The Authority of Scripture
by J. C. Wenger
If what the Hebrew letter asserts is true, that God hath spoken by the prophets and by His Son, and if all Scripture is God-given, then the authority of Scripture is the authority of its ultimate source, God Himself. Peter recognized this God-given character of the Hebrew Scriptures when he testified that the Spirit of Christ indicated through the prophets the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow (thus the Greek in I Peter 1:11). For it is the character of all Scripture not to have originated from man's unaided interpretation, but being moved by God the prophets spoke forth from God. II Peter 1:20, 21. And the Lord Jesus indicated succinctly that Scripture was incapable of being broken. John 10:35.
The Bible, Human and Divine
When one takes up the Bible, however, he discovers a paradoxical truth. The Bible contains many promises, warnings, and instructions from God. But it also records the sinful schemes of men, their boastful words of unbelief, and even the sad story of many a major act of sin and shame. Furthermore, the entire Scripture was written in the living languages of Israel (mostly ancient Hebrew, with a small portion in Aramaic, another Semitic tongue) and of the Graeco-Roman world of the first century, A.D. (Koine Greek). So the Word of God is recorded in man's languages, with all the limitations which that places upon the Scripture. Furthermore, the Bible is not only a Semitic book, for the most part; it is also an ancient book, with the characteristics of ancient writings. For example, the speeches which the Bible records are certainly not generally full and verbatim accounts of the addresses made, but are good and true summaries of what was said. And when ancient writers quoted sources, they made no difference between direct and indirect quotation. (Note, for example, the way the Old Testament text is quoted in the New. The apostles sometimes made accurate translations from the Hebrew original, sometimes they simply gave the sense of the original, and most frequently they quoted from the Septuagint, whether or not the Greek version was a careful translation of the Hebrew text which we have.) Weights and measures and numbers are given in round figures as a general rule, and even such rough estimates of distance are given as "a sabbath day's journey." Often we find "about" this or that distance, "about" such and such a time, and the like. And even when the "about" is not stated, it is to be understood, for the Bible does not give data with the scientific precision of the twentieth century. Hence Solomon's temple laver was [about] thirty cubits in circumference and [about] ten cubits in diameter. II Chronicles 4:2. This is only one of the many aspects of the "humanness" of the Bible. (Had God desired to do so, He certainly could have had all observations and records made with infinite precision, but He chose to allow good and honest witnesses to put down their observations with the rough approximations of common people.) With conscious exaggeration the Book of Exodus reports that "all" the cattle of the Egyptians died--which meant simply that there was a fearful loss of cattle, not that none survived at all. And so the writer can tell us later in the chapter that the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of Yahweh. provided shelter for their cattle during the plague of hail. Exodus 9:6,20.
The Bible, Religious Truth
It is worthy of careful notice that in general the Bible contains no revelations of what man can discover by scientific research--by the use, for example, of such refined instruments as the Hubble telescope and the electron microscope. For God spake through the prophets and through His Son, not to make human research unnecessary in any field of human knowledge, but to bring men into a saving relationship with Him through repentance and faith. God addresses man, not as a researching scientist, but as a lost sinner. He gave His holy law for a divine standard in matters of right and wrong, and He gave us the glad tidings of the Gospel of His Son to fill us with hope and peace through faith in His name. In a sense John spoke for all the apostles when he wrote near the close of his account of the marvelous deeds of the Lord Jesus:
These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is
the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have
life through his name (John 20:31).
The account of the creation will serve to illustrate the religious concerns which motivated the writers of Scripture. Moses could have written all sorts of scientific data--if God had revealed it to him. Had a modern scientist attempted to write the first two chapters of Genesis, he would have begun with a statement of the age of the earth; but Moses says simply that "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." The scientist of today would attempt to give us some concept of the solar system, the size and mass of the sun, and of each of its planets and their moons, the size and shape of the planetary orbits, the location of the solar system in the "Milky Way," the number of such galaxies which God made, and the like. Coming to the earth, the scientist would have made a modern classification of the flora and fauna which God created, and so ad infinitum, writing everything from the standpoint of the findings and theories of the most modern learning, including, no doubt, some untrue hypotheses which later research would disprove! But this is not the character of Genesis. It was not written to make studies in biology, geology, and astronomy unnecessary. Rather, it gives a simple and straightforward account of how the God of Israel created all things by His all-powerful Word, of how His work was orderly and well arranged, and of how it all was "good," as the account states over and over. As to interest, the account is naturally geocentric, for man dwells on this sphere. As to emphasis, the account is theocentric, for it was God, and He alone, who acted on each of the six divine creative "days." The language is that of ordinary people living in the ancient Near East: vegetation and fruit trees; sun, moon, stars; flying creatures; huge marine forms and what one scholar has described as "the smaller fry" of the sea; wild beasts of the earth, and a broad term rendered "cattle" in the English version; and finally, the creatures which "glide" or crawl, probably reptiles in today's language. The account simply mentions the major forms of life known to common people in the early days of Israel, and reports that God created them all.
