What Is Inerrancy? (William Lane Craig)

william lane craigThe doctrine of inerrancy doesn’t mean that everything in the Bible is literally true. What inerrancy, properly understood means is that everything that the Bible teaches is true. Or, that everything that the Bible teaches or affirms to be true is true.

Inerrancy is viewed as so important because if the Bible has mistakes in it, then how can it be inspired by God?

The doctrine of inspiration, I take to mean that the Scripture, as it was originally written was exactly what God wanted to be His word to us, that what those human authors wrote, under the guidance of God’s Holy Spirit was His word to us, and therefore is inspired, in that sense. Now, whether or not inerrancy is an implication of that, or not, might be something that one might debate. But, I think, typically, one might think that inerrancy would be a corollary of inspiration, because it is God’s word to us, and God is truthful. Therefore, whatever the Bible teaches or affirms is true. It is God’s word to us.

Bart Ehrman’s own evangelical faith was undermined, initially, at least he claims, by his abandonment in his belief in inerrancy. He had a strong view of inerrancy, as a student at Moody Bible Institute, and then Wheaton College. And when he went to Princeton to do his graduate work, apparently when he was doing the exegesis of a certain passage, that looked to have an error in it, and when he tried to think of all sorts of ways to interpret the passage, so as to explain away this mistake, and apparently, his professor returned the paper to him and said, „Maybe Mark just made a mistake.” And Ehrman said this was like the scales falling from his eyes. With that simple comment, his belief in inerrancy just began to collapse. And he thought, „Yeah, maybe the author just made a mistake.” And the problem for Ehrman was that once inerrancy went, it was like the finger in the dyke being released and the whole of his faith disintegrated.

And I think there’s a lesson in this. And it’s this: Inerrancy is a corollary of the doctrine of inspiration. And as such, it’s important to the Christian faith, but it doesn’t stand at the center of the Christian faith. It’s not one of the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith. If we think of our theological system of beliefs as like a spider’s web, at the core of the web, where the center is there will be things like

  • belief in the existence of God. That will be absolutely central to the web of beliefs.
  • a little further out would be the deity of Christ and His resurrection from the dead.
  • a little bit further out from that would perhaps be the penal theory of the atonement, the substitutionary death for our sins.
  • and even further out than that, somewhere at the periphery of the web will be the belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.

What that means is that if one of these central beliefs, like the belief in the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus goes, that part of the web is plugged out, the whole web is going to collapse because if you take something out of the center, the rest of the web can’t exist. But if you pull one of the strands out that is near the periphery, that will cause some reverberation in your web of beliefs, but it’s not going to destroy the whole thing. And the problem with a person like Bart Ehrman, and I think, many people today, is that they have at the very center of their web of theological beliefs, the belief in inerrancy, so that if that belief goes, the rest collapses, and they are really in danger of committing apostasy.  They’re teetering on the brink by having this belief be at the very center of their beliefs.  And that, I just think is clearly mistaken. If inerrancy isn’t true, that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist. If inerrancy is not true, does that mean that Jesus of Nazareth was not the second person of the trinity, that He didn’t rise from the dead? That He didn’t die for persons? Obviously not.

So, inerrancy isn’t a doctrine that belongs at the center of your beliefs, it belongs on the periphery. What happened to Bart Ehrman was a misconstruction of his theological system. He set himself up for a fall by having a disoriented theology. If inerrancy is not true it weakens the Christian faith, because you would be prepared to say that various Scriptural authors have erred in things that they have said. And then the questions would arise, „Well, then, where do those errors lie?” And this would reduce your confidence and certainty in the teaching of the Scripture. So, absolutely, this is an important doctrine, and one that one would not give up lightly. (10:00)

However, it is a huge mistake to make the focus of evangelism inerrancy instead of Christ. It’s Christ that is the center of the Gospel. And so, He ought to be the stumbling stone, not the doctrine of inerrancy. Inerrancy is an in-house debate for someone who is already a Christian. It’s an in-house argument to what corollaries are there to the concept of inspiration. (10:00)

Suppose somebody did demonstrate an error in Scripture, does that invalidate the Christian faith? I am saying: No. It would mean that you’d have to adjust your doctrine of inspiration, you would have to give up inerrancy of the Scripture, but it wouldn’t mean that Christ didn’t rise from the dead. , and it wouldn’t even mean that you wouldn’t have good grounds for believing Christ rose from the dead. So often, christian apologists give lip service to this idea that if you approach the New Testament documents as you would any ordinary historical document, that they are reliable enough to show, for example, that Jesus thought He was the Son of God, that He did miracles and exorcisms, and that He rose from the dead. But, they don’t really believe that, because the minute somebody point an error, they go up in arms as though to admit this one error it would completely undermine the historicity of the records of Christ. No historian approaches his documents like that. Indeed, the very task of the historian is to sift through the chaff and to find the historical nuggets of truth amidst the errors and mistakes that are typically found in historical writing.

What I’m suggesting is that if you approach Scripture as you would historical documents, and you find in them mistakes, contradictions and errors, that still wouldn’t undermine the general historical  credibility of the Gospels for example. , including things like the miracles and exorcisms of Jesus, His radical self understanding, His resurrection from the dead. Those things don’t hang on the affirmation of biblical inerrancy. (15:00)

So, I am not arguing for biblical errancy. I do believe in inerrancy, myself, properly understood.

The passage in Matthew 27 is that at the time of the crucifixion, there were some, not resurrections, but revivifications of some saints who actually came out of the grave, and who appeared to people, much like other resurrections or revivifications in other Gospel accounts. And, whether that’s historical, or whether that’s language to illustrate  the profundity of it, we don’t know. Whether this looks like an error to some critics, it would be really quite irrelevant to either the historicity of the crucifixion or the historicity of the resurrection. It is just a red herring to try and distract people.

I’m happy to say, about this passage in Matthew that I’m not sure what it means, and that’s perfectly consistent with believing in biblical inerrancy. Believing biblical inerrancy doesn’t mean that you understand everything. I don’t understand the Book of Revelation. When I read the Book of Revelation, with all these various symbolic figures and images, I am not sure what it’s saying. But, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think that it’s inspired by God or inerrant in what it teaches. That’s perfectly consistent.

Scholars have given good explanations on this passage that it was the first fruit of the dead in Christ and that we would expect phenomenon like this to go on at such a profound event, at the crucifixion and the resurrection. So, it’s not a knock down error. For me it’s a triviality. It doesn’t prove anything. This is an addendum to the crucifixion story of Christ. It’s not part of the resurrection account. This is a part of the account of the crucifixion. And yet, no historian denies the truth that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. So that even if you regard this a piece of apocalyptic imagery on Matthew’s part, and not something that literally, historically happened, nobody thinks it does anything to undermine the fact that Jesus of Nazareth died by Roman execution, by crucifixion. So, it is just a triviality, a red herring.

Norman Geisler is very encouraging to those that are disturbed at the longer ending of Mark not being authentic, not being in the oldest manuscripts, and he just says, „So what? So we have some extra material that we don’t quite know what to do with. Well, textual criticism helps us sort these things out. But, that’s quite a different answer than inerrancy. As we said before: Inerrancy is the view that whatever the original Scriptures, the original documents teach or affirm is true. But the question of textual criticism is: What were the original documents? So on discrepancies, an informed inerrantist won’t be upset by that, on the contrary, he’ll be involved in textual criticism, because he’ll be anxious to understand what the original text really did say, lest he me misled by copyist errors. So, somebody like a Daniel Wallace, for example, who is a fine New Testament textual critic at Dallas Theological Seminary is an inerrantist, but he’s also very much involved in establishing the original text in the New testament. And he, like other text critics would say the longer ending of Mar, as well as the shorter is spurious, it’s an accretion by some later author. That the original Gospel of Mark either ended with verse 8 of chapter 16, or else the original ending has been lost and has not been recovered. This is not really relevant to inerrancy at all.

What we need to understand is that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy  is a corollary of the doctrine of inspiration. As such, it is an important doctrine, but it is not a central doctrine to the christian faith. You can be a christian and not affirm it. And, if one does give it up, it will have some reverberations in your theological web of beliefs, but it won’t be destructive to that fundamental web of  Christian beliefs because it stands somewhere near the periphery. 

VIDEO by drcraigvideos

John Piper – On Querying the Biblical Text

By John Piper. ©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org (photo via julianfreeman.ca)

If the Bible is coherent, then understanding the Bible means grasping how things fit together. Becoming a Biblical theologian means seeing more and more pieces fit together into a glorious mosaic of the divine will. And doing exegesis means querying the text about how its many propositions cohere in the author’s mind.

If we are going to feed our people, we must ever advance in our grasp of biblical truth. And to advance in our grasp of biblical truth we must be troubled by biblical affirmations.

It must bother us that James and Paul don’t seem to jibe. Only when we are troubled and bothered do we think hard. And if we don’t think hard about how biblical affirmations fit together, we will never penetrate to their common root and discover the beauty of unified divine truth. The end result is that our Bible reading will become insipid, we will turn to fascinating „secondary literature,” our sermons will be the lame work of „second-handers,” and the people will go hungry.

„We never think until we have been confronted with a problem,” said John Dewey. He was right. And that is why we will never think hard about biblical truth until we are troubled by its complexity.

Habitually Disturbed

We must form the habit of being systematically disturbed by things that at first glance don’t make sense. Or to put it a different way, we must relentlessly query the text. One of the greatest honors I received while teaching at Bethel was when the teaching assistants in the Bible department gave me a T-shirt which had the initials of Jonathan Edwards on the front and on the back the words: „Asking questions is the key to understanding.”

