Monday 19 September 2005

The trustworthy witness of Scripture

Christian faith has always confessed that Scripture is trustworthy. But what does this mean?

Here again, we must emphasise that the important thing about Scripture is simply what it says. When we confess that Scripture is trustworthy, we are saying that the message of Scripture is trustworthy, that it is a true and reliable message.

It is especially important here to avoid lapsing into a formalised notion of a trustworthy or “inerrant” text—as though the biblical texts themselves possess miraculous properties.

The Bible is trustworthy because its message is trustworthy. It is trustworthy in the way that preaching is trustworthy—and this is, of course, entirely different from the trustworthiness of scientific or historical textbooks. In short, the Bible is a trustworthy witness. It is trustworthy because the one to whom it witnesses is faithful and true.

We can take a further step, then, and affirm that Scripture’s trustworthiness lies “outside itself” (extra se). Its trustworthiness is the trustworthiness of Jesus Christ himself. It is trustworthy because it witnesses to him and proclaims him. We may even use the traditional terminology and say that Scripture is “infallible,” so long as we remember that this “infallibility” lies outside the Bible itself—it is nothing more (or rather, nothing less) than the infallibility of Jesus Christ.


Anonymous said...

So Scripture has the same 'source' of infallibility (though not necessarily same *degree*) as this blog?

Anonymous said...

A second thought:
Does understanding the authority of Scripture as functional (and evangelical) also entail conceiving its unity in the same manner? Therefore, rather than coming to a text with the assumption/hope/desire to see it 'fit' with the rest of the Bible, one can have only historical/traditional confidence that previous readers have found it to be so. If so, this is a theological reason for doing what biblical studies has done for a long time: treating the primary context of a passage as the scroll in which it is found, rather than the collection of scrolls (i.e. the 'book' of the Bible the passage is in, rather than the 'book', that is the 'Bible' itself).

Anonymous said...

Sorry for being so greedy as to post three times in a row, but I've been off writing an essay and a sermon for the last couple of weeks and so hadn't been keeping up (anyone interested in NT studies on Luke, should check out J.A. Darr's 'On Building Character').

My third post is this and concerns the relationship between the authority of Scripture and the canon:
does a functional/evangelical account of the authority of Scripture necessarily need to marginalise the actual criteria employed at Nicea (and elsewhere) in determining/perceiving the extent of the canon? That is, allthough these councils used the evangel as one criteria, it was neither the only (nor arguably, the primary) one. They also considered apostolicity (either directly or indirectly) and catholicity (was the text always and everywhere received as Scripture?). Can these two criteria be derived from the first? I think they can: apostolicity was not an authority in itself, but a derived authority from having received the deposit of teaching, that is, the gospel message (in a fuller, broader sense). Likewise, catholicity doesn't attest directly to authority, but is a rule of thumb (perhaps made stronger by a doctrine of providence and God's protection of the gospel deposit in the church) saying that the message of this text is not a johnny-come-lately, but truly goes back to the original proclamation, as can be seen by its geographic extent. Interestingly, if this is so, then catholicity is of decreasing import as history continues, as it becomes more difficult to demonstrate links back to the historical origin.

Anonymous said...

Byron brings up an excellent critique in his first of the three... short but sweet... While I agree with you Ben, I think your reasoning is incomplete. It is trustworthy not only because Christ makes it so; it is trustworthy because the Church, historically and continually and by the inspiration of the Spirit, says it is so.

Michael F. Bird said...


1. I see a Catholic/Grenz view of Scripture here (because the Church says so) operating against a Barthian view (because of Jesus). Where's Carl Henry when ya need him, I'm sure he'd have his own opinion.

2. The book by Trueman and Helm on the Trustworthiness of God is a good read, esp. Francis Watson's chapter at the end.

Anonymous said...

feel like I've stumbled on a debating society here.

the Bible is trustworthy because it's full of promises God has made for us and that He keeps

He will never forsake me or leave me.

Deep down we all fear rejection - but God will not reject us.
without making it complicated .. it's what I rely can on. That's what trustworthy means.

And when someone is trustworthy it means that he or she keeps his word. Is not two faced. Its reliable.

Great eh?

existentialist said...

Hi Ben, I came in off Jim's blog. Very clear and easy to understand your writing is. Thank you. I think I will subscribe to you on my bloglines!

Anonymous said...

Very much like Yoda your comment was. :-)

Anonymous said...

Michael: For my part, I'm influenced by both and try to reconcile them because I think they reinforce one another. Christ and the Bride working together to affirm and confirm Scripture.

Anonymous said...

Ken, how very egalitarian of you! Is there to be no ordering of this relationship of witness?

Anonymous said...

'I am an agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of.'
Clarence Darrow

Anonymous said...

If we remove the conviction that the Bible is inerrant, then it is just a bunch of chaps mumbling their different views when waxing philosophic or writing a justification of Israel's wars of conquest or apologia of her defeats. Either way the Bible itself lacks authority and is reduced to an adjunct of human Reason (Tillich's technical reason)but I prefer one of England's piss-taking philosophers (who I cant remember at the mo.) who argues that the Bible when it speaks with the power to convince within the mind of an individual recipient is so transformed by the awareness of this power that he/she ever afterwards considers the Bible miraculous therefore 'God's word'. Now he was writing with the smugness of the superiour mind but damn it if he wasn't right from my shoes.

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