The Authority of Scripture

QUESTION 4: Are the Holy Scriptures genuine and divine? Affirmative.

I. The question of the authority (authoritas) of Scripture depends upon its origin, which has just been discussed. Since it is from God, it cannot be other than genuine (authenticus) and divine. Hence arises the question or its authority, which can have two aspects: (1) with atheists and pagans (ethnici), who grant to Scripture no more authority than to any other writing; (2) with Christians who, while acknowledging

[its authority], understand it as depending, at least in our understanding (quoad nos), on the testimony of the church. With the first, it must be asked whether Holy Scriptures are credible in themselves and divine; with the second, how this is made known to us, or on what testimony, above all, the authority of Scripture depends. Here we are discussing the first question, not the second.

II. Granted that in truth the first question seems hardly necessary among Christians, where it should be assumed without controversy that Scripture is God-breathed and the primary foundation of the faith, yet because there are even today among Christians too many atheists and libertines who seek in every way to erode this most sacred truth, it is of first importance for salvation that we protect our faith fully against the demonic scoffing of such irreligious folk.

III. The authority of Scripture, concerning which we are now writing, is nothing else than the right and dignity of the sacred books, by which those articles which are set forth in them to be believed are most worthy of faith, and those which are set forth as to be left undone or to be done demand obedience. The basis is the divine and infallible truth of the books, which have God as author, because he has the supreme privilege of binding mankind to faith and obedience. This can be either intrinsic or extrinsic. The first is the worthiness of faith of the Word in itself, which is always the same and which rests upon itself, whether human testimony supports it or not. The second is the opinion or judgment of people concerning Scripture, which differs by reason of the difference between subjects [persons].

IV. Further, authority (authentia) is either that of history and narration, or that of truth and the norm. According to the former whatever is told in Scripture is true as it is told, whether good or evil, true or false. The latter refers to matters true in themselves, that are communicated as the norm of faith and morals. Not everything in Scripture has the authority of a norm, inasmuch as words of blasphemous people and of the devil are recorded, but everything has the authority of historical truth.

V. It is not a question of whether the sacred writers simply as human beings and in private matters would err. We readily concede this. Nor is it a question whether they could err as holy men led by the Holy Spirit, and in the substance, the total message. This I suppose no one of our adversaries, except a defender of pure atheism, will uphold. The question is whether in writing they were so led and inspired by the Holy Spirit that, with regard to both the substance and the words, their writings were authoritative (authenticus) and divine. The adversaries deny this; we affirm it.

VI. Scripture shows itself to be divine, in an authoritative manner and by means of an artless argument or testimony, when it calls itself “God-breathed.” This testimony can be used with profit in disputes among Christians, who themselves profess to accept [Scripture], but not against others who reject it. But Scripture [also shows itself to be divine] rationally (ratiocinative) by means of arguments constructed by reason, based on marks (notae) which God has impressed on Scripture, which carry before them the unquestionable proofs (argumenta) of divinity. For just as the works of God proclaim the incomparable excellence of their creator, seen in certain qualities perceived by the eyes, and as the sun becomes known by its own light, even so [God] wills that various rays of divinity, by which he may be recognized, should flow out from Scripture, which is the effluence of the Father of lights and the sun of righteousness.

VII. These marks are both extrinsic and intrinsic. The former, although they are insufficient for a full proof of the matter, nevertheless are of great weight for confirming it, and convincing those who deny it. [But] it is in the latter that the chief strength of the argument lies.

VIII. The external marks are: (1) the origin [of Scripture]: its primal antiquity surpassing all pagan monuments; as Tertullian said, “Whatever is first is most true”; (2) its survival (duratio): the wonders of the divine Word through the provision for its protection against the most powerful and hostile enemies who sought to destroy it by sword and fire, right down to the present day, while a multitude of other books, against which nothing of the kind was attempted, have been altogether lost; (3) its agents and writers, who showed the greatest candor and sincerity in writing, and did not conceal their failures, but openly avowed them; (4) its adjuncts: the number, constancy, and condition of the martyrs, who sealed it with their blood. For since nothing is dearer to people than life, so many myriads of both sexes, and of all ages and walks of life, could not have so willingly gone forth to death, even in its most cruel forms, in defense of Scripture, unless they were convinced of its divinity. Nor would God have cared to exercise his omnipotence in the performing of so many and great miracles as were performed, both under the law and under the gospel for producing faith in the divinity of Scripture, if it were merely a product of human intellect. In addition there is the testimony of adversaries themselves, as that of the pagans to Moses, of Josephus and the authors of the Talmud to Christ, and of Mohammed to both Testaments, which can be found in the writings of Vives, Plessaeus, Grotius, and others. Finally there is the consensus of [Christian] people, who, although they differ concerning religious teaching, worship, language, and behavior, yet receive this Word as a most precious treasury of divine truth, and hold it as the foundation of religion and the worship of God; nor is it credible that God would have permitted such a multitude of people, who sought him earnestly, to be deceived for so long by lying books.