But there are several strong forces which oppose our relentless and systematic interrogating of biblical texts. One is that it consumes a great deal of time and energy on one small portion of Scripture. We have been schooled [quite erroneously] that there is a direct correlation between reading a lot and gaining insight. But in fact there is no positive correlation at all been quantity of pages read and quality of insight gained. Just the reverse. Except for a few geniuses, insight diminishes as we try to read more and more. Insight or understanding is the product of intensive, headache-producing meditation on two or three verses and how they fit together. This kind of reflection and rumination is provoked by asking questions of the text. And you cannot do it if you hurry. Therefore, we must resist the deceptive urge to carve notches in our bibliographic gun. Take two hours to ask ten questions of Galatians 2:20 and you will gain one hundred times the insight you would have attained by reading 30 pages of the New Testament or any other book. Slow down. Query. Ponder. Chew.

Another reason it is hard to spend hours probing for the roots of coherence is that it is fundamentally unfashionable today to systematize and seek for harmony and unity. This noble quest has fallen on hard times because so much artificial harmony has been discovered by impatient and nervous Bible defenders. But if God’s mind is truly coherent and not confused, then exegesis must aim to see the coherence of biblical revelation and the profound unity of divine truth. Unless we are to dabble forever on the surface of things (content to turn up „tensions” and „difficulties”) then we must resist the atomistic (and basically anti-intellectual) fashions in the contemporary theological establishment. There is far too much debunking of past failures and far too little construction going on.

A third force that opposes the effort to ask the Bible questions is this: Asking questions is the same as posing problems, and we have been discouraged all our lives from finding problems in God’s Holy Book.

Rightfully Respecting God’s Word

It is impossible to respect the Bible too highly, but it is very possible to respect it wrongly. If we do not ask seriously how differing texts fit together, then we are either superhuman (and glance all truth at a glance) or indifferent (and don’t care about seeing more truth). But I don’t see how anyone who is indifferent or superhuman can have a proper respect for the Bible. Therefore reverence for God’s Word demands that we ask questions and pose problems and that we believe there are answers and solutions which will reward our labor with „treasures new and old” (Matt. 13:52).

We must train our people that it is not irreverent to see difficulties in the biblical text and to think hard about how they can be resolved.

I do not accuse my 6-year-old son, Benjamin, of irreverence when he cannot make sense out of a Bible verse and asks me about it. He is just learning to read. But have our abilities to read been perfected? Can any of us at one reading grasp the logic of a paragraph and see how every part relates to all the others and how they all fit together to make a unified point? How much less the thought of an entire epistle, the New Testament, the Bible! If we care about truth, we must relentlessly query the text and form the habit of being bothered by things we read.

Reading for Reverence

This is just the opposite of irreverence. It is what we do if we crave the mind of Christ. Nothing sends us deeper into the counsels of God than seeing apparent theological discrepancies in the Bible and pondering them day and night until they fit into an emerging system of unified truth. For example, a year ago I struggled for days with how Paul could say on the one hand, „Have no anxiety about anything” (Phil. 4:6), but on the other hand say (with apparent impunity) that his „anxiety for all the churches” was a daily pressure on him (2 Cor. 11:28). How could he say, „Rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16), and „Weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15)? How would he say to give thanks „always and for everything” (Eph. 5:20) and then admit, „I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. (9:2)?

More recently I have asked, What does it mean that Jesus said in Matthew 5:39 to turn the other cheek when struck, but said in Matthew 10:23, „When they persecute you in one town, flee. . .”? When do you flee and when do endure hardship and turn the other cheek? I have also been pondering in what sense it is true that God is „slow to anger” (Ex. 34:6) and in what sense „His wrath is quickly kindled” (Ps. 2:11).

There are hundreds and hundreds of such seeming discrepancies in the Holy Scripture, and we dishonor the text not to see them and think them through. God is not a God of confusion. His tongue is not forked. There are profound and wonderful resolutions to all problems. He has called us to an eternity of discovery so that every morning for ages to come we might break forth in new songs of praise.

In 2 Timothy 2:7 Paul gave us a command and a promise. He commanded, „Think over what I say.” And he promised, „God will give you understanding in everything.”

How do the command and promise fit together? The little „for” (gar) gives the answer. „Think . . . because God will reward you with understanding.”

The promise is not made to all. It is made to those who think. And we do not think until we are confronted with a problem. Therefore, brothers, let us query the text.

Possession of the Bible was once banned by the Catholic Church (and yes, unauthorized Bibles were burned)

This is a very interesting paper from http://www.aloha.net/ Whatever the motivation behind it, one can only gasp  incredulously when reading a phrase such as Pope Innocent III wrote in 1199: „They are moved by a certain love of Scripture in order to explain them clandestinely and to preach them to one another.” Then his reasoning that the word of God cannot be understood except for those qualified (by being taught i.e. informed intelligence) is even more bizarre. And if that doesn’t sound like a dangerous proclamation, it indeed set the course (in 1229) for the later persecution and martyrdom of thousands of believers deemed heretical by the papacy. Read on:

ITEM #1   POPE INNOCENT III

Pope Innocent III stated in 1199:

… to be reproved are those who translate into French the Gospels, the letters of Paul, the psalter, etc. They are moved by a certain love of Scripture in order to explain them clandestinely and to preach them to one another. The mysteries of the faith are not to explained rashly to anyone. Usually in fact, they cannot be understood by everyone but only by those who are qualified to understand them with informed intelligence. The depth of the divine Scriptures is such that not only the illiterate and uninitiated have difficulty understanding them, but also the educated and the gifted (Denzinger-Schönmetzer, Enchiridion Symbolorum 770-771)

Source: Bridging the Gap – Lectio Divina, Religious Education, and the Have-not’s by Father John Belmonte, S.J.

ITEM #2   COUNCIL OF TOULOUSE – 1229 A.D.

The Council of Toulouse, which met in November of 1229, about the time of the crusade against the Albigensians, set up a special ecclesiastical tribunal, or court, known as the Inquisition (Lat. inquisitio, an inquiry), to search out and try heretics. Twenty of the forty-five articles decreed by the Council dealt with heretics and heresy. It ruled in part:

Canon 1. We appoint, therefore, that the archbishops and bishops shall swear in one priest, and two or three laymen of good report, or more if they think fit, in every parish, both in and out of cities, who shall diligently, faithfully, and frequently seek out the heretics in those parishes, by searching all houses and subterranean chambers which lie under suspicion. And looking out for appendages or outbuildings, in the roofs themselves, or any other kind of hiding places, all which we direct to be destroyed.

Canon 6. Directs that the house in which any heretic shall be found shall be destroyed.

Canon 14. We prohibit also that the laity should be permitted to have the books of the Old or New Testament; unless anyone from motive of devotion should wish to have the Psalter or the Breviary for divine offices or the hours of the blessed Virgin; but we most strictly forbid their having any translation of these books.

Source: Heresy and Authority in Medieval Europe, Edited with an introduction by Edward Peters, Scolar Press, London, copyright 1980 by Edward Peters, ISBN 0-85967-621-8, pp. 194-195, citing S. R. Maitland, Facts and Documents [illustrative of the history, doctrine and rites, of the ancient Albigenses & Waldenses], London, Rivington, 1832,  pp. 192-194.

Additional Sources:

Ecclesiastical History of Ancient Churches of the Albigenses, Pierre Allix, published in Oxford at the Clarendon Press in 1821, reprinted in USA in 1989 by Church History Research & Archives, P.O. Box 38, Dayton Ohio, 45449, p. 213 [Canon 14].

 The History of Protestantism, by J. A. Wiley, chapter 10 cites:

  • Concilium Tolosanum, cap. 1, p. 428. Sismondi, 220.
  • Labbe, Concil. Tolosan., tom. 11, p. 427. Fleury, Hist. Eccles., lib. 79, n. 58.

Some Catholics may doubt that there even was a Church Council in Toulouse France in 1229. The following quotes are offered as corroborating evidence:

After the death of Innocent III, the Synod of Toulouse directed in 1229 its fourteenth canon against the misuse of Sacred Scripture on the part of the Cathari: „prohibemus, ne libros Veteris et Novi Testamenti laicis permittatur habere” (Hefele, „Concilgesch”, Freiburg, 1863, V, 875).

Source: The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on  Scripture.


In France Louis VIII decreed in 1226 that persons excommunicated by the diocesan bishop, or his delegate, should receive „meet punishment” (debita animadversio). In 1249 Louis IX ordered barons to deal with heretics according to the dictates of duty (de ipsis faciant quod debebant). A decree of the Council of Toulouse (1229) makes it appear probable that in France death at the stake was already comprehended as in keeping with the aforesaid debita animadversio.

Source: The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the  Inquisition.


… the Council of Toulouse (1229) entrusted the Inquisition, which soon passed into the hands of the Dominicans (1233), with the repression of Albigensianism. The heresy disappeared about the end of the fourteenth century.

Source: The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the  Albigenses.


1229 – The Inquisition of Toulouse imposed by Albigensian Crusaders forbids laymen to read the Bible.

Source: The People’s Chronology, Revised and updated, by James Trager, Copyright 1992, 1994, published by Henry Holt and Company, ISBN 0-8050-3134-0, New York, page 108.


In 1229, when the Council of Toulouse assembled to survey and regulate the results of the Albigensian Crusade, its canons reflected the severity of ecclesiastical discipline in an area in which the inability to eradicate heresy had led to profound secular and ecclesiastical consequences. The first canon of the Council insists upon the appointment of the traditional testes synodales, but these now have new powers of actively searching out the hiding places of heretics; condemned heretics who repent must be moved to orthodox places to live, and they must wear conspicuously colored crosses on their garments to publicly indicate their penitential status; certain professions were closed to those even suspected of heresy.

Source: Inquisition, by Edward Peters, published by University of California Press, Berkley and Los Angeles, Copyright 1988 by the Free Press, a division of Macmillan, Inc., ISBN 0-520-06630-8, page 51.


