Scripture As Covenant Canon
God’s Ruling Constitution (Word as Canon)
Matthew begins by identifying the suzerain according to his human genealogy as the seed of the woman promised in Genesis 3:15. The first verse of Mark’s Gospel reads, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The Gospel of Luke begins by explaining the author’s historical method (eyewitness report). The preamble and historical prologue of John’s Gospel most closely echo Genesis 1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (vv. 1–5). Next, we are introduced to John the Baptist’s ministry and his testimony to the Messiah.
Christ’s death inaugurates the new covenant as a royal grant—that is, a last will and testament that dispenses an inheritance based on his perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience rather than our own (Mt 26:26–30 par.; Gal 3:10–29; 4:21–28; Heb 8:1–13; 9:15–28).
A Biblical Model of Canonicity
The Self-Attesting Model of Canonicity
Inspiration: God’s Word and Human Words
Jesus assumed that written Scripture was the Words of his own Father
Trinitarian Cooperation in Inspiration
The locutionary act of speaking is the Father’s; the Son is the content or illocutionary act that is performed by speaking, and the Spirit works within creation to bring about the intended effect. For example, the Father gives the gospel, the Son is the gospel, and the Spirit creates faith in our hearts to receive it.
The event of one’s writing, uttering, or otherwise signifying something is called the locutionary act. What we do through such signifying is referred to as the illocutionary act (or force). That which is brought about in the hearer as a result is its perlocutionary effect.
This means p 158 that Scripture not only functions as the Word of God at various times, but it is the Word of God by virtue of its origin (from the Father), its content (in the Son), and its inspiration (by the Spirit)
This consensus that Scripture is inspired in its words as well as its meaning is aptly summarized by the phrase verbal-plenary inspiration.
First, verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean that the prophets and apostles themselves were inspired in their persons, as if everything they believed, said, or did was God’s Word.
Second, this view does not assume that the prophets and apostles were merely passive in the process of inspiration.
Third, this formulation also does not suggest that inspiration pertains to the intention of the human authors, who prophesied more than they themselves knew.
Fourth, verbal-plenary inspiration does not collapse all events of inspiration into the prophetic mold.
Although inspiration pertains exclusively to the original speech acts that are included in the canon, God’s extraordinary providence ensured the integrity of the process that led to inscripturation. We have no reason to deny that later redactors (editors) committed orally transmitted instances of revelation to textual form and collected them into what we now know as canonical books. In the words of the Reformed scholastic Johannes Wollebius, “God’s word at first was unwritten, before Moses’ time; but after Moses it was written, when God in his most wise counsel would have it to be sealed and confirmed by prophets and apostles.” Clearly, for example, Moses did not write his own obituary (Dt 34). In this interpretation of verbal-plenary inspiration, the original words of Scripture were given by the miracle of inspiration, and the process of compiling, editing, and preserving the text was superintended by God’s providence.
Inspiration and Illumination
We receive the Scriptures as God’s Word not because our reason judges it true and useful. Nor do we embrace them on the basis of the Spirit’s inner testimony or our experience of new birth. Rather, through that testimony of the Spirit we come to understand and accept the message that Scripture communicates.
As Bavinck observes, “we believe Scripture ‘not because of but through the Spirit’s testimony.’ ”
If we divorce illumination (the inner testimony of the Spirit) from inspiration, we easily fall into the impersonal view of Scripture as a dead letter, a view for which conservative Christians are often criticized and caricatured. However, the opposite danger is simply to collapse these categories.
The Truthfulness of Scripture
The historical facts of creation and redemption would be true regardless of whether God chose to report them through inspired Scripture. However, if God has in fact done so, then the Spirit’s utterance cannot include error.
There is therefore no “canon within a canon”; all Scripture is God-breathed and therefore useful (i.e., canonical) for norming the church’s faith and practice.
The Princeton Formulation of Inerrancy
The only really dangerous opposition to the church doctrine of inspiration comes either directly or indirectly, but always ultimately, from some false view of God’s relation to the world, of his methods of working, and of the possibility of a supernatural agency penetrating and altering the course of a natural process.”
Inerrancy After Barth
First, Barth’s criticism of the traditional accounts of biblical inerrancy arises from his distinctive actualist ontology. Therefore, his logic concerning Scripture might be put in the form of this syllogism: (1) God’s being is in act; (2) revelation is identical with God and is therefore always an event (action), never a given deposit; (3) therefore, Scripture, as an object (i.e., written text), cannot be identified directly with revelation.
However, as Timothy Ward points out, “There seems to be a contradiction between this equation of revelation with the person of Jesus Christ and the earlier claim that revelation is speech ‘in and of itself as such.’ ” How can revelation be a person and speech? Barth seems aware of the problem. He wants to affirm the “personalizing” of the Word of God without “deverbalizing” it. Yet his fear of making revelation into an “object or thing” seems to triumph over his concern to affirm it as speech. Therefore, Barth concludes, “The Bible is not in itself and as such God’s past revelation,” but is a fallible, though normative, human witness to revelation.100 Otherwise, we will make God (revelation) a human possession. “The Bible is God’s Word to the extent that God causes it to be his Word, to the extent that He speaks through it.”
There have been valiant attempts to reconcile Barth’s doctrine of Scripture with the church’s traditional view, among which that of Donald Bloesch is especially notable. He allows that Barth’s formulation too sharply separated the Word from the words, yet argues that “in his emphasis on the revealing work of the Spirit [Barth] is closer to the intention of the Reformers than is modern fundamentalism in this regard.”105 Bloesch realizes that Protestant orthodoxy “sought to maintain a dynamic view of both revelation and inspiration” and eschewed fundamentalism’s tendency to deny its human aspect. He correctly observes the correlation between fundamentalism’s mechanical view and belief in “the univocal language of Scripture concerning God, which contravenes the position of most theological luminaries of the past who held that human language concerning God is either metaphorical or at the most analogical.”107