The Word of God
by J. C. Wenger
Near the end of his lucid monograph, The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought, the late John Baillie tells sympathetically of the complaint made by a certain man to Professor Baillie. The man lamented that in spite of the fact that we worship God, we put our trust in Him, we direct our prayers to Him, we bow down to Him, and we lift up our hearts to Him, yet He makes no response. It is, declared the man, "all so one-sided." That this man was in some measure not justified, Baillie is at some pains to show. And yet that man spoke for number-less millions of people who have yet to find a true word from God. This was that for which the Greek philosopher Plato sensed the need when Jie spoke of the possibility of finding a "sure word of God." John Wesley expressed this need vividly when he cried: "I want to know one thing--the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore." And then he cried out ecstatically, "God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God" (Preface to Standard Sermons, edited by E. H. Sugden, London, 1746; Epworth Press Reprint, 1955, pp. 31, 32).
Has God Spoken?
Let us now take up that Book and look briefly in it. Does it really claim to present the Word of God? The answer is emphatically affirmative. The Bible indicates that in very truth God has spoken. The God who spoke is the God who also acted. He is the God who by His spoken word brought into being the heavens and the earth. "He spake, and it was done," declared the psalmist. Psalm 33:9. And this declaration illustrates the dynamic character of God's Word: by His Word He effects whatever His intention may be. Even the creation of the universe was by His spoken word. The Bible itself begins with a majestic account of this creation. And majestic it surely is. Concerning Genesis I James Orr wrote: "However it got there, this chapter manifestly, stands in its fit place as the introduction to all that follows. Where is there anything like it in all literature? There is nothing anywhere, in Babylonian legend' or anywhere else" (The Fundamentals, VI, c.1910, p.85).
Genesis 1 is indeed a fitting introduction to the whole Bible, for it does not begin with a syllogism or with a reasoned defense of the existence of Deity. It begins with God in action. This is the God who created man "in his own image, in the image of God created he him" (Genesis 1:27). This is the personal God who came "walking in the garden" of Eden, "in the cool of the day"--only to find His creatures of the divine image in a wicked state of revolt. And right there in the Garden of Eden ("Pleasure") God manifested His infinite love and grace by announcing that one day the "Seed of the woman" would conquer the tempter. And this is the scarlet thread of redemption on which all the subsequent acts of God were hung, until Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, born of the Virgin Mary, died on the cross for the redemption of God's lost sons of Adam. As early as Genesis 6 we find this sovereign Creator and Redeemer-God making a gracious covenant with the faithful Noah and his family. With a remarkable compression of history, the account hurries on to the time of Abraham, something like two millennia before the Christian era. And with him God again graciously took the initiative in renewing this covenant .of grace, a covenant with Abraham and his seed, promising him the land of Canaan, and a large progeny, and also stating obscurely that in Abraham's "Seed" all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Genesis 12 to 50 is devoted to the patriarchal narratives relating to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and with Israel in Egypt, about to become slaves of the Pharaohs.
The second book of the Bible is devoted to the exodus of Israel from Egypt, her national redemption, when God brought His chosen people out of their bondage by His strong and mighty arm, under the leader whom He had caused to be marvelously prepared for his great role as lawgiver and prophet, the mighty Moses. Through the' agency of Moses God once more in grace took the initiative and made a solemn covenant with His chosen people of Israel, giving them His holy law, and ratifying His holy covenant with blood. After the death of Moses, the Lord provided a leader in the person of Joshua who executed the initial conquest of Canaan. For several centuries the tribes of' Israel lived in Canaan with only local judges, who also served as military deliverers, until the time of the prophet Samuel. Then at Israel's request, and by God's .selection, Samuel anointed Saul as Israel's first national king. From him the throne passed to his son-in-law David, and from David to his son Solomon. After Solomon's death the kingdom was divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. Israel existed as a nation from about 931 B.C. to 722/21 B.C., after which her tribes were carried into Assyrian exile, never to return en masse. Judah continued as a nation from about 931 to 586 B.C., and was then carried into Babylonian captivity, only to return several generations later, a chastened people, now forever cured of all idolatrous tendencies. And finally, about 5 B.C., the Lord Jesus Christ was born, the long-awaited "Seed of the woman," who was destined to for the sins of the world, to arise from the dead, and to establish the Christian Church by the gift of the Holy Spirit: all this about AD. 30.
