The Canon: Why These Sixty-Six Books - Part 5

Selected Scriptures

Tom Pennington  •  March 14, 2004
Audio   •  PDF
  • Share:

Why is it that the books that we have in the Scripture are the books that should be there? You're coming sort of at the end of our study. I apologize to you. And so, you'll have to forgive if some things don't make sense to you, but we've been studying this over several weeks.

Let me give you an illustration of why this is important. On September 21st, 1823, a man by the name of Joseph Smith experienced what he called a spirit encounter. He writes this in his History of the Church: "When I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a spirit personage appeared at my bedside standing in the air. He called me by name and said to me that he was a messenger sent from the presence of God to me and that his name was Moroni." Those of you familiar with Mormonism pick up right away that this is Joseph Smith of the Mormon religion.

And he said that "God had a work for me to do." He said that "there was a book deposited written upon gold plates giving an account of the former inhabitants of this American continent and the sources from which they sprang." He also said that "the fullness of the everlasting gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the savior to the ancient inhabitants of America. Also that there were two stones and silver bows, and these stones, fastened to a breastplate, constituted what is called the Urim and the Thummim, deposited with the plates. And the possession and use of these stones were what constituted seers in ancient or former times, and that God had prepared them, understood for me, for the purpose of translating the book."

Joseph Smith is merely one of the latest examples of those who would come and say the Scripture as we have them and have had them for 2,000 years is not sufficient, and that, in fact, God is giving new revelation. He's giving it to me. He is merely one of the latest, you could pick any, frankly many of the false religions or cults embrace this idea of either additional or continuing revelation.

How do we know that the canon of Scripture is closed? How do we know that, that is, those books that God wanted us to have are all complete here in what we hold in our hands as opposed to the writings of Joseph Smith for example, the writings of Ellen G. White, or any other character you might want to mention? How do we know that they'll be no more writings added to the canon?

Well, let me give you several arguments as to why we know that. First of all, when we talk about the canon being closed, let me explain what I mean by that. We mean that God has completed His revelation. Everything God intends to communicate to man He has already done so, and it is contained in the sixty-six books that make up God's Word. How is it that we know that it stops with these sixty-six?

Those of you who haven't been with us, we have argued over this last several weeks as to why the ones that are there are there. We know why they're there. The Old Testament is there because it flowed out from Mount Sinai; it flowed out from Moses, who was clearly authenticated as God's messenger.

And then Moses, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, laid out some requirements for anyone else who said he spoke for God, who said he spoke for God in an inscripturated sort of way. We've looked at that in detail. And therefore, people knew who it was that spoke for God because they met those qualifications, they met those criteria.

When you come to the New Testament, we know that those twenty-seven books are from God because they are given to us pre-authenticated by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ didn't give us a list of twenty-seven books, but He did give us a list of authors, and those were the apostles and those the apostles appointed. That's why we have included these twenty-seven books in the New Testament, because they come from those God said would speak, or excuse me, that Christ said would speak His words and teach us more about Him, the apostles that He selected.

But how is it that we know now that there aren't going to be any additional books added? Why don't we accept the writings of Joseph Smith, the Pearl of Great Price, etc.? Let me give you the reasons why we believe the canon, that is, those books that meet the requirements of being God's inspired Word, have been completed in this book, and there'll be no more added.

First of all, because we know that the age of the Old Testament prophets ended, and we know that there are no more apostles. This is really following through with the arguments we've made the last several weeks. If, in fact, those books in the Old Testament are included because they met the qualifications Moses laid down, and the prophets ceased in 400 B.C. as we've shown you, as I've shown you conclusively, then we know that there's no more to be added to the Old Testament. There are no more prophets that meet the criteria that Moses laid down. So there's going to be no more additional revelation.

Secondly, we know that there are no more apostles. The Catholic Church's arguing notwithstanding. We know from Scripture that Christ hand-picked the apostles. That's for another discussion at some point, but we know that the apostles are no longer in place; therefore, there'll be no continuing revelation because the age of apostles is done.

Secondly, we know it from church history. We know the canon is closed from church history. It affirmed this reality. By the second century, the sixty-six books of our Bible were affirmed as the only true Scripture and officially sanctioned by church councils in the fourth century and folks, until 1546, everyone who confessed to be a Christian in any sort of an orthodox way embraced these sixty-six books only as canonical.

