Monday, March 22, 2010

The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture Pt 1

The Bible’s Inspiration and Authority Pt 1

In this post we will look at issues pertinent to the subject of Inspiration. Tomorrow, God permitting, we will look at the Scripture's authority. It should be fairly obvious that if the Bible is inspired by God, then it is authoritative.
The first step we should take in demonstrating the authority of Scripture is the affirmation of its inspiration. Against Pantheists and Intuitionalists, we affirm the possibility of supernatural revelation. Against Deists, we affirm the necessity of supernatural revelation. Against so-called Christian rationalists, we affirm its supreme authority. And against Mystics and Roman Catholics, we affirm its completeness.

The classical Protestant position regarding supernatural revelation affirms that the Bible, and the Bible alone – comprised of the Old and New Testaments – is the source and rule of a true theology. The Protestant Confessions are replete with declarations to this effect.

Any writing that is inspired by God is, of course, of divine origin, of infallible authority and is, ipso facto, entitled to be placed as an integral part of supernatural revelation. Before discussing the Nature, Degree and Proofs of Inspiration we should first discuss the reasons for considering the subject of Inspiration in the first place.

First of all, supernatural revelation is necessary to the religious interests of mankind. It is necessary in order to correct and reinforce the doctrines of natural religion that have been marred and obscured by sin. It is necessary to disclose the facts and truths of redemption without which there would be no deliverance from the effects of the Fall.

Secondly, the Bible asserts its own inspiration. The Bible claims to deal authoritatively with all questions of religion and morality.

Thirdly, it has been the uniform testimony of the universal Church. This has been the position of Jews and Christians. Even granting that this does not provide insurmountable proof for the inspiration of Scripture, it does merit consideration. It would be redundant to show that the Divine inspiration of the Bible has been the faith of scholars, philosophers, scientific men as well as that of countless saints from all walks of life.

Fourthly, study of this question has been necessitated by the attempts made by many to represent the Bible as of coordinate value with the sacred texts of other religions.

Fifthly and lastly, assaults upon the Scriptures have not only been made by avowed infidels. Most of these attacks have come from professing Christian scholars. This is at least true of the doctrine of Plenary Inspiration. The anti-supernaturalists have wide representation even in the institutions under the care of orthodox churches.

What is the Nature of Inspiration? To answer this, the first question we must face is what is our source of information on this subject? I embrace Dr. Hodge’s answer to this question: “The nature of inspiration is to be learnt from the Scriptures; from their didactic statements, and from their phenomena.” (Systematic Theology, Volume 1 Chapter 6, § 2)

The Old Testament claims, “Thus saith the Lord,” 413 times. There are numerous direct quotations and allusions throughout by the Old Testament authors to each other. The New Testament gives its familiar “It is written,” sixty-three times. The New Testament also cites itself on many occasions. Peter classes all of Paul’s epistles with the inspired Scriptures (2 Pet. 3:15-16). Paul quotes Luke’s gospel as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18 (cf. Luke 10:7). Luke refers to his previous work (Acts 1:1). Jude cites 2 Peter 3:2-3 in verse 18 of his Epistle. John alludes to his own gospel. Paul mentions another letter he had written to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 5:9). Some of these examples are not formal quotations, but they do illustrate the fact that within the New Testament there is recognition of one inspired book by another.

The clincher though is in Revelation 1:2, where the Word of God is identified with the testimony of Jesus Christ! This statement runs in both directions. Firstly, it means that the testimony of Jesus Christ in the New Testament in as fully God’s Word as the Old Testament. Secondly, it means that the Old Testament is equally the testimony of Jesus Christ.

The Prophets and Apostles claimed to be commissioned by God to declare His will, which is the same thing as to be inspired. This was no arbitrary claim either. It was not addressed to an implicit faith. They backed up such claims with extraordinary credentials. The inspiration was proven by miracles, if not by the author himself by another author who recognized the inspiration of the other’s work. These miracles were not random. Pay attention and you'll notice the consistency of focus and inherent unity of the Biblical miracles. The inspired messages were recorded; these records are the Scriptures.

