Good morning. Please turn with me to 2 Timothy chapter 3. Second Timothy chapter 3.
I’m pausing our study through First Corinthians for the moment, to turn and examine the doctrine of scripture. We learned last week from 1 Corinthians 13 that Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rather love rejoices in the truth.
And I’m going to try to answer Pilate’s famous question: “what is the truth?” If love loves truth, then where do we find truth? It’s an important question, indeed, perhaps THE MOST IMPORTANT question that you will answer in your life.
What is truth, and where can it be found?
But today’s culture doesn’t seem interested in such questions. In fact, today’s philosophies both claim that we can’t know truth, AND there is no absolute truth to find. Rather, we make truth as we experience it, or some such postmodern nonsense.
But that doesn’t stack up to reality, and it won’t help you sleep at night when your conscience is burdened. Everybody knows there is truth, that there is right and wrong, that there is more to life than what we can test in a laboratory. Morality, right and wrong, conscience, all these things assume the existence of the spiritual real, and imply the existence of absolute truth somewhere.
But modern man wants nothing of it. Indeed, what Paul wrote about in 2 Timothy 3 is still the case today. Look with me at 2 Timothy 3, starting in verse 1:
But understand this, that in the last days there will come times of difficulty. 2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good,4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5 having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people. 6 For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, 7 always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 8 Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith.9 But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men.
10 You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, 11 my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. 12 Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, 13 while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. 14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it 15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Today I’d like to think for a while about one phrase Paul uses in 3:16: All Scripture is God breathed. I’d like for us to think critically about this statement.
Some of you, perhaps raised in the church, have never wrestled with doubt surrounding God’s word. You read what it says, and so you believed from early one that the bible is clearly sent by God, inspired by God, and therefore trustworthy and true. And I’m thankful you believe as such.
But I also want you to be patient with me today, as I take a slower and deeper examination. Others among us have never thought critically about the doctrine of scripture, and indeed still others still wrestle with it. Some people who are interested in the things of God, struggle to reconcile how the bible can be BOTH God’s word and Man’s word. Indeed, even believers struggle with some of the details of how God’s word portrays hard things, like the military battles of the Old Testament, the killing of the Canaanites, or the virgin birth.
In the next few sermons I’d like to honestly wrestle with some of these things, so that we can hopefully all grow in our confidence of God’s word as TRULY the word of God himself.
I’d like to ask answer two questions today. The first of which is: WHAT is Scripture? That is, what writings should we consider as scripture? If Paul says ALL SCRIPTURE is God-breathed, then what is he containing in that category of ALL SCRIPTURE?
In doctrinal terms, we are discussing the scope of the canon. Canon being an older word for the rule, or the benchmark. What is the measuring line by which we determine what is scripture and what is not? What writings are to be considered canonical, and what are extra-canonical, or outside the scope of scripture?
Some would simply say that canonicity is something bestowed upon a writing from the outside. That is, the church is the one who decides what is canonical and what isn’t. The Roman Catholic church, for example, would say that the Pope and his cardinals are the ones who finally determine what is to be included in the category of sacred writings.
Protestants, however, and especially Baptists, have not thought that at all. Rather than believing that the church determines what is canonical, Protestants (which we are) have always instead believed that the church merely RECONIZES what is already canonical. That may seem a slight point, but it is important, because it shifts the authority in these discussions from a church institution or a pope, back to the writings themselves.
The New Testament writings are canonical BECAUSE OF WHAT THEY ARE, not because some outside person or church gives them permission to be. Scripture is God’s word, regardless of what any man or institution recognizes it to be so. Does that make sense?
So what writings then are to be counted in the category of “ALL SCRIPTURE?” Well, we can pretty easily say that Paul’s category assumes the Old Testament. The word Paul uses here, which is literally “writings” (GRAPHE), is used throughout the teachings of Jesus and the rest of the apostolic writings to include the old testament.
The Old Testament has within itself a conception of its own canonicity. That is, you often read the phrase, “Thus says the Lord,” and similar phrases which assume that the Old Testament writings are from God himself.
Similarly, it is a worthwhile study for you to read the gospels and ask yourself, “What did Jesus believe about the Old Testament writings?” You’ll quickly notice that Jesus considered the Old Testament to be God’s word, and therefore authoritative and trustworthy. How often did Jesus cite the Old Testament? How often did Jesus hit the Pharisees with the question, “have you not read?” All the time.
The New Testament’s use of the word “scripture” and phrases like “the law and the prophets”, “it is written” “God says” “scripture says,” all point toward an understanding in the mind of the NT authors that the Old Testament is God’s word.
