the only and all sufficient manual is required.

It might be useful to note that the doctrine of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) does not imply that we should read no other book to assist us in the Christian faith and life; that would be solo scriptura. It means that the supreme and final authority is Scripture, and all other books must ultimately bow to its authority.  Thus while the Bible alone contains the whole counsel of God, the studies of others which explain the Scriptures are indispensable to a greater comprehension of Scriptures. Also, sola Scriptura does not negate creeds and confessions as a way to formulate the doctrine of Scripture.  In fact, we will see in paragraph 10 that all such counsels of church and ancient writers are to be examined in light of the Scripture.

The Confession states that since we have the whole counsel of God in writing, nothing at any time is to be added. Thus, since Bible contains it all, we cannot add anything to these areas which are not in Scripture. Again, if one believes this, then there is nothing to add to Scripture to properly glorify of God, regarding salvation, faith and life. It’s all there.  Unfortunately, this principle does not guide most of Christendom, which looks beyond Scripture to pragmatic methodologies, asceticism, aestheticism, Roman papal authority, and so on—looking for things to be added to worship, salvation, faith, and life.  A view of Scripture that sees in it the full clarity and breadth of the whole counsel of God will dive deeply into that source—and will not seek to add anything to that which is already fully complete.

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 for any reason, including so-called “new revelation” or the “traditions of men.” During the writing of the Confession, there were those who believed revelation was found not only in Scripture but inwardly. The Quakers promoted the belief that inner light or revelation was part and parcel of the Christian life. The Papists believe that the traditions of the church and the Pope could add authoritative and supplementary revelation. There is certainly no shortage of groups today who believe in modern revelation in one form or the other, and we still have with us today the Roman Church. 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).”[33] Since Scripture contains all things needed for us to glorify God, regarding salvation, faith and life, there is nothing that should be added to what is already existing, regardless of the reasoning, whether new revelation 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.  While the Confession states that the Scripture contains all that is necessary for salvation, nevertheless… the framers of the confession and Reformed churches in general, acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit is still needed in order to savingly understand all these things.  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 must illuminate a person if they are to saving understanding of the things revealed in the Word of God.[34]  This applies to effectual calling certainly, but such illumination is also required to truly grasp all things in the Word of God.  It is the Spirit alone who ultimately opens up the Scripture to show us the depths contained therein.

While the whole counsel of God is contained in the Scriptures, yet 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. This is likely to be misunderstood at first glance. First, the Confession has already clearly indicated that all things necessary to glorify God are in Holy Scripture. Thus, this truth is not equivocated or lessened here. It is not speaking of areas the whole counsel of God does not address, for that interpretation takes away from the sufficiency of Scripture regarding worship and the government of the church.  This is speaking matters which Scripture intentionally leaves open to accommodate for various circumstances concerning worship and the management of the church. These circumstantial variables are common to human actions and societies. These involve circumstantial matters that commonly vary from church to church such as: the time of a worship service, how many services, the place of worship, the order of liturgy, or even whether Psalms alone are used for music or a mix of hymns and spiritual songs. These are matters which vary according to the needs of the people of God around the world. These are circumstantial variables which do not fall under the regulative principle; circumstantial matters are those which do not involve essential, non-negotiable elements of worship such as the public reading of Scripture, expository preaching, the Lord’s Table, or worshipping on the Lord’s Day (see 22:2-8).  Rather, these non-regulative items may be determined by the light of nature, Christian prudence, and the general principles of the word of God. As we discussed in Chapter 1, paragraph 1, the light of nature refers to general revelation. R.C. Sproul comments that throughout the church age, general revelation has been thought of as infallible just as special revelation is infallible.[35] Thus the light of nature does provide revelation, even if it is not salvific. And it is of use in these matters. Christian prudence can be understood as godly wisdom. Both of these are to guide the circumstances of worship and the managing of the church by the general principles of the Word. The general principles of the word of God can be discerned by implication and applied to areas not necessarily mentioned in Scripture.  The light of nature and Christian prudence are applied to the circumstances of worship and church guided by the general rules or principles of the Bible.  In this way, such circumstantial matters are always to be observed.[36] We will speak more specifically about the regulative principle of worship in Chapter 22, Of Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day.

