hodge on 1:4

The Confession:

The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the word of God.

AA Hodge:

This section teaches the following propositions: –

1. That the authority of the inspired Scriptures does not rest upon the testimony of the Church, but directly upon God.

This proposition is designed to deny … that the inspired Church is the ultimate source of all divine knowledge, and that the written Scripture and ecclesiastical tradition alike depend upon the authoritative seal of the Church for their credibility. They thus make the Scripture a product of the Spirit through the Church, while, in fact, the Church is a product of the Spirit through the instrumentality of the Word. It is true that the testimony of the early Church to the apostolic authorship of the several books is of fundamental importance, just as a subject may bear witness to the identity of an heir to the crown; but the authority of the Scriptures is no more derived from the Church than that of the king from the subject who proves the fact that he is the legal heir.

19 thoughts on “hodge on 1:4

  1. With the exception of Peter’s warnings against private interpretation all the references to ‘scripture’ in the New Testament refer to the Old Testament. Christ did not write the New Testament. He did not order it to be written. He did not, like the scribes, preach about the Bible. He preached the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is the Catholic Church. Christ established the Church. A city built upon a hill, a light that cannot be hidden, visible, obvious, one and universal. The Church wrote the New Testament under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The canon was not settled until the end of the fourth century. The canon was not obvious or generally agreed. It was settled by decree of the Pope. As St Augustine said “I would not believe the Gospel unless the authority of the Catholic Church moved me”.


  2. Your first sentence is inaccurate, as is your fourth, and your third, sixth, and ninth are dubious. As for settling the canon, it was good of the Pope to acknowledge the authenticity of the scriptures, and the witness of the catholic Church is indeed valuable, as long as you don’t make the mistake of treating human judgment as more authoritative than the scriptures themselves.


  3. I do not the simily of the subject and the heir to the crown quite convincing: Suppose a case where there is a legal heir to the throne and an impostor, both producing witnesses testifying their own right to the throne – in the case of the impostor, the witnesses might be lying or simply be mistaken. What would you do? By chance the right person would become king, and all would be well; by chance, the wrong person would. In the case of the heir to the throne, the worst that could happen would be an injustice: But would God risk that His Revelation to us should be distorted by a mere matter of chance? For there were all manner of wild heresies around already at the time of the apostles, and I believe (although I am no theologian myself) some of the apocryphic pseudo-evangeliums very of dubius, half or fully gnostic tendency – that is, there actually were witnesses for different parties contending for the throne. No to whom would you listen? Would you judge the truth of these testimonies by your own judgement? Or by what standard? I find this very puzzeling.

    I once heard or read that Sokrates never wrote a book because he sought that a book without its father watching over it was helpless and liable to be interpreteted any way. Now would God have left His Book without someone to watch over it and defend it? There are so many people around claiming to do nothing but to interpret Scripture, but interpreting it in a way that leaves hardly anything of the Faith intact – how could you tell them they are going wrong?


  4. The single most useful thing WordPress could install next would be a “preview post” option!

    Admittedly the analogy can’t be pushed too far, but i think the problem you identify is especially serious only in cases where the heir to the crown is silent and the only thing you have to go on is the competing testimonies of the witnesses. Then the problem becomes one of the credibility of the witnesses. But the scriptures have their own authority, as the revelation which God has committed to writing, which has to be recognised by us as readers, but is not conferred by us. The next section of the Westminster confession is this:

    “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to a high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”

    In terms of interpreting the scriputres – it’s a separate issue, not brought up in the original post. First point is, I don’t think God has left the scriptures helpless at all – the one who’s watching over the scriptures, not just defending them but putting them to use powerfully in the hearts/lives of individual sinners, is the Holy Spirit, the person who inspired them. Second point – how you can tell if people are going wrong in their interpretation – if their interpretation of one part of scripture is contradicted by another part of scripture, or undermines the global teaching of scripture, etc.


