The “Two-Books Doctrine” and the Belgic Confession

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” (Psalm 19:1 (ESV))

Have you heard of the “two-books doctrine” before?

Night sky w/ Milky Way (photo: © Joe LeFevre / NBP/ Wilderness)

The short version is that God has given us two books: the “book” of nature (aka general revelation, available for all to see) and, of course, the book of Scripture/Christ (aka special revelation, the Word of God). Since God is the author of both and He doesn’t lie, both books are not only reliable but internally and externally consistent — thus, in agreement and completely trustworthy in what they have to say.

“The God who neither lies nor deceives (see Num 23:19; Ps. 12:6; 19:7-8; 119:160; Prov 30:5; John 10:35; Heb 6:18; I John 1:5) has made both books reliable and trustworthy.”  — Dr. Hugh Ross, astrophysicist, author, apologist, pastor

Many Christians and other theists — and, obviously, non-theists — aren’t aware of this concept and/or they have somehow adopted a different understanding, wherein one or both books are *not* totally trustworthy and scientific findings in nature are expected to often be at odds with (or, at least, unsupported by) the Bible. There are two versions of this: the “Non-overlapping Magisteria”, or NOMA, approach (a la Stephen J. Gould) and the “Conflict” approach. They typically think that anyone who holds a position in which nature and Scripture are in harmony is grossly mistaken and guilty of bad science, bad theology, or both.

But, the “two-books doctrine” has a firm foundation in the history of the Christian church (especially the Protestant Reformation) as demonstrated by the Belgic Confession (1561), which in turn draws directly from various Scripture passages but primarily from Psalm 19 and the Book of Job. There is a lot of great stuff in that confession*, but here is the most relevant section:

Article 2: The Means by Which We Know God

We know him by two means:

First, by the creation, preservation, and government of the universe, since that universe is before our eyes like a beautiful book in which all creatures, great and small, are as letters to make us ponder the invisible things of God: God’s eternal power and divinity, as the apostle Paul says in Romans 1:20.

All these things are enough to convict humans and to leave them without excuse.

Second, God makes himself known to us more clearly by his holy and divine Word, as much as we need in this life, for God’s glory and for our salvation.

According to Hugh Ross, writing in his book Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, “this creedal article rests more securely on Job than on any other portion of Scripture. No other Bible book makes a stronger argument for God’s revelation of himself to all humanity through nature’s record.”

Other sections of the Belgic Confession most closely connected to the “two books” are:

Article 3: The Written Word of God
Article 5: The Authority of Scripture
Article 12: The Creation of All Things
Article 13: The Doctrine of God’s Providence
Article 14: The Creation and Fall of Humanity

I haven’t finished reading Hidden Treasures, but I am quite enjoying it and can already highly recommend it. (I’m also re-reading Job, this time in the HCSB translation, and it’s easier to follow and appreciate than in more formal translations (e.g., KJV, NASB, ESV).) It is not your typical commentary on Job, that’s for sure. Ross’ theological and scientific insights are, as usual, atypical — yet firmly within conservative orthodoxy — and much appreciated.

If you are curious, here is a brief interview with Ross in which he discusses the “two-books doctrine” and the necessity of a testable Creation model.

* As per CARM.org, “Creeds and Confessions are written summaries of the Christian faith. Different Creeds have different reasons for coming into existence, and they don’t always agree with each other 100% of the time. However, they divulge the truth of the Christian faith in the essentials…. This Reformed confession was prepared in 1561 by Guy de Bres (c.1523-1567), who was later martyred, and others, and then slightly revised by Francis Junius (1545-1602) of Bourges. First written in French, it was soon translated into Dutch and Latin.  The Synod of Dort (1618-1619) made a revision but did not change the doctrine. It covers the spectrum of theological topics.”

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