In the fullest sense the expression, Word of God, applies strictly to Jesus Christ, for He was the living embodiment of God. He was in His very person the incarnation of Deity. All that God is, Christ is. The incarnate Son of God is "the image of the invisible God" (Colossians 1:15); "all fulness" dwells in Him (Colossians "1:19). He is the express image of [God's] person" (Hebrews 1:3).
God's Message Through the Prophets
In the Old Testament, however, when God chose to convey His message to selected recipients of His special revelation, the expression was commonly used: The Word of Jahweh [pronounced YAH-way and generally spelled Yahweh] came (literally "was") unto this person or that. The Word of Yahweh was in the primary sense not a written book but a living word received by the patriarch or prophet of the Lord. Thus in Genesis 15 "The Word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision."
The prophet who was the chief recipient of Yahweh's Word was none other than Moses. Over seventy times the Scripture reports that "Yahweh spake unto Moses saying." (About ten times it is reported that He spake "unto Moses and Aaron.") The Scripture stresses how intimate the Lord was with Moses: with him Yahweh spake "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11). The expression, "Word of Yahweh," refers all through the Pentateuch to the living word received by Moses and other chosen servants of the Lord; it is not used of written scrolls.
The second division of the Hebrew Scriptures was known as the prophets, and consisted of two parts, the four books of the former prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and--as the Jews counted--the four books of the latter prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and "The Twelve," i.e., the twelve minor prophets). Once again the usage is uniform with the five books of the law: the Word of Yahweh designated the living message which God communicated to selected persons. Thus we read of Joshua being obedient to "the word of Yahweh which he commanded" him. Joshua 8:27. Likewise the children of Israel gave Joshua an inheritance in Canaan "according to the commandment of Yahweh" (19:50). When Samuel was a lad, "the word of Yahweh was rare" (I Samuel 3:1). Samuel later, as a prophet of the Lord, asked Saul to tarry with him in order that he might "hear the word of Elohim [God]" (9:27). Later the prophet rebuked the king for his disobedience to the Word of Yahweh (15:23), that is, the message which the Lord had delivered to Saul through His servant Samuel. In David's song of praise in II Samuel 22, and its parallel in Psalm 18, he proclaimed that "the word of Yahweh is tried," that is, it proves to be true in the experience of His saints. Later we read that Abiathar was deposed according to the word which Yahweh had spoken of the house of Eli in Shiloh (I Kings 2:27), a word which the Lord had proclaimed to Eli through "a man d God," that is, a prophet. And in I Kings 12 we learn how the Word of God came to the prophet Shemaiah, forbidding Judah to go to war with Israel, and how Judah obeyed the Word of Yahweh. 12:24. The usage of the former prophets is exactly like that of the law: the Word of Yahweh means the message which He uttered through a chosen person. It is not spoken of a written scroll.
In the latter prophets (the books of the writing prophets, Isaiah through Malachi, less Daniel), the usage remains the same. Isaiah the son of Amoz received a message which he called upon the people to hearken to: "for Yahweh hath spoken" (1:2). He could therefore cry out: "Hear the word of Yahweh" (1:10). Again in Isaiah God speaks (40:1) and the prophet cries (40:8):
the flower fadeth:
But the word of our God
shall stand for ever.
That is, the message which the prophets deliver from the mouth of the Lord is utterly reliable. Jeremiah laments the spiritual hardness of hearing on the part of the Lord's people: "Behold, the word of Yahweh is unto them a reproach; they have no delight in it" (6:10). It should be noted that the difference between a true prophet of Yahweh and a false prophet was that the former truly received a word from Yahweh, while the latter claimed that Yahweh had given a message, when as a matter of actual fact, he had received nothing from Him. This differentiation is set forth in great fullness and clarity in Jeremiah 23. And so, one after another of Yahweh's prophets appeared in Israel, proclaiming courageously the Word of Yahweh which they had received from Him. "The word of Yahweh came expressly unto Ezekiel . . . in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar" (1:3), to Hosea (1:1), to Joel (1:1), and so on. One of the worst judgments which Amos predicted was a famine, not of bread or water, "but of hearing the words of Yahweh" (8:11).
