The Holy Scriptures - The Canon and Inspiration
IV. Our fourth question is, How was the Bible, this Book of books, produced? What was the true genesis of these Scriptures? Written evidently by men, how did they become the Word of God?
There are three distinct ways in which we can conceive that God might produce a book to be read by man - (1.) He could have produced it by his own immediate energy, acting directly and alone, as he did when he wrote the Ten Commandments with his own finger on tables of stone. (2.) He might have used men as his amanuenses, not as conscious and free penmen, but mechanically as his instruments of writing in simple obedience to his verbal dictation. (3.) The third way is the infinitely better one which God has chosen. It is the God-like way, which is in analogy with all his methods. He first created man, and endowed him constitutionally with all his rational, emotional, aesthetic, moral, and volitional powers. He then brought certain individual men into existence with the specific qualifications necessary for writing certain parts of Scripture, and placed them under their specific historical conditions, and in their specific positions in the succession of sacred writers, and gave them the precise degree and quality of religious experience, of natural providential guidance, of supernatural revelation and inspiration, necessary to stimulate their free activity and to determine the result as he would have it.
l. In the first place, the Bible is as intensely and thoroughly a human book as ever existed. As Christ was a true man, tempted in all points as we are, yet without sin, because also divine, so the Bible is thoroughly human, yet without error, because also divine. God is infinite; yet his word, the Bible, is finite - that is, God's thought is expressed under all the limits of human thought and language, so that man may receive and profit by it. God is omniscient; but his word, the Bible, is not omniscient. It is narrowly limited in its range as a human book, produced by the instrumentality of human minds, and addressed to human minds of all classes; but within that range it is infallible, without any error. It has its limitations, as every human work has. It is based on human intuitions; it proceeds through the lines of human logic; it implies human feelings, tastes, and experiences. Every separate book is a spontaneous work of human genius, and bears the marks of all the personal idiosyncrasies and of the historic situation of its author. The individuality of Peter, Paul, John, David, Isaiah, and Moses is as fully expressed in their writings as that of Shakespeare or of Milton in theirs. Each biblical writer wrote as freely and as spontaneously as any other. Each of these books was also a book of its time - bore the marks of its age, and was specifically adapted to accomplish its immediate end among its contemporaries. The provincialisms of thought and idiom proper to the situation of their writers are found in these books. They make no claim to eminent purity of language, or to high literary merit either in substance or form. Yet all these writings, severally and collectively, are books of all times, adapted perfectly to the edification and instruction of the Church of every age - of Moses, of David, of the prophets, of the time of Christ, of the ancient, medieval, Reformation, and modern Church. Of all books, it is the most comprehensively human. Of all God's works, it is the most characteristically divine. It is, in one view, an entire national literature; in another view, it is two distinct volumes; in another view, it is one single work, with one Author, subject, method, and end.
2. In the second place, the Bible is a divine book, bearing the attributes of its Author, God. All along the line of human authorship through which this wonderful book grew to be, during at least sixteen hundred years, God provided each specifically endowed and conditioned prophet for his appointed place in the succession, a place prepared for him by all who had preceded; and on this foundation, already provided, he proceeds to build up in organic continuity, and in symmetrical proportion, the system already inaugurated. To each prophet God has communicated his specific item of revelation and his specific impulse and direction through inspiration.
3. The result is that the whole is an organism, a whole consisting of many parts exquisitely correlated and vitally independent.
In this respect you may compare the Koran of Mohammed with the Christian Bible. In the great debate between the missionary Henry Martyn and the Persian moulvies, the latter showed a great superiority of logical and rhetorical power. They proved that the Koran was written by a great genius; that it was an epoch-making book, giving law to a language pre-eminent for elegance, inexhaustible fullness, and precision, revolutionizing kingdoms, forming empires, and molding civilization. Nevertheless, it was a single work, within the grasp of one great man. But Henry Martyn proved that the Bible is one single book, one single, intricate, organic whole, produced by more than forty different writers of every variety of culture and condition through sixteen centuries of time - that is, through about fifty successive generations of mankind. As a great cathedral, erected by many hands through many years, is born of one conceiving mind, and has had but one author, so only God can be the one Author of the whole Bible, for only he has been contemporaneous with all stages of its genesis; he only has been able to control and co-ordinate all the agents concerned in its production, so as to conceive and realize the incomparable result.
