The Word Of God
O, Lord my God! When I in awesome wonder consider al the work Thy hands have made, I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder, Thy power through the universe displayed; Then sings my soul my savior God to Thee; how great Thou art! How great Thou art!
Revelation means "unveiling," "disclosure," and in theology refers to God's communication of divine truth. The meaning of revelation can be better understood when compared with inspiration. All Scripture is inspired of God (2 Tm. 3.16), but not all Scripture is given through revelation. All Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation--every sentence and every word--is inspired by God. However, many events in Scripture, both in the Old and New Testaments, are not revelation from God since these events were common knowledge to the writers. The gospels, for example, were events known first hand by the writers, or made known to them from eyewitnesses and not by revelation from God. Although revelation was not always necessary by God in the Scripture's formation, this does not mean the recording of these events by the writers are not inspired. Revelation is God making known information that could not otherwise be known.
Although there is only one revelation, the doctrine of revelation is generally divided into two areas: General revelation, and Special revelation.
GENERAL REVELATIONGeneral revelation reveals to humanity knowledge about God through creation, consciousness, and providence. General refers to the fact that this revelation is given to, and benefited by, all people.
David wrote in Ps. 19:
"The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expense is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the earth" (vs. 1-4).
In this hymn of praise, David rejoices in God's revelation in creation. In verse one, David says that the heavens are "declaring" or "narrating" ( Gesenius' P. 594) God's glory. The heavens are telling the story of God's power, majesty, and wisdom, and this narrating is universal, knowing no bounds or limits: "Their utterances to the end of the earth" (vs. 4).
Likewise, the apostle Paul writes:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power, and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Rom. 1.18-20).
Since creation, Paul writes, God's invisible attributes have been clearly seen and understood. The words clearly seen are one word in the Greek and means "to view something from up high" and therefore to see fully or clearly. "Being understood" is the Greek word noel and means "To perceive with thought coming into consciousness as distinct from the perceptions of senses," "To mark, understand, apprehend, discern" (Zodhiates). These invisible attributes displayed in creation are plainly seen and fully apprehended with the mind. What are these invisible attributes? Paul tells us they are God's eternal power and divine nature. These are clearly seen and understood by every person through what God has made.
The second way God reveals general revelation is through the conscious. According to Romans 1.18-29, everyone has a consciousness of God. This consciousness of God is given to all by God: "Because that which is known about God is evident within them for God made it evident to them" (vs. 19). In Romans 2.14-15 Paul writes:
"For when the Gentiles who do not have the law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or defending them."
The apostle Paul explains that even though the Gentiles do not have the written law, they do have God's moral law (the Ten Commandments) written on their hearts; and their conscience either accuses them or defends their behavior.
The third way God gives general revelation is in providence. After Paul and Barnabas healed the lame man at Lystra (Acts 14.8-18), the result was the people tried to offer sacrifices to them. Paul, dismayed over the situation, said to the people:
"Men why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you in order that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. And in the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good, and gave you rains from the heavens and fruitful seasons satisfying your hearts with food and gladness."
Paul skillfully applies God's revelation in providence to teach these Gentiles about God. Paul does not reason with them from the Scriptures, as he often did with the Jews, but reasons from God's providence, the only point of contact Paul has with Gentiles unfamiliar with the Scriptures.
In summary, general revelation is universal, reaching all humanity, and it reveals God's glory, power, wisdom, and divine nature. However, general revelation is limited because it does not reveal such attributes as God's saving grace, mercy, forgiveness, and electing love. Most important, general revelation cannot reveal God's plan of salvation. Despite these limitations, general revelation gives humanity knowledge of God's existence, and the obligation to worship Him. Therefore, all are without excuse for failing to worship the true and living God.
General revelation also serves as a contact point for the preaching of the gospel. "Since all people possess a rudimentary knowledge of God, the Christian witness is assured that when he speaks to a sinner the notion of God is not a meaningless cipher" (EDT, P. 945). "General revelation, therefore, affords a common ground or point of contact between the believer and the nonbeliever, or between the gospel and the thinking of the unbeliever" (Garrett, Systematic Theology, P. 49).
Although this is true, we must exercise caution; We must guard against becoming unbalanced by neglecting what Scripture affirms elsewhere. The nonbeliever will never be reasoned into the kingdom of God. The Holy Spirit must give life and remove darkness from those who are blind. Nevertheless, Christians must use all legitimate means feasible to win the lost to Christ. However, our confidence must never rest in clever methods or proofs, but only in the work of the Holy Spirit, knowing: "A natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2.14). Therefore, when considering methodologies in evangelism, or the use of so-called theistic "proofs" relating to general revelation, or whatever area of theology, first listen to the words of one of the greatest evangelist:
"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that you faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor. 2:1-5).
