“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17
We believe the Holy Spirit moved prophets and apostles to write the sacred Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21). He did this employing the distinctive styles of each individual. These writings are God-breathed, the very Word of God (2 Timothy 3:15-17; John 10:35). As such they are unfailingly accurate. They are without error in all that they state and teach as fact, including God’s work in creation, events of world history, and prophetic matters of the future (Matthew 5:18,19).
We believe that God has given us the whole of Scripture, down to the very words. This plenary and verbal inspiration applies, strictly speaking, only to the original manuscripts. These originals are known to us with great accuracy from the many manuscript copies available to us. As God has faithfully overseen the writing of the Scriptures, so He has safeguarded their preservation and recognition in the 39 books of the Old Testament and 27 books of the New Testament.
We believe that the Scriptures speak with divine authority. We submit to all that they command and embrace them as God’s trustworthy guide for our lives. They are the sole norm of the Christian faith. Their central message is the self-revelation of God and the person and saving work of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:18; Luke 24:25-27).
We apply these doctrines as follows
Authority of Scripture
Like the early Bereans, we are responsible to examine the Scriptures directly to determine that which is true (Acts 17:11). Though some creeds may well express truth revealed in Scripture, we do not regard any creed or this present declaration to be a normative standard or perfect and comprehensive statement of the Christian faith. Such exists only in Scripture. Nor do we treat the teaching or writings of any man as the final word on a subject. We should not establish by any means authoritative traditions in violation of Scripture (Proverbs 30:6; Mark 7:1-13; Revelation 22:18).
Bible translations are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original. Some translations accomplish this better than others and should be used for serious study. Recognizing the ever-changing nature of language, however, we do not regard any single translation as the final authoritative translation.
Our goal in Bible study should be to understand the intended meaning of the divine Author. We are to understand the text in its normal, usual, and customary manner, taking into account the grammatical structure of the passage and the literary devices used by the writers. We must interpret the passage within its literary and historical context. We should understand a text within the specific context of the book in which it is found and within the general context of Scripture as a whole. We should use Scripture to interpret Scripture. We should allow that which is plain to guide us with regard to that which is difficult to understand. We should not give undue emphasis to any one portion of Scripture or any specific doctrine, placing all truth under it. Rather, we should understand each doctrine in balance with the rest. We must allow the Scriptures to speak to us, being careful not to twist them to conform to our own thinking or to the popular opinion of our day (2 Timothy 4:3). The Scriptures mean what they say. “Living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Hebrews 4:12), they are relevant in all times.
Israel and the Church
Though salvation has been by faith in all times, when interpreting Scripture we should recognize that God has placed man in various conditions and tested him in various ways. Each period begins with a revelation of man s responsibility and ends with a review or judgment by God. We sometimes call these stages in the history of God’s dealings with humankind as dispensations. In the Garden of Eden we see the first. This changed with the Fall. Other changes occurred later, most notably with the giving of the Law to Israel through Moses and the later establishment of the church through Christ. Scripture marks this change, teaching “the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ (John 1:17). As Christians, we “are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). This change is also expressed by the way we divide our Bibles into the Old Testament and the New Testament.
We must not confuse God’s plan for Israel with that of the church. The covenant of law given at Mount Sinai was between God and the Jewish people. Based upon a demanding legal code, it promised blessings for the obedient and curses for the rebellious (Leviticus 26). It is a covenant between God and the people of Israel (Exodus 24:1-8; 34:1-28). It does not pertain to the Gentile nations (Ephesians 2:11,12). God’s promises to the church, in contrast, are based upon grace freely bestowed in Christ Jesus. The church consists of people who have entered into a spiritual relationship with God through Jesus Christ (Ephesians 1:3-14). It promises eternal life to all who believe (John 3:16).
When studying Scripture, we must keep in mind that the primary interpretation of a passage applies to the people and time to which it was written. Scripture not meant directly for the church, however, can often have valuable secondary applications for us when understood in the light of the New Testament.
The typological portions of Scripture are rich in meaning and helpful in illustrating truth. We caution against, however, fanciful extensions of them. We should not spiritualize or allegorize the text of Scripture at the expense of its objective meaning. Neither should we use typology and other forms of figurative language to establish doctrine. We should use them only to illustrate that which is plain in Scripture.