What is the Bible? The Bible is a library of books within one book.1 It is a library with two branches: an Old Testament branch and a New Testament branch. It is a library made up of sixty-six books: thirty-nine in the Old Testament branch and twenty-seven in the New Testament branch. The books are written mainly in two languages: Hebrew and Greek. It is a library containing about forty different authors, who wrote over a period of approximately fifteen hundred years. The contents of the books vary: some contain history, others prayers, hymns of praise, visions, poetry, proverbs, letters (epistles), laws of worship, civil codes, doctrine, polemics, announcements of judgment, statistics, confession of sin, and much more. The characters in the Bible include kings and commoners, royalty and lowly fisherman, prophets and apostles, leaders specially called of God and ordinary folk, publicans and sinners, converted harlots and hardened sinners, and, of course, the main character: our Lord Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Word made flesh.
Although there is great variety in the books of the Bible, the Bible is itself one book, the Good Book—as pious saints of a bygone time were wont to refer to the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, from the first announcement of the gospel into the glorious fulfillment of the gospel in the new heavens and new earth of , the books of the Bible display a marvelous unity. In the end, the Bible is the one word of God, proclaiming the one Savior and the one way of salvation, to the glory of the one Lord God. Put simply, the Bible is the word of God—the word of God in the words of men. Concerning the Bible, Reformed believers confess with the Westminster Confession of Faith: “The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good, and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (WCF 1.6).
At present we are busy examining the Bible’s testimony concerning itself. What does the Bible say about itself? What claims does it make for itself? Does it claim to be a unique book, a book altogether different from any other book or collection of books? Does the Bible claim to be infallibly inspired by God? And does the Bible claim authority over faith and morals? We are specifically examining the Old Testament with regard to these matters. Last time we examined the Old Testament law, one of the major divisions of the Old Testament. We saw that without doubt the Old Testament law claims that it is the law and word of God. In this article, we want to continue our examination of the Old Testament by looking together at the second major division of the Old Testament: the prophets.
Messengers Sent by God
Often the Old Testament prophets are referred to as messengers sent by God to speak His word to His people. The prophets were and were to be regarded by the people as “God’s messengers.” Inwe read, “Then spake Haggai the Lord’s messenger….” In the prophet Malachi prophesies the coming of the greatest of the Old Testament prophets, John the Baptist (Jesus Himself said “there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist,” ), as “my messenger.” All the prophets were, thus, Christ’s messengers. The same verse speaks of Christ as “the messenger of the covenant.” If Christ as the great Prophet and Teacher of God’s people is “the Messenger” of God’s covenant, all the prophets who prophesied of Him were also “messengers” of God’s covenant. The last chapter of II Chronicles recounts the overthrow of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. The inspired chronicler gives as the chief reason for the Babylonian captivity Judah’s rejection of His messengers the prophets. He says in , “And the Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending; because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling place.” How did Judah receive God’s messengers? “But they mocked the messengers of God, and despised his words, and misused his prophets, until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people, till there was no remedy.” Notice that: they mocked “the messengers of God” who brought “his words.”
The Old Testament word for “prophet” emphasizes the truth that the prophets were God’s messengers. The word “prophet” means literally “to bubble over.” The prophet is one who “bubbles over.” That with which he bubbles over is the word of God. Himself filled with the word of God, the prophet “bubbled over” with the word of God to God’s people. What a prophet is we learn from: “I will raise them up a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth; and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.” To be sure, this passage is prophetic of our Lord Jesus Christ, the great Prophet of whom all the Old Testament prophets were types. Nevertheless, of all the prophets it is true that God raised them up; God put His words in their mouths; and God commanded them to speak unto His people.
As God’s messengers the prophets were sent by God. This was the all-important thing with regard to the Old Testament prophets: They were sent. We read of the prophet Isaiah’s commission in Isaiah 6. In verse 8, the voice of the Lord says, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah’s response was, “Here am I; send me.” To which Jehovah’s response was, “Go.” To the prophet Jeremiah the Lord says, “Thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak.” In the passage fromreferred to earlier, the prophets whom Judah rejected were the prophets whom “the Lord God of their fathers sent to them…rising betimes, and sending.”
