An Exposition and Application of 1 Kings 13
Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer wrote a book about God entitled, He Is There and He Is Not Silent.1 In a terse way, this expresses two of the most basic convictions of the whole Christian religion. God exists and God speaks.
Theologians argue whether God’s existence can be proven without assuming it in the first place, with two conspicuous perspectives. Presuppositionalism championed by scholars like Cornelius Van Til argues that God’s existence is patently obvious to all and that men only become atheists by a flight from reason and experience. Evidentialism represented, for example by John Gerstner, holds that without presuppositions, the existence of God may be proven by logical arguments to the satisfaction of any fair-minded and serious inquirer. Both are serious positions held by godly Reformed men and worthy of careful consideration. An important biblical passage bearing on the issue is Romans 1.18-23,
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.2
This text states that God’s wrath against sinners is “revealed,” from the Greek word apokalupto, translated the same way throughout the NT.3 It is a compound with the literal sense of “off-cover,” and hence to uncover, lay open what has been veiled, make bare, and by extension, to make known or manifest, to disclose what was before unknown, and bring to light. In a theological sense, it has the special meaning of a divine disclosure of certain supernatural secrets.4 Romans 8.19 and 16.25 furnish important biblical examples of this sense.
This revelation of God’s wrath is truth which ungodly and unrighteous men “suppress.” The Greek term here has the sense of holding it down (mg.). “The people whose evil ways keep the truth from being known.”5 Paul sees the problem with sinners not as a total dearth of spiritual knowledge, but as a refusal to believe the light of universal revelation because of their antithetical commitment to ungodliness and unrighteousness.
Paul mentions several instances of revelation to all men. First, God has revealed Himself “in them” and “to them” (1.19). Every man, originally created in God’s image and retaining something of that image even after man’s fall in Eden, also possesses a mind and conscience which bear witness to God’s “invisible attributes” which are “clearly seen.” Furthermore, God has revealed “His eternal power and Godhead” or existence as the one and only divine Being by “the things that are made,” including creatures besides man himself (1.20a). Because this knowledge is universal and inherent, every man, even among the Gentiles of Paul’s day who, unlike the Jews, typically lacked any divinely-inspired Scripture, was totally without excuse (1.20b) for his evil devotion to spiritual darkness, moral depravity, and gross idolatry (1.21-23). This justifies God in giving them up to their perilous apostasy without Scripture for so many centuries (1.24 ff.).
Whether these considerations tend to support presuppositionalism or evidentialism you may judge for yourself, but they certainly proclaim of God that He is there and He is not silent, no matter who or where you are.
Another important Scripture passage laying a foundation for a more careful consideration of our main topic and biblical text is Hebrews 1.1-2,
1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.
Here is a sweeping description of God’s special self-disclosure or revelation to His chosen people throughout redemptive history. In the historical period here labeled, “in time past,” from the author’s perspective that time especially described by the Old Testament, God “spoke.” The Greek word laleo first denotes audible communication, and by context and implication it most certainly designates what we may fairly call “word revelation,” a disclosure to mankind of divine truth using words of human language that people can understand. The context posits God’s speaking this way to the “fathers” (spiritual predecessors) by the “prophets” (inspired preachers), who without dispute, according to the OT testimony, delivered messages largely by verbal means which they claimed to be from God, whether in oral or written form. These prophetic messages are so plainly identified as instances of divine revelation that they are routinely designated as “the word of the Lord” or comparable expressions, found so abundantly in the OT that even casual Bible readers notice them.
This kind of word revelation was a precious treasure generally found only among the Jews. Possessing the “oracles of God” was their main advantage over the Gentiles (Rom 3.1-2; mg., “sayings, Scriptures”). The English word “oracle” comes from a Latin word meaning speech, referring without question to the verbal content of words.6 The Greek word translated “oracles” is logia (logos, rendered “word”). A comparison of this phrase with Romans 9.4 suggests it is a reference to the entire OT. There can be no reasonable doubt that Paul has in mind the “Word of God,” not just a general revelation of a man’s conscience or the non-verbal testimony of the creation. General revelation belonged as much to Gentiles as Jews. In the sphere of divine revelation, sacred Scripture was their elevating distinction.
