The Doctrine of the Bible: EFCA Ordination (Part 2 of 11)


I’ve been preparing for my ordination exam in the Evangelical Free Church of America (EFCA). Speaking in broad strokes, the process of ordination in the EFCA involves 3 steps:

Step 1: Write a 20-page paper that engages with the EFCA Statement of Faith, and then defend your theology in a 2-hour oral examination conducted by the credentialing council, which is composed of a dozen or so ordained local pastors.

Step 2: Complete at least 3 years of healthy pastoral ministry in a local EFCA church.

Step 3: Do “Step 1” again—except this round, everything is doubled: it’s now a 40-page paper (not 20) and a 4-hour oral exam (not 2).

This fall, I’ve reached the final step. At 9:00 AM on October 8, 2019, I will undergo the oral examination.

For the next few months, I’ll be sharing some of my ordination paper on the blog. Please know this writing is denser than anything I typically share on my blog, so don’t be discouraged if you find some of it jargon-filled. Each section has 1,000-1,800 words of condensed theology to meet the required space guidelines. And after each section, I’m including a list of discussion questions provided by the EFCA that ordination candidates are encouraged to address in their papers.

I welcome your prayers and feedback during this process; both will sharpen my thinking before the exam and make me a better pastor.

Thank you,

{Previous posts in this series: God}

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Article 2: The Doctrine of The Bible

2. We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors. As the verbally inspired Word of God, the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged. Therefore, it is to be believed in all that it teaches, obeyed in all that it requires, and trusted in all that it promises.

Knowledge of God comes to humans in two primary ways: in general revelation to all humans through God’s creation, including a person’s conscience (Ps 19:1–6; Rm 2:14–15), and in special revelation through the Bible and the person of Christ, who is the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14). Although general revelation can be misinterpreted and even suppressed (Rm 1:18ff; 1 Tim 4:2), from it we learn of God’s creative power and gain a sense of right and wrong. General revelation, however, does not communicate the explicit content of the gospel, whereas special revelation does. The Bible is sufficient to reveal who God is and how we must relate to him; clear enough to be understood; authoritative on all matters to which it speaks; and necessary for people to know God, his gospel, and how to live a life pleasing to him.

The relationship between God’s authorship and human authorship is best understood in this way: God inspired human authors to communicate in a way that is consistent with their humanness (e.g., education and linguistic ability, temperament and passion, life and work experience) but also in a way that elevates the human author’s words far beyond natural ability (Dt 18:18; Lk 1:1–4; Heb 1:1–2). I see this view of biblical inspiration displayed, for example, when Jesus interchangeably refers to Old Testament passages in Mark 7:9–13 with the phrases “the commandment of God,” “for Moses said,” and “the word of God” (cf. Ex 20:12; 21:17). In other words, what Moses said can also be described as what God said. The Bible also takes direct quotes from the mouth of God and says that Scripture is speaking, as when Paul writes, “the Scripture . . . preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’” (Gal 3:8; cf. Gn. 12:3).

Additionally, it is not merely the overarching biblical story and related concepts that are inspired but the individual words themselves that are purposely selected by human authors under the superintendence of God. This is called verbal plenary inspiration (Mt 5:18; 2 Pet 1:20–21). Therefore, it is right to speak of the Bible as infallible and inerrant in the original manuscripts, because God himself is absolutely truthful and without error (Mt 5:18; Titus 1:1–2). Because it is God who inspired the words of human authors, it is impossible for his inspired prophets and apostles to err in what they wrote (2 Pet 1:21), which is to say, the Bible is infallible. Moreover, because God’s prophets and apostles could not err, the Bible—like God—is truthful and without error (i.e., inerrant) concerning all matters to which it speaks.

The 66 books of the Old and New Testaments (hereafter, OT and NT) are complete, meaning that they can never be added to. It can sound odd to ask the question “How does the Bible speak about itself?” because the Bible has many different human authors. But asking this question is helpful. I see the Bible speak about its completeness and canonicity in several ways.

First, the Bible repeatedly intimates its own inscripturation (Dt 31:24–26; Jos 24:26; 2 Chr 34:14; Jer 30:2; Rev 22:18–19).

Second, the meaning of the “last days” implies a closed canon. Biblically speaking, the last days are the entire period of time between the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and Jesus’s second coming (Acts 2:17; Joel 2; Jam 5:3). The way the phrase the last days is used in Hebrews 1:1–2 (cf. Acts 2:17 and Jam 5:3), and the concept of finality is used in Jude 1:3 indicates there is a definitive and final speaking of God through Jesus and, by extension, the first-century apostles who were Jesus’s authorized messengers (1 Cor 2:13; Eph 2:19–20; 2 Pet 1:21).

Third, the intertestamental books were not considered canonical to Jesus and the early church, but the OT and NT most certainly were. For example, 1 Maccabees, which is not canonical, acknowledges that there is no word from an authorized messenger of God, a touchstone of canonicity (1 Mac 4:45–45; 9:27; 14:41; cf. Am 8:11). It seems Jesus acknowledges this by snubbing the intertestamental martyrs when he mentions OT martyrs in Luke 11:45–52 but does not mention the martyrs mentioned in the Apocrypha. However, the NT authors seamlessly use the Greek word graphé (Scripture) when placing OT quotations alongside the NT in 1 Timothy 5:18 and 2 Peter 3:16, showing that the writings of both the OT and NT were considered graphé, that is, canonical Scripture.

