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Calvin’s Defense of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
August 27, 2022 12:01 am

Calvin’s Defense of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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August 27, 2022 12:01 am

As he rigorously studied the Bible, John Calvin noticed several objective evidences within its pages that display the divine origin of Scripture. Today, R.C. Sproul appeals to these proofs for the reliability of God's Word.

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Coming up next on Renewing Your Mind. No book has been subjected to such care with respect to its preservation. Of all of the books of the ancient world, no volume has been subjected to the critical evaluation and care of scribes and copyists to preserve the text as has the Bible. For us to believe that the Bible is true, we need to trust its integrity and authority. And throughout church history, men have come up with various ways to defend the authority of the Bible.

Today on Renewing Your Mind, Dr. R.C. Sproul continues his apologetic series with a message that examines John Calvin's unique take on defending Scripture. We come now to the last in our series of discussions regarding the integrity and the authority of the Bible. And though we've just touched lightly on some of the key issues related to the defense of the Scripture, there are some interesting arguments that have been advanced in church history to defend Scripture, I think especially of the work of John Calvin in the 16th century when in his famous work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, he gave some rather unusual arguments for the authority of sacred Scripture. Calvin, of course, was fully cognizant that the Bible was written by human authors, but nevertheless was persuaded that the Bible was because of divine inspiration, still the veritable Word of God, and should be received with as much authority as if God Himself had been heard to speak audibly. Now, in The Institutes, Calvin goes through several reasons, objective reasons, from the Scriptures themselves, which he believed were significant proofs of the authority of the Bible. And we would call these proofs, as it were, internal arguments or internal evidence for the Scripture as distinguished from external support arguments that would come through the science of archaeology and the like. And I say that this is somewhat interesting to me because rarely in this day do we hear people arguing for the authority of Scripture along the same lines that Calvin did.

But because of his role in church history, I think it's important that we afford him the philosophy of a second glance here. When Calvin looked at the text of Scripture itself and considered what he called the internal evidence, and the word that he used for proofs was the word indicia, which are the indicators, the objective evidence that display the supernatural origin of Scripture. And some of the evidence that he gave attention to included such things as the antiquity of Scripture. That's why I say it sounds a little bit strange because today we don't argue for the truth of a document simply by virtue of its age.

But what Calvin was getting at here is that from general revelation, the self-manifestation of God that comes through nature is something that has been with the human race since the very dawn of creation, and that God did not wait great eons before He supplemented that general revelation with the written revelation of His Word. And so Calvin is impressed that the Scriptures have been around for quite a long time. And not only that, but in the history of the existence of the Bible, both Old and New Testament, in the first instance we would say that no book has been subjected to such care in all of its details with respect to its preservation. Of all of the books of the ancient world, no volume has been subjected to the critical evaluation and care of scribes and copyists to preserve the text as has the Bible. Secondly, no book from antiquity has been subjected to anything near the careful scrutiny of its details as the Holy Bible has been. That is, no book of antiquity has been subjected to so much careful analysis, criticism, distillation, distillation, and so on, as had the Bible. And in light of the overwhelming careful analysis of its content, it not only remains in existence, but persistently remains the number one best-selling piece of written literature every year in the world.

So that in a very real sense, it has survived the test of time, and it has survived the test of the radical assault that has been launched against it in the last two centuries. So that if Calvin was impressed by the longevity of Scripture in the sixteenth century, I'm sure he'd be even more impressed by its current status today through all of the avalanche of criticism to which it's been subjected. But then he also speaks in terms of the Scripture as another evidence, the heavenliness of the matter.

Now this is again something that you almost never hear argued today, and yet it's an idea that Calvin uses that I find resonating with my personal experience of dealing with Scripture. My academic background, of course, began in college where I was a philosophy major. And from college I went on to seminary where I studied theology but also continued studies in philosophy. And then in my graduate work in Europe, I continued my studies in theology in the context of higher critical theorists and so on, but also in graduate school continued the pursuit of the study of philosophy. Now one of the reasons I mention that is that in the study of philosophy as a major, as an academic discipline, that discipline perhaps more than any other discipline prepares and exposes the students to the rigorous process of critical analysis. One of the very first things you learn in the study of philosophy is that not everything that appears in print is true or trustworthy, and that there are certain principles of analysis of verification and falsification that one should bring to the text of written literature as one assesses the cogency of arguments, for example. Now having been through that particular academic crucible, I certainly learned very early to read the works of the philosophers with a comb and not just to assume that everything that I was reading was sound or true.

