Let’s Go to Theology Class: The Character of Holy Scripture

The following is from Hermeneutics, my current class at Colorado Christian University, in pursuit of my master’s degree in theological studies.

Written by Steven Barto, B.S., Psy.

How are the Christian doctrines of revelation and Scripture to be distinguished from one another, and what is the proper nature of their relationship? Additionally, where should discussion of these two distinct but related doctrines (revelation and Scripture, sometimes grouped together under “bibliology”) be located regarding systematic treatments of Christian theology?

I believe the doctrine of Holy Scripture is a type of “revelation” from God, as established by Christian doctrine. Fowl indicates, “…how and what Christians think about Scripture will influence the ways in which Christians might interpret Scripture theologically” (1). Webster believes referring to the Bible as Holy Scripture might provide “…an account of what Holy Scripture is in the saving economy of God’s loving and regenerative self-communication” (2) I would suggest that this is an appropriate determination given Scripture’s function of providing a written revelation of God’s communicable and incommunicable nature; His character regarding anger and wrath, forgiveness, unconditional love; and the manifestation of Jesus Christ, His Son and His ultimate plan of redemption. Not only is Scripture God’s special revelation, it is also a rendering of Jesus as the Word of God.

Naturally, the most profound and accurate depiction of God’s nature is contained in the Holy Scriptures. Augustine correctly stated that the rules for how Christians interpret Scripture are well-enough established throughout church history and can properly be passed on to those who have undertaken the study thereof. These so-called rules allow those who would teach the Holy Scriptures to do so “without pride or jealousy” (3) Because the Holy Scriptures are indeed a “revelation” of the Godhead, it is paramount that the sharing and teaching of them be devoid (to whatever extent possible) of human boastfulness.

According to Grudem, the established doctrines of Christianity include the Doctrine of the Word of God, including the canon of Scripture and its four characteristics (authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency) and the Doctrine of God under which we find the how, what, and why of God’s plans and attributes. God’s special revelation (which is distinct from general revelation) refers to His words addressed to specific peoples and nations, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the many words spoken by Jesus Christ. Webster, on speaking about the authority of Holy Scripture, indicates “…the texts of the Christian canon are normative for the speech, thought, and practice of the church, because these texts mediate God’s self-revelation” (4). Holy Scripture serves the key functions of providing the history of God’s chosen people and the theology of God.

The Christian doctrines of Revelation and Scripture share a unique and necessary relationship, with each referring to the other. The eight essential doctrines of Christianity include Holy Scripture, God, Christology, the Holy Spirit, Man, Soteriology, Ecclesiology, and Eschatology. It is no coincidence that each of these doctrines are found within the Holy Scriptures. It is only by its clarity over the centuries that Scripture has permeated Christian tradition and “…has the capacity to address and transform the human being, and to offer a reliable guide to human action” (5).

Stewart believes there is a difference between Revelation and Divine Inspiration. Revelation is God’s disclosure of Truth—that which we would not otherwise know. For example, consider Peter’s acknowledgement of Jesus as the Christ; the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16). Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (16:17, NRSV). Stewart notes, “Divine inspiration, on the other hand, refers to the recording of God’s truth.” (6). Webster reminds us, “Holy Scripture is not a single or simple entity” (7).  It is a set of texts (66 books) of divine origin and is used by the church in a systematic manner. He believes adding Holy to “Scripture” highlights their origin, function and end in divine self-communication.

I believe the Doctrine of the Word of God (to include Holy Scripture) must be clearly established as related to but separate from God’s Revelation. This is especially important given the distinct difference between God’s special revelation (Holy Scripture) and His general revelation (through creation to all people generally). It seems important, however, that these doctrines should compliment one another in our studies and in our sharing of God’s Holy Scripture. Accordingly, I believe the Doctrine of the Word of God and the Doctrine of Revelation should remain separate “doctrines” as noted in systematic theology.

Addendum

I believe God’s revelation includes Scripture, the words of the Old Testament Prophets and New Testament Apostles, every word spoken by Jesus during His life and ministry here on earth, and words inspired by God that come from pastors, elders, evangelists, teachers, and fellow believers. I also belief God can reveal Himself through any situation or through the words and actions of any person. All Scripture is revelation, but not all revelation is Scripture. God’s general revelation is comprised of His creation. By its splendid uniqueness, revelation showcases God’s “intelligent” design. God’s special revelation refers to His words addressed to specific peoples and nations, the words of the Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles, and the many words spoken by Jesus Christ. For the most part, His special revelation is covered by Scripture.

Footnotes

(1) Stephen E. Fowl, Theological Interpretation of Scripture (Eugene: Cascade, 2009), 1.

(2) John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 2.

(3) Augustine of Hippo, On Christian Teaching (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997, 2008), 5.

(4) John Webster, “Authority of Scripture” in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005),724.

(5) John Yocum, “Clarity of Scripture,” in the Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible, Ibid., 727.

(6) Don Stewart, “Is There a Difference Between Revelation and Divine Inspiration?” Blue Letter Bible, July 18, 2018, Web. July 23, 2020. URL https://www.blueletterbible.org/Comm/stewart_don/faq/bible-authoritative-word/question9-revelation-and-divine-inspiration.cfm

(7) Webster, Holy Scripture, Ibid., 5.

 

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