A Summary of the Doctrine of the Bible

July 10, 2017 — Leave a comment

Today I continue my summer summary series. In this blog post I look at the doctrine of the Bible (also known as “bibliology”) using the Evangelical Free Church of America’s statement of faith as a guide.

The EFCA statement of faith on the Bible reads:

The Bible. Article #2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

I. KEY TERMS 

A. General Revelation and Special Revelation

God has shown himself and his truth by both general revelation and special revelation.

1. General Revelation

General revelation comes through creation and conscience, is non-propositional, available to all people, and often displays God’s power and glory. General revelation is limited because it does not contain redemptive truth and it can be distorted by man (Pss 19:1-6; 111:3; Rom 1:18-20; 3:2).

A Summary of the Doctrine of the Bible

“Apostle Paul” by Rembrandt

2. Special Revelation

Special revelation is direct revelation through prophets, Christ, and apostles. It involves propositional communication and is designated for people. It contains knowledge of the triune God, his will, works, and grace (Num 23:3; Dan 2:28-29; Amos 3:7; 4:13; 1 Cor 14:6, 26, 30; 2 Cor 12:1, 7; Gal 1:12; 2 Thess 2:2; Rev 1:1).

B. Inspiration

I prefer the NIV translation of 2 Tim 3:16, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” The written word of God in the original autographs was inspired.

Inspiration is the ultimate way that God reveals himself to his creation through Scripture. Because Scripture is breathed out by God it is authoritative and accurate (2 Tim 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:21). In addition, the Old Testament has hundreds of citations of “Thus says the Lord” which indicates that its words are direct revelation from God. Similarly, sometimes God speaks “through” a prophet (1 Kings 14:18; 16:12, 34; 2 Kings 9:36; 14:25; Jer 37:2; Zech 7:7, 12).

C. Ultimate Authority

The New Testament authors cite Old Testament verses as authoritative (Matt 1:22; 4:4; 19:5; Mark 7:9-13; Luke 1:70; 24:25; John 5:45-47; Acts 1:16; 2:16-17; 3:18, 21; 4:25; 13:47; 28:25; Rom 1:2; 3:2; 9:17; 1 Cor 9:8-10; Heb 1:1-2, 6-7; 2 Peter 3:2). Also, all the words of the prophets or the words of the OT should compel us to believe they are from God and to believe in God (Luke 24:25, 27, 44; Acts 3:18; Rom 15:4).

How was Scripture given? Sometimes Scripture came about because of God’s direct dictation of words (Isa 38:4-6; Rev 2:1, 8) while other times God spoke in many and various ways (Luke 1:1-3; Heb 1:1).

Additionally, there are three reasons we trust God’s word as the ultimate authority because,

  • God never lies (2 Sam 7:28; Titus 1:2; Heb 6:18),
  • God’s words are true and without error (Num 23:19; Pss 12:6; 119:89, 96; Prov 30:5; Matt 24:35), and
  • God’s words are the ultimate standard of truth (John 17:17).

D. Illumination

The acceptance of the words of God as inspired and authoritative must include the work of the Holy Spirit (John 10:27; 1 Cor 2:13-14). Sadly, unbelievers who are not enabled by the Spirit can be deceived (1 Cor 2:14-15). As humans who are blinded by the Fall, believers need the Holy Spirit to show them the “light” and therefore to guide them into a correct understanding of God and his will (2 Cor 4:3-6). This is known as the spirit of wisdom for which believers ask (Eph 1:17-19).

A Summary of the Doctrine of the Bible

“Catherine of Alexandria with Saints Jerome, John the Baptist, James the Apostle” by Giuseppe Porta

E. Inerrancy and Infallibility

1. Inerrancy 

The Bible in its original autographs is inerrant in that it does not state anything that is contrary to fact (John 17:3, 17; 2 Tim 3:16-17). The Bible always tells the truth concerning everything that it affirms or denies (Pss 12:6; 119:96; Prov 30:5; 2 Tim 3:16-17). Additionally, a broad evidence of inerrancy comes from the nature of God (Isa 45:19; John 7:28; 17:3; Rom 3:4; James 1:17; 1 John 5:20), and the Bible also describes itself as inerrant (Matt 5:17-18; 24:35; John 10:35 [Pss 82]; Matt 22:29-32 [Exod 3:6], 41-46 [Pss 110:1]).

