Contained in the Scriptures

Following the 18th-century sceptical attacks on the Bible by Scottish Enlightenment figures claiming that it was not the Word of God, and the 19th-century higher critical attacks upon biblical inspiration by unbelieving scholars, during the past one hundred years the opinion has grown up that the Word of God is found in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments but it is not identical with it. This opinion was popularised by Karl Barth.

This idea has been promoted in Reformed circles by reinterpreting a well-known phrase in the Westminster Shorter Catechism. It occurs in the answer to Question 2, known by millions.

“Q. 2. What rule has God given to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him?
A. The Word of God, which is contained in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, is the only rule to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy Him.”

The argument goes: this does not say that the Scriptures are the Word of God but that they contain the Word of God. From this, the argument asserts that the orthodox position of Westminster Calvinism is that the Word of God is inside Scripture, and thus some parts of it may not be the Word of God, particularly those parts which these expositors think are mistakes or wrong.

This is typical of the revisionist school of exegesis. Not only does this school revise the meaning of Scripture itself, but they revise the meaning of historical texts to suit current tastes.

This reinterpretation is not the meaning of the Shorter Catechism and this can be demonstrated by looking at the whole teaching of the Westminster Assembly documents. However, the question still arises – why did the Westminister divines use the word ‘contained’? Why not simply say that the Word of God is the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments?

Why use “contained”?

The answer is plain when explained. The Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 1, section II begins: “Under the name of Holy Scripture, or the Word of God written, are now contained all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: …” and it goes on to name the Books of the Bible.

The point is that the Westminster divines were drawing a distinction between the Books of the Old and New Testaments on the one hand and the Apocryphal writings on the other hand.

They meant that the Word of God is contained in these writings and not in those writings. They are identifying the container as well as the contents. The Word of God is found in the container called “Holy Scripture” or “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments” which they explain are “all the Books of the Old and New Testaments, which are these: …” It is not found in the Apocrypha.


This debate highlights the poor state of modern exegesis. If such exegetes cannot get the Westminster documents right, why should we trust their exegesis of Scripture itself?

The same poor standard of exegesis also applies to the interpretation of the current law of the land. Having abandoned God’s law, the UK now has different administrations of law competing with each other. Britain is learning the folly of different loci of legislation – Holyrood, Westminster and Brussels. One tangible example is Britain’s unequal ‘Equalities legislation’ where Christianity has been put at the bottom of the pecking order. “Some animals are more equal than others”, and current judicial opinion has ruled that Christian conscientious objection is lower down the pecking order than homosexual rights. However a judge in another administration has ruled that Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects expressive rights which offend, shock or disturb.

The battle continues. Eventually they will discover that equality can only be between equals – it cannot be simply decreed. If one is in no position to influence public policy, what takes an intelligent person five or ten minutes to work out usually takes a generation to implement in public life (Boyd’s conjecture, see Update below at 23 Dec 2020). Better drafting of legislation would speed up the process, instead of waiting for case law to sort things out at great expense, waste of time, and sometimes ruining people’s lives.

“Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believes on him shall not be confounded.”

1Peter 2:6


23 Dec 2020: I think I may have found the basis for Boyd’s conjecture (above). Beleaguereed commentators in various disciplines are noticing that the change from a paradigm takes place not because people change their minds – because they don’t, for the most part – but because the generation with the vested interests in maintaining the status quo or the current paradigm dies off. So a new generation needs to replace the dyed-in-the-wool generation. This seems to explain why it takes a generation to change a paradigm – it is a new generation. So make sure you are not ‘a child of your age’ and lift your thoughts higher than the current age and become ‘a child of God’ and think Big. You need a new generation or re-generation, or as Jesus Christ said: “You must be born again.”

30 Jan 2021: an example of collective stupidity has taken 15 years to begin to be addressed – ‘Smart motorways’ were not and are not very smart, in fact they are rather dumb and deadly. By removing the hard shoulder from motorways in 2006 many lives have been lost and access for emergency vehicles hampered from reaching breakdowns and accidents. It is now under Judicial Review, along with the absence of an adequate risk assessment at the time.

3 thoughts on “Contained in the Scriptures

  1. Tony Foreman

    Thanks Donald

    I would be grateful for any more information you have about the original meaning of the ‘contained’ phrase and any books on the subject.


  2. Donald

    Hi Tony

    I don’t have more information because this is original thinking and I have not read this explanation anywhere. It is because I periodically hear the ‘problem’ but no-one has provided the answer that I felt constrained to give this explanation here.

    I suppose the best place to research will be the Minutes of the Westminster Assembly. Edinburgh University had a project to publish these in the mid-1990s but I do not know if the project has been completed nor if the Minutes are available.


  3. Pingback: What did Jesus really say? – Donald's Thoughts

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