And so I have brought that supply of knowledge and gifts from my own background to every piece of literature I read. However, I find something remarkable, that when I'm reading the pages of sacred Scripture, I find that what's happening is that the pages of Scripture are criticizing me rather than my criticizing the Scripture. There is a content of Scripture that I find so far beyond the most creative and brilliant insights of brilliant people that I stand in amazement at what the scope of Scripture deals with, what Calvin calls the heavenliness of the matter, and how the Scripture speaks of the character of God in such a profound way that the profundity of what is communicated in the pages of Scripture has kept me busy my entire life trying to plumb its depths, and I realize if I had three more lifetimes to live, I would still only be scratching the surface of the transcendent majesty of the content of this book. And I'm amazed when people are either bored by the pages of Scripture or hostile when they read its pages because of the beauty of the truth and the clarity of that truth that is manifest in it.

C.S. Lewis used to speak of what he called intuitively that which has the ring of truth, that when you hear it you know you are listening to truth, the kind of thing that David in the Old Testament did not want to hear but was forced to hear when the prophet Nathan came to him with the manifestation of David's sin. And when he, David, heard it, his eyes were opened, his ears were unplugged, his ears were unplugged, and he recognized it as the truth of God. I liken this also to the situation of Eli in the Old Testament. His sons were undisciplined, and Eli had failed to bring them into a proper order of discipline. And you will recall that the young man Samuel was entrusted to the charge of Eli. And in one evening while Eli and Samuel were both asleep, a voice came that Samuel heard saying, Samuel. And Samuel woke up and he went over and he began to shake Eli saying, did you call me?

And Eli said, no, you must have had indigestion, I've been signed asleep, go back to bed. A few minutes later again the voice comes, Samuel. And Samuel comes back and shakes Eli awake again, and Eli tells him, wait a minute, if this happens again, this may be God. And so, sure enough, a few moments later, the name of Samuel is heard again repeated, Samuel, Samuel. And Samuel this time replied saying, speak Lord, for Thy servant hears. And then God revealed to Samuel the impending judgment that He was going to bring against the house of Eli. Now, when that happened in the morning, Eli said to Samuel, did God speak to you? He said, yes. And Eli said, tell me what He said.

Samuel said, no. He didn't want to give this horrible news to Eli. And Eli realized there was something going on here, and he said, listen, young man, you tell me what God said to you, or if you don't, may whatever He said will come upon you. And so Samuel then recounted to Eli the content of the message of judgment that God had given to Samuel. And the thing that is remarkable to me is that when Eli heard that message, his response was this, it is the Lord. That is, in that Word from on high, the heavenly message was understood and recognized instantly by Eli, even though it was a message he didn't want to hear.

That's what I'm talking about. When I'm reading through the pages of Scripture, there are many things that the Scriptures say that I don't want to hear, that make me uncomfortable. And yet, as Jesus says, my sheep hear my voice. And I sense the heavenliness of the matter, and I think I now understand exactly what Calvin is talking about. But again, those who don't sense the heavenliness of the matter are not duly persuaded by it.

Calvin also talks about the harmony of all of the parts of Scripture, where the critics try to do everything they can to mount discrepancies. One gospel writer says at the day of resurrection there were two angels present. Another one mentions one angel, and people say, aha, here we have a contradiction in the sources. Well, of course, it's not a contradiction unless the Scripture one writer says there was only one angel and the other one says there are two angels, then you have a contradiction.

But if there were two angels there, then manifestly there had to be one. And if one writer only mentions one, that is a variant account from the other one who mentions two, but they're not contradictory. But people are too quick to judge the Scriptures. And again, I think one of the most salutary benefits that a Christian can have who struggles with this is to just go get a book that has all of the difficulties presented by the higher critics and then see the resolutions that have been offered. That's what I've had to do through my history, and I say I could write an orthodox commentary on all of Scripture, defending every part of it without ever quoting a conservative source. Because for every five critics who question one text, there are five critics that are questioning a different text but affirming this text over here.

You can see the way that particular process goes. But again for me, the intricate harmonization and unity that comes across in sacred Scripture to me is something that I have never seen in any other book in my life. Now, also one of the things that people object to of sacred Scripture is the, quote, morality of Scripture, that Scripture seems to teach a God who is unjust, who is mean, who imposes laws that are dehumanizing, and who slaughters people like He did in the flood, and so on. And yet if one would look at the Nicomachean ethics of Aristotle, which has also survived since antiquity as a classic in the field of ethics, it doesn't begin to rise to the level of justice that we find in the moral code of sacred Scripture. And people don't like to hear what the Bible says about morality. People don't like to hear that we are not to be engaged in adultery. But we all know, as Kant pointed out in his moral argument, the rightness of the righteous law of God as it is communicated in Scripture.

