Frank B. Holbrook
Biblical Research Institute
In the preface of his book, God Our Contemporary, J. B. Phillips makes this incisive observation on our times:
Ours is a God-starved community. There is little real moral authority, because no ultimate Authority is known or acknowledged. Since there is no accepted standard of values beyond the purely material, the false god of success, the lust of glamorized sex, the love of money and the “rat-race” of business or social competition hold almost undisputed sway in the lives of many people. . . . Without the Spirit of the living God the public conscience is capricious and ill-formed.
Notwithstanding its brazen boldness which rejects any restraints and questions any commands, modern life has lost much of its sense of meaning and purpose for being. It could be said of many today as was said of ancient Israel: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” But underneath the exterior of a mad society dancing its death dance with careless abandon, we believe there are many searching hearts seeking for a meaningful authority. To the Christian that meaningful authority is God as revealed in Jesus Christ and the Holy Scriptures.
The Christian faith rests upon two basic presuppositions: (1) There is a God, and (2) God has revealed Himself to man in the Scriptures. Both positions are under severe attack in our society. But modern man only echoes the enmity of the ages and the enmity of the arch-rebel who in the beginning threw off the restraints of divine authority. Rebel men and angels aim to be their own god and authority. Their sentiments are voiced in Pharaoh’s sneer: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed his voice . . . ? I do not know the Lord.” Since the knowledge of God and His will for mankind are revealed primarily in the Scriptures, it becomes a matter of first-rank importance in a search for a meaningful authority to establish confidence in the trustworthiness of these writings. As any method of inquiry must begin with basic premises, we purpose in this study to begin with Christianity’s two basic presuppositions.
If there is an Infinite God who has spoken to finite man in the Scriptures, can such a finite being do any more than confess the fact? Has the finite any adequate criteria by which to fully prove the Infinite? If the Scriptures are true and man is really a sinner with a darkened mind and warped thinking processes-and at heart a rebel against God-will he be able to prove the inspiration of the Bible to his satisfaction by the apparent facts? Will not the self-centered perverseness of his nature tend to prevent him from acknowledging divine authority? The critical methods of interpreting the data have never led to a very high view of inspiration. The procedure stumbles over what appear to be errors, discrepancies, primitive concepts, and inconsistencies by human measures and understanding and, hence, can from these infer no high concept of inspiration. This is not to say that reason must be bypassed and the inspiration of the Scriptures be accepted blindly, or that inductive procedures are not useful in the study of the Scriptures. But rather, in beginning with the basic premises of the Christian faith we humbly admit that there are limits to the powers of the human mind to penetrate the wisdom of God.
It is certainly legitimate to let the Scriptures speak in their own defense; however, if there is an Infinite Deity who has expressed Himself to mankind in the Scriptures, then the Scriptures can have no greater witness to their genuineness than their own witness. As Alan Stibbs says,
In any realm of activity the supreme authority must be self-authenticating. It is impossible to get endorsement or confirmation of such utterances by appeal to some greater authority. Similarly, if the Bible is from God, and therefore possesses supreme authority among men in what it says, it cannot be other than self-authenticating. Truth is settled by what it says rather than by what others may say about it, or in criticism of it.
This may seem like a blind procedure to some. But in the nature of the case it is the only logical procedure for the finite mind is limited in its attempt to know the Infinite God. “Can you find out the deep things of God? Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” Jesus and the apostles never attempt to prove inspiration; it is always assumed. This does not mean that God requires blind faith. The Scriptures themselves provide many broad affirming evidences that they are truly what they claim to be-evidences that are both reasonable and sufficient upon which we may rest our confidence.
Definition. Webster gives the theological definition of the word “inspiration” as “a supernatural influence which qualifies men to receive and communicate divine truth.” The term occurs twice in the KJV. In Job 32:8 it is the rendering for neshamah for which the RSV reads “Breath.” In 2 Timothy 3:16 the KJV reads, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God. . . .” For this the RSV gives, “All scripture is inspired by God.” The term so rendered by these translations is theopneustos, an adjective which literally reads, “God-breathed.” Thus the phrase could read simply, “All scripture (is) God-breathed.”
The RV translates pasa graph’ in connection with the adjective to read, “Every scripture inspired of God is,” etc., and the NEB follows suit somewhat by rendering it, “Every inspired scripture has its use,” etc. While these renderings tend to imply that there are some portions of the Bible that are not inspired, it is not necessary to enter into an extended discussion as it is obvious from the context that Paul is not arguing for partial inspiration. The inspiration of Scripture is not being called into question at all. Paul has just referred to Timothy’s careful nurture in the Holy Writings (hiera grammata, vs. 15) which is the common phrase in Josephus for the OT. This phrase Paul links with theopneustos indicating that he regarded the whole body of OT writings as holy, God-breathed. Paul desires that Timothy shall continue to live according to what he has learned in the Scriptures from childhood for they, having been divinely given, are able to make him “wise unto salvation.” In saying that the Scriptures are “God-breathed,” Paul is arguing for the effective authority of Scripture somewhat as Peter does. Scripture is profitable to men because it is not man-breathed. It is profitable for salvation as no other writing could be because it is a revelation of the will of God from God Himself.
