Tag Archives: Scripture


I Love My Black Letter Bible

With the way some Christians talk, you might be forgiven for wondering why the canon includes more than four books. Sure, the Old Testament is useful in tracing the development of human reflection on the divine, and the New Testament in conveying the thoughts of some of Jesus’ earliest followers. But if you really want to know what God thinks about something, you hear today, you’ll need consult the recorded thoughts of Jesus. And if you want to do that, you’ll need to stick to the “red letters.” In other words, flip to Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John (or that less traversed terrain, Revelation 2-3) and stay put.

To be sure, I understand the impulse. It makes some sense in light of the differences between the sinless Son of God (on display in the Gospels) and the bona fide sinners who penned most of the rest of New Testament (unbelieving James and Jude, denying Peter, blaspheming Paul, and so on). Dubious résumés, to say the least.

Nevertheless, Christians have always recognized the God-breathed character of their words. The miracle of inspiration means the whole Bible is the voice of God. While central and foundational, the fourfold Gospel witness is no more true or reliable or relevant or binding than the black letters that precede and follow. Indeed, when we treat the red letters more seriously than the black ones, we muzzle the Son who speaks in all of them.

The Pages in Black Fulfill the Promise in Red

It’s foolish to downplay the Bible’s black-lettered pages if for no other reason than they’re fulfilling a red-lettered promise. Consider Jesus’ words to his apostles:


I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:12-15, emphasis added)

Now ponder the words of Paul:

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal. 1:11-12, emphasis added)

Did you catch the parallel? Christ’s promise finds fulfillment in Paul’s teaching. The ministry of the Savior marches on in the ministry of the apostle. Jesus said that he had more to say. He promised further revelation of truth to his apostles through his Spirit. Paul is just Exhibit A.

As John Murray put it:

Prior to his ascension, Christ’s teaching was directly by word of mouth. But afterward he taught by a different mode . . . by the ministry of appointed witnesses and inspired writers. The New Testament, all of which was written after Jesus’ ascension, is not one whit less the teaching of our Lord than that delivered verbally during the days of his flesh. How utterly false it is to set up a contrast between the authority of Jesus’ spoken words and the authority of the New Testament as Scripture. The latter is the teaching of Christ given in his own appointed way after his ascension. . . . The guiding of the Holy Spirit into all truth does not suspend Jesus’ own speaking. (Collected Writings, Vol. 1, 40)

The apostle Peter goes so far as to say the prophetic word of Scripture is a revelation “more sure” than even Christ himself in transfigured glory (2 Pet. 1:19). That’s a stunning claim! He then exhorts us to recall the ”commandment of our Lord and Savior through [the] apostles” (2 Pet. 3:2; cf. Acts 2:42). No wonder Paul enjoins his protégé to heed the ”sound words you have heard from me” (2 Tim. 1:13) with no less urgency than the ”sound words of our Lord Jesus” (1 Tim. 6:3). Or elsewhere claim his instructions are “the Lord’s command” (1 Cor. 14:37; cf. 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15) imbued with heaven’s authority (2 Thess. 3:14).

When I write, the result is a tweet or a blog post. When Paul wrote, the result was holy Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16).

Is the church’s authorized foundation, then, Jesus (1 Cor. 3:11) or the Bible (Eph. 2:20)? Yes.

The Word of God: Jesus or Scripture?

Another related mistake is the popular tendency to imply that since Jesus is the Word of God, Scripture must be something else. But once again this is a false dilemma. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God’s Word (e.g., John 1:1-2; Heb. 1:1-2; Rev. 19:13) and that it is God’s Word (e.g., John 10:35; Acts 17:11; Heb. 4:12; 13:7). The urge to wrest an “either/or” out of a “both/and” smells more of Enlightenment rationalism than biblical Christianity. What God has joined together, let no man separate.

As Kevin DeYoung observes:

God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripurated Word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out Word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ.

Diminishing the integrity of the Word inscripturate in the name of upholding the integrity of the Word incarnate is, ironically enough, the quickest way to domesticate and diminish him.

Jesus Blinders

I recently heard a remark that only in Jesus do we see God “as he is.” While this statement may sound profound and even have a ring of truth—Christ is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15; cf. Heb. 1:3) and the point of the biblical story (Luke 24:27, 44)—it is finally misleading since it does not reveal the whole picture. The Lord’s self-disclosure was not exhausted by the Son’s earthly life. Jesus’ appearing neither nullified the revelation that came before (Matt. 5:17-18) nor rendered redundant the revelation that followed after (John 16:12-15).

On the surface, “Jesus shows us what God is really like” language appears pious and even Jesus-exalting. In reality, it betrays a tragically truncated view of the Jesus of the Bible. We see God “as he is” by gazing with the eyes of faith on the pages of his Word—all of them.

One day, our faith will vanish into sight, and we will at last behold the king in his beauty. Until then, however, we live and move and have our being in the age of the ear. “For now,” Augustine taught 1,500 years ago, “treat the Scripture of God as the face of God. Melt in its presence.”

