Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem, Part 2
Stu Station is blogging through Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. This is the first systematic theology I’ve read, although I have read numerous other theological books and a few that are basically doctrine-lite textbooks. I’m hoping that through this study I’ll learn a lot and be humble enough to change my views as the Holy Spirit leads. At this point I’m planning on blogging twice a week on Grudem’s Systematic Theology…but don’t hold me to that!
Obviously I didn’t blog twice last week about Grudem’s Systematic Theology. Let’s try to pick up the pace!
Part I – The Doctrine of the Word of God
Chapter 2 – The Word of God
And now we get in to the meat of the book. I’ve never really had much doubt about the Bible being the Word of God, or that Jesus is the true Word of God, although I have had and currently have some questions about certain aspects of the Bible, such as authorship, dates sections were written (or added on to), documents such as Q, the modern definition of inerrancy, etc.
I do find it interesting that Grudem first focuses on theologies regarding the Bible instead of focusing on God, but I guess within current debates, you need to establish a benchmark of truth before tackling whether there really is a God or not; however, it is entirely assumed in these chapters, naturally.
The first thing Wayne Grudem does is differentiate between “The Word of God” as Person (Jesus Christ) and Speech by God. While there are only a few instances in the Bible where Jesus is referred to as “The Word”, “but it does indicate that among the members of the Trinity it is especially God the Son who in his person as well as in his words has the role of communicating the character of God to us and of expressing the will of God for us (pg 47).” The Word of God as Speech by God is divided up into different sections:
• God’s decrees (ex: “let there be light”, Gen 1:3, when God created light that didn’t need a sun)
• God’s words of personal address (ex: “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat…”, Gen 2:16); “To disbelieve or disobey any of these words would have been to disbelieve or disobey God and therefore would have been sin (pg 48).”
• God’s words as speech through human lips (ex: “and I will put my words in his mouth”, Deut 18:18, and even more notably in Jeremiah 1:9)
• God’s words in written form (the Bible) (ex: “tables of stone, written with the finger of God”, Ex 31:18)
“Several benefits come from the writing down of God’s words. First, there is a more accurate preservation of God’s words for subsequent generations…Second, the opportunity for repeated inspection of words that are written down permits careful study and discussion…Third, God’s words in writing are accessible to many more people…(pg 50).”
Why should we focus so strongly on the written form of God’s word, the Bible? Wayne Grudem provides reasonings that left me cheering:
“The other forms of the Word of God are not suitable as the primary basis for the study of theology. We do not hear God’s words of decree and thus cannot study them directly but only through observation of their effects. God’s words of personal address are uncommon, even in Scripture. Furthermore, even fi we did hear some words of personal address from God to ourselves today, we would not have certainty that our understanding of it, our memory of it, and our subsequent report of it was wholly accurate. Nor would we be readily able to convey to others the certainty that the communication was from God, even if it was. God’s words as spoken through human lips ceased to be given when the New Testament canon was completed. Thus, these other forms of God’s words are inadequate as a primary basis for study in theology (pg 50-51).”
I guess we just have to take them by faith, then, hmm? Praise Jesus.
Chapter 3 – The Canon of Scripture
This is fun stuff. I remember in high school, I had a copy of “The Lost Books of the Bible” or some such collection, either given to me by my youth pastor at the time or someone else. Anyways, it was hidden in my locker, and when I opened my locker to exchange books, some ‘friends’ of mine grabbed the book and proceeded to run to each teacher and try to get me in trouble for reading heretical demonic material. I think that was around the time I had thoroughly embarrassed most of the school by winning a debate where I argued that the KJV was not the only Bible (which is utmost heresy in a KJV-Only school), so people were out for revenge. Imagine their surprise when my teachers and youth pastor didn’t care that I was reading it and actually encouraged it!
Anyways, some of those “lost” books of the Bible are pretty nuts. Satan giving Adam and Eve the gift of fire was my favorite story. Later on I had the pleasure of reading the Maccabees in an introduction to the New Testament class in college, run by one of the foremost New Paul authors, Calvin Roetzel (affectionally called Uncle Dudley by his students). I’ve never really had much curiosity regarding why some books are part of the canon or not, although I have entertained the fantasy of what would happen if we discovered an extra chapter or two here and there, but since I’m reading through the entire Systematic Theology book, here we go.
“The canon of Scripture is the list of all the books that belong in the Bible (pg 54).” Agreed. But as Grudem rightly points out, it is very important to be clear on just what those books are that deserve to be part of the Bible. Currently there is a split between the Protestant canon and the Catholic canon, but Grudem focuses mostly on the Protestant side of the Biblical canon. “If we are trust and obey God absolutely we must have a collection of words that we are certain are God’s own words to us.”
Obviously the Old Testament canon spent the most amount of time growing in an unfinished state. Most agree that Moses wrote the first five books, and that later books were added on. One common understanding is that since Joshua finished the book of Deuteronomy (in apparent violation of Deut 4:2), then the Book of Joshua must be considered part of the canon as a continuation of the story (he only violated the command not to add to Scripture because God told him to add to Scripture…naturally). Additionally the words written by the Prophets were added as Scripture to the canon. Eventually the Jewish community regarded the Old Testament canon as finished, coinciding with the disappearance of the Prophets; anything written after them was considered to be Apocrypha, ie, not part of the canon, even if helpful, although Roman Catholics consider the Apocrypha to be a part of the canon…I’m sure they have their own reasons for doing so.
But what about the New Testament canon? Well, those books that were directly written by the Apostles, those are in. “It is primarily the apostles who are given the ability from the Holy Spirit to recall accurately the words and deeds of Jesus and to interpret them rightly for subsequent generations (pg 60).”
As the early church exclusive office of the apostle was seen to be on the same level as the Old Testament prophet, these guys were considered absolute authorities, even being on par with Jesus Christ himself. Also, amongst the apostles, they each mutually considered each others writings to be anointed and part of Scripture, even if they were at times difficult to understand, as Peter refers to Paul. Paul later on quotes the book of Luke as Scripture, even though Luke was not written by a direct apostle, yet was written under the direct guidance of an apostle.
Out of all the books in the New Testament, only five were not written directly by an apostle: Mark, Luke, Acts, Hebrews, and Jude. Mark, Luke, and Acts were acknowledged by the church as Scripture extremely early, largely because Mark was a disciple of Peter, and the author Luke was a disciple of Paul (Luke having written Luke and Acts). This is where I engage in a little speculative fiction, as parts of Luke have been identified as belonging to the “Q Document”, which is a section in both Matthew and Luke that appears almost verbatim, as if the two authors were quoting from a common source or prior Gospel. In my mind, I think these books were written piecemeal and edited together, so the Q section could easily have been written together by Matthew and Luke, and then the two went their separate ways and finished off their own Gospel as the Holy Spirit led them. We ultimately don’t know, we can just theorize, but I like to humanize Scripture and the men and women in it as often as possible.
Hebrews was originally thought to be written by Paul, but most today simply have no idea who wrote it. And yet, it fits the rest of the Bible perfectly, and is a constant source of inspiration and Holy Spirit guidance for its readers. Hebrews reveals Christ perfectly, with no contradictions. On that basis, which most call divine authorship, it is included in the canon. The Book of Jude was accepted because it was written by the biological brother of Jesus. And yes, Mary and Joseph had other children, and Jesus had brothers and sisters.
I guess James was considered an apostle by the early church and thus ok; Wayne Grudem doesn’t go into much detail about the Book of James.
Anyways, the ultimate conclusion is that we have the Bible and all the books that God intended. And don’t be adding anything more to it!