The Authority and Interpretation of Scripture
The last fifty years have witnessed increasingly virulent attacks upon the Bible and on biblical morality. This has come not so much from radical left wing politicians or even from a cynical secular media. Sadly, it has largely come from liberal Anglican Bishops and Archbishops who should instead have been guarding the truth.
I became a Christian at university in the early 1970s and discovered the chaplaincy on campus deeply influenced by liberal theologians whose names conveniently all began with ‘B’ – Barth, Bultmann, Brunner and Bonhoeffer, and British theologians like John A. T. Robinson who wrote Honest to God in 1963.
Then Bishop of Woolwich, he questioned the doctrine of God and many other elements of biblical teaching. And this was the new thing: that a serving bishop should mount a challenge to the teaching of the Bible and doctrines of the Church of England in such a public and unashamed way.
Even before his consecration as Bishop of Newark in 1976, John Shelby Spong had been writing controversial books. In 1986 he published Beyond Moralism: A Contemporary View of the Ten Commandments. Two years later he wrote Living in Sin? A Bishop Rethinks Human Sexuality. A year later he openly and knowingly ordained a practicing homosexual.
On this side of the Atlantic, in 1984, the then bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, gained notoriety by commenting in a BBC interview that the traditional belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus was ridiculous, an infantile preoccupation with ‘a conjuring trick with bones’.
In 1995 the then bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, defended his cathedral’s invitation to a practicing Muslim to preach the university sermon. He quoted Jesus’ words ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God’ and deduced that since the Muslim was working for peace he not only came under the blessing of Jesus, but shared the title Son of God with him. When challenged about the uniqueness of Jesus on the basis of John 14:6 he wrote ‘to suggest that Jesus actually said those words is to deny 150 years of scholarship in the Gospel of John.’
But outlandish statements by church leaders, undermining the teaching of Scripture are barely newsworthy these days. It seems hard to believe that just ten years ago, at the 1998 Lambeth Conference, Anglican Bishops reaffirmed the traditional biblical teaching on marriage:
“This Conference: … in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;… while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation… cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;”
Within weeks the Synod of New Westminster in the Church of Canada voted to endorse just that – the blessing of same sex unions. And in June 2003, Gene Robinson, a practicing homosexual was elected Bishop of New Hampshire. Repeatedly, the Primates called for a moratorium and for the Bishops of the Episcopal Church in the USA to repent of their actions in tearing the fabric of the Anglican Communion by consecrating Gene Robinson. They were given a deadline of September 2007. But before that deadline they were sent invitations to this summer’s Lambeth Conference. That is why nearly 300 Bishops, representing the majority of Anglicans worldwide, felt unable to attend. Instead they met in Jerusalem and have formed the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans to provide pastoral oversight of clergy and churches in the USA and Canada who have been thrown out of their properties, and ensure continuity of faithful gospel witness where liberal theology has compromised it.
That is why I commend to you the Jerusalem Declaration which many of us have signed which you can access from the website of Anglican Mainstream or my Blog. That is why we commend the meeting Wednesday 24th September at St Saviour’s Guildford when Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali is speaking.
That is why we are hosting a follow up meeting here on Saturday 11th October with Canon Dr Chris Sugden and Stephen Hofmeyr QC.
And that is why we have arranged this four week sermon series entitled “Confessing Christ: Contending for the faith in the Church of England today” (Jude 1:3). I cannot stress too strongly that this is not a controversy over human sexuality. It is far deeper and far more serious. It is a controversy over the authority of the Bible, the uniqueness of Jesus Christ, the nature of the Gospel and the future of the Church. Lives depend on it. Eternal destinies are at stake. So this is not a game. That is why today we begin the series looking at 2 Timothy 3 and the Authority of Scripture. Please turn to it with me. I want us to make three simple but profound observations from this passage:
The Inspiration of Scripture:
Its Origins (2 Tim. 3:14-16)
The Instruction of Scripture: Its Purpose (2 Tim. 3:16-17)
The Imperative of Scripture: Its Impact (2 Tim. 4:1-5)
1. The Inspiration of Scripture: Its Origin
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, 15 and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed.” (2 Timothy 3:14-16)
The Bible is not a collection of stories, fables, myths, or merely human ideas about God. It is not a human book. Through the Holy Spirit, God revealed Himself to believers, who wrote down his message for his people.
