Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Westminster Confession of Faith: Scripture

To me, the easiest thing in the world to be, would be a Calvinist. You get to call yourself one of the elect - which is a cool title - you get certainty about your salvation, you get answers to every question you could imagine. I've always said that the two best theological systems which answer everything coherently for the most part are 1) Calvinism, and 2) Catholicism. Now I'm an Anglican/Orthodox Wesleyan today at least, so why wouldn't I just pick one of these great systems? I decided to read the Westminster Confession today, to remind me of all the reasons I can't be a Presbyterian and I read all of the first part about scripture. Here is a link to it: (I've seen Jared rip the Council of Trent to peices, so I don't feel as bad taking one of his favourites and pointing out my opinion on it's shortcomings)

It starts off proclaiming that God is revealed in Nature/Natural Theology, but that so His will might be known he revealed himself in Scripture. As well the Apocrypha is NOT to be declared inspired Scripture. The 'true' OT canon contains only 39 books.

Problems with this:

1. Jesus never left a command for people to write scripture
2. Jews couldn't agree on a canon for the Old Testament. Till 90CE council of Jamnia, after the Christian church was already established.
3. Scripture has no canon list within itself
4. St. Paul and the others constantly quote the Septuagint - the Greek Old Testament which contains the Apocrypha.
5. Jesus is actually God's revelation and His Word.

"We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture." WCF V (prooftext used-1 Timothy 3:15)

The problem is, the early church DIDN'T have a bible, outside the Septuagint, which was the Old Testament, which contained the apocrypha, and possibly they had some Pauline literature. And that prooftext/footnote says the CHURCH is the pillar of truth, not scripture.

"The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly" WCF IX

Hmmm. So which scripture do we pick if something is unclear. For example, in Corinthians it talks about baptism for the dead... which scripture do we go to for that? In 1 John 5 it talks about a "Mortal Sin" which leads to death. But what scripture can we use to interpret that?

In closing the Westminster confession says of Scripture, that it is "The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined" -WCF X

That is the pipe dream that all of Protestantism rests on. The idea that somehow scripture actually speaks... it's a text, and it has to be read, it has to be translated, and it has to be interpretted. The Calvinists seemed to have arbitrarily picked up the bible, removed the apocrypha, and said that it is in short the Christian Qu'ran. If this were so, all matters of faith would be easy. Almost as easy as having a Pope who is essentially God on Earth and can infallibly define any article of the faith, and bind and loose anything on earth and in heaven. I wonder if he 'defined' God as nonexistant, then he could make everything end. But as the Catholics say, he will get hit by lightning before that happens... a very realistic scenario... but enough of all this childishness.

In short, I would love to be a Catholic or a Calvinist, but there are many questions of the faith which cannot be simply answered, they are a mystery, as only the Orthodox realize.


  1. Interesting post. You bring up some great issues. However, I would say that Christ is the Word of God, but that is not to the negation of Scripture as the Word of God. I think that focusing on Christ as the Word of God (as the 39 Articles do) helps us elevate Scriptures as Christ's. As Pelikan said: "when 'the gospel' or 'Scripture' was equated with the 'word of God,' the presence of Christ in this means of grace was seen as in some way analogous to his presence in the flesh...Christ was the preaching of God." (Christian Tradition Vol 1 - pg 161)

    Catholics and Protestants and Orthodox believe the Scriptures are the Word of God. It is a wonderful bit of liturgy in the Book of Common Prayer that reminds us of this as well that when the Scriptures are read, the congregation is to say: The word of the Lord, thanks be to God!

    The Westminster is actually a synthesis between the 39 Articles and Reformed Confessions in that is acknowledges the testimony of the Church, but gives final assurance to the testimony of the Spirit.

    I do think Scripture is where doctrinal matters must begin in their debate. But true, interpretational problems mean in certain issues, certainty is allusive.

  2. You might find this visual interesting: