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 The Principles of Theology - Article 6

by W.H.Griffith Thomas


<< Part 2. The Limits of the Canon of Holy Scripture

Part 3. The Character of Holy Scripture [1]

The Article refers to the Bible as the record or embodiment of a Divine revelation which, as such, is meant to be authoritative for life. Revelation is the unfolding of the character of God, the supernatural communication from God to man of truth which the human mind unaided could not discover, and of grace for life which human power alone could not provide. This revelation of the will of God for man may be oral or written, but for our present purpose it is to be understood of a written communication. And it is taught by the Articles, here and elsewhere, that this unfolding is found supremely in Holy Scripture. [2] The possibility of revelation is obvious from the character and power of God, whilst its probability is equally clear from the conception of God as One who having made man, would desire to communicate with him. When, therefore, we accept a Divine revelation as both possible and probable it is not difficult to accept its credibility.

1. The need of such an Authoritative Revelation is universally admitted. Authority is essential in every aspect of life and in every branch of knowledge, and when we apply the question to religion we see that man, even as man, and still more man as a sinner, requires an authoritative revelation to guide him in the way of life. Whatever may be said of the light of nature, it is impossible to doubt the necessity of the further and fuller light of revelation (Psa. 19; Acts 14:17; Rom 1:17-20, 32; 2:15; Eph. 3:9). The only light on such subjects as the character of God, the possibility of deliverance from sin, and the assurance of a future life comes from Divine revelation, while the ignorance and helplessness of man in his natural state called for the light and grace of Divine revelation.

2. The Source of this Authority must necessarily reside in God Himself. He is the Fount of truth and grace, and authority can only be found in the revelation of God. This revelation is personal, both in God as Source and in man as the object, and the personal expression of it was the Lord Jesus Christ.

3. But at this point the question arises, where is this personal revelation embodied or recorded, and how may it become available for man? God is invisible, and in order that a personal Divine revelation may influence human life it must be available somewhere. If God has revealed Himself to man in Christ, it ought to be possible to find and use the revelation. There are only three possible answers to this question.

Some say that human reason is the seat of authority. But while reason is both valuable and necessary as one of the means of distinguishing the claims of authority it is quite another thing to claim for it the seat of authority itself, especially as it is only one of several human faculties, and as it has been affected by sin. Reason is rightly regarded as a channel, but not a source. It weighs and appropriates the data offered to it, but does not create them.

Others say that the Church is the seat of authority, but, leaving for the present the full consideration of this question, it may be asked where such a Church is to be found, since the Church in the fullest, truest meaning of the term, “the blessed company of all faithful people,” is itself the product of Divine revelation, having come into existence by accepting God’s revelation in Christ. Since, then, the Church is thus the result of revelation it is difficult, if not impossible, to think of it as the seat of authority, for this would mean that the Church embodies its Creator.

The only other answer is that given by the Article, that the seat of authority is found in the Word of God recorded in the Bible. This means that Holy Scripture preserves for us God’s revelation in the purest available form. Christianity is based on the Person of Christ, and our supreme need is the clearest and completest form of His revelation of Himself. Our great requirement is that the vehicle of transmission, whatever it may be, shall be certain and assuring, and we believe that this certitude is guaranteed in Holy Scripture as in no other way. Written language seems best to serve the Divine purpose, having the marks of durability, catholicity, and purity, and the testimony of the entire community of Christians through the ages corresponds to the teaching of the Article that in Holy Scripture God has revealed Himself. He might have made direct and oral communications to every person, but to this method there are many serious objections. It would have to be repeated as many times as there are persons, and it would so open the way for imposture that there would be no means of detecting those who were guilty of fraud. On the other hand, a written communication, properly accredited and given once for all, has decided advantages in its certainty, permanence, and universal availability.

