Teaching the Word of God.
By Dr. W. Gary Crampton
Copyright 1999 © First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett

We are informed in the Bible that the primary purpose of the church is to teach the people of God the Word of God. For example, Paul says to Timothy: “I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). And Christ, in the Great Commission, enjoins the church to “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” (Matthew 28:19, 20). In his commentary on the former verse, John Calvin wrote: “The reason why the church is called the pillar of truth is, that, she defends and spread it by her agency….[T]he office of administering doctrine, which God hath placed in her hands, is the only instrument of preserving the truth, that it may not perish from the remembrance of men.”[1]

This being the case, it is imperative for us to know what teaching the Word of God entails.[2] What is “teaching?,” and what is “the Word of God?” Let us begin by defining the latter. The Word of God consists of the 66 books of the Bible. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the books of the Old and New Testaments” (1:2). The divines then go on to list the 39 Old Testament books and the 27 New Testament books.

This definition is important because many so called Christian organizations today have added to or subtracted from these 66 books — a direct violation of the teaching of Scripture itself (compare Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 20:6; Revelation 22:18, 19). The Charismatic movement has erred in this area by asserting that certain of the miraculous word gifts are still valid. Roman Catholicism is also guilty at this point in elevating some of the Apocryphal writings and church tradition to the level of the Bible. But the Reformers and later Puritans did not so err. For them the Word of God consisted of the 66 books listed in the Confession. And to these books “nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelation of the Spirit, or traditions of men” (1:6).

Second, Scripture is fully authoritative. Says the Confession: “The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God” (1:4). And, “a Christian believeth to be true whatsoever is revealed in the Word, for the authority of God himself speaking therein” (14:2).

According to the Westminster divines, the authority vested in Scripture is derived from its unique origin: “it is the Word of God.” And simply for this reason “it ought to be believed and obeyed.” It is this unique origin which makes the Scripture self-authenticating and self-evident. The Bible claims to be inspired: “God himself speaking therein”’ and it makes this claim frequently. In 2 Timothy 3:16, for example, we read: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” This assertion by itself, of course, does not mean that it is inspired, even though it is significant that the claim is made (very few books make such an assertion). Why then do some believe the claim while others do not? Because the Spirit produces this belief in the minds of the elect: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). As Calvin wrote, “those who are inwardly taught by the Holy Spirit acquiesce implicitly in Scripture.”

As the Confession notes, there are a number of evidences that the Bible is God’s infallible revelation to man, but apart from the inward testimony of the Spirit, these evidences are in vain: “we may be moved and induced by the testimony of the church to an high and reverend esteem of the Holy Scripture, and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof…yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (1:5).

The Bible, then must be considered as the Christian’s axiomatic starting point. It is the indemonstrable first principle, the axiom from which all else is deduced. In this sense, Christianity is no more circular in reasoning than any other system, because every system must begin with indemonstrable premises. If these premises could be proved, then they would not be first principles. Hence, Christianity is to begin with Scripture and its self-authenticating claim to inspiration.

Third, under the definition of the Word of God, Scripture is sufficient for all one’s needs. Paul says it this way: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, 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” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Westminster divines concur. In the Confession they write: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added” (1:6).

Notice the universals in these two statements: “all,” “complete,” “thoroughly,” “every,” “whole,” “all,” “nothing,” “at any time.” The Bible, infallibly, and the Confession, in compliance with the Bible, both teach the all-sufficiency of Scripture. According to this Reformation principle of sola Scriptura, neither science, nor history, nor philosophy can give us truth. The Bible has a monopoly on truth. The Bible is to be the textbook for every area of life.

Living at the end of the benighted twentieth century, sometimes we hear it said that the Bible is not a textbook of science, politics, economics, and so forth. Usually what is meant by this well worn cliché is that the Bible needs to be supplemented by other sources of truth. But this “two-source” theory of truth is foreign to the Word of God. The Bible is not only a textbook, it is the textbook; and all others must conform to the teaching of the Bible.

The truth of the Bible, however, is not restricted to the explicit teaching of Scripture. Those things which can be logically deduced “by good and necessary consequence” are also God’s truth. Man, being the image bearer of God, is to use the rational mind which God has given him to think God’s thoughts after him. We are to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Hodge’s comments are apropos: “It is the indispensable condition of salvation that our understanding should be brought into captivity, lead submissive, as though bound, into the obedience of Christ….We must renounce dependence on our own understanding and submit implicitly, as obedient children to the teaching of Christ.”[3] This involves logical deduction from the propositional statements of biblical revelation, that we may glean the whole counsel of God.