This process is known as ‘inspiration’. The writers wrote from their own personal, historical, and cultural contexts. Although they used their own minds, talents, language, and style, they wrote what God wanted them to write. The apostle Peter describes the process of inspiration behind the apostolic witness in 2 Peter 1,
“For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Peter 1:21)
The image Peter uses is of a ship being blown along by the wind. Scripture is therefore completely trustworthy because God was in control of its writing. The Scriptures are therefore entirely authoritative for our faith and lives. The phrase in 2 Timothy 3:16 is worth unpacking. "All" = every, and ‘theo pneustos’ = "God breathed." Very significantly this is the only time the word is used in the Bible. In context Paul is referring to the Hebrew Scriptures and also the Christian scriptures already in circulation. Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 in 1 Timothy 5:18 showing that by this time portions of the New Testament were considered to be equal in authority to the Old Testament. The apostle Peter similarly refers to the writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16). This is entirely consistent with the promise of Jesus in John 14:
“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” (John 14:26).
That is why the Bible needs careful handling. Hebrews says...
"The word of God is living and active sharper than any two edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." (Hebrews 4:12)
Wycliffe Bible Translators working with the Agta people in northern Philippines translated the verse “living and potent”
Depending on the context, the Agta word for potent – madagat can mean stinging, venomous or potent. A poisonous snake is madagat, but so are some medicines than can heal. That is why they used the word in their translation – because it all depends upon how we approach it. If we disregard it, its like the poisonous snake. But if we live by it and treat it with respect, its potency is like medicine. That is why we must handle the Bible respectfully. Earlier Paul had instructed Timothy,
“Do your best to
present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth." (2 Timothy 2:14-15)
Someone asked Paul Tillich in a meeting "Do you believe this is the word of God?" He replied "They way you are holding it, I'm not sure, but when it holds you, yes I believe its the word of God." You need to use all your fingers, because the devil sure does, and he's trying to keep you from it. He's trying to pluck it away from you. Show five fingers. Hear, Read, Study, Memorize, Meditate. This is God's Word. God breathed. That means it is unique, it is authoritative, it is infallible. Every bit of it. So treat it with respect. The Inspiration of Scripture: Its origins.
2. The Instruction of Scripture: Its Purpose
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that all God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
The Bible is our standard for testing everything else that claims to be true. It is our safeguard against false teaching and our source of guidance for how we should live. Have you ever wondered why in traditional churches the pulpit is higher than anything else? Not just so you can see the vicar. It is stating quite profoundly that the bible is above everything else. The cross, the table, the bread and the wine, the baptistry. These have no meaning apart from the Scripture, and where Christians have invested these things with more than Scripture teaches they have gone astray into error. This church is dependent on the Scriptures. It is our only source of knowledge about how we can be saved. God wants to show you what is true and equip you to live for him. He wants us to be explorers and not just tourists. Do you know the difference? You will have seen both on holiday this summer. The tourists travel quickly, and superficially, stopping only briefly to observe, take a photo and then get back on the bus. The explorer on the other hand walks or cycles, takes their time, searches out all they can find.
Which are you when it comes to the Bible? How much time do you spend in God's Word daily? Read it regularly to discover God's truth and to become confident in your life and faith. Develop a plan for reading the whole Bible, not just the familiar passages. There are four ways the Bible instructs us....
Why do we need teaching ? Because we are ignorant, we are simple. The Church is a school. The Holy Spirit is our teacher. My role is simply to open the scriptures, and explain their meaning and let the Holy Spirit get on with applying them.
What kind of effect does reading the Bible have on you? When the Ngaanyatjarara ( Ng-gar-an-yat-jar-ah) aboriginal people of Australia received their newly translated portion of the Bible in their language they started to cry. But this is not unusual, for its their custom to cry when a new person is brought to them.
When one man received his copy of the Gospel he exclaimed, "The stranger has now come. This is the stranger we have been waiting for." The Ng-gar-an-yat-jar-ah people are looking forward to the day when the entire NT will finally be available in their language, and they can all sit down and have a good cry. Have you read the Bible through cover to cover? Has it made you cry yet? Are you reading it through regularly? Have you come to know the stranger we have been waiting for?
Kalevi Lehtenen the Finnish evangelist said once, "keep reading and studying the Bible until you can see the smiling face of Jesus on every page". Every scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching...
