Article 4: The Canonical Books
We include in the Holy Scripture the two volumes of the Old and New Testaments. They are canonical books with which there can be no quarrel at all.
In the church of God the list is as follows: In the Old Testament, the five books of Moses-- Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; the books of Joshua, Judges, and Ruth; the two books of Samuel, and two of Kings; the two books of Chronicles, called Paralipomenon; the first book of Ezra; Nehemiah, Esther, Job; the Psalms of David; the three books of Solomon-- Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song; the four major prophets-- Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel; and then the other twelve minor prophets-- Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi.
In the New Testament, the four gospels-- Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles; the fourteen letters of Paul-- to the Romans; the two letters to the Corinthians; to the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians; the two letters to the Thessalonians; the two letters to Timothy; to Titus, Philemon, and to the Hebrews; the seven letters of the other apostles-- one of James; two of Peter; three of John; one of Jude; and the Revelation of the apostle John.
Having a Bible is a relatively common thing for us but historically it is an oddity. It isn't until the invention of the printing press that books became readily available and even then they were still quite expensive to own. Even earlier, books as we know them, simply didn't exist. Most writings the length of the books of the Bible would have been contained on scrolls. The idea of putting multiple books of the Bible into one book wasn't even an idea until the codex started to become the standard way of putting writings together around the second and third century.
Chances are though that you probably own multiple Bibles. Unless you have a Roman Catholic Bible, all of your Bibles contain the books that are listed in Article 4 of the Belgic Confession. A Roman Catholic Bible contains what we call the "Apocrypha". Those books were officially made a part of their scripture collection in the middle of the 16th century during the Council of Trent. While those books provide some interesting historical insight those books were never considered scripture by Jewish people or by the early church.
The books that are listed in this article of the confession have been considered scripture throughout the history of the church. The books from the Old Testament would have been the scripture of the Jewish people and of the early church up until the writing of the New Testament in the decades following the ascension of Jesus. We see in the New Testament that the writings of Paul were seen as scripture very early on in the history of the church. Most of the books in our New Testament were written prior to the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The books with a post 70 AD date are John and 2 Peter. Some people also believe Revelation to be post 70 AD but it is not certain and Kenneth Gentry makes an excellent case for a pre-70 dating of Revelation in Before Jerusalem Fell.
Regardless of the dating of the books by the middle of the second century, there was a list of books very close to our New Testament list. It is important to understand how significant this is because these were copies of books and letters that were being distributed to churches. To have a standard list so early is impressive because these churches were not only spread out they were under significant threat of persecution. In addition, the idea of putting multiple books of the Bible together was a relatively new idea because putting them together in something called a codex was a very, very new idea. Previously the books of the Old Testament were on scrolls. They weren't stacked together like our modern Bibles because books like that simply didn't exist. It is important to know that the codex (a bound book) was adopted very early by the Christian church. Why? Because they were putting the important books together that they considered to be scripture. We have evidence of very early codices that contained the four gospels. Other codices contained the writings of Paul. These are important to help us understand the New Testament not only because of what is in these early codices but also because of what is not in them. Late pseudo gospels such as the Gospel of Thomas or the Gospel of Judas are not in there. If they would have been authoritative for the early church they would have likely been included in these early codices. Instead we have very few copies of these types of writings and none of them are included in early codices of the church.
One other important thing to know about the New Testament is how early it was being quoted as having scriptural authority. The Christian apologist Irenaeus quoted scripture gratuitously in his refutation of the heresy of Gnosticism in the mid to late second century. Other church fathers were quoting the New Testament as authoritative even before Irenaeus.
All of this is important because it flies in the face of the popular notion that the New Testament was authored late, put together late, and didn't have authority until the Council of Nicea in 325. The New Testament was early and it was considered authoritative in the church at a very early date also.
It is important that we understand what is scripture and what is not. We see this from Article 2 and Article 3 of the Belgic Confession. We need scripture in order to know who God is. The books in our Bible do that by not only revealing God but point us primarily to the person and work of Jesus Christ. As we continue through the Belgic Confession we will see how this is the centerpiece of the Christian faith.
If you are interested in learning more about the formation of the New Testament I highly recommend starting with this article from the blog of Michael J. Kruger. It contains links to 10 important things to know about how the New Testament was formed.
Article 3: The Written Word of God
We confess that this Word of God
was not sent nor delivered by "human will,"
but that "men and women moved by the Holy Spirit,
spoke from God," as Saint Peter says. (2 Peter 1:21)
Afterward our God--because of a special care
for us and our salvation--commanded the prophets and apostles, God's servants,
to commit this revealed Word to writing. The two tables of the law were written with God's own finger.
