Biblicism is alive and well today. It takes different forms and is practiced to varying degrees. Some see this as a good thing; others, as the bane of simplistic evangelical anti-intellectualism. Some believe it to be mandated by the Bible itself; others attribute it to anti-biblical cultural influences. Some believe it is the essence of the Reformation’s formal principle, while others insist that it is far from what the reformers had in mind. Catholics accuse Protestants of it, Protestants accuse other Protestants of it, and pretty much all seem to agree that American evangelicalism of the fundamentalist sort represents the worst contemporary expression of it.

Biblicism Defined

What is ‘biblicism’? It is a term that is notoriously difficult to define. One dictionary says it is “a derogatory term describing an uncritical and unquestioning adherence to the Bible and one’s literal interpretation of it.”[1] Another dictionary says, “Biblicism in Rome’s estimation is the belief that the Bible is a book with a clear meaning,”[2] a perceived ‘problem’ having to do with Protestantism’s belief in grammatical-historical hermeneutics, the single-meaning theory of interpretation, and the right of private interpretation of Scripture, all of which Rome starkly criticizes. This ‘problem’ might be why the self-identified evangelical sociologist Christian Smith, after writing a book decrying biblicism, converted to Roman Catholicism. He blames biblicism for the “pervasive interpretative pluralism” that irreparably divides evangelicals.[3] Apparently, he believes the best solution is to abandon private interpretation altogether, dogmatically assert that any given text of Scripture has no dogmatic single-meaning but many valid interpretations (multivocism),[4] and defer to papal authority as the conscience-binding arbiter of truth. For Roman Catholics, biblicism is usually seen as equated with or inseparably consequential of the Protestant insistence on sola Scriptura.

Mark Noll, on the other hand, defines biblicism as “a reliance on the Bible as ultimate religious authority.”[5] In that case, biblicism seems to be a good thing to many a faithful Protestant. Maybe that is why John Frame wrote a paper titled, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism,” calling for a more consistent application of sola Scriptura in doing the work of theology.[6] For Frame, the line between biblicism and sola Scriptura is not always clear.[7] The Reformed have always insisted on the unrivaled epistemological supremacy of Scripture as the ultimate arbiter of truth,[8] and rightfully so.

Frame does make some important distinctions between sola Scriptura and biblicism. He summarizes the ways the term ‘biblicism’ is used as descriptive of:

(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.[9]

This is a helpful summary and with Frame, this student agrees that these forms of biblicism are not helpful.

These characteristics are not necessarily mutually exclusive, either. To this list we could add different kinds of biblicism: “radical biblicism” (characterizing the anti-tradition stances of the radical reformation Anabaptists and post-Reformation Socinians),[10] “rationalistic biblicism” (what evangelicalism falls into when devoid of an experiential element),[11] “anti-intellectual biblicism” (eschewing systematic theological reflection and formulation),[12] “democratic biblicism” (the popular consensus of what the Bible means must be its true meaning),[13] among others. Much could be said about each one of these, none of which represent a faithful application of theological method. To this list we can also add independent biblicism.

We may define independent biblicism as the attempt to interpret, understand, and apply the meaning of the Bible in an individualistic manner apart from conscientious consideration of, humble engagement in, and meaningful conversation with, the living stream of theology in the church of Jesus Christ.[14] Many sincere evangelicals on the contemporary scene who believe the gospel of Christ and seek to live faithfully to the Scriptures have tendencies toward independent biblicism to one degree or another. There are, no doubt, pervasive cultural influences that have contributed to this. But the bottom line is that the independent evangelical biblicist usually believes that the Bible itself calls for his independent biblicism. In his view, eschewing the living stream of the church’s theology through the centuries is simply a necessary corollary to being faithful Scripture. In light of this, this paper seeks to meet the biblicist on his own ground by arguing that independent biblicism, despite its insistence on being biblical, is actually antibiblical because it contradicts the teachings of the Bible.

For the sake of perspicuity and to avoid the appearance of an overly ambitious ‘proof-texting’ that biblicism is sometimes accused of, we will base our arguments on key texts from the epistle to the Hebrews. Our theological reflection on those insights will then incorporate other texts from elsewhere in Scripture as we reflect on our findings relative to the present thesis.

