Biblical Piety, Part 3.1: Scripture

Part 2 of this series.

Biblical piety lives in the Word.

As noted in the previous section, piety begins and ends in knowledge. However, knowledge is not an empty concept, as if one could know something without content. Knowledge deals in particulars, even if knowledge is never complete.

The fountain and source of the knowledge of God is what He has said about Himself. Absolutely nothing else can say the same. We do not know God fully through His self-revelation in His creation. It is not because this revelation is imperfect; indeed, Paul says that it is perfect (Romans 1:19). Rather, sinful suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Romans 1:18). Creation declares clearly and perfectly that the Lord is the Creator, but men do not honor Him as their Creator. This self-revelation therefore leaves them without an excuse in the day of judgment. It is not imperfect, though it is incomplete, because it does not speak of Christ. The two ideas are not synonymous.

We do not know God through any kind of private revelation. We are called to test the spirits “to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1). A prophet whose word does not prove to be true is not from God, no matter how impressive it seems (Deuteronomy 18:22). Should a revelation pass the test, it is only repeating what has already been said in the Scriptures. If it does not pass, it is not from God. If it refuses to be tested, it shows itself by its fruits (Luke 6:46). These things have not been done in a corner (Acts 26:26). “Or was it from you that the word of God came? Or are you the only ones it has reached” (1 Corinthians 14:36)?

We also do not know God through any writing other than the Holy Scriptures. This is true of any writing which claims to say something about God. There is no other Gospel than the one delivered through the prophets and the apostles (Galatians 1:6-9). There is salvation in no one other than Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12; John 14:6). Such writings must be tested against the Scriptures, and anything which must be tested is no authority.

Something worth noting, however, is that even those writings which are rooted in the Bible are not a means by which we know God. I need to clarify that so that I am not misunderstood. All human writings, no matter how venerable or orthodox, are not the Bible. They all without exception speak about the Bible. If they accomplish their task well, they will lead back to the Bible. If they fail in this respect, they will wander off into myths or draw attention to themselves. Such works about the Bible are like a sign by the road, which help us to go the way that others have gone before. It would be a strange piety indeed that spent more time looking at the sign than travelling along the road. Metaphors are imperfect, but men should listen to human authorities when they agree with the Word of God. “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Therefore, we know God through what He says about Himself in His holy Word. “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:14-15). “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). “Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Scriptures also form the basis for all of the other forms of piety. Preaching, for example, is a proclamation of the Word. The Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper flow out of the Word which attaches the promises to them. Prayer, worship, and the other forms are grounded in the Word itself. Apart from the Word, there is no foundation for Biblical piety. “If you abide in My Word, you are truly my disciples” (John 8:31).

The Bible, of course, clearly identifies Jesus Christ as the Word (John 1:1-5). It is entirely possible to read the Bible and miss Jesus who is the whole point (John 5:39; 2 Corinthians 3:12-16). But one must not draw a sharp distinction between the Bible as the Word of God and Jesus as the Word of God for that reason. Such a division, however well-intentioned, tends to disparage the Bible. But how will we know about God in any other way? The Bible is the very Word of the living God to His people, the way through which we know Him. To use an metaphor, it would be strange to receive a letter from the king, only to protest that the letter is not the king himself. Would an earthly king be impressed with such an argument? But the Bible is more than a letter from a king. It is the very voice of God the Holy Spirit.

In the next article, we will focus on practical suggestions regarding the Scriptures. This will be the pattern for the other forms of piety as well.