Berkouwer's Doctrine Of Scripture

Berkouwer insists that when “the concept of error in the sense of incorrectness is … used on the same level as the concept of erring in the sense of sin and deception … we are quite far removed from the serious manner with which erring is dealt in Scripture … (as) a swerving from the truth and upsetting the faith (2 Tim. 2:18)” (Holy Scripture (HS), p. 181, emphasis and brackets mine).
Berkouwer rejects “the formalization of inerrancy” (HS, p. 181, emphasis mine), “a mechanical, inflexible ‘inerrancy’” (HS, p. 265, emphasis mine), “a rationally developed infallibility” (HS, p. 32, emphasis mine).
He does, however, seek to interpret positively both infallibility and inerrancy: “the Holy Spirit … does not lead us into error but into the pathways of truth … The Spirit, with this special concern, has not failed and will not fail in this mystery of God-breathed Scripture” (HS, pp. 265-266).
When we consider Berkouwer’s criticism of “a theoretical concept of inspiration or infallibility” (HS, which (HS, p. 33, n. 70), which is inclined to tell us what Scripture must be if it is to be regarded as the Word of God, it is important that we do not lose sight of his positive interpretation of the concepts of infallibility and inerrancy.
In these positive interpretations, we see Berkouwer’s real concern - a constructive attempt to understand Scripture more clearly.
 * A comparison of the views of G. C. Berkouwer and E. J. Young
Young has proposed Biblical warrant for his concept of inerrancy - 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21 ( Thy Word is Truth, pp. 18-26); John 10:35 (pp. 26-27); Matthew 5:17-18 (pp. 48-49). It is, however, far from self-evident that the passages proposed can bear the full weight of his interpretation. Viewed in terms of the stated purpose of Scripture, these passages need not be interpreted in the way that Young suggests.
His argument is based on inferential thinking by which his concept of inerrancy is inferred from the absolute perfection of God. The idea that the Bible must be inerrant, in the way that Young describes inerrancy, contains certain questionable implications. It is not immediately apparent that the refusal to accept Young’s concept of inerrancy must be based on the idea that God is incapable of providing man with an inerrant Bible (This is what Young says on p. 73). It is not self-evident that the refusal to accept Young’s concept of inerrancy should be identified with the declaration that “There are flaws or errors in God Himself” (This is what Young says on p. 123). The idea that the presence of purely formal error in Scripture is incompatible with the moral perfection of God is questionable because it tends to define ‘perfection’ apart from the purpose of Scripture. Berkouwer’s criticism of the kind of inferential thinking used by Young is not based on a limitation of God’s power to reveal Himself in whatever way He chooses. His criticism of the kind of inferential thinking used by Young is not based on a rather empty conception of the freedom of God which he uses to avoid drawing necessary conclusions concerning the authority of Scripture. Rather, it is based on the recognition of God’s purpose in Scripture. Holding that the Bible is all that God wants it to be in accordance with His precise purpose, Berkouwer insists that it is unnecessary to posit a perfection which extends beyond the confines of the specific purpose of Scripture. From this perspective, Berkouwer challenges those who adopt Young’s view of inerrancy to consider whether they would be more Biblical in their thinking if they questioned their tendency to think in terms of how God must act.
 * The purpose for which God has given us Scripture
Berkouwer points out that “Scripture itself in a very explicit way speaks about its intention” (Holy Scripture, p. 125 where he cites John 20:31, Romans 15:4, Romans 4:23-24, 1 Corinthians 10:11, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 1 Timothy 1:18-19). He emphasizes that his approach is not “an arbitrary approach to Holy Scripture” (p. 125), based on a modern outlook which places a restriction on Biblical authority. Rather, it is an approach, based on Scripture itself, which seeks to understand the proper nature of Scripture’s absolute authority.
In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, there is a strong emphasis on the purpose of Scripture - “the Holy Scriptures … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus … and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Between the two statements - ‘Scriptures makes us wise for salvation’ and ‘Scripture is profitable … ‘, there is the great statement that “All Scripture is given by inspiration by God.”
It is important to notice that the statement about the inspiration of Scripture does not stand in splendid isolation, detached from everything time-related such as our need to be saved and to to be led in the paths of righteousness.
 * Scripture is God’s Word for every time and every place.
When we affirm that Scripture is inspired by God, we cannot adopt the view of cultural relativism which strips the Scriptures of their absolute authority. We believe that Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). We believe that Scripture, with its supreme goal of pointing us to the Saviour, continues to speak to us as “the living and abiding Word of God” through which we are “born again” (1 Peter 1:23).
We look back to the times when the Biblical events took place. These times are very different from our own. There is much in Scripture which we will only understand when we step outside of our own time and place. We must, however, never lose sight of the fact that, in relation to its supreme purpose - leading us to faith in Christ and on to maturity in Him, Scripture speaks to us as the Word of God for every time and every place.
Here, we may learn from the Old Testament scholar, R. K. Harrison of Toronto, sought, over his first few weeks with new students, to take them (in their imagination!) from Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa … to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Sinai …
This immersing of ourselves in the Ancient Near East can serve only to enrich our understanding of the Bible. To be thoroughly acquainted with the broad background against which Scripture is set is of immense value for accurate, well-informed Biblical interpretation.
We must, however, take care that the background does not become the foreground. It must remain what it is - the background. All our knowledge of the background is intended to lead us to the foreground - Jesus Christ. We must approach all our background authorities with the question, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” (John 12:20).

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