The Bible gives no formal definition of inspiration. Only here and there are we given insights into the process. However, in this classic text on biblical inspiration some observations can be made: (1) The excellency of the Scriptures and their authority for faith and practice in the religious life lie in their origin and source. The Scriptures are God-breathed. God is their source and He is involved in bringing them into being (in a manner not explained here). (2) The purpose of Scripture is stated. The Scriptures are able “to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and are profitable for all areas that may be comprehended in spiritual living and teaching. (3) The sufficiency of Scripture is asserted in this area: “That the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” In the context of the epistle this may be primarily referring to Timothy. However, if the Word of God is able to make the minister complete in all spiritual living and equip him to serve His Lord, it would also be true for the individual Christian. (4) Finally, in declaring that “all” or “every” scripture is “God-breathed” and that the Scriptures are profitable and authoritative for spiritual living because of this fact, then it must be inferred that God has guided in the selection of the materials used-whether these stemmed from personal observations, oral information, written sources, or direct revelations to the writer. For Paul is stating essentially in this passage the trustworthiness of the Scriptures and their consequent value.
At the outset it should be noted that the Bible writers regard inspired writings as distinct and separate from other literature. They designate them as “sacred writings” (hiera grammata) and “holy scriptures” (graphais hagiais), and furthermore regard them as “the oracles of God” (ta logia tou theou). Stephen calls the instruction Moses received in Sinai “living oracles” (logia zonta) which term, while properly referring to the spoken Law, is implicit in the minds of the Bible writers for all Scripture for as Peter and Isaiah both assert, “the word of the Lord abides for ever.”
Writers Claim Revelation From Outside Source
The writers of the Scriptures constantly remind the reader that they are not the originators of their messages. These are truths or facts which they have been caused “to see,” that is, to understand. For example:
“The vision of Isaiah . . . which he saw concerning Judah;” “the words of Amos . . . which he saw concerning Israel;” “the word of the Lord that came to Micah . . . which he saw;” “the oracle of God which Habakkuk the prophet saw;” “this is the vision which the Lord has shown to me [Jeremiah],” etc.
Occasionally the prophets were referred to as “seers” (roeh, chozeh) probably denoting that information was disclosed to them which was beyond the normal ken of the human mind.
Consistently the Scripture writers refer to the Holy Spirit as the divine source for the revelations which they received. David declares, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue.” The praising Levites in Nehemiah’s time acknowledge, “Many years thou didst bear with them, and didst warn them by thy Spirit through thy prophets.” Ezekiel makes a number of references to the Spirit’s control:
“And the Spirit entered into me.” “And the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and he said unto me.” “The Spirit lifted me up, and brought me in the vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea.”
The Spirit’s control is also equated with the expression, “the hand of the Lord God” falling upon the prophet. Another prophet, Micah, asserts, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord.” The NT likewise acknowledges the Holy Spirit’s operation in the production of the Scriptures. Jesus affirms that David was “inspired by the Spirit.” Peter indicates likewise the divine source for David’s statements when he declared that a certain prophecy must be fulfilled “which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the month of David.” In similar words Paul says, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: . . .” The NT writers do not limit their statements regarding the control of the Spirit to just a few select OT writers. It is their perspective that the Holy Spirit spoke through all the writers. “The prophets . . . inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory.” “No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” While the human agent in the process of inspiration is not forgotten or minimized, yet at times he fades and the real authority is acknowledged: “The Holy Spirit says,” “by this the Holy Spirit indicates . . .” The NT writers also give witness to the real author of their own messages:
Paul informs Timothy of a revelation from the Holy Spirit: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in the later times some will depart from the faith.” John introduces the record of his Spirit-induced visions with, “I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.” Again, “At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven.” Another of John’s expressions: “He carried me away in the Spirit.”
The substance of the apostolic witness is stated to have come from Jesus through the agency of the Holy Spirit: “after he [Jesus] had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen [dia pneumatos hagiou].” “How the mystery was made known to me by revelation, . . . which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” In sum we may say that while the Scriptures recognize the human instrument, yet the direct personal agency of the Holy Spirit is claimed. “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God [hupo pneumatos hagiou].” It is upon the basis of the agency of the Holy Spirit that the Bible writers assert repeatedly that they speak the word of the Lord. The testimony they bear is not of their own devising; it is a message direct from God; hence, their fearlessness and urgency in proclaiming it.
“The words of Jeremiah . . . to whom the word of the Lord came . . . Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth.’ ” “The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel the priest.” “The word of the Lord came to Hosea.”
Expressions of this type may be multiplied in the OT Scriptures. The prophets are clear and explicit on this point: “Then Haggai, the messenger of the Lord, spoke to the people with the Lord’s message.”
The prophets were instructed to openly avow that God was their authority for the messages they bore. “I send you to them; and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ “ These words “Thus says the Lord,” occur scores of times throughout the writings of the OT-the divine credentials as it were of the prophet’s authority.
The NT also recognizes the authority of God in the writings of the OT.
“The prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord.” “But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.” “Sovereign Lord, who . . . by the mouth of . . . David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit.” “God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets.”
The consciousness of God’s authority is so great that at times it stands more prominent than the human channel. In connection with Mary’s offering after the birth of Jesus, Luke refers to the “law of Moses.” But in detailing its requirements in the same passage he twice refers to it as “the law of the Lord.”
Matthew who quotes extensively from the OT sums up the NT perspective of the authority behind the OT writings thus: “what the Lord had spoken by the prophet” (hupo kuriou dia tou prophetou)-the Lord being considered the direct personal agency because He is the authority in the message and the prophet the secondary, indirect agent.