4. This book, whatever we may think of the propriety of it, unquestionably claims to be the Word of God. At the opening of the book it demands the implicit credence and obedience of every reader. Its instant order to every reader is, "Believe, on peril of your soul's life!" It does not point to evidence, nor plead before the bar of human reason. But it utters the voice of God and speaks by authority. What other book does this? And this claim has been abundantly vindicated through the ages in the opinion of the wisest and best of mankind - (1) by its demonstrations of supernatural knowledge, (2) of supernatural works, (3) of supernatural power over the hearts and consciences of men; (4) by the accompanying witness of the Holy Ghost; (5) by its omnipresent beneficent influence through all Christian lands and ages.
What would you think if today at high noon the existence and the light and heat and life-giving radiance of the sun were brought into question? How would you answer the skeptical denial of that self-evident fact by a blind man! To all the living the sun is its own witness. So all who question the divinity of the Bible only condemn themselves. What a sorry appearance the grotesque herd make even now!
V. What is God's part in bringing this Book of books into existence? This falls under several heads - namely, providence; the gracious work of his Spirit on the heart; revelation; inspiration.
1. Providence. In a previous lecture I showed that God is to be conceived of as an infinite Spirit, presiding over all creatures and acting upon them from without at his will, but also as omnipresent, at every moment immanent in every ultimate element of every creature, and acting in and through all things from within. Thus God's activities are everywhere confluent with our own spontaneities. All creatures live and move and have their being in him. He works in us to will as well as to do - that is, as free agents, though willing to do according to his good pleasure. A great musician elicits his most perfect music out of instruments and under conditions made for him beforehand by other men. How much more completely would the artist be the sole creator of his work if he could at will first create his material with the very qualities he needs, then build and attune his instruments for his own purposes, and then bring out from them, thus prepared and adjusted, the very music in its fullness which his soul has designed from the first. So God from the first designed and adapted every human writer employed in the genesis of Scripture. Paul, John, Peter, David, Isaiah, have been made precisely what they were, and placed and conditioned precisely as they were, and then moved to write, and directed in writing precisely what they wrote. The revelation was in a large measure through an historical series of events, led along by a providential guidance largely natural, but surcharged, as a cloud with electricity, with supernatural elements all along its line. Thus, under God's providence, the Scriptures grew to be, all the conspiring forces which contributed to their formation acting under the providential control of the ever-present, ever-acting, immanent God.
2. Spiritual Illumination. This includes the whole sum of God's gracious dealing with the soul of his prophet, qualifying him to be the fit organ for the communication of religious truth. In order to exhibit truth in its comprehensive logical relations, God employed the logical and scholastically trained mind of Paul. In all his writing this natural and acquired faculty of Paul acted under God's guidance as spontaneously and naturally as the same faculty ever wrought in the case of any other writer. But in relation to spiritual truth the natural mind of man is blind and without feeling. Spiritual illumination by the Holy Ghost, a personal religious experience, was as necessary in the case of such writers as David, John, and Paul as esthetic taste and genius are in the case of a poet or an artist. The spiritual intuition of John, the spiritualized understanding of Paul, the personal religious experience of David, have, by the superadded gift of inspiration, been rendered permanently typical and normal to the Church in all ages.
3. Revelation. Spiritual illumination opens the organ of spiritual vision, and clarifies it. Revelation, on the other hand, gives the additional light which nature does not supply. In every instance where supernatural knowledge of God, his attributes, his purposes, of the secrets of his grace or of the future of the Church in this world, of the life of body or of soul after death, came to be needed by a sacred writer, God immediately gave it to him by revelation. This was done in various ways, as by visions, dreams, direct mental suggestion, verbal dictation, and the like; but whatever the method of communication, it was perfectly adequate to the occasion and congruous to the nature of the person to whom it was made. This, of course, was never furnished except on the occasions when it was needed: it appears more frequently in some portions of Scripture than in others; but however frequent, it was an occasional and not a constant element of the Bible.