In the same year [1229], the Council of Toulouse set up a special court of permanent judges to search out and try heretics. But although twenty of the forty-five articles of that Council dealt with the problem of heresy, it did not yet create a new and specific institution for this work. The local bishop remained the final judge, and had the power to commute sentences. 4

4. Lea, Henry Charles, The History of the Inquisition of the Middle Ages, New York: Macmillan, 1908, vol. I, p. 310.

(Lea cites the 1229 Council of Toulouse as the foundation for the Inquisition, on page 359 of vol. I., as does Guiraud in The Medieval Inquisition, London: Burns Oates and Washbourne, 1929, on page 59.)

Source: The Inquisition, Hammer of Heresy, By Edward Burman, Copyright 1984, Published by Dorset Press, a division of Marboro Books Corp., by arrangement with Harper Collins Publishers, UK., ISBN 0-88029-909-6, pages 31, 32.


The clauses of the Peace of Paris and the decrees of a council held at Toulouse in November 1229 demonstrated that twenty years of crusading had not been very effective, since heresy was as much a concern as ever. The fact was that crusading, particularly when as episodic as this type was, could not eradicate deep-rooted heresy. It required the establishment of the inquisition in Toulouse in 1233 and the persistent pressure that such an instrument could bring to bear for headway to be made …

Source: The Crusades, A Short History, by Jonathan Riley-Smith, Copyright 1987, published by Yale University Press, New Haven and London, ISBN 0-300-04700-2, pages 138, 139.


ITEM #3   THE COUNCIL OF TARRAGONA – 1234 A.D.

The Council of Tarragona of 1234, in its second canon, ruled that:

„No one may possess the books of the Old and New Testaments in the Romance language, and if anyone possesses them he must turn them over to the local bishop within eight days after promulgation of this decree, so that they may be burned lest, be he a cleric or a layman, he be suspected until he is cleared of all suspicion.”

-D. Lortsch, Historie de la Bible en France, 1910, p.14.

See also: The 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article on the  Scripture.


ITEM #4     JOHN WYCLIFFE – MORNING STAR OF THE REFORMATION

John Wycliffe was the very first to translate the entire Bible into English, which he completed in 1382. Wycliffe translated from the Latin Vulgate. One copy of an original manuscript is in the Bodlein Library in Oxford, England. Wycliffe’s Bibles were painstakingly reproduced by hand by copyists.

In 1408 the third synod of Oxford, England, banned unauthorized English translations of the Bible and decreed that possession of English translation’s had to be approved by diocesan authorities. The Oxford council declared:

   „It is dangerous, as St. Jerome declares, to translate the text of Holy Scriptures out of one idiom into another, since it is not easy in translations to preserve exactly the same meaning in all things. We therefore command and ordain that henceforth no one translate the text of Holy Scripture into English or any other language as a book, booklet, or tract, of this kind lately made in the time of the said John Wyclif or since, or that hereafter may be made, either in part or wholly, either publicly or privately, under pain of excommunication, until such translation shall have been approved and allowed by the Provincial Council. He who shall act otherwise let him be punished as an abettor of heresy and error.”

Source: The Western Watchman, a Catholic newspaper published in St. Louis, August 9, 1894, „The Word of God”, The English Bible Before the Reformation, page 7.

At the ecumenical Council of Constance, in 1415, Wycliffe was posthumously condemned by Arundel, the archbishop of Canterbury, as „that pestilent wretch of damnable heresy who invented a new translation of the scriptures in his mother tongue.” By the decree of the Council, more that 40 years after his death, Wycliffe’s bones were exhumed and publicly burned and the ashes were thrown into the Swift river.

Around 1454 Gutenberg printed an edition of the Latin Vulgate Bible on the first moveable-type printing press. With this new printing technology books could now be printed faster and cheaper than ever before, a fact that Protestants soon took advantage of. Within a hundred years there was a virtual explosion of Protestant Bibles coming off the new presses.


ITEM #5   THE BIBLE IN ENGLISH IS PRINTED

William Tyndale completed a translation of the New Testament from the Greek in 1525, which church authorities in England tried their best to confiscate and burn. After issuing a revised edition in 1535, he was arrested, spent over a year in jail, and was then strangled and burned at the stake near Brussels in October 6th, 1536. It is estimated today that some 90 percent of the New Testament in the 1611 King James Bible is the work of Tyndale. Tyndale was unable to complete his translation of the Old Testament before his death.

Miles Coverdale, an assistant to Tyndale, completed Tyndale’s translation of the Old Testament using Martin Luther’s German text and Latin as sources, and in Germany he printed the first complete Bible in English on October 4, 1535.

Matthew’s Bible, a composite of the work of Tyndale and Coverdale, probably edited by John Rogers, was published in 1537 under the pseudonym „Thomas Matthew”, and was the second complete edition of the Bible printed in English.

Coverdale’s „Great Bible”, called that because of its size, was published in 1539 and had over 21,000 copies printed in seven editions in only a single year. Working under the patronage of Thomas Cromwell, Coverdale had submitted his Bible via the Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and it was published with the authorization of King Henry VIII, whose likely motivation was the realization that the Bible was an effective means of combating papists. Amazingly, at the end of the book of Malachi were the initials W.T., covering half a page, standing for William Tyndale! Beginning with the second edition, the Great Bible included a preface by Thomas Cranmer, and so it is also called Cranmer’s Bible.

The English parliament in 1543 passed a law forbidding the use of any English translations other than the „Great Bible”. Tyndale’s New Testament was specifically prohibited, and later Wycliffe’s and Coverdale’s Bibles were also banned. It was decreed a crime for any unlicensed person to read or explain the Scriptures in public. Many copies of Tyndale’s New Testament and Coverdale’s Bible were burned in London, though ironically, the authorized „Great Bible” contained the work of both men!

In 1557 the Geneva Bible was first published, which continued to be popular even years after the King James was available. The Geneva Bible was the version in use during Shakespeare’s time, and was often quoted by him in his plays.

In 1559 Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant, decreed that a copy of the Bishop’s Bible be placed in every parish church. The Bishop’s Bible was printed in 20 editions over 42 years and was the basis for the King James Bible.

Responding to the increasing flood of Protestant Bibles in English, the very first complete Bible in English to be produced by the Catholic Church was the Douay Rheims, a translation from the Latin Vulgate, which was finally completed in the early 17th century. The New Testament was begun in 1578 and finished in Rheims France in 1582, and the Old Testament was finished in 1609-10 in Douay. Note that it had been over two centuries since Wycliffe had completed his English Bible!

In an attempt to combat the swiftly rising tide of Protestantism, the Catholic Church began maintaining lists of the prohibited books which were to be confiscated. Here is an example from England:

Memorandum of a proclamation made at Paul’s Cross on the first Sunday in Advent, 1531, against the buying, selling or reading of the following books:

The disputation between father and the son.
The supplication of beggars.
The revelation of AntiChrist.
Liber qui de veteri et novicio Deo inscribitur.
Precaciones.
Economica christiana.
The burying of the mass, in English rhyme.
An exposition into the VII chapter of the Corinthians.
The matrimony of Tyndal.
A B C against the clergy.
Ortulus animae, in English.
A book against Saint Thomas of Canterbury.
A book made by Friar Reye against the seven sacraments.
An answer of Tyndal to Sir Thomas More’s dialogue, in English.
A disputation of purgatory, made by John Frythe.
The first book of Moses, called Genesis.
A prologue in the second book of Moses, called Exodus.
A prologue in the third book of Moses, called Leviticus.
A prologue in the fourth book of Moses, called Numeri.
A prologue in the fifth book of Moses, called Deuteronomy.
The practice of prelates.
The New Testament in English, with an introduction to the epistle to the Romans.
The parable of the wicked Mammon.
The obedience of a Christian man.
The book of Thorpe or of John Oldecastell.
The sum of scripture.
The primer in English.
The psalter in English.
A dialogue between the gentlemen and the plowman.
Jonas in English.

Calendar of State Papers V, 18.

Source: The Reformation, by Hans J. Hillerbrand, copyright 1964 by SCM Press Ltd and Harper and Row, Inc., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 64-15480, page 473.


ITEM #6    THE BIBLE PROHIBITED BY THE INDEX LIBRORUM PROHIBITORUM

Pope Pius IV had a list of the forbidden books compiled and officially prohibited them in the Index of Trent (Index Librorum Prohibitorum) of 1559. This is an excerpt:

Rule I

All books which were condemned prior to 1515 by popes or ecumenical councils, and are not listed in this Index, are to stand condemned in the original fashion.

Rule II

Books of arch-heretics – those who after 1515 have invented or incited heresy or who have been or still are heads and leaders of heretics, such as Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, Hubmaier, Schwenckfeld, and the like — whatever their name, title or argumentation — are prohibited without exception. As far as other heretics are concerned, only those books are condemned without exception which deal ex professo with religion. Others will be permitted after Catholic theologians have examined and approved them by the order of bishops and inquisitors. Likewise, Catholic books written by those who subsequently fell into heresy or by those who after their lapse returned into the bosom of the Church can be permitted after approval by a theological faculty or the inquisition.

Rule III

Translations of older works, including the church fathers, made by condemned authors, are permitted if they contain nothing against sound doctrine. However, translations of books of the Old Testament may be allowed by the judgment of bishops for the use of learned and pious men only. These translations are to elucidate the Vulgate so that Sacred Scripture can be understood, but they are not to be considered as a sacred text. Translations of the New Testament made by authors of the first sections in this Index are not to be used at all, since too little usefulness and too much danger attends such reading.

Rule IV

Since experience teaches that, if the reading of the Holy Bible in the vernacular is permitted generally without discrimination, more damage than advantage will result because of the boldness of men, the judgment of bishops and inquisitors is to serve as guide in this regard. Bishops and inquisitors may, in accord with the counsel of the local priest and confessor, allow Catholic translations of the Bible to be read by those of whom they realize that such reading will not lead to the detriment but to the increase of faith and piety. The permission is to be given in writing. Whoever reads or has such a translation in his possession without this permission cannot be absolved from his sins until he has turned in these Bibles …

Rule VI

Books in the vernacular dealing with the controversies between Catholics and the heretics of our time are not to be generally permitted, but are to be handled in the same way as Bible translations. …

Die Indices Librorum Prohibitorum des sechzehnten
Jahrhunderts 
(Tübingen, 1886), page 246f.

