The Issue of Authority – God Speaking

C. Michael Patton’s recent posts, in his own words, look a whole lot like “I am shooting myself in the foot.” He rejects this characterization, of course – but as we have seen in my own posts responding to his over the last couple years, we have an entirely different view of the issues of certainty, and doubt. This recent series, of course, shows where this difference arises from – a different doctrine of Scripture. See, there’s a significant difference between the generally evangelical doctrine of Sola Scriptura, and the historic Reformed doctrine. Dr. White, TurretinFan, and I all hold to the historic Reformed doctrine. Mr. Patton does not. What Mr. Patton holds to is a significant devolution of Sola Scriptura, and it carries with it a multitude of problems requisite to the points on which devolution has occurred. He seems quite concerned with being considered to be “Reformed” in some sense – whatever he thinks that means – but he is obviously not confessional, and seems to be extremely weak on at least one of the 5 Solas – which are fundamental to Protestantism, let alone being Reformed. In this sad state of affairs he is, sadly, by no means alone.

As I mentioned in my previous post, evidentialism is a primarily inductive approach – wherein it is conceded that proof for Christianity cannot be indisputable, or certain – the only adequate guide is probability (since absolute certainty lies only in the realms of pure logic and mathematics). His refrain since has been, of course, that we “just don’t get it.” I would beg to differ with Michael, obviously – we get it – we just don’t agree. We disagree with his assertions that a) it is a “reality” that “we cannot be indubitably certain” b) there is a such thing as “the sufficiency of probability” c) “All buckets are leaky” – all of which are quotes taken from his “Theology Unplugged” podcast on certainty that I responded to here.

This is normative for the evidentialist – this nothing new, or profound, or anything of the sort. We get it – because it’s the same old, same old that evidentialists have been promoting all along. The same methodology is willing to drop inerrancy, inspiration, and various other doctrines concerning Scripture, theology proper, christology, and the like, during their argumentation – so that they can make historiograpical argumentation from probability. Which, I would stress, is precisely what Van Til objected to.

“How would the eternal I Am be pleased with being presented as being a god and as probably existing, as necessary for the explanation of some things but not of all things, as one who will be glad to recognize the ultimacy of his own creatures?”[1]

We have cited this for Mr. Patton before. We have dealt with these claims of his before – and now that we’re into what is, at least for him, a different area – it is not for us – he doesn’t see the relationship. We do, and we get it, Mr. Patton. It’s not that you aren’t worried about inerrancy, or inspiration because you don’t know whether they are certainly true; it’s that nothing can be certainly true, per your methodological approach. We get it.

So, what is Sola Scriptura, and can Mr. Patton be considered to be Protestant at all if he doesn’t hold to this doctrine? Per the LBCF[2], “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience” – this is a good summary of the doctrine. It is typically formulated in a general sense to say that Scripture is the sole infallible rule of faith and practice – the LBCF is actually much more precise than the “general” formulation just cited. As James White puts it in Scripture Alone, Sola Scriptura means 3 things; “Scripture is utterly unique in its nature as God-breathed revelation…; it is unparalleled and absolute in its authority; and it is the sole infallible rule of faith for the church.[3]” One thing I would add, however, is his insistence just previously on page 11 that the Reformation was about the sufficiency of Scripture, not the necessity of Scripture; and for myself, along with Luke 1:4, that this sufficiency, further, is self-attested within the Scriptures themselves to provide certainty. These things were not provided for probability – but for certainty.

What is interesting to me is that Patton is making these statements about inspiration and inerrancy as if they can be divorced from the discussion of Sola Scriptura. This is the methodology of the general evangelical, not the Reformed believer. As Reformed believers, we speak of, and know the 5 Solas – and love them passionately. Not because we consider them to be authoritative over the Biblical testimony – but because they encapsulate the Biblical testimony so clearly and concisely. Sola Scriptura, of course, is composed of several doctrines. The uniqueness of Scripture, the inspiration of Scripture, the sufficiency of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the infallibility (or inerrancy) of Scripture, the perspicacity (or clarity) of Scripture, and the unity of Scripture (tota scriptura).

His frequent assertion is that this is not a “matter of salvation” – but we would would wholeheartedly disagree with this assertion. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by… what?

He opens his latest post with this provocative statement;

The problem with many Evangelicals is that we can come dangerously close to worshiping the Bible. As Evangelical theologian James Sawyer once said in jest, we worship the Trinity: the Father, Son, and Holy Bible.

