Observations on the Scriptures

Observations on the Scriptures                                                                   by Jack Kettler

In this study, we will answer the following questions:

1.            What are the Scriptures?

2.            Why are the Scriptures authoritative?

3.            What are the essential characteristics of Scripture?

4.            Why are the Scriptures to be written?

5.            Why should we search the Scriptures?

6.            Are the Scriptures complete?

7.            What about other sources of alleged revelations?

8.            How should we search the Scriptures?

Introductory Comments:

Today in the Post-Modern era, the experience is set-forth as a test for truth. Experiential testimonials, secular and religious, find use as recruitment techniques to gain members. Approaches such as these play upon human emotions. The Christian must not succumb to this erroneous approach to truth, namely letting experiences guide us. On the contrary, the Scriptures must always interpret and test experience, as well as traditions, spiritual leaders, and even the official theology of a church.

When Jesus said, “it is written,” in Matthew 4:10, He established beyond all doubt that the Scriptures are the authoritative and incorruptible Word of God.  The Old and New Testament is the Word of God, and the believer can be confident that the Scriptures are authoritative and sufficient. Thus, the Bible is the final court of appeal when seeking the truth.

A correct view of Scripture is fundamental to establish a system of sound doctrine. It is vital to have a theory of knowledge-based upon a correct view of Scripture. The Christian must build his foundation of knowledge upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.

“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.” – John Calvin

1. What are the Scriptures?

They are a body of writings considered sacred or authoritative. The Bible also called Holy Scripture, Holy Writ, or the Scriptures the Old and New Testaments.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism:

Quest. 2. What rule hath God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him?

Ans. 2. The Word of God, which is contained in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy him.

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20)

“That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” (1John 1:3-4)

Quest. 3. What do the scriptures principally teach?

Ans. 3. The scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

“Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus.” (2Timothy 1:13)    

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

The first chapter of the Westminster Confession says the Scriptures are:

“The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life…”

2. Why are the Scriptures Authoritative?

The authority of Scripture flows from the fact that it is God’s Word and declares itself God’s Word. It follows unavoidably that the Scriptures are binding upon the Christian as doctrine and for all of life.

The Prophet Isaiah declares the power of God’s Word when sent forth:

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

David, in the Psalms, further confirms this truth:

“By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth. And, the counsel of the LORD standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.” (Psalms 33:6, 11)

Not only is God and His Word powerful and irresistible when sent forth, but it is also crucial to see just how closely God is identified with the Scriptures. A connection like this further establishes that it is the highest authority.

Consider this example from the book of Romans:

“For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:11)

Notice how the apostle Paul in the book of Romans, says, “For the Scripture saith.” It is significant to see when you consult Isaiah 28:16, whom Paul is quoting in Romans, and you find that it is God speaking.

To appreciate this connection of the wording the “Scripture saith” and “thus saith the Lord,” consider:

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)

Then in Romans, we read:

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Romans 9:17)

Was God speaking or the Scriptures? If there is any doubt, we know for sure after reading:

“And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16)

Exodus 9:16 that it is God that was speaking, whereas, Romans says, “the Scripture saith.” Therefore, it is clear that God and the Scriptures are so closely identified as to be synonymous. In essence, we learn from these examples, “thus saith the Lord God,” and the phrase “the Scriptures saith” are used interchangeably. 

As we have seen, the Scriptures are the Word of God. In addition, they reveal His thoughts, His will, and purposes. God is the author, and they rest on His authority.

“So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11)

3. What are the essential characteristics of Scripture?

The following five passages speak to this question:

“Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish aught from it, that ye may keep the commandment of the Lord your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)

“Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” (Psalms 119:105)

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

“Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded.” (Proverbs 13:13)

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

These five passages set God’s Word apart from the writings of men by the fact that God’s words are “pure,” “a lamp and light,” and are “eternal.” Despising the Word of God by rejecting or altering it, destruction awaits.

In addition, the Scriptures are infallible, they are holy, they are powerful, they are complete, they are understandable, and in them, we find the ordained means of salvation.

