LAW, GOSPEL AND FAITH IN GOD’S WORD 

Some thoughts by

Gary Ray Branscome

 

 

          One of the problems that Christians have to deal with is the attack on Scripture. As if it is not enough that the world attacks what we believe, professors in Christian colleges often do the devil’s work by undermining faith in the truthfulness and reliability of God’s Word. And one way they do that, is by raising doubts as to the reliability of the Greek and Hebrew texts. In fact, I recently read of professor who claimed that we cannot be sure which books of the New Testament are actually inspired, and that because opinions about the text are constantly changing, the text of Scripture ought to be regarded as “plastic”. What I would like to point out is that his approach to the text of Scripture fails to rightly distinguish between Law and Gospel.

          Let me begin by saying that if the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture was Law rather than Gospel, if the Bible commanded us to believe in its inerrancy, then the Law would have to specify what books should be included and what readings were correct. And, the professor that I just mentioned is approaching the text of Scripture in just that way. He assumes that the Bible has to tell us exactly which books should be included in it. For that reason, when he reads the words, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” because specific books are not named, he assumes that those words can only apply to the books of Scripture that existed at that time, not to the books that were written later (2Timothy 3:16). However, he is wrong! He is wrong because he is assuming that the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is Law rather than Gospel. And, because of that assumption, he is assuming that the Law has to specify every book of the Bible. Now, as I pointed out, if the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture was Law rather than Gospel he would be correct. However, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is Gospel not Law! The purpose of the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture is to assure us of forgiveness in Christ, not to make us righteous through works. And because it is Gospel, faith in the inspiration of Scripture is not established by the Law but instead goes hand in hand with faith in Christ. It is not the Law, but the Author of our faith (the Holy Spirit) who determines which books belong in the Bible and which do not. And, He does that by His gift of faith, not by specific statements. In other words, just as the Spirit of God uses the words, “and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanses us of all sin,” to assure that our sins have been washed away; He uses the words, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” to assure us that we can rely on everything that the Bible says (2Tim. 3:16, 1John 1:7). Consider the following quotes:

 

“What sort of thing is faith then? Faith is the constant assent to every word of God; a thing that cannot be done except the Holy Spirit of God renews and illuminates our hearts.” [The LOCI COMMUNES, by Philip Melanchthon, 1521 edition, page 176.]

 

“Therefore, the proof that the Holy Scriptures are inspired, or, what amounts to the same thing, that they are of divine origin, and consequently possess full authority in matters of faith, is required only for those who are yet without the Church, or who, if within her pale, are not confirmed in the faith. But it lies in the nature of the case, that no proof can be given those, which they cannot, in an unbelieving frame of mind, evade; for the only absolutely stringent proof lies in the fact that the Holy Spirit bears witness in the heart of each individual, and thus convinces him of the divinity of the Word of God, by the mighty influence which it exerts upon him.” [DOCTRINAL THEOLOGY of the EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH, by Heinrich Schmid, pages 51-52.]

 

“The church does not determine the cannon. God has established the cannon: a book of Scripture is canonical by virtue of its inspiration. The church witnesses to this fact, and insofar as she does so can make a beginning toward convincing us that certain books are canonical; but ultimately the Scripture must testify of itself, and the Holy Spirit must convince us through the Scriptures. What long ago persuaded the hearers of the Word to believe the preaching of the prophets and apostles now persuades us to believe their writings. [The Theology of Post Reformation Lutheranism, by Robert D. Preus, page 304.]

 

          Through the words, “A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law,” the Holy Spirit assures me that I am now just in the sight of God (Rom. 3:28).

Through the words, “All scripture is inspired by God,” the Holy Spirit assures me that I can have confidence in everything the Bible says, including all of the promises of the Gospel (2Tim. 3:16).

Through the words, “You shall keep them [i.e. the words of Scripture], O LORD, you will preserve them from this generation forever,” the Holy Spirit assures me that He has preserved the words of Scripture (Psalm 12:7). Moreover, because he has preserved them we can be certain that nothing has been lost. The original readings are still there! In the relatively small percentage of passages where a variant reading does exist, it exists only because God allows it to be there (perhaps as a stumbling block to the proud). None of those variant readings teach anything contrary to God’s Word, and we can have complete confidence that the text will not mislead us.

Furthermore, through the parallel between the books of the New Testament and the last twenty seven chapters of the book of Isaiah, the Holy Spirit assures me that the New Testament contains only the books He wants it to contain. Of that parallel the Keil-Delitzsh Commentary makes the following statement:

 

“It [the final 27 chapters of Isaiah] commences with a prophecy, which gave to John the Baptist the great theme of his preaching. It closes with the prediction of the creation of a new heaven and a new earth, beyond which even the last page of the New Testament Apocalypse cannot go. And in the center the sufferings and exaltation of Christ are proclaimed as clearly, as if the prophet had stood beneath the cross itself, and had seen the Risen Saviour.” (Volume 7, Page 130)

 

          While those who approach the text with the mind of a skeptic will never be convinced by that parallel, God did not place it in the Bible to convince skeptics, but to give comfort and assurance to those who trust in Christ; and that it does very well.

 

Now, the fact that the aforementioned professor views the text as “plastic” is an entirely different matter. That kind of thinking is a common delusion. As textual scholars study the text they encounter a number of variant readings, and since none of them have any way of determining which readings are correct their opinions are constantly changing. However, rather than humbly admit their own ignorance, they blame the text calling it “plastic”. I regard that as nothing more than self-delusion.

  

Conclusion

 

          Because professors who approach the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture as if it were Law rather than Gospel confuse Law and Gospel, instead of building faith they undermine it. And, wind up serving the devil by introducing doubts in the hearts of their students while feeding unbelief.

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