KANSAS CITY, Mo. (BP)–How Southern Baptists answer the question of “how you know what you say you know is true” is reflected in their statement of faith, said Paige Patterson, speaking in the closing chapel of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Week of Preaching, Aug. 29-31.
Taking students through a Bible drill, Patterson described evidence that Jesus believed in the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible, as well as its infallibility and inerrancy.
In his first sermon of the week, Patterson spoke of “three profound, defining moments in the history of Christianity,” referring to heresies that spawned “intellectual activity and spiritual concern.” Each era led to the adoption of a conclusion widely accepted within Christendom, Patterson explained, regarding Christology, soteriology and epistomology. (News coverage of all three messages is available at www.mbts.edu.)
“After having occupied the first seven centuries of the church’s history discussing who is Jesus [the field of Christology], it then became necessary in the Reformation to decide how it is you get to Jesus once you’ve decided who he is [soteriology],” Patterson said. “The soteriological controversy determined whether or not the church should be viewed as the lifeboat or the lighthouse.” And with the Enlightenment came the question of whether such conclusions about Jesus Christ were true (the arena of epistemology).
The 1963 Baptist Faith and Message, Patterson explained, added two statements that had never been used in previous confessions of faith by Baptist groups. The Bible was presented as a record of revelation, with Jesus Christ as the supreme standard by which the Scriptures should be judged, Patterson said.
“On the surface, both of those seem to be perfectly understandable. The Bible is certainly a record of revelation. And certainly the standard by which the Scriptures are to be judged is Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation.” Patterson asked, “Why were they put into the 1963 statement and why were they taken out of the 2000 statement? And why is there so much commotion about it?”
Patterson cited the influence of followers of philosopher Immanuel Kant in wanting “wiggle room” to “kick all faith into the upper story” and say there is no way to verify one’s faith. “And since we cannot reduce it to any of the phenomena that we know, therefore it is purely a faith matter,” Patterson said in explaining the position of the 1963 revisionists. “And faith is basically up to the individual and there are no guarantees” of its truth, he further recounted, as compared to the scientific verification available for the law of thermodynamics.
“I’m glad we took it out,” Patterson said of the 1963 language. “We needed to take away the wiggle room.”
Borrowing the language of critics of the 2000 revision who insist that Jesus must be the standard by which Scripture should be judged, Patterson asked, “Do we not do the right thing to believe about the Bible what Jesus believed? Whatever it is Jesus thought and said about the Bible is what I ought to think and say about the Bible.”
Traditionally, evangelicals have said four things about the Bible, Patterson said, dealing with verbal and plenary inspiration as well as infallible and inerrant content. In order to show that Jesus believed in these same principles, Patterson directed his audience to Matthew 22. Jesus demonstrated his confidence in the verbal inspiration of Scripture on the basis of the Holy Spirit directing David to call his descendent Lord, Patterson observed.
“If they’d known the Scriptures they could have said this one is both the root — gives rise to David and was before David and Abraham and everybody else — but in incarnation becomes a son of David born to Jewish parents in the line of David, so he is both the root and the offspring of David.”
Turning to Luke 24:25, Patterson asserted Jesus’ belief in the plenary inspiration of Scripture, the belief that all of it is inspired of God. Jesus referred to the foolishness of the men for being slow to believe Moses and all the prophets, a typical Jewish reference to the whole of Scripture, Patterson explained.
“I never called anybody a fool for not believing everything that’s in the Bible,” Patterson emphasized. “Let the record show that was done by Jesus the Christ. I just read you what he said. That’s all. He said that a man who doesn’t believe all that is in the prophets is a fool.” Quoting Psalm 41:1, Patterson reminded, “‘The fool has said in his heart there is no God.’ And another kind of fool says, ‘Yes, there is no God, but we don’t know for sure that you can trust anything that he claims to have said.'”
Patterson asked, “How much of the Bible did Jesus believe? Every single solitary syllable of it. Don’t tell me you’re a disciple of Jesus Christ and you’re following him and he is the supreme standard by which the Scriptures can be interpreted, and then take a view contrary to that of Jesus concerning the Word of God.”
Moving on to Jesus’ perspective on infallibility of Scripture, Patterson said it means “the documents in the Bible properly understood and interpreted will lead to God and it will never lead you astray.”
Pointing to Jesus’ statement in John 5:39 as evidence that “the scriptures are they which testify of me,” Patterson reminded that almost nothing is known of Jesus except what is said in Scripture. Those who say they don’t follow Scripture so much as they follow Jesus should be asked, “Which Jesus?” Patterson said. “If you’re following the Jesus who’s the real Jesus and not some Jesus manufactured by the Jesus Seminar or Albert Schweitzer in years gone by, then you follow the Jesus of the Bible because the only place we know anything about Jesus is from the Bible.”
In John 5:45, Jesus declared that Moses wrote of him (Jesus), questioning how they would believe his words when they didn’t even believe the writings of Moses, Patterson recounted. He then paraphrased Jesus’ response in John 5:47, stating, “The truth is, you don’t believe me. The reason you don’t believe me is that you didn’t believe those who wrote about me.”
From Matthew 5:17-18, Patterson argued for Jesus’ belief in inerrancy, defined as a belief that “the Word of God as revealed in Old and New Testaments is without error, scientifically, historically, philosophically or theologically.” Patterson acknowledged poetic license, metaphor and figures of speech which served as “normal human language” by which the Bible could be understood.
Noting the use of a double negative for emphasis, Patterson said the text conveys the sense that “under no circumstances never” will any part of Scripture pass away. “Now Jesus said,” Patterson began, interjecting, “mind you Paige Patterson didn’t say, Adrian Rogers didn’t say, Jerry Vines didn’t say, Al Mohler didn’t say … Jesus said it,” he continued with a reminder that Jesus is “the supreme standard by which the New Testament and Old Testament will be judged.” He continued, “Jesus said the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet found in the Scripture shall not pass until heaven and earth pass away. That’s a pretty powerful claim.”
He described a “tittle” as an extended line on the end of the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. “You say, ‘My goodness, a tittle couldn’t be very important.'” Patterson admonished, “Don’t you dare leave your tittle off! If you leave your tittle off, you didn’t write a Beth [the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet] at all; you wrote another letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And because most Hebrew words are in three radicals, you changed the whole meaning of the word. You may have changed the whole sentence, the whole meaning of the paragraph just because you didn’t watch out for your tittle.”
To get a better sense of the size of a tittle, Patterson joked, “I got my Kittel and my ruler and I measured my tittles.” He concluded, “Jesus is saying, ‘Under no circumstances never shall the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet or a little mark of one thirty-second of an inch pass from my Word until all be fulfilled. Heaven and earth will pass away before that will happen.'”
Recalling Martin Luther’s defiance of the Pope during the Reformation, Patterson recalled that he determined that “the boy that drives a plow shall know more of the Scripture than the pope does.” He added, “That’s what Reformation Christianity is all about. That’s what biblical Christianity is all about. What Christ is all about is a sure word and revelation of God in the living word, Jesus Christ, and in the written word, the Bible, which is never to be separated from the Jesus, the living Word.”