Dr. Edward J. Young
There is one very important factor in the doctrine of inspiration which hitherto has been mentioned only in cursory fashion. That is the human side of the Scriptures. Peter stated expressly that “holy men who were borne along of the Holy Ghost spake.” We have said little about these holy men whom God used in the composition of the Bible. We have simply sought to make it clear, since they themselves also emphasize this fact, that the Scriptures are from God. It is, we have contended, necessary to recognize the Divine origin of the Bible, and the implications of such recognition.
It is likewise necessary and important to do full justice to what the Bible has to say about its human side. This is today the more important because of the constant misrepresentations of this aspect of the doctrine. We are told, for example, that the human writers were mere pen holders whose hands moved under the direction of the Spirit. The historic doctrine is quite frequently parodied as being “static.” The writers wrote as mere automata, so the parody runs, having received what was dictated to them and then placed it in writing. When modern authors proclaim, “We want no mechanical theory of inspiration,” they give one the impression that they believe they are refuting an actual error. As a matter of fact, however, the idea of mechanical dictation is nothing more than a straw man. Recent conservative writers on the subject of inspiration have sought to do justice to the human side of Scripture; they have been far from advocating a mechanical dictation theory.
What shall we say about this word dictation in regard to the doctrine of inspiration? It was a word that Calvin, to take one example, did not hesitate to employ. “Whoever, then,” he says, “wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him, first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.” [2 Timothy 3:16, translated by William Pringle.]
In speaking in such a vein, Calvin is simply following the thought of the Bible itself. Paul, in writing to the Corinthians, did not hesitate to say, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13). If we were to attempt to bring out more clearly the precise force of the Apostle’s language, we might render, “in words taught of the Spirit.” Paul is saying as patently as he can that the words which he is employing are those which the Spirit has taught him, and this is precisely what Calvin also maintains.
At the same time, although the term dictation in itself is not objectionable and expresses forcefully the Divine origin of the words of the Bible, it is perhaps unwise to use the word today without some qualification. A new connotation has come upon the term which it obviously did not have in the day of Calvin. When we speak of dictation, there immediately comes to mind the thought of the businessman dictating a letter to his stenographer, or the teacher dictating an exercise to her pupils. In both these instances it does not make too great a difference who takes down the dictation. One stenographer can probably do it as well as another, and if one is not available, another can easily be obtained. Likewise, when the teacher dictates a passage to her class, the important thing is that the pupils take down precisely what has been dictated, and do not add to it or subtract from it. The person of the stenographer or of the pupil is in reality a comparatively negligible factor. Such, however, is not the situation with respect to the human writers of the Bible. True enough, the words which they employed were taught them by the Holy Spirit, but it is not the case that it makes no difference who wrote those words. It is not true that Peter might just as well have written the Pauline epistles as the great Apostle himself. It would serve the interests of clarity, therefore, if, in the discussion of this doctrine, we lay stress upon the fact that although the Bible teaches that its very words are from God, it most emphatically does not teach a mechanical dictation view of inspiration.
Men like Turretine, Calvin and others who have written on this subject have been as eager to do justice to the human side of the Bible as have some of the modern rejectors of the Biblical doctrine. It is a sad thing that scholarly men of our day constantly erect a straw man and seek to attack it instead of coming to grips with the Scriptural teaching itself. Those who believe the Bible and who wish to do justice to its teaching are as concerned as anyone to refute the notion that inspiration was a mechanical kind of dictation, that the human writers were mere automata whose personalities were entirely suspended in the writing of the books of the Bible.
Let us then proceed to notice in more detail the emphasis which the Bible places upon these human writers. “How then,” we read, “doth David in spirit call him Lord?” (Matthew 22:43). It is David who calls the Messiah Lord. And there are particular conditions under which he does this. It is while he is in the Spirit that he so speaks. The implication is that there are also times when David is not in the Spirit, when, in other words, he is not inspired. When David spoke of the Messiah as Lord, however, he did so being in the Spirit. David, therefore, is the human author of the utterance; it is his, and it is as a conscious responsible human being that he speaks. At the same time, the conditions under which the Psalmist spoke were not the normal conditions of everyday life; he spoke not as a normal man, but rather under peculiar circumstances; David was in the Spirit.
