Light of Nature
Rutherford’s Distinctions & Conclusions
Does Scripture Regulate All of Life?
Taking Scripture’s Sufficiency Too Far
Need & Validity of Natural Knowledge, vs. Biblicism
Scripture’s Accommodated Language
Customs, Holy Kiss, Foot Washing, Anointing with Oil, etc.
Order of Contents
Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 1-7 of ‘Introduction’ in The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1646)
Marino, Matt – ‘Biblicism’ (2022) 9 paragraphs
Marino is an ARP pastor.
Clark, R. Scott – ‘Resources on Biblicism’ with 15 links
Fentiman, Travis – ‘Biblicism’ at ‘On Cultic Characteristics’ (RBO) (2023)
Smith, Christian – The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Brazos, 2012) 213 pp. ToC
However, Smith at the time of writing had some less than orthodox beliefs. See the trenchant review of Kevin DeYoung, ‘Christian Smith Makes the Bible Impossible’ at TGC.
Belschner, Brad & Alastair Roberts – “Is Biblicism Bad?” 6 min. Davenant Institute
“What does the Bible presume that we already know. There are a lot of things that the Bible presumes that we already know… Biblicism is a term that’s often being used in reference to a specific distinctive of evangelicals…
How do you define Biblicism? I define it as that elevation of the Bible to such a high level that it occludes other things that we need to take into account…
And often in circles that emphasize Biblicism you see prudential categores of thought deemphasized; its not about prudence if you have a divinely inspired verse that commands you to do something about it… in addition to that, there’s also the sidelining of philosophical categories, and systematic categories…
We do teach the sufficiency of Scripture, but sufficiency for the task that God has given it. And so its like talking about the sufficiency of a steering wheel for steering a car. We don’t think of the sufficiency of the steering wheel in detachment from the rest of the steering mechanism, or in detachment from the driver; and so we need all of these things together, and Scripture is something that works along with God’s revelation in nature.”
Order of Quotes
De doctrina christiana, prol. §5 in Teaching Christianity, trans. Edmund Hilll, The Works of Saint Augustine: A Translation for the 21st Century (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 1996), pp. 104–5 HT: R. Scott Clark
“Or if anyone should think this is untrue, I am not going to quarrel about it. After all, I am clearly dealing with Christians, who rejoice over their knowing the holy Scriptures without human guidance; and if that is the case, it is a genuine good they are rejoicing over, one quite out of the ordinary. So let them grant me that each one of us, from earliest childhood, has had to learn our own language by constantly hearing it spoken, and has acquired a knowledge of any other language, whether Hebrew or Greek, or any of the rest, either in the same way by hearing it spoken, or from a human teacher.
So now then, if you agree, let us advise all our brothers and sisters not to teach their small children these things, because after all it was in a single instant of time, with the coming of the Holy Spirit, that the apostles were filled and spoke in the tongues of all nations; or else none of us who have not experienced such things should consider ourselves to be Christians, or to have received the Holy Spirit.
But no, on the contrary, let us not be too proud to learn what has to be learned with the help of other people, and let those of us by whom others are taught pass on what we have received without pride and without jealousy.”
“Thirdly, I demand of you, how you could so nakedly propound the apostolical directions, patterns and examples of the primitive Churches to walk by (excepting mere circumstances and the rules of the law of nature) and not except withal extraordinary and miraculous, personal and particular, occasional and accidental, temporary and local patterns and examples. I own the Scripture for the rule, rightly understanding it, and in matters of discipline and Church-order profess to walk by it, desiring to be tied to the Scripture patterns, particularly to the patterns of examples and precepts recorded in the New Testament (provided this be understood in essentials and fundamentals of order, in matters of perpetual use, and of a common reason to all times and places); only I add that in some things, where in matter of order and external government there may be no such clear directions either by precept or example, there general rules of the Word, with deductions out of Scripture examples, and from precepts by way of analogy, with rules of common prudence be taken in too.
