The Bible, as we all know, is the book of Jesus Christ. Open its pages where you will, begin to read, and before long the figure of the Saviour will rise up before you. Old Testament and New in their several parts: law, history, poetry, prophecy, gospels, epistles—Christ is the key to them all. We have only to recall that arresting comment in Luke’s Gospel which describes how our risen Saviour walked with the two travelers to Emmaus that first Easter afternoon and, “beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” That was the Master’s method of understanding the Scriptures, and only as we make it ours shall we understand them too. From Genesis to the Revelation, the Bible is the book of Jesus Christ.
Important as that is, we must never forget that the Bible is also the book of the Holy Spirit. Paul called it “the sword of the Spirit.” Our present study explores the special relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Scriptures.
We see it first with respect to the inspiration of the Scriptures. With one voice the biblical authors claim a divine character for their writings. Although their distinctive powers of personality were fully employed in producing the sacred volumes, a divine influence energized and presided over them. We must not, however, limit this inspiration to the authors, for it extended beyond them to their writings as well. “All Scripture is inspired by God.” Although we may speak of the sacred historians, prophets, poets, and apostles as inspired men, we fall short of the truth until we see that the Scriptures themselves were directly inspired by God. To His sovereign influence we must ultimately attribute not only the thoughts and ideas of Scripture but the words in which they are clothed. The Word of God consists of the words of God.
Now the Scriptures identify the Holy Spirit as the agent of their inspiration. When the apostle says, “All Scripture is inspired by God” or “God-breathed,” he traces the origin of the Scriptures to the Spirit of God, for in the original breath and spirit are the same word. To the Third Person of the Trinity in particular we owe the production of the Bible. He revealed the hidden thoughts of God to men, then directed and controlled the writing of his revelation. Thus Paul again declares, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him, God has revealed to us through the Spirit.… And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, combining the truths of the Spirit with the words of the Spirit.” Peter testifies, “No prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Notwithstanding our inability to theorize dogmatically on the method of the Spirit’s inspiration, the fact stands plainly enough before us for our acceptance.
Although we have no desire to depreciate or neglect the human element in the Bible, we firmly contend that this is a secondary factor. To read the various books in the light of the individual personalities who produced them—their temperaments, circumstances, experiences, and so forth—is a legitimate and profitable discipline. We esteem the authors as men of unique spiritual genius and insight. Yet we do neither them nor their works any injustice when we confess that we reverence these books not so much because of their human authorship, as their divine authorship. It is no discredit to Paul, for example, that we cherish and study his epistle to the Romans primarily because of its inspiration by the Holy Spirit, and not just because we recognize the apostle’s superior spiritual and intellectual stature. Indeed, only on this basis can we justly appreciate and evaluate any of the biblical books. And the writers themselves would all agree that herein lies their sole right to be heard and heeded by the Church.
We cannot stress too strongly the importance of this fact. The authenticity of the Bible as the Word of God depends entirely on its inspiration by the Spirit. Likewise its supreme authority. Likewise its divine inerrancy or accuracy in all matters whereof it speaks.
Less apparent to many of us is the Holy Spirit’s preservation of the Scriptures. The Bible has come down to us from high antiquity. Portions of the Old Testament are 3,500 years old, dating from the early ages of civilization. The latest books of the New Testament have been in circulation for nearly 1,900 years. Throughout most of this time the Scriptures were transmitted by scribes and copyists, the printing press being a comparatively recent invention. You can readily imagine how easy it would have been for the sacred text to have become hopelessly corrupt and its divine message blurred beyond recognition in this process. Every one of the countless copyists involved in the work of transmission was liable to make serious mistakes, not to mention the desire of wicked unbelievers deliberately to tamper with the divine Word. It is therefore startling to learn the verdict of modern scholarship.
Take the Old Testament. After painstaking study of the wealth of ancient manuscript evidence, the best Hebrew scholars assure us that our Old Testament is entirely reliable. Although there are many different readings, they give us no cause for concern, for they affect no major doctrine. Each new discovery reaffirms this verdict. The Dead Sea Scrolls of Isaiah, for example, uncovered only a few years ago, and dating from before the birth of Christ, substantially corroborate the text of that prophecy as it appears in our English Bibles. One of my seminary professors, a distinguished Old Testament expert who held a low view of biblical inspiration, told us that scholars are more certain of the Old Testament text than of the works of the great sixteenth century dramatist and poet, William Shakespeare.
