The Unity of Scripture

Rev. Kamps is pastor of the Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.

We have all encountered individuals who have no appreciation for the unity of Scripture. They are, those who carry a small New Testament, presenting it as the Word of God. They preach and teach only from the New Testament. It is their claim that the New Testament is for the church, while supposedly the Old Testament was for the Jews of the old dispensation. We have the gospel; the Jews had the law. The Christian faith, therefore, is expressed in the New Testament but not in the Old Testament. Some of these people are even so bold as to say that they do not believe in the God of the Old Testament, for He is the God of war and bloodshed. The God of the Old Testament commanded the slaughtering of whole nations. The Old Testament is filled with gruesome stories of vengeance, wrath, judgment, bloodshed, and genocide. Who could possibly enjoy reading or be edified by the tales of Israel's destruction of the Canaanites? Every man, woman, and child, even helpless infants, were cut down with the sword by the servants of the cruel "I am that I am." Who could possibly be edified by the reading and study of the severe laws of Moses? Even in the nations of Israel itself things were not much better. Women were to be stoned to death if they were unfaithful to their husbands. If one neglected or refused to put his infant son through the agony of circumcision, then he too had to be put to death.

The God of the New Testament is the God of Christianity. He is the God of love. This God we can love and serve. In the Gospels we meet Jesus, who has indeed shown us a better way. The God of Jesus is the God who wants to help and bless all men. The God of Jesus wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. And we have the testimony of the apostle Peter himself that the God of the New Testament is longsuffering . . . not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. And all this is true about the God of the New Testament because He "so loved the world." A man can preach the New Testament with all his heart, and he can call with great compassion the sinner to faith in Jesus and His God. There is no gospel in the Old Testament. It cannot really be preached. And by way of concession to one who would insist upon the unity of Scripture, these individuals would insist that if there is any gospel at all in the Old Testament then it is far inferior to that of the New Testament. 

The above is the position of many, if not most, pulpits in this country and throughout the world. The Bible is rent asunder. The God of the New Testament is pitted against the God of the Old Testament. People are taught explicitly or implicitly to ignore the Old Testament. 

But all this is so very wrong and unbiblical. It is evil. Satan has de deceived men into imagining that humanism is Christianity. 

The great reformer of the church, Martin Luther, taught the unity of the Old and New Testaments. Skevington Wood presents Luther's position. He writes:

The gospel is to be found in the Old Testament in terms of the promises, and the law is to be found in the New Testament, as for instance in our Lord's reinterpretation in the Sermon on the Mount. "Thus the books of Moses and the prophets are also gospel (emphasis, MK), since they proclaimed and described in advance what the apostles preached and wrote" (Captive to the Word, p. 152).

In addition Wood informs us:

He (Luther) dismissed those neo-Marcionites of his day who played down the significance of the Old Testament and tossed if aside as "a book that was given to the Jewish people only and is now out of date, containing only stories of past times." Luther quoted the testimony of Christ Himself, and of the New Testament writers, in order to confute such an erroneous view. The Old Testament is not to be despised but diligently read. The New Testament cannot be understood apart from the Old, Luther insisted . . . (page 154).

This was also the position of John Calvin and of the Reformed and Presbyterian churches historically. That the Scriptures are one and that both the Old and New Testaments present the one and the same gospel comes to expression confessionally in the Heidelberg Catechism in Lord's Day 6, where we read:

Whence knowest thou this (that Jesus is the Mediator, MK)? From the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly has fulfilled if by his only begotten Son.

And the Belgic Confession of Faith states that the

Holy Scriptures are contained in two Books, namely the Old and New Testament, which are canonical, against which nothing can be alleged (Art. 4).

And in Article 6 of the same confession the fathers, in rejecting the apocryphal books, declare that the books of the Old and New Testaments bring us the Christian faith.

Reformed men have always taught that the New Testament must be interpreted in the light of the Old, and that the Old Testament contains the New within itself. They stand in relationship to each other as does promise and fulfillment. The Old Testament is the gospel of Christ Jesus under the forms of types and shadows. The principles of obedience to the gospel of Jehovah God in Christ Jesus are demonstrated to us in the walk and obedience of the saints of the old dispensation. Abraham is the father of all believers. Noah is the preacher of righteousness. And David is the man after God's own heart. 

Yet it remains to spell out specifically what is the unifying theme of all Sacred Scripture. It is this: Jehovah God's covenant of friendship with the church of all ages chosen in Christ Jesus, who in the name of the God of Israel redeems, sanctifies, and glorifies His people given Him of the Father from all eternity. Genesis 3:15 is the mother promise and expresses the above truth: "And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel." All the other promises of the Old Testament are but the amplification and unfolding of the particulars of this promise of God to send His Son as the seed of the Woman. And therefore too all these separate promises to Abraham, Israel, Judah, and David are but aspects of the promise. In this light the Old Testament is replete with the very same gospel as is the New. 

It must be underscored that the "covenant of friendship" that God has established with Israel, the church, in Christ Jesus is exclusive, and that because of this fact it becomes realized and manifested historically in an antithetical way. God's wrath, indignation, and judgments fall upon the "seed of the serpent," that is, the reprobate wicked, who are typically portrayed in cursed Canaan's children, the Canaanites (cf. Gen. 3:15, 9:25-27). These Canaanites God commanded His covenant friends, the Israelites, to destroy completely as an expression of God's judgment upon their iniquities and the portrayal of the victory of grace in Christ Jesus over the seed of the serpent. If only men would learn that the New Testament (which declares to us the great victory of Christ Jesus over sin, guilt, death, and Hell, and testifies that this victory was accomplished for the elect of God alone), they would have no problem confessing the unity of Scripture. It is because of the rejection of sovereign, unconditional predestination of a church in Christ Jesus that men want to reject the Old Testament. The Old Testament more concretely demonstrates the exclusive character of God's love for His elect people and His eternal rejection, unconditionally, of others. Carnal men are always offended by the truth of God's absolute sovereignty over the affairs of mere men. Herein lies the great "offense" of the Old Testament Scriptures. Arminianism, because of its rejection of sovereign predestination, leads inevitably to Modernism in regard to the doctrine of Scripture. 