Of particular interest is the statement, “For David himself said by the Holy Ghost” (Mark 12:36). Very strong is the emphasis that it was the man David who spoke. This emphasis receives additional confirmation and strength from the passage, “And David himself saith in the book of Psalms” (Luke 20:42). Of unusual relevancy is this verse because it attributes the authorship of certain words to the man David. In the place of saying that it was in the Spirit that he spoke, it substitutes the phrase “in the book of Psalms.”
In the words addressed to God “who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage and the people imagine vain things?” a passage from the second Psalm is attributed to David. It is God who uttered these words; they find their origin in Him; they are His; He, and He alone, is their author. Nevertheless, He spoke them by the mouth of His servant David. David spoke, but God spoke through him. Similar is the statement to the effect that the Lord received the name Jesus in fulfillment of the words which were “spoken of the Lord by the prophet” (Matthew 1:22). The tender and mysterious prophecy of the Virgin was of Divine origin, but God spoke it through the mouth of the prophet.
In referring to the passage about the burning bush which He says is in the “book of Moses,” Christ quotes, “God spake unto him, saying . . .” (Mark 12:26). The words are regarded by Christ as those which God Himself has spoken, but they are to be found in a book written by the man Moses. In another place, however, no reference is made to the human author other than the question “have ye not read?” which implies that the words uttered by God are nevertheless to be found in a book where they can be read (cf. Matthew 22:32). In a similar type of statement the Apostle Paul makes reference to the Old Testament, “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, saying . . .” (Acts 28:25, 26a). Paul would here make it clear that the Holy Spirit spoke, yet at the same time it was through the mouth of the individual Isaiah that He gave His utterance. The prophet was the human author of the message, yet the one who was speaking through Isaiah was none other than the Spirit of God Himself.
A careful consideration of the above passages should make it clear that God, in revealing His Word, spoke through the instrumentality of men. In the first place, they were holy men; men who knew and loved their God. This does not mean at all that they were not sinful men; they were sinful, sometimes great sinners. David, for example, had committed sins which few, if any, men would forgive, but David, nevertheless, was one through whom the Spirit spoke. The writers of the Bible were indeed sinners, but they were men who, despite their sins, loved God and were used of Him in the composition of Scripture.
It would be most unjust to the data of Scripture to maintain that God merely looked about to see if here and there He could find a man through whom He might speak to the world. There is nothing in the Bible to support or to sustain this idea; in fact, everything teaches the very opposite. Did it matter, we may ask, through whom the Divine message was spoken? According to the Bible it mattered very greatly. In the first verse of Amos’ rugged prophecy we read, “The words of Amos . . . which he saw.” Only nine short chapters, yet from them we learn something of the man who wrote them. How different they are from the quiet tenderness of Hosea! How unsuited was Amos to have undergone the sad experiences of a Hosea! At the same time, different as each was from the other, each was clearly conscious of speaking forth the words of God.
The same is true when we turn to the pages o the New Testament. Do not the human writers of the New Testament also differ greatly one from another? It would seem that God had chosen specific men to write specific portions of His Word. And such was indeed the case. Not only, however, did the Lord select certain men to write certain portions of His Word but, more than that, they were used as real men. Their personalities were not held in abeyance; their talents were not obscured; they were not somehow placed in a state of suspended animation. Rather, God used them as they were. All their gifts of training and native talent God called into play.
