The Westminster Confession Of Faith. Section I.2-5
“Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these:” – for which they list all the books of the Protestant canon. Besides being canonical, the authors also wanted to distinguish the word ‘written’ from what they previously described as “at sundry times, and in divers manners,” and Christ as the Word, “all which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Here the authors want to make clear that the human authors wrote “by inspiration of God.” The bible is both the words of men, but also the word of God. They also wanted to state the reason for God giving such a revelation, and that is that we would have a “rule of faith and life.” Thus both belief and acts are to be assessed against the written word. The word alone has sole “authority in the Church of God,” as only the canon itself is to be ‘approved,’ the Apocrypha only made use of as any other human writing.
In their statement regarding the apocrypha they make a distinction between it and the canon, by stating that they are nothing more than “human writings.” Not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of the Scripture.” They then raise the issue of authority, by making clear that the canon alone is inspired, and therefore it alone had unique authority for being the rule of “faith and life.” This we may call a worldview. This issue of authority continues to be taken up in I.4. “The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.” Here the authors are stating that the Scriptures are self-referential, that is, there being no authority equal to or greater than God, he alone can attest to its authority, which he chose to do with that testimony within the scriptures themselves.
Again, the authors wanted to be clear, that the scriptures have the sole binding authority for our consciences, for both believing and obeying. By mentioning “any man or church,” they wanted to also be clear that any confession, including their own, and any man, including of their number, but more particularly the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church. Also, the word is to be ‘received’ as it is, meaning two things at least. For one thing it did not originate in the minds of the authors, and it is not up to humans to decide what parts to receive, and what not to receive. Hence another reason for them to list all the books of the canon, and not the Apocrypha. “The true Church of Christ is founded on the Scriptures, and therefore the authority of the Scriptures cannot depend on the Church (Eph. 2:20).” 1
The church of the old covenant never received the Apocrypha, and the RCC did not do so until after the Reformation. “In the council of Trent (session of April 8, 1546) the Romanists added these books to the Bible.”(Clark, 13) Even so today, any group appealing to any other source other than the full canonical witness is not in harmony with sacred Scripture, or this Confession. “Does it not now appear that all the details of any writer’s theology and all the practices of his religion depend on what he believes to be the source of information about God?” (Ibid. 13) However, “we may be moved by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter.” Even though the testimony of the church is not required to endorse the authority of the scriptures, since they have self-referential authority, nevertheless the church ought to testify to her “high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter.”
“The heavenliness of the matter,” was their way of saying that it does not have its source in humanity, but from God. The efficacy of the doctrine,” refers to why it is necessary to have the scriptures for salvation, if such redemption itself is to be effectual. The words of mere mortals cannot save. The scriptures, though they are written by men, have a “majesty of style” that also betrays the Divine author. The fathers then get into what amount to the evidences of canonicity. Firstly, there is “the consent of all the parts.” The Bible has the internal coherence and consistency of all its parts, each with the others. As Moses stated when he was concluding his part, he told the people who were to come, that any new revelation must have the unifying consent of the first five books, and this is how the canon ultimately came to be (Dt. 13:4-5). Likewise Isaiah who commanded, “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” (8:20)
“The scope of the whole,” refers to two things, that the whole of canonical scriptures are to be received as the word of God, and secondly, that it covers the scope of every department of life, “(which is to give all glory to God).” We are called to glorify God in everything we do (I Cor. 10:31). The whole scope of salvation is as broad as the scriptures themselves, “the full discovery it makes of the only way of salvation.” The scope of salvation addresses the restoration of the full significance of our being in his image (Eph. 4:23-24; Rom. 12:2; Col. 3:10); which includes sustaining that work to perpetuity (II Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:29). “Redemption came in a series of acts accompanied by God’s interpretation of those acts. When redemption was finished in deed, it was also completed in word (Heb. 1:1). The reason is that the completion of redemption leaves nothing more to be explained.”2 Again, we are also reminded that the full discovery of salvation can only be found in the word.
“We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture,” because of “the many other incomparable excellences, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God; yet notwithstanding our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.” This is all taken together to make the main point that these “evidences” are really only such for those who have the witness of the Spirit within. Without the Spirit, the carnal mind would, and do, dispute them all. Again, the fundamental axiom above all else, is the testimony of the scriptures to itself. “The Old Testament claims to be the very word of God (II Sam. 23:2). The New Testament writers readily accepted the Old Testament as the word of God.”3
“Christ promised to give his apostles the Holy Spirit so that they could also write the New Testament Scriptures (John 14:26; 15:26,27). The apostles later received the fulfillment of this promise (Acts 2:1,4; I Thess. 4:8; I Cor. 2:13). The apostles treated each other’s writings as the word of God, putting them on a level with the Old Testament (II Pet. 3:16). The Bible contains information which, in the nature of the case, could only have come from God, namely, creation and the new heaven and new earth of the future (Gen. 1,2 and Rev. 21,21). The Bible contains many predictions concerning events which were later fulfilled.”4 At this point Williamson states that he will give a few examples, but to quote all that he alone gives would be to repeat a large section of his own commentary, since he gives over fifty references, “and many others could be added.”5 “The fact of the matter is that the Bible cannot possibly be proved to be God’s word by anything external to God himself.”6
The authors are also clear in confessing the infallibility of the word. “The infallibility of the Bible is the axiom from which the several doctrines themselves are deduced as theorems. Every religion and every philosophy must be based on some first principle. And since a first principle is first, it cannot be “proved” or “demonstrated on the basis of anything prior.”7 “As Prof. John Murray puts it: ‘The authority of Scripture is an objective and permanent fact residing in the quality of inspiration.’ He also maintains that ‘faith in Scripture as God’s word…rests upon the perfections inherent in Scripture and is elicited by the perception of these perfections” (‘The Infallible Word’, p. 45).”8 The fathers stated that the objective witness is coupled with the subjective testimony. “‘Infallible’ denotes the quality of never deceiving or misleading, and so means ‘wholly trustworthy and reliable’.”9 It is the inner testimony of the Spirit that gives us a “full persuasion, and assurance.”
Supplementary scripture: Is. 59:21; Mt. 5:18; Lk. 16:29; 24:27; Jn. 16:13-14; Rom. 3:2; I Cor. 2:9-12; II Cor. 2:10-11; Eph. 2:20; I Th. 2:13; II. I Tim. 3:15-16; II Pet. 1:19-21; I Jn. 2:20, 27; 5:9; Rev. 22:18-20.
1. (Shaw, 48)
2. (Williamson, 5)
3. (Ibid., 5-6 Cf. Mt. 5:18; Lk. 1:68-79; Jn. 10:35; Acts 4:24-25).
4. (Ibid., 6)
5. (Ibid., 6-7 Cf. Hodge, 34-35)
6. (Ibid., 8)
7. (Clark, 18)
8. (Williamson, 8)
9. (‘Fundamentalism and the Word of God’ J.I. Packer, 95)