The Writers Claim Inspiration
Our primary reasons for holding that the Bible is the inspired Word of God are that the writers themselves claim this inspiration, and that the contents of their messages bear out that claim. The uniformity with which the prophets insisted that the messages which they spoke were not theirs but the Lord’s — that their messages were the pure and unmixed Word of God, spoken out by them just as they had received them — is a striking phenomenon of Scripture. ‘Thus saith the Lord’ was the prophet’s constant reminder to the people that the words which he spoke were not his own, but God’s. Paul and the other apostles claimed to speak not in the words which man’s wisdom taught, but in words which the Spirit taught (I Cor. 2:13). Not only the substance of their teaching, but also its form of expression, was asserted to be of Divine origin.
Although the claim that they spoke with Divine authority is characteristic of the writers throughout the entire Bible, they never once base that authority on their own wisdom or dignity. They speak as the Lord’s messengers or witnesses, and their words are to be obeyed only because His authority is behind them. Those who heard them heard God, and those who refused to hear them refused to hear God (Ezek. 2:5; Matt. 10:40; John 13:20).
And since the writers so repeatedly claimed inspiration, it is evident that they were either inspired or that they acted with fanatical presumption. We are shut up to the conclusion that the Bible is the Word of God, or that it is a lie. But how could a lie have exerted the uniquely beneficial and morally uplifting influence that the Bible has exerted everywhere it has gone? To ask such a question is to answer it.
Let us also notice that the contemporaries of the New Testament writers, as well as the early church fathers — men who were in the best position to judge whether or not such claims were true — accepted these claims without question. They acknowledged that a great gulf existed between those writings and their own. As to the dying Sir Walter Scott there was but one ‘Book,’ so to these early church fathers there was but one authoritative Divine word. They based doctrines and precepts on it. The Gospels and Epistles contain an abundance of internal evidence showing that they were expected to be received and that they were received with reverence and humility. And as we follow the course of history down through the centuries the evidence becomes all the more abundant. Even the heretics bear witness to this fact, anxious as they are to be rid of such authority. Furthermore, the writings themselves contain no contradictions or inconsistencies which would destroy their claims. With perfect harmony they present the same plan of salvation and the same exalted moral principles. If, then, in the first place, sober and honest writers claim that their words were inspired by God; and if, in the second place, these claims not only went unchallenged but were humbly accepted by their contemporaries; and if, in the third place, the writings contain no contradictory evidence, then certainly we have a phenomenon which must be accounted for.
Objection is sometimes made to the New Testament books on the ground that they are not the writings of Jesus but only of His fol lowers, and that they were not written until some time after His death. But it is hardly to be expected that Jesus would have given a full account of the way of salvation during His earthly ministry, for that could not have been understood until after His death and resurrection. He could, indeed, have set it forth by way of prophecy even in the days of His flesh, and in fact He announced to His disciples the general nature of the plan. But even His most intimate disciples appear to have been unable to understand the nature of His work until their minds were enlightened by the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. All things considered, the most natural method was that which He chose — the fulfillment of the events, and then their explanation through inspired writers. That, also, was in accordance with the Lord’s procedure throughout Old Testament times.
SCIPTURE TEACHING CONCERNING INSPIRATION
The Biblical doctrine of the true purpose and function of the prophets and their manner of delivering the message is clearly set forth in the Lord’s words to Moses: ‘I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him’ (Deut. 18:18). Jehovah would speak not so much to the prophets as through them. They were to speak precisely the words given them, but no others. ‘I have put my words in thy mouth,’ the Lord said to Jeremiah in appointing him a prophet to the nations (Jer. 1:9). Identically the same words were spoken to Isaiah (51:16; 59:21), and the formula, ‘Thus saith Jehovah,’ is repeated some eighty times in the book of Isaiah alone. Even the false prophet Balaam could speak only that which Jehovah gave him to speak — ‘And the angel of Jehovah said unto Balaam, Go with the men; but only the word that I shall speak unto thee, that thou shalt speak’ (Nu. 22:35; 23:5, 12, 16). In many Old Testament passages it is nothing other than a process of ‘dictation’ which is described, although we are not told what the method was by which this dictation was accomplished. In others we are simply given to understand that Jehovah spoke through chosen men as His organs, supervising them in such a manner that their spoken or written words were His words and were a distinctly superhuman product. The uniform teaching of the Old Testament is that the prophets spoke when, and only when, the word of Jehovah came unto them: Hosea 1:1; Amos 1:3; Micah 1:1; Malachi 1:1, etc.