The NT writers claim the same high source of authority for their apostolic witness as they vouchsafe for the OT writers. “That you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Saviour through your apostles,” declares Peter, and he continues on to classify the epistles of Paul as scripture. Paul, of course, emphatically claimed divine revelation for the gospel he preached: “I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through revelation of Jesus Christ.” And again, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” In one passage Paul refers to the words of Christ as scripture, regarding them on the same plane as the OT. Our Lord Himself likewise recognized without hesitation the divine authority behind the Scriptures. “Have you not read what was said to you by God . . . ?” “Thus making void the word of God through your tradition.”
In Hebrews 1:1 we are told that “in many and various ways God spoke” by the prophets. The term, polumeros, derived as it is from the neuter noun, meros, meaning “share” or “portion” may be understood as meaning “in many portions” as well as “in many ways.” The Scriptures did not come into being as one entire volume. Rather, it was revealed piece by piece through the ages as God saw that instruction was needed and could be received. Progressive revelation disclosing more clearly the divine plan from age to age is thus inherent in the manner in which the Scripture was given. The Spirit selected the time and the content for “no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The Scriptures are not explicit as to the details of the process of inspiration, that is, just how the prophet was qualified by the Spirit to receive and to communicate the divine message. There is a union-a linking of the divine and human agencies for the effecting of the communication. Neither agency is ignored but the details are not defined.
Content of Inspiration. On this point there is an abundance of scriptural testimony. While at times in a public situation there may have been physical phenomena, communications by the Spirit were not a matter of emotion, frenzy, temporary madness, or mere feeling. Rather, there was a transfer of information on a rational level to the mind of the prophet.
The Holy Spirit did not always communicate to a prophet by means of vision or dream, although this was the common method. Sometimes the Holy Spirit appears to have spoken to the inner senses transmitting oral instruction. Samuel is told “in his ear” about Saul’s coming to see him. Again as Samuel reviews Jesse’s sons he is told in his inner mind to reject the first lads presented and finally to arise and to anoint David. Others like Zechariah were given messages by symbolic representations with appropriate explanations of the symbols. Some are given visions of heaven in which setting instruction is conveyed in words and representations. Sometimes a writer was given a view of events transpiring just then at another location of which he was unaware. At other times the Bible writers were carried forward in time and were shown events that would occur in the future. Prophecies of the future were thus predicted upon the divine foreknowledge. Sometimes the writers even participated in their visions-that is, they saw themselves performing certain functions in vision, which actions became part of the message itself.
Reaction of the Writers. The prophets did not always understand what they were shown; at times they were greatly perplexed over the content of their revelations. Daniel and John illustrate this fact. At times the inspired writers themselves searched the divinely revealed messages-their own and those of the other prophets-for piece by piece a mosaic picture was being constructed over the centuries revealing the person of the Messiah, His coming sufferings (First Advent) and the subsequent glory (Second Advent). Sometimes the prophets shrank from speaking to the people what had been shown them, or they actually argue with God over the revelation. Definite instructions are given to some to write out what has been shown them for future use by others.
Some observations. From this brief review certain observations may be made in order to more clearly delimit the biblical concept of “inspiration.” First, inspiration is not conceived to be a simple function of genius or ability such as might be attributed to a poet or a musician. Definite instruction is conveyed to the mind of the prophet concerning people, places, events, reproofs, encouragements, etc. Sometimes he understands; sometimes he does not. He is often led to search his own writings and the writings of others to find specific data. At times he will even argue with God over what has been revealed. “No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man.” The prophet would be first to disclaim his genius as originating his message.
Secondly, inspiration is not regarded as the experience of regeneration or the new birth. A message conveyed by the Spirit to the mind does not convert the prophet, nor does it guarantee him salvation or prevent his sinning. Balaam uttered a divine communication under inspiration while he was living contrary to God’s ways. David, who spoke by the Spirit, also committed gross crimes at one time in his life. The prophets were men of “like nature with ourselves” so far as their standing in need of grace was concerned. Divine revelations did not transform their lives automatically, but they did increase their responsibility.
Thirdly, inspiration is not depicted as being simply illumination. It is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit to guide one into truth, to open the understanding to grasp truth; but it is truth which is first revealed by the Spirit by means of the prophetic agency. It is clear from Peter’s statement that inspiration could occur without illumination, that is, without understanding on the prophet’s part. The prophets did not always understand their visions but searched for an understanding of their import. It must also be clear that simple enlightenment by the Holy Spirit which is promised to all seekers after truth could not account for the revelations of future events unknown to the prophet. And it must follow that such simple illumination of the Holy Spirit which is promised to all who seek for truth would not make such a seeker equal in authority with a Bible writer. The truth-filled sermons which Barnabas and Paul preached may have sounded much alike. But there was this distinct difference which enhanced the authority of Paul’s preaching above that of his colleague: Barnabas as a convert had been illuminated by the Spirit to apprehend the truths of the written Word of God, while Paul received the gospel by revelation. “I did not receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Fourthly, it may be observed that the prophets were instructed to commit their messages to writing, the purpose obviously being to provide an objective authoritative body of truth expressing God’s will whereby one’s experience could be tested. So Moses commanded the nation:
At the end of every seven years, . . . when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord . . . you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing . . . that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, as long as you live in the land. . . .
The same assent to an objective body of truth is voiced by Paul: “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I should not have known sin. I should not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.’ “ Jesus asserted that the reason His questioners were missing the truth in their human speculations was because they were ignorant of the body of truth given in the Scriptures. “You are wrong, because you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God.”