If you love Jesus, you’ll love his voice wherever it appears—even in the black letters.

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God’s written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more.


You claim that “what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.” Aren’t you guilty of bibliolatry here? 


Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, “Well, we worship the ‘Word Christ’ not the ‘word the Bible.'” Which is true in a sense. We don’t prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don’t worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God’s speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most “live” among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture’s perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We’ve seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say “that’s just your interpretation” instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God’s truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we’ve misread the Bible, let’s see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What’s wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It’s better to obey the Bible when you don’t like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he’s like.

What do you mean when you claim God’s speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don’t have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don’t have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ’s work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture’s sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute “most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians”?

It’s wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can’t be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I’m thinking of people who make their sense of “calling” more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I’m thinking of denominational groups I’ve been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I’m talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say “yes,” but then often live out “no.”


20 Quotes from DeYoung’s Taking God at His Word

The following 20 quotes caught my attention as I read Kevin DeYoung’s tremendous forthcoming book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway), now available for pre-order. Thanks to Tony Reinke for inspiring the 20 quotes idea.


“Surely it is significant that this intricate, finely crafted, single-minded love poem—the longest in the Bible—is not about marriage or children or food or drink or mountains or sunsets or rivers or oceans, but about the Bible itself. . . . Psalm 119 is the explosion of praise made possible by an orthodox and evangelical doctrine of Scripture.” (10, 14)

“As the people of God, we believe the word of God can be trusted in every way to speak what is true, command what is right, and provide us with what is good.” (16)


“No one who truly delights in God’s word will be indifferent to the disregarding of it.” (18)

“There is no calamity like the silence of God.” (19)

“The most effective means for bolstering our confidence in the Bible is to spend time in the Bible. . . . May God give us ears, for we all need to hear the word of God more than God needs any of us to defend it.” (22-23)

“The dual authorship of Scripture does not necessitate imperfection any more than the two natures of Christ mean our Savior must have sinned.” (35)

“Defending the doctrine of inerrancy may seem like a fool’s errand to some and a divisive shibboleth to others, but, in truth, the doctrine is at the heart of our faith. To deny, disregard, edit, alter, reject, or rule out anything in God’s word is to commit the sin of unbelief. . . . Finding a halfway house where some things in the Bible are true and other things (as we have judged them) are not is an impossibility. This kind of compromised Christianity, besides flying in the face of the Bible’s own self-understanding, does not satisfy the soul or present to the lost the sort of God they need to meet.” (37-38)

“You can think too highly of your interpretations of Scripture, but you cannot think too highly of Scripture’s interpretation of itself. You can exaggerate your authority in handling the Scriptures, but you cannot exaggerate the Scriptures’ authority to handle you. You can use the word of God to come to wrong conclusions, but you cannot find any wrong conclusions in the word of God.” (39-40)

“Of the four attributes of Scripture, [sufficiency] may be the one that evangelicals forget first. If authority is the liberal problem, clarity the postmodern problem, and necessity the problem for atheists and agnostics, then sufficiency is the attribute most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians.” (43)

“The finality of Christ’s redemption for us is intimately tied to the finality of his revelation to us. . . . If we say revelation is not complete, we must admit that somehow the work of redemption also remains unfinished. . . . Scripture is enough because the work of Christ is enough. They stand or fall together.” (44, 48-49)

“If we learn to read the Bible down (into our hearts), across (the plot line of Scripture), out (to the end of the story), and up (to the glory of God in the face of Christ), we will find that every bit of Scripture is profitable for us.” (52)

“Nowhere do Jesus or the apostles ever treat the Old Testament as human reflections on the divine. It is instead the voice of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:25; Heb. 3:7) and God’s own breath (2 Tim. 3:16).” (64)

“Counselors can counsel meaningfully because Scripture is sufficient. Bible study leaders can lead confidently because Scripture is clear. Preachers can preach with boldness because their biblical text is authoritative. And evangelists can evangelize with urgency because Scripture is necessary.” (90)

“Our Messiah sees himself as an expositor of Scripture, but never a corrector of Scripture. He fulfills it, but never falsifies it. He turns away wrong interpretations of Scripture, but insists there is nothing wrong with Scripture, down to the crossing of t’s and dotting of i’s.” (100)

“In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zerephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history.” (102)

“Jesus may have seen himself as the focal point of Scripture, but never as a judge of it. The only Jesus who stands above Scripture is the Jesus of our own invention. . . . It is impossible to revere the Scriptures more deeply or affirm them more completely than Jesus did.” (105)

“The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this ‘red letter’ nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important words in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. . . . If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.” (116-17)

“No one succeeds at the highest level in sports without working out. No one makes it in music without lots of practice. No one excels in scholarship without years of study. And no one makes it far in the school of holiness without hours and days and years in the word.” (119)

“In a world that prizes the new, the progressive, and the evolved, we need to be reminded that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And since he remains the same, so does his truth. Which means sometimes consistency is the better part of valor.” (120)

“Ultimately we believe the Bible because we believe in the power and wisdom and goodness and truthfulness of the God whose authority and veracity cannot be separated from the Bible. We trust the Bible because it is God’s Bible. And God being God, we have every reason to take him at his word.” (122)

You Asked: Is All Scripture from the Lord?