4. This Divine authority of Holy Scripture as the embodiment of a Divine revelation is based on a belief in the unique inspiration of the writings, for both in the Old Testament and also in the New there are marks and claims of a position in regard to God’s will that can only be described as unique (Acts 1:16; Heb. 3:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). Whether we describe it as inspiration or not, there is an element in Scripture which makes it stand out from all else in literature and history, and by this we mean a special influence differing both in degree and also in kind from the ordinary spiritual influence of the Holy Spirit. It is a communication of Divine truth for human life, and it is that which makes the Bible, and the New Testament in particular, fundamental for Christianity. It has been well described as “not the first stage of the evolution, but the last phase of the revelationary fact and deed.” [3] When the New Testament is compared, or rather contrasted, with the literature of the second century, we are enabled to see this unique activity of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of inspiration, for the most valuable and beautiful of later works cannot compare with what is found in the New Testament. Writers of various schools testify to this remarkable difference, and from this we argue that the Holy Spirit in the New Testament was the Spirit of inspiration, while later He was the Spirit of illumination. It is thus that the revelation in Scripture gives it its uniqueness. The revelation is the proof of inspiration, and the inspiration in turn guarantees the revelation. Nor is this truth set aside by the emphasis placed in recent years on the “human element” in the Bible. In the details scholars have discerned traces of the idiosyncrasies of various writers, and this is not surprising, for it is patent everywhere. But there is a serious danger in this kind of examination, because a man may so concentrate on details as to miss the meaning and purpose of the whole book. This is perhaps one of the perils of a good deal of modern investigation of the Bible. Inspiration means such a union of the Divine and human elements that the result is guaranteed to us as the thought of God for the life of man. The Holy Spirit so used the faculties of the writers that without any supersession, but working through them, the Divine truth was given to, through, and for man, and when we accept the book as a record of the Divine revelation it will be found that it is not the “human element” that impresses, but the Divine element. God is realised as speaking through its pages and revealing truth to the soul. By all means let us discover all that we can about the “human element,” but let us never forget that it is not the human but the Divine element that constitutes the Bible, the Word of God. It is fallacious, and indeed, impossible to attempt to separate and distinguish the Divine and the human elements. The true idea is not the Divine and the human, but the Divine through the human. When this is realised the Bible speaks with Divine and convincing authority. [4]

The proof of this position may be briefly stated without encroaching unduly on the province of apologetics. The authority and inspiration of Holy Scripture are evident from the objective and subjective phenomena associated with it. The objective history of the Bible, especially in the element of prophecy in the Old Testament, the record of the unique people of Israel, and the picture of Christ, all stamp it as Divine, while the experiences of the people of God in response to this objective revelation support the contention that it comes from God. The words of Coleridge that the Bible “finds” us more thoroughly than any other book are often quoted, but unless this effect is understood to arise out of the supernatural revelation objectively contained in the Scripture it is, of course, inadequate. Indeed, it has been well pointed out, it is inadequate on other grounds, because the teaching of our Lord does very much more than “find” us, for it creates and transforms the life of everyone that receives it. [5]

Thus, the Bible stands apart from all other books on the threefold ground: (1) that it embodies a supernatural revelation; (2) that because of this it possesses a unity of structure and purpose; (3) that it reveals and produces spiritual qualities which can only be explained by direct inspiration. It is sometimes said that the Bible is the Word of God, while at other times it is said that the Bible contains the Word of God. These are both true, if held together, though either alone is liable to misapprehension. If we only say the Bible is the Word of God we are in danger of forgetting that it contains the words of men also, many of which are not true in themselves, though the record that they were spoken is true and reliable. If, on the other hand, we limit our belief to the phrase, the Bible contains the Word of God, there is the opposite danger of not knowing which is God’s word and which is man’s, an entirely impossible position. The Bible is the Word of God in the sense that it conveys to us an accurate record of everything God intended man to know and learn in connection with His will. The Bible contains the Word of God in the sense that in it is enshrined the Word of God which is revealed to us for our redemption.

