I have an analogy for what faith is like: at what age do you think the average child is when he or she realizes that one day – if they live long enough – that he or she will be old and gray? How many times do they have to hear their grandparents say things like, “When I was your age…” or “When I was a little girl…” before they realize that their grandparents were once children like them and one day they’ll be old like their grandparents? And yet, how many people – old or young – seriously live for the future??? My point here is that you can intellectually know something is true, but at some fundamental level simply refuse to believe it and act accordingly. Obviously, if you know one day you’ll be old, common sense tells you that you ought to start seriously planning for that eventuality. BUT VERY FEW PEOPLE DO THAT. Half of Americans have ZERO savings for retirement. People are even dumber in the shorter term: how many people know they shouldn’t eat something because it’s bad for them and then eat it anyway??? I’ve certainly done that. You know you’ll pay dearly for something you’re doing now in the future, but you just don’t care BECAUSE YOU WANT WHAT YOU WANT NOW. It’s not that you don’t know what will happen; you simply put it off, refuse to think about it. And so with believing in God and the Bible. I don’t need to keep wondering if there’s a God or if the Bible is His Word any more than I need to question if I’ll one day be old and gray like my grandparents were. The difference between “knowledge” and “faith” is that extra step: “okay, there is a God and the Bible is His Word. What should I do with those facts? In what way should they make a difference in how I live my life?” And then you ACT the way your common sense based on what you KNOW tells you how to act. Knowledge becomes faith when you start making your decisions based on what you know about God and His Word.
There are many people who just can’t ever get to that point to true faith, no matter how much they “know” about God, just as there are many people who just won’t get messages such as, “You know you can’t eat like that or you’ll have a heart attack and die.” The morgue proves the latter situation. And the atheist is ultimately rather like my dog: I watch the beautiful sun set and contemplate its significance and my own significance before it; my dog sees it get dark. I take communion and meditate on the sacrifice of Christ as exemplified in the elements; my dog eats crackers. But we’re often like that, too. Just as the atheists simply refuse to go to the next level – beyond what God and simple common sense say is self-evident – too many Christians simply refuse to act based on the knowledge that they either already have or truly ought to have. And we have maybe just enough faith to be saved but not enough faith to actually live out our faith as a result. There’s just a super-massive disconnect between what we know and how we act in spite of what we already know. Which of course describes “foolishness.”
I’ll personalize it: When I stand before God, I won’t have the excuse of just not being sure that He’s actually there. I don’t doubt that God is here for a second any more. And yet how many times have I refused to think and feel and act given what I already KNOW is true!!!
To wrap it up in a nice little bow: there simply comes a point when you need to just BELIEVE your Bible really truly is the “Word of God” and therefore as a common sense RESULT of that knowledge treasure it, hunger for it and JUST READ IT. And believe the message it has for you and be transformed daily by that message. That’s the way the world ought to work if you’ve got common sense and it’s the way your spirituality ought to work if you’ve got any wisdom (which is just “spiritual common sense.” I submit that “wisdom” is far more about “integrity” than it is about “intelligence.” Wisdom isn’t about what you know; it’s about what you DO with what you know. “Wisdom” is knowledge rightly APPLIED. If I know that the Bible is truly God’s Word to me, and if I am wise, what will I do? I’ll apply that knowledge by reading my Bible! Every time I read my Bible I get another chance to hear the voice of God. And so therefore I’ll read my Bible with a submissive heart that is at the same time eager to learn and obey. But how many of us are FOOLS more often than we are WISE???
Now, as we read our Bibles, we may ask, “Is this experience subjective or objective?” It’s both – to a point. It’s subjective in the sense that I read the Bible in a personal sense as “God addressing me.” But ultimately the Holy Spirit’s testimony invariably directs us AWAY from ourselves to the objective authority of Scripture. The Bible is what it is, not what I want it to be or try to twist it into being. To apply this to my friends and family, if our relationship is all about me, then I’ll tend to subjectively interpret things they say to my own advantage; but if I truly love those people, I’ll try to understand them in the way they intended to be understood. It’s the same way with God’s Word. I recall the comedy sketch where a man is reading a Bible and someone asks, “What are you doing?” and he replies, “Searching for loopholes.” When we read our Bible as “God’s Word,” we will tend to read it in an objective (and LITERAL) sense. But yet another fact is that my experience of reading God’s Word is not merely “a private matter”; rather it is an experience common to all God’s people. The Christian community, led by the Holy Spirit, ought to serve as a check and balance against over-subjective implications or experiences.
Consider, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim 4:3). As a student in seminary, I first began to see a problem that has perverted much of higher education. At the graduate level, the student is (particularly at liberal universities) encouraged to consider for a dissertation a completely different approach, a new way to interpret, etc. But historic Christianity was “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). There’s a fundamental tension there. Do you see that? You practically BEG for heresy to enter into your domain. And that’s exactly what has happened at many schools that began as institutions of the Christian gospel that were perverted into synagogues of Satan. Each generation was like a tide that progressively carried out the foundation as every new class searched for something new and different. As culture changes, I want to be able to innovate such that I can reach people in new ways – but with the same gospel that Jesus and Paul taught rather than one that is “modern” and “contemporary.”
