Sunday 16 August 2009

John Stott on the Bible 3

John R.W. Stott, You Can Trust the Bible: Our Foundation for Belief and Obedience (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1991, first published in the UK by IVP in 1982 with the title The Bible: Book for Today).

See here for an introduction to the book.

See here for a summary of chapter 1, ‘God and the Bible’.

Chapter 2 is devoted to ‘Christ and the Bible’, for which Stott takes his cue from John 5:39-40…

‘You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you possess eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.’

… from which we learn two ‘profound and complementary truths about Christ and the Bible’ (25):

• The Scriptures bear witness to Christ
• Christ bears witness to the Scriptures

1. The Scriptures bear witness to Christ
The whole passage is concerned with testimony to Christ – not his self-testimony on this occasion (5:31), and not even the testimony of human beings, significant though John the Baptist is (5:32-34), but the testimony of the Father – the works the Father gave him to do (5:36) and the Father himself (5:37-38) – and the testimony of the Scriptures (5:39-40).

‘It was the consistent teaching of Jesus that Old Testament Scripture was God’s Word bearing witness to him’ (27), shown in John 8:56 and 5:46, Luke 4:21 and 24:27.

Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries diligently studied the Scriptures, imagining that they could give eternal life, ‘like getting a prescription from the doctor and then swallowing the prescription instead of getting and taking the medicine!’ (29). But there is no magic in the Bible or in reading it; rather, it points us to Jesus. We do not worship the Bible, but the Christ of the Bible.

Whenever we read the Bible, we look for Christ. The law is our ‘schoolmaster’ (Galatians 3:24, AV) which brings us to Christ; the sacrifices foreshadow his sacrifice; he is the promised king of David’s line, the seed of Abraham through whom all nations will be blessed, the suffering servant who will die for others, the Son of Man who comes on the clouds. He comes clearly into focus in the gospels, and the book of Acts tells us what he continued to do through his apostles; the letters set forth his person and work; and Revelation too is full of Christ.

2. Christ bears witness to the Scriptures
The Scriptures, says Jesus, are his father’s word (John 5:38), authenticating them as ‘possessing the authority of God’ (31). He authenticated Old and New Testament differently: ‘he looked back to the Old Testament, He looked on to the New Testament, but He authenticated them both’ (32).

• Jesus endorsed the Old Testament

Scripture is his Father’s word (John 5:38), which witnesses to him (John 5:39), and cannot be broken (John 10:35; cf. Matthew 5:17-18). Jesus submitted to it as the Father’s word, believed in its divine origin, interpreted his own mission in the light of its prophetic testimony, obeyed its moral injunctions (think of the temptations), made it the ground of appeal in his arguments with religious leaders. But, with him, the time of fulfilment had come (Mark 1:14-15), the era of anticipation over. It is thus ‘inconceivable that a Christian who looks to Jesus as his Teacher and Lord should have a lower view of the Old Testament than He had’ (34).

• Jesus made provision for the writing of the New Testament

Jesus chose apostles to be with him, hear his words and see his works, ‘and then bear witness out of what they had seen and heard’ (34). He also promised that the Holy Spirit would remind them of his teaching, supplementing it, and leading them into all truth (John 14:25-26; 16:12-13). The apostles, for their part, recognised the unique authority given to them (35-36), and the early church understood that after the apostles died they had moved into a post-apostolic era, when there was no longer anyone with the authority of a Paul or a Peter or a John. This was understood when it came for the New Testament canon to be fixed, with the test of apostolicity. ‘Had it [a book] been written by an apostle? If not, did it come from the circle of the apostles? Did it contain the teaching of the apostles? Did it have the imprimatur of the apostles?’ (37).


In summary, ‘we believe the Scriptures because of Christ… our doctrine of Scripture is bound up with our loyalty to Jesus Christ’ (37-38), and ‘any preoccupation with the biblical text that does not lead to a stronger commitment to Jesus Christ, in faith, love, worship, and obedience, is seriously perverted’ (39).

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