Who is God?
What would be a good definition of theology? Most would say the study of God. And this is a good start. Theology may also be thought of as the application of God’s Word to every aspect of life. Theology is therefore the study of God and the application of His Word to all areas of life. Thus theology begins with knowing God. This is the believer’s chief pursuit. And believers come to know God because He first reveals Himself to us. God is thus known only on the ground in which He has made Himself known.
There have been many concepts of God throughout history. Some see God as everything. This called pantheism. This view envisions the world as being divine; others see God as in everything – panentheism; the whole is in God. Whereas pantheism identifies God and the world as identical, panentheism denies that God and the world are identical and suggests that God be thought of in the world much the way a mind is in a body. In fact, according to panentheism, the world may be thought of as the body of God.1 What’s important to note is both of these prominent views deny the biblical understanding of God on several important levels. First, the Creator-creature distinction; second, God is a Person, and third, God is Lord.
First, God is the Creator of all things and is separate from His creation. Therefore we must reject the pantheistic and panentheistic speculations about God. Likewise, God’s creation doesn’t become divine but remains creation. In light of this, we must understand 2 Peter 1:4 which tells us that through the promises we may “partake of the divine nature,” to refer not to the normative (essence) but ethical sense. In other words, God develops the image of Christ in us by faith. God is separate from His creation but transcends it in order to reveal Himself savingly to mankind. Second, God is a Person. The word ‘God’ (Elohim אֱלֹ הים ) functions as a proper name for Him. Though some world views, like Hinduism, envision millions of gods, the Bible however reveals only One living and true God (Dt 6:4).2 Additionally, the Bible reveals God by His divine names and attributes.
For instance, God reveals Himself as El-Shaddai, which means ‘God Almighty,’ to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Ex 6:2-3); a name which not only signifies God’s greatness, but a source of comfort and blessing as well. The greatest name of God is Yahweh (Jehovah). The name’s origin and meaning are indicated in Ex 3:14-15. It expresses the fact that God is always the same, and especially that He is unchangeable in His covenant relationship, and is always faithful to His promises.3
God is a Person who reveals Himself in the Bible and teaches us that He is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, in His being (self-existent), wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.4 Additionally, God is love personified (1 Jn 4:8). Moreover, God has eternally existed as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, with distinct personal attributes, but without division of nature, essence, or being (1 Jn 5:7; Mt 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14). So, when we speak of faith in God, we mean the personal God of the Bible, whom we are able to know personally. Many deny the personality of God and conceive of Him as an impersonal force but God is a Person who thinks, feels, loves, speaks and acts in a completely holy manner. God is a Person with whom we may converse and trust, who helps us in our difficulties, and fills us with joy inexpressible (1 Peter 1:8).
In the New Testament, the names of God are simply the Greek forms of those found in the Old Testament. For example, the name Theos, the most commonly employed name for God in the New Testament, is simply the word used in place of the Hebrew word Elohim אֱלֹ הים. Additionally, the name Kurios, used over seven thousand times in the Bible, meaning ‘Lord,’ is applied not only to God but also to Christ (Phil 2:11; Rev 4:8). This name takes the place of both ‘Adonai’ and Yahweh.5 God is a Person not an impersonal force. Yet, He is immanent (covenantally present) and reveals Himself in a personal form in Jesus Christ. God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One God. Three Persons. God has eternally existed as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and these three Persons are One God, being the same in substance, and equal in power and glory. God has eternally existed as three Persons within the unity of a single divine Being (Mt 28:19; Jn 8:24; 8:58; 17:5; Acts 5:3-4; Rom 9:5; 2 Cor 13:14; Tit 1:13; Heb 1:8).