The usage of the phrase, "Word of Yahweh," remains the same in the Psalms and in the other books of the third division of the Hebrew Scriptures. The heavens were made by the Word of Yahweh. Psalm 33:6. Daniel 9:2 is somewhat unique, for the prophet writes of reading "in the books" how long the exile was to last, "according to the word of Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet." In this case what was initially the spoken message delivered by the prophet had subsequently been recorded as indeed happened in the case of many of the oracles of Yahweh's prophets. I Chronicles reports that Saul died for disobeying the Word of Yahweh, that is, the word which Samuel spoke on behalf of Yahweh to the stubborn monarch. 10:13. Likewise the coronation of David was by the Word of Yahweh. 11:3. After the tragic death of Uzzah, and King David had learned his lesson, the Levites bore the ark upon their shoulders "as Moses commanded according to the word of Yahweh" (15:15). A little later the Word of Yahweh came to the prophet Nathan in the night, "Go and tell David my servant, Thus saith Yahweh, Thou shalt not build me an house to dwell in . . ." (17:4). The many references in the Psalms to the precious character of God's Word must likewise refer primarily to the various promises, warnings, and words of comfort which God on different occasions brought to His people through His messengers, the prophets.
The Gospel of Christ
In the Scriptures, of the New Testament the most common use of the of the phrase, "Word of God," is in the sense of the proclamation of the Gospel of Christ. James writes, for example, that God begat us "by the word of truth" (1:1 8)--that is, we responded to the invitation of the Gospel message, turned to Christ, and received the new birth. The "engrafted word" of which James speaks (1:21) refers to the way God stamps His Word in our hearts in the new birth. To be doers of the Word, not just hearers, means that we put to practice what we learn as the Lord's servants proclaim His will for us.
The usage of Paul is identical. The believers at Thessalonica "received the word in much affliction" (1:6); it was under conditions of stress and persecution that they heard the Gospel preached. And from them "sounded out the word of the Lord" (1:8), that is, they were faithful in proclaiming the Gospel. They themselves had heard from Paul "the word of God" (2:13). On the contrary, those who "corrupt the word of God" (II Corinthians 2:17) are those who do not proclaim the Gospel in its purity. Paul actually uses the full expression, "the word of the truth of the gospel" (Colossians 1:5). The expression, "the washing of water by the word" (Ephesians 5:26), refers to the spiritual cleansing which the acceptance of the Gospel brings. Calling the Word of God "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17) means that the Holy Spirit uses Gospel preaching to convict the unconverted of their need of Christ. And the writer of Hebrews speaks of those who have "tasted the good word of God," that is, who have had an experiential knowledge of the Christ who is offered in the preaching of the Gospel.
In the Synoptic Gospels and the Acts the Word also commonly means the message of the Gospel which the Lord's saints were proclaiming. "The sower soweth the word" (Mark 4:14). Believers experience persecution "because of the word" (Matthew 13:21). Many of those who "heard the word" became believers. Acts 4:4. The early Christians "spake the word of God with boldness" (Acts 4:31). The apostles thought it wrong to leave [the proclamation of] the Word of God to "serve tables" (Acts 6:2). In reporting how the church became increasingly active and effective in spreading the word of the Gospel, Luke says: "the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly" (Acts 6:7; cf. 17:13; 18:11).
In Peter's writings the usage is similar. Christians hear the word of the Gospel, accept the Christ there offered them, and thus are said to be "born again . . . by the word of God" (1:23). And this word of the Gospel "endureth for ever . . . the word which by [or, in] the gospel is preached unto you" (1:25).