When one compares the Genesis account of the creation with such Babylonian myths as the Enuma elish, found at Assyrian Nineveh, there are superficial similarities of language and general scheme, such as the mention of the "deep," the creation of the earth and a covering for it, waters in the sky and on the earth, the establishment of a twelve-month year, the creation of man from divine materials, and so on. But the differences in the two accounts are even more striking. Genesis 1 is written in chaste and simple language, while the Enuma elish is mythological in form and polytheistic in outlook, beginning with the generation of the gods, and rehearsing their disharmony, strife, and crimes; the world is created in the fourth phase of the myth; and the long account (over 950 lines) ends in the praise of the god Marduk, not in the institution of the Lord's Sabbath. G. Ernest Wright is assuredly correct when he writes that it is "very confusing" to call the Biblical presentation a myth for "nothing could be more different" than the total Biblical point of view and "polytheist mythology." (Biblical Archaeology, Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, Revised Edition, 1962, p.104.)
The vivid and poetic Hebrew account of the creation fails to answer many of the questions with which scientists are concerned, for it is a truly religious account. Indeed, it has genuine theological depth. We gather from it how great the God of Israel must really be to have created by His Word all that exists, "the heavens and the earth." We learn that the Most High is sovereign over His creation, for He made it all. We see that man is a creature of dignity, for he was created in the image of God, and it was God who breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, making him an animate creature, "a living soul." We see portrayed in Genesis I a great personal God who made everything "very good," and who is the kind of Deity who has a plan for human history. (In contrast, the Babylonian myths, with their polytheism and all sorts of imaginary details, are grossly distorted and misleading.) It cannot be emphasized too strongly how utterly dependent we are upon the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments for all that we know of God, of Jesus Christ, and of the divine salvation which the Holy Spirit seeks to bring to us. The Bible has a vastly higher function than to provide us with the facts of mathematics or of science: it was all written by the inspiration of God's Spirit to make us "wise unto salvation," even the salvation "which is in Christ Jesus" (II Timothy 3:15).
It is difficult indeed to find a name for the type of literature which we find in the early pages of Genesis. It is agreed on all hands that the simple narratives there recorded were written to answer the deepest questions which men face. What is the origin of matter, of plants and animals, of man, and especially of human sin and depravity? The term legend is not a satisfactory name, for it suggests that the narratives are unrelated to real history, or at least that their historicity is suspect. The Scandinavian term saga seems to be no improvement over legend. Parable is usually used of a short story designed to teach a truth which is not rooted in actual history. The word allegory is generally used of an imaginary story to convey spiritual truth, again without particular relation to actual history: Pilgrim's Progress being an illustration. For lack of a better term some Christian writers therefore strip from the word myth any association with the idea of imaginary gods and goddesses and arbitrarily apply it to the accounts in the early chapters of Genesis. The present writer feels that this procedure is not a happy one, for it is difficult to use words in other than their dictionary sense without conveying connotations which are not intended. Could not a phrase be found to indicate less ambiguously the truth that in Genesis 1--3 we have simple narratives which are not ends in themselves but which were intended to provide true theological explanations of man's deepest questions? We have already observed that there are profound differences between the Babylonian mythology and the Mosaic account. (And these differences are surely to be accounted for by the ministry of the Holy Spirit to Moses as he wrote the illuminating accounts of the creation and the Fall.) Moses did not write theology as such, nor did he write simple stories as such. What he wrote was a sort of hybrid between simple narratives and theological exposition. I would therefore suggest that we refer to the early chapters of the Bible as theological narration.
Rich Literary Variety
It should also be stressed that the Bible as a whole is not of one uniform literary form. It contains rather a vast array of literary types. We have poetry such as the Psalms and much of the prophets. We have allegories like the trees choosing a king. Judges 9. We have the many parables--dozens of them--spoken by our Lord (Matthew 13, for example). We have apocalyptic literature such as parts of Daniel and much of Revelation. We have much history in the Bible, particularly of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of the children of Israel, along with their relations with the surrounding nations; the four Gospel portraits of Christ and His ministry of teaching and good works; and the story of the early church and its missionary outreach (Acts). We have theological essays such as Hebrews. We have in a minor way even the attempt to deal with problems of theodicy (Habakkuk). We have the letters of Paul (arranged from Romans the longest to Philemon the shortest in our canon), of James, of Peter, of John, and of Jude: twenty of them exclusive of Hebrews, which is not really a letter. We have collections of wisdom, based on human observation (the Proverbs).