IX. The internal marks, which are more significant, are also of many kinds. (1) The content (materia): the awe-inspiring sublimity of the mysteries such as the Trinity, the incarnation, the satisfaction of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and others, which could not be found out by the wisdom of any mind; the holiness and purity of the commandments, which bring (cogo) into order the very meditations and inward desires of the heart and are fit to make people perfect in every form of virtue, and worthy of God; the certainty of the prophecies (oracula) concerning the most hidden and distant matters. Knowledge and prediction of the future, depending on the will of God alone, is unique to God (Numen) (Isa.41:23). (2) The style: the divine majesty, appearing no less in the simplicity than in the gravity, and that absolute uncompromising manner of laying obligation upon all without distinction–on both the exalted and the humble. (3) The form: the divine consensus and total harmony, not only between the Testaments, with the fulfillment of prediction and typology, but also between individual books of both Testaments, so much the more amazing in that these books were the work of many authors, who wrote at different times and places, so that they were unable to confer with one another about the matters on which they wrote. (4) The purpose: the aim of everything toward the glory of the one God and the holiness and salvation of humanity. (5) The effect: the light and efficacy of the divine teaching, which, with more penetrating power than a two-edged sword, pierces into the very soul, engenders faith and piety in the minds of hearers, and unfailing constancy for confessors, and always come forth triumphant from the reign of Satan and false religions. These criteria are truly such that they: cannot apply to any human writings, all of which bear the evidence of human weakness, but they truly show that Scripture is divine, especially when they are taken, not one at a time, but altogether.

X. It is not to be thought that these marks appear in equal force in all the books of Scripture. Just as one star differs from another in brilliance, so in this heaven of Scripture some books send forth more glorious and plentiful rays, others fewer and more meager ones, depending on whether they are more or less necessary for the church, and contain teachings of greater or less importance. This brilliance shines forth much more in the Gospels and the Epistles of Paul than in the Books of Ruth and Esther, but it is nonetheless certain that those evidences of truth and majesty, which prove them divine and authoritative in themselves, are in all of them, or at least that nothing is found in them that makes their authority doubtful.

XI. It is not necessary that there should be these marks in every pericope or verse of the canonical books, or in particular parts of Scripture, separated from the whole, those marks by which they can be distinguished from the Apocrypha. It is enough that they are present in the divine writings considered together and as a whole.

XII. Granted that false religions are accustomed to use these criteria to vindicate their teaching, yet nonetheless the true one may ascribe them to itself, for the false opinion of human beings does not destroy the truth. Nor will a believer be unable truly to proclaim the divine quality of the Holy Scripture, in which he sees everywhere the most brilliant rays of divine truth, [merely] because a Turk falsely attributes this divine quality (divinitas) to his Qur’an, or a Jew attributes it to his Cabala, because the fictions and lies of which both books are altogether composed are obvious.

XIII. Although faith rests on the authority of testimony, and not on scientific demonstration, it does not follow that it cannot be supported by intellectual arguments at times, especially when faith is first formed, because faith, before it believes, should (debere) have the clearly perceived divine quality of the witness whom it should believe, [known] from sure marks found in [the witness]; otherwise it cannot believe him. For where such grounds for believing anyone are lacking, the testimony of such a witness is not worthy of belief.

