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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

If every part of Scripture is divine


distinction between the word of God and Scripture also serves to distinguish between the divine and the human elements in Scripture, and to give each its proper place.

Infallibility and divine authority belong to the sphere of faith and of the witness of the Spirit, and, therefore, to that personal manifestation of God and of His will toward us which is conveyed or presented to us in every part of Scripture. But this manifestation is given in a course of events which are part of human history, in lives of men and peoples, in a record which in outward form is like other human writings. If every part of Scripture is divine, every part of it is also human. The supernatural reality is incased in human realities. To apprehend the former, faith illumined by the Holy Spirit is necessary; but it is sufficient to use the ordinary methods of research to learn the credibility of the history in Scripture. When the Reformers distinguished between the word of God and Scripture which conveys or presents it, and when they declared that the authority and infallibility of that word belonged to the region of faith, they made that authority and infallibility altogether independent of questions that might be raised about the human agencies through which the book came into its present shape. It is not a matter belonging to the region of faith when the books which record the word of God were written, or by whom, or in what style, or how often they were edited or re-edited.

It is not a matter for faith whether incidents happened in one country or in another; whether the account of Job be literal history, or a poem based on old traditions in which the author has used the faculty of imagination to illustrate the problems of God's providence and man's probation; whether genealogical tables give the names of men or of countries and peoples. All these and the like matters belong to the human side of the record. No special illumination of faith is needed to apprehend and understand them. They are matters for the ordinary faculties of man, and subject to ordinary human investigation. Luther availed himself freely of the liberty thus given. He never felt himself bound to accept the traditional ideas about the extent of the canon, the authorship of the books of the Bible, or even about the credibility of some of the things recorded. He said, speaking about Genesis, "What though Moses never wrote it?"(418) It was enough for him that the book was there and that he could read it. He thought that the Books of Kings were more worthy of credit than the Books of Chronicles;(419) and he believed that the prophets had not always given the kings of Israel the best political advice.(420)

But while the Bible is human literature, and as such may be and must be subjected to the same tests which are applied to ordinary literature, it is the record of the revelation of God, and has been carefully guarded and protected by God. This thought always enters into the conception which the Reformers had of Scripture. They speak of the singular care and providence of God which has preserved the Scriptures in such a way that His people always have a full and unmistakable declaration in them of His mind and will for their salvation. This idea for ever forbids a careless or irreverent biblical criticism, sheltering itself under the liberty of dealing with the records of revelation. No one can say beforehand how much or how little of the historic record is essential to preserve the faith of the Church; but every devout Christian desires to have it in large abundance. No one can plead the liberty which the principles of the Reformers secure for dealing with the record of Scripture as a justification in taking a delight in reducing to a minimum the historical basis of the Christian faith. Careless or irreverent handling of the text of Holy Scripture is what all the Reformers abhorred.(421)

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