(Aside: post #400!)
A couple days ago, we closed by talking about how Christians talk about something called the “testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum” (which we will call TSSI) or internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (also note the footnote there going into more specific detail for those who want to do so). This is given to us that we might know the truth which sets us free (note also that some pressing reasons were given here for why one might consider looking into TSSI, the Christian’s version of “self-authentication”, before others)
Before we get started on exploring this further however, let us take a look at what is said in Deuteronomy 13:1-5:
“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the Lord your God is testing you, to know whether you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.”*
Here we note that the Word of God as it had been received among the faithful – perhaps especially in circumstances where He desired His word to be written down (see Ex. 17:14, Isa. 8:1, 30:8, Jer. 30:2, 36:2, Ezek. 24:2, 43:11, Hab. 2:2, Psa. 45:1)** – was simply never to be in doubt – even in the presence of miracle-workers speaking the contrary!*** (note Isaiah 8:20 as well and also Deut 4:9, 33-37; Deut 7:19; and the last verse of Deut. for more on how confidence in God and His word – here written down for the first time with Moses – seems to have been re-established more broadly among God’s people through the help of His great acts of deliverance). Does information like this go hand in hand with TSSI?
It does indeed – even if many theologians of the past have not really felt the need to emphasize this fact or even failed to point this out. TSSI cannot really be understood properly unless it is seen as “playing out” throughout the history of God’s people, in a back-and-forth interplay between God’s written word and the fulfillment of that word.**** Again, Jesus spoke with authority – and it was clear to many who knew the Scriptures that He knew them as well.
But how, specifically, were people expected to know that He was the One?
Here we must say this: is it not terribly significant that Jesus basically indicated that He should be known as “the One who was to come?” (Luke 7: 18-23 ; see also John 4:25 ; 6:14 ; 11:27), i.e. the One foretold in the Old Testament Scriptures (see Luke 7:18-23 and Matthew 11:2-6, fulfilling, for example, Isaiah 26:19 ; 29:18 ; 35:5-6 ; 41:18 ; and 61:1-2)***** which Christians have always recognized as God’s very word? When we think seriously about things such as TSSI, must we not pay very close attention to Jesus’ words that He must or has to fulfill OT prophecy? (see Matthew 26:54 ; Luke 24:25-26, 44 ; John 13:18, 15:25, 17:12).
After all, whatever one might think about the specificity of the prophecies that Jesus fulfilled, it is clear that the Scriptures show that Jesus clearly expected – and we can see the culmination of this in Luke 24 – those who believed in Him to see the Old Testament prophecies fulfilled in Him. One thinks about his combined patience and evident exasperation with the two men he talked with on the way to Emmaus in Luke 24!
Here we see that Jesus’ whole coming is predicated on the fulfillment of prophecy, which we might also rightly associate with the miraculous, that is, things that occur during the course of life which are “out of the ordinary”. Evidently, the TSSI that Christians speak about is no run-of-the-mill “burning in the bosom”, as is common in other faiths, but is intricately connected with events that God predicted and did in time.****** Indeed, let us take note that there was a specific line of religious writings that prophesied that the Messiah would not only come (starting with Genesis 3:15 and moving forward…) but that He would do certain things – even if many or most were slow to pick up on these things or only ended up understanding “in reverse”, on the other side of the cross and resurrection. These prophecies about what the Messiah would do are found throughout the Old Testament writings, but particularly in the book of Isaiah. And they are certain things that Jesus in fact did!
In Jesus Christ we see God’s authority revealed, and part of this revelation was showing that God loved us by overcoming our enemies, including sin, the effects of sin (like sickness and death), and the pusher of sin (the devil). In order to do this, Christ’s divine power was manifested. So what does this mean in the context of our current question about TSSI? Well, we do not try to figure out the significance of each and every miracle – this is simply the love of God for all men applied to particular men during the “fullness of time” when the Son of God was to both physically and visibly walk among us, having “taken on” human flesh. Looking at the larger context of all of these miracles, we see that this, fundamentally, has to do with the fulfillment of prophecy according to the only true Word of God, or Scriptures (see Deut. 18 here in this context).
When it comes to Jesus and His miracles, the most amazing and important thing is not so much that any particular miracle was done, but that mighty acts such as His were foretold – they were to accompany the Messianic Age (Luke 7:18-23). Jesus’ whole life was a “Mighty act of God” – i.e. He is the Mighty-acts-of-God-incarnate, or better yet, the Right-hand-of-God-incarnate.