That’s what the Bible does to us when we handle it properly. I got a letter some while ago from a man deeply offended by an article I wrote for the Surrey Advertiser on the theme of Easter. I'd said that the cross was the only way to God. I'd used a quote about human remedies being about as effective as a pocket full of posies were in avoiding the plague. The man was really annoyed with me. I wrote him a polite letter admitting I couldn't claim any credit for being very original, and that if he had a problem it was with Jesus own words, not mine. I think the man's pride had been wounded at the insinuation that he couldn't get to heaven by being a nice man. In Matthew 22:29 Jesus replied to the liberals of his day "Is this not why you are wrong, you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God"
Isn't that the reason why so often we are wrong. We need to hear that gentle, loving, rebuke of the Holy Spirit if we are to keep on the right track. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, rebuke, for
The word means ‘restoration to an upright or right state’ or to set right. It is important to see these two words working together. Rebuking is like saying "stop you're going in the wrong direction." Correcting is saying "come back, this is the right way." Jesus has shown us the right way, and the Holy Spirit will lead us in His shoes. All scripture... teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and
This word is used to describe the way a child needs training. When I was a curate the Post Ordination Training or POT got the nickname "Potty Training". I don't think that’s a bad name. More appropriate than CME as its known today. Paul uses it here because we are learners. Peter in his letter says "Like new born babes crave the pure spiritual milk of the word..."
Lets test your reaction. I'm going to say two words and I want to see what effect it has on you. "Sunday Lunch" Now lets try two more words. "House Group". Did it have the same effect? We are getting somewhere as a church when they have the same effect. Currently half our members are members of a fortnightly or weekly Bible study group. Our groups begin again this week. If you consider yourself a follower of Jesus and you are not in a bible study group – and want to grow, talk to Ro, Francis or me afterwards and we will find you a home.
All scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting and for training, for what? What’s the point? Verse 17, "So that God’s people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work". (2 Timothy 3:17)
In other words, the Word of God furnishes and equips us so that we can please God and do His will. The better we know the Bible, the better we will fulfil his work. Better able to understand, and communicate the truth. Sharing it with those who do not yet know Jesus Christ. Helping those who are younger to know Christ better. The more familiar we become with this book, and its author, and his purposes for our lives, the more equipped we become to serve Him and please Him. Is that your desire? Then make a decision today, make a covenant with God, as we await the return of Jesus, to devote the rest of your life to knowing the Scriptures, living the Scriptures. A brief word on translations.
The story is told of four ministers discussing the pros and cons of various Bible translations. The first minister said he used the King James because the old English style is beautiful and produces the most reverent picture of the Holy Scriptures. The second said he preferred the English Standard Version because he felt it comes nearer to the original Greek and Hebrew texts. The third minister said his favourite was the paraphrased Living Bible because his congregation was young and it related to them in a practical way. All three waited while the fourth minister sat silently. Finally he said, “I guess when it comes to translations I like my Dad’s the best. He put the Word of God into practice every day. It was the most convincing translation I’ve ever seen.”
The Inspiration of Scripture: Its origin.
The Instruction of Scripture: Its purpose.
3. The Imperative of Scripture: Its Impact
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. :3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
When I left the Civil Service, I had to sign the Official Secrets Act in triplicate. I was charged to keep secret all the confidential reports and information I had previously had access to on pain of imprisonment. Here Paul charges Timothy with the very opposite. "I charge you....to tell everyone about the Lord". The essence of this charge is to "Proclaim the Word." This means quite simply to tell others about Jesus, and this is a charge we all share.
3.1 The Basis of this Charge (2 Timothy 4:1)
Paul wanted to take Timothy's breath away at the thought that when Jesus returns it will be to judge the living and the dead....in view of his appearing and his kingdom."
Does the thought of the return of the Lord Jesus make you go "wow"? Does it affect your behaviour now, knowing Jesus is coming back to judge you? This was why Paul gave Timothy this charge. One day Jesus is coming back and you will have to give an account of the gifts and Scriptures he has entrusted to you. The basis of this charge.
3.2 The Nature of the Charge: (2 Timothy 4:2)
Three little words that describe how we are to do it:
The Greek word literally means to be on permanent stand-by, like a fireman or ambulance driver. There is a sense of seriousness, of readiness implicit to this charge. We are to take the initiative, to make opportunities whether we feel like it or not, whether people appear responsive or not.
When a fireman is called to an emergency, he dispenses with pleasantries or polite introductions. He is there with a purpose, to save life, and extinguish the fire. All other matters are secondary issues. Richard Baxter was the 17th century vicar of Kidderminster. His ministry transformed the people of that town from what one contemporary commentator described as an "ignorant, rude and revelling people" into a godly, worshipping community. How did he do it? In his book "The Reformed Pastor", written for younger ministers he wrote this,
"Let the people see that you are in good earnest....You cannot break men's hearts by jesting with them, or telling them a smooth tale, or patching up a gaudy oration. Men will not cast away their dearest pleasures upon a drowsy request of one that seemeth not to mean as he speaks, or to care much whether his request be granted."