While I’m sure he appreciates the humor of one of the “visiting scholars” to his “The Theology Program,” I don’t think this is even remotely true. In fact, evangelicals, in general, have a very low view of Scripture. What he might mean, upon reflection and context, are those evangelicals who still hold a high view of Scripture. Which, obviously, is the same view held by the Protestant Reformers.

Now, by this I do not mean we actually set the Bible up in a shrine in our house, throw it away if it ever touches the floor, or put our hand on it when swearing an oath. Of course we are above that, right? What I think people like James Sawyer are talking about is that we put our Bibliology (study of the Bible) ahead of Christology (study of Christ), Pneumentology (study of the Holy Spirit), and Paterology (study of the Father).

What I think he’s mistaking here is the centrality of our Doctrine of Scripture to every other doctrine we necessarily must derive from Scripture. As I have said here many times, what we presuppose is the Triune God of Scripture. You see, it’s hardly intelligible to claim to serve a God we do not know. Further, it’s hardly fitting to worship this God not in accordance with how He has determined that we should. Thus, all of our theology, and all our practice is bound by the sole, infallible rule of faith and practice. The Scriptures. In the Scripture alone is found all things necessary for the knowledge and worship of God. Is there any wonder that we should center all of our theology on the source of this theology? Make no mistake – the Scriptures is God-breathed. It is the instrument of the Spirit’s regenerating work, the very words of God to man, that man might know God. When the Spirit was sent, the Spirit was sent also to bring about the means by which He would carry out His work in His people. The Scriptures. The Spirit attests to His words in the hearts of His people, and uses those same words to bring those same people to the Triune God in the first place. Even further – we are told, by Christ, that the Scriptures are God speaking. Notice, in Matt 22:31 – οὐκ ἀνέγνωτε τὸ ῥηθὲν ὑμῖν ὑπὸ τοῦ θεοῦ λέγοντος – have you not read what was spoken to you by God. Isn’t that an interesting phrase? When we read the pages of Scripture, this is God speaking to us, personally. Also, look at this, in Acts 3:21 – πάντων ὧν ἐλάλησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων ἀπ’ αἰῶνος αὐτοῦ προφητῶν – all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” Thus, when we see that Scripture is God-breathed – it does not merely lie inert – it has power, of itself, as the words of God, spoken to us. But we will return to that shortly, as we address one of your other comments.

We hold the Bible in such high esteem that firm adherence to an Evangelical Bibliology (verbal plenary inspiration, inerrancy, and authorial intent hermeneutics) becomes the unashamed anchor to the Gospel. But, eventually, it can (and often does) become the Gospel itself. One may be perfectly orthodox in every area about which the Bible speaks (deeply believing in the deity and Lordship of Christ, the sinfulness of man, and Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection), but if they are not perfectly orthodox about the Bible, to many of us evangelicals, they are not orthodox at all.

I don’t think this is true. Not unless you’re a King James Only advocate, at least. Where I see the hints of this view, most honestly, is when the doctrine of inerrancy and inspiration are divorced from Sola Scriptura as a whole – when “inspiration” becomes “some stuff some people wrote down that God said’ – like they are just oracular sayings of some sort. When inerrancy becomes something akin to Ehrman’s insistence that there is no textual variation during transmission, or inerrancy is a non-starter. That, frankly, is where I see this tendency. Not in people who actually have a full-orbed, high view of Scripture firmly rooted in Sola Scriptura.

Now, let me cease with the self-deprecation for a moment. When straw men are not being built against us (and when we are acting our age!), a high view of Scripture is easy to justify. For example, for many years the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) had only one point in their doctrinal statement that members had to sign every year—inerrancy. And, in my estimation, this was not a bad thing. After all, where do we get our high Christology? The Bible. Where do we get our high view of God? The Bible. Where do we get the Gospel? The Bible. So, in our best moments, we will condemn anything that smells of idolatry concerning the Scriptures. We know that the Bible is not the fourth member of the Trinity. The Bible is not actually alive, but it does accurately reflect the movements of a living God.