The matter may be very clearly illustrated by the case of the Apostle Paul. God very obviously did not look about to discover if there were somewhere on the face of the earth a man who might be used in the composition of those writings which we now call the Pauline Epistles. There was only one man that could have written those Epistles, and that man was the Apostle himself. The Apostle, however, required training and preparation before he could commit to writing the glorious epistles which now bear his name. His very birth and upbringing in the city of Tarsus were of importance. The instruction which he received at the feet of Gamaliel and his indoctrination into the tenets of the Pharisees served as a background which stood him in good stead throughout the remainder of his life. Not the least of his talents was his ability to use the Greek language both in speaking and preaching. After his conversion he spent three years in Arabia, years, we may well suppose, in which he engaged in study and meditation.
Did all this, however, occur simply through chance? Not at all; it was God who was at work in the events of Paul’s life, shaping him so that he would be precisely the man whom God wanted and whom He needed to write the great epistles. It was a providential preparation; a schooling and training conducted at the hands of God Himself through the ordinary course of His providential working.
Similar was the case with Moses. Here again we note the long years of preparation. In childhood and youth Moses learned of the afflictions of his people in Egypt. He knew well the Egyptian mind, and how to deal with the taskmaster. Then came the period of training in the desert, where, in the stillness of the wasteland, he might mediate and reflect. Thus, through this time, followed by his own participation in the events of the Exodus, Moses came to the place where he was prepared for the task of writing the first five books of the Bible. It is clear that these books represent a unified plan and that they are the work of a great mind. Only a mind such as that of Moses could have composed them. And for this work of writing, Moses, in the providence of God, had been prepared and equipped. How graciously did the Lord deal with His recalcitrant and stubborn servant! How wondrously He led the man on, step by step, until Moses was ready to write.
Very wondrous was God’s providential preparation and equipment of those men whom He had appointed to be the human instruments in the writing of the Scripture. Thus He prepared and raised up an Isaiah, a Jeremiah, a John, and a Paul. His work of providence and His special work of inspiration should be regarded as complementing one another. Those through whom the Spirit desired to give the Scriptures were individuals who had been equipped for the task in the providence of God. When, therefore, the Spirit bore a holy man of old (2 Peter 1:21) it was not any man who happened to be on the scene, but rather, just that holy man whom God, through years of training, had prepared to speak and to write precisely that portion of the Scripture which He desired to have him write.
The question may very well be raised how the Spirit actually controlled the writers of Scripture so that they wrote expressly what He desired and yet at the same time were responsible individuals whose personalities were not stifled. How, for example, could the prophet write, “The words of Amos . . . which he saw?” Does not this verse contain a glaring contradiction? If the words are truly those of Amos, how could they at the same time be those which had found their origin in God? If God was the Author, how could Amos also be regarded as an author?
Legitimate as such questions are, however, they cannot be fully answered. God has not seen fit to reveal to us the mode by which He communicated His Word to His servants, placing that word in their mouths and “carrying” them until the Word was accurately committed to writing. We have come, in other words, into an area of mystery. There is much about this precious Scriptural doctrine which God has not revealed. The Scripture is silent as to the mode which God employed to preserve His Word from error. In this as in so many doctrines of the Bible there is mystery. It is of course, to be expected that such would be the case. We are but men and our understanding is at best limited and finite. We can only know as a created being knows. God, on the other hand, is the One who in His understanding is infinite. We cannot probe into His dealings in such a way as to obtain full and comprehensive knowledge thereof. He is not such a One as can be brought down and placed under the scrutiny of the microscope of the human mind.
In the doctrine of the Trinity likewise there is mystery. He who thinks that he can remove that mystery and fully understand the doctrine deceives no one but himself. This deep truth must be received in faith, and the believing heart rejoices simply because God has revealed this mystery in His Word. How wondrous is this revelation which God has given of Himself! How great, we are compelled to say, is our Holy God! When the mind delights itself in the thought that He is the one living and true God, it finds itself suddenly brought face to face with the fact that He is also Triune. Likewise, when it contemplates the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, it is worshipping Him beside whom there is no other. The One reminds us of the Three, and the Three bring us to the One. Before Him, the one God in three Persons, we bow in adoration. We praise Him, we worship Him, we extol His matchless Name, we meditate upon His infinite attributes and perfections. Never, however, can we remove the mystery that adheres to the revelation which He has given of Himself as Triune.