XIV. The witness of the prophets and apostles is superior to all objection, and cannot be questioned by reason. For, if it were uncertain and fallible, this would be either because they were deceived or because they wished to deceive others, but neither can be said. (1) They were not deceived, nor could they have been. For if they were deceived, they were deceived either by another or by themselves. The former cannot be said, for [they were not deceived] either by God, who, just as he can be deceived by no one likewise cannot deceive anyone, nor by unfallen angels, nor by demons, since this teaching leads to the total destruction of the kingdom of the devil. [That they deceived themselves] is no more possible, for if anyone is deceived about any event, it is mainly either because he did not see it himself but heard from others whom he trusted, or because he saw it incidentally and in passing, or because it is obscure and too difficult for human understanding, or because the person is of impaired mind and limited by some pathological condition because of which he interprets poorly. But in this case nothing of this sort took place. For (1) they reported what they knew not by doubtful report or from others who knew imperfectly, but what they themselves knew by the most certain and experiential knowledge, since they were witnesses by eye and ear, in matters in the comprehension of which they were engaged with earnest concern and zeal. (2) Nor did they speak of remote and distant affairs, but of events which happened in their own time and in the place in which they wrote, as is written, “What we have seen with our eyes, what we have heard concerning the word of life, that we proclaim” (I John 1:1- 2). (3) It is not a question of matters that were obscure or that rested on mere speculation, concerning which simple and uneducated people, not comprehending their sublimity, might easily have been deceived, but of events that took place in their presence and before their eyes: for example, the resurrection of Christ, of whom, before his death, they were regular companions, and who had shown himself openly to them after his resurrection, not in passing, but for a significant amount of time, not once, but often, not before one or another individual, but before many of both sexes, and all walks of life. (4) Finally, it cannot be said that their faculties were impaired; for not only is there no distorted imagination or disturbed mind, but rather they give evidence of wisdom and sound mind in both word and life; and furthermore not one or another individual but many people experience and report the same thing. From this it follows that there is no reason why they can be said to have been deceived.

XV. [2] But, just as they were not deceived, neither did they wish to deceive. For those who deceive and lie have in mind some gain from lying and deception, either to receive honor (gloria), or the gratitude of the human race, or to gain wealth and ease. But what reward, either in life or in death, was sought by the men of God when they proclaimed this testimony? While alive, they often experienced on its account the very fate by which people are driven to deception–poverty, exile, crucifixion, and extreme torture–and, after death, infamy and everlasting loss. Nevertheless, disregarding such considerations, they, knowing the risk, did not hesitate to meet ultimate decisions for the sake of confirming their witness, and, forever
dying, to undergo the most bitter humiliation and suffering. Who could believe that they would have been willing to bear all this for the sake of something they knew to be doubtful or false, when it was known for a certainty that anyone who took their course would meet loss of reputation and property, if not death? No one, surely, can argue that they were so enamored of a desire for lying that they did it in a manner at once most stupid and evil; most stupid, that they should want to lie not for their advantage but most certainly for their disadvantage, when they wrote against their very religion itself, which so strictly forbids lying; most evil, because in lying they would have sought to deceive the whole world, and, with no advantage for themselves, to involve everyone in evil with them.

XVI. Further, they could not have deceived, even if they wanted to. For they did not write of events that were remote and separated from their experience, or which took place before their time, or secretly and in some comer in the absence of witnesses, as those who impose on the masses commonly do, nor could they easily have conspired in falsehood. But they described events which took place in their own time, in public and in the light of day (coram sole), in the very place where they wrote, and indeed which often concerned those who had seen and heard what they wrote about, who would readily have detected fraud and deceit, if they were present. If, therefore, they were not deceived and did not deceive, there is no doubt but that their witness is sacred (divinus), and that all teaching that depends on it is authoritative (authenticus).

XVII. That the prophets and apostles were such, and that they wrote the books attributed to them, cannot be called in question without destroying all belief in historical records (antiquitatis fides), and giving rise to total scepticism (Pyrrhonismus). It is just as possible to raise the question with regard to all other books that have survived, but since it is certain that these books were written by some authors, what sane person would not more readily believe that they were written by those whose names they bear, as the Christian church everywhere has always held, and over which no controversy has been begun either by Jews or by pagans, and which in the earliest times, when it was possible to know the facts, was already accepted, than [to believe that they were written] by somebody else?

XVIII. Anything that can be brought up to destroy faith in the Mosaic history can easily be refuted if examined in detail. For (1) if anyone should deny that Moses ever existed, or was the author of the books ascribed to him, he could be shown wrong without difficulty, both because not only Jews and Christians but also many profane writers acknowledge him, and also because [his authorship] has always been accepted by a multitude of people, nor can it be questioned on any ground unless we wish to overthrow historical belief altogether, and to deny that Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and others ever lived and wrote the books that bear their names, which no one except a demented person would maintain. Much less can this be maintained with regard to Moses than with regard to these others, because there is no book which the Jews would have had more reason to throw away, since by so doing they would have freed themselves from the yoke of a most burdensome law. But on the contrary, none has been received and preserved by them with greater care and enthusiasm, nor accorded, contrary to expectation, such authority, as it has been regarded as divine law and the norm of religion; certainly (sane) for no other reason than conviction concerning the truth contained in it.