It is always the sowing season in evangelism. I give you this charge, proclaim earnestly, in season, out of season. Above all, urgently. Secondly Paul instructs,
"Correct, rebuke, encourage...." This calls for skill in the use of Scripture to present Jesus, depending upon the need or circumstance of the person. It may be good to ask questions to start with, to gain information for a prognosis of a person's condition. I often use a simple four point Gospel outline because it invites a response, and I can leave the booklet with the person. Whatever tools we use, its good to have an outline and key verses memorized so that you can be on permanent stand-by. There are ways of correcting and rebuking that don't give the impression of a holier-than-thou attitude. Remember Jesus didn't come to rub sin in, He came to rub it out. We are to proclaim the word urgently, appropriately, and thirdly, we should do so,
"with great patience and careful instruction." What does this suggest? If we are honest, we will admit that we don't learn a lesson the first time its taught. We need reminding over and over again. That is why we should not give up on people who appear unresponsive. It may take years. It probably did with you! The basis of the charge - for Christ will come to judge. The nature of the charge - Proclaim the word, urgently, appropriately, patiently.
3.3 The Reason for the Charge: (2 Timothy 4:3-8)
"For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths."
The reason for this charge? Because Orthodoxy would become unpopular. Does it surprise you that Paul describes a situation that would apparently happen within his generation? The fact is the truth has been contested in every generation. Yesterday I sent out publicity about the GAFCON meeting with Bishop Michael Nazir Ali in Guildford to local clergy inviting them to attend. This is the reply I received from a local vicar not far from here…
“I am appalled that this schismatic bishop is being welcomed though not surprised that it is to St Saviours which is so loosely attached to the C of E already. I will most certainly not publicise his visit in any way.” I replied, “Thanks for the feedback. With respect it is those who reject the 39 Articles (in particular Article 20), Canon A5 and Lambeth Resolution 1:10 who are being schismatic, not those who are faithful to the historical teaching of the Church of England.”
He replied, “I can find quotes from scripture and the creeds and even the traditions of the Church of England to support what I believe - you can find them to support what you say. I believe my quotes are more important because they support my prejudices; you believe yours are more important because they support yours. The great tradition of the Church of England is the holding together of diversity and it is tragic that a Bishop doesn't get that and is leading others astray.”
Like Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland it seems for some in the Church `When I use a word,… it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.' If only it were simply a matter of personal belief. Unfortunately it is not.
Earlier I mentioned the controversial views of Bishop David Jenkins who publicly questioned the virgin conception and bodily resurrection of Jesus. You may be familiar with what happened in York Minster in 1984 three days after he was consecrated. The beautiful cathedral was struck by a bolt of lightning that knocked its 13th century oak ceiling beams to the flagstone floor, the resultant fire destroying the roof of the South Transept and shattering the famous rose window into thousands of pieces.
You are probably not aware of the impact his views had in other parts of the world. Desmond Goonasekera was an Anglican rector in Sri Lanka. This is what he told Charles Colson, “We’re losing badly to the Muslims. It all began with the Jenkins business. “ he said. Colson writes, “He explained that aggressive Muslims were visiting Christian communities and using Bishop Jenkins’ quote as authoritative proof that Christians need no longer to believe in Christ’s resurrection. Since Muslims and Christians now see Jesus as merely a prophet, they argued, why not worship together in the mosque? “They are killing us with our bishop’s own words’
Goonasekera concluded. “What I had dismissed as one man’s heresy had become a stumbling-block to Christians faith halfway around the world – a sobering reminder of the grave consequences of trifling with the truth.” My own visits to the Middle East only confirm his experience. That is why we insist the very gospel is at stake. Tonight Ro will tackle this same subject from other passages of Scripture. Next week we will address more explicitly what the Scriptures have to say about human sexuality.
The Inspiration of Scripture: Its Origins – the word of God
The Instruction of Scripture: Its Purpose – we become like Christ.
The Imperative of Scripture: Its Impact – to save the lost.
 For this outline I am grateful to Dr Mark Thompson http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2008/06/10/the-anglican-debacle-roots-and-patterns
 Charles Colson, The God of Stones and Spiders (Crossway 1990, pp. 128-129)