Guido De Bres wrote the Belgic Confession in 1561. He was a pastor and a student of John Calvin, living amid persecution against Protestant Christians like himself by the medieval Roman Catholic Church. De Bres delivered his Confession to the Roman Catholic King of Spain Phillip II. He soon became a martyr for his beliefs.
Of the Belgic Confession’s 37 articles, five of them are exclusively about the Bible. What could this man have believed about the Bible that made him willing to die for his Confession?
Here’s what the Belgic Confession has to say about the Bible.
We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter says.
And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures. (Article #3. Of the Written Word of God)
Here, the Belgic Confession quotes 1 Peter 1:20-21, which says, “ For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (NIV).
The Holy Spirit delivered God’s Word through human writers. These writers put words together, committing their own memories and thoughts to paper. But as they wrote the words of the Bible, God’s Spirit directed them in such a way that what they wrote was his Word.
Guido believed the Bible’s testimony about itself—that it truly is God’s Word.
In the fourth article of the Belgic Confession, Guido De Bres joined the chorus of church history in affirming that only 66 books of the Bible (39 Old Testament and 27 New Testament books) are inspired by God and authoritative.
In his next article, De Bres explains that these books (the canon) are authoritative because God, through his Holy Spirit, confirms the truth and authority of these books in his peoples’ hearts.
We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and conformation of our faith; believing without any doubt, all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Ghost witnesses in our hearts, that they are from God, whereof they carry the evidence in themselves.” (Article #5. From Whence the Holy Scriptures Derive Their Dignity and Authority.)
Following this, De Bres says that the extra books (called “apocryphal”) may be useful to their readers, but only as much as they agree with and don’t detract from the teaching of the divinely inspired 66 books of the Bible.
In this final article addressing the Bible in the Belgic Confession, De Bres makes it clear that he believes the canonical books are the primary and ultimate source of authority for the Church.
We believe that those Holy Scriptures fully contain the will of God, and that whatsoever man ought to believe, unto salvation, is sufficiently taught therein.
For, since the whole manner of worship, which God requires of us, is written in them at large, it is unlawful for anyone, though an apostle, to teach otherwise than we are now taught in the Holy Scriptures: nay, though it were an angel from heaven, as the apostle Paul says.
For, since it is forbidden, to add unto or take away anything from the word of God, it does thereby evidently appear, that the doctrine thereof is most perfect and complete in all respects.
Neither do we consider of equal value any writing of men, however holy these men may have been, with those divine Scriptures, nor ought we to consider custom, or the great multitude, or antiquity, or succession of times and persons, or councils, decrees or statutes, as of equal value with the truth of God, for the truth is above all; for all men are of themselves liars, and more vain than vanity itself.
Therefore, we reject with all our hearts, whatsoever does not agree with this infallible rule, which the apostles have taught us, saying, Try the spirits whether they are of God. Likewise, if there come any unto you; and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house. (Article #7. The Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures, to be the Only Rule of Faith.)
De Bres explains that the teachings of the Bible are complete and contain all that is needed for humanity to know the way of salvation, referencing the following passages from the Bible.
De Bres firmly admonishes readers to test all creeds, councils, confessions—even his own!—by the measuring rod of the Bible. He recognizes that he, too, is subject to the judgment and correction of the Bible.
What did Guido De Bres believe about the Bible that made him willing to die for his confession? The Belgic Confession says the Bible is the written Word of God, given to us in 66 books, which are the final authority for the church. He died for God’s Word—not man’s.
So would you sign the Belgic Confession?
If you would like to read more, you can find all 37 articles of the Belgic Confession here.
Though some may be intimidated to learn about the New Testament canon, Christians have nothing to worry about. No secret council or politician arbitrarily decided which books “made it” into the canon.
F. F. Bruce clearly explains that,
The New Testament books did not become authoritative for the Church because they were formally included in a canonical list; on the contrary, the Church included them in her canon because she already regarded them as divinely inspired, recognizing their innate worth and generally apostolic authority, direct or indirect. (22)
God has always led his people by his Word. That’s why Jesus, quoting the Old Testament, said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4 NIV; Deuteronomy 8:3).
Christians knew that God spoke to his people. It was only natural for them to recognize these new writings as authoritative—what we call the New Testament—in the same way that God’s people recognized the Old Testament as Scripture.
With so many manuscripts circulating after Jesus’ and the apostles’ lives, the early church needed to identify which Christian writings were authoritative for several reasons.
They needed to know things like:
Jesus built his church upon his teaching and work. Jesus commanded his disciples to teach these things to others (Matthew 28:19-20), first orally, and then in written form. These writings have always formed the foundation upon which the church was built (Ephesians 2:20).
When considering which books were authoritative, the early church recognized the self-attesting authority of God’s Word in the books that would come to form the New Testament canon.
The early church fathers did, however, employ a few criteria of authenticity to deliberate which texts were authentically from God. The church mainly used four criteria to help them recognize which books God had given them. Let’s walk through these four:
The first criterion dealt with authorship. The early church asked, “Who wrote the book?” If a book was written or endorsed by an apostle, then it was viewed as authoritative (Matthew 10:1-20).
The second criterion dealt with content. Does the content of the book reflect the teaching of the undoubted apostolic writings? Does it correspond to the faith handed down through the churches? Is it consistent with the gospel? Does it exalt Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior?
The third criterion dealt with universal acceptance. Was the writing recognized and used by the majority of churches? Or were only a few churches in a localized area using it? If it was confined to a region, rather than accepted by the whole church, it was rejected.
The fourth criterion dealt with age. How old is the document? The further it was dated from Jesus’ life and the spread of the gospel, the less authoritative it became. Essentially, anything written later than the first century was excluded from consideration.
The New Testament canon’s development can be traced through important early church fathers and groups of godly men at church councils who ultimately recognized which books should be received.
After the Council of Carthage (AD 397), the canon of Scripture is considered “closed.” This means that no more books can be added to the canon of Scripture. Everything we need to know about sin and salvation, how Christians should act and think, and how we can have a right relationship with God is given in the Bible, which includes the 27 books of the New Testament.
Pick up the Bible and read the New Testament today! God preserved these texts so that you would be able to read them.