1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 1.9 The Interpretation of Holy Scripture

Table of Contents

The Text

1 John 2:2 (CSB) He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

The Chapter

The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself; and therefore when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched by other places that speak more clearly.

The Confession

Let's take a verse from the Bible:

1 Corinthians 15:29 (CSB) Otherwise what will they do who are being baptized for the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, then why are people baptized for them?

In and by itself, it is easy to think that God commands his followers to baptize for their dead. But anybody who has attended a Christian church within the last 2000 years knows that this is not a thing. We see living and breathing people being baptized but never not once have I heard of someone being baptized for the dead.

Using reading comprehension, and using not only the context of 1st Corinthians and even in particular, chapter 15, we know that the author is clearly asking this question rhetorically. We know that Paul was not teaching a new doctrine of baptism for the dead because it is never mentioned anywhere else in the Bible. In all of the sermons, commentaries, teachings from the Christian church throughout the 2000 years and with in the Jewish faith, we know that baptizing for the dead is not a thing. It is not doctrine. It is not what the Bible teaches.

You and I know this because we have never sat in a church that taught this. You and I know this because we can use basic reading comprehension and clearly see that this is asking rhetorical.

In 1840, a man by the name of Joseph Smith chose to read this verse and take it out of context and create an entire doctrine. This and many other Scriptures out of context were used to form what is now the Mormon Church or the Church of the Latter-Day Saints. Joseph Smith would go on to write Mormon scriptures that will contradict or add on to what was already taught in the 66 books of canon.

To take standalone Scriptures, out of context, and try to teach or preach for that lack of understanding is called biblicism.

Now biblicism might sound awesome. Here is one definition:

adherence to the letter of the Bible.

Man, I want to do that. But when we do that, without consider what the Bible teaches as whole, we will always go off in error, if not heresy, if not creating cults and sects that twist the Scriptures concerning the grace of our God.

500 years ago, the Reformers saw this abuse widespread through out the church. They taught and defended that we must use Scripture to interpret Scripture. All the commentaries we write, the sermons we teach, the classes we teach are not the authority of interpreting the meaning of Scripture. Only Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Reformers would call this tenet, sola Scriptura, in Latin, meaning, "according to Scriptures alone." Not prooftexting or taking out of context, but all 66 books, every word, every jot, every tittle perfectly and completely explaining what God has said to us.

Now, what if, we do our homework, and we cannot find the meaning of something that is "hard to understand" (as Peter describes some of Paul's writing in 2 Peter 3:16)?

Guess what? It remains a mystery to us by God.

And that thought that some things remain a mystery might rail against our modern sensibilities. But there are certain things that belong to our God. For:

Deuteronomy 29:29 (CSB) The hidden things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law.


Proverbs 25:2-3 (CSB) It is the glory of God to conceal a matter and the glory of kings to investigate a matter. As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings cannot be investigated.

Calvin says this:

The finite mind cannot fully comprehend the infinite.

Watch what he says: the limit of our minds cannot fully wrap around the infinite God. We may not be able to fully know God because He is infinite but because he has given us his Son, Christ Jesus, we are able to truly know God. For:

John 1:18 (CSB) No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side—he has revealed him.


1 Timothy 1:15–17 (CSB) This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

So lets take the passage I originally gave at the beginning of this exposition:

1 John 2:2 (CSB) He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

Some pastors and teachers will remark, "Ah ha!," as their finger drills down on this passage, "it says so right there. No debate needed. Case closed. End of argument. I win!"

Reply with this question, "So if Christ sacrifice atoned the sins for the whole world, that means the whole world is saved and that means no one is in hell."

Two responses you might get:

One, "No wait, that is not what I mean." This response will always lead into a more fruitful engagement.

Two, the person insistent on always being right / never being wrong, will double down and die on this hill. "Yep! That is what that means." Well, that would be silly because we know for a fact that unbelievers sit under the continuous wrath of Christ for all of eternity. For:

John 3:36 (CSB) The one who believes in the Son has eternal life, but the one who rejects the Son will not see life; instead, the wrath of God remains on him.


Matthew 8:11-12 (CSB) I tell you that many will come from east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

You don't think Christ talked about hell? There are five more passages like that in the gospel of Matthew.

But someone will come back with the "sin of disbelief". "Well, the only sin that Christ did not atone for was the sin of disbelief."

My good friend, lets go back to the Johannine passage once more:

1 John 2:2 (CSB) He himself is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world.

I don't see the Scripture mentioning Christ only atoning for some sins and not all sins.

The dangers of biblicism is that without check, will have you teaching something that the Bible does not teach.

To adhere to sola Scripture is grand and lofty idea. Because it requires us to know the word of God. And if we are being honest with ourselves, in the midst of the age of information is hard and difficult work. All Christians want to be faithful to the Scriptures. We do not want to teach in error or heresy. We do not want to led others astray. That is why James says, "Only some should be teachers" and Christ said, "It be better for you to have a millstone tied around your next and thrown in the ocean than to lead one of my little ones astray." Teachers are held to a stricter judgment.

But let me encourage each one of us: for us to understand the Scriptures--a document that was supernatural composed from the very breath of God--will be an supernatural act of the Triune God. Not your IQ. Not your EQ. Not your Christian school nor your home school. Not your Bible college nor seminary degrees. Not all the books that you could possibly read would grant you understanding of what the Lord is saying unless the Holy Spirit reveals it to you first.

Sola Scriptura, like the other four Doctrines of Grace, reveals that we are as utterly dependent on God for God. Fortunately, if we ask for wisdom, God gives. We ask for salvation, God gives. We ask for Christ, God gives. We turn to God, run to God, ask God for God, we will get God. All the time with no delay.

Praise be to God.