Therefore we call such writings
holy and divine Scriptures.
At some point in our lives, all of us have sent someone to do an errand for us. Whether it was to purchase something for us at the store or get us something from the other room, we have all found out how important it is to give very specific instructions and descriptions. It isn't until we get something that we didn't think that we were asking for that we realize this. It might be that we assumed that the person getting us groceries knew we used a particular brand of peanut butter or it could be that the person running the errand thought that everyone drinks skim milk. These types of confusions can show us why it is important to be really specific. This not only applies for errands but also is important for Christian doctrine.
In Article 2 of the Belgic Confession we saw that there were two ways in which God reveals himself to us. Those two means were general revelation (we see God in the design of creation) and special revelation (scripture). With those two categories defined, the Belgic Confession goes on to narrow down how we can understand special revelation. This Word of God was not sent nor delivered by "human will". Instead it is the work of God. The confession is deliberate to help us understand that what we call special revelation is not a human invention. It was the will of God, not the will of people. Scripture has a divine origin, not a human one. It comes from God himself through men and women who were "moved by the Holy Spirit". It is because this word that comes by the work of the Holy Spirit is so important that God had his servants "prophets and apostles" record this word from God down so that we would have it in writing. This record of the work of God is what we call "holy and divine Scriptures".
This is the important first step in understanding God's revealed word to us. We do not come across random ancient writings and call them scripture. What we have as scripture is there for a very specific reason. We want to make sure that we get the right information. We want the right books in our Bible. Why? As the confession says because scripture is "for us and our salvation". The story that we see unfolding in scripture points us to Jesus Christ. He is how we are saved and he is how we have peace with God. There may seem to be parts of the Bible that don't point us to this such as the book of Esther. Even though that book is in the Bible it doesn't mention God. As we look at the unfolding drama of God saving his people through Jesus though we see that Esther plays an important role of preserving the promised line to the Messiah. She prevented her people, the Hebrew people, from being wiped out. By reading the story of Esther we are reminded that God works all things together for the salvation of his people and that God keeps his promises. If the Hebrew people would have been wiped out then God's promise in Genesis 3:15 that one day the seed of the woman would destroy the work of the serpent would have failed to come to pass and God would have been a liar.
Instead, what we see is that God keeps his promises and that he does not lie. The books that we have in our Bible are for the purpose of pointing us to the saving work of Christ for us. The Bible isn't just some random ancient writings. It matters what is in our Bible. The Bible is made up of history, poetry, and prophecy that point us to the work of Jesus for us and show us the amazing, loving, merciful, and powerful God we serve.
Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God
We know him by two means:
First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: his eternal power and his divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.
All these things are enough to convict men and to leave them without excuse.
Second, he makes himself known to us more openly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for his glory and for the salvation of his own.
This article of the Belgic Confession is an important one because it establishes how we can know the God that was talked about in the first article of the confession. To know this God we experience him from two sources. These two sources are commonly known as general revelation and special revelation.
General Revelation is what is revealed to us through what we see in creation. As the confession states it is "before our eyes". There are many things that I think of when I think of general revelation. The beauty of a tree as it's leaves bud anew in spring. The sun setting over the horizon on the prairie. My children when they were newborns grabbing my big finger with their tiny little hands. These are the types of things that can show us that there is a God who is a grand designer who put the world together and upholds it by his power. We can also observe this majesty of God through the lens of a microscope when we see the complexity of cells or through the telescope lens when we see just how vast and complex the universe is.
The Belgic Confession points us to Romans 1:20 that tells us that all people can see these types of things and therefore all of humanity is without excuse. This passage in Romans helps us to understand that deep down everyone knows that there is a God because he has made himself clear to us in the way that he has ordered the universe. The Apostle Paul tells us that even though we all know this deep down some people suppress this truth in unrighteousness. This is not a place for us to have pride that we are somehow more righteous or open to God because we believe. Instead these verses in Romans 1 should drive us to praise God for taking our fallen minds that were dead in sin and bringing us to life so that we are able to see the majesty of God in creation and understand who he is.
This faith that we have to understand God and his work in creation points us to special revelation. Special revelation is what God has revealed to us about himself in his Word. While we can see and learn much about God by looking at his creation we cannot know of the saving work of Jesus Christ on our behalf in the majesty of a slow prairie sunset. We need a word from God in order to know that. That is why special revelation is so important. It informs us who this God of creation is and how he has made himself known to us. In his word we learn how creation fell into sin and how since that time God was working to restore creation back to himself through the work of his Son. Without us hearing this Word and God giving us the gift of faith we would not know God's saving work in Christ and we would be lost and without hope.