Biblical Arguments Against Independent Biblicism

Hebrews 13:7: The Remembrance of Past Leaders

Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” These leaders were former teachers that were physically deceased.[15] They are described as those “who spoke the word of God,” a phrase that when used similarly elsewhere in the New Testament refers to kerygmatic preaching and official teaching activity in the church (Acts 4:29, 31; 13:46; 1 Pet. 4:11). By describing them in terms in their preaching function, this appositional clause functions epexegetically and calls attention to not only the function of these former leaders, but to the content of their teaching ministry, i.e. their doctrine.[16] Calvin says this verse “refers not so much to morals as to doctrine… he seems especially to speak of those who had sealed the doctrine delivered by them by their own blood.”[17] In this case, these teaching leaders were martyrs for the faith who taught sound doctrine faithfully until the end when they laid down their lives as a testimony to it (cf. Rev. 6:9). The call to “remember” them is a call not merely to bring to mind their names and persons, but to take heed to their doctrine and continue in it (cf. Heb. 13:9, where doctrinal steadfastness is clearly in view). As Owen said, it is to be continually mindful of what they “did and taught so as to follow them in their faith and conversation”[18]—that is, in their doctrine and conduct.

The remembrance to which it calls (Μνημονεύετε) does not entail a mere recollection of the memory. It is a committed engagement of the mind to consider, reflect upon, and understand in such a way that it leads to imitation (experiential application to life)—hence the hortatory imperative, μιμεῖσθε τὴν πίστιν. The verse, then, is a command to call to mind, take heed to, and apply the teachings of former leaders of the church who are now dead. For the original recipients of this epistle, these deceased leaders included the heroes of faith’s hall of fame in Hebrews 11 and especially the first generation of teachers who had laid down their lives in the line of service to Christ. The latter were not only some of the apostles (see Heb. 2:3-4), but also included leaders whose names we probably do not have in Scripture.[19]

Independent biblicists may deride the teachings of past saints from church history because they were not inspired, are fallible, and are susceptible to error. But not being an inspired apostle or prophet never disqualified the doctrinal content of the ministry of any pastor or teacher from deserving a hearing in the church, because the Lord himself established non-inspired teaching offices in the church.[20] Hebrews 13:7 offers a corrective to this extremist mindset. The leaders the author calls his recipients to consider included those who did not write any inspired text of Holy Scripture. Since these particular leaders were not apostles or prophets, their teachings were not infallible. But they, like Apollos, were mighty in the Scriptures and were faithful to the truth (see Acts 18:24). They were gifted servants of Christ who faithfully preached the word of God. No doubt, they had the same sins, frailties, and errors that beset all of Adam’s fallen sons. But they were overall faithful and their doctrines contributed to the edification of the church, not only during their lives but also after their deaths.[21] The recipients of the epistle are here commanded to benefit from and be edified by the teachings of dead church leaders.

Hebrews 13:7 is a direct imperative, by inference, to the whole church that receives the epistle to the Hebrews as the oracles of God. The imperatival force signifies a binding duty. Since the duty in question includes giving heed to the biblically faithful though extra-biblical teachings of faithful church leaders of the historical past, this is a clear biblical command that contradicts the fundamental premises of independent biblicism. If the biblicist out of principle seeks to know the word of God while purposefully and voluntarily ignoring the teachings of the greatest pastors, teachers, and theologians that 2,000 years of church history has bequeathed to us, such will hinder his ability to understand the richness of Scripture’s doctrine as well as his ability to live godly in Christ by imitating the example of past saints. Inasmuch as biblicism is an individualistic reading of Scripture, it is in principle disobedient to this biblical injunction.

Hebrews 12:22-24: The Communion of the Saints

The application drawn from the previous argument rests upon the axiom that though the church is locally instantiated it is universally united. The church universal is one and all true believers form part of her membership (Eph. 4:4-6). The teachers we are called to emulate and whose teaching we are called to “remember” in Hebrews 13:7 are not limited to the particular local congregation in which we may find ourselves. They include teachers throughout the whole church on earth insofar as their testimonies and teachings are providentially available to us and conducive to our edification by the word of God.

