The collection of writings that we call the Bible bears the names of different men, such as Moses, David, and Jeremiah in the Old Testament and John, Paul, and Peter in the New; and it is written in human language, not the speech of heaven (if there is such a thing). Yet from the earliest times the Bible has been known in the Church as the Word of God and accepted as the revelation God gave to man.

Today, however, so many discordant voices are raised for and against the Bible that large numbers of church people are thoroughly confused over the place and purpose of the Scriptures in the Christian life. Some say that the Bible is totally divine, others that it is totally human; some that it is partly human and partly divine; some that it contains the word of God; others that it becomes the word of God to anyone who is helped by it. In general, however, Christians who acknowledge the supreme authority of Holy Scripture in all matters of faith and conduct would agree that it is both human and divine. But this conjunction of the human and the divine in Scripture, while in itself a mystery, is subject to much misunderstanding in the Church today.

In examining the nature of Scripture it is important to bear in mind the purpose of Scripture. The Bible has a function within God’s scheme of redemption; this is clearly defined by Paul when he advises Timothy that the sacred writings “have power to make you wise and lead you to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15, NEB). According to the apostolic understanding, then, the Bible belongs within the redemptive purposes of God. Its primary function is to communicate to us men the good news of the gracious provision made in Christ for our eternal salvation.

The message of Scripture, moreover, is addressed not only to the mind but also to the will of man, indeed, to the core of his being and to the whole of his being. It follows that the authoritative reality of the Bible is a matter not merely of doctrine but also of experience. Confronted with the Bible, man faces not a philosophical option but a message of redemption that makes absolute demands on the totality of his being. It calls for his response, the response of his whole person: intellect, will, and feeling. Only thus can he experience its truth.

The radical nature of the experience to which Scripture calls a man is underlined by the fact that the consequence of man’s sinfulness (the essence of which is his willful disregard of his Creator’s authority) is that he is deaf and indeed dead to the word of God (cf. Eph. 2:1ff.). He is in no state to respond. His only hope is that God, by the inward operation of the Holy Spirit, should speak His reviving word to the center of his being and rouse him to newness of life. Unless God acting in grace and power does for him what he in his spiritual deadness cannot do for himself, his condition is indeed desperate. Like Augustine of old, he must cry to God to give what he commands; for only the voice of God, which at creation called all things into existence, is able to restore life to the dead and, as it were, remake man as a new creation in Christ.

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As the command of Christ enabled the lifeless Lazarus to rise and come forth from the tomb (John 11:43 f.), so in the new life of regeneration the Christian experiences the coincidence of the word of God and the work of God. God, who at creation said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” speaks again in the new creation and in place of the darkness of death causes the light of his glory to shine in man’s heart (2 Cor. 4:6). This dynamic and transforming moment of encounter and reconciliation with him whose authority the Bible bears is also for him who experiences it the moment of the authentication of Scripture as the word of God. By the hidden activity of the Holy Spirit the word of the Gospel addressed to man in Scripture becomes at the same time the work of the Gospel experienced in the entirety of his being. He now willingly and gratefully recognizes and obeys the word of Scripture as the word of God. Reborn, he instinctively places himself under its authority. In this way the purpose of Scripture becomes effective in the life of man.

Plainly, therefore, the message of the Bible relates not merely to the intellective faculty of man but also and necessarily to the entire being of man. As word of God it is addressed initially to man as a rational creature able to receive and understand it. The intellectual level is the first level of its impact. But as word of God it is addressed to man in the wholeness of his humanity. The sword of the Spirit penetrates beyond the mind to the inmost depths of man’s being. It thrusts deep because it comes with the vitality and energy of God himself (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12 f.). It is a means of knowledge, indeed, and particularly self-knowledge in the presence of God; but beyond all else it is a means of transformation, because the wisdom it brings is, as we have seen, wisdom that leads to salvation.

