Reading Scripture Like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Calvin)

 The Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 can teach us today quite a bit about reading Scripture.  While on the long ride home from Jerusalem to Ethiopia, this man was reading Isaiah (presumably someone else was driving!).  He kept reading even though he didn’t understand it all.  When Philip asked him about the text, the eunuch admitted he needed someone to guide or lead him in reading the prophet.  He asked Philip about the text as they sat together there in the chariot.  Luke tells us that Philip answered by preaching the gospel about Jesus beginning with Isaiah 53.  I really like how John Calvin commented on this:

Most excellent modesty of the eunuch, who doth not only permit Philip, who was one of the common sort, to question with him, but doth also willingly confess his ignorance. And surely we must never hope that he will ever show himself apt to be taught who is puffed up with the confidence of his own wit. Hereby it cometh to pass that the reading of the Scriptures doth profit so few at this day, because we can scarce find one amongst a hundred who submitteth himself willingly to learn. For whilst all men almost are ashamed to be ignorant of that whereof they are ignorant, every man had rather proudly nourish his ignorance than seem to be scholar to other men. Yea, a great many take upon them haughtily to teach other men. Nevertheless, let us remember that the eunuch did so confess his ignorance, that yet, notwithstanding, he was one of God’s scholars when he read the Scripture.

This is the true reverence of the Scripture, when as we acknowledge that there is that wisdom laid up there which surpasseth all our senses; and yet, notwithstanding, we do not loathe it, but, reading diligently, we depend upon the revelation of the Spirit, and desire to have an interpreter given us.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Commentary upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 354.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The All-Dominating Center of Scripture (Ridderbos)

 I’ve been enjoying Herman Ridderbos’ Studies in Scripture and Its Authority.  It’s a collection of six essays Ridderbos wrote on Scripture, including “The Christology of The Fourth Gospel” and “The Biblical Message of Reconciliation.”  Here’s a nice paragraph from “The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture”:

…Scripture is not a book of separate divine oracles, but is from Genesis to Revelation an organic unity, insofar as it is the book of the history of God’s redeeming and judging acts, of which the advent and work of Christ is the all-dominating center and focus. The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy (Rev. 19:10), and Scripture has the power to save by faith in Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 3:15). This is the center to which everything in Scripture stands in relationship and through which it is bound together—beginning and end, creation and re-creation, humanity, the world, history, and the future, as all of these have a place in the Scripture. Therefore, there is also a correlation between Scripture and faith, namely, as faith in Jesus Christ. If you take that unity away from Scripture and this correlation of Scripture and faith, you denature Scripture and faith in it; and the authority and infallibility of the Scripture also lose their theological-christological definition and become formal concepts, abstracted from the peculiar nature and content of Scripture.

Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and Its Authority (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 24–25.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Holding the Word in the ​Highest Esteem (Zwingli)

 Many of us may know about Ulrich Zwingli’s memorial view of the Lord’s Supper.  And some of us, such as myself, might disagree with it.  But Zwingli had some good teaching from which we can learn.  For one example, in 1522 Zwingli preached a sermon on the clarity and certainty of God’s word.  The published version is short and to the point.  Here are a few good paragraphs from it:

Now if you ask yourself when you are called by God: how am I to prepare myself, so that I may be certain to attain grace? I reply: put all your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, that is, rest assured that he suffered for us and is the atoning sacrifice that has freed us for all eternity (1 John 2:2). The moment you believe, know that you are drawn by the Father and that which you regard as your own work is the Spirit of God secretly at work within you. For Christ says: “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me” (John 6:44). Listen: when you seek him and find him and hold fast to him, you are being drawn by the Father; otherwise you could never have come to him.…

Now, at last, to make an end of answering objections, our view of the matter is this: We should hold the word of God in the highest possible esteem and acknowledge only that which comes from the Spirit of God. We should trust it in a way that we cannot trust any other word. For the word of God is certain and can never deceive. It is clear and never leaves us groping in the dark. The word of God interprets itself and offers the correct understanding. It illumines the soul with full salvation and grace, fills the soul with sure trust in God, and it humbles the soul, so that the soul loses and even condemns itself while taking God into itself. The soul lives in God, yearning diligently for him and rejecting all creaturely consolation. God alone is the soul’s salvation and assurance. Without him it has no rest; it rests in him alone….

Ulrich Zwingli, “The Clarity and Certainty of the Word of God, 1522,” in Early Protestant Spirituality, ed. Scott H. Hendrix and Bernard McGinn, trans. Scott H. Hendrix, The Classics of Western Spirituality (New York; Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2009), 47–48.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Infallibility of Scripture (Murray)

Thy Word Is Still Truth: Essential Writings on the Doctrine of Scripture from the Reformation to Today I appreciate how John Murray discussed the infallibility of Scripture in an address he gave to students in the Inter-Varsity Fellowship around 1960.  Here are a few excerpts of his speech:

“The doctrine of the infallibility of Scripture is derived from the witness of Scripture.  It is equally necessary to bear in mind that this witness is to be understood in the context of Scripture as a whole.  Any doctrine severed from the total structure of revelation is out of focus.”

