We are only a few days away from what is shaping up to be a historic Shepherd’s Conference. The reason being is that this year’s focus is on one most important issue: biblical inerrancy.
And with the conference on the horizon, there have been some good conversations surrounding the nature of Scripture. One in particular I was in recently involved the idea of having a reverence for Scripture. You may have seen one of the conference graphics which quotes John Calvin from his commentary on 2 Timothy 3:16: “We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God, because it has proceeded from him alone.”
In response to that quote, an insightful friend asked, “If we owe Scripture reverence because it proceeded from God, would this imply that we owe the same reverence to creation, as it also proceeded from God”? (By reverence, we assume that Calvin means something like, “To revere or show deferential honor due to the nature of the thing.”) It’s a great question that needs answering, especially in our day.
Both the Bible and creation did proceed from a perfect and holy God. So, which do we hold higher, if any, and why?
Here are a few thoughts on why we owe Scripture reverence, but not creation:
- The reason we owe Scripture reverence is not merely because it has proceeded from God.
To argue that a thing must be shown reverence since it proceeds from God is to say something like this: God deserves reverence. Therefore, anything proceeding from God deserves reverence. Creation proceeds from God, therefore, it deserves reverence.
We can safely assume that Calvin understood this.
The word of God deserves reverence, but not only on the basis that it proceeds from God. Consider a few comparisons of creation to Scripture which demonstrate why reverence is due the latter, but not the former.
- Humanity is to subdue creation, but Scripture subdues humanity.
God spoke to humanity at the dawn of creation. They needed to know many things that the creation could not tell them. One of those things was the command to exercise dominion over what God had made: “And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” (Gen 1:28).
To subdue means to exercise a measure of delegated authority and control over something. It involves cultivating, changing, and manipulating for one’s purposes. Even from the Garden of Eden, it’s clear that our approach to God’s word is going to be quite a bit different than that. If anything, God’s word is to subdue and cultivate us.
Sometimes it’s argued, “Well, I revere creation when I stand on a mountain peak.” But there is a difference. We might show caution in the face of creation, but not reverence for creation. For example, when ascending and descending a Teton mountain peak, great caution is needed in things like foot placement, hand-holds, and the use of mountaineering gear. A small mistake in any one of these areas can quickly result in the unsympathetic pull of gravity. In light of that, caution is needed, but not reverence. I am cautious because of inherent human frailty, not reverence.
- Creation will be destroyed and upgraded, but Scripture is perfect and endures forever.
Creation is set for a major overhaul; a remake and upgrade. “But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men… But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet 3:7, 10).
Scripture, however, being perfect in every part, is eternal and unchanging. Throughout time, attempts have been made to render it extinct, but to no avail. Predictions have been made as to its imminent obsolescence, but all proved wrong. All this demonstrates is that Scripture will go extinct and obsolete when God goes extinct and obsolete.
- Creation tells us enough about God to condemn, but Scripture tells enough to save.
What does creation tell us about God? “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).
The Apostle Paul’s point here is less about all the details of what we know and more about the condemnation because we know. Creation speaks, but only in such an amount to increase our condemnation and culpability before God. It doesn’t serve as a savior, but prosecuting evidence. Creation is no more of a liberator to the soul than a breathalyzer test is to a drunk driver.
Creation is impotent to solve the greatest human problem: our natural and willful enmity with God. We can experience, meditate on, memorize, study, and subdue creation, but it will never render us as right before God. In that way, creation falls short.
Even before the Fall, creation itself was insufficient revelation. Adam and Eve could not learn all they needed to know in God’s world from simply looking at creation. Though the creation was perfect, with no thorn-and-thistle pushback, they still needed the word of God to outfit them. They were to exercise dominion, be fruitful and multiply, practice marital unity, and not eat from a certain tree. But they could not deduce this from creation. They needed something more.
Scripture is that “more.” In it is the unadulterated solution to the problem to which creation gives evidence. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ because his words are words of eternal life. Though creation heaps up knowledge for our condemnation, Scripture heaps up knowledge for our salvation.
- Creation was damaged by the Fall, but Scripture gives the solution to the Fall.
The creation is under the curse. Every part of it is damaged. As such, it groans and suffers (Rom 8:20). Because of the Fall, the creation requires things like vitamins, pesticides, locks, prisons, oncologists, chemotherapy, caskets, and obituaries. Sin has, and continues, to run its course through creation.