Now the interpretation of this rule (as I have laid it down) being rejected, and the rule simply taken up without such limitations, will produce a wild and strange discipline and Church-order, to practice all things recorded in the Acts of the Apostles and epistles without distinction and difference of those times, persons, places, and ours: and on the other hand to practice nothing but what has a clear example, or precept is strange too, and in so doing, reasonable men cannot become a Church society, nor exercise Church communion.
And however in matters of external government and administration of holy things in the visible Church some pretend to this, to practice whatever they find recorded in the Scriptures, and to practice nothing whatsoever they find not there, yet none of the Independents, no not the highest form of them, the Anabaptists, nor the highest sort of Anabaptists (who were called Apostolici [Apostles] from their pretending to imitate the apostles in all things) ever yet have or do practice all patterns and examples recorded in the New Testament, or are contented with them alone, but practice somewhat over and above not particularly recorded in Scripture. I could lay down a catalogue of many particulars specified in the Acts of the Apostles and epistles not practiced in your churches, nor in any churches of the Independent way, as also of many things practiced by you which we never read of in the Scriptures, so that all the Independents are in many things according to the first pattern both defective and excessive.
But I refer the full handling of this to a Tractate I intend concerning the Scriptures [which appears to never have been published], How far the Scriptures are a rule for all matters of Church government and order in the visible Church. I add only one thing for the reader’s sake, that they be careful to understand this first principle of yours, not so nakedly as you lay it down in pages 8-11 [of the Independents’ Apology], because it has been, is, and may be a rock to split many on, and an ignis fatuus [elf-fire] to lead many into waters, instead of a sacred pillar of fire to guide to Heaven in a safe way. This foolish imitation of the apostles in all things in matters of external order, has been and is the great foundation of evils on all hands, both in many practices and points of Popery, and amongst the Anabaptists (as I could demonstrate in particulars).
Learned Danaeus in his Commentaries upon 1 Tim. ch. 5 [v. 13] speakes of it. Apostolici inter Anabaptist as Schlusselburgius writes also (On the Sect of the Anabaptists), that there is a sort of Anabaptists called Apostolici [Apostles], so named because they professed to imitate the apostles in all things: they washed one another’s feet, they held all things ought to be common, they travailed up and down without staff, shoes, cloak, money, because of Christ’s words, they went up to the tops of houses to preach, because Christ had said, what you have heard in the ear, preach upon the house-top. Now how far the want [lack] of these limitations and distinctions in this your first rule has led some of you into errors and strange practices and may lead you further, as into anointing the sick with oil, baptizing in rivers, etc. I leave you to consider of.
But yet this first and great principle upon which you went and reared up your new Church way, how difficult and abstruse a rule, and how doubtful a groundwork do you make it, before you pass from it…”
“Whether in all matters of doctrine all of you [Independents] be as orthodox in your judgments as your brethren themselves, I question it (though in the most doctrines and in the main I grant it)… however though you do not nourish any monsters or serpents of opinions in your bosoms, yet I fear you have running worms in your heads, and together with the gold, silver and ivory of orthodox truths, you have store of apes and peacocks, conceits and toys, as strange coined distinctions, new strained expositions of Scriptures, odd opinions about the personal reign of Christ on earth, and I ask you what the anointing with oil of sick persons as an ordinance for church-members, and what the bringing in of hymns composed by the gift of a church-member, cum multis aliis [with many others], are? Whether are not these strange conceits?”
London Presbyterian Ministers
The Divine Right of Church Government (London, 1645; 1654), pt. 1
“4. Some [of Christ’s actions were] accidental, occasional, incidental, or circumstantial, as in the case of his celebrating his supper, that it was at night, not in the morning; after supper, not before; with none but men, none but ministers; with unleavened, not with leavened bread, etc.; these circumstantials were accidentally occasioned by the passover, nature of his family, etc.
