Throwback Thursday: Thomas Boston on the Supremacy of Scripture

Throwback ThursdayIn the catechism ministry I lead on Wednesday evenings, we just finished looking at questions and answers relating to the Word of God. The catechism I adapted from historic Reformed catechisms, such as the Westminster Shorter and Baptist Catechisms, is divided into six major sections. The first section deals with the Bible. Over the past few weeks, we have studied the content, purpose, message, and nature of the Bible.

Q 2. What teaches us how we should glorify God by enjoying him forever?
A. The Word of God alone teaches us how we should glorify God by enjoying him forever.

Q 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The Word of God is the Bible made up of the Old and New Testaments and inspired by God.

Q 4. What does the Bible mainly teach?
A. The Bible mainly teaches what man must believe about God and what God requires of man.

The questions do not encapsulate everything within the doctrine of the Word of God, but they do cover most of the crucial and fundamental aspects of the Bible. What I want the kids I lead to come away with is a sense of what the Bible is and what it is for. I feel confident that most of the kids know the nature, purpose, and basic content of the Bible.

But more than a thorough and impressive head knowledge, I want the kids I lead to come away dumbfounded by the Bible. I want them to see it as amazing that God speaks. I want them to see Scripture as supremely satisfying for their lives. Because of this, I believe it is more crucial to our ministry for our leaders to show enthusiasm and joy over the Bible than to say kids should be enthused and joyed over the Bible.

Only when the Bible is seen as supremely valuable; only when it is seen as a precious treasure, will it be obeyed. There are countless competing pleasures in the world and many worldviews demanding obedience. Once we see and understand the Bible is revelation from God himself, where do we go from here? Christians far too casually confess the Bible is God’s Word. If that massively radical statement is true, then what should it mean for our lives. If the Bible truly is what it says it is, what now?

Scottish theologian Thomas Boston (1676-1732) presents four exhortations for Christians approaching the Bible. If you hold that the Bible is God’s Word, inerrant, infallible, and supremely valuable, then consider Boston’s exhortations.

  1. Let us highly prize this book for the sake of the author. The Ephesians thought that they had good ground to be zealous for the image of Diana, because they fancied it fell down from Jupiter, Acts 19:35. Your Bible is a book really come from God; let us be ashamed we do not prize it more, by using it diligently to the ends for which if was given the church.
  2. Let us believe it in all the parts thereof; the commands, that we may study to conform ourselves to them; the promises, that we may thereby be encouraged to a holy life; and the threatenings, that we may thereby be deterred from sin. Alas ! though we own it to be the word of God, that we are no more moved with it than if it were the word of man, and such a man as we give little credit to. For compare the lives of the most part with it they say, it is but idle tales.
  3. Let us submit our souls to it, as the oracles of the living God. He is the great Lawgiver, and in that book he speaks: let us own his authority in his word, and submit to it as the rule of our faith and life, without disputing or opposing.
  4. Let us study to be well acquainted with it, and make it our business to search the scriptures.

396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert (B.A. Boyce College) is the Children’s Pastor at First Baptist Church in East Bernstadt, KY. He is an M.Div student at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife, Erica, and their son, Jude Adoniram.

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The Nature of Scripture: All Scripture is Supreme

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As I established in my previous post, both the Old and New Testament are at play in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, when Paul wrote to Timothy:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In light of this, we need to make some observations about “all Scripture.” All Scripture is supreme in the life of the church and in the lives of every believer. This truth is summed up in one phrase. All Scripture is breathed out by God.

Scripture has a Divine Origin

What does the phrase “breathed out by God,” or “God-breathed” mean? Concerning the authority of Scripture, Wayne Grudem writes in his Systematic Theology, “The authority of Scripture means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words in such a way that to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God.”

There is an intrinsic and special connection between God and Scripture because Paul says that all Scripture is the very word of God. “Breathed out by God” in this context seems to be a metaphor for speaking the words of Scripture. Unlike all other books that have ever been written, the Bible has at its core divine DNA. It comes to us through human agents, but its content is very specifically, the words from God. Notice that Paul writes that it is Scripture that is inspired by God, not the authors. This emphasizes the divine nature of the very words themselves that we find in the Bible. Timothy can be certain that every word that he preaches is from God and not from man (2 Tim. 4:2). Because Scripture is God-breathed, this indicates that it is also completely truthful and holy.

