The Inspiration of the Written Word of God

We confess that this Word of God was not sent, nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing; and he himself wrote with his own finger, the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.

Article III, Belgic Confession

Article 2 speaks of the two means by which God is made known to us; creation and providence and His holy and divine Word. In the Article under consideration now the fathers say something about that “holy and divine Word,” something we do well to understand in our times. The church has always had to do battle at this point against those who would deny or undermine the absolute authority of the Word of God. But in our times we witness something different about this age-old battle. Whereas in the past the opponents of the faith were generally found outside of the sphere of the church, today the church must fight its battle against those within who would deny the absolute authority of God’s Word. The church’s own theologians discuss and debate the “nature and extent of Biblical authority.” We ought to understand at the outset that there can be no debate over what the Belgic Confession says on this subject in this and succeeding articles. The creed maintains without equivocation that God’s Word is inspired, from God Himself, and therefore “holy and divine” and authoritative for our faith and life. Those within the pale of the Reformed churches who hedge on this key issue and who persist in speaking of the “human element” in the Bible cannot honestly appeal to the Belgic Confession in support of their views nor may they claim to be in agreement with the points of doctrine set forth in this creed.

When speaking of this Word of, God the article distinguishes between the spoken, Word and the written Word. The Bible, after all, is of rather recent origin. For the first two thousand years of the history of the world there was no written copy of the Word of God. Still more, the writing of the Old Testament books took another two thousand years. The last of the New Testament books must have been written somewhere between the years A.D. 90 to 95. But even then the church as a whole did not really have the written Word of God, for it was written on scrolls and in the hands of only a few scholars and monks for centuries. In fact, it was not until the invention of the printing press around the time of the great Reformation some 450 years ago that it became possible for every believer to have possession of the Bible. But the believers were never without the Word of God in all those years before the inspired Bible was completed and in the hands of God’s people. God caused Himself to be known from the very beginning when He spoke to our first parents in Paradise.

This revelation took on a variety of forms. God made Himself and/or His will known by direct speech. He spoke to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and many other of His servants and saints. God also spoke by angels to Abraham, Manoah, Zacharias, Mary, the Shepherds, and the women at the tomb of Jesus. Dreams were another means of revelation. God spoke to Jacob in a dream and to Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and Pilate’s wife. God revealed Himself in visions to Daniel, Zechariah, Ezekiel, and Peter. By mighty signs and wonders God made Himself known to Israel through Moses, Elijah, and Elisha and other of His servants. God made Himself known by direct revelation. He spoke His Word to the prophets who in turn said, “Thus saith the Lord” to God’s people, or, “The Word of the Lord came unto me saying. . .” An unmistakably clear instance of this we have in the case of Moses, to whom the Lord said: “. . . see, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land.” (Exodus 7:1, 2) In the New Testament Christ promised the apostles the Spirit of truth Who would lead them into all the truth and cause them to recall all that Christ had spoken to them. (John 16:13) So we find the book of Acts repeatedly emphasizing that the Apostles spoke as they were filled with the Holy Spirit. (cf. Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 6:10) This Word of God the Heidelberg Catechism calls: “. . . the holy gospel, which God himself first revealed in Paradise; and afterwards published by the patriarchs and prophets, and represented by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law; and lastly, has fulfilled it by his only begotten Son.” (Question 19)

For proof of this truth the creed appeals to the classic text out of II Peter 1:21 which reads: “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.” The Apostle’s argument in this passage is that the Church does well to take heed to the more sure word of prophecy, as unto a light that shines in a dark place, because no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. (vss. 19, 20) The men of God did not offer their private opinions or their own interpretations, but they spoke only under, the power and direction of the Holy Spirit! The Word of God must be obeyed; indeed, we do well to take heed to it!