“For the scripture saith, whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.” (Romans 10:11)

“Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.” (Isaiah 28:16)

4. Why are the Scriptures to be written?

The inscription of God’s Word gives us an objective divine standard to determine the truth.

Consider the following passages in God’s Word about this:

“For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning…” (Romans 15:4)

“And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord… And he [Moses] took the book of the covenant, and read in the audience of the people…” (Exodus 24:4, 7)

“Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever.” (Isaiah 30:8)

“Take thee a roll of a book, and write therein all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel, and against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah, even unto this day.” (Jeremiah 36:2)

“Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersover thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth, but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou have good success.” (Joshua 1:7-8)

“And the Lord answered me, and said, write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2)

“Saying, I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: and, what thou seest, write in a book and send it unto the seven churches…” (Revelation 1:11)

God’s Word was to be written so that His people could know how to live in a way pleasing to Him and be able to know right from wrong. Apart from the objective written standard of Scripture, man is left with his own subjective opinions. In addition to the scriptural pattern just seen, there are numerous examples, by biblical writers, to the appeal to what had been previously written.

For example:

“Now, brothers, I have applied these things to myself and Apollos for your benefit, so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written.’ Then you will not take pride in one man over against another.” (1Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

In the Tyndale New Testament Commentary on First Corinthians, Leon Morris makes the following comment about the above verse:

“‘Not beyond what is written’ was a catch-cry familiar to Paul and his readers, directing attention to the need for conformity to Scripture.” (1)

5. Why should we search the Scriptures?

We search the Scriptures for the knowledge of God, for truth, to learn our responsibilities, for comfort, to learn how to advance in sanctification.

The testimony of the Scriptures is that they are sufficient. The Scriptures are entirely adequate to meet the needs of the believer. The believer can have confidence in the Scriptures. God’s Words are described as “pure,” “perfect,” “a light,” and “eternal.” Having this confidence is a conclusion drawn from or deduced from the Scriptures by good and necessary consequence.

“For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” (2Timothy 3:16)

6. Are the Scriptures Complete?

The Scriptures are complete, and divine Revelation has ceased. When the subject of “the closing of the canon” comes up, this is what is meant. As will be seen, the completion and ceasing of divine Revelation are in the Scripture itself. That is why the apostle restricts the believer to “…not go beyond what is written…” (1Corinthians 4:6 NIV)

The next verse from Daniel is of importance for the subject of the closing of the canon:

“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Daniel 9:24)

The terminus or completion of this prophecy is in the 1st Century. Verses in Daniel 9:25-27 say that when the seventy-week period begins, it will continue uninterrupted until the seventy-week period is over or complete. Christ’s death and resurrection made an end to the sins of His people. He accomplished reconciliation for His people. Christ’s people have experienced everlasting righteousness because of the fact that we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which is everlasting. The phrase “and to seal up the vision and prophecy” establishes the closing of the canon of Scripture.

E. J. Young in The Geneva Daniel Commentary makes the following observations concerning “vision” and “prophecy” in the Old Testament:

“Vision was a technical name for revelation given to the OT prophets (cf. Isa, 1:1, Amos 1:1, etc.) The prophet was the one through whom this vision was revealed to the people. The two words, vision and prophet, therefore, serve to designate the prophetic revelation of the OT period…. When Christ came, there was no further need of prophetic revelation in the OT sense.” (2)

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers is in agreement with E. J. Young on Daniel 9:24:

“To Seal Up.—σϕραγίσαι, Theod.; συντελεσθῆναι, LXX.; impleatur, Jer.; the impression of the translators being that all visions and prophecies were to receive their complete fulfilment in the course of these seventy weeks. It appears, however, to be more agreeable to the context to suppose that the prophet is speaking of the absolute cessation of all prophecy. (Comp. 1Corinthians 13:8.)” (3)                        

In a similar fashion, in Adam Clarke’s Commentary concerning this same phrase we read:

“To put an end to the necessity of any farther revelations, by completing the canon of Scriptures, and fulfilling the prophecies which related to his person, sacrifice and the glory that should follow.” (4)

Consider the biblical evidence for this:

“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith, which was once delivered unto the saints.” (Jude 3:3)

“Which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (Jude 3:3 NKJV)

This verse in Jude is speaking about the closing of the New Testament Canon. What does Jude mean by the phrase “the faith”? Also, notice how this “faith” was delivered (past tense) to the saints.

