Scripture as the Object of Faith

In Volume 2 of Francis Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology (1696) he discusses the question of the object of faith, or toward what is faith aimed and from which does faith come? To answer this question, Turretin offers four propositions.

“First proposition: ‘The object of faith ought to be true and nothing false can come under it.'”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec II.

Turretin goes on in the same section to explain,

“The reason is that the word of God (which is most true) is the sole object of faith and cannot be exposed to any error or falsehood, no more than God himself (its author, who is the truth itself and who, as he cannot be deceived, so he cannot deceive anyone, not knowing how to lie).”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec II.

Most trained evangelicals would argue that there are no “major” errors, whatever that means, but there are probably errors in the “small stuff,” whatever that means. Here though it is important to note, and as we will see later, that nothing false can be the object of faith. That is, if there are words in Scripture which are not Scripture then they cannot be the object of faith. For the modern evangelical text-critic, the woman caught in adultery is not Scripture, yet it remains in all their subsequent versions. As such, said story cannot be the object of faith.

On another note, to claim that Greek edition X is the word of God while simultaneously saying that all the words contained therein are only probably God’s word is to also claim that those words are only probably the object of faith. How probable? That depends on what scholar you ask and what passage concerning which he is asked. That is, the probability that the word of God here or there is the object of faith varies from word to word and in the case of the woman caught in adultery, the probability is around zero.

Finally, note that Turretin maintains a position which claims that the Scripture may no more err than God Himself. This is High-Bibliology and it is of a particular theological sort which seems to be missing from the current evangelical repertoire.

Turretin later declares that one need not know all of the Scripture to be saved Turretin does declare that

“…it is of faith and necessary to salvation to believe all things were committed to writing by the inspiration (theopneustos) of God for the fulness of the knowledge of the church.”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XIII.

In other words, a tract is sufficient to save a soul but to deny that every word of Scripture is inspired by God for the purpose of the fulness of the knowledge of the church is to deny a truth “necessary to salvation.” Not my words..

Turning now to the second proposition, Turretin writes,

“Second Proposition: ‘The object of faith is none other than the written word of God according to the measure of revelation.'”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec IX.

Whether the OT or NT the object of faith is the written word of God. If we do not have the written word of God or if we only probably have the written word of God, then we either don’t have an object of faith or we only probably have an object of faith. The modern evangelical text-critic’s insistence on probability leaves us something like, “Faith probably has a cause and aim, but maybe not.” We on the other hand argue that we know we have the word of God, and we know this because of the Spirit of God moving in the through the word of God to the people of God by faith.

“Third proposition: ‘The object of faith is either material or formal.'”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XI.

Here material means the things believed i.e., the things the Bible teaches both about itself as well as all other propositions contained therein. As to formal, this is the reason or cause by which we believe. The reason or cause of our belief is as Turretin puts it

“the authority of God, the only one credible of himself (autopistou) as the first and infallible truth, revealing himself in the word, in which is granted the ultimate analysis of faith (as in its own formal object, which alone can establish divine faith because it rests in no one except God alone Jer 17:5, 7).”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XI.

As such the cause of our faith is God who alone is self-credible revealing Himself through the word of God to the people of God by faith. Sound familiar?

Regarding justifying faith Turretin observes in the fourth proposition,

“Fourth proposition: ‘The object of faith is either general and common or it is proper and special.'”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XIII.

Touching the general and common Turretin explains,

“The general is the whole word of God, which is proposed to us that it may be believed, whether in respect of histories (which narrate things done) or of prophecies (which predict things future) or of doctrine and precepts (which regard no difference of time) or of promises and threatenings (which re made to the pious or impious). All these fall under the object of faith, although in different ways according to the nature and condition of each.”

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XIII.

Concerning the proper and specific object of justifying faith Turretin writes,

“…is the doctrine concerning Jesus Christ and the promise of the remission of sins and of salvation in his blood.

Turretin, Institutes, Fifteenth Topic, Q. XI, Sec XIII.

How many of the words of your Bible are the words of the autograph? How do you know? Your answer to these two questions will tell you about the nature and source of your faith.

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