The confession goes on to affirm that, “. . . God, from a special care, which he has for us and our salvation, commanded his servants the prophets and apostles, to commit his revealed word to writing. . .” The Scriptures abound with proof of this. “And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book. . .” (Ex. 17:14) Others under orders to write include: Jeremiah, Isaiah, Daniel, Ezekiel and Habakkuk. Several prophecies were intended for writing rather than for speaking, in order that the people might give to them more careful attention. (cf. Jeremiah 29; Jeremiah 36:4; Ezekiel 26, 27, 28) To John on the isle of Patmos the exalted Savior said: “What thou seest, write in a book and send it to the seven churches.” (Rev. 1:11) In addition to these passages the Bible repeatedly refers to its divine authority. The Apostles were keenly conscious of their calling and place as instruments of revelation. They were not afraid to regard their writings as authoritative. The great Apostle Paul confesses to the Corinthians: “And I brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God . . . And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man’s wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.” (I Cor. 2:1-5) A bit later in this same chapter the Apostle states concerning the “things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (vs. 9): “For God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” (vs. 10) Other references to this same truth are: I Cor. 7:10; II Cor. 13:2; I Cor. 14:37. The Apostle Peter regards the writings of Paul as of equal value and authority with the Old Testament Scriptures when he writes: “. . . even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction.” (II Peter 3:15, 16) The two classic passages in this regard are the one we cited above from II Peter 1:20, 21 and II Timothy 3:16, which reads: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” There can be no doubt about the Bible’s claim in this regard. On the basis of Scripture’s own testimony the Bible is the very Word of God, given “. . . from a special care, which God has for us and our salvation.” It is in this connection, too, that the article appeals to the fact that God Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. (Deut. 29:29)

In spite of the clear teaching of the Word of God we find many false views concerning this truth of inspiration. Among these are two which ought to be mentioned: the Mechanical Theory and the Dynamic Theory. According to the former, the writers of the Bible were no more than machines, typewriters, which God used to write His Word. This we may dismiss at once, for it does not tit the character of the Bible at all. Why, if this be true, is John’s writing so different from Paul’s Epistles? The Dynamic Theory teaches that the Holy Spirit did not inspire the words but only the thoughts and ideas of the Bible. This is sheer nonsense: for how else can thoughts be expressed than in words? Besides these two erroneous views, there is the outright denial of the truth of inspiration which teaches that the books of the Bible are purely the product of the human authors.

Over against all these views we maintain with our creed the truth concerning inspiration. The Scriptures are inspired in every part. Their whole contents are the result of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. We believe on the basis of the Word of God itself in plenary inspiration. Every, Scripture is “God-breathed.” (II Tim. 3:16) Moreover, those Scriptures are verbally inspired. Every word is from the Holy Spirit, for “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (II Peter 1:21) This means that every “a,” “and,” and “the” is from God Himself. Even the use of a plural instead of a singular is significant, for the Holy Spirit makes these distinctions. Every word is just the word intended by the Holy Spirit. In sum it may be said that inspiration is the work of the Holy. Spirit of Jesus Christ by which He moved, guided, and directed certain authors to record the words of the revelation of God.

What about the “human element” you ask? It is only in the light of the above that we can speak of a “human element” in inspiration. Of course, God used human authors. But what we must never forget is that these were “holy men of God, who spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (II Peter 1:21) These were holy men especially with a view to their task as human instruments of God’s revelation; God set them apart for this very work. And these holy men were “of God;” literally, “from God.” This means that these holy men had their origin in and owed their existence as human instruments of revelation to God! God prepared from eternity the character, personality, ability, talent, and all the other natural and spiritual gifts of each individual author of Holy Writ. And God also prepared in time each man for that particular work. God prepared their birth, nationality, and time of birth. For example, God prepared Moses by forty years of instruction in Pharaoh’s court and by another forty years of instruction caring for Jethro’s sheep. God prepared David on the hillsides of Judea caring for the sheep, in his fleeing from Saul, and in his fighting of the Lord’s battles. Thus it was that David could pen so many of the Psalms. So it was with each human instrument, God eternally prepared them and in time called each one for the particular work of writing a specific portion of His Word. Then, too, the Holy Spirit inspired each author in harmony with his God-given nature, personality, character, and talents. This is why Jeremiah differs from Isaiah or Paul from Peter. But, taken together, the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation forms one complete whole. Each book contributes another facet, another aspect of the riches of the revelation of God. In all sixty-six books which came over the course of more than two thousand years there is no contradiction. Thus it is that: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy: whereunto ye do well to take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts.” (II Peter 1:19) And, therefore “we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures.”