The authority of the Bible rests on its bearing the imprimatur of Christ, who is our supreme authority. So plain is this that there can be no question of the authority of Christ being dependent on the word of the Bible: it is rather the authority of the Bible that is dependent on the word of Christ. And this is true not only of the authority of the Old Testament. The crucial factor is certainly the authority of the New Testament, because the authority of the Old Testament, seen in the Christian perspective of fulfillment and consummation, stands or falls with the authority of the New Testament.

How, then, is the authority of the New Testament to be established? The answer, already indicated, must be: only by the supremely authoritative word of Christ. And this particular word has been preserved for us in the pages of the New Testament itself.

St. John tells us how, during those sacred hours in the upper room prior to his betrayal and crucifixion, our Lord assured his apostles that after his departure the Holy Spirit, who is the very Spirit of truth, not only would be sent but would actually dwell in them; that he would bear witness to Christ and glorify him, declaring the things of Christ to them; and also that he would bring to their remembrance all that he had taught them (John 14:16, 17, 26; 15:26; 16:13 ff.). This explains the transformation in the apostles after the Day of Pentecost, as seen in the Acts and the Epistles, compared with what they were before Pentecost, as seen in the Gospels. The privileged but uncomprehending years at the feet of Christ were not wasted; what before they had failed to grasp they now understood and expounded with assurance. Their teaching was not their own; it was Christ’s, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. It is customary to speak of the doctrine of the New Testament as apostolical; but it is something more than this, for, in the true and ultimate analysis, it is dominical: it is the doctrine of the Lord.

These promises of Christ, then, and their Pentecostal fulfillment constitute the veritable charter of the New Testament. The teachings of its pages ring with the voice of the Master himself. Christ continues to instruct his Church through the writings of his apostles, who themselves were under the control of the Holy Spirit. This means inevitably that if the Church is to obey the authority of the Living Word, it must submit itself to the authority of the written Word. This the Church appreciated from the beginning. Hence the careful sifting out of the spurious from the genuine apostolic writings. And hence the most significant development in the history of the post-apostolic Church—namely, the ecumenical acknowledgment of the canon of the New Testament. Far from placing itself above Scripture, the Church thereby placed itself under Scripture, saying in effect: This is the rule and standard to which the faith and conduct of the Church must conform if it is to remain genuinely Christian. The fixing of the canon was of crucial and abiding importance, because it was the acknowledgment of the dominical authenticity of the New Testament. It was a marking out of the boundary lines beyond which the Church was not to wander. As Oscar Cullmann has written:

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The fixing of the Christian canon of Scripture signifies precisely that the Church herself at a given moment traced a clear and firm line of demarcation between the period of the apostles and the period of the Church … in other words, between apostolic tradition and ecclesiastical tradition. If this was not the significance of the formation of the canon the event would be meaningless. By establishing the principle of a canon, the Church recognized in this very act that from that moment tradition was no longer a criterion of truth. She drew a line under the apostolic tradition. She declared implicitly that from that moment every subsequent tradition must be submitted to the control of the apostolic tradition. In other terms, she declared: here is the tradition which constituted the Church, which imposed itself on her [“Scripture and Tradition,” Scottish Journal of Theology, VI, 2 (June, 1953), pp. 126 f.].

This being so, it is undoubtedly true, as Emil Brunner has observed, that the fate of the Bible is the fate of Christianity. Christ sternly rebuked the traditionalists of his day for rejecting the commandment of God in order to keep their tradition and thus making void the Word of God (Mark 7:9 ff.). And it has been amply demonstrated in the history of the Church that when the Bible has been lost from sight, overlaid with the traditions of men, Christianity has languished and sunk into ineffectiveness; but when the Bible has been restored to its rightful place, then the Church has recovered its vitality and authority and sense of purpose.

It cannot be too strongly emphasized, however, that the phenomenon of Holy Scripture is a mystery. The temptation at all times is to seek, even with the best of motives, to explain this mystery—which can only have the effect of explaining the mystery away and reducing the phenomenon to a category where it does not belong. The mystery in this case consists in the paradox that a book composed of the writings of human authors can yet at the same time be designated the Word of God. As with every Christian paradox, the truth lies, and only lies, in the retention and combination of its two poles. “Explanation” of the paradox solely in terms of one of its poles is nothing other than rationalization. To dissolve a mystery in this way is not to solve it. But this is what is constantly being done. Either the Bible is explained as entirely the work of God, the human writers being no more than the pens which God used, so to speak, or it is explained as merely the work of men. In either case the “solution” is neatly parceled up in accordance with a particular predisposition, and the mystery of the paradox has been ignored. But nothing has been gained. Indeed, the character of the phenomenon has been violated, and we are confronted, not with a dynamic paradox, but with the static either/or of a contradiction.

