Receiving the Word of God

John Frame's Systematic Theology
Chapter 27 - From God's Lips to Our Ears

From God's breath to prophets or apostles, to the written word, there is no decrease in authority of God's Word.  But when we start talking about copies of Scripture, human reception, confessions and interpretation, we deal with fallible means.

Original and copied texts
  • God inspires texts, but only original texts.  Scribal additions or errors would common-sensically not be God's Word.  But copies can duplicate the original.  We don't need (and don't have) the original document, if we can discern the original text, and we can.  God has not promised to keep every copy perfect.  
  • When the NT quotes the Greek translation of the OT, it isn't to claim it is infallible, but just to use the reliable means available to them at the time.  
  • Since we can discern the original text, what we have isn't a dead letter, inerrant only theoretically in original texts we don't have.  The Bible repeats important themes, so if there are minor variants, we can compare with other parts of the Bible.  
  • God allowed the original texts to be lost, maybe so we wouldn't worship them; having them wouldn't help any more with understanding and applying the text.  
  • God allowed some imperfection in copying texts, probably so we would read Scripture in community with the church, needing the gifts of scholars and others.  
  • Haven't we lost something, though from inerrant autograph to texts we have now?  Yes, but this is under God's providence - we have what He wants us to have.

Translations can err, but they are also essential and need not distort the text's meaning.
Preaching is an authoritative announcement of God's Word more than a communication of ideas (teaching).  Communicating God's Word need not be done only by church officers as long as they oversee it.

Sacraments are events, and visible words: they are normative signs (pictures) of truth, actions sealing the covenant, and create the presence of God (not automatically but by the Spirit and through faith).  God speaks not only in His Word, but also in visual and tactile ways, in baptism and the Lord's Supper.

Tradition is not as authoritative as Scripture, but unavoidable as a fact in history.  Worship order, theological terms, are examples.  We must avoid traditionalism of putting these things on par with Scripture or never allowing change to them.  Strict subscription to confessions functionally forbids such change.  Still, confessions communicate God's Word as the consensus of the church.  We should honor our forefathers, but "each generation should rethink these documents, reforming them, where necessary, by the Word of God" (656).

Human reception and interpretation
Just because we don't receive it doesn't mean God didn't reveal it.  The truth we suppress in Romans 1 is actually revelation.
God speaks to Himself, the natural world, mankind, and the church.
Our proper response to revelation is to believe (normative), obey (situational), and participate (existential).  The Spirit opens our eyes to be able to do this.
Interpreting a text means restating it, explaining theological terms, and showing how it affects one's life today.  Interpretation is application.
How can we understand a text written so long ago, in a foreign context?  There are cultural similarities as well as differences.  The church has existed in each generation since, and builds a bridge of interpretation over time.  There are experts in those ancient cultures who can help us.  Scripture interprets itself infallibly, and ultimately God helps us supernaturally to understand His Word.

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