It wasn't until 1546 at the Council of Trent that the Catholic Church accepted the Apocrypha as canonical. I've quoted several popes to you to show you that prior to that, they did not accept the Apocrypha as canonical, as part of the canon. And so church history affirms that the canon was closed, no other books have been added at all.

But now let's look at Scripture, let me show you several texts that speak to this issue. Let's turn to Hebrews, first of all chapter 1, Hebrews 1. And notice verse 1, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways…." In other words, there were different techniques and methods God used to communicate to the prophets, through the prophets. He did it through dreams and visions, through directly speaking, through what is called a Christophany, that is, a preincarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. In other words, before His birth in Bethlehem, Jesus Christ showed up in the form of a man in the Old Testament directly in someone's appearance. So, there were a variety of ways God spoke to the fathers through the prophets or in the prophets.

But notice what verse 2 says. "… in these last days He has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world." What I want you to notice is the contrast between God speaking long ago to the fathers in the prophets and in these last days, in these last days. Think about that phrase for a moment. You see, the clear implication is that God's revelation to us in His Son is what one writer called "the culmination of His speaking to mankind and is His greatest and final revelation to mankind in this period of redemptive history."

God used to speak this way, but in these last days, in sort of the culmination of what God wanted to say, He spoke not through dreams and not through visions and not through those other methods that we discussed, but rather He spoke through His Son. There's an unquestionable finality in the revelation of God in Christ. It's clear that we should not expect any additional revelation. God used to speak in this way, but now He has finally and ultimately spoken in His Son.

Where, let me ask you, is the authorized record of God's revelation in His Son? If that was the culmination of God speaking, was in His Son, how do we know about God's speech in His Son? It's recorded for us in the New Testament through the hand-picked men that were to give us that revelation. It's in the men Christ hand-picked and their companions.

So Hebrews, while not conclusive in and of itself, makes the clear implication that there was this revelation of God that occurred in the past through the prophets, and now God has spoken conclusively, finally, ultimately, in a consummate way through His Son. Don't expect anything to top that. The implication is there's going to be no more, this is the best, the finest, the greatest, the apex of God's revelation. And that's recorded for us through the pen of the apostles.

Now, let's move on to a couple of other texts. Turn with me to Jude 3, Jude 3. Let's start at verse 1, Jude, by the way Jude remember, is a half-brother of Jesus Christ. He is the brother of James, the James that we meet in Acts at the Jerusalem Council and so forth. He did not initially believe, but now he has come to believe.

By the way, we know that Jesus was in a family of seven, I remind you of that. We're told that he had four brothers in the New Testament; we're also told that He had sisters plural. So that means there were at least two sisters, and you add Jesus and that's seven. So there was a minimum of seven, and depending on how many sisters He had, there may have been more than that.

They did not believe in Christ prior to His resurrection, but after His resurrection, the accounts are clear that they begin to understand who this was that had grown up in their home, and they embraced Him as Lord and Savior. His brothers, two of them, end up writing New Testament books. One of them is the epistle of James and the other is the epistle of Jude. Jude says,

Jude, a bond-servant of Jesus Christ, and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father, and kept for Jesus Christ: May mercy and peace and love be multiplied to you. [Now watch what he says in verse 3.] Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly (you fight for) the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

Now I'm not going to labor this point, but let me remind you, we've looked several times since I've been here as pastor at that concept of the faith. When the definite article "the" appears with the word faith in the New Testament, "the faith", it's referring not to an individual's believing, but almost always it's referring to a body of doctrine. It's referring to a body of truth that is to be believed. It is the essence of what Christians believe. So, he says there's this sum of what Christians believe, the faith, and this faith was once for all handed down to the saints. Once for all speaks of something done for all time with lasting results, never needing to be repeated. And this faith, this body of truth, this body of doctrine was delivered. The tense of the Greek verb has the idea of a point in time; it's given it a point in the past by God to the church.

Jude is concerned that there are people in the church who are not contending for, or fighting for, or defending that body of truth. But he says I want you to understand that in the past, once for all, God delivered, handed down to us, gave us this body of truth, this sum of Christian truth we call the faith. The clear implication of Jude 3 is that there will be no further revelation from God, that it has as a package been delivered once for all to us.