Hebrews 12:22-24 speaks of the universal church in its heavenly glory:

“But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, To the general assembly and church [ἐκκλησία] of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.”

The “church” here spoken of derives from ἐκκλησία, the normal New Testament word for Christ’s church (Matt. 16:18). This word was used previously in Hebrews 2:12, which is conceptually parallel to Hebrews 12:22–24. In 2:12, the author quotes Psalm 22:22: “I will declare thy name unto my brethren, in the midst of the church [ἐκκλησία, LXX] will I sing praise unto thee,” and applies this to Christ. Hebrews 12:22–24 should be seen as a revelatory amplification of the reality spoken of in Psalm 22:22. It depicts “Jesus the mediator” praising God by his blood that “speaketh” to God’s glory in the midst of his brethren, the church, with the church in the intermediate state (“spirits of just men made perfect”) gathered around him for worship. This is the perfect celestial church, the heavenly archetype of which every true local church on earth is a yet-imperfect, reflective ectype. The heavenly church is the reality to which every true earthly church points, and it is the overriding spiritual reality that unifies them all in its universal, comprehensive scope over the whole church on earth. The local church reflects the universal church and is spiritually united to all other God-recognized local churches.

The Hebrews 12:22–24 pericope begins with a description of approach denoting access. This is significant due to the two entities that are united by this act of approach unto access. The recipients of this epistle as the church on earth have “come unto mount Sion” (προσεληλύθατε) even “to the… church” in heaven. And the church on earth worships as if in the presence of the church in heaven, having bold access to the very same presence of God by the blood of Jesus as the church in heaven. This speaks of the unity of communion that the church on earth has with the church in heaven. The sense of the text is that the two entities are so united that they are really one single entity with both a heavenly and earthly mode of manifestation. There is a fellowship bond that unites the church on earth with that in heaven such that they are essentially one and the same church. This is the communion of the saints alive on earth with the saints who are already dead and in heaven.[22] Those individuals on earth who have been united to the body of Christ by the Spirit worship the Lord in the local church, but this church is one with the heavenly church. There is a mystical communion between living and ‘dead’ saints in this sense.[23] The saints on earth in the flesh have come into the fellowship of the saints who have put off the body and are spirits of just men made already made perfect in holiness.

To tie this in with our previous observations: since this passage in Hebrews 12:22–24 is contextually located in close antecedent proximity to Hebrews 13:7, this means the former and currently deceased leaders the church is commanded to remember in Hebrews 13:7 were to be understood as presently abiding in heaven. The fact they were physically deceased did not mean they were nonexistent. Being absent from the body, they were present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). They were alive in spirit, and are still alive in spirit, beholding the beatific vision. They still form part of the church, for they are “in Christ” just as we are in Christ, and even death has not dissolved the union they have with Christ as part of his mystical body (1 Thes. 4:16). They form part of the “so great a cloud of witnesses” whose testimonies and teachings are spurring us on to persevere in faithfulness to Christ (Heb. 12:1). All this brings the injunction of Hebrews 13:7 into sharper focus and sheds greater light on the theological premises that undergird it.

Stephen Holmes in his volume on Listening to the Past speaks of the bond of communion the saints have universally in the body of Christ, whether in heaven or on earth, together with the great teachers of the past (who he calls “doctors”). He does not comment on this particular passage but he sums up our findings well when he says,

“If in Christ they are alive and remain members of his body, then the Church’s dogmatics, to which all theological work should aspire to be a contribution, cannot proceed by pretending otherwise. The doctors are not dead and gone, but living and active, and members together of the same body of Christ to which we belong. God has established a real and irreducible connectedness between us and them. Thus, to deal with the theological tradition only by doing straightforward genealogy is improper, as it denies this central ecclesiological dogma; instead we must find a way of relating to the doctors of earlier ages that recognizes the asymmetry of the relationship in which we stand to them—we can read their works but they cannot respond to ours; conversely they now gaze upon the face of the living God, whilst we still see as through a glass darkly—but does not ignore a proper ecclesiology and so collapse this relationship into one that is merely historical.”[24]