The characteristic Hebrew word for prophet is nabhi, ‘spokesman,’ not merely spokesman in general, but by way of eminence, that is, God’s spokesman. In no case does the prophet presume to speak on his own authority. That he is a prophet in the first place is not of his own choosing, but in response to a call from God, oftentimes a call which was obeyed only with reluctance: and he speaks or forbears to speak as the Lord gives him utterance.
And in strong contrast with this high calling of the true prophets we should notice the stern warnings and denunciations against those who presume to speak without having received a Divine call. ‘But the prophet that shall speak a word presumptuously in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die’ (Deut. 18:20); ‘Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing’ (Ezek. 13:3). It is a serious thing for mere men, with unwashen hands, to presume to speak for the Most High. Yet how common it is for the destructive critics of our day to deny this or that statement in the Bible, or to tell us that we need a shorter Bible, or perhaps even a new Bible composed of modern writings! And the error committed by men in adding to God’s word, as the Roman Catholics do with their ‘Apocrypha’ and church traditions, the Christian Scientists with their ‘Science and Health With Key to the Scriptures,’ and the Mormons with their ‘Book of Mormon,’ is fully as bad as to take from it.
TESTIMONY OF JESUS TO THE OLD TESTAMENT
That Jesus considered the Old Testament fully inspired is abundantly clear. He quoted it as such, and based His teachings upon it. One of His clearest statements is found in John 10:35, where, in controversy with the Jews, His defense takes the form of an appeal to Scripture, and after quoting a statement He adds the significant words, ‘And the Scripture cannot be broken.’ The reason that it was worth while for Him, or that it is worth while for us, to appeal to Scripture, is that it ‘cannot be broken.’ And the word here translated ‘broken’ is the common one for breaking the law, or the Sabbath, meaning to annul, or deny, or withstand its authority. In this statement Jesus declares that it is impossible to annul, or withstand, or deny the Scripture. For Him and for the Jews alike, an appeal to Scripture was an appeal to an authority whose determination was final even to its minute details.
That Jesus considered all Scripture as the very word of God is shown in such a passage as Matt. 19:4. When some of the Pharisees questioned Him on the subject of divorce His reply was: ‘Have ye not read, that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh…. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.’ Here He explicitly declares that God is the author of the words of Gen. 2:24: ‘He who made them… said,’ ‘A man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife.’ And yet as we read these words in the Old Testament there is nothing to tell us that they are the words of God. They are presented only as the words of Scripture itself or of Moses, and can be assigned to God as their Author only on the basis that all Scripture is His word. Mark 10:5-9 and I Cor. 6:16 present the same teaching. Wherever Christ and the Apostles quote Scripture, they think of it as the living voice of God and therefore divinely authoritative. They have not the slightest hesitation in assigning to God the words of the human authors, or in assigning to the human authors the most express words of God (Matt. 15:7; Mark 7:6, 10; Rom. 10:5, 19, 20).
In His stinging rebuke to the Sadducees, ‘Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures’ (Matt. 22:29), the very thing which He points out is that their error comes, not because they have followed the Scriptures, but precisely because they have not followed them. He who founds his doctrine and practice on Scripture does not err. So common was its use, and so unquestionable was its authority, that in the fiercest conflict He needed no other weapon than the final ‘It is written’! (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8; 24:26). His last words before His Ascension contained a rebuke to the disciples because they had not understood that all things which were written in the entire Scriptures ‘must needs be fulfilled’ (Luke 24:44). If it was written that the Christ should suffer these things, then all doubt concerning Him was rendered absurd. The disciples were to rest securely on that word as on a sure foundation. Hence we receive the Old Testament on the authority of Christ. He hands it to us and tells us that it is the Word of God, that the prophets spoke by the Spirit, and that the Scriptures cannot be broken. By His numerous quotations He has welded it to the New Testament so that they now form one unified Bible. The two Testaments have but one voice. They must stand or fall together.
