Thursday, August 4, 2016

Mark's thoughts: A primer on the nature and character of Holy Scripture

                      Jesus Christ – The revelation of God’s love and salvation for us

John 1:14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (ESV)

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.

1 Corinthians 2:2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

The Christian faith confesses that in the person of Jesus Christ, God has revealed Himself and His love for us.  Jesus Christ, the Son of God, entered into our world as He took on humanity in the incarnation – as He became flesh and lived among us.  It teaches that only in Jesus Christ do we come to know God and have the opportunity to live eternally with God. Through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has acted to take away our sins and win us salvation.  The person of Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, therefore stands at the center of the Christian faith.  Apart from Him there is no saving knowledge of God.

Holy Scripture - God's Word in which we meet Jesus Christ
 Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. 

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

Jesus Christ lived 2000 years ago in Palestine.  However, we continue to meet Him in the Holy Scriptures which are God’s Word.  They are the source from which we learn about Jesus Christ – who He is, what He has done for us and what He means for us today.  Jesus Christ is the only reason that the Holy Scriptures have any importance for us.

Holy Scripture - God's inspired and inerrant Word
2 Timothy 3:16-17 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.

2 Peter 1:21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 2:12-13 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.           

The nature of Holy Scripture reflects the One whom it reveals, the incarnate Son of God – Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ has two natures.  He is true God and true man at the same time.  In the same way Holy Scripture has two natures.  It is truly divine and truly human at the same time.  We can illustrate this in the following manner:

Jesus Christ (Word incarnate)                   True God                   True man
Holy Scripture (Word in Scripture)             Truly divine               Truly human

Holy Scripture is truly human in that just as Jesus Christ is a real human being who lived at a place and time, Scripture is a real human document written by people at a place and time (Scripture = something written).  The writers were people with different skills and abilities who wrote in the different literary forms available to human communication.

However, Holy Scripture is also truly divine, just as Jesus Christ is true God.  We describe Scripture as Holy because it is divine and comes from God.  Holy Scripture asserts about itself that it was inspired by God.  This means that the Holy Spirit guided men in recording what God has done and what it means.  The Holy Spirit used men as the authors who wrote using their own skills and abilities.  However, what was finally set down was exactly what the Holy Spirit intended.

Holy Scripture is also inerrant, that is, it is completely accurate.  The inerrancy of Holy Scripture is a matter of faith based on its witness about itself.  The inerrancy of Holy Scripture is grounded in its nature as God’s inspired Word and in the fact that God is its source.  Holy Scripture comes from God - the God who makes no errors and wishes to reveal Himself to us.

The Christian confession about the inerrancy of Holy Scripture is not based on external evidence.  It is helpful when external evidence from ancient historians, archaeology, etc. confirm different aspects of the biblical accounts, but we do not base our confession of Holy Scripture’s inerrancy on such evidence.  Evidence of this kind will always be incomplete because our evidence from biblical times is incomplete.

Jesus Christ – The key to reading Holy Scripture

John 5:39 You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me.

2 Timothy 3:15 From childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.

In Holy Scripture we meet Jesus Christ.  He is the center of all of Holy Scripture.  It is “Christocentric” (centered on Christ).  If we ever read Holy Scripture in a way that does not point to Jesus Christ, then we are reading it incorrectly.  In the words, people, places, institutions and events of the Old Testament we find a witness to what Jesus Christ will do and what God will accomplish through Him.  In the Gospels of the New Testament we find a record of what Jesus Christ did.  In the book of Acts we find a record of what the Holy Spirit did as He spread faith in Jesus Christ.  In the Epistles of the New Testament we learn more about who Jesus Christ is and what He means for us.

The Holy Spirit and the interpretation of Holy Scripture

1 Corinthians 2:12-14 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.  But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.

As a human document that is truly human, Holy Scripture is read and interpreted using human reason.  It is interpreted according to the standard rules of grammar, logic, etc.  However, in this process reason and human abilities remain the servant.  Understanding of Holy Scripture in the sense of true belief can only be worked by the Holy Spirit who has inspired Holy Scripture.  Human reason cannot deny the truthfulness or accuracy of Holy Scripture because that would be to deny the nature of Holy Scripture itself.

The Interpretation of Holy Scripture – Properly dividing Law and Gospel

Matthew 22:37-38 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

John 3:16 For God loved the world in this way that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

All of Holy Scripture must be properly divided into two parts: Law and Gospel.  The Law tells us what we must do.  The Gospel tells us what God has done for us.  The Law is found in both the Old and New Testaments.  The Gospel is found in both the Old and New Testaments.  Properly distinguishing Law and Gospel is a crucit

Holy Scripture – The only source of Christian teaching and doctrine

Matthew 15:9 “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Galatians 1:8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.

 The only place we meet Jesus Christ and receive revelation from God is in Holy Scripture – God’s Word.  Only there do we encounter the inspired Word of God.  Holy Scripture is therefore the only source of Christian teaching and doctrine.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church confesses that Holy Scripture alone is the source of revelation and Christian doctrine.  She confesses:

First, we confess our adherence to the prophetic and apostolic writings of the Old and New Testaments, as to the pure, clear fountain of Israel, which alone is the one true guiding principle, according to which all teachers and teachings are to be judged and evaluated (Formula of Concord, SD Rule and Norm 3).

This stands in contrast to the Roman Catholic tradition which confesses that Holy Scripture and Church Tradition are equally valid sources of revelation and Christian doctrine.  Thus in 1854 the Roman Catholic church declared the dogma (that which Christians must believe) of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary which states that Mary was born without sin.  And in 1950 it declared the dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary which states that Mary was taken up body and soul into heaven and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all things.  The Roman Catholic church declared these teachings to be dogmas of the church, despite the fact that there is absolutely no mention of either of them in Holy Scripture.  They were declared to be dogmas solely on the basis of Church Tradition.

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