Wednesdays with Robertson: Diligence in the Study and Diligence in the Streets

The life and ministry of A.T. Robertson reminds us that we do not have to choose between serious Bible study and a life on mission in obedience to Christ. As an esteemed New Testament scholar, Robertson was known for his diligence in the study. However, if one were to read Robertson’s sermons they would be struck by his passion for personal evangelism. In our inaugural Wednesday with Robertson I reflected on his sermon, Jesus as a Soul-Winner. In that sermon Robertson preached on John 4 stating that the Gospel of John “…shows the Master in actual contact with an individual soul, precisely the point where so many ministers fail, who may preach eloquent sermons to the crowd. And yet most people won to Christ are brought one at a time, as the result of a personal word.”[1]

Similar convictions are found in Robertson’s sermon Passing the Torch based on 2 Timothy 1:6; 2:2, “For which reason I am reminding thee to keep blazing the gift of God…Deposit these with reliable men who will be able to teach others also.”

What follows is an excerpt from the final point of Passing the Torch. Here Robertson is commenting on the end of 2 Timothy 2:2, “…reliable men who will be able to teach others also.” Notice again his passion for personal evangelism.

These reliable men “will be able to teach others also” Paul says. So it has always been in the spread of the gospel. One live coal sets fire to another. Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus. John brings James. Phillip brings Nathanael. Dr. John R. Mott proved a generation ago that by one winning one the whole world could be brought to Christ in one generation. But often a whole life passes by without bringing another soul to the Master. Personal evangelism is the only way by which the gospel can successfully be brought to the hearts of men. We need preaching; more of it, and better, but the personal touch of heart to heart, of life on life is what counts most.[2] I heard D.L. Moody say once in a sermon that he knew more souls won to Christ by his conversation than by his preaching. And Moody was an effective evangelist. Isaiah’s lips were touched by live coal from the alter of God and so he had a tongue of flame. Nature is prodigal in her efforts at the reproduction of life. Seeds fall everywhere, carried by the wind and finding congenial soil…We should be drummers for Christ. Some men can live in a Christian community and never have a personal word spoken to them about their soul’s welfare. Friends will talk about business, pleasures, politics, the weather, anything, everything except the most important thing of all, which is taboo in many social circles and contacts. But if we pass the torch of eternal life, we must keep our torch blazing. Even if we do not always light that our neighbors and friends, we can keep it burning as a witness for Christ.”[3]

In his essay Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher, Robertson encouraged pastors not to neglect the tedious work of the study. In his sermon Passing the Torch he encouraged preachers not to neglect sharing the gospel in the streets. Robertson did not choose between diligence in the study and diligence in the streets.

Neither should we.


[1] Jesus As a Soul-Winner in Archibald Thomas Robertson, Jesus As a Soul-Winner And Other Sermons (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company).

[2] Emphasis mine.

[3] Passing the Torch in Archibald Thomas Robertson, Passing the Torch and Other Sermons (New York: Fleming Revell Company).

Wednesdays With Robertson: Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher

It was in the classroom under the instruction of John A. Broadus that A.T. Robertson began to have an interest in textual criticism.[1] With great appreciation for his teacher and father-in-law, Robertson referred to Broadus as a “master of the theme” who taught the class with “zest and great skill.”[2]

            Textual criticism according to Stanley Porter “is the concern to recover the original form of the text by means of rigorous text-critical methodology to the available manuscript evidence.”[3] As Professor of New Testament Interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Robertson taught New Testament textual criticism throughout his teaching career. The great theologian B.B. Warfield even requested that Robertson revise Warfield’s own introductory textbook on the subject, but Robertson was exhausted from researching grammar. Later in his career he ultimately would publish his own book, An Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament in 1925.

            A year later Robertson published a collection of essays entitled Studies in the Text of the New Testament and in that volume Robertson dedicates an entire chapter to answering the question, why textual criticism for the preacher? It seems that Robertson felt the need to come to the discipline’s defense as theological institutions began to remove it from their curriculum. “To the average preacher there is no more uninteresting or uninviting field of study than the textual criticism of the New Testament. Many do not even know the meaning of the phrase. It is not taught in all our theological seminaries.”[4]  Worried that ignorance of the field would result in poor preaching, Robertson with perhaps a little too much drama writes,

“The intelligent minister today cannot afford to remain in complete ignorance of this subject. If he does, he may find himself preaching from a text that some of the Sunday School teachers know is not genuine. Or he may be unable to form an intelligent opinion on the point at issue and have to rely wholly upon the opinion of others. Few things are more dreary than pulpit quotations of scholars on any given point, whether pro or con.”

