Reflecting on the Baptist Faith and Message, Part 3: The Doctrine of Scripture (con't)
The first article of the Baptist Faith and Message speaks of the source, nature, authority, and goal of the Bible as God's revelation to humanity:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Having addressed the matters of the source and nature of the Bible in the previous installment, I will now turn attention to the confession's doctrine of Scripture's authority and goal.
The Authority of the Bible: Absolute
Because God is the author of Scripture by means of inspiration, and because God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Tit. 1:2), that means the Bible contains only "truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter." Scripture is, in other words, inerrant in all that it affirms. We are, therefore, obligated to believe and obey all that it teaches, when we have properly interpreted and applied that teaching.
The doctrine of inerrancy has been a flashpoint of controversy among Christians in recent history. Some have claimed that Scripture never claims inerrancy for itself, and that the phenomena of Scripture clearly disprove the concept anyway. For example, if the Bible uses round numbers to relate historical details, has it recorded some data point erroneously? And if so, doesn't the doctrine of inerrancy seek to impose on the Bible a standard that the Bible itself never claims to meet?
In fact, the doctrine of inerrancy does not claim that Bible is written with maximal precision. Proponents of inerrancy gladly acknowledge it was written, instead, in ordinary human language. For this reason, the doctrine of inerrancy claims that the Bible is inerrant according to the standards of precision to which it seeks to adhere. If a man earned $52,174.23 in net income in the year 2020, and he said to a friend, "I made $50,000 last year," no one would accuse him of deceit or error; so it is with Scripture. It must be evaluated at the level at which it intends to communicate. Round numbers, figures of speech, omission of incidental details in parallel accounts, etc. do not constitute errors. They are accepted conventions of human communication.
But does the Bible itself claim that it is inerrant, and therefore completely authoritative in all that it affirms? Yes, it does, and in numerous places. But I will simply note two here, both from the words of Jesus. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus says, "For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law [i.e., the Old Testament Scriptures] until all is accomplished." The reference to an "iota" and a "dot" represent, respectively, the smallest letter of the alphabet and the smallest part of a letter. Jesus goes to great lengths to speak of the absolute authority of the Bible as the written Word of God. And because it is the written Word of God, he came to fulfill it, not to scrap it and start over with something new (Matt. 5:17). One other reference of Jesus to the Bible is found in John 10:35, where in a passing comment he notes, "and the Scripture cannot be broken." Here Jesus affirms not only that the Bible has no errors, but that indeed it cannot have errors because of the nature of what it is: the very Word of God. In other words, Jesus affirms not only the fact of inerrancy, but even the stronger claim of biblical infallibility, the claim that the Bible is incapable of error.
Because Scripture has no mixture of error, it is completely trustworthy and represents the absolute standard by which all truth is discerned. The Baptist Faith and Message affirms biblical authority very clearly.
The Goal of Scripture: Salvation
In addition to noting that Scripture has God for its author and inerrant truth for its matter, the confession affirms that it also has "salvation for its end." Scripture is divine revelation that is oriented toward one main goal: the salvation of sinners through Jesus Christ. This is why, as the confession affirms, "All Scripture is a testimony to Christ." The Bible is not our Savior. Jesus Christ is. But how can we know Jesus Christ in the absence of his physical presence with us? God has committed the authoritative prophetic and apostolic testimony of the Person and work of Jesus Christ to writing in Scripture, which is now the permanent form of divine revelation that remains with the church until the end of history.
In the early years of the church, the gospel spread by apostolic proclamation. That proclamation took on certain forms that could be passed down orally as tradition. However, the more time elapses between the events of Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection and the hearing of that tradition, the more opportunities arise for corruptions of the traditions handed down. If we had no permanent, written account of Jesus here now 2,000 years after his time on earth, we would be dependent on an oral tradition that could have become so corrupted by this point that it could lead us far astray into error. In fact, the Roman Catholic adherence to oral tradition as a stream of divine revelation on par with Scripture demonstrates the level of doctrinal corruption that can accrue over long periods of time without an authoritative canon that stands above tradition to keep it in check. Roman Catholics hold numerous beliefs and practices that are not only non-biblical, but even anti-biblical, as they have allowed tradition to stand alongside Scripture as a source of revelation. As a result, they have a compromised gospel of justification by faith plus works, combined with compromised worship practices that resemble paganism: prayers to Mary and the saints, indulgences, a continuing earthly priesthood, etc.
Because God has given us the Bible as the only divine authority on earth, we can trust that its revelation of Christ to us is what will lead us to salvation. Where Scripture is preached, taught, and revered, faith in Christ will be stirred, nurtured, and perserved. Where Scripture is not proclaimed in faithfulness, people will descend into spiritual darkness.