Christ and Scripture

Christ is the key to the Scriptures.

The most obvious reason for that statement is that the Scriptures are redemptive. That is the main burden of the Bible’s message. And it is Christ who stands at the center of God’s redemptive revelation. From Genesis 3:15 to Revelation 22:21 the Scriptures tell of the Redeemer.

In the second place Christ is the key to the Scriptures because he is the incarnation of the wisdom of God. He is the Logos, the Word who has become flesh. He is that wisdom that was active in creation (John 1:1–2). The wisdom of God is not couched in a barren intellectualistic body of propositions. God’s wisdom is the very breath of life as embodied in the Son of God become man living among men. In him “are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden” (Colossians 2:3). Christ himself claimed to be the truth (John 14:6).

This leads naturally to the third sense in which Christ is the key to the Scriptures. Christ is the key, or certainly the most important key, to the proper evaluation of the Scriptures. Since Christ is the central figure and message of the Scriptures, and since this Christ is the living personification of the perfect wisdom of God, then we surely can look to him for faultless direction in appraising the true character of the Holy Scriptures.

Christ has not left us without such clear direction in the evaluation of the Scriptures. At this point we deal, of course, with his toward the Old Testament Scriptures. But this is not without significant meaning for the proper evaluation of the New Testament Scriptures as well.




Jesus Christ was and is the great prophet. “The multitudes,” we read, “were astonished at his teaching; for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.”

Of course he had authority. He was the Son of God. He was the Word in the flesh, the Logos. His word was therefore sufficient unto itself.

Yet, this Lord of truth and wisdom sprinkled his teaching with supporting and conclusive references to a body of writings. Again and again he settled a point of dispute with a reference to the Old Testament. Formulas such as the following always introduced these decisive citations: “It is written”…“Have ye not read”…“Did ye never read”…“Did ye never rend in the scriptures”…“Today hath this scripture been fulfilled”…“In your law it is written.”

He who spoke with utter infallibility and absoluteness nevertheless reinforced his teaching with such citations from the Old Testament canon. It should be obvious that that which he cited to buttress his teaching could not be less infallible and absolute than his own completely authoritative words. Indeed, the clear import of these citations from the Old Testament Scriptures and the formulas by which they are introduced is that they were an appeal to a final and incontrovertible authority. The words of Scripture were final and conclusive. Nothing further need be said.

Are we to conclude that only these passages cited by Christ are thus absolutely authoritative? Or are they part of a body of writing which in its totality and in all of its parts is thus absolutely authoritative? The latter would surely seem to be correct. Pierre Ch. Marcel states the matter well in a recent study. “The formulas with which Christ introduces his quotations are familiar: Scripture, the Scriptures, the Law, the Prophets, the Law and the Prophets, It is written, and so forth. These designations are very important, for they refer always to the canonical Scriptures. Although they do not describe the limits of the Canon, they suppose the existence of a complete and sacred collection of Jewish writings, which, as separate and fixed, is distinct from all other literature.”1

Does our Lord’s use of Scripture allow for a distinction between matters of faith and morals on the one hand and matters of fact and historical detail on the other, with the accompanying thought that Scripture in Christ’s mind was wholly authoritative and reliable in the former and not in the latter?

Marcel addresses himself to this question, and his conclusion is worth quoting. “From the manner in which Christ quotes Scripture,” he says, “we find that he recognizes and accepts the Old Testament in its entirety as possessing a normative authority, as the true Word of God, valid for all time…He seals with his authority numerous facts which arc related in Scripture, and the historicity of numerous events: we are therefore instructed to believe them all. He believes in the creation by God, in the existence of the first couple (Matt. 19:4), of Cain and Abel (Luke 11:51), of Noah, in the reality of the flood and its results, and of the ark and its saving function (Matt. 24: 37-39); he attests the destruction of Sodom and the tragic death of Lot’s wife (Luke 17;28-30, 32).”2


In John 10 we read of a dispute between Jesus and the Jews on a tremendously important point, namely, his claim that “I and the Father are one.” The Jews threatened him with stones. They charged Jesus with blasphemy, for this reason: “because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.”

In answer Jesus made a most adroit appeal to Psalm 82:6, and in this appeal asserted the inviolable authority of Scripture with these words, “And the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The Greek word translated broken is somewhat peculiar to John. A check of his use of the word makes his meaning clear. In John 2:19 Jesus is reported as saying, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will build it up.” In 5:18 John tells us that the Jews wanted to kill Jesus “because he not only brake [broke, RSV] the Sabbath, but also…” In 7:23 Jesus refers to the practice of circumcision even on the Sabbath “that the law of Moses may not he broken.” In I John 3:8b we read, “To this end was the Son of God manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil.” (In each case the word in italics is the translation of the Greek word involved.)

Obviously Jesus is making a most Significant statement about the Scriptures in John 10:35. It seems clear that Jesus is not limiting his remark to the specific passage of Scripture to which he refers (Psalm 82:6). He does not say “this scripture” but rather “the scripture” (he graphe). He uses “scripture” here as a generic term covering the whole of the canon (of the Old Testament). He is saying that Psalm 82:6 is authoritative because it is part of the Scripture which cannot be broken.

