The doctrine of Scripture is a doctrine of the Christian Scriptures. It has its basis in a number of verses, but specifically, “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 complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, ESV). Building on the Doctrine of God, the God of the Bible is a God that desires to be known by his creation.
What is the Doctrine of Scripture?
In order to grasp a better understanding of the Doctrine of Scripture, it is important for us to look through the lenses of how we define scripture, the history of the doctrine, and the importance of the Doctrine of Scripture for the Christian life.
Definition of the Doctrine of Scripture
God is a God that desires to be known. And He’s revealed Himself to His creation through the Christian Scriptures. “Our claim, then, is that God has revealed himself by speaking; that this divine (“God-breathed”) speech has been written down and preserved in Scripture; and that Scripture is, in fact, God’s Word written, which therefore is true and reliable and has divine authority over us” The question is, “how can we know God?”
God has revealed Himself to us, most clearly seen through the Bible. This is called revelation, or “uncovering.” This is the basic understanding of why we have the Scriptures – God has revealed himself to us through the pages of the Bible. This gives a different approach to how we look at the Bible. While it contains elements of history, poetry, and letters from the apostles, it is first and foremost a book (collection, which is what the Bible means) of writings about who God is and how he’s interacted with mankind throughout history.
When we speak of revelation there are two types of revelation when it comes to how God has chosen to reveal Himself to us: general revelation and special revelation.
General Revelation means that God reveals himself in nature, in history, and in all people who are made in his image (Gen 1:26).
Biblical examples of General Revelation:
- The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good (Psa. 14:1).
- The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork (Psa. 19:1).
- Yet he [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and goodness. (Acts 14:17).
- 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. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19-21).
The other type of revelation God has chosen to reveal Himself through is called Special Revelation, which is God providing for his creation his message of salvation, which general revelation never provides; namely: His Word. First, God made this special revelation through His Son, Jesus Christ:
- And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John bore witness about him, and cried out, ‘this was he of home I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’) For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth cam through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14-18)
- But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoptions as sons. (Gal. 4:4-5)
Now, that Word is seen through the pages of the Christian Scriptures, the Bible.
Brief History of the Doctrine of Scripture
The Bible is a collection of religious texts that is central to Christianity and Judaism. The history of the Bible’s development spans thousands of years and involves numerous languages, cultures, and individuals; generally, it is accepted that between 35-40 different authors penned books of the Bible.
The Old Testament, also known as the Hebrew Bible, is the first part of the Bible. It consists of 39 books and was primarily written in Hebrew with some parts in Aramaic. The books were written over a period of about 1,000 years, from around 1200 BC to 100 BC. The Old Testament includes the Pentateuch (Law), historical books (History), wisdom books (Wisdom), and prophetic books (Major & Minor).
The New Testament is the second part of the Bible and contains 27 books. It was written in Greek in the first century AD and was completed by the end of the second century. The New Testament includes the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Epistles (Pauline & General), and the Book of Revelation.
The question becomes: How did we get our Bible?
Canonization: refers to the process of officially recognizing religious texts as authoritative scripture by a religious community.
Canonization of the Old Testament took several centuries and was largely completed by Jewish rabbis by the end of the first century AD. Jewish community recognized 39 books as canonical, which were written in Hebrew and Aramaic.
The canonization of the New Testament was a more complex process. The earliest Christian writings were letters and other documents written by apostles and early Christian leaders. Different Christian communities recognized different sets of writings as authoritative. The process of canonization began in the second century AD. Criteria for inclusion in the canon included apostolic authorship, orthodoxy, and use in early Christian worship and practice. The debates and controversies surrounding the canonization of the New Testament were resolved through a series of councils. The Council of Carthage in 397 CE recognized the 27 books of the New Testament that are still recognized as canonical by most Christian communities today. Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology, says, “According to one count, Jesus and the New Testament authors quote various parts of the Old Testament Scriptures as divinely authoritative over 295 times, but not once do they cite any statement from the books of the Apocrypha or any other writings as having divine authority”
Importance of the Doctrine of Scripture Seen through Church History
The early church placed a high value on the writings of the apostles and recognized them as authoritative scripture. Early Christian writers such as Tertullian and Irenaeus affirmed the authority of the scriptures. During the Middle Ages, the doctrine of scripture was influenced by the teachings of the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church recognized the Bible as the inspired word of God but also emphasized the authority of church tradition.
During the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of scripture became a central issue. Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin emphasized the authority of scripture over church tradition and the need for individual interpretation of the Bible. The impact of the Reformation is seen through it’s teaching on the authority of scripture, individual interpretation of scripture, and the introductions of bible translations.
The Authority of Scripture–Sola Scriptura–taught that the Bible was the inspired word of God and the ultimate source of authority for Christian beliefs and practices. This view challenged the Catholic Church’s teachings on the importance of church tradition and authority in interpreting the scriptures.
The Protestant reformers also emphasized the need for individual interpretation of the Bible. They believed that every Christian had the right and responsibility to read and interpret the scriptures for themselves, without relying on the teachings of the church hierarchy. This idea challenged the Catholic Church’s teachings on the role of the priesthood in interpreting the Bible and administering the sacraments.
The Protestant emphasis on the authority of scripture and individual interpretation also led to an increased demand for translations of the Bible into local languages. Protestant leaders such as Luther and William Tyndale worked to translate the Bible into vernacular languages such as German and English, making it more accessible to ordinary people. This further challenged the Catholic Church’s control over the dissemination of biblical knowledge and teachings.