Here’s an interesting paragraph. Sure, a high view of Scripture is easy to justify – and ETS, frankly, is a snake pit these days. But notice what you just affirmed. “Where do we get all these things?” The answer is, of course, “the Bible.” The statement you made last is interesting to me, however. Did you just say the Word of God is not alive? What do you do with Hebrews 4:12? “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Does it not here say that the Word is living – and active? That it judges, and pierces? Second, as something living – does it not also give life? “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'” Isn’t this also true, Michael? The Word lives because the Spirit breathes it – into us, out from us, and it permeates us all, as the very lifeblood of the church. It doesn’t merely reflect His movements – it is the instrumentation of His movement in His church. It is central to everything we do as a church. Far from saying we should “put the doctrine of Scripture above the doctrine of Pneumatology – it should be said, and rightly so, that it is inextricably bound up in and with the doctrine of Pneumatology. These things cannot be separated out. Theology is systematic, and unified.

How does this translate into our witness? When we are sharing Christ with someone, I have never heard anyone require that they invite the Bible into their heart (although, to be fair, asking Jesus into their heart might cause some problems too!). At baptismal confessions in the early church, there was a renouncing of Satan, but no renouncing of those who deny inerrancy. There was a confession of Christ as Lord, but no confession of Paul as the author of the Pastorals. There was a symbolic burial of our old life but no burial of old books you used to read besides the Bible. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that the early church had a low view of Scripture. Far from it. I even believe that they held to a seed form of inerrancy. What I am saying is that one’s bibliology was not an essential component of the Gospel.

Most of this is irrelevant – because it’s ridiculous. However, it’s likewise ridiculous to say that one’s bibliology was not essential to the Gospel. When Paul addressed the Galatians in chapter 1, what did he tell them? “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!” Was this left by itself? No. What is his authority? He tells us in vs. 11-12 – “For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Notice something interesting in chapter 3 – “The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU.”” Scripture foresees – and it preaches. Later on in this chapter – “But the Scripture has shut up [fn]everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” It is Scripture that shut men up under sin. This is γραφή that has shut men up – and this is explained in the next couple verses – it is the written Law. The Scripture. Notice the refrain in chapter 4 – it is written. What does it culminate with? But what does the Scripture say? What authority does any of this have if inspiration isn’t necessary. What authority does the Gospel have? What content does the Gospel have, even?

I am really saying nothing new or extraordinary here. I am trying to get people to present the message of the Bible (Jesus Christ and him crucified for our sins and raised from the dead), not the message about the Bible (inspiration, inerrancy, etc).

The message of which Bible, Michael? The necessarily infallible and inspired one that we preach from, or the collection of historical documents one that you use in apologetics? You’re right – this isn’t new or extraordinary – because people have been beating this drum for a long time. Unfortunately, they were Romanists, Arminians, and Calvinists-who-very-shortly-become-Arminians – cf: the PCUSA.

The Gospel message does not require anyone to believe in either inspiration or inerrancy before it can become effective in their lives. When those we are sharing Christ with object to the Scriptures based on supposed inconsistencies, we are to show them that these inconsistencies, even if true, do not change the message of the Bible.

Really? The Gospel message doesn’t include “God doesn’t fail” and “this is His Word”? I thought you were a Calvinist, Michael? Calvinism means more than 5 points. You do know that, right? It means that the Spirit uses means – the preaching of the Word – to bring about His ends. Which God are you preaching? The God of Scripture, or a minimal facts god? If you aren’t preaching the same Gospel Paul did, you’re doing it wrong. In Acts 17, Paul proclaims that man is ignorant, yet that he knows that he should worship the true God (cf: Romans 1) – God needs nothing, made all things, controls all things, set the desire for Him in their hearts, is near to us, sustains our very existence – and not to be controlled by men. He has mercy, but is bringing judgment – and commands all men to repent. He has fixed that day of judgment, as well as the Judge – and gave His sign of authority by raising Him from the dead. But that isn’t the entirety of the gospel, is it? That’s just one sermon. So what is in other sermons? Ford Peter’s sermon in Acts 2 present Scripture as uninspired? Errant? No, it ends with “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ—this Jesus whom you crucified.” What is his argument, throughout this sermon? Scripture. In Acts 3 – does Peter say Christ probably rose? That God probably spoke? That God is probably right about what He says? In Acts 4 – do they give the Jewish leaders a probabilistic accounting of events? Do they present it as anything other than certain? What is their prayer later in the chapter? “..to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur.” Do they think God probably did this? That everything was probably under God’s control? That Christ was probably put to death by God’s purpose? Does Stephen preach probabilistically? Does he defend himself that way? Think, Michael – the authority of Scripture is bound up with the Author of Scripture. To say inspiration isn’t necessary to be believed for salvation is to say that belief in the power of the Word that you heard is not necessary. Is it complete? No. Is it instinctive? YES. Why is it that new Christians have a hunger for the Word? The Author of that same Word indwells him! By what means is sanctification chiefly enacted? The Word. This is basic systematic – this is catechismal stuff – my children get taught this.

