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Attitudes or Viewpoints Toward the Bible

In the study of bibliology it is important to be aware of the various attitudes people either have or with which they approach the Scriptures. We will divide these attitudes toward the Bible into six different categories.

(1) Rationalism. The philosophy behind rationalism is “The theory that the exercise of reason, rather than the acceptance of empiricism, authority, or spiritual revelation, provides the only valid basis for action or belief and that reason is the prime source of knowledge and of spiritual truth.”7 The rationalistic approach toward the Bible may be extreme or moderate.

In its extreme form it denies divine revelation and represents the belief of atheists and agnostics. Moderate rationalism may admit divine revelation but tends to accept only those parts of divine revelation that personal reason approves. Under this approach the Bible is not viewed as authoritative, but the moderated rationalist seeks to eliminate or honor various Scriptures as he may choose. This is often the attitude of modern liberals.8

The issue in rationalism is that the mind is supreme and becomes the final authority.

(2) Mysticism. Mysticism also falls into a two-fold classification, a false mysticism and a true mysticism. The fundamental premise in false mysticism is that divine revelation is not limited to the Bible, but that God continues to give new truth beyond the Bible. In the final analysis, false mysticism makes human experience supreme; one’s personal experiences become the final authority rather than the Bible. If it fits with one’s experience, then it is accepted as valid; but if it does not fit one’s experience, it is rejected as invalid. For this kind of mystic, the Bible is not complete or final. God is still in the business of giving truth if one is only receptive to its revelation. Those holding to some form of false mysticism believe spiritual truth is being added beyond the Scriptures. This type of false mysticism is seen in the ideas of pantheism, theosophy, modern-day spiritism, Seventh-day Adventism, new thought, Christian Science, Swedenborgianism, Mormanism, Quakerism, and Millennial Dawnism (Jehovah’s Witnesses).

In addition, it can be seen in the beliefs of some forms of the modern-day charismatic movement. Some non-cessationists believe all the gifts mentioned in the New Testament are operative today. Some believe that God is still speaking through present day prophets, and some even go a step further and claim that the revelation coming to and from these prophets is equal in authority with the Bible. This is a growing movement within some circles of the evangelical church. In the conclusion of the chapter, “Does God Speak Today Apart from the Bible,” E. Fowler White, one of the contributors in The Coming Evangelical Crisis, writes:

Some present-day evangelicals, Jack Deer and Wayne Grudem among them, believe and teach that God speaks today apart from the Bible. According to these teachers, God gives words of personal or ministry direction to His people using all the same means that He used in the past. Yet, when we consider the evidence for these views, we find that their resemblance to what the Bible actually depicts is more apparent than real. Whatever else Deer is teaching, he is not teaching the model of hearing God’s voice as practiced in the Bible itself.9

In my judgment, what these teachers and their disciples fail to appreciate is that, in the Bible, God’s activity of speaking apart from the Scriptures occurred at a time when those documents were still being written. Interestingly, during that long history of Scripture writing, God’s people did live by a “Scripture plus” principle of authority, and, in keeping with that principle, God employed various means to speak His extrascriptural words to them. But today the church is faced with a new situation; now, with centuries of Christian orthodoxy, we confess that the writing of Scripture is finished, and that the canon is actually closed.10

There is, however, a form of true mysticism which stems from the indwelling and teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit illuminates the minds of believers to enable them to grasp and apply the truth of the Scripture. As Hebrews 12:25 affirms, God is speaking today, but He does so through the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit to the truths of the completed canon of Scripture. This is the work of illumination, leading, and conviction, but this must be distinguished from the Spirit’s work of revelation. Speaking of this ministry of the Spirit, Chafer/Walvoord writes:

By contrast, true mysticism is the proper approach of systematic theologians who believe the Bible. It involves the fact that all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and therefore are able to be enlightened directly by the Spirit in their understanding of divine revelation. Such revelation does not exceed what the Scriptures reveal; it consists in making known divine truth recorded in Scripture. True mysticism extends to what may be called normative revelation, but it does not exclude God’s application of scriptural truth to an individual seeking guidance. Guidance is always in keeping with the Scriptures themselves (John 16:13; 1 Cor. 2:9-10).11

A true mystic in the biblical sense believes that the Bible is our final authority and seeks to always judge personal experience by the Bible. He does not allow experience to either take precedence over the Bible nor does he judge the Bible or what is biblical by his experience.12

(3) Romanism. In Romanism, the Roman Catholic Church is both the channel of divine revelation and the final authority for how the Bible is to be interpreted in faith and practice. Since the Bible is the product of the church, and since the Scriptures are obscure (another teaching of Romanism), only the church can properly interpret the Scriptures. In Romanism, the Bible is viewed as incomplete; there is more truth available, but it can only come through the church. “Furthermore, the traditions of the church are, along with the Bible, a source of divine revelation. Ecumenical councils and popes have from time to time made pronouncements that are considered infallible and therefore binding on church members.”13

Particularly objectionable is the concept that the church can supersede Scripture itself. As a part of this approach to divine revelation, tradition must also be examined and should be studied in the light of important Scriptures (Gal. 1:14; 2 Thes. 2:15; 3:6). In His earthly ministry, Christ repeatedly had to contradict the traditions of men in affirming the truth of the Word of God.14