I. What then, according to the Scriptures, is Inspiration? Inspiration is:
• It is an influence of the Holy Spirit affecting a human mind.
• It is an influence exerted by the Holy Spirit. (See Acts 1:16, Acts 2:4, Acts 28:25, Mark 12:35,36; 1 Peter 1:10,11)
• It is an influence either strictly revealing unknown truth to the mind or presenting to it known truth.
• It is an immediate influence. By this I mean to say that it is not exerted through any medium. It brings truth directly into contact with the mind.
• It is a supernatural influence; meaning to say that there are no naturalistic factors that can account for it. It is above and beyond all natural faculties of the human mind.
• It is an objective influence. It comes from outside the mind and communicates an external revelation of God’s will to it.
• It is an influence that is intended to produce teachers. It is not intended to produce saints. Both Balaam and Caiaphas were subjects of this influence when they spoke their extraordinary prophecies. Even among the true Prophets and Apostles, we see less-than-ideal behavior when they were not under this influence (Peter at Antioch, Paul and Barnabas, Moses striking the rock, etc).
• It is an influence that guarantees infallible teaching. The inspired writer, as long as he was inspired, could not err. Without this influence they could and did err (see previous point), but with it, they could do or say no wrong.
• It is an influence that guarantees the teaching of God’s will in regard to the spiritual interests of mankind. This is its main purpose. It is not a textbook on physics, math or politics. If it does address these issues, it does so incidentally, not as its primary concern
• It is an influence whose didactic inerrancy is not affected by the degree of emotional intensity that accompanies it.
• It is an influence whose exertion upon the mind of others is attested by miraculous proof. Either the announcements themselves were accompanied by miracles or they were vouched for by others whose inspiration was attested to by miracles.

So we must conclude that revelation as the product of inspiration is common to the Prophets and the Apostles on one hand, and to us on the other. Their specific difference is inspiration, ours is faith. They communicate the Scriptures; we receive them. Therefore, revelation does not come before inspiration.

II The next concern is the Relation of Revelation to the Scriptures. By this we mean to discuss the extent of the inspiration and coterminous nature of the words Special Revelation and Scripture.

Dr Martin Lloyd-Jones addressed this issue in this way, “There is no question at all that the falling away…in this country is the direct consequence of the Higher Criticism. The man in the street says, 'What do these Christians know?’ We all therefore have to face this ultimate and final question: Do we accept the Bible as the Word of God, as the sole authority in all matters of faith and practice, or do we not?…Do I accept Scripture as a revelation from God, or do I trust to speculation, human knowledge, human learning, human understanding and human reasons?…Do I pin my faith to, and subject all my thinking to, what I read in the Bible?…The Protestant position, as was the position of the early Church in the first centuries, is that the Bible is the Word of God. Not that it 'contains' it, but that it is the Word of God, uniquely inspired and inerrant. The Protestant Reformers believed not only that the Bible contained the revelation of God's truth to men, but that God safeguarded the truth by controlling the men who wrote it by the Holy Spirit, and that He kept them from error and from blemishes and from anything that was wrong…It is either this Book, or else it is ultimately the authority of the Church of Rome and her 'tradition'!” (From a sermon on Ephesians 6.14)

The error Dr. Lloyd-Jones is refuting is the belief that the Bible “contains” the Word of God but is not coterminous with it. But there is a further consideration to be made in this respect. I am referring to the extent of the inspiration, or put another way: Is the inspiration transferred to subsequent copies? Our reply is that the original manuscripts, also known as the autographs were inspired. Mistakes in copy and translation cannot make claim this original inspiration. A copy or translation is only authoritative inasmuch as it faithfully reproduces the autograph. The accuracy of the copies is a subject for further study, but it can be honestly said that although our 20th century translations do not possess original inspiration, they do possess a derived inspiration insofar as they are faithful to the original.

Critics have asserted that since the autographs are not extant, it cannot be held that the originals were inerrant. Our response is that Inerrancy is not an empirically known fact. It is a belief based upon what the Bible teaches regarding its own inspiration. Even though no infallible originals have been discovered, neither have any fallible originals been discovered. What we do have are very accurately copied manuscripts that have been adequately translated into other languages. Thus for all matters of doctrine and practice, toady’s Bible is an adequate representation of the authoritative word of God.

III What is the degree of inspiration?
There are four general theories with their own differing variations.