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That is why the biblical message is so radical: it goes to the root (Latin, radix) of the human predicament. Man’s problem is more than intellectual; it is existential. God alone is self-subsistent, and as the Creator of the universe he is the source of all being. Again, God, whose knowledge is comprehensive and who created the universe in accordance with his mind and purpose, is the source of all knowledge. Man’s sinful suppression of the truth concerning the eternal power and deity of his Creator is indeed an act of the grossest irrationality, but it is also an act of suicide, since the denial of God is not only the denial of the source of man’s knowledge and rational faculty but also the denial of the source of his being (cf. Rom. 1:18 ff.). Sin accordingly strikes at the very root of man’s being; it corrupts his nature as man; it severs the lifeline linking the creature to his Creator. The sinner’s deep need is for a new nature, a new birth, a restoration of life and of meaning to his existence, and only the Bible’s vital message of regeneration and justification in Christ meets that need.

These considerations indicate both the radical and the unique character of the Bible and its message. It cannot be treated as a mere textbook or technical directory on a par with other religious or philosophical handbooks. It is God-given before it is man-made. It is a record not of one aspect of man’s age-long search for God but of God’s reaching out to man in mercy and grace. More particularly still, it is the record of God’s last word to man, spoken in the reconciling person and work of his Son, the incarnate Word (Heb. 1:1 f.; John 1:1, 14).

But the written word that witnesses to the incarnate Word is not just a word of the past, for by it God continues to speak powerfully in the present to us and to every succeeding generation. Because it is God’s word it is therefore a transcendental word. It is not limited to one time or one place. That word, in conjunction with the vitalizing action of the Holy Spirit in the human heart, is a fully existential word. It finds me and speaks dynamically to my condition.

Hence the apostles’ recognition of the perennial relevance of Scripture. They perceived how, with wonderful freshness, it applied to their need and their situation (see, for example, Acts 4:25 ff.); and so it has ever been throughout the history of God’s people. Word and Spirit together constitute the vital sword of the Spirit, so much so that, while the Church holds that God is the primary author of Scripture, as distinct from the human or secondary authors, we may go further and, with Abraham Kuyper, speak of God as the perpetual author of Scripture. Indeed, God the Holy Spirit, who enables us to receive and respond to the word of the Bible as the word of God in bringing us to newness of life in Christ, also ceaselessly, through the whole course of the Christian life, illuminates the page of Holy Scripture for us. He quickens our understanding so that we are able to appropriate more and more fully the great treasures of its truths and promises. Thus he constantly and increasingly authenticates the word of the Bible to the believing heart.

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The Bible, then, is far from being the word of God in a vacuum, or an irrelevant object suitable only for stupefying the ignorant, like the Ephesian statue of Diana that was reputed to have fallen from heaven (Acts 19:35). It is not a word uttered and lost, as it were, in the infinities of outer space. On the contrary, it is the word of God to man. As such, obviously, it must be comprehensible to man, expressed in human language, and adapted to the finite capacity of man. The finiteness of man’s faculties and the inadequacy of human language belong to the humanness of Scripture.

How then can we regard the biblical writers as competent to communicate the infinite truths of God and his purposes? To reduce these writers to the level of mere passive instruments who set down word for word what the Holy Spirit dictated to them would do violence to their humanity and would disregard the marks of human personality and industry that are evident throughout the Bible. Scripture itself should leave us in no doubt that the human authors are active instruments; and they are active, intellectually and physically, precisely because they are human. Their humanity is not suppressed or suspended by the activity of the Holy Spirit, nor are their personalities subdued to the passivity of typewriters or tape recorders.

Many attempts have been made to separate what is human from what is divine in the Bible, to determine where the human ends and the divine begins. It has been suggested that a distinction can be made between structure and content: the words come from man but the thoughts from God. But it is impossible to isolate thoughts or truths from the words in which they are expressed. Another suggestion is that the narrative or historical passages that simply record facts are attributable to man, while the doctrinal passages that communicate truth are from God. But this distinction is completely alien to the biblical perspective. Factuality is not separable from truth. The history of Israel in the Old Testament is permeated with doctrinal significance, and the message of the Christian Gospel is rooted in the events of Bethlehem, Good Friday, and Easter.