The same is true of the New Testament. Two of the foremost authorities on the Greek New Testament within the past century, Bishops Westcott and Hort, said: “If comparative trivialities such as changes of order, the insertion of the article with proper names, and the like are set aside, the words in our opinion still open to doubt can hardly amount to more than a thousandth part of the whole New Testament.”
In all essential matters of faith the biblical text through the centuries has remained trustworthy and true to the original inspired autographs. In the words of an outstanding contemporary British scholar, “the Bible text has come down to us in such substantial purity that even the most uncritical edition of the Hebrew or Greek … cannot effectively obscure the real message of the Bible, or neutralize its saving power.”
What is the explanation of this marvelous preservation of the Scriptures? The only reasonable, logical answer is that this is the work of the Holy Spirit. He, as the Third Person of the Trinity, is now active in the world, and by his “singular care and providence” he has kept his Holy Book trustworthy through the centuries. As he guards the seed of divine grace planted in the soul of every believer till it blossoms into the full fruition of life everlasting, so he guards the seed of the divine Word till it brings forth the full harvest of God’s eternal purpose.
Confirmation Of The Scriptures
Consider next the Holy Spirit and the confirmation of the Scriptures. We are not hard put to find ample objective reasons for believing that the Bible is the very Word of God. Over and over again we hear in the Scriptures this august phrase, “Thus says the Lord.” The biblical authors unhesitatingly equate their writings with the utterances of the Eternal. Our Lord so regarded the canonical Old Testament, and promised that the same divine character would permeate the New.
To these open claims we must add supporting evidences from within the Scriptures themselves. The unity of the books, the uniqueness of their redemptive theme, the sublimity of their style, and the fulfillment in detail of scores of prophecies all alike authenticate the inspiration of the Bible.
Then there are also outside evidences. History, archaeology, the survival of the Scriptures despite persistent attempts to destroy them, their universal appeal to the human heart in every age, and not least their unique power to transform both individuals and entire societies from sin to righteousness, further attest their supernatural origin.
Certainly the doctrine of the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God is not wanting in sufficient objective evidence. Indeed the evidence is so overwhelming that we might suppose it would compel every rational man to bow before it. Nevertheless, we know that this is by no means the case. We are distressed to find multitudes of intelligent people, even within the Christian Church, who repudiate this doctrine on what they believe to be rational grounds. Why is it, then, that equally intelligent people on examining the same objective facts arrive at the opposite extremes of faith and unbelief? To answer that some have the will to believe, while others do not, is no real answer. It only poses the deeper question: Why do some have the will to believe, while others do not?
This brings us to one of the profoundest principles of Christian faith. Paul explains it by saying that the natural man, the unregenerate man, the man who does not have the indwelling Spirit of God, does not receive the things of God. Indeed, he cannot. His mind and heart and will are so perverse and steeped in rebellion against God that no amount of objective testimony will ever convince him of divine truth. He must be born again, or he cannot see the kingdom of God, much less believe the book of the Kingdom. Only by the inner witness of the Holy Spirit in our hearts can any of us accept the Scriptures as the Word of God. Without this internal confirmation we can only continue in blind rejection and unbelief. After carefully listing various objective arguments whereby the Bible abundantly evidences itself to be the Word of God, the Westminster Confession of Faith wisely adds: “notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.”
By this inner testimony of the Spirit to the Word and through the Word the Church at first endorsed the sacred canon and formulated the orthodox doctrine of Scripture. To stand in the line of historic Christian faith we must have the same unchanging witness.
Interpretation Of The Scriptures
Now if the Holy Spirit is necessary for the confirmation of the Scriptures, no less is he necessary for their interpretation.
Perhaps on occasion you have listened to an Italian or German opera. You may have been moved by the beauty of the musical score and the skillful artistry of the performers, but unless you knew the language the meaning of the opera completely escaped you. No matter how attentively you listened, you could not understand it. But if someone who spoke the language had translated the words for you, then you would have understood.
The same thing is true when we approach the Word of God. It is written in the language of heaven, but we speak the language of earth. Its vocabulary is the vocabulary of holiness, but we know only the vocabulary of sin. It reveals the mind of the Spirit, but we have the mind of the flesh. By nature we cannot understand it. The Bible reads to us like a book in an unknown foreign tongue. While we may appreciate its grandeur and beauty, its spiritual truth is as unintelligible and unmeaningful to us as an encyclopedia to a newborn infant. We not only reject it, we cannot even begin to make sense out of it. The apostle says, “the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” In short, we must have Someone to interpret the Word, if we are to step out of our darkness into its marvellous light.