Source: The Reformation, by Hans J. Hillerbrand, copyright 1964 by SCM Press Ltd and Harper and Row, Inc., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 64-15480, pages 474, 475.


ITEM #7    POPE CLEMENT XI ON READING SCRIPTURE

From  UNIGENITUS, The Dogmatic Constitution issued by Pope Clement XI on Sept. 8, 1713:

The following statements are condemned as being error:

79. It is useful and necessary at all times, in all places, and for every kind of person, to study and to know the spirit, the piety, and the mysteries of Sacred Scripture.
80. The reading of Sacred Scripture is for all.
81. The sacred obscurity of the Word of God is no reason for the laity to dispense themselves from reading it.
82. The Lord’s Day ought to be sanctified by Christians with readings of pious works and above all of the Holy Scriptures. It is harmful for a Christian to wish to withdraw from this reading.
83. It is an illusion to persuade oneself that knowledge of the mysteries of religion should not be communicated to women by the reading of Sacred Scriptures. Not from the simplicity of women, but from the proud knowledge of men has arisen the abuse of the Scriptures and have heresies been born.
84. To snatch away from the hands of Christians the New Testament, or to hold it closed against them by taking away from them the means of understanding it, is to close for them the mouth of Christ.
85. To forbid Christians to read Sacred Scripture, especially the Gospels, is to forbid the use of light to the sons of light, and to cause them to suffer a kind of excommunication.


ITEM #8    POPE PIUS VI ON READING SCRIPTURE

From the Constitution Auctorem fidei, Aug. 28, 1794, of Pope Pius VI:

[D. Errors]  Concerning Duties, Practices, Rules Pertaining to Religious Worship.

The Reading of Sacred Scripture
[From the note at the end of the decree on grace]

[p. 390]
1567    67. The doctrine asserting that „only a true impotence excuses” from the reading of the Sacred Scriptures, adding, moreover, that there is produced the obscurity which arises from a neglect of this precept in regard to the primary truths of religion,—false, rash, disturbing to the peace of souls, condemned elsewhere in Quesnel [Unigenitus, quoted above].

Errors of the Synod of Pistoia, Condemned in the Constitution Auctorem fidei, Aug. 28, 1794, Denzinger, The Sources of Catholic Dogma, Translated by Roy J. Deferrari, from the Thirtieth Edition of Henry Denzinger’s Enchiridion Symbolorum, published by B. Herder Book Co., Copyright 1957, page 390.


ITEM #9 POPE LEO XII CONDEMNS VERNACULAR BIBLES AS HARMFUL

From the Encyclical  UBI PRIMUM of POPE LEO XII, MAY 5, 1824:

17. You have noticed a society, commonly called the Bible society, boldly spreading throughout the whole world. Rejecting the traditions of the holy Fathers and infringing the well-known decree of the Council of Trent,[16] it works by every means to have the holy Bible translated, or rather mistranslated, into the ordinary languages of every nation. There are good reasons for fear that (as has already happened in some of their commentaries and in other respects by a distorted interpretation of Christ’s gospel) they will produce a gospel of men, or what is worse, a gospel of the devil![17]

18. To prevent this evil, Our predecessors published many constitutions. Most recently Pius VII wrote two briefs, one to Ignatius, Archbishop of Gniezno, the other to Stanislaus, Archbishop of Mohileu, quoting carefully and wisely many passages from the sacred writings and from the tradition to show how harmful to faith and morals this wretched undertaking is.

19. In virtue of Our apostolic office, We too exhort you to try every means of keeping your flock from those deadly pastures. Do everything possible to see that the faithful observe strictly the rules of our Congregation of the Index. Convince them that to allow holy Bibles in the ordinary language, wholesale and without distinction, would on account of human rashness cause more harm than good.


ITEM #10    POPE PIUS VIII ON UNAUTHORIZED VERNACULAR BIBLES

From the encyclical  TRADITI HUMILITATI of Pope Pius VIII, May 24, 1829

5. We must also be wary of those who publish the Bible with new interpretations contrary to the Church’s laws. They skillfully distort the meaning by their own interpretation. They print the Bibles in the vernacular and, absorbing an incredible expense, offer them free even to the uneducated. Furthermore, the Bibles are rarely without perverse little inserts to insure that the reader imbibes their lethal poison instead of the saving water of salvation. Long ago the Apostolic See warned about this serious hazard to the faith and drew up a list of the authors of these pernicious notions. The rules of this Index were published by the Council of Trent;[8] the ordinance required that translations of the Bible into the vernacular not be permitted without the approval of the Apostolic See and further required that they be published with commentaries from the Fathers. The sacred Synod of Trent had decreed[9] in order to restrain impudent characters, that no one, relying on his own prudence in matters of faith and of conduct which concerns Christian doctrine, might twist the sacred Scriptures to his own opinion, or to an opinion contrary to that of the Church or the popes. Though such machinations against the Catholic faith had been assailed long ago by these canonical proscriptions, Our recent predecessors made a special effort to check these spreading evils.[10] With these arms may you too strive to fight the battles of the Lord which endanger the sacred teachings, lest this deadly virus spread in your flock.

ITEM #11   POPE GREGORY XVI CONDEMNS BIBLE SOCIETIES, VERNACULAR BIBLES

From the encyclical  INTER PRAECIPUAS (On Biblical Societies) by Pope Gregory XVI, May 8, 1844:

1. Among the special schemes with which non-Catholics plot against the adherents of Catholic truth to turn their minds away from the faith, the biblical societies are prominent. They were first established in England and have spread far and wide so that We now see them as an army on the march, conspiring to publish in great numbers copies of the books of divine Scripture. These are translated into all kinds of vernacular languages for dissemination without discrimination among both Christians and infidels. Then the biblical societies invite everyone to read them unguided. Therefore it is just as Jerome complained in his day: they make the art of understanding the Scriptures without a teacher” common to babbling old women and crazy old men and verbose sophists,” and to anyone who can read, no matter what his status. Indeed, what is even more absurd and almost unheard of, they do not exclude the common people of the infidels from sharing this kind of a knowledge.

4. Moreover, regarding the translation of the Bible into the vernacular, even many centuries ago bishops in various places have at times had to exercise greater vigilance when they became aware that such translations were being read in secret gatherings or were being distributed by heretics. Innocent III issued warnings concerning the secret gatherings of laymen and women, under the pretext of piety, for the reading of Scripture in the diocese of Metz.[12] There was also a special prohibition of Scripture translations promulgated either in Gaul a little later[13] or in Spain before the sixteenth century.[14]

[Footnote #13: Council of Toulouse (1229), can. 14., as listed at the beginning of this article]

11. … We again condemn all the above-mentioned biblical societies of which our predecessors disapproved. … Besides We confirm and renew by Our apostolic authority the prescriptions listed and published long ago concerning the publication, dissemination, reading, and possession of vernacular translations of sacred Scriptures.

12. … In particular, watch more carefully over those who are assigned to give public readings of holy scripture, so that they function diligently in their office within the comprehension of the audience; under no pretext whatsoever should they dare to explain and interpret the divine writings contrary to the tradition of the Fathers or the interpretation of the Catholic Church.


ITEM #12   POPE PIUS IX DECLARES BIBLE SOCIETIES „PESTS”

On December 8, 1866, Pope Pius IX, in his encyclical  QUANTA CURAissued a  syllabus of eighty errors under ten different headings. Under heading IV, we find listed:

IV. Socialism, Communism, Secret Societies, Biblical Societies, Clerico-Liberal Societies

Pests of this kind are frequently reprobated in the severest terms in the
Encyclical  Qui pluribusNov. 9, 1846, (See #13-14):

13. You already know well, venerable brothers, the other portentous errors and deceits by which the sons of this world try most bitterly to attack the Catholic religion and the divine authority of the Church and its laws. They would even trample underfoot the rights both of the sacred and of the civil power. For this is the goal of the lawless activities against this Roman See in which Christ placed the impregnable foundation of His Church. This is the goal of those secret sects who have come forth from the darkness to destroy and desolate both the sacred and the civil commonwealth. These have been condemned with repeated anathema in the Apostolic letters of the Roman Pontiffs who preceded Us[15] We now confirm these with the fullness of Our Apostolic power and command that they be most carefully observed.

14. This is the goal too of the crafty Bible Societies which renew the old skill of the heretics and ceaselessly force on people of all kinds, even the uneducated, gifts of the Bible. They issue these in large numbers and at great cost, in vernacular translations, which infringe the holy rules of the Church. The commentaries which are included often contain perverse explanations; so, having rejected divine tradition, the doctrine of the Fathers and the authority of the Catholic Church, they all interpret the words of the Lord by their own private judgment, thereby perverting their meaning. As a result, they fall into the greatest errors. Gregory XVI of happy memory, Our superior predecessor, followed the lead of his own predecessors in rejecting these societies in his apostolic letters.[16] It is Our will to condemn them likewise.

Allocution Quibus quantisque, April 20, 1849,
Encyclical  Noscitis et nobiscumDec. 8, 1849, (See #14):

14. The crafty enemies of the Church and human society attempt to seduce the people in many ways. One of their chief methods is the misuse of the new technique of book-production. They are wholly absorbed in the ceaseless daily publication and proliferation of impious pamphlets, newspapers and leaflets which are full of lies, calumnies and seduction. Furthermore, under the protection of the Bible Societies which have long since been condemned by this Holy See,[7] they distribute to the faithful under the pretext of religion, the holy bible in vernacular translations. Since these infringe the Church’s rules,[8] they are consequently subverted and most daringly twisted to yield a vile meaning. So you realize very well what vigilant and careful efforts you must make to inspire in your faithful people an utter horror of reading these pestilential books. Remind them explicitly with regard to divine scripture that no man, relying on his own wisdom, is able to claim the privilege of rashly twisting the scriptures to his own meaning in opposition to the meaning which holy mother Church holds and has held. It was the Church alone that Christ commissioned to guard the deposit of the faith and to decide the true meaning and interpretation of the divine pronouncements.[9]

Allocution Singulari quadam, Dec. 9, 1854,
Encyclical  Quanto conficiamur (On Promotion Of False Doctrines), August 10, 1863.