Thirdly, as a Person, God is a completely holy Being who Himself is the source of moral obligation. As Lord, He is Head of a covenant community, which He has taken for Himself to be His own particular people (Tit 2:14). The heart of this covenant relationship is: “I will be your God, and you shall be My people” (Ex 6:7; Lev 26:12; Rev 21:3). Further, God is Lawgiver and Judge, and mankind by their fall, being unfit and unable to obey His law, shrinks under His infinite wrath and curse for sin. But God out of His infinite love and mercy, by way of the Covenant of Grace, redeemed all those He has chosen in Christ (Is 53:12; Eph 1:4). By His eternal decree to justify the elect, He reveals Himself as God the Father (Ex 3:22; Dt 32:6; Gal 1:4); God the Son to purchase redemption (John 1:1, 8:24); and God the Holy Spirit to apply it (1 Sam 10:10, Luke 1:67). God is immanent (existing and operating within) in creation yet separate from all He has created and sustains all things by the Word of His power (Heb 1:3). By reason of Christ’s perfect sacrifice, His expiation of our sins, the just for the unjust, and His imputed righteousness, He has forever perfected all that are being sanctified (Heb 10:14).
Redeeming us from death, God brings us into His covenant community and demands certain behavior on our part, which He reveals to us in the Bible. We then apply His Word to every area of our lives – theology.
What is Scripture?
The final authority for the Christian is Scripture because it is the very Word of God. Scripture is directly binding on conscience. To go against conscience, as Martin Luther once said, is “neither right nor safe.” The Bible is perfect and complete, sufficient in all its parts. This view is known as biblical inerrancy. Having a low view of Scripture became a kind of stumbling block and method of entry for all sorts of biblically condemned practices that are now celebrated. J.C. Ryle put it best when he wrote, “We corrupt the Word of God most dangerously, when we throw doubt on the plenary inspiration of any part of Holy Scripture.”6
The Scriptures, the living oracle and revelation of God’s mind and will, has been divinely composed through human agency. The doctrine of revelation states that God has chosen to give us information – propositional truths – that we could not gain on our own. The Bible reveals truth: truth about God, truth about the world, and truth about ourselves. “Truth,” as R.C. Sproul puts it, “is reality as God sees it.” This full and sufficient oracle of truth encapsulates all that is to be believed concerning God, and the duty God requires of us. Standing obstinately against this view is the spirit of the age. Man redefines terminology, in hopes of relieving his troubled conscience. To counter this trend, we must define our terms based upon what the Bible claims for itself. Then, we must answer objections to their terms and claims, and show the practical importance of believing in what the Bible claims for itself.
No amount of argument or evidence amassed by the human mind can convince the skeptic that God has spoken until God has permitted him to hear and understand. For the skeptic today, as Kierkegaard put it, it will be a journey of either doubt to faith or doubt to despair. In the final analysis, the one that comes to God must first believe that He exists; that He is the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him (Heb 11:6); that His Word is completely accurate in all matters, including science, mathematics, and history, and therefore accurate to the very letters and words (2 Tim 3:15-17) – thus plenary inspiration. The Bible’s authority is over the whole of creation (Lk 24:25), and is sufficient to give the means of salvation – knowing Christ as Savior (Jn 5:39-40; 10:27; Acts 4:12).
This being at the very core of the Church’s doctrine of Biblical inspiration was articulated by the magisterial Reformers (Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli) with the words Sola Scriptura. Biblical inerrancy is thus the historic doctrinal assertion that the Bible, because it is the very Word of God, is perfect and complete, and sufficient in all its parts including the very words. This is the doctrine of verbal inspiration. The doctrine of verbal inspiration states that, the Bible is the revelation of God’s mind and will written by men, who, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, wrote God’s very words. Regarding the Church’s doctrine of verbal inerrancy, Benjamin B. Warfield writes,
“It has always recognized that this conception of co-authorship implies that the Spirit’s superintendence extends to the choice of the words by the human authors (verbal inspiration), and preserves its product from everything inconsistent with divine authorship – thus securing, among other things, that entire truthfulness which is everywhere presupposed in and asserted for Scripture by the Biblical writers (inerrancy).”7
Just how critical is the doctrine of plenary inspiration? As Warfield states, “Failing to espouse this view of Scripture can destroy all Biblical doctrines, because a low view of Scripture undermines our confidence in the trustworthiness of Scripture as a witness to doctrine.”8 The word plenary is derived from the Latin plenus meaning full and complete in every respect. Plenary inspiration serves as a column which buttresses the overarching roof of Biblical inerrancy. Along with the other columns of verbal inspiration, authority and sufficiency, these truths form a colonnade. If one were to remove any of these buttressing columns, the roof of Biblical inerrancy – along with the assurance with which it carries – collapses.