To imitate Christ in his three first sort of acts, is utterly unlawful, and in part impossible. To imitate Him in his circumstantial acts from necessity, were to make accidentals necessary, and happily to border upon superstition; for, to urge any thing above what is appointed, as absolutely necessary, is to urge superstition; and to yield to anything above what is appointed, as simply necessary, were to yield to superstition. But to imitate Christ in his moral acts, or acts grounded upon a moral reason, is our duty: such acts of Christ ought to be the Christian’s rules.
2. Some [actions of the saints in Scripture] were heroical; done by singular instinct and instigation of the Spirit of God; as divers acts may be presumed to be, (though we read not the instinct clearly recorded:) as, Elias’s calling for fire from heaven, 2 Kings i. 10; which the very apostles might not imitate, not having his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55; Phinehas’s killing the adulterer and adulteress, Numb. xxv. 7, 8; Samson’s avenging himself upon his enemies by his own death, Judges xvi. 30, of which, saith Bernard, if it be defended not to have been his sin, it is undoubtedly to be believed he had private counsel, viz. from God, for his fact; David’s fighting with Goliath of Gath the giant, hand to hand, 1 Sam. xvii. 32, &c., which is no warrant for private duels and quarrels. Such heroic acts are not imitable but by men furnished with like heroic spirit, and instinct divine.
3. Some were by special calling, and singular extraordinary dispensation: as Abraham’s call to leave his own country for pilgrimage in Canaan, Gen. xii. 1, 4, which is no warrant for popish pilgrimages to the holy land, &c.; Abraham’s attempts, upon God’s special trying commands, to kill and sacrifice his son, Gen. xxii. 10, no warrant for parents to kill or sacrifice their children; the Israelites borrowing of, and robbing the Egyptians, Exod. xii. 35, no warrant for cozenage, stealing, or for borrowing with intent not to pay again: compare Rom. xiii. 8; 1 Thess. iv. 6; Psal. xxxvii. 21; the Israelites taking usury of the Canaanitish strangers, (who were destined to ruin both in their states and persons, Deut. xx. 15-17,) Deut. xxiii. 20, which justifies neither their nor our taking usury of our brethren, Lev. xxv. 36, 37; Deut. xxiii. 19, 20; Neh. v. 7, 10; Psal. xv. 5; Prov. xxviii. 8; Ezek. xviii. 8, 13, 17, and xxii. 12; John Baptist’s living in the desert, Mat. iii., no protection for popish hermitage, or proof that it is a state of greater perfection, etc.
4. Some were only accidental or occasional, occasioned by special necessity of times and seasons, or some present appearance of scandal, or some such accidental emergency. Thus primitive Christians had all things common, Acts iv. 32, but that is no ground for anabaptistical community. Paul wrought at his trade of tent-making, made his hands minister to his necessities, Acts xx. 34; would not take wages for preaching to the church of Corinth, 2 Cor. xi. 7-9; but this lays no necessity on ministers to preach the gospel gratis, and maintain themselves by their own manual labors, except when cases and seasons are alike, Gal. vi. 6-8; 1 Cor. ix. 6-13; 1 Tim. v. 17, 18.
5. Those acts of saints or Christians, which were done by them as saints and Christians, are obligatory upon, and to be followed by all Christians; but those acts which are done by magistrates, prophets, apostles, ministers, etc., only as such, are only obligatory on such as have like offices, not on all; according to the maxim, that which agrees to any thing as such, agrees to every thing that is such. Thus James urges the example of Elias in praying, James v. 17. Paul presses the example of Abraham in being justified by believing, Rom. iv. 23,24. Peter prescribes, as a pattern to wives, the example of Sarah, and other holy women of old, for “adorning themselves with a meek and quiet spirit,—being in subjection to their own husbands,” 1 Pet. iii. 4-6.
6. …But such acts as were done only upon special causes or singular reasons, are only to be imitated in like cases. Thus Christ argues from a like special cause, that he was not to do miracles at Nazareth without a call, as he did in other places where he had a call of God; from the particular example of Elijah and Elisha, who only went to them to whom God called them, Luke ix. 25-27; so he proves that in like case of necessity it was lawful for his disciples on the sabbath-day to rub ears of corn and eat them, etc., from David’s example of eating show-bread when he had need, Matt. xii. 1-5.