This is the Lord’s main purpose in these miracles: they were prophecy-fulfilling miracles. That said, this need not be the only purpose – in the presence of other children the purposes of such actions might take on a deeper and richer (today: we might say “more robust”) dimension. For example, while God simply delights in doing good to His children, when such prophecy-fulfilling and love-driven miracles were done in the presence of straying or faithless children, there is no reason to suggest that the Holy Spirit’s intention was also not – when and where He chose – to convict them of their sin, that they might eventually, through a realization of God’s forgiveness in Christ for them, be brought to faith in Him once more.*******
This multifaceted functionality of miracles will be explored in the final post. In our next post, we will explore questions about how TSSI functions in the Christian Church.
Part III in a couple days (here now)
* This passage is admittedly difficult. If there are times the Christian feels tempted to believe that these are not the words of God but man, it does him well to remember that our Lord Jesus Himself gives every indication that He firmly believed in the reliability of the Old Testament, and that it was certainly the Word of His Father. Again, as Kevin DeYoung writes in his new book Taking God at His Word: “In the Gospels we see Jesus reference Abel, Noah, Abraham, Sodom and Gomorrah, Isaac and Jacob, manna in the wilderness, the serpent in the wilderness, Moses as the lawgiver, David and Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Elijah and Elisha, the widow of Zerephath, Naaman, Zechariah, and even Jonah, never questioning a single event, a single miracle, or a single historical claim. Jesus clearly believed in the historicity of biblical history.” (102)
That being said, we can and must also point out that this passage is rooted in Old Testament law that applied to the geographical-political entity of Israel. Efforts like the inquisition were clearly wrong, even if calling out false doctrine is not. When it comes to keeping order in His Church, according to the New Testament, only the Sinless Ones is entitled to cast the first stone – i.e. judgments that seal a “final cutoff”.
Further, any passages from the Old Testament that encourage God’s people to do violence vs. their neighbors cannot be applied to Christians today. These passages were spoken to very specific persons in very specific circumstances and a particular time in salvation history. They do not give Christians a green light to bear the sword in God’s name – as some of the Puritans did in the new world vs. the native tribes. Jesus and His Apostles bring much to light here in the New Testament writings. We are indeed in a vicious war, whether we realize it or not, but it is a spiritual war – and our weapons must likewise be spiritual – not fleshly (Eph. 6:10ff. also see John 18:36; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; Isa. 42:2-3).
Again, there are some judgments that only God is meant to administer. None of this discounts Romans 13 of course, but limits its scope.
** Both Martin Chemnitz in the 16th c. and John Gerhard in the 17th c., addressing the various concerns and arguments of their respective times, use the Scriptures to show and discuss various reasons for why God may have decided to use written tradition as well as oral to assist in passing on and preserving His word.
*** Not to imply that most all biblical criticism is worthless, but how can this be right?: “Serious biblical interpretation simply cannot proceed until one first determines the most likely reading of the original text.” (Quarles, “Higher Criticism: What Has it Shown?, In Defense of the Bible, p. 64) Can nothing be said for trustful reception that, when simply curious to know more of the details, finds confirmation readily forthcoming? (one also thinks of biblical archaeology in the 20th c., with the stones “crying out”)
**** The great 20th c. Lutheran theologian Robert Preus, speaking of the 17th century Lutheran dogmaticians, said:
“have treated [the testimonium Spiritus Sancti internum]] almost exclusively in reference to the authority of Scripture, and they speak of it far less often in reference to Christ as the object of saving faith or in reference to the believer’s personal assurance of faith… It is quite clear that the dogmaticians’ emphasis upon the testimony of the Spirit to the authority of the Scriptures cannot be found in Luther.” (Preus, Inspiration, 115, 118 ; quoted in Nafzger, These are Written, 87).
Preus’ appraisal of how these men handled this doctrine this brings to mind Luther’s words about covering our spiritual father’s nakedness: “perhaps unfortunate”. Preus does point out time and again that the Lutherans of the day were involved in a serious debate with the Jesuits – who at one point even denied that the Scriptures were the word of God (pp. 126, 127) – and at times perhaps got too caught up in refuting their opponents by using their own tools and methods.
