The Written Word of God (Blogging the Belgic: Article 3)
The first article of the Belgic Confession says that there is a God and what this God is like; the second article tells us that to know this God we must look to the world and also to God’s written revelation, the latter of which is necessary to know how to live and how to be saved. The third article then builds upon the second by describing to us how we received this written Word of God that we need for life and salvation. Did it just simply fall out of the sky with a stamp on it “by God”?
According to the Belgic Confession, quoting the words of 2 Peter 1:20-21, “this Word of God was not sent nor delivered ‘by human will,’ but that ‘holy men moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God,’ as Peter says.” The confession then goes on to say, “Afterward our God—with special care for us and our salvation—commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit this revealed Word to writing. God, with his own finger, wrote the two tables of the law. Therefore, we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.”
The imagery used here is not that the writers of the Bible were human typewriters that the Holy Spirit dictated to in revealing his Word, but that the Holy Spirit worked in and through messengers, speaking through prophets and recording it in what we have as the Bible (an exception is the 10 Commandments, referred to here as the two tables [or stone tablets] of the law, which God wrote in his hand; that this is noted in particular shows this is an exception to how God wrote in other instances). Nor is the image that God did some things and then people recorded their thoughts on them so that it is human thoughts on divine actions (in which case the thoughts would be fallible). The imagery used by Peter is actually from the world of sailing, in the idea that the Spirit is the wind that carries along the writers of the Bible so that what they say are the very words of God (see Acts 27:15, 17 for a literal use of the term); the Spirit speaks through them and guides them. One still finds the marks of the human messengers in these words, in terms of sentence structure and word choice as well as the circumstances behind the writing of a letter in the New Testament, but God moved in them so that what they wrote was not human words but God’s Word. Therefore, it is not that the Word of God is found in the Bible but that the Bible is the Word of God, as God led his people to write his very Word. While God did not inscribe the words with his own hands as He did the 10 Commandments, it is as if he did in that it is the words of the Bible are the words of God.
The theological term for this idea is the “inspiration” of Scripture. This does not mean that the Scriptures, the Bible, is inspiring like a book or a movie (something that makes you go out and think you can conquer the world!), but literally speaking, that it is breathed out by God (see 2 Timothy 3:16). In the Bible, we find the words of human authors (the apostles and prophets) but also the words of God; like Jesus Christ, the Bible is both divine and human, without error or fault. That does not mean that we worship the Bible like we worship Jesus (don’t be a biblo-idolater!) but rather that we listen to the Bible because it is God speaking to us. And because it is God speaking to us, what is true of God is true of the Bible; namely, that it does not error and that it must be the guide for our lives since it is written by the author of life.
In calling the Bible, the “holy and divine Scriptures,” it means that the Bible is set apart (holy) and different, that it has an origin from God (divine), and that it is the rule for life (Scripture). The term Scripture refers to the function of these writings, which is the guide for the life of Christians and the church. Every person and every community has something that serves as their “Scripture” and guide, whether it is a book or a set of rules and experiences. For Christians, the guide for life that we have is the Bible because it is from God. It is both trustworthy and true.
Therefore, if we are to know God, we must turn to the Bible, where God has spoken through his messengers. This book is a gift of God from his divine care for us, so that we would know him.
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