Thus, there is no contradiction between these two expressions. From different standpoints they are both true, each balances the other, and both together should be held clearly and firmly. The one thing which can never be removed from the Bible is its character as a continuous, complete, and coherent revelation of the mind and will of God for redemption, and when we accept the revelation embodied in Scripture we are led to understand more thoroughly than ever what Scripture is, its place and power. Faith in the revelation leads to faith in the Scriptures, and the character of the Bible, as expressed in this Article and as used elsewhere in the Church of England, may be summed up in the following statements:

“1. Assuming a true revelation to be given us by God, could such a revelation be preserved without a pure Scripture?
2. Granting Christ to be the culmination of Divine revelation, what could we know of Jesus without a faithful Scripture?
3. Assuming the Church to be an institution of Christ, what could we know of the foundation, laws, sacraments, doctrine of the Church without an authoritative Scripture?
4. Assuming that the Church has a mission to the world, how could the Church carry on the propagation of the gospel and the evangelisation of the world without a trustworthy Scripture?
5. Assuming the end of salvation to be holiness, and growth in knowledge and grace in the believer, how could spiritual life be perceived, described, and Christian character be built up without an inspired Scripture?” [6]


>> Part 4. The Sufficiency of Holy Scripture


[1] Several of the topics of this Article are treated more fully in the author’s The Holy Spirit of God, Chs. 20, 26-29
[2] For proofs that Holy Scripture is a Divine revelation references must be made to the usual books on Christian Evidences, where the apologetic aspect of the subject is necessarily treated. Of these perhaps special attention should be given to the chapters in Fishers’ Grounds of Theistic and Christian Belief, and Henry Roger’s The Supernatural Origin of the Bible.
[3] Forsyth, The Person and Place of Jesus Christ, p. 152.
[4] For the theory of Inspiration, see the author’s The Holy Spirit of God, pp. 155-158, and Additional Note. It is sometimes said that the Church of England nowhere lays down any theory of inspiration. This is doubtless true, and the explanation is that the question of inspiration was not a matter of dispute in the sixteenth century. This question is not formally mentioned simply because it is presupposed. Our Church was not then engaged in establishing the authority of Scripture or in basing that authority on Divine inspiration. These things were not questioned, and being universally admitted were taken for granted. What the Church was then doing was asserting that these Divinely inspired Scriptures, “of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church,” were the sole and exclusive authority for the consciences of men as the Articles of Faith, or as necessary to salvation. In view of these circumstances it is simply impossible to argue that the inspiration of Scripture was left an open question, when every reference to Scripture shows that the compilers of the Articles based their teaching on the claim that Scripture alone should be regarded as an authority. A suggestion of this is found in the reference in Article 22, “God’s Word Written.”
[5] “We may say in Coleridge’s phrase that we believe the teaching of Jesus, or acknowledge its (or His) authority because it ‘finds’ us more deeply than anything else; but any Christian will admit that ‘find’ is an inadequate expression. The teaching of Jesus does not simply find, it evokes or creates the personality by which it is acknowledged. We are born again by the words of eternal life which came from His lips, and it is the new man so born to whom His Word is known in all its power” (Denney, Article, “Authority of Christ,” Dictionary of Christ and the Gospels).
[6] Orr, “The Church and the Holy Scriptures.” An Address.






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The Principles of Theology

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Article 6

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Canon

>> 2 - Limits of the Canon

>> 3 - Character of Scripture

>> 4 - Sufficiency of Scripture

>> 5 - Supremacy of Scripture

>> 6 - Practical Use of Scripture

Content of The Principles

>> Index

>> Preface by J I Packer

>> Introduction

>> 1 - Trinity

>> 2 - Christ

>> 3 - Descent into Hell

>> 4 - Resurrection

>> 5 - Holy Spirit

>> 6 - Holy Scripture

>> 7 - The Old Testament

>> 8 - The Three Creeds

>> 9 - Of Original or Birth Sin

>> 10 - Of Free Will

>> 11 - Of the Justifcation of Man




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