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It was attempts to explain the mystery of the person of the Incarnate Son, by stressing either the pole of his divinity or the pole of his humanity, that gave rise to the heresies which threatened the survival of the early Church. But the frailty of his body, which was apparent in hunger and fatigue and above all in his sufferings and death on the cross, was not in fact a contradiction of his divine sovereignty. Similarly (though, of course, the analogy does not belong to the realm of ontology), the frailty inherent in Scripture as the word of man does not invalidate it as being truly at the same time the Word of God. Like a body, the Bible in its own particular category of revelation is an organic whole. Every part has its proper place and function, and the removal of a part disturbs the balance and integrity of the whole. Yet all the parts are not equally important. Just as certain parts of the human body, such as the head and heart and lungs, are vital and indispensable, whereas other parts are dispensable in that the body can survive their loss, albeit in a maimed condition; so too some parts of Scripture are vital and indispensable, while others have a humbler function and are relatively dispensable.

There is another phenomenon that is familiar to the Christian experience—namely, that to the eye of unbelief the Bible may be dull and dry-as-dust, or may perhaps be of academic and literary interest, but is not seen as the dynamic and authoritative Word of God. To the eye of faith, however, it comes alive. Suddenly, when a man comes to faith in Christ, the Bible becomes a necessity for him. The book that before he found closed and remote he now studies with eagerness and delight. The explanation is what the Reformers used to call the internal witness of the Holy Spirit: the Spirit of God bearing testimony to the Word of God in the believing heart. The reintegration, in Christ, of the image of God leads at once to a hunger for the Word of God, a strong desire for a knowledge of the things of God, which is the knowledge of absolute truth. This is what Paul is talking about when he says that “no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” and that as believers “we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” Indeed, through this inner working of the Holy Spirit “we have the mind of Christ” (1 Cor. 2:11 ff.).

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Scripture belongs to the Holy Spirit. It is he, the Lord and Life-Giver, who makes real in the hearts of men the redemption procured by Christ, thereby and at the same time authenticating the genuineness of the testimony of the biblical authors; for, as the creed declares, he it is “who spake by the prophets.” Should not the creed be a constant reminder to us that the mystery of Scripture belongs to the realm of faith and therefore is accessible only to faith? I question very much whether it is right for us to propound and defend notions about the mechanics of inspiration. To do so is to transpose the Bible, however unintentionally, from the area of faith to the area of reason, and in this respect to place it under man instead of under God. Just at this point, it seems to me, fundamentalists have developed a somewhat frenetic rationalism of their own and tend, all unwittingly, to conduct their warfare from the same ground as the radicals whom they oppose. Not, however, that the radicals are models of consistency; for, though they are avowedly rationalistic in their approach, yet it is their custom to seek support by quoting passages from the Bible, as though from the authoritative Word of God, when it suits them to do so.

If the Church has placed itself under Scripture, which, as we have seen, is the significance of the acceptance of the canon of Scripture, then it must approve and preserve the teaching of the Bible concerning itself. But if, conversely, theologians and others now wish to supplant the teaching of Scripture with their own ideas and “insights,” they must resist the temptation to use the Bible as a prop for their position.

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In academic circles today the Bible is largely a discredited book. To all intents and purposes biblical studies have become a branch of technology, so much so that the electronic computer is the latest authority to make a pronouncement on questions of authenticity and authorship. All too often Scripture is treated anatomically, like a corpse in pickle to be dissected. It has become the preserve of the expert in the laboratory. Warned that trespassing is prohibited, the ordinary man is advised that he is not competent to understand and interpret the meaning of the Bible. This is not to deny the necessity for an analytical approach to the text of Scripture and the immense contribution that contemporary scholarship is making to our knowledge of the semantics and linguistics of the Bible and its historical provenance. What is to be deplored is the loss of the sense of the mystery of Holy Scripture as dynamic and God-given, and therefore vital, and the removal of the Bible from the hands of the ordinary Christian who can make no claims to theological or technological expertise.

This is indeed a grievous loss, and it cannot be viewed with complacency because the survival of a whole way of life is at stake. While we believe that sound biblical exegesis requires both spiritual discernment and historical understanding, we dispute the assertion of some that the modern reader cannot understand, and knows he cannot understand, what the writers of the Bible are saying because his knowledge of the historical background is inadequate. Over and over again in the past, and still today in the present, the experience of any humble man or woman with the spiritual insight of faith proves that through the pages of the Bible, Jeremiah and St. Paul speak the message of God with power and meaning to the believing heart. In other words, apprehension of the message of Scripture requires spiritual insight; it does not wait on the acquisition of historical understanding, much though that is to be prized as an adjunct of spiritual insight.

The message of Scripture is addressed to everyman, and its focus is the person and work of Christ, who came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). No finer or more memorable explanation has been given of the purpose of the Bible than this given by that great master of Holy Scripture, William Tyndale: “The Scripture is that wherewith God draweth us unto Him. The Scriptures sprang out of God, and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us to Christ. Thou must therefore go along by the Scripture as by a line, until thou come at Christ, which is the way’s end and resting-place” (Works [Parker Society edition, Cambridge, 1848], I, 317).