The historic message of the Bible needs to take precedence over the theological nature of the Bible. And here is where I feel we Evangelicals, in our zeal and love for the Bible, taint the Gospel with unnecessary additions.

If you don’t think the historic message of the Bible is about God, you are preaching the wrong message altogether, bub. The Bible is about GOD. If you preach the Word, it’s about GOD, first. If you preach the Gospel, it’s the Gospel OF GOD. Not the Gospel of man. History itself is about… God. This is what I truly don’t get. You’ve been to seminary, right? Didn’t they teach this to you in first year Bible? I teach it to my kids, starting at 2! The Bible is about God!

6. What things are chiefly contained in the holy scriptures?
A. The holy scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man

That’s what the Bible chiefly contains. My 6 year old has to know that. My older kids BETTER know it.

What is the Gospel, Michael? Tell me. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” – So, since we don’t preach a bare-bones Gospel – what does sin mean?

17. Q. What is sin?
A. Sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God

What does “want of conformity entail, pray tell?

87. Q. Is. any man able perfectly to keep the commandments of God?
A. No mere man since the fall is able in this life perfectly to keep the commandments of God (Ecc. 7:20; 1 John 1:8, 10; Gal. 5:17), but doth daily break them in thought, word, or deed (Gn 4:5, and 7:21; Rom. 3:9-21; James 3:2-13).

What is the penalty for this sin?

89. Q. What doth every sin deserve?
A. Every sin deserveth God’s wrath and curse, both in this life and that which is to come (Eph. 5:6; Gal. 3:10; Lam. 3:39; Mt. 25:41; Rom. 6:23).

How do we escape this fate?

90. Q. What doth God require of us that we may escape his wrath and curse, due to us for sin?
A. To escape the wrath and curse of God due to us for sin, God requireth of us faith in Jesus Christ, repentance unto life (Acts 20:21), with the diligent use of all the outward means whereby Christ communicateth to us the benefits of redemption (Pr. 2:1-6, 8:33 to the end; Is. 55:2, 3).

Nothing but the catechism, bro. Nothing difficult. But since we brought up God – what is God, anyway?

7: Q. What is God?
A. God is a Spirit (John 4:24), infinite (Job 11:7, 8, 9), eternal (Ps. 110:2), and unchangeable (Jas. 1:17) in his being (Ex. 3:14), wisdom (Ps. 147:5), power (Rev. 4:8), holiness (Rev. 15:4), justice, goodness, and truth (Ex. 34:6).

Do you not explain these things when you present the Gospel? I can’t imagine it’s possible to present the Gospel without explaining God, His Word, sin, guilt, justice, mercy, and repentance, at least. If you explain God, they know He’s perfect. If he’s perfect, can he therefore err? If you explain His Word, you explain that it is perfect – like it says it is – right? That it is God speaking? That it is living and active? Judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart? That it’s Author calls for all men, everywhere to repent? To turn to the God-man, Christ Jesus, who came to earth to die for sinners? Who saves His people perfectly, and cannot fail? Who lives evermore to make intercession at the right hand of the Father? Whose perfect righteousness is imputed to us, and who takes our sins upon Himself, and died for the sins of His people, that they might live? Was raised because the grave could not hold Him, and as a seal of the certainty of His accomplishment? I could go on. When I preach the Gospel, that’s the sorts of things I preach. That wretched, sinful men require a perfect Savior – and Christ is that perfect Savior. Not just Savior, but God incarnate, who alone is able to take the sins of all of His people upon Himself, and bear the infinite wrath of God.