Special revelation is God communicating individually. A few examples are: God speaking with Moses in the burning bush, God speaking in dreams, visions, through the Prophets, and even personal visitations (called theophanies, see Gen. 18). The greatest, however, of all God's special revelation is the incarnation of Jesus Christ: "If you had known Me," said Christ, "you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him and have seen Him" (Jn. 14.7).
Special revelation is given for humanity's benefit but not all see or profit by it. In contrast, general revelation is communicated to all, and all see it and are accountable for the knowledge given. For example, not everyone spoke with God in the burning bush, for that was special revelation given only to Moses. But all do see "the heavens declaring the glory of God.
The distinctions being drawn between General and Special revelation are important because the Bible is God's special revelation, and with the writing of the New Testament God gave His final revelation regarding His plans, purposes, and will. Nothing else is needed; nothing else is to be sought. Special revelation has ceased (Jude 3; 2 Tm 3:16; Heb 1:1-3). Those wishing to know who God is and what He is like must turn to the Scriptures. Through the special revelation of the Scriptures, God provides a clear description of who He is and what He is like, and reveals His plan of redemption in His Son Jesus Christ. Without this revelation, humanity could not have the necessary knowledge needed to be restored to fellowship with God. But with this knowledge, special revelation has ended: "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son" (Heb. 1.3).
INSPIRATIONThe apostle states,
"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tm. 3.16).
Inspired is the Greek word theopneustos and means "God-breathed." When we say that Scripture is inspired by God we mean the same thing as the apostle Paul, that Scripture is God-breathed. At onetime, this definition was adequate for defining the doctrine of inspiration, but the constant attacks on this doctrine have made it necessary to particularize the definition of inspiration.
THE MEANING OF INSPIRATION(i) Some insist that not everything in the Bible is Scripture, but only what is inspired can rightly be called Scripture. Not surprisingly, they decide what is inspired and what is not. To illustrate the problem, a person can say that he believes Scripture is inspired by God, yet does not believe that the events in Genesis 1-3 are actually historical events. He can deny the Virgin birth, the resurrection, or anything he does not like because he believes not everything in the Bible is inspired, therefore, not everything in the Bible is Scripture. Obviously, the word "Scripture" does not have the same meaning with all, therefore, it is important in any discussion on inspiration that all do have the same understanding of what Scripture means. Those who hold to Biblical view of inspiration agree that the word "Scripture" refers to the whole Bible, all sixty-six books. From Genesis to Revelation, all Scripture is God-breathed.
(ii) The Scriptures are verbally inspired. Verbal inspiration means every word of Scripture is exactly the words that God meant. This view is supported by both Jesus statements on the subject, and by His use of Scripture.
On one occasion Jesus said of the Scriptures,
"Do not think that I came to abolish the law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished" (Mt. 5.17-18).
Jesus believed that not only the words of Scripture are inspired, but also the very letters that form the words are inspired from God.
On another occasion, the Sadducees came to Jesus attempting to disprove the doctrine of the resurrection. Jesus said to them,
"You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. . . . But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Mt. 22.29-33).
Jesus' remark, "Have you not read that which was spoken to you by God," demonstrates that Jesus believed that the Scriptures were verbally inspired. Also, note how Jesus defends the doctrine of the resurrection on the very tenses of the words: "I am the God of . . . " Jesus considered the Scriptures to be the inspired word of God even in the very tenses of the words.
Although the Scriptures teach verbal inspiration, they do not teach the idea of mechanical dictation. The mechanical dictation theory of inspiration teaches that God used the writers of Scripture as robots, only writing as God dictates, and their personality was not a factor in the Scripture's composition. The Scripture, however, teaches the Divine-human authorship. Every word divine; and every stroke of the pen human.
(iii) The original Scriptures are without error, "Thy word is Truth" (Jn. 17.17). Both the Old and New Testaments are without error in all that they affirm. They are truth without any mixture of error.
(iv). Inspiration is plenary, meaning the whole Bible is inspired. The apostle Paul states, "All Scripture is inspired of God" (2 Tm. 3.16), not "Some Scripture is inspired of God." However, there are some who do not believe that all Scripture is inspired of God. We will now consider some of these partial inspiration views.