Transmission of a Divine Message
The biblical prophets were “men moved by the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit acted upon them. This does not mean that the prophet was merely passive and helpless like an aeolian harp through which the wind of the Spirit passed creating a melody, or as Montanus has the Holy Spirit to say that “the man is as a lyre, and I sweep over him as a plectrum.” The apostle Paul observed to the Corinthians that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” or as F. F. Bruce has paraphrased it, “the prophets’ inspiration is under the prophets’ control, for God is a God of peace, not of disorder.” Heathen peoples knew the violent mantic inspirations of sibyls and priestesses, but genuine inspiration never obliterates the self-consciousness or overpowers the reason. In other words, inspiration by the Spirit of God does not destroy the integrity of the prophet’s personality. The divine message is addressed to his mind. He is enabled to grasp it and in turn to deliver its contents to the people orally, written, or both.
Does the divine communication come to the prophet in a specific set of words which he simply repeats? While this may be true at times, the evidence indicates that it is not always true.
The relationship between Moses and Aaron may fitly represent the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the prophet.
And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I make you as God to Pharaoh; and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you; and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh. . . .”
Previously the Lord had said, “And you shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth. . . . He shall speak for you to the people; and he shall be a mouth for you, and you shall be to him as God.” The reason in the first place for the assignment of Aaron as spokesman for Moses was that the latter had complained that he was “slow of speech and of tongue;” however, Aaron could “speak well.” Presumably then, Aaron did not speak the exact words of Moses, but, being first informed by Moses regarding God’s commands, he would have phrased them in his own vocabulary and style in his speech before Pharaoh. The message would have been that of Moses but couched in the language of Aaron. This we believe to be the case of the Bible writers. They, having once apprehended the divine thoughts and intent, expressed these in their own language and style. The evidence for this may be seen in the varied style and vocabulary of the various books which reflect the education and culture of the several writers.
Sometimes the writers are told to describe what they see. Various representations are then caused to pass before their vision with little or no verbal instruction. It would seem reasonable to surmise that the prophet in such cases used his own language patterns. Expressing the divine messages in his own words would allow a writer to change individual terms or to add to a writing if in doing so he could strengthen or clarify the expression of the divine purposes. This seems to have been the case of Jeremiah who was instructed to rewrite his message after Jehoiakim burned his scroll. But in doing so Jeremiah did not make an exact duplicate. Baruch, at the dictation of Jeremiah, wrote on a new scroll “all the words of the scroll which Jehoiakim . . . had burned in the fire; and many similar words were added to them.” While words and thoughts can not be cut asunder, yet for all practical purposes thoughts can be expressed in more than one way. The many variants in the manuscripts that have come down to our day indicate that mankind’s salvation was not being jeopardized (as far as God was concerned) so long as the essential thoughts expressing the divine will were preserved. Those who argue for the theory of verbal inspiration for the original autographs are for all practical purposes limited to the thoughts as expressed by the wording of extant manuscripts. But we would believe that the biblical evidence points to a fuller functioning of the human personality. There is a blending of the divine and human agencies. The divine messages were incarnated, as it were, in the human language or vocabulary and style of the writer so that the authoritative will of the Infinite God might be grasped and understood by finite minds.
The authenticity of Bible history becomes increasingly important when it is realized that the Scriptures do not teach the will of God in abstract, systematized doctrines. The controversy between God and Satan, the truths of the plan of redemption are revealed in the activities of God in Israel’s history. The faith of the Bible is inextricably locked to actual historical events, to a people, to the mountains and the plains and watercourses of the Near East. Men were guided to record various historical events although all have not been preserved to us:
“These are the stages of the people of Israel, when they went forth out of the land of Egypt by their hosts. Moses wrote down their starting places, stage by stage, by command of the Lord. . . .” “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Schechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God.” “Now the rest of the acts of Uzziah, from first to last, Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz wrote.” “In the ninth year, in the tenth month, the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.’ ” Etc.
Necessity of Inspiration in Recording Sacred History
The perspective of sacred history is different from that of secular history. The words of the Lord may truthfully be accommodated to apply to historical events as well as to human lives: “The Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The Holy Spirit evidently guided the writers to understand and to record that which was spiritually significant in the stream of historical activity which would reveal the workings of the controversy between good and evil and would give spiritual guidance for His people in future times. Thus the NT writers declare:
“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” The overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrha for their wild immorality was to “serve as an example” “to those who were to be ungodly.” The record of the imputation of righteousness to Abraham because of his faith was “written not for his sake alone, but for ours also.” Israel’s experiences in the Exodus “were written down for our instruction.” James counsels Christians under trial to call to mind the steadfast experience of the prophets who suffered of old for the Lord’s sake, and he singles out the patience of Job to consider. Even the recording of OT civil law is seen to have had spiritual significance: “For it is written in the law of Moses, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.’ Is it for oxen that God is concerned? Does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was written for our sake, . . .”
The NT writers also make clear why they are impelled to record historical events. Says Luke, “it seemed good to me . . . to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed.” But John, an eyewitness of the life of Jesus, throws an interesting bit of light on this matter of recording the life of Jesus. He confesses that the disciples did not understand the significance of the acts of Jesus when He lived with them. “His disciples did not understand this at first; but when Jesus was glorified, then they remembered that this had been done to him.” The glorification of Jesus occurred upon His ascension and enthronement at the right hand of God at which time the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the waiting, praying disciples. It was the coming of the Holy Spirit upon them that enabled the apostolic writers to grasp the true meaning of the events of our Lord’s life and sacrifice. And so John could avow, “Now Jesus did many other signs . . . which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.”