According then to the biblical testimony, God is not only not silent in a figurative sense, but He has actually spoken verbal content to mankind, and that divine revelation is especially present in the written Scriptures, which now, besides the Old Testament, include the New, authorized by Jesus Christ before He ascended to heaven and coming by divine inspiration through His appointed spokesmen. Our common faith is that the Bible is the very Word of God, originally given by divine inspiration, and available to us today by providential preservation.
Having stated these truths universally accepted by orthodox Christians, we now must consider whether God has ever spoken word-revelation to men outside the Scriptures. Based on the testimony of the Bible itself, the answer must be one unambiguous and emphatic, “Yes!” God’s first act of creation was accomplished by means of His Word.7 Then the early chapters of Genesis bear witness to God’s verbal self-disclosure to Adam in the Garden of Eden long before any Scripture was written. Having made man in the person of Adam, the Lord God spoke to him distinctly with verbal messages of intelligible, unambiguous content (Gen 2.15-17). God determined to have a substantive relationship with the man He had made, and He fostered this relationship through the medium of human language. Divinely-inspired Scripture did not appear until centuries later.
And even after Scripture began to be written, God continued to give special revelation through prophets outside of what came to be part of the biblical canon. For example, all Jesus’ teaching and miracles were instances of special revelation, yet the biblical gospels record only a fraction (John 21.25). The Day of Pentecost furnishes another biblical example of extra-biblical special revelation, when “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance” (Acts 2.4). This was a miracle, and the verbal messages came directly from God through these human instruments. Exactly what they were saying has been lost to us. We only know that the hearers testified, “we hear them speaking in our own tongues the wonderful works of God” (Acts 2.11).
Again, all Christians acknowledge that God’s word-revelation in human history was not restricted to the words we now have in the Bible, but what about today? Does God ever speak word-revelation through other means, outside the Bible? And what, specifically and precisely, do we mean by that important word, “Bible?” This topic is the occasion of much confusion and controversy within the community of Christian believers in our time.
While church history has never seen a perfect consensus on this among all professing Christians, it seems that greater diversity of opinion may exist today than ever before.
The importance of identifying exactly where God’s Word may be found cannot be overestimated. We do not want to miss any of it nor mistake anything for it. The spiritual and eternal life of all people has always depended on knowing and believing God’s Word.8 Furthermore, knowing God’s will so that we can live to please Him, progressively escape the bondage of our sins, and experience true prosperity in this life, has always been a matter of familiarity with His commandments and a commitment to obedience.9 Any confusion about the exact and comprehensive identity of the Word of God is spiritually perilous and must be avoided at all costs. We must know all that God is saying to the world today, and we must not mistake anything as God’s Word that comes from any other source.
In this light, the true story found in 1 Kings 13 has abiding relevance to all people of all times and places. It provides an unforgettable illustration of the power of God’s Word and the peril of accepting a counterfeit revelation.
THE NARRATIVE LESSON
This is an example of OT narrative or “story,” historically factual, yet harnessed to a spiritual and theological purpose, like all the biblical narratives (1 Cor 10.6, 11; cf. Rom 15.4). The grand idea running through all Scripture is God glorifying Himself through Christ by the Holy Spirit in the redemption of sinners and punishment of the reprobate. While that remains the overarching theme of this text, we can discern subordinate purposes. For example, it records the apostasy of Israel as a prelude and justification of the severe punishments God was about to send them. Also, it relates God’s faithfulness toward His people in the preservation of a spiritual remnant and propagation of the holy seed until the incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ.
This text’s obvious “lesson” is about divinely-approved worship, historically in Israel, and by application, in our generation. Israel was suffering because she had failed in her covenantal obligations to worship God alone and to worship only in His prescribed way, in keeping with His commandments. Even so today, the church’s spiritual health waxes and wanes according to her degrees of biblical fidelity.
The enduring lesson illustrated in this story is simply this:
To ignore, forget, spurn, or mistake a counterfeit for God’s authentic Word is disastrous.
