A couple months ago, we approached our pastor with a question:
We are getting some questions on prophecy and dreams, and we are curious if you could help us answer them appropriately as we disciple some who have left false teaching?
Our stance is that trusting that we are hearing from God in these ways in fact undermines the sufficiency of scripture, and that this is not a matter of continuationism vs. cessationism. We usually hear “I know, I know…the Bible is the final authority…but…”
We are being accused of swinging to the other end of the spectrum after leaving false teaching and that we are now denying the supernatural and miraculous, which is far from true! Thank you so much for your help!
Unbeknownst to us (and our pastor!), this simple request resulted in a 13 page position paper! We are so incredibly grateful for the time our pastor, Dr. John Greever, put into writing these words that we will be sharing in a seven-part series on our blog. This is part one, an introduction of sorts. Parts 2-6 will follow. We pray this helps your understanding of why the Bible is enough and should be central and most important in our Christian experience.
Scripture as Authoritative Divine Revelation Contrasting with Human Subjectivity: A Position Paper on the Nature and Significance of the Bible in Christian Experience with Particular Reference to Human Subjectivity Applied in Religious Authority
By Dr. John E. Greever
The Era of Written Scripture
When reference is made to the “era of written Scripture”, the meaning of this title points to the canonization of Scripture and the closure of the canon as written divine revelation. Although there were in the Old Testament both writing and non-writing prophets, the canon of the Old Testament was codified as the Word of God, including all divinely authorized declarations by those whom God sent to His people to proclaim His Word to them. Jesus references this codification several times in His life, sometimes shortening the reference to “Moses and the Prophets.” The New Testament writings were authoritative the moment they were written, and the first century church recognized this truth. I am not in this paper dealing with the process of canonization regarding the Bible or the manuscript evidence for such canonization. This is a different subject worthy of study. The assertion I am making here is that the written sixty-six books of the Bible form the authoritative canon of divine revelation, which is all-sufficient in human history and experience with reference to God’s revelation to humans. The Bible contains what God wants to say authoritatively as divine revelation to all people for all history; as such, the Bible contains the authoritative foundation and teaching for doctrine and moral wisdom that humans need for living in and under the sovereignty and pleasure of God.
The term “written revelation” implies the interjection of God’s mind and thought into human experience through the vehicle of written language. This is in contrast to human experience separate from written language (e.g., hearing a voice, seeing a vision, dreaming a dream etc.). The Scripture as the written revelation of God includes both Old and New Testaments; it also engages both chronological time periods in each of these Testaments. It is true that in both time periods (Old and New Testaments) there was human experience connected to divine revelation outside the context of writing (A good example of this in the Old Testament would be those non-writing prophets who spoke for God at God’s call and leadership, and in the New Testament the term “prophecy” continued on; however, as time went by following the ascension of Jesus and Pentecost the emphasis grew more and more on the preaching aspect of prophecy, which in turn focused the spotlight on the written Scriptures), the overwhelming textual emphasis in the New Testament as it pertains to the teaching aspect of the Epistles (which were intended for the instruction of God’s people as the church, especially for Christian leadership and preaching) is that the communication of the gospel to the world and the building up of God’s people in sanctification and service all rest upon the preaching and teaching of the written Scriptures, which are intended for these matters.
The Nature and Purpose of Non-written Revelation and Written Revelation
- Progressive Revelation: Quickly following an admission on our part that God has in human history past utilized non-written revelation to communicate with the minds and hearts of people, it must be asked what the nature and significance of such revelation might be, particularly as it compares and connects to written revelation. In general terms, divine revelation was sovereignly granted by God to people in a PROGRESSIVE fashion in both time and content. As such, earlier revelation came in more general ways. This includes revelation through CREATION (visual) and in VARIOUS HUMAN EXPERIENCES (i.e., dreams, visions, and theophanies). All of this came before Jesus Christ; but in the incarnation, we have a change in revelatory and redemptive history. There is a climax and culmination to revelation and redemption in Jesus Christ when He came to earth in incarnate flesh. The Bible says in Hebrews 1:1-3a, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appoint the heir of all thing, through whom also he created the world. He (Christ) is the exact radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of His nature…” In John 14:8. Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” To this request Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father in me…(vv. 9-11)” Jesus is making the extraordinary claim that he is the incarnational manifestation of deity in human form (as the Son of God; no intention is meant here to disregard the doctrine of the Trinity). He speaks and he acts in keeping with the Father’s nature and will; to hear Jesus and to observe Jesus is to know the Father’s nature and character in Jesus Christ. Revelation and redemption come to an exalted and completed form in Jesus Christ!