Do you preach? Or do you offer up historiography in place of the Gospel, Michael? Is the historicity of the resurrection divorced from the meaning of the resurrection to you? Are you so focused on not being offensive that you have forgotten that the cross is *supposed* to be offensive? The “historic message of the Gospel” is found in Melito;

And so he was lifted up upon a tree and an inscription was attached indicating who was being killed. Who was it? It is a grievous thing to tell, but a most fearful thing to refrain from telling. But listen, as you tremble before him on whose account the earth trembled!
He who hung the earth in place is hanged.
He who fixed the heavens in place is fixed in place.
He who made all things fast is made fast on a tree.
The Sovereign is insulted.
God is murdered.
The King of Israel is destroyed by an Israelite hand.
This is the One who made the heavens and the earth,
and formed mankind in the beginning,
The One proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets,
The One enfleshed in a virgin,
The One hanged on a tree,
The One buried in the earth,
The One raised from the dead and who went up into the heights of heaven,
The One sitting at the right hand of the Father,
The One having all authority to judge and save,
Through Whom the Father made the things which exist from the beginning of time.
This One is “the Alpha and the Omega,”
This One is “the beginning and the end”
—the beginning indescribable and the end incomprehensible.
This One is the Christ.
This One is the King.
This One is Jesus.
This One is the Leader.
This One is the Lord.
This One is the One who rose from the dead.
This One is the One sitting on the right hand of the Father.
He bears the Father and is borne by the Father.
“To him be the glory and the power forever. Amen.”

That’s the historical message. 145 years before Nicea, historically. Is that what you preach, Michael? Unnecessary additions. Bleh. What is unnecessary is editing the Gospel to pablum anyone can “accept”.

These additions, more often than not, drag us down rabbit trails where we can end up losing Jesus altogether as we defend against thousands of claims of Bible contradictions. Further, I believe that this defense needs to be exclusively concerned with the historicity of the resurrection of Christ (“Resurrection Apologetics”).

We end up losing Jesus altogether when we “defend” a gospel made up solely of historiography, and devoid of meaning as.. the gospel. The good news. Do we have a good news of historiography, Michael? Do we have a good news of scholarly consensus? Do we have a good news of Minimal facts? That’s not the Gospel. Thus, it’s not what we are to defend. You wonder why you’re getting “friendly fire” – well, frankly, it’s not all that friendly – because of what Paul told the Galatians – if any man preaches a Gospel other than what he preached – may he be anathema. Are you defending what you preach, Michael? I sure hope not. Are you defining the Gospel one way, then trying to defend the Gospel another? I think so. I surely hope that you don’t believe the GOSPEL we are to defend is solely the province of historiography, and not theology. That would be.. anathema, Michael. That’s the point we’re trying to make – and that’s why we’re saying these things so strongly – because the Bible tells us to.

If Christ is risen from the grave, Christianity is true, no matter how many contradictions one thinks they have found. And if Christ did not rise from the grave, Christianity is false, no matter how harmonious the Bible shows to be. In short, I don’t have to convince anyone of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture in order to introduce them to my Savior. I just have to make a case that the historicity of the story of Christ contained in the Bible is reliable enough to warrant their belief.

But you aren’t arguing that Christ IS risen – you’re arguing that He is probably risen, according to historiographical consensus and the preponderance of the evidence. That it’s most reasonable to believe that He did, given the facts, which you hope they’ll accept without thinking about the meaning you haven’t put on any of them as yet. THEN, you can bait-and-switch this contentless cross with the contentfilled cross, and all will be swell. We GET it, Michael. We just think it’s unBiblical. We actually argue in terms of Scripture, too. For years. In fact, the person you said “doesn’t get it” has been arguing the way you said he can’t for 25+ years now. What you are mistaking for lack of understanding is bedrock disagreement, coupled with your own ignorance of what he does. Notice that it is all Reformed folks jumping on you with both feet. This is because we take Sola Scriptura seriously – and the proclamation of the Gospel seriously. We also think you don’t – in either case. If you don’t like that, you’ll either have to deal with criticism, or change to something remotely resembling the proclamation and defense of the Biblical Gospel. Is that blunt? Very. Because, honestly, we’re trying to get you to get it. All you’re reading is blah blah blah wrong blah blah blah Patton. Read the words being said. Contemplate them. Consider whether what we’re saying is just a little bit more consistent with the Reformed faith than what you’re promoting.

Deep breath . . . And here is where I am really trying to go with my argument.

