By Kevin Schaal
This article first appeared in FrontLine • May/June 2008. It accompanies the 2008 FBFI resolution, “Loyalty to God and His Word: Resolution Affirming the Biblical View of Inspiration, Texts, and Translation” attached to the end of this article. The article also appears here.
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One of the core values of the FBFI is stated as “Loyalty to God and His Word.” But what does loyalty to the Bible really mean? In our day, misunderstandings abound concerning the nature of Scripture itself and the nature of true loyalty to it. We believe it is appropriate for us to clarify what we mean by “loyalty to God and His Word.”
Loyalty to the Word means that we must believe everything that the Bible claims about itself.What does it claim?
The Bible claims that it is God’s own God-breathed book (2 Tim. 3:16). It is inspired-the very breath of God. It is verbally inspired-not just in thought or ideas, but the very words are given by God, even to the forms of the words, such as the distinctions of singulars and plurals (Gal. 3:16). It is plenarily inspired in that the whole of the Bible is God’s Book.
Everything clearly recognized as part of the canon of Scripture is God’s Book. It is inspired in its original writings. Prophets spoke the Word, but they also wrote it. The New Testament term “Scriptures” or “writings” clearly identifies the Word of God with the writings of the prophets.
Because it is inspired, it is also inerrant. We cannot separate the source of the Book from the nature of the Book. If the source of the Book is God, and He is perfect, then the book must also be perfect. God is not a man, who gets concepts right but fudges on the details. God is not a man who would consider any detail unimportant. He knows all things, remembers all things, communicates perfectly, and speaks only truth (John 17:17).
The Word of God is authoritative, rebuking, ruling, and guiding believers in all matters of faith and practice. The Word of God is profitable. By that we mean its truths are timely and not only are useful, but authoritative in all generations, regardless of time, space or culture.
Loyalty to the Word means we must not claim more for the Bible than it claims for itself. If believers in Heaven can be grieved over what happens on earth, Mary-the earthly mother of our Lord-might be the most grieved of all. She would be grieved at worship offered her that should rightly belong to her beloved Son. She would be grieved at the prominence given her that should rightly belong to Another. We do no person or document any favors by ascribing to it more than it claims for itself. Therefore, we must not claim a position for the Bible that it does not claim for itself. To do so would show a disloyalty to God and the wonderful Book He has given us.
While the Bible is everything mentioned above, it is not and never was intended to be an object of worship. The Bible is from God, it takes us to God, but it is not God. We wholeheartedly agree with the words of the hymn writer who said,
Beyond the sacred page, I seek Thee, Lord,
My Spirit pants for Thee, O living Word.
The Bible testifies to the fact of its own preservation but makes no particular statement about the method of its preservation. The Bible claims that its contents will not be lost but makes no claim concerning the transcription of Scripture itself. It gives no guidelines for transcription. There are no Scriptural promises concerning any future method of approval that would eliminate all questions concerning variations between copies. Opinions will vary on how God chooses to preserve His Word. In our zeal to defend or promote a particular text or translation, we must remember that we do not have a right to raise our opinion to the level of Bible doctrine.
The practice of translation is clearly intended in Scripture. The idea that the Word of God should be in the generally spoken language of the people is affirmed by Christ’s quoting from a Greek translation of the Old Testament. The inspiration and inscription of the New Testament in koine (common) Greek rather than classical Greek, Hebrew, or another language clearly indicates God’s intent to put the Scriptures within the reach and understanding of the most possible people. We believe and commend the practice of the translation of Scripture into as many world languages as possible as a noble and Biblical part of the Great Commission.
However, the Bible itself makes no claim and gives no specific instructions concerning the method of translation or the nature of future translations. The Bible makes no claim concerning the transfer of the gift of inspiration to future translators. If it had done so, we should believe it. But it did not make such a claim. For us to claim inspiration for translators would be error and could be categorized as a violation of Revelation 22:18, 19, changing the words of the Book as given under divine inspiration and bringing with it the accompanying Scriptural condemnations.
Loyalty to the Word means that we must honestly examine the Word to find the exact message God intended to communicate within its pages. Proper interpretation of Scripture must be consistent with its original context. It cannot mean what it never meant. We must understand and follow reasonable, Bible-based rules for interpretation. This will help us to be as impartial in our reading and application of Scripture as possible. Our selfish human nature tempts us to wrest the Scripture and make it say what we want it to say. We must guard against this. We are not the masters of the text; it must master us.
The reading of the text of Scripture is not just an intellectual exercise. The Holy Spirit enlightens individual believers so that they might understand the truth of the Word and make appropriate applications in life and practice. But that understanding is not contrary to the plain teaching of the Word. Original language study is tremendously helpful in understanding the original intent of the writers of Scripture, and information about the original languages of Scripture is available today in a way that is unprecedented. Believers today have more access to the Word of God than any believer has ever had at any time in human history. But understanding does not come without effort. Laboring in the Word, especially for the preacher and teacher, is essential. In fact, it is a divine expectation (1 Tim. 5:17, 18).
Loyalty to God and His Word means that we must handle the Bible honestly. We cannot use the Word for our own purposes. Using the Word as a tool to justify our selfish behavior or to manipulate others is a grievous sin against God. New Testament church leaders must not do it and have an obligation to point out and condemn those who do.
Loyalty to God and His Word means that we must communicate it clearly. We cannot afford, through laziness or expediency, to produce an uncertain sound in the proclamation of His Word. We must preach the Word. We preach the whole counsel of God, and we must preach it in an understandable way.
Loyalty to God and His Word means that we must defend it from attack. The Bible has come under attack through so-called science, liberal theology, mocking unbelief, and the pressures of a society given to deviance. We have an obligation to proclaim it and defend it in the public arena. We cannot stand silent while the message of God is maligned. Contending for the faith necessitates contending for the Word.
As Baptists, we also believe that loyalty to the Word means loyalty to it as our sole authority. While doctrinal statements, confessions, and creeds are helpful in clarifying and defining what we believe, our only authority for faith and practice is the Bible itself. All churches as institutions, confessions, creeds, traditions, and practices must be subject to it.
Loyalty to the Word means that we obey it as our rule of life. We believe that we must live out the principles of Scripture every day. It is hypocrisy of the highest order to claim loyalty to the Word with our mouths while denying it in our daily actions. We understand that Fundamentalists will disagree on some applications of Biblical principles concerning personal holiness, but we are united in our commitment to submit ourselves to the commands of the Word of God in every sphere of life.
Dr. Kevin Schaal is an FBFI Executive Board Member, he currently serves as Chairman. He pastors Northwest Valley Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona.
The 2008 Resolution:
Loyalty to God and His Word: Resolution Affirming the Biblical View of Inspiration, Texts, and Translation
- The Bible claims that it is plenarily and verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit in its original writings;
- The Bible claims that it will be preserved by God throughout the ages;
- The Bible claims that its Spirit-indwelt readers will be illumined by the Holy Spirit as they read;
- The practice of translating the Scriptures into common languages was affirmed by the practice of Jesus Christ and the practice of the New Testament Church;
- The Bible makes no claim to the specific manner by which it would be preserved, or to further inspiration or perfection through any translators in any language;
The FBFI affirms the orthodox, historic, and, most importantly, Biblical doctrine of inspiration, affirming everything the Bible claims for itself, and rejecting, as a violation of Revelation 22:18-19, any so-called doctrine, teaching, or position concerning inspiration, preservation, or translation that goes beyond the specific claims of Scripture.