ITEM #13    THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH THE ONLY TRUE GUIDE TO SCRIPTURE

14. … Wherefore it must be recognized that the sacred writings are wrapt in a certain religious obscurity, and that no one can enter into their interior without a guide[32]; God so disposing, as the Holy Fathers commonly teach, in order that men may investigate them with greater ardor and earnestness, and that what is attained with difficulty may sink more deeply into the mind and heart; and, most of all, that they may understand that God has delivered the Holy Scriptures to the Church, and that in reading and making use of His Word, they must follow the Church as their guide and their teacher. … the Council of the Vatican, which, in renewing the decree of Trent declares its „mind” to be this—that „in things of faith and morals, belonging to the building up of Christian doctrine, that is to be considered the true sense of Holy Scripture which has been held and is held by our Holy Mother the Church, whose place it is to judge of the true sense and interpretation of the Scriptures; and therefore that it is permitted to no one to interpret Holy Scripture against such sense or also against the unanimous agreement of the Fathers.”[34] … Hence it follows that all interpretation is foolish and false which either makes the sacred writers disagree one with another, or is opposed to the doctrine of the Church.

15. … But it is most unbecoming to pass by, in ignorance or contempt, the excellent work which Catholics have left in abundance, and to have recourse to the works of non-Catholics—and to seek in them, to the detriment of sound doctrine and often to the peril of faith, the explanation of passages on which Catholics long ago have successfully employed their talent and their labor. For although the studies of non-Catholics, used with prudence, may sometimes be of use to the Catholic student, he should, nevertheless, bear well in mind—as the Fathers also teach in numerous passages[41]—that the sense of Holy Scripture can nowhere be found incorrupt out side of the Church, and cannot be expected to be found in writers who, being without the true faith, only gnaw the bark of the Sacred Scripture, and never attain its pith.

Source:  PROVIDENTISSIMUS DEUS (On the Study of Holy Scripture), Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII promulgated on 18 November 1893.


ITEM #14    POPE LEO XIII PROHIBITS NON-CATHOLIC BIBLES

From Leo XIII, Apostolic Constitution Officiorum ac Munerum, Jan. 25, 1897, art. 1., „Of the Prohibition of Books,” chaps. 2,3, trans. in the Great Encyclical Letters of Pope Leo XIII (New York: Benziger, 1903):

[p. 412]

CHAPTER II.
Of Editions of the Original Text of Holy Scripture and of Versions not in the Vernacular.

5. Editions of the original text and of the ancient Catholic versions of Holy Scripture, as well as those of the Eastern Church, if published by non-Catholics, even though apparently edited in a faithful and complete manner, are allowed only to those engaged in theological and biblical studies, provided also that the dogmas of Catholic faith are not impugned in the prolegomena or annotations.

6. In the same manner, and under the same conditions, other versions of the Holy Bible, whether in Latin or in any other dead language, published by non-Catholics, are permitted.

CHAPTER III.
Of Vernacular Versions of Holy Scripture.

7. As it has been clearly shown by experience that, if the Holy Bible in the vernacular is generally permitted without any distinction, more harm that utility is thereby [p. 413] caused, owing to human temerity: all versions in the vernacular, even by Catholics, are altogether prohibited, unless approved by the Holy See, or published, under the vigilant care of the bishops, with annotations taken from the Fathers of the Church and learned Catholic writers.

8. All versions of the Holy Bible, in any vernacular language, made by non-Catholics are prohibited; and especially those published by the Bible societies, which have been more that once condemned by the Roman Pontiffs, because in them the wise laws of the Church concerning the publication of the sacred books are entirely disregarded.
Nevertheless, these versions are permitted to students of theological or biblical science, under the conditions laid down above (No. 5)


ITEM #15   OUR SUNDAY VISITOR ON BANNING VERNACULAR BIBLES

   Is it not an historical fact that the church forbade the reading of the Bible in the vernacular?

It is and it is not. The Church never issued a general prohibition that made the reading of the Bible in the vernacular unlawful; but at various time she laid down certain conditions regarding the matter, which had to be observed by the faithful, so that they might not wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. It was not until the Albigenses, the Wyclifites, and later on the Protestants, issued editions of the Bible that bristled with mistranslations, and the most arbitrary changes of the original text, that the Church made stringent regulations in regard to the reading of the Scriptures. These regulations did not make Bible reading unlawful, but required that only approved editions, well supplied with explanatory notes taken from the writings of the Early Fathers, should be used. In this matter, as in so many others, Protestants failed to distinguish between the actions of the Church and the actions of the Provincial Synods. It is indeed true that the Synod of Toulouse, in 1229, the Synod of Tarragona, 1233, and the Synod of Oxford, in 1408, issued formal prohibitions against the reading of the Bible by the laity, but these prohibitions had only a local application, and were revoked as soon as the danger that threatened the faith in these localities had passed. The Church’s legislation in the matter of Bible reading was never prohibitive, but only tended to the enactment of such restrictions as the common good evidently required.

Source:  Our Sunday Visitor, July 5th, 1914, of Huntington Indiana, page 3, Bureau of Information.


ITEM #16   THE 1918 CODE OF CANON LAW ON CENSORSHIP AND PROHIBITING BOOKS

The previous Code of Canon Law, quoted here, went into effect in 1918, and was superceded in 1983:
(boldface numbers are paragraph numbers, the Canon numbers are in parenthesis)

TITLE XXIII.
Censorship and Prohibition of Books.

1227.     The Church has the right to rule that Catholics shall not publish any books unless they have first been subjected to the approval of the Church, and to forbid for a good reason the faithful to read certain books, no matter by whom they are published.
The rules of this title concerning books are to be applied also to daily papers, periodicals, and any other publication, unless the contrary is clear from the Canons. (Canon 1384).

CHAPTER I.
Censorship of Books.

1128.     Without previous ecclesiastical approval even laymen are not allowed to publish:
1. the books of Holy Scripture, or annotations and commentaries of the same;
2. books treating of Sacred Scripture, theology, Church history, Canon Law, natural theology, ethics, and other sciences concerning religion and morals. Furthermore, prayer books, pamphlets and books of devotion, of religious teaching, either moral, ascetic, or mystic, and any writing in general in which there is anything that has a special bearing on religion or morality;
3. sacred images reproduced in any manner, either with or without prayers.
The permission to publish books and images spoken of in this Canon may be given either by the proper Ordinary of the author, or by the Ordinary of the place where they are published, or by the Ordinary of the place where they are printed; if, however, any one of the Ordinaries who has a right to give approval refuses it, the author cannot ask of another unless he informs him of the refusal of the Ordinary first requested.
The religious must, moreover, first obtain permission from their major superior. (Canon 1385.)

1234.     Translations of the Holy Scriptures in the vernacular languages may not be published unless they are either approved by the Holy See, or they are published, under the the supervision of the bishop, with annotations chiefly taken from the holy Fathers of the Church and learned Catholic writers. (Canon 1391.)

1241.     The prohibition of books has this effect that the forbidden books may not without permission be published, read, retained, sold, nor translated into another language, nor made known to others in any way.
The book which has in any way been forbidden may not again be published except after the demanded corrections have been made and the authority which forbade the book, or his superior, or successor, has given permission. (Canon 1398.)

1242.     By the very law are forbidden:
1. editions of the original text, or of ancient Catholic versions, of the Sacred Scriptures, also of the Oriental Church, published by non-Catholics; likewise any translation in any language made or published by them;
2. books of any writers defending heresy or schism, or tending in any way to undermine the foundations of religion;
3. books which purposely fight against religion and good morals;
4. books of any non-Catholic treating professedly of religion unless it is certain that nothing is contained therein against the Catholic faith;
5. books on the holy Scriptures or on religious subjects which have been published without the permission required by Canons 1385, § 1, nn. 1, and 1391; books and leaflets which bring an account of new apparitions, revelations, visions, prophecies, miracles, or introduce new devotions even though under the pretext that they are private; if these books, etc., are published against the rules of the Canons;
6. books which attack or ridicule any of the Catholic dogmas, books which defend errors condemned by the Holy See, or which disparage Divine worship, or tend to undermine ecclesiastical discipline, or which purposely insult the ecclesiastical hierarchy, or the clerical and religious states; … (Canon 1399.)

Source: THE NEW CANON LAW, A commentary and Summary of the New Code of Canon Law, by Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, O.F.M., Published and Copyright, 1918, by Joseph F. Wagner, New York, pages 282-289.


ITEM #17   INDEX OF PROHIBITED BOOKS OF 1930

From Cardinal Merry de Val, „Forward,” in the Index of Prohibited Books, revised and published by order of His Holiness Pope Pius XI (new ed.; [Vatican City]: Vatican Polyglot Press, 1930), pp. ix-xi:

[p. ix] What many, indeed fail to appreciate, and what, moreover non-Catholics consider a grave abuse — as they put it of the Roman Curia, is the action of the Church in hindering the printing and circulation of Holy Writ in the vernacular. Fundamentally however, this ac- [p. x] cusation is based on calumny. During the first twelve centuries Christians were highly familiar with the text of Holy Scripture, as is evident from the homilies of the Fathers and the sermons of the mediaeval preachers; nor did the ecclesiastical authorities ever intervene to prevent this. It was only in consequence of heretical abuses, introduced particularly by the Waldenses, the Albigenses, the followers of Wyclif, and by Protestants broadly speaking (who with sacrilegious mutilations of Scripture and arbitrary interpretations vainly sought to justify themselves in the eyes of the people; twisting the text of the Bible to support erroneous doctrines condemned by the whole history of the Church) that the Pontiffs and the Councils were obliged on more than one occasion to control and sometimes even forbid the use of the Bible in the vernacular…
[p. xi] Those who would put the Scriptures indiscriminately into the hands of the people are the believers always in private interpretation — a fallacy both absurd in itself and pregnant with disastrous consequences. These counterfeit champions of the inspired book hold the Bible to be the sole source of Divine Revelation and cover with abuse and trite sarcasm the Catholic and Roman Church.