Editors’ note: Send your theological, biblical, and practical ministry questions to ask@thegospelcoalition.org along with your full name, city, and state. We’ll pass them along to The Gospel Coalition’s Council members and other friends for an answer we can share.

Doug L. from Rockwall, Texas, asks:

How do we understand 1 Cor. 7:12, when Paul says, “To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord),” when all of Scripture is meant to be from the Lord? How do we make sense of this in light of the debates on inerrancy and authority of Scripture?

We posed this question to Dane Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College), Bible publishing director at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Stacey, and three boys. He is the author of A New Inner RelishDefiant GraceZeal without Knowledge, and Mark: A 12-Week Study. Dane blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology.


It’s a good question and one that most of us have been perplexed by when we read 1 Corinthians 7. I certainly have. The whole text in question reads as follows:

To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called youto peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

Who Is ‘the Lord’?

The first matter to clear up is what the questioner means by saying that “all of Scripture” is “from the Lord.” In one sense this is true, in another sense it is not.

Most broadly, the whole Bible is certainly from “from the Lord” if by “the Lord” we mean the triune God—the 66 books of the Bible are God’s self-testimony to a fallen world of his identity and his mighty deeds in our space-and-time history for the sake of sinners. Every word is a word from God.

But not all of Scripture is “from the Lord” if by “the Lord” we mean the Lord Jesus in his earthly teaching—and it is Jesus that Paul has in mind when he speaks of “the Lord” in 1 Corinthians 7.

When Paul says in 1 Cor. 7:10 that it is “not I, but the Lord” who declares that a husband and wife should not separate, he is drawing on the words of Jesus (e.g., Matt. 19:4-9). When Paul goes on to say that it is “I, not the Lord” who says that a believing spouse should remain with a contented unbelieving spouse, he is acknowledging that Jesus did not explicitly address such a situation, as the Corinthians are now facing.

Canon Within the Canon?

Of course, this raises a question. Is Paul saying Jesus’ words are more authoritative than his own? Have we created a canon within the canon? Are we saying that if Paul were to buy a Bible today, he’d prefer a red-letter edition?

Nope. After all, the entire Scripture is the Word of Christ, broadly conceived. We cannot hold up what Leviticus or Ecclesiastes says as less authoritative, from a whole-Bible perspective, than the Sermon on the Mount. All three cohere and play their distinctive role in giving us the cumulative message of Scripture—namely, the message of the grace of God in the Son of God for the people of God to the glory of God. At the same time, a ritual food law from Leviticus is not received today by Christians in the same way as it would have been for a Jew 3,000 years ago, because we read such a food law in light of Jesus’ words in Mark 7:14-23, in which “he declared all foods clean” (7:19).

The 66 books of the Bible are unified, but not uniform. The Bible gives us a coherent message, but every text must be read in light of the entire Bible; Leviticus must be read in light of Mark 7. Anything less would be sub-Christian. I don’t read Isaiah the way a Jew would in 50 B.C. for the same basic reason I’m not writing this article on papyrus: it’s not where we are in the Story.

How does all this relate to 1 Corinthians 7? In this way: we are to read 1 Cor. 7:12 as carrying for us the same full authority that any of the words of Jesus carry. There is no canon within the canon. As an apostle, Paul spoke on behalf of the one who sent him, Christ himself. The apostles were formally commissioned to testify to and to pass down to the next generation the authoritative teaching of Christ and the sanctioned significance of his saving work. Paul the apostle therefore speaks with full authority.

Imagine that the king of a foreign land has passed a law that every young man must enter the nation’s military force at age 18. Each man must serve for five years, after which time he is discharged and free. The king himself writes this law into existence, commissioning a given number of officials to communicate and enforce the law on his behalf, and dies shortly thereafter. His personally selected officials are then confronted with the situation, however, that foreign couples are getting married and then entering the nation and living as citizens of this nation. Should these husbands, assuming they are at least 18 years old, be conscripted into the military?

What is relevant here is simply the question of authority. The king had formally sanctioned a specific number of officials to carry out his laws. The officials therefore write a letter to the people explaining their solution. In that letter they explain that the king himself had ordered every male 18 years of age to enter the military. The officials then further explain that, although the king did not explicitly address the unusual circumstance of foreigners becoming citizens, the officials themselves speak on the king’s behalf and with his authority. The people of the land are therefore to receive the officials’ decision just as they would the king’s very words.