Except, Michael – you haven’t made an argument. At all! All you’ve done is make a series of ipse dixit pronouncements without a single Biblical citation of any sort yet. Do you really think any of this is going to impress an educated Reformed believer? You’re talking to people with 17th century confessions of faith. Who think the majority of the theologians you cite (in passing, typically), are dilettantes. We like to read Owen, Gill, Turretin, and Bavinck.

Understandably, some people object to this line of reasoning, believing that I am shooting myself in the foot. Many would argue that the only way we can know about the person and work of Christ with certainty is through an inspired and inerrant Bible. Otherwise, according to these, we have no real assurance that what we believe is true. If there can be an error in the primary source for the Gospel, the Gospel itself loses its authority and power to convert. In short, as the objection goes, inspiration and inerrancy must be present or there is no Gospel.

And you simply don’t “get” where we’re coming from. Remotely, but only just. Why even say “with certainty” when we both know that you reject the very concept outright? Did you think we wouldn’t notice? What does the Scripture say is the only way we can know about the person and work of Christ? Did you think we’d just jump off the cliff and reject Sola Scriptura because you keep saying “I think” and use buzzwords like “inerrancy” in a positive sense occasionally? We don’t think Sola Scriptura is optional – we think it’s necessary. The Sola is there for a reason. it isn’t an addon, or part of the options package. You did pay attention in church history, didn’t you?

If the Scripture says it is the Word of God, if the Word of God says God is perfect, and says it is God speaking, then we are hearing the voice of God. If the voice of God errs, then it it is not the voice of the God who says He is speaking. This is impossible. Hence, inerrancy is necessary. If Scripture said it is the very voice of God, is theopneustos – than denying that it is is a denial of what it says – and thus of the meaning of anything it says – it is pitting the Spirit against the Son. This is not only impossible, but renders it necessary to believe in inspiration, as part of Sola Scriptura. See, we argue Sola Scriptura a lot. We know the objections. You think we don’t get it – that’s nice – but we know you don’t get it. Which is why we’re objecting so strenuously. Because that’s what responsible teachers do when other teachers are teaching errors. If we don’t, we’ve failed at our task.

There is no Gospel which presents a perfect Savior which speaks from Scriptures fallibly as the Word of God, and is not the voice of God Himself. You’re right. You do shoot yourself in the foot. We’re trying to come alongside and correct you, Michael. I’m not your elder – but I read almost everything you write. I teach, too. I’ve written a lot about what you write, and it’s amazing to me that you can keep such an incoherent system together as long as you have. But I’m warning you – it’s going to crash. I’m trying to warn you of the ditch.

My response is that it is the person and work of Christ that is the ultimate authority, not really the Scriptures. Christ did what he did not because Scripture was written and made it so, but because historically Christ did what he did. The Scriptures have no causal authority when it comes to the Gospel.

My response is that you’re pitting the Godhead against each other. The Father elected those whom the Son would save; the Son came to live and die on their behalf; and the Spirit regenerates and sanctifies them. Why are you separating the Word of the Spirit’s power from the Cross AND it’s meaning? You don’t have an authoritative Gospel without an authoritative, theopneustos Scripture to preach it from. The Gospel is the Gospel of God – not of history. It has historical elements, yes, great, fine – but who does history belong to, and where do we know the history from, as well as the meaning of it?

But if we don’t assume an inspired inerrant text of Scripture, how can we be certain that the Gospel in the Scriptures is correct? If you are willing to grant a historical error here and there in the Gospel accounts, then this is a slippery slope. Where do you draw the line? How can we be sure that the historical account of the resurrection is not in error?

If you want to address an argument – address the strongest ones. Not the one you did address in this post. The real question is the one I outlined above.

However, I don’t think the possibility of an error needs to issue forth into the probability of an error. In other words, just because we may grant, for the sake of argument, that there might be errors of history in the Bible, this does not mean that everything is in error. We don’t treat other works of history this way, do we? Just think if we discounted all histories that did not pass the infallibility test. What would we know about history? That’s right. . . Nothing. We understand that even the best histories are only basically reliable, not perfectly reliable. When it comes to the Bible, just because one Gospel writer says that there were two angels at the tomb and another records only one angel, this does not mean that the tomb was not really empty. Remember, concerning the main events, all the writers agree. They all have Jesus living a perfect life, teaching about God, dying on a cross, and rising from the dead. What exactly were his last words from the cross? Was Matthew right, or Luke? Who cares (at least right now)? I just want to talk about the things about which they agree.

