Do We Need Permission to Read the Bible?

Turretin asserts against the Papists,

“But we, on the other hand, maintain not only that every believer may freely read the Scriptures, but also ought to without waiting for permission form a bishop or priest.”

Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 18, Sec. 1.

When the academy claims that the long ending in Mark, the woman caught in adultery, and 1 John 5:7 do not belong in the Scriptures, they are saying, either implicitly or explicitly, that to read those passages goes against the authority of scholars. If it were up to them, they would not permit those words into the text of Scripture and would thereby not permit the people of God to read them. The church does not have the academy’s permission in these regards.

The better way would be for the academy to do their work, present it to the believing community, trust the Holy Spirit to blow where He wills [John 3:8], and if the believing community chooses to retain those passages, then the academy willfully and eagerly submits. Yes, the Ph.D.’s, linguists, and archeologist submit to the Spirit of God as He has moved through plumbers, truck drivers, MD’s, and Stay-At-Home moms. And unless some major find [i.e., a Qumran level find] the issue of the inclusion of these texts would remain settled. And this is exactly where Turretin takes the discussion. He writes,

“If men abuse the Scriptures, this does not happen per se, but accidentally from the perversity of those who wrongfully wrest them to their own destruction.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 18, Sec. V.

The word “accidentally” here is not used as we often do now. “Accidentally” here does not mean, a chance happening or unintentional behavior. No, the idea is having to do with what is non-essential. So, the abuse of Scripture is not essential because God’s word remains pure in all ages. Still, the abuse of Scripture is accidental being a wresting of Scripture via human bias and interpretation. He goes on in that same section to say of those who do such things,

“For heresies usually arise not form common people and the unlearned, but from ecclesiastics.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 18, Sec. V.

Turretin’s point here is that some wrest the Scripture, some abuse the Scripture and usually it is the educated churchmen who do it. In doing so they commit heresy which simply taken means, they divide the church. A heretic is one who causes schisms in the believing community. As such it seems only appropriate that the ecclesiastics/scholars eagerly submit to the Spirit leading “common people and unlearned,” especially in issues that could bring about a schism like whether John 7:53-8:11 is God’s word and belongs in the Bible.

On this point the modern textual critic has to prove more than just “the oldest and best manuscripts do not have this passage” they must go on to show that God did not give John 7:53-8:11 by inspiration. Unfortunately for them they cannot. That is the work of the Spirit-led common people and the unlearned to determine. So, for the NT scholars, once you’ve done all your text critical work and you have exhibited that necessary artistic acumen, submit your work to the finding of the Spirit-led common people and unlearned then sit back knowing you have done all you can. Then when the people of God return your work, perhaps even in disagreeing with it, bow the knee to Christ’s bride and praise the Lord for His work in the lives of believers.

But what if John 7:53-8:11 really is an error? What are we ever going to do? Turretin writes,

“If errors can arise from the Scriptures improperly understood, so far from keeping them [i.e., the translated Scriptures] from their [i.e., the unlearned and common folk] perusal, this ought the rather to excite them to searching. Thus, properly understanding them, they may be able to confute such errors.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 18, Sec. V.

Whether an error in knowing what the Scripture is or in knowing what the Scripture teaches the method for sorting it out is the same. Give God’s people the word of God. God in the person of the Holy Spirit will accompany His words and not accompany the words which are not His. In so doing the common and unlearned believing community will come to know what is or is not God’s word or what God’s word does or does not teach. Borrowing from I Corinthians 1:26-29,

“For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called27But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29That no flesh should glory in his presence.

It’s high time the wise, mighty, noble academy be confounded and brought to nothing by the called and chosen bride of Christ. Assuming of course that the existence of the Bride of Christ is a meaningful and robust reality in the American religious landscape.

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