What We Believe About Scripture
A series on the AG Statement of Fundamental Truths
During the 1970s, a prominent Pentecostal historian interviewed two of the last living attendees of the Azusa Street Revival. One of the eyewitnesses commented on the importance of the Scriptures for those in attendance. He said everyone from the revival carried a Bible around town as they went about their business.
Holy Inspired Scriptures” as the “all-sufficient rule for faith and practice.”
When leaders composed the Statement of Fundamental Truths two years later, a similar declaration, “The Scriptures Inspired,” became Fundamental Truth No. 1: “The Bible is the inspired Word of God, a revelation from God to man, the infallible rule of faith and conduct, and is superior to conscience and reason, but not contrary to reason.”
The Statement of Fundamental Truths serves as a basis of fellowship among our ministers and sets a standard of doctrinal agreement for ministerial credentialing. Because this statement articulates a shared faith, all AG ministers should understand each fundamental truth well enough to know what it means, why it is fundamental, and what they should do in light of it.
In 1961, “The Scriptures Inspired” was revised to its current language: “The Scriptures, both the Old and New Testaments, are verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man, the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct (2 Timothy 3:15–17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).”
This version answers three questions regarding our doctrine of the Bible: (1) What do we mean by the Scriptures? (2) How were the Scriptures crafted? (3) What is the role of the Scriptures?
1. In answer to the first question, “both the Old and New Testaments” make up the Scriptures. The Bible must include both testaments. The books of the Old Testament were the Scriptures of the earliest Christians, quoted throughout the writings of the New Testament with the assumption that readers or listeners would either understand the references or have someone explain them.
The books of the New Testament were never intended to stand on their own but were written on the foundation of the Old Testament. Works within the New Testament became recognized as Scripture alongside Old Testament books even before the New Testament was complete (2 Peter 3:16).
Jesus referred to the Old Testament throughout His ministry. On the road to Emmaus, the risen Lord taught two of His followers from the Old Testament. The Gospel of Luke says, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (24:27).
The Gospels make use of multiple Old Testament books, from Genesis (Matthew 19:5) to Malachi (Mark 1:2). The apostle Paul relied on the Old Testament in his teaching of the gospel, even when writing to Gentiles (Romans 4; Galatians 3). Paul also encouraged others to do the same (1 Timothy 4:13). Likewise, the author of Hebrews extensively cited the Old Testament in proclaiming the good news.
The unity of the Old and New Testaments came under attack in the second century. Marcion, an influential teacher in the church at Rome, argued for a truncated version of the Bible that excluded the Old Testament and much of the New Testament. Without the Old Testament as a foundation, Marcion laid a heretical foundation that reinterpreted the meaning of Jesus and His work.
Pentecostals today have a theological tradition, developed over a century, upon which we rely. That
is, the Bible comes
first over all church traditions.
The majority within the predominately Gentile church rejected Marcion’s version. They understood that the New Testament is incomplete without the Old Testament and that heresy spreads more easily in the absence of the full revelation of Scripture.
Marcion’s actions demonstrated why the Old Testament is necessary to maintain a New Testament witness of Jesus. Since that time, Christians of all traditions have agreed to the unity of the Bible for the revelation of God in Jesus.
The Church faithfully passed down the Bible from generation to generation as the Word of God for that time. Some Christians gave their lives so others could have the fullness of the Scriptures. To neglect any part of the Bible would diminish their sacrifice, ignore the lessons of the past, and violate the first of our fundamental truths.
2. Regarding how the Scriptures were crafted, our statement tells us they were “verbally inspired of God and are the revelation of God to man.” God’s act of communication reveals His faithfulness. He did not abandon us to ignorance. God communicates through the natural world and human nature, miracles, personal contact, community, and the Scriptures. There is no greater revelation of God than the person of Jesus, whom John 1 identifies as the Word.
It is by the Spirit that God communicates to us. The Holy Spirit is present and active in multiple forms of divine revelation. The Spirit hovered over the waters before God spoke the first word of creation (Genesis 1:2). Jesus was conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). The Holy Spirit enables healing and deliverance (Matthew 12:28; 1 Corinthians 12:9). The Holy Spirit will teach us what to say when we must bear witness (Luke 12:12). The Holy Spirit inspired the writing of the Scriptures (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21).