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 Confession freely admits that all things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all. Anyone who has read the Bible would agree that there are things in it that are hard to understand.  Peter himself said as much: “There are some things in them [i.e. Paul’s Scriptural writings] that are hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16b ESV). But the Confession affirms, 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. Those things necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation are clearly propounded.  Notice the parallel here with the opening statement of Chapter 1:1, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge [known], faith [believed], obedience [observed].” If Chapter 1:1a is true, then it would hardly do to have that saving revelation concealed.  Thus the Confession states that this saving revelation is so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other. To propound means “to put forth, set forth.” [37]  The gospel is set forth and opened in various places in the Bible beginning in Genesis 3:15 and continuing in greater clarity until its full discovery and completion in the New Testament (7:3). Thus the things necessary for salvation are in Scripture set forth and opened in some place or the other.

The Confession states all things are so clearly propounded in one 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. In other words, Scripture is so clear salvifically that anyone can understand, even the unlearned.  Thus, the focus is on the accessibility of Scripture.  The Confession is not claiming the “ordinary means” are only for the unlearned, as if extraordinary ways are only for the learned. No, it is saying that the Bible is so accessible that both can understand it by ordinary means.   The phrase “ordinary means” refers to means common to all people, and thus it is not referring to special grace.  What are ordinary means? “Ordinary means” refers to private reading of Scripture, public reading of Scripture (beneficial to the literate and illiterate alike), and perhaps especially private and public preaching and teaching (again beneficial to learned and unlearned alike). We see a hint of this in Luke’s narrative: “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus” (Acts 5:42 ESV). Paul also took to private and public preaching and teaching: “How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 20:20-21 ESV). Additionally, Paul states: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22 ESV). The gospel is for all. There is no class in God’s kingdom as if the elect were only those educated. Thus, by ordinary means the learned and unlearned may attain a sufficient understanding of them.

 Bible by RyanM

  1. 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.  “The Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2 ESV).  Hebrew was the common or native language that the people of God in the Old Testament spoke.  The New Testament was written in Greek.  Greek was the most common language of the Hellenized world at the time, though it was not the only language.  Each Testament, written in Hebrew or Greek, is “immediately inspired by God.”  “Immediately” means directly, without any other intervening or mediating means.  We understand the Confession to mean here that the original autographs of Hebrew and Greek were directly inspired.[38] 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 or breath.

God’s Word came via the common language of the time of Hebrew and Greek respectively. Hebrew or Greek are not special “languages of the Spirit,” as some have believed;[39] rather these were human languages of the time, and God was pleased to have Scripture written in these common human languages.  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. his singular care).  God has preserved the original autographs through the thousands of manuscripts, especially of the New Testament, to such an extent that we are able to reconstruct the original autographs with a very high degree of certainty. By God’s preservation then the Scriptures are authentic.  Authentic means that all the manuscripts together produce an accurate copy of the original autographs.  

The Confession states of Scripture that in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them.  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.”[40]  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 Confession states of the Old and New Testament that they should be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come. Just as the Old and New Testament were written in the native tongue of God’s people, so now the word of God should be accessible in the vulgar language (i.e. the common language) of all. The view that the Scripture should be translated for all was not the position of the Roman Church.  Those who translated the Bible into a vulgar language of the people, such as Tyndale, were either persecuted or executed at the hands of the Roman Church.  Many today continue the 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 mandated translation work.

Why should the nations have the Word of God in their own language?  That the Word of God dwell 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. We have seen that Scripture alone provides the necessary instruction to properly glorify or worship God. We will see this again Chapter 22.  The translation of Scripture is therefore essential for the people of God to worship God in an acceptable manner, that is, in a regulated manner according to the Scriptures. And through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope. The Confession cites Scripture directly: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope (Rom. 15:4 KJV).  Since the Scriptures are the rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience, the elect can access these necessary things only if they can read and study the Bible in their native language (1 Cor. 14:6, 9, 11, 12, 24, 28).

