The Theological Outline of the Doctrine of Scripture

In my previous blog post, I summarized the biblical outline of the doctrine of scripture, according to Timothy Ward’s Words of Life. The biblical outline is awesome and easy to understand as it is directly deduced from the biblical data. In chapter 3 of Ward’s book, he gave a theological outline, systemizing the biblical teaching about the relation between the scripture and the triune God, with the help of speech-act theory in the philosophy of language.

Speech-Act Theory

Speech-act theory rejects the widespread notion that the language itself is merely a logical constructs for information flow, but it regards language “as a means by which one person performs actions in relation to another.” (page 57) Richard Briggs said: “when we speak or write, we do things with it – performing acts…” [Briggs 2003] He listed five basic categories of speech acts: declaratives, commissives, directives, assertives, and expressives. And the speech acts theory complies with the nature of the Scripture, as the Word of God, that the text comes with action.

Scripture and the Father

As it has been discussed in the previous post, the act of Father’s Word includes the creative work of the Universe, the revelation, and the redemption. All these were performed through His Word in the scripture. He makes covenant with us, through His Word as the Scripture. As the Scripture has warranted, the Scripture is equivalent to the Word of God, with the recognition that His Word comes with His action, and obeying Him is obeying His Word etc., as in the speech-act theory. And “God is both semantically present in the Scripture, and is personally present in the person of the Spirit.” (page 65) And “when we speak of Scripture as a mode of God’s presence, we are asserting that it is the speech acts of Scripture that God reveals himself by being semantically present to us, as he promises, warns, rebukes, reassures, and so on.”

Scripture and the Son

The Gospel of John asserts that the Word is the person of the Son in the first verse: “In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1) His incarnation, or the “Word became flesh” (John 1:14), marks an important theological teaching. The Son lived in the world, and performed acts. And after His ascension, the Holy Spirit continued the acts of Jesus Christ to complete the text of the Scripture. The Word, again, is both the words and the actions.

On the other hand, while the Scripture is the Word of God, it serves the Christ too. The uniqueness of Christ is that He is also the Savior and our Lord.

Some theologians like to draw an analogy of the divine and human nature of Christ to the nature of the Scripture. While it is debatable whether the analogy helps, it is important to recognize that the Scripture is fully divine (as God is the origin), and at the same time, fully human. This can be described with the speech-act theory.

Scripture and the Spirit

The three primary actions of the Spirit with regard to Scripture are: the inspiration, the preservation, and the illumination.

The inspiration of the Scripture by the Spirit means that God is the author of the Scripture, with proof text referred to 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. The Holy Spirit is the agent of authoring the Scripture, “… knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21) And the word “inspiration” comes from the Greek word theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16, but now the theologians know that it can be translated more correctly to “God-breathed.” This refers to the origin of the Scripture, instead of the effects of the Spirit to the readers. In the formation of the Scripture, God was active, and human authors were passive. The Scripture is fully divine and human, and it displays individual authors’ temperament in ordinary human languages.

The preservation of the Scripture by the Spirit refers to the copy and the transmission of Scripture, which unavoidably involves human mistakes. However, with the preserving work of the Spirit, we are confident that the essential teaching of the Scripture has been transmitted correctly, even through translation. The Spirit was also involved in the formation of the canon of the Scripture, which gained remarkable rapid recognition among the early churches.

The illumination of the Scripture by the Spirit is based on 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, and 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6. Ward cited Francis Turretin, an influential Reformed theologian in the 17th century, about his belief: “the Bible itself… is the argument on account of which he believes; the Holy Spirit is the efficient cause and principle that induces him to believe; and the church is the instrument and means through which he comes to believe.” (page 92-93) It is not a logical deduction but God’s work on our characters.

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  • Timothy Ward, Words of Life: Scripture as the Living and Active Word of God, IVP Academic (2009). [Amazon]
  • Kwan-yuet Ho, “The Biblical Outline of the Doctrine of Scripture,” WordPress (2016). [WordPress]
  • “Speech Acts,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2014). [link]
  • Richard S. Briggs, “Getting Involved: Speech Acts and Biblical Interpretation,” ANVIL 20, 25-34 (2003).
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