ITEM #18    CURRENT CODE OF CANON LAW ON VERNACULAR  BIBLES

The current Code of Canon Law, which went into effect in 1983, reads as follows:

Can. 825 § 1. Books of the Sacred Scriptures cannot be published unless they have been approved either by the Apostolic See or by the conference of bishops; for their vernacular translations to be published it is required that they likewise be approved by the same authority and also annotated with necessary and sufficient explanations.

§ 2. With the permission of the conference of bishops Catholic members of the Christian faithful can collaborate with separated brothers and sisters in preparing and publishing translations of the Sacred Scriptures annotated with appropriate explanations.

Source: Code of Canon Law, Latin-English Edition, copyright 1983 by Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City, published by the Canon Law Society of America, Washington DC 20064, ISBN: 0-943616-19-0, page 309.


This is by no means a complete list, but it is what I have for the moment. Far from championing the spread of the Bible, and the translation into the vernacular, the Catholic Church has a history of repression and censorship in this regard. It was really the combination of the reformation and the advent of the printing press that „let the cat out of the bag.” It seems that Bibles could be printed faster than they (and their authors or owners) could be burned. Since Catholicism could no longer contain the Bible and keep it out of the hands of the laity, the issue has become one of authority to interpret.

For those Catholics who continue to maintain that the Roman Catholic Church was justified in seizing and burning „faulty” vernacular Bibles, and that grave errors in translation were the primary reason for destroying them, I offer the following challenge:

Tyndale’s Bible has recently been republished by David Daniell and Yale University Press and can still be found at some bookstores. Tyndale’s New Testament is 0-300-04419-4 for the hardback and 0-300-06580-9 for the paperback. Tyndale’s Old Testament in hardback is ISBN 0-300-05211-1. Mr. Daniell has updated the spelling but remained faithful to the original text.

The Geneva Bible’s 1602 New Testament has also been reprinted in facsimile by Pilgrim Classic Commentaries in 1989 from an original in the Cambridge University Library. The ISBN is 0-8298-0789-6 for the hardback and ISBN 0-8298-0785-3 for the paperback.

The 1611 Authorized Version (King James) Bible has also been reprinted word-for-word with original spelling by Thomas Nelson Publishers in 1993.

In addition, to my knowledge, the Roman Catholic Church was unsuccessful in completely destroying all copies of any „heretical” reformation era vernacular translations of the Bible. Despite their diligence, there are surviving copies existing today that can be studied. I therefore challenge Catholics to produce Catholic documents from the reformation period that cite and explain in detail the grave „errors” in vernacular Protestant Bibles, that warranted not only their destruction, but also frequently the death of the author, as well as those found in possession of said Bibles. It would seem that any charge of grave translation „errors” can still be verified by almost anyone today from either original editions or facsimile reprints. So mere claims of faulty vernacular Bibles proves absolutely nothing without providing citations of the exact verse and Bible edition where the alleged error occurs.

I maintain that the objections of the Catholic church to the various attempts to produce a Bible in the vernacular, were not that of faulty translations (although that claim was made), but rather that of „unauthorized heretical” interpretations that resulted from widespread publication and the laity finally being able to read the entire Bible for themselves in their own tongue, as noted in the various items above. The laity was then able to discern the truth for themselves, and the biblical truth was often at odds with Catholic teaching. Dissent flourished with the availability of the Bible, and so persecution of these heretics increased as well, in an attempt by the church to maintain control and assert her presumed authority. It is a sad chapter in history that is quite well documented.

Use the Inspired Scriptures to Rejoice in Hope – Desiring God

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via desiringGod.org 

Romans 15:1-4

We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, „The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Romans 12:12

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

 

There’s a parallel between this message and the one from last time. That one addressed the role of prayer in the fight for joy, and this one addresses the role of the Bible in the fight for joy. The reason we are talking about the fight for joy is Romans 12:12: “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.” And we have seen that all of this is in the service of love, which is the main theme of the paragraph.

So, building on Romans 12:12 and the rest of the New Testament together, the Christian life works like this: Affliction is normal in this fallen world (1 Peter 4:12; Romans 8:23). Christ has come and carried our sin and sorrows to the cross and into the grave, and left them there, and he rose so that now we have unshakable hope in (not instead of) suffering, and this hope gives rise to joy. That’s why verse 12 says, “Rejoice in hope.” This joy sustains patient endurance, which is why verse 12 says, “Be patient in tribulation,” and why Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus endured the cross “for the joy that was set before him.” And so we see that endurance sustains us in the sacrifices of love, since the cross was the most loving act that was ever done. Blood-bought, Christ-exalting hope yields indomitable joy, which enables patient endurance in affliction, which sustains the sacrifices of love.

What Produces and Sustains Our Hope? Prayer!

So the question rose: if hope is that foundational to joy and endurance and love, what sustains our hope? What keeps us hoping in Christ? The question is not, “What’s the basis of hope?” That’s Christ! His death in our place, his resurrection, his sovereign reign over the world. That is the unshakable basis. It never changes. But we change. We are vulnerable and fragile and fickle and emotionally unstable. So the question is what keeps our hearts fixed on Christ, our hope? What produces and sustains our experience of hope?

Our answer last time was prayer. We based this on Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:18-19, where he prayed for three specifics: “[1] that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, [2] what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and [3] what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe”—to keep you for the hope laid up for you in heaven (1 Peter 1:4-5).

One of the functions of prayer is to enable us to see and savor Christ as our hope so that he is more precious to us than anything else. Without praying this for ourselves and our children and our church regularly, we should not be surprised if our hearts drift away and start feeling that our hope is in money and work and family and a hundred things that compete with Christ as our treasure.

What Produces and Sustains Hope? God’s Word!

Now today we ask again, What produces and sustains hope? Since hope sustains joy and joy sustains endurance and endurance sustains love, and love is the aim of all Paul’s instruction (1 Timothy 1:5), the great battle for the Christian is to sustain joyful hope in Christ. We must see our future with him as more precious and satisfying than any other treasure. That is what “rejoicing in hope” is: being satisfied with all that God is, and will be, for us in Christ.

So the second answer we give to this question (How do we awaken and sustain this joyful hope?) is that we read and meditate on and memorize the Scriptures. God has appointed these two means above all others for awakening and sustaining hope: Prayer and musing on God’s word. If you neglect prayer, your hope in Christ will diminish. And now we will see just as clearly that if we neglect the word of God, our hope will diminish.

Paul’s Implicit Demonstration That Scripture Awakens and Sustains Hope

How does Paul make this plain? He does so implicitly and explicitly. He shows the immense importance of the word of God first by the fact that he writes as an apostle of Christ, creating Scripture for us, and in his writing Scripture he quotes the Old Testament Scriptures that are already written. Take Romans 12:19 as just one example. In calling us to love again, he says, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave itto the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” “As it is written”! Then he quotes Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:35). And what he quotes is a promise: God will settle your accounts! God is just, and God will sweep no evil under the rug of the universe. All accounts will be settled. That is Scripture. That is something we learn when we read the Bible.

And what is its effect? It lifts the burden of vengeance. We don’t need to carry this. God will. He promises that no wrong against us will be overlooked. It will be avenged on the cross, if our abuser repents and believes. Or it will be avenged in hell. You don’t need to carry the load of being God. You can hope in him. You can count on future justice. And in that hope you can rejoice and endure and love–even those who abuse you (Luke 6:28).

So Paul illustrates implicitly by his own uses of Scripture how we are to use Scripture. Read it, meditate on it, memorize it, and then get hope and joy and endurance and love from it. If we don’t do this, we will be conformed to the world. But if we give ourselves daily to reading and thinking and memorizing and praying over the word, we will be transformed in the renewing of our minds and we will have our hope made strong and our joy unshakable—even in suffering.

That’s Paul’s implicit demonstration of how crucial the Scriptures are to giving us hope and joy and love, and freeing us, in this case, from vengeance. Now let’s go to Romans 15 to see Paul’s straightforward, explicit statement that this is what the Scriptures—the Bible—is for, namely, to waken and sustain hope.

Paul’s Explicit Demonstration That Scripture Awakens and Sustains Hope

Look at verses 2-4, “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” In other words, he is telling us again to love each other. This is what love does. Now he does something that to me is simply astonishing. What’s not astonishing is that at this point Paul would use Jesus as an example: Christ, of course, chose pain that we might be blessed. So you act that way, too. If you have two good legs, don’t park in the church lot. Please the elderly and the visitors. Park farther away. Etc. That’s not astonishing that Paul would use Jesus’ self sacrifice as an example of calling us to please our neighbor before ourselves.

But what is astonishing is where he goes to get an illustration of Jesus’ self-sacrifice. He could have illustrated from a dozen events in Jesus life where he was sacrificial in his love. But what does Paul do? He quotes Scripture written a thousand years before Christ came. Verse 3: “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written [then he quotes David’s Psalm 69:9], ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” I think that is amazing.

He is saying: Now treat each other with self-denying love. Then he supports this exhortation with the life of Jesus. But instead of telling an instance from Jesus’ life, when he acted this way (say the washing of the disciples’ feet, John 13:1-2), Paul describes Jesus’ life by quoting Scripture (verse 3). “As it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.’” Jesus accepted reproaches which belonged to us. The penalty that was ours, now became his.