Distinction of Source, Not Authority

The point of this imperfect analogy is simply that even when Paul is speaking beyond the actual words of Jesus, he is speaking with apostolic authority. He acts on behalf of the King. It may sound odd, but we receive Paul’s instruction in 1 Cor. 7:12-16 as the very word of God even though it is not the very words of Jesus. 1 Cor. 7:12 is no less inerrant than 1 Cor. 7:10 (or the words of Jesus recorded in the Gospels, for that matter). For Christians today, Paul’s “I, not the Lord” is not less authoritative than his “not I, but the Lord.” It might be worth remembering also that even the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels are the true voice of Jesus but not the actual words of Jesus. He spoke in Aramaic, but our New Testament recorded those words in Greek. So even in the Gospels, we are dealing with a similar dynamic. We do not view the Greek text of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as inferior in authority to the Aramaic that Jesus would actually have uttered.

In other words, the distinction we today discern in Paul’s words in 1 Cor 7:10, 12 is a distinction of original source, not final authority. Paul is telling us that he is quoting Jesus in 7:10, but not in 7:12. But for us today, both verses have full authority. Perhaps Paul’s apostolic authority in these matters is the reason he reminds his readers that he too has the Spirit of God in the last verse of 1 Corinthians 7.

Not all of Scripture is the words of Jesus. But all of Scripture is the Word of God.

Why You Can Rely on the Canon

When it comes to the canon of Scripture, are 66, 39, and 27 the right numbers? How can we be sure which books belong and which do not?

Mark Mellinger recently sat down with Michael Kruger, president of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, to discuss this ever-relevant issue of Scripture and canon.

“Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the only Gospels we have that come from the first century,” Kruger tells Mellinger. So only those four books could have been written by eyewitnesses. Moreover, the 27 books of the New Testament are the earliest Christian writings we possess—period. When you look at the first century, in other words, there aren’t “a bunch of competing writings,” Kruger explains. “There’s just the New Testament.” Indeed, if you wish to learn about first-century Christianity, the only books available are those in your New Testament.

But what about textual differences? Aren’t there errors among the various manuscripts? “The New Testament is no different than any other historical document when it comes to transmission,” Kruger explains, admitting we find many of the mistakes one would expect with handwritten scribal transmission. Nevertheless, we can recover the original with striking certainty given that we have “far more copies of New Testament writings than of any other document in ancient history.”

Watch the full eight-minute conversation to hear Kruger discuss the authenticity of the (anonymous) book of Hebrews, the church’s role in canonization, where Protestants and Catholics part ways, and more. Kruger has also addressed these issues in Canon Revisited: Establishing the Origins and Authority of the New Testament Books (Crossway, 2012) and The Question of Canon: Challenging the Status Quo in the New Testament Debate (InterVarsity, forthcoming, 2013). For a series aimed at laypeople see Kruger’s “10 Basic Facts about the NT Canon Every Christian Should Memorize.”

Scripture and Canon from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Why I Don’t Hate the Word ‘Inerrancy’

I hate a number of things. Some of them are rather silly: soap operas, egg mayonnaise, cats. Some of them are deadly serious: sex slavery, adultery, cancer, human trafficking, abortion, racism. In a handful of cases, I even hate words: “moist,” “ogle,” and “pamphlet” are among the most odious. But I don’t hate the word “inerrancy.” In fact, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest.

Perhaps that’s because I’m English. My limited experience in transatlantic dialogue suggests that the word “inerrancy” is divisive in America, up there with “Texas” and “Pelosi” in the list of words most likely to prompt expressions of luminescent ecstasy in some and enraged inarticulate spluttering in others. It seems to be a tribal marker, a password that clearly divides the teams into goodies and baddies, the mere mention of which can cause both sides to run scurrying to the barricades, whether they’re faithful conservatives contending with woolly liberals, or reflective centrists contending with mindless fundies. In the UK, however, it’s not such a contentious concept.

Question Rarely Asked

In ten years of teaching, writing, and researching theology, I’ve never once been asked whether or not I believe in inerrancy. As it happens, I do. If someone was to ask me whether, in my view, the Scriptures contain mistakes or not, I would answer in the negative. Partly this is a result of theological conviction about the divine and human components of Scripture: that when God’s words are expressed by humans, neither their human aspects (authorial personality, tone, language, mode of expression) nor their divine aspects (truthfulness, authority, clarity, reliability) are compromised. Partly it’s because I’d find it strange to tell people that the whole Bible represents the word of God, and the word of God is completely truthful, but that parts of the Bible aren’t completely truthful. (I don’t mean to say that nobody can believe all three of these things but that it would be beyond my intellectual faculties to do so.) Mostly, though, it’s because of Jesus. Put simply, based on what I read in the Gospels, I cannot imagine (if we let this rather implausible thought-experiment run for a moment) Jesus being asked whether the Scriptures contained mistakes or not, and saying yes.