Simon J. Kistemaker, in the New Testament Commentary of the book of Jude, says the following what the “faith” that was delivered was:

“What is this faith, Jude mentions? In view of the context, we understand the word faith to mean the body of Christian beliefs. It is the gospel the apostles proclaimed and therefore is equivalent to the apostles teaching.” Acts 2:42 (5)

More on the phrase once delivered:

The phrase once [hapax] delivered is important. Hapax means once for all.

In Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, we find this comment concerning hapax:

“Once for all, of what is perpetual validity, not requiring repetition.” (6)

A passage in 1Corinthians sheds even more light on the completion of Scripture:

“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1Corinthians 13:9-10)

The passage says that something that is “in part” will be done away with when “that which is perfect is come.” What is the apostle referring to when he says that something perfect is coming?

Theologian Gordon H. Clark comments on this:

“There is one phase, not so far mentioned: “When the completion comes,” or “when that which is perfect comes.” This raises the question: Completion of what? It could be the completion of the canon. Miracles and tongues were for the purpose of guaranteeing the divine origin of apostolic doctrine. They cease when the revelation was completed. Even the word knowledge is better understood this way. Instead of comparing present-day extensive study of the New Testament with Justin’s [Martyr] painfully inadequate understanding of the Atonement, it would be better to take knowledge as the apostolic process of revealing new knowledge. This was completed when revelation ceased.” (7)

Clark is on track when connecting the coming perfection with the completion of the Scriptures. The tongues and prophecy of the apostolic era confirmed and bore witness to the truthfulness of that message. Nevertheless, tongues, prophecy, and revelatory knowledge were lacking when compared with the written Scripture. The written Scriptures are far superior to spoken words.

Dr. Leonard Coppes also has relevant comments regarding this section of Scripture:

“This is a clear statement that when the knowledge being given through the apostles and prophets is complete, tongues and prophecy shall cease. Tongues, prophecy, and knowledge (gnosis) constitute partial, incomplete stages. Some may stumble over the idea that “knowledge” represents a partial and incomplete (revelational) stage. But is rightly remarked that Paul distinguishes between sophia and gnosis in 1 Cor. 12:8 All three terms (tongues, prophecy, knowledge) involve divine disclosure of verbal revelation and all three on that basis alone ceased when the foundation (i.e., the perfect) came (10). Verse 11 speaks of the partial as childlike (cf., 14:20) and the perfect as manly (the apostolic is “manly,” too, cf., 14:20). Paul reflecting on those who are limited to these childlike things describes this limitation as seeing in a mirror darkly (12). When the perfect (the apostolic depositum) is come, full knowledge is present.” (8)

Coppes, like Clark, connects the perfection with the completion of the canon.

The following verse provides vital information concerning the completion of Scripture:

“And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” (Ephesians 2:20)

This verse in Ephesians tells us that the apostles are part of the foundation of the church. The church has only one foundation. The Scripture in John 14:26 teaches that the apostles were taught “all things.” Paul commanded Timothy to “guard the good deposit” of truth in 2Timothy 1:14. This “deposit” was identifiable, or else Paul’s command to Timothy would not make sense. Furthermore, in order to guard it, this deposit could not have been a nebulous association of oral traditions.

“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shown you, and have taught you publicly, from house to house… For I have not shunned to declare to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:20, 27)

Since the apostles taught all the counsel of God, there would be no need for further revelation. What can you add to all of the counsel of God? The “good deposit” or the “all the counsel of God” was connected to the apostolic period at the foundation of the church. The authoritative apostolic writings became part of the New Testament canon.