So, Jesus and the Apostles treated the Old Testament as God’s word, and therefore canonical. But what about the rest of the New Testament? Why do we consider the New Testament books canonical, but not other things? Good question. Let me build toward an answer to that.
First, if we read carefully, we can see within the New Testament authors an understanding that their writings were on par with the authority of the Old Testament. For example, John begins his gospel with Old Testament quotations using the phrase “it is written.” Then, later in chapter 20, John says “these things are written,” that we may believe and have life. John’s allusion to sacred written things is surely not accidental.
Likewise, in Hebrews 2 we have the argumentation that the lesser authority of the law, given through the angels, gives way to the greater authority of the gospel, given through the preaching of the apostles.
Further, listen to what Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2: “And we also thank God constantly[d] for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men[e] but as what it really is, the word of God.” If the apostles’ spoken word was to be considered the word of God, why would the same not be extended to their writings? I believe that such canonical status should be extended to their writings, and so has the church for 2000 years.
We can say the same thing from a slightly different angle. We know that “No one knows God’s thoughts, except God’s Spirit. But God’s Spirit teaches the apostles to speak the words he teaches (I Cor. 2:11-13). Those who posses the Spirit therefore recognize the divine canonicity of the apostolic word. Nor is this simply the conclusion of deductive logic. What Paul writes are the Lord’s commands, and a mark of a truly spiritual person is that he or she recognizes them as such (I Cor. 14:37). Disobedience to the teaching given in his letters can lead to excommunication (2 Thess. 3:14). Here Paul aligns his written teaching with the law of the old covenant; rejection of it as canon for life involves the repudiation of the covenant of which it is the canonical record, and then the coming under the divine curse of expulsion from the covenant community. For this reason, apostolic letters are read not only by the church but alongside the sacred writings of the Old Testament, in and to the church (Col. 4:16).”
So, we see among the New Testament authors an awareness of their writings as canonical, on part with the old testament writings, indeed, heirs of redemptive revelation. This is confirmed by explicit references too.
In 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says that Paul’s writings can be hard to understand, and people twist his words, LIKE THEY DO THE OTHER SCRIPTURES. Peter understood Paul’s writings to be on part with the rest of the scriptures.
So to sum up, Jesus and the Apostles viewed the Old Testament as God’s very word, holy scripture, and there exists in the New Testament an awareness that the apostles were writing scripture ON PAR with the authority of the Old Testament.
I may have lost some of you on this, but this is important. Turn with me to John chapter 13, because I think that if we look closely, we will see that Jesus’s own teachings anticipated what I’ve been arguing. Jesus himself makes clear a pattern of revelation, which predicted the coming canonicity of the apostolic writings.
If I can oversimplify, I want us to see a pattern of revelation, going from the Father’s word, to the Son, to the Spirit, to the Apostles, to the church. That’s the flow: Father’s revelation, to the Son, to the Spirit, to the Apostles, to the Church.
John 13:20, “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.” Jesus was sent by someone, by the Father, and to receive Jesus is to receive the Father, the one who sent the Son.
Turn over to chapter 14, verse 26: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” The original sender, the Father, together with the Son, will send the Holy Spirit, to aid the Apostles in remembering everything that the Son has revealed. That’s important, and it will come up later when we talk about the Scriptures being trustworthy.
Next, look at chapter 15. Verse 14: “14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants,[a] for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”
Nothing has been lost in translation. Everything that the father would have for us to know, has been revealed by the Son. And he’s already promised the sending of the Holy Spirit to make sure they remember everything Jesus taught them.
You see how a cumulative case is being built for the trustworthiness of scripture. Father reveals to the Son. Son reveals all the Father would have him to reveal. Father and Son send the Holy Spirit to make sure everything that has been revealed gets remembered.
Next, John 15:26, we will see the Apostle’s role more explicitly: Jesus says, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”
Jesus’s plan has been for the apostles to be the next vehicle of divine revelation. They will bear witness, by the Spirit’s power, to the Son, the son who reveals the father. Father, to Son, to Spirit, to Apostles, to the church.
Lastly, turn to chapter 17. John 17. Look at verse 8. Jesus praying to the father says: “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” Jesus’s mission of revelation was complete. He gave the words, and the Apostles have received them.
Verse 14, again Jesus says, “I have given them your word,” the Father’s word has been successfully passed on to the Apostles.
Now look at Verse 20, ““I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.” Jesus has successfully completed his mission of revealing the Father’s word to the Apostles, and now he’s praying that the Apostles’ word would likewise be effective in bringing salvation to those after them, that is the church.
There’s our pattern: Father’s word revealed by the Son, both of whom send the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles to remember that revealed word, and the Apostles write down that revelation so that the church would believe. Father, Son, Spirit, Apostles, church.
