An object of faith.
That the Bible as we have it today is indeed the infallible Word of God, our only and complete rule of faith and conduct, essentially different from all other writings in history, we apprehend only by faith?
Never do we come to this conviction in the presumptuous way modern theology imagines it should be reached. According to the latter it is not scholarly and scientific and proper to approach the Bible with a priori prejudices in the matter. In seeking to determine the real character and value of Scripture we should approach it with an open mind, examine its history and contents without bias, and by way of impartial reasoning, logical argumentation and application of accepted literary principles seek the answer to the vital question: Is the Bible actually the Word of God, hence infallible? Or is it merely a wonderful guide, though the product of mere men, and hence fallible and subject to all the principles and methods of the human critic?
This position, however, is just as impossible, spiritually and psychologically, for those who advocate it as for the child of God.
Modern scholars themselves cannot assume such an unbiased standpoint, for the very position and method they suggest already evidences an a priori conviction that the Bible is not the Word of God. By seeking to approach it as they do any other literary product, they begin by placing it on the level of all human wortks. That certainly betrays partiality. Note, if the Bible is God’s Word it can ‘be apprehended as such only by faith; it can never be placed in one category with all the literary products of man and submitted to a common type of investigation and literary criticism. He who insists on doing the latter begins with the assumption that the Bible is not the Word of God.
By the same token no Christian can assume the impartial position which modern theology presumes to require of him, for even as the ungodly cannot escape the bias of their unbelief the Christian cannot ignore the power and testimony of his faith. That faith determines his whole approach by giving him the spiritual, a priori assurance, the spontaneous conviction of heart, that the Bible is the Word of God, and therefore infallible.
This assurance of faith is the fruit of the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit in the heart. Not that there is not also an objective testimony of the Spirit in the Word itself, for there is. How could Scripture be the Word of God without itself giving testimony to this fact? From cover to cover it is one grand testimony to its divine origin and dignity. To that testimony we must give ear, always listening rather than presuming to investigate. Doing this we shall discover these same Scriptures to be the answer to all our questions. From every possible point of view they leave nothing to be desired. Let the modern critic tell us, what an infallible revelation from God should contain, which is not contained in our Bible. That objective testimony in the Word finds its counterpart in a subjective testimony of the Spirit in our hearts. The two together supply the full conviction, that our Bible is indeed the Word of God.
Consequently, in this essay we are not asking: Is the Bible the infallible Word of God? Neither are we going to attempt to reason the modern critic into submission. After all, a deaf man cannot be persuaded of the harmony of a grand symphony; not because the harmony is not there to be heard, but the hearing is not there to receive the harmony. Our sole question is: How is the Bible the infallible Word of God? In which wonderful way of divine grace did God give unto us and preserve for us this Bible so that it was and always remained His infallible revelation unto us?
The Scriptures were given unto the church in the way of divine, infallible inspiration. That applies, I know, to the original, individual books of the Bible, but that is the ultimate reason, nevertheless, why also our Bible of today is undoubtedly the infallible Word of God.
Inspiration is that work of the Holy Spirit in and upon and through the minds and wills and hearts of human instruments, whereby these were enabled, divinely moved to speak and write the Word of God infallibly. Its character is manifest from such oft-repeated formulas as “All this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet’’,, and: “as He spake by the mouth of his holy prophets”, . By virtue of this divine work God is the real author and spokesman, while using men as the instruments of His revelation.
This inspiration is verbal and plenary.
It is not so, that only the thoughts of Scripture were inspired while it remained for the secondary authors to put these thoughts into their own form and language, as a man might give his secretary the gist of a letter he wants written, while leaving he rest to her own judgment and ability. In this way all would be lost, whereas thought and word and inseparable, the latter is the vehicle of the former, and the former comes to us only in the way of the latter. If the one is not infallible the other can never be. Besides this entire presentation is utterly unworthy of God. A man, for the sake of time and convenience, might leave much to the discretion and ability of his secretary. After all, she may have more ability in certain things than he. God, however, never works in such a haphazard and slipshod manner. He doesn’t in nature. Here He works out all things Himself to the minutest detail, and all is absolutely perfect. Whatever is of man is crude and extremely imperfect by comparison. The point of the finest and sharpest needle, when seen under a microscope, appears dull and irregular as a rusty nail. It is the work of man. God’s work is marked by absolute perfection. The sting of a bee may be examined under the most powerful microscope without detecting the first evidence of imperfection. Shall that God, then, whose works in nature are marked by such infinite perfection, be less careful and precise when it comes to His self-revelation in His written Word? Shall He permit that revelation of Himself in Christ to be in part the work of man? Shall He inspire only the thought, while leaving the expression of the thought to the discretion and ability of the mortal, sinful creature?