Turn next to Revelation, the very last chapter in our Bibles, Revelation 22. And notice verse 18,

I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

Now this isn't the first time the readers of Scripture have encountered this kind of warning. In fact, kind of keep your finger there in Revelation and let me show you a couple of others. Turn back to Deuteronomy 4:2. As Moses is communicating what he's received from God to Israel, he says verse 1,

"Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which I am teaching you to perform, so that you may live and go in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you." [Verse 2,] "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you."

It's crucial, Moses says, that you not add or take away from what has been commanded in the Scripture.

Notice chapter 12 of Deuteronomy, verse 32. Moses again, just a few chapters later, says, "Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it." I don't want you to take away from what's there. And then finally, turn to (before we turn back to Revelation) turn to Proverbs 30:5.

Every word of God is tested…. [This is Proverbs 30:5.] Every word of God is tested; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. [And then verse 6 returns to God's word again.] Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar.

Folks, it's a serious thing to add to or take away from that which God has said. And when you come to Revelation 22, that warning is reiterated. Now obviously when you come to Revelation 22, the primary reference in these verses is to the book of Revelation. It's talking about these prophecies that are laid out for us in this final book. But it cannot be, and through church history it has been taught, that these are not merely coincidental, that this warning, these verses come at the very end of the last book written by the last living apostle. The apostle John was the last apostle living. He wrote the very last book of our Scriptures in the mid-90's A.D. The very last words of the last book written by the last living apostle had this warning about adding to or taking away from God's Word. It is a strong warning added to the literal end of all the apostles' writings. This is it. And if you add to or take away, he says, then God will add the plagues to you which are written in this book and, God will take away your part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.

The bottom line is this – God's people do not add to the written revelation of God. That's the warning, and that's the reality. If someone does, the clear implication of these verses is they are not in the faith, they are not in the faith.

Now, before we leave this point, let me just draw some practical applications of the reality that the canon is closed, that is, there's not going to be any more revelation. There are no more bona fide prophets. There are no more apostles. These verses make it clear that God has spoken finally and ultimately in His Son and in those who were appointed by His Son to write. So, what are the implications and the application of this reality? Let me just give you several thoughts.

First of all: God has completed everything He wanted to tell us. Think about that for a moment. God has given us in this book everything He wanted to tell us. That leads to our confidence in the sufficiency of Scripture, which we're going to talk about in a moment. If you really believe that God has nothing else to say, and God has said everything He wants to say to you and to me here, then you're going to pore over these pages.

Can I just say that the reason a lot of Christians ignore the Scripture is because they don't really believe this is what God wanted to say to them? If you really believe that the God of the universe intended to communicate to you, and He intended to communicate everything He wanted to say between the covers of just one book, then you would spend your life poring over it and learning it and obeying it and getting to know it. If you don't, then as I had a seminary professor who said, "Your behavior betrays your true belief." Behavior always betrays belief. If you're not here, then you don't really believe what I just said. So you're not in the Scripture.

Now let me give you another application: there have been no additional writings from God. This is it. That is a tremendous help in identifying cults, because almost invariably they claim some updated message from God. I gave you one when we began tonight, but there's a whole list of those who claim some continuing or updated revelation from God. You can bet that if someone is saying they have or know of some fresh revelation from God, they are not of God because God has spoken finally in His Word.

On a practical and personal level, some applications of the fact that the canon is closed: there are no more revelations of God, don't expect any additional revelation of any kind. In other words, let me put it really personally. Don't expect God to speak to you. I remember, when I was a young Christian, I would read some books that were sort of a deeper life sort of approach to the Christian faith, a Keswick view of sanctification. And there was this sense that somehow God was going to speak to you, there was this sort of inner voice through which God was going to direct and lead and tell you what to do and sort of give you this impression and give you that impression and speak to you. Folks, God has never spoken to me in that way, and I can tell you something else. He's never spoken to you in that way because everything God wanted to say to you He has said right here.

That doesn't mean the Holy Spirit can't use the Scripture in our lives and minds to give us direction. That doesn't mean that God doesn't providentially direct the course of our lives and the circumstances so that we end up where He wants us to be, but don't expect God to speak to you. It's not going to happen.