Now that’s very hope-giving—to learn that Jesus bore our reproaches. The gospel of Christ suffering in our place is the great ground of our hope. And this hope fills us with joy and joy sustains self-denying behaviors of love: “Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” But here’s the amazing thing that catapults Scripture so high in the fight for joyful hope: Paul does not tell a story about Jesus’ love, he quotes Old testament Scripture about Jesus.

Now you might ask—I would—how do you know Paul is really making a point about the importance of Scripture in the fight for joyful hope? The answer is something else astonishing in this text. Paul interrupts the flow of his exhortation about how the strong should love the weak, and comments on the role of Scripture in the Christian life. Think about this. You are going along in chapters 14 and 15 trying to help believers who have strong differences about what to eat and what to drink and what do on Sunday, and you reach for your heaviest gun, namely, the substitutionary death of Jesus, as a motivation, but instead of telling a story from Jesus’ life, you quote Psalm 69:9, and then, on top of that, you pause in the flow of the exhortation and comment on why you did that.

That’s verse 4, and it’s one of the most important verses in the Bible about the role of the Bible in your life. He says, in effect, all right, I have quoted Scripture to illustrate the love of Christ. You think that strange? Well, I can tell you do! So I will pause here, in the middle of my exhortation about what love looks like between the weak and the strong, and tell you why I argue like this. I will tell you why I saturate my Scripture with Scripture. Here it is. This is Paul’s explicit statement that the Scriptures are for awakening and sustaining hope which sustains joy which sustains endurance which sustains love.

He says, “For [that word “for” signals that he is giving the basis for why he just quoted the Scriptures] whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Now this is even more astonishing than the fact that Paul quoted Scripture to illustrate the love of Christ. Here it says something so sweeping about the Old Testament that it should set you to reading your Bible vigilantly all year long. He says, all of it—all of it—is written to waken and sustain your hope.

Read it again and think about it: “For whatever was written in former days [all of it—the whole Old Testament] was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” All of it was written to waken and sustain your hope.

The Word of God and Prayer

So last time we saw that prayer is God’s appointed means to waken and sustain your hope. And today we see that the Scriptures are God’s appointed means to awaken and sustain your hope. If we are going to obey Romans 12:12, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation,” we must read and meditate on and memorize the Scriptures. They are God’s way of wakening and sustaining our hope.

When we pray, “O Lord, enlighten the eyes of my heart to know the hope of my calling, and the riches of the glory of your inheritance” (Ephesians 1:18), God says, “Mingle this praying with reading and meditating and memorizing, and I will waken and sustain your hope. I will open your eyes to see wonders in the Word of God. And these wonders will cause hope to rise in your soul.

So my plea, as one of your shepherds who cares about your soul and whether you live in hope and joy and endurance and love in affliction, is that you join us in the two initiatives this year: the fighter verse memory program (or more) and the through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan which was handed out last time and which are available from the church or online.

Think of God’s initiative on behalf of your hope! Everything—everything written in the Bible is written to give to waken and sustain your hope. “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”

This is especially needed at times of great pleasure when you are tempted to hope in this world, and times of great suffering when you are tempted to think that God’s sovereignty is not believable, and therefore the ground of your hope is gone. Reading your Bible has great hope-preserving power at times like these.

Our Double Grief in These Days

Our grief in these days since the Tsunami struck (December 26, 2004) has been doubled—first there is the untold suffering and death. One entire church on the coast of Tamil Nadu, India was wiped out while they were worshipping. Only one survivor from the whole church. Story after story breaks your heart.

Then there is a second grief: the religious people around the world, including some Christians, who say so many God-belittle things. Like one article in the Wall Street Journal, that said, “No Christian is licensed to utter odious banalities about God’s inscrutable counsels or blasphemous suggestions that all this mysteriously serves God’s good ends” (David B. Hart, “Tremors of Doubt,” WSJ, December 31, 2004). Such talk compounds this calamity with greater and greater evil.

Biblical hope and love in this calamity are sustained in many different ways by the Bible. The central one is that Christ came into our suffering and conquered it so that it does not have the last word. But Oh, how much more the Bible has to say so that we are not carried away by calamities from our hope in the sovereign wisdom and power and goodness of God. How could a person say what this man said, if he read and believed his Bible? He writes as a Christian theologian!

Shall we not believe in the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah? Genesis 19:24—“Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” Genesis 13:10—“The Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.”

Shall we not believe and worship the God of the Exodus? Exodus 13:15—in the final plague on Egypt it says, “The Lord killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt.”

The people of God in those days knew far better than we do what Moses would write later in Deuteronomy 32:39. Thus says the Lord: “See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.”

Shall we not trust and reverence the God of Joshua? Joshua 10:11—the Amorites gathered against Israel, but it says, “The Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.”

Shall we not fear and worship before the God of David? 2 Samuel 12:15—when David committed adultery and made Bathsheba pregnant, it says, “The Lord afflicted the child . . . and he became sick” and he died. God owns all life. He gives and he takes according to his own wisdom which mingles justice and mercy in perfect proportion. He does not owe any human any life (Job 1:21).

Over and over in the Scriptures we have descriptions of God’s judgment on the nations and on his own people. For example Amos 4:10 where God reminds Israel what he had done: “I sent among you a pestilence after the manner of Egypt; I killed your young men with the sword, and carried away your horses,and I made the stench of your camp go up into your nostrils; yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord.”

Or in the same time Isaiah 37:36 describes what God did to Sennacherib and the Assyrians when they came against his people, “The angel of the Lord went out and struck down a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.”

And this is what the book of Revelation says will happen in the last days of God’s wrath on the world. For example Revelation 16:9 describes one stroke against the earth: “They were scorched by the fierce heat, and they cursedthe name of God who had power over these plagues. They did not repent and give him glory.” Oh, let us not be among that number.

Paradoxically, stories like this from the Old and New Testament keep us from being knocked utterly off balance by the calamities of our own day. They keep the solid foundation of God’s sovereignty under our hope. They sustain hope. The heart-rending calamities of our time are not new—and they are not over. We don’t know all that God is doing in them. But to say that God cannot be in them, and that his “inscrutable counsels” are not at work, and that this suffering does not “mysteriously serves God’s good ends”—to say that shows (to use the words of Jesus) “you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).

Oh, how I pray that God will incline your heart to his word this year. May you read the entire Bible—all of it written to sustain your hope in global and personal calamities. And may you meditate on it day and night. And may you join us in memorizing week in and week out. And may God sustain your hope, and your hope sustain your joy and your joy sustain your endurance and your endurance sustain your sacrifices of love as you weep with those who weep and give of yourself and your money to relieve their suffering.

© Desiring God

John Piper – Men Moved by the Holy Spirit Spoke from God

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2 Peter 1:20-21

We can sum up what we have seen so far in 2 Peter 1 with three pictures: the hot fudge sundae, a man swimming against an ocean current, and a lamp shining in the night. In 1:1–4 the main point was that God has given believers divine power to lead lives devoted to brotherly kindness and love; and that this power becomes effective in real life when we stake everything joyfully on his precious and very great promises. When we keep the hot fudge sundae of God’s promises in front of us, they exert on us a divine power to allure us on in the excellent way of love and into eternal life.

In 1:5–11 we are taught that God’s divine power is given to us not to make us lazy or limp, but to make us zealous and diligent to advance in every Christian virtue. The evil remaining in our heart and the pressures of unrighteousness in the world are like an ocean current drawing us backward toward destruction. No one who treads water in the Christian life stays in the same place. You always go back. Therefore we must stroke diligently against the current of evil desires within and innumerable temptations without. In doing this (as v. 10 says) we confirm our call and election. The genuineness of our confidence in the promises of God (by which we are saved) is confirmed by the diligence with which we stake our lives on those promises in efforts to live like Jesus.

Then in 1:12–19 Peter zeroes in on the promise of Christ’s second coming and says that this prophetic word has been made more sure by his own eyewitness experience of Christ’s majesty on the mount of transfiguration. What Peter and James and John were granted to see in the transfiguration of Christ was a partial glimpse of what Christ would be like when he comes again. And in verse 19 Peter compares that hope to a lamp shining in the night. The prophetic word of hope is our lamp in the dark night of this world. It functions just like that hot fudge sundae—to keep us on the path until the day dawns and the morning star rises in our hearts.

In a word the chapter has said: be a people empowered by hope to lead lives of love. Let your confidence in the coming day of joy make you compassionate in the present night of woe.

Reason or Manner?

Now we want to devote the rest of our time this morning to thinking about verses 20 and 21. First let’s look at the connection between verses 19 and 20. All the modern English versions that I consulted made it harder rather than easier to understand the connection in the original Greek. They all begin a new sentence at verse 20 (and NASB even inserts a totally unwarranted „but”). But verse 20 is not a new sentence, and the version that preserves the original is the old King James, which translates verse 20: „Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” Remember now that in verse 19 Peter is telling us to pay attention to the prophetic word about the coming of Christ as to a lamp shining in a dark place. So you can hear the connection when we boil the two verses down like this: „Pay attention to the prophetic word . . . knowing this first, that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation.” There is a very close connection between what we know about prophecy in verse 20 and our giving heed to it in verse 19.

Now what is that connection? I see two possibilities. First, verse 20 may give the reason why we should give heed to the prophetic word. So we could paraphrase it like this: „Give heed to the prophetic word because you know, first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” The other possible connection would be that verse 20 tells us not the reason but the way to give heed to the prophetic word. So we could paraphrase it: „Give heed to the prophetic word by remembering this principle first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” So it seems to me that in verse 20 Peter is either giving us a reason to pay close attention to the prophetic word, or is telling us how to pay attention to the prophetic word.

Whose Interpretation of What?