No, inspiration, to mean anything, must be verbal and plenary. The authors of the several books were wholly under the influence of the Spirit. Each word, each letter was divinely inspired. For that reason Scripture can build whole arguments, base entire doctrines on a single word, or the mere form of a verb, or even on a single letter. InJesus Himself bases the truth of the resurrection and life eternal on a single word, on the fact that God spake to Moses, long after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead, “I am (not “I was”) the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”
More could certainly be said about this wonderful work of divine inspiration but for the present purpose this is not necessary.
That the Scriptures, the original manuscripts, were thus infallibly inspired is clearly the claim and testimony of Scripture itself. Generally speaking it is certainly true, that all the Scriptures claim for themselves the right to be regarded as the Word of God, not of man. Therefore it never argues, but simply demands faith and obedience. Always it comes with the authoritative “Thus saith the Lord”. Undeniably, the Bible is the infallible and authoritative Word of God, or it is the most shameless, impudent, blasphemous hoax the world has ever produced, for it certainly says concerning itself, that it is the Word of God.
How plainly the Old Testament Scriptures claim this for themselves. Moses and all the prophets speak and write in the assumption that they are speaking and writing the very Word of God. How else shall we explain such expressions as, “God spake all these words, saying,” and “thus saith the Lord”, and “the word of the Lord came to me”, and many others? How else could Isaiah say, “Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord speaketh”?
And that this self-testimony of the Old Testament Scriptures is sealed as true by the testimony of the Incarnate Word of God Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will deny? Repeatedly He quotes the Scriptures and always as the last word, the end of all dispute, the only rule of faith and conduct. If we believe in Christ as the Son of God we must also believe in the divine inspiration of Moses and David and the prophets. Deny the latter and you must needs deny the Christ and brand Him an imposter and a liar, or at best a simple individual who was as foolish and misdirected and superstitious as the rest of His day. Modernism, so boastful of its consistency, cannot possibly respect the Christ, even as a mere man of wisdom and truthfulness, while denying the divine character of the Scriptures.
Likewise, who can deny that the Apostles of the new dispensation give to the Old Testament Scriptures this same testimony? Listen then to Peter. “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, . . . .Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scriptures is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spaike as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”. And what does Paul tell us? “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. .
And what of the New Testament Scriptures? Jesus left us no writings of His own, but elected and qualified His Apostles to be His witnesses after His departure. To them He gave special gifts for this purpose, especially the Spirit, Who would bring all things to their remembrance,, even reveal the things to come and lead them into all the truth, . When the Apostles, therefore, testify of Christ, also in their writings, it is not they themselves who testify; but the Holy Spirit, Who came to glorify the Son and take it all out of Him, speaks through them. Therefore Paul can be so convinced that he is proclaiming the Word of God, that he writes to the Thessalonians, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” . Therefore all the Apostles attach eternal life or death to the acceptance or rejection of their testimony.
Granted now, that the individual books were divinely inspired and revealed by God Himself, how do I know that the Bible as a single volume, as a collection, is as such the infallible Word of God? After all, the Bible was not given as a whole. God did not give us by way of divine inspiration a single book, but through the secondary authors He gave us a number of individual writings. Moreover, it is likely, that there were more inspired writings than just these, writings which have since been lost and which never were received into the Canon. Who collected these writings, and separated them and united them into one volume? How was this done and what determined this work? How do we know that the Bible as we have it now is the complete and perfect Word of God? Are we certain that books have not been left out which should have been included? Can we be positive that some were not included which were not inspired by God at all? Are we sure, that exactly these 66 books, no more, no less, no others, constitute the infallible Word of God?