When I was in college, I was a resident assistant, I think is what they're called in many places, and I was responsible for a hall of guys. And not on my hall, but on the hall two floors up, there was a friend of mine who was the RA there. And he had a guy on his hall who professed to be a believer, and he was talking with him about, you know, discerning God's will.

And this man said, well you know, God directs me in very clear and tangible ways.

And he said, well what do you mean by that?

He said, well, let me give you an example. He said if I have a question that I want answered, he said, I go down (and I'm not making this up folks), I go down to the gumball machine at the end of the hallway. And I stand in front of the gumball machine, and I say Lord, if you want me to date Susie, then let me get a yellow gumball. And he would slide his little penny in there, or whatever it was, dime or quarter, and he pushed that little lever and out would pop a gumball. And he waited with eager anticipation whether God wanted him to date Susie or not. And he lived according to the gumball machine.

The funny part of the story is that we were trying to convince him not to do this. I mean obviously, this is a clear violation of a closed canon. And so, he would not be convinced, he would not change from this sort of method of having God sort of speak to him through the gumball machine at the end of the hallway. And so we talked, and we argued, and we showed him Scripture, but I'm ashamed to tell you that the end result was the only way he stopped was he went down in front of the gumball machine one day, and he said Lord, if you don't want me using this gumball machine to determine Your will, let me get a yellow gumball. And God shows that He has an incredible sense of humor, because that day as he dropped his coin in, pulled the lever, he got the right colored gumball, and he never did it again.

That's a funny story, but it gets sad when Christians live their lives hoping that God is going to speak to them in some way through a gumball machine or more likely through this sort of inner voice, that God just sort of speaks to me. God is not going to speak to you in that way. God's revelation is completed. It's completed here, and you can read everything God wants you to know. It's in words and letters and sentences and phrases.

Another practical implication (and I've already hinted at it) is: don't look for subjective impressions from God. Just as you don't look for some sort of bona fide revelation where God speaks to you, don't wait for God to give you this sort of feeling. A lot of Christians will use language like well, I would do that but I just don't have peace about it. What does that mean? What does that mean exactly? I don't have peace about it. It's like God must be in the Holy Spirit sort of unsettling my spirit in some way. He's communicating through these sort of subjective impressions in my stomach or abdomen somehow that this isn't something I should do. Folks, don't base decisions on that.

Now sometimes, when people use that phrase, what they really mean is my mind is sort of working through this issue, and I have some problems with this thing, and I'm not going to do it, but they say I don't have peace about it. That's okay, I would encourage you to use some different terminology, but don't expect God to speak to you subjectively through some impression that comes into your heart.

God expects you to do what He expects me to do, and that is when I have an issue that I need to resolve, I come, and I ransack His written revelation for any information I can find that would expose me to His will about that situation. If He's spoken, then I'm to obey it. If He hasn't spoken on that issue, then I'm to make a wise decision, and at some point we'll talk about making decisions. That's how God directs us. He directs us providentially, and He directs us through decisions that we're supposed to make in wisdom, but don't look for subjective impressions from God.

One more practical application of a closed canon is: it's encouraging to me because I don't have to worry about God's revelation being a moving target, that God said this one day and He's going to say this tomorrow, and it's going to be over here, and then I've got to go here to find it. I can do this, I can master one book. Oh, not as well as I want to, but if I give myself to it in my lifetime, I can master what God has said and what He wants me to know because everything He's told me, His revelation, is recorded as I said in letters and words and phrases and sentences and paragraphs and books. Everything God will ever say to you in this life is found between the covers of His holy Word. That's the clear implication of a closed canon.

Don't live in the world of subjectivity, don't live waiting for this impression to hit you, and somehow trying to differentiate whether that's impression from God or from your mind or from Satan or from … that's not how God intended us to live. He's given us a definitive word.

Now, I want to change gears a little bit because I want to close out our study of Bibliology tonight, but before we leave our study of what the Scripture says about itself, I want to take the rest of our time briefly and look at what theologians call the attributes of Scripture, that is, those characteristics of Scripture. Some of them we've already looked at, and I'll just skate past those at the end, but let me give you some we haven't looked at first - the attributes of Scripture.