  5. A colleague of mine firmly believes in some of the gnostic pseudo-evangelii (would that be the correct plural?). He would claim for them the same testimony as that mentioned in the Westminster Confession. I myself, in fact, would have to claim the same testimony for the books of the Old Testament of which only Greek manuskripts exist and that are not held to be divinely inspired by the reformed Christians, such as the Book of Tobit. Luther, on the other hand, wanted to delete St. James’s letter from the canon. Is the matter really so simply decided?

    I apologise for seeming to change the topic with my reference to exegesis (which, therefore, I will not continue). I introduced it because, in my opinion, it really is an integral part of the same issue: God safeguarding His Revelation to us, both in assuring that we know which writings really are divinely inspired, and in preventing their interpretation contrary to their intended teaching.

    (I do not intend to join my co-blogger’s smashing arguments – which these blundering sentences make obvious I would not be able anyway – but write as one who has struggled with exactly this problem herself and therefore feel maybe somewhat strongly about it.)


  6. Section 1.5 of the Westminster Conf is really only meant to apply (i think) to what they’ve already identified in section 1.2 as Holy Scripture, ie all and only the books in the list. (Here eg) I don’t think it was meant to be used as a guide to how to identify scripture – it’s just some of the corroborating evidence (the testimony of witnesses). You can claim heavenliness and majesty for other writings too, to some extent, but as the confession says, these are not what we rely on for certainty that these are the Word of God, but the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word to its own divine origin and authority.

    How the ‘all and only’ of this list can be justified – i accept it’s been controversial, but for the OT scriptures we follow the Jews (ie the canon that Jesus recognised). For the NT, particular men were inspired by the Holy Spirit, in the same way as in the OT, as they claimed for themselves and for each other (eg 1 Cor 14:37, 2 Pet 3: 16, 1 Tim 5:18 with Luke 10: 7), speaking the same truth of God (Gal 1: 20, John 19: 35), with the force of the commands of God (1 Thess 4: 2). It was the same gospel that they had received from Christ himself that they were inspired to commit to writing, and it’s the inspiration by the Holy Spirit that gives their writings their authority, the authority that has to be recognised.

    Gnostic writings – the clue is in the title – the Holy Spirit doesn’t contradict himself – and Luther, i’m not sure what his views on James really were, anyway it’s an apostolic epistle.

    Now i better go home for my tea, any gross blunders on my part can most charitably be attributed to my rumbling tummy :|


  7. During Our Lord’s earthly ministry the rabbinical canon (now used by protestants) did not exist. The Sadducees recognised only the Pentateuch. The Essenes had a vast body of works including Hebrew copies of some of the books protestants reject and works of their own composition. The Pharisees recognised a great body of oral tradition of which Jesus indicates they were correct to see themselves as the guardians. The only canon other than the Pentateuch was the LXX of which there were a number a variants including the canon recognised by the Catholic Church in the fourth century. The NT cites and alludes to many OT books including those omitted by the protestants. Hebrews for example cites episodes from Maccabees while Our Lord alludes to Ecclesiasticus in Matthew and John. The NT also cites as inspired books which are in neither the OT nor the canon of protestantism (e.g. Jude 14-15; James 4:5). Catholics consider these citations to be part of the inspired oral tradition, protestants move quickly on. The canon used by protestants since the later Reformation is taken from that constructed by the Rabbis after the second Jewish revolt (long after the ascension) when they definitively rejected Christianity. Their intention was to exclude references to the murder of the Son of God and the Divine Wisdom contained in Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus. It is not based on language because we now know there existed (and possess) the Hebrew originals of many of the books the rabbis excluded. Despite his hysterical loathing of the Jews, Luther too tried to exclude these books because of the explicit references to Purgatory in Maccabees (just as he attempted to exclude James, Jude and Hebrews because of their incompatibility with his OT canon, doctrine of sola scriptura and sola fidei). No canon can be constructed based on citations of the OT within the NT for many OT books (Judges, Canticles…) are not quoted at all in the NT and passages outside any canon are cited as inspired.

    If you want the canon Jesus recognised you will have to chose from among those that existed at the time and which included all those books to which He referred. That gives you the LXX. The protestant canon isn’t even in the race.


