22 Oct 2020
Before the reformation, the Bible was not available to the lay people. Only certain individuals in the church were allowed to read, study and interpret the Scripture. The practices of the church at that time which included the ‘treasury of merits’, the ‘indulgences’ and the role of the clergy were not evaluated against the Scripture, as the Scripture was not easily available to believers. All these changed with the reformation, although at a great cost to some – among them Wycliffe, John Huss, Tyndale who were primarily responsible for translating and promoting the Bible to the people at large.
From beginning to end the Bible is a book about God who speaks, about people who hear and respond to God’s words, and about people speaking those words to others. How people respond to God’s words spoken personally to them or by the mouths of others is a measure of their response to God. If they obey God’s words, they are obeying God. If they disobey God’s words, they are disobeying God. Humans are measured by their response to the words of God.
We cannot think of the Bible as a whole without at the same time seeing it as God’s Word addressed to the community of which I am a part. As we approach the Bible as God’s Word, calling us to make a decisive response and thus trains us in a certain spiritual attitude – openness to God, humble listening and willingness to obey are necessary and essential. We cannot know God directly. It is beyond our ability for us to know Him. This is in part because God is infinite and we are finite; it is also because we are sinners and He is holy. So John Calvin writes, ‘when the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him, how can our minds comprehend Him?’ and ‘since there is a perpetual and irreconcilable disagreement between righteousness and unrighteousness, so long as we remain sinners Hen cannot receive us completely’ (Institutes 2.16.3).
So God accommodates to our capacity: ‘in descending among us by the exercise of His power and grace. He appears as near as is needful and as our limited capacity will bear’. This revelation appears first of all in signs and symbols, and then in Christ. God also accommodates to our capacity in the Bible. Calvin’s theology of preaching includes the accommodation of God to His people in Scripture, in the secret work of the Spirit, and in providing preachers and teachers of His Word. True knowledge about God is given in Scripture. Scripture is self-authenticated by God: “those whom the Spirit has inwardly taught truly rest upon Scripture’ (Institutes 1.8.5).
J.I. Packer’s comments on the Word of God are very helpful in our current context. The Word of God is true in all it teaches, and Packer’s elaboration on what this means is not just relevant but also refreshing and thoughtful:-
“Believers are accustomed to speak of the Word of God as infallible and inerrant. Infallible denotes the quality of never deceiving or misleading, and so means ‘wholly trustworthy and reliable.’ Inerrant means ‘wholly true.’ These terms express the conviction that all Scripture’s teaching is the utterance of God ‘who never lies’ (Titus 1:2), whose word, once spoken, ‘remains forever’ (1 Peter 1:25), and that therefore it may be trusted implicitly.
This does not, however, guarantee the infallibility and inerrancy of any interpretation, or interpreter, of that teaching; nor does it in any way prejudge the issue as to what Scripture does, in fact assert. This can be determined only by careful Bible study. We must allow Scripture itself to define for us the scope and limits of its teaching. The Bible is not an inspired “Inquire within Upon Everything”; it does not profess to give information about all branches of human knowledge. It claims in the broadest sense to teach all things necessary to salvation (2 Timothy 3:15-17), but it nowhere claims to give instruction in (for instance) any of the natural sciences. Scripture provides instruction that is true and trustworthy, not on every conceivable subject, but simply on those subjects with which it claims to deal. We must allow Scripture itself to tell us what these are”.
Reflecting on the above, we must treasure the Scripture we have in our hands. Remember that it becomes available to us through the sacrifice of many before us. In the words of the reformer, like Calvin, and closer in the words of the late J.I. Packer, we can trust the BIble wholly and know that it is trustworthy and reliable and true. The Scripture is God’s revelation and words to us; it needs to be approached with reverence, humility and the willingness to obey. But let us realise that it deals with all that are necessary for salvation and it does not claim to give instruction to all branches of human knowledge. We need not be disturbed if, for instance, science discovers something not mentioned in the Bible.
Take note also that God accommodates us in the revelation in Scripture; we do not know everything about God and His plans and intentions; we only receive what He intends for us to know – hence the need to know our proper place before Him who is almighty and all-knowing. Perhaps, in subjects beyond us, even if God explains to us, we may not be able to understand and He, in HIs wisdom, withholds this knowledge from us. But let us rejoice that all we need to know to experience salvation in Him has been given and we need to prayerfully and diligently study the Scripture in order to know Him and to love Him, with all gratefulness and worship.