Charles Hodge on the Perspicuity of the Scriptures

chodgeFollowing the Puritan William Ames’ excellent teaching concerning the doctrine of the Scriptures are some helpful words from Princeton theologian Charles Hodge that the central message of Scripture is clear and understandable (“perspicuous”)–

The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right, and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church. Such is the doctrine of Protestants on this subject.

It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to be understood; that they require diligent study; that all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to right knowledge and true faith. But it is maintained that in all things necessary to salvation they are sufficiently plain to be understood even by the unlearned.

It is not denied that the people, learned and unlearned, in order to the proper understanding of the Scriptures, should not only compare Scripture with Scripture, and avail themselves of all the means in their power to aid them in their search after the truth, but they should also pay the greatest deference to the faith of the Church. If the Scriptures be a plain book, and the Spirit performs the functions of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i.e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.

What Protestants deny on this subject is, that Christ has appointed any officer, or class of officers, in his Church to whose interpretation of the Scriptures the people are bound to submit as of final authority. What they affirm is that He has made it obligatory upon every man to search the Scriptures for himself, and determine on his own discretion what they require him to believe and to do.

Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1871), 1:183-84.

William Ames on the Doctrine of the Scriptures

WilliamAmesPortraitDuring our Bible study tonight I will conclude our study of the doctrine of the Scriptures. Part of my preparation involved looking at key systematic theologies (primarily Bancroft, Berkhof, Enns, C. Hodge, McCune, Thiessen and sometimes Grudem and Strong).

While looking over the theology books on my shelf today, I noticed I neglected to look at The Marrow of Theology by the Puritan William Ames (1576–1633). He has some excellent points I’d like to share under the following headings—

Verbal Inspiration

Only those could set down the rule of faith and conduct in writing who in that matter were free from all error because of the direct and infallible direction they had from God. §2

In all those things made known by supernatural inspiration, whether matters of right or fact, God inspired not only the subjects to be written about but dictated and suggested the very words in which they should be set forth. But this was done with a subtle tempering so that every writer might use the manner of speaking which most suited his person and condition. §6

The Sufficiency of Scripture

All things necessary to salvation are contained in the Scriptures and also those things necessary for the instruction and edification of the church, 2 Tim 3:15–17. §15

The Authority of Scripture

Scripture is not a partial but a perfect rule of faith and morals. And no observance can be continually and everywhere necessary in the church of God, on the basis of any tradition or other authority, unless it is contained in the Scriptures. §16

Progressive Revelation

All Scripture was not committed to writing at one and the same time, for the state of the church and the wisdom of God demanded otherwise. But beginning with the first writing, those things were successively committed to writing which were necessary to the particular times. §17

The Univocality of Language

There is only one meaning for every place in Scripture. Otherwise the meaning of Scripture would not only be unclear and uncertain, but there would be no meaning at all—for anything which does not mean one thing surely means nothing. §22

The Perspicuity of Scripture

The will of God is revealed in such a way in Scripture that, although the substance itself is for the most part hard to conceive, the style of communicating and explaining it is clear and evident, especially in necessary matters. §20

The Scriptures need no explanation through light brought from outside, especially in the necessary things. They give light to themselves, which should be uncovered diligently by men and communicated to others according to their calling. §21

There is no visible power established in the church, royal or magistrative, for the settlement of controversies in theology. But the duty of inquiry is laid on men; the gift of discerning truth both publicly and privately is bestowed upon them; and an endeavor to further the knowledge and practice of the known truth according to their calling is enjoined—to all of which is joined a promise of direction and blessing from God. §23

Translations of Scripture and Providential Preservation

Among interpreters, neither the seventy who turned them into Greek, nor Jerome, nor any other such held the office of a prophet; they were not free from errors in interpretation. §28

Hence no versions are fully authentic except as they express the sources, by which they are also to be weighed. §29

Neither is there any authority on earth whereby any version may be made absolutely authentic. §30

God’s providence in preserving the sources is notable and glorious, for neither have they wholly perished nor have they been injured by the loss of any book or blemished by any serious defect—though today not one of the earlier versions remains intact. §31

From these human versions all those things may be known which are absolutely necessary, provided they agree with the sources in essentials. Hence, all the versions accepted by the churches usually agree, although they may differ and be defective at several minor points. §32

We must not rest forever in any accepted version, but faithfully see to it that a pure and faultless interpretation is given to the church. §33

The preceding selections are from pages 186–189 of John D. Eusden’s edition of The Marrow of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1968). The symbol “§” refers to the particular section of the chapter.

Daily Bale for October 2, 2012

Today started significantly different than most other days. Hannah is getting braces and that’s done at Case Western Reserve. It’s a lot cheaper but it isn’t exactly around the corner, being a good 45 minute drive away. Of course, there isn’t a whole lot around the corner where I live anyway! ;-)

 

While Josiah and Lydia were doing school I worked on Wednesday evening’s Bible study, Proverbs 1:20-33. I’ve enjoyed the time in Proverbs the last few weeks, especially the opportunity to get back into the Hebrew. Mine’s definitely rusty, but there’s only one way to strengthen saggy muscles, and that’s work and exercise.

Several emails and phone calls, followed by dinner, pancakes and sausage! Yum, deeeelicious. Hannah and I rode around Ashtabula county for an hour while she continues to learn to drive. When we got home we then watched half of a creation video that was given to us.