First of all: Scripture is necessary, the necessity of Scripture. You see, all men and women know God at some level through what we call general revelation, that is, through the creation. They walk outside and Paul says in Romans 1 that they see something about God in the creation. They see His eternal power, they see His Godness. The human mind understands that all of that out there didn't just happen, that all the microbes that make up everything that we are and everything we touch, they didn't just happen.

And so there's this knowledge of God that is in the general revelation, in creation, in providence, that is, God didn't leave Himself without a witness Paul said in Acts 14, and that He brought seasons and rain, and He providentially blessed men with good things, with food and family and all those things. He showed Himself in those things.

He also shows Himself in conscience, remember we looked early on at Romans 2, how every heart has written on it the substance of God's law. Oh, not all the details, but the basic substance is there, and the conscience either accuses us when we violate that, or it excuses us if we keep it. It's not a perfect guide because conscience can be corrupted, but it's a gift from God intended to show us something about God.

But this is important, listen carefully. That general revelation in creation, in providence and in our conscience is insufficient to bring a man to a saving knowledge of God. In fact, according to Romans 1:20, all it does is (what?) leave man without excuse. That's all it really does. General revelation doesn't tell us how to solve the problem, it just tells us we have a problem we cannot solve.

Because general revelation is not sufficient to bring a person to a knowledge of salvation and because as we've just seen, special revelation has ceased, it is absolutely necessary for us to go to the Scripture. For what? What is it necessary for us to go to the Scripture to learn?

Three things – first of all, we have to learn in the Scripture those things necessary for salvation. Turn to Romans 10, Romans 10. Notice verse 14, let's go back to verse 13.

for WHOEVER WILL CALL UPON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED," [or delivered or rescued is the idea. Whoever will call upon God anticipating His deliverance from sin and from His wrath against sin will be delivered. But,] verse 14, How … [can] they call on Him in whom they have not believed? [In other words, the calling follows believing. You don't cry out to God to save you until you believe He can do it, until there's faith. And] How will they believe in Him in whom they have not heard? [In other words, belief isn't without content. You have to know something about Christ. So, he's arguing backwards here. And then he says] And how will they hear without a preacher? [without a messenger, without someone to declare this message] Verse 15, And how will they preach unless they are sent? …

You see what Paul is saying. He's saying that the Scriptures are necessary for salvation, that no one staring up at the sky looking at creation is going to get the good news that there's forgiveness in Jesus Christ to anyone who will repent and believe. Not going to happen. So they're going to go on and live their lives, and according to Romans 1, they're going to be left without excuse and they're going to endure the wrath of God for all eternity.

The only way, and this flies in the face of some of the inclusivists today, the only way that a person will ever be converted, that a person will ever stand before God in Christ's righteousness, is by someone going, and someone then proclaiming the truth about Christ. Then that person believing in that truth about Christ, and embracing Christ, and then calling upon the name of the Lord, and as a result they'll be saved. That says that the Scripture is absolutely necessary for salvation.

We're told this in so many places, and I don't have time to go to all of them, but you know the verses. Peter tells us that we are redeemed not with corruptible things, but incorruptible. We're told that we are regenerated through the living and abiding word of God. The Scripture is crucial.

You see this same thing in 1 Corinthians, turn there briefly, 1 Corinthians 1:21. "For since in the wisdom of God [in other words, according to God's wise plan], the world through its own wisdom did not come to know God." In other words, man's abilities to discern the general revelation that God has placed around them, to reason his way to God, it doesn't happen. It's impossible, and that's part of God's wise plan. God was instead "well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe." It requires the content of the good news revealed here for someone to come to faith in Christ.

You see it again in 2:14. "… a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised [or examined]." In other words, apart from the work of God taking the Word of God and then the Spirit of God enabling a man or a woman to understand it, no one would be saved. So, it's necessary for salvation.

But it's also necessary not only for salvation, but to maintain our spiritual life. Notice what Christ says in Matthew 4. Matthew 4, it's in His temptation and verse 3 says,

… the tempter came to Him and said, "If You are the Son of God" [more likely, since you're the Son of God, Satan knew who Christ was]. "Since You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." [He had gone forty days without food, and he said here's a perfect opportunity for You to demonstrate who You are. Make these stones bread. Notice Jesus' answer. He quotes from Deuteronomy verse 3 of chapter 8, and He says,] … "It is written, 'MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD.'"

