Doctrine of Revelation and Inspiration

Doctrine of Revelation and Inspiration (Concluded)

IN TURNING next to the discussion on inspiration, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: "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, throughly furnished unto all good works."

IN TURNING next to the discussion on inspiration, the Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: "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, throughly furnished unto all good works."

The key word in this verse is theopneustos translated "inspired by God." It means "God breathed," that is, the mes sages and concepts were breathed out by God. God spoke or breathed out the Word by the Holy Spirit through the medium of the Bible writers. Both the writers and the message were God directed. The Scriptures are not the record of men who alone were inspired. In this passage Paul is arguing for the effective authority of all Scripture.

Revelation and inspiration belong together. Revelation is God's communication of His will and purpose. Inspiration guarantees the accuracy of that which is revealed. By inspiration God kept the Bible writers within the conceptual truths of His revelation.

Once we believe that God's communication is addressed to the mind of man in rational concepts and verbal propositions, it is logical to ask, How far is the inspired word rationally satisfactory? The answer to that question depends upon the individual asking the question. Some formulate the question something like this: Is every word in the Bible inspired? Some consider it crucial to answer in the affirmative. Anything less is heresy. For them the Bible is inerrant: that is, the slightest verbal inaccuracies, even in figures and dates, call into question the truth and inspiration of the Bible. Contenders for this type of verbal inspiration will usually admit discrepancies in our present Bible; for the original text, the autographs, they must be inerrant in every respect.

However, since no one has access to these autographs, we have no proof of their inerrancy. Furthermore, this means that the church today or at any time since the first and second centuries has never had an inerrant copy of the Scriptures to go by, since the original manuscripts have been lost.

Others believe it is not the individual words as such that are inerrant, but the concepts, the messages (God guarantees the truth in conceptual form). Here one insists on accuracy of thought and meaning without demanding the accuracy of words per se. In translation it is very difficult if not impossible to translate the exact meaning of the original words. Inspiration would not involve a literal translation from individual words. It is the meaning that matters the idea, the truth that God seeks to communicate. Inspiration is co extensive with the scope of what is revealed and assures us that the truths revealed cor respond to what God had in mind. There must be no distortion of the content revealed. This allows for different ways of recording the same event, of locating them at different points of time in the Bible record. Inspiration guarantees that the Bible represents God's point of view and not man's. There is no departure from what God sought to communicate. The mes sage and the truth given in revelation are the primary thing. In matters of what God has done on the plane of human history, and will do in His redemptive work for man, the Bible is infallible. God chose men who, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, gave a correct account and interpretation of the infallible truths that came from God to a lost world. God's purpose was to reveal, to communicate His mes sage, His purpose, His truth, to men. God is not on trial in words, figures, statistics. By conceptual inspiration God's truth comes through to men loud and clear in all languages and in all sound translations.

Such a position is not affected by the various readings among ancient manuscripts from which we have derived our versions of the Bible. These differences in the various texts indicate the possibility of faulty translations at the hands of men. We know the Vulgate had inaccuracies. Ancient and modern versions have them. There are 228 passages quoted in the New Testament from the Old Testament. Only 53 agree accurately with the original He brew. Anyone who knows anything of the hundreds of ancient manuscripts and versions of the Bible knows of the existence of various readings showing some minor discrepancies between one manuscript and an other.

These variations have in no way affected one single article of the Christian faith or any standard of Christian conduct or the meaning of any truth, doctrine, or commandment found in Scripture. Nor does it deny the historicity of those great events which God wrought in salvation's history. We have nothing to fear and much to gain from a scientific textual criticism of the Bible.

The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God's mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God's penmen, not His pen. . . .