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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)

The Confession indicates that the infallible rule of interpreting Scripture is Scripture itself. In other words and more commonly said, “Scripture interprets Scripture.” This Reformation principle is a direct response to the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching of the magisterium. Bernard Ramm helpful points out, “The Roman Catholic Church claimed that it possessed the mind of Christ and the mind of the Spirit in its teaching magisterium so that it could render obscure doctrine clear. The Reformers rejected the claim of the Roman Catholic Church that it had the gift of grace and illumination to know what the Holy Spirit taught. In place of an appeal to the teaching magisterium of the Church, the Reformers proclaimed that Scripture interprets Scripture.”[41] The Church of Rome is not the infallible interpreter of Scripture, as it claims; rather that authority belongs to Scripture alone.

Based on this principle, 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. The Confession is saying that when we do not understand the true and full sense of a particular passage of Scripture—there is only one meaning, not many (i.e. manifold), then we search for other places in Scripture that speak more clearly. Bernard Ramm states: “In this expression [“Scripture interprets Scripture”] the word “Scripture” is used in a double sense. As the first word of the formula, Scripture means the total Scripture; in the second occurrence it means a part of Scripture, either a verse or a passage. Restated the principle would read: ‘The entire Holy Scripture is the context and guide for understanding the particular passages of Scripture.’”[42] This Reformation principle is also referred to as “the analogy of Scripture.” 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.”[43]

The idea that the Roman Catholic Church can provide infallible interpretation to those obscure passages by the mind of Christ and his Spirit is attractive to some people. But, in reality, all it does is kick the proverbial tin can further down the road.  The magisterium does not solve the challenge of understanding difficult passages; even Rome herself is not always consistent on such matters, sometimes providing manifold meanings.  No, if the obscure meaning can be known, Scripture itself will provide the help, not a mere mortal or fallible church.

Bible by RyanM

  1. 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 the last paragraph of this chapter, it seems appropriate that it conclude with practical application. Therefore, based on all that has been said, 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. Since the Bible is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience, there is no higher authority, no better source, and no other source besides Scripture by which to resolve all controversies of religion. All decrees of church councils are subject to Scripture. One might think of the Council of Trent, which clearly misused Scripture in her canons. Or, we might even think of those vital early church councils which brought about the great orthodox creeds; even these, as rightly respected as they are, do not ultimately judge in controversies and supersede Scripture.  We believe the orthodox creeds accurately represent the Scriptures in what they address, but ultimately they are only helpful tools and models of sound words;[44] they do not replace the authority of Scripture.  It is very easy to slip into the subtly of appealing to creeds and councils in matters of controversy, or to ancient writers as if these are infallible interpreters.  While we afford these a degree of authority—rightly so—we must always ultimately appeal to the word of God as the supreme authority in such matters of controversy. This also applies to the doctrines of men and private interpretations (those of single individuals).  It is ultimately only in sentence of Scripture we rest, for there is no higher authority to appeal to than that which God has given.

Jesus held the Scripture to be the supreme judge in matters of controversy in religion. 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 this controversy by Scripture, and rendered his judgment based solely on the Scripture: “You are wrong.”  Why? “You know neither the Scriptures.” If our Lord used Scripture as the supreme judge in these matters, clearly we are to do the same.

Since we are about to embark on an extensive examination of the Confession, it is certainly appropriate to pause and ask ourselves what the Confession’s relationship is to the Scripture. Scripture is the supreme judge over the Confession, and any attempt to appeal to the Confession as the supreme judge is to violate what the Confession says of itself. The Confession subjects itself to the authority of Scripture and that is exactly as it should be.

The 1689 Confession has addressed throughout this entire chapter, the Reformation teaching of sola Scriptura (Scripture alone).   The Confession has given us a doctrine of Scripture most excellent. Based on this foundation, the rest of the Confession presents the whole counsel of God. In our commentary, we will seek to show the Confession is a biblical formulation. We will do this by generous Scripture citations, references, and explanations. But while we view the Confession as a tremendous help in many ways, we do not see it as the supreme authority, by any stretch.  That is reserved for Scripture alone.