John's writings sometimes employ the term Word in the Old Testament sense of a Word from God, only in this case the Prophet was none other than the Son of God Himself: "I have given them thy word" (17:14). Similarly, "the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's which sent me" (14:24). The word which sanctified the apostles was certainly this word from God which Jesus proclaimed. 17:17. As an aged patriarch, one who many decades earlier had sat at the feet of the Son of God, the Apostle John calls Christ's command to live in love, "the old commandment" (I John 2:7). John was in exile on Patmos for his activity in proclaiming the Word of God, (Revelation 1:9) the saving Gospel of Christ. There John received the special revelation which we know as the Revelation; he received it from an angel and "bare record of the word of God" [which the angel I revealed to him. Revelation 1:1, 2. In the book we learn of the saints who were put to death for "the word of God," for their activity in sharing the Gospel with others. 6:9; 20:4.
The Incarnate Son
But John has another, a unique, and a most important use of the phrase, "Word of God." He applied this pregnant name to the incarnate Son of God. Hence he can write that "the Word" was in the beginning with God, and that this "Word" was God. 1:1. Further, this eternal "Word" became flesh, "and dwelt ['tabernacled'] among us . . . full of grace and truth" (1:14). John added his own vivid memory: "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." He described this incarnate Word in the very beginning of his first epistle, stating how He who was "from the beginning" had been in their midst: the apostles had seen and heard Him, they had gazed upon Him--undoubtedly a reference to watching Him as He ministered to them the Word of God in the days of His flesh; indeed, they knew that this eternal Son of God had really become flesh, for with their hands they had touched Him, John declared. 1:1. And in the last book of the Bible, the Apocalypse--or, as the book names itself, The Revelation of Jesus Christ--John described the visions he saw of the forces of evil and their power to harass the saints of God, a series of truly terrible and monstrous scenes of persecution unto the death. But in the Revelation we are also reminded of who it is who sits upon the throne and controls history, who it is who opens the seals, who pours out His vials [or bowls ] of wrath, and who has the keys of death and Hades. John reports in chapter 19 a truly glorious sight. John saw heaven opened and One sitting upon a white horse, and the first name of the conquering One of Revelation 19 is Faithful and True. His eyes were like flames of fire, on His divine head were many crowns, and although His vesture had, been dipped in blood [at Calvary], He was now waging a mighty spiritual conquest of mankind with the "sword" of His mouth, the Gospel of the Crucified. His second name was the one which is of interest to us in our study, The Word of God: the One who expressed fully all that God is and all that He has to say to the human race, the full revelation of the invisible God. Let philosophers say what they will of the deus absconditus, the "hidden God," John here portrays Him as the deus revelatus, the God who in Christ has revealed Himself. And this revelatory Word of God is none other, says John, than King of kings and Lord of lords--the third name of our Lord in Revelation 19. So the Revelation portrays Christ, as do many other portions of Scripture, in His threefold office: a faithful high priest, a perfect prophet, and an omnipotent king. He is a faithful priest to His failing saints, He is the true Word of God who for our salvation became flesh and dwelt among us, and He is the One with all authority in heaven and in earth, with a name above every name both in this world and also in that which is to come.
The Written Scriptures
Thus far we have seen that the predominant usage of the term Word in Scripture referred first of all to the various messages which God communicated to His people through His servants the prophets; second, it referred to the proclaimed message of the Gospel; and third, to the personal Word of God, the incarnate Son of God. There is still another sense to the phrase, Word of God, and this fourth usage was instituted by the Lord Jesus. He referred to the written Scriptures of the old covenant as the Word of God. Jesus charged the Jews with ignoring what Moses had written, and heeding instead the oral tradition which had arisen in Israel, thus--said Jesus--making void the Word of God "through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). It is clear that our Lord is here referring to the sinful disregard of the written Scriptures by His Jewish contemporaries, and that He is calling the writings of Moses, the Word of God. In a sense this is not in contrast with the first usage of the term Word--those messages which God communicated through the prophets--for it is clear that Christ regarded the instructions which Moses gave to Israel as having had their ultimate source in God. That which is new in the teaching of Christ is that the oral Word of God had now been committed to writing, and that the content of the books of the law may therefore properly also be called the Word of God. Christ was therefore saying: Let us test your practice, O Jews! Open the Word of God (Exodus 20:12) and see there what the duty of children is to their parents. Is it not to show them honor? Or turn to another portion of God's Word (Exodus 21:17) and see the consequences of rejecting one's parents. How can you Jews be so blind as to make void what God has spoken by your tradition which is not founded on God's Word? For Jesus, the spoken Word of God, had become "inscripturated." Indeed, what God originally spoke could in His day be known only by what had been written by those to "whom the word of God came" (John 10:35).