The second definition concerns “teaching.” Teaching is defined as the impartation of truth to the mind. Strictly speaking, only God can teach. Jesus states this in Matthew 23:10: “do not be called teacher, for One is your Teacher, the Christ.” Christ, we read in the Gospel of John, is “the true light which gives [epistemological] light to every man who comes into the world” (John 1:9).

Pastors and teachers present propositions to students, but if the student is to learn it is because God has caused him to do so. Paul writes: “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase; so then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:6,7). On this passage, B. B. Warfield aptly comments: “Men are but God’s instruments, tools, agents (ministers) in performing his work. They do not act in it for God, that is, instead of God; but God acts through them….This is Paul’s teaching everywhere: that as it is God who created us men, so it is God who has recreated us Christians. And the one in as direct and true a sense as the other. As he used agents in the one case — our natural generation (for none of us are born men without parents) — so he may use instruments in the other, our spiritual regeneration (for none of us are born Christians where there is no Word). But in both cases, it is God and God alone who gives the increase.”[4] And in the words of the larger Catechism: “The Holy Scriptures are to be read with an high and reverent esteem of them; with the firm persuasion that they are the very Word of God, and that he [God] only can enable us to understand them” (Q. 157).

Second, teaching is about ideas; it is about the mind; it is a mental activity. Technically speaking, “physical education” is a contradiction in terms. The phrase “physical training” is much more appropriate. We may use the term “learning” metaphorically, such as “learning” gymnastics or “learning” to ride a bicycle. But in actuality, this is a exercise in training. Education has to do with minds. This is why Paul writes that the process of sanctification involves the transformation of one’s mind: “be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Romans 12:2). And the apostle Peter calls on his readers to “gird up the loins of your mind” (1 Peter 1:13).

And third, proper teaching necessitates a biblical worldview, a Christian worldview: the worldview which gave birth to and sustained religious, political, social, and economic freedom in the West. In biblical language, it is not enough that one has knowledge; one must also have understanding and wisdom. Understanding is insight, and wisdom is seeing how the pieces of knowledge fit together in a perfectly logical integrated whole; it is seeing how each part of the picture is related to the whole.

The wise man, according to Scripture, is one who not only knows the Word of God, but he also knows the system of truth, and how to skillfully apply it in every area of life. And this system is perhaps best summarized in the Westminster Standards, consisting of the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Larger and Shorter Catechisms. The Standards are, to quote B. B. Warfield, “the final crystalization of the elements of evangelical religion, after the conflicts of sixteen hundred years.…They are the richest and most precise and best guarded statement ever penned of all that enters into evangelical religion and of all that must be safeguarded if evangelical religion is to persist in the world.”[5]


With these two definitions before us, it should be evident that the importance of the faithful teaching of the Word of God cannot be overstated. It is the primary purpose of the church. It is the Word of God alone which is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of the soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4;12). When Christ wields the sword of the Spirit it becomes effectual unto salvation and sanctification. As stated in the Confession: “The grace of faith, whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the Word: by which also…it is increased and strengthened” (14:1).

This being the case, faithful pastors and teachers are called upon to teach the whole counsel of God. Then and only then will we see progress in God’s kingdom. As Gordon Clark once wrote:

“There have been times in the history of God’s people, for example, in the days of Jeremiah, when refreshing grace and widespread revival were not to be expected: the time was one of chastisement. If this twentieth century is of a similar nature, individual Christians here and there can find comfort and strength in a study of God’s Word. But if God has decreed happier times for us and if we may expect a world-shaking and genuine spiritual awakening, then it is the author’s belief that a zeal for souls, however necessary, is not the sufficient condition. Have there not been devout saints in every age numerous enough to carry on a revival? Twelve such persons are plenty. What distinguished the arid ages from the period of the Reformation, when nations were moved as they had not been since Paul preached in Ephesus, Corinth, and Rome, is the latter’s fullness of knowledge of God’s Word. To echo an early Reformation thought, when the ploughman and the garage attendent know the Bible as well as the theologian does, and know it better than some contemporary theologians, then the desired awakening shall have already occurred.”[6]

[1]John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, translated by William Pringle (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 90.

[2]Some of this material is founded upon the lecture of John W. Robbins, “Teaching Economics from the Bible,” given at the Florida Homeschool Convention in Kissimmee, Florida, June 1995.

[3]Charles Hodge, I & II Corinthians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1974), 612.

[4]Cited in Geoffrey B. Wilson, 1 Corinthians (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 52.

[5]Benjamin B. Warfield, Selected Shorter Writings, Vol. II, edited by John E. Meeter (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973), 660.

[6]Gordon H. Clark, What do Presbyterians Believe? (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1965), vii.