Sunday, July 27, 2008

Scripture brings Man to God; Man Rebels

Chapter 6 … Whereas the knowledge of God is imprinted on every human heart, and this knowledge is made know to us by creation, by observation of our own selves, by the operation of men in this world, the knowledge of God also produces fear in that we are aware of our own shortcomings to the character of God. There is no remedy for this proclaimed in this knowledge. For this God has supplied his written word to His elect. Even apart from the redemptive plan, Calvin demonstrates from the oracles of the patriarchs and the prophets and the New Testament authors, that the search for the true god leads us to Jehovah, and brings us to the point of redemption.

Take Home Pearl: Beholding God as we see His hand in nature is insufficient to point out that we are answerable to Him, and thus in need of salvation. For this, His elect were given the Scriptures. The Bible is God’s letter to His children!

Question: Is the Bible only written to the Elect? It is clearly only efficacious for the Elect!

Chapter 7 … The interpretation of scripture is primarily from the Spirit of God. To subject the scripture to interpretation of the church produces error, and
The truth of God would thus be subjected to the will of man.
For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.


Question: What role is the visible church given in biblical interpretation? Elders are admonished to speak as the oracle of God. The church is said to be the pillar and ground of the truth.

Chapter 8 … The Credibility of Scripture proven internally, from Moses, the Prophets, the Evangelists, and the Apostles. Calvin points out the harmony of both the Old Testament and New Testament both in doctrine and fulfilled prophecy. He uses external proofs by citing the church’s role in preserving the truth. He mentions the unflinching loyalty of the martyrs.

Take Home Pearl: Scripture does a fine job defending itself. It is glorious; it is majestic.

Question: Is not the transforming power in the heart of the redeemed the most compelling external proof?

Chapter 9 … Calvin expends considerable ink in refuting the claims of those in his day who reject scripture in favor of personal revelation. How appropriate for today, where we daily encounter those who claim revelation from God for some new doctrine or sect.


Chapter 10 … The scripture is in perfect harmony with God’s created revelation. Man is forced to confront the LORD. Man responds with gods of his own making. In a word, man responds with rebellion.

Take Home Pearl: God saves sinners, not rebels!


BlueDog said...

Chapter 6 answers questions that I had before concerning Calvin's view of the unbeliever's knowledge, or perhaps, what can be known of God apart from Scripture. Calvin doesn't deny that it is the one true God whom unbelievers know. But knowledge of creation and of ourselves is insufficient to identify the exact identity of God. The Athenians knew of the "Unknown God," but needed Paul to identifying Him to them. Thus, Calvin says that the Scriptures "distinguish [God] from all fictitious deities."

BlueDog said...

I, too, was scratching my head on the issue of whom the Scriptures were written to. Calvin indicates that the Patriarchs received the truth by oracles and visions and "handed it down by tradition to their posterity." Before Scripture was written, God's truth was passed down by tradition and word of mouth. Fair enough. Calvin continues by saying, "at length, that the truth might remain in the world in a continual course of instruction to all ages, he determined that the same oracles which he had deposited with the patriarchs should be committed to public records;" thus intimating that Scripture was written "for the record."

Perhaps I misunderstand Calvin, because to me this is insufficient. The Scriptures were written as covenant documents for His people, the Elect. A lot of history happened before the Pentateuch was actually written down. So we have to ask, what was the historical context, the compelling cause for writing down the events, from Creation to the conquest?

The appears to be that the Scriptures function as a record of God's covenant with Israel. It traces the history of Adam, Abraham, Jacob, the Exodus, and the conquest. It enumerates the laws that God requires of His people. The very structure of the documents follow the pattern of covenantal documents (and, incidentally, ancient treaties).

Furthermore, after a gap of hundreds of years, another covenant (with David) is made, and Israel's covenant with God moves from more of a priestly rule to that of a kingly rule. And, to signify this progress, there is another flurry of Scripture being written down. These too were covenant documents to recount history and to establish laws that direct the newer covenant.

After another few hundred years of "Scriptural silence," the same thing happens again. Israel moves from a kingly-administered covenant to one that was administered by prophets. And, once again, there are covenant documents that accompany the progress.

The same thing occurs with the coming of Christ.

Scripture wasn't being written down continually throughout history, simply to put events, laws, and truths on record. Rather, we see clusters of times in which Scripture was written followed by times of silence. And the occasions that required the new Scriptures were progressions in God's covenant with His people, as they grew from infancy to maturity.

Obviously, much more could be said on this huge topic!

BlueDog said...

Chapter 7 gives us a lot to chew on. It also raises a lot of questions, most particularly relating to the one you bring up.

