The Authority of Scripture (Blogging the Belgic: Article 5)


For some reason, it was only a few years ago that I noticed the connection between the words “authority” and “author” — and to be honest, this was not my own observation but something I learned from a teacher or a book (I can’t remember exactly where!). This connection, however, is important when discussing the idea of the “authority” of the Bible (as Belgic Confession Article 5 discusses), as Christians ultimately believe that the Bible is the authority for the lives of Christian because of the author of the Bible, which article 3 points out is not primarily the individuals who put “pen to paper” but rather God, who moved in these individuals so that what they wrote is the very Word of God. Article 4, on the canonical books, tells us which writings are the ones that Christian believe God wrote through human messengers. Article 5 then moves to discuss both why these books are believed to be the word of God and what that means for our lives.

The beginning of the article discusses the fact that these writings – and these only – are “holy” (which means set apart, different) and “canonical” (which means the measuring stick for our lives). Because the Bible is holy, it is different from any other book or writing that we might have; while we are called to use many of the tools and skills that we use when reading other forms of literature when we read the Bible, we also must recognize that reading the Bible is unlike reading any other book because of its divine author. It is also different because it is “canonical” — the measuring stick for what we should believe and how we should live. When I read other books (even Christian books), I ponder if what the author is saying is true because humans are fallible, finite, and fallen creatures; we have some beliefs and ideas that are true and others that are not. But this is not the posture I have in reading the Bible, as the claims it makes are true because its author is the author and giver of life. Because of its author, it functions as the book that regulates our beliefs, gives us our foundation for all beliefs, and confirms our beliefs. It is the beginning, middle, and end of our beliefs and belief system. As the confession says, “we believe without a doubt all things contained in them.”

But why do we have these books named in article 4 as our authority? While some believe that the church created the Bible, serving as the selection agency for which books “get in,” the Belgic Confession in this article highlights that it is not the church that created the Bible but rather the Bible that created the church. The confession is careful to note that the church “accepts” these books — it receives and believes these books as being true rather than approved them and said we should follow these and not those. If you go back in church history, you see this is true; unlike some fabricated stories told in popular culture (e.g. The Da Vinci Code), the books of the Bible were not decided in a particular time and place at a certain council as much as they were the books that early Christians were using as the authority for the life of the church; these books were viewed as different from writings of other church leaders. In addition, from an early date one sees people in the various places where the church spread all reading and heeding the same books. The idea of four gospels comes long before the 4th century council of Nicea, as we see Christians in the second century talking about their being four gospels — and only four. It was an organic process.  

The church’s belief in these books is ultimately derived from the fact that in these books, one hears the voice of the Holy Spirit. Or to put it another way, these books are accepted because God speaks in them not because the church says they are authoritative. To use an analogy from the court of law, the Scriptures give a certain testimony that they are from God and when we read the Bible, we find it to be a credible witness to be believed. Now, you might be saying that there are many people who reject the Bible as being God’s Word; this reality would seem to be tied to the fact, hinted at here in the Belgic Confession, that it is the Holy Spirit who gives this confirmation on the hearts of the reader. I know I have experienced that, when you see the words of Scripture reading you and almost speaking directly to you. This is the Holy Spirit “testifying in our hearts” that they are from God.

It is not just a subjective feeling about the truth of the Bible that leads to us viewing it as authoritative, as an additional reason that the Belgic Confession here notes that Christians believe these books are from God and authoritative is because of the fulfillment of prophecy that one finds in these books. Similarly, one looks to see what the Bible teaches about the world and humanity and we find these teachings to reflect what we see in the world – that the world is marvelous but also messed up, that humans are glorious beings who can be gruesome, that we are not able to fix our problems in our own strength but yet we long for all things to be made right. While it does not explicitly mention this in the confession, I would even point to the fact that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is a historical claim; the Christian faith bases itself in history, in something that could be disproved and can be debated historically, with the evidence pointing to this event happening. Therefore, it is not just a subjective feeling — it is not just blind faith — but rather one that has reasons. That being said, it is an act of faith and trust to say that we believe all these things in Scripture are true; let us all take this step not just with our minds but with our hearts and our mouths and with all of our lives.


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