1. There is what is called the Mechanical theory. This theory claims that the inspired persons were involuntary, passive instruments. This has also sometimes been referred to as the Verbal Dictation method of inspiration.
2. There is a Differing Degrees of Inspiration theory. According to this theory, the degree of inspiration is greater or less depending upon the importance of the matter addressed.
3. There is the theory of spiritual insight. This is the theory of the rationalists and the so-called “higher critics.” The “inspiration” of this theory simply puts the writer into sympathy with the truth to be communicated. This does not guard him against liability to error in communication.
4. There is, lastly, the Dynamical theory. It asserts that both the thought and language are imparted by inspiring influence to the inspired author but in such a way as not to exclude or override the voluntary faculties of the human mind, which include the individual peculiarities of thought and language unique to the human authors.

As far as orthodox evangelical Protestants are concerned, the first and fourth theories are the only viable ones.

The biggest problem with the verbal dictation theory is that it seems a bit underhanded of God to let books be written in the names of authors who were really nothing more than photocopiers. On top of this there are the obvious characteristics of the individual writers’ styles. How is this to be accounted for without charging God with some sort of play-acting? The only verbal dictation theorist who has evaded this charge openly is John R. Rice. In his book Our God-Breathed Book – The Bible, he disclaims that this theory must necessarily be mechanical. Rice argues that God gave the dictation through the distinct personalities of authors, who God had providentially formed for this very purpose. God was then able, according to Rice, to give word-by-word dictation using the predetermined vocabularies of the different authors. This does not remove the above difficulty; it only hides it under a deeper layer. Proponents of this theory have appealed to recent phenomena like the so-called Bible Code. This is a weak appeal, in my opinion. The codes are necessarily arbitrary – as codes frequently are. This Code theory has been debunked by numerous scholars, many of whom are Jewish. Furthermore, if the fourth theory is correct, this appeal is not needed, even if the Bible Code theory were true.

On this fourth theory, A.H. Strong, in his Systematic Theology takes the view that is sometimes called conceptual inspiration. Strong means that God inspired the concepts, but not the particular literary expression. In other words, God provided the inspiration and the men of God gave it a verbal expression characteristic of their own styles. This resolves all the difficulties raised by the verbal dictation theory. It explains why the writings repeatedly tell us what, “saith the Lord,” while they claim to be the words of this or that prophet. Both are true. God is the Author of Scripture in the primary sense; but the human authors are true authors in a secondary sense. This does not violate the Divine or the human causality; both are real and are not contradictory to each other or exclusive of each other.

III Support for the Biblical Claim for Inspiration.

There are two lines of evidence to be considered on this question: the internal evidence and the external evidence. The internal evidence may be delineated as follows:
• Evidence of self-vindicating authority. This means that the Bible can vindicate its own authority once its voice is heard.
• Evidence of the testimony of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word is confirmed to His children by His Spirit.
• Evidence from the transforming ability of the Bible. It has the ability to convert the unbeliever and build up the believer in the faith
• Evidence of the unity of the Bible. Despite the fact that it was written by forty authors over the course of fifteen hundred years in several languages, it has an obvious unity of theme and exposition. Not a single point anywhere is contradicted by any other passage.

The external evidence may be listed as follows:
• Evidence from the historicity of the Bible. The Bible is historical and is therefore open to verification. This is done through archeological artifacts and written documents. Donald Wiseman writes, “The geography of Bible lands and visible remains of antiquity were gradually recorded until today (1958) more than 25,000 sites within this region and dating to Old Testament times, in their broadest sense, have been located.” (Revelation and the Bible). The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls makes an important point: there are more manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments than from any other book from antiquity.
• Evidence from the testimony of Christ. If Christ possesses any authority or integrity as a religious teacher, then the Scriptures are inspired. This can be demonstrated by His use of Scripture:
1. He knew the Scriptures thoroughly, even to words and verb tenses. He obviously had either memorized vast portions or knew it instinctively: John 7:15.
(Jesus need not verify every passage in the Canon or else we would find the whole Old Testament re-quoted in the New Testament, which is unnecessary. He verifies enough of it to assure us of complete approval of it all, including passages from all but a few books. Yet those also were in His Canon. He did not refute any of them.)
2. He believed every word of Scripture. All the prophecies concerning Himself were fulfilled, and He believed beforehand they would be.
3. He believed the Old Testament was historical fact. This is very clear, even though from the Creation (cf. Genesis 2:24 and Matthew 19:4, 5) onward. Much of what Jesus believed has long been under fire from the critics as being mere fiction. Here are some examples of historical facts from the Old Testament attested to by Jesus:
• Luke 11:51 Abel was a real individual
• Matthew. 24:37-39 Noah and the flood (Luke 17:26, 27)
• John 8:56-58 Abraham
• Matthew 10:15; 11:23, 24 (Luke 10:12) Sodom and Gomorrah
• Luke 17:28-32 Lot (and wife!)
• Matthew 8:11 Isaac and Jacob (Luke 13:28)
• John 6:31, 49, 58 Manna
• John 3:14 Serpent
• Matthew 12:39-41 Jonah (vs.42 - Sheba)
• Matthew 24:15 Daniel and Isaiah