Any book written today must stand the test of peer review and evaluation in light of similar works in that particular field in order to substantiate the claims of that book. This is because authors are flawed, no matter how gifted. However, when it comes to the holy Scripture, its Author is the opposite of flawed. The reason you see “Holy Bible” written on the front or side of your Bible is because it is the direct product of an infinitely holy God. The character of this Word reflects the character of the one who spoke it. And the supremacy of the Bible is self-evident as it attests to the supreme Being who created heaven and earth.

This means that when it comes to Scripture, there is no higher authority for the church and there is no higher authority for our lives as believers. We must submit to every single text of Scripture as it is all from God. To disobey Scripture is to disobey God.

Amazing Grace

Will you just stop with me for a moment to consider and marvel at this thought? The Bible is most certainly a book, but it is not just any book. It is a book in which every single word is God-breathed or uniquely intended by God to be written in a specific time by a specific writer. We should hold this book in the highest esteem and approach it with fear and trembling. It is not a plaything to be tossed around or a worldly work to be treated lightly. These words that we are reading and studying are from the One who created the Milky Way galaxy and the amoeba. May we never be flippant or silly with this Word. And may we always fall before this Word in submission and worship because of its unbelievably God-like nature. What unfathomable love! What amazing grace!

Three Striking Implications

In light of the supremacy of Scripture, there are three striking implications for the church and Christians today.

1. No text of Scripture is insignificant

All Scripture is God-breathed, and therefore contains a divine element that demands attention and submission. It is all-important and all vital for our faith and for the satisfaction of our souls. Man cannot live on bread alone (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4).

2. No text of Scripture is more authoritative than any other

For example, if Jesus did not say something, but Paul did, this does not mean that it lacks authority because Jesus didn’t say it. All Scripture is God-breathed.

3. No text of Scripture can be ignored

This impacts our preaching and Bible study. We cannot only preach or study the four Gospels. We cannot only preach or study the New Testament. Instead, recognizing that all Scripture is God-breathed, we must give ourselves to the preaching and reading and studying of both testaments and all 66 writings. If the pastor asks you to turn to Ezra or a Psalm or Leviticus, do not turn him off. If your daily reading is in Deuteronomy or 2 Chronicles or Romans, do not blow it off. Reading two lines out of Leviticus or two pages of genealogies out of Nehemiah will do more for your soul than reading an entire book written by C.S. Lewis or J.K. Rowling because Leviticus and Nehemiah have the special imprint and revelation of God himself.

We are not at liberty to pick and choose to obey only those passages that agree with our finite philosophies or wishes. Scripture is not subject to our will, but rather to the will of the one from whom it is breathed out! All Scripture is from the Spirit of God and because of this it is all holy and good and true. This means that when we come to difficult passages, we do not have the option to disregard it or deny it, for when we do so, we are denying God himself. It is therefore important to learn how to study the Bible. Yes, you want to wield a sword when an enemy attacks you, but if you do not know how to wield it correctly, you are great risk of maiming yourself. In the same way, if we do not know how to properly wield the Sword of Truth, we will only be maiming our souls.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.

Is the New Testament God-Breathed?

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All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. –2 Timothy 3:16-17

This is a crucial question for the validity of the Christian faith and for witnessing to orthodox Jews. In order to answer this question, we must take a variety of things into consideration. Firstly, we must conclude from the context of this passage and the context of the New Testament (NT), that when Paul refers to “Scripture” (γραφη), he is always referring to the Old Testament (OT). Paul was specifically referring to the OT as Scripture when writing to Timothy. It was the OT that Timothy’s mother and grandmother had taught him from childhood (2 Tim. 1:5; 3:15). The Greek word for “Scripture” is used 51 times in the NT and every single occurrence refers to the OT. Nothing in this passage indicates that Paul is referring to any other writings that were circulating around the early church at that time.

Now that we are clear that Paul is referring to the OT in this passage, it is crucial that we understand what he meant by the word “all.” The Greek word for “all” can be just as easily and correctly translated as “every” in this passage. So, Paul is saying, “Timothy, every single portion of Scripture is from God and it is for your good!” It is not just a portion of the OT that Paul commends to Timothy. It isn’t just those epic stories or the monumental figures and events that serve as types of the Christ who was to come that Paul commends to young Timothy. No, Paul says that it is all Scripture, the entire OT, that is breathed out by God and profitable.