The Reformation’s emphasis on the authority of scripture and individual interpretation has had a lasting impact on Christian theology and practice and continues to influence the beliefs and practices of millions of people around the world.
Key Beliefs of the Doctrine of Scripture
- Inspiration: The words written in the Bible are divinely given by God and are literally “breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).
- Inerrancy: God is holy and true; the Scriptures were breathed out by God; therefore, the Scriptures are holy and true.
- Authority: All the words of Scripture are God’s word in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey them is to disbelieve or disobey God Himself.
- Sufficiency: Scripture contains all the words God intended his people to have at different points in redemptive history; it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him, and for obeying Him perfectly.
Understanding Inerrancy and Inspiration
As scholars have attempted to interpret the Bible, various methods have arisen as approaches to interpreting the Bible. One of the most recent attempts to recreate the historical setting of the pages of scripture is the historical-critical method of interpretation. However, it falls short. Thus, we must look at the importance of the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures, including the biblical basis for each, and the reliability of the manuscripts the Bible is translated from.
Importance of Inerrancy and Inspiration
The historical-critical method finds its roots in the Enlightenment period, which championed human reason above all else. Historical-critical method denies the “breathed out by God” aspect of inspiration, which then affects the inerrancy of the Scriptures themselves. The goal is to have a rational explanation for the text of Scripture.
If we deny inerrancy we run into a number of problems, most clearly stated in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
- If we deny inerrancy, a serious moral problem confronts us: May we imitate God and intentionally lie in small matters?
- If inerrancy is denied, we begin to wonder if we can really trust God in anything he says.
- If we deny inerrancy, we essentially make our own human minds a higher standard of truth than God’s word itself.
- If we deny inerrancy, then we must also say that the Bible is wrong not only in minor details but in some of its doctrines as well.
A note must be made here about inspiration. What exactly is true of inspiration and the fact that God breathed out Scripture? We have to be clear that when speaking of inspiration, we are discussing the original manuscripts of the Biblical writers. No translation of the Bible is inspired, regardless of what people may claim. However, we believe in a God that has preserved His Word and thus trust that the care in translating preserved the original languages to the best of their ability and the word we have today is the Word of God, sufficient for our salvation.
Biblical Basis for Inerrancy and Inspiration
- God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it? (Numbers 23:19).
- The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times (Psalm 12:6).
- Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens…I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:89, 96).
- Every word of God proves true; he is a shield for those who take refuge in him (Proverbs 30:5).
- Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away (Matthew 24:35).
- But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 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. 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 complete, equipped for every good work (II Timothy 3:14-17).
- For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).
The reliability of the biblical manuscripts
When we have Ancient manuscripts, the number one question that we have to answer is the question of their reliability. Are they reliable sources? Historians and literary critics will put manuscripts through three tests to test their reliability: the internal test, the external test, and the bibliographical test.
The internal test is a method of evaluating the reliability of a document based on its internal consistency and coherence. Scholars generally agree that the Bible passes the internal test with high marks for linguistic, historical, and logical consistency. The internal test provides strong evidence for the reliability of the Bible as a historical and religious document.
The external test is a method of evaluating the reliability of a document by examining external sources that corroborate or contradict its claims. Josephus, a Jewish historian who lived in the 1st century AD, wrote about the execution of James, the brother of Jesus, by the high priest Ananus. This event is also mentioned in the New Testament (Acts 12:1-2), providing external corroboration of the biblical account. Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor who lived in the 1st century AD, wrote to the emperor Trajan about his treatment of Christians, who were being persecuted for their beliefs. Pliny’s letter confirms the existence of early Christian communities and their adherence to certain beliefs and practices, as described in the New Testament. The external test provides strong evidence for the reliability of the Bible as a historical and religious document, as it has been corroborated by numerous external sources, including archaeology, historical documents, and eyewitness testimony.
In relation to the Bible, the bibliographical test is used to evaluate the accuracy and reliability of the biblical text by examining the number and age of the available manuscripts, as well as the consistency of their contents. The biblical text has been transmitted over many centuries and languages, so scholars use the bibliographical test to evaluate the reliability of the extant manuscripts and to reconstruct the original text.
Understanding Authority and Sufficiency
As we conclude, we must end by discussing the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We will look at the importance of both of these key beliefs and the biblical basis for each.
Importance of Authority and Sufficiency
The Scriptures we have were inspired by God and are inerrant, they are meant for us to know God more personally and are the sole authority of His word. They are his perfectly preserved revelation to us. “Our ultimate conviction that the words of the Bible are God’s words comes only when the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of our Creator speaking to us” (Grudem, Systematic Theology, 77).
The sufficiency of Scripture teaches us that only Scripture is needed to teach us of the revelation of God, specifically his Word: Jesus. God doesn’t require us to believe anything that is not revealed about Him in Scripture. Nor should modern revelations be placed on the same level as the revelation of Scripture in their authority. We should emphasize what Scripture emphasizes and be content with what God has told us in Scripture (Grudem, Systematic Theology).
Biblical Basis for Authority and Sufficiency
- Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
- Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4).
- Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures (James 1:18).
- Since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1 Peter 1:23).
The Doctrine of Scripture is not a debatable topic. Through the look at the history of the doctrine, the tests through which Ancient manuscripts are placed, and the key beliefs of the doctrine a Christian can firm on the Word of God as a reliable revelation of the nature and character of God. There is great comfort in that and something to be celebrated.