Plenary inspiration has been attacked from the beginning. As the apostolic writings were circulated, almost immediately we find the spirit of antichrist at work. Even before the canon was compiled men such as Marcion, and a horde of other textual critics, plied their trade of operating on the original manuscripts or sometimes wrote their own.9 These men rejected plenary inspiration. They denied the unity of the whole of Scripture by viewing certain authors as uninspired. They viewed the words of Jesus as inspired while rejecting the words of some or all the apostles. Some even introduced spurious additions or made serious omissions to the gospels and to the apostle’s epistles even in Peter’s day. Peter writes about those who have altered Paul’s writings as they do the other Scriptures (2 Pet 3:16). Peter in this way acknowledges Paul’s writings as equal to the Old Testament canon. The apostles were conscious of the fact that what they were writing was Scripture.
Verbal inspiration, as the very term suggests, extends to the very words of Scripture. Our Lord echoing Isaiah 40:8 ascribes this very quality to the Scriptures, i.e., “the Scriptures cannot be broken” (Jn 10:35), and every jot and tittle, literally every word will be fulfilled (Mt 5:18). The minute details of God’s plan will be carried out. The part of His plan He has revealed to us we have in Scripture (Dt 29:29). God has spoken. The very words He has used, every jot and tittle of the law are all equally important.
The doctrine of verbal inspiration has been denied on the grounds that there are numerous scientific and historic mistakes in the text. For example, the apparent disparity between the list of kings in the books of 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Chronicles has troubled many for centuries, and has proven to be the stumbling block for skeptics.10 These seeming disparities in what textual critics have pointed out as apparent flaws in the Scripture have been worked out with other parts of Scripture to show the accuracy of the Bible in history. Seeming contradictions only seem to be contradictive. What we must do is harmonize these apparent contradictions by other parts of Scripture. We mustn’t like Marcion and Bultmann deny the unity of the whole by approving some Scripture and rejected other parts based upon our own fallible assumptions.11 Scripture interprets Scripture.
As to the apparent inconsistencies between the findings of science and the facts of the Bible, it must be stated that the Scripture does not contradict the findings of science; it contradicts and opposes the godless Darwinian hypothesis of science – evolution. It’s not the intent here to enter the debate between young and old earth creationists; however, the Bible speaks of a creative week, not a drawn-out evolutionary timeline. And contrary to the evolutionist theories, the Scripture speaks accurately and decisively about the origin of the universe (Gen 1:1, et al; Mt 19:4-6; Mk 10:5-9; Jn 5:17). And most importantly, if God didn’t create Adam, as the Bible reveals in Genesis, and we evolved from apes, then the Adam-Christ parallel is dissolved, and the truth about redemption is destroyed (Rom 5:12-20; 8:23; 1 Cor 15:47-49; Phil 3:21).