It is the same with the doctrine of inspiration. When we have set forth all that the Scripture has to say, we can go no further. It may well be that questions arise in our minds, but they are questions which, at present at least, we cannot answer. Our duty is to believe all that God has revealed and to bow in humble acceptance of the truth which He has given. Scripture has spoken; it has permitted us to learn much concerning its inspiration. It has not, however, told us all. We may then freely acknowledge that there are difficulties in the Scriptural position, and also that there are questions which we cannot at present answer. Our portion is to be believers. God has spoken. Let us hear His voice, and beyond that let us not seek to go.
At this point, however, it is necessary to consider in some detail and with some care an objection to the above teaching which is frequently being voiced in our day. When the Word of God came through human personality, it is very often maintained, the Word was obscured to some extent. God was limited in His choice of available instruments through whom His Word might come to us, and therefore He did the best that He could with the personalities and means that were at His disposal. Consequently, the character of the revelation which we have depends not only upon God but also upon the human media through which it came.
Since the Word did come through human agents and instrumentality, it is claimed, there must adhere to it some of the error and imperfection which is found in everything human. It is just like plunging one’s arm into muddy water: in withdrawing the arm some of the mud will adhere to it; or it is like rays of sunlight which are less bright when shining through a dirty window than a clear one.
The character of the Divine revelation, therefore, according to this view, depends not only on God, but also on those media through which that revelation came. If those media were fallible, then the revelation itself partook of that fallibility. God Himself was limited by the means at hand. He could communicate Himself and His truth to men only in so far as men themselves were spiritually mature to receive His revelation. Men with spiritual failings could mar and prevent that revelation from coming to mankind.
Those, who insist that the Word of God in coming through human instruments has itself been affected and has acquired imperfections, for the most part believe that they can themselves detect these imperfections. Generally they wish to limit the errors and flaws which have supposedly crept into the Word of God to minor matters of fact or history. Sometimes a comparison is made with the incarnation of the Lord. The Word which became incarnate was subject to all the limitations and hardships of human life, it is sometimes maintained, and likewise the embodiment of the spoken Word of God in the history of a people such as the Hebrews involved all the crudities and the errors that such a people would probably make.
One need not look far today for a statement of this position. It is to be found in much that is written on the subject. Whenever someone writes on the Bible, he seems to feel the necessity of pointing out that it contains errors, and that these errors are a result of the human agents who were employed in the writing down of Scripture. It seems to be taken for granted that error must in the nature of the case be found in whatever is written by human hands.
As we hear this objection to the Scriptural teaching, there are several questions which arise. In the first place, we would ask, What kind of a God is He who cannot reveal to the world a message that is free from error? Surely, He must be limited and restricted indeed! Those of us who from time to time engage in a bit of writing are happy to have a stenographer who types our work accurately. If we discover that the stenographer is constantly making mistakes in her typing, and these mistakes are of so serious a nature that our work is actually obscured and marred thereby, we shall probably change stenographers. God, however, if the position which we are now considering is correct, cannot even do this. God is far more limited than are we mortals. We have the ability of hiring someone who will do our work for us as we desire it done; God, on the other hand, cannot even do that. When God would speak to mankind in writing, He cannot get His message across without having it cluttered up with irritating errors.
It is well to consider this question carefully. God, we are being told, had to use the means at His disposal. Those means were human beings. Therefore, when God revealed His Word, that Word, in passing through the media of human writers, acquired the characteristics of those writers, including their error, their ignorance, their crudities. Well may we exclaim at the poverty and weakness of such a God! If indeed man can thus thwart Him, it is pertinent to ask, Is He really worth knowing after all?
