God speaks, and he expects his word to be obeyed

Over at Reformation21, Scott Oliphint is working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). At Chapter 1.4, he writes:

iv. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth 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.

One of the first things that must be firmly embedded in our minds, both as Christians and consequently as biblical apologists, is the absolute self-attesting authority of Scripture. It is generally agreed that, if any section of the Westminster Confession of Faith was more carefully crafted than another, it was the section that deals with Holy Scripture. You can, no doubt, understand some of the reasons for that, particularly in the face of opposition from Roman Catholicism. The Confession is concerned, particularly in section four of chapter one, to show that it is in Scripture’s authority that we see its divinity and inspiration represented.

Notice first of all, that the divines are interested here in the authority of Scripture. And the intent of the paragraph is to set out for us the ground or reason why the Scriptures are authoritative, and thus why they ought to be believed and obeyed. They set out, very clearly, that the authority of Scripture does not, in any way, rest on the Church or its councils. Rather, its authority rests on its author, God, and is to be received because it is His Word. This is sometimes called the autopiston of Scripture, translated as self-attesting, or self-authenticating. What does that mean?

It does not mean self-evident. Self-authentication is an objective attribute, whereas self-evident refers more specifically to the knowing agent. It therefore does not mean that revelation as self-authenticated compels agreement. That which is self-authenticating can be denied. It does mean that it needs no other authority as confirmation in order to be justified and absolutely authoritative in what it says. This does not mean that nothing else attends that authority; there are other evidences, which the next section makes clear. What it does mean is that nothing else whatsoever is needed, nor is there anything else that is able to supersede this ground, in order for Scripture to be deemed authoritative. This is, at least in part, what God means when he says, in Isaiah 55, that His Word, simply by going out, will accomplish what He desires. This is the case because of what God’s Word is in itself. It always goes out with authority, because it carries His own authority with it.

That, in a nutshell, is how “God’s word” works. It works. As the author of Hebrews writes, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

It requires no “interpretive paradigm”.

Michael Liccione said in a comment:

(1) The Catholic IP [“interpretive paradigm”] is preferable to the Protestant IP because the former, unlike the latter, supplies a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions.

I’m sure he’s outlined an argument for this somewhere. But what is it that makes it “preferable”? Preferable to himself, maybe, because he wants Rome’s views to come out on top, and this seems to me to be just a fancy way of stacking the deck.

Is this “IP” preferable to God? When has God ever outlined that this is preferable?

In speaking of God’s immutability, Bavinck writes, “God is as immutable in his knowing, willing, and decreeing, as he is in his being” (Vol 2 pg 154). Citing Augustine, he writes:

The essence of God by which he is what he is, possesses nothing changeable, neither in eternity, nor in truthfulness, nor in will (The Trinity, IV).

And citing Confessions:

For even as you totally are, so do you alone totally know, for you immutably are, and you know immutably, and you will immutably. Your essence knows and wills immutably, and your knowledge is and wills immutably, and your will is and knows immutably. (Confessions, XIII, 16)

He continues, “Neither creation, nor revelation, nor incarnation (affects, etc.) brought about any change in God. No new plan ever arose in God. In God there was always one single immutable will. He notes that this immutability as one of the incommunicable attributes of God is not questioned by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, nor Reformed theologians.

Furthermore, as Steve Hays has said elsewhere, “Christianity is a revealed religion… Only God knows his own mind. We lack direct access to the mind of God. Intentions are hidden. We don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us. That’s not something we can intuit or infer from the natural order.”

In the “35,000 foot view” model, John Currid, in his Genesis commentary (Vol 1) is able to make the statement that “Genesis 3:15 is Messianic. And the identity of the said descendant is clear from genealogies such as Luke 3 … Genesis 3 is the prophecy that God will send a redeemer to crush the enemy. Jesus is the seed who is descended from Eve and went to do battle against Satan. The remainder of Scripture is an unfolding of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. Redemption is promised in this one verse, and the Bible traces the development of that redemptive theme.

God is consistent in time. In his plan, in his will, in his method of revelation, God is unchanging. And when we perceive something different, such as the movement between the “old covenant” and the “new covenant”, we see, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, the old was merely “copies of the heavenly things”. Christ himself revealed “the heavenly things themselves” (Hebrews 9:23)

It is in that way that He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3).

Where, then, in Revelation [“we don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us”] does God posit, even in some “implicit, seed form” that having “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions” is “preferable”?

I’ve cited Beale’s work on Adam, but Beale continues to show that God’s command to Adam continued through to the Patriarchs, then to Moses, where it was written down. Same set of commands:

To Adam:

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

To Noah:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. … And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

To Abraham:

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. … I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.

He says the same to Isaac, and Jacob, and repeatedly to the nation of Israel:

And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.

He traces this same phenomenon all through the OT. And even though history continued to occur, and prophets continued to speak, the “living voice”, so to speak, faded away, superseded by what was written, and what was written was authoritative.

God expects his command to be obeyed, without providing “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions”. He doesn’t use the precise wording every time, but his intention nevertheless is never said to be in question. (Even though “people interpret it wrongly”).

Where, in all of Old Testament history, does the immutable God provide the model for the “IP” which you say is preferable?

Published by John Bugay

"We are His workmanship," His poiema, His "poetry." If you've ever studied poetry, or struggled to write a poem, you understand the care God takes to "work all things together for good" in our lives. For this reason, and many others, I believe in the Sovereignty of God. I have seen His hand working in my life, and I submit myself to His merciful will, with all my being.

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