In addition, the unity of Scripture is predicated upon the truth that the Holy Spirit is the author of the Bible. It is not so, that there are many authors. It is not so, that there is a Pauline gospel, a gospel of Matthew, a Petrine gospel, and a Johannine gospel, and that all of these are distinct from one another and even contradict one another on various points, each being only a. fallible attempt to present the gospel of Jesus. It is alleged, therefore, that only by comparing and. analyzing these conflicting theologies can the church today ever discover what Jesus "really taught." But the fact is that if the books of the Old and New Testaments are not in fact the testimony of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, we will never know what Jesus taught. Higher criticism has shredded Sacred Scripture. All who earnestly hold to the doctrine of divine, infallible inspiration should immediately recognize that the Bible, though made of many different books and written over many centuries, is one Word. It is a unity. For it is the speech of the Spirit of Christ Jesus. Jesus spoke by the Spirit through the prophets of old (Heb. 1:1 and I Pet. 1:10, 11). Besides, "all scripture is given by the God-breathed-forth" activity of God Himself (II Tim. 3:16). Jesus Himself testified to the unbelieving Jews of Jerusalem that the message of the Old Testament was the very same Word which He preached to them: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). In addition, Jesus insisted upon the unity of the Scriptures, when He taught the people that He and His Father are one: "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye to him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?" (John 10:35, 36). Moreover, we should note that the principle of hermeneutics that Scripture interprets Scripture is based upon the fact that the Scriptures are one whole. The Old can be and must be interpreted in the light of the New, and the New must be interpreted upon the background of the Old. The New Testament by itself is not the complete Word of God, and it can never be rightly understood without the Old. How could one ever really understand that Jesus is the stem of Jesse, and the lion of the tribe of Judah, and the royal seed of David without the testimony of the Old Testament. The covenant of grace remains an unknown entity to those whose eyes are blind to the riches of the Old Testament. It is because of the unity of Scripture that the Reformed and Presbyterian churches have ever held to "infant baptism" of our covenant children. Those who reject infant baptism reveal by this rejection that they do not really understand that all Scripture is a unity. It has one message, which is that God is the God of believers and their seed in Christ Jesus according to His purpose of election. Every Baptist fails to recognize the unity of Scripture on this matter. Rev. H. Hoeksema makes this clear when he writes:

After all, the deepest reason why all Baptists reject the baptism of infants is that they fail to recognize the truth that the people of God are one and the same throughout all ages, and that the same covenant is established with them and with their children throughout their generations, both in the old and in the new dispensations (Reformed Dogmatics, p. 687).

Scripture can interpret Scripture because Scripture is one. In both the old and new dispensations there is but one God, one covenant, one sign of the covenant, and one people of God. 

In this connection, we must call to your attention that old but valid warning: "every heretic has his text." Even the Devil quoted scripture to the Lord Jesus in order to deceive the Lord if that were possible. So in all ages men quote Scripture out of context, and without regard to the unity of Scripture. In the second paragraph of this article I referred to three different passages that men use to defend an Arminian and Pelagian theology (I Tim. 2:4II Pet. 3:9; and John 3:16). By violating the principle of the unity of God's Word, these passages are given a totally false interpretation which enthrones man and reduces the great God to the status of a beggar. Scripture must and can interpret Scripture, but then we must hold in high regard the principle of the unity of Scripture. The exegete of Scripture must listen to the testimony of all Scripture, when treating any one text. 

Finally there is one more element of the unity of Scripture to which I of necessity must call your attention. Other men today would emphasize the unity of Scripture. But one thing is often lacking in their presentation. And this is not only, to my mind, lamentable, but also very dangerous. They fail to relate the unity of Scripture to Gods counsel and to Gods self-revelation. Scripture is one whole, a unity of thought and message, declaring the one glorious gospel in Christ Jesus,ultimately because Gods counsel is one and because God is One. All that takes place in time, in heaven and on earth, is according to Gods sovereign decrees. The unifying principle of that counsel of God, according to Scripture, is the great glory of His Name through the salvation of a people chosen in Christ Jesus. Since the Bible is the infallible record of Gods self-revelation, it therefore of necessity shares that same unity and oneness that characterizes Gods eternal will and counsel. Scripture teaches us that God has revealed Himself, that is, His eternal thought, holy purpose, and sovereign will, as the immutable God of infinite love and grace in Jesus Christ. In the beginning of history, under types and shadows, this revelation was made known. In the "fullness" of time (Gal. 4:4) the revelation of Gods love of His chosen people reaches its zenith in Jesus, the Christ. Many Reformed preachers seldom, if ever, give instruction in regard to the counsel of God, His eternal decrees of predestination and providence; and yet they claim shock and dismay that the people do not appreciate the concept of the unity of Scripture. Anyone who would maintain the truth of the unity of Scripture must of necessity see this unity as the blessed testimony of the Spirit of Christ Jesus, who "searcheth all things, yea the deep things of God" (I Cor. 2:10). The deep things of God are His eternal will and counsel in Christ Jesus. 

We, mere sinners by nature, have the eternal Word of God in Jesus, by whom God has spoken unto us and to our children of His everlasting and unchangeable love and grace.

The Bible is Gods Word. 

Believe the Word of God and rejoice in it forevermore!