A second word from Christ on the subject of our investigation was spoken in connection with the charge that He was a blasphemer because He called Himself the Son of God. Christ's line of thought in His reply was that this was a strange argument indeed for a people who had available to them the written law of God. For in the holy Scriptures of Israel were not men of weighty office and dignity, such as judges, sometimes called "gods"? (See the Hebrew of Exodus 22:8, 9, 28.) Look in the holy law of God, said Jesus. Does it not call human beings who are serving as judges (study the context of Psalm 82:6) by the venerable term, Elohim ["gods"]? Why then be offended by my claim to the Son of God? "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" (John 10:36, 3,6)? Here Christ is drawing from the third division of the Hebrew canon, also calling it "law," and "Scripture," and its authors "them . . . unto whom the word of God came." And on top of it all, He remarked almost casually--so sure was He of His ground--"And the scripture cannot be broken." To those who accept Jesus as their divine Lord and infallible Teacher this is surely a strong testimony. Indeed, for disciples of Christ this evaluation of the Old Testament Scriptures by their Lord is nothing less than normative.
The Apostle Peter also refers to the written Scriptures of the Jews as possessing nothing less than divine authority. He refers to the awesome scene on the Mount of Transfiguration when with his own ears he heard the testimony of the Father: "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." But, says Peter, we have an even greater authority than the testimony of one's own hearing; we have the written Scriptures of the prophets, the holy writings of our Jewish canon. These prophetic writings will illuminate this dark world until the' glory of the Parousia breaks upon it! "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" (II Peter 1:19). Peter continues by explaining why it is that the Holy Scriptures possess divine reliability. "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" (1:20). Scripture did not originate in the private judgments and views of the writers of Scripture; they did not write down their private interpretations. "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man"--and here we give a more exact rendering of the Greek-"but men being borne along by the Holy Spirit spake from God" (1:21). It was the Holy Spirit whose "interpretations" the prophets wrote down, and it was this divine origin of the Scriptures which constituted them "a more sure word of prophecy." (Compare I Peter 1:10-12 and 1:25, RSV.)
We have already observed that in John 10 Jesus applied the lofty term law to a writing from the Book of Psalms--as He does also in John 15:25; and in exactly the same way Paul draws upon passages from all over the Old Testament--Psalms, Isaiah, Genesis--calling them all by the lofty term, "law." (See, for example, I Corinthians 14:21; Romans 3:19, and Galatians 4:21 f.) In precisely the same manner both Peter and Paul therefore draw upon the Old Testament writings as God's authoritative Scripture. We have already seen that Peter speaks of the "more sure word of prophecy"--or more literally, "the prophetic word made more sure "--and he turns right around and uses the phrase (in the Greek), "Every prophecy of scripture." Peter's phrase is remarkably similar to Paul's doctrine that "Every scripture is inspired [literally, breathed out] of God and profitable" (II Timothy 3:16), that is, its origin lies with God who "bore along" the writers of Scripture. The doctrine of inspiration held by evangelicals was not invented in the nineteenth century to refute Baur and Ritschl; it is based on the testimony of Christ and of His Spirit-led apostolic witnesses who wrote the books of the New Testament.
The author of Hebrews also speaks of the writings of the Old Testament as the Word of God. In chapter 4 he takes a text from Psalm 95:11:
Unto whom I sware in my wrath
that they should not enter
into my rest.