Prologue: Ignoring God’s Authentic Word (1 Kgs 11.26-12.33)
God was chastening King Solomon for his sins toward the end of his glorious reign. One trial Solomon faced was the rebellion of Jeroboam, a major character in this unfolding narrative.
1 Kgs 11.26-28: Introducing Jeroboam. Solomon used forced labor in government building projects. Jeroboam (first mention in Scripture) was from Ephraim, a northern region with less loyalty to Solomon than the south. Jeroboam proved to be a courageous and hard-working man, capable of leadership. Recognizing his gifts, Solomon hade him boss over the workers from the tribe of Joseph. While we know little of the details, Jeroboam led a rebellion of the north against King Solomon.
1 Kgs 11.29-40: Prophecy of Jeroboam’s Reign. A true prophet named Ahijah, with the word of the Lord in his mouth (cf. 12.15), dramatically predicted Jeroboam’s ascent to power over almost the whole nation, ten of twelve tribes, leaving only Judah and Benjamin for the house of Solomon, in keeping with the Davidic covenant. This disruption was divine punishment for their pesistent and prevalent idolatry. Solomon had not fully followed the example of his godly father, David, in his unswerving loyalty to the true God and opposition to idol worship (1 Kgs 11.4-6). Thus David proved a model for imitation, since, despite his faults, he was a spiritual king ruling in the fear of God. Repeatedly in the subsequent history of Israel’s kings God evokes David as a standard.10Of course the prophecy would be fulfilled to the letter. Jeroboam now had an opportunity to establish a righteous reign over the north and receive God’s blessing, if only he would walk in David’s steps. We now know that Jeroboam failed so miserably in the spiritual realm, that his name became synonymous with apostasy and divine judgment (1 Kgs 14.7-10).11
Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam the rebel, but he found refuge in Egypt, the mention of which has sinister overtones.
1 Kgs 11.41—43: Death of Solomon. After a forty-year reign over all Israel, Solomon died. Rehoboam his son succeeded him, since by God’s decree the Davidic covenant had established a perpetual rule through David’s seed (2 Sam 7.12-16).
1 Kgs 12.1-4: Appeal to King Rehoboam. Shechem was centrally-located in united Israel. “Probably Solomon constructed it as the administrative center of his newly created province of Mt. Ephraim” (ISBE), so it was a natural gathering place for the coronation of the new King Rehoboam. Because Solomon was now dead and his fellow Jews invited him, Jeroboam was emboldened to return from Egypt. Surely he remembered the prophecy and thought this might be the time for its fulfillment. As spokesman for Israel, Jeroboam asked relief of King Rehoboam from Solomon’s oppressive way of governing. The Israelites should have expected it, because had God warned them prophetically concerning the dangers of having human kings like the Gentiles (1 Sam 8.10-18), but they would not heed God’s Word, and they so they suffered. With a new administration, they hoped for a positive change.
1 Kgs 12.5-15: King Rehoboam’s Harsh Reply. First, Rehoboam wisely asked for three days to consider the matter. Then he showed wisdom in seeking counsel of experienced, older men who had proven useful even to wise King Solomon. They understood the hearts of the people and the propriety of a modest reign, especially by this newly-crowned young king. They urged him to be a servant to the people, to rule them with benevolence and kindness, for their own good. Then they would find it easy to submit to him, and his reign would be firmly established. Perfect servant-leadership is exemplified in our Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings and Lord of lords. His yoke is easy and His burden is light. Rehoboam should have sought the same wise and loving spirit, but he ignored this advice which embodied the righteousness of God’s Word.
King Rehoboam rejected the good advice of the older men (2 Chron 10.8). Since it was not what he wanted to hear, he called for other counselors, even his youthful companions. Probably intoxicated with their sudden elevation to leadership, they advised Rehoboam to oppress the people even more, to his own gratification. Raise the high taxes even more! Increase the punishments for dissenters! Lord it over them all!