This past week I was faced with two scenarios that support Robertson’s concern. The first was the textual variant in Mark 1:41. Most manuscripts read, “and being moved with pity/compassion he reached out his hand and touched him”(καὶ ⸁σπλαγχνισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα* ⸂αὐτοῦ ἥψατο⸃). However, an important Greek manuscript has a different reading and it is even favored by the NIV, “Jesus was indignant. He reached out his hand and touched the man” (καὶ ὀργισθεὶς ἐκτείνας τὴν χεῖρα αὐτοῦ ἥψατο). Although I preach from the ESV, many members at Hermon use the NIV and ignoring it from the pulpit didn’t seem helpful.

            The other scenario came from a loved one who sent me a text just this Monday morning. “Question, Matthew 18:11 in the NLT doesn’t exist. It skips from verse 10 to 12. I got a message from someone I gifted the Bible to. I looked it up and found it was added later. Does that information sound accurate?” These examples reminded me that I have the opportunity to protect believers from the false notion that there is “something wrong with their Bible.” In order to maximize that opportunity I need to continue to grow in my knowledge of textual criticism. These questions will not be left in the classroom. They will come from the lips of parishioners, family members, or friends.

With Robertson, I want to be able to encourage Christians to marvel that “through the centuries of repeated copying by so many men in so many languages the text of the New Testament has suffered so little real damage.We may be sure that nothing essential has been lost.”[5]

            Unfortunately, I was unable to take New Testament Textual Criticism as an elective during my MDiv. Every student has to make choices and I chose a class on the Septuagint. It was a great class and I don’t regret it for a second, but I wish I would have had one more elective available! This brings us to an important question. Given that textual criticism is such a technical field and the pastor will likely never achieve expertise in it, should he simply ignore it? Robertson says absolutely not.[6]

“Even if one does not become an expert in it, he will gain a sense of independence in reaching probable conclusions that will be satisfying…There is also a splendid training in clear thinking in this study. One balances the various forms of evidence before he reaches his final conclusion. This mental process calls for insight, weighing evidence, delicate balancing of probabilities, clear grasp of the data, honesty in deciding. These qualities are not confined, to be sure, to this study, but they are so demanded by it that one gains a fine intellectual drill in the exercise of them.”[7]

I will never be an expert in any field, but for the pastor expertise is not the point. Robertson reminds us of the joy of doing difficult things! The task of textual criticism challenges and stretches the preacher in positive ways. As the nonspecialist pastor labors over the text and the evidence, “he will gain a sense of independence…that will be satisfying.”

            Theological retrieval is emphasized today and rightly so! However, we can’t move from text to theology if we don’t have a text. In Why Textual Criticism for the Preacher, Robertson reminds us that students and pastors can’t afford to abandon the seemingly dry work of textual criticism.

            “It is plain that no intelligent minister can afford to be indifferent to the textual criticism of the New Testament, the subject fascinates those who study it long enough to feel at home in it, and it repays amply all the work that one may devote to it.”


[1] A.T. Robertson, An Introduction to Textual Criticism of the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 1925) vii.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Stanley Porter and Andrew Pitts, Fundamentals of New Testament Textual Criticism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015) 1.

[4] A.T. Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament (New York: George H. Doran Company, 1926) 54.

[5] Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament, 64.

[6] A very important distinction needs to be made in regards to those who have theological education available to them and those who do not. Pastors and preachers who fill pulpits, work bi-vocationally, and/or have little access to theological education are a blessing. Ultimately 1 Timothy 3:1-7 provides the qualifications for an elder.

[7]  Robertson, Studies in the Text of the New Testament 58.