A remarkable evidence of the presence of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in the historical portions of Scripture is seen in the biographies of its personalities. Only divine control could enable a writer to delineate the true character of the one recorded-both his weaknesses and his strengths. The errors of Bible heroes are as faithfully portrayed as their successes. There is no partiality. Noah’s drunkenness is not hidden nor Abraham’s lying. The tempers of Moses, Paul, James, and John are not passed over. The lust and bloodguiltiness of Israel’s greatest king is exposed. The deceitfulness of the father of the twelve tribes and the frailties of the twelve disciples are openly recorded. There is no excusing; there is no attempt to minimize. Men are depicted as they really were inwardly, and what they became by the grace of God or what they failed to become. No unaided human biographer could have so written. The heathen world may have seen in Ahab a formidable and powerful ruler, but the Bible writer never notes this fact. He only perceives under the Holy Spirit what he really was: a morally weak and childish king who introduced deep apostasy into Israel by his marriage to unscrupulous Jezebel.
There is no hint that the Bible writers regarded the historical records in any other light than that they were actual events which had truly occurred. The records are not considered false or inaccurate, nor are they regarded as myth and symbol. Jesus often refers to the historical records in His teachings.
He notes David’s eating of the shewbread; Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh and the city’s repentance. Jonah’s experience in the great fish is borrowed as a type of his own coming death and resurrection. He refers to the creation of mankind in two sexes and the institution of marriage by God’s commandment. He refers to the murder of Abel. He notes the condition of the world in Noah’s time and the similar conditions that will obtain prior to His return. He refers to Noah building the ark and the flood that swept mankind away. He comments on the heathen widow’s care of Elijah and the healing of Naaman by Elisha.
It is interesting to observe that the records that the modern world in particular discounts and explains away-such as Adam and Eve, Jonah’s experience, Noah and the Flood-Jesus accepts as historically true and weighted with important spiritual lessons for present living.
There is a forthrightness about the Scriptures in terms of the historical records. While all questions in this area have not been solved and possibly never will be, yet this very directness without any hesitation is impressive. Manners and customs are alluded to; regnal years of rulers are stated; dates for various events are cited-sometimes even the day and month as well as the year; contemporary rulers are noted, etc. Frankly and openly the facts are recorded. The truthfulness of the historical data when they can be attested naturally increases one’s confidence in the veracity of the Scriptures when it speaks in the area of spiritual truth.
In the course of church history attempts to explain and to define the inspiration of the Scriptures which have led to low views may be classified under two headings: rationalistic and mystical. The chief characteristic of the rationalistic perspective is the attempt to distinguish between what is thought to be the inspired and the uninspired elements within the Scriptures. On the other hand the mystical viewpoint is that man has something within himself that will answer to the truly inspired Word as a test of its genuiness. That only is truly inspired which “finds them.” A more current view which is related to the mystical approach is to regard scriptural revelation as a matter of personal encounter with Christ which any man can have equally with the Bible writers. I may as a believer become as contemporary with Christ as was Peter, says Emil Brunner. “No longer must I first of all ask the Apostle whether Jesus is really Lord. I know it as well as the Apostle himself, and indeed I know it exactly as the Apostle knew it; namely, from the Lord Himself, who reveals it to me.” The net effect of both approaches is to substitute the authority of human opinions and feelings for divine authority. Reason is not authority but the mode or means by which we grasp and submit to what we hold to be authoritative. What we submit to-of that do we make our real authority. In case of the rationalistic approach the authority becomes certain humanistic criteria. The mystical approach makes an experience the authority. However, the acceptance of an inspired revelation does not make one a part of the revelation. Whether one accepts or rejects an inspired revelation in no way affects the revelation according to the scriptural viewpoint. God declared to Ezekiel: “And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that there has been a prophet among them.” Both views ultimately deny the divine authority which the Scriptures claim, namely, that God has spoken through the Bible writers in a way He does not speak to the ordinary human being.
The authority of the Scriptures for faith and practice rises or falls in accordance with one’s concept of inspiration. If it is but a human voice that speaks in the Scriptures, or if its message is in some manner dependent on how it moves me or if it needs me to complete it, then the authority of the Scriptures is greatly weakened if not entirely nullified. But if the divine voice is speaking through the writers as they themselves claim, if the writers are channels for conveying the divine will to mankind, then the Scriptures become profitable to me as God’s directives in matters of doctrine, reproof, correction, and for instruction in righteousness.
Naturally, the mind asks for assurances that the biblical claim is true-that God is truly speaking to us in the writings of the Scripture. While the finite cannot prove the Infinite, God has given us some evidences that commend themselves to our intelligence. We list a few.
a. The Scriptures’ perspective of life. Holy Scripture gives simply, but profoundly clear and satisfying answers to life’s ultimate questions: From where did we come? Why are we here? What happens after death? Why the sinful predicament of mankind? It explains the complexities of the human situation and offers an appealing solution. The Scriptures give a sensible coherence to life and provide a genuine sense of meaning for every-day living and for the future. This we would expect from a sovereign God of love.
b. The fulfillment of prophecy in general and especially in the life of our Lord, and the continual and current fulfillment of its last-day predictions authenticate and continue to authenticate the Scriptures. God declares, “I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, . . .” And the Son of God thrice stressed the authenticating effects of fulfilled predictions: “Now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place, you may believe.”
