The Role of the Spirit in Authenticating Scripture

How do we know that Scripture is the Word of God? How do we know that it is inspired and thus authentic and reliable and authoritative? There are a number of ways to attempt to answer this question. They are not mutually exclusive answers to the question, but are all related to some degree.

Topics: The Holy Spirit | The Bible

How do we know that Scripture is the Word of God? How do we know that it is inspired and thus authentic and reliable and authoritative?

There are a number of ways to attempt to answer this question. They are not mutually exclusive answers to the question, but are all related to some degree.

  1. We could look at historical evidences for the reliability of the Scriptures. I attempted to provide some helpful resources in this direction in a previous blog.
  2. We could look at the Scriptures themselves. The Scriptures are said to be “self-authenticating” and thus evidence for themselves that they are the word of God.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

A common objection to this argument is that it is circular reasoning to use the Bible to prove the Bible, but are not all claims to authority somewhat circular in nature? Why is logic one’s ultimate authority? Because it seems logical that logic be given primacy. Therefore, the question should not be whether or not an argument is circular, but whether or not the argument is true.

The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks to the “self-authentication” of the Scriptures in the following manner:

We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an 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.

Westminster Catechism: How does it appear that the Scriptures are the word of God?

“The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the word of God,

  1. by their majesty
  2. and purity;
  3. by the consent of all the parts,
  4. and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God;
  5. by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation.
  6. But 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.”

3. Though the testimony of Scripture itself and historical evidences are helpful, they ultimately will not persuade as to its validity. Westminster identified this inability by relegating ultimate substantiation to the work of the Holy Spirit.

We see this idea alluded to in a few places in the Scriptures:

  • 1 John 5:9-10 If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son. 10Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. 11And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.
  • 1 John 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
  • John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.

According to 1 John 5, there is a testimony greater than the testimony that the world can provide. All of our articulate arguments and apologetics only go so far in authenticating the Word. The greater testimony is internal. Those who believe in Christ and are born of Him (a theme of 1 John) have the testimony within themselves through the indwelling and abiding presence of the Spirit.

This internal testimony bears witness to the authenticity of the apostolic message according to 1 John 4. Those who are born of God have the ability to distinguish between truth and error. There are degrees of discernment, gifting, and maturity involved here so we should not think that this verse is teaching that all true believers are united on all points of doctrine, but the Spirit does bear witness in the regenerate to basic fundamentals of the faith (the context of 1 John is dealing with the rejection of foundational Christian truths such as the incarnation and atonement provided by Christ, the necessity of love in the life of a believer, and the obligation to mortify the flesh).

As Christ said, His sheep hear and discern His voice. Those who cannot hear His voice do not evidence that He is not speaking, but instead demonstrate that they themselves are deaf. Sin has so desensitized us that we willingly suppress the truth of God and then complain that He has not proven Himself to us.

There is an assurance that goes deeper than logic and rational explanations for authenticity. This is why I think Jesus said that it was to our advantage that He go away (John 16:7). Why? So that the helper, the Holy Spirit, would come and convict and indwell God’s sons and daughters.

This indwelling occurs in the moment of regeneration,  which is the act whereby God removes our blindness and deafness and opens our eyes and ears to the reality of the gospel (2 Corinthians 4:3-6, see also “How Does an Unbeliever Believe?”). The Spirit overcomes our rebellion and testifies to the validity of the Scriptures’ testimony to the Son. This testimony is the basis of our faith.

How do I know that the Scriptures are the word of God? How do you know that honey is sweet? By tasting it. If your taste buds are dead, then no argument will prove its sweetness to you. You can hear other people talking about its taste, you can hear scientists talking about its chemical makeup, but you will not be convinced unless you taste it for yourself. It is not the honey’s fault if you cannot taste it and it is not your friend’s fault if he cannot adequately convince you. Unless you have the ability to taste it, you cannot testify to its sweetness.

The same is true for the Scriptures. We could talk about the historical context of the Bible and the various rational evidences for its authenticity, but unless your spiritual taste buds are awakened by the Spirit, then you will not be convinced. No amount of debate can conclusively prove that the Scripture is authentic to those who have not eyes to see and ears to hear.

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
1 Corinthians 2:14 

I cannot prove that the Scripture is authentic. But the Spirit can and does.

How do I know that the Scriptures are the word of God? Because the Spirit within testifies to their authenticity. I simply know that I know.

Application:

If you have not yet come to a place where you can testify to the authenticity of Scripture, admit or at least consider that your taste buds are broken, that your eyes are closed, that your mind is muddied by sin. Ask for help. Pray Psalm 119:18 Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.Don’t just pray it once, but persevere in that prayer.

If you have tasted it, then you can testify with the Psalmist:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
Psalm 19:7-11 

The Spirit bears witness to the authenticity and authority of the Scriptures. Therefore, treasure them, read them, study them, speak them, sing them, memorize them, and apply them.

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Jen Wilkin

Application of the Bible should be grounded in the nature and character of God. When done well, it is the place where we learn what it means to look like Christ.