I don’t think granting the unbeliever that anyone but God determines possibility is anything near wise. But what do I know? Going by your argument, if there might be errors in the Bible, then it’s obviously not the Word of the perfect God, is it? It obviously doesn’t tell the truth about itself in Psalm 119, either. So why trust it as “the Word of God”? This isn’t just any document, is it? It claims to be the Word of the Lord who created all things. He can’t even get what He says right? Even the best histories aren’t the Word of God. Just think if we discounted every God that did not pass the infallibility test? Oh, wait…

Yeah, God is different than man. Why are you immanentizing Scripture at the expense of it’s Author? Can God err? If not, then His Word can’t either.

Yes, but you are presenting an uncertain Gospel. One can never really be completely sure that they have the right story.
Yes, uncertainty may be a fact of life. But this is true even if you make inerrancy a prerequisite to the Gospel. Think about it. Here are four things concerning Bibliology that are not make-or-break issues for the Gospel and about which we are not completely certain:

Yes, you are. Nobody can ever believe this is the God who ordains all things whatsoever that come to pass, either. He certainly can’t, if he drops the ball on the Word that says it is God speaking. Did God stutter? Did He falter? Fail? Uncertainty is not a fact of life. It’s a fact of finitude. But God is NOT subject to His own creation, is He/ In fact, we say He’s transcendent, perfect, omnipotent, and omniscient. He couldn’t manage to keep from failing? This is the same objection Calvinists raise to the Arminian “plan of salvation” – Jesus fails. So, in your “plan of the Gospel” – the Spirit fails? What gives?

1. The canon of Scripture: If you are a Protestant, you may believe that the very words of the Bible are inspired and inerrant, but here is the problem: you don’t have an inspired and inerrant Bible. In other words, whatever the Bible is, you believe the text is inspired and inerrant. But you don’t know with infallible assurance what the Bible is. How so? Because we have a fallible cannon. There is no inspired and inerrant table of contents in the Bible. Therefore, you have to live without the luxury of inerrancy when it comes to the canon. And last time I checked, the canon of the Bible is somewhat foundational to what the Bible is! But I don’t think this is a make or break issue for the Gospel . . . do you? I hope not. If you do, you will have to become Roman Catholic to get the certainty that you think is necessary.
However, like with the inerrancy of the text, I don’t think we have to go there. I trust that a study of the history of the canon can give us not only assurance, but warranted obligation to believe that we have the right books in our Bible.

Thank you, Mr. Roman Catholic apologist. Please, I do invite you to read Romanist sources, and be entertained along with those of us who deal with Rome on regular basis at how you just practically repeated their arguments word for word – as a putative protestant. What on earth do you read, Michael? Certainly not Goode, Whitaker, Webster/King , White, Beckwith or Kruger. That’s it? That’s the argument? If you think that’s even a meaningful argument, you haven’t dealt with any Reformed works on canon.

2. The text of Scripture: Again, we don’t have any infallible manuscripts of the Bible. Of the six thousand plus New Testament manuscripts and fragments of manuscripts that we have catalogued, not one of them is without error. There is no place that you can go to in order to have absolute certainty about the text of the Scripture, Old or New Testament. But this need not cause us despair as we can look into this issue, study it deeply, and come away with a firm conviction that we have the essential message, even if there are going to be some passages that may be forever lost in obscurity.

Thank you Bart Ehrman. Just as a helpful tip – actually listen to Wallace or White when they debate Ehrman, next time. You HAVE read or listened to responses to Ehrman.. right? Any of them? Or do you think this is actually what Christians should believe, instead of what they actually do? You really think we all just deny that we can know the original text, and that we all just deny perspecuity, because textual criticism is hard? You seriously need to get out more.

3. The translation of Scripture: Unless you are a King James Only advocate, you do not have a perfect, infallible, inerrant, or inspired translation of the Scriptures. Neither the NAS, NIV, ESV, KJV, nor NKJV are perfect. They all have mistakes. We don’t know where they are or we would fix them, but all messages have lost something in translation. Does this mean we are left only to uncertain despair? Well, only if indubitability (the belief that knowledge is only justified when we have absolute certainty) is your goal. Only if you cannot live with a bit of uncertainty. But all one has to do to regain confidence is to get involved in the translation process yourself. Once you do, you will see that it is not doom and gloom. We have every reason to believe that even the worst translations out there get across the general message of the Gospel.