Jesus lived in constant awareness that He was fulfilling the OT prophecies and types that foreshadowed the Messiah. He began His ministry with a reference to Daniel 9, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent, and believe in the gospel.” When He completed the reading of the Messianic passage of Isaiah 61, He startled His fellow citizens by affirming: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Submitting to the will of God, He is able to say to the disciples in the upper chamber, “The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!” Or again, He refuses Peter’s attempts to protect Him in the Garden, for He could have angel legions if He so desired: “But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” It was upon the remarkable fulfillment of the OT predictions and types in His experience that Jesus established the faith of the disciples in Him after His resurrection: “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. . . . Then he said to them, ‘These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” c. The high spiritual plane of the Scriptures. If Holy Scripture were of mere human origin, it is doubtful that it would set so high a plane for daily living. “As he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct.” The Vedas permit thieving and the Koran teaches salvation by works, but the Scriptures command all duty and forbid all sin, and reject human merit as insufficient for salvation while revealing the true way of redemption by God’s grace. Men’s idols are never more than extensions of themselves-defects and all. How could men conceive a book whose teachings are so far beyond their natural being? “Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?” The exalted level of scriptural teaching is an evidence of its Divine Author.
d. The adaptability of the Scriptures to human needs. Although the Holy Scripture came from the Near East, they meet any man at his deepest level regardless of his race, his age, or his times. In whatever land it has entered it has brought comfort, hope, and progress. Its endurance is phenomenal. It has been spurned and burned and gutted. Rejected and often neglected and at times prophesying in sackcloth, it continues to have an amazing vitality and an international influence that is unexplainable on a human basis.
e. The transforming influence of the Scriptures. Under the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible is a life-changer without peer. The schools of psychology with their adjustments, good as they may be, have never equaled the results of a new creation by the transforming power of God in the Word. The Scriptures studied with sincerity of purpose under the Holy Spirit will refine, ennoble, and uplift. They will never lead a man down, will never degrade or demean. This too is an evidence of their essential Author.
These and other similar observations that might be made give broad evidences that affirm the claim of divine authority in the Scriptures.
Discrepancies or Possible Errors
When the Scriptures assert that Inspiration guarantees their trustworthiness, does it mean that they are free from all mistakes? Some argue, yes-in the autographs, but this is an argument from silence. The question is, How far does the superintendence of the Holy Spirit extend beyond assuring that the message is valid and true? This is probably a point that can never be fully answered. Apart from this is the matter of textual transmission which prevents any definitive answer to our question. It is clear from the condition of the extant manuscripts that God did not deem it necessary to protect His message from the many variants so long as the essential concepts and truths were preserved. Some errors or discrepancies may be only mistakes of transmission and not those of the original writer. Many alleged errors have turned out to be only misapprehensions on the part of scholars as the evidences from archeology have continued to reconstruct the ancient backgrounds. Sometimes the problem lies in reading Eastern thought patterns with Western eyes. But we confess that we know only “in part” and our knowledge of divine operations in conjunction with the human agency is limited.
However, our confidence in the authority of the Scriptures must not rest at the point of what we assume to be a discrepancy and our ability to explain it. God is not on trial in a sentence but in the truth. If God is Infinite and man is finite, faith can never be coextensive with knowledge. We may not be able to explain every problem passage to our satisfaction, but neither do we have to. There are sufficient broad evidences to assure us of the reliability of the Scriptures and the veracity of their concepts and truths. And these evidences should be a sufficient deterrent to prevent our beginning with a supposed error and proceeding to explain away the force of the rest of the biblical testimony.
Jesus and the Authority of Scripture
Jesus acknowledged the divine authority in the Scriptures. He declared, “Scripture cannot be set aside.”
Holy Scripture was final authority to Jesus whether He was resisting Satan in the wilderness or the Pharisees in the synagogues: “It is written;” “What then is this that is written. . . ?” He looked upon Scripture as the rule for faith and practice: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ ” “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” When one asked, “what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” Our Lord knew the creative power of the Word and bore witness to this fact when He prayed, “Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth.” Jesus always placed the Scriptures above the traditions and opinions of men, and He reproved the Jews for circumventing the authority of the Scriptures: “You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” In His teaching He appeals to His foes to make a more discerning study of the sacred writings: “Have you never read in the scriptures . . . ?” Or as the parallel gospel puts it, “Have you not read this scripture . . . ?” “Have you not read in the book of Moses . . . ?” Jesus believed in the validity of scriptural prophecy and testified that it pointed to Himself. “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me.” “The scriptures . . . bear witness to me.” Upon their fulfillment in Him He based His strongest claim to be the Messiahship. “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” He charged the Sadducees-the leaders of the people-with error in doctrine because of their willful ignorance of the Scriptures.
From this brief sketch it is clear that our Lord accepted the Holy Scriptures without reservation as the authoritative revelation of God’s will for man. It was a body of truth, an objective revelation, which stood over against a man to point out the will of God to him. It was superior to human tradition and teaching which often subverted it. It would lead a man to saving knowledge. It was the rule for faith and practice. It was authoritative for spiritual understanding and would prevent one from following erroneous, subjective views.
The apostles likewise uphold the authority of sacred Scripture. Peter views it as a vital “imperishable” “living and abiding” seed that, planted in the heart, brings about a new life. For Paul, they are the “holy Scriptures”-able to make one “wise unto salvation through faith which is in Jesus.”
