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The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration (2)

Category Articles
Date November 3, 2005

2. The Reason for Believing It

The fundamental reason is that it is taught in the Bible. This is not unwarranted circular reasoning. We are dependent on the Bible for all we know of God’s special revelation of Himself. If we cannot believe what the Bible says about itself, we cannot believe what it says about anything. If it is trustworthy at all, it is trustworthy in what it says about itself. The divine Word carries its own authority, and all who are given spiritual perception believe it on account of that authority. “The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor 2:14). Scripture does not depend on something outside itself for testimony or verification. If it did, we would be putting our confidence in that “something” instead of in the Word itself. The inspired Word has authority in itself, whether or not we recognise it, though we need to be enlightened to that fact. “The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself), the author thereof; and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:4.).

Scripture bears witness to its own character. This does not mean that human testimony does not corroborate the truth and authority of the Word of God. In all areas in which men have any competence to ascertain truth the Bible emerges with its integrity intact. Every human means of testing what can be tested by human means testifies to the integrity of the Bible. And the testimony of the Spirit in the souls of His people promotes “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof” ([1]Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:5).

What is the Bible’s testimony to itself?

Two passages summarise the biblical account of the origin of Scripture: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Tim 3:16); “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Pet 1:19-21). These passages refer to “all scripture”, the “word of prophecy”, and every “prophecy of the scripture”. The prophets were God’s spokesmen, and the Scriptures are the written record of what they spoke in God’s name. Without twisting these statements, no one can deny that the Bible teaches that Scripture has been breathed by God, that holy men, chosen and equipped by God, produced it when God moved and directed them, and that the end product of their inspiration by God is our possession of the revelation which God wished us to have in the terms in which He wished it to be expressed.

The Old Testament bears witness to its own inspiration.

This appears from its testimony to the prophetic function to which its authors were called. God spoke through the prophets. They were moved to speak only the words which He gave them. Isaiah often expressed his sense of divine inspiration by using such terms as “thus saith the Lord”. Jeremiah is introduced as one “to whom the word of the Lord came” (Jer 1:2). Calling him to his work, God said: “Whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. . . . Then the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth” (Jer 1:7,9). “The word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar; and the hand of the Lord was there upon him” (Ezek 1:3). What was true of the prophets applied to the law and to the psalms. In Malachi 4:4 we read: “Remember ye the law of Moses My servant, which I commanded unto him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgements”. In 2 Samuel 23:2 the sweet psalmist of Israel says: “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue”.

Our Lord testifies to the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament Scriptures.

He did not refer specifically to each book of the Old Testament, but in His time the canon, or content, of the Old Testament Scriptures was not in doubt and His statements applied to the entire Old Testament canon. When accused of blasphemy for calling God His Father, He referred His accusers to the Psalms (Ps 82:6), described as their law. He thus referred them to the authority of the Old Testament and made this appeal: “If He called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of Him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (Jn 10:34,35). The Word of God coming to men is the Scripture which cannot be broken. Scripture is infallible and cannot fail of fulfilment or be rendered irrelevant. The authority of Scripture was upheld by Him after His resurrection, when He impressed on the disciples that what was spoken by the prophets and written in the Scriptures – in the law of Moses and in the prophets and in the psalms – had to be fulfilled (Luke 24:25-27,44-46). He referred to specific Old Testament passages and identified the words of the human speakers as the words of God. For example, “David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on My right hand” (Mark 12:36).

This view is the teaching of the Apostles.

This view of the Old Testament Scriptures as inspired and infallible is also set forth by the Holy Spirit in the New Testament in the teaching of the Apostles. They refer to God speaking through men. “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet” (Matt 1:22). “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). “Lord, Thou art God . .. . who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage . . . ?” (Acts 4:24,25). “The gospel of God (which He promised afore by His prophets in the holy scriptures)” (Rom 1:1,2). “God . . . spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:2).

They ascribe to men what was spoken by God.

“Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto Me with their mouth, and honoureth Me with their lips; but their heart is far from Me” (Matt 15:7,8). “For Moses saith, Honour thy father and thy mother” (Mark 7:10). “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, that the man which doeth those things shall live by them. . . . First Moses saith, I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people. . . . But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought Me not” (Rom 10:5,19,20).

