Everything we know of God has been revealed to us by God. Humanity has not come to an understanding of who God is by its own efforts or study. Instead, everything we understand has come as the result of his own self-revelation. He is the God who speaks.
As we look at the world around us, we can see some evidences of God’s grandeur and majesty. How often have we stopped and marveled at the beauty of a sunset—whether that be over the ocean waves or the mountain-tops? How often have we shuddered to think of the terrific power of “natural disasters”—tornados, tsunamis, and hurricanes—which we categorize more properly as “acts of God?”
Each of us have an understanding of right and wrong, based on the power and conviction of our consciences. Intuitively, we know that hatred is wrong. We understand the value of human life. We have to be taught to ignore those instincts (and many of us are), but we are born with them nonetheless.
But it is important to recognize that we know nothing of the love and mercy of God apart from divine revelation. We may know that a god exists, but we do not understand his character nor do we know his name apart from his own self-revelation. We know nothing of the three-in-one, Triune Godhead apart from divine revelation. And we know nothing of the hope of our salvation apart from his own attestation. Eternity hangs in the balance of his voice and he is not silent.
In the Old Testament, he speaks into the empty void and brings something out of nothing. He calls out to Adam in the Garden and tells Noah how to survive the flood. He gives Abram his marching orders and calls Moses from the burning bush. He thunders from the mountain, shows his power in the whirlwind, and whispers in the silence.
In the New Testament, he sends his Son—the eternal second person of the Triune Godhead, the Living Word, and active agent of all creation—to clothe himself in humanity and live a sinless life. He preached the arrival of the Kingdom of God and died a sacrificial, penal substitutionary death, and rose on the third day defeating death, hell, and the grave granting eternal life to whosoever believes. His invitation lingers, “All you who labor and are heavy labor, and I will give you rest.”
Our God is a God who speaks.
And because our God is a God who speaks, his words—the form of his communication—the Living and Inscripturated Words—matter . . . and they move.
Notice that in Acts, as the church is born and begins to expand, the Word of God is seen as the active agent: “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied . . .” (Acts 6:7), and, “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24). Yes the Word is preached by the Apostles, but it is no mere passive instrument in the establishment of the Christian church.
As we approach the task of preaching, then, we must understand the centrality of our convictions concerning the Word of God in our doing so. That which we believe about the Bible will determine the manner and method of our preaching. If it is nothing more than a book of pithy moral teachings or a collection of mythological tales, the manner in which we approach the pulpit will follow and the Bible is nothing more than another collection of the stories of Zeus or Apollos or Odin or any other mythological deity.
But if the Bible in our hands is what it claims to be—the very Word and words of God—then the pulpit becomes the Sacred Desk and our task becomes a sacred task.
The Bible is inspired.
In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes that all Scripture is θεόπνευστος (inspired, or literally, “God-breathed”). Of course this refers to the Old Testament writings that were read, studied, and taught by Jesus and the apostles during the New Testament, but it is extended to the New Testament as well. Peter wrote that in Scripture, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). And Peter himself placed the words of his contemporary, Paul, on par with those found in the Old Testament, writing, “There are some things in [Paul’s writings] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures” (2 Pet 3:16).
The Bible is not man’s words about God nor mere words about man’s interactions with God. The Bible’s source is the very breath of God. We have a God who speaks. And the Bible we hold in our hands is the very words and Word of God. And if it is God’s Word—breathed out by him, it must be inerrant.
The Bible is inerrant.
If the Bible is the actual words and Word of a holy and righteous God—himself the standard of perfection and glory—it cannot mislead, but rather must be “truth without any mixture of error.”
Lest there be any doubt in our minds, consider Jesus’s approach to the Old Testament. By all means, he considered the statements of the Old Testament as factual, chronological, and historical. Jesus compared his eventual death, burial, and resurrection to Jonah’s experience in the great fish (Matt 12:39–42). To cast the shadow of doubt upon the historicity of Jonah is to do the very same to the death and resurrection of Christ! Though he often corrected the interpretations of the religious leaders of his day, not once did he correct the words of the Hebrew Bible. Modern disputes as to the authenticity, dating, and authorship of the Old Testament were never hinted at in Jesus’s teachings.
If the Bible is God’s Word, it is inerrant. And if it is inerrant, it must also be authoritative.
The Bible is authoritative.
If the Bible in our hands contains the very words of God, it must therefore be true. God is not the author of confusion, but of order. Therefore, if God’s Word is inspired and inerrant, there is no other proper response apart from our submission to it. We are not called to correct or adapt the Word of God, but rather to conform our lives and doctrines to stand in accord with it.
For those who love theology—who love to read heavy, dusty books written by dead guys—that means that we dare not explain how this verse “fits” into our theological grid. But rather, we must show how our theological framework incorporates and adapts itself to the text of Scripture. We must be submitted to the text. The text is the authority because the text (and not our own interpretation) is without error.
The Bible is sufficient.
If the Bible is inspired by God and, as such, is absolutely true and trustworthy in all that it claims; and if the Bible is true in all that it claims and, as such, we must be submitted to all that is taught therein, then it must be sufficient for salvation and all that is necessary to live a life pleasing to God. The Scripture is all that has been given or needs to be given in order that we know the way of salvation and the path of obedience.
We do not need more special revelation. The canon is no longer open. Because while God still speaks, he does so through the preaching of his servants.
Martin Luther has written that “Every honest pastor’s and preacher’s mouth is Christ’s mouth, and his word and forgiveness is Christ’s word and forgiveness. . . . For the office is not the pastor’s or preacher’s but God’s; and the Word which he preacheth is likewise not the pastor’s and preacher’s but God’s.”
In like manner, John Calvin stated, “When a man has climbed up into the pulpit . . . it is [so] that God may speak to us by the mouth of a man.”
To be clear: the preacher’s words are not God’s words ex opere operato. Just because it is stated from the pulpit does not stamp the authority of God upon it. The preacher’s words are God’s words only as long as they are faithfully and accurately proclaimed.
Our God is a God who speaks, and preachers of the gospel—those tasked with the accurate and faithful proclamation of the Word of God—are the means by which we still hear his voice. Such a task—proclaiming God’s very words—should cause the preacher to tremble under the magnificent weight of his responsibility. Nevertheless, the preacher must stand confident that the Holy Spirit will overcome the failures and faults of such a brittle mouthpiece. The One who has given us this sure Word will ensure that it does not fail.
Pastor at University Baptist Church, San Antonio.
Professor. PhD in Theology.
Runner. Cyclist. Roast Master at caffeinatedtheology.com.
Just give me Jesus . . . and coffee.