The biblical conclusion is that, after their death, apostolic Revelation ceased. Why? Because of the fact that after the death of the apostles, their special office in the church ceased. The church has only one foundation, not layers of foundations on top of each other, as the “ongoing-apostolic-office” view would require.

Another verse is particularly relevant for the closing of canon during the 1st Century at this point in redemptive history:

“For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)

The book of Revelation is believed to be the last book written in the Bible. It was completed prior to 70 A.D. The passages in Revelation 1:3 and 22:6, 12 are time indicators that point to an early date to this book. Why? Someone may ask. The wording in these texts, such as “for the time is at hand” and “which must shortly be done” provide convincing evidence for an early date prior to 70 A.D. for John’s Revelation. This is because the 1st Century fulfillment of the prophecies within the book are relevant to the dating of Revelation prior to 70 A.D. Therefore, the time-sensitive texts previously mentioned become important indicators pointing towards dating the book in the 1st Century.

In addition, the temple in chapter eleven is shown to still be in existence, also supporting this early date prior to 70A.D. If an early date for the book of Revelation is accurate (which it is), then it allows the book to fit into the period of Daniel’s prophecy. Accordingly, the book of Revelation fits into the period and purview of Daniel’s “seventy weeks.” Therefore, those who argue for continued Revelation do so at the peril of their souls since they are urging men to violate this scriptural warning recorded in the last book of the canon.

Another passage that sheds important light on the penalty for giving false Revelation is in Zechariah 13. The context of this section of Zechariah places it in the 1st Century. See Zechariah 11:13; 12:10; 13:1; 13:7 for proof of this 1st Century setting.

Consider this warning not to add to God’s Word:

“It shall come to pass that if anyone still prophesies, then his father and mother who begot him will say to him; you shall not live, because you have spoken lies in the name of the Lord. And his father and mother who begot him shall thrust him through when he prophesies.” (Zechariah 13:3) (NKJ)

This passage supports the view that prophecy has ended in light of the fact that the death penalty is still to be carried out for false prophetic utterances and is in harmony with Daniel 9:24. The phrase “If anyone still prophesies” makes it clear that prophecy has ended. The death penalty is required for those who give new revelation. Why? Because it is false revelation since God has ceased giving revelation. This is the consistent theme of Scripture. Again, see Revelation 22:18-19; Galatians 1:8, 9; Deuteronomy 13:5 for the penalties and curses associated with violating this prohibition.

Consequently, since there is no fundamental difference between Old and New Testament Revelation, and the source of the revelation is identical, there is no reason to doubt that all giving of new revelation ceased in the 1st Century.

7. What about other sources of alleged revelations?

The advantage of having an objective written Revelation:

There are other ideas about how God’s Revelation is communicated. In some religions, you have ideas like oral traditions that have been passed down through the centuries or a document that is constructed from memories of numerous individuals who lived over 100 years after the giver of the revelations had died. In other cases, you have revelations where the original revelations translated from an unknown language from “Golden Plates” have disappeared.  

Written documents can be studied to see if they are forgeries, whereas oral traditions, disappearing “Golden Plates” taken away by an angel called Moroni or the Uthmanic manuscripts, like the Samarqand Codex, or the Topkapi Codex that were originally memorized by various followers of Mohammad over 100 years after his death cannot be studied. In the case of the Koran, there are no original manuscripts, just the memories of men. In the case of the Mormons, Moroni, along with the “Golden Plates,” are still missing.

Memories may be reliable or not. How can you know? How can you research study and evaluate memories of men long since dead? What process was used to determine false from true memories? How were the memories transcribed, and by whom? Allah, in the Islamic religion, supposedly has the true Koran in heaven. Maybe the Mormon “Golden Plates” are there too. Meanwhile, back on earth, this is not much help.

What about oral sacred traditions?

In brief, in certain expressions of Christianity, there is a view that Christ passed on knowledge to the apostles that were never written, and this information was passed down orally by apostolic succession via bishops and patriarchs and declared valid and of equal authority with Scripture in Roman counsels like Trent. The Eastern Orthodox also have oral traditions similar to Rome.