Perhaps a smile crept over Rehoboam’s foolish face. He liked the idea of wielding power, and now he overreached. The chronicler explains his response as inevitable because “the turn of events was from the Lord, that He might fulfill His word, which the Lord had spoken by Ahijah the Shilonite to Jeroboam the son of Nebat” (12.15). Even men’s sins are included in God’s decree and are therefore bound to happen, but what men intend for evil, God turns to the good of His people (Gen 50.20). Even when men ignore God’s Word, His decretive will prevails.
1 Kgs 12.16-24: Israel’s Rebellion against the House of David. The popular response was as grievous as it was predictable. They may have sinned in this, but they were unjustly and greatly provoked. Relations between the Davidic monarchy and the tribes of the north were strained already, but this was too much. Old resentments broke out into open division. The concerns of a majority of Israelites were marginalized, and so they revolted to establish their own nation with their own leadership.
King Rehoboam tried to collect taxes from them, but they stoned his appointed collector, and frightened the king so badly he fled back to Jerusalem. In his absence, the northern Jews installed Jeroboam as their new king, ruling over almost all of Israel except for the tribe of Judah, joined shortly afterward by Benjamin.
King Rehoboam decided to quell the revolt by military force, gathering 180,000 soldiers, a mighty army. Remember, the divided kingdom was the outworking of God’s sovereign plan, so Rehoboam could not proceed. A “man of God” (typical OT designation of a prophet) forbad war in this case by the word of the Lord. “This thing,” the rupture between southern Judah and northern Israel into two separate kingdoms, “is from Me,” said the Lord. King Rehoboam was dissuaded, and the breach remained.
1 Kgs 12.25-33: King Jeroboam’s Manmade Religion. Those with the most reverence for God and zeal that His Word be followed in all things cringe the most about King Jeroboam’s actions, along with the multitude of modern “Jeroboam’s” who disregard Scripture’s authority to regulate worship, substituting the doctrines and practices of men. “It should be recognized that this is the first time the Scriptures mention any deliberate attempt to establish a heterodox doctrine, a substandard cult as an official practice for the nation of Israel” (NGSB). It was a fateful event with devastating consequences for centuries.
Shechem became Jeroboam’s royal dwelling, and from there he assessed the political realities. He wanted to solidify his control over the people’s loyalties and assets. Jeroboam knew full well of the biblical mandate for three annual religious pilgrimages to Jerusalem and the ordinances of the Temple there. Such frequent trips to the city of King Rehoboam might degrade Jeroboam’s practical authority, leading to his execution as a traitor.
Also seeking counsel, Jeroboam decided upon a godless course of action. He adopted a kingdom-growth pragmatism, an unscriptural policy for kingdom-retention. Set up a manmade religious alternative that would appeal to the masses of apostate Israel.
The first element was a different object and form of worship. Two golden calves, familiar from the exodus account and the pagan worship of her neighbors, were proclaimed to be her historic savior. Never mind that such idolatrous worship was a flagrant violation of God’s law, transgressing even the first two of the Ten Commandments (Exod 20.1-6).
Pagan gods of the Arameans and Canaanites were often represented as standing on calves or bulls as symbols of their strength and fertility. . . . Like Aaron, Jeroboam attempted to combine the pagan calf symbol with the worship of the Lord, though he attempted no physical representation of the Lord—no “god” stood on the backs of his bulls. . . . It inevitably . . . opened the door for the entrance of fully pagan practices into Israel’s religious rites (especially in the time of Ahab; see 16:29-34). Jeroboam foolishly abandoned religious principle for political expediency and in so doing forfeited the promise given him by the prophet Ahijah (see 11:38).12
The second element was a new place of worship. Jeroboam chose strategic locations for the two new idol temples—Dan on the northern boundary of Israel and Bethel on the southern border, just about twelve miles north of Jerusalem, a very small distance compared to the length of the land, which was hundreds of miles. Jeroboam appealed to the people on the basis of convenience. “It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem” (12.28). If you were coming from the north for a week long festival, for example, Jerusalem would only be about another half-day’s journey on foot—next to nothing in those days. The distance was especially negligible considering God commanded public worship at Jerusalem alone! The Bethel worship center proved the most popular; Dan never attained its splendor. False religion may appear more or less successful.