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Last century, John Henry Newman even proposed an analogy between the statements of the pope and the statements of the Bible: as the pope’s obiter dicta, or incidental utterances, do not have the same measure of authority as his proclamations ex cathedra, which alone are held to be infallible, so, Newman suggested, in the Bible “mere unimportant statements of fact” that are not doctrinal could be placed in the category of obiter dicta. But for one who, like Newman, believed that Scripture was divinely inspired in its entirety, this notion created more problems than it was intended to solve. In any case, these and similar “solutions” presuppose a false disjunction between the human and the divine in the formulation of Holy Scripture and depend so on the exercise of subjective judgments that no two minds can be expected to agree on where exactly the line is to be drawn.

The relation between the divine and the human in the Bible must be examined along other lines. The key is in the fact that man is God’s creature, made in the image of his Creator, with the consequence that man’s true humanness is dependent on the unbroken Creator-creature relationship, in which he joyfully lives his life to the glory of God and finds the freedom of his being in obedience to the will of God. Man’s alienation is the result of his sinful disruption of this fundamental relationship. But in Christ, God graciously restores that relationship. The incarnate Son, indeed, displays the perfect harmony of the human and the divine that is man’s true fulfillment. In him there is full and free cooperation of the two natures, without conflict or confusion. The union of the divine and the human in Scripture reflects the union of the two natures in Christ and is a reminder that man was created for fellowship with God.

In Jesus we see the realization of that complete harmony between man and God—the harmony for which man was created, which was destroyed by sin, and which is restored redemptively in Christ. He, the only really free person who has walked this earth, came for the express purpose of performing the will of the Father. In this lay his freedom and fulfillment. Thus he declared: “I cannot act by myself; … my aim is not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me” (John 5:30; cf. 4:34; 8:29; Heb. 10:7, 9). In Christ man recovers his true manhood, and with it that harmony of relationship with God which alone gives meaning to his existence.

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The apostolic writers of the New Testament were themselves new men in Christ. In fulfillment of the particular promises given them by Christ (John 14:26; 15:26 f.; 16:13 f.), they achieved their human potential as they came under the control of the Holy Spirit for the purpose of fulfilling their function as scriptural authors. Divinely inspired but none the less (indeed all the more) in genuine freedom, they became the agents of the divine will as in the performance of this task a perfect communion of the human and the divine was effected.

Interestingly enough, it is in Roman Catholic circles that this creation/redemption analogy is found. Karl Rahner, for example (to quote a contemporary scholar), writes as follows:

He is a true human author whose own authorship remains whole and inviolate at the same time as it is permeated and embraced by that of God. Only in this sense can he be called God’s “instrument.” In this form of instrumentality, God’s authorship does not merely tolerate full human authorship, it demands it. Making a man a mere amanuensis would not enhance the divine authorship at all.

And again:

Divine inspiration frees rather than limits human individuality. It does not imply some unexplainable compromise between God and man, but is rather an instance of the basic relationship between God and his creatures: the two factors, dependence upon God and personal autonomy, vary in direct, not inverse proportion to one another. This holds good in the economy of salvation no less than in creation [Inspiration in the Bible, 1961, p. 15].

Thus, while we must recognize the limitations both of human competence and of human language, and acknowledge that God is indeed totally other and higher than man, we must not imagine that there cannot be a full and harmonious operation of the human and the divine in the production of Holy Scripture. As Creator and Redeemer, God establishes and reestablishes a relation of communion and fellowship with his creature man, and in the inspiration of prophets and apostles (redeemed but still imperfect men: 1 Cor. 13:12; Phil. 3:12) he sovereignly heightens that harmony so that there is a perfect accord between the divine will and the human performance, and the true potential of human nature is brought to expression.

This does not explain the mystery of Scripture, any more than our recognition of the union of the two natures in Christ explains the mystery of his incarnate person; but it does help to define it. A mystery, however, it must remain, and the man who reaches the point where he thinks it is no longer a mystery may be sure that he is now in error.

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