Previous article in this series: September 1, 2014, p. 465.
Over the last century or so, there have been scholars who argued that Scripture is “inspired” in the sense that it contains an inspiring message and is a book that can inspire us. But this is a fundamental shift from what the church historically has taught about Scripture. This is in fact a denial of the historic teaching of the Christian church regarding Scripture’s inspiration. The Greek word theopneustos is the word used by the apostle Paul in, where he says that all Scripture is given “by inspiration of God.” Here the word “inspiration” has to do with the origin of Scripture, not its effect. Its concern is with the nature of Scripture, not with those who might read the Scripture. The inspiration of Scripture is a past and accomplished fact, not a desirable present or future possibility. Scripture is not just an inspiring book—although it is that. But more than that, Scripture is an inspired book.
We are considering the Bible’s own teaching concerning itself. Thus far, we have focused on the Old Testament. We have seen that it cannot be denied that the Old Testament teaches about itself that it is the inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God. It can be denied that the Old Testament is the word of God. But it cannot be denied that the Old Testament claims to be the word of God.
Beginning with this article we shift our attention from the Old Testament to the New Testament. What is the New Testament’s teaching about itself? What claims does it make concerning itself? We will see that, like the Old Testament, the New Testament claims to be the word of God. No less than the Old Testament, the New Testament views itself as the inspired, infallible, and authoritative word of God—the word of life and salvation. We will begin with the Lord Jesus. What was Jesus’ attitude towards the Scripture? How did Jesus view the Bible of His day, which was the Old Testament Scriptures? What does Jesus’ use of Scripture reveal about the regard that He had for Scripture?
Jesus’ Regard for Scripture’s Authority
Without question Jesus regarded Scripture as the word of God. Regarding Scripture as the word of God, He regarded Scripture as the rule (authoritative) for the faith and the life of those whom He taught the word of God. Regarding Scripture as the word of God, He taught the necessity of Scripture—that Scripture is necessary for salvation: “for in them ye think ye have eternal life,” (). Regarding Scripture as the word of God, He taught authoritatively out of the Scriptures, as even His enemies noted: “For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” ( ). Regarding Scripture as the word of God, Jesus was concerned to fulfill the Scriptures, particularly those Old Testament Scripture passages that spoke prophetically of His suffering and death. Time and time again we read that He did or said something “that the Scripture might be fulfilled.” At the time when Peter rose to Jesus’ defense in the Garden of Gethsemane, drew his sword, and smote the servant of the high priest, Jesus rebuked his well-intentioned disciple. He added to His words of rebuke these words: “Thinkest thou not that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” ( ).
Jesus’ regard for the Old Testament comes out in the oft-quoted passage,: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken….” Significantly, Jesus refers to the Old Testament Scriptures that he is quoting as “law.” He is quoting, not from the Pentateuch—that part of the Old Testament generally regarded as “law.” He is in fact quoting from the book of Psalms, . But no less than the Pentateuch, is the book of Psalms “law.” It is “law” inasmuch as the book of Psalms, no less than the Pentateuch, is the authoritative word of God. But more significantly still, the Scriptures cannot be broken. Jesus does not say that Scripture may not be broken—which, of course, is true. But what He says is that Scripture “cannot” be broken. And it cannot be broken because it is from beginning to end the authoritative word of God.
The Scriptures in Translation
Jesus’ regard for the authority of Scripture extends to faithful translations of the Bible. Not only the autographs— the original manuscripts of the Bible—but also subsequent copies of Scripture and translations of Scripture are to be regarded as the word of God. As the word of God, faithful translations of Scripture are to be honored as authoritative by Christians. God intends His word to be translated into the language of the people, all the peoples to whom the gospel is brought. The Reformers recognized this and therefore supported the work of the translation of the Scriptures. Luther himself translated the Bible into the German so that the German people might have the word of God in their own language. By doing so, Luther was instrumental is shaping the modern German language.