And again, as I read the law of God and my morality is placed against the norm of morality or ethics that is set forth in sacred Scripture, I find it somewhat dishonest to try to critique it rather than have it criticize me because it brings me under conviction. Now, these are just some of the internal matters, not to mention one of the most powerful internal tests and proofs of Scripture is prophecy. When you have people predicting things in the future, not in vague generalities, but with specific details that are then accurately and specifically fulfilled in the future, that reveals a supernatural origin of that information. It's been said that there are over 300 specific detailed prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament that are clearly fulfilled in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and that for that to happen by chance, it's been calculated that the odds against that are like not in the billions, not in the trillions, but like a googolplex to one.

So many zeros, you can't even count them against a happenstance fulfillment of all of these things in one person. This is interestingly one of the reasons why the Jesus Seminar today goes after prophecy because they know that the greatest internal argument for the divine origin of Scripture are these specific prophecies. You know, in the nineteenth century, nineteenth century liberalism assailed the virgin birth of Christ and tried to argue against the prophecy of Isaiah about the virgin who would conceive and bring forth a child that the New Testament sees fulfilled in the virgin birth of Jesus. But now the Jesus Seminar takes it a step further and are trying to argue against Jesus being born in Bethlehem. Really, in all of church history, there's not a speck of counter evidence that would argue against the historical site of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth. But why would that be on the agenda of the Jesus Seminar? Because in the Old Testament, the prophet Micah said, you know, thou Bethlehem, though thou be small among the tribes of Judah, yet out of thee will come the prince.

That is, the location of Bethlehem as the birth of the Messiah was one of those specific prophecies of the ancient world. Now, if I can hurry here for a moment, Calvin says that these and other arguments are objective proofs that in and of themselves prove the divine origin of sacred Scripture, and that these arguments are sufficiently powerful to stop the mouths of the obstreperous. However, he said, people will not be duly persuaded by this objective evidence, by this indicia, until that objective evidence is reinforced by the ministry and operation of the Holy Ghost.

Now, here we have to be very careful. Calvin talked about what he called the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, which is something that is not part of the objective evidence, but it is something that happens internally to us when the Holy Spirit persuades us as we come to the Scripture that we are indeed now meeting with nothing less than the truth of God. Now, Calvin is not retreating here to a subjectivistic mysticism, where I say, oh, well, there's no objective evidence to demonstrate the Bible is the Word of God. You just have to take it by faith. You believe it because the Holy Spirit speaks to your heart and all that sort of thing.

No, no, no. Here's what Calvin is saying. First of all, that in the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, it is not as though the Holy Spirit whispers into the heart of the believer or into the ear of the believer new information that nobody else has access to. That would be a Gnostic idea. Nor does it mean that the Holy Spirit gives an argument for the truth of Scripture that is unavailable to those who haven't had this internal experience. Again, that would be a form of mysticism. Rather, what Calvin is saying is that what the Holy Spirit does is causes the believer to acquiesce or surrender into the indicia.

Now, what does it mean to acquiesce into the indicia? Remember at the very beginning of this course, I made the distinction between proof and persuasion, and Calvin said because we are by nature hostile to the mind of God and to the truth of God, that even if God were to appear before us, even as Jesus said that if a dead man came back, people would still refuse to believe it because they don't want to believe it, even though the proof was impeccable, people are still not persuaded, not because they're dumb, but because they have this biased hostility toward the truth of God. And what Calvin is saying here is that what the Holy Spirit does is not give new evidence or more evidence or a new argument, but rather breaks down the barriers of our hostility in our hearts against the truth of God that now makes us willing to surrender to the plain evidence that's there. So for him, he's speaking like Paul does in his letter to the Corinthians in chapter 2 when he speaks about these truths that are spiritually discerned that are then embraced when the Holy Spirit breaks down the walls of our antipathy against them. Yes, Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 that the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God because they are folly to him. That's the basis of John Calvin's thinking on the authority of Scripture.

The message we just heard is from Dr. R.C. Sproul's series, Defending Your Faith. It's his 32-part overview of classical apologetics, and we return to it each Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind. As followers of Christ, we are to be prepared to give a reason for the hope that is within us. So we'd like to send you this 11-DVD set. Simply contact us with a donation of any amount when you call us at 800-435-4343 or when you go online to High school and college students are on the front lines of our cultural decline, and defending their faith is becoming even more difficult. I hope you recognize the value of a study like this for that age group. When you contact us today, we will send you the special edition set of Defending Your Faith.

It includes a bonus disc that provides you with access to a digital copy of the study guide that provides an outline of each session, plus study questions and additional reading suggestions. So again, request Defending Your Faith by Dr. R.C. Sproul when you contact us today with your donation of any amount.

Our online address is and our phone number, 800-435-4343. Over the past few weeks, we've heard some compelling proofs and arguments that the Bible is God's Word. But next week, Dr. Sproul will show us the single most important claim. I hope you'll join us for that next week here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us for that next week here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-05 06:49:55 / 2023-03-05 06:57:57 / 8

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