Fourth, there is an internal coherence among the books in the canon. The individual parts see themselves as just that—individual parts of the one, greater story.

Finally, the early church fathers recognized the Bible as having a self-authenticating purity and power not evident in later writings (e.g., early church councils, the correspondence of church fathers, and the continued written testimony of Christians). A letter from Athanasius in ad 367 contained a list of all 27 books we affirm as the NT canon, which is also the same list affirmed at the Council of Carthage in 397.

To come at canonicity in another way and to use the common shorthand, the fourfold test for canonicity is apostolic origin, universal acceptance, liturgical use, and consistent message. It’s unlikely that the church will discover an ancient letter that could be convincingly shown to be written by an apostle, say one of Paul’s additional letters to the church in Corinth alluded to in 1 Corinthians 5:9 and 16:3. But even if this newly discovered letter passed the tests of apostolic origin and consistent message, a long-hidden letter could hardly be said to have received universal acceptance.

While we do not have the original autographs, there are so many extant copies of the original manuscripts that we can be assured modern Bible translations, which come from these, are very reliable. For this reason, I do not think we are misleading people when at our church a preaching pastor, upon reading his sermon text for the morning, says, “This is God’s Word; thanks be to God.”

Before leaving the topic of inspiration and canonicity, it might be helpful to comment on the longer ending of Mark and the passage in John about the woman caught in adultery. It seems best to conclude neither passage was original, though both passages when rightly interpreted in the light of the rest of the Bible do not contradict any doctrine. A careful reading of Mark 16:18 sees not the command to pick up snakes and drink poison but a promise of protection, something Paul experienced in Acts 28. And the story in John’s gospel is consistent with the actions of Jesus in the rest of the Gospels and likely a real event, just one not originally included by John (cf. Jn 21:25). Modern Bible translations rightly inform readers that these passages were not included in the earliest manuscripts.

“Red-letter Christians,” who purport to take the commands of Jesus seriously, commit a modern canonical error worth discussing. Their emphasis on loving our neighbors and our enemies as well as serving fellow believers and the least of these are themes less often preached and practiced in affluent, majority-culture Christianity. But to pit the direct quotes of Jesus—the so-called red-letter parts of the Bible—against the rest of the Bible is foolish. Jesus trained and commissioned his apostles to be his authorized spokesmen empowered by the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:12–15; Acts 1:8); therefore, the content that Peter wrote in his letters or that John wrote in his gospel, even the non-red parts, is no less authoritative than, say, the sermon on the mount. The error of red-letter Christianity is not unlike breaking light bulbs on a Christmas tree: if you take away lights, the whole strand stops working properly. The complete 66 books of the Bible work in concert, not in isolation or opposition to each other. To take Jesus at his word is to take his authorized spokesmen at their words because he is the one who sent them; and not only that but listening to Jesus well is to acknowledge that the OT testifies to him (Jn 5:39).

In light of everything written above, it is right to speak of the Bible as the “ultimate authority,” meaning no person or book stands over the Bible to judge, interpret, or critique it (Jn 17:17; 2 Tim 3:16–17). Scripture is sufficient to provide everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). This should not be misunderstood to say every part of the Bible is equally clear to all people, but it is to affirm that everything required for an ordinary Christian to be faithful to God can be clearly understood in the Bible. Therefore we must be those who “[believe] all that it teaches, [obey] all that it requires, and [trust] all that it promises,” and invite others to do the same. Holding fast to this view of Scripture leads to the blessing of God’s people and the advancement of his kingdom, as well as energizing my own labors in preaching and teaching.

 Discussion Questions

Old and New Testaments, Canon

1.  Explain your understanding of the development of the canon of Scripture.

2.  What are the canonical issues involved with Mark 16:9-20? John 7:53-8:11?

3.  Describe one modern day canonical dispute. How would you respond to it?


4.  How do you understand the process of inspiration and its result? What implications does this doctrine have on your life and ministry?

5.  What do the words “verbally inspired” mean?


6.  What is “inerrancy,” and why is it important? What does it mean that this concept is applied to “the original writings”? How do inerrancy and infallibility relate?

7.  Are modern translations of the Bible inerrant? How are they reliable?

Complete Revelation

8.  What is the difference between general and special revelation?

9.  How helpful is general revelation when it comes to knowing God, viz. is it salvific?

10.  What does the clarity of Scripture mean and what are its implications?

11.  What does it mean, both doctrinally and practically, that the Scriptures are sufficient?

Ultimate Authority

12.  In relation to how and what we know, why is it important to state that the Scripture, God’s Word, is “the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged?”

Believed, Obeyed, Trusted

13.  Regarding the truth of God’s Word, what is to be your response? What is the implication for your life and ministry?


* Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash