It is only in modern times that leaders within the Christian Church have assailed the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible. Over the centuries, of course, enemies have not been lacking who have assailed it from without; but today it has become fashionable in many church circles to deny the inspiration of the Bible in the classical sense. The Bible is, indeed, now widely regarded as a book of human, not divine, origin—inspired only in the humanistic sense that the Hebrews, who wrote it, had a genius for religion, just as the Greeks had a genius for philosophy, and the Romans a genius for government. The evolutionary interpretation of reality, which has so powerfully influenced the thinking of the Western world, assigned the Bible, in its different parts, a place within the supposed gradual development of religion from the crude apprehensions of primitive man in his cave-dwelling to the refined concept of ethical monotheism of our day. This viewpoint inevitably accords the Bible a position of purely relative significance, in radical conflict with the high conception of it as the inspired Word of God addressing a unique revelation of truth to fallen (not rising) man, and therefore absolute in its significance.
Again, it is characteristic of the so-called neo-orthodox theology of our day, with its emphasis on “encounter,” to define the Bible as a word of man which may, at certain times and under certain circumstances become the Word of God to me: that is, God may speak or reveal some truth to me through it, so that at that point in my experience it, or some portion of it, functions as a Word of God to me. Correlative with this outlook are the conceptions of the Bible as not in itself the Word of God, but as containing the Word of God, as conveying truth through the “kernel” of myth, independently of whether or not the “outer shell” in which the myth is enclosed is historically true, and even as—by a strange quirk of divine providence!—conveying truth through error. Conceptions of this kind are marked by a subjectivism which contrasts noticeably with the classical view of the Bible as an objective revelation given by God.
What, then, are we to believe about the inspiration of the Bible? Three main witnesses have a claim upon our attention: the witness of the Bible to itself; the witness of history; and the witness of God.
The Witness of the Bible to itself. Some people take exception to the procedure whereby the Bible is allowed to witness to itself. Certainly, the argument “the Bible claims to be the inspired Word of God, therefore it is the inspired Word of God” is not by itself admissible. But it is a commonplace of legal justice that any person standing trial has the right to engage in self-testimony. By itself—that is, in the absence of the independent witness of other persons or of circumstances—that self-testimony may or may not be true. The point is that it may be true, and so it must not be stifled. In the case of the Bible, it bears witness to itself in terms which, if true, are of the most vital consequence for the whole of mankind. Its witness must, therefore, be heard.
All who read the Old Testament cannot help being struck by the theme which so often and so extensively recurs that it may properly be described as the leading theme, namely, the assertion that it is God, not man, who is speaking. This impression is conveyed by the use of characteristic expressions, such as “Thus saith the Lord …,” and “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying.…”
The implication of such expressions is fully corroborated by the witness of the New Testament to the Old. Thus the Apostle Paul affirms that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (or, literally, is “God-breathed,” 2 Tim. 3:16); the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews declares that it was God who spoke in time past in the prophets (1:1); and Peter asserts that the ancient prophets “spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). And what could be more significant for the Christian than the attitude of Christ himself (with which, of course, the attitude of his apostles is fully consonant)? He emphasized not only that he had not come to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them, but also that not one jot or tittle would pass away until all things were accomplished (Matt. 5:17 f.). The Scripture was for him something that could not be broken (John 10:35). In the temptation in the wilderness, the devil is on each occasion repulsed, without further argument, by a quotation from the Old Testament, “It stands written …,” the plain inference being that it is the absolutely authoritative Word of God (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). It was the Old Testament Scriptures, viewed in their entirety—“the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms”—which the risen Saviour expounded to his disciples, emphasizing the necessity that all things written in them concerning him should be fulfilled (Luke 24:44 ff.). Throughout the New Testament, indeed, the whole of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is seen in the light of the fulfillment of Holy Scripture, and therefore as a vindication of the Bible as the inspired Word of God.
But, it may be asked, what of the New Testament? It, too, is not without its own self-testimony. If the Old Testament bears witness pre-eminently to the One who is to come, the New Testament bears witness to the One who has come. It testifies to him who, in his person and action as well as in his teaching, is the Word of God incarnate. The New Testament is the record of the imperishable truth which Christ brought and taught. Christ himslf proclaimed that heaven and earth would pass away, but that his words would not pass away (Matt. 24:35). Moreover, he promised to his apostles that the Holy Spirit would teach them all things and bring to their remembrance all that he had spoken to them, and would lead them into all truth and reveal to them things that were to come (John 14:26; 16:13). This is the very keystone of the New Testament and of the claims which it makes for itself. Accordingly it is a mark of consistency to find John affirming that the witness of his Gospel is true (John 21:24) or Peter classifying Paul’s epistles along with “the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:15 f.).