In other words, our spiritual life is sustained and maintained, just as our physical life is sustained and maintained by bread, our spiritual life is sustained and maintained by every word of God. It's necessary to sustain spiritual life.

You know, there are Christians who go through weeks and months without touching the Scripture, without really analyzing it and studying it and reading it. And honestly, that's incomprehensible, because, if you're really a believer, then that is what is sustaining your spiritual life. Somebody asked me when I was a teacher in college, and one of my students said you know, should I feel guilty for not reading God's Word as a believer? Well the answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, you should feel guilty because it's commanded by God, but you know what you should really feel if you're truly a believer is hungry because it's what sustains your life.

Third thing that it's necessary for is: for us to learn God's will, for us to learn God's will. Let me just show you one verse on this front, turn to Deuteronomy 29:29, one of those famous verses that you have probably, many of you have probably memorized. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God," [there are some things God doesn't intend for us to know, those are His and His alone] "but the things revealed [what's that? That's everything that God has revealed to us in His Word] "the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever [(why?) in order], that we may observe all the words of this law."

You want to know what God thinks about anything? You want to know what God's will is for you? It's contained here. Everything God wants you to know, everything that's necessary for you to know to live is contained in this book. There are some secret things, but if they're secret, then God says you don't need to know them. It's not crucial to your spiritual life and existence, it's not crucial for you to know them. What is crucial for you to know to be able to observe God's will and His law is contained here on the pages of Scripture. The Bible is unquestionable necessary.

Well let's move on quickly. Here's a word for you, "perspicuity". I'm going to use, because that's a very hard word to pronounce consistently, I'm going to use the word "clarity", which is really what the word means, clarity. God's Word is clear. God has given His people a book they can understand.

Now let me tell you what this doesn't mean before we talk about what it does mean. The fact that we have a book that is clear does not mean that everything is easy to understand. Remember what Peter said in 2 Peter 3:16? There are some things in Paul's writings that are (what?) hard to understand. So not everything is easy to understand.

Neither does clarity mean that we don't have to study. In fact, the ancient creeds used to put it this way: "We can obtain to an understanding of it through the use of ordinary means." What does that mean? You can come to understand the Scripture if you use the just ordinary means God has put at your disposal. What are those means? Well, they're not rocket science – reading, studying, hearing the Scripture read, hearing it taught. Those are the means, praying for the Holy Spirit's illumination. If we use those means, then we can come to a right knowledge of the Scripture.

That brings me to the next thing it doesn't mean. It doesn't mean (when we say the Scripture is clear), it doesn't mean that we can come to a right knowledge of it or grasp all of its richness in true faith without the work and illumination of the Holy Spirit. It's not like I can just sit down one day and on my own steam without the Holy Spirit's help, sit down and really come to grasp the richness and the gravity and the seriousness of the truth of God's Word. It's not going to happen. Instead, I have to begin as I do faithfully, "Lord I am ignorant and in need of a teacher, let Your Holy Spirit help me understand."

It doesn't mean that we can come up with our own interpretation of what Scripture means either. Listen to a famous theologian,

If the Scriptures be a plain book and the Spirit performs the function of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential manners in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact, it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal church (that is, the true body of believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.

You hear what he's reasoning? He's saying you've got a problem if you come up with a new interpretation because the Holy Spirit has illumined the understanding of true believers down through the years. That doesn't mean all of their understanding has always been perfect, but you ought to be afraid, deadly afraid, if you ever come up with an interpretation and an understanding of Scripture that in 2,000 years the church has never had, because what you're really saying is that now after 2,000 years, the dawn of truth has broken on your balding pate, and that the Spirit didn't speak that truth and make it clear for 2,000 years.

Instead, when we say that Scripture is clear, what we deny is that Christ has appointed anyone or any group to whose interpretation we are bound to submit as the final authority. In other words, I don't have to go to any specialist to know how to interpret the Scripture. Basically, this is to counter what the Roman Catholic Church teaches. Let me illustrate Rome's attitude toward this issue, let me quote the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994: "The task of interpretation of the Word of God (he means whether in its written form or the form of tradition) has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome." In other words, it's not your job as an individual Christian to interpret the Scripture through the work of the Holy Spirit. Instead, that's been given to the bishops through, excuse me, to the leaders of the church, yeah to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the pope.

