Article 5 - The Authority of Holy Scripture
THE AUTHORITY OF HOLY SCRIPTURE
We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith. We believe without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they contain the evidence thereof in themselves; for, even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.
THE BIBLE IS RECEIVED
The attentive reader will observe that deBres began Article 5 with a different formulation than he commonly employed with the other articles. Article 1 began with the words “we all believe with the heart and confess with the mouth.” The vast majority of subsequent articles begin with a variation of this line (notably “we believe”). DeBres began Article 5, though, with the words “we receive.” Why?
The word “receive” implies that the believer does not examine the 66 books to determine whether they are canonical, nor does he utter a declaration to give them the status of being canonical. Rather, the term catches the believer’s response to God’s act of giving. Inasmuch as the Lord God in mercy gave His Word to His people, their response can rightly be nothing else than grateful acceptance of God’s gift. It will not do for one to push this divine library aside as unnecessary or as a fraud. It will not do either to set it aside on grounds that I find too many mistakes or contradictions in it. The Bible’s identity as the writing of the world’s Creator and Redeemer dictates that we receive it humbly and reverently.
WHY GOD GAVE
For what purpose has God given these 66 Bible books? “We receive all these books ... for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.”
The regulation of our faith
The faith of the Christian is regulated, determined, by the Bible. I do not choose what I shall believe, nor does any person tell me what I must believe. Rather, the Word of God determines what I believe. I may not believe more than is revealed in the Bible, and I may not believe less either. If it is true that the Bible is God’s gift to me, I must accept it in its entirety. “For I testify to everyone who hears the words of this prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18,19; see also Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32).
The foundation of our faith
On what grounds do I believe what I believe? Do I believe the doctrine of creation or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit because scientists have proven it to me? Do I believe it because it makes sense to my mind? Or because my grandparents told me it is true? No! Scientists and grandparents can err in what they teach me. My mind is broken through the fall into sin and therefore an unreliable judge of what I should believe. The reason I believe what I do is because God has revealed it in Holy Scripture. God does not lie, and so His Word is believe-able.
The confirmation of our faith
Life confronts me with many doubts, making me question whether what I believe is really true. How do I in the battles of faith double-check or confirm the accuracy of what is written in Scripture? Will an experiment or encyclopedia or archaeology or expert confirm the truth of the Bible? None can, for then I look to an earthly source for confirmation of heaven’s truths. That is obviously shortsighted, and an affront to the sovereign Creator. The Bible regulates the content of my beliefs. The reason I believe the Bible lies in its divine origin. Confirmation as to the accuracy of the Bible’s faith comes from within the Bible alone. Its identity as the Word of God requires that I accept the Bible’s message for reasons that come from within the Bible itself.
DeBres states that the Bible was received for the regulation, foundation and confirmation of our faith. Whose faith is meant here? In first instance, of course, the reference is to deBres himself and the other believers in deBres’ congregation. Yet, these persons lived in particular circumstances. Specifically, they were being persecuted and even martyred simply because they believed what the Bible says. It makes one wonder: is the value of one’s life not worth more than believing the Bible? Would deBres and his congregation not be justified in responding to God’s revelation by saying they can’t believe it now because it’s too dangerous?
DeBres and those with him knew that the Bible’s identity as God’s gift rendered it wrong to respond to God’s gift with “no thanks God, it’s too dangerous to believe it now,” or to simply leave God’s gift on the shelf and not work with it. Despite the cost, deBres and those with him “received” all these books as immeasurably valuable, their content worth more than life itself – for they spoke of a sinner’s reconciliation with holy God and hence spoke of concrete blessings and curses in this life and the life to come! That is why deBres confessed what he did in Article 5, despite his persecution.
On the one hand, our freedom from persecution makes it easy to “receive” the 66 books of the Bible; we do not have to pay for this confession with our lives. On the other hand, there are other costs that come with receiving God’s gift of His Word and believing it. To embrace that Word, believe its contents, and live in harmony with its instruction means we are friends of God and therefore enemies of the world – persons against whom the rage of the devil is directed. A spiritual war ensues, which can cost us family and friends, promotions at work, etc. We do well to be aware that the cost of “receiving” is, at the end of the day, as high for us today as it was for deBres in his day.
HOW DO WE KNOW THAT THE BIBLE IS TRUE?
I accept the Bible because God gave it to me. But how come I know that the Bible comes from God? What mechanism makes me accept the faith revealed in Scripture? Says deBres, “We believe without any doubt all things contained in them,
- not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but
- especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and
- also because they contain the evidence thereof in themselves;
for, even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”
Here we find the reasons deBres uses to maintain his belief that the Bible is true.