Traditions may be good or bad. Are the traditions in agreement with Scripture, or do they contradict it or add to it is such a way as to change the meaning of the biblical text?

It is circumspect toward the Word of God to be on guard against tradition in light of what Jesus says:  

“Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:1-6)

Sacred Oral Tradition Churches uses John 20:30 as a proof text for oral traditions:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 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.” (John 20:30-31 ESV)

Supposedly, the signs that were not written were maintained in a growing body of oral sacred traditions. Nothing in the text says anything like this happened. It is an assumption read into the text. Some people remembered some of the things and shared them with others. There is no guarantee that after time, everyone’s memories faded stories faded from everyone’s minds.

Do pictures and icons serve as a way to preserve the oral traditions? Many icons need some explanation. The question can be raised, it the explanation correct? A need for pictures and icons to preserve oral traditions is the admission of the weakness and inadequacy of oral traditions.

The Scripture commands us to remember Scriptures:

“You shall therefore lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul, and you shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deuteronomy 11:18 ESV)

We are to remember the Scriptures and the stories and events in Scripture.

More on the proof text of John 20:30. Does it provide Biblical evidence for a continuing body of revelations or traditions on a par with written Scripture? 

In his commentary on the Bible on John 20:30, John Calvin says no:

“30. Many other signs also Jesus did. If the Evangelist had not cautioned his readers by this observation, they might have supposed that he had left out none of the miracles, which Christ had performed, and had given a full and complete account of all that happened. John, therefore, testifies, first, that he has only related some things out of a large number; not that the others were unworthy of being recorded, but because these were sufficient to edify faith. And yet it does not follow that they were performed in vain, for they profited that age. Secondly, though at the present day we have not a minute knowledge of them, still we must not suppose it to be of little importance for us to know that the Gospel was sealed by a vast number of miracles.” (9)

Comments on the things “which were not written”:

The text in John 20:30 says certain things that Christ did, “which were not written.” To use this text for true Revelation not included in the canon but on par with Scriptures is an argument from silence (a fallacy). To say this text provides justification for the beginning of an oral scared tradition on par with the recorded Scripture is reading assumptions into the text. Unfortunately, when a representative from a Christian Church make these type of assumptions, (sloppy exegesis), it provides cover for aberrational religious groups as with the Mormons to follow with even more outlandish teachings.  

Another sloppy exegete may cite a passage like:

“And there are also many other things, which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen…” (John 21:25)

In John 21:25, hyperbole is being used as a rhetorical device; thus, the hyper-literalism fails.

Sloppy exegesis strikes again. In a similar way, John, 14:26 can be distorted. For example:

“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you….” (John 14:26)

John 14:26, which deals with Christ’s message, is to the apostles exclusively. Hence, a fallacious interpretation seeks to open the door for continued revelation by leading people to believe that there is still more to the “all things.”

Limitations on the “all things”:

John 14:26 certainly does not mean that Jesus taught his apostles all about the occult and deviant sexual practices. Jesus said many words that are not recorded in Scripture. Jesus probably talked about the weather and thanked his mother for a good meal, and these instances are not recorded. There is clearly a limitation in the “all things” of the passage.

John 14:26 is understood in relation to passages like; “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue” (2Peter 1:3)

And, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2Timothy 3:16-17).

It is true that not every Word of Christ and the apostles is recorded in the Bible? John even says this “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book” (John 20:30). John follows up this statement in verse 20:30 with an important conclusion that: “But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing ye might have life through his name” (John 20:3, 12).

The phrase in the first part of the verse “are written” is expressing the same truth as “it is written.” If “it is written,” it is Scripture and has been canonized. If it is not recorded in the Bible, it is not Scripture. That is the implicit conclusion that cannot be overlooked.

How do we know if sacred oral traditions are true? Is it because the church says so? How do we know the Word of the church regarding a particular sacred tradition is true? Is it because it is in agreement with sacred tradition? If this were the case, then we would seem to be going in a circle. A circular argument is fallacious and self-refuting.