Perhaps the most enigmatical book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes. Both Jews and Christians have sometimes been puzzled as to how this book ever got into the sacred canon of the Old Testament. Possibly a brief analysis and interpretation may serve in part to cut the problem down to reasonable size. The book is actually a sort of debate between the voice of faith and that of pessimism. The spokesman for the latter point of view speaks eloquently of his efforts to find peace and abiding satisfaction through every form of human activity, from the sensual to the most refined. Neither bodily pleasure nor aesthetic stimulation, he tells us, is able to bring satisfaction to the human heart. All that man capable o doing leads only to feeling of emptiness and dissatisfaction. Nature too is involved in what appears to be a senseless cycle: the sun rises, and the sun sets; the wind blows north, then turns about and blows southward; the rivers forever run into the sea, only to repeat the cycle. Likewise man is involved in a meaningless round of striving. The generations come and go, and there is really "no new thing under the sun" (1:9). Trying to master "wisdom" [making collections of Proverbs, for example!] cannot satisfy the heart. Neither pleasure nor humor ("mirth") can bring real happiness. 2:1, 2. Great building plans, even when achieved, do not satisfy man's need, neither does horticulture, nor landscaping, nor wealth. "Behold, all was vanity and vexation of spirit" (2:11).
The gloom deepens as the writer proceeds. Not only is it impossible for human joys--wine to choirs--to bring ultimate satisfaction: the fact of human mortality, a truly crushing concept, must be faced. And what do we see in that area? All must die: wise man and fool (2:16); man and beast (3:19). And what follows death? Ah, there is the real problem for the man "under the sun." By empirical evidence, how can we know whether there is conscious existence after death? says the pessimist. For all we know, "the dead know not anything" (9:5). And yet this very book has the most beautiful description of old age and death (chapter 12) which is found anywhere in the Bible.
But there is also a firm voice which speaks up from time to time in Ecclesiastes, to strike down the overly pessimistic voice which is allowed so much freedom. This firm voice insists that the simple joys of food and drink, of toil and sleep, and of conjugal love, can be satisfying. 2:24, 26; 3:12, 13; 4:6; 5:12; 8:12, 15; 9:7, 9; 11:6. And from time to time the voice of faith in God also speaks. 2:26; 3:10, 11, 13, 17; 5:1, 4, 7, 20; 8:2, 12, 15; 9:7; 11:9. But which voice is final? that of doubt and pessimism, or that of faith? The writer sums up the debate of his bosom thus:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
and keep his commandments:
for this is the whole duty of man.
For God shall bring every work into judgment,
with every secret thing,
whether it be good,
or whether it be evil (12:13, 14).
The question is sometimes raised whether the story of Jonah is to be taken as literal history, or whether it was a sort of imaginary parable to correct the ultranationalism of Israel. In principle, we must of course admit the possibility of God employing just such a parabolic story. Yet the book itself certainly does not read like a parable; it purports rather to record how God dealt with a stubborn prophet who knew the will of God, and finally became willing to do it--only to enjoy incredible evangelistic success in the very nation which he inwardly hoped would be destroyed of God. James Orr admitted in 1910 that a prophet would indeed be free to employ a parable, but then added sagely, "One would like to feel surer that the application of the principle in this case is not simply a way of escaping from a felt difficulty in the contents of the Book" (Revelation and Inspiration, Scribner, 1910, p. 173).
Character of Bible History
It should also be freely admitted that there are problems connected with Biblical history. These problems may be minor--such as the length of the period of the judges (Acts 13:20), or the names of Esau's three wives, or the length of King Pekah's reign--or more significant, such as the date of Israel's exodus from Egypt. Whatever the solutions to these problems may be, one fact is certain: they are not a threat to the truth of Christianity. The need of historical research is no more ruled out by the truth of the Scriptures than is the need for scientific research. There is abundant evidence that the writers of Scripture were good and trustworthy men; but they were also children of their day and were not concerned to write "scientific" history. The best examples of this are not trivial items, such as those just referred to, but the very acts of God upon which the Christian faith rests! We cannot at this point determine the exact year of Christ's birth with certainty, nor can we be certain of the length of His public ministry. Indeed, even the year of His crucifixion cannot be fixed with absolute certainty. And this is true of most Biblical events. The Hebrew mind was concerned with the fact that God acted, and with the meaning of His acts, not with our ability to pinpoint them on a human calendar.
We have already noted that the apostolic writers generally quoted from the Septuagint, either verbatim or by giving its sense, even when the Septuagint was rather freely translated--and even when it deviated from the Hebrew text (that is, from the Hebrew text which we possess today). Similarly, the Gospel writers are not anxious about trying to make parallel accounts agree verbatim. They have no such wooden notions of truth as that it is dependent upon verbal identity. Each of the four evangelists feels free to tell his story from the sources he had, or as he remembered it. And there is no doubt about their having succeeded in giving a remarkably similar group of portraits of the Son of God in the days of His flesh--even though minor problems of Gospel harmony still remain. Indeed the very freedom of the Gospel writers is a major testimony to their integrity. Had their accounts always agreed verbatim when parallel, the very identity of the words would have aroused the suspicions of historians!