Wednesdays With Robertson

Jesus as a Soul-Winner

            If people know the name A.T. Robertson, they likely know it because of his Grammar of the Greek New Testament in Light of Historical Research, which has often been called “The Big Grammar.”[1] Other aspects of Robertson’s life and ministry are not ignored, but not as often discussed. In this inaugural Wednesday with Robertson we will look not at the grammarian or the professor, but the preacher. Late in Robertson’s life he collected and published two volumes of his sermons. The first volume Passing the Torch and Other Sermons was well received, encouraging Robertson to publish a second volume, Jesus as a Soul-Winner and Other Sermons. The feature sermon of volume two with all its eleven points will have our attention today.

            Preaching from John 4:1-42, Robertson wants his hearers to follow the example of Jesus in evangelistic zeal and method. The account that John gives is very personal and counter-cultural. It not only teaches us who Jesus is, but who we should be. Reflecting on the passage Robertson says that John  “…shows the Master in actual contact with an individual soul, precisely the point where so many ministers fail, who may preach eloquent sermons to the crowd. And yet most people won to Christ are brought one at a time, as the result of a personal word.”[2] Robertson presents Jesus as the model of personal evangelism, the exemplar of a soul-winner.

            Jesus pursues the evangelistic opportunity despite his tired and weary body. John tells us that Jesus had been travelling and was sitting, “wearied as he was from his journey” (John 4:6). Today it is easy for Christians to read past the narrator’s remarks, but Robertson takes note of them and reminds us that even though John’s Gospel was written to defend Jesus’ divinity, “no Gospel brings out more sharply the human side of the Master’s emotions.” Christians might find a number of reasons to not share the gospel. We are often too preoccupied with our lives, our social comfort, and personal time that we hesitate to evangelize.  Like many people we encounter in life the Samaritan woman “…was a stranger to Jesus, and His weariness was excuse enough for him not to try to win her soul. But Jesus was never too tired to do good, and so He took the initiative Himself.”

            Personalism is fundamental for personal evangelism and Jesus models what it means to be personal with the woman at the well. His interaction with her begins by asking for a drink of water—a completely natural thing to do by a tired traveller. With humor Robertson contrasts Jesus’ approach with the social awkwardness that manifests with zealous, but unempathetic evangelists,

Soul-winners make a stupendous blunder by a direct attack on the citadel of the soul, like the overwrought preacher who met a man on the road and blurted out, “Sir, are you prepared to die?” The poor man thought a bandit was holding him up.”

Evangelism by presentation is certainly better than not doing evangelism at all, but Robertson pulls no punches when he says, “The poorest way in the world is to apply a rule of thumb out of some handbook, and put the victim through a catechism.” For Robertson, evangelism is Christians turning everyday personal conversations into gospel opportunities.

            Jesus’ conversation is counter-cultural and controversial. Jesus was not just talking to a woman, but to a Samaritan woman. Jesus, Robertson tells us “overcame the race and national prejudice of His day and brushed it off as nothing.” During the conclusion of his sermon Robertson urges his hearers to abandon racial prejudice in order to fulfill the great commission, “There is no room, with such a harvest before one, for race prejudice, class prejudice, or any other kind.” This is a rather clear statement from a man who roughly 20-30 years prior to this sermon’s publication wrote a glowing review of a book that espoused racist ideology. [3]The book reviewed was Thomas Dixon’s, The Leopard’s Spots and was Southern propaganda to spread the Lost Cause mythology.[4] I can only hope that Robertson’s views were sanctified to repentance and that Jesus as a Soul-Winner represents such a change, but I do not know that and believe it would be irresponsible not to make readers aware of Robertson’s earlier errors.[5] The sins of our heroes are often difficult to talk about. Robertson the grammarian, the professor, and the preacher did so much worth appreciating and emulating, but I believe the healthiest way to appreciate our human heroes is to be intentionally mindful of their flaws, especially when they are egregious.

Although Jesus began with everyday conversation, he used the water to turn the conversation to spiritual things. Robertson notes that Jesus “made a parable of the water and told her of the water of life.” The Samaritan woman didn’t understand what Jesus meant by “living water,” and wondered how Jesus could give living water with nothing to draw with. Even after Jesus tells her that his water, “will become like a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” she still believes Jesus is referring to literal water. Robertson wants his hearers to follow Jesus’ perseverance, “…Jesus saw her failure, but did not lose patience, he did not give her up as a hopeless case, as we often do.”