Our relationship with the great theologians of the past is not “merely historical.” It is a living relationship in Christ. And they, like Abel, being dead, still speak to us through what is written (Heb. 11:4). Their testimony is ongoing and continues to the benefit the church on earth in all successive ages until the eschaton. By their writings, their voice continues to be verbally and explicitly communicated, especially the writings of the most eminent pastor-teachers and theologians of ages past that stand out due to their extraordinary insights and the usefulness they have for edifying the church today. The independent biblicist who seeks to be edified through an individualistic study of Scripture approaches the knowledge of God as if such is to be ideally obtained in isolation from the communion of saints.[25] This seems to reflect an anti-biblical, sectarian bias that has no support in Scripture and is contrary to orthodox Christian dogma summarized as early as the Apostle’s Creed.

Hebrews 13:17: The Authority of Christ’s Ministers

In addition to the remembrance of past leaders and the communion of the great body of living and ‘dead’ (but gloriously more alive-than-ever) saints, independent biblicism receives another blow from the implications that derive from the invested authority and endowed giftedness of Christ’s ministers.

Hebrews 13:17 speaks to this when it commands the church: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” We will not exegete this text in any detail, but only draw an inference from its clear assertion. There exists in the church of Christ an ordained ministry of recognized leadership to which the remaining body of the church is called to discerningly and lovingly submit. These ordained leaders “watch” for the souls of those committed to their charge. The primary means by which they watch is by faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God (cf. Heb. 13:7).

Scripture in other places sheds more light on this ordained ministry. 1 Timothy 3:2 says they must be “apt to teach.” Those called to the ministry must have an ability to teach the Word of God in public that excels beyond that of the average Christian. Such a one must also be able to shepherd the church by defending it satisfactorily against those who contradict sound doctrine, even though such contradictors may be learned (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim. 1:7). This speaks of a ministry particularly graced with insight into the meaning of Holy Scripture and with ability to communicate it effectively for the sake of the church’s good. Furthermore, this salient ability to teach is by the charismatic endowment of the Spirit’s gifting, a fact that is evident because Peter, in speaking of such gifts by “the manifold grace of God,” proceeds to mention the gift of public speaking/preaching (1 Pet. 4:10–11). And these ministers are ultimately equipped and called by God for the service of Christ’s church. As John Stott said, “The fact that overseers must have a teaching gift shows that the church has no liberty to ordain any whom God has not called and gifted.”[26] Ephesians 4:8-11 also confirms this by refering to “pastors and teachers” as the risen Christ’s “gifts” (δόματα) to his church.

What this means is that the ordained ministry of Hebrews 13:17 is to be one that is called by God, having been gifted by him to handle the Scriptures with exceptional grace for the edification of the church. This teaching ministry therefore has invested authority under the headship of Christ who called men to it. As James Bannerman says, “The office of the Church through its office-bearers, in so far as it bears on those within, and in reference to matters of doctrine, is to be both the authorized guardian and the teacher of the Word of God.”[27] This authorized teaching office does not contradict the right to private interpretation (see 1 Cor. 2:15),[28] but it does mean that it is God’s will that his people attentively listen to the voice of the under-shepherds he has placed in the church.

The primary context and application of this is in the local church, where it is most pertinent. But there also exists many ministers in the wider church throughout history whose grace and gifting to teach excels that of the majority of other ministers, especially of their contemporaries. One calls to mind men such as Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Owen, Edwards, and many others. Scripture itself bears witness to the fact that some ministers are distinguished in their keen insight and arduous, fruitful labor in the Word of God (1 Tim. 5:17; cf. 2 Cor. 8:18; Acts 18:24; 1 Cor. 15:10). Such ministers were God’s authorized ambassadors as made evident in their pious character, their uncommon capability to edify the church, and their famed fruitfulness by divine grace.