One thing, however, is clear. Such a God, limited as He is by the human agents through whom He gives His Word, is not the God of the Bible. He may very well serve as the god of modern theology, but he is not the Creator of heaven and earth, the one true eternal God. If it were really true — and thank God that it is not — that the Father in heaven were restricted in His power by man and were limited in His ability to reveal His Word, we could then be sure that at the best he was only a finite being like ourselves. He might be more powerful than we, yet, since we can clutter up His revelation with our error, even that assumption is questionable. Since He is limited by His creatures, such a God is no God at all.
Very different is the God of whom Scripture speaks. This God, whom the Christian worships as the Creator, is One who doeth according to His will, “and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?” (Daniel 4:35b). This God, in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, is One who can take up and bear `the writers of Scripture so that what they have written is exactly what He desired to have written. He is One who in His infinite power can use as His agents and instruments fallible human beings, who can bring into His employ all the gifts, talents, and characteristics of those human beings, and yet can cause them to pen His own Word, and keep that Word utterly separate and distinct from their own sinful nature and the consequent imperfections which are the result of that nature.
There is, however, another point which must be raised in this connection. Those who believe that there are errors in the Bible, as we have seen, seek to account for the presence of these supposed errors upon the assumption that their origin is to be attributed to the human writers. Since human authors are fallible, they reason, the Scripture itself must therefore partake of fallibility. If this is actually the case, it follows that not merely part of Scripture partakes of fallibility, but all. Whatever is the Word of God has passed through human instruments. Whatever passes through human instruments, so this argument runs, must therefore partake of fallibility. All Scripture has passed through human instrumentality; consequently, all Scripture has become fallible. There is no escape from this position. It will not do to say that fallibility has attached itself only to statements of historical and geographical fact. To do that would be to be guilty of gross inconsistency. Like a leach that cannot be removed, human fallibility attaches itself to all Scripture without exception. Whatever is the Word of God is also fallible; no part is free from error and imperfection.
It may very well be that this is not what modern writers believe but, be that as it may, it is the logical conclusion of their position, and it is well to note what that conclusion is. God grant that those who are so insistent that humanity must give to the Divine Word the character of fallibility would realize what is involved in their claim. They have not solved any difficulties; rather they have created incalculably difficult questions and problems.
An example will reveal how dire are the consequences of this position. When we are called to a home where death has come, how inadequate we are. At such a time how trite and unsatisfactory are mere words of ours! How the heart grieves at the thoughtlessness and cruelty of those who have nothing more to offer than mere banality and platitude. Cold and unthinking they are indeed! Can we on the other hand, offer anything of greater comfort? We turn to the pages of the Bible and read, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” (John 11:25,26). “Is that true?” asks the one in sorrow. “Is Jesus really the One who has taken my loved one to be with Him?” “Well,” we reply, “we believe that it is true. Of course, this Word of God, like everything else in the Bible is tinged with fallibility. Like the remainder of Scripture it also has imperfection and error.”
To speak in that vein would be mockery. It would offer no comfort to the soul who is in sorrow. Yet, how else could one answer? To the one in need there would be nothing better to say, since all Scripture is fallible. We could never be sure as to what it said about God, nor could we, for that matter, have any assurance that its prescriptions for our conduct upon this earth were free from error. Serious and tragic in the extreme are the consequences of adopting this modern error. We can only be thankful that its adherents are themselves inconsistent in their practice. For our part, we want nothing to do with a position which logically can lead to such results. Thank God that when it came through human agents His blessed Word was not coated with fallibility. Those agents did not control or circumscribe Him; they did not affect His Word, but rather, under His sovereign Spirit, were rendered the willing instruments to carry out what He wished accomplished.
Futhermore, if fallible human writers have given to us a Bible that is fallible, how are we ourselves, who most certainly are fallible, to detect in the Bible what is error and what is not? To this the answer is given that with the increase in knowledge, we can easily detect errors which the ancient writers made. They had crude ideas of geography and history, it is said, but we today have much greater knowledge. Where they went astray, we can furnish a check and correct their errors. To speak this way, however, is not to settle the issue at all. What about those parts of the Bible upon which we cannot check? How are we to discern what in those parts is error and what is not? How are we to separate the fallible from the inerrant?