It is one thing to hear about living water and quite another to know you need it. Jesus asking about the woman’s husband reveals her need, but when Jesus pushes back on her claim that she has no husband she quickly changes the subject. “Our fathers worship on this mountain but you say Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:20).  Robertson uses the woman’s statement to relate to his audience.

In personal interviews[6], I have many a time had those under conviction of sin try to turn the talk from their own sins to theological problems which must be settled before surrender to Christ. Jesus does not incline to answer her inquiry, whatever her motive, but He gives her one of the profoundest truths of his teaching, that God is Spirit, and is independent of place and nation, and is worshipped in spirit and truth anywhere by any one, whether Jew, Samaritan, or Gentile.”

The Samaritan woman shows she is receptive when she says, “I know that Messiah is coming” and so Jesus finally reveals himself to her, “I who speak to you am he.” With joy Robertson speaks of the woman’s conversion,

“There was, beyond doubt, a mental shock to the woman, not fear but a flash of light upon her soul, that revealed Him as the Living Water of which He had spoken, that ‘bubbled up into eternal life.’ The Light and the Life entered into her soul, and now she understood His knowledge of her life. She took Him at His word and was saved. Let us thank God that the way of life is so simple as this, like the trust of a little child, of an untutored woman.”

 Robertson appeals to Jesus’ satisfaction with doing the will of God (John 4:34) to inspire his hearers to desire such a feeling, “This is heaven on earth to the soul-winner, to see the light break into the heart and face of a lost sinner. This was Christ’s real work.” Many Christians cannot remember the last time they had this type of experience, but Robertson makes us hope for it and confident we will still.

            Bringing it all together as good preachers often do Robertson picks up on the Samaritans reception to the woman and to Jesus, especially that he is the “Savior of the world” (John 4:42). Concluding, Robertson leaves us with the universal scope of God’s good news in Jesus.

“And they call Jesus not the Messiah of the Jews or the Samaritans, though He was both, but “the Saviour of the World.” These Samaritans caught the world mission of Jesus and boldly proclaimed it, apart from national prejudice. This is missions, this is evangelism, this is the gospel for the world today.”

In eleven points the grammarian proves to be a man of the great commission. In Jesus as a Soul-Winner Robertson provides the example of personal evangelism in Jesus. When we fail and begin to feel discouraged, perhaps we’ll remember Jesus standing at the well as an evangelist, always doing perfectly what we struggle to do and with a new resolve be mindful of turning every day conversations into gospel conversations, so that we might experience a glimpse of heaven, “the light breaking into the heart and face of a lost sinner.”


[1] There is a smaller grammar written with his student and then colleague W. Hersey Davis. Given the difference in size it might as well be called “The micro grammar.” The volume I own of Jesus of a Soul Winner seems to have been gifted to a man named Sam Harvey from Davis’ wife. Written in blue ink-pen inside of the cover is  “Sam Harvey, From- Mrs. William Hersey Davis.

[2] All quotations come from Jesus As a Soul-Winner in Archibald Thomas Robertson, Jesus As a Soul-Winner And Other Sermons (New York: Fleming H. Revell Company)

[3] http://www.sbts.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/Racism-and-the-Legacy-of-Slavery-Report-v4.pdf Accessed January 20, 2019.

[4] Ibid.

[6] By “personal interview” Robertson is referring to what we would call a gospel conversation.

Wednesdays With Robertson

As a young seminary student I became fascinated with the life and scholarship of A.T. Robertson. This fascination was soon met with frustration. To my knowledge there are no scholarly biographies on his life, ministry, and scholarship. There is the biography by Everett Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography that was published in 1943, but it is not exhaustive or critical.

Given the lack of secondary sources on Robertson, I began to collect works written by Robertson himself. Although he is well known as a grammarian, he was also a sound expositor who loved to preach. The following is from a biographical sketch of Robertson I wrote in seminary,

His place as an academic was sealed when after attempting to be a seminary professor and pastor of New Castle Baptist Church, Robertson realized he didn’t possess the stamina to be faithful to both.[1] He would go on to resign from the pastorate. It was this decision that permanently cements Robertson’s fate. Although he would not pastor a church, he would train those who would.