4. Inspiration. This was the absolutely constant attribute of every portion and of every element of the Scriptures, and that attribute which renders them infallible in every utterance, and which thus constitutes their grand distinguishing trait, separating them by the whole heavens from all other books. Revelation supernaturally communicated to the sacred writer the truth which he needed, and which he did not possess, and could not attain by any natural means. Inspiration, on the other hand, is that influence of the immanent Holy Ghost which accompanied every thought, and feeling, and impulse, and action of the sacred writer involved in the function of writing the word, and which guided him in the selection and utterance of truth - that is, in its conception and in its verbal expression - so that the very mind of God in the premises was expressed with infallible accuracy. This influence was exerted frown within the writer, not upon him from without. It in no degree constrains or forces; it directs through the writer's own spontaneity. It modifies action only so far as action would be otherwise divergent from the purpose of God or inadequate. It is like the directive agency of the plastic soul of the tree, which so directs the physical forces engaged in its erection that they spontaneously combine to form its intricate and voluminous organism. Or it is like the touch of the charioteer upon the reins which guide the courses of the racing steeds. Or it is like the touch of the hand of the steerer upon the rudder of the boat carried gently down the meandering stream by the currents of the air and water. These currents symbolize the natural powers and knowledge of the sacred writer, reinforced by revelation and by grace. The hand on the rudder symbolizes inspiration. It secures the fact that all things go right according to the will of the steersman. But it interferes only by gentle and alternate pressure, and thus only when otherwise the currents, if left to themselves, would not fulfill his will.
VI. What is the doctrine of the Christian Church as to the extent to which the Scriptures are inspired ?
The two opinions which individual Christian men have severally maintained on this subject are represented respectively by the two alternative phrases, "The Scriptures contain the word of God," "The Scriptures are the Word of God."
The first is the loose formula of those who hold a low doctrine of inspiration. A river in India, "rolling down its golden sands," may be truly said to contain gold. But in that case we are left in doubt as to the relative proportion between the sand and the gold, and to our own resources to discriminate and separate the two. If the Bible only "contains the Word of God," it evidently can be no infallible rule of faith and practice, because we are confessedly left to the two very human and fallible instruments (1) of "higher criticism," and (2) of the "Christian consciousness," to determine what elements of the Scriptures are the very "word of God," and what elements are only the word of man. A law can have no infallibility beyond that of the court which interprets it. So in this view of the case the Bible has no infallibility beyond that of the criticism and consciousness of our self-appointed, self-complacent guides.
But the Church has always held that "the Scriptures we the Word of God." This means that, however these books may have been produced through human agency, God has (1) so controlled the process of their genesis, and (2) he so absolutely endorses the result, that the Bible in every book and every word, both in matter and in form, is the very Word of God uttered to us.
The phrase "verbal inspiration" applied to the Scriptures does not mean that the sacred writers were inspired or directed in their work by words dictated or suggested. But it means that the divine influence which we call inspiration, and which accompanied them throughout their entire work, extended to the verbal expression of every thought as well as to the thoughts themselves. This inspiration has extended equally to every part of Scripture, matter and form, thought and words, and renders the whole and every part inerrant.
Calvin, in the sixth, seventh, and eighth chapters of his Institutes, continually uses the phrases "Scripture," "the Scriptures," "the sacred volume," and "the Word of God" as synonymous. The first Reformed Confession of national authority, the First Helvetic, says, Art. i.: "Canonical Scripture is the Word of God." The Second Helvetic Confession was the most widely recognized of all the Reformed Confessions in Switzerland, France, Hungary, Poland, Scotland, and highly honoured in England and Holland. It says: "We believe and confess that the canonical Scriptures of the holy prophets and apostles of both Testaments are the Word of God, and have plenary authority of themselves and not from men." Every Presbyterian minister and elder in England, Scotland, Ireland, Canada, and the United States, North and South, believes this, or he has forsworn himself. Each one has at his ordination solemnly declared, before God and man, that he believes these Scriptures "to be the Word of God " (Confession of Faith, Presbyterian Board of Publication, pp. 429, 434, 441). Thomas Cartwright, the father of English Presbyterianism, in his Treatise of the Christian Religione; or, The Whole Body and Substance of Divinity (London, A.D. 1616), has written his twelfth chapter "On the Word of God." This he identifies with the collection of canonical books, and accounts for their authority by saying, "for God is the Author of them."