They say that Scripture spoke when it was God who spoke.

“For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up” (Rom 9:17). “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham. . . . But the scripture hath concluded all under sin” (Gal 3:8,22). “Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son” (Gal 4:30).

They quote what is spoken in Scripture by man as spoken by God.

“Wherefore He saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 13:35). “Wherefore, as the Holy Ghost saith, Today if ye will hear His voice, harden not your hearts” (Heb 3:7,8).

They refer to the Old Testament Scriptures as the oracles of God.

“Our fathers . . . received the lively oracles to give unto us” (Acts 7:38). “Unto them were committed the oracles of God” (Rom 3:2). “Ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God” (Heb 5:12). If one wishes an authoritative word from God, one must go to the Scriptures – that is where God’s voice is heard.

The New Testament, referring to the Old, manifests a high view of the divine origin and infallibility and authority of Scripture. The New Testament witnesses to itself as part of Holy Scripture, with the same divine origin, infallibility and authority as the Old Testament. A significant passage is 2 Peter 3:15,16: “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction”. Peter includes Paul’s epistles with the “other scriptures”. His view of the other scriptures is seen in 2 Peter 1:19-21: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost”. It has been observed that in 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul refers to a passage in Deuteronomy and to a passage in Luke’s Gospel, describing both as scripture: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward” (Deut 25:4; Luke 10:7).

The view of the New Testament Scriptures taken by their writers is clear.

1 Corinthians 2 is relevant, particularly verses 9-13 and 16: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by His Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual . . . we have the mind of Christ.” In 1 Corinthians 14: 37 Paul writes: “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord”. In 1 John 4: 6 we read: “We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth and the spirit of error”.

We can reasonably assume that God, having taken such care in communicating His revelation in Old Testament times, a revelation preparatory to the coming of Christ, took equal care with the fuller revelation accompanying that coming. The Old and New Testaments are parts of the one revelation of God. We need the same authority for believing what is written in the New as for believing what is written in the Old. That this is no mere assumption is clear when Paul writes in Ephesians 3:2-7 of “the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: how that by revelation He made known unto me the mystery (as I wrote afore in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ by the gospel; whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of His power”.

The inspiration claimed by Paul was promised by the Lord to His apostles. “These things have I spoken unto you, being yet present with you. But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (Jn 14:25,26). “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come. He shall glorify Me; for He shall receive of Mine, and shall show it unto you” (Jn 16:12-14). Christ being the subject of the Old and New Testaments, God ensured by inspiring prophets and apostles that the record concerning His Son accords perfectly with reality.

The New Testament, like the Old, is Scripture given by inspiration of God, not the personal reflection of men to whom God revealed Himself but the words of holy men moved by the Holy Ghost to express the thoughts of God in the words which the Holy Ghost taught them. The New Testament, like the Old, is Scripture which cannot be broken. Significantly, the supernatural revelation given to apostles and communicated by them to others under the influence of divine inspiration was accompanied by miracles as was the case with the Old Testament revelation (Heb 2:4).

Many objections are raised against the biblical doctrine of Inspiration. Critics once spoke confidently of the “factual errors” of the Bible, but the progress of human knowledge has swept many of these allegations away. Those who dismiss inspiration as mechanical, and inconsistent with the rationality and personality of the writers, unwarrantably restrict the power and wisdom of God, the creator of man’s personality and rational faculties, and ignore the fact that they counted it their highest honour to be chosen as spokesmen for Jehovah. Those who object to the science, morality or religion of the Bible, and maintain that it therefore cannot be inspired, do not let the Bible speak for itself. They approach it with the anti-supernatural presuppositions and prejudices of ungodliness and unbelief. The objections cannot stand before the authority of Scripture or before the persuasion of the Holy Spirit when He graciously enlightens a mind in the truth or even before such evidence as men can properly summon in such a case, as will be indicated in the next article.

This article is taken by permission from the Free Presbyterian Magazine, November 2005, edited by K.D. Macleod. Website of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland:<a href="http://www.fpchurch.org.uk" target="_blank"

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