 It would be a mistake to conclude that because Robertson stepped down from the pulpit he was not a gifted preacher. Robertson was a mighty expositor and well sought after. Gill wrote of Robertson, “…his scholarship only increased his ability as a preacher. It gave body and lasting worth to his preaching.”[2] Although it is perhaps a great overstatement when Gill says, “there was no preacher like him among all his contemporaries” it is true that Robertson was anything but a dry academic.

Because I have a desire to learn more about the life and ministry of A.T. Robertson, I have decided to write brief reflections on his sermons, books, and scholarly contributions. My primary motivation is to learn about Robertson while also growing as a writer. If readers do engage with these posts it is important to note that I am simply a pastor who is very interested in Robertson’s life. Any critical remarks about his life and ministry need to be considered in that light.

See you Wednesday!

The love of Christ “is deep as human sin, and can touch the lost and loveless. It is as high as heaven itself, and comes out of the very heart of God who is love, and Christ is God’s love incarnate.”- A.T. Robertson


[1] Gregory Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1859-2009 (Oxford University Press, 2009) 270

[2] Gill, A.T. Robertson: A Biography

[3] Gregory Wills, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, 270

Motivation and Spiritual Formation

In his biography of Michael Jordan, Roland Lazenby recalls an important moment in Jordan’s childhood. While young Michael was assisting his Dad with fixing a car, James Jordan requested a particular wrench from his son. After watching his son fumble, unable to locate the correct size, James Jordan barked, “You don’t know what the h— you’re doing. Go in there with the women!”

This encounter replayed in Jordan’s mind. It became the fuel to his competitive fire. He didn’t belong with the women and he would do whatever it took to prove it. Reflecting on this incident, Michael’s sister Deloris recalled:

During the early days of his NBA career, [Jordan] confessed that it was my father’s early treatment of him and Daddy’s declaration of his worthlessness that became the driving force that motivated him…Each accomplishment that he achieved was his battle cry for defeating my father’s negative opinions of him.

One might conclude that Jordan’s motivation proved successful. He is, after all, considered to be the greatest professional basketball player of all-time. If all that matters are trophies that will ultimately turn to dust, then Jordan’s motivation certainly proved successful.

What struck me; however, were not the trophies and accomplishments, but the way in which Jordan’s motivation formed him into a particular type of person. Throughout Jordan’s career he made people feel the worthlessness that he once felt, berating them, mocking them, in what seemed to be an effort to bring out their best. To Jordan, everyone needed to prove his or her worth. What motivated Jordan formed him over time into the worst parts of his own father.

Motivations matter. And it’s a lesson I recently needed to hear.

While I was in seminary, I counted on going on to earn a PhD after completing my master’s. For three years I planned, prepared, and desired to do this. This goal dictated my class schedule, how I spent my winter and summer breaks, and the networks I chose for myself. All the while, I never paused and reflected honestly on what motivated this desire.

One spring break, I opened Lazenby’s biography of Michael Jordan, and suddenly the sinful layers of own heart lay open front of me. I realized that while growing up, I had often battled the feeling of worthlessness. For the majority of my childhood I modeled mediocrity. My grades were hardly excellent; I lacked athletic talent, and progressed in nothing to call my own. Making this worse was being surrounded in Western KY/ Southern, IL by men who were almost all tough, hard-working, and void of strong emotion. I was none of those things. For these reasons, a crisis of identity seemed to follow me year after year.

I would eventually become the first person in my immediate family to attend college, but the crisis followed. I spent the majority of my college career attempting to dispel these beliefs about myself without even realizing it.

I had to finally confront myself with the “why” of doing doctoral work. I broke down and admitted that I didn’t possess a burning passion to teach or a genuine desire to contribute to scholarly knowledge. I didn’t even have a strong desire to write, or publish—all fine reasons to pursue a PhD!

What motivated me was the desire to prove my own worth; to prove to myself that I wasn’t stupid, mediocre, or worthless.