God's Saving Acts
The ultimate anchor of the evangelical in the matter of Biblical authority is the position taken by Jesus Christ and His apostles. James Orr penetrated to the heart of the matter when he stressed the fact that the Lord Jesus "intuitively perceived the inner connection of truth and history" (Revelation and Inspiration, p. 154). The Christian faith is not a matter of idealism, or of a kerygma which "works" whether or not the events of the story corresponded to actual events in space and time. "The truths of God's revelation [says Orr] . . . became the possession of mankind through real acts of God" (Ibid., p. 154). God actually created the world. He truly called Abraham. He really commissioned Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. He actually gave Israel His law and His holy covenant. He did entrust His servants, the prophets, with His Word. He did send His Son into the world. And by a sin offering the Lord Jesus did make atonement for the sins of the world. Christ did illuminate and guide the apostles as they wrote the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament. And the truths of Christianity are not endangered by the trivial problems of historical criticism which still remain. As Karl Barth put it: "We can and should cling to the written word" (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 531). And we may not proudly set ourselves up as judges of the Word, feeling competent to differentiate between the divine and the human elements of the Bible: "We are," declared Barth, "completely absolved from differentiating in the Bible between the divine and the human cautiously choosing the former and scornfully rejecting the latter" (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 531). (It may be noted parenthetically that Barth is, however, sometimes a bit overzealous to recognize the humanness of the Word, even to the point of attributing error to the Biblical writings.) A safer guide here is Everett F. Harrison who seeks: (1) to accept the claim that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and (2) to look with an open eye at the Scripture itself in the formulation of a theory as to what inspiration ensures and what it does not do. Harrison writes frankly and sanely: "We may have our own ideas as to how God should have inspired the Word, but it is more profitable to learn . . . how He has actually inspired it" (Revelation and the Bible, Baker, 1958, p. 249). And James Orr, who was less rigid in his doctrine of inerrancy than most neoevangelicals, confessed with almost classic understatement: "the Bible, impartially interpreted and judged, is free from demonstrable error in its statements, and harmonious in its teachings, to a degree that of itself creates an irresistible impression of a supernatural factor in its origin" (Revelation and Inspiration, p. 216). Karl Barth declared flatly: "Scripture is recognized as the Word of God by the fact that it is the Word of God" (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 537). This is, of course, a confession of faith, not the conclusion to a logical syllogism. And it is a confession born of the Holy Spirit, and confirmed in the life of the believer, as the Scriptures lead him to saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Bible's Trustworthiness
It is highly important that this study of the authority of the Word be approached from the standpoint of the Christian faith. And how does a given person become a believer? The usual pattern is for him to grow up in a Christian home, and to attend the services of the Christian Church where the Word of God is read and expounded. And although the preacher is not infallible, nor is the church itself infallible in its teaching office, the Holy Spirit is pleased to honor the reading and exposition of the word of Scripture, and to use it to bring conviction for sin to the heart of the listener. And if he will hearken to the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, he will come to the point of repentance from sin, and to the surrender of faith--faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the One to whom all the Scriptures point. The convert does not come as a proud intellectual who has found Christian theism superior to all rival systems of thought (although this is indeed the case). He comes rather as a penitent seeker who has been awakened to his need by the powerful and discerning Word of God. He has discovered what the real nature of Biblical authority is. It is to witness to Christ and His salvation. And that witness embraces in a broad sweep the whole corpus of the Scriptures from the creation of all things by the "Word," the Christ of God, to His personal return in glory on the Last Day. This is the sweep from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. And God is pleased to invest His authority only in this written Word as illuminated in human hearts by His Spirit. Neither the individual Christian, nor the clergy individually or collectively, nor the whole church, may claim the authority which God has been pleased to invest in the Holy Scriptures. The church must, thunders Barth, "ascribe direct absolute and material authority only to Holy Scriptures," and he adds, "not to anything else, not even to itself" (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 546).
In matters of human history and observation the Bible is truly human, for it records events as honest observers saw them, not with the infinite precision which would have characterized the events had they been recorded as observed through the eyes of God. The central concern of the Bible is not to give scientific classifications of animals--and therefore it is not surprising to find bats associated with birds in the Old Testament, for the perfectly natural reason that they have wings and fly! Leviticus 11:13-19. And if Bible scholars are correct in identifying the Hebrew noun, shaphan, with the rock badger ("coney" in Leviticus 11:5 of the King James Version), the animal simulates the chewing of the cud, but does not really have the stomach of a ruminant. God allowed the various animals to be classified as to characteristics as observed by common people--not as classified by the Swedish scientist, Carl von Linne ("Linnaeus") of the eighteenth century! Once again we must insist that Biblical authority is in no way diminished because it looks at the world through the eyes of prophets and apostles, rather than those of a Linnaeus or an Einstein. And so we will never find the Einstein formula, E = mc2 (Energy equals mass multiplied by the square of the speed of light), in the Scriptures, neither plainly nor in allegorical form! We go to science for relatively accurate information about this world. And we go to the Bible as the Salvation Book, the books of the Old Testament announcing the future coming of the Saviour, and the books of the New Testament witnessing to His having come and accomplished our redemption.