NEW TESTAMENT MANNER OF QUOTING THE OLD TESTAMENT
If Jesus held that the entire Old Testament was infallible, the idea is no less clearly set forth by the Apostles. The familiar way in which they quote any part of the Scriptures as the word of God, regardless of whether the original words are assigned to Him or not, shows that He was considered as speaking all through the Old Testament. In Heb. 3:7 the words of the psalmist are quoted as the direct words of the Holy Spirit, ‘Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye shall hear his voice, Harden not your hearts, as in the provocation’ (Ps. 95:7). In Acts 13:35 the words of David (Ps. 16:10) are said to have been the words of God, ‘He (God) saith in another psalm, Thou wilt not give thy Holy One to see corruption.’ In Romans 15:11 the words of the psalmist are ascribed to God, ‘And again (He saith), Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles; And let all the peoples praise Him’ (Ps. 117:1). In Acts 4:24,25 the Apostles ascribe to God the words spoken by David in the second psalm, ‘God… who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David thy servant, didst say, Why do the Gentiles rage, And the peoples imagine vain things?’ In Hebrews 1:7, 8 the same teaching is found concerning two other psalms. In Romans 15:10 the words of Moses are ascribed to God, ‘And again He saith, Rejoice, ye Gentiles, with His people’ (Deut. 32:43).
These quotations show clearly that in the minds of Christ and the Apostles there was an absolute identification between the text of the Old Testament and the voice of the living God. And it is, of course, not to be inferred that the inspiration of the New Testament is in any way inferior to that of the Old. In fact the tendency has been to assign a lower position to the Old Testament. When the Old Testament is shown to be inspired there is usually no question about the New.
CLAIMS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS FOR THEIR OWN WRITINGS
When we examine the claims which the New Testament writers make for their own works we find that they claim full inspiration for them and place them on the same level with the Scriptures of the Old Testament. All schools of present-day Biblical criticism acknowledge that these claims were repeatedly made, even though they deny that they are true. We find, for instance, that when the Apostles began their ministry they received from Christ Himself a promise of supernatural guidance: ‘But when they deliver you up, be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you’ (Matt. 10:19, 20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11, 12). This same promise was repeated at the close of His ministry (Luke 21:12-15). Perhaps the most important promise is found in the Gospel of John: ‘When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He shall guide you into all the truth’ (16:13). The Apostles later claimed this guidance. They have not the least shadow of doubt as to the exact truth of their words, whether on historical or doctrinal matters,– a rather striking phenomenon, since accurate and truth-loving historians commonly express less, and not greater, assurance when they descend to details. So authoritative does Paul claim his gospel to be that he pronounces wrong and accursed any one who teaches differently, even though it be an angel from heaven. ‘… But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema…’ (Gal. 1:6-9). Their commands are from the Lord, and are given with binding authority, ‘…the things which I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord’ (I Cor. 14:37,; II Thess. 3:6, 12). In writing to the Corinthians Paul distinguishes between the commands which Christ gave, and the commands which he gives, but places his own alongside those of Christ’s as of equal authority (I Cor. 7:10, 12, 40). He asserts that what they preached was in truth ‘the word of God’ (I Thess. 2:13). Such things were to be immediately and unquestionably received. We should also notice his easy way of combining the book of Deuteronomy and the Gospel of Luke under the common head of ‘Scripture,’ as if that were a most natural thing to do (I Tim. 5:18): ‘For the Scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn. And, the laborer is worthy of his hire’ (Deut. 25:4; Luke 10:7). This same practice was common among the early church fathers.