It is important to note that when the Belgic Confession talks about how we know God it points us to two things that are outside of us. We do not know God because of anything inside of us but we are dependent on God coming to us. As sinful and fallen creatures we need a Word outside of us because what is inside of us in broken by sin. God comes to us from outside of us and he rescues us. In this way he renews our minds with the gift of faith. Only then can we hear and believe this good news that comes to us about the God who is gracious and merciful and saved us by the work of his Son taking on human flesh, living a perfect life, dying for our sins, and rising again that we may have everlasting life.
This also protects us from those who would claim to speak in the name of God and wish to deceive us. We know God through creation and his Word. We do not need to succumb to the person who tells us that "God told me". God reveals himself to us through his Word and the message of salvation that we read there is sufficient for our salvation and all that we experience in life. This revelation from God is what unites the universal church with our church in the small town of Edgerton. God's Word is our only source and it contains the gospel that we proclaim to a world that needs to hear it.
Article 1: There is Only One God
We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God -- eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty; completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all good.
In the Sound of Music Julie Andrews sang "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start". That is not only a good way to start a classic song from a musical, it is also a good way to start a Christian confession. There is no better place to start than with a statement on God and the basic essence of God. The Belgic Confession begins by stating that we believe with our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God. This is an important statement because it helps us to clearly understand what it is that we are talking about. The confession will dig deeply into who this God is but at the beginning of it all we know that there can only be one God.
This immediately helps us to see that we are not polytheistic and believe in multiple gods. It also makes it very clear that we are not atheistic. We believe that there is a God. This is without confusion but there is a word in there that might make us somewhat bewildered. It says that God is a simple, spiritual being. I think that most people would agree that the last thing that we would call God is simple. If anything, most people are concerned that their understanding of God is too simple. What does the confession mean when it says that God is a simple spiritual being? This does not mean that God is not complex or hard to understand. Instead, it means that God cannot be divided. He is also not all of his attributes put together. We don't believe that the formula love + grace + mercy + wrath + omnipotence + omnipresence + holiness + righteousness + power = God. God is all of those things but they come from his being a particular being with those attributes, not the other way around.
This is important because if we make God the sum of his attributes we end up with a God who is not personal. If God is merely those forces, he becomes more like the way in which pagan religions speak of God. As we will see further down in the Belgic Confession, God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is a personal God and not a transcendent "force" that is out there some place. He is the God who is. As this article of the confession says he is eternal, incomprehensible, invisible, unchangeable, infinite, almighty, completely wise, just, and good, and the overflowing source of all that is good. Those things come from him. He is God and he is good.
This seems rather simple for us but this is truly an important distinction to have. I met someone once who taught her children to pray to the moon because to her, god was in the moon. This person claimed to be a Christian, but that is not the Christian view of the creator at all. The creation and the creator are separate. He holds all these things together but God is not the moon. He is not the trees.
We praise God because he is the one who made us and the one who holds all things together. The question that this logically turns to is then how do we know this. I have made quite a few bold statements about the nature of God. How do I know they are correct? Is this simply my opinion or is there a way in which we can know this God who is. Next time we will be looking at Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God.
We are starting a series of posts on the Belgic Confession. The Belgic Confession is one of the historic confessions of the Reformed Church in America along with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort. While the Belgic Confession is more than 400 years old it still has great value to all the Reformed Churches, including our congregation here in Edgerton.
The Belgic Confession was put together by Guido de Bres. He was a pastor in the Reformed church in the Netherlands. Born in 1522, de Bres was born five years after the Protestant Reformation was started by Martin Luther on October 31, 1517. De Bres studied under John Calvin in Geneva. The Belgic Confession was intended to show the Spanish Government that the Reformed were not a radical Anabaptist sect but instead looking to reform the church. De Bres was eventually arrested for his beliefs and was tried before the Spanish Inquisition. He died a martyrs death on May 31, 1567.
Usually people consider something with a name like a confession to be long and boring but you can easily read the Belgic Confession in a relatively short amount of time. The confession breaks down the beliefs of the Christian faith into 37 different "Articles" that starts with topics such as who God is and ends with the Last Judgment. Along the way it has a lot to say regarding scripture, the Trinity, and other important Christian doctrines.
Over the course of several months we will delve into each article and look at what it teaches and how it applies to our lives today.