The third element was a substitute priesthood. God’s law restricted the priestly office to sons of Aaron who was of the tribe of Levi (Num 3.10). Jeroboam ignored the biblical qualifications and took a more egalitarian approach. He “made priests from every class of people, who were not of the sons of Levi” (12.31). There may have been a larger concentration of qualified men in the southern kingdom, but this liberal policy was sure to please people who felt excluded by the divine standard.
The fourth element was a new liturgical calendar with similar rites on dates that suited Jeroboam’s whim. He decreed that there should be feasts, as in Jerusalem, and sacrifices, like those at the Temple. While different in some respects, this all would have had a familiar feel to the Jewish worshipers. They may have judged it essentially the same as the traditional religion, but with a contemporary expression. “We can change the form without altering the substance,” they may have boasted.
The fifth element was the union of political and ecclesiastical authority. The head of state would also be the head of this new, national church. King Jeroboam assumed the highest authority. It is no wonder. Obviously he was not in submission to Jehovah, Israel’s greatest King. Jeroboam invented the doctrines of this new religion. He crafted the gods. He built the temples. He set the schedule. He consecrated the priests. To get things started “right,” he offered the first sacrifices on the pagan altars.
This must be one of the most egregious examples of ignoring the Word of God in the entire OT! It is no wonder God sent a prophet from Judah to rebuke Jeroboam to his face.
A more daring attempt against that God-ordained symbolical religion, the maintenance of which was the ultimate reason for Israel’s call and existence—so to speak, Israel’s very raison d’étre— could not be conceived. It was not only an act of gross disobedience, but, as the sacred text repeatedly notes, a system devised out of Jeroboam’s own heart, when every religious institution in Israel had been God-appointed, symbolical, and forming a unity of which no part could be touched without impairing the whole.13
Part I: Announcing God’s Authentic Word (1 Kgs 13.1-10)
A “man of God” (13.1) in Scripture always designates a true prophet with the word of the Lord in his mouth (1 Kgs 17.24). Its NT usage identifies a faithful Christian minister (1 Tim 6.11; 2 Tim 3.17). God sent this anonymous prophet from Judah in the south to rebuke wicked King Jeroboam, perhaps suggesting that all the prophets in the north had either capitulated or fled (2 Chron 11.13-14). He went by the express command of God, apparently by a direct revelation, with explicit directions about the manner of his mission and the content of his message, as the ensuing narrative shows.
Jeroboam’s will-worship provoked God to announce severe judgment through His servant. The man of God prophesied of Josiah, a Judean king to arise in David’s lineage about 300 years later, who would sacrifice the very same pagan priests on Jeroboam’s illegitimate altar in Bethel. This amazingly detailed prediction was perfectly fulfilled.14 No human has such foresight; only a divine revelation can account for it.
To prove the man of God’s credibility, God gave the people an immediate miraculous sign with graphic significance. The split altar and spilt ashes powerfully communicated God’s rejection of this “worship.” Jeroboam’s withered hand highlighted his impotence before God. Recognizing the miracles, Jeroboam sought healing and received it. He offered the man of God hospitality and reward or bribe to salvage a humiliating situation, hoping to gain respect by associating with one publicly recognized as a true prophet. The man of God, fearing God, would have none of it, publicly revealing the divine prohibition. He had faithfully delivered the divinely-inspired message; now he only had to go home another way without eating or drinking, a course he know full-well God had prescribed for him. So far, the man of God was scrupulously obedient to his divine mandate, and all was well with him.
Part II: Forgetting God’s Authentic Word and Mistaking a Counterfeit (1 Kgs 13.11-19)
The new character is called “an old prophet . . . in Bethel” (13.11), and never a “man of God.” The word “prophet” is ambiguous, whether true or false. Perhaps this one was more faithful in his younger days. His fundamental character is hard to judge because he lied to the man of God and also showed him respect. The practical implications are important. Whether such people are mistaken brethren or wolves in sheep’s clothing, their claims to speak God’s Word pose a dangerous threat.
