THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
by Bob Wheeler
Perhaps the major question facing mankind today is whether God has communicated His will to us. To be more specific, does the Bible have a legitimate claim to be the written, inspired Word of God? On this single question the claims of Christianity, and indeed the foundation of Western Civilization, depend.
Atheists and skeptics openly scoff at the idea. The Bible, they say, is a human book, full of mistakes and errors. How can it possibly be the infallible Word of God? The idea, they say, is pure nonsense.
But both Judaism and Christianity are based on the premise that our Creator has spoken to us through a succession of divinely inspired prophets and apostles. Their collected writings comprise our Bible, and the honest and sincere seeker can go to it for instruction and guidance. “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 completer, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Tim., 3:16,17; NKJV).
How, then, did the process of inspiration work? The ancient Israelites were unique among the nations of their time in that they conceived of the universe as having been created by a single, all-powerful, self-existent Deity. How did they arrive at that notion? God revealed Himself to their forebear Abraham. God is portrayed as speaking to him verbally on several different occasions, at one point even going so far as to make a formal, binding agreement (covenant) with him. The same pattern was repeated with Abraham’s son and grandson, Isaac and Jacob.
But by far the greatest prophet in the Old Testament was Moses. What we are told about him is that “since then there has not arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom the Lord know face to face . . .” (Dt. 34:10). God is portrayed as speaking directly to Moses on numerous occasions, and Moses would either write down or speak to the people what God had told him. This included, among other things, the “Book of the Covenant,” which included all of Exodus chapters 21-23.
Other prophets followed, although they did not receive revelation in the same manner as had Moses. Sometimes they would see visions; sometimes they would hear voices; sometimes an angel would speak to them. But in each and every case God communicated with them in verbal propositions, so that what they said and wrote could truly be said to be “the Word of the Lord.”
But the greatest prophet of all was Jesus Christ. For not only was He a prophet sent from God, He is God, the Second Person of the Trinity, who had dwelt with God the Father in heaven from all eternity. “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak” (John 12:49,50).
God, then, has made His will known to us. “. . . holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (II Pet. 1:21). God revealed to them things that cannot be known by human reason alone. The prophets themselves did not always fully understand what God had told them. “Of this salvation the prophets have inquired and searched carefully, who prophesied of the grace that would come to you, searching what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ who was in them was indicating when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (I Pet. 1:10,11). But we have the complete revelation today in the Bible.
Does this mean that the original autographs were inerrant, as many Evangelicals today maintain? Not necessarily. While the inspired prophets and apostles received a verbal revelation from God, it was still up to them to write it down and communicate it to the rest of mankind. In this their own natural faculties were employed. They wrote in their own native languages, using their own individual styles and diction. In the historical writings the use of underlying source materials is evident. New Testament authors frequently quoted the Greek translation of the Old Testament, even where it differs from the commonly accepted Hebrew text. In some cases an amanuensis (secretary) did the actual writing of the autograph.
Does this mean that the human author (or amanuensis) got everything down exactly as he received it from God, even down to the smallest detail? Not necessarily. That would require eliminating the human element completely. This is why we occasionally find an apparent discrepancy or contradiction in the text. But we have to assume that the human authors, as honest and sincere men, who were genuinely devoted to the God whom they served, exercised due care and diligence in recording the revelations that they had received. They were, after all, conscious of handling the very words of God Himself. The certifiable problems are few and far between, and only involve matters of slight detail. What is truly remarkable is that such an ancient book, written by so many different authors over such a long period of time, could be so free from human error.
Charles Hodge, the famous 19th Century Presbyterian theologian (and a staunch conservative), put it this way: “It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the Sacred Scriptures filled with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane person would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure. Not less unreasonable is it to deny the inspiration of such a book as the Bible, because one sacred writer says that on a given occasion twenty-four thousand, and another says that twenty-three thousand, men were slain. Surely a Christian may be allowed to tread such objections under his feet” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 170).
Are the truth claims of Scripture then valid? There are several different possible answers that can be given to that question. But let it suffice to say here that the sheer number of authors involved, the multiplicity of witnesses to the divine revelation, points to the authenticity of the revelation itself. If it were just Mohammed or Joseph Smith, their credibility could be called into question. But in the case of the Bible it is not a matter of just one or two men. It is dozens of men, writing in three different languages over a span of 1,400 years. Their work has stood the test of time. Countless lives have been changed for the better; and multitudes have been led to everlasting joy. What more do we need in the way of a commendation?
The challenge facing the skeptic is to show how the entire biblical record, from Moses on Mt. Sinai to John on the Isle of Patmos, has been falsified. “. . . by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Dt. 19:15).