Having said that, I cannot imagine him being asked the question in the first place. From what we can tell, the question of inerrancy was not a live debate in first-century Palestine; nobody had bothered to distinguish between inerrancy and infallibility, caveats about the original manuscripts were infrequent, and you didn’t have to affirm inerrancy to belong to the Galilean Theological Society. In fact, most of Jesus’s famous statements about the truthfulness and permanence of the Jewish scriptures—”not one iota will disappear from the Law until all is accomplished,” “the scriptures cannot be broken,” “it is written,” “the scriptures must be fulfilled,” “David, speaking by the Spirit,” and so on—give the impression of having been largely uncontroversial to their original audiences. If there were parts of the Hebrew Bible that Jesus, or anyone else we encounter in the Gospels, regarded as mistaken (which, from what we know of first-century Judaism, would be a highly unusual view), they have left no such indication in the records we have. The idea of there being mistakes in the Torah, for example, would not have occurred to him, or to any of his earliest followers.

Not only that, but many of the biblical passages people today find the most troubling, and the most likely to be “mistaken,” are also affirmed willy-nilly by Jesus and the apostles, with complete disregard for any subsequent historical-critical brouhahas that might emerge. Creation ex nihilo, the origin of death in humans, the murder of Abel by Cain, a cataclysmic flood of judgment, the righteous judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Mosaic origin of the Torah, manna from heaven, driving out the Canaanites, the Isaianic authorship of the servant songs, and so on—it’s almost as if Jesus and his followers went out of their way to affirm and validate all of the most awkward and recalcitrant apologetic curveballs in the Tanakh, just to make life difficult for post-Enlightenment Western interpreters. It is possible, of course, that Jesus and the apostles were also mistaken, and that their affirmation of all these challenging Old Testament texts reflects nothing more than their limited horizons of understanding. (Most Christians are not prepared to go there, of course, and neither am I; those who do, though in my view misguided, are at least consistent.) But it is hard to argue for an errant Bible based on the words and actions of an inerrant Jesus.

Proper Interpretation

So when asked the street-level question, “Does the Bible contain mistakes?” I always answer, “When interpreted properly, no.” That first clause is important; after all, an awful lot of people in history have thought that the Bible says the earth is at the center of the universe, flat, and built on pillars. There is also a plethora of texts whose literal meaning cannot be their original meaning—ranging from the obviously poetic (“your breasts are clumps of dates”) to the obviously symbolic (“then I saw a beast coming out of the sea”) and the obviously hyperbolic (“cut your eye out and throw it away”)—as well as a group of other texts whose literal meaning may or may not be their original meaning (as anyone who has read Paul Copan on Joshua, Tom Wright on the Olivet Discourse, or Greg Beale on Revelation will know). Consequently, care is needed, particularly in a church context where declaring that “the Bible does not contain mistakes” may be taken as code for “the tribulation will last three-and-a-half calendar years, every single Amalekite was killed by Saul, the moon will literally turn into blood one day, the revelatory gifts have altogether ceased, and evolution is entirely bunk.” When the Bible is interpreted correctly, it is completely true in all that it affirms. When it is interpreted incorrectly, there is no limit to the nonsense we can assume it teaches.

That, I suppose, might be why some people hate the word “inerrancy”—it is damned by association. As a term, it seems to carry all sorts of baggage not associated with the claim that the Bible is all true (which, let’s face it, is a much simpler and much less convoluted word for it): intradenominational division, a Shibboleth culture whereby some people are “in” and some people are “out,” an all-or-nothing deal whereby either everything in the Bible is true or nothing is, and elevation of the Bible above Jesus as the locus of our faith and devotion. In my mind, the associations are different: evangelical conviction, diligent scholarship, confidence in the Scriptures as the Word of God, courageous leadership, and sacrificial mission. But I realize that in some circles, words get tainted (as I discovered when I first came to the United States and let it be known that I was a charismatic). In such cases, it may be the resonances of the word rather than its actual meaning that cause people problems.

But I don’t think the answer is to hate the word. If we were to abandon every word that had been tainted by poor use, we’d have to remove dozens of descriptors from our lexicon, beginning with “Christian”—only to find that the replacements we brought in were also sullied over time by clumsiness, groupthink, insensitivity, and arrogance. For the moment, then, I’ll keep waiting for the day when someone eventually asks me if I believe in inerrancy, at which point I will say yes. And if they disagree, I’ll be sure to be extra nice to them.

We Need No Other Word: God Is Still Speaking

I began seminary with an intensive summer elective titled “Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture.” The professor was a capable and trustworthy guide; I was a novice. Thrown by issues I’d never considered, I soon found myself in an acute spiritual crisis. Inwardly unravelling, I couldn’t dodge the question: is this book flopped open on my desk, the object of severe censure from some quarters—is this the Word of God or not? My life depended on how I answered, and I knew it.

This wasn’t a topic for casual debate with classmates. Real crises never are. And I didn’t have the ability to satisfy myself on each accusation threatening my confidence before making up my mind. Life can’t be put on hold and, besides, suspending judgment was but a roundabout path to the same miserable end as chucking my confidence on the spot. A decision was demanded: was I in or out?

