The Internal Witness of Scripture
Many years ago, I was teaching through a section of Romans that contains particularly difficult theological truths. No sooner had I finished teaching that an individual--who had been a member of evangelical churches for many years--came up to me and said, "Well, that's Paul; that's not Jesus!" This person was emphatically intimating that what Paul wrote did not carry the same authority as that of Jesus. This not only revealed a willingness to deny the authority of Scripture--it revealed a willingness to deny the inerrancy of Scripture. After all, if Paul did not write the word of God under inspiration of the Spirit, then his writings are erroneous because he claimed to be writing God's word for the church (e.g. 1 Thess. 2:3, 13; 4:8; Col. 1:25). Additionally, it would mean that what the Apostle Peter wrote was non-authoritative and erroneous because he also affirmed that Paul's letters were on par with the authoritative and inerrant Scripture of the Old Testament (see 2 Peter 3:15-16). What has become a matter of increasing concern for me is that there are more than we wish to acknowledge, in the evangelical church, who are not sufficiently grounded in their doctrine of Scripture. If Andy Stanley's confusing statement on the authority of Scripture and Pete Enns' brazen denial of the inerrancy of Scripture are any indication of the state of things in broad evangelicalism, then we are not doing nearly as well as we might have hoped. The fallout over the LGBTQ culture war has only shown this to be true. So, how can we come to know whether the 66 books of the Bible are the authoritative and inerrant word of God? While any number of answers might be given, the most substantial is that which concerns "the self-attestation of Scripture."
The internal witness of the Scripture to its own authority and inerrancy is one of the bedrock truths of historic Protestantism. In the opening chapter of the Westminster Confession of Faith, we read:
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture.And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does 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.1
Note carefully the final statement: "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." The only way anyone will ever be convinced of the inerrancy and authority of Scripture is by the internal testimony of the Scripture itself.
Prior to considering what the Scripture has to say about its own authority and inerrancy, we have to tackle an objection to the idea of self-attestation. Some have argued that it is absurd to accept the circular argument of going to the Scriptures to see if the Scriptures are, in fact, the authoritative and inerrant word of God. In his outstanding essay, "The Self-Attestation of the Scripture," John Murray answered this objection when he wrote:
There is one sphere where self-testimony must be accepted as absolute and final. This is the sphere of our relation to God. God alone is adequate witness to himself. And our discussion with respect to the character of Scripture belongs to this category.2
If the Scriptures are in fact the word of the true and living God then they will de facto bear His absolute authority and truthfulness throughout.
When we come to consider the question of authority, we do so seeking clear internal evidence from the Scriptures that God has spoken and that His word is binding on men. In the Old Testament, the phrase, "Thus says the LORD..." was a common way in which the prophets introduced what God was saying through them to Israel. Later writers often appealed to earlier writings as being authoritative and binding. For instance, David often highlighted portions of the Pentateuch, Joshua or Judges in the Psalms. One of the most fascinating internal evidences of the authority of what Moses wrote is found in the last book of the Old Testament. In what are essentially the final words that God spoke during the Old Covenant era through, the LORD commanded Israel to “Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, With the statutes and judgments" (Malachi 4:4). The entirety of what Moses wrote is summed up in this one verse as what God commanded.
When we come to the New Testament, we have Jesus' own appeal to the Scriptures in His disputation with the Scribes and Pharisees. The fact that Jesus speaks authoritatively Himself makes His view of the Old Testament Scriptures of supreme importance to us. While the Old Testament prophets introduced God's word with the words, "Thus says the LORD," Jesus did so with the words, "Truly, Truly, I say to you." In other words, Jesus was not simply "a man of his time"--as Enns et all have insisted in recent years. He was God over all. Yet, the Savior also appealed to Scripture from every part of the Old Testament. In Luke 24, He rebuked the unbelieving disciples for not receiving the authoritative testimony of the entirety of the Old Testament--as that which spoke singularly of His death and resurrection.
