Why We Believe the Bible - Lesson 4

Scope and Cohesiveness of the Bible

The scope and cohesiveness of the message of the Bible is remarkable, considering it was written over a period of hundreds of years by over 40 different authors.

John Piper
Why We Believe the Bible
Lesson 4
Watching Now
Scope and Cohesiveness of the Bible

I. Moses, the Prophets and Paul all confirm the Agreement to that which is in the Bible

II. Giving Glory to God Brings Truth

III. Natural Revelation

IV. God is Infinite

All Lessons
Class Resources
  • The importance of inspiration and inerrancy for our belief in the Bible.

  • Manuscript evidence indicates that we have the words of the authors. Jesus, the apostles and the authors of the Old Testament claim that Scripture was written by people who were inspired by God.

  • The writings of the apostle Paul are a significant part of the New Testament. The Westminster Confession includes a concise statement about why the Bible is the Word of God.

  • The scope and cohesiveness of the message of the Bible is remarkable, considering it was written over a period of hundreds of years by over 40 different authors.

  • Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God by their light and power to convince and convert sinners. The Spirit of God, bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very word of God.

The Bible is the infallible word of God, the supreme rule for faith and practice. The sixty-six books of the Old and New Testament came from the very mouth of God and are without error in the originals. Scripture is therefore the unique and supreme guide for all it affirms, including both belief and behavior.

The Bible claims that it's God's Word, it makes sense, and the Holy Spirit provides inner confirmation to us. Canonicity depended on authorship, content and tone consistent with other canonical writings, and consistent usage in worship and practice.

For notes and outlines that accompany these lectures, please go to desiringgod.org by clicking here.

We are thankful for John Piper's willingness to share these lectures with us. Copyright 2014 by Desiring God Ministries. Used with Permission. For more information, please visit www.DesiringGod.org.

Course: Why We Believe

Lecture 4: Scope and Cohesiveness of the Bible

I. Moses, the Prophets and Paul all confirm the Agreement to that which is in the Bible

So far we have looked at the Westminster Catechism with these six or so indications, sometimes called indicia, of traits which are in its own way validates itself in the minds and hearts of people. Its majesty, its purity and now we come by the consent of all of its parts. In other words, the Bible as diverse and big as it is with all of its different authors is an amazingly coherent story. There is nothing like this book, written across all those thousands of years by all those different authors and has a story line so amazingly coherent. You will not find any book like this anywhere in the world that is composed by so many writers across so many years, having one consistent redemptive historical story line that comes to consummation in Jesus and then working its way out into the world.

This is what they are trying to say; when you take the Bible as a whole, the impact that it makes on you; it would either lead you to believe or not to believe in it. It is saying that it leads you to belief by the amazing consent and agreement of all its parts. (Acts 10:43) ‘To him, all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ That way of talking is a testimony to the coherence and the unity of all that the prophets bear witness to and it is all centering on the Messiah and how he is going to bring about the forgiveness of sins. (Acts 26:22) To this day, I have had the help that comes from God and so I stand here testifying both to the small and great saying that nothing but the prophets and Moses said would come to pass. The Prophets and Moses saying what Paul is saying. So you have one part of Scripture with Moses and the Pentateuch, then another part of Scripture is the Prophets and another part of Scripture you have Paul, who says that they are all in agreement. (Acts 20:26) ‘Therefore, I testify to you today that I’m innocent of the blood of you for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole council of God. This implies that when Paul spent the two and half years in Ephesus, he delivered to them over time, a package called the whole council of God. In other words, there was coherence to it. There was wholeness to it and it related to the council of God. As he unpacked the Scriptures: Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings and how they were fulfilled in Jesus and the Way of salvation through Jesus; he was speaking in terms of a whole council of God. That is what Westminster divines and you see this when you read the Bible from cover to cover with a right heart. ‘Thanks be to God that you who were once slaves of sin,’ he is writing to the Romans, ‘have become obedient (Romans 6:17) from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed. That phrase, ‘standard of teaching’ is the same idea as the whole council of God. There is wholeness, coherence, and a standard of teaching that they were passing along as they read their Old Testament and fleshed it out in the New Testament.