As a detached deadhead just two years before, I had borrowed a Bible from a girl named Heather who lived downstairs. (I remembered seeing it on her shelf once.) At the time I didn’t know a single person my age who claimed to believe in Jesus. But I read a work an old hippie recommended and along the way began suspecting the author was borrowing heavily from the Bible—though I didn’t know enough about the Bible to sort it out. That haunted me. So I took up the Bible in order to become “culturally literate.”

I read a bit in Genesis but quickly found my way to John, where something happened: I was captivated by Jesus. Soon I was reading the borrowed Bible and neglecting everything else, sometimes even meals. After a couple weeks, Heather dropped by and sheepishly asked for her Bible back. I had been surprised to find her Bible well used, and I was stunned she missed it. But I understood why she wanted it back. So I handed it back to her determined to get one for myself.

Unlike Anything Else

As I read this book I somehow knew it was God speaking, for it was unlike anything I’d ever handled. Here I found Jesus Christ—crucified, risen, reigning—and in him found life and light, hope, and joy. I was being transformed through this book, and I soon found power to walk away from old consuming habits—glad to be rid of them.

And I kept reading (and began praying), I grew by leaps and bounds. The more I read, the more I thrived. But I was naïve, too. I’d never struggled through the tough questions. Unbelievers I spoke to raised these questions, but I brushed them aside as mere dodges, ways of defending themselves against a truth they couldn’t bear.

But now I was asking tough questions, and I didn’t have final answers for any of them. How could I be sure this was God’s Word? My life and eternal happiness were staked on trusting what was written in these pages.

Though I had much to learn, I realized I’d never possess those highly coveted final answers to many of my most distressing questions. On one side, unbelievers had been trying to discredit the Bible for centuries, and had yet to discover a decisive case; on the other hand, believers had for just as long been setting out compelling reasons to believe this is God’s Word, yet they couldn’t put the matter beyond dispute. Certainly some arguments and evidence were more helpful and compelling than others, but none was conclusive.

Even if an apologist did succeed in demonstrating beyond all doubt that Scripture was accurate down to the details, what then? Would it necessarily follow that these writings were God’s Word? We don’t believe the Bible is God’s Word because it’s true; we believe it’s true and altogether trustworthy because it’s God’s Word. The question, then, was simple: did I believe it was God’s Word or not?

A finite mind like mine cannot know the answer to this question apart from divine revelation. The answer I needed, then, could only be received by faith. That’s the position in which we find ourselves, and that was the crux of the crisis for me, home alone, pacing my study.

Wrestling with God

I wrestled with God and went all in—by his grace, that’s what saving faith does. It doesn’t lean on its own understanding but trusts the One who straightens our paths (Prov. 3:5) and, in so doing, faith “gets the victory” (WCF 14.3). A more humble reader aware of his frailty, I discovered what Calvin knew long ago: that we can know that “Scripture is the Word of God . . . only by faith” and that “its certainty is founded upon the inward persuasion of the Holy Spirit” (Institutes, 1.8.13). As I poured myself into the text, my confidence returned—deeper and fuller than before. Some questions lingered and deserved the best answers I and others could give, but now they were just questions—curiosities along a road leading us all the way home.

The Spirit’s inward persuasion is not, John Owen explained, a testimony “to us of the Word,” as though it were another word from God about the Bible, “but by the Word” (Works, vol. 16, p. 326). However much “we may be moved and induced by” arguments, evidence, and the testimony of others that Scripture is God’s Word, our “full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (WCF 1.5). We need no other word; “the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scripture” is enough (WCF 1.10).

The best and ultimate apology, in other words, is to prayerfully plunge yourself into the pages of Scripture—most urgently when you least feel like it and you’re least sure of yourself.

I needed this challenge because I needed to know exactly where to stand—the only place we can stand—and I needed to be standing there at the outset of my studies, marriage, and ministry. No doubt we have many strong arguments and evidence, not to mention the encouragement of the saints through the ages—to answer questions that linger in unbelieving and faithful minds. But at bottom we have something even better, the only sufficient place to stand: God’s direct testimony to our hearts as we hear his Word read, read it for ourselves, meditate on it in our minds, and preach and teach it to others.

If you would know and be sure this is God’s Word, then you can never do better than to take it up and read it prayerfully, faithfully, and obediently for yourself.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Bruce Baugus will participate in one of two dinner panels hosted by our The Gospel Coalition 2013 National Conference’s Premier Sponsor, Reformed Theological Seminary, next month in Orlando. The topic of the panel will be “Having Confidence in the Scriptures.” Baugus—from RTS Jackson—will be joined on the panel by John Currid, Mike Kruger, Chuck Hill, and Justin Taylor (moderator). Here is a brief description of what you can expect on Monday, April 8, at 5:30 p.m.:

While walking with those two disciples on the Emmaus road, Jesus “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Christians affirm the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of God’s Word but sometimes struggle with confidence in Scriptures. The Scriptures are attacked from outside the church and are oftentimes minimized within the church. This panel will strengthen our confidence in the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

RTS Hosting 2 Dinner Panels at TGC13

We’re excited to announce the addition of two dinner panels at our upcoming 2013 National Conference in Orlando. Hosted by our premier sponsor, Reformed Theological Seminary, these free events will aid anyone desiring to better navigate, trust, and cherish God’s Word.

