The Belgic Confession, Article III (continued)

Moved by the Holy Spirit

The positive side of the truth of inspiration is also set forth by our Confession very briefly and by means of a simple quotation of Scripture itself. For our Confession continues. with its quotation of II Peter 1:21: “. . . . but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith.”

We may notice that our Confession adds nothing in explanation of this simple statement. And perhaps we wonder why? Certainly, this is not because there is no room for and no need of any exposition of the text. For there is much that can be said about it. Nevertheless, as far as the main thought is concerned, the statement is perfectly clear: it is capable of but one interpretation. And that one interpretation is that the Scriptures are the Word of God Himself. They are to be attributed, as far as the origin and nature and contents are concerned, to the Holy Ghost. When holy men from God spake, they spake as being moved, borne, by the Holy Ghost. The words which they spake, or wrote, and the message which was conveyed by those words have none other for their author than God Himself. Men spake. Men wrote. But what they spake and wrote was the Word of God. And that this is the evident meaning of the statement from II Peter 1 quoted by our Confession is plain from the contrast in the text: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the wilt of man, but . . . .” All that stands after this “but” stands in contrast with “by the will of man.”

And this is the self-testimony of all Scripture. The well-known words of II Timothy 3:16 teach the same truth: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” Notice, too, that “given by inspiration of God” is in the original Greek simply “God-breathed.” That is, all Scripture is so completely the Word of God Himself that it is the product of His very breath, of His Spirit. It is breathed forth by Him. Apart now from the fact that we read in hundreds of passages that we are confronted by direct quotation of the Lord, as, for example, is the case with such expressions as, “And the Lord said,” or, “And the Lord spake unto Moses,” or “saith the Lord of hosts,” Scripture simply confronts us always with absolute authority, an authority that stems from the fact that it is God’s Word; and it simply expects unquestioning acceptance. Nor have we any clearer acknowledgment of this than in the words of the Son of God, “whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world,” Who said of the Old Testament: “And the scripture cannot be broken.” John 10:34-36.

But by the same token, we must be deeply aware of the fact that when we speak of inspiration and of the inspired Scriptures, we stand face to face with a wonder. And no more than we can fathom any of the divine wonders, no more can we comprehend this wonder of inspiration.

For a wonder it certainly is. Not only is revelation itself already a wonder. But add to this the fact that God causes His Word of Self-revelation to be communicated through the agency of mere, finite, imperfect (though holy) men, and through the medium of finite, limited, human, earthly language, in such a way that it is and remains His Word, and we can begin to sense the mystery of this wonder somewhat. It requires a boldness which is possible only by faith to single out from among all the multitudinous writings of men this one book, the Bible, and to confess of it, without any reservation or limitation: “This is the Word of God!”

And this is exactly what faith confesses. It does not require a prior investigation. It does not insist on comprehending. It does not first demand an explanation of the “how” of inspiration. Faith lays hold on the wonder.

Well may we bear this in mind when we consider the various questions that arise in this connection. I do not mean to say that these questions may not be asked, nor that we may not attempt to answer them. But we must be careful, lest we begin to base our belief of the truth of inspiration upon our would-be solutions to ourproblems. For then we are on the road of rationalism already. And that road of rationalism is the road of unbelief. It is the road that ends in the denial of the infallibly inspired Word of God. If my faith in inspiration is founded on my ability to find a satisfactory answer to every question and every problem that may be raised in regard to this truth, and if then I cannot find a solution that in every way satisfies my puny mind, then my faith in inspiration falls with my inability to find an answer. If my faith in inspiration is based upon my ability to harmonize the historical testimony of Scripture with the testimony of so-called secular historians, and if then I cannot accomplish such a harmony, then my faith in inspiration falls. If my faith in inspiration is based upon my ability to produce a “harmony of the gospels,” and if I cannot do so, then skepticism and doubt must needs result. If my faith in inspiration depends on my ability to explain in a fully satisfactory manner that inspiration is not “mechanical,” and if I cannot do so, then I must needs end in a denial of inspiration.