  8. Reminded of what? :-s

    Sorry to leap in as well. I keep telling A that if he’s too ra people tend to lose track of the point, not unsurprisingly.

    The OT thing is quite true. Sorry.

    Have a quick poke around the internet. I think the date of the rabbinical get-together was around 150 (but that is a very broad wave in the general direction!)

    Here’s a chap saying that the rabbinical get-together in Jammia was “a scholarly fiction”, but also that (which is common knowledge, but then I thought that about the current Jewish canon being post-Christian was too) “the majority of NT citatations [of the OT] exhibit dependence on sources that are known in our Greek witnesses rather than Hebrew.” He may be a wicked liberal, but if so it doesn’t show in pp40-44:


    If you want to defend the Protestant selection on the grounds that that’s the one Jesus used, someone’s going to have to provide you with evidence that the said selection was at least a.n. recognised canon at the time in the area. Otherwise all you can say is “we reckon this is what Jesus knew was inspired”.


  9. Ok I haven’t had the chance to spare much thought for the past week, it’ sprobably not so much self-control as the pressure of circumstances. I will get round to it eventually, is that ok? Not just this but the multitude of issues on the prev post too. Right now i’m leaving the office, won’t be at computer for the rest of the evening and might not ave the chacne tomorrow either, so we could be looking at the start of next week. Perhaps i shouldn’t have posted this in the first place, or the other one it’s not a good time but anyway i’ll do my best.


  10. It’s your blog! You didn’t ask a random bunch of papists to move in and start opinionating, did you? (unless that was a sarcastic ‘is that okay?’ :-)) stick to your thesis.

    I would do well to do the same. :-(


  11. Well your company/conversation is lovely and all apart from my sense of what counts as ‘on topic’ constantly being violated :-/

    I think even here we have two separate issues – in the original post, the question of whether the scriptures are authoritative for their own sake rather than anything else, and in the comments, the question of what counts as the canon.

    In the OP, the thrust of what Hodge is saying is that we have to take the scriptures as authoritative because they are given by God, ie the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, as God’s revelation to/for us. This is intrinsic to the inspired writings – their authority can only be either accepted by rejected by us, not bestowed or infused by us as individuals or as a church. It’s the “Thus saith the Lord” that gives the scriptures their authority, and our justification for obeying them, making them the rule of our faith and life, submitting our consciences to them, loving them, and esteeming them more highly than our necessary food. Not the fact that other people have pronounced them to be the Word of God, but the fact that they are the Word of God. Here is where we can rest: if God’s authority isn’t our ultimate foundation, then it must be shaky ground.

    In establishing what should be included in the canon the testimony of the church from the earliest NT times and on is vital. It’s not a question of each individual person being required to establish to their own satsifaction whether they’re personally going to treat some writing as scripture or not – we have to follow the footsteps of people who have gone before us. I’m saying this so that you know I’m not disparaging the witness, of the early church or subsequently: but just that the witnesses witness to the divine origin of these writings, rather than authorising them.

    As to the canon Jesus recognised, a fair amount can be demonstrated from his own words recorded in the four gospels – he recognised the three genres of law, prophets, and psalms, he pointed the pharisees to “the scriptures” to search them because they testified of him, he accused the sadducees of erring through not knowing “the scriptures,” relied on “it is written” in disputations, preached both from specific passages like Isaiah and Malachi (Luke 4 & Matt 11 respectively) as well as “all the scriptures” generally (Luke 24:27), affirmed that not one jot or tittle of them would be lost, and acted in such a way as to fulfil what was written about him in them. Ie, there was a body of writings which were acknowledged to be authoritative, should have been known/understood by the whole community, could be appealed to, and which he was indeed fulfilling by being there and doing what he was doing. I don’t know much about the scholarly take on rabbinical gatherings, fictionalised or not, but the Jews were the ones who had the oracles of God committed to them (Rom 3:2) and the apostles simply accepted the Jewish canon, ie as the very oracles of God, uncontroversially. I’m going to post separately what John L Girardeau says about this (it’s more detailed than I can manage to produce, or summarise).