Beginning with the Old Testament Scriptures we note, that the individual writings were collected and united into a single volume by the church of the old dispensation. In this work the church, though divinely led, was not divinely inspired. This gathering of the Individual books into the one volume, the Old Testament Canon, had already been completed at the time of Jesus’ sojourn on earth. The Old Testament Canon was closed approximately three centuries before the incarnation. Hence, when Jesus was on earth, there were not only a number of individual scriptures, but there was a Bible, the Old Testament Bible, just as we have it today. That is evident from the fact that both Jesus and the Apostles repeatedly allude to the Scriptures as a whole. Besides, history records it as an indisputable fact, that the Old Testament Canon was closed long before the advent of the Christ. Now this is vital, because it means that. Jesus Himself can give us the answer to the question: Is the Old Testament, as we have it today, the Word of God? Surely, if the Old Testament Scriptures were not the pure and perfect Word of God, if there were books in the Old Testament, which should not be there, our Lord would have told us. Instead, in all His teaching He clearly testifies, that not only the individual books were divinely inspired, but these same books, as collected and canonized by the church of the old dispensation, are the infallible Word of God. Hence, not only does the factor of inspiration bear His seal, but also that of canonization by the church. This is possible only on the assumption, that “the church, in collecting the individual writings and placing them in a single volume, was guided infallibly by the Holy Ghost. The same applies to the testimony of the Apostles. When they speak of the Scriptures, “the law and the prophets”, they speak, not of a group of isolated writings, but of the Old Testament Bible, the same as we have today. Of that Bible Paul says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God”, and Peter testifies, “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.”
Now the history of the New Testament is exactly the same as that of the Old Testament Canon. Also these books were separate manuscripts originally. Gradually, however, their real significance dawned on the church, they were treated with reverence and regarded as canonical, until finally they were added officially to the Old Testament Canon into what is nowour full Bible. The point is: the New Testament Scriptures were gathered in exactly the same way as were the Old Testament Scriptures, on which Christ Himself has set the stamp of His approval. Jesus Himself assures u:s that God has willed to give us His infallible Word in no other way.
Finally, granted that all this is true, how about the fact that we no longer possess the original manuscripts, but have only copies and translations, marred by human errors and imperfections? Does this not make it impossible to regard the Bible as we have it today as the infallible Word of God?
The fact as such cannot be gainsaid. As far as we know all the originals are lost. What we have now, also in the so-called “originals”, are not originals at all, but only copies. In these copies numerous errors will be found. We would expect nothing else, when it is given to fallible men to copy and recopy. There are, by the way, thousands of such manuscripts, copied from earlier manuscripts by Jewish scribes and devout men from time to time; approximately 4,000 of the New Testament only. In all of these New Testament manuscripts approximately 150,000 variations occur.
Does all this mean, however, that our Bible is no longer the Word of God?
Consider first, that some of the Greek manuscripts we have today are already 1,500 years old. These might well have been copied from copies made from the original writings of the Apostles themselves. There need not be many steps in between. The oldest Hebrew manuscripts today are about 1,200 year old. These could well have been copied from manuscripts already in existence at the time of Jesus on earth.
Consider, too, that those who transcribed the Scriptures worked with the utmost care, even to the point of superstition, in copying their Hebrew manuscripts. They counted not only all the words, but all the letters. They noted how often each letter occurred. A sheet in which an error was detected was destroyed at once, so fearful were they of making a single error. The writer pronounced aloud each word before it was written, and never was a word written from memory. After the work was completed each new copy was thoroughly checked with the original. So scrupulously did these copyists work. In spite of all this, errors did creep in. This can be the better understood in the light of the fact, that the Hebrew manuscripts had no vowels, that there was no spacing between the words originally, that there was no division into chapters and verses, and all the manuscripts in those days were written by hand. It is a marvel of history, that the Bible reached us so marvelously correct as it is today. Even so, note, that 95 percent of the variants in all these numerous manuscripts have no weight at all, and that 95 percent of the remaining 5 percent have but little significance. Does it change the Word of God, for instance, that our Bible has “we” instead of “us”, or a past tense instead of a present? The best of authorities assure us, with respect to the New Testament, that the variations introduced by copyists which are of any importance at all, effect less than 1/1000 of the entire text, and that not one of them affects a vital doctrine. To which we may add, that with so many ancient manuscripts to consult, an error in one is invariably detected and overruled by the overwhelming evidence of all the rest. Thus there is nothing in all those variations to cause any alarm at all.
Consider, finally, that the Old Testament Canon of which Christ and the Apostles spoke, was also composed of copies. Then, too, the originals were lost. Those copies, too, were marred by human error and fallibility. Yet, our Lord honors the Old Testament Canon as the Word of God, and speaks of the Scriptures as “Moses and the prophets”, though they were only copies of Moses and the prophets. This should end all argument and be our crowning assurance, that the Bible we have today is indisputably the infallible Word of God, the sure and undeniable revelation of our covenant Jehovah in the face of Jesus Christ, our Lord.