Q.5: May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures?
A. All men are not only permitted, but commanded and exhorted to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures.1
1John 5:38; Revelation 1:3; Acts 8:30
Having conducted a survey into the nature of Scripture itself, we now bring ourselves to the consideration of how men are to make use of it. The question is asked of the catechumen, May all men make use of the Holy Scriptures? What does the catechizer mean by the words “make use”? To make use, according to the answer offered, is to read, hear, and understand the Holy Scriptures. The catechism goes so far as to note that we are not only permitted, but are commanded and exhorted to avail ourselves of the Scriptures in this way.
Before we begin to flesh out this divinely ordained obligation, another question needs answering. In the realm of soteriology (the study of salvation), we often ask what the biblical authors mean when they use the term all men. There are two possible definitions of this term: all men without exception, and all men without distinction. It is not readily apparent which is meant by the catechism, so let us consider the implications of both.
If by all men the catechism means all men without exception, we must give a hardy “Amen!” Every single person everywhere is bid to hear the word of God and repent. “30Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead,” (Acts 17:30-31; NASB). The word of God and, therefore, the general call of salvation is to go out to all people everywhere throughout the earth. And, as it comes to each ear, it comes with a divine obligation to read, hear, and understand.
If by all men the catechism means all men without distinction, we must likewise give a hardy “Amen!” for this divine obligation is binding on all men of all positions in all tribes, tongues, and nations. Let us recall the Great Commission:
“18And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,’” (Mt. 28:18-20; NKJV).
Notice two things. The Great Commission that is given to the church is to go and make disciples of all nations. This means that all men without exception will now read, hear, and understand God’s holy word. Notice that the church is not merely commissioned to make converts of all nations. Rather, we have been tasked with making disciples of all nations. This means that they will partake of at least two local church ordinances. They will be baptized into church membership, and they will be taught all that Christ commanded in the Holy Scriptures.
Read the Scriptures
We can affirm, then, that if by all men the catechism means all men without distinction (people of all positions in every tribe, tongue, and nation) and all men without exception (every single human being on earth), that includes us. How then ought we expected to read God’s word? First, we must have access to His word. That means translation. In order for men and women of all tribes, tongues, and nations to avail themselves of Scriptures, they must have it in the common language of their people. Note what is affirmed in The Baptist Confession (1689):
“The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God, and by His singular care and providence pure in all ages, are therefore authentic; so as in all controversies of religion, the church is finally to appeal to them. But because these original tongues are not known to all the people of God, who have a right unto, and interest in the Scriptures, and are commanded in the fear of God to read, and search them, therefore they are to be translated into the vulgar language of every nation unto which they come, that the Word of God dwelling plentifully in all, they may worship Him in an acceptable manner, and through patience and comfort of the Scriptures may have hope,” (The Baptist Confession of 1689, 1.8).
Imagine a missionary from England that goes into a foreign land and in order to bring them the gospel of Christ, but who only speaks to them in English with no translation or interpretation. No matter how much he reads to the people or preaches to the people, that man would be speaking only “to himself and to God” (1Cor. 14:28; NKJV). Of course, there are some King James Only movements that would argue for teaching all nations, or at least the most learned among the nations, English so that they can read the King James Version of the Bible.
This mindset is precisely what our Particular Baptists forefathers were hoping to avoid. For centuries the world was shut up in darkness because of this type of thinking. The church had taken a stance that Jerome’s Latin Vulgate was to be the only translation used by the church. As a result, Latin speaking people had the word of God in their language, but the rest of the world had to rely on priests within the church to explain the Bible to them. This period of church history is rightly called the Dark Ages, because the nations were forced to be in darkness as a result of a refusal to translate the Holy Scriptures into their languages. Hence, as Luther and others began to translate the Bible into the common languages of the people, the Reformers coined a new Latin phrase: post tenebras lux, or after darkness, light!
It is important to note, also, that the post-Renaissance education movement was largely started as a biblical literacy movement. Luther is reported to have written to his princes in Saxony demanding that they educate the peasants, because he was finding that none of them could read the Bible he had labored so diligently to translate into their languages. He reportedly told the princes that it was their duty before God to ensure that their people could read His word.
We are not merely exhorted to read the Scriptures in order to have private dealings with God. In reading the Scriptures, we are able to check what is being taught from the pulpit by the very word of God. “10Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so,” (Acts 17:10-11; NKJV). It is when people are robbed of their rightful access to the Holy Scriptures that they accumulate false teachers to themselves (2Tim. 4:3).