7. Those acts that were done from extraordinary calling and gifts, are to be imitated (in regard of their special way of acting) only by those that have such extraordinary calling and gifts. Christ therefore blames his apostles for desiring to imitate Elijah’s extraordinary act in calling for fire from heaven, etc., when they had not his spirit, Luke ix. 54, 55. Papists are blameworthy for imitating the extraordinary forty days’ and nights’ fast of Moses, Elijah, and Christ, in their Lent fast. Prelates argue corruptly for bishops’ prelacy over their brethren the ministers, from the superiority of the apostles over presbyters.”
“2. Such commands, which are accidental and occasional, whose grounds and general principles are also the Lord’s; yet determination or deduction of particulars can hardly be made, but in such emergent cases and occasions accidentally falling out, as necessitate thereunto. As in that case, Acts 15, when the synod commands abstinence from blood, and things strangled, and that necessarily (though the Levitical law was now abrogated), because the common use thereof by accident grew very scandalous: therefore, by the law of charity, the use of Christian liberty is to be suspended, when otherwise the scandal of my brother is endangered; yet from any ground of equity to have provided such a particular rule as this, without such a case occurring, would scarce have been possible. Now the synod says of this determination, ‘It seemed good unto the Holy Ghost, and unto us,’ Acts 15. And another synod, walking by the like light and rule of the Scripture as they did, may say of themselves as the apostles said.”
Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 1 HT: A Pilgrim’s Theology
“Scripture is not a legal document, the articles of which only need to be looked up for a person to find out what its view is in a given case. It is composed of many books written by various authors, dating back to different times and divergent in content. It is a living whole, not abstract but organic. It nowhere contains a sketch of the doctrine of faith; this is something that has to be drawn from the entire organism of Scripture. Scripture is not designed so that we should parrot it but that as free children of God we should think his thoughts after him…
…So much study and reflection on the subject is bound up with it that no person can possibly do it alone. That takes centuries. To that end the church has been appointed and given the promise of the Spirit’s guidance into all truth. Whoever isolates himself from the church i.e., from Christianity as a whole, from the history of dogma in its entirety, loses the truth of the Christian faith. That person becomes a branch that is torn from the tree and shrivels, an organ that is separated from the body and therefore doomed to die. Only within the communion of the saints can the length and the breadth, the depth and the height, of the love of Christ be comprehended (Eph. 3:18).
Add to this that the proponents of this school [19th century biblical theology advocates] forget that the Christian faith is universal; it can and must enter into all forms and conditions. They oppose grace to nature in a hostile fashion and do not sufficiently take account of the incarnation of the Word. For just as the Son of God became truly human, so also God’s thoughts, incorporated into Scripture, become flesh and blood in human consciousness. Dogmatics is and ought to be divine thought totally entered into and absorbed in our human consciousness, freely and independently expressed in our language, in its essence the fruit of centuries, in its form contemporary (Da Costa)”
“However high and wonderful the thoughts of God might be, they were not aphorisms but constituted an organic unity, a systematic whole, that could also be thought through and cast in a scientific form”
“In a formal sense, there are no dogmas in Scripture, but the material for them is all to be found in it. Hence dogmatics can be defined as the truth of Scripture, absorbed and reproduced by the thinking consciousness of the Christian theologian.”
“Holy Scripture is no dogmatics. It contains all the knowledge of God we need but not in the form of dogmatic formulations. The truth has been deposited in Scripture as the fruit of revelation and inspiration, in a language that is the immediate expression of life and therefore always remains fresh and original.