First, the old prophet offered hospitality to the man of God. In this he was no more charitable than wicked King Jeroboam, because it was just another temptation to sin. The man of God refused again, repeating the divine warning.
Second, the old prophet pretended spiritual fellowship with the man of God. “I too am a prophet as you are” (13.18). This was the first step in disarming him. Jeroboam was obviously wicked but this old prophet seemed innocent enough. This is an early example of an unholy ecumenism.
Third, the old prophet made claims to possess the “word of the Lord,” not in the usual way by another prophet or a dream or vision, but by an “angel,” probably referring to a spirit messenger from before God’s heavenly throne. The biblical account says plainly that the old prophet “was lying to him.” He was a pretender to divine Word revelation, a paradigm of countless people and institutions ever since. Further, the old prophet apparently believed that the more outlandish his alleged experience, the more persuasive his claim.
The problem was that this counterfeit prophecy squarely contradicted what the man of God absolutely knew to be the word of God he had received earlier. It commanded what God had expressly forbidden, to eat and drink before he returned to Judah. This blatant problem should have alarmed the man of God to great danger. The God of truth never contradicts Himself. Once the authentic Word has been received, alternative messages necessarily are invalidated and to be forcefully rejected, even if delivered by an apostle or an angel from heaven (Gal 1.8-9)!
The apparent goodwill, fellowship, and claim to divine authority convinced the man of God. He went against what he had repeatedly and publicly insisted was God’s will, and he was guilty of a great and inexcusable sin, true man of God though he was. “His public action in this matter undermined respect for the divine authority of all he had said at Bethel.”15
Beware! The boldest true preachers may still exercise poor judgment, commit heinous sins, and suffer serious consequences under divine chastening. The inclusion of this unforgettable story in the sacred canon serves as a warning to all men of God from that time onward.
Part III: Vindicating God’s Authentic Word (1 Kgs 13.20-32)
The old prophet now became herald of divine judgment to the disobedient man of God. This time “the word of the Lord” really did come to him. The difference between a true prophecy and a false one is not the speaker but the source (Jer 14.14; 23.16), and the speaker’s faithful relay of what he heard. Whatever the old prophet’s character here, he did speak what he was given from God on this occasion.
There was no excuse for the man of God’s sin. The Lord’s commandment was straightforward and reasonable. The man of God knew it was God’s will and understood it clearly. His conduct flagrantly disregarded the heavenly prohibition and undermined his public important public preaching at Bethel. Now God’s public honor was at stake, and judgment was imminent.
The just penalty was an ignominious death in unforgettable circumstances. Long life and an honorable burial was a sign of God’s favor and especially regarded in that culture.16 The judgment prophecy here was not specific regarding the time and place of his death, and he may have wondered whether it was even trustworthy since the same man had fooled him earlier by a false prophecy.
While the man of God was still in Israel, he fell dead in a manner almost miraculous, sure to be interpreted as a divine judgment by the witnesses, to the restoration of the honor of God’s Word at Bethel, and even in the mouth of the old prophet. The behavior of the lion and the donkey was completely unnatural, accountable only on extraordinary grounds. The inspired historian notes carefully the presence of public witnesses, an instance of divine mercy toward northern skeptics.
The old prophet interpreted this providence correctly, identified the man of God accurately, and confessed faith in the prophecy at Bethel about Jeroboam and his altar. Showing respect for a true prophet, the old man charged his sons to bury him alongside this holy man who had sinned.
Epilogue: Spurning God’s Authentic Word (1 Kgs 13.33-34)
At this point the account concludes with a report of Jeroboam’s impenitence. The momentary fright he experienced at Bethel did not last. He proceeded in the full implementation of all the features of his manmade religion. This is implied by the representative acts of installing his illegitimate priests. The house of Jeroboam was bound to fall under divine judgment because of Jeroboam’s resolute commitment to show contempt for the written and spoken word of God.