Amazingly, Scripture can co-exist with fallen creation without inheriting an ounce of the Fall’s weight. It’s in the world and not of the world. Even more amazing, though God used fallen human instruments to bring his word, Scripture remains untainted. Still more amazing is that it leads to a reversal of the Fall.
For that reason, we look outside of creation and into Scripture for the solution. Therein we find the Person who fixes what creation could not. It is not the creation, but the Scriptures, “which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15-16). As John Frame writes, “Natural revelation proclaims our estrangement from God…Scripture tells us how to escape the wrath of God…It brings to us the good news of Jesus Christ, the gospel.” Scripture deserves reverence because in it we find Jesus Christ.
- Creation brings the body back to dirt, but Scripture gives the knowledge to transform the soul and resurrect the body.
God has outfitted creation with food and covering to grow and nurture our body. However, there are great limits. Eventually, the body returns to dirt. The creation cannot stop that. In fact, the creation facilitates it.
It’s quite another thing with Scripture. The word God restores the soul, makes wise the simple, and enlightens the eyes (Ps 19:7-9). God’s word gives us what we need to be born again, grow, and overcome the death that creation brings. He who hears and acts on Christ’s word has eternal life (John 5:24).
Several other differences between Scripture and creation exist. The creation certainly tells of the glory of God (cf. Ps 19:1). But, by creation alone, we cannot glory in God. The soul must first be regenerate before it can glory in God.
Scripture is more valuable than gold (cf. Ps 19:10, 119:72). Creation is valuable, but it is mere gold.
A young man keeps his way pure, not be observing creation, but Scripture (Ps 119:9).
If we treasure creation in our hearts, we risk idolatry. But if we treasure Scripture in our hearts, we are kept from sin (Ps 119:11).
Creation indicates that we need to be changed. Scripture brings about that change: “Sanctify them in the truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
- God elevates Scripture, not creation, alongside his name.
Psalm 138:2 says, “You have magnified your word according to all your name.” Nothing like that is said about creation.
- Exalting creation tends towards idolatry, while exalting Scripture tends towards worship.
This is probably most clearly seen in the Psalms, and especially in Psalm 119. Psalm 119:48 reads, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” Elsewhere, the psalmist fears (Ps 119:120) and praises Scripture (Ps 56:4, 10). But if we were to lift up our hands towards creation, praise the stars, or fear and love the moon or the sun, we commit idolatry (cf. Job 31:26-28). Furthermore, the psalmist loves Scripture even more than “gold,” which is part of creation (Ps 119:127). Finally, we are to tremble before the word of God (Isa 66:2). Among other passages, Romans 1:18-25 is clear enough about having such an attitude towards creation.
While taking in certain aspects of creation, we experience a sense of awe. But, whether the beauty of a sunset, the majesty of our galaxy, or the intricacy of a bombardier beetle, if our awe ends in the creation itself, and not to the glory of the God of Scripture, we commit idolatry. Scripture clearly deserves reverence, unlike the creation.
- Creation is matter, but Scripture is divine proposition.
Much of the issue comes down to the question of, “What is Scripture?” vs. “What is creation?” The 66 books of Scripture are God-breathed and verbally inspired in every word (2 Tim 3:16). Thus, the Bible is objective, propositional revelation, and therefore inerrant and infallible. That is the great divide between Scripture and creation. And for this reason, we could not conclude with Hugh Ross that “creation is the 67th book of the Bible.”
Consider the issue in terms of this statement: “I disagree with creation.” Or, more specifically, “I disagree with sunsets and salamanders and sand.” Those are nonsensical statements because creation is not propositional truth. However, we may say, “I disagree that I should, ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts’ (Rom 13:14).” And if we say that, we are in disagreement with God and in disobedience to God because Scripture is propositional truth, absolutely. To disobey Scripture is to disobey God and show irreverence to God.
These distinctions between creation and Scripture demonstrate a vast difference between the two. Taken together, they demonstrate that God’s word is owed a reverence that creation is not. Thus, we say with the psalmist: “Your word is very pure, therefore Your servant loves it” (Ps 119:140).
As usual, feel free to chime in and help shape our thoughts.