The New Testament epistles also have much in the way of internal evidence of the divinely authoritative nature of Scripture. One of the most significant is the way in which the Old Testament citations are introduced by the authors of the New Testament. Sometimes they use the phrase, "It is written;" sometimes, "The Scripture says;" but, on numerous occasions, it is, "God has spoken," "the Holy Spirit says," or "He says." The book of Hebrews is most notable in this regard. I have always found it to be a thing of supreme interest, that in a book where the author is anonymous, the writer introduces a number of Old Testament citations with attributions to God as the author--not to the human author. Geerhardus Vos helpfully observed this when he wrote:
Paul personifies the Scripture by using the expression God says. He does this only when quoting from statements of the Old Testament in which God is the speaker. Otherwise he says Scripture said or as it is written. But in the Epistle to the Hebrews God is everywhere represented as the speaker in the Old Testament. Only one passage, Heb. 4:7, names the human instrument, and even that one says God saying in David. The author goes so far as to say that it matters little who the human author may have been; the main thing is that God said it. Elsewhere he says, Somewhere someone has testified. Of course the author of Hebrews, thoroughly familiar with the Old Testament as he was, knew who that someone was, but still he does not name him.3
On the question of inerrancy, we have to first consider the Scripture's negative self-attestation and then it's positive evidence. In the essay above, Murray made the astute observation:
The Scripture does not adversely criticize itself. One part of Scripture does not expose another part as erroneous. It goes without saying that, if Scripture itself witnessed to the errancy and fallibility of another part, then such witness would be a finality, and belief in the inerrancy of Scripture would have to be abandoned. But it is a signal fact that one Scripture does not predicate error of another.4
Add to this the fact that the Pharisees--who challenged Jesus tirelessly--never challenged Him regarding the inerrancy of the Old Testament. This is no small observation. Those who were relentless in arguing with the Savior about the meaning of the Scriptures never argued with Him about their inspiration or inerrancy. Never do they say, "Moses didn't write this..." or "Jeremiah was wrong when he wrote..." Jesus appealed the Scriptures in each and every interaction that He had with the Pharisees, Scribes and Sadducees. We should expect to have had the inerrancy of Scripture questioned if in fact it contains errors. On one occasion Jesus defended His deity against the charge of His opponents by appealing to one short phrase out of Psalm 82:6 (see John 10:34).
Then we have the negative argument that if one part of Scripture is fallible because it was written by men than all of Scripture must be liable to the charge of fallibility since all Scripture was written by human authors. Even the "red-letter" words of Jesus were written down by men. Murray again noted:
If human fallibility precludes an infallible Scripture, then by resistless logic it must be maintained that we cannot have any Scripture that is infallible and inerrant. All of Scripture comes to us through human instrumentality.5
Positively, the Scriptures tell us that God cannot lie (Num. 23:19; Heb. 6:18), that His word endures forever (Isaiah 40:8; 1 Peter 1:25) and that everything that His word is perfectly pure and free from error (Psalm 12:6).
Finally, the fact that the Scriptures condemn sin of every stripe and color, bears witness to its inerrancy. Murray explained this so well when he wrote:
The openness with which it exposes even the sins of the saints is one of the most signal marks of its authenticity. But the condemnation of the very sin and error the Bible records is not witness to its own fallibility. It is rather an integral part of the witness to its own credibility and, so far from constituting any evidence against itself as inerrant Scripture, it thereby contributes evidence that is most germane to the establishment of its infallibility.6
To be sure, there will always be men who will level new attacks against the Scriptures. There will always be those who attempt to twist and pervert God's word. Yet, our faith is strengthened by the Scriptures in the knowledge that every word that God has breathed out (2 Tim. 3:16) comes to us with all of His divine authority for our lives and with His absolute and undiluted truthfulness. Abandon the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and you have no foundation upon which to stand. Insisting that only Jesus and the words that He spoke in the flesh are authoritative and inerrant will not suffice. Jesus Himself appealed to the authority of the Scriptures that spoke of Him. We can only and ever know Christ by means of the Scriptures that reveal Him. As we put ourselves at the feet of Jesus in the whole of the Bible we profit from His doctrine, rebuke, correction and instruction in righteousness. As we come to Him by faith in HIs authoritative and inerrant word, we "receive with meekness the implanted word which is able to save our souls" (James. 1:21).
2. N.B. Stonehouse and Paul Wooley ed. The Infallible Word, (Phillispburgh, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2002) p.5
3. Vos, G. (1956). The Teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews. (J. G. Vos, Ed.) (p. 73). Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.
4. The Infallible Word, p. 5
5. Ibid., p. 2
6. Ibid., p. 6
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