The Author of the Scriptures therefore becomes their infallible Interpreter. He not only objectively reveals the thoughts of God in the Word; he also personally opens our minds and instructs us so that with saving understanding we can grasp them. “The Holy Spirit … will teach you all things,” promised Jesus. And again, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” Paul declared, “No one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given to us by God.” Thus Calvin referred to the Bible as the school of the Holy Spirit. He is the teacher whose illumining powers enable us to comprehend the otherwise incomprehensible Word.
So it happens that humble, unlettered believers taught by the Holy Spirit are often far in advance of their intellectual superiors in their knowledge of the Bible. They feed on its spiritual meat; whereas, brilliant scholars with all the historical, linguistic, and literary facts surrounding a biblical passage at their fingertips sometimes starve their souls with spiritual husks. A professor in the Sorbonne, the principal theological college of France, admitted he never understood the doctrine of the apostle Paul until it was explained to him by a cobbler in Lyons.
We must never disparage education, study, and scholarship where the Bible is concerned, but we must always subordinate them to the teaching of the Holy Spirit. For to understand the Holy Scriptures we must have the Holy Spirit as our Interpreter.
Transforming Power Of The Scriptures
Finally, think of the Holy Spirit in relation to the transforming power of the Scriptures.
Like a chain of miracles across the centuries are the changes wrought in human life by the power of the Word of God. We cite but two: one ancient and one modern.
In his Confessions, Saint Augustine tells how he heard a voice bidding him take and read the Pauline epistles he had recently been studying. He says: “I read in silence the first place on which my eyes fell (Romans 13:13, 14, ‘Let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires’). I neither cared, nor needed, to read further. At the close of the sentence, as if a ray of certainty was poured into my heart, the clouds of hesitation all fled at once.” In that moment by the power of the written Word the youthful profligate, the heartbreak of his godly mother Monica, was lifted forever out of his vice into the sweet purity of a life of Christian devotion.
Now for a more modern incident. In the late eighteenth century the mutineers on the British ship, Bounty, landed on Pitcairn Island in the South Seas. With some of the native women they established a settlement which rivaled Sodom and Gomorrah for its iniquity. Sometime later while rummaging through a sailor’s chest, the sole survivor of the mutineers, Alexander Smith, came across a Bible. He made it the textbook and standard of conduct for the community. When an American whaler landed there in 1808, the crew found an ideal commonwealth governed by Smith. No illiterates, thieves, liars, drunkards, profaners, adulterers, or murderers cast their stigma on the community, but righteousness and its fruits of happiness blossomed everywhere. A single copy of Scripture transformed that tropical cesspool into a moral paradise.
In all the world of sacred books there is none with a power like this. What is its secret? Whence does it come? Do not say the power resides in the written Word itself. That is a mechanical, idolatrous view.
Suppose Jesus had written the words “Lazarus, come forth,” on a piece of papyrus, and somebody finding them had hurried to the dead man’s tomb with them. He might have read the words of Jesus from dawn to midnight and shouted them with gusto into the yawning darkness of the tomb, but never the slightest would the corpse have stirred. The power that brought forth Lazarus from the grave lay not in any magical words, but in the Person of the Son of God.
Likewise the power that through the centuries has brought forth multitudes from the granite tombs of spiritual death by the words of Holy Writ is the power of the Spirit of God. We must not imagine that the Scriptures have any independent miraculous power of their own. They are channel, not source. If the Spirit did not continually energize them, they could do nothing. Peter’s words, “You have been born anew … through the living and abiding Word of God,” must be coupled with Paul’s, “He saved us … by the washing of regeneration and renewal in the Holy Spirit.”
The transforming power of the Holy Scriptures is the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. The divine Author is as present in and with his Word forever.
The Bible is the book of the Holy Spirit. To gain eternal profit from its pages we must be men and women of the Spirit. We must be born of the Spirit, indwelled by the Spirit, controlled by the Spirit, taught by the Spirit. And our Lord has promised that the Father will give the Spirit in all the fullness of his ministry to everyone who asks him.
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