The Holy Spirit and the Authority of Scripture
If the Scriptures are what they claim to be and man is what Scripture says he is, then the authority of the Scriptures cannot be acknowledged apart from the operation of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was the Incarnate Word of God, but His true nature was undiscerned by the careless crowd and the caviling Pharisees. Some thought him a prophet like John, Elijah, or Jeremiah-but only a man. But when Peter confessed Christ’s deity, Jesus declared, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” The apostle Paul pinpoints the immediate source of this conviction in a man’s mind when he says: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In like manner the written Word of God can neither be understood correctly nor acknowledged as authoritative without the witness of the Holy Spirit to the mind. “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. . . . The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. On the other hand the apostle declares, “We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God.” The Scriptures and the Spirit cannot be separated. The Spirit is both their author and revealer. To the believer the authority of the Scriptures is the authority of the Spirit. The message of the Scriptures and not the human writer is the authority, for it is the mind of God expressed by the Holy Spirit through the medium of the writer.
To seek for an experience with the Holy Spirit, however, apart from the written Word may lead only to fanaticism and excesses. The Scriptures must always remain central to Christian living as the test of the correctness of the experience. On the other hand to search the Scriptures without the illumination of the Holy Spirit will lead only to dry formalism or to wrong conclusions. “Learning without the Holy Ghost blinds men to the realities of Divine truth.” It is clear from the entire testimony of Scripture that the purpose of divine inspiration is to provide mankind with an authoritative body of truths-an objective revelation-that would give man a trustworthy guide outside himself for spiritual living-a guide that would be profitable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Like the Law, Scripture would provide man a mirror by which to test himself, for without such he would have only his subjective feelings for a guide. An objective revelation provides the only safe means of knowing about the invisible God and even Jesus Christ whom He has sent. As Warfield sums the matter,
It remains the profound persuasion of the Christian heart that without such ‘external authority’ as a thoroughly trustworthy Bible, the soul is left without sure ground for a proper knowledge of itself, its condition, and its need, or for a proper knowledge of God’s provisions of mercy for it and his promises of grace to it,-without sure ground, in a word, for its faith and hope.
It is not God’s intention, however, that the Scriptures shall remain but an external authority in paper and ink or an abstract proposition anymore than it was His intent that the law should remain engraved in stone. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to make the objective Word of God dynamic in the life. The Word of God is referred to as a living seed that, planted in the mind, causes a new life to spring up; but it is the Holy Spirit that is the power in the seed which produces the new life. The Scriptures are figuratively designated as “milk” and as the believer’s food, but it is the Holy Spirit that assimilates this spiritual food into the life. In one passage Paul observes that Christ desires to sanctify and to cleanse the church with “the washing of water with the word,” but in another place he indicates that the cleansing agent in the Word is the Holy Spirit: “He saved us, . . . in virtue of his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit, which he poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Christ’s words are to “abide” in us and “the word of Christ” is to “dwell in you richly.” Likewise, Jesus said the Holy Spirit “dwells with you, and will be in you.” Peter wrote to certain that they had purified their soul by “obedience to the truth,” and in another passage he observed that the Holy Spirit is “given to those who obey him.” By means of the mysterious yet none-the-less real movings of the Holy Spirit, the truths of the Scriptures become the “engrafted word” (KJV) or the “implanted word”-which “is able to save your souls,” for it is by means of the truths of the Scriptures that the Spirit transforms the life.
The Scriptures’ consistent claim is that the Holy Spirit spoke to the prophets. The Spirit qualified the minds of men to receive rational communications and to impart them to others. The men were inspired. The personality of the writers was not breached, but each expressed in his own manner what had been revealed to him. Although the prophet was human with sinful tendencies, the operation of the Spirit guarantees the truthfulness of the message as an expression of the Divine will. Thus the message is asserted to be the Word of the Lord.
Inspiration also operates in the recording of the historical records so that the controversy between good and evil is disclosed, and the lessons of the past give guidance for the future.
The authority of the Scriptures rests in the fact that by means of their medium God is uniquely speaking to mankind as He does in no other manner. Many broad evidences affirm and assure that the claims for this uniqueness by the Bible writers is true.
It is the providence of the Holy Spirit to be both the author and the revealer of the Holy Scriptures. The Spirit and the Scriptures must never be separated. He will convince the mind of their truthfulness, and the Scripture will test the experience for its correctness. It is the purpose of the Spirit to transfer the truths of the written word into the living experience of the Christian.
The apostles, and our Lord above all, accepted the Scriptures as a divinely given body of objective truth revealing to mankind the authoritative will of God. The deep-seated conviction of the truly converted in every age since Moses has been the same as that of the Thessalonians for which attitude Paul thanked God. May it ever continue to be our own personal affirmation of faith:
And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.
. J. B. Phillips, God Our Contemporary, preface.
. er. 2:13. Citations are from the RSV unless otherwise noted.
. Exod 5:2.
. Alan M. Stibbs, “Witness of the Scripture to Its Inspiration,” Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry, 109.
. Job 11:7.
. 2 Pet 1:19-21
. 2 Tim 3:15; Rom 1:1; 3:2. See also Heb 5:12.
. Acts 7:38.
. 1 Pet 1:25; Isa 40:8, “The word of our God will stand for ever.”
. Isa 1:1; Amos 1:1; Micah 1:1; Hab 1:1; Jer 38:21, etc. Amos 7:12.
. 1 Sam 9:9; Amos 7:12.
. 2 Sam 23:2; Neh 9:30; cf. Zech 7:12 for a similar statement.