Unfortunately, I came to realize that, like Michael Jordan, my motivation had formed me into a type of person. Rather than viewing my professors as helpful teachers, they became monsters I feared. I was paralyzed by the dread that they wouldn’t like me. I sat in class nervously hoping I wouldn’t hear something to the effect of, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing!” I also dreaded my friends as they became comparative measuring sticks for my own success, rather than comrades. This gnawing fear and drive left me with good grades, but I robbed myself of experiencing them in purity. My motivations formed me into something less than God intended me to be.

With this new knowledge about myself, I did the only thing I could do—I repented. I made a conscious decision to no longer pursue a PhD, the very thing I had coveted for the past three years. For me (and me alone) the achievement was not worth the price of what I would have had to become. The pursuit of a good thing with deviant motivations was wrong.

Like the old hymn says, “My worth is not in what I own,” but in the God who created me in His image and set his love on me before the foundation of the world. This love appeared in real time in Christ crucified and risen. It was then applied to me by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. I am made by Christ and for Christ. My acceptance by my heavenly Father gives me the grounds on which to fight my fears and insecurities, and the gospel of grace purifies my motivations.

Why we do something is just as important as what we do. Our motivations reveal what we believe about ourselves and about those with whom we interact. In the Christian life this means that our motivations reveal what we really believe about God and what we really believe about our standing before God. The only proper motivation is the grace of God in Christ Jesus. If this can be what motivates us in all of life then we can trust it will also overflow into our being and slowly form us into the type of person God intends us to be.

*This post was improved because of suggestions by Samuel James.

 

No Shame in Needing a Tutor: Confession and Encouragement to fellow Seminary Students.

Nathaniel R. Martin

When I first took Greek and Hebrew in undergrad I didn’t do very well. There I said it. No, my grades weren’t horrendous, but I didn’t learn the language. I sat through the class miserable, because I failed to do simple things that would have helped me. I failed to understand myself. I wasn’t honest about what it took for me to learn something that difficult. Furthermore, I also lacked the work ethic to seek help.

totally-stressed

Unfortunately, this was symptomatic of a lifelong struggle. For the majority of my life, I have struggled with the reality that things just don’t come as easy to me as they do for other people. I have always just been “average” so to speak. I often don’t do well with open response questions, as if I experience some sort of random aphasia when asked a question in class. I always need reinforcement from different…

View original post 607 more words

The God Who Reveals

In a recent course I was required to summarize my personal convictions concerning the doctrine of revelation. I was very much blessed by being required to formulate and then communicate a personal statement of belief regarding this doctrine. I hope to write more of these in the future which help clarify my own thoughts. I look forward to any criticisms you might have.

 

The God Who Reveals

It is unthinkable to formulate a doctrine of revelation without mention of the God who reveals. The Christian faith is unique in worshiping a God who is both there and not silent.[1] Before one can have a doctrine of revelation one must have a doctrine of God that allows for revelation. The God of Scripture is such a God.

The assumption of the Bible is that there is a triune God: one God existing in three persons, who has created all things. The manner in which the triune God creates is through His word. Eight times in Genesis creation comes from the voice of God, “And God said…” (Gen. 1:3,6,9,11,14,20,24,26). This is not only evident from observing the narrative in Genesis, but also in clear in the teaching of the New Testament. Hebrews 11:3 reads, “By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” God’s word then is God’s action. Therefore, they cannot be separated. Where God’s word is He is. God works through the power and authority of his word.

God Revealed as Covenant Lord

If God is the creator of all things then there is an obvious distinction between God and his creation. God is not his creation and creation is not God. The purpose then of God revealing himself is to be in covenant relationship with his creation. It is God’s desire to be known as covenant Lord. Furthermore, he can be known in no other way-for that is who He is. As one theologian has said, “The chief message of the Old Testament is God is Lord. The chief message of the New Testament is Jesus Christ is Lord.”[2]

God’s General Revelation through Creation

We have discussed that the God of the Bible has spoken, is the creator of all things, and is covenant Lord. It is clear that God has revealed himself, but how has he chosen to do so?

One of the ways in which God has chosen to reveal himself is through his creation. Psalm 19:1 states, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” In other words, God’s creation testifies to the glory of God as creator. Above it was stated that God works through the power and authority of his word. It is these realities which creation testifies to. The power of God as creator is seen within his creation. The creator-creation distinction aids here as well, for this distinction includes that God is authoritative above his creation. The Lordship of God is painted in the clouds of the air and in the movement of the sea.