It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions, but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21. One of the unknown factors in inspiration is the degree of the Holy Spirit's control over the minds of the Bible writers. If this could be known, then we could define the exact nature of inspiration. What is basic is the Holy Spirit's control that guarantees the truth as God intended and communicated it. The Bible is the infallible Word of God in faith and doctrine. The question is: What is the truth of the passage? The Scripture is without error in what it teaches, in the historical facts basic to the truths they are intended to unfold. God has not put Himself at the mercy of textual variations. For man to insist that the Holy Spirit's control over the Bible writers must ensure inerrancy in every word and figure is a claim that cannot be substantiated. That area is beyond our knowledge.

Bible truth is without error in that which pertains to the revelation of God. The writers stayed within the truth of what God revealed. One cannot deny the historicity of Biblical events without destroying the message and the spiritual meaning they seek to convey. If the virgin birth is not a biological fact, then Mary committed adultery or fornication and Jesus was an illegitimate child. In that case it can have no spiritual meaning for Jesus Christ and for His incarnation. Also, if the tomb of Jesus is not empty, then it is useless to believe in Christ's resurrection.

What Position Did Christ Take?

What position did Jesus take? His witness to the integrity of the Old Testament scriptures is basic. If we accept Christ's claim concerning Himself as the Son of God, then His position and attitude to ward the Old Testament is crucial. Christ made respected reference to Old Testament historical events which would be meaning less if He did not believe in their historicity. His teachings are saturated with references to Old Testament events and truths. Biblical scholars tend to make the Old Testament stand or fall on its own merits without reference to Jesus Christ. But since He is the very God, the Jehovah of the Old Testament, then His position is tantamount to its inspiration and its trustworthiness.

On the way to Emmaus after His resurrection, in perfect state of body and full consciousness of His deity, Christ said to two of His disciples: "These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures" (Luke 24:44, 45).

Jesus Christ included all the books of the Pentateuch in His Old Testament references. Repeatedly He used incidents from these five books in His ministry and in such a manner as would be without point were the passages and events referred to not historical. Some of the most questioned events in the Old Testament discredited by higher critics received special mention by our Lord. He almost anticipated the doubts which later would be expressed against these very facts: Creation, monogamy in marriage going back to Eden, the Flood, destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the burning bush, Sinai and the giving of the law, the fate of Lot's wife, Naaman's cleansing, Jonah's experience, and many others. His frequent appeal to the book of Isaiah to substantiate His own ministry, the genuineness of Isaiah's authority, has been assailed by most of the critics.

Christ frequently appealed to Moses: "Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:45-47).

It is arguable that our Lord's use of the Old Testament narrative does not of necessity imply that He regarded them all as unimpeachable history; that it is possible He might use legends and allegories such as Lazarus in Abraham's bosom. However, the way in which Jesus used these narratives forbids such a conclusion. There is no allegorical interpretation involved in any of these. Christ gives the literal sense and meaning. There is no reason to believe that Christ regarded the narratives as any thing but straightforward history, or that He Intended His hearers to understand them in any but a literal sense.

Did the flood of Noah's day happen the way it is recorded in Genesis 6-9? Were all the people except eight drowned in that Flood? Was it a divine judgment upon a world wholly given up to wickedness? In Matthew 23 Christ prophesied of the literal events that were to take place beginning with the destruction of Jerusalem down to the end of time. He said: " 'As things were in Noah's days, so will they be when the Son of Man comes. In the days before the flood they ate and drank and married, until the day that Noah went into the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away. That is how it will be when the Son of Man comes' " (Matt. 24:37-40, N.E.B).* If the account of the Genesis flood and the historical fact of it are false, how could Christ, who executed that judgment upon the antediluvian world, compare it with the second and final world catastrophe to take place at His return to the earth?

Christ appealed to Daniel's prophecy regarding the destruction of Jerusalem forty years later in terms of the "abomination that maketh desolate." He saw in this prophecy a historical event to come involving great peril and physical hazard for the church. If Daniel is some fictional figure, the genuineness of its time and prophecy no longer trustworthy, what significance can Christ have in quoting from it?