But which? Before we can decide that, we have to know what verse 20 means. What does Peter mean that „no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation,” or, as the RSV says, „no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation”? I think it is only fair for me to mention three ways this verse has been understood, and then show why I only accept one of these ways. First, there are excellent evangelical Bible scholars who say that verse 20 has nothing to do with our interpretation of prophecy, but rather with the prophet’s interpretation of history. In other words, when Peter says, „no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” he means, „no prophecy ever came from a prophet’s private interpretation of historical events.” Rather, as verse 21 says, prophecies came from God through the Holy Spirit. So the connection with verse 19 would be: „Give heed to the prophetic word . . . because no prophecy is a mere private human interpretation of events; it is from God through the Spirit.” I find that understanding of verse 20 almost persuasive, but not quite.

A second very important understanding of verse 20 is the typical Roman Catholic one. They have generally said, „No, verse 20 does refer to how we interpret prophecy, not how prophets interpret history. And the point is that no private individual can interpret prophecy on his own. Rather the Scriptures have been entrusted to the church, and the individuals must look to the official pronouncements of the church to know the true teaching of Scripture.” Until twenty years ago and the second Vatican Council, that kind of thinking had kept the Scriptures concealed in Latin and had kept the average Catholic lay person in woeful ignorance of Scriptures. Much of that is changing now. But even recently I read a letter from a priest in California to a young man in our church urging him not to forfeit his connection with the Catholic church and its sacraments; and in three pages there was no reference to Scripture. And I got the distinct impression that had he used Scripture to argue for the church, he would have been compromising his principles. Because evidently it is still true for many Catholics that the church gives credence to the Scripture, not Scripture to the church. It is the same old problem of the Reformation: in practice, ecclesiastical tradition, not Scripture, is supreme. And I want us to be very aware that one of the hallmarks of our Protestant faith is that the church and its ministers are judged by Scripture, and not vice versa.

I will mention one other way of understanding verse 20. „No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation” can mean no individual should interpret prophecy according to his own personal whim. You can’t just give Scripture any old meaning you please. There is a true meaning (according to v. 21) which comes from God through the prophet, and this is our standard.

Now which of these three views of verse 20 is most likely Peter’s view? As far as the usual Catholic interpretation is concerned, it just can’t be gotten out of the text. There is not a word about who should replace the individual as the reliable interpreter of prophecy. That has to be read into the text. It can’t be gotten out of it. So for me the choice is between the first and third views. Is verse 20 saying that no prophecy is the result of a prophet’s private interpretation of history? Or is it saying that no prophecy, after it is given, should be twisted by individuals to make it mean whatever they like?

I think verse 20 is a warning not to play fast and loose with the meaning of Scripture. The reason I opt for this second view is that the false teachers which Peter has in view did apparently not deny the inspiration of the prophets, but rather twisted the prophetic writings to suit their own false teaching. We know that Peter had false teachers in mind here because the very next sentence in 2:1 says, „False prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you.” And the key text for understanding how these false teachers related to Scripture is found in 2 Peter 3:16. In 3:15 Peter says that the apostle Paul has written about similar things in his letters. Then he says, „There are some things in them hard to understand which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” These last words show how the false teachers related to the Old Testament Scriptures. They don’t reject them. They don’t deny that prophecies came from God. They twist them to suit their own private purposes. Therefore, since Peter is concerned in this letter with false teachers who twist the meaning of Scripture to fit their own personal desires, the most likely meaning of verse 20 is that the prophetic Scriptures may not be handled that way. „No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” means then, „no individual is entitled to interpret prophecy, or Scripture generally, according to his personal whim” (Kelly).

The Way in Which We Should Heed the Word

Now we can see the connection between verses 19 and 20 more clearly. When Peter says, „Give heed to the prophetic word as to a lamp shining in a dark place . . . knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation,” what he means is, „Pay close and careful attention to the prophetic word, and the first principle to guide you in how to pay attention is the principle that the true meaning of Scripture does not come from the mind of the reader.” Or to put it another way: the principle that should guide our attention to Scripture is that its meaning is objective, not subjective. The meaning of Scripture does not change with every new reader or every new reading. It cannot be twisted to mean whatever we like. It is what it is, unchanging and unending. The first principle, therefore, in giving heed to Scripture is that there is a true meaning and there are false meanings, and we must submit our minds to trace out what is really there rather than presuming that whatever pops into our minds at our first reading is the true meaning.

God’s Meaning not Man’s

Now what verse 21 does is give the reason why we can’t treat Scripture as though its meaning is whatever someone thinks it means. Interpretation of Scripture dare not be a matter of personal whim because Peter says, „no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” In a word, the reason we may not fill the words of Scripture with our ideas is that God intends that they carry his ideas. The meaning of Scripture is not like putty that we can mold according to our desires. It is the work of the Holy Spirit and carries a solid, firm, divine intention. The glorious truth of this verse is that in Scripture God has spoken and not merely man, and therefore (as verse 20 says) our aim must be to hear God’s meaning, not merely our own.

Now let me try to show how verses 20 and 21 fit into the chapter as a whole and then draw out several implications for our lives. Peter’s main aim in chapter 1 is to help us confirm our call and election (v. 10). He wants us to enjoy the assurance of our salvation. As a means to that end he reminds us that the genuineness of saving faith (v. 1) is proved by whether it produces virtue and knowledge and self-control and patience and godliness and brotherly affection and love (vv. 5–7). But he also reminds us that God has already given us the power needed to live this way (v. 3). And he has told us that this power becomes effective in our daily lives through God’s precious and very great promises. So as we keep our hearts content in the promises of God, we are guarded from sinful allurements and are drawn on in paths of righteousness into eternal life. And where are these promises to be found? Where shall we go to fan the flames of our hope? Peter’s answer in verse 19: the prophetic word of Scripture. Do you need encouragement that the day is really going to dawn—that the life of self-control, patience, brotherly affection, and love is really leading to glory? Then go to the Scriptures. Go daily. Go long. Go deep. And when you go, remember this first: these are not the mere words of men; they are the words of God. „Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (v. 21). Seek his meaning and you will find the lamp of hope. For as the apostle Paul said, „Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by the steadfastness and encouragement of the scriptures men might have hope.”

Three Implications for Our Lives

Now I close with three brief implications of verses 20 and 21 for us. You can hang them on three words: discipline, humility, and the Spirit. Suppose that you are a platoon leader and had been trapped with your platoon behind enemy lines, and your commanding officer smuggles a coded message to you to inform you how to get out. What do you do with that message? Do you pass it around the platoon and collect everyone’s impressions and then flip a coin to decide what it means? No. You sit down and you labor to break the code. Why? Because the impressions of your platoon are not what you need. The mind of your commander makes all the difference. The interpretation of that message has one aim—what did the commander will to communicate? And to that end you submit yourself to the severe discipline of memory and analysis and construction, until you have assurance that his meaning and not your own has been found. And then you stake your life on it.

So it is with God’s Word. God’s intention comes to us in human language. „Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke (in Hebrew and in Greek) from God.” How, then, can we know the mind of God? Answer: God has ordained that some in his family (and some outside) submit to the discipline of mastering Hebrew and Greek and breaking the code open into English and the other languages of the world. But even English is a kind of code. Children must accept the discipline of learning to read it. And adults need to submit to the discipline of learning to read it well. The more disciplined we are in construing meaning out of Scripture instead of pouring our ideas into Scripture, the better we will understand God’s promises and the more power we can have for godliness.

The second implication is humility. If you believe that the Bible is the Word of God with authority over your life, it takes a good deal of humility to interpret it correctly. The reason is simple: the Bible often requires of us that we feel and think and act in ways that go against our natural inclinations. Therefore, the only person who will own up to these uncomfortable teachings is the humble person who is broken and open before the lordship of God and ready to do whatever he says. The proud person who still wants to give lip service to the Bible will twist the Scriptures to fit his own desires. In the long run sound interpretation comes only from the broken and contrite in spirit.

Finally, humility is a fruit of the Spirit. Therefore, we have great need for the assistance of the Holy Spirit when we read the Scripture. If he does not overcome our proud heart and rebellious nature, we will never submit to the uncomplimentary truths of Scripture. We will avoid them or distort them. The work of the Spirit is not to add new information to the Scripture, but to make us sensitive and submissive to what is already there. It was through men moved by the Holy Spirit that God spoke of old in the Scriptures. And therefore today it will be people yielded to the Holy Spirit who hear his voice most clearly in the Scriptures.

Therefore, let us give heed daily the prophetic Word with all diligence and humility and reliance on the Spirit, knowing this first, „that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own private interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

© Desiring God

Christian Doctrine 3 – Creation: God Makes

History has a beginning The Bible begins with God and the Creative act that sent time into motion. As we study the essential doctrines of the church we must address the origin of man and the universe itself. Scripture gives us the account of this origin in Genesis 1 and 2, These first chapters of the Bible have sparked many debates over the years inside and outside the church. As we begin our study, let us take care to be faithful to what scripture reveals about creation and be content with the mystery in the areas it is silent.

Theology: What does scripture say about Creation?

Which of the Christian views on Creation do you subscribe? Support your position with Scripture?
What are the non-negotiable issues with regard to creation and which should we hold in an open hand?
When you read Genesis 1-2, what do you take a way as the focus of the first two chapters of Scripture?
Are the 6 days of Creation literal 24 hour days? Support your answer.
What is the significance of Creation being made out of nothing (Heb 11:3)?

Implications: We will know discuss the implications of God revelation to our daily lives.

What is the personal significance to you that Genesis 1-2 are focused on the Creator vs. Creation?
How does this view effect the way that you look at other aspects of your life?
Why is understanding Creation an essential doctrine?
What have you learned about God from observing His creation?
How does you life look different with the perspective of God as Author and Subject of History?

Prayer: Reflect and meditate on the work of Creation and what it reveals about the glory of God.

Pray that we would worship the Creator and not Creation.
Pray for a God centered perspective of history.
Pray for those who do not yet know Jesus , that they would see the glory of God in Creation itself.

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