“…Unless we assess infallibility in the light of the data with which Scripture provides us, we shall be liable to judge infallibility by criteria to which Scripture does not conform.  This is one of the most effective ways of undermining biblical infallibility.”

“When the Scripture uses anthropomorphic terms with reference to God and his actions, we must interpret accordingly and not predicate of God the limitations which belong to us men. …If Scripture uses the language of common usage and experience or observation, we are not to accuse it of error because it does not use the language of a particular science, language which few could understand and which becomes obsolete with the passing phases of scientific advancement.  The does not make itself ridiculous by conforming to what pendants might require.”

“There are numerous considerations that must be taken into account derived from the study of Scripture data.  And it is a capital mistake to think that the criteria of infallibility are those that must conform to our preconceived notions or to our arbitrarily adopted norms.”

John Murray, “The Infallibility of Scripture” in Thy Word Is Still Truth, p.970-971.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Christ’s Spirit, the OT Prophets, and Sobriety in Learning (Calvin)

Calvin’s Commentaries (46 vols.)Of the various aspects of John Calvin’s writings that I appreciate, I always love to hear him talk about modesty and humility when it comes to the study and interpretation of God’s Word.  More than a few times he mentions how we should never go further than God’s Word because that’s dangerous territory.  Here’s a similar exhortation from his commentary on 1 Peter 1:10-12:

…He [Peter] does not say that the prophets searched according to their own understanding as to the time when Christ’s kingdom would come, but that they applied their minds to the revelation of the Spirit. Thus they have taught us by their example a sobriety in learning, for they did not go beyond what the Spirit taught them. And doubtless there will be no limits to man’s curiosity, except the Spirit of God presides over their minds, so that they may not desire anything else than to speak from him. And further, the spiritual kingdom is a higher subject than what the human mind can succeed in investigating, except the Spirit be the guide. May we also therefore submit to his guidance.

John Calvin, Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 39.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Theology Derived from Scripture (Berkhof)

Systematic Theology (Berkhof) One chief characteristic of Christian doctrines or “dogmas” is that they originate in Scripture.  I appreciate how Louis Berkhof explained this near the opening of his introduction to systematic theology (prolegomena):

Their Subject-Matter is derived from Scripture. The Bible is God’s Word, the book which is His continuous revelation of redemption for all successive generations. It acquaints us with the mighty redemptive acts of God, and also furnishes mankind with a reliable interpretation of these acts. It may therefore be said to be both a word—and a fact—revelation; and both these words and facts have doctrinal significance. Naturally, the meaning of the facts can only be expressed in words. Both the facts and the words have doctrinal significance, and therefore furnish the subject-matter of dogmas.

 L. Berkhof, Introductory Volume to Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1932), 21.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

…In Studying Things of No Use (Calvin)

Institutes of the Christian Religion

When it comes to the fact that God has revealed himself in his Word, we do well to remember that what he revealed to us there is what he wants us to know about him and faith in him.  The Word is sufficient for our theology, our faith, and our practice.  We may not add to it, nor may we go beyond it.  We humbly accept what God has revealed and we stick with that revelation.  We won’t – and can’t! – have all the answers to all the questions we ask about God, his Word, and other doctrinal or theological things we might wonder about.  John Calvin discussed this point very well in one section of his Institutes.  These are the words of a humble expositor and interpreter of Scripture:

…Let us here remember that on the whole subject of religion one rule of modesty and soberness is to be observed, and it is this — in obscure matters not to speak or think, or even long to know, more than the Word of God has delivered.

A second rule is, that in reading the Scriptures we should constantly direct our inquiries and meditations to those things which tend to edification, not indulge in curiosity, or in studying things of no use. And since the Lord has been pleased to instruct us, not in frivolous questions, but in solid piety, in the fear of his name, in true faith, and the duties of holiness, let us rest satisfied with such knowledge.

Wherefore, if we would be duly wise, we must renounce those vain babblings of idle men, concerning the nature, ranks, and number of angels, without any authority from the Word of God. I know that many fasten on these topics more eagerly, and take greater pleasure in them than in those relating to daily practice. But if we decline not to be the disciples of Christ, let us not decline to follow the method which he has prescribed. In this way, being contented with him for our master, we will not only refrain from, but even feel averse to, superfluous speculations which he discourages….

…The duty of a Theologian…is not to tickle the ear, but confirm the conscience, by teaching what is true, certain, and useful.

 John Calvin and Henry Beveridge, Institutes of the Christian Religion, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1845), 193–194.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015