To take an example, the Bible speaks of Palestine and Jerusalem. We may today travel to Palestine and Jerusalem, and thus we have a check. When the Bible mentioned these places, it was telling us the truth; such places do exist. The Bible also mentions certain customs of antiquity. Abraham, for example, took his concubine, Hagar, and from her a son was born. Archaeology has made it perfectly clear that this custom was as a matter of fact practiced in Abraham’s day. Well and good, but what about those parts of the Bible upon which we cannot check? How shall we evaluate the God of Scripture? How do we know whether we can separate the wheat from the chaff in the Biblical teaching about God? The answer is that we simply cannot do so. If all Scripture is fallible, then all that Scripture says about God is fallible, and we have no way of detecting what is and what is not in accord with fact. We ourselves are likely to err. How then can we judge the Scripture? Judge the Scripture we cannot; we are left in a hopeless scepticism. It will not do to say that modern knowledge has made it possible to separate the wheat and the chaff in the Bible. It has done nothing of the kind. We are ourselves like the authors of Scripture and the only thing that can help us in an infallible Word from God. Since, however, God cannot give us an infallible Word, there is nothing that we can do. Here is the Bible, shot full of error, and we must make the best of it. Disastrous indeed is this conclusion. Disastrous as it is, however, it is the end at which we are bound to arrive if we adopt the view which we are now seeking to answer.
This brings us to another point which must be raised in opposition to the assertion that human fallibility precludes infallibility in the Scripture. It is that the advocates of this position are for the most part extremely inconsistent. Certain parts of the Bible, they tell us, are pure and true. For example, the injunction to love one’s enemies is acceptable to modern theologians. There, certainly, is the Word of God. That we are to obey. In saying this, however, modern theology is in effect admitting the very case which it wishes to deny. In admitting that there is even one bit of Scripture that is the pure and infallible and trustworthy Word of God, the modern theologian is tacitly acknowledging that at least some of the Word of God has come through the medium of fallible human writers without itself becoming fallible. It was protected from error so that we today might regard it as trustworthy. It is the truth free from error; our duty in fact is to love our enemies. If, however, even a portion of the Word may have been transmitted through fallible human channels without error, why may not all have been so transmitted? To acknowledge that some may be preserved from error is to give the case away. If some may thus have been kept from imperfection, without doubt all may likewise have been so kept. Moreover, if it is true that humanity, because it is necessarily fallible, may thwart the revelation of God, so that that revelation comes to us marred, what is to be said about Christ? Jesus Christ was a true man, and if manhood necessarily involves fallibility, Jesus Christ was fallible. If humanity, simply because it is humanity, is characterized by error and imperfection, Jesus Christ is not our Savior.
From these consequences we cannot flee. We are not warranted in making an exception of the Person of our Lord, and if we have once adopted the position that the human necessarily entails imperfection, let us be consistent and admit that Christ also is imperfect. It is a sad conclusion to draw; sad as it is, however, it is one that we must draw if the premise which we have adopted is correct. If our Lord, in His human nature, was necessarily subject to fallibility, then, of course, He was not what He claimed to be; He was subject to sin. There is no escape from this conclusion, none whatever. If Jesus Christ was a sinner (for fallibility is the consequence of sin) we might as well face the fact that He is not, nor could He be, our Savior. As a matter of fact, however, this vicious premise is not correct. The God whom we worship is powerful enough to convey His revelation through human channels and to do so in such a manner that His revelation does not acquire the imperfections that adhere to sinful humanity. In the Person of His Son, He is able to take to Himself a true human nature which is not touched with sin. Although error and imperfection are found in sinful human nature they are not at all necessary characteristics of human nature as such.
Is it not, the charge is sometimes made, an illogical position to adopt, this position which asserts that God can give an infallible revelation through fallible channels? Man is fallible; man is the only instrument available to God through which this revelation can come. Simple logic demands that said revelation must then partake of fallibility. Thus the view for which we are contending is dismissed as “illogical.”