On the other hand, it must not be said that the Bible contains the testimony of unreliable witnesses. The Bible is wholly true when read honestly for the purposes intended by God. In earthly matters it has the kind of reliability which would be demanded of honest witnesses in a court of law (cf. the phrase of Gleason L. Archer, Jr., A Survey of O. T. Introduction, Moody Press, 1964, "according to the laws of legal evidence," p. 26). This leaves open to research the question of what divine inspiration did if a writer of Scripture was copying from a source which, although generally reliable, may have contained copyists' or other mistakes. Matthew Henry thought that such trivial discrepancies could be acknowledged without any embarrassment, and he was perhaps correct in this position. It must be emphasized again that the evangelical believer, although holding to the trustworthiness of Scripture, and accepting firmly its full reliability and its normative character for faith and life, does not set up a priori demands as to what inspiration shall or shall not allow. Such presumption would be crass human arrogance. Rather, he accepts wholeheartedly the full spiritual reliability of the written Word of God, and he carefully and patiently examines the evidence to determine what inspiration did or did not involve in such nonessential matters as we have been discussing.
No sixteenth-century scholar held to a higher view of inspiration than did John Calvin, as John Murray has recently shown. (Calvin on Scripture and Divine Sovereignty, Baker Book House, 1960.) Indeed Calvin frequently used that unspeakable word, "dictation" by the Holy Spirit to express his high doctrine of inspiration! (He did admit differences of human style on the part of Biblical writers, however.) Again and again Calvin expresses his full confidence in the authority of the written Word. Indeed, his views have been described as the "rigidly orthodox verbal type of inspiration" (Kenneth S. Kantzer in Walvoord, Inspiration and Interpretation, Eerdmans, 1957, p. 137). And Calvin's disciple Murray holds equally firmly to the full inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. Yet when Calvin came across what seemed to be a minor discrepancy in the Scriptures, he was not disturbed--nor did he abandon his high view of the authority of the Bible. In commenting on Matthew 27:9, which purports to quote Jeremiah--when as a matter of fact the quotation is taken from Zechariah 11--Calvin simply acknowledges that he does not know how the name Jeremiah got into the text. Hebrews 11:21 poses another question. Should the last word of the verse be read as staff (as in the Greek of Hebrews) or as bed (as in the Masoretic text of Genesis 47:31)? Calvin observed that the apostolic writers were "not so scrupulous in this respect." He asserted, correctly of course, that the main point was "that Jacob worshiped." (The real explanation in this case is that the writer to the Hebrews simply followed the Greek Old Testament, rather than the Hebrew vocalization with which we are now familiar. As a matter of fact, the consonants were the same: whether one reads bed or staff, depends--as Professor Murray notes--on the vowels which are read with the consonants of the text.) But Calvin's words surely indicate that in spite of his "dictation" theory of inspiration, he was flexible enough to face up to the phenomena of Scripture without embarrassment or anxiety. He was quite ready to admit that the apostles sometimes put a rather surprising interpretation on an Old Testament quotation; in commenting on Paul's quotation in Romans 10:6 Calvin remarks that the quotation may appear to be "improperly twisted" by Paul, and in Ephesians 4:8 Paul seems to have "departed not a little" from the sense of the Old Testament passage. (See further in Murray, op. cit., p. 25.) Yet Calvin always insisted vigorously that Moses and the prophets "spoke by divine impulse," conveying the message of God so accurately that "it was the mouth of the Lord that spoke"; and since the Scripture truly proceeds from God, it "has nothing of man mixed with it" (Murray, op. cit., p. 18).
The same high view of Scripture was taught by Martin Luther, and he could be just as paradoxical as Calvin in acknowledging the puzzling phenomena of Scripture, without being troubled by such phenomena--trivial as they are to all who do not hold to an overly rigid theory of inspiration. (It should be noted that the problem of the reinterpretation of the Old Testament passages in the New is far less acute if one takes into account the fact that the apostles often use the Old Testament "illustratively," rather than in the sense of full demonstration or proof. The point the apostle is making is often simply clothed in Old Testament language, even though it may differ somewhat from the apparent meaning of the language in its Old Testament context.)
If one may venture to suggest a crude comparison, the Scriptures are in some respects like a map made by a good and honest man, but without the benefit of a surveyor and an English teacher. The map might have a few hard words spelled wrongly (as the Hebrew tongue modified the name of Tiglath-pileser to Tilgath-pilneser in I Chronicles 5:6), and the distances from one town to the next might be only a rough approximation. Yet a total stranger, with the aid of the simple map, could find his way directly to his goal! Thus it is with the Scriptures. The language may at times be peasant-like in its lack of polish (for example, the deliberately ungrammatical ho cu in Revelation 1:8), and yet he who will follow this Book, humble as parts of it may appear to the sophisticated of the world, will surely find his way to the Saviour. And it must also be emphasized that the Scriptures in themselves do not and cannot confer eternal life. Eternal life is to he found only in the Son of God, a divine gift to those who make the surrender of faith and who accept Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. Christ had to rebuke this very error in the unbelieving Jews--who made of the Scriptures an end in themselves: "[Ye] search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me. And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life" (John 5:39, 40). If we may tarry with the map illustration a bit longer: It would be possible to print the map on vellum, using colors of purple and gold. One could frame the map, treat it as a holy object, constantly speak of its authority and reliability, and so on. Yet maps are not ends in themselves. They are to be used as guides in going to a chosen destination. Just so it is with the Scriptures. If we do not use the Scriptures for their divine intended purpose, to claim the blessings of the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, to actually come to the Saviour and receive life in Him, we will not have discovered their true significance, nor understood the nature of their authority. For the authority of Scripture is geared to its being the "Salvation Book," that is, the Book upon which men may rely to guide their steps to the Saviour.
