On October ninth, this lead to a short video put out by Ligonier Ministries passed through my Facebook newsfeed, “R.C. Sproul explains that only Scripture has the power to bind the conscience absolutely.”
I believe that the Bible is the inspired revelation of God. I believe that the original documents were inerrant, exactly what God wanted said through the authors who He inspired to write them. I believe that the sixty-six books of the Bible contain everything God wants His people to know in all times and in all places about who He is, what He is doing, who we are and what our responsibilities are, and how He wants to relate to us. I believe it is the infallible rule for faith and practice.
However, I do not believe the Holy Scriptures in and of themselves have the “authority that can bind the consciences of men forever.” Moreover, I do not think R.C. believes that either. He never says so in the video. He does say that “Only the Word of God has the kind of authority that can bind the consciences of men forever.”
I believe that each of the three Persons of the Trinity can make that happen, but I do not see any biblical rationale for believing that the Word of God (unless that is being used as a synonym for the incarnate Word of God, Jesus) possesses any power to convict, convince, or bind the consciences of anyone. The Bible is not endowed with any life of its own. It is divine in the sense that it is God’s revelation, not in the sense that it has divine power in and of itself. The ESV, NIV, NLT, KJV and whatever other translation there may be—no matter how true and accurate—cannot, by reading and correctly comprehending its message, save, convict, or enlighten anyone. It is a book. In fact, those are nothing more than translations of copies of the original inspired manuscripts.
What of Hebrews 4:12, For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (NIV)? Certainly, the power of Scripture lies not in the words or even in the understanding of the words themselves in since even devils can have this knowledge (James 2:19). I know a number of people who have read the Bible and have felt no compulsion or conviction in light of its message. Its power and authority are given directly by the Spirit of God and are not contained in the words of Scripture themselves.
For those who may think I am off my rocker and have left the Reformed if not even the evangelical reservation, I call that prince and defender of Reformation theology, Jonathan Edwards as a fellow who shares the same views. He write in his well known an celebrated sermon, A Divine and Supernatural Light (1733),
When it is said that this light is given immediately by God, and not obtained by natural means, hereby is intended, that ’tis given by God without making use of any means that operate by their own power, or a natural force. God makes use of means; but ’tis not as mediate causes to produce this effect. There are not truly any second causes of it; but it is produced by God immediately. The Word of God is no proper cause of this effect: it don’t operate by any natural force in it. The Word of God is only made use of to convey to the mind the subject matter of this saving instruction: and this indeed it doth convey to us by natural force or influence. It conveys to our minds these and those doctrines; it is the cause of the notion of them in our heads, but not of the sense of the divine excellency of them in our hearts. Indeed a person can’t have spiritual light without the Word. But that don’t argue, that the Word properly causes that light. The mind can’t see the excellency of any doctrine, unless that doctrine be first in the mind; but the seeing the excellency of the doctrine may be immediately from the Spirit of God; though the conveying of the doctrine or proposition itself may be by the Word. So that the notions that are the subject matter of this light, are conveyed to the mind by the Word of God; but that due sense of the heart, wherein this light formally consists, is immediately by the Spirit of God. As for instance, that notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the Word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace, is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit (WJE 17:416-417, bold emphasis mine).
Indeed, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NIV). But the power of Scripture is not in Scripture, but is the Holy Spirit convicting the believer of its truth. This, Scripture itself attests is the Spirit’s job (John 16:8).