4. He believed the books were written by the men whose names they bear:
• Moses wrote the Pentateuch (Torah): Matthew 19:7, 8; Mark 7:10, 12:26 ("Book of Moses" the Torah); Luke 5:14; 16:29, 31; 24:27, 44 ("Christ's Canon"); John 1:17; 5:45, 46; 7:19; ("The Law [Torah] was given by Moses; Grace and Truth came by Jesus Christ.")
• Isaiah wrote Isaiah: Mark 7:6-13; John 12:37-41.
• Jonah wrote Jonah: Matthew 12:39-41.
• Daniel wrote Daniel: Matthew 24:15.
5. He believed the Old Testament was spoken by God Himself, or written by the Holy Spirit's inspiration, even though the pen was held by men: Matthew 19:4, 5; 22:31, 32, 43; Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37.
6. He believed Scripture was more powerful than His miracles: Luke 16:29, 31.
7. He actually quoted it in overthrowing Satan! The O.T. Scriptures were the arbiter in every dispute: Matthew 4; Luke 16:29, 31.
8. He quoted Scripture as the basis for his own teaching. His ethics were the same as what we find already written in Scripture: Matthew 7:12; 19:18, 19; 22:40; Mark 7:9, 13; 10:19; 12:24,29-31; Luke 18:20.
9. He warned against replacing it with something else, or adding or subtracting from it. The Jewish leaders in His day had added to it with their Oral Traditions: Matthew 5:17; 15:1-9; 22:29; (cf. 5:43,44); Mark. 7:1-12. (Destroying faith in the Bible as God's Word will open the door today to a "new" Tradition.)
10. He will judge all men in the last day, as Messiah and King, on the basis of His infallible Word committed to writing by fallible men, guided by the infallible Holy Spirit: Matthew 25:31; John 5:22, 27; 12:48; Romans 2:16.
11. He made provision for the New Testament by sending the Holy Spirit. We must note that He Himself never wrote one word of Scripture although He is the Word of God Himself (the living Torah in flesh and blood, see John, chapter 1). He committed the task of all writing of the Word of God to fallible men guided by the infallible Holy Spirit. The apostles' words had the same authority as Christ's: Matthew 10:14, 15; Luke 10:16; John 13:20; 14:22; 15:26, 27; 16:12-14.
12. He not only was not jealous of the attention men paid to the Bible (denounced as "bibliolatry" by some), He reviled them for their ignorance of it: Matthew 22:29; Mark 12:24.
13. Nor did Jesus worship Scripture. He honored it even though written by men.
The above leaves no room but to conclude that our Lord Jesus Christ considered the canon of Scripture as God's Word, written by the hand of men.

• Evidence from prophecy. Hundreds of prophecies, given hundreds of years in advance have literally been fulfilled.
• Evidence from the Bible’s influence. No book has been more widely disseminated or has more greatly influenced the events of world history. It has influenced more thought, inspired more art and motivated more discovery than any other book. It has been published in billions of copies. There are no close seconds as an all-time best seller.
• Evidence from the Bible’s apparent indestructibility. No book has sustained more violent attacks. As early as 303, Diocletian tried to exterminate it. The Bible remains strong as ever after every attack. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” (Mark 13:31)
• Evidence from the integrity of the human authors. There is no good evidence to doubt that the authors were honest and sincere men.
There are other possible arguments, but the weight of the case can rest on these.
Tomorrow we will deal with the Bible's authority.

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