The New Testament also teaches that God has revealed himself through his creation. Acts 14:15 says, “…you should turn from these vain things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” So here creation points to the God who created it, but Acts takes a step further by claiming that a witness to God is found in how God works through creation. Acts 14:17 reads, “yet he did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” God’s work in creation results in provision for man, which results in their “gladness.” In this way it is appropriate to say that all people experience God’s common grace.

The passages above show that God has revealed himself in creation. However, the questions remains, how much can be known about God from creation? Romans 1:19 states. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.” Paul then elaborates on what can be known about God. It is not merely knowledge that God exists, but knowledge of “…his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature…” Note that it is namely God’s power that can be known. It has been noted earlier that power is an essential part of God’s covenantal lordship. These attributes of God are “clearly perceived…since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.”

At this point two things need to be said. First, the knowledge of God, which can be gained from general revelation, is limited. That is to say, God cannot be known fully or in the manner he desires to be known exclusively through general revelation. However, this is not to speak negatively of God’s general revelation. Romans 1:21-25 informs readers that the primary problem is not the nature of general revelation, but the response of man. Man, because of sin, has misunderstood the creator/creature distinction we spoke of earlier. Rather than responding to creation with the recognition of God’s Lordship they worship the creation. What could be known of God is suppressed and exchanged for a lie. So, according to vs. 19, all people are without excuse, because God’s Lordship being perceived was suppressed. General revelation provides enough knowledge of God to condemn, but it is insufficient to bring people into a covenantal relationship with God. God intends to be in covenant relationship through his Word. It is to the Word of God that we now turn.

God’s Special Revelation through the Word of God

       The term Word of God will be reserved for Jesus as the Word of God incarnate and Scripture as the Word of God canonized. Although it may be tempting to place all of revelation under the broader umbrella of “Word of God” there is enough scriptural evidence to stand by the distinction. First, scripture makes clear that Jesus is the Word. John 1 makes this abundantly clear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” However note the distinction made in vs.3 and 10. Creation came into being through the Word of God. Twice John tells us that all things were made through Jesus who is the Word of God. Paul also communicates this in Colossian when he writes, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible…” So it seems that creation comes by the word, but is not itself the Word of God. After considering these passages it seems best to reserve the category of “Word of God” for Jesus and Scripture.

God’s Special Revelation through Jesus

       Jesus is indeed the ‘Word of God’ (John 1:1-4). It is through Jesus as the Word by which all of creation comes into existence. Creation is not the only thing Jesus does as the Word. God also speaks through Jesus. Hebrews 1:1-2 says, “Long ago, at many times and in may ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he spoke to us by his Son…through whom he also created the world.” God is revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. In the Gospel of John Jesus testified that he and the Father are one (John 10:30). Furthermore, it is made clear that God desires to be known through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those who believe in the Son also believe the Father. Whoever ‘sees’ Jesus thus ‘sees’ the Father (John 12:45). This is made most explicit in John 14:6, “…no one comes to the Father except through me.” Later Jesus again tells the disciples that he reveals the Father (John 14:10-11).

During the discussion on general revelation it was stated that only a limited knowledge of God could be gained from creation. Again this is no negative remark against God’s general revelation. The New Testament clarifies that God desires to be know in relationship through his Word. This means that God is properly known through the gospel. By proper relationship it is meant that God desires to be known in a covenantal relationship and worshiped as covenant Lord through Jesus Christ. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus brings proper knowledge of God to all those who believe. 1 John 1:1-3 refers to Jesus as the word of life made manifest which brings eternal life in God the Father.