(4) Neoorthodoxy. Karl Barth (1886-1968), often viewed as the father of neoorthodoxy, believed that the basis of authority is the Word, but for Barth, the Word is mainly Christ. The Bible only witnesses to the Word and only becomes authoritative when it speaks to the individual. This means that the Bible’s witness to Christ is fallible. The individual must determine what is the word of God within the Bible and what is not. To clearly grasp what is and what is not, there is the need for some type of divine encounter. In short, neoorthodoxy does not believe that the Bible is the word of God, only that it contains the word of God. This means the individual becomes the final judge as to what in the Bible is the word of God and what is not. Since in neoorthodoxy the encounter is primary, the encounter actually becomes the authority and anyone can have his or her own encounter and come up with totally different conclusions.

(5) Cultism. Many of the cults teach that the Bible along with some other writing is supreme and authoritative. A key characteristic of the cults, however, is that though they make a claim to believe the Bible is God’s word, they either affirm another writing as having equal authority or raise the other writing as more important or authoritative than the Bible itself. The perfect illustration of this is Mormonism and the Book of Mormon which Mormonism views as inspired. Christian Science views Mary Baker Eddy’s book, The Key to the Scriptures, as equally inspired. In the final analysis, the Bible is not the only authority; in matter of fact it is relegated to a lower position of importance.

(6) Conservative Protestantism (the Orthodox Position). The conservative or orthodox position is that the Bible alone is our final authority for faith and practice. For the conservative believer, the Bible is the infallible word of God. It is inspired in the original autographs and is without error. This means that, while it will record the lies of Satan who deceived Eve in Genesis 3, it records it as a lie. The Bible is true in everything it affirms to be true.

Concerning the mind or reason, it must be subservient to the word of God. If the mind is thinking in terms which are contrary to the Scriptures, it is not the mind that judges the Scriptures, but the Scriptures judge the thoughts of the mind. Concerning the experience of Mysticism, the Bible is the final judge of experience, and experience cannot determine the truth of Scripture. Concerning Romanism, it is not the church that determines the meaning of the Bible but, rather, the Bible determines the proper place of the Church. Concerning the encounter, a man does not need a unique encounter before he can comprehend what is the word of God in the Scriptures.… Concerning the issue of the cults, the answer of Orthodoxy is that the Bible, and the Bible alone, is supreme, and the 66 books of the Scriptures are all that has been inspired by God in written form. Any other writing is the writing of a false prophet or false prophetess. We who hold to the supremacy of the Bible believe that knowledge is subject to the Bible, and there is no inner light that adds revelation beyond the Bible.15

Concerning the conservative Protestant position, Ryrie writes:

“Conservative” eliminates liberalism’s humanistic and subjective bases of authority, and “protestantism” removes the church as a base of authority. So one would agree that “orthodoxy is that branch of Christendom which limits the ground of religious authority to the Bible” (Edward John Carnell, The Case for Orthodox Theology [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969], p. 13). The Scriptures contain the objective revelation of God and are therefore the basis of authority for the conservative Protestant.

To be sure, understanding God’s revelation in the Bible involves using the rational processes of a redeemed mind, a commitment of faith in matters not revealed or not understood, a dependence on the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit, a conscience clear before God, and some insight into the lessons of history.

Sometimes in practice, though not in theory, conservatives can and do deny that the Bible is their sole basis of authority.

(1) In practice, some traditions or denominations give their creeds coordinate authority with the Bible. Creeds can provide helpful statements of truth; but creeds can never be the authoritative judge of truth. Credal statements must always be considered fallible, in need of possible revision, and subservient to biblical authority.

(2) In practice, some groups give tradition and accepted practice coordinate authority with the Bible. A church has a divine mandate to set authoritative guidelines for its members (Heb. 13:7, 17), but these too are fallible, in need of periodic revision, and always subservient to biblical authority.

(3) In practice, some conservatives make religious experience authoritative. Healthy experience is the fruit of allegiance to biblical authority, but all experiences must be guided, governed, and guarded by the Bible. To make experience normative and authoritative is to commit the same error as liberalism by replacing an objective criterion with subjective existentialism.16


7 The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Third Edition copyright 1992 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Electronic version licensed from INSO Corporation. All rights reserved.

8 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, Abridged Edition, Vol. 1, John F. Walvoord, editor, Donald K. Campbell, Roy B. Zuck, consulting editors, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1988, p. 41.

9 For the discontinuity between the gifts practiced in the early church and those being claimed today, as with the gifts of miracles and prophecy, see the article by Dr. Dan B. Wallace on this web site, “Two Views on the ‘Sign Gifts:’ Continuity VS Discontinuity” at www.bible.org.

10 Armstrong, p. 86. The issue of canonicity will be addressed in the material below.

11 Chafer, p. 42.

12 The issue of illumination will be covered later in this study, but see also Wallace’s article, “The Holy Spirit and Hermeneutics” in the Prof’s Soapbox section on this web site at www.bible.org.

13 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.

14 Chafer, p. 42.

15 Dr. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, Ariel’s Radio Ministry, The Messianic Bible Study.

16 Ryrie, electronic media.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word)