This Scripture, this body of sacred writing, is final and completely authoritative. It may not be broken, annulled, set aside, questioned, fragmented, destroyed. Scripture is true and thus wholly authoritative. To declare it untrue, in whole or in part, is to break it.

Therefore it may not be fragmented. Scripture, that which God has given in written form, may not be broken in pieces. As a whole it is Scripture. Thus it may not be fragmented. by saying this is true, that is not; this is valid, that is not; this is authoritative, that is not; this is reliable, that is not; this is the true Word of God, that is the error of man; this is the true Word of God, that is an error permitted by God. The whole of it is the Word of God written, the Scripture, and it may not be broken. It is in its entirety the inviolable deposit of God-breathed truth.

This, it seems clear, is the teaching of Jesus at this crucial point. Once more we quote pointed words by Marcel as to the significance of the testimony of our Lord. “‘The Scripture cannot be broken’ (John 10:35). It is unalterable, indestructible in its truth, indifferent to every denial, to human ignorance and criticism, to charges of error, and to subjective attacks. Let us then be instructed. and convinced I The Holy Spirit prevents us from accepting the opinion of those who say that Christ was governed by the intellectual outlook of his time and country, and who oppose his testimony in the name of ‘modern scientific methods.’ For us, the thought of the Master is canonical. It is an external authority superior to aU the most venerable rabbinical, ecclesiastical. and scientific authorities. The witness of the Holy Spirit in our heart disposes us to prefer the affirmations of Jesus.”3

Marcel’s words leave no doubt that he means to say that he who speaks of error or untruth in Scripture is setting himself over against the perfect wisdom and authority of our Lord. That judgment appears inescapably right.


A charge commonly laid against Jesus was that he was teaching in such a manner as to destroy the law of Moses. Jesus attacked. this aspersion of his enemies by declaring, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets; I came not to destroy, but to fulfill.” Then, to reinforce this statement of his devotion to the Scriptures. he said emphatically, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished” (Matt. 5,17–18).

There are delicate questions of interpretation here. We inquire, for instance, as to the exact thrust of the word “till.” But such questions need not detain us here. They are hardly germane to our main interest at the moment. This simple fact stands out with utmost clarity as we examine Christ’s strong statement: Jesus asserts the binding and enduring quality of the Word in terms of its written form. He does not speak of the durability of the law in terms of the permanence of its ideas. Rather, the enduring and binding character of the law is accented by this divine judgment, that not even the smallest letter or mark shall drop from it. Yes, he is speaking about the permanence of the moral law, as is clear from the following context. But these commandments are written, and the permanence of these great moral principles is underscored by the fact that not the tiniest element of the written Word is to fall away. The force of Christ’s words strikes us vividly when we consult the parallel passage in Luke 16:17. Here we read, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall.”

Certainly this thrust is wholly in harmony with Christ’s stress on the Word of God as written. Christ’s appeal was always to an authoritative Word written, the Scripture(s), and not to a Word to be thought of simply as teaching or concept or idea.


From this brief study of the attitude of Jesus toward the Scriptures of the Old Testament we draw the obvious conclusion that our Lord and Saviour regarded these Scriptures as completely trustworthy, as absolutely authoritative and as utterly inviolable. This inescapable conclusion is well summarized. by Packer in a recent study where he gives us what he regards as the exegetical distillate of John 10:35 and Luke 16:17 (also Matthew 5:18). “‘Infallible’ denotes the quality of never deceiving or misleading, and so means ‘wholly trustworthy and reliable’; ‘inerrant’ means ‘wholly true.’ Scripture is termed infallible and inerrant to express the conviction that all its teaching is tile utterance of God ‘who cannot lie,’ whose word, once spoken, abides for ever, and that therefore it may be trusted implicitly. This is just the conviction about Scripture which our Lord was expressing when He said: ‘The Scripture cannot be broken,’ and ‘it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.’ God’s Word is affirmed to be infallible because God Himself is infallible; the infallibility of Scripture is simply the infallibility of God speaking. What Scripture says is to be received as the infallible Word of the infallible God, and to assert biblical inerrancy and infallibility is just to confess faith in (I) the divine origin of the Bible and (II) the truthfulness and trustworthiness of God. The value of these terms is that they conserve the principle of biblical authority; for statements that are not absolutely true and reliable could not be absolutely authoritative.”4

A most interesting and telling statement of the prevailing attitude among the Jews of Jesus’ day toward the Old Testament Scriptures is found in the writings of the noted Jewish historian Flavius Josephus. In a book written about A.D. 100 in defense of his people Josephus speaks of their sacred writings. His list of twenty-two books is regarded as being the books of our Old Testament canon set in an arrangement that prevailed among the Jews. (An illustration of the Jewish scheme is that what we list as the twelve books of the Minor Prophets they listed as one book.) With regard to these sacred writings Josephus says, “It therefore naturally, or necessarily, follows (seeing that with us it is not open to everybody to write the records, nod that there is no discrepancy in what is written; seeing that. on the contrary, the prophets alone had this privilege, obtaining their knowledge of the most remote and ancient history through the inspiration which they owed to God, and committing to writing a clear account of the events of their own time just as they occurred)—it follows, I say, that we do not possess myriads of inconsistent books, conflicting with each other. Our books, those which are justly accredited, are but two and twenty, and contain the record of all time…We have given practical proof of our reverence for our own Scriptures. For, although such long ages have now passed, no one has ventured either to add, or to remove, or to alter a syllable; and it is an instinct with every Jew, from the day of his birth, to regard them as the decrees of God, to abide by them, and, if need be, cheerfully to die for them.”5