. Ezek 2:2; 11:5, 24; 8:1; cf. 37:1; Micah 3:8.
. Matt 22:43; cf. Mark 12:36, “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit, declared. . . .” Acts 1:16; 28:25.
. 1 Pet 1:10-11; 2 Pet 1:21.
. Heb 3:7; 9:8.
. 1 Tim 4:1; Rev 1:10; 4:2; 17:3; cf. 21:10.
. Acts 1:2; Eph 3:3-5.
. Rom 10:19, “Moses says”; John 12:38-39, “the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah,” “Isaiah said”; Luke 20:42, “David himself says in the Book of Psalms”; Matt 24:15, “spoken of by the prophet Daniel”; Luke 18:31, “Everything that is written . . . by the prophets”; 2 Pet 1:21.
. Jer 1:1-2, 9; cf. 10:1; Ezek 1:3; Hosea 1:1.
. Cf. Joel 1:1; Jonah 1:1; Micah 1:1; Zeph 1:1; Zech 1:1.
. Hag 1:13
. Ezek 2:4.
. Jas 5:10; Acts 3:18; 4:24-25; Heb 1:1; cf. Luke 1:68-70 for a similar statement.
. Luke 2:22-24.
. Matt 1:22.
. 27.2 Pet 3:2, 15-16.
. Gal 1:12; cf. Eph 3:3.
. 1 Cor 11:23; cf. 1 Cor 15:3.
. 1 Tim 5:18 citing Luke 10:7 and possibly Matt 10:10.
. Matt 22:31; Mark 7:13.
. 2 Pet 1:21.
. Num 12:6.
. 1 Sam 9:15 (KJV). Literally, “Yahweh uncovered the ear of Samuel.” 1 Sam 16:7.
. Zechariah 4, etc.
. 2 Cor 12:1-4; Rev 4:1-2, etc.
. Ezekiel 8.
. Revelation 10.
. Dan 8:15, 27; 12:8; Rev 5:4.
. 1 Pet 1:10-12.
. Habakkuk; Jonah.
. 1 Pet 1:12, implied; Deut 31:9, 19, 24-26; Isa 30:8; Jer 36:2; 29; Dan 12:4; Rev 1:11.
. Jas 5:17.
. Augustus H. Strong, Systematic Theology (3 vols. in one), 206.
. Gal 1:12.
. Deut 31:10-13.
. Rom 7:7.
. Matt 22:29.
. Cited by Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, vol. 2, 423.
. 1 Cor 14:32.
. F. F. Bruce, The Letters of Paul, An Expanded Paraphrase, 111.
. H.D.M. Spence and J. S. Excell, eds., Pulpit Commentary, vol 44, 460.
. Exod 7:1; 4:15-16.
. Exod 4:10, 14.
. Rev 1:11; cf. 21:10-27.
. Jer 36:32.
. Num 33:1-2; Josh 24:25-26; 2 Chr 26:22; Ezek 24:2.
. 1 Sam 16:7
. Rom 15:4; Jude 7 and 2 Pet 2:6; Rom 4:23-24; Jas 5:10-11; 1 Cor 9:9-10.
. Luke 1:3-4.
. John 12:16.
. John 7:39; cf. Acts 2:33; 5:31-32.
. John 14:26.
. John 20:30-31.
. Shalmaneser III recorded that Ahab supplied 2,000 chariots and 10,000 foot soldiers to the Aramean coalition which confronted his invasion of the West. ANET, 279.
. Matt 12:3-4; 12:39-41; 19:4-5; Luke 11:51; Matt 24:37-39; Luke 4:25-27.
. Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, 112-13.
. Cornelius Van Til, “Introduction,” ibid., 61, citing Emil Brunner, Revelation and Reason, 170-71.
. Ezek 2:5.
. 2 Tim 3:16.
. Isa 46:9-10.
. John 14:29; cf. John 13:19; 16:4.
. Mark 1:15; Luke 4:21; Matt 26:24, 53; Luke 24:27, 44-45.
. 1 Pet 1:15.
. Strong, 203.
. H. C. Thiessen, Introduction to the New Testament, 85.
. Job 14:4.
. Edward Heppenstall, Doctrine of Inspiration and Revelation, Seminary course.
. John 10:35, NEB (luo, “to loose, to break, to annul, to cancel”).
. Matt 4:4, 6, 10 and Luke 20:17; Matt 9:13; 4:4; Luke 10:25-27; John 17:17; Mark 7:8; Matt 21:42 and Mark 12:10; 12:26; John 5:46, 39; Luke 24:26, 44; Matt 23:29.
. 1 Pet 1:23; 2 Tim 3:15 (KJV).
. Matt 26:17; 1 Cor 12:3.
. 1 Pet 1:22; Acts 5:32.
. John 15:7; Col 3:16; John 14:17.
. Eph 5:26; Titus 3:5-6.
. 1 Pet 2:2; Jer 15:16.
. 1 Pet 1:23; cf. John 3:5, 8.
. Warfield, 123-24.
. 2 Tim 3:16.
. Samuel Chadwick, The Way to Pentecost, 32.
. 1 Cor 2:12.
. 1 Cor 2:11, 14.
. Jas 1:21
. 1 Thess 2:13.
Scriptures quoted from RSV are from the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyrighted 1946, 1952 © 1971, 1973.
Scriptures quoted from NEB are from The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1861, 1970. Reprinted by permission.The author assumes full responsibility for the accuracy of all quotations cited in this paper.
Copyright © Biblical Research Institute General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists®