From what source does the divine authority of the Scriptures become known to us? (Part 3)

Continuing our Bibliology Primer and specifically Turretin’s treatment of how a Christian comes to know the authority and divinity of Scripture we now turn to the self-attesting and self-authenticating character of Scripture. Turretin writes,

“That the Scripture makes itself known to us is proved: (1) by the nature of Scripture itself.”

Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

And how is it that Scripture makes itself known itself? Turretin gives a familiar example from his time. Again, he writes,

“For as a law does not derive its authority from the subordinate judges who interpret it or from the heralds who promulgate it, but from its author alone.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

In other words, the Scriptures make themselves known by themselves because God’s words can only be known by God’s words. There is no authority or grounding prior to or more potent than God’s words. Therefore only God’s words can prove God’s words to be God’s words.

Turretin takes this point a step or two further by identifying the Scriptures as a first principle.

“(2) By nature of the highest genera and of first principles; for those things are known by themselves and are not susceptible to proof which cannot be demonstrated by any other, otherwise the thing would go on into infinity.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

If there were a more basic, more grounding authoritative principle than God’s words, call it X, then where did that more basic, more grounding authoritative principle derive its basicality, grounding, and authority? And if such a thing did exist, call it Y, then where did Y get its properties of more basic, more grounding, and more authority? Let’s say such a thing did exist and let’s call it Z. Where did Z get said properties? As you can see the list goes on and on into infinity.

This is what is known as an infinite regression of contingent particulars. Such a thing does not and cannot exist because it is infinitely contingent and is therefore infinitely potential and potential things have not yet come into existence, and in this case, infinitely so. Thus there must be a first grounding that is most basic and most authoritative and that grounding is God’s words. Nothing is more basic, more authoritative, and more grounding than God’s words. Therefore God’s words, the Scriptures, are a first principle. Thus Turretin concludes,

“Thus Scripture, which is the first principle in the supernatural order, is known by itself and has not need of arguments derived from without to prove and make itself known to us.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.


“If God has stamped such marks upon all first principles that they can be known at once by all men, we cannot doubt that he has placed them upon this sacred first principle (in the highest degree necessary to our salvation).”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

Turretin’s third proof as to how Scripture is proved by itself is as follows:

“By comparison, as objects of the sense presented to faculties well disposed are immediately distinguished and known without any other external argument, on account of a secret adaptation and propensity of the faculty to the object.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

For example?

“Light is immediately most certainly known to us by its own brightness; food by its particular sweetness; an odor by its particular fragrance without any additional testimony.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

In like manner…

“the Scripture, which is set for to us in respect to the new man and spiritual sense, now under the symbol of a clear light (Ps. 119:105), then of the most sweetest food (Ps. 19:10; Is. 55:1-2; Heb. 5:14) and again of the sweetest smelling savor (Cant. 1:3), may easily be distinguished of itself by the sense of the new man as soon as it is presented to them and makes itself known by its own light, sweetness and fragrance.”

Turretin, Institutes, Second Topic, Q. VI, Sec. 11.

This idea of self-attesting and self-authenticating will be developed further as we continue our way through our Primer and particularly through this sixth question. But for now, suffice it to sum up in the following way. The Scripture’s attestation to iteslf is shown in three ways: (1) God as author of God’s words is the only fit witness to God’s words because they are His words, (2) Scripture is the most basic and most authoritative grounding principle and is therefore in the genera of first principle. As such, it cannot be proven by something more more basic or more authoritative than itself, and (3) the Scripture is known in a basic sort of way. Just as we know we taste baklava at the moment we taste baklava or smell our wife’s perfume at the moment we smell her perfume, so also we known the “light, sweetness, and fragrance” of God’s words when we by faith see, taste, and smell the words of God.

We do not however know our wife’s perfume by snatching 5,700+ molecules from the air, testing them, comparing them, seeing which are older, pass it through the coherence based fragrance method coupled with the “art” of fragrance criticism and finally conclude that the fragrance we are smelling is probably either our wife’s perfume or in the air apparatus.

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