I have been invited to speak to a group of Reformed University Fellowship students at the University of North Florida on the topic: Is The Bible Reliable? This post will present a portion of my talk on this subject which is influenced greatly by John Frame’s The Doctrine of the Word of God and Michael Kruger’s Canon Revisited.
I don’t think the students are asking can we trust how the Bible contains sixty-six books (canonical) or can we trust the translations we have (hermeneutical), but instead, “how can I trust that what the Bible says is true and trust it with my life?” This, in my mind, is a theological question that ultimately leads to further questions of sanctification. Granted, these questions are related to each other, but I think the essence of the question is one of trustworthiness of Scripture as it is applied to life.
The other component to this question, I believe, has to do with exclusivity in an age where relativism rules. The question two or three decades ago centered more on what is truth and how can I know it? Today the question is more centered on what right does one have to claim that their truth is supreme over someone else’s truth? And it is this thought that leads us toward “truth is whatever it means to you.” This is undoubtedly part of today’s culture, but the defense of Scripture’s trustworthiness is not compromised in the least.
Scripture is self-authenticating. That sounds circular in its reasoning, but that is common when foundational authorities are authenticated. For example, when the Lord says in Genesis 22:16, “I swear by myself,” it indicates that the Lord cannot swear by any higher being. The promise he makes he authenticates by himself. Likewise, Scripture has similar characteristics. Frame writes the following,
The main difference between this book and other books on the doctrines of revelation and Scripture is that I am trying here, above all else, to be ruthlessly consistent with Scripture’s own view of itself. In that regard, I’m interested in not only defending what Scripture says about Scripture, but defending it by means of the Bible’s own worldview, its own epistemology, and its own values. That there is a circularity here I do not doubt. I am defending the Bible by the Bible. Circularity of a kind is unavoidable when one seeks to defend an ultimate standard of truth, for one’s defense must itself be accountable to that standard. Of course, I will not hesitate to bring extra-biblical considerations to bear on the argument when such considerations are acceptable within a biblical epistemology. But ultimately I trust the Holy Spirit to bring persuasion to the readers of this book. God’s communication with human beings, we will see, is supernatural all the way through. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.7
So, Frame believes that the Bible must be defended by the Bible. The other critical point to remember is the role of the Holy Spirit. Some people read Scripture as a collection of fables and others read it as the inspired Word of God. How do these differences exist? How are some enlightened to the Word and others not? It is only through the work of the Holy Spirit that people come to know the Word as being from the Lord.
The canon, as God’s Word, is not just true, but the criterion of truth. It is an ultimate authority. So, how do we offer an account of how we know that an ultimate authority is, in fact, the ultimate authority? If we try to validate an ultimate authority by appealing to some other authority, then we have just shown that it is not really the ultimate authority. Thus, for ultimate authorities to be ultimate authorities, they have to be the standard for their own authentication. You cannot account for them without using them. – Canon Revisited p.91
We see here that Kruger is in agreement with Frame concerning how ultimate authority is to be validated. Hence, the Word of God is authenticated by itself.
Frame provides an excellent synopsis on how Scripture’s self-authentication is to be understood. Frame writes,
Subjectively, it works like this. When someone believes God’s Word with true faith, he or she does not accept it through autonomous reasoning, through the consensus of scholars, or through an independent examination of evidences. We do not believe God because we have subjected God to our tests and the tests of others. Rather, God’s Word is the foundation of our thought. God’s Word is the ultimate criterion of truth and right. It is the judge of what reasoning is valid and sound. The ultimate test of a scholar is whether his work agrees with Scripture. And Scripture determines what evidences are to be believed. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.300
So again, by God’s power and enabling though the Spirit, we come to apprehend the Word as the foundation of our thought. This is not accomplished by our own insight and reasoning.
This is not to say that we cannot see the truth of the Word as we live our lives. The Word can and should be applied both situationally and existentially in the believer’s life, but this should not be confused with authentication. How I apply Scripture to my life is not the gauge by which I will determine its authenticity. Instead, as the Word has already become the foundation for my thoughts, I can then apply it to my life with full trust and confidence. But even this does not mean we are free of challenges.
It is God himself who enables us to accept his Word as our foundation, our presupposition. To say this is not to deny that Scripture presents problems to us. Often, it is not easy to know what Scripture is saying, or to answer the objections that arise in our hearts. So there is much in the Bible of which we do not have assurance, even when we seek to trust God’s Word as our presupposition. But the Christian life is a journey, a movement from faith to more faith (with, to be sure, ups and downs along the way). This is a journey both toward better understanding and toward overcoming our unbelief (Mark 9:24). The latter process is called sanctification. The former process is also related to sanctification: our level of understanding is related to our level of trust and obedience. But our lack of understanding is also related to our finitude, our inability to resolve all the questions that the phenomena of Scripture pose to us. – The Doctrine of the Word of God p.300
And it is here, the journey as Frame calls it, that I hope to spend more time with these students. It is important to hear their stories and to be candid that the Christian life is filled with all kinds of challenges. I agree with Frame that it is a question of sanctification. My hope is that their trust and obedience to the Word would increase. It’s an important conversation to have and I’m blessed with the opportunity.