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The sum of the situation is this: Biblical scholarship is not an end in itself; it belongs to the precincts, not to the sanctuary; in isolation, it will never arrive at the heart of the matter. The scholar should be combined with the preacher; the study should never be divorced from the pulpit. Mere scholarship, however able and however worthy it may be, is not creative; seen as a Christian function, it is analytical and subservient. It is in the proclamation of the scriptural message as the Word of the Living God that the creative task of theology finds achievement, and that note of proclamation should inform the theological tome as well as the pronouncement from the pulpit.

If faith is an essential ingredient of that spiritual insight which is able to understand and appropriate the message of the Bible, it is important to emphasize that faith is not something that exists antecedently or in independence. Faith cannot exist or be engendered in a vacuum; for faith is response, and in particular it is response to the message of Scripture. The object of faith is the Christ to whom Scripture bears witness. That is why evangelical proclamation is so indispensable an element in the fulfillment of the creative task of theology. We need, more than ever, to be reminded today, as P. T. Forsyth had to remind his generation, that “the first value of the Bible is not to historical science but to evangelical faith, not to the historian but to the gospeller,” and that the theologian “should first be not a philosopher but a saved man, with eternal life working in him” (Positive Preaching and the Modern Mind [London, 1907], pp. 13, 305).

Since the focal point of the biblical message is the figure of Jesus Christ, the divine Redeemer of the world, the repudiation of the authenticity of the biblical witness leads inevitably to the repudiation of the authenticity of Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. This was amply demonstrated by the consequences of the destructive criticism that flourished in Germany during the last century and that today again is being advocated within the Church on a geographical scale far surpassing that of the nineteenth century. The radicals of our century and the last have this in common, that they adopt as a fundamental premise the inadmissibility of the supernatural on the ground that it is unacceptable to the modern mind. The application of this principle to Scripture can result only in the banishment of God from his world and the rejection of such cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith as the deity and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The radicals of the last century sought to dismiss the authenticity of the New Testament by relegating its writings to the second century, and thereby assigning them to the category of spurious fabrications. That, however, it was the scholarship of these radical critics and their followers which was spurious was proved with devastating conclusiveness by a theologian of such intellectual repute as George Salmon, whose learning and judgment caused him to speak with scorn of the critical speculations and manipulations as “these German dreams retailed as sober truth by sceptical writers in this country, many of whom imagine that it would be a confession of inability to keep pace with the progress of critical science if they ventured to test, by English common sense, the successive schemes by which German aspirants after fame seek to gain a reputation for their ingenuity” (A Historical Introduction to the Study of the Books of the New Testament [London, 1892], p. 15), and by that prince of biblical scholars, Bishop J. B. Lightfoot, who composed his massively erudite work on the apostolic fathers with the express purpose of demonstrating the untenability of the position propounded by the Tübingen radicals. Lightfoot’s attitude is summarized in the preface to his Essays on the Work entitledSupernatural Religion,’ a crushing rejoinder to an anonymous “sceptical writer” of his day, where he says: “I cannot pretend to be indifferent about the veracity of the records which profess to reveal Him, whom I believe to be not only the very Truth, but the very Life.”

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It is this same issue, only in an intensified form, with which the Church is confronted today. For the most part, however, the radicals of our age no longer seek to depreciate the New Testament writings as forgeries of a post-apostolic period. Their method, rather, is to contend that the portrait of Jesus and the sayings attributed to him in the New Testament are the products of the imagination or wishful thinking of the early Christians, who, in the years following Calvary, gradually built up an idealized picture of the one who had been their leader and teacher. In determining what portions of the story may be original and authentic, the criteria applied are arbitrary and subjective. The conclusions reached are predetermined by the predilections of each individual. Novelty allied with an abtruse kind of linguistic ingenuity or an inventive historical “reconstruction” is almost always assured of academic applause. The Holy Spirit has been ushered off the stage, and the human spirit dominates the scene. To the degree to which theology affirms the self-adequacy of man, or, in other words, denies man’s creaturely dependence on God and asserts the human spirit in opposition to the Holy Spirit, to that degree it will disallow both the nature and the necessity of Holy Scripture as the Word of God, and to that degree also it will incapacitate itself for its distinctively creative task. For, as we have previously explained, the creative task of theology inheres in the capacity of man as, in the first place, created in the image of God, and now in Christ re-created in that image, to work constructively with and from the given “substance” of the revelation of God’s Word. The affirmation of human self-adequacy is but the repetition of the primeval heresy that man in himself is “as God.” Like all heresy, it is not constructive (though it may wish to be) but subversive of the true nature and capacity of man, entangling him in a web of contradiction and frustration of his own making.

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