PARTIAL INSPIRATION VIEWS(i) One partial inspiration view teaches that only the thoughts or ideas are inspired. This view teaches that God gave the basic message to the writers of Scripture, without any supernatural influence on the writers, but allowed the writers to express themselves as they desired. Without this influence, the writers were naturally influence by their backgrounds, presuppositions, and at times, their mistaken ideas about science and history. Obviously, this view of inspiration holds that there are errors and discrepancies in the Scriptures. Orthodox Christians, however, maintain the impossibility of separating thoughts and ideas from the words that express them. Ideas are expressed in words. The assertion that thoughts and ideas are inspired, but not the words that express them, is absurd. Hodge rightly observed, "Infallibility of thought cannot be secured or preserved independently of an infallible verbal rendering (A. A. Hodge, Outlines of Theology 67).
Second, the Scriptures themselves claim to be verbally inspired. The Apostle Paul said in 2 Tm. 3.16 that not only are the thoughts and ideas "God-breathed" but also the Scriptures themselves are God-breathed. Likewise, Jesus said The words (not thoughts) I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (Jn. 6.63). [see also: Ps. 19; 119.9-11; Mt. 5.17; 22.23-32; Gal. 3.16]
(ii) Another partial inspiration view is that the Scriptures are inspired only in matters of faith and practice. This view denies the inspiration of Scripture when it comes to matters regarding history or science. Therefore, according to this view, the Scriptures contain many historical and scientific errors, but are inspired and without error when speaking about matters regarding faith and practice. However, the problem with this view is since many fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith are so interwoven with historical events, i. e., the fall of Adam, the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, etc. Denying the inspiration of historical events, therefore, brings these very fundamental doctrines into question.
Furthermore, if God is able to ensure the Scripture's inspiration and accuracy regarding matters of faith and practice, then why is He not able to do the same regarding history and science? The orthodox position is that the whole of Scripture, including its historical and scientific contents, is God-breathed.
(iii) The Scriptures are not the word of God, but they become the word of God as the reader "encounters" God in them. In other words, God makes the Scripture inspired to the individual. What the Christian is asked to believe in this view is that even though the Scriptures are full of errors and discrepancies, God makes them inspired to the seeking believer. Forgetting the fact no Biblical support for this view exists, this view of inspiration is a greater miracle than the Biblical view of inspiration. Although God could not ensure the accuracy of the Scriptures through its human authors, He nevertheless takes what is inaccurate and makes it inspired for the seeking believer--Truly miraculous!
All partial views of inspiration have one significant fault. Who decides what is inspired in the Scriptures and what is not? If Scripture is only partially inspired, then who decides what parts are God's word and what parts are not? Does this crucial responsibility belong to the fallible theologian? Who is "qualified" to separate the inspired from the non-inspired? The problem with all partial views of inspiration, is they cunningly take the Scriptures out the believer's hands by making its exposition dependent on so-called experts who are as fallible as their fallible Scriptures they claim to expound.
Summarizing, the Scriptures, all sixty-six books of the Bible, are verbally and plenary inspired by God, and are therefore without error in all that they affirm.
DIVINE-HUMAN AUTHORSHIP"For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1.21).
By misunderstanding the nature of Scripture's Divine-human authorship some assume the Scriptures must contain errors. This false assumption is the result of not distinguishing the Divine element in the divine-human relationship of inspiration. The Scriptures are indeed the composition of human authors, and their environment, personality, religious background, education, intelligence, etc., can be easily traced throughout their writings. Considering also the fact "to error is human," it is understandable that some hold the position that human authorship necessarily introduces the element of error--understandable, that is, if only viewed from the human side of inspiration.
The Scriptures, however, are the result of Divine-human authorship, by "men moved by the Holy Spirit." Young, in his excellent book, Thy Word is Truth, explains:
"What kind of God is He who cannot reveal to the world a message that is free from error? Surely, He must be limited and restricted indeed! Those of us who from time to time engage in a bit of writing are happy to have a stenographer who types our work accurately. If we discover the stenographer is constantly making mistakes in her typing, and that these mistakes are of so serious a nature that our work is actually obscured and marred thereby, we shall probably change stenographers. God, however, if the position we are considering now is correct, cannot even do this. God is far more limited than we mortals. We have the ability of hiring someone who will do our work for us as we desire it done; God, on the other hand, cannot even do that. When God would speak to mankind in writing, He cannot get His message across without having it cluttered up with irritating errors . . .. If indeed man can thus thwart Him, it is pertinent to ask, Is He really worth knowing after all" (p. 73).
Some suppose that since the original writings of Scripture, called autographs, no longer exist, any argument for or against the doctrine of inerrancy is pointless. However, this conclusion is groundless.
