Understanding THE DOCTRINE Of Scripture
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV
Many people think the word “doctrine” refers to some deep theological argument that doesn’t relate to them. I asked one teen what she thought when the word “doctrine” was used and she said her first thought was of an old man in a long robe, in a gloomy building, preaching to a lot of bored people sitting in uncomfortable church pews. Hopefully this article won’t turn you off, but rather turn you on to something really important to the Christian faith.
According to the dictionary, the word “doctrine” simply means “what is taught, the body of instruction, either religious, political or scientific.” The “doctrine of Scripture” teaches about the importance of the Bible, and why Christians accept it as God’s authoritative message.
We sometimes refer to the Bible as the Word of God. It is also called Scripture, which means “sacred writings.” The main focus of all Scripture is the person and work of Jesus Christ, who is referred to as “The Word.” The apostle John stated this when he began his gospel with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). In Revelation 19:13 John again pointed to Jesus as the Word: “He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God.”
The Spoken Word Of God
Throughout the Bible the “Word of God” is used to express God’s spoken words: “In the beginning was the Word” (Jn. 1:1); “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made … by the breath of His mouth” (Ps. 33:6); “The Son is … sustaining all things by His powerful word” (Heb.1:3).
God often communicated orally to His servants who heard His voice and then proclaimed His message to His people. Moses spoke face to face with God (Dt. 34:10), and received the Ten Commandments (and other instructions) which he communicated to Israel, and then recorded for posterity. Moses’ writings are the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. God spoke to Jeremiah saying, “But the LORD said to me, “You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you … I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:7,9).
The Written Word Of God
While the Word of God spoken through His prophets was used to instruct His people, His written Word has a far greater impact because it can be studied, interpreted, and applied to the lives and circumstances of different individuals, families and nations at different times.
The first written Word of God, the Ten Commandments, was actually inscribed by God’s finger on tablets of stone: “The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets” (Ex. 32:16; Ex. 31:18). Moses wrote out all the commandments and statutes given by God and gave them to the Levites and commanded them to be read regularly before the whole congregation (Dt. 31:9-13). The purpose for regularly reading the Word of God to the nation was to ensure that every person in every generation would know God’s mind, fear Him, and walk in His ways (Dt. 6:6-8). This is important today as we now have the completed Word of God and can have a far greater understanding of His will for us.
Moses’ successor, Joshua continued communicating God’s Word by adding to what Moses had written. All these sacred scrolls were used to guide Israel. “On that day Joshua made a covenant for the people, and there at Shechem he drew up for them decrees and laws. And Joshua recorded these things in the Book of the Law of God” (Jos. 24:25-27).
Down through the ages other prophets wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and their writings were honored as the Word of God. After the 39 books of the Old Testament were written – the last being Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Zechariah and Malachi – there were around 400 silent years during which there was no recorded revelation from God. This was a fulfillment of Amos’ prophesy: “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Sovereign LORD, ‘when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the LORD’” (Amos 8:11).
Isaiah’s prophesy (Isa. 40:3) was fulfilled when John the Baptist called Israel to repent and pointed out Jesus as the promised Messiah. John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, saying, “I am the voice of one calling in the desert, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” The next day when John saw Jesus coming he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn. 1:23,29). The birth of Jesus, His incarnation, was the moment when the Word became flesh, when God became man and came into the world to save sinners. John made this profound statement: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14).
The birth of Jesus was the greatest manifestation of God’s Word to mankind. Through Jesus, God revealed Himself by showing us His love, character, power, plans and purposes. Jesus was the fulfillment of all the prophesies concerning salvation and reconciliation with a Holy God.
The Inspiration Of Scripture
Is the Bible really God’s Word? Can we trust it to guide us in these confusing times? Can we accept all of it as being accurate and without error (inerrant)? Does our eternal destiny depend on the Bible’s authenticity?
Inspiration is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit who moved chosen individuals to write the truths which comprise the Holy Scriptures. The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia Of The Bible (1975, Vol. 3, p. 288) says this: “Inspiration includes the superintending work of the Holy Spirit, but the human writers of Scripture were not automatons. Each writer had his own style. Each one used the Hebrew, Aramaic or the Greek language according to his unique gifts and educational background. At the same time that God used human authors in harmony with their gifts, He also indited (put into words) Holy Scripture … The purpose of inspiration was to render the writers infallible in their teaching. Inspiration extends to the whole corpus (body) of Scripture so that in its thoughts and words it is plenarily, or fully, and verbally inspired.”
Some of the Old Testament writers clearly stated that they were inspired to speak the very words of God by the Spirit of God. For instance, David attributed his words to God: “The oracle of David son of Jesse, the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel’s singer of songs: ‘The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me’” (2 Sam. 23:1-3). And Daniel stated that he heard God’s voice directing Gabriel to “tell this man the meaning of the vision” (Dan. 8:15-17).
Jesus put His stamp of approval on the Old Testament Scriptures by quoting from them, and on one occasion said this to unbelieving Jews: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me” (Jn. 5:39).
Peter convincingly affirmed that Scripture was divinely inspired: “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21). He also affirmed that Paul’s letters, which comprise half the New Testament, were Scripture: “Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters … His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Paul understood that his teaching and writing came directly from the Holy Spirit: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Cor. 2:4-5). He also wrote, “We also thank God continually because, when you received the Word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the Word of God, which is at work in you who believe” (1 Th. 2:13).
The Authority Of Scripture
Carl F. H. Henry, in The Origin of the Bible (Tyndale House, 1992, pp. 19-20) wrote: “The Bible is authoritative because it is divinely authorized. It says of itself, ‘All Scripture is God breathed’ (2 Tim. 3:16). According to this passage the whole Old Testament (or any element of it) is divinely inspired … The New Testament contains indications that its content was to be viewed as no less authoritative than the Old. The apostle Paul’s writings are catalogued with ‘other Scriptures’ (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
The Book of Revelation moreover, claims divine origin (Rev. 1:1-3) and employs the term ‘prophesy’ in the Old Testament sense (Rev. 22:9-10). … The apostles did not distinguish their spoken and written teaching, but expressly declared their inspired proclamation to be the Word of God” (1 Cor. 4:12; 2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Th. 2:13).
The Interpretation Of Scripture
In order to correctly interpret Scripture, it is necessary to have some understanding of the text’s background. This is indispensable for correct contextual meaning and interpretation. The principal parts of background study include some knowledge and understanding of history, geography, culture, grammar, ideology and even some awareness of how translations are made.
W. Randolph Tate, in An Integrated Approach (Hendrickson, 1991, p. 10), says this about the interpretation of Scripture: “Background studies may be divided into two areas – semantics and pragmatics. Semantics is the study of the language of the text, while pragmatics is the study of the circumstances surrounding the individual linguistic expressions. Exegesis (drawing the meaning out of the text) must give equal weight to both areas.”
Reference tools can help us answer the following: What were the circumstances behind the message? Who was the writer, and to whom was he writing? Into what historical framework does the Scripture fit? What was the theme? How was it received? Why was it written?
The Application Of Scripture
Having checked out these questions we can then ask: How can I put this teaching into practice? Is there a doctrine about God or a member of the Trinity? Are any practices in which I am engaged in conflict with what is taught?
Knowing that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God, with Jesus as the center of all Scripture, we should take this verse to heart: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
Moses taught the people of Israel the importance of continually studying, memorizing and keeping the Word on their minds and in their hearts: “These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates” (Dt. 6:6-9).
The Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the Scriptures and if we allow Him to teach us, He will open our understanding of the doctrine of Scripture.
By Ian Taylor
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org