That Jesus supported translation of the word of God into the language of the people is seen in the fact that Jesus’ quotation of Scripture is most often from the Septuagint Bible. The Septuagint was the very first translation of the Bible. It was the translation of the Hebrew Old Testament into the Greek language, the language that would become the language of the New Testament. That was necessary because after the captivity the Jews had been scattered all over the then-known world. Soon they lost the Hebrew language in their generations. Their children and grandchildren grew up learning the language of the day, the Greek language. Greek was the language of Alexander the Great and became the language of all the peoples that he conquered. Everywhere the Greek language was spoken. It was the language of politics, the language of commerce, the language of education, and the language of the marketplace. Because they lost the Hebrew language and because everyone spoke the Greek language, it became necessary for the Jews to have a Bible in the Greek language. It fell to a group of Jewish rabbis (seventy according to tradition) in Alexandria, Egypt, where there was a large Jewish population, to do the work of translation. All this took place during the intertestamental period, after Malachi and before the gospel narratives.
It is from this translation that Jesus and the apostles generally quote. This was the Bible of the Jews of Jesus’ day. That Jesus quoted from the Septuagint is due to the fact that He regarded it as a faithful Bible translation. Not every translation is to be regarded as the word of God. Not every translation is to be regarded as authoritative. Not translations that play fast and loose with the text. Not translations that are unconcerned to be literal translations, translations that are produced by translators who hold to the “dynamic equivalence” theory of translation. But translations that strive to convey the very words of the text into the language of the people, these are translations that are of use to the people of God and to the church.
Jesus’ Appeal to Scripture
Jesus’ regard for Scripture is plain from His appeal Scripture. Over and over again, Jesus appeals to Scripture. He knows the Holy Scriptures, knows them thoroughly. He knows the Holy Scriptures so that He can reference them with ease, quote them accurately, and apply them forcefully. In support of His own teaching, as well as in contradiction of the assertions of His enemies, Jesus freely quotes the Old Testament Scriptures. “Have ye not read this scripture,” He says to the unbelieving Jews in. After He has risen from the dead, Jesus rebuked the two travelers to Emmaus:
O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.
The very fact that Jesus appealed to the Scriptures is striking. As the authority for His teaching, Jesus does not appeal to Himself as the Son of God. He could have done so. He could have said something like, “Believe what I have said because I who teach you this am the Son of God, essentially one with God, very God Himself.” But Jesus does not do this. Rather, for support for what He has been teaching, Jesus invariably appeals to Holy Scripture. When He was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, immediately following His baptism, Jesus appealed to Holy Scripture. With His “It is written” (), He chased the devil away. In His teaching concerning the Sabbath and proper Sabbath observance, Jesus appealed to Scripture (Luke 6 and 13). In support of His teaching concerning marriage and divorce, Jesus appealed to Scripture, prefacing His response to the tempting question of the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” by saying, “Have ye not read….” ( ).
Jesus’ appeal to Scripture indicates that He did not question its historicity, did not dispute its chronology, did not cast doubt on the accuracy of the facts reported in it. He viewed the creation account recorded in Genesis as accurate and regarded Adam and Eve as real people, indeed as the first human beings miraculously created by God: “But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female” (; cf. also ). He did not dismiss as laughable the idea of a uni versal flood in the days of Noah, but instead appealed to the flood as recorded in the book of Genesis in support of His teaching concerning the end times:
But as the days of Noe were, so shall also the coming of the Son of man be. For as in the days that were before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noe entered into the ark, and knew not until the flood came, and took them all away; so shall also the coming of the Son of man be ().
Sodom and Gomorrah were real cities that one time existed, but were overthrown by God because of their violence and immorality (homosexuality):; ; ; ; .
There can be no doubt what Jesus’ attitude was towards Scripture. All His preaching and teaching demonstrate clearly that He regarded Scripture as the word of God. He showed what His attitude was by submitting to Scripture, even when that submission was painful and meant for Him suffering, loss, and ultimately death. Even then He did not waver from His regard for Scripture as God’s own word—inspired, infallible, and authoritative.
If this is the regard that Jesus had for Holy Scripture, ought this not also to be the attitude toward Scripture of those who call Him their Lord?