Verbal inspiration means every word of Scripture comes by the Spirit. On the one hand, the Bible is a work of the Holy Spirit in its entirety because every word counts as inspired. On the other hand, those words need not be in a particular order or language to qualify as the inspired Word of God.
Through the years, Assemblies of God theologians have maintained verbal inspiration does not suggest mechanical or mindless dictation, as if the authors of the Bible were secretaries merely recording what they heard without having a hand in the crafting of the message.
In 1937, Myer Pearlman explained, “Inspiration does not mean dictation, in that sense that the writers were passive, their faculties having no part whatsoever in the recording of the material. … The very word inspiration excludes mere mechanical action, and mechanical action excludes inspiration.”
Some 60 years later, William Menzies and Stanley Horton agreed:
Mechanical dictation holds that God spoke through human beings to the extent that their individual personalities were suppressed. Such a view is erroneous. Personalities and particular vocabularies of the various writers are obviously distinguishable; of the forty-plus writers of Scripture, a variety of walks of life are clearly observable — shepherds, statesmen, priests, fishermen, the well-educated and the relatively unlearned. The writers were not robot-like, manipulated while in trances; God did not pick them at random and tell them what to write.
Because the Bible was not dictated in such a way that it counts as inspired only in the original language, a translation of the Scriptures does not make it any less the Word of God. To whatever extent a translation has faithfully represented the meaning of the Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek of the original texts, it can be trusted.
So how does the Holy Spirit inspire the writings of the Bible if not by mindless dictation? There are some theories of inspiration that leave little room for the personalities and backgrounds of the human authors, while other explanations leave little room for the direct role of the Holy Spirit.
The Assemblies of God subscribes to neither of these extremes. In our view, each biblical book was fully inspired by the Holy Spirit but written in cooperation with the personality and skill of the individual authors, working within their particular cultural contexts.
In a more recent work used in some district schools of ministry, John Higgins puts it this way:
The divine dictation view of inspiration does not give proper recognition to the human elements — the peculiar styles, expressions, and emphases of the individual writers. The verbal plenary view of inspiration avoids the pitfalls of emphasizing God’s activity to the neglect of human participation, or of emphasizing the human contributions to the neglect of God’s involvement. The whole of Scripture is inspired, as the writers wrote under the Holy Spirit’s direction and guidance, while allowing for variety in literary style, grammar, vocabulary, and other human peculiarities.
3. As for the role of the Scriptures, they are “the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct.” To say the Scriptures are infallible is to say the Scriptures, rightfully interpreted, are neither wrong nor will they lead someone in the wrong direction. Because it is infallible, the Bible is fully trustworthy.
We must be so committed to obeying the Word of God that obedience becomes second nature, and
our reflex response
is toward the will of God.
Infallibility and authority do not apply to all interpretations of the Bible. These terms cover only the meaning of the biblical texts within the purposes for which those texts were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we cannot make Scripture say whatever we want it to say.
One reason for making this the first item in the Statement of Fundamental Truths was to set the authority of the Bible above other sources of theology. The earliest version of “The Scriptures Inspired” declared the Bible superior to reason and conscience.
From the time of the Azusa Street Revival, early Pentecostals argued for the supremacy of the Scriptures over spiritual experience. According to author Cecil M. Robeck Jr., Azusa pastor William Seymour evaluated worship during the revival in light of Scripture.
“Seymour made clear that Scripture would be the norm for Pentecostal practice, and the mission would not support practices not found in Scripture or practices found to be contrary to Scripture,” Robeck wrote. Experience should not add to our theology what Scripture does not allow.
Pentecostals today have a theological tradition, developed over a century, upon which we rely. That is, the Bible comes first over all church traditions. Even traditions that stand over generations do not carry the same weight of divine inspiration, infallibility, or authority. The Assemblies of God espouses a theology based first and foremost in the Scriptures.
Our belief in the authority of the Bible sets the Scriptures above the Statement of Fundamental Truths.Statement of Fundamental Truths “our all-sufficient rule for faith and practice.” The preamble goes on to say, “The phraseology employed in this Statement is not inspired or contended for … . No claim is made that it covers all biblical truth.”
Statement of Fundamental Truths
The Bible guides the faith and conduct of the Church. Nothing that goes against the teaching of the Scriptures can be acceptable for Christians. The unchanging biblical truth stands above the shifting propositions of culture. The teachings of the Scriptures have withstood the test of time.