So, if there should be a willing submission to ministers within the context of the local church, should there not also be, by inference, a willingness and desire to at least listen to and thoughtfully consider the teachings of ministers in the wider universal church who made important contributions to the church’s understanding of the things of God? It would seem that the independent biblicist prides himself that he is being biblical in his rejection of the teachings of Christ’s ablest ministers throughout the centuries when in reality he is being self-dependent. When one is prone to trust more in his own interpretation of the Bible than to prayerfully consider and studiously weigh the interpretations of the most godly and insightful members of Christ’s body that have ever lived, how can this be anything other than self-dependence? To appeal to the personalized, individual illumination of the Holy Spirit will not suffice in defense of this practice—did not the ablest ministers of the Word in Christ’s church also have the Holy Spirit’s illumination? Dare we presume that we personally have more Spirit-enabled illumination and insight into the truth of Scripture than does the whole corporate entity of Christ’s church where many ministering members contribute to the understanding of the whole as they have built up the church? Those in Berea did not only search the Scriptures to try the spoken word by the crucible of scripture truth, but they also heard the word from God’s human messenger with all eagerness (Acts 17:11). The independent biblicist prides himself that he excels in the former, but he has woefully neglected the latter. Such does not sound like a virtue but a vice and may perilously come close to falling into the pride that the Lord repudiates. Scripture exhorts us not to be wise in our own eyes (Prov. 3:7; 26:12).

Summary and Conclusion

It is God’s revealed will that Christians grow in biblical knowledge and in the faith by the help of pious church leaders of the past, with whom they belong to the same mystical body in the communion of saints, and to whom they are to evince a spirit of wise deference as persuaded by the light of the Scriptures. The harmonization of these findings from Hebrews 13:7, 12:22–24, and 13:17, considering them in light of the whole counsel of God, leads to the conclusion that Scripture teaches that there is a genuine catholicity to the church of Jesus Christ and that this catholicity is to inform the process by which Christians seek to discern the truth of God. The Bible itself calls for engagement in its truth in communion with the church and her exemplary teachers who are humble instruments of the Spirit’s gracious work. This is inconsistent with independent biblicism which seeks to interpret the Bible apart from serious engagement with the church’s theological tradition.

This is fully consistent with the formal cause of Protestantism. Michael Allen and Scott Swain discuss this in detail in their work on Reformed Catholicity, in which they argue for a need for theological renewal through returning to the church’s best historical teachings.[29] They write: “To be more biblical, then, one cannot be biblicistic. To be more biblical, one must also be engaged in the process of traditioning. Thus, the reformers certainly understood and intended sola Scriptura to shape engagement of the catholic tradition and the fullness of the riches of the church.”[30] They note that sola Scriptura has too often been divorced from its proper historical context (as understood by the Reformers), from its redemptive context (the trinitarian salvific work of God as pneumatological illumination and regeneration of a corporate, unified people), and from its ecclesiastical context (the communion of the saints). They say, “Indeed, sola Scriptura has served for some moderns as a banner for private judgment and against catholicity. In so doing, however, churches and Christians have turned from sola Scriptura to solo Scriptura, a bastard child nursed at the breast of modern rationalism and individualism.”[31]

Kevin Vanhoozer echoes these insights: “‘Scripture alone’ does not mean ‘Scripture abstracted from the economy of grace’ or ‘Scripture apart from the community of faith’ or even ‘Scripture independent of church tradition.’”[32] It means Scripture is the supreme authority, but that is not to be confused with autonomistic theologizing and independent approaches to studying Scripture that ignore the graced ecclesiological context in which the Spirit’s gifting and sanctifying energy most powerfully flows.

There is nothing about sola Scriptura that is incompatible with consulting “the Great Tradition”[33] of the church’s consensus in its ministerial and historical witness to truth. Bavinck says, “The Reformation recognizes only a tradition that is founded on and flows from Scripture. To the mind of the Reformation, Scripture was an organic principle from which the entire tradition, living on in preaching, confession, liturgy, worship, theology, devotional literature, etc., arises and is nurtured.”[34] There is no tension, much less contradiction, between Scripture and valid tradition that is born from the valid developing of Scriptural insights. In fact, Bavinck speaks highly of tradition as good and necessary: “There is a good, true, and glorious tradition. It is the method by which the Holy Spirit causes the truth of Scripture to pass into the consciousness and life of the church.”[35] This tradition that flows from Christ through his fragile human ambassadors on earth to the one universal church throughout time fixes biblical truth firmly in the mind of the church and fuels her growth in grace.