In Eastern Orthodoxy and Romanism, sacred oral tradition is elevated on a par equal with Scripture. It can be asked, has God revealed all this sacred oral Revelation now? Is oral Revelation complete or not? If not, is this body of Revelation, i.e., “sacred tradition” still expanding? If it is still expanding, how long will these alleged traditions continue to expand or grow? If the sacred oral traditions are written down, what becomes of them? Are they now considered equivalent to the Old and New Testament writings? If so, should the Scriptures be revised by adding them to the Bible as an appendix? Is there a sacred book of traditions? Are there commentaries that explain these “sacred traditions”? If so, are these commentaries inspired? Can every-day men read them? Do we need a special leader to decipher the meaning?

Does this expanding body of revelations or traditions ever contradict each other? It may be said, yes. For instance, the development of Mariology is an example of this. One would have to be dishonest to deny that there are contradictions between the different traditions. For example, Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholics have traditions that contradict each other at various points. The role of “feasts,” “fasts,” “festivals,” the “filoque,” “papal claims,” “original sin,” “purgatory,” the “immaculate conception,” and the use of “icons” are examples of divergent, contradictory traditions. Furthermore, there is much debate and disagreement upon exactly what some traditions mean in the first place.

These examples, by their very nature, are open to endlessly differing accounts and interpretations. Remember a grade school exercise where the teacher gives a sentence to the first student and then that student repeats the sentence to the next and so on until the last student get the sentence and repeats it to the class only to find it is completely different from the start? Oral traditions or stories dependent on memories are inferior and are no more reliable than the child-hood exercise.

What about 2Thessalonians 2:15?

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions, which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.” (2Thessalonians 2:15)

In this passage from Thessalonians, Paul is referring to his apostolic message, which was heard and received by the disciples as the “Word of God.”

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions, which ye have been taught, whether by word, [teaching, preaching] or our epistle [written letter]. (2Thessalonians 2:15)

Paul’s apostolic teachings are described as “traditions” in this passage. Not always, but in this case, the context requires, and Paul wants us to understand that the “traditions” he is mentioning are the Word of God. For an example of traditions that are not Scripture, consider how Jesus mentions the tradition of the elders in Mark 7:3. Christ goes on in the gospel of Mark 7:9 to say that the Pharisees had substituted the commandments of God with the traditions of men.

Evaluating Ancient Documents:

Is it possible to make a final decision on an ancient manuscript being reliable if only one source is available?

In the Christian tradition, there are thousands of manuscripts of the Bible. These manuscripts can be studied and compared with other manuscripts and through conservative textual criticism, eliminate scribal copying errors. The agreement of multitudes of manuscripts is an advantage over a one-source revelatory document. Multiple witnesses that agree are more reliable than one witness is. See Deuteronomy 19:15, and Matthew 18:16. While these two Scriptural references are dealing with criminal conviction and discipline, the underlying principle is valid in ancient manuscript research. As a rule, more copies are better than one. In New Testament textual criticism, the numerous extant manuscripts have always been a recognized advantage.  

As Christians, we have the Bible with centuries of textual criticism and very few disputes. Multiple manuscripts that agree is a strong point. In other traditions, ultimately, you must have faith in the word of men since there are no primary source documents. In the end, you have the word of men or the Word of God.  

8. How should we search the Scriptures?

Reverently and submissively, with diligence and dependence on the Holy Spirit.

“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.” (Acts 17:11)

“Search the scriptures; for in them you think you have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39)

Some human observations:

The strength of the Christian position enumerated above to paraphrase Gordon H. Clark regarding what is known as “Scriipturalism” (all knowledge must be contained within a system and deduced from its starting principles, in the Christian case, the Bible).

