Scott OliphantWe have one further point to make on this section, a point that could easily be overlooked but that is prescient in its affirmation, given current discussions of Scripture. Note that section 1 of the Westminster Confession of Faith, which is the only section that references the authorship of Scripture, says that Scripture has one author, and that its author is God.

For the Reformed, God, and God alone, is the author of Scripture. It is surely not the case that the Westminster divines were unaware of the fact that God used men to write his own Word. But they were jealous to maintain that, even though men were used to write God’s Word down, those men were not, in the fullest sense of the word, authors. Men used to write God’s Word were the ministers, used by God. Scripture’s author is God, who uses “actuaries” or “tabularies” to write his words. If the notion of authorship can be used with respect to these men they were themselves instrumental secondary authors.[1] Or, to use the causal language in use during this time, men were instrumental causes while God, and God alone, was the efficient cause of Scripture, and therefore could be referenced as the author of Scripture.

God is the primary author of Scripture, and men are instrumental secondary authors. And, if instruments, then what men write down is as much God’s own words as if he had written it down without human mediation. We should not lose sight of the fact that this section notes that Scripture’s author is God, not God and man. This notion of divine authorship is in keeping with the Scripture’s notion of itself, i.e., that it is theopneustos (“God-breathed,” 2 Tim. 3:16); it is not theo- and anthropopneustos (“man-breathed”).

In other words, what the confession sets out to affirm here is that Scripture is foundationally and essentially divine. In this entire chapter on the doctrine of Scripture, there is no mention of the human authors of Scripture. This is no oversight in the confession; it is not that the Reformers and their progeny did not recognize the human element of Scripture. It is not that they were not privy to extra-biblical sources and other cultural, contextual, and human elements that surround Scripture. Rather, it is in keeping with the testimony of Scripture itself about itself that the WCF affirms that Scripture is foundationally and essentially divine (though contingently, secondarily, and truly human).[2] This means for the Westminster Confession of Faith (and Reformed theology faithful to it) that the doctrine of Scripture is to be formulated and framed first of all according to itself as God’s Word (i.e., its self-witness).[3] The confession is setting forth the notion here, radical in its context, that one determines what Scripture is not by going somewhere outside of Scripture, but by Scripture itself. It carries its authority and its “doctrine” within itself. We come again to the notion of Scripture as the principium cognoscendi.

Second, and building on the first point, the divines understood that we cannot allow the so-called “phenomena” of Scripture, as important as those phenomena are, to establish a doctrine of Scripture, or to determine just what Scripture is. This principle is well articulated by B. B. Warfield. Speaking of the human writers of Holy Scripture, Warfield notes:

If they are trustworthy teachers of doctrine and if they held and taught this doctrine (i.e., of inspiration), then this doctrine is true, and is to be accepted and acted upon as true by us all. In that case, any objections brought against the doctrine from other spheres of enquiry are inoperative; it being a settled logical principle that so long as the proper evidence by which a proposition is established remains unrefuted, all so-called objections [based on the data or “phenomena” of Scripture] brought against it [Scripture’s self-witness] pass out of the category of objections to its truth into the category of difficulties to be adjusted to it. . . . The really decisive question among Christian scholars (among whom alone, it would seem, could a question of inspiration be profitably discussed), is thus seen to be, “What does an exact and scientific exegesis determine to be the Biblical doctrine of Inspiration?”[4]

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