The Word of God is a frequently used way to describe or identify the Bible, the collection of sixty-six books written over the course of at least fifteen hundred years by Apostles and prophets, humanly speaking, and breathed out by God, divinely speaking. It is called the Word of God because God is the primary author and the prophets and Apostles are secondary authors. Everything in the Bible is exactly what God wanted it to say, and the Word of God has the meaning God intends for it to have. Historically, Protestants have distinguished between four main characteristics of Scripture: authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency.
The Bible refers to itself as the Word of God (1 Thess. 2:13). Many different qualities of the Scriptures confirm this designation, giving us confidence that this claim is true. Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5 lists many of these qualities, including the stylistic beauty and majesty of Scripture, the unity of the Bible’s teaching expressed through a diversity of authors and perspectives, the biblical presentation of the one way of salvation, and the power of the Bible’s doctrine to save and to sanctify sinners. However, while these characteristics confirm the Bible’s claims, only the Holy Spirit can persuade us to accept the Bible’s testimony to its being the Word of God. After all, only the Spirit can reveal the things of God (1 Cor. 2:9–10).
Because the Bible is the very Word of God, it is the final authority in all matters of faith and life. Authority resides in the words of Scripture themselves, as Jesus teaches. He tells us that Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). The authority of Scripture derives from the inherent authority of God, who breathed out the Scriptures. Jesus Himself is God (John 1:1), which means that all Scripture is His authoritative voice no less than the authoritative voice of the Father and the Holy Spirit. Jesus claims that His sheep hear His voice (John 10:27). They heed His voice, because they recognize the authority in it.
Inspiration is the doctrine about the Word of God that describes how the Word of God came to us. Most literally, Scripture is “God-breathed” (Greek theopneustos; 2 Tim. 3:16). God by His Holy Spirit breathed out the Word of God into the prophets and Apostles. Just as we breathe out our words when we speak, so God breathed out His words when He revealed the Scriptures. It is important to note here that the Holy Spirit did not bypass the human authors’ personality and consciousness, but He worked through both and so guided the process that the Bible is at the same time God’s words and the words of its human authors.
The Bible is both infallible and inerrant. The former term means “unable to fall” and is actually the stronger term of the two, since it includes the idea of inerrancy, though many liberal scholars reject inerrancy in favor of infallibility. The Bible’s infallibility means, then, that God’s authority and superintendence of the process of inscripturation—the writing of Scripture by prophets and Apostles—results in a book that is incapable of error. The inerrancy of Scripture means that the Scriptures, in fact, contain no errors. While the Bible itself does not use these two exact terms to describe its truthfulness, we can arrive at these two ideas by good and necessary consequence. Since God breathed out the Scriptures such that the authority of God is invested in the Scriptures, and since we know that God never lies, then no errors can be present. Reformed theologians have also always been careful to claim this status for the original manuscripts only. Copies were not made by divine inspiration, and individual copyist errors may exist in individual manuscripts. However, by comparing manuscripts, we can discern where a particular manuscript differs from the original text written by the author. None of these differences affects any doctrine of the faith or the meaning of Scripture. To put it another way, we have the actual words of the prophets and the Apostles, even though we do not have the actual pages that they themselves wrote upon. The text has been providentially preserved through the ages by the vast number of accurate copies produced.
Protestant theologians have commonly used various terms to explain the four characteristics (or attributes) of Scripture—authority, clarity, necessity, and sufficiency. These four characteristics enable us to understand the internal teaching of Scripture about its own nature and usefulness. If we undermine any of these characteristics, we undermine the essence of Scripture itself.
With regard to the authority of Scripture, we recognize that God has spoken authoritatively in every part of the Old and New Testament. The Word of God is the revelation of God breathed out by the Holy Spirit, therefore, it as divine authority woven into its fabric. The Bible is authoritative for every aspect of life and worship in this world. God intends for His people to receive His word as the authoritative revelation of their redemption, as well as the authoritative guide for their actions. Scripture is the only transcendent and inerrant authority by which we may know what God’s will is for our lives.
When Protestant theologians claim that the Bible is clear, they mean one very specific thing—namely, the Bible is clear in matters necessary for salvation and what it means to live a life pleasing to God. They do not mean that every passage in the Bible is equally clear. Furthermore, they do not mean that the ministry of the Word is dispensable. The clarity of Scripture is the idea that no special revelation beyond Scripture is required for understanding what is necessary for salvation, nor does such an understanding require an advanced degree in biblical interpretation. Any reader or hearer of the Scriptures can understand the basic gospel and what he must do to please God. The doctrine of the clarity of Scripture is also known as the perspicuity of Scripture.
The perfection of Scripture teaches us that the Bible contains exactly the doctrine and admonitions that we need. It lacks none of the truths that the Lord wants His people to have for their good and His glory. Perfection is the corollary of the sufficiency of Scripture. If we need no other source to give us the will of God, then Scripture must teach us everything we need to know about God and His will to please Him in this life. Perfection is also a consequence of the necessity of Scripture, which says that we need the Bible to know God, the way of salvation, and God’s law for us. Apart from Scripture we may know truths about God and even the basics of His moral law from creation (Romans 1–2); however, by nature, all men twist and suppress these truths in unrighteousness. Moreover, while creation tells us about God’s eternal being and power, it is insufficient to tell us how to be reconciled to Him through faith in Christ. Only the Scriptures can make us wise unto salvation (2 Tim. 3:15).
Finally, the Word of God is sufficient for our salvation. We need no other book or personal revelation to discern the way of salvation and the will of God for our lives. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is not meant to undermine the benefit of studying theological books or church history. Rather, it simply affirms that an individual does not need a academic education in theology in order to obtain the salvation offered in the Word of God. God has revealed in the Bible everything that a believer needs to know for life and godliness. The Bible warns against anyone seeking to take away from or adding to the revelation of God in Scripture (Rev. 22:18–19).
We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
John Calvin is known for his statement that God speaks to us in ‘baby talk,’ explaining things to us on our level so that we will know and love Him. God has not told us everything, but what He has told us is true, and our language can be used to communicate the truth to us. Human beings wrote the Bible, but they were inspired by God such that their words are His words. Thus, to obey Scripture is to obey the Lord.
If we believe the Bible, we will believe in Jesus. But it is also true that if we believe in Jesus, we will believe the Bible.
Many times people will claim that God has commanded them to do something that violates the Bible. But as we have seen, if we disobey God’s Word, we disobey God Himself even if we think we are hearing His voice. When you sense the Lord directing you, make sure that the direction you hear does not violate Scripture.
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.