God's Word Alone—The Authority Of Scripture

What The Reformers Taught...And Why It Still Matters

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Matthew Barrett
The Five Solas Series
  • Grand Rapids, MI: 
    Zondervan
    , September
     2016.
     416 pages.
     $24.99.
     Paperback.
    ISBN
    9780310515722.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.

Review

God’s Word Alone is one of the books in Zondervan’s “5 solas” series. The others are Christ Alone: The Uniqueness of Jesus as Savior; Grace Alone: Salvation as a Gift of God; Faith Alone: The Doctrine of Justification; and God’s Glory Alone: The Majestic Heart of Christian Faith and Life.

God’s Word Alone is divided into three parts. Part 1 deals with the authority and truthfulness of God’s Word throughout history. In this historical section, author Matthew Barrett traces the Christian Church’s view of the seat of authority from before the time of the Reformation to the present day. During the medieval period of church history, “‘Tradition 2’ (T2)” taught that revelation had “two sources: Scripture and ecclesiastical Tradition, the latter of which includes the pope and the magisterium.” T2 holds that scripture is not the sole authority for doctrine and teaching, nor is it sufficient, nor is it the sole infallible source of divine revelation, because scripture and unwritten tradition share “an equally infallible and inerrant authority” (46).

The reformers opposed the Roman Catholic view (T2), arguing that scripture possesses “magisterial authority” with tradition possessing “ministerial” authority, meaning that tradition has authority but does not overrule scripture nor does it have equal authority with scripture. Only scripture “is the inerrant and infallible written source of God’s revelation to his people.” Following Heiko Oberman, Barrett identifies this view of scripture and tradition as “‘Tradition 1’ (T1).” T1 is the view of the major reformers: Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli (45). Barrett identifies the radical reformers’ (Menno Simons, Thomas Muentzer, et al.) view of scripture and tradition as “Tradition 0” (58) for they rejected either scripture or tradition or both.

Barrett is concerned by the problem of the “infallibility of the biblical scholar” which he describes as a “new papalism” (76). Critical biblical scholars, he says, encourage each reader to be “lord and judge” over the Bible rather than approaching it with “reverence” and “humility” (76-77). Barrett contrasts the views of critical scholars like Friedrich Schliermacher, David Strauss, and F.C. Bauer to those of Karl Barth, and evangelicals such as J. Gresham Machen, of whom he is more approving.

In part 2, Barrett seeks to demonstrate the insufficiency of “general revelation” for redemptive history and sets forth the necessity for “special revelation” which he states is given by God through his promises and their fulfillment in the scriptures (154, 157). For Barrett God’s Old Testament promises of the Messiah “were brought to completion in the new covenant through the person and work of” Christ (212). For Barrett the work of the “Spirit of truth” is “Christocentric,” because the Spirit is to “witness to the things of Christ” (216). In addition Barrett sees the Spirit as guiding “the disciples into all truth” (216-217).

Part 3 is more dogmatic in nature and sets forth four characteristics of God’s Word: inspiration, inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency. God’s Word Alone ties the traditional teaching of the authority of scripture to scripture’s inspiration which Barrett defines as “that act whereby the Holy Spirit came upon the authors of Scripture, causing them to write exactly what God intended, while simultaneously preserving each author’s style and personality.” Thus the words they wrote “are God’s words” which are “reliable, trustworthy, and authoritative” (229). For Barrett, verbal plenary inspiration refers to “all the words of Scripture (tota Scriptura) so that ”all the Bible is God’s Word. Therefore human beings do not have “hermeneutical autonomy” to decide which parts of the Bible are “God’s Word” and which “are not” (236).

Barrett gathers evidence for scripture’s inspiration from the Old and New Testaments, including Jesus’s testimony about the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the text of the Bible, and that the scriptures came from God. For Barrett, a rejection of the inspiration of scripture means the abandonment of “the authority of Christ and the apostles” as doctrinal authorities for the church and individual Christians (262). Barrett also marshals biblical evidence for scripture’s inerrancy, clarity, and sufficiency. Barrett sets forth his understanding of Scripture’s inspiration, clarity, truthfulness, and sufficiency in contrast to the temper of our age which claims that “truth is relative” (302). Barrett’s views are in agreement with those of Albert Mohler, Jr., who stated that Reformation theology “cannot long survive without the church’s explicit commitment to the authority of Scripture above all else” (15).

The “formal principle” of the Reformation is that scripture alone is the final authority for doctrine and practice (13). The “material principle” of the Reformation is “the doctrine of justification by faith alone” (19). For Barrett, the two principles are tied together. The assurance that Christ has accomplished the work of salvation for sinful human beings is tied to scripture’s inspiration and truthfulness. If scripture is not the sole authority and true, then there will be uncertainty in doctrine and practice. Modernity, pragmatism, and postmodernism challenge the authority of God’s Word and the church’s understanding of divine revelation. In response, Barrett’s book sets forth a defense of the reformers’ teaching about the authority of scripture, and his reasons why their understanding of scripture still matters today.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Armand J. Boehme serves as Associate Pastor at Trinity Luthern Church in Northfield, Minnesota.

Date of Review: 
February 12, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Matthew Barrett is Tutor of Systematic Theology and Church History at Oak Hill Theological College in London. He is the executive editor of Credo Magazine, as well as the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace, Four Views on the Historical Adam, and Owen on the Christian Life.

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