  • “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.”

Isaiah 40:8 ESV

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[1] Richard Muller states: “The sola Scriptura of the Reformers was elaborated as a separate doctrinal locus placed at the beginning of theological system and determinative of its contents.” Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 284.

[2] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009), 120 (brackets mine).

[3] The Westminster Confession begins chapter 1: “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….”

[4] The word ‘rule’ is a predicate nominative.  A predicate nominative renames or explains the subject.  For example, “John is a teacher.”  ‘Teacher’ renames or describes the subject ‘John.’  So in the Confession, the word ‘rule’ explains the subject (Scripture).

[5] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols.  (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).  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 (2007): 61.  We will make use of this dictionary throughout the commentary.

[6] Samuel E. Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press, 1999), 43.

[7] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[8] Trinity Hymnal (Philadelphia: 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.

[9] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[10] An ellipsis is a “feature by which an incomplete idea requires the reader to supply a missing element that is self-evident.” Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic and Professional, 2011), 837.

[11] The Confession consistently utilizes ellipses (i.e. the omission of a previously used word implied in words that follow it).

[12]. See footnote 11.

[13] Baker’s Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1983), 456-57.

[14] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006),   6-7.

[16] See 1:6, 10:4; 20:2; 22:1.

[17] Article thirty-seven of the Orthodox Creed 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.

[18] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009),  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: Oxford University Press, 2004), 209-45.

[19] Baptist Catechism Question 12 nicely defines the works of creation: 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.

[20] The word ‘church’ is used 55 times in the Confession.  For example see chapters 26:1; 7:3; 11:6 to illustrate the church in the Old Testament.

[21] 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.”

[22] David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007),  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, first published in 1684.  1684 puts us fairly close to the time frame of the 1646 Westminster Confession, 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.

[23] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[24] The prior ‘malice’ is left out (an ellipsis), but is clearly implied of ‘the world.’

[25] C.H. Spurgeon, Morning by Morning; or, Daily Readings for the Family or the Closet (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865) 207, July 25. This is the Morning version of the Morning and Evening by Spurgeon.

[26] Samuel Waldron, 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith: A Modern Exposition, 3rd ed. (Webster, Ny.: Evangelical Press,, 1999),  32-3.

[27] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006),  11.

[28] James White, The Roman Catholic Controversy: Catholics & Protestants—Do the Differences Still Matter? (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1996), 93-94

[29] David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007),  9.

[30] Michael J. Kruger, Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 125.

[31] Robert Letham, The Westminster Assembly: Reading its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R, 2009),  136.

[32] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[33] David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 11-12.

[34] 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.

[35] R.C. Sproul, Truths We Confess: A Layman’s Guide to the Westminster Confession of Faith, vol. I, The Triune God (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2006),  22.

[36] See ARBCA Position Paper, “A Position Paper Concerning the Regulative Principle of Worship,” http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/arbca_carlisle_pa/regulative-principle.pdf

[37] The Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary, 2 vols. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1971).

[38] Regarding ‘immediately inspired’ Robert Letham writes: “This is an appeal to the original autographs.” The Westminster Assembly: Reading Its Theology in Historical Context (Phillipsburg, Nj.: P&R Publishing, 2009),   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.).

[39]  Köstenberger and Patterson writes of the New Testament: “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 (Grand Rapids: Kregel  Academic and Professional, 2011),  580.

[40] David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error: A Commentary on the Westminster Confession of Faith (1684; reprint, Carlisle, Pa.:  The Banner of Truth Trust, 2007), 16.

[41] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, 104-105.

[42] Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1970), 105 (brackets mine).

[43] Richard A. Muller, Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms: Drawn Principally from Protestant Scholastic Theology (1985; reprint, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1995), 33.

[44] Carl Trueman states of 2 Tim. 1:13 and Titus 1:9; 2:1, that “the word ‘form’ describes a model, form, or standard that is intended to function as a trustworthy or reliable guide” Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative (Wheaton, Il.: Crossway, 2012), 74.

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