There is no need to register separately for these panels, both of which be held on the “RTS Stage” across from the main stage at Rosen Shingle Creek.

Monday, April 8, 5:30 p.m.: Having Confidence in the Scriptures

Panelists: Justin Taylor, Bruce Baugus, John Currid, Chuck Hill, Michael Kruger

Even as they affirm the inspiration, inerrancy, and infallibility of God’s Word, Christians sometimes struggle to have confidence in the Scriptures. The Bible is attacked from outside the church and often minimized within the church. This panel will strengthen our confidence in the truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments.

Tuesday, April 9, 5:30 p.m.: Seeing Christ in the Old Testament

Panelists: David Mathis, Mark Futato, Scott Redd, Derek Thomas, Miles Van Pelt

On the road to Emmaus, Jesus helped two disciples see him in the Old Testament: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Christians affirm that all of Scripture points to Jesus but often have difficulty seeing how the pieces fit together. This panel will show us Christ in each part of the Old Testament, tracing the crescendo that builds in God’s plan of redemption and leads directly to him.

Friends, don’t forget to register for the conference. We’ll see you in Orlando.

How Not to Read Your Bible in 2013

When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You’re motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.

Yet this isn’t the first time you’ve felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes.

So what’s going to make 2013 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2013.

1. Don’t Overextend 

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars!”

This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the “moon” of six chapters a day, you won’t quietly land among the “stars” of three. You’ll just be lost in space.

It’s better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn’t spiritualized daydreaming; it’s riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It’s easy to encounter a torrent of God’s truth, but without absorption—and application—you will be little better for the experience.

As Thomas White once said, “It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither.” I think that’s pretty sage advice for Scripture reading, too.

2. Don’t Do It Alone

When it comes to Bible reading consistency, a solo sport mentality can be lethal. Surely that’s why many run out of gas; they feel like they’re running alone. To forestall the dangers of isolation, then, invite one or two others to join you in 2013. Set goals, make a commitment, and hold one another accountable. Turn your personal Scripture reading into a team effort, a community project.

A daily devotional, too, can function as a helpful companion and guide. D. A. Carson’s For the Love of God (Volume 1Volume 2) and Nancy Guthrie’s Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament are two excellent options.

3. Don’t Just Do It Whenever

Every morning we awaken to a fresh deluge of information. We’ve now reached the point where, I’ve heard it said, an average weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than Jonathan Edwards encountered in his entire lifetime. I don’t know if that’s true, but it sure makes me think.

It is imperative, then, to set a specific time each day when you will get alone with God. Even if it’s a modest window, guard it with your life. Explain your goal to those closest to you, and invite their help. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent will continue to rear its unappeasable head. What is urgent will fast displace what is important, and what is good will supplant what is best.

If your basic game plan is to read your Bible whenever, chances are you’ll read it never. And if you don’t control your schedule, your schedule will control you. It’s happened to me more times than I care to admit.

4. Don’t Live as if Paul Lied

Did you know Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That’s what Paul believed, anyway: ”For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:16).

What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament is for you—to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to give you hope.

Few of you will conclude Paul is simply mistaken here. Good evangelicals, after all, are happy to take inspired apostles at their word. But does our approach to our Bibles tell a different story? Do we act as if Numbers or Kings or Nahum has the power to infuse our lives with help and hope?

Whenever you open your Bible, labor to believe that God has something here to say to me. Whatever I encounter in his Word was written with me, his cherished child, in view. So pursue God’s graces on the pages of Scripture this year. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow everywhere await.

5. Don’t Turn a Means of Grace into a Means of Merit

Your Father’s love for you doesn’t rise and fall with your quiet times. If you are united to Jesus by faith, the verdict is out, and the court is dismissed. You’re as accepted and embraced as the Son himself. Period.

To be sure, you’ll desire to hear and follow his voice if you’re truly one of his sheep (John 10:1-30; cf. 8:47; 18:37). Not always and not perfectly, of course, but sincerely and increasingly.

So as another year dawns, commit yourself anew to becoming a man or woman of the Word. But don’t overextend, do it alone, just do it whenever, live as if Paul lied, or treat means of grace like means of merit.

Your Bible is one of God’s chief gifts to you in 2013. Open, read, ruminate, and obey. May you be ever transformed into the image of our incarnate King, and may he alone receive the acclaim.

See and Savor the Bible’s Rich Layers

While celebrating my wife’s birthday at a Brazilian restaurant we finished our meal with a wonderful dessert. A birds-eye view of the cake slice revealed a chocolate topping with a sweet glaze. But sticking the fork into the cake revealed something even more pleasing, something unexpected: layers. Layers of other desserty goodness that beckoned me to savor.