“The existence of the Bible, as a book for the people, is the greatest benefit which the human race has ever experienced. Every attempt to belittle it is a crime against humanity.”  – Immanuel Kant

“The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures…[and] are found upon comparison to be part of the original law of nature. Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.” – Sir William Blackstone

“The Bible is worth all other books which have ever been printed.” – Patrick Henry

“Should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a schoolbook? Its morals are pure; its examples are captivating and noble. In no Book is there so good English, so pure and so elegant, and by teaching all the same they will speak alike, and the Bible will justly remain the standard of language as well as of faith.” – Fisher Ames

“We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.” – James Madison

“By removing the Bible from schools we would be wasting so much time and money in punishing criminals and so little pains to prevent crime. Take the Bible out of our schools and there would be an explosion in crime.” – Benjamin Rush

“If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper; but if we and our posterity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.” – Daniel Webster

“Education is useless without the Bible,” “The Bible was America’s basic textbook in all fields,” “God’s Word, contained in the Bible, has furnished all necessary rules to direct our conduct.” – Noah Webster

“It is impossible to enslave, mentally or socially, a Bible-reading people. The principles of the Bible are the groundwork of human freedom.” – Horace Greeley

“The Bible is the only force known to history that has freed entire nations from corruption while simultaneously giving them political freedom.” – Vishal Mangalwadi

“For doctrine.” For thence we shall know, whether we ought to learn or to be ignorant of anything. And thence we may disprove what is false, thence we may be corrected and brought to a right mind, may be comforted and consoled, and if anything is deficient, we may have it added to us. “That the man of God may be perfect.” For this is the exhortation of the Scripture given, that the man of God may be rendered perfect by it; without this therefore he cannot be perfect. Thou hast the Scriptures, he says, in place of me. If thou wouldest learn anything, thou mayest learn it from them. And if he thus wrote to Timothy, who was filled with the Spirit, how much more to us! Thoroughly furnished unto all good works”, not merely taking part in them, he means, but “thoroughly furnished.” – John Chrysostom, Homily 9, commentary on (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

“Knowledge of the Bible protects us and ignorance of it results in a multitude of evils. “This is the cause of all evils, the not knowing the Scriptures. We go into battle without arms, and how are we to come off safe?” (Homily IX On Colossians) “But if we bid you believe the Scriptures, and these are simple and true, the decision is easy for you. If any agree with the Scriptures, he is the Christian; if any fight against them, he is far from this rule.” – John Chrysostom, (Homily 33 in Acts of the Apostles)

“What then? After all these efforts were they tired? Did they leave off? Not at all. They are charging me with innovation, and base their charge on my confession of three hypostases, and blame me for asserting one Goodness, one Power, one Godhead. In this they are not wide of the truth, for I do so assert. Their complaint is that their custom does not accept this, and that Scripture does not agree. What is my reply? I do not consider it fair that the custom which obtains among them should be regarded as a law and rule of orthodoxy. If custom is to be taken in proof of what is right, then it is certainly competent for me to put forward on my side the custom which obtains here. If they reject this, we are clearly not bound to follow them. Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favour of that side will be cast the vote of truth.” – Basil, (Letter 189, 3)

In closing, may we always be able to say with the Psalmist and Apostle:

“How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” (Psalm 119:103, 105)

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost” (Titus 3:5).

“To God only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen” (Romans 16:27).

Notes:

1.            Leon Morris, The Tyndale New Testament Commentary 1 Corinthians, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Inter-Varsity Press, and Eerdmans, 1983), p. 78.

2.            E. J. Young, Daniel, (Oxford: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 1988), p. 200.

3.             Charles John Ellicott, A Bible commentary for English readers, Vol. 5, (London: Cassell, 1882), p. 387.

4.            Adam Clarke, Clarke’s Commentary Vol. 4, (Nashville: Abingdom Press, 1956) p. 602.

5.            Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary Jude, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 371.

6.            W. E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary Of New Testament Words, (Iowa Falls: Riverside, 1952), p. 809.

7.            Gordon H. Clark, First Corinthians, (Jefferson, Maryland: The Trinity Foundation, 1991), pp. 212-213.

8.            Leonard J. Coppes, Whatever Happened to Biblical Tongues? (Chattanooga, Tennessee: Pilgrim Publishing Company, 1977), pp. 59-60.

9.            John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, John, Volume XX, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Baker Book House Reprinted 1979), p. 280. Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM

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