Acknowledging that the authority of the Bible is related to its central soteriological purpose is not a clever way to get around the nonscientific character of the Bible. (However, it must be acknowledged that it is nothing short of miraculous the way the Bible avoids the errors of all eras of its writing.) Refusing to "hunt" for scientific "revelations" in the Scripture is in very truth simply being honest in our use of it. All the statements of Scripture relating to its nature and authority point to its role as the inspired Guide to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To try to find all sorts of anticipations of modern scientific discoveries in the Scriptures is to distort and misuse the "Oracles of God."
On the other hand, it is equally unfair to the Bible to accuse it of error because it uses the common words and expressions of the ancient Near East. Must we hold that because the Scriptures use expressions like the "third heaven" as equivalent to "Paradise" (the dwelling place of God), the Bible therefore teaches a "three-decker" universe? The charge is simply unfair, just as unfair as trying to find references in Scripture to the sphericity of the earth or the movement of the earth in its orbit around the sun. The Bible was not given to teach any kind of science. And the fact that it uses the only terminology available--like firmament in Genesis 1--cannot fairly be adduced as evidence of erroneous teaching. It is unsound to attach to words all the overtones of meaning which they may at one time have had associated with them. For example, it would appear that the contemporary word commencement should have the meaning, "beginning." But when used in academic circles now it commonly refers to the termination ceremony of an academic course. The word lunatic may have originated in a day when emotional illness was in the minds of men tied to the moon (luna). But those associations have long since been lost. It is highly questionable to try to pin onto various Hebrew words all the unscientific associations to which a study of the cognate languages may point. Let us use the Bible honestly, getting from it the message which God intends us to get. Let us not abuse it, either by looking for modern science, or by attributing to it prescientific errors. It is simply not the intention of Scripture to present either of these two types of information, true science or erroneous science." It is its purpose to "make [us] wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. [For] all scripture is given by God, and is profitable for doctrine [for teaching Christian truth], for reproof [of sin], for correction [of error], for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect [mature], throughly furnished [equipped] unto all good works" (II Timothy 3:15-17). And this is precisely the role which the Bible plays when Christians read it, meditate upon it, believe it, and obey it!
Evangelical believers are sometimes also troubled by the conclusions of the higher critics on such matters as the documentary hypothesis of the Hexateuch, the theory which cuts up the first six books of the Bible into various strands of tradition which were gradually put together, so it is said, during the later centuries of Israel's national life. Two generations ago it was often asserted that there were as many as a dozen strands which could be isolated in the Hexateuch. In reference to this theory, several observations may be made: (1) The critics are growing more cautious and sober, and some scholars have now reduced the number of supposed documents to only three or four, the common ones being listed as J (in which the Lord was called Jahweh), E (in which He was called Elohim), D (the Book of Deuteronomy), and P (the Priestly code). (2) In the second place, whatever historical process God may have permitted in the writing of the Hexateuch, the full truthfulness and trustworthiness of the Scripture still stands, for our Lord and His apostles accepted the reliability of the Hebrew Scriptures as written, and it is Christ's view which is normative for the Christian Church. (3) Finally, it should be observed that the documentary hypothesis may be displaced by a more conservative view. For Biblical critics are steadily growing more cautious and conservative, partly through the impact of more conservative streams of theology, and partly through the findings of archaeology which have vindicated the claims of the Bible on one point after another. In 1924, for example, the learned German scholar, Hugo Gressman, said rather sharply that it must be emphasized "that today there is no science of the Old Testament which does not rest on the foundation of the critical source analysis of the Hexateuch" (Z.a.t. W., 1924, p. 2). But only a decade later, when Professor Umberto Cassuto of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem published his Italian monograph, La Questione della Genesi (University of Florence, 1934), the new editor of the Zeitschrijtfur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft reviewed it with respect, noting that Cassuto held to the objective truth (Richtigkeit) of the tradition which is written down in Genesis, calling his monograph a wertvollen Beitrag (worthy contribution), and stating that it deserves attention (Z.a.t. W., 1934, pp. 291, 292). Cassuto later embodied his material in a series of brilliant lectures in Hebrew, powerfully refuting on critical grounds the whole documentary hypothesis. Unfortunately, the linguistic barrier long prevented Western scholars from profiting from these lectures. But as early as 1951 H. H. Rowley had remarked that the Graf-Wellhausen view was "only a working hypothesis"; Rowley held that it should be retained until a better view was found, at which point, he said, it could be "abandoned with alacrity" (The Growth of the O. T., p. 46)! Finally, in 1961 the first English edition of Cassuto, The Documentary Hypothesis, was published by the Magnes Press, The Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and distributed in the British Commonwealth and Europe by the Oxford University Press. Cassuto's critical analysis of the documentary hypothesis is deserving of careful study. The translator, Israel Abrahams, comments in his Foreword that the result of Professor Cassuto's work is "not so much a scientific edifice laid in ruins as the reaffirmation of the Torah's literary and artistic integrity . . ." (p.v.).