It is possible to sign off on a statement of beliefs for the sake of unity and accountability without considering the full implications. If that happens, our ministry over time will reveal a gap between what we sign and how we serve.
What does an affirmation of “The Scriptures Inspired” require of us in our ministries? Below are three implications.
First, we have a responsibility to model biblical formation. The Bible emphasizes not only the inspiration and authority of Scripture but its usefulness. According to 2 Timothy 3:16, all Scripture is inspired and useful.
The Bible is a tool for maturing believers in faith and godliness. Ignorance of biblical teachings lowers the ceiling for how much someone can grow in Christ.
The goal of Bible engagement is not information but formation. When we study and apply the Bible so thoroughly and consistently that it becomes the main story by which we understand our identity and determine our actions, we are being biblically formed.
Our lives should reflect such biblical formation. We must be so committed to obeying the Word of God that obedience becomes second nature, and our reflex response is toward the will of God. If our community cannot see the difference the Bible makes in us, they may not believe such a difference is possible for them.
We should beware the temptations of the flesh but also the temptations of ministry, including the drive to control and dominate. If we serve the work of God instead of the God of the work, we will make compromises in how we preach, lead and live.
Prioritizing the successes of ministry over faithfulness to God’s Word is folly. If we cannot accomplish an objective God’s way, it is not God’s will. There are ways to build a church that are outside of God’s will.
Ministers also face temptations related to despair and anger. Serving God’s people is no small task, and the disappointments that come during ministry can lead to a personal crisis.
What sets ministry apart is the task
of preaching and teaching God’s Word.
At times, we may want to take out our frustrations on others. However, this can undo every sermon our congregation ever heard us preach. Every minister remains under the authority of God’s Word, regardless of the pressures or promises of ministry. No opportunity or struggle is worth compromising our example.
Second, we have a responsibility to study the Scriptures. The unique requirement of pastoral ministry is not leadership, administration, or counseling, all of which some other professions share. What sets ministry apart is the task of preaching and teaching God’s Word.
To teach the Bible well, we must study the Bible well (2 Timothy 2:15). Because teaching is also a part of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20), we should study with the same degree of intentionality we have for making disciples.
The Assemblies of God has a historic commitment to credentialing ministers based on divine calling and not college education. However, our Fellowship also has an expectation that anyone so called will prepare to teach the Word of God in all its fullness. Our calling to preach already carries within it a calling to study.
Because the Holy Spirit inspired the entire Bible, we must study the Bible as a whole and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture. And since the Holy Spirit worked in cooperation with human authors, we should study the Bible with an understanding of their contexts.
The Bible was written in times, places, languages, and cultures different from our own. There are abundant resources available for gaining a better understanding of any book or passage of the Bible within its cultural, linguistic, and historical context.
Our preparation for taking people into the Word of God influences their ability to live out the will of God. A lack of studying the Bible may not keep us out of the pulpit, but it will force us to rely on other sources for our preaching.
Sermons that offer limited interaction with the Bible, using a few proof texts to prop up cultural ideas, may resonate with congregants. But such preaching won’t take people deeper into the will of God. If we fail to deliver God’s message, we have not done our job as preachers.
Bible study does not displace the Spirit’s role in sermon preparation. We can rely on the Holy Spirit without neglecting our responsibility to study. It is not an either/or proposition. In fact, the more we study the Bible, the more we give the Holy Spirit to work with in our preaching and teaching.
Finally, we have a responsibility to teach the whole Bible. As AG ministers, we are stewards of Scripture. God entrusts us with the revelation of Jesus within the text. It is our responsibility to ensure the communities to whom we preach and teach are learning the fullness of the Bible over time.
Studying only those passages with which we are comfortable will limit what we preach. What we don’t study, we won’t preach. And what we don’t preach, our churches may never learn. If we believe all of Scripture is God’s Word and is useful, we should commit to providing the whole Bible to our congregants.
No minister should attempt to preach the entire Bible in one sermon, of course. And some might not be able to preach through every passage of Scripture even if they spend decades in the same church. There is a problem, however, if someone attends an AG church for years and remains unfamiliar with major portions of the Bible.
Unintentionally neglecting any part of the Bible has the same effect as willfully withholding part of God’s revelation. Every church should have a plan for teaching through the Bible over time. If we intend small groups to carry the weight of teaching Scripture, we must still be intentional about equipping and preparing those groups.
This article appears in the Fall 2022 issue of Influence magazine.