You mean… we have to exegete? HORRORS! I love how the actual grounds for Christian certainty just gets whooooshed on by, in the service of setting up this false dilemma.

4. Interpretation of Scripture: No one I know is an infallible interpreter of Scripture. Even the King James Only advocate has to admit uncertainty here. We have to live with the fact that we might have, and teach, wrong interpretations of the Scripture. But this does not mean that we cannot have a good degree of relative certainty about our interpretation. For the most part the Scriptures are not that difficult to understand. We often call this the perspicuity of Scripture. This does not mean that all of Scripture is easy to understand, only that the main teachings are clear enough that even a child can understand them.

Someone I know is an infallible interpreter of Scripture. The Spirit. You do know him, right? But, again, refer to the confessions – it’s rather simple.

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.[4]

In all four of these, we have to live with uncertainty. We need to get used to it. Even with an inerrant text of the Scripture we still have to live with our limits. If you cling to a modernistic, Cartesian ideal of absolute certainty, you are in trouble. But we can have sufficient warrant for our beliefs even when we are not mathematically certain that we are correct.

I told Michael the other day – his gospel is one of endemic doubt. He laughed it off – but it’s true. EVERYTHING is about doubt, with him. There is a constant drumbeat of “uncertain, uncertain!” Let me give you some advice Michael – if the only model you know of certainty is a modernistic, Cartesian one – you have no idea what any of us are talking about. You haven’t read any of my responses to you, for one – ever – and you keep presenting false dilemmas. It’s dumb. It’s also lazy.

Why all of this? And I trying to slowly phase inerrancy out? Absolutely not. I am an inerrantist by theological deduction. I believe that the Scriptures are from God. I believe that God is perfect. Therefore, I believe the Scriptures, if we are going to have any meaning to inspiration, are inerrant. But I am not an inerrantist because I believe the Gospel is lost without it. In a world where just about every evangelistic atheist has on their resume, “Can bring to light 1001 Bible contradictions,” I want you to be able to get past this issue. It only ties the Gospel up in endless legislation.

Here is what I just don’t get, Michael. If the Scriptures are from God – and God is perfect – then, for the *Word which you preach to be considered even remotely that of God*, it must necessarily be what it claims, in order for the message it preaches to be true. You can’t separate out parts of the Gospel from each other. The Gospel is about God. That’s the message. God’s perfection is the message. The Father’s perfect purpose, to draw a people to His Son; The Son’s perfect work, by which they are saved to the uttermost; the perfect seal and sanctification of the Spirit, through the Word of His power. That is the message. The perfect, Triune God working perfectly to save those who have no other hope. Note that God *is* perfect – and His *work* is perfect. The work must match the Author. If faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God – then the perfect purpose of the Father in sending a perfect Savior, who both send the perfect Spirit is preached only in the perfect Word. If this isn’t in your Gospel, Michael, why not? It’s in the Gospel that Paul preached. Romans, the entire stinking book, is the Gospel, to him. John, the whole book, is the Gospel, to John. It goes on. What seems to be the problem is that your Gospel is WAY too small. It’s the “minimal facts” gospel, instead of the power of God to salvation. This should not be.

As well, I want to reorient your perspective, if need be. The Bible is not the Gospel. We often accuse Roman Catholics of worshiping Mary and Eastern Orthodox of worshiping the Saints. Unfortunately, against their higher ideals, many times the accusation fits the bill. But while our highest ideals abhor the notion of worshiping the Bible, unfortunately, this charge sometimes fits the bill as well. We don’t worship the Bible. We can hold to a high view of Scripture (and we should) without having to deify it. God has revealed himself to us in Scripture, but he is not Scripture. We worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, not the Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Stick to the resurrection of Christ and you should be fine. But this assumes you are a student of the resurrection. Are you?

And we’re saying that your perspective stinks. We don’t worship the Bible. We worship the one who speaks from it. We hear His voice – and it is His voice that spoke to the prophets, raised the dead to life, and by which every man is saved. If that isn’t essential to the Gospel – your Gospel is far, far too small. Of course, this assumes your hear His voice – do you?

  1. [1]Van Til, Defense of the Faith, 4th ed, 340
  2. [2]LBCF 1.1
  3. [3]White, Scripture Alone, 14
  4. [4]LBCF 1.9

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