The Witness of History. The witness of history to the Bible is the witness of the history of the Christian Church. Until modern times, as has already been said, the Bible was always acknowledged by the Church to be the inspired Word of God. The significance of this fact can hardly be overemphasized. The definition of the canon of Holy Scripture—and especially of the New Testament, since that of the Old was already established—in the period that succeeded the age of the apostles, so far from being the result of the assertion of an authority superior to the Bible (as though the books of the Bible became canonical because the Church pronounced them to be so), was in fact a recognition of this very principle of the divine inspiration of the Bible. It was a recognition of an authority vested in the biblical books which is unique and normative precisely because together they constitute the Word of God written. If there was one external factor which played a decisive role in the fixing of the New Testament canon, it was the equating of canonicity with apostolicity. Books which were not of apostolic origin were not admissible as canonical. In other words, the authority vested in the apostles is now vested in their writings, through which they continue to govern the Church.
But there was no question of this authority of the apostles being human authority; for, inasmuch as it was derived from Christ, their divine Master, theirs was a divine authority, and their teaching (handed down in their writings) again was not their own, but Christ’s, in accordance with his promise that the Holy Spirit would bring to their remembrance all that he had taught them and would lead them into all truth. In defining the canon of Scripture, therefore, the Church, with the instinct of faith, was acknowledging and submitting herself to this authority, which, even more than apostolic, was dominical; for, ultimately, the authority involved is none other than that of the Lord himself.
Although the unanimous consent of the Fathers is in the main an ecclesiastical fiction, yet there was at least one doctrine in which they were united, namely, that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. It was far from them to claim for their own writings the inspiration which they attributed to Scripture. And the same is to a particular degree true of the age of the Reformation, when, in the light of the biblical revelation, which then shone forth again after centuries of spiritual darkness, all pretended authorities were exposed as spurious except insofar as they were subject to the supreme authority of the Word of God. Also worthy of notice is the inconsistency of modern liberal authors who, while denying the objectivity of the Bible as the Word of God, nonetheless commonly seek to authenticate the theology they propound by adducing statements and quotations from the Bible, as though it were in fact objectively authoritative.
Mention may also be made of the history of persecution. Men and women from generation to generation have given proof of the inspiration of the Bible by the radical transformation which the reception of its message has produced in their lives, so much so that they have held the Bible to be more precious than any other possession, and have been willing to suffer torture and death rather than deny its truth by which they have been set free. Attempts also to destroy the Bible, to bum it, to ban it, or in any other way to obliterate it from society, have ever proved futile. Not only does it continue unchallenged year after year as the world’s best-seller, but it is beyond doubt the greatest force for good and blessing in every sphere of human society.
The witness of history to the inspiration of the Bible is indeed massive, and it powerfully confirms the witness of the Bible to itself. When, as at the present time, the Church is tempted to leave the old paths and to disparage this witness of her history, she should ask herself whether she is not in fact thereby in danger of ceasing to be the Church and bartering her heritage for something that is not of God but of the devil.
The Witness of God. Here we come face to face with that testimony which is absolutely conclusively and inexpungable. The witness of God is greater than the witness of man. It needs no support but stands firm by itself. Briefly stated, the position is this: if the Bible is in reality the inspired Word of God it must as such be self-authenticating; it is in no need of human sanction. God himself witnesses to the truth of the Bible. As its Author he also authenticates it to the heart and mind of every believer. It is by the operation of the Holy Spirit that we are brought to faith in Christ, and that saving faith is founded upon the Good News proclaimed in the pages of the Bible, and nowhere else. It is by the internal witness of the Holy Spirit that we acknowledge and appropriate the biblical message, and are assured daily and constantly that “all scripture is inspired of God.”
As the witness of the Holy Spirit, this testimony is objective; as an internal witness within the believer, it is subjective. As at the same time both objective and subjective, this witness is completely impregnable. He who experiences it cannot gainsay it. He who gainsays it has not experienced it and should search his heart as to why this is so.
In all charity and humility we would invite those to whom this internal witness of God the Holy Spirit is something strange to consider whether they are not lacking one of the essentials of genuine Christianity, and whether, consequently, they are in any proper position to assail the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible. We would urge them to pray that God will grant them the witness of the Holy Spirit to convince and enlighten both heart and intellect.
Finally, let us ever remember that the primary purpose and function of Scripture is to lead us to Christ, that its proper place is within the framework of God’s plan for our redemption. Hence Paul advised Timothy that the Holy Scriptures were able to make him ‘wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15); Peter reminds his readers that “the word of the Lord abideth for ever,” adding that “this is the word of the gospel which was preached unto you” (1 Pet. 1:25); and John, in describing the purpose of what was possibly the last in time of the biblical writings, asserts: “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).
“The Scripture,” wrote the Reformer and martyr William Tyndale, to whom, more than anyone else, we owe the priceless treasure of our English Bible, “is that wherewith God draweth us unto him, and not wherewith we should be led from him. The Scriptures spring out of God, and flow unto Christ, and were given to lead us to Christ. Thou must therefore go along by the Scripture as by a line, until thou come at Christ, which is the way’s end and resting-place.” May God grant us to use this holy book for this holy purpose.
Bibliography: Loraine Boettner, The Inspiration of the Scriptures; John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (I, vii); John Jewel, A Treatise of the Holy Scriptures; Carl F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible; James Orr, Revelation and Inspiration; Cornelius Van Til, introductory essay, B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible; William Whitaker, A Treatise of the Holy Scriptures.
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