At what point the Pentateuch took its final form we may not be able to answer on critical grounds. We do know that Moses was instructed of God to write at least part of the history of Israel, as well as the law of God. Exodus 17:14; 24:4; 34:27; Numbers 33:2; Deuteronomy 17:18; 31:9, 24-26; 28:58, 61; 29:20-27; 30:10; 31:24. And we soon read of "the book of the law of Moses" Joshua 8:31, 34; 23:6). For the history prior to his own day Moses may have made use of "whatever oral and written sources" were available. (Harold Lindsell, Harper Study Bible, Harper & Row, 1964, p.1.) We know also that some explanatory notes were inserted into the writings of Moses at a later day. Included in this category is the explanation that the city of Ur was "Ur of the Chaldees" [Chaldeans Genesis 11:28); the comment in Genesis 12:6 that "the Canaanite was then in the land"; a similar note in Genesis 13:7 that "the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land" and the replacement of Laish by Dan (the later name of the place) in Genesis 14:14. This type of modernizing the text, and adding words to clarify and make more understandable the ancient text of the Pentateuch, is a perfectly natural and legitimate process. (If a new edition of the King James Version were to replace the word let in Romans 1:13 by the real meaning, which is hindered, we could still call it the King James Version!) Whether these occasional glosses were made informally by later copyists, or more or less officially by such a great figure as "Ezra the Scribe," we cannot now determine. In any case, notice should here he taken of the Jewish tradition that to Ezra was entrusted the huge task of writing the entire Old Testament from memory! The story is recorded in the Jewish book, IV Ezra (2 Esdras) 14. There we are told of the distress of Ezra over the fact that the holy law of God had been destroyed by fire, and he prayed for divine enablement to write everything which had occurred since the beginning of the world! Sure enough, the Lord heard his petition, and gave him a cup to drink containing a fluid the color of fire. This potion really stimulated him, and for forty days he dictated to five scribes who were divinely enabled to put down the dictation which Ezra gave them in characters which they themselves did not know! Ezra thus wrote not only the twenty-four books of the Hebrew canon--identical with Our thirty-nine books--but also seventy other apocryphal books! The legend indicates that when the massive dictation job was accomplished, the Lord authorized Ezra to publish the twenty-four books, but to reserve the seventy others to the wise ones among the Jewish people! (R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, II, pp.620-24.)
Now it is obvious that the legend has gathered a considerable amount of imaginary accretions during the years. And yet it is doubtful if the whole account is pure fiction. It is rather likely that Ezra wrote Chronicles (which is actually the Jewish tradition), and it is entirely probable that he also played a major role under God in the determination of the Hebrew canon--a fact which is considerably exaggerated in the word of IV Ezra that the Lord told Ezra to publish the twenty-four books. It is also to be expected that a man of the stature and significance of Ezra would have done some minor editing of various books of the Old Testament, such as replacing unknown ancient Hebrew words with familiar contemporary Aramaic words. The Jewish rabbis, incidentally, regarded Ezra as a "Second Moses"--and that with good reason.
Christ and the Scriptures
It is indeed true that we are in no position to judge how nearly the older books of the Hebrew canon have come down to us in their exact original form, and how much editing may have been done by later men of God such as Ezra. Of one thing we may be certain, however. It was the Old Testament, almost exactly as we have it, which our Lord knew, and which He assured us was the infallible truth of God. And the Dead Sea Scrolls, it may be observed, tend to confirm the substantial accuracy of the Masoretic text of the Old Testament. It should also be mentioned that the writers of the Old Testament historical books have at least to some extent taken us into their confidence by citing about a dozen and a half literary sources: the Book of the Wars of the Lord, the Book of Jashar [or, of the Upright J, the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel, the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah, the Books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, the Book of the Acts of Solomon, the Chronicles of Samuel the Seer, the Chronicles of Nathan the Prophet, the History of Nathan the Prophet, the Chronicles of Gad the Seer, the Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite, the Visions of Iddo the Seer, the Chronicles of Iddo the Seer, the Chronicles of Shemaiah the Prophet, the Chronicles of Jehu the Son of Hanani, the Commentary on the Book of the Kings, the Vision of Isaiah the Son of Amoz in the Books of the Kings of Judah and Israel, and the Chronicles of the Seers [or, of Hozai]. Numbers 21:14; Joshua 10:13; II Samuel 1:18; I Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29; I Chronicles 29:29; II Chronicles 9:29; 12:15; 16:11; 24:27; 25:26; 26:22; 28:26; 32:32; 33:19.
