Truth: "Propositional" or Prophetic?

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1 From TeachingtheWord's Bible Knowledgebase Scripture: Its Inspiration & Authority Truth: "Propositional" or Prophetic? by Dr. Paul M. Elliott "Propositional" is the wrong word to describe God's Word. Scripture itself gives us far better ones. We often hear the Bible described as a book of "propositional truth." Defenders of the inspiration and authority of Scripture have long used that term to describe God's Word. For example, in the book What the Bible Teaches, first written over 100 years ago, Dr. Reuben A. Torrey dealt with many of the essential doctrines of Scripture by stating the case in terms of propositions "first proposition" "second proposition" etc. Far Too Weak A Word But I must confess that I have great difficulty with the term "propositional" as a description of Biblical truth. Now, lest anyone think that I am any less committed to the authority of Scripture than I have ever been, let me quickly explain my difficulty: I believe the term "propositional" is far too weak a word to describe God's written Word. When defenders of the Scriptures first began using the term "propositional" to describe it, they were employing that term from the standpoint of logical argument. In logic, a proposition is a statement that is to be proved either true or false. But even this, I believe, is a woefully inadequate description of the 1

2 content of the Word of God. The situation is complicated by the fact that, in our postmodern times, the definition of a "proposition" has changed to such an extent that the term has become even less applicable to Scripture. Dictionaries in the 21st century define a proposition as "a statement that someone can examine in order to decide whether it is true or not" or even worse, "a suggestion or idea to be considered on its merits." This postmodern view of "propositions" has infected Christian apologetics in the 21st century. Many well-meaning defenders of Scripture speak of its "truth claims." I have heard many Christian apologists use the phrase "Jesus claimed" or even "Jesus believed." Speaking of Scripture and of our Lord in these terms has the effects of putting the Word of God on a postmodern footing and putting the Creator in the position of a creature. To say that "Jesus claimed" this or that to be true effectively puts His words in the realm of "you have your truth, and I have my truth" the realm of potentially equally valid claims and counterclaims. To say that "Jesus believed" this or that to be true effectively puts His statements in the realm of opinion rather than indisputable fact. Scripture Gives Us Better Words Holy Scripture is nothing like this. God's Word is not "propositional" in such ways. God's Word is declarative. God's Word is prophetic. It is always "thus saith the Lord." God does not propose, He declares. There is always the note of supreme, unquestionable, irrefutable, undeniable authority. Those who heard Jesus teach and preach recognized that this was the case, 2

3 even those who did not believe: And so it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Matthew 7:28-29) And as He was walking in the temple, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Him. And they said to Him, "By what authority are You doing these things? And who gave You this authority to do these things?" (Mark 11:27-28) Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He declared to His disciples, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18-20) It is the same with the prophets and apostles. In the Old Testament it is always "the Word of the Lord came" to Abraham, to Samuel, Nathan, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Haggai, Zechariah, and the others. In 2 Corinthians 10:8 and 13:10, and in 2 Thessalonians 3:9, the Apostle Paul speaks of his authority from the Lord to declare the truth of God. In 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5, Titus 2:15, and elsewhere Paul speaks of the fact that there must always be the note of Divine authority in the preaching of the Word. In Galatians 1:11-12, 1 Corinthians chapter 2, 2 Timothy 3:16-4:5 and elsewhere, Paul speaks of the fact that the truth he wrote and preached was "not according to man" but through revelation from God. In his great 3

4 statement on the authority of Scripture, Peter says this: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21) A more literal rendering of the Greek would be, Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture originated in the human writer's own personal determination of what is true or not true, for this reason that prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were driven along by the Holy Spirit. This is another vital keynote of Scripture: It is revealed truth. It is not that which can be deduced, induced, or proposed by mere human wisdom. It is revelation given by inspiration by God the Holy Spirit. It is not man deciding what is true. It is God declaring to man what is true. This singular fact gives Scripture its supreme and irrefutable authority. We either bow the knee to that authority to the saving of our souls, or we reject and rebel against it to our eternal condemnation. There is no middle ground. The Essential Element in Preaching That note of Divine authority is conspicuously lacking in most preaching today. But the postmodern "propositional" approach to preaching is not entirely new. In his book Christianity and Liberalism, published in 1923, Dr. J. Gresham Machen spoke of the preaching "heard every Sunday in thousands of pulpits" in which the keynote of the preacher was, "now we have in the Bible especially in the life of Jesus something so good that we believe it is good 4

5 enough even for you good people." As Machen put it, the postmodern preacher tries to bring people into the visible church "without requiring them to relinquish their pride; they are trying to help men avoid the conviction of sin." As Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 4:3, what is falsely called preaching is nothing more than an appeal to the "itching ears" of hearers who will not put up with sound doctrine. That is what happens when the note of Divine declaration and prophetic authority is missing when true preaching is replaced by the merely "propositional." But Paul tells Timothy to "be ready in season and out of season" to preach the Word with authority, on its authority. That phrase literally means, "be ready when people are willing to hear and also when they are not willing to hear." The test of sound preaching is not its acceptability, but its authority. The only valid authority for sound preaching is not "propositions" or "truth claims" with the implication that "you have yours, and I have mine" but the declarative, prophetic, supremely authoritative, revealed truth to be found in God's Word alone. sac0131 Copyright TeachingtheWord Ministriesmmmmmwww.teachingtheword.org All rights reserved. This article may be reproduced in its entirety only, for non-commercial purposes, provided that this copyright notice is included. We also suggest that you include a direct hyperlink to this article for the convenience of your readers. 5

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