XIX. (2) Secondly, if anyone, convinced by another, gives up this point and admits that Moses lived and wrote the books attributed to him, but maintains that he was an outstanding impostor and falsifier, who deceived the Israelite people by empty lies and false miracles (prodigii), and subjected them to himself by means of the law which he proclaimed, such a person can be refuted no less easily. For, not to mention that the pagans themselves, and irreconcilable opponents like Porphyry (Adversus Christianos, book 4), give praise to Moses as a truthful writer, it cannot easily be understood how that outstanding wisdom and admirable character, in which the entire life of Moses shines, can be harmonized with such a wicked imposture, or in what way he would have been able to think through that marvelous law, from which whatever good others possess has been borrowed, which provides for the glory of the one God and the holiness of the people, to further his fraud and imposture. Further, if he were an impostor, it is surprising that he followed a path plainly contrary to his design, in which he could easily be convicted of falsification. For if the account which he gives of the origin of the world is false, nothing would have been easier than to demonstrate its falsity, because of the small number of generations which he records between Adam and the flood, and between the flood and the people’s departure from Egypt, since in the time of Moses some who had seen Joseph could still be living, whose parents would have seen Shem, who, up to the hundredth year of his life could have associated with Methuselah, who survived to that time, and who himself had seen Adam; thus the truth or falsity of the matter could have been discovered without difficulty. (3) If Moses was an impostor, and wished to deceive the Israelites, he certainly hoped that the Israelites would believe his lies and deceptions, but how would he have been able to convince them of so many and such great signs as are said to have been given both in Egypt and in the desert, if nothing of the sort had happened? Especially in view of the fact that he wrote for people who would have been witnesses, by ear and eye, of the events, and he wrote concerning actions which were not performed many centuries earlier, but in that very time, not secretly and in some comer, and before a few witnesses who could easily have been corrupted, but openly and in public before the eyes of six hundred thousand men [Exod. 12:37], and their irreconcilable enemies, who would be able to describe him as a falsifier? Would he have been able to hope that there would be among the people no one who doubted these claims, or who would not inquire into the truth of what happened in Egypt? Is it believable that, out of so many people, whom he repeatedly described most bitterly as rebellious and ungovernable, and whom he often afflicted with the most painful punishments, striking with sudden death not simply hundreds, but thousands, and [performing] similar actions by which he could have most justly aroused their anger against him, there was not one who exposed his deceit and imposture, when all of them are seen complaining and rebelling so unfairly against him? Finally, if he engaged in imposture, he certainly took some gain from it, either honor or wealth, as he might have gained authority (imperium) for himself and his posterity, or sought praise for wisdom and heroic character (virtus); but both the facts themselves and the sincerity with which he so frankly confessed his own sin, and above all his failure to believe, sufficiently show how far Moses was from desire for riches or honor.

XX. But perhaps the Israelites, recognizing the falsity of the accounts which were given by Moses, joined in deceit and imposture, in order to secure the greater glory of the nation. But (1) who dares believe that they were so senseless as to agree that they would not resist in such a tremendous fraud by which they were subjected to the unbearable (abastaktw?|/) yoke of a most burdensome law, if they were convinced that this law was simply the invention of Moses? Is it possible to assert, in any true fashion, that, of six hundred thousand men, all would agree in such deceit, so that not one was found who would set himself against such a plan? (2) So far from truth is it that they secured honor and praise among others by this action that, on the contrary, the hatred and scorn of all came upon them, rightly; for who would maintain that it advanced the honor of a nation to have its worst sins and grumblings exposed to the eyes of the world, so that they were shown as the most stiff-necked and ungrateful of mortals, and the very heavy penalties by which God punished their obstinacy and rebellion were recorded more than once? Who does not see that these facts show forever the honesty of the [Israelite] nation? In short, there is no reason why a people of such stiff neck and so fond of pleasure would so readily have sought subjection to a most burdensome law, one the least transgression of which was so severely avenged, unless they were convinced of the divine quality (divinitas) of the call of Moses, and of the truth of his words.