II. Giving Glory to God Brings Truth

This piece of the Westminster Catechism argues how the Bible brings us to confidence that it is true. And the scope of the whole Bible which is to give all glory to God; so, how does this work to help us be confident in the Bible? In Romans 3:19, it says, ‘now we know that what things so ever the laws says, it says to them under the law, that every mouth may be stopped and all the world may become guilty before God.’ The whole world is guilty before God because of all the sins listed there. The global glory of God and the indictment of the world by God for the failures to glorify him is what they are talking about. (Romans 3:27) ‘Whereas boasting, it is excluded by what the law of works made but by the law of faith.’ In other words, all human glory and exaltation is down in the Bible and all God exaltation is up in the Bible because faith is the way you magnify God and unbelief is the way you magnify yourself and your independence. I’m trying to think through this for myself; I am not trying to parrot what they said. I want to know how it works for me. (John 7:16-18) Jesus, therefore, answers them and said that his teaching wasn’t his. I want to know whether that is true or not. Jesus is claiming that his teaching is from God. He is not just making it up from his own mind. ‘Jesus answered and said my teaching is not mine but is from the one who sent me.’ He is claiming that his teaching is divine and everything hangs on the truth of that claim. How does he warrant it? ‘If any man is willing to do his will, he will know whether the teaching is from God.’ If my will is to do Gods’ will then I will know if Jesus is true. This was a pivotal way of thinking that came to me. If anyone is willing to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is of God or whether it is from me. This is one of the closest places Jesus comes to simply answering the question. And he said that if you want to do the will of God, you will know! How does this work? In verse 18, ‘he who speaks from himself seeks his own glory, but he who is seeking the glory of the one who sent him, is true and there is no unrighteousness in him.’

That is the argument; if your desire is to do God’s will, when you talk and teach and work, you will see in me that I am for God and my words are from God because written all over my life is giving God glory for everything even from my sufferings. And evidently, that is self-authenticating. If you bump into a person whose teaching is all about ego gratification and not about God’s honor, you don’t need to pay any attention to what they say. However, if you see a person whose only concern is in glorying God, you need to listen. He is the perfect embodiment to that way of life. This is important, especially in thinking about the person that you want to be and why anybody should pay attention to me. If your will is to do his will, you will know if the teaching is from God or if a person is speaking for his own purposes. A person, who speaks from himself, seeks his own glory. He doesn’t have any respect for God’s glory; he is just on an ego trip. Don’t stumble over this; Jesus was God and so he is speaking as a model and why this person should be believed. But he who is seeking the glory of the one who sent him, he is true. Jesus tells us to watch him and look at his life; what do you see? Am I totally devoted to my Father’s glory? When I go into Gethsemane and sweat drops of blood, what sustains me there? It is not my will but yours; you are God. When you see someone like that, you had better listen because they are not speaking from themselves. He is true and there is no unrighteous in him. When I read that, the Westminster people saying that one of the ways that the Bible vindicates its message is by the scope of the whole which is to give all glory to God, this is the way I understand it from myself. When I see a book that like Jesus is saying that God gets the glory and man is simple and humbled and God alone should be exalted. There is something about that book with that scope that has truth in it.

(John 7:16-18) From John 5, ‘I do not receive glory from men, but I know you, you don’t have the love of God in yourselves.’ He is talking to Pharisees who worship God every day. ‘You don’t have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name and you do not receive me.’ When they analyze a God exalting man who puts humans down and indicts all of our sin and hypocrisy and lifts up the glory of God alone, they did not like what they saw. You don’t receive me. ‘If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.’ Why? What does it mean by this? He looks at the Pharisees and says that he has come in his Father’s name; I am doing everything for the glory of the Father; I am testifying to my unique authenticity by humbling myself to the point of death at the cross in order that my father will be magnified. That is who I am and you don’t like that. I will tell you what you would like, if I came in my name, then you would like me. Why? Because he would fit their values as they want to live for their own name. They obviously want to be around people like that because they get convicted otherwise. They get indicted when they are around God glorying people who just love the glory of God and don’t want to take any credit for themselves and they love for the majesty of God and here they are, wanting to stand on the street corners with long prayers so that people will comment on how holy they are. They are looking at how different Jesus is and the only way to protect themselves is to kill him. How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from God? This is a rhetorical question, a question that doesn’t have an answer in the text. They assume an answer by restating it in a way that provides the answer. When it says, how can you? The answer is that you can’t. You can’t believe, namely in Jesus, in the Bible, in the truth, when you are bent on self-glorification and not putting forth all the glory that God is and shares with those who live for him. Faith in the Bible is impossible for people like that. This shows you the kind of thing we are dealing with in apologetics.

We would like for people to believe what is true and not to push it away and say crucify him! We really would like to embrace whatever is true; and therefore, Jesus says you had better therefore have your heart so changed that you love the glory of God above everything. If you see the glory of God as supremely valuable, you will be able to recognize my truth because that is what I say about God. That is what he is arguing here. Obviously in this way of arguing there is a missing premise, something is missing. How does a human heart start to do that? Where do you see that the scope of the Bible being the glory of God means that the Bible is true? There is a premise that has to be shown, like God is really glorious and all things are for his glory. Note that I am not a scholar on the Westminster Catechism and I don’t know exactly whether they meant what I am taking them to mean. But I am finding what I think they mean very helpful.