Again, Vanhoozer helpfully comments,

“Tradition has no independent authority. Tradition is but the moon to Scripture’s sun: what light tradition casts, and what authority it has, is secondary and derivative—ministerial—though it is nonetheless real light. The Spirit has been guiding the church into all truth for centuries. The proper context of theological work is not simply the immediate present (or, we could add, our particular place) but rather ‘the long past’ of the Spirit’s work: hence ‘tradition’—the intellectual and spiritual culture of the communion of saints—is indispensable to the operation of theological reason.”[36]

This quote sums up well the three points we have sought to make using truths derived from the epistle to the Hebrews. There is ministerial authority (Heb. 13:17) through the communion of saints (Heb. 12:22-24) that deposits a living tradition of the Spirit’s illuminating work through “the long past” of many centuries (Heb. 13:7). The independent biblicist errs by operating as if these truths were not biblical. For the biblicist, the best context for doing theology is his individual self in the isolated contemporary context of the ‘here and now.’ According to Scripture, the best context is Christ’s one, true, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in communion with which the individual is to seek to plumb the inexhaustible depths of the Holy Scriptures through deep, prayerful, and purposeful study.

Every age and generation is subject to particular thought patterns that influence popular thinking. These influences can be so engrained in the cultural milieu that those brought up in a given social environment have their worldview formatively shaped by such influences without consciously recognizing them. Even after conversion to Christ and years of daily Bible reading, ungodly influences can remain obstinately fixed in the mind, giving rise to prejudices and presuppositions that are taken for granted even though they may contradict the teaching of Scripture. Independent biblicism is one such cultural blind spot. Claiming to understand the Scriptures in an optimal manner by the power of human autonomous thinking apart from the Lord’s prescribed method of understanding the truth is not wisdom, but folly (Prov. 11:14).

 

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References:

[1] Arthur G. Patzia and Anthony J. Petrotta, Pocket Dictionary of Biblical Studies (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 20–21.

[2] Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms (Belfast; Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2002), 363.

[3] Christian Smith, The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism Is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2011), v.

[4] Smith, The Bible Made Impossible, 48–51. For a Reformed response, see à Brakel’s argument that “Scripture is not Subject to Various Interpretations” in Wilhelmus à Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, ed. Joel R. Beeke, trans. Bartel Elshout, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books, 1992), 43–49.

[5] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), 8.

[6] John M Frame, In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism: Reflections on Sola Scriptura and History in Theological Method, The Westminster Theological Journal 59, no. 2 (1997): 269–291. See 290.

[7] Frame, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism,” 272.

[8] See Mark D. Thompson, “Sola Scriptura,” in Reformation Theology: A Systematic Summary, ed. Matthew Barrett (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 145–87. For a classic introduction to a Reformed approach to epistemology, see Cornelius Van Til, A Christian Theory of Knowledge. (The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company: Phillipsburg, NJ, 1969).

[9] Frame, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism,” 272.

[10] Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics: The Rise and Development of Reformed Orthodoxy;  Volume 4: The Triunity of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 75.

[11] Donald G. Bloesch, The Ground of Certainty: Toward an Evangelical Theology of Revelation (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2002), 155.

[12] Joel R. Beeke and Paul M. Smalley, Reformed Systematic Theology, Volume 1: Revelation and God (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019), 133.

[13] Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 62.

[14] This is closely related to Frame’s third point above, though more nuanced.