God’s Special Revelation through Scripture

       In what way might Scripture be called the Word of God? This is an important question and the answer rests in the fullness of Scripture’s testimony to itself. In the Pentateuch, the most important of Israel’s scriptures, is the repeated refrain, “And the Lord spoke to…” This is not only found in narratives, but in Leviticus and Deuteronomy where God speaks and then Moses writes down what God has said (Leviticus 1:1-2; Deuteronomy 1:3). Furthermore, the prophets consistently claim that their message is the Word of God (Isaiah 1:10, 8:1,11; Jeremiah 1:4, 2:1, 3:6; Ezekiel 1:3; Hosea 1:1-2; Joel 1:1; Amos 1:3,5,6,8,9,11,13; Obadiah 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zephaniah 1:1; Haggai 1:1; Zechariah 1:1; Malachi 1:1).[3] Not only does the Old Testament consistently claim to be the Word of God, but also the New Testament authors treated it as such. When referring to Psalm 2 the author of Acts reports that the Psalm was, “said by the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 4:25) When quoting Isaiah Luke also states of the prophet, “For so the Lord commanded us, saying…” (Acts 13:47). The author of Hebrews also credits Old Testament quotations to the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 3:7, 10:15). Considering the numerous examples it is important to understand that Scripture testifies that it is the very Words of God.

What is the character of the Holy Scriptures? 2 Peter 1:21 speaks of the human authors being “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” The result is that they “spoke from God.” Perhaps more explicit is 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is breathed out by God…” The words in Scripture are the Words of God. When the words are read an encounter with God takes place. The consistent testimony of the Old Testament and the clear teaching of these New Testament passages should lead us to conclude that the words of Scripture are God’s personal Word to us. This means that these words can be trusted, for God is a good and faithful God. This means that these words are authoritative, for He is revealed as covenant Lord. This means that these words have power, for to read the words of Scripture is to encounter the living God (1 Thessalonians 1:5; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 4:12-13).

What is the nature of the Holy Scriptures? Earlier it was argued that in revelation God intends to be in covenant relationship with his people through His word. The Scriptures then are covenantal in form and content. The meta-narrative of Scripture is that God is bringing His inaugurated-kingdom through covenant. Each covenant in the Old Testament is fulfilled in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:1-13). The scriptures are covenantal in form in that they reveal who God is and establish a relationship between Him and His people. As believers read the Scriptures they are interacting with the living God and His living Word. The Scriptures are instructions for all things concerning life and godliness. Those who believe, submit, and worship God through his word will be blessed. Those who disobey the covenantal word will be cursed. In this way, it is appropriate to say that Scripture is God’s covenantal presence with his people. Where God’s word is- He is.

Reading the Scriptures as God’s Covenant People

It was stated earlier that general revelation couldn’t bring proper knowledge of God. By this it was meant that God desires to be known in covenant relationship with his people through His word. The only way this is achieved is God’s work through His Word, primarily in Jesus and the gospel, but also the Word of God canonized which testifies to God’s faithfulness to His covenant. Therefore, Scripture cannot be read properly unless God’s covenant people indwelt by the Holy Spirit read it. Anyone may read the Bible and understand its basic message, history, and teaching, but this is not to read the Bible properly. Those in covenant relationship with God will respond to God’s covenant Word in obedience, reverence, and mission. Unless the Scriptures are obeyed, lived, and taught it has not been read properly.

This does not mean that believers cannot read the Bible for information. Too often people hear “the bible is not a textbook” and assume the Scriptures should not be studied seriously. This is an over-reaction. The bible should be read and its content studied vigorously. However, if this is where Bible reading ends a great tragedy has occurred. As the covenant people of God the Scriptures should be read with eager expectation, that the living God is being encountered through His living Word. The Scriptures should be read asking what God is saying now and what response is needed. However, this sometimes can be difficult. Therefore, it is important to join the covenant people of God in reading in Scripture in community. This will help readers avoid faulty readings of Scripture and allow mutual edification among the church.

Conclusion

God has revealed himself as covenant Lord. He has chosen to do so through two necessary means: creation (general revelation) and his Word (Jesus and the Scriptures). Both are necessary because God has delighted to reveal himself in this way. Without general revelation much of Scripture would make no sense. Without special revelation proper knowledge of God could not be had. Proper knowledge of God is accessed though the gospel. Through the gospel sinners become God’s covenant people. These covenant people then read the Bible in a covenant relationship, for the Scriptures are his covenantal presence, which are both powerful and authoritative.

[1] To borrow the famous phrases of Francis Schaeffer.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010) 10

[3] This is not exhaustive, but sufficient enough to show the consistency.