From this text the author of Hebrews makes a twofold point: (1) We enter at once into spiritual "rest" when we become believers; and (2) We must persevere in the way of faith if we wish to enter into the ultimate "rest," heaven, which corresponds in a sense to the earthly Canaan which so many unbelieving Israelites failed to reach. If we Christians have the wisdom we ought to possess, we will therefore take serious heed to Psalm 95 and make sure that we do not fall through unbelief like the Israelites of old. Rather we will see in the Scriptures how fatal unbelief [or disobedience] is in God's economy. We will give earnest heed to the warning of David. (In the Greek Old Testament Psalm 95 is entitled, "A Song of Praise, by David.") And what is this warning? The Scripture of Psalm 95 warns: "Today if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts" (Greek Old Testament). And then the author of Hebrews gives us the foundation for taking this warning to heart: "For the word of God is [living], and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to . . . the heart" (4:12). And he adds that we have additional reason to be on the alert spiritually: because the allseeing eyes of God are also looking into our hearts. 4:13.
Our summary reveals then that in the Old Testament the Word of God meant the message which God's servants, the prophets, received from God and proclaimed to the people of Israel. In the New Testament it referred to the divine message of the Lord Jesus, to the word of the cross, the Gospel, as proclaimed by the early church; to the written Old Testament--the inscripturated Word of God; and supremely to the Son of God Himself--the incarnate Word of God.
How Did God Reveal?
Two questions yet call for a word of comment. The first question is, How did God reveal His Word to the prophets of old, to His servant Abraham; to His unique organ of revelation, Moses the lawgiver; and to the other prophets which followed? B. B. Warfield regarded the theophany [an experience of meeting God, such as Moses at the burning bush] as typical of patriarchal revelation. There were also dreams and visions, as Daniel's "deep sleep" until the Lord raised him up and communicated with him (8:18); Elisha asked for minstrel music to prepare him for the reception of God's Word (II Kings 3:15) the Lord "uncovered," or revealed to, the ear of Samuel . . . (I Samuel 9:15); et cetera. But generally the Bible simply indicates the fact of the communication, without specifying the manner of its reception. The mighty God who could create the heavens and the earth also proved Himself able to convey His message to His spokesmen, the prophets. Of the false prophets, God said (Jeremiah 23:21 ff.):
I have not sent these prophets,
yet they ran:
I have not spoken to them,
yet they prophesied.
Then He adds:
saith the Lord.
The prophet that hath a dream,
let him tell a dream;
And he that hath my word,
let him speak my word faithfully.
Is not my word like as a fire?
saith the Lord;
And like a hammer that breaketh
the rock in pieces?
It must be clearly seen that, according to the Old Testament, God was both a God who acted for His people (redeeming them from Egypt, making a covenant with them, and manifesting His mighty hand on many occasions), and a God who communicated His holy and powerful Word to the prophets. And when the prophets came to the nation of Israel, the people whom God in His sovereign grace had chosen as His very own (Deuteronomy 7:6-8), they did not present their own private interpretation of the acts of God. God's acts were accompanied, either before or after, by His Word. His acts were not like a silent film which the prophets watched, and then added their own sound track. Rather, when God performed His redemptive acts for His elect people, He also revealed to the prophets the interpretation which they were to communicate to His people. Indeed--no matter how contrary this may be to some modern theories of revelation--the prophets testify regularly of the words or message which Yahweh caused them to see. "The vision of Isaiah the son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah . . ." (1:1); "The burden of Babylon, which Isaiah the son of Amoz did see" (13:1); "The words of Amos . . . which he saw concerning Israel" (1:1); "The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord Yahweh . . ."(1:1); "The word of Yahweh that came to Micah . . . which he saw . . ." (1:1); "The burden of Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum . . .(1:1); "The burden which Habakkuk the prophet did see" (1:1).
There are now many authors, to be sure, who deny many of the acts of God as well as His revelation. One writer made the comment that the many accounts of people from Adam to Samuel "who heard with their own ears" the words of Yahweh, "spoken in person or by his 'angel,'" are simply "pious legends" which we may summarily dismiss. (R. H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament, Harper, 1948, p. 50.) But this rejection of divine revelation runs counter to the witness of the whole Bible, including the witness of our Lord Himself.