The Scripture is Life-giving. It not merely contains the word of God; it is the Word of God. Verbal inspiration as such is the Biblical doctrine which espouses that every word of the Scripture is God-breathed and that the choices of these words by human authors were under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit moved the authors along to write the very words of God while allowing these authors to retain their personal idiosyncrasies of culture, manners of speech while simultaneously preserving them from mistakes in teaching.12 For this reason, we cannot dismiss passages of the Bible we don’t like, sloughing them aside as mere cultural idiosyncrasies because they fail to appeal to our sense of fairness and equality. For these passages are God-breathed commandments (1 Cor 14:34-37). B. B. Warfield writes,
“When the Christian asserts his faith in the divine origin of his Bible, he does not mean to deny that it was composed and written by men or that it was given by men to the world. He believes that the marks of its human origin are ineradicably stamped on every page of the whole volume. He means to state only that it is not merely human in its origin.”13
The words of Scripture are not infallible due to the holiness of the human authors but because the Holy Spirit’s superintendence. The final authority for the Christian is Scripture because it is the very Word of God. The form critics of the mid 1800s rejected verbal and plenary inspiration and subsequently abandoned the formal principle of the Reformation Sola Scriptura. Form critics such as Bultmann, believing the Word of God to be divinely inspired, though mixed with mythology and other interpolated human inventions, dismissed plenary and verbal inspiration as untenable. This disregard for the Bible’s authority and sufficiency brought many to the point of plummeting below the line of despair.14
The purer the doctrine, the purer the flow of God’s Holy Spirit. And doctrine governs morality. You will live out what you believe. Anything short of the belief in the fullness of Scripture as a divine flow of grace is insufficient. The Scripture is sufficient for salvation (Ps 119:97-104; Jn 5:39; 1 Tim 4:16; 2 Tim 3:14-17). All that need be known for life and godliness is clearly revealed in Scripture. Because Scripture is all sufficient for man’s salvation, as well as every need in his walk of faith and practice, nothing is to be added.16 Because the Holy Spirit makes the reading and especially the preaching of the word effectual unto salvation, we are not to tamper with God’s Word, we are to proclaim it. The point is this: Confusion and despair will be the only fruit of denying the inerrancy of the Bible. The current trends today are the fuller ramifications of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Today, in full bloom, liberalism displays its fruit of impenitence towards the authority of Scripture. It obstinately refuses to submit itself to the demands of God’s Word. Seeking to ease their disparaging consciences, they gleefully carve up the text of Scripture, reducing it, and redefining, in hopes to render it voiceless and powerless.
Higher criticism, a stratagem of liberals, is destructive to the composite unity of the whole of Scripture. Belief in Biblical inerrancy is affirming that all that God has spoken to us in His Word is entirely accurate, trustworthy, and authoritative. As Francis Schaeffer has so aptly pointed out, the rejection of the Bible’s authority will lead only to despair.
Did the Church Create the Canon of Scripture?
Where the church has erred theologically has been in cases of imbalance. There are three basic views regarding the canon of Scripture – the community dependent model, the historically determined model, and the self-authenticating model. First, the community dependent model argues that the canon was created by the church. How? It envisions the canon as a human enterprise, and thus problematic because external criteria is used – human opinion – to determine what the canon is and what isn’t; a purely subjective approach. According to this line of reasoning, scholars such as Bart Ehrman present us with a community dependent approach that envisions the collection of books now recognized as canon by the church as coming about through polemical means by which letters were included or not based on who won out in the arguments (Ehrman, Forged, Misquoting Jesus).
Second, over against this view is the historically determined model. This model argues that the twenty-seven books of the New Testament can be verified through historical investigation. However, similar to the community dependent approach, this view likewise appeals to sources outside of Scripture to verify the canon, and by itself it’s an imbalanced approach. This view posits that there are criterion of canonicity. However, we may ask: What are the criteria for the criteria that is employed in determining the canon? This approach is imbalanced and leads to subjectivism. In these first two models, either existential experience becomes the grounds of canon, thus dependent upon the community, or some other external criteria serves to determine what’s ultimately authoritative such as historical investigation. Thus by itself a phenomenon of the church. Both of these views fall short due to the fact that they rely either on the community or criteria outside of the Scripture.