Hear the Scriptures
We are not only commanded and exhorted to read the Scriptures, as though the whole of the Christian life were one of seclusion and subjective interpretations of God’s word. Rather, we are also commanded and exhorted to hear God’s word. This brings us to the primary way by which God has promised to work in His church: the public reading and preaching of Scripture.
Over and over again, we are told in Scripture to attend to the public reading and preaching of Scripture. In Antioch, nearly the whole city (Gentiles) came together on the Jewish Sabbath to hear the word of God from the apostles, inciting the Jews to jealousy. Many of the Gentiles received the word with gladness, but they apostles were persecuted and driven out by the Jews (Acts 13:44-50).
Paul binds up saving faith in the preaching of the word of Christ: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ,” (Rom. 10:17; NASB). For this reason, he exhorts his protégé Timothy to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching,” (1Tim. 4:13; NASB). The author of Hebrews goes further by exhorting even the hearers to attend faithfully to the public worship of God:
“23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, 25not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching,” (Heb. 10:23-25; NKJV).
The preaching of the word of God holds a certain primacy in God’s redemptive economy. It is through the proclamation of God’s word, by God’s ordained ministers, that He has promised to unite His people in truth. Paul tells the church at Ephesus:
“11And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Eph. 4:11-13; NKJV).
It is thus through the hearing of God’s word that He has determined, primarily, to work in and through His people. When the church is given either to private interpretations or to untested teaching from the pulpit, the church is opened up to error and to division. This is how cults start. Either men and women come up with doctrines that the church has never believed through private interpretations or they give themselves to the teaching of one man without ever searching the Scriptures for themselves to see if what he is teaching lines up with Scripture.
Along with reading and hearing God’s word, the readers and hearers are expected to understand it. The Christian life is a life of taking in knowledge, understanding it, and walking it out in wisdom. Paul writes about this correlation between knowledge, understanding, and wisdom in his letter to the Colossians:
“9For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; 10that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God,” (Col. 1:9-10; NKJV).
The hearers of God’s word are to follow this cycle. We take in knowledge. After obtaining knowledge, we couple it with understanding, which is to say that it affects our character and shapes our dispositions toward God and others after Christ’s. Finally, it is to be coupled with wisdom so that we walk according to the knowledge and understanding we have obtained. The result of this taking in of knowledge, understanding, and wisdom is that we take in more knowledge (vs. 10).
This is an obligation both on the part of he who preaches and on the part of him who hears. It is the job of the pastor to take the cookies down off of the shelf so-to-speak. It’s easy business to confuse people with overly academic language; it takes great work to convey difficult truths with clarity and simplicity. I have heard James White say that the way one truly knows that he knows a doctrine is if he can teach it to children. This is true. The preacher must do all he can to help his hearers understand the meaning of the text of Scripture.
This obligation is not merely a one-sided obligation, though. Hearers have an obligation as well. When any confusion arises over any teaching from the pulpit, it is the hearer’s obligation to ask the preacher afterward for clarification. No godly pastor would ever be upset to be questioned, if he is approached appropriately, about his interpretation of a particular text. In fact, pastors are encouraged by such active listening on the part of the hearers.
Q.6: What things are chiefly contained in the Holy Scriptures?
The Holy Scriptures chiefly contain what man ought to believe concerning God, and what duty God requireth of man.1
12 Timothy 1:13; 3:15-16
Questions one through five provide the foundation for The Baptist Catechism, in much the same way that the teachings of the apostles and prophets as set down in Scripture provide the foundation for our faith (Eph. 2:20). The answer to question six could rightly be labeled the thesis statement of The Baptist Catechism, insofar as it provides the structure for all the questions and answers that follow.
The catechism could appropriately be said to be structured according to two categories: right believe about God (orthodoxy) and right observance of the duties God requires of us (orthopraxy). The catechism is so structured because it is meant to teach us the Bible, and these two themes are the two primary themes of Scripture. We are taught in Scripture to know the things of God (John 17:7-8; Acts 2:36) and to love God (Exod. 20:6; Neh. 1:5; John 14:15; John 15:10; 1Jn. 5:3). These two commands go hand-in-hand.
A husband cannot rightly say that he loves his wife and yet know nothing about her. At the same time, he cannot learn more of her without being provoked toward greater or lesser affections toward her. As the unbeliever learns more of God, apart from the effectual calling of the Spirit, he will grow in his hatred for Him. As we believers learn more of Him, we grow in our kindly affection toward Him. As we commit ourselves to a study of The Baptist Catechism, let us keep these two commandments in mind. Let us endeavor to know the things of God more, through His word, and so to grow in our love for Him.