Henrich Bullinger, 1504-1575, on the Perfection of Scripture’s Authority from the Holy Ghost and Scripture’s Self-authentication

[For those readers familiar with the Standard Sacred Text, Bullinger’s comment further demonstrates the historic orthodox understanding of Scriptural authority. From the abundant testimony of Reformation era writers from the Continent and England the theological continuity on this point is conspicuous. Bullinger’s commentary is of an intimate character showing the continuity between the work of the Holy Spirit in the giving of the autographa and the Holy Spirit’s work in confirming the authority of the preserved Scripture to every believer. Note his citation of the gentle work of the Spirit in the life of Augustine turning his heart from being resistant to this truth to “at last thoroughly persuading him.” The same Spirit that assured Augustine assures the believer today that Scripture is indeed God’s Word. Also note the Shepherd/sheep reference and the relationship every believer has with Christ as grounds for accepting the Scripture. As you read, please consider the rich, unifying theological heritage of pre-critical Orthodox theology forsaken by modern text critics compared to the vacuous and divisive critical approach of recent history.]

Chapter IX

That the Canonical Scripture hath the chief perfection of her authority from the holy Ghost, and of herself: And contrarily that the Church receiveth her authority from the Scripture.

Hitherto we have yielded many reasons for the most excellent authority of the Canonical Scripture. Now the question is, from when the scripture hath or received this most excellent and perfect authority, or by whom the Canon was made, whereunto the Canonical books pertain. The papists say that the Scripture hath her authority from the Church, and that therefore the authority of the Church is greater than the authority of the Scriptures. As though the word of God, which endureth forever (Isa. 40:8), were subject to men’s decrees, as though God his truth should entreat men top authorize it. It is not so. The word of God is of itself most sure, and needeth not the propping up of men, but holdeth up all things. “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall in no wise pass away” (Matt. 24:35). The Scripture receiveth her strength or authority chiefly from God, from whom it was revealed. That is to say, that it came not by the will of men (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) but that the men of God, being moved by the holy Ghost. Both spake and wrote. Whom being chosen and elected for this office, God adorned with many and sundry miracles and divine testimonies.

So that there is no doubt at all, that those things were given by God by inspiration which they wrote and set down. And the selfsame spirit, which hath caused these things to be written, assureth us, that they are not the inventions of men. And when the spirit of God doeth herein witness to our spirit, it seals up the Scripture in our hearts, the faithful soul doeth marvelously rejoice and is greatly confirmed. Therefore we being illuminated by the virtue of the spirit, do not now believe, either through our own judgment, or through the judgment of others, that the Scripture is of God, but do most certainly persuade ourselves above man’s judgment, none otherwise then if we did behold therein the power of God, that the Scriptures are come unto us, even from the very mouth of God by the administration of men.

Therefore the Spouse in the Ballets sayeth with marvelous joy, “My beloved said unto me.” I say nothing of that, which everyone, which is lightened with the light of true faith sayeth, must needs find by experience in himself. By this experience wrote once Augustine the man of God, how God by a little and a little tempered and disposed his heart with his most meek and most merciful hand, and at the last thoroughly persuaded him, so at the last he knew and believed, that those books were delivered to mankind by the Spirit, and the only true and most true God. Therefore the authority of the Scripture doth depend not on the judgment of Church, but by the inward testimony of the holy Ghost: “Neither is it to be doubted that we become Christ’s sheep through the power of the holy Ghost, that we follow not falsehoods, errors, corruptions, and heresies, which are the voice of strangers, but hear only the voice of Christ.”.

And John witnesseth, the Christ said thus, concerning the Spirit, “If God were your father, why do ye not know my speech?” (John 8:42-43). For it is most certain, that we are adopted to be sons of God, by the means of the holy Ghost, which when we have obtained, Christ witnesseth in this place, that we by the lightning of the same Spirit, may so discern his speech from strangers, that it may be manifest and certain unto us. In the selfsame sense, Christ sayeth also in another place (John 10:2-5), “He that entereth in by the door, is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice, andn he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he shall put forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they shall in no wise follow, but fly from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.” Neither is it to be doubted that we become Christ’s sheep through the power of the holy Ghost, that we follow not falsehoods, errors, corruptions, and heresies, which are the voice of strangers, but hear only the voice of Christ, that is to say, embrace the natural sense of the Scripture. And Paul sayeth to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 2:14-15) “The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he known them, because they are spiritually discerned.” And in the same place (1 Cor. 2:10) “The spirit searcheth the deep things of God.” And Christ also sayeth (John 14:26) “The comforter, which is the holy ghost, shall bring all things to your remembrance , whatsoever I have said unto you.” Also John hath said these words in his Epistle (1 John 2:27) “The anointing teacheth you of all things,” Again, (1 John 4:6) “He that knoweth God heareth us.”

To be brief, Augustine in the place lately cited sayeth, “Therefore when as we were weak to find forth the truth by clear reason, and when we had need of the authority of the holy Scriptures, for the same purpose, I began to believe forthwith, that thou wouldest by no means give so excellent authority unto that Scripture throughout all lands, but that they will was, that thou wouldest be sought by it, and wouldest be believed by it.”[1] Behold, it is God, I say, it is God, which hath established his holy books with so great authority in all nations. And August. added the cause why God will be sought through them, is why he will be believed through them.

I conclude therefore, that the scripture hath not her authority chiefly from the Church. For the firmness and strength thereof dependeth upon God, is not of men. And the word being both firm and sure, was before the Church, for the church was called by the word (Eph. 2:20). And seeing the doctrine of the prophets and of the apostles is the foundation of the Church, it must needs be, that the certainty of the Church must consist in the said doctrine, as in her foundation and groundwork, before the said Church can take her beginning. (Eph. 2:20) For if the Church of Christ were founded in the beginning by the writing of the Prophets, and with the preaching of the Apostles. Wheresoever the said doctrine be found, certainly the allowing of the doctrine went before the Church, without the which doctrine the Church could never have been. And because the spirit of God wrought in the hearts of them, which heard the word of God (and read it, that they might acknowledge that it was not the word of man, but of God. Undoubtedly, thew word of God receiveth authority from the spirit, and not from the Church.

Henrie Bullinger, A most godly and learned discourse of the worthiness, and sufficiency of the holy Scripture: Also of the clearness, and plainness of he same, and of the true use thereof. Translated out of the Latin into English by John Tomkys (London: Ponnsonby, [1571] 1579), Chapter IX

[1] Updated translation: “Thus, since we are too weak by unaided reason to find out truth, and since, because of this, we need the authority of the Holy Writings, I had now begun to believe that thou wouldst not, under any circumstances, have given such eminent authority to those Scriptures throughout all lands if it had not been that through them thy will may be believed in and that thou mightest be sought.”

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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