[15] New American Standard Bible (1995). The Greek reads: Μνημονεύετε τῶν ἡγουμένων ὑμῶν, οἵτινες ἐλάλησαν ὑμῖν τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ· ὧν ἀναθεωροῦντες τὴν ἔκβασιν τῆς ἀναστροφῆς, μιμεῖσθε τὴν πίστιν. Though ἡγέομαι is found in the text as a present middle participle, the phrase τῶν ἡγουμένων is aptly translated in the past tense (.i.e. “those who led”) because of contextual considerations (contra King James Version). The author is not here exhorting the recipients to submit to their current leaders, but to remember their past leaders, which is evident because: (1) the author exhorts them to submit to their current leaders just ten verses later in Hebrews 13:17; if the sense of verse 7 and 17 were the same, there would be needless redundancy; (2) the following appositional clause (οἵτινες ἐλάλησαν ὑμῖν τὸν λόγον τοῦ Θεοῦ) clarifies who these leaders were by describing their activity as those who “spoke to you the word of God.” ἐλάλησαν is an aorist active indicative verb referring to the past activity of teaching by these leaders. The use of the aorist rather than the present tense in this context suggests past activity that has ceased rather than present activity that is ongoing. If the verse were referring to present leaders, their activity of teaching would be contemporaneous to the readers and would have been better described by the present tense λαλεῖ. (3) τὴν ἔκβασιν τῆς ἀναστροφῆς speaks most naturally of the outcome or end result of their conduct in life, which suggests their lives are spent as saints already dead. (4) Refering to past leaders in 13:7 is in keeping with the emphasis of the previous context; the past saints who faithfully ran their course are in view (Hebrews 11), who are a “cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) and the “the spirits of just men made perfect” in heavenly glory (Heb. 12:23). By these four considerations it seems conclusive that past and not present leaders are in view in 13:7. Cf. David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2010), 611.

[16] If the author did not desire to call special attention to the content of these leaders’ former verbal teaching ministry, the appositional clause would be rather superfluous and unnecessary since “those who spoke the word of God” were one and the same with “those who led.”

[17] John Calvin, “Commentaries on the Epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Hebrews” in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. John Owen, 500th Anniversary ed., vol. 22, 23 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2009), 344.

[18] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. W. H. Goold, vol. 24, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Johnstone and Hunter, 1854), 421.

[19] There were many elders in the churches by the A.D. 60’s when Hebrews was probably written, especially the church at Jerusalem which was the possible original recipient of the epistle (Acts 11:30; 14:23 15:22; 20:17).

[20] See our third point below.

[21] Just because a person is not infallible and inspired does not mean that their teaching is not helpful. Paul, for example, commends many as faithful servants of the Lord whose teachings were not inspired, like Tychicus (4:7), Aristarchus and Barnabas (whom he called “fellowworkers” in the ministry in Col. 4:8-9), and many others in Romans 16. If there were a first century Christian who was given to independent biblicism and refused to listen to the non-inspired teachings of church leaders, such would have been branded a schismatic, not a faithful Bible-believing disciple of Christ. Our argument here is that the same principle that calls Christians to heed the teachings of these leaders during their lifetime also calls us to remember and apply their teachings after their death, per Hebrews 13:7.

[22] The church has long confessed the communion of the saints. It is confessed in the Apostle’s Creed and in the Westminster Confession of Faith XXVI, for instance.

[23] This simple truth should not be exaggerated or misapplied. There is no biblical basis for venerating or praying to dead saints. See John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 878–883 (3:20.21-27). Deuteronomy 18:11 forbids necromancy, inquiring of the dead by appealing to them directly and, by implication, praying to dead saints (which is idolatry).

[24] Stephen R. Holmes, Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2002), 30–31.

[25] For more on the communion of the saints, see Thomas C. Oden, Life in the Spirit: Systematic Theology, Vol. III (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 1992), 444–448; Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, 2:97-106; Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1938), 151–152; Zacharias Ursinus and G. W. Williard, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 303–305; Herman Bavinck, John Bolt, and John Vriend, Reformed Dogmatics: Holy Spirit, Church, and New Creation, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 287–288; Archibald Alexander Hodge, Outlines of Theology (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1863), 373–374. This doctrine is extremely neglected in modern evangelicalism.

[26] John R. W. Stott, Guard the Truth: The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 95.

[27] James Bannerman, The Church of Christ: A Treatise on the Nature, Powers, Ordinances, Discipline, and Government of the Christian Church, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1868), 280.

[28] See Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. 1 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1992–1997), 161.

[29] R. Michael Allen and Scott R. Swain, Reformed Catholicity: The Promise of Retrieval for Theology and Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2015).

[30] Allen and Swain, Reformed Catholicity, 84-85. Emphasis theirs.

[31] Allen and Swain, Reformed Catholicity, 85.

[32] Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Protestant Christianity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2016), 111.

[33] Craig A. Carter, Interpreting Scripture with the Great Tradition: Recovering the Genius of Premodern Exegesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2018).

[34] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:493.

[35] Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, 1:494.

[36] Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel, 139.