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Catechism Buzz: Primary Purpose

17 January 2011 by FX Turk

Q. 3. What is the Word of God?
A. The holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are the Word of God, the only rule of faith and obedience.

Q. 4. How does it appear that the Scriptures are the Word of God?
A. The Scriptures manifest themselves to be the Word of God, by their majesty and purity; by the consent of all the parts, and the scope of the whole, which is to give all glory to God; by their light and power to convince and convert sinners, to comfort and build up believers unto salvation: but the Spirit of God bearing witness by and with the Scriptures in the heart of man, is alone able fully to persuade it that they are the very Word of God.

Q. 5. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

As I said last week, the Larger Catechism does a fine job of telling us what Scripture is -- though we probably would ask of it what it means by "Old Testament" and "New Testament". And while those of us who are Christians -- especially, Calvinists -- might take these three answers at face value, what good are they to someone we want to present our faith to?

Well, they are of some use. Working backwards here, Q5 helps us define the scope of Scripture. That is: it helps us narrow the question of what we ought to use the Scriptures for. Primarily, we use the Scriptures to teach us what to believe about God, and also what we ought to do about it. This doesn't come up again until Q157, but consider it: All matters not centrally wrapped up in belief in God and living as if God is real are not the primary concern of Scripture. They may be the building-blocks of Scripture, or the narrative medium of Scripture's message, or for plain folk the words and pi'chers, but according to the Catechism we do not have to concern ourselves with any perception we have of things not in this primary purpose.

This is an important didactic point but it's actually an important apologetic point. For example, let's say that someone wants to discredit the Bible by saying that the age of the Earth is not actually 6500 years, but it is in fact much older than this. They are in fact saying this today, so maybe we can help our selves through catechesis. If we stick to what we ought to believe about the Bible, we should be willing to say that as long as the actual activity of God in creation, including the creation of Man as in his image, they can have the age of the Earth. As long as they do not deny the fall of man as the source of man's problem before God, they can have the talking serpent. As long as they do not deny man's fall and God's decree to put us out of his presence as punishment, they can even have the Angel at the gate of the garden.

That is: as long as they do not deny that God has a purpose in creation which is to declare himself both the just one and the justifier of the lost, they can reinterpret the particulars of the story any way they want.

Personally, I have no idea why they want to waste the energy. It's like trying to re-read The Grapes of Wrath in order to invent a way to make it a book not about the evils of Capitalism. The Bible is what it is, but our first work is to see it as God's book and not ours. He had a purpose in telling it this way, and maybe we should mind it.



John D. Chitty

Because sometimes, "literal" interpretation isn't necessarily surface-level literalism. That's why the energy is worth wasting, and it isn't necessarily a denial of the inspiration, inerrancy or infallibility of Scripture, only that of the interpreter. Glad you found a way to maintain essential unity with such trouble-making gadflies! ;-)

FX Turk

Well, one has to ask one's self, "Self: why does Paul think Adam is a real person?" The purpose of the Bible is not to tell us how old the Earth is, but it is to tell us that we are all the same as the guy who sinned against God not becasue he was deceived but because he wanted to.

There are not a lot of non-historical readings of Genesis which get us to what Paul says in his letters about Adam and how that relates to us and our position before the God who created us all.

John D. Chitty

I'm in complete agreement with the first paragraph in your reply. As for the second, I'm no expert, but I am willing to give a respectful listen to arguments in favor of an old earth as long as they are able to retain a historical Adam. They don't have to be able to prove exactly how it all happened, just the fact that somehow he was historical. Otherwise, all is lost. And yes, any argument in favor of an old earth, in my book, will also reject evolution.

In the end, it's not about completely reconstructing the whole scenario as it played out in real time, but it is about sufficiently getting the point of the text as it is presented. It is the point of the text that will keep us within the bounds of biblical historic orthodoxy, and likewise, the bounds of the Westminster Standards.

FX Turk

When the word "like" is missing from the first paragraph, I can see why it doesn't get anyone's full agreement,

John D. Chitty

What do you mean? "Like" in reference to what?

Rachael Starke

That paragraph on the six-day issue is an apologetic gem. I don't have a single unsaved friend who would take that trade. But getting them to acknowledge that fact and going from there would still be progress.

I'm loving this whole series. We've been teaching our girls the Wesminster Catechism partly so our more staunchly Reformed friends wouldn't be in prayer over our lax parenting. Turns out we're actually teaching them how to live at home and school - who knew?


"I acknowledge, indeed, that from this place alone nothing more can be collected than that men were deceived by the serpent."

"By these words Paul does not mean that Adam was not entangled by the same deceitfulness of the devil,"

"The purpose of the Bible is not to tell us how old the Earth is, but it is to tell us that we are all the same as the guy who sinned against God not becasue he was deceived but because he wanted to."

I think I understand why you formulated this as you did. And why you aver in your disdain of "like," in that the deception of sin is often used as an excuse, but we are all guilty in that we are not merely decended from, but are in every way man just as Adam was.

Perhaps you can enlighten us?

I think that is part of the question J.D.C. is asking, perhaps.

The Confession acknowledges the act of the free will, "he wanted to," while at the same time affirming that Adam was deceived. Deceived or not, we still act upon our desire, or concupiscence, as it relates to sin. But as Calvin points out it was the wiley Devil's work that "penetrated" Eve to produce the concupiscence and she in turn, Calvin stipulates, decieved her husband. At the same time Calvin is clear that man is without excuse for it was his desire upon which he acted. The Devil made me do it excuse is forfeit. Every man must give an account for what he has done, either good or bad, he cannot lay it off on another. And in that sense we are as Adam, held quilty not because we are "like" him, in some obtuse fashion, rather, that we actually do proceed to actual sin and are guilty before God even though we "see it as good." This doesn't take away from the imputed guilt of Adam. The actions in real time, as Calvin also points out, demonstrates that sin is already in us and the guilt which inheres in it. Who we are, actually confirms the creation story.

I understand this falls in another portion of the confession and the Cat. Just seeking clarification, because I wholly agree that the argument of the particulars about creation actually take away from the greater reason for their enscripturation.

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