These events are designed by God to induce our trembling at His Word, lest we ignore, forget, or spurn it and receive the same terrible punishments. The Lord also warns us by this story of the danger in receiving any counterfeit messages whatsoever. We stand in constant need of grace and wisdom to discern where the true Word of God is, and where it is not. Both are critically important to our lives and ministry here and our destiny hereafter.
OUR REFORMED BAPTIST POSITION
One thing Reformed Baptists have in common, perhaps the main thing, is adherence to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. It sets forth a broad Christian worldview held in common with all orthodox Christians, along with distinctive features of Baptist belief and practice. When it came to the topic of discerning Scripture, there has been no difference between the historic Presbyterian position represented in the Westminster Confession of faith (1646) the Congregational position of the Savoy Declaration (1658), and the historic Baptist position in our 1689. The language in all three on this topic is practically identical.
Indeed, these three great branches of historic Protestantism stood united against the strange doctrines of schismatic groups with a mystical orientation, like many of the Anabaptists and their ilk—hundreds of diverse splinter groups. The centuries-long doctrinal stability of historic Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists is conspicuous compared to the strange doctrines and evolution of mystics. Our doctrinal consistency grows from the soil of a high view of Scripture, and our insistence on discerning the true Word of God from counterfeits.
1689 LBCF Chapter One
Entitled “Of the Holy Scriptures,” the first chapter of our confession is the most relevant part for discerning God’s Word. It is an admirably accurate and concise statement of biblical orthodoxy. A careful study and digestion of this one chapter would greatly increase the discernment of many Christians and even pastors. It is beyond our scope now to expound the chapter, but we would examine a few of the most telling highlights.
• The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient rule of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (I.1).
“Only” and “sufficient” are each independent adjectives describing the Holy Scripture. They should not be taken as if there is some other rule but it is insufficient, unlike Scripture. Only Scripture can bind a man’s conscience, because it alone is inspired of God. The whole Bible is also sufficient to teach us God’s will, as it alone constitutes all the word-revelation God has given and preserved to us. The confession appeals to these Scripture texts for support: 2 Tim 3.15-17; Isa 8.20; Luke 16.29, 31; Eph 2.20. The latter is particularly interesting, mentioning Jesus as the church’s chief cornerstone flanked by the apostles and prophets as the church’s foundation, suggesting terminus.
• After [former revelations from God] it pleased the Lord to commit the same wholly unto writing, those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased (I.1).
The Scripture itself suggests seasons of special revelation, with the OT Scriptures as a prelude to the incarnate Word of God in Jesus Christ. When He and the apostles, His appointed representatives, had faithfully communicated the consummation of God’s revelation in the gospel, and committed the same message to writing, there was no longer any need of additional word-revelation. “Ceased” is an important word here, designating the traditional Reformed understanding of this topic labeled “Cessationism.” The confession appeals to 2 Pet 1.19 mentioning “a more sure word of prophecy” (AV; cf. NKJV mg.: “We also have the more sure prophetic word”) than even the transfiguration of Jesus (2 Pet 1.16-18). The AV rendering is a “more natural interpretation of the Greek . . . that the prophetic word of Scripture is a more solid proof than even the spectacular experience of witnessing the Transfiguration.”17
• All the books of the OT and NT are these (I.2, list follows). This is a positive identification of the Word of God. The confession embraces the traditional 66 books of the Bible of
Protestants, the same collection that had been revered by the faithful as Scripture for many centuries.
• The books commonly called Apocrypha are not of divine inspiration and are no part of Scripture (I.3).
This is a repudiation of books revered to one degree or another by the Roman Catholic Church. The specific “Apocryphal” books (Middle English, “not authentic,” Greek, “secret, hidden”), are not named. These books were declared by Rome’s Council of Trent in 1546 to be part of the biblical “canon” (lit., rule; the authentic books of the Bible),18, but any other books besides the 66 just mentioned are hereby labeled illegitimate as part of the canon (rule, standard) of Scripture. The modern Roman church holds to 73, including Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus), and Baruch.19 Protestants disdained the Roman attempt to add unwarranted writings to Scripture.