    Re the specific points in #8: I’ll try and be brief.

    * I don’t know much about the sadducees apart from they denied the resurrection, so if they were theologically dodgy on that point I wouldn’t expect them to necessarily be reliable guides on other weighty points. Whether or not they accepted the rest of the OT canon, they were certainly in error for not ‘knowing’ it. The fact that religious communities like the Essenes had writings in addition to the canonical scriptures doesn’t really prove much (i’m sure every religious community has preserved important texts as well as the scriptures themselves. Even sola scriptura-ites!). The Septuagint was a translation of the existing Hebrew scriptures, already known to be inspired.

    * I’m not sure where Jesus indicates that the Pharisees were right to see themselves as guardians of oral traditions? They were obviously very traditional, and to the extent that they kept intact the practices which God demanded that was no doubt a good thing, but Jesus did criticise them for adding in traditions of their own, effectively nullifying what God had in fact written (Mark 7 eg). Tradition isn’t inherently problematic, obviously, except in cases where it conflicts with, adds to, or detracts from the written revelation which God has given.

    * The NT occasionally makes what could be taken as allusions to apocryphal books, but not in the context of treating them as inspired by God or divinely authoritative, unlike the way the writers treat the books of Moses and the Prophets. The “Prophets,” incidentally, included Judges (and in any case see Heb 11:32), and “the Psalms” included Canticles. It’s not clear that Enoch’s prophecy in Jude was ever written down until Jude was inspired to write it, and James is summarising the theme of several scriptures in 4:5 (a bit like Paul does in Eph 5:14), and in terms of insipired oral tradition, it’s probably not a concept i’d really recognise – the scriptures are inspired, but the authors were inspired to write them. Individual prophets might have been inspired to speak messages in their own time, but the written scriptures are always a “more sure word,” and if the contents of those spoken messages weren’t written by inspiration we have no guarantee that they were handed down accurately.

    * The references to things like purgatory in the apocryphal writings is only one of the reasons why they shouldn’t accepted. They weren’t accepted by the Jews, who the oracles of God were committed to, and nor were they recognised by the early NT church (or anyone until the time of the Reformation), except as potentially useful but fallible human writings, as the Westminster confession acknowledges we can still do.

    In short: the case against the stability/recognisability of the canon is overstated, and it strikes me as odd for people to undermine the claims that the scriptures make for themselves, and the understanding that the church including in the OT has had of them – particularly when it shifts the locus of something as fundamental as our authoritative source of knowledge of God out of God’s own revelation and onto something else, necessarily inferior. To the law and to the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. Thy testimonies are wonderful, therefore doth my soul keep them. Thou art near, O Lord, and all thy commandments are truth; concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever. Thy word is true from the beginning, and every one of thy righteous judgments endureth for ever.


  12. You can’t talk about “the Hebrew scriptures which were accepted as inspired” because insofar as that was a question at the time there were many different opinions as to what was and what wasn’t “Scripture”. And we have no evidence at all that one of those opinions agreed with Protestants. So unless you produce independent evidence of a Jewish canon at the time which agrees with yours, then you can’t say “Jesus accepted the contemporary Jewish canon” and mean the selection of books in your OT.


  13. At what time, though, were there many different opinions? The Jewish scriptures were kept intact by the Jews from the time that they received them, and they were treated as authoritative not only by the Jews but also by the Saviour and his apostles. What kind of evidence are you looking for that would identify the Jewish canon? What were ‘the scriptures that couldn’t be broken’ that Jesus was referring to, for instance, and the rest of the 5th para of #13 above?


  14. Any kind of evidence apart from bald assertion by people 1500 years on that “the scriptures” in the NT means all and only the books they have now decided are scripture. After all, the “only written in Hebrew” argument has been rather scuppered by the Dead Sea scrolls discoveries.

    You need historical evidence.

    Once you have that, you can make a case for your selection of books being one that was plausibly that which Our Lord and the inspired authors had in mind.


  15. Pingback: the linguistics of inspiration* « ninetysix and ten

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