By Dr. Herbert Samworth
There is often great stress placed on the importance of reading and studying the Bible. People are exhorted to make daily Bible reading a priority in their lives. All of this is good and we would join in the encouragement of such a practice.
However, a person, when beginning a course of Bible reading, is often faced with the question of how can he know that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.
- Are there not other religions with their writings which make similar claims?
- Why should such an exclusive place be accorded to the Scriptures?
- Is truth limited to just one book?
These are very good and practical questions and merit a response. And certainly these questions have been asked before in the history of man. It is a question that deals with certainty that ultimately resolves itself into one of authority.
A brief review of history tells us that various responses to that question have typically been given. And even within the responses, there are often times additional sub points and strata of reasonings. However, we will note that the responses can be reduced to three basic ones: the authoritative, the subjective, and what we will call, for purpose of clarification, the self-attesting. Let us give a brief review of each of these three responses.
The first we have called the authoritative or the response from above. Most times this response comes from the church itself that make the pronouncement that the Bible is the Word of God. This response views the church as possessing power or authority over the Scriptures and is thus in the position of giving definitive pronouncements. The Roman Catholic Church considers herself to be God’s authoritative voice in settling any theological controversy and thus has been placed in the position of declaring the Bible to be the Word of God. However, the effect is to place the Church over the Bible so that the final authority is not the Scripture itself but the Church. To supplement this view of the Bible, the Roman Catholic Church has also declared that the church alone has the God-given authority to interpret the Bible through the Magisterium or official teaching office of the Church.
The second we can call the subjective or the response from man himself. Because man is endowed with reasoning capability, he is qualified to gather and evaluate the evidence for and against the Bible being the Word of God. So the process would be to investigate the culture and history of the times when the Bible was written and evaluate that in light of man’s intellectual ability. Frequently this has resulted in a denial of the Bible being the Word of God because of alleged errors of fact that it contains. A great stress is placed on the humanity of the Bible and its human authorship. The reasoning is that because man is fallible, every production of his pen must be marked by that same fallibility. At times, concessions are made that appear to say that the Bible is the Word of God when it comes to matters of faith and belief although it contains errors when it deals with historical facts or scientific matters. However, this view of the Bible is potentially fatal because it does not explain how one can be right on matters of faith and belief and false on matters of scientific fact. If the authors of the Bible were wrong on matters of science what assurance could a person have that they would be correct on matters of belief?
An illustration of this type of reasoning would be the exodus from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. In Exodus we read where God liberated the people of Israel from Egypt by his mighty hand and preserved them from Pharaoh’s army by taking them through the Red Sea. God’s people are exhorted many times to remember the Exodus as a demonstration of God’s providential care in the midst of their conflicts. However, if the miracle of crossing the Red Sea is rejected because it is impossible to reconcile it with the so-called facts of archaeological research, any basis for encouragement in the midst of difficulties is swept away.
The result of this approach to the question of whether the Bible is the Word of God is to have man himself become the final authority. He places himself in the position of being over the Word of God and the one endowed with wisdom to adjudicate its truthfulness.
However, this approach is often used unknowingly by those who profess to believe in the Word of God. There is a song that was popular a number of years ago that contains the phrase, “God said it, and I believe it, and that settles it for me.” This is not an attempt to disparagement the sentiment expressed but the emphasis appears to be on the phrase, “and I believe it.” Although there is a great amount of difference between the denial of Scripture being the Word of God and the belief of it, the method of arriving at the conclusion is the same. They are vastly different opinions about the Word of God but the authority is the same: the determination of man. One man determines to deny it and the other determines to believe it, but the basis of the decision is the same: man’s reasoning.
If the above two methods are inadequate, what then is the correct way to determine if the Bible is the Word of God? We have termed the third way as the Bible’s self-attesting testimony. It will be necessary to explain what this means in some detail.
Basically it means that the way to come to the knowledge that the Bible is the Word of God is taken from the Bible itself. When one expresses that statement, the rejoinder is often made that this is circular reasoning and it is using the Bible itself to prove that it is Scripture. Such a method of approach is condemned out of hand as illegitimate. However, let us examine this in some detail before we agree that this is not an illegitimate method of reasoning.
First, whether or not we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, we would be in agreement that the Bible is the source of teaching concerning what are called doctrines or truths concerning various subjects. For example, the Bible speaks about God. When we take these statements about God that are contained throughout the Scriptures and combine them in a systematic manner, we arrive at what we call the doctrine of God. We would do the same for the other subjects that the Bible makes statements about such as man, the Person and work of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the way of forgiveness of sins and a right relationship with God, and the list could be extended. The result of this method of study is called systematic theology because we have taken the teachings of Scripture together and formulated them in a systematic manner.
The above leads us to ask a question about the Bible. Does the Bible make any statements about itself? The answer to that question is a decided yes. If the Bible makes statements about itself, then there must be what can be called a doctrine of the Bible in the same manner as there is a doctrine of God, of man, etc. As a result we must examine, evaluate, and organize those statements in a coherent manner to arrive at what we call the doctrine of the Word. By so doing, we recognize and confess that the Scripture alone is competent to speak of itself in the deepest manner and we accept the Bible’s statements about itself as the final and authoritative teaching.
While some may consider this circular reasoning, we must keep in mind that at the deepest level of understanding, there must be presuppositions as to what we believe. It is simply impossible to remain in a neutral position. One of the great fallacies of man’s thinking is that he can be totally objective regarding ultimate issues.
There is not another way to investigate and formulate an answer to the question concerning the Word of God. If we reject the Scripture’s testimony concerning itself, then we either must accept the pronouncement of a self-proclaimed authority or our own understanding. If we adopt either of these positions, we must acknowledge that either the church or man himself places himself over the Bible and determines whether or not it is the Word of God.
In the next segment of our study regarding the Word of God, we will investigate the statements the Bible makes regarding itself or the testimony of the Word to its nature. We term these statements the self-attesting testimony of the Scriptures.