Furthermore, Jesus made numerous historical affirmations for the reliability of Scripture which cannot be ignored. These affirmations by Jesus were about

  • Adam and Eve (Matt 19:4-5),
  • Cain and Abel (Matt 23:35; Luke 11:51),
  • Noah (Matt 24:37), Abraham (John 8:56),
  • Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 10:12),
  • Lot (Luke 17:28),
  • Jonah (Matt 12:40; Luke 20:32).

Lastly, Jesus used the Bible to counter Satan in the temptations in the desert (Matt 4:4, 7, 10, 14). Paul also used Scripture that affirmed the inerrancy of the Bible (Gal 3:16 [Gen 22:17-18]).

2. Infallible

The word “infallible” has become a term in recent times to refer to the Bible as a “guide” that will keep believers on the right path. This concept maintains that while believers can rely on the message of the Bible, the words are not always accurate. Infallible has been used as a weaker term than inerrant because infallible allows for historical errors in the Bible while also affirming the Bible’s spiritual truth.

II. THE BIBLE AS 66 BOOKS

A. Early Lists of the Bible

The Old Testament canon was completed around 435 B.C. (1 Maccabees 4:35-46; 9:47) in 100 B.C. which states that the time of prophets had ceased. The earliest mention that still exists today of the list of Old Testament books is from Melito, bishop of Sardis (A.D. 170 cited by Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 4.26.14). Later NT writings show an early history of acceptance of NT writings being classified as Scripture (1 Tim 5:17-18; 2 Peter 3:16). The earliest list of the NT canon was in A.D. 367 by Athanasius (39th Paschal Letter), and the list was officially recognized at the Council of Carthage in A.D. 397.

B. Disputed Books

Fifty-six of the sixty-six books were undoubtedly accepted by all early in the Christian era (OT 34 of 39; NT 22 of 27).

1. Old Testament

Some of the Old Testament books that were disputed were Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Ezekiel, and Proverbs.

2. New Testament

Some of the NT books that were disputed were 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John, and Jude. In other words, if a book contained the words of God and was early church preserved the books as Scripture, then they became part of the canon.

3. Extra-Biblical Books

There are many other pieces of writing mentioned in the canon that did not get included in the canon:

  • Samuel wrote the rights and duties of kingship (1 Sam 10:25),
  • the Chronicles of Samuel the seer (1 Chron 29:29),
  • the Chronicles of Nathan the prophet (1 Chron 29:29),
  • the Chronicles of Gad the seer (1 Chron 29:29),
  • chronicles of Jehu (2 Chron 20:34);
  • the Book of the Kings of Judah (2 Chron 32:32).

C. New Testament BooksA Summary of the Doctrine of the Bible

All twenty-seven New Testament books had to measure up against specific criteria:

  • first, they had to have an apostolic source (either directly or closely indirectly);
  • second, the material had to agree in its teachings with OT Scripture;
  • third, the books needed to be recognized early as inspired writings.

Meeting these criteria allowed them to be seen as authoritative, inspired, and accepted as God’s holy Scripture.

III. HOW MY VIEW OF SCRIPTURE AFFECTS MY MINISTRY

Just as the Old Testament Law was a “tutor” for the saints in the OT believers (Gal 3:1-14), the entire canon of Scripture is my tutor as I seek to live out an effective ministry. Due to its inerrancy and authority, I can trust it to guide me in how to be an authentic Christian and effective pastor who leads, trains, and preaches (Pss 119:97-98). I have spent more time on the blog posts on the doctrine of God and Scripture because these two areas effect all other areas of my ministry. I realized that the Bible does not contain scientific information or elaborate on encompassing world history, but it does inform me and equip me to deal with most of the things in my life. Because of this I want the Bible to be my guidebook in life.

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

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