Benedict Pictet (1655-1724): Four Arguments for the Self-authenticating Authority of Scripture

Having proved the divinity and inspiration of the scripture, we next consider its authority. Now this is nothing else but the dignity and right of the sacred books, whereby they claim our faith in whatever they hold forth as necessary to be believed, and our obedience in whatever they prescribe to be done, or to be left undone. For having been proved to be of God, and not of men, or of the devil, the necessary consequence is, that they have supreme authority over us. For who would deny that to be authoritative which is divine?[1] Now the scripture derives its authority from God only, who is the author of it. If then I am asked on what ground I believe the scripture to be divine, I an only reply, “Because of the marks and characters which I hold in it, and by which it proves itself to be of God, and not because of any other testimony.” As if anyone should ask me why I believe the sun to be bright? Or sugar sweet? Or the rose fragrant? I should reply, “Because I see the sun’s rays, I taste the sweetness of sugar, and I smell the fragrance of the rose.” We must reason concerning the scripture, which is the first principle of faith, in the same way as concerning the principles of other sciences, which do not derive their authority from any source, but ate known of themselves, and prove their own truth. The same may be said of God’s word, which is the law and edict of our heavenly Sovereign, as is said of human laws, which do not derive their authority from subjects on whom they are imposed, or from those who have charge of announcing them to the people, but only from the sovereign, who enacted them. But, least anyone should say that the scripture does indeed possess authority itself, as proceeding from God, but does not obtain that authority in relation to us, except through the testimony of the church, we shall prove that the Scripture does not derive its authority from the church,[2] by the following arguments:

First, if this be the case, diviner authority will be subject to human, and we shall believe God merely on the testimony of man; but this would be absurd; therefore it is absurd to say that the testimony of the church gives authority to Scripture. Now we know that the testimony of the church is but the testimony of men, for it consists of mere men, who are not divinely inspired.

Secondly, if the authority of Scripture be suspended on the testimony of the church, then it will be only a human faith, by which we believe the divinity of scripture.; the latter idea is absurd, therefore the former is absurd also. Now the testimony of the church can produce only human faith, because that only is divine faith which rests upon divine authority, whereas the authority of the church is merely human, unless it can be proved to be under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit, which cannot be proved of any church since the times of the apostles, who alone, together with the prophets, were exempt from error. And to believe only with a human faith that the scripture is divine is absurd, because then there would be nothing certain in religion, and nothing on which the mind could securely depend without doubt.

Thirdly, if the judgment of the church does not already suppose the divine authority of scripture, then the authority of the latter will not depend on the former. Now the church is persuaded by the divinity of Scripture, either with or without grounds. The latter idea is absurd even to think of; if then the former is correct, there could be no other grounds than the marks of divinity which appear in the scriptures, and which thereby gain them authority with the church; thus the authority of scripture is at once recognized to be prior and superior to the judgment of the church.

Fourthly, if the authority of the church depends on scripture itself, then it is absurd to make the authority of the latter depend upon the former. Now it is clear that no other church can be acknowledged as the true church, but what is “built upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles,” Eph. xi. 20) i.e., upon the scripture. Nor can it be ascertained that any church is a true church, except first of all it be proved, that the divine and true which the church holds to be such, since it is the belief of the truth to which the church owes its existence as a church. Now, we cannot know whether that be true which the church receives as true, except by weighing it in the balances of the scripture. Moreover it will be evident, that the authority of the church is subject to authority of scripture, if we consider that the authority of the apostles themselves was by them subjected to that of scripture, and surely the authority of the church in any age cannot be greater than that of apostles. But that these holy men did subject their authority to that of God’s word, is clear from the words of Peter, declaring that the “word of prophecy’ (that is the scripture of the Old Testament) is surer than the testimony of the apostles, who were “eyewitnesses of his majesty,” and heard the voice from heaven. (2 Peter ii.16-20). And also the words of Paul, “though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. ii. 8).

To all this we may add, there is no church which has such clear evidences of its own authority, as the scripture has of its own divinity, and common sense teaches us that no authority of any councils, or of any men, can be equal to that of God speaking in his word, or be put in competition with the writings of Moses, of the prophets, and the apostles. From all these arguments it is plain, that the authority of the sacred books is not to be suspended on the testimony of the church…..

Let us follow those, says Augustine, who first invite us to believe what we are not yet able to understand, in order that, having been enabled by faith itself, we may come to understand what we believe, when it is no longer men, but God himself who inwardly illuminates and strengthens our minds.

Benedict Pictet, Christian Theology, translated from the Latin by Frederick Reyroux (London: R. B. Seely and Sons, 1696 [1834]), 35-38, 40

Benedict Pictet (1655-1724): “Reformed minister, theologian, and hymn writer, Pictet is best known for his vigorous defense of orthodox Calvinism in an age of theological transition. Born in Geneva, he was educated at the university, where he became professor of theology (1686). There he was a restraining influence on his colleagues, including his cousin, Jean–Alphonse Turrettini, who wanted to abrogate the Helvetic Consensus Formula and institute other theological changes in the early years of the Enlightenment. A man of irenic spirit, Pictet authored two major theological works, published many books and pamphlets, wrote texts for numerous popular hymns, organized assistance for Huguenot refugees following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685), and promoted evangelism in France.”

[1] This rhetorical question remains for the current MVO/CT advocate to answer.

[2] The writer here attacks the opinion of Papists, who maintain that the authority of the scripture over us depends on the testimony of the church. For our purposes, please substitute the focus on external criteria of “post-critical scholarship” for “church.”

Published by Dr. Peter Van Kleeck, Sr.

Dr. Peter William Van Kleeck, Sr. : B.A., Grand Rapids Baptist College, 1986; M.A.R., Westminster Theological Seminary, 1990; Th.M., Calvin Theological Seminary, 1998; D. Min, Bob Jones University, 2013. Dr. Van Kleeck was formerly the Director of the Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, Grand Rapids, MI, (1990-1994) lecturing, researching and writing in the defense of the Masoretic Hebrew text, Greek Received Text and King James Bible. His published works include, "Fundamentalism’s Folly?: A Bible Version Debate Case Study" (Grand Rapids: Institute for Biblical Textual Studies, 1998); “We have seen the future and we are not in it,” Trinity Review, (Mar. 99); “Andrew Willet (1562-1621: Reformed Interpretation of Scripture,” The Banner of Truth, (Mar. 99); "A Primer for the Public Preaching of the Song of Songs" (Outskirts Press, 2015). Dr. Van Kleeck is the pastor of the Providence Baptist Church in Manassas, VA where he has ministered for the past twenty-one years. He is married to his wife of 43 years, Annette, and has three married sons, one daughter and eighteen grandchildren.

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