In His discussion with the Pharisees on divorce, He appealed to the creation of Adam and Eve, actually quoted from Genesis 2:24 (see Matt. 10:5, 6). It seems foolish to talk about monogamy based on our first parents if Christ's appeal to have created Adam and Eve according to the first two chapters of Genesis is doubtful.

Both time and space do not permit further listing of the frequent references to similar events. The God of Adam and Eve, of Noah, of Abraham, Moses, David, Job, Jonah, was Christ Himself. The Old Testament is the account of Christ's own saving activity on the plane of human history where man is lost and needed salvation both in this life and also for the life to come. He declared to the two disciples that all these were part of the effort of the Godhead including Himself to establish His kingdom on the earth, to prepare the world for the coming of Himself; that Christ, the Jehovah of the Old Testament brought these events to pass, molded them, directed them, all this in order that the people of God and of the nations might recognize the true and living God. If Christ knew that these historical events were fictional in any way or distorted, how could He appeal to them as part of the workings of God for the redemption of the world and as a prelude to His own coming for man's ultimate redemption?

Perhaps it is pertinent to ask the question, If one is to believe in the living Christ, must not one believe in the literal resurrection accounts given in the Gospels? If these accounts cannot be depended upon, if the resurrection did not take place as the Gospels said, then where is the evidence that the resurrection of Christ ever took place? Furthermore, if one is to believe in Jesus Christ as the Jehovah of the Old Testament and the Creator of the world, must not one believe also in the Genesis account?

If these records are not true, then no Christian faith is tenable. Wherever higher criticism has undermined confidence in the Bible record, there has followed the col lapse of the Christian faith. God's very character and integrity are at stake.

The seventh-day Sabbath is based on confidence in the literal week. If the Bible cannot be trusted as to the historical week of Creation as stated in Genesis, then there can be no urgency to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. Even the third angel's message rests on the God who made heaven and earth from the account of the Creation week.

Among the last words that Jesus spoke to His disciples was a rebuke for not understanding the Old Testament scriptures that pointed forward to Himself. Why did Jesus consider it necessary to appeal to the law and the prophets, unless He recognized the historicity and the authenticity of Old Testament scriptures? In His disputes with the Jewish leaders of His day, Christ's constant and final court of appeal was to the Old Testament. The Pharisees had no answer to that. He repeatedly appealed to Scripture to silence His critics, since, if the Scripture said so, Christ had established His point. For "the scripture cannot be broken" He said (John 10:35). Christ appealed to Moses, David, the prophets and Bible writers be cause He regarded their writings as inspired. God was the Author. For Jesus, what Scripture said, God said.

The 'Bible, and the Bible alone, is to be our creed, the sole bond of union; all who bow to this Holy Word will be in harmony. Our own views and ideas must not control our efforts. Man is fallible, but God's Word is infallible. Instead of wrangling with one another, let men exalt the Lord. Let us meet all opposition as did our Master, saying, "It is written." Let us lift up the banner on which is inscribed, The Bible our rule of faith and discipline. Selected Messages, book 1, p. 416.

Once we grasp the character of revelation and truth as conceptual and factual, the written propositional Word of God in the Holy Scriptures, many of the confusions and uncertainties that , menace the Christian faith will be cleared away. One of the great perils of man is that he identifies God and truth with the depths of his own consciousness what he claims to feel within and not what the Bible says.

If there is no other reason in the world why we ought to bear witness to the truth of the Word of God, it is because we are men and women under solemn responsibility to bring saving objective-revealed truth to lost men and women. We are in the business of getting people involved completely in all the truth of God's Word. We need to become mighty in the Scriptures and not in the wisdom of men. We must speak and teach with clear conviction and with no uncertain voice. We must present the Word of God with the prophetic certainty of "Thus saith the Lord."

* The New English Bible. © The Delegates of the Oxford University Press and the Syndics of the Cambridge University Press 1970. Reprinted by permission.

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August 1970

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