In construction, they construct a building with the help of a benchmark, a reference point for the measurements of the building. Before construction begins, a survey crew will set a post in the ground and on this post place a benchmark. This mark now becomes the take off point for the measurements of building. If the benchmark was some how moved or lost after construction began, it could be accurately reproduced by going to a place where the bench mark had been used, preferably one or several closest to the original benchmark. By doing this, the original benchmark could be reliably reproduced. However, to find that the bench mark itself was inaccurate is altogether different matter, and in construction such an error could be catastrophic, for now the entire foundation could be wrong.
A further illustration may help. Suppose a School teacher asked her seventh grade class to copy the Gettysburg Address as she accurately read it to them. It is reasonable to assume that some students would perform the requested task without error, while others would, in varying degrees, make errors. Is it possible to reconstruct accurately the Gettysburg Address from only the student's copies, even if some, or even all, contain errors? All we need do is gather up all the copies and compare them one with another and eliminate the errors. For example, the teacher collected thirty copies from her students, and out of thirty, twenty-eight began with "For score and seven years ago" while the remaining two read "Four score and five years ago," and "Seven score and four years ago" respectively. Since the students did not make identical errors, one is easily able to discern that the correct rendering is "For score and seven years ago." Following this procedure all the way through the student's copies, one can very accurately determine the original Gettysburg Address.
The process described is a very simplistic model of textual criticism. Textual criticism provides believers with a highly accurate translation of the Scriptures. The numerous manuscripts available to the textual critic have made it possible to reproduce translations that are nearly identical to the original writings. Various Scholars have put the figure at 999 out of a 1000 words to be identical to the original writings. The believer, therefore, can rest assuredly that he has a near-perfect text.
Now, the whole point of all this is, if the originals are errant, then despite how many copies exist, or how accurately the original is reproduced, it is still errant. Believers would be left without a sure foundation.
In discussing inspiration, inerrancy and the autographs, it is interesting that neither Jesus nor the apostles possessed the original Scriptures of the Old Testament, yet they would quote the Old Testament as authoritative. Clark Pinnock notes:
"The respect for the extant Old Testament text which Jesus and the Apostles held expresses their confidence in the providence of God which assured them that these copies and translations were indeed substantially identical to the inspired original" ( A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, P. 16).
ALLEGED DISCREPANCIES IN SCRIPTURE
Those who reject the Biblical doctrine of inspiration often cite what they believe to be discrepancies as proof that the Bible contains errors. It is not within the scope of this article to detail these alleged errors, or give solutions to problem texts. These so-called proofs of Scripture's fallibility are not a recent development in Church history, and many able people have given satisfactory answers over the centuries to these problem texts. Allege Discrepancies of the Bible, by John W. Haley, for example, list these supposed discrepancies with their solutions, and is an excellent resource book for the believer.
Therefore, rather then go over an area that has been well worked by others it will be more helpful to offer some general guidelines about what is an actual discrepancy. A. A. Hodge says the following must be true if an alleged discrepancy is valid:
(1) The alleged discrepancy occurred in the original autographs. (2) The interpretation of the Scripture or Scriptures resulting in the discrepancy is the true interpretation intended by the writer. (3) The facts of science and history in conflict with Scriptural statements are provable facts. (4) It must be proved that the alleged discrepancy is incapable of being reconciled ( Outlines of Theology , p. 76-77).
In closing, it is only fair to say that the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration is not without difficulties. Yet, as B. B. Warfield has observed:
"The question is not, whether the doctrine of plenary inspiration has difficulties to face. The question is, whether these difficulties are greater than the difficulty of believing that the whole church of God from the beginning has been deceived in her estimate of the Scriptures committed to her charge--are greater than the difficulty of believing that the college of the apostles, yes and the Christ Himself at their head, were themselves deceived as to the nature of those Scriptures which they gave to the Church as its precious possession, and have deceived with them twenty Christian centuries, and are likely to deceive twenty more before our boasted advancing light has corrected their error--are greater than the difficulty of believing that we have no sure foundation for our faith and no certain warrant for our trust in Christ for salvation" (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 128).
Because God graciously gave us His written word, the Bible alone is sufficient to guide the believer in his walk of faith with God. God's word is sufficient. The believer need not turn elsewhere for spiritual understanding or guidance. He need not turn to a church, Pope, minister, so-called prophets with a word from the Lord--he need only turn to the Book. It is not meant that a believer should not seek the counsel of others. The Scripture teaches us that it is wise to seek the counsel of others. However, the Scripture provides sufficient and plain instructions so that a believer can live a life of faith and obedience, and to know what God's will is: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tm. 3.16).