And therefore I want to emphasize that our approach in considering the meaning and the manlier of inspiration must ever be that of faith. There is even a certain danger that as we contemplate some of the questions connected with this subject, we almost unconsciously fall into a rationalistic frame of mind. Supposing that you and I cannot answer all the questions that arise, does that change “this Word of God”? Does that mean that we must begin to waver, that our faith must change to doubt? Should the attacks made upon this truth cause us to panic when we cannot meet the opponents on their own ground, and should they cause us in our panic to attempt to find all manner of “gimmicks” whereby we may, so to speak, squirm out of the stern implications of the truth that the Bible is God’s infallibly inspired Word? Is not faith’s fundamental and spontaneous answer expressed in this, “Let God be true, and every man a liar”? Hence, let us keep the following in mind:

1) All the attempts to meet objections raised against this truth in unbelief will not satisfy unbelief. The unbeliever will always have a new objection, to serve as an excuse for his unbelief.

2) The Word of God in its divinely inspired and infallible character towers far above both the sinful efforts of men to contradict and destroy it and our merely human efforts to defend it. Its veracity transcends both.

3) All our attempts to explain and to understand somewhat the meaning and the method of inspiration must take place within the framework of faith. This means, in the first place, that they must take place within the limits of the truth that the Bible is infallibly inspired. And it implies, in the second place, that we must be guided and instructed by that infallibly inspired Word in our contemplation of these questions. And it includes, in the third place, this, that the more we contemplate the various questions concerning inspiration, and the more we come into contact with the riches of this truth, the more our faith comes to stand directly before the wonder of a sovereign God.

Keeping the above in mind, we may be enriched and strengthened in our faith as we study the Scriptures in relation to this truth of inspiration.

When we discuss the nature and manner of inspiration, it is well to limit that discussion from the outset. Those who seek in one way or another to deny the truth of inspiration as set forth in our Confession also have no problem as to the manner of inspiration. The problem really is: how did God make use of holy men in the production of Scripture in such a way that what was written by them came not by the will of man, but was solely the Word of God? Those who deny in any degree the truth of inspiration have at once destroyed this problem for themselves. As soon as they allow room for the idea that Scripture came in part by the will of man, or came by the will of man and by the will of God, they have no difficulty whatsoever in explaining the so-called “human factor” in Scripture. Take, for example, the well-known theory of “thought-inspiration,” according. to {which God imparted His divine thoughts to men, but left it to the various individual writers of Scripture to formulate those thoughts in human language of their own. This theory has no problem in respect to the part of men in the production of Scripture. And so it is with the various other theories which we mentioned previously also. The problem confronted by them is a much greater one, if they are at all serious about maintaining that Scripture is the Word of God. It is this: how is it possible, if men played the part which these theories claim they did in the production of Scripture—how is it possible that the Bible is the Word of God? And this is a far more difficult problem, and one that is far-reaching in its consequences. Hence, let us keep in mind the fact that this subject of the manner of inspiration demands discussion and elucidation only when your view of inspiration is that of Scripture and our Confession. And this means, remember, that inspiration is, in the first place, plenary. That is, it is full, complete. The proposition that “this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” concerns the whole of Scripture as the one Word of God; and it concerns all the parts of Scripture, without exception. Scripture is from beginning to end the Word of God. And, in the second place, inspiration is verbal. That is, the being “moved by the Holy Ghost” of II Peter 1:21, or the being “God-breathed” of II Timothy 3:16, extends to the exact words and expressions of human language by which the Word of God is conveyed to us. This is, indeed, a necessary corollary of plenary inspiration. The latter cannot be maintained without verbal inspiration.

One would-be theory of the nature and manner of inspiration is the so-called mechanical theory.

The question may well be raised, however, whether any reputable theologian would ever adhere to this mechanical theory as it is usually presented and in all its consequences. Rather is this mechanical theory not a theory of inspiration at all, but a charge used by the opponents of the truth of inspiration in order to demonstrate the impossibility and the folly of this truth. When it is maintained that prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, when it is maintained that the Bible is completely the Word of God, infallibly inspired, and when it is maintained that inspiration is therefore both plenary and verbal, then the opponents of this truth try to reduce it to absurdity by the objection that such a view of inspiration is thoroughly mechanical. They claim that it reduces the act of inspiration to mere dictation, and that it reduces the “holy men of God, moved by the Holy Ghost,” to mere stenographers, puppets, automatons. They claim that such a view of inspiration would necessarily imply that the individuality and personal peculiarities of character and style of these “holy men of God” must have been entirely suppressed. And, of course, the second step in the argument is that a very superficial reading of the Scriptures makes it plain that the individuality of the human instruments was not suppressed. Therefore, they argue, the doctrine of plenary, verbal, infallible inspiration is both an impossible doctrine and one that is in conflict with the testimony of Scripture itself.

What must be said of this argument?