Scripture as Supreme and Infallible Judge of All Controversies and Interpreter of Itself (Part 2)

In our last post on this point, we framed the question and asserted that disputes over what is or is not the New Testament and therefore what is or is not the word of God fall under the jurisdictional authority of the Spirit of God as supreme autocratic judge speaking through the words of God to the people of God by faith. Today we are going to discuss the first four of Turretin’s arguments to this point. He has a total of seven and we will address the latter three in the next post on this topic.

To summarize his first four argument, Turretin affirms that the Scriptures or God speaking in them are “the supreme and infallible judge of controversies” because 1.) The Bible sends us to itself to judge controversies, 2.) Christ sends us to the Bible to judge controversies, 3.) The Spirit is Himself an infallible judge, and 4.) Man is not an infallible judge. Beginning with the first, Turretin writes,

“God in the Old and New Testaments absolutely and unconditionally sends us to this judge – ‘and thou shalt do according to the law which they shall teach thee (Dt. 17:10); ‘to the law and the testimony, etc.’ (Is. 8:20); ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’ (Ll. 16:29).”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. VIII.

Having asserted what the Scriptures teach, Turretin takes the opportunity to point our attention to what is conspicuously absent from the list of final judges and interpreters: man.

“Christ does not say they have the priests and scribes (who cannot err), but they have Moses and the prophets (viz., in their writings), implying that they are abundantly sufficient for full instruction and their authority must be acquiesced in.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. VIII.

We may as well add textual critics to the list of priests and scribes. And for those fair-handed textual critics out there, if you do not profess to tell the church what is or is not the New Testament, then who does and by what standard(s)?

Moving onto Turretin’s second argument we see that he moves his emphasis from the revealed word to the Archetypal Word – Jesus Christ and the apostolic message. Turretin writes,

“The practice of Christ and his apostles confirms this for in controversies of faith they appeal to the Scriptures (Mt. 4:4, 6, 7; 22:29; Jn. 5:39; 10:34, 35; Acts 17:2, 11; 18:28; 26:22) and profess to know nothing besides Moses and the prophets (Lk. 24:44; Acts 26:22).”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. IX.

If we are to be imitators of Christ and if Paul calls us to be imitators of him as he is an imitator of Christ it stands to reason that we also should look to the Scriptures for the same reasons and in the same way. Because it is Christ doing it and because we are called to be as He is, then in these descriptions of Christ’s treatment of controversies we receive a prescription of how we too ought to do the same.

In Turretin’s third argument he emphasizes the particular person of the Holy Spirit and the kind of person He is. Turretin writes,

“A supreme and infallible judge is one who never errs in judgment, nor is he able to err; is uninfluenced by prejudice and from whom is no appeal…God speaking in the Scriptures claims these as his own prerogatives alone, as incapable of error in judgement, being truth itself, uninfluenced by partiality, being no respecter of persons (aprosopoleptes); nor can any appeal be made from him because he has no superior.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. X.

God does not err. God cannot err, neither in His words nor in His judgments. God is truth itself. So, when God speaks through His word as an act of confirming His word as His word this speech will be the unerring truth. Now, will man receive it as such? Perhaps not, but that does not impeach the truth that such a phenomenon is happening in space and time and that the Spirit-filled believer can and does by faith hear God speaking in this way.

We come now to Turretin’s fourth argument which is stated as follows:

“Man cannot be the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures and judge of controversies because he is liable to error. Our faith cannot be placed in him, but upon God alone from whom depends the sense and meaning of the Scriptures and who is the best interpreter of his own words.”

Turretin, Institutes, vol. 1, Second Topic, Q. 20, Sec. XI.

Turretin’s critique here is really twofold. One, scholars and popes are infallible interpreters in the controversy of what is or is not the New Testament and thereby what is or is not the word of God. People who assume themselves to be in this place are not suited for the responsibilities which appertain. Two, those of us who would like to put our faith in these men, and in many cases do, have erred according to the Scriptures. The Scriptures call us to look into the Scriptures. Christ and the apostles looked to the Scriptures to solve their controversies. We are called to do the same today and especially on the controversies surrounding whether or not this or that text should be counted among the words of the New Testament.

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