XXI. The conversion of the world and the success of the gospel is a most striking argument for its divine quality, for unless the apostles were men of God and imparted heavenly truth, it is beyond comprehension who could have accomplished this, since their teaching lacked all those supports by which every human teaching is made popular and spread abroad, and was attacked stubbornly by those forces by which any teaching can be resisted: the authority of elders, the consensus of popular opinion, the favor of princes, the eloquence of orators, the subtlety of philosophers, agreement with human customs and inclination. [This teaching] was spread by a few ignorant and weak men, who were altogether foreign not only to deceit in teaching, but also to the appearance of it. They were not helped by the support of eloquence, [were] educated in no skill of pleading, [were] scorned and despised. By persuasion alone, without any support from authority and public approval, without the aid of weapons, through a thousand deaths and hardships and in the shortest time, [this teaching] was so spread to almost every place that it had overcome all obstacles, and emerged victor over other religions that were well furnished with all these supports, so that entire nations and kings themselves had embraced it, without hope of reward, and indeed with the certain prospect of evils which were absurd to reason and unwelcome to the flesh, and which would seem to drive people away from it rather than attract them to it.

XXII. Certainty is of three kinds: (1) mathematical, (2) moral, and (3) theological. (1) Mathematical or metaphysical certainty consists of first principles known through nature and in themselves, and of conclusions demonstrated from such principles, such as “the whole is greater than any part,” and “the same object cannot both exist (esse) and not exist at the same time.” (2) Moral certainty is found in matters which cannot be demonstrated but which nevertheless are commended to belief by such most probable evidences and arguments that no prudent person can doubt them. [In this class are the conclusions] that the Aeneid was written by Virgil, and Livy’s history by Livy. Although, to be sure, the matter is not known through itself, yet it is so witnessed to by unchanging report that nobody who has any conception of history and literature can doubt it. (3) Theological certainty is found in matters which, although .they cannot be demonstrated, nor known through themselves or by nature, and do not depend on most probable evidence and moral arguments, yet [depend on] arguments truly theological and divine, namely, divine revelation, which therefore produce not merely a moral and conjectural certainty, but a faith truly divine. Scripture does not hold (habeo) metaphysical certainty. If it did, the assent which we would give it would take the form of knowledge (scientiam), not faith. It does not hold a certainty simply moral and probable. If it did, our faith would be no more certain than the historical assent which is given to human writings. But it does hold a theological and infallible certainty, which cannot deceive the person who is faithful and illuminated by the Spirit of God.

XXIII. The prophets made no mistakes when they wrote inspired by God and as prophets, not even in matters of little significance, because if they did, faith in the whole of Scripture would be turned into doubt. But in other ways, as men, they were capable of error. In this way, David erred in the letter concerning the killing of Uriah [II Sam. 11:14-15], which has historical but not normative authority, and Nathan erred in the advice which, without seeking God’s will, he gave David about building the temple (II Sam. 7:3), because the influence of the Holy Spirit was neither universal nor continuous, nor is it to be understood as a normal motion or effect of nature (II Kings 2:17).

XXIV. The apostles were infallible in faith, not in morals, and the Spirit was their guide in all truth so that they never erred, but not in all godly living (pietas) so that they never sinned, because they were like us in all things. The pretense and hypocrisy of Peter, recorded in Galatians 2:12, was a sin in life, not an error in faith, a moral lapse and failure in conduct resulting from weakness and fear of incurring the hatred of the Jews. It was not, however, an intellectual error (error mentis) resulting from ignorance of Christian freedom, his understanding of which is sufficiently shown by his fellowship with Gentiles previous to the arrival of the Jews.

XXV. When Paul says, “I say, not the Lord” (I Cor. 7:10[12]), he does not deny the inspiration of the Lord, by whose words he vindicates his own (v. 40). Rather this precept, or law expressly given by the Lord, was hidden before him, so that the meaning is that this controversy over sinful desertion had not yet arisen in Christ’s time, nor had he had any opportunity of settling it, which Paul, illumined by the Spirit, now did.

XXVI. Anything in the Law which seems absurd and useless will be found by the pious and wise to be of the greatest significance for the motivating of obedience, the overthrowing of idolatry, the cultivation of morals, and the proclamation of the Messiah, if taken rightly and properly. The genealogies, and other records that seem unnecessary, are witnesses to the origin, spread, and preservation of the church and to the fulfillment of the promises of a Messiah descended from the seed of Abraham and David.

XXVII. The prophecy of Hosea (Hos.1:2) does not command that he marry the adulteress, for the sons of a marriage cannot be called illegitimate, which is the meaning of this verse. But this must be understood as allegory, since Israel, impure because of her idolatry, is represented by this symbol.

About the Author:

I hold to the historic Confessional view of Scripture as found in Chapter 1 of the WCF/2LBCF. I reject Restorationist Textual Criticism and affirm Preservationist Textual Criticism

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