To begin, I don't think that in this chapter Calvin is speaking about "biblical interpretation." He isn't refuting errors of Rome's interpretations while emphasizing the Spirit's role in correct interpretation. Rather, at this point Calvin is still talking about Scripture as a whole, it's divine origin and authority. He is establishing the basis upon which we accept the Scriptures as true authoritative revelation from God.

Calvin emphasizes the role of the Holy Spirit, rather than rational arguments, in submitting to the authority of Scriptures, saying, "Let it be considered, then, as an undeniable truth, that they who have been inwardly taught by the Spirit, feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture, and that it is self-authenticated, carrying with it its own evidence, and ought not to be made the subject of demonstration and arguments from reason; but it obtains the credit which it deserves with us by the testimony of the Spirit" (7, V). Scripture's authority isn't established by supposedly "neutral" logical reasoning, some "common ground" that believers have with unbelievers. It establishes its own authority, and only by a work of the Spirit can someone submit to it. This confirms the observation I made in another comment concerning dealing with unbelievers. Their primary need is not evidence or rational argumentation, but rather regeneration.

Establishing the basis of authority of the Scriptures as a whole is important, since it is germane to the next issue, which is the role of the Church in this process. Calvin regards to be erroneous the following, concerning the Roman Church: "It depends, therefore, (say they,) on the determination of the Church, to decide both what reverence is due to the Scripture, and what books are to be comprised in its canon."

One question that needs to be asked, then, is what exactly is Calvin refuting. I suspect that some of these issues will be cleared up when we get to Book 4 in about 8 months! I will take up this question in the next comment. But it is undeniable that Christ's church does play some role in establishing and confirming the authority of the Scripture. A few thoughts come to mind.

First, by recognizing the nature of the Scriptures as God's covenantal documents to His people, she submits to them. And by submitting to them, the Church establishes the fact that they are authoritative. If I obey you, then I proclaim that you are my authority.

Second, there is a bit of a paradoxical situation with regard to the canon. Douglas Wilson puts it this way: "The Church is under the authority of the Scriptures, and yet, at first glance it seems that the Church created the Bible, determining which books were canonical. So how can the Church be in true submission to something which it fashioned?" The answer is the fact that the church witnesses to the authority of the 66 books of the canon. It doesn't create or establish the authority. But this witness is authoritative. A person can be examined and excommunicated on the basis of tampering with the canon. Cults and sects are such because of their adding to or subtracting from the canon. Thus, paraphrasing Wilson, the submissive testimony of the Church is authoritative over the saints.

I remember Dr. Barrett describing the counsels in which the canon was "determined." He said that they were rigged. The inspiration of the canonical documents required that they be included. Those counsels were rigged because the Holy Spirit guaranteed that they would end up in the canon of Scriptures.

And the church was the instrument that God materializes these guarantees.

More to follow.

BlueDog said...

Now concerning the question I brought up earlier, which is, What or whom exactly is Calvin refuting in Chapter 7? He says that it is the error "that the Scriptures have only so much weight as is conceded to them by the suffrages of the Church; as though the eternal and inviolable truth of God depended on the arbitrary will of men." The problem is with people who claim that "that the church can do everything right" (7, I). Elsewhere Calvin says that these men encouraged men "to suspend our faith in the Scriptures on the arbitrary decision of the Church" and that "the authority which we attribute to the Scripture depends on the definition or decrees of men" (7, III). These are truly problematic propositions.

No doubt the church is the pillar and ground of the truth. It bears witness to the truth. And God preserves His truth within the truth. But great problems arise when a church abuses these truths. Apparently the Roman church in Calvin's day resorted to making decrees concerning anything it wanted to establish as true. This is an abuse of something that is quite true. Hence, we find Calvin equating the church (we can assume the Roman church) with the "judgment of men" and "favour of men." In reality, the church preserves the truth of God. It is not a platform for authoritatively spreading error.

Thus, Calvin is not undermining the kernel of truth that the Roman church rightly emphasized, that God preserves His truth within the Church. But he is refuting excesses. The Church's authority will never contradict or compromise the Scriptures. Truth is not subject to the opinions of the current bishop of Rome (or presbytery, or pastor, for that matter). Church leaders must never use their position as a platform for spreading their own ideas.

It is right and appropriate to believe and trust the truths that the Church has held over the centuries and has carefully delineated. And it is equally right to suspect new and novel ideas that are introduced to God's people. Additionally, it is appropriate to check our own personal interpretations by the historic opinions of the church.

Finally, we must also recognize that as Christ perfects the church throughout history, she will continue to grow in her understanding of the truth.

Carrie said...

"they who have been inwardly taught by the Spirit, feel an entire acquiescence in the Scripture" What a convicting thought!