How Name Our Doctrine of Inspiration?
If all the Scripture is inspired of God and normative for Christian doctrine, what name should be applied to a sound doctrine of inspiration? It should be said right at the outset in the discussion of this question that the fact of inspiration is certain, regardless of what name may be applied to it. For Christ, the reliability of Scripture for faith and life extended even to what might be called the fine points of Scripture; He put it vividly: Neither an iota (smallest letter) nor a keraia (smallest part of a letter) would perish until all is fulfilled. Matthew 5:18. And we have already noted many other assurances from the Lord and His apostles. But what name should be assigned to an adequate theory of inspiration? Two words in particular are advanced by conservative Bible students: verbal (meaning that the reliability of Scripture extends to the very words)--a position which seems to have appealed to John Baillie (Idea of Revelation, p. 11 5)--and plenary (meaning that all the Scripture is inspired of God). The word plenary is rejected by some scholars because they feel that it suggests that all the Scripture is equally rich in spiritual content--which is obviously not the case. The word verbal is also not altogether a happy term for some scholars, for they feel that it suggests that it was the Holy Spirit who chose the very words which the writers of Scripture employed--and this too is obviously untrue, for as a matter of fact each Biblical writer has his own vocabulary and style. Some scholars feel that a new term, dynamical, would best express the paradox that the Scriptures are the very Word of God, yet written in the words of men, but this word has also failed to meet with widespread acceptance. Perhaps it is wisest not to insist on a human name for an obvious mystery, but simply to assert with the Scriptures that the Bible was written by holy men of God who were borne of the Holy Spirit so effectively that all Scripture is "God-given," and therefore normative for faith and life.
It is indeed fortunate that the authority of Scripture does not depend upon any human theory of inspiration. As long ago as 1881 two Presbyterian evangelicals, B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge, wrote: "Nor should we ever allow it to be believed that the truth of Christianity depends upon any doctrine of inspiration whatever. Revelation came in large part before the record of it, and the Christian Church before the New Testament Scriptures. Inspiration can have no meaning if Christianity is not true, but Christianity would be true and divine, and being so, would stand, even if God had not been pleased to give us, in addition to His revelation of saving truth, an infallible record of that revelation absolutely errorless by means of inspiration" (Presbyterian Review, Ap., 1881, p. 227). And James Orr, after citing this, and after discussing various views of inspiration, gets to the essence of the matter when he speaks of "this undeniable, self-attesting, spiritual quality of Scripture" (Revelation and Inspiration, 1910, p. 201). And we must once more tie our doctrine of inspiration, just as our doctrine of Biblical authority, to the purpose of Scripture. And that purpose was not to give us an all-comprehensive history of the human race, nor to make such detailed scientific revelations as would make human research unnecessary. Rather, the purpose of the Bible is to witness to Christ and His salvation. As Orr put it in 1910: "The Bible has the qualities claimed for it as an inspired book. These qualities . . . nothing but inspiration could impart. It leads to God and to Christ; it gives light on the deepest problems of life, death, and eternity; it discovers [to us J the way of deliverance from sin; it makes men new creatures; it furnishes the man of God completely for every good work. That it possesses these qualities history and experience 'pure word.' It is a true and 'tried' word; a word never found wanting by those who rest themselves upon it" (Revelation and Inspiration, pp. 218, 219).
The Holy Spirit and Scripture
Only one word remains to be said. Just as the Scripture is not an end in itself, but fulfills its God-intended role by leading men to the Saviour of the world, the incarnate Word of God, so likewise we must not look upon the Scriptures apart from the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of those who read that inscripturated Word. The Scripture itself witnesses to this important and essential truth. "The natural man," writes Paul of the man who is devoid of the Spirit of God, "receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (I Corinthians 2:14). This blindness to spiritual reality on the part of the unregenerated man stands in contrast with us believers who have received "the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God" (I Corinthians 2:12). We are Christ's epistle, for "the Spirit of the living God" has inscribed His "writing" in the "fleshy [tablets j of the heart" (II Corinthians 3:3). Paul lamented that in his day a veil of unbelief rested over the hearts of many of his Jewish brethren, effectively blinding them to the Bible's true witness: that is, its witness to Christ: "Until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart" (II Corinthians 3:14, 15). Paul looked to the day when the Holy Spirit would bring these blind Bible readers to saving faith in Christ, for then, and only then, shall the veil be taken away. II Corinthians 3:16. To those of us who have been graciously brought to saving faith in Christ by the blessed Holy Spirit Paul writes: "But we all, with open [unveiled face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are [being J changed into the same image from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord" (II Corinthians 3:18). In the final analysis, therefore, the authority of the Bible is perceived only by those who are in Christ and who are therefore indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
Veni, Spiritus Creator,
mentes tuorum visita!
[Creator Spirit, Do Thou alone
Come into the Minds which are Thine own!]
from God's Word Written, by J. C. Wenger, © copyright 1966, renewed, by Herald Press, copyright now owned by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI. This book has been reprinted by Biblical Viewpoints