The doctrine of scripture is usually the first doctrine of any systematic theology study. It examines the relationship between God and His Words, i.e., the Scripture. But it is not independent from everything else: even the knowledge of God is needed to talk about the doctrine of scripture.
I have been recently reading Timothy Ward’s Words of Life. It discusses the doctrine with a biblical outline, a theological outline, and a doctrine outline. In this entry, I am summarizing the biblical outline:
- God’s Words is intimately related to His actions. For example, His creative Words were followed by the creation of the heaven and earth immediately. The Fall of Man was the result of God’s curse in the form of language. God established covenants with Noah, Abraham, Noah… with words, meaning His Words constitutes covenantal relationship. Salvation came through His “effectual calling,” which is by a large part His Words.
- Obedience to God is equivalent to obedience to His Words. “To disobey the words God speaks is simply to disobey God himself, and to refuse to submit to the commands God utters is simply to break one’s relationship with him.” (page 27) For example, Abraham’s response to God’s Words (in covenant) is a response to God Himself.
- Words are used as a means that God uses to make Himself knowable to humans. If God do not put the covenants in Words, it is meaningless.
- Human languages are sufficient to communicate God’s Words. As we humans are made “in His image, and His likeness,” in the context of Genesis where most God’s activities are related to “speaking,” “‘the image of God’ in humanity must include… human’s capacity for complex language.” (page 34) God also put His Words in the mouths of prophets such as Jeremiah, or even an animal such as Balaam’s donkey. The words are in ordinary human language.
- His Words are incarnational. An encounter with His Words is an encounter with God. Jesus Christ is itself an incarnational Word, i.e., Words became flesh, and dwell among us.
- Rejecting words of apostles that were from Christ is rejecting God, which brought condemnation.
- The Bible as a whole is God’s Words. It is not acceptable to accept only part of the Bible as God’s Words.
- Apostolic writings are considered God’s Words, as an inspiration by the Holy Spirit. In John 16:12-15, Jesus told the Twelve Disciples that He had not yet told them everything, but He would send the Holy Spirit to guide them to all the Truth. It is believed that Jesus was saying this to only the apostles, who finished the apostolic writings; Jesus was not saying to all believers. A focus at the end of the New Testament is to instruct the early church leaders to faithfully preserve and pass on the apostolic gospels and writings to future generations of the believing community (as in 2 Timothy 2:2), and the Book of Revelation prevents people from adding new words to the Bible.
Ward wrote the following as the summary of the biblical outline: (page 48)
God chooses to present himself to us, and to act upon us, in and through human words that have their origin in him, and that he identifies as his own. When we encounter those words, God is acting in relation to us, supremely in his making a covenant promise to us. God identifies himself with his act of promising in such a way that for us to encounter God’s promise is itself to encounter God. The supreme form in which God comes to encounter us in his covenant promise is through the words of the Bible as a whole. Therefore to encounter the words of Scripture is to encounter God in action.
- Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, IVP Academic (2009). [Amazon]