There, that was a crash course in the doctrine of the canon, or the canonicity of scripture. I hope I haven’t put too many of you to sleep, but these are important theological categories that get at the heart of our religion. They deserve better than simplistic answers.
We can’t merely turn to a single verse that explains what is canonical or not. We need to be thorough in our answers, unafraid to answer the questions posed by unbelievers. And I hope this gives us a starting point to do that.
So moving on, ALL Scripture is God breathed. We’ve talked about “what is scripture?” in terms of what can be considered in the category of scripture. Now let’s look at the next question: what is scripture like? Or perhaps, what are the qualities of scripture?
If I may be provocative for a moment, let me make a statement that might make you uncomfortable. Nowhere in scripture does it say that God’s word is inspired. Rather, if we look at Paul’s words carefully here, we will notice instead that God’s word is breathed out, it is ex-spired. God doesn’t inhale, rather he exhales, he speaks out his word.
That’s the word here, theo (meaning God), pneustos (breathed/exhaled).
I make that point to say this. I don’t think the apostles were simply inspired to write, like you and I might be inspired to look at the Grand Canyon, or inspired to write some poetry. Rather, when we speak of scripture’s inspiration, we mean that God himself breathed out the words to the Apostles.
Theopneustos is to be taken in the passive sense, God is the active party, and the scriptures are exhaled by him. Similar to Jeremiah chapter 1 when God says to Jeremiah, “I have put my words in your mouth,” or when God tells Moses that he will give Aaron the words to say to Pharaoh. It is God’s word, given through the mouth or the pen of a commissioned messenger.
That’s where we can get into some more practical, indeed, sweet aspects of this doctrine of scripture. IF it is true that scripture is GOD’s word, then we can know things about the nature of scripture. Or to say it another way, God’s character becomes the starting point for our understanding of the character of God’s word.
For example, scripture is authoritative, because it is God’s word. It is authoritative. That is, scripture bears the status of authoritative, because it is the Word of the universe’s highest authority, God.
We’ve already said how Jesus assumes the authority of God’s word. Have you not read? Does it not say? These appeals are common place in the New Testament, because they assume the word of God possesses the authority of God himself.
We should also note that scripture’s authorit isn’t a naked authority, subject to flawed interpretation. Satan quotes scripture to Jesus in the wilderness, doesn’t he? But Jesus’s response to Satan reveals that scripture must be properly interpreted. Scripture wrongly interpreted ceases to be God’s word.
So just because scripture is God’s word, doesn’t mean we don’t need to work hard to rightly interpret it and apply it, because it is God’s authoritative word.
Now, a word needs to be said about the Scope of scripture’s authority. Scripture is authoritative, but it is not authoritative in every area of knowledge. When I need to change the oil in my car, I don’t pull out scripture. When you need a heart transplant, you don’t call up a biblical scholar, do you? No. That’s because scripture is authoritative, but only in matters that it addresses.
Scripture is certainly relevant to every situation, and authoritatively so, but it doesn’t address every situation and context in the a uniformly direct way. Sometimes scripture speaks directly to something, sometimes it speaks indirectly.
Let me state it another way, using some help from one of my favorite theologians, Sinclair Ferguson:
“The Scriptures are like a stone thrown into the water, creating a whole series of concentric circles around the point of entry. Scripture’s authority dominates the whole of life, but it does so in different ways through its entry into the human situation. In some areas its authority is immediate and direct, in others it is indirect and mediated.
The computer programmer who is a member of God’s church sees Scripture as his or her final authority. But that authority functions in different ways. It is not diminished in any sphere. It is one’s authority in the fellowship of the church; but [also] one’s whole approach to programming will also be dominated and influenced by what God’s word says. But we do not read the Scriptures to learn computer programming, because we realize God has not given them in the form of a textbook for such a purpose. Biblical authority is not compromised one iota by recognizing this principle.”
So we need to recognize that scripture is always authoritative, but not uniformly directly applicable in every situation.
Related to that, interpreting passages of scripture rightly assumes remembering where we are in history. Scripture is written within the context of redemptive history, and the authority of the various parts of scripture is related to that unfolding plan of God.
Later portions of scripture develop, sometimes even fulfill and supersede earlier portions of scripture, and that’s the way God has designed it. It doesn’t undermine the authority of the canon to say that not all portions of scripture are enforced today.
The easiest example is to look at the dietary laws of the Mosaic covenant, which do not carry final authority of New Covenant Christians today. We’re not bound by most of the book of Leviticus. All scripture is authoritative, but that authority is to be shaped by the flow of redemptive history, and we need not be ashamed of that either.