Tbe Old Testament contains the record of the pathetic cry of King Zedekiah in his distress: "Is there any word from Yahweh" Jeremiah 37:17)? The answer of God's servant Jeremiah was unequivocal: "There is!" One of the most impressive confirmations of this claim of the prophets occurs in a New Testament passage (Hebrews 1:1, 2) which may be set down as blank verse:
who at sundry times
and in divers manners
in time past
unto the fathers
by the prophets,
in these last days
Authorship and DateThe final question of our discussion may be difficult, but it is not as crucial as the one pertaining to the fact of divine revelation. It is the question of when and by whom the various books of the Scriptures were put into written form. For example, it is indicated a number of times in the Pentateuch that God told Moses to write down some item of history, such as the journeys of Israel, as well as God's law. And there is a uniform recognition from Joshua to Jesus that Moses was the one through whom God gave the law. Indeed, knowing what we do of Moses, his training, and his times, it seems unthinkable that he would not have been a man of letters. (Cf. Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of O. T. Introduction, passim.) On the other hand, it also appears that in the books of the law we have an occasional explanation or comment from a later hand. What about the account of Moses' death? Must we believe the views of those who have pictured Moses writing his own obituary with the tears streaming down his face?
Higher critical studies since 1750, especially in the nineteenth century, have radically reconstructed the picture which the Old Testament itself presents: namely that it was written in this order: (1) Law; (2) Prophets (Joshua to Malachi); and (3) Writings. This critical reconstruction was generally made by scholars who rejected miracles, who did not believe in predictive prophecy, and who thought that the faith of Israel was to be accounted for by a naturalistic theory of the evolution of religion. The fragmentation of Biblical books was carried to a ridiculous extreme. One writer, for example, cut Isaiah into fifty-five fragments and scattered them down through the centuries from the eighth to the second. (J. A. Bewer, The Literature of the Old Testament, Columbia University Press, Revised Edition, 1933, passim.) By the middle of the twentieth century, however, archaeology had done much to restore the confidence of many scholars in the basic trustworthiness of the Old Testament, and critical opinion had moved far in the direction of a more conservative position.
What stance may an evangelical Christian' take in such matters of literary criticism on which there is not yet full consensus among Biblical scholars? Regardless of when the books of the Old Testament were written, and by whom (the former prophets--Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings--are anonymous), our Lord and His apostles gave us the answer. They assured us in the strongest possible words that the books of the Old Testament may be regarded God's Holy Torah, as the Scripture which "cannot be broken", as "[God-given] and [therefore] profitable for doctrine. . . ." The implication is clear. The truth of God's Word does not depend upon who wrote or when. The evangelical scholar may therefore wait with poise for the achievement of greater consensus on questions of literary (higher) criticism. It is freely granted that a book may have been divided into two scrolls, as was done with Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and probably the original Ezra-Nehemiah. And how can we insist a priori that two or more scrolls could not have been combined into one manuscript like the Book of the Twelve [minor prophets]--or even two or three prophetical scrolls combined to make up the present Book of Isaiah?
But allowing for the possibility of such divisions or combinations--should the evidence be adequate to establish them--does not mean that the conservative scholar needs to accept every last critical theory which is advanced in a given generation. Rather, he will insist on the evidence. He will want to know what the theological assumptions are on which the theory is based. He will ask for proof. He will read carefully the literature which supports the proposed theory, and he will also study critically the literature which supports the more traditional view: knowing that there may be truth in both views. When a book by a scholar of great learning attacks the documentary hypothesis, for example, he will patiently examine it, asking if the author has made a genuine contribution to the literary criticism. (Incidentally, such a book is, The Documentary Hypothesis and the Composition of the Pentateuch, by Umberto Cassuto, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, distributed by the Oxford University Press, 1961. Another is the defense on critical grounds of the unity of Isaiah, The Indivisible Isaiah, by Rachel Margalioth, Yeshiva University Press, 1964.) In other words, the scholar worth his salt always reads books on literary criticism with a critical eye, regardless of whether a given author happens to agree or disagree with his own views. The answer to critical questions is scholarship of a high order, wedded, of course, to a vital faith in the God who speaks in His written Word. Higher criticism is obviously not trustworthy if it is wedded to naturalistic assumptions. (We will return to some sample problems of higher criticism in chapter 2).
