The Inspiration of Scripture
E W Rogers, Oxford
WE ARE LIVING IN DAYS when in most unexpected quarters doubts are cast upon the inspiration of Scripture. We, therefore, should approach the matter not with any preconceived notions but, if at all possible, stripping our minds of that in which we have been instructed, and seeking to learn afresh the mind of God.
It would, indeed, be a dreadful thing were we to discover that any part of holy Scripture was uncertain: it might well be that the part on which we depend for our security is also unreliable. What then?
In all matters of interpretation words are of the utmost importance. The lawyer in seeking to interpret a document before him is not guided by what it is suggested the person who wrote it intended, but by what he actually wrote. The words of the document count for everything. This is so with Scripture. It is open to the believer to know what is the mind of the Spirit, he may indeed have the mind of Christ, but it is only as he gathers it from what is written. He dare not depend upon his own surmisings.
It is not sufficient to say that the thoughts are inspired but not the words, for the accurate conveyance of thoughts can only be by accurate words. If the words are faulty then the thoughts have not been properly conveyed. It follows, therefore, that verbal inspiration is basic. Plenary inspiration is vital. Accordingly we find Paul in Gal. 3. 16 making a strong point of the singular word 'seed' where a plural might have been expected. So, too, in John 8. 58 the present tense is used where a past might have been anticipated. The writer to the Hebrews calls attention to specific words such as 'new' and 'once more' (see 8. 13; 12. 27).
What is inspiration? It would be difficult to define beyond saying that it is that process which has resulted in a perfectly accurate and authoritative written compilation of literature which everywhere bears the hallmark of divine origin. The process will ever remain a mystery, but the product has stood the test of milleniums. Peter says that men from God spake as they were moved along by the Holy Ghost, and that Old Testament prophecy was the result of the Spirit of Christ 'speaking in' the prophets, 1 Peter 1. 11; 2 Peter 1. 21. Paul says 'All scripture is God-breathed', 2 Tim. 3. 16. It is not merely 'was God-breathed' but is still warm with the breath of God. It is living and powerful, Heb. 4. 12. No Old Testament prophet decided of his own volition to write a book: but he was God's mouthpiece and cried 'Thus saith the Lord', 'The word of the Lord came unto me saying' and like statements. They were not authors but channels. They reported to others what they had first heard. Their words were not their own.
Do not suppose that all that is in Scripture has God's sanction. Clearly He was displeased at David's sin and at Satan's aspersions against Job. But the record of these things is inspired of God and has been given us for our learning. It is all God's word no matter what the subject matter may be.
Like the Lord Jesus Himself the Scriptures have the dual characteristic that they are divine yet truly human. The peculiar style of each penman is clear to all: no one could confound Isaiah's poetic strains with the sad tones of Jeremiah, or the logic of Paul with the fervour of Peter and the simplicity yet profundity of John. In some cases circumstances gave occasion for the writings, such as the misdemeanour of the Corinthian saints and the incipient division among the Philippians. But the Spirit of God so controlled all the penmen of Scripture that, using their traits and the circumstances, He ensured that they wrote unerringly and that what they wrote was God's word.
'Unerringly' is the right word, for though the translations of Scripture have in some instances mistakes (happily very few in these late days) yet that does not affect the original writing. Sometimes copyists made errors but these are so few as to be almost insignificant. Certainly nothing fundamental to our faith is affected by them. Those who tell us that the Bible is not abreast of modern scientific discoveries overlook that the Scriptures were not written for scientists as such but for ordinary people who judge by the sight of the eye, so that phenomena is spoken of therein as they would ordinarily refer to it. Moreover the scientist has ever to beware that he does not assume his theories to be facts. He will not, we are sure, find that any clearly ascertained fact is contradicted by Scripture.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 2 tells us, touching his doctrine, what is true of the whole of Scripture, viz. (a) that it sprang from divine revelation, (b) that spiritual words are its medium of communication, and (c) that the Spirit of God furnishes its explanation (see in particular verses 10, 13 and 14). Indeed, we may glean from Rev. 22. 6, 10, 18 and 19 that that book (and what is true of it is true of the whole) is 'faithful' in its promises: 'true' as to its facts: authoritative as to its origin: inevitable as to its foreshadowings: unsealed now as to its meaning: and complete as to its canon. All of this merits amplification, but consideration of available space makes this impossible.
The citation of the Old Testament in the New Testament is a most instructive and reassuring study. Oftentimes the Spirit of God opens out a new meaning latent in the Old Testament passage but not discoverable from its context. Sometimes the free translation of the Septuagint is used and turned to additional instruction (see Gen. 5. 22 and Heb. 11. 5: Ps. 40. 6-8 and Heb. 10. 5-8). Seeing it is one and the same Spirit who wrote both Old and New Testaments: it follows that He has the right in later writings to use for His own purpose His former writings.
It was Adolf Saphir who said, 'The silences of Scripture are like the pauses in music: they add to its harmony'. He was speaking of the Genesis account of Melchizedek to which Hebrew 7 refers. We should ever be wary of seeking to fill up that which the Spirit of God has left unsaid.
Of the Bible we say as was said of Goliath's sword 'There is nothing like it'.