But it has not yet become the object of reflection and has not yet gone through the thinking consciousness of the believer. Here and there, for example in the letter to the Romans, there may be a beginning of dogmatic development, but it is no more than a beginning. The period of revelation had to be closed before that of dogmatic reproduction could start. Scripture is the gold mine; it is the church that extracts the gold, puts its stamp on it, and converts it to general currency.”
“The term “biblicism” is usually derogatory. It is commonly applied to
(1) someone who has no appreciation for the importance of extrabiblical truth in theology, who denies the value of general or natural revelation,
(2) those suspected of believing that Scripture is a ‘textbook’ of science, or philosophy, politics, ethics, economics, aesthetics, church government, etc.,
(3) those who have no respect for confessions, creeds, and past theologians, who insist on ignoring these and going back to the Bible to build up their doctrinal formulations from scratch,
(4) those who employ a ‘proof texting’ method, rather than trying to see Scripture texts in their historical, cultural, logical, and literary contexts.
I wish to disavow biblicism in these senses.”
“The basic question at stake is, “What makes a doctrine biblical?” That question is of course important to Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants alike, but it is particularly important for us Protestants, affirming as we do sola scriptura. What I would like to do here is articulate an appropriate theological method that is faithful to sola scriptura in a robustly theological and historical manner (which, by the way, is how the Reformers originally articulated the idea).
In contrast to a stark biblicism that sees theology as essentially an individual project whereby the reader exegetes a handful of passages and then makes theological conclusions, this method is, I think, more careful to understand that theology is not autonomous, it is not presupposition-less, it is not a-historical, it is not merely a matter of proof-texting or collecting a handful of texts, and it is not unmoored from other Christians reflection throughout space and time.”
Keith A. Mathison
“Should We Read Thomas Aquinas?” Tabletalk (August 10, 2018)
“Much of recent American Reformed theology has been caught up for some time in a distorted form of biblicism that has fallen into the trap of trying to reinvent the theological wheel in areas where doing so is fraught with danger—in particular, the doctrine of the divine attributes and the doctrine of the Trinity. More often than should be the case, important aspects of these essential doctrines of the Christian faith have been seriously misunderstood and then, on the basis of such misunderstanding, rejected or revised, with disastrous consequences.
One way in which these misunderstandings could have been avoided would have been to grapple with the way these doctrines were defined and defended by the greatest theologians of the past, theologians such as Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, and yes, even Thomas Aquinas.”
The Reformation as Renewal: Retrieving the One, Holy, Catholic & Apostolic Church (Zondervan, 2023), p. 21
“Biblicism moves beyond believing in the final authority of the Bible to imposing a restrictive hermeneutical method onto the Bible. Biblicism can be identified by the following symptoms:
(1) Ahistorical mindset: Biblicism is a haughty disregard (chronological snobbery in the words of C.S. Lewis) for the history of interpretation and the authority of creeds and confessions, chanting an individualistic mantra, ‘No creed by the Bible,’ which in practice translates into ‘No authority but me.’ Sola scriptura is radicalized into solo scriptura. As a result, biblicism tails to let theology inform exegesis, which is designed to guard against heresy.
(2) Irresponsible proof texting: Biblicism treats Scripture as if it is a dictionary or encyclopedia, as if the theologian merely excavates the right proof texts, chapter and verse, tallying them up to support a doctrine. Biblicism limits itself to those beliefs explicitly laid down in Scripture and fails to deduce doctrines from Scripture by good and necessary consequence.
(3) Anti-metaphysics: Biblicism undervalues the use of philosophy in the service of exegesis and theology. Biblicism is especially allergic to metaphysics, failing to understand how the study of being should safeguard who God is (e.g. , pure act) in contrast to the creature. As a result, biblicism conflates theology and economy, as if who God is in himself can be read straight off the pages of Scripture when these pages are often focued on historical events.
(4) Univocal predication: Biblicism assumes language used of God in the text should be applied to God in a direct fashion, as if the meaning of an attribute predicated of man has the same meaning when predicated of God. By consequence, biblicism risks historicizing God by means of a literalistic interpretation of the text.