Over the years, persons born to Christian parents have been instructed by these parents as well as by the Church to which they belonged. Parents and church alike insist that the Bible is true, and that instruction has an impact on those who are taught so that they follow the paths in which they were raised. Can it be said, though, that one believes the Bible because of parents’ labors – or perhaps the labors of a minister? If so, one could conclude that Christian youth are simply being brainwashed. That’s why it is interesting and important to note that deBres does not give much weight to this possible source for one’s faith. Note his formulation: “not so much…, but especially…and also.” It is true that for many the faith comes to us through the work of parents and church, but one does not come to believe the Scriptures because parents and church said they must. That would not be true faith (see Article 22).
The Holy Spirit
Note the wording in Article 5. “We believe (all these books) ... not so much because the Church receives them and approves them ... but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts ...and also because they contain the evidence in themselves....” The emphasis lies here on the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit makes clear to our hearts that the Bible is from God. We read in Acts 16:14 that “a certain woman named Lydia heard us.... The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.” The Holy Spirit caused her to appreciate the truthfulness of the words that came from God (through Paul) so that she received and believed them. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 2:14,15 we read why the work of the Spirit is necessary. “But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things....” The term ‘natural man’ refers to a person dead in sin, one who is incapable of receiving the things of the Spirit. The heart of the natural man is closed. Only by the work of the Holy Spirit is the heart opened, so that it can detect the difference between the Bible and any other book – and recognize the Bible as being God’s Word.
The Bible contains evidence of the fulfillment of prophecies recorded in it. Examples are for the taking:
- We read in Genesis 15:13-16 of God telling Abraham, before he had any children, that he was going to have many children who would be slaves in Egypt for 400 years, that afterward God would deliver them from Egypt and that they would depart from Egypt with many possessions. The book of Exodus records the fulfillment of this prophecy.
- In Isaiah 45:1 we read of God moving Isaiah to tell Israel about a future king named Cyrus who would subdue nations before him and permit Israel to return home from exile. The prophecy was fulfilled some 200 years after Isaiah spoke these words.
- The prophecies of Daniel contain detailed accounts of what was going to happen on the national and international stage many years after Daniel’s death. They did happen many years later.
- From the earliest pages of Scripture the Lord God revealed that He would send a Seed of the Woman who would crush Satan and pay for sin (Genesis 3:15). The Lord God did so in the person of His Son Jesus Christ.
- New Testament writers describe in several places what sort of attitudes would prevail in an unbelieving world before the return of Jesus Christ. They mention too that the Word of God would spread all over the world and be a blessing to many – and be rejected by many others. One sees and continues to see the fulfillment of such words in the course of church history.
There are two ways to explain that a prophecy of Scripture is being fulfilled. The one option is to disembowel the prophecy of its force. One can do that by insisting that the prophecy is so general that any event can be called its fulfillment. None of the examples mentioned above, however, could reasonably be placed in that category. One could also argue that the prophecy was in fact put to paper after its alleged fulfillment; hence the detailed accuracy of the prophecy. In point of fact, this ‘explanation’ has been put to all the examples mentioned above. The problem is, however, that evidence actually exists that the prophecies in question were truly put to paper long before the prophesied events took place. So one is left with the only explanation that accounts for how the Bible writers could know ahead of time what would happen – and that is that there is a living God who in fact announced beforehand what He was going to do. And that is to say that (the content of) the Bible in fact comes from heaven. This is distinctly the position of the Christian believer, and so he is happy to join deBres in confessing that “even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are [still] being fulfilled.”
How come, then, that deBres could understand that the Bible was God’s Word given to him for his benefit? Though the influence of the Church and the Bible’s internal evidence were contributing factors, it was specifically the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart which ultimately caused deBres to receive the Scripture as God’s Word. To be clear: the Holy Spirit does not work this conviction by means of a dream or an experience, but rather through our being busy with the Word itself.
How encouraging it is for the Christian believer, then, that he finds in himself the conviction that the Bible is God’s holy Word. Since that conviction is due to the Spirit’s work in our hearts, here is evidence that the Spirit works even in us. And yes, in the midst of life’s struggles, that is encouraging. We are not alone!
Points for Discussion:
- Art 5 begins with the statement that we ‘receive’ all these books. What is meant by this term?
- Why ought we to accept what God has revealed in the Bible? What price did deBres have to pay for accepting the Bible? Is that price too high for you? Why or why not?
- What is meant by the terms ‘regulation’, ‘foundation’ and ‘confirmation’ of faith?
- Explain how one knows that the Bible is true.