In contrast to the true prophets, false prophets were not sent. This was always true of the false prophets, that they were not sent, but came in their own name and in their own authority. InJehovah says that the false prophets “prophesy lies in my name: I sent them not, neither have I commanded them, neither spake unto them.” Ezekiel 19 contains the Lord’s rebuke of the false prophets in Israel: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy out of their own hearts.” These false prophets “have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the Lord” (v. 5). About these false prophets, the most important thing of all is that “the Lord hath not sent them” (v. 6).
“Thus saith the Lord”
One very clear proof that the prophets spoke (and wrote) the word of God is the constantly recurring refrain, “Thus saith the Lord,” which occurs over four hundred times in the Old Testament.begins with the familiar prophetic formula: “But now thus saith the Lord….” are similar: “Thus saith the Lord; Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and speak there this word, and say, Hear the word of the Lord, O king of Judah, that sittest upon the throne of David….” The well-known prophecy of concerning the famine of the “hearing of the words of the Lord” that God is about to send upon Judah begins: “Behold, the days come, saith the Lord God.” To Judah, who is more concerned with building their own houses than the house of the Lord, comes the word of the Lord in : “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; consider your ways.” Not, “Thus saith Haggai the prophet,” but “Thus saith the Lord….” And in , the Lord sends His prophet with these words: “Therefore say thouunto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts; Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of hosts….”
God says to Moses in, “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Even the false prophet Balaam says to king Balak, in , “Lo, I am come unto thee: have I now any power at all to say any thing? The word that God putteth in my mouth, that shall I speak.” Concerning Jeremiah we read in , “Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” To the prophet Ezekiel, God says in , “And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear.”
Several times in the prophecy of Isaiah the expression is found, “The mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Inwe read, “But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Similarly, we read in , “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” Towards the end of the book, at the conclusion of a prophecy that speaks of Israel’s deliverance and restoration, once more the expression occurs: “Then shalt thou delight thyself in the Lord; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it” ( ).
Over and over again we read in the prophecy of Jeremiah, “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord.”: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying….” Again, in : “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying….” Confer also .
Throughout the prophets the expression recurs: “The word of the Lord that came to [prophet so-and-so]….” For example, we read in: “Moreover the word of the Lord came to me….” Hosea’s prophecy begins, “The word of the Lord that came unto Hosea, the son of Beeri…” ( ). The prophecies of Joel, Micah, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi all begin in this way.
Similar to the above, it is often said of the prophets that the word of the Lord came unto them. Inwe read, “But the word of God came unto Shemaiah the man of God, saying….” Similarly, in we read, “And it came to pass the same night, that the word of God came to Nathan [the prophet], saying….” Several times in the prophecy of Jeremiah we read: “The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord,” as in , and in several other places as well. Outside the prophecy of Jeremiah this expression is also found, as in , as well as in .
Because they spoke God’s word, to reject the word of or to disobey the prophet was tantamount to rejecting the word of and disobeying God. God said to Samuel the prophet: “They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me” (). This was precisely Judah’s sin on account of which she was sent into captivity, as II Chronicles 36 makes plain. According to , because the people despised His prophets, “the wrath of the Lord arose against his people.” “Therefore he [that is, God] brought upon them the king of the Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary, and had no compassion upon young man or maiden, old man, or him that stooped for age: he gave them all into his hand…. And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof. And them that had escaped from the sword carried he away to Babylon” ( ).
A powerful attestation to the inspiration of the prophets is the frequent quotation of the prophets by Christ and by the writers of the New Testament Scriptures. Always these quotations are assumed to be quotations of God’s word, which is often indicated by the way in which they are introduced. The gospel according to Matthew was written primarily to the Jews in order to demonstrate that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. As might be expected, Matthew includes a good number of Old Testament quotations in his gospel account. Invariably those quotations are introduced or concluded in such a way as indicates their divine inspiration. The very first such quotation is found in: “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying….” Another example is : “And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying….” Confer also .
What all this comes down to is that the Bible is the word of God. This is what the Bible teaches about itself. This is how believers must regard it. This is the honor that we must show to it. For this reason we must obey it and live our lives according to it. The attitude that we must have toward it is the attitude God requires in: “But to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word.”
1 In am indebted to J. I. Packer’s description of the Bible as a library in his book Truth and Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996).