In II Tim. 3:16 (translating the Greek in its most natural sense) Paul tells us that ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.’ This marginal translation, which has behind it the. authority of Archbishop Trench, Bishop Wordsworth, and others of the Revised Version Committee, as well as the authority of that prince of exegetes and theologians, Dr. Benjamin B. Warfield, is much to be preferred to the rendering of the Revised Version, which reads, ‘Every scripture inspired of God is profitable,’ etc. This latter translation has been repudiated by numerous scholars as a calamitous and hopelessly condemned blunder, and even by some of the critics as false criticism. As Dr. Warfield has pointed out, the very term in the Greek, theopneustos, means not that a product of human origin is breathed into by God, but that a Divine product is breathed out by God. It means ‘God breathed,’ ‘produced by the creative breath of the Almighty,’ ‘God-given.’ There is no other term in the Greek language which would have asserted more emphatically the Divine origin of the product.
In the writings of Peter we find the same high estimate of New Testament Scripture. He declares, for instance, that ‘No prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved (or literally, borne, carried along) by the Holy Spirit’ (II Peter 1:21). He declares that the Apostles ‘preached the Gospel… by the Holy Spirit sent forth from heaven’ (I Peter 1:12). He places Paul’s writings on the same high plane with ‘the other scriptures’ — ‘Our beloved brother Paul also, according to the wisdom given to him, wrote unto you; m all his epistles… as also the other scriptures’ (II Peter 3:15, 16). More dignity and reverence and authority than that could not be ascribed to any writing.
Luke declares that on the day of Pentecost the disciples spoke ‘as the Spirit gave them utterance’ (Acts 2:4). And John, the beloved disciple, even pronounces a curse on any one who dares to take from or add to his writing (Rev. 22:18, 19). Such claims as these, if based only on human authority, would exhibit only the most astounding impudence.
It is, of course, impossible to explain away the innumerable texts which teach plenary inspiration, and the idea that they might be explained away is based on the odd notion that this doctrine is taught only in isolated texts here and there. It is true that some texts teach it with exceptional clearness, and those are the ones which skeptics would most like to be rid of. But these passages are simply the climax of a progressive and pervasive testimony to the divine origin and infallibility of these writings, a testimony equally strong in the two Testaments. ‘The effort to explain away the Bible’s witness to its plenary inspiration,’ says Dr. Warfield, ‘reminds one of a man standing safely in his laboratory and elaborately explaining — possibly with the aid of diagrams and mathematical formulae — how every stone in an avalanche has a defined pathway and may easily be dodged by one with some presence of mind. We may fancy such an elaborate trifler’s triumph as he would analyze the avalanche into its constituent stones, and demonstrate of stone after stone that its pathway is definite, limited, and may easily be avoided. But avalanches, unfortunately, do not come upon us stone by stone, one at a time, courteously leaving us opportunity to withdraw from the pathway of each in turn: but all at once, in a roaring mass of destruction. Just so we may explain away a text or two which teach plenary inspiration, to our own closest satisfaction, dealing with them each without reference to its relation to the others: but these texts of ours, again, unfortunately do not come upon us in this artificial isolation; neither are they few in number. There are scores, hundreds, of them; and they come bursting upon us in one solid mass. Explain them away? We should have to explain away the whole New Testament. What a pity it is that we cannot see and feel the avalanche of texts beneath which we lie hopelessly buried, as clearly as we may see and feel the avalanche of stones! Let us, how ever, but open our eyes to the variety and pervasiveness of the New Testament witness to its high estimate of Scripture, and we shall no longer wonder that modern scholarship finds itself compelled to allow that the Christian Church has read her records correctly, and that the church-doctrine of inspiration is simply a transcript of the biblical doctrine; nor shall we any longer wonder that the church, receiving these Scriptures as her authoritative teacher of doctrine, adopted in the very beginning of her life the doctrine of plenary inspiration, and has held it with a tenacity that knows no wavering, until the present hour.’