It is a lazy accusation made by many atheists every day, who say that Christians are inconsistent because they ignore the food laws, or where clothes of mixed fibers, which the bible outlaws. A freshman level class on interpretation would be able to address that issue, as the church has for hundreds and hundreds of years.
It does not undermine the authority of scripture, indeed I believe it confirms it, when we rightly interpret scripture according to the entire canon, giving attention to the flow of God’s redemptive plan.
Moving on from Scripture’s authority, I’ll discuss one more quality of scripture, and then I’ll begin to make some application and get us to the gospel.
Scripture is not only authoritative, it is also reliable. It is reliable. Or we might speak of scripture being trustworthy.
Again, we get to this point because of the origin of the scripture. That is, Scripture is reliable and trustworthy because it is God’s word, and God is trustworthy and reliable. Scripture’s character is grounded in God’s own character.
Sometimes theologians will speak of the infallibility of scripture, and the logic is very easy to follow:
God is infallible,
What God says is necessarily infallible.
Scripture is spoken by God.
Therefore, God’s word is infallible.
It is a contradiction to say that an infallible God would have a fallible word.
Further, Scripture all over endorses the reliability of scripture, perhaps nowhere so clearly as Psalm 19. I won’t belabor this point, but I’ll quickly read to you a portion of psalm 19, take note of the adjectives used to describe God’s word:
The law of the Lord is perfect…
the testimony of the Lord is sure…
8 the precepts of the Lord are right…
the commandment of the Lord is pure…
the rules of the Lord are true,
Perfect, sure, right, pure, true. This is the unanimous testimony of Scripture. God’s word is trustworthy because God himself is trustworthy.
So, by way of application, what are we to do with this doctrine of scripture? How should this impact our lives?
Let me close with a few quick points, all of which are related to doubt and unbelief. I’ll have many more practical uses of this doctrine in the coming weeks, but for now, I’ll simply end with three points:
First point is a question: if what I have said is true, that the character of scripture is derived from the character of God himself, then what does it say about us when we refuse to belief God’s word? What does unbelief of God’s word say about our view of God?
It says many things. If we refuse to believe God’s word, even just a portion of it, then we are either saying that God is unable to deliver his word in a trustworthy way, making God impotent or inept, or we’re saying that God is HIMSELF not trustworthy, because his word is not trustworthy. That’s the only two options to justify unbelief: either God was unable to perfectly deliver his word, or has perfectly delivered an imperfect word, because he himself is imperfect.
That’s the two possible justifications.
2nd point: unbelief is deadly. Unbelief is deadly. Doubting God’s word was Satan’s first tactic in the garden, and it remains his main tool today. He injected doubt into Adam’s mind by asking, “Did God really say?” And the result of that episode was Adam’s death.
Not merely Adam’s death, but the death of all of his children. And the same fruit is seen today. Those that refuse to believe God’s word store up wrath for themselves. Indeed, Romans 1 tells us that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against men who “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” and exchange the truth of God for a lie.
Sinful men and women all over the planet are refusing to see the truth of God found in creation, and refusing to accept the truth of God revealed in His word, and by doing so, they are earning wrath for themselves. That’s the stakes of this conversation. It is no mere academic exercise.
The bible says that ALL have sinned and fallen short of the Glory of God, and we all have felt this. We all know that we aren’t the moral people we should be. We’ve fudged the truth to cover our hide. We’ve taken a longing look at someone who doesn’t belong to us. We’ve gotten impatient and angry in ways that later make us feel ashamed. We’ve all fallen short.
And the wages of that sin is death. Just like Adam, we’re sentenced to death for our sin. Eternal death in Hell, forever punished for our sin.
But that leads to my third and final point: if unbelief brings death, belief brings life. Belief brings life.
If unbelief and unrighteousness bring death, the good news of God’s word is that belief brings life, because of the work of Jesus Christ. Romans 3:28 says that some “one is justified by faith, by believing, apart from works of the law.”
Cleaning yourself up, trying to do good and moral things isn’t enough. Giving your money away, refusing to get angry with your kids, reading religious books all the time, none of these things can save you. In fact, apart from faith in Christ, all these good works become are vain attempts at self-righteousness which do nothing but further your condemnation.
Instead, Christ’s offer to you is to believe. Believe that he was the Son of God who came to die for the ungodly. He is the lamb of God sent to take away the sins of the world. Trust in Him, and you will be spared.
Paul says in in the previous letter to Timothy that “This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” This is a fitting summary of the Word of God: that God in Christ came down to do what sinners could never do, and to die as the substitute for ruined sinners. Such is the offer for all who believe.