III. Natural Revelation

So, this is the missing premise and how I think it works. This has to do with natural revelation. This has to do with the way God has communicated to us in nature, not in the Bible. Nobody will get saved by natural revelation, but it is very important. This is the immediate knowledge of God that comes with human consciousness in the world. I am not operating just at the exegetical level but at the testimonial level. I have tried my best to feel whether I am just aping words from the Westminster Catechism or experiencing what they are talking about. I just don’t want to just read this document and mimic something in regards to reading the Bible. I want to experience what is being said; do I see what they say should be seen? (Romans 1:19-21) I have a heading here that says, that which is known about God is evident within them. That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. So, he is arguing that people everywhere in the world know him. Since the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, like eternal power and divine nature, these have been clearly seen, being understood through things that have been made. These invisible attributes are clearly seen in the universe, molecules, galaxies, trees, oceans, insects, fish, spiders that even live under water; this can all be seen in biology, astronomy, and physics. That is what this is talking about; so that they are without excuse. This knowledge is so clear that every unbeliever in the world has no excuse at the judgement. They will not be judged for not believing in Jesus, if they have never heard of Jesus. Instead, they will be judged for not owning up to and for repressing the knowledge available to them. That is what we do, we oppress this knowledge. Even though they knew God, they do, but they didn’t honor him as God or give thanks to him.

This is what I want; in reading the Westminster Catechism, one of the reasons that we are drawn to faith in God and believing the Bible in a warranted and justified way, is that its scope as a whole is to glorify God. And I’m going to link that to this text and all of our experiences in the world of God before even reading the Bible. I am saying that there is something about the very world we live in and the hearts created in the image of God that if the cobwebs can be removed which is what the Holy Spirit does, what we see in the Bible would be so evident and clear with what you see in the world. You would immediate say that this was God’s book.

A sideline story concerns Dr. Leonard Gopal of Germany, my adopted father who died in 1970. I believe that he was a very godly man; he didn’t believe everything that I believed. He didn’t believe in the inerrancy of the Bible; he believed in the truth of the Gospel but had a defective view of the Bible. In one class on Acts, he came to a text in Chapter 8 where it said that Philip had only been baptized in the name of Jesus and received the Spirit. He said that this wasn’t possible; we must apply criticism to the Bible with the substance of the Bible and deny what Luke wrote there. I had admired this person so much but this just blew me away when he said that this part of Acts was just wrong. I really wanted to understand this person who could talk like that about parts of the Bible. One day as I was standing in the hall, I ask him why he believed in Jesus at all. Why do you believe in Christianity? Why are you a Christian? His answer was quick, immediate and good; he said that of all reality that I experience and see and know, nothing fits reality like the message of Christ. That is the way he answered me. What I see in the world, my experience of the world, my sinfulness, the world that I look at and then the Bible as I see as a whole; when they come together, they just fit! I think he was articulating something of what we are onto here. That when they say one of the reasons that the Bible wins for itself a confidence is in its big scope, namely the Glory of God, fits with an illuminated sight of the world.

I want to walk you through several steps of my own experience here. (Romans 1:19) These are things about God that are invisible. These are evident because God has made them evident. These are steps that I follow through on: the existence of the invisible God is known; this is from verse 19. The things that are known about God are things that make us accountable to honor him as God and give thanks (verse 21). This must include his existence, his beneficence as to why else would you give thanks, our indebtedness to him for life and his nature so that honor would be called for. I ask myself is that the way I experience the world? It is; I have tried to be a skeptic in asking questions as to reality of God, the Bible and Jesus. Have you ever come to a crisis that forced you to ask whether it was all true or not? You look at the world and ask whether I can believe that God doesn’t exist! I have tried but I can’t. It seems to me that the world is such a kind of world; we walk through the day and see things; we realize our consciousness, we can love and feel and be different from an animal. Everything within us is testifying that we are amazing. I mean qualities, the existence of the human soul. This happens to be sometimes; there are moments where the clouds are parting so you can see what you really ought to see all the time. I see and go through the same thing with flowers, especially roses. I cannot, not believe in the raw, shear existence of an intelligent designer. But there is a lot more to God than that.

