The Divine Imperative of Written Revelation

In Doctrine of Scripture, Francis Turretin, Turretin's 21 Questions by Chris ThomasLeave a Comment

QUESTION 3: Was the Holy Scripture written because of the circumstances of the time (occasionaliter), and without divine command? Negative, against the Roman Catholics.

I. This question is debated between us and the Roman Catholics, who, in order to minimize the authority and perfection of Scripture, teach not only that it is less than necessary, and that the church could do without it, but even that it was written without any express divine commandment, and simply passed on to the church as a result of special circumstances.

[They also] teach that Christ gave the apostles no commandment to write, and that they had no intention of writing the gospel, except in a secondary sense and because of special circumstances, as Bellarmine argues (De Verbo Dei, book 4.3-4).

II. That the sacred writers responded to circumstances of time and place is unquestioned. We do not deny that they often put the mysteries of God into writing under such influence. The question is whether they wrote under such circumstances that they did not write by divine revelation and commandment. We indeed hold that this is not a matter of opposition, but of combination. They could write under the influence of circumstances and at the same time from divine commandment and inspiration. Indeed, since such a circumstance was not presented to them except through divine action, the writing was in accordance with the divine commandment, and the situation neither arose without design (temere) nor was used of their own will (sponte).

III. An implicit and general commandment is to be distinguished from an explicit and special one. Granted that all the sacred writers did not have a special commandment to write, although this is frequent (Exod.17[:14]; Deut. 31:19; Isa. 8:1; Jer. 36:2; Hab. 2:2; Rev. 1:12[11]), yet they all had the general one. For the commandment to teach (Matt. 28:19) includes the commandment to write, since without writing we cannot teach those who are in another place or who come after us, whence preaching is said to be done in writing, in deed, and in word. Further, immediate inspiration and the internal direction by which they were led by the Holy Spirit were the equivalent of a commandment (loco mandati) for the sacred writers, so that Paul called Scripture “God-breathed” (II Tim. 3:16), and Peter said, “Prophecy did not come by the will of man, but men of God spoke, moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Peter 1:21): that is, the apostles wrote when God inspired and moved them, although not in a mechanical manner, under coercion. No more effective commandment could be given than by the inspiration of the things to be written, nor is any one of the promises made by ambassadors fulfilled except one they have been commanded to make.

IV. Granted that the apostles do not always mention a special commandment of Christ, which however they often do (for instance, John, Jude, and others), yet they witness strongly enough to such a commandment (1) when they professed themselves to be universal teachers of all nations, (2) when they called themselves faithful servants of Christ, and therefore peculiarly anxious to carry out his commandments, (3) when they witness that they were guided by the Spirit (II Peter 1:21). Therefore, Gregory sums the matter up well: “He who uttered these words wrote them; he who was the inspirer of their works wrote them.”

V. Not all the apostles were required to write, although all were required to preach. As they were jointly sent of divine inspiration to the task of preaching, so they should all proclaim the same message and follow it with writing; there was an equal responsibility in all matters that were essential for the apostolate, since all were equal as God-breathed teachers. But they did not have equal responsibility in the performance of every particular action, so it is not strange if, through the freedom of the Holy Spirit, some were called to both preaching and writing, and others to preaching only.

VI. A single book was not put together by all the apostles conjointly, both so that they would not seem to have acted together in conspiracy, and so that it might not seem to have greater authority than what each one wrote individually; it would seem that for the same reason Christ refrained altogether from writing: that we might say that he is the one who wrote his teaching not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets but in the heart (II Cor. 3:2[-3]). It was therefore sufficient that that which was approved by all [the apostles] should be written by some of them. Indeed it adds much weight and authority to the apostolic writings that, although they were written in different places, for different purposes and circumstances, in different styles and different forms, addressed to different people, yet [they] are so harmonious.

VII. It was not necessary for a catechism to be written by the apostles; (1) it was sufficient for them to transmit that by which all symbolic books and catechisms were to be tested. (2) If they did not write a catechism formally, yet materially they passed on, both in the Gospels and in the Epistles, that from which we may do catechetical work in the best possible manner.

VIII. As we ought not to impose law on the Holy Spirit, and prescribe to him the method of revealing his will, so we ought not to doubt that the form of writing that has been followed is the most suitable, not only because at that time teaching by means of letters was a widely accepted procedure, because this manner of teaching was most useful for spreading the gospel rapidly, which was the chief purpose of the apostles; but also because this simple and popular form of writing suits the capacities of all, the uneducated as well as the educated, and teaches a theology that is not ideal and merely theoretical, but practical and specific (in hypothesi).

IX. The Apostles’ Creed is so called, not efficiently because it was passed on by the apostles, but materially, because it was composed from the apostolic teaching, and is the kernel (medulla) and compendium of the apostolic teaching.

X. Those who wrote under the influence and compulsion (necessitas) of circumstances could nevertheless be writing from a [special] commandment: two realities, one of which is subordinate to the other, ought not to be understood as contradictory. Christ’s commandment was the primary activating cause and the circumstance a secondary, less significant (minus principalis) activating cause, by which, as they wrote for the glory of God and the edification of the neighbor, the apostles preached both from divine commandment and on account of circumstances.

XI. Granted that it was proper for the apostles to write because they were under obligation to teach, it does not follow that pastors are now always under the same obligation to write as to teach, because they work under different conditions. The apostles were obligated to teach all nations, as ecumenical teachers, but this is not the case with ordinary pastors, who have a particular congregation (grex) committed to them.

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