This is the doctrine of the whole historical Church of God. The Roman Catholic Church declares it de fide to believe that God is the Author of every part of both Testaments (Can. Council of Trent, sec. 4; Dog. Decrees of Vatican,Council, 1870, sec. 3, chap. 2). Also every branch of the Reformed Church - for example, Belgic Confession, Art. 3; Second Helvetic Confession, chap. 1; Westminster
Confession, chap. l. In this respect the late Professor Henry B. Smith, the noble representative of the theology of the New School Branch of the Presbyterian Church in the United States, precisely agrees with the late Professor Charles Hodge, who equally represented the theology of the Old School branch. In his sermon on The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, delivered be fore the Synod of New York and New Jersey, October 17, 1855, Dr. Smith said: -"All the divine revelations which are here recorded are also inspired, but all that is the subject of inspiration need not be conceived of as distinctly revealed. Inspiration designates that divine influence under which prophets or apostles spake or wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. Christ is the great Revealer, the Holy Spirit inspires. "Its function is to convey unto the world, through divinely commissioned prophets and apostles, either orally or by writing, under the specific influence of the Holy Spirit, whatever has been thus revealed. Its object is the communication of truth in an infallible manner, so that when rightfully interpreted no error is conveyed. "It comprises both the matter and the form of the Bible - the matter in the form in which it is conveyed and set forth. It extends even to the language - not in the mechanical sense that each word is dictated by the Holy Spirit, but in the sense that under divine guidance each writer spake in his own language according to the measure of his knowledge, acquired by personal experience, the testimony of others, or by immediate divine revelation.
"So wonderfully do the divine and human elements commingle in the Scriptures, as do the first and second causes also in the realm of providence, that it is vain to limit. inspiration to doctrine and truth, excluding history frown its sphere. The attempt is as unphilosophical as it is unscriptural. No analysis can detect such a line of separation. It is both invisible and not to be spiritually discerned.
"The theory of plenary inspiration, as we have already given it, comprises whatever is true in all these views, subordinate to the prime position that the Bible not only contains, but is, the Word of God."
Dr. H. B. Smith's Introduction to Christian Theology: "Inspiration gives us a book, properly called the Word of God, inspired in all its parts. The inspiration is plenary in the sense of extending to all the parts and of extending also to the words."
VII. What is to be said as to alleged discrepancies?
The above statement unquestionably truly represents the ancient and catholic faith of the historic Church of Christ. The hostile critics and theorists object that the Scriptures are full of inaccuracies and discrepancies of statement - (1) as between the statements of Scripture and modern science or undoubted history; (2) as between one statement or quotation of Scripture and another.
In answer to this we have space to say only -
1st. We freely admit that many errors have crept into the sacred text as it exists at present; although none of these errors, nor all of them together, obscure one Christian doctrine or important fact. In order to make good the objection of the critics, it is necessary that they show that the discrepancy exists when the clearly ascertained original text of Scripture is in question.
2nd. The Scriptures were not written from the scientific point of view, nor intended to anticipate science. A distinction should be clearly drawn and strongly held between the speculations of science and its ascertained facts.
The speculations of science are like the changing currents of the sea, while the Scriptures have breasted them like the rocks for two thousand years. The Scriptures speak of nature as it presents itself phenomenally. When this is remembered, the Bible contradicts no fact of science. On the contrary, the entire view of the genesis and order of the physical world presented by the Bible, in contrast with all the other ancient books whatsoever, is in correspondence with that presented by modern science to a degree perfectly miraculous. The men who press this objection are ignorant either of science or of the Bible, or, more probably, of both.
3rd. As to the alleged discrepancies with history, it must be remembered (a) that the most modern discoveries (from Egypt and Assyria) most wonderfully confirm the historical accuracy of Scripture; (b) that when only a part of an ancient situation is historically illuminated, different accounts may appear inconsistent which are really complementary to each other and mutually supporting.
4th. As to the discrepancies alleged to exist in certain passages between the Scriptures themselves, it is evident that the question is one of fact, which can be settled only by a thorough, learned, intelligent, and impartial investigation. Very few men are qualified to give an opinion. There is no possibility of commencing even an investigation in a popular lecture. It is sufficient for me that men like my learned colleagues in Princeton Seminary, who spend their lives in the special study of the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, assure me that one single instance of such discrepancy has ever been proved.