Attributes; giving him thanks; you have an option, if there is a God, he is either impersonal or personal. Impersonal would be like a gas that created everything, that caused the order. Personal would mean a person who thinks and feels. This isn’t half and half, here. There is nothing in eternity that would define the ultimately reality which has always existed. It can’t come into being, it is just there. You can’t go to nothingness to something. So there is an ultimately reality forever in the past and the Christian asks what nature did it have? Before it, there was nothing to define it or determine it. It just was, which means what it was, is totally open. It could have been anything. There is no presupposition that could say that it could have been something else because there was nothing out there to say it could not have been there. It could have been a gas or whatever. And as I feel my own existence and look at this world and look at you; for me to say that this is all just a combination of energy and time and matter is impossible; I can’t say that. It doesn’t even feel that I am taking a big risk to look at you and me and the world and history and say that it was all gas, an elaborate development of gas; I can’t believe that nor can I say that. These known things about God come through what has been made; our immediate consciousness of the world that has been given to us by virtue of our existence, this constitutes knowledge of God. The effect of sin is to make us resist honoring and thanking God; this resistance is so damming that we cannot live with the consciousness of it and the result is that we suppress the truth (verse 18) and become feudal in our thinking and darkened in our hearts; that is, there is either a denial of God or a distortion of God to make him tolerable. My own experience of God as an immediate effect of my conscience in the world as a human being is what I have been talking about. My existence in the world confronts me as soon as I am conscious with a single originator of all that is.

IV. God is Infinite

That is what I am confronted with. I am conscience because I can’t conceive which will not work to say that there are two of these out there or equal power; the infinite cannot have an equal and God is infinite; we know he is; he has created the universe. He is one who is totally self-sufficient with no dependence with anything outside himself to be all that he is. So, here I am, experiencing nature and humanity and my own soul and trying to let reality speak to me. This God who made all of this and accounts for all of this, is self-sufficient; he is not dependent on anybody of anything. He was out there from before any of it; therefore he can’t be dependent on it because he brought it into being. It is just there, immediately. He is one without beginning or ending or progress or from worst to better; I just regard process theology as experientially ludicrous, that God is coming into being, that God is reforming, that God is being sharped, that he is somehow progressive. He is just there, absolutely there. That is what our conscience testifies to as we behold this world and look at ourselves. He is, therefore, one on whom I am dependent, moment by moment for all things, none of which I deserve and who is there beneficent. Okay, he exists, he is self-sufficient, he is eternal, he accounts for all the order I see and accounts for the person I see; who am I? What am I? Nothing! In fact, I have lived so much of my life in so much obliviousness to this person. If I am alive at all, then he must be good. That just follows; I feel that in my soul; I don’t feel like I am creating any big chain of arguments; it is just there, there is a God, I am not God; I am alive and I have been bad. My conscience tells me that. One who is personal and it accounts for the transcendent person instead of human beings. I have said that already. One accounts for the intelligent design manifested in the micro and the macro, our universe. He is one who knows all; it is impossible for him to not know all. He created all, he guides all, he sustains all; this is a given with the reality of God.

He is one who deserves to be reverenced and admired and looked to for guidance and help; and oh how little have I done it. I think all of this is written in the universe, God should be reverenced and admired and that we should look to him for guidance, if per chance for reasons we may not understand, he might be willing to give it to us who have not loved him as we should have, but mainly live our lives in total oblivious that he is there, holding our very being. But yet, we do not experience harm every day. He is the one who sees me as guilty for failure of not rendering to him what he deserves and who gives ultimate explanation for a universal bad conscience. Why would there be a bad conscience? Animals don’t suffer from what we suffer with. We have a law written on our hearts, we have standards even though they may be totally wrong, we set them for ourselves and then we don’t keep them. Choose your standard and you will fail. Choose God’s standards and you really fail. All of you set standards and feel guilty because you know that you are accountable to a being that explains the moral dynamics of the world. This is why, incidentally, the holocaust or the gulag, whether it is Solzhenitsyn or Christian survivors of the holocaust have found God and believed in him because of evil, not in spite of evil. It doesn’t happen this way for everybody. It has for Solzhenitsyn and for others; you see something that is unspeakably horrible. I would understand up to a point where a person who said that God died. And others are so enraged at this wrong, they have to come to terms with questioning where that rage come from? Where did this concept of justice come from? Where did this high level indignity of immorality come from? If we are just gas here, that wrong is a problem for how God can be good. I admit that.

The indictment of it along with moral rage is only explicable if you are more than a gas. What would you feel if someone walks up to you as you were expressing your moral indication and they said to you that was only your idea. Oh, that is just chemicals in your brain. You would be furious with something like that, but that is what is being taught in our universities every day. The moral outrage you feel at injustice is only explicable in terms of a moral consciousness of which you participate in the world. Therefore, he is one who might save me but we need to do it in a way that overcomes my evil impulse to resist him and would have to make a way for his honor to be sustained while not punishing me for treason and there is no answer in nature as to how that can be done, which leads us to the Bible. My point here is when you see the Bible stretched out with its scope as the glory of God and a history of redemption that answers perfectly as to where I have arrived in my natural revelation and see no answer in natural revelation; I think I am on to why the Westminster divines say that too is how the Bible comes to be vindicated in your heart.