Worked on what messages I’ll be teaching for a Bible Conference down at Morrow Bible Church November 9-11. Haven’t nailed down a nice sounding theme yet, but it will focus on End Times. Here is the basic gist of the messages I’ll be speaking on–

  • God’s Purpose and Plan in Human History
  • The Key to Interpreting Prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27)
  • Christ’s Prophecies for the End Times (the Olivet Discourse)
  • Christ’s Word to the Church in the End Times (Acts 1:1-11)
  • Christ’s Coming Kingdom

This will be the first Bible Conference I will be conducting and I’m looking forward to it! I’ll give more details once it’s finalized.

Continued plowing through the minutes of the Ohio Regional of the IFCA.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. :-)

Good Reading

One of my professors when I was in seminary, Dr. Bill Combs, has been writing a series of posts on the KJV-only issue here. They’ve been very good, and I’d encourage you to read them.

I’ve had those of this persuasion tell me that the rise of newer translations divides and splits churches, but my experience has been quite the opposite I’m afraid. In fact, there’s a new church starting in our metropolis of Orwell (population 1,519) because we (Orwell Bible Church) are not KJV-only (and because we believe what the Bible says about election).

Another series of posts just beginning is by a pastor friend, Mike Harding of First Baptist Church of Troy, MI (one of our supporting churches when we came to Orwell). He is addressing the issue of Christians imbibing alcohol, particularly those of fundamentalist background and conviction.

Psalm 119:69-72

69 The men that are puff’d up with pride
against me forg’d a lie;
Yet thy commandments observe
with my whole heart will I.
70 Their hearts, through worldly ease and wealth,
as fat as grease they be:
But in thy holy law I take
delight continually.

71 It hath been very good for me
that I afflicted was,
That I might well instructed be,
and learn thy holy laws.
72 The word that cometh from thy mouth
is better unto me
Than many thousands and great sums
of gold and silver be.

–Scottish Psalter, 1650

Who Said Liberalism is Dead?

It’s been the opinion of some that theological liberalism is dead. Simplistically, theological liberalism describes those who call themselves Christians but deny many (if not most) of the doctrines that make Christianity Christianity. Some believe that liberalism’s sun has set and its dead and buried.

I don’t think so. Come to Orwell sometime, and I’ll show you. Or Grand Rapids, MI. Or Mentor, OH. But if you can’t make the visit, consider Martin Thielen…

Thielen is pastor of a United Methodist Church, and has also served as a Southern Baptist pastor. He served for four years as a national worship and preaching consultant and editor of Proclaim for the SBC.

He’s just published a book titled, “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still be a Christian?” In it he lists ten things Christians do not need to believe to be a  Christian–

  1. God Causes Cancer, Car Wrecks, and Other Catastrophes
  2. Good Christians Don’t Doubt
  3. True Christians Can’t Believe in Evolution
  4. Women Can’t Be Preachers and Must Submit to Men
  5. God Cares about Saving Souls but Not about Saving Trees
  6. Bad People Will Be “Left Behind” and Then Fry in Hell
  7. Jews Won’t Make It to Heaven
  8. Everything in the Bible Should Be Taken Literally
  9. God Loves Straight People But Not Gay People
  10. It’s OK for Christians to be Judgmental and Obnoxious

You have to note the whimsical, almost sneering tone of this list. That kind of attitude is typical of theological liberalism, almost an ecclesiastical snobbery, looking down the nose at “those fundamentalists.”

It would take a significant post to comment on each of these. It almost makes me want to get the book and read it so I don’t misrepresent him. From the list, though, it appears that one can believe that–

  • Either God is not sovereign over all things or that there is no such thing as the effects of sin in the world  (#1)
  • Genuine faith does not require absolute submission of the mind, will, and emotions to God’s Word (#2)
  • The Bible should not be taken as an authoritative standard on the issues it speaks to (##3-4)
  • Salvation and ecology are on the same plane (#5)
  • The biblical account of divine judgment should not be taken literally (#6)
  • There is not an exclusiveness to salvation, despite what Jesus taught (John 3:18; 14:6; #7)
  • The Bible is not the written Word of God divinely authoritative in all it addresses (#8)
  • Homosexuality is not sinful (#9)
  • You can believe whatever you want to believe (#10)

Read some of the reviews of this book, and you’ll see that theological liberalism is not dead.

Thankfully, we’re not caught offguard by this sort of thing, nor are we left without hope–

You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry (2 Tim 3:14-4:5).

Continue in the Word! Preach the Word! Faithfully serve Christ until He comes!

Mystery

The word “mystery” in the NT refers to truth previously concealed but now presently revealed.

That definition is borne out in Matthew 13:11-17. Note especially verse 17–

For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.

Jesus here says that OT men of God had no knowledge of the truth that Jesus’ disciples now saw and heard. This is substantiated a little later by Matthew’s own assessment of Jesus’ teaching in parables–

This was to fulfill was what spoken through the prophet: “I will open My mouth in parables; I will utter things hidden since the foundation of the world (13:35).

Every NT use of the Greek word translated “mystery” has this sense–truth previously concealed but now presently revealed. Jesus spoke in parables so his followers would “see and hear” the truth while on the other hand hiding that same truth from his enemies (13:13).

Keeping that meaning and consistent use in mind would help in the interpretation of these parables Jesus spoke in Matthew 13. He was not detailing a mystery form of the kingdom but “the mysteries of the kingdom” (13:11).

The parables of the mysteries of the Kingdom reveal the state of the kingdom program during the “interregnum”–the period between the King’s ascension to heaven and later return to earth–gaining new citizens through the worldwide spread of the gospel (note especially 13:37-43).