Even though our meals were finished, suddenly we weren’t in a hurry anymore. Here was something artfully prepared with the finest ingredients. The layers mattered because their cumulative effect heightened the enjoyment of the food. The plate didn’t feature some hodge-podge attempt at combining a little of everything and hoping the result worked out. The presentation and consumption was rich and satisfying because someone designed it that way.

Have you ever noticed how the Bible speaks about itself with sensory language regarding our spiritual palate? God’s words are sweet like honey (Ps 119:103). Believers should long for the milk of God’s word (1 Pet 2:2). Man doesn’t live on bread alone but on each word from Yahweh’s mouth (Deut 8:3). Taste that God is good (Ps 34:8).

Sometimes we might find ourselves rushing through Scripture. Maybe we’re trying to meet a daily quota, trying to get to the next thing on the to-do list, or perhaps we’re more interested in a passage still to come. So we rush. We hastily consume, take in a birds-eye view, with nary a prayerful pause or time for reflection.

We should be more patient as we read the Bible. There are layers to see and be savored.

The Authors as Literary Artists 

God’s Word is a marvel. To read the Bible is to connect with literary compositions thousands of years old, divine revelation written down in stories and letters and poetry. But this inscripturated communication has not been hastily compiled. The Bible’s human authors are literary artists. They wrote with intention and structure.

There’s no book on earth like the Bible, and no text should be more savored. We should give close attention to the writers’ rhetorical devices, intertextual echoes, explicit Old Testament quotations, and even the arrangement of the material. A surface read won’t reveal the artistry that patiently laboring over their texts will. We must give to the Bible our time, our mind, our prayerful dependence for insight and understanding.

Seeing What’s (Not) There

Spending time savoring the text will result in seeing what is there but may not be readily apparent. Insight must be earnestly pursued. “Think over what I say,” Paul told Timothy, “for the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Tim 2:7).

Think about the arrangement of the first Gospel’s opening chapters. Scholars have noted how Jesus embodies the experience of Israel as he comes out of Egypt (Matt 2:15, 21), goes through the waters of judgment (3:13-17), endures temptation in the wilderness (4:1-11), and talks about God’s law with authority (5:1-7:29). In the design of these opening chapters Matthew shows how Jesus is the new Israel, the true Israel, God’s faithful and obedient Son.

Consider how Peter instructed Christian slaves to endure injustices incurred while living under harsh masters. He pointed to the example of Jesus, who had no deceit in his mouth (1 Pet 2:22), who bore our sins and healed our wounds (2:24), and who is the Shepherd of sheep formerly astray (2:25). Why is this language significant? It’s still dripping from baptism in Isaiah 53. Peter draws upon explicit Isaian phrases of the Suffering Servant and holds them up to the eyes of literal suffering servants. This move is especially meaningful coming from Peter, who once rebuked Jesus for linking suffering to the work of the Messiah (Matt 16:22). The resurrection changed his hermeneutic (cf. his speech in Acts 3:18).

Reading the Bible Patiently

The layers of a text matter because the authors wrote and arranged their material from a perspective shaped by the Old Testament. Even the words of later Old Testament writers were molded by earlier biblical texts. Their minds were drenched in ancient images and stories and promises. Our goal should be to immerse our minds in these things too.

The method for a richer reading of the text calls for a more patient reading. This doesn’t necessarily mean studying only small sections here, a few verses there. In fact, reflecting longer on larger sections of Scripture can bring more understanding as you gain a firmer grasp on the Great Story being unfolded. Reading, in one sitting, books like Revelation, Isaiah, and Ephesians is a valuable exercise requiring both time and prolonged focus. You don’t always have to choose between reading widely and reading reflectively.

Peter Leithart illustrates patient reading with the example of music:

We cannot take in music in a moment. A chord gives us several notes at once, but a chord is not music, or not much music. To hear the simplest melody, we need to listen for at least a few seconds. And more complex pieces of music can take an hour or more to experience. . . . If we are going to listen to music at all, we have to give it time to unfold. . . . This does not appeal to us. We are often impatient with music, and we are impatient with texts (Deep Exegesis: The Mystery of Reading Scripture, 52-53, 55).

Reading the Bible Repetitively 

A patient approach to Scripture also involves repetitive reading, because the words of the text need to sink in deep. We especially need to read the Old Testament in order to fill our mental reservoir. From this reservoir we’ll see later echoes of earlier Scriptures not only in the New Testament but in the Old. Whether or not you realize it, each time you read a text you’re storing up words, and this mental—and spiritual!—deposit will help you read with more comprehension what comes later.

Reflecting on textual layers isn’t a hermeneutical practice that denies authorial intent. It simply recognizes that authorial intent can be complex and doesn’t always mean locating one valid meaning for a verse. With a layered reading the text isn’t ignored but bolstered. Its meaning isn’t deadened but enriched.

So savor the Scripture. Read it again and again, and think over what it says. Read widely in the Bible, yes, but also deeply, and by that I mean patiently, carefully, with the discipline of reflection that repays dividends of insight. Taste and see that the text is good!