This is so crucial for us today. We can be so guilty of minimizing the importance of the OT. Because of cultural differences between the original authors and us, we often simply ignore the reading and study of many OT texts. The OT is not just a collection of cool stories to entertain our children in Sunday school or provoke us to speculate how tall Goliath really was or just how big the fish was that Jonah was swallowed by. The OT is authoritative and God-breathed Scripture that we will see should hold a place of supremacy in our lives.

All of the OT is God-breathed and profitable. So, all of the genealogies. All of the gruesome battle descriptions. All of the names that are so difficult to pronounce. All of the Law. All of the imagery of the prophets. All of the poetry of the psalmists. All of the suffering of Job. All real. All inspired. All authoritative. Scripture does not glean its authority from our capacity to understand it and it is not waiting for our finite and sin-ridden approval. Scripture gleans its authority from the One whom spoke it. Paul is essentially saying to Timothy, “Timothy, every single OT text is supreme and sufficient for your salvation, sanctification, and ministry because it is breathed out by God. You need it in order to face false teachers and suffering!”

All Scripture: New Testament

What about the New Testament? It is important to understand what Paul wrote to Timothy about Scripture in its historical context. As we have seen, both the historical and literary context demands that we understand “all Scripture” as referring to the OT. The question then quickly becomes, if Paul meant only the OT writings when he spoke of “all Scripture,” (and I think he did) then how can this verse apply to the NT writings? Or better yet, does this verse even teach that the NT is God-breathed as well? In short, I believe that this verse, though directly meaning that the entirety of the OT is God-breathed and profitable, carries with it some important implications that allow for the inclusion of the NT within the scope of the phrase “all Scripture.”

Is the New Testament included in “all Scripture?”

We must understand that the NT writers used the Greek word for “Scripture” in a very unique way. When they use it, they are not just referring to everyday writings. They are talking about holy writings that come from God himself. In other words, “Scripture” is a special and holy category that exclusively includes written revelation from God. Everything included in the category “Scripture” is God-breathed. At the time that Paul writes this letter to Timothy, only the OT was strictly considered “Scripture.” Only the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings were included in the category they called “Scripture” (γραφη). So, when the NT writings were added into this special and holy category called “Scripture,” it can be said of them that they are God-breathed. He simply writes to Timothy that “Scripture” is God-breathed and necessary for his sanctification and satisfaction. Though in context he was speaking of the OT, the implications of this meaning can include the NT if the NT is Scripture.

Can the New Testament be Considered “Scripture?”

This leads us to another question. Can the NT be considered in this holy and special category (Scripture)? There are five good reasons that we can consider the NT as “Scripture.”

Reason 1: In two places in the NT, we see the NT writings themselves being called “scripture” (2 Peter 3:16; 1 Tim. 5:18).

Reason 2: Jesus viewed his own teaching as having the authority of God. In John 14:10 he says, “I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.”

Reason 3: Paul also considered Jesus’ teaching as having unique authority (1 Cor. 7:10; 11:23-26).

Reason 4: Jesus prepared his apostles to speak with divine authority (John 16:13).

Reason 5: The apostles claimed to be inspired by God (1 Cor. 2:13; 7:12, 40; 14:37; 2 Cor. 13:3).

It is clear, then, that when Paul wrote that “all Scripture” is God-breathed, he is referring to the Old Testament directly, and by implication, the New Testament. Therefore, it is worthy of your trust. Worthy of your devotion. Worthy of your obedience.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.

The Living and Powerful Word of God: Meditations on James 1:21

img5I have never understood the tendency to separate the Spirit of God from the word of God. This unnecessary and unbiblical dichotomy affects preaching, Bible study, and daily Christian living. Christians rave about the power of the Spirit, but practically scoff at the power of the word. Some even prefer their pastors to not prepare sermons and fully “rely on the Spirit” in preaching. This is not only the case in charismatic circles. Even in well-meaning Baptist churches, prayer for the Spirit to move is viewed in connection to worship music or an invitation at the end of a service. There are surprisingly many Christians who believe that expository preaching and careful study of the Bible is unnecessary for the Christian life. Instead, they argue that we need to “experience” the Spirit of God and rely on the Spirit of God instead of the word of God.
In the face of this errant separation of Spirit and word is the witness of Scripture.The Bible conveys a direct connection between the Spirit of God and the word of God. God desires worshipers who worship in Spirit and truth. The Bible speaks of the Spirit granting the new birth (John 3:3-8; 6:63). When the Spirit is sent, he dwells within believers. At the same time, when the word of God comes in the gospel, it is implanted in us (Jam. 1:21). This relationship between the Spirit of God and the word of God greatly aids our understanding of the role of the word of God in our lives. The word of God is not mere text or lifeless revelation. It is a living and moving, breathing and working power that is a vehicle for life and a catalyst for faith.

