The first article of The Baptist Faith and Message, the doctrinal statement of the Southern Baptist Convention, addresses the doctrine of Scripture and reads as follows:
The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.
Herein is contained a robust confession of the source, nature, authority, and goal of holy Scripture. In this installment we will ponder the source and nature of the Bible, leaving the authority and goal of it for the next reflection.
The Source of the Bible: Divine Inspiration
The first sentence of this section of the confession affirms that men wrote the books of the Bible, but in doing so they were “divinely inspired.” The doctrine of inspiration states that, by a special and unique influence of the Holy Spirit, the human authors of Scripture wrote in forms that express their own individual personalities, yet nevertheless in such a way that what they wrote as Scripture constitutes the very Word of God to humanity. In other words, they did not put their own autonomous ideas down on paper, but were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they communicated God’s own words (2 Peter 1:19-21). The process of inspiration involves the Holy Spirit’s influence on the biblical authors.
But the product of inspiration is the biblical text itself, which, according to 2 Timothy 3:16, is “breathed out by God.” That phrase expresses the theological truth that Scripture itself is the product of God’s own mouth. The confession, by declaring plainly that Scripture “has God for its author” does not deny the human authorship of Scripture but rather affirms that God, by his work of inspiration in men, produced for humanity a book like no other: a book of which he himself is the author. Scripture is the very Word of God written. The Bible itself testifies to its own origin in this way numerous times, but I will note just one here: the author of Hebrews, quoting from Psalm 95 in Hebrews 3:7, introduces this Old Testament quotation with the words “as the Holy Spirit says.” Examples such as this one can be multiplied many times over.
The Nature of the Bible: Revelation
The 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message spoke of Scripture as “the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man.” As a statement of fact, that is a true statement. Scripture does indeed constitute a record of the various revelatory acts of God in the various stages of history, including his revelation to the patriarchs, to the people of Israel, and ultimately to his new covenant people through the incarnation of Jesus Christ. However, the 1963 statement was revised in 2000, not so much because it was wrong, but because it was insufficient. By affirming that the Bible is a record of God’s revelation, the confession left room for some to claim that God’s revelation itself can only be identified with the historical events recorded in Scripture, but not with Scripture itself. On this view, Scripture is a fallible human testimony to God’s revelation, a revelation that occurred in the past and is now inaccessible to us except through merely human accounts of it written in the Bible.
The revision to the statement that occurred in the year 2000 addressed this deficiency by affirming that Scripture “is God’s revelation of Himself to man,” not merely a record of revelation. By identifying Scripture with God’s revelation, the statement does not deny that the historical events, culminating in the incarnation of Jesus Christ, are also God’s revelation. Rather, the statement simply affirms that the acts of God in history by which he has revealed himself have also been recorded and interpreted by his own verbal revelation.
When God reveals himself, he does so by the pattern of word-act-word. First, there is a verbal revelation announcing the revelatory act in advance. Think of all the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament, written as scriptural testimonies to Christ before he ever appeared in history. After this announcing Word, God acts in history. Jesus Christ was born during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. He grew up in Nazareth, carried on a three-year public ministry, and then was crucified by Pontius Pilate before rising again and ascending into Heaven. These events, as acts of God, actually occurred in history and were witnessed by many. And then following these events, God inspired men to write about them, not only preserving their memory for future generations, but also interpreting their theological significance with God’s own interpretation of these events. The word of announcement is followed by the act, which is then followed by the word of interpretation. Scripture, as God’s verbal revelation, is an absolutely necessary part of this total revelatory work, and thus may rightly be called God’s revelation of himself to man.
One more reason the confession speaks of Scripture in this way is because, for all people at all times who are not eyewitnesses of God’s revelatory acts in history (the vast majority of humanity), Scripture is the only special revelation of God to which any of us has access. So yes, Jesus Christ, incarnate in the flesh, is indeed the culminating revelation of God. We will worship him forever, not the pages and ink of the Bible. But none of us living today can know Jesus Christ rightly apart from Scripture, the permanent written record and divine interpretation of his incarnation, life, death, and resurrection.
The Holy Bible is God’s Word written, the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit operating upon its human authors. Consequently, it constitutes the permanent, abiding form of God’s special revelation. Whatever the Bible says, God says.