But is this view, as a matter of fact, illogical? The charge, grave as it is, is based upon the premise that man is capable of qualifying or affecting the revelation which God gives through him. Is this premise, however, warranted by the facts? Can man, in truth, control God’s revelation? Is God the Revealer subject to man? According to the Bible this premise is utterly and completely false. According to the Bible God has created man in His own image. Man therefore is subject to God, and dependent upon Him. God, on the other hand, is utterly independent of man, and self-sufficient unto Himself. “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things” (Romans 11:36a).
Man is entirely subject to the law of God. As created by God, Adam, although finite, was nevertheless not fallible. Adam, however, sinned, and all mankind sinned in him and fell with him. Man, therefore, is a sinful creature and as a sinner is subject to error. God, since He is the omnipotent Creator, has absolute control over those whom He has created. In His good pleasure, which is a sovereign good pleasure, He may bear the human writers of the Bible, so controlling them, yet preserving intact their personalities, that they can write His revelation exactly as He wishes. If once we think rightly about God, other matters will appear in their proper perspective. Once we realize that God is in control of the situation, it will become clear that the Biblical doctrine of inspiration, mysterious as it may be, is nevertheless not illogical.
Thus we come to that which is basic in modern thought. In all this talk of the Word of God we would ask the question, What is it that modern theologians have in mind when they are speaking of the Word of God? Who is this God in whose Word they are so interested? It is difficult to identify Him. He seems to be a creation in the image of man, and not the Triune God who has spoken in the Bible. The issue involved is in reality that of theism. Who is our God? Are we followers of the King, or have we bowed the knee to Baal? Unless first we become as little children and acknowledge the true God in all our ways, we shall not speak profitably on the subject of that Word which has been breathed forth from His mouth. The modern god, created by man, lives and rules in the City of Destruction. From him and from his reign, however, we have been delivered by the God of Holy Scripture.
It should be clear from the discussion so far that the Bible is not to be regarded as a “joint” product, the combined effort of God and man. Surely the Bible itself does not make such a claim. There were indeed human writers of the Scripture, but they are not to be considered as co-authors with God. It is not that God contributed certain parts of the Scriptures, and men supplemented these, and it most certainly is not the case that men contributed the greater portion of Scripture to have it supplemented by God. Nor did God and man take counsel together as to what should be included in the Scripture. God did not consult man as to what should be written. The Bible is truly the Word of God. He is the final and the ultimate Author; the Bible comes from God. Without Him there could have been no Bible. Without men, however, there could have been a Bible. God could have given us His Word in some other manner than that which He actually did choose. As a matter of fact, He did choose to speak through inspired men but He was not compelled to do so. In no sense was He limited. That he employed human writers was an act of grace, and the heart of faith will ever adore and revere Him that He so honored the human race as to employ lost sinners as writers of His pure and holy Word. While the human authors were true authors, nevertheless they were not the originators of the words and the thoughts that are found in the Bible. They were holy men indeed, but they were holy men who were borne by the Spirit.
Were these human writers infallible, even when they were not borne by the Spirit? Obviously the Bible does not teach that this was so. They were men of their own day. No doubt their own views of astronomy, for example, were not one whit more advanced than those of their contemporaries. On the other hand, when they were the penmen of the Spirit of God, they were expressing the words of God. The thoughts which they were penning had been revealed to them by God; they were placed in their minds by the Spirit Himself. It therefore will not do to assert that they did not have a knowledge of modern astronomy and hence could not have written an account of the creation that was scientifically accurate. If Moses had depended only upon the wisdom of the Egyptians, he would have produced a rather clumsy account of Creation. If he had relied alone upon the thoughts and opinions of his own heart, he would have composed a first chapter of Genesis that for crudity and error might have equaled the writings of Babylonia. Moses, however, in writing the first chapter of Genesis was not drawing upon his own ideas and thoughts. He was giving expression to thoughts which he had learned by revelation of God. He was an inspired penman. What went on in his own mind as he wrote we can never tell, but he acted as a conscious, responsible human being. Without doubt he must have realized that he was writing far more deeply than he himself could fathom. However he composed, however he gathered his material and set it down in writing, whether he wrote and crossed out and polished, we do not know. Nevertheless he worked, and what was finally set down as the completed product was just what the God of Truth desired to have written down; it was the Word of God.
