Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scripture and Confession

Thoughts on the relationship between Scripture and Confessional statements from W. G. T. Shedd, quoted by D. G. Hart over at De Regno Christi:

Of course Scripture is the only infallible rule of faith. But this particular way of appealing to Scripture is specious and fallacious...this kind of appeal to Scripture is only an appeal to Scripture as the reviser understands it.

“Scripture” properly means the interpretation of Scripture; that is, the contents of Scripture as reached by human investigation and exegesis. Creeds, like commentaries, are Scripture studied and explained, and not the mere abstract and unexplained book as it lies on the counter of the Bible House.

The infallible Word of God is expounded by the fallible mind of man, and hence the variety of expositions embodied in the denominational creeds. But every interpreter claims to have understood the Scriptures correctly, and, consequently, claims that his creed is Scriptural, and if so, that it is the infallible truth of God.

The Arminian appeals to the Articles of Wesley as the rule of faith, because he believes them to be the true explanation of the inspired Bible. . . . The Calvinist appeals to the creeds of Heidelberg, Dort, and Westminster as the rule of faith, because he regards them as the accurate exegesis of the revealed Word of God. By the ‘Bible’ these parties, as well as all others who appeal to the Bible, mean their understanding of the Bible.

There is no such thing as that abstract Scripture to which the revisionist of whom we are speaking appeals; that is, Scripture apart from any and all interpretation of it. When, therefore, the advocate of revision demands that the Westminster Confession be “conformed to Scripture,” he means conformation to Scripture as he and those like him read and explain it.

It is impossible to make abstract Scripture the rule of faith for either an individual or a denomination. No Christian body has ever subscribed to the Bible merely as a printed book. A person who should write his name on the blank leaf of the Bible and say that his doctrinal belief was between the covers, would convey no definite information as to his creed.


John M. Frame said...

Hart thinks it is impossible for the Bible itself to correct our idea of what the Bible says. Therefore it cannot correct the confessions and creeds-- our church's idea of what the Bible says. That is Roman Catholicism, pure and simple.

Martin Downes said...

Professor Hart is of age, he can answer that comment himself (whether he has ever perused this blog is a matter unknown to me).

Dave K said...

John Frame hears Catholicism in that statement, I also hear the objections of a million non-Christians to the authority of scripture.

Also, while I understand the point Hart is trying to make, when he says:

"When, therefore, the advocate of revision demands that the Westminster Confession be 'conformed to Scripture,' he means conformation to Scripture as he and those like him read and explain it."

I can't help thinking that the same could be said of confessions i.e.:

"When, therefore, the someone advocates conforming any doctrine with the demands that the Westminster Confession makes he means nothing other than conforming doctrine to the WCF as he and those like him read and explain it."

I also wonder would there have ever been a Reformation with the attitude Hart advocates...

Surely there must be a third way between individualised interpretations of Scripture and an unassailable authority of the creeds...

Don’t worry I’m not expecting an answer, but I would be interested to know what you think Martin. Do you agree with Hart?

Martin Downes said...

Dave K,

You have to ask whether there would have been a Reformation without the Greek New Testament. After all with an inaccurate translation it was no wonder that the doctrine and practice of the church was wrong ("do penance" instead of repentance, and justification understood as "make just" rather than "declared just").

That said the Reformers and their successors received the earlier formulations concerning the person of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity as exegetically accurate and faithful to Scripture.

Dave K said...

Thanks for your response Martin.

I agree with what you say, but I am not sure how it relates to how we should relate confessional statements and scripture.

Martin Downes said...

I'll see if I can get to that bit tomorrow

Dave K said...

I'll look forward to it.


the postmortem said...

As much as I see the point that the page itself does no good if it is not read...I confess the interpretations of man can never reach the status of "Scripture" or the like. In fact, the Bible can and does speak for itself. There are many places where Scripture itself is named as an active agency, or a text which is to be consulted as a final authority, rather than a means to the truth.

Consider Isaiah 8:20 "To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because they have no dawn." Surely the Bible makes its own propositions which are clear enough to men in and of themselves?

And Hebrews 4:12 "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart." Certainly the text itself has enough clear truth to convict the heart?

The one "human" element I will concede is the benefit of the hearing of it, rather than merely reading it. 1 Timothy 4:13 "Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching."

Thanks for your blog, though. I enjoy it so much I linked to it on my website. Keep it up!