Previous article in this series: October 1, 2012, p. 8.
Christianity is a revealed religion. Christians are “people of the Book.” The believer, according to the Heidelberg Catechism, the 21st A, “hold[s] for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word.” The child of God does not question, much less raise objections to or deny the accuracy of the Bible. Rather, he holds for truth—objective truth—all that God has revealed in His Word. He holds for truth all that God has revealed in the Bible. He does not distinguish in the Bible between that which is the word of God and that which is the word of man, those portions that are divinely inspired and those passages that reflect the religious experience of the human authors, as they are called. The believer rejects this approach to Scripture. He does this on account of what the Bible is and on account of his own conviction concerning the nature of the Bible.
What is the Bible?
What is the Bible? In simplest terms, the Bible is the Word of God. More fully, the Bible is the infallibly inspired written Word of God, which is authoritative over faith (beliefs) and life (morals).
With regard to the Bible and its inspiration, there are four possibilities.
The first possibility is that the Bible is not infallibly inspired. Then the Bible is a book like any other book, manifesting the same tendencies, weaknesses, and errors that characterize every human writing. This is the attitude of the unbeliever towards the Bible, as well as of the religious liberals. The Bible contains the opinions, judgments, and teachings of mere men. This would have been the attitude in Jesus’ day of the Greeks and Romans, who considered themselves civilized and cultured. It would have been beneath their refined dignity to regard the Bible as the word of God, the word of the Christian God.
The second possibility is that the Bible is partly inspired. Some parts of Scripture are divinely inspired, although other parts are not. The Bible contains divinely inspired words of God, but it also contains the uninspired words of men. This was the view that the Sadducees of Jesus’ day had of the Old Testament. It was also the view of some of the sects that arose in the early history of the church, as, for example, the Ebionites. This is the view of many professing Christians today. They hold that when the human writers of the Bible wrote on matters of doctrine, they wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But the historical and scientific information in the Bible was not written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and is not, therefore, necessarily accurate. For this reason, it may not be accurate that God created all things in six, literal, successive, twenty-four hour days, as we read in Genesis 1 and 2. This is the view and practice that may be termed “canon reduction.” Scripture is not God’s word, but God’s word is in Scripture, somewhere to be found in Scripture.
The third possibility is that the Bible and something else is divinely inspired. Not the Bible alone, but the Bible and something in addition to and alongside of the Bible are inspired in a special way by God. This may be termed “canon expansion.” In Jesus’ day, this was the view of Scripture of the scribes and Pharisees, who “[made] the word of God of none effect (liter ally, ‘of no authority’) through [their] tradition” (Mark 7:13). Besides the written word of God, the Torah, the Jews held to Oral Tradition, Oral Tradition that was of equal authority to the written word of God. This has historically also been the view of the Bible’s inspiration on the part of the Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church has always added to Scripture, as an authority alongside of Scripture, the decisions of the church councils, the decrees of the popes, and the writings of the Apocrypha. This is also a distinctive feature of the cults who add to Scripture, on a par with Scripture, the writings of the founder of the cult: in the case of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the writings of Charles Taze Russell; in the case of the Seventh Day Adventists, the writings of Mary Baker Eddy; and in the case of the followers of Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon.
Additionally, this is the view and practice of the Pentecostals. Pentecostalism views messages delivered in tongues or by means of “the gift of prophecy” as new revelations from God. Pat Robertson routinely gets the “word of knowledge” before his audiences on national television. While he is praying, God reveals to him specific people (God seems to reveal only their first name, and never their street address) living in various parts of the country, who have some ailment or have been healed of some ailment. He says something like “Jane in Detroit, Michigan is right now being healed of cancer; Bill in Abilene, Texas is right now being delivered from the bulging disk in his back.” Oral Roberts once said that God had revealed to him that his life would be taken away if he did not receive a large amount of money in donations from his listeners. Benny Hinn regularly receives revelations from the Spirit while he is conducting one of his healing crusades on television, identifying someone in his audience or at home who is afflicted with a particular ailment. And then he proceeds in the power of the Spirit to heal this person of this terrible malady—some are reported to be blind and have never seen the light of day; some are lame and have never walked; some supposedly are afflicted with brain tumors. All these are examples of adding revelations to God’s revelation in Scripture.
The fourth possibility is that the Bible alone is the divinely inspired word of God. This is the truth regarding the Bible and what the Bible is. Not only does faith receive for truth all that God has revealed in His Word, but faith receives only the Word of God as absolute truth. Only Scripture is the inspired and infallible Word of God. The Scriptures alone and the Scriptures in their entirety are the Word of God. This is what the Bible insists upon and proclaims itself to be. This is the truth regarding the Bible and what the Bible is.
Distinguishing Between Revelation and Inspiration
At this point we ought to make a necessary and an important distinction. That is the distinction between revelation and inspiration.
These two important acts of God are involved in the production of Holy Scripture. Without either or both of them, Scripture would not be Scripture, would not be the Word of God. Scripture’s being the Word of God depends on both revelation and inspiration.
Revelation is God’s acts of making Himself known to men. Inspiration is God’s act of moving men either to speak or to write down that which He has revealed to them.
With regard to inspiration, we ought to make a further distinction. That distinction is between inspiration to speak and inspiration to write. Inspiration to speak is God’s act of moving men to speak infallibly His word. Inspiration to write is God’s act of moving men to write down infallibly His word. Most of that which came to be written in Scripture was first spoken by the prophets and apostles, and then written down and preserved. But not everything that they were inspired to speak were they also inspired to write down in Holy Scripture. The inspiring Holy Spirit was selective in what He included in the canon of sacred Scripture.