At other times, however, to continue our use of Moses as an illustration, what Moses may have said and done, and what he may have written down, was no more free from error, no more infallible, than any other purely human word or composition. Not at all times was he kept from error, but only when he served as the penman to write down the Divine oracles. The same is true of the other writers of the Bible. Hence, the folly of Reimarus’ objection that the moral character of some of the human writers would preclude them from being the recipients of Divine revelation. In giving the Bible to mankind God did not make use of men who were free from sin. David was a sinful man, and yet through him God gave many of the Psalms. Moses was a murderer. Paul persecuted the Church of God. Yet God selected them to be His instruments of inspiration. That they were thus chosen in no sense condones or excuses their sins. If anything, it would seem to heighten their guilt. What they wrote, however, and what they said when they were not borne by the Spirit was not inspired; it was as subject to error as the utterances of anyone else. Only when borne of the Spirit were the authors infallible in what they wrote.
In the book of 2 Samuel there is recorded a letter which David wrote to his general Joab (11:15). When David penned this letter he was doing a despicable thing. It is a tragedy indeed that the man who had composed many of the Psalms should also have stand out against him the words of this letter: “Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.” Those words will ever stand to blacken the record of David. An evil thing indeed was the writing of this letter. Was David inspired when he wrote it? Most obviously he was not. It was something that was composed from his evil heart; this was the stratagem which he devised to cover up his own sin by removing the innocent Uriah from the scene. David did not write this letter under the impulsion of the Spirit of God.
Inspiration naturally extends only to that which the writers produced when they were under the impulsion of God’s Spirit. How then, it may be asked, do we find a copy of this letter in the Sacred Scriptures? The answer must be that the writer of the book of Samuel was inspired as he recorded the letter. It was the intention of God to include this letter in the Scripture, and the author of Samuel, being borne of `the Spirit, has given an accurate copy thereof. We have, in other words, a correct copy of the words which David wrote. To draw from this the conclusion that the letter had the approval of God upon its contents would be unwarranted indeed. In writing this letter David did an evil thing, and it was the will of God that we today should know of this evil thing; for that reason the letter was included in the Scripture. The writer has given an accurate copy of the letter, for inspiration secures accuracy. Inspiration does not, however, involve Divine approval of the contents of all that is inspired.
We may then say with assurance that the writers of the Bible were inspired only when they were actually engaged in composing the books of Scripture. Apart from that they were men of their times, and erred just as other men err. They were sinful human beings, and inspiration did not by some magical process keep them from error. It was only when the Spirit mysteriously came upon them as they wrote down His Word that they were in His power and so kept from making in their writings errors such as adhere to everything merely human.
Very remarkable is this doctrine of inspiration! It is remarkable above all because it is taught in the Bible itself. The Bible is God’s Word, we may say, but the Bible is also the work of men. They were not, however, men who wrote under their own power and under ordinary circumstances. Great indeed was the honor which had been placed upon them. There were times when they were lifted from the ordinary level of human experience. There were times when what they set down in writing was free from error. There were times when they were under the compulsion of the Spirit of God. There were times when these chosen few of the human race were the writers of Scripture.
Dr. Edward J. Young, considered one of the ablest conservative scholars in the field of Old Testament, served for many years as Professor of Old Testament at Westminster Seminary, Philadelphia. His full-scale An Introduction to the Old Testament is generally regarded, both here and abroad, as the authoritative introductory work on the subject.
Among his other published books are The Prophecy of Daniel, Thy Word is Truth, The Prophecy of Daniel and an extensive study of Isaiah for the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (3 vols.), a series for which Dr. Young served as General Editor until his death in 1968.
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