We absolutely reject that. The Scripture is clear in its teaching that we are to instead come to an understanding of the Scripture, but the fact that we reject what Rome teaches doesn't mean that a church can't have a sort of shared understanding of God's Word and that the elders of that church can't insist that certain doctrines be affirmed in their doctrinal statement. Because in that scenario, we aren't saying that before God, you must surrender your conscience to us and embrace our interpretation. Instead, what we're saying is that if you want to be a part of the leadership in this church, you have to embrace our shared understanding of what the Word teaches. And if you disagree, if you come to a different conclusion, and you want to stay, great. If you think the differences are too great, you want to go somewhere else, that's fine too. We're not binding your conscience to say this is the only thing you can understand the Scriptures to teach.

Let me give you the arguments for the clarity or perspicuity of Scripture briefly because I'm running behind here. Let me just give you them briefly.

Number one, the obligations for faith and obedience are personal, and judgment will be personal. In other words, the fact that every individual believer can understand the Scripture, we know that's true because every individual believer is held accountable before God to understand it and to deal with it. You remember how frequently Christ in His earthly ministry said things like this: "Have you not read" or "You err because you don't understand the Scriptures."

In Ezekiel 18, we're reminded over and over again that Christ said, or excuse me God says it's the soul that sins that will die that responds wrongly to the truth. Let me give you a couple of references in terms of have you not read. Matthew 12:3, Matthew 12:5, Matthew 19:14, Jesus was constantly calling people as they listened to Him to: have you read the Scriptures? The clear implication is if you've read it, then you can understand it, and you should've understood it. Christ wasn't saying you know what, the Old Testament Scripture is too deep for all of you to understand, you need to leave that interpretation to me and to others. Instead, He was constantly calling their accountability to the fact that they should have understood.

And in fact, you remember on the Emmaus Road how he chastised the Emmaus disciples, and He said to them, "Oh fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have written." He didn't say well that's your problem, you shouldn't have been interpreting that for yourself, you should have gone to the priest and gotten an interpretation. He said no, you should have understood. It's clear, it's there.

Secondly, we know that the clarity of Scripture is true because the Scripture is almost always addressed to the people and not merely to the leadership. Think about that, the prophets constantly said, "Hear oh Israel, listen all you people." Christ didn't teach the leaders only, He taught the multitudes. Most of the epistles of the New Testament were addressed to the congregation of the church. That means they had a responsibility to hear, to understand, to interpret and to obey.

Next, we could say that we believe in the clarity of Scripture because people are called upon to study the Scripture personally and to teach it to their children. Remember the passage in Deuteronomy 6? We're told to teach the commands of God diligently to our children. What does that imply? We're to be in them, we're to have them in our hearts, and then we're to teach our children. The clear implication is that we can understand them. They're clear enough for us to understand, for us to teach them to our children and for our children to understand them.

Here's an interesting one. We know it's clear because people are called upon and praised for evaluating what they hear against the teaching of Scripture.

You remember in Acts 17:11, the Bereans are praised, you remember why? They were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica because they compared what they heard with the Scriptures to see if it was so. Now if the individual believer is not in a place to make that interpretation, to make that, come to that understanding of what God is saying, then it makes no sense that the Bereans were praised for evaluating what their teachers were saying against the Scripture. They should instead merely have listened.

Galatians 1:8 and 9 says that if someone comes in and if it's me, Paul says, or if it's an angel from heaven and presents another gospel, what are you to do? You're to consider them accursed. What does that mean? That implies that the people in Galatia had the right to evaluate even the teaching of an apostle or an angel, and that they had an infallible rule to use in that evaluation, and it was the Scripture. They could understand it. They could evaluate what they heard.