It ought to be plain that the making of Scripture involved both revelation and inspiration. God revealed His truth to the prophets and apostles. Having revealed it to them, He then inspired them to speak it to His people. And then, He inspired them—not invariably, but frequently—to write down what He had revealed to them and what they had been inspired to speak. Thus, what was spoken by the prophets to one generation of Israelites could be preserved for another generation. And what was spoken by God to Israel in the Old Testament could be preserved for the instruction, comfort, warning, and edification of the church of the New Testament.
What is inspiration? Inspiration was the work of God the Holy Spirit to move certain men whom He had chosen and specially prepared to write down God’s word, controlling them as they wrote so that what they wrote was God’s word and His word only.
There are two classic passages in the New Testament that teach the doctrine of divine inspiration: II Timothy 3:15-17 and II Peter 1:19-21. It would be good for you to commit these two passages to memory. Of such importance are they that we ought to be able to quote them, or at least know where they are found so that we can quickly turn to them.
The first of these passages is II Timothy 3:15-17: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”
The King James Version, in line with the Latin Vulgate, speaks of Scripture being given by “inspiration” of God. The word in the Greek means literally “God-breathed.” Scripture is God-breathed. That is what Scripture is and that accounts for how Scripture came into being. Scripture is the product of the breath of God, and has been breathed forth by God. Only because this is what Scripture is, is Scripture of profit—great profit, unique profit. Because Scripture is the very word of God, it is profitable to make men wise unto salvation, God’s salvation, salvation from sin, death, and hell through faith in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. Because Scripture is the word of God, it is profitable for doctrine, right doctrine, for reproof of the wayward, for their correction and instruction in righteousness. Because Scripture is the word of God, it thoroughly equips the Christian for a life of good works.
The second classic passage on biblical inspiration is II Peter 1:19-21: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
In passing, it should be noted that by “prophecy” the apostle is not talking only about one part of Scripture, the prophetic portions, in distinction, let us say, from the Psalms and from the historical sections. All Scripture is prophecy in the sense that all Scripture is the Word of God. That is what prophecy was, and that is what Holy Scripture is.
But the apostle is mainly interested in the origin of Holy Scripture in this passage. That is how verse 20 is to be understood: “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” that is, has its origin in any private interpretation. The issue is not the interpretation of Scripture now that Scripture has come into existence, a fascinating subject in its own right. Rather the apostle is dealing with the prior question, “How did Scripture come into existence?” The issue is not the exegesis of Scripture, but rather the origin of Scripture. The question is, “From whence Holy Scripture?” The apostle denies that Scripture came into existence as the private interpretation of the men who wrote down the Scriptures. Scripture is not “of,” in the sense of “out of,” or, “from,” the private interpretation of those who penned the Scriptures.
Of special significance in regard to this matter of the origin of Scripture is the apostle’s description of inspiration in verse 21. The apostle says that “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The Greek word translated “as they were moved” means to bear or to carry along. It is used in Acts 27:15, 17 of the apostle Paul’s ship that was carried along and driven on by the tempestuous wind Euroclydon. That ship was completely under the power of that wind, so that that wind took the ship where it did altogether without any aid or assistance from the sailors onboard. Just so, the human writers of the Holy Scriptures are carried along and moved by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The context in II Peter 1 is also of great importance. The apostle is making a comparison: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” More sure than what? In the context, the apostle has called attention to the event of Jesus’ transfiguration on the mount, shortly before His crucifixion: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received from God the Father honour and glory, when there came such a voice to him from the excellent glory, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with him in the holy mount.” Both the word heard by the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration and Holy Scripture are the word of God. Scripture is just as much the word of God as the word of God on the mount. The disciples had no doubt whose word they were hearing, who was speaking to them from the heavens. They did not have to ask each other whose voice they heard. They knew, knew without any hesitation, that what they heard was the word of God. We should have the same assurance with respect to Holy Scripture. That word of God from heaven was the word concerning His Son, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Just so, Scripture is God’s word concerning His Son and the great work of the Son that He does in obedience to and in order to please His heavenly Father.
But God’s word in Scripture, says the apostle, is a “more sure word of prophecy.” How and why is Scripture a surer word of prophecy? For at least two reasons and in two respects. First, Scripture is a fuller word of prophecy than the word of prophecy spoken by God out of the mount. Scripture draws out all the implications, doctrinal and practical, of the great truth that Jesus is the Son of God, the Son in whom God is well-pleased. Second, Scripture is a more sure word of prophecy because it is the in-scripturated word of God. The word of God on the mount was heard, and then it was gone, and all that the disciples could do was bear testimony to the word that they heard. In Scripture we have the very word of God, not merely men’s testimony to the word of God. And we have the word of God permanently, in written form, so that it can be preserved for future reference and be passed on to others. That makes Scripture a more sure word of prophecy, a more sure word of prophecy that we do well to take heed to, as to a light shining in a dark place—the only light shining in the dark place of this present evil world, until the day dawns. That is the day of the second coming of Jesus Christ. Then we will need Scripture no more. But until that day dawns, we are shut up to the only light that dispels the present spiritual darkness.
What fools they are who today are deliberately putting this light out. What fools! God keep us and our children from their influence. And God be pleased to preserve among us His more sure word of prophecy.