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Psalm 119 and Sola Scriptura

     The most obvious feature of Psalm 119 is its size.  It is the undisputed giant of the Psalter, consisting of 176 verses.  Throughout its great length it maintains a laser beam focus on a single subject – the Word of God.  Every verse contains some reference to God’s written revelation, and every verse highlights some quality of it, e.g. its power, perfection, value, benefits, etc.  This massive psalm pounds home the point that God’s Word is a work of perfection, and that it is a powerful means of grace in the believer’s life.

     Now, we may be quick to presume that the ancient church was primarily focused upon, and defined by, the ceremonial aspects of the law and the unique form of worship that was practiced before the advent of Christ.  The temple, the sacrifices and the liturgical calendar certainly formed a big part of their covenant life, but consider this fact:

     When the psalmist, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, thought to write about that which built his faith and blessed his life, that which moved his soul and uplifted his mind, that which directed his steps and drew him closer to the Lord; when he thought to write about that one thing, in a psalm that would forever dominate the Psalter, he did not write 176 verses about the temple, or the sacrifices, or Passover.  He wrote about God’s Word.

This suggests a few things:

     First, that true faith in every age always looks to the Word of God above all else for guidance, direction and blessing.  Second, the faith of the ancient church was not so unlike ours.  Of course the form of worship has changed, but the true church has always been a sola scriptura church, that is, it has always looked to the Word over all else as the primary means of grace and the infallible rule of faith and life.

     When we think about the ancient church we tend to only see those features that seem peculiar to us and have passed away with the coming of Christ, but Psalm 119 shows us this great, overshadowing feature of the true church in all ages.  It as a feature that defines true faith and true worship throughout redemptive history, and that is sola scriptura.  The ancient saints were focused upon, first of all, the Word incarnate.  They anticipated His coming and trusted in His work.  Then, and connected to that, they were focused on the Word written, which God was giving them for direction in faith and life.  We find ourselves united with the ancient saints in these two foci.  First, our focus is upon the incarnate Word who has come and completed the work of redemption according to God’s promise.  Then, and connected to that, we treasure the written Word, which is complete, and still the same, infallible rule for faith and life. 

Sola scriptura!

2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Great point. The supremacy of the Word is a huge theme of OT history. Prior to the captivity, Israel seems to have given a disproportionate focus to the temple and its ceremonies (Cf. Jer. 7). Psalm 50 is a great example of God rebuking his people for their twisted view of the sacrificial system.

    After the return from captivity, however, we find God’s people shifting their focus to the Word as supreme. This comes out in the description of Ezra the priest. Rather than emphasizing his ceremonial role as priest, the Scriptures, over and over again, speak of his role as a scribe and teacher (Ezra 7). This is in stark contrast to Hosea’s description of the pre-exilic Northern priests as those who had forgotten and rejected God’s law (Hos. 4:6); and Jeremiah’s description of the pre-exilic Southern priests who countenanced false prophecies and dealt deceptively with the people (Jer. 6:13-14). Serving to punctuate the OT presentation of the priest’s didactic role, Malachi 2:7 tells us that “the lips of a priest should keep knowledge, And people should seek the law from his mouth; For he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts.”

    It is no surprise that our Lord Jesus Christ, who is the ultimate expression and realization of Israel’s high priesthood, functions not simply as a priestly intercessor and substitutionary sacrifice, but as a priestly teacher as well.

    Psalm 40 brings this out: first speaking of Christ in the former sense (Cf. Heb. 10:5-14); then in verses 9-10 of the psalm, we read: “I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness In the great assembly; Indeed, I do not restrain my lips, O LORD, You Yourself know. I have not hidden Your righteousness within my heart; I have declared Your faithfulness and Your salvation; I have not concealed Your lovingkindness and Your truth From the great assembly.”

    Theologians typically distinguish between Christ’s offices of prophet, priest, and king (and this is, of course, correct). However, the offices of priest and prophet are in many ways interrelated. Priests were meant to be teachers, and prophets often acted as priests (Samuel, Elijah, etc). This should serve to reinforce the emphasis of Psalm 119 upon the unequaled supremacy of the Word of God for the church in all ages.

    March 15, 2010
    • C.J. Williams #

      Good comments Adam. Yeah, it seems that one of the main functions of the priesthood from the beginning was to teach the Word. They were scattered throughout Israel and most likely facilitated the weekly Sabbath convocations which, if reflected accurately in synagogue worship, centered on the reading and exposition of Scripture. Denny Prutow wrote a good paper on this topic for the 2009 WCF conference at the seminary. Thanks for the comments!

      March 16, 2010

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