• The whole counsel of God is contained in the Holy Scripture; unto which nothing is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit or traditions of men (I.6).
This is a conscious rejection of manmade attempts to supplement Scripture, including the enthusiasts’ wild claims to have heard God speaking to them and to give inspired utterances, and the institutional accretions of the Roman Catholic Church in their doctrinal and ecclesiastical tradition.
• The OT in Hebrew and the NT in Greek (by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages) are therefore authentic (I.8).
Our spiritual forefathers understood well that “inspiration,” the miraculous process by which God’s Word was written by men, produced only the original manuscripts of Scripture in their original languages. They did not regard any translations into other languages (e.g., English or Latin) to have exactly the same character and authority as the texts in Hebrew and Greek. The Authorized Version (King James Version) was already popular by the time they wrote these words.
Nevertheless, they had a high view of biblical preservation. The God who produced the Scriptures in the first place would not allow them to be lost. “Singular” is used in the sense of “exceptionally good or great; remarkable.”20 Indeed, no other ancient texts have more than a fraction of the evidence that thousands of very old manuscripts provide for the Bible. Even writings of a much later date, like Shakespeare’s works, are far less attested.
The original Scripture manuscripts or “autographs,” then, began as “pure,” God’s Word without error, and Providence kept the substance of them pure in all ages. In the massive body of manuscript evidence, the exact wording of the original is found. Not one jot or tittle can be lost (Matt 5.18; cf. Psa 119.89-90; Isa 40.8; 1 Pet 1.25).
Two features stand out from these confessional declarations. First, they display an amazing breadth and specificity in concise terms. Christians differing on many other things can affirm the confession’s high view of Scripture. Second, these declarations possess an astounding relevance to the present day. They almost seem to anticipate modern attacks on Scripture, but that is only an illusion. In fact, there is nothing new under the sun. Even though they may take various forms in the particulars, modern departures from orthodoxy are only variations on the old heresies inspired by Satan and seized by sinners. By adhering closely to Scripture itself, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith remains a sound subordinate standard of doctrinal truth.
1 Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1972.
2 All Scripture references are NKJV unless otherwise indicated.
3 Matt 10.26; 11.25, 27; 16.17; Luke 2.35; 10.21-22; 12.2; 17.30; John 12.38; Rom 1.17, 18; 8.18; 1 Cor 2.10; 3.13; 14.30; Gal 1.16; 3.23; Eph 3.5; Phil 3.15; 2 Thess 2.3, 6, 8; 1 Pet 1.5, 12; 5.1. 4 Various lexicons, including BAGD and Louw-Nida.
5 Louw-Nida, 13.150.
6 New Oxford American Dictionary, in loc. 7 Gen 1.1-3; cf. Heb 11.3; Psa 33.6; 2 Pet 3.5.
8 Deut 32.45-47; Psa 119, esp. vv. 50, 93; John 6.63, 68; Acts 5.20; 13.46, 48; 16:14; Rom 1.16; 1 Cor 1.21-24; 2:13; Jas 1.18; 1 Pet 1.23.
9 Deut 12.32; Josh 1.8; Psa 1.1-3; Psa 119.9, 11; Matt 28.19-20; John 13.17; Col 3.16; Jas 1.21-25; Rev 22.14.
10 1 Kgs 15.3, 11; 2 Kgs 14.3; 16.2; 18.3; 22.2; 2 Chr 7.17-18; 17.3; 28.1; 29.2; 34.2.
11 Cf. 1 Kgs 15.30; 16.3, 7, 19, 26, 31; 21.22; 22.52; 2 Kgs 3.3; 9.9; 10.29, 31; 13.2, 6, 11; 2 Kgs 14.24; 15.9, 18, 24, 28.
12 NIV Study Bible, in loc.
13 Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament.
14 2 Kgs 23.15-20.
15 NIV-SB, in loc.
16 Gen 15.15; 25.8; 47.29-30; Judg 8.32; 1 Chron 29.28, etc.
17 New Geneva Study Bible, in loc.
19 The Catechism of the Catholic Church, #120 (1994).
All rights reserved.