Charles Hodge writes, "The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by people, and they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scripture and not on that of the church." Folks, the Bible is clear in what it teaches, and it can be understood by the believer with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Sufficiency: we touched on this as we dealt with inspiration, so I'm not going to do anything other than define it for you. This is from the Westminster Confession of Faith: "The whole council of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man's salvation, faith and life is either expressly set down in Scripture or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture." Did you hear that? Everything you need to know. We're told in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17, that through the Scripture, the man of God is thoroughly equipped for every good work. Second Peter 1:3 says we have revealed to us from God everything we need for life in godliness. It's sufficient.

Infallibility: basically this simply means this. The Bible is absolutely incapable of teaching falsehood or error of any kind. If God is true, then let every man be a liar. It corresponds to what God Himself understands to be true. What you read in the Scripture is the truth as God Himself understands it, obviously far more deeply than we ever will.

Inerrancy: (and again, we dealt with these when we dealt with inspiration, so I'm just reminding you of these briefly now.) The Scripture was completely without error or fault in all its teaching in the original autographs. In other words, in the originals there was no error, there was no fault of any kind in the smallest detail.

And then finally authority: the right to bind the conscience in all manners of faith and practice is reserved for the Scripture alone. Let me show you one text briefly and we'll be done. Isaiah 8. Isaiah's an amazing prophet of the Lord. In verse 11, [the Lord speaks to him] "… with mighty power and instructed me not to walk in the way of this people," saying you are not to say what is being said. "… the LORD of hosts …" verse 13, "… shall be your fear, … He shall … [become] your dread. … He shall become … [your sanctuary]." Verse 16,

Bind up the testimony, [that's another word for the Scriptures] seal the law among my disciples. [Isaiah says.] And I will wait for the LORD who is hiding His face from the house of Jacob; and I will even look eagerly for Him. Behold, I and the children whom the LORD has given me are for signs and wonders in Israel from the LORD of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion. [Now watch what he says in verse 19,] When they say to you, [this is what the people are saying,] "'Consult the mediums and the spiritists who whisper and mutter," should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living? To the law and to the testimony! [In other words, go to the law, go to the testimony, don't trust something else.] If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn," [or literally no light.]

The Scripture and the Scripture alone speaks with authority. You can see that again in Hebrews 2:1 - 4, we won't turn there.

Let me just remind you in closing of the story of Martin Luther. In the summer of 1520, a document with the seal of the Pope circulated throughout Germany in search of this remote figure of Martin Luther. The document began this way, "Arise O Lord and judge thy cause. A wild boar has invaded thy vineyard." The document was a Papal bull, took three months before it was delivered to that wild boar, and his name was Martin Luther.

But long before he saw it, he knew what it said. It condemned forty-one of his beliefs as "heretical or scandalous or false or offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds or repugnant to Catholic truth." Other than that, it was okay. The bull demanded that within 60 days, Luther reject his errors and repent or face the wrath of God and of the church. Luther received the bull on the 10th of October, and at the end of the 60 day period of sort of grace he was given, he led a massive book-burning of copies of the canon law and other writings of the medieval theologians. That evening, Luther took a copy of the bull, and he threw it in the fire as well, and he said, "They have burned my books, I burn theirs."

Of course, in response he was excommunicated. In January of 1521, the Pope declared him a heretic and expelled him from "the one holy Catholic and apostolic church." That meant the problem of Martin Luther was now Charles the Fifth, the emperor of Germany. Luther was summoned to an imperial assembly, or diet as it was called, in the town of Worms regarding his writings. When he was urged to recant and was given the night to consider, he responded with those immortal words, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither honest nor safe. Here I stand, I can do nothing else, God help me. Amen."

Often you hear that quoted as if everyone there immediately asked Luther to say it again so they could write it down. Well they went home and made careful notes thinking that some day they could sell the movie rights. The truth is Charles the Fifth was unimpressed with Martin Luther. He declared Luther an outlaw. He wrote this, "This devil in the habit of a monk has brought together ancient errors into one stinking puddle," [I love that, one stinking puddle] "and has invented new ones." May God help us regardless of the consequences to say and mean with Luther, "My conscience is captive to the Word of God."

Let's pray together.

Father, thank you for this book You have given us. Thank you for its marvelous truth. Thank you for its help, its encouragement, its correction, that it equips us in everything we need for life and godliness.

Lord, help us to love it, help us to read it and study it and to defend it and to pass it on unsullied to the next generation.

We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.