Thursday, July 28, 2016

What is a Reformed Church: Scripture as Authority (Part 1)

Scripture as authority

If the creeds and confessions are the doctrinal constitution for the church, the ultimate authority is Scripture. The creeds and confessions frame our doctrinal conversations, but the source and authority in all things are the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures only are revealed from God, fully inspired from God, consist of the canon of the 66 books of the Bible, and are sufficient and clear for us. Therefore they alone can function as our ultimate authority in all things.

Authority - Scripture Alone

In especially this time and age, many people are skeptical of authority and authority claims. They rightly see that claims of authority imply the necessity for them to submit to said authority if the claim is true. Human authorities have a terrible history of abuse and committing evil, and therefore it is understandable that claims of authority will be met with skepticism or even hostility.

The Reformed Church during the Reformation has already rightly recognized the problem with illegitimate authority. But unlike the modern and postmodern skeptics, the Reformed Church did not throw away authority altogether. It is after all impossible to throw away all authority, for the trashing of all external authority only leads to the tyranny of one's internal authority — oneself, whether in proud self-confidence (modernism) or proud self-abasement (postmodernism). The Reformed Church faced off against the illegitimate authority of the Roman Church and turned back to the proper source of authority — God. Only the God who is all-good and all-loving and who creates and dictates all reality can be trusted with absolute authority. God alone has final authority, so God alone is the only final authority, and thus the Word of God is the ultimate authority, the Word of God that is the Scriptures. It is not the sayings of the church, the traditions of men, that have final authority. It is not even the authoritative deliberations of the church and the creeds and confessions that have final say, but only what God says goes.

In the Scriptures, the final authority of Scripture is upheld by Jesus many times throughout his preaching as he appeals to Scripture, "It is written," especially in confrontation with the Devil (e.g. Mt. 4:4,7,10). For "To the teaching and to the testimony! If they will not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn" (Is. 8:20). As it is beautifully stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.(WCF 1.4)

Revelation and Inspiration

The Scripture are revealed by God and thus they are God's Word. They are inspired from God, and this is done through the "breathing out" from God (2 Tim. 3:16; the Greek word theopneustos) What this means is that God is the main author of all of Scripture, and it is as if God Himself is speaking in the same way as the breath of a person comes from the person. As 2 Peter 1:21 states, the prophecy that is Scripture does not arise from the will of man but from God who uses men to convey His divine Word in human form.

Scripture is revealed from God and its author is God, yet it also has a human author. As it was mentioned in the comment on 2 Peter 1:21, prophecy of Scripture comes from God who uses men to convey His divine word in human form. Thus, we do not deny the human element the human authorship, of Scripture. Luke himself expresses his comments on his first book, the Gospel of Luke, like he was writing a research project, as he wrote:

In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, (Acts 1:1)

Thus, we do affirm the human element in Scripture, yet God who is sovereign uses men to convey His divine Word through human words, as 2 Peter 1:21 so clearly says. Everything in Scripture therefore is inspired from God (2 Tim. 3:16).


The word "canon" comes from the Greek and it meant a rule. The Canon of Scripture tells us what is Scripture. The Reformed Church, in places like WCF 1.2, defines the canon as the 66 books of the Bible, 39 in the Old Testament and 27 in the New Testament. Thus defined, anyone wanting to know what Scripture says can go to that definitive collection of books and know that whatever one reads is indeed Scripture inspired from God.

This delineation of the canon is in contrast to the canon of the Roman church, which has extra books in their canon called the Apocrypha. In recent times, liberal "Christian" scholars have also claimed additional books that have been removed from the original canon, the additional books being collectively called the Gnostic texts. In the minds of these liberal scholars, the original canon of Scripture contains many more books like these Gnostic texts, and over time the "winners" of the orthodox party remove the books they didn't like and define the canon their way. The canon for these liberals is a human invention, not a divine artifact.

So who gets to decide what is canon and what is not canon? If God is the one who inspired Scripture, then surely God is the one who gets to define what He has inspired and what He has not inspired. And just as God inspired Scripture through human agents in history, so likewise the canon of Scripture gets recognized in history. One can look at history and see how the church recognizes certain books as canon, together with a list of criteria they think a book in the canon should have, but ultimately the canon just come into being in history . The canon is after all a historical artifact, not an inspired list. When an author writes a book, a canon of his writings has been established (consisting of that book). If he writes 5 books, his canon now has those 5 books, but nowhere has he created a canon through lists. Any list of his writings come after the canon is established, not before. Likewise, the canon comes into being as God inspires book after book of Scripture, thus it is a historical artifact not an additional thing that requires authentication and validation, as opposed to how Roman Catholics tend to think of the matter. God defines the canon through inspiring these books and not others, and the Church as the recipient of that revelation recognizes the canon, not creates it.

[to be continued]

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