The New Testament teaches doctrine and instruction relative to Jesus Christ and the gospel. Although there is much to learn about truth that engages life in redemption and holiness (and we will continue to learn more about this in heaven), there is no further special revelation beyond Jesus Christ and the New Testament to be made; Jesus Christ and the message of the gospel form the final authoritative revelation from God to humanity. Jesus is the focus of prophetic Old Testament anticipation and meaning, and when Jesus came, this fulfilled God’s promise in the person and saving work of Christ. This promise is still being fulfilled in human history and human experience. This will continue in a linear fashion until the second coming of Jesus Christ and the eschatos (the culmination of all things in Christ).
The progressive nature of written revelation takes its form for a variety of reasons. It allows for sequential receptivity and understanding within the context of the covenant of redemption. This begins with the Patriarchs and moves forward in the history of Israel. The people of God were characterized by their remembrance of and obedience to the teaching of God in the Law, as applied to the covenant nation of Israel. Everything in the Old Testament prophets always came back to what God has said in authoritative revelation as contained in the Law (the Old Testament prophets specifically referenced regularly the Law of God as given in Deuteronomy).
In the history of revelation, on occasion through early periods of progressive revelation, God utilized human experience and subjectivity in divine revelation. In the Old Testaments, as part of the revelatory process, prophets and seers would experience other worldly perceptions of truth for the purpose of speaking for God to the people. And God was gracious to accommodate these prophets in their weaknesses, so that the truth might come to the people in the situations of life. However, a close examination of the writing prophets reveals that they most often were not adding new material to the Law, usually in the form of the Deuteronomic Law (Book of Deuteronomy). Thus, the Law was foundational to the prophetic word in the Old Testament. This is not totally representative of the prophetic ministry in the Old Testament, but this covers a large portion of the writing of the Old Testament prophets. The prophets, thus, were declaring in their prophetic style and preaching the Law of God, as given to Moses and contained in the teaching of the Pentateuch.
As history progressed, this revelation became more and more clear through the development of Messianic prophecy. The typology of the exodus and the exile added to the understanding of redemptive purpose in history by God’s people in the Old Testament context. This line of revelatory progression culminated in the sending of Jesus Christ the eternal Son of God in human flesh in the incarnation for the purpose of saving sinners and the world through His saving work in the cross and the resurrection. The Bible says in Galatians 4:4-5, “In the fullness of time, God sent forth his Son…to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Jesus showed a keen discernment in His earthly life for the Father’s timing in his ministry. He always resisted the temptation to hurry. Everything was to be done in God’s time! This relates to progressive revelation, as well as redemptive history. This maturation process prepares for the coming Messiah and is helpful to announce him when he comes. As the incarnation serves as the pinnacle of revelation, so the New Testament looks back to Jesus’ life and saving work in a didactic fashion to explain what it meant. The New Testament gives the trans-historical, trans-cultural, inerrant, and authoritative statement on the meaning of Christ’s life and saving work. Nothing need be added to the New Testament, and no further human statement should be added to finish the revelatory message. The canon of Scripture is closed; the written Scripture is God’s final word!
- Divine Revelation in Written Language: The apostles were chosen by Jesus Christ to serve a very special purpose. They were to be with him to accomplish a very special task. They were to be witnesses to Christ’s incarnation and resurrection that they might be trustworthy testifiers of Christ in His saving person and work through their writings.