Over against these views is the third view, the self-authenticating approach, which posits that the canon itself provides the necessary direction and guidance about how it is to be authenticated (Kruger, Canon Revisited, 91). Scripture is the self-revelation of the Triune God to His covenant people. And the canon is a collection of books that God gave to His church to guide and direct as to what we are to believe and what duty God requires of us (Shorter Catechism Question 3). God has providentially preserved the canon, which He has caused to be recognized by His church as authentic, in order to be heard and received by His elect in all ages (Jn 10:27; cf. Jn 6:37-40).
The point is, the canon itself is its own ultimate authority not an external source. This is important for several reasons: (1) according to the community dependent view, subjectively we may argue for the inclusion of books that didn’t make it into the canon, like the apocryphal ones, such as the gospel of Thomas, gospel of Peter, and the gospel of Judas, etc. In light of the fact that modern pundits, like Elaine Pagels, who is pushing for the canonical status of these books, and Bart Ehrman, who just seems to be trying to destroy Christianity, it’s important for Christians to be aware that Christianity is founded upon the authority of Scripture (Sola Scriptura) and not tradition, popularity or subjective experience. Usage and popularity aren’t criteria for canonicity. Besides, in God’s providence, the New Testament Books were far more popular than the apocryphal ones anyway. And the so-called ‘lost gospels’ rightly found their way to the dump (Nag Hammadi). This alone suggests they weren’t worth reading. What’s behind the curtain of books like Misquoting Jesus; Forged; How Jesus Became God, and the Gnostic Gospels; Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas is of course is a flood of deception and dilution (Rev 12:16; 13:5). And (2) in light of modern biblical criticism, it’s important that Christians understand that the Bible is not subject to the claims and findings of historical studies, but to its own self-authenticating authority – Sola Scriptura.
The internal testimony of the Holy Spirit enables the church to see the canon for what it is (Kruger, Canon Revisited, 91). The canon is grounded either in itself, by virtue of its divine attributes, or grounded in subjective experience or something else extrinsic to its own authority. However, we can know which books belong in the canon because God works in the witness of the church to recognize the qualities that are there. Gaussen observes, “The church discerns the canon of Scripture but doesn’t make it, she recognizes the authenticity, but doesn’t give it” (Gaussen, Theopneustia, 137). God is the only Person who can tell us what books He has given us in His Word (Kruger, Canon Revisited). Thus, God through His Word must speak directly to the soul of man, and as the Holy Spirit illuminates the text of Scripture, He will, like Shakespeare’s Gertrude, enable us to say, “If words be made of breath and breath of life, then I have no life except what thou has spoken to me” (Hamlet, Act III, Scene 4).
1 – Nash, The Concept of God, 23.
2 – Everyone has a world view whether they have contemplated it or not. The major elements include: 1.Theology (God) is there a God? What is His nature? 2. Metaphysics (reality), did an eternal, omnipotent Being create the universe? If so, what is the relationship between God and the universe? Are miracles possible? 3. Epistemology (knowledge), how do we gain knowledge? What are the roles of reason and sense experience? 4. Ethics (morality), is morality relative? Is truth objective or subjective? 5. Anthropology (mankind), are human beings free? dichotomous (body and soul/spirit) or trichotomous (body, soul and spirit) or perhaps (body, soul, and when he is regenerated – spirit)? Is there life after death? A person’s world view functions as a sort an interpretive framework for life’s ultimate questions.
3 – Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, 32.
4 – Westminster Confession of Faith, Shorter Catechism, Question 4.
5 – Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, 32.
6 – J.C. Ryle, Warning to the Churches, 25.
7 – B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 173.
8 – Ibid, 174.
9 – Eric F. Osborn, Tertullian, The First Theologian of the West, 89
10 – Edwin R. Thiele in his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings finds a workable solution.
11 – James I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, 110.
12 – The Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy, Article VIII.
13 – B.B. Warfield, The Divine Origin of the Bible, 1.
14 – Francis Schaeffer, The God Who is There, 8.