This continues the current project I recently began for the blog: to work my way through the Belgic Confession, offering brief commentary and reflections upon what may be my favorite of the historic Reformed Confessions. [For a brief intro and preface, check out the initial post.]
On to the next article, then.
THE WRITTEN WORD OF GOD
We confess that this Word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that “men spake from God, being moved the Holy Spirit,” as the apostle Peter says; and that afterwards God, from a special care which He has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing; and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the Law. Therefore, we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.
From where does Scripture come?
The origin and nature of Scripture is the fork in the road that leads to two entirely different theological trajectories. Is Scripture just the collected writings of various men, reflecting upon their historical situations and trying to identify where and how they saw something divine happening? Or is there something bigger behind the recorded words that send us down a different path of understanding and engaging with the canonical texts?
Christianity has always recognized the inspired nature of Scripture (e.g. 2 Tim 3:16), but what does it mean to say that Scripture is inspired? Briefly, here are the three most common views (each has many nuanced subsets, however):
- Inspiration in the mechanistic sense. In this approach, the Spirit worked upon the authors of Scripture so severely that they were mere stenographers of a heavenly dictation. This view sometimes has God speaking and the authors dutifully recording, verbatim, what they heard (a view not dissimilar to the traditional Islamic view of how the Qur’an [literally “the recitation”] originated). Other times, it may even imply that the authors went into something of a trance, not knowing what they wrote at the time. This approach seeks to safeguard the ideas of verbal, plenary inspiration and inerrancy.
- Inspiration in the motivational sense. In this approach, the Spirit stirred up the hearts and minds of the authors of Scripture to write things of beauty, truth, or goodness. In a similar sense to how we speak of ‘inspired poetry’ or an ‘inspired speech’, the dominant notion is that the authors were in full possession of their faculties and personalities at the time of writing, as the various styles, vocabularies, and genres of Scripture would seem to reflect. This approach seeks to safeguard human agency and also provide a framework for answering difficult questions about apparent historical contradictions or idiosyncrasies.
- Inspiration in the “organic” (Herman Bavinck) sense. In this approach, the Spirit is at work in the hearts and minds of the biblical authors, “moving/carrying them along” as they wrote. The result is that the unique personalities, vocabularies, and styles of the various authors are maintained while simultaneously–and more importantly–the Spirit attends to the process in such a way that the exact words and revelation of God are recorded as intended. This approach seeks to safeguard both the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture while also affirming the role of human agency in the process of writing and recording God’s revelation.
These are unfairly short overviews of very significant matters, yet they should provide an entry point into the conversation. They also reflect discussions and nuances that became much more pronounced in the decades after this confession was written. Given that this is a confession and not a systematic theology, and that many of the above definitions and distinctions arose after this was penned, does the confession point towards any of the above views? Yes, I believe it does. Here’s why.
First, it denies the idea that Scripture is simply the words of men, elegant or powerful though they may be. Rather, “men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), and that the intent was to “commit His revealed word to writing”. So the confession does not support the idea that inspiration simply means the Spirit stirred up men to write beyond their normal capabilities yet with what are fully and only their own words.
Second, by distinguishing God’s action in directly communicating/writing “the two tables of the Law” from his action in and through the prophets and apostles, the confession resists assigning a mechanistic view to the entirety of canonical Scripture. Like the bible itself (Exodus 31:18), it notes the unique nature of the inscripturation of the Ten Commandments. It also notes the various personalities that God used to produce the rest of the canon.
Without using the later terminology of Bavinck and others (e.g. Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, I.iv.13), the confession still points towards an understanding of inspiration that recognizes the direct and distinct work of the Spirit in the recording of the written Word while also recognizing the role of the human authors who recorded this Word faithfully and–as the confession will state shortly–infallibly. “Therefore, we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures”, as the article affirms in conclusion.
Having said all of that, perhaps the most striking this in this article to me is the motivation it attributes to God. It is “from a special care which He has for us and our salvation” that God provided for his Word to be clearly revealed. As the confession has already pointed out, without Scripture we would not truly nor sufficiently know who God is and what he has done for us in Jesus Christ. The written Word, then, is given “for us and our salvation”, in order to draw us to faith in Christ and show us what it means to be his people. That God has provided for this Word to be written demonstrates the “special care” that he has for those on whom he also showers his mercy.