In preparing these disciples for Jesus’ death and departure, Jesus instructs them that the Holy Spirit would teach them, remind them, and help them to write down what the Lord wanted said in Scripture. See: John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15. Peter reflects on the certainty and importance of the written revelation through divine inspiration when he says in 2 Peter 1:19 “We have the prophetic word (Peter’s expression for written Scripture) more fully confirmed.” This is comparative language. What is Peter comparing the written word of God to? In verses 17-18 he refers to his experience on the mount of Jesus’ transfiguration. What a glorious experience that must have been for Peter! And yet, Peter clearly states that the written word of God is more certain and confirmed than that! Speaking of the written word of God, he says, “To which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts (vs. 19b). Then Peter states that no Scripture is by “one’s own private interpretation (vs. 20)” (by which Peter removes human subjectivity from the aspect of causation and interpretation with respect to Scripture). He completes his point in verse 21 by saying, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man (again, no human subjectivity determines the word of God or the meaning of the word of God), but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit superintended the process of revelatory transmission to those whom God chose to write Scripture. The Holy Spirit gave to the Scripture writers INSPIRATION and DIRECTION. It is best to understand this that the Holy Spirit used the writers within the scope of their human capacities and abilities but watched over the transmission of truth, so that the final product is inerrant and perfect!
It is difficult to overstate the significance of what Peter says in this passage as it pertains to our subject of authoritative divine revelation contrasting with human subjectivity. Peter did indeed have a life-transforming experience on the Mount of Transfiguration, but even this experience did not compare to the power and importance of the written Word of God! We would do well to take note of this. The written Word of God, the Bible, is more fully confirmed as God’s revelation than any dream, vision, or experience!
- The Objectivity of Language: All of this requires that we understand God’s Word in the context of LANGUAGE, especially written language, as the conveyance of divine truth. Language is the means by which gospel truth, doctrinal truth, soul-edifying truth is given to the human race. Written language enables the human mind (and redeemed soul) to meditatively contemplate truth claims and teachings given in the Scripture. This does not discount the ability of God to communicate through visuality and human subjectivity (dreams and visions), but written language is the essential vehicle of the conveyance of divine truth to the human mind!
Why is this so? First, language is intrinsically objective in nature. Many people miss this point; they think human language is totally subjective. This is incorrect. Objective truths require words that can bear the weight of meaning to truly and accurately communicate these truths to the human mind. The syntax and grammatical sentence structure are means by which objective truth is given through words and ideas contained in words to the mind for human understanding. It certainly is true that the mind must be regenerated for true understanding to occur, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling in the Christian’s life gives illumination to the mind as the Christian studies prayerfully the Word of God. However, the objective nature of language invites investigation and contemplation making possible validation and discovery of truth. This actuates the intellectual capacities of the image of God in human essence and existence (through regeneration by divine grace and the Holy Spirit), instigating study and systematic analysis leading to the conceptual joy of understanding. None of this occurs to the same degree in the same way without written language. Without written language one is left with sensations and feelings, which might incite the senses, but cannot give the depth of understanding by which we enter into truth and grasp of it. The nature of understanding God’s ideas and proclaiming and teaching them to others require language and written language by which this study occurs.
We hope that you will follow along as we continue through this series on our blog as Dr. Greever helps us understand why the sufficiency of scripture is so important in the life of the believer.
About the author:
Dr. John E. Greever
Dr. Greever has pastored for over four decades in Texas, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Missouri. During that time he has also taught ministry, Bible, theology and religious classes for Boyce Bible School, the Ministry Training Institute of Oklahoma Baptist University, Trinity Theological Seminary, and the Missouri Baptist University. He has lectured and ministered in Great Britain and has trained students in a variety of places around the world. Dr. Greever holds the Doctor of Theology degree from Trinity Theological Seminary, the Master of Divinity degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and the Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard Payne University. Dr. Greever preaches expository sermons from the Bible, and he seeks to develop true Christian disciples and leaders for a new generation in and through the church and Christian teaching. His passion and vision for the church are faithfulness to the gospel of Jesus Christ in our generation. He seeks to ground the church in its worship, life, and ministry in a biblically based, Christ-exalting, and gospel-centered way.