What stance therefore ought the Christian take on questions of literary criticism? Both the ordinary and the scholarly reader of the Bible will find many useful guidelines in the introductions to the several books prepared by Dr. Harold Lindsell in the Harper Study Bible (Harper & Row, 1964). The conservative scholar will not be tense and anxious, fearful for the fate of God's Word, for he knows that the truth has a way of overcoming error where there is the privilege of free discussion. And he knows that the truth and reliability of God's holy Word do not depend upon the higher critics and their conclusions. He will therefore be clear about his own theological assumptions, he will examine carefully the assumptions of the writers with whom he may be in disagreement, and he will humbly take note of what is being held by the ablest scholars in each field of inquiry. But he will certainly not accept uncritically every theory which happens to pass as the consensus of scholarly opinion at any given point. To accept as Gospel truth the so-called assured results of the latest scholarship in the past would have robbed the church of much precious truth, even of such pillars of the faith as the bodily resurrection of the Lord. The Christian scholar cannot be gullible, nor can he allow anybody to diminish for him the authority of God's Word. Karl Barth was certainly on solid ground when he insisted with his characteristic vigor that we cannot afford to slight the authority of any portion of God's Word. We dare not, says Barth, exalt the Synoptic Gospels as against John, nor stress the Gospels as opposed to the apostolic writings [epistles]. We must rather insist on the full authority of the whole Word of God. Its unity, declared Barth, with his fondness for illustrations, is like the seamless robe of Christ which may not be torn. (Church Dogmatics, 1/2, p.484 f.)
The most happy developments in Biblical scholarship since the two World Wars relate: (1) to an at least partial return to the authority of God's Word, (2) to a remarkable production of evangelical works in the field of Biblical introduction and theology, (3) to the encouraging flowering of Biblical theology in both Protestant and Catholic circles, and (4) to the gradual adoption of more conservative positions in higher critical circles, brought about at least in part by the remarkable findings of archaeology. William Foxwell Albright was able by the 1950's to report, for example, (1) that archaeology had demonstrated the antiquity of higher culture; (2) that the Wellhausian contempt for the accuracy of the patriarchal narratives was wholly wrong, for they reflect in very truth the precise conditions which archaeology shows obtained in the patriarchal age; and (3) that the old theory that the faith of Israel was the result of the evolution of religion has now been demonstrated to be "an impossibility." Indeed, thorough scholarship and archaeological evidence have brought the Albright school to a position which, in his own words, "strikingly resembles the orthodoxy of an earlier day" (Preface, Stone Age to Christianity, 1956; The Bible After Twenty Years of Archaeology, 1954, p. 550).
Again we must reiterate: the authority of God's Word depends wholly upon God, and not upon the ability of finite men to "demonstrate" its truth. To borrow another figure from Barth: ihe Bible as little needs our proof as the rainbow needs the earth to hold it up! (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 255.) And if a man is once convinced by the Holy Spirit that the authority of God is behind the Word, then no question of higher criticism, or of history (the date of the exodus, for example), will be able to disturb his faith in the reliability of Scripture. He will be able with Christianity's greatest theologian and writer, Paul, to speak of the Scriptures as the "oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). Phrases such as, "it stands written," and "As the Holy Ghost saith," will not offend him. For he is standing where Christ and His Spirit-directed apostles stood. Once again, as Barth put it, the statement, "The Bible is God's Word," is really "a confession of faith"; it is the confession which is made by the faith that it is God Himself who speaks "in the human word of the Bible" (Church Dogmatics, I/I, p.123).
GOD HATH SPOKEN! Praise His holy name!
from God's Word Written, by J. C. Wenger, © copyright 1966, renewed, by Herald Press, copyright now owned by Leland M. Haines
This book is avalable from Biblical Viewpoints.