Did Jesus share this prevailing attitude of the Jews of his time on this fundamentally important matter? Naturally it would be out of order and in very poor taste to place this statement whole into the mouth of our Lord. But our study of Christ’s plainly expressed attitude toward the Old Testament strongly indicates that the thrust of the statement by the Jewish historian expresses our Lord’s position aptly.

What about the New Testament? This question does not logically come within the scope of our study as we are dealing with Christ’s attitude toward that part of Scripture that existed for him. But a few observations are in order. There is no good reason to doubt that the place of any New Testament writing in the canon was determined by the same high view that prevailed toward the Old Testament. Whatever was to be regarded as Holy Scripture would share the lofty and inviolable position occupied by the Old Testament. It is worthy of note that in I Timothy 5:18 the formula “For the scripture saith” introduces a twofold quotation, one part from Deuteronomy 25:4 and other from Luke 10:7. And in II Peter 3:15b–16 the epistles of Paul are put on a par with “the other Scriptures.” Especially noteworthy is the stern warning against any tampering with “the revelation of Jesus Christ” with which the last writing in the canon comes to a close (see Revelation 22:18–19).


A careful reading of the confessions of the Reformed churches reveals an evaluation of the Scriptures that is the same as that which we have seen to be the attitude of our Lord himself. The Lord of the Word speaks plainly through these confessional statements. It is as if we hear the voice of Christ himself when Article IV of the Belgic Confession speaks of the books “which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged” (italics by E. H.). And again the Lord of the Word who is also the Head of the church seems to be speaking in Article V as the church declares herself as “believing without any doubt all things contained in them.”

Again, in Article VII we seem to hear the voice of our Lord as the Confession speaks of “those divine Scriptures” as “the truth of God” over against “any writings of men.” Therefore,” the church confesses under the tutelage of our Lord, “we reject with all our heart whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule, as the apostles have taught us, saying, Prove the spirits, whether they are of God.”6

Then again, in Lord’s Day VII of the Heidelberg Catechism the church, taught by her Lord, confesses that true faith means to “hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word.” Some try to tell us that this means that God’s Word contains the truth but is not as such and in all its parts the truth. Ursinus, the main author of the Catechism, makes clear that such notions are wrong. He tells us in his commentary on the Catechism in loco that the “man who truly believes…believes that every thing which the Scriptures contain is true, and from God.”


Ursinus has said it exactly. The true believer “believes that every thing which the Scriptures contain is true, and from God.” (Incidentally, Ursinus and Article V of the Confession are not to be discredited by the pedantic inanity that after all we can’t believe the lies of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, as recorded in II Kings 5. The simple paint is that Scripture records these lies factually, truthfully—as lies. ) In regarding as true all that the Bible contains the believer is simply reflecting the view of his Lord and Saviour, who declared, “Thy word is truth” (John 17:17).

The language and sentence structure of the Bible may not always be what the grammarian or literary critic may desire. The standard of accuracy prevailing throughout the Bible may not be that which has become commonplace since the development of modem mathematical science, But the superimposition of these latter-day standards upon the Scriptures is artificial and pedantic, and betrays a lack of sound historical and exegetical perspective. What we must insist on is that the Bible can contain no error or untruth. To allege such against the Holy Scriptures is to place a dark question mark over the Lord of glory and truth who stands as the living heart and center of that redeeming Word.

To be sure, every honest student of the Bible meets problems, troublesome questions, and difficult exegetical matters. Let such be dealt with faithfully in scholarly fashion. But, let none of these questions tempt the student to ascribe error or similar fault to that which our Lord and Saviour, who is the Son of God, regarded as sacredly inviolable truth. Let the student be a humble disciple, always praying for a larger measure of that humility which is the mark of true discipleship. For, as our Master said, “A disciple is not above his teacher….It is enough for the disciple that he be as his teacher” (Matthew 10:24–25).

1. Pierre Ch. Marcel, “Our Lord’s Use of Scripture,” in Henry, Revelation and the Bible, p. 121. Grand Rapids, Baker Book House, c. 1958.

2. The same, p. 133.

3. The same, p. 134.

4. J.I. Packer, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, pp. 95f, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1958 (paper).

5. Josephus, Against Apion, I, 7–8. Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray. Loeb Classical Library, New York, Putnam, 1926.

6. The rendering of Article VII given here is purposely different from that appearing in the usual English text of the Confession, and agrees with the Dutch rendering. the word as in the clause “as the apostles have taught us,” is a more accurate translation of the French word comme. The rendering given here relates the key words “infallible rule” to the entire Scriptures and not merely to the two scriptural passages that follow, as the common English text of the Confession does.