The Word of God Saves?

James says something that is radically contrary to modern rejection of the Bible. If you question the relevancy of the Bible, heed this word: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Jam. 1:21, emphasis added). Notice in verse 21 how the implanted word of God is “able to save your souls.” How necessary then is the word of God for our lives? It is absolutely crucial. It is vital for your salvation, for your perseverance in the faith. The word of God saves us. How are we to “be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger”? How are we to be doers of the word and not just hearers? How are we to practice true and pure religion? We must receive the implanted word of God!

Our souls depend on the implanted word and our reception of it. Rejecting the word of God is like rejecting the very oxygen you need to live and breathe. The gospel demands the life-giving external word of God. Christians suffocate when they stop receiving the word of God. A closed Bible on a shelf is like a closed mouth and nose refusing to breath. When you miss a day of receiving the word of God, you should feel short of breath.

Receive the External Word

But how do we receive the implanted word of God? The implanted word is the message of the gospel that we received at the point of believing in Jesus. God plants the gospel in our hearts in the new birth. This implanted word fuels a desire for the external word of God, which is the Scriptures (Genesis-Revelation). We receive the implanted word through our reception of the external word. The power of the implanted word (the gospel) to save us feeds on our reception of the external word. It is through this transaction that the word of God powerfully works to save our souls.

Receive With Meekness

Now that we have seen that Christians are to receive the implanted word by receiving the external word, we will look at the manner James urges us to receive the word. This is a crucial lesson in Bible study and sitting under preaching. The context of this passage is of hearing the word. James says we should hear the word of God in specific ways; ways that oppose hasty and angry speech and attitudes. We should hear and receive the word of God with meekness. This means we should approach the Bible with humility and be quick to submit to it. When we open our Bibles to receive God’s word, we must do so with a trusting heart. We must ask God to help us to understand and delight in what we read. We must ask God to grant us the grace to willingly and gladly submit to his word. When we approach the Bible in this way, we receive it with meekness.

So, instead of rejecting portions of the Bible you personally find difficult to understand or accept, humbly trust God to teach you and meekly submit to God’s goodness and glory when you fail to grasp a certain biblical text. Remember, the thriving of your life as a Christian is not dependent on your level of understanding, but on an already implanted word (the gospel) that abides in you and is working for the completion of your salvation.

Implications

There are at least four important implications to draw from this passage.

Firstly, we can rest in the power of the gospel. The gospel is not a weak and fleeting power that is here today and gone tomorrow like a visiting political power. No, the gospel is the power of God to save (Rom. 1:16). The gospel takes root in your heart and creates the new birth. Stop trying to earn your own righteousness. Stop trying to give yourself life. Instead, rest in the work of Christ who died to give you new life through the word of his gospel.

Secondly, we need the gospel every day. It is the message of the gospel that was implanted at the new birth. It is this implanted word that fuels faith. In order to sustain your faith on a daily basis as you actively “put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” All sin-killing efforts are fueled through meek reception of the word of God.

Thirdly, we must have the gospel on our lips every day. If the gospel is the means of the new birth, then we must actively seek to evangelize our lost friends, family, and even those we do not know. All men and women are both born in sin and dead in sin. Because of this, our only hope of life with God is rebirth. Rebirth comes through the word of the gospel. So, we must go with gospel everywhere we go. In the words of Paul, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17).

Fourthly, we cannot afford to neglect the word of God. James says the implanted word of God is “able to save your souls” (Jam. 1:21). So, the best thing we can do for our souls is to open the word of God and feed our hungry souls the bread of life.


396110_519885398036913_1852978654_nMathew Gilbert is a student at Boyce College (B.A. Biblical and Theological Studies, Dec. ’14). He is the author of the forthcoming book Come to the Well: 50 Meditations to Fuel Your Joy in God (CrossBooks). Mathew lives in London, KY with his wife Erica and their dog, Simba.