(5) Restrictive revelation: Biblicism is a suspicion or even dismissiveness toward the diverse ways God has revealed himself, limiting itself to the book of Scripture while shunning the book of creation. Biblicism is often suspicious towards natural theology.
(6) Overemphasis on the human author: Biblicism neglects the divine author’s intent and ability to transcend any one human author. As a result, biblicism struggles to explain the unity of the canon and Christological fulfillment, nor does it provide the metaphysic necessary to explain the attributes of Scripture like inspiration and inerrancy.”
On the History of Biblicism
In the Post-Reformation, including on Socinianism
Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics 2nd ed. (Baker Academic, 2003)
“The increasingly rationalistic biblicism of the Socinian movement in its seventeenth- century forms posed an even more intense problem for the Reformed orthodox… the Socinians opposed the balance of revelation and reason advocated by the Reformed and claimed a fundamental biblical basis for their doctrine and repudiated natural theology — at the same time that they argued against the simplicity and infinity of God, denied the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, and proposed an alternative view of the work of Christ.
From the Reformed perspective, all of these doctrines appeared to be at the same time the result of a new rationalism and a radically deviant exegesis. On all of these points, the high orthodox developed detailed argumentation: elements of debate not found in the Reformation and early orthodox era theologies, but arguably presented in defense of the same basic body of doctrine.”
“The [Westminster] confession… acknowledges that issues of worship and church government must be inferred in a general way from Scripture in concert with “the light of nature and Christian precedence.” [WCF 1.6] The doctrine of Scripture is thus safeguarded from a wooden rationalism, and, in the life of the church, the realm of adiaphora is carefully marked out and preserved from a rigoristic biblicism.”
“The rise and development of Socinianism in the seventeenth century cannot entirely account for the variant trinitarianisms of the age, including the English debates of the 1640s and 1650s, the variant language and historical perspectives of the Cambridge Platonists, and the doctrinal alternative proposed by Milton. In addition to the spread of a rational and biblicistic Socinian critique of traditional dogmatic language, the antitrinitarianism of the era was also fueled by developments in philosophy that challenged either the Christianized versions of Aristotelianism that had been the norm in theological usage or the older Aristotelian models themselves. The new philosophies of the seventeenth century tended to detach themselves from traditional conceptions of essence, substance, and individuality and, in so doing, critiques not only the older philosophy but also the theology that had grown attached to it and had reached, during the course of centuries, a linguistic concordat with traditional philosophical vocabulary.
Notable here is the alteration in meaning of such terms as “substance” and “essence” that can be traced among the various philosophical schools of the seventeenth century. In 1611, Randle Cotgrave defined the French substance as “substance, matter, stuffe,” substanciel as “substantiall, stuffie,” and essence as “an essence or being, the nature or subsistence of things”—perhaps reflecting a movement away from the older dual philosophical usage of “essence” to mean both the individuality and the quiddity, or whatness, of a thing, toward understanding the term in a more material and exclusively individual sense, perhaps more as haeccitas [this-ness] than as quidditas [what-ness].
His definition of substance, moreover, carries only the connotation of primary substance, the actual stuff or material identity of a thing, and not the connotation of secondary substance, the species or genus of a thing. Of course, when one looks to the technical manuals, there is little difference on the point between Thomas Wilson’s Rule of Reason (1551/52) and Thomas Spencer’s Art of Logick (1628): both offer the identification of “first” or primary substance as the individual thing and “second” or secondary substance as the kind of thing, namely, the species or genus.”
On Good & Necessary Consequences from Scripture being Binding
Gillespie, George –
Turretin, Francis – 12. ‘Are the doctrines of faith and practice to be proved only by the express Word of God? May they not also be legitimately proved by consequences drawn from Scripture? We affirm the latter.’ in Institutes of Elenctic Theology, tr. George M. Giger, ed. James Dennison Jr. (1679–1685; P&R, 1992), vol. 1, 1st Topic, pp. 37-44
McGraw, Ryan –