In a personal email Martin Noland added: “Luther did apply the TSSI to it’s role in convincing that ‘the believer is a child of God’ and ‘God alone is the most proper witness.’ I think I noted that difference in my M.Div. thesis, or I intended to. So the Lutherans have always accepted the doctrine of the TSSI to a certain extent, but there has been some differences over its application or terminology—which was my main point in my M.Div. thesis.”
(Martin R. Noland, “The doctrine of the testimonium Spiritu Sancti internum as a Calvinistic element in Lutheran theology” (Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, M.Div. thesis, 1983), mentioned by Noland here).
***** “[Robert] Newman points out various paradoxical features of Old Testament messianic prophecies that find their natural and obvious fulfillment in Jesus. The Messiah was to be a Jew who brought light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 2:6-7; 49:5-6). He was to be born a human son, yet he preexisted as God (Micah 5:2; Isaiah 9:6-7). He will be humble yet exalted (Daniel 7:13; Zechariah 9:9). He will suffer ignominiously yet be vindicated and exalted as universal ruler (Psalm 22; Isaiah 52:13-53:12). He will be both king and priest, offices kept separate in Judaism (Psalm 110). Newman also cites prophecies indicating the Messiah would come toward the end of the Second Temple period (ca. 515 B.C. – A.D. 70), making it impossible that any individual living after that time could be the Messiah (Haggai 2:3-9; Daniel 9:24-27).” (Boa and Bowman, Faith Has its Reasons, p. 183)
****** As I recently read in a paper, about art: “It is imperative that we remember our own history, the history of family, community, and nation. Memory is important. Artists build bridges that connect memory and symbols, the past, present, and future. But, most important, artists connect people.” How much more so for the church.
******* 17th c. Lutheran theologian John Gerhard talked about how what we know as the Bible has divine authority – and absolute authority – because of its divine inspiration. Regarding how those inside the Church know that the Bible has authority he writes:
“Those who are in the church freely acknowledge the divine authority of Scripture and claim that it is credible in itself and trustworthy. After all, how will the children of the church be able to doubt the truthfulness of the foundation upon which the church relies? How can those who feel the powerful efficacy of the Word in their own hearts and who through the Word know that they have been reborn for eternal life, I say, how can such people ask about the authority of the divine Word contained in the Scriptures? (Gerhard, Nature of Theology, Commonplace I, chapter 3, section 36; quoted in Noland, Martin, “Why am I a Lutheran?”, in Propter Christum: Christ at the Center, pp. 236-237)
Later on, Gerhard talks about the rejection of scripture authority from a pastoral viewpoint. Here he discusses those outside the church (he assumes those inside the church will simply accept the Scriptures as inspired by God!), the “incurable” and the “curable”, and of the curable he says the following:
“There are three kinds of testimonies that can convince the curable of Scripture’s authority. The first is the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, which is, as it translates from Rom 8:16, ‘the testimony of those who believe the Spirit that they are the children of God.’ Thus it effectively convinces them also that the Scriptures contain the voice of the heavenly Father and that God alone is the fitting and authentic witness. To this testimony is related that living feeling in the devout in daily prayer and exercise of repentance and faith, their ability to comfort and strengthen the mind against adversities, temptations, and persecutions of every kind, etc., an ability that the devout develop daily in their reading of and meditation on Scripture.
The second testimony contains the internal criteria inherent in Scripture itself, some of which are sought from causes, some from effects, some from its subject, some from its adjuncts. Such criteria are its antiquity, the majesty of the subject it treats, the uniqueness of its speech, its perpetual harmony, the dignity of its prophecy of the future, the truth of the fulfillment thereof, the divinity of the miracles by which that instruction is strengthened, the vastness of the devil’s anger against it, the efficacy of Scripture in persuading and convincing, etc.
The third testimony contains external witnesses of every sort, among which looms high the witness of the church, which the sealing of the martyrs resembles, for with their own blood they confirmed the instruction given in the Scriptures. There are also the punishments of blasphemers and persecutors who stubbornly attack that teaching. Especially related to this are the autographs of the evangelists and the apostles that are still extant in the primitive church, as well as the immediate successors thereto that could give testimony to those autographs.”
(Gerhard, Nature of Theology, Commonplace I, chapter 3, section 36; quoted in Noland, Martin, “Why am I a Lutheran?”, in Propter Christum: Christ at the Center, pp. 237-238)
Images: J.A.O. Preus: http://www.lutheranhistory.org/presidents/pres_preus.htm ; John the Baptist: https://lindasbiblestudy.wordpress.com/2013/09/26/art-thou-he/