Now, one could contrast two fields such as science and religion and see the differences with one being intended to innovate and the other being intended to conserve (the teaching/values of God handed down to us). But even THAT isn’t correct, because science ALSO has been severely distorted and altered and perverted by the constant itching for the next new thing, the next scientific fad. C.S. Lewis wrote about how easy it would be to pervert science into a religious system by requiring obedience to its findings, by instilling groupthink and promoting a lack of healthy skepticism for its conclusions, and by dominating society. I think all that has already happened.
Ultimately, Christians simply have no choice but to recognize the authority of the Bible as God’s Word. It comes from beyond ourselves as we simply allow God to be God.
What is “inspiration”? It is the activity of the Holy Spirit whereby He superintended the human authors in Scripture so that their writings became a normative expression in human language of God’s Word to all humanity. To call the Bible “inspired” is merely another way of saying that it is God’s authoritative self-revelation.
God was directly involved in the writing of the Bible: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16). God’s breath is a graphic metaphor in the OT for the action of God, particularly through His Spirit (see Gen 2:7; Job 33:4; Ps 33:6). The statement that Scripture is “God-breathed” affirms its divine origin and character and implies something much stronger than the English word “inspired”; in this sense they are EXPIRED – breathed out by God. Note in 2 Tim that the object of God’s action is the written Scripture; the human writers aren’t even mentioned. They are of course involved, but the actual forming of Scripture is referred wholly to God’s activity. Note that “all” refers to the entire Bible, rather than merely some parts of it that may seem more “inspired” (such as the “Thus says the Lord” passages in the OT).
Another key passage of the doctrine of Inspiration is 2 Peter 1:19-21 – “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This passage confirms and actually extends the teaching of 2 Tim 3:16. The words in the Bible did not emerge from the writers’ private reflections, but rather “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” That same word “carried along” is used in Acts 27:15 to describe a ship “carried along” by a powerful storm. God’s “carrying” is far more gentle than that of a storm, but this is a strong statement of the divine activity in the production of the entire body of Scripture.
The third key passage is John 10:34-36: “Jesus answered them, “Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are “gods”‘? If he called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came–and Scripture cannot be set aside--what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’?” The exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees goes back to Psalm 82 regarding the discussion of “gods” in the law, but I cite this regarding something Jesus says about the Law: I prefer the rendering of the KJV and NASB, “and the Scripture cannot be broken.” That same conviction of Jesus about the absolute authority and complete inspiration of Scripture emerges when Jesus equates the words of the OT with the voice of God. See Matt 19:4-5 – “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?” So we have, “the Creator…said.” And the man leaving his father and mother part is Gen 2:24 – which does NOT quote God as the speaker. It is Moses editorializing the meaning of Adam’s words in vs. 23. The point here is that whenever ANY Scripture speaks, it is God speaking.
I am going to here ask a question: in your view, are the red-letter words of Jesus in the Gospel more or less inspired than the black letter words in the Gospels, or than the epistles of Paul, etc.? Do you see why the words of ALL Scripture are ALL equally inspired??? The same Jesus who spoke the authoritative words of God in the Gospels was under the power and inspiration of the same Holy Spirit who spoke the authoritative words of God in the Pauline epistles. Which is to say that St. John was just as inspired when he wrote the Book of Revelation as he was when he wrote his Gospel.
When St. Paul (or any of the prophets or apostles) and Jesus meet, there is no question which one will bow down before the other. Jesus us Lord. But that is not at issue when we talk about the authority of the Bible. Rather, the same Holy Spirit that spoke through Jesus also spoke through Paul and the apostles and the prophets.
There’s a saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Someone who wants to hold that the sayings of Jesus are more authoritative than any other writings in the Bible may have a sincere desire to uphold the authority of Jesus, but what has that person in effect done? Undermined the authority of the REST of the Bible. Think about it: if the Bible that the prophets and apostles wrote has 100% authority, how then can the “red letter” passages of Jesus have more than 100%/absolute authority???
Jesus is God. But He NEVER put “His” authority over or above the authority of the REST of Scripture. Because the rest of Scripture – ALL of Scripture – is the Word of God. And God never contradicts God.
When we talk about inspiration, we use two adjectives – “verbal” and “plenary.” The doctrine of verbal inspiration holds that the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible were not merely inspired in the topics or the ideas they described, but in the very WORDS that they used. Note that this does not mean that God “dictated” the Bible, but rather that he chose, shaped and guided his human vessels such as that they – through the agency of the Holy Spirit – were accurately thinking and writing the thoughts of God. “Plenary” means that the inspiration described above in “verbal” applies to the whole Bible, to “all Scripture” (2 Tim 3:16). This is not to say that every single part of the Bible is as equally significant as every other part, any more than that every brush stroke of a painter is just as significant (e.g., the background of “Mona Lisa” is not as important as the face and the smile – BUT THE SAME ARTIST PAINTED THE ENTIRE PAINTING). So we can rightly consider some books “background” (e.g. “Leviticus”). But Leviticus is just as much the Word of God as the Gospel of John.
How does God’s Word revealed through human agency work? There will always be a mystery this side of heaven. But assume for the sake of discussion that I am right now completely filled with the Holy Spirit. Would you say that a) I am still me or that b)I have become a “godbot” or a theological meat puppet that God dangles on a string? I am stating categorically that I would still be me – and in fact I would be the IDEAL me, the very best me that I could possibly be. Put another way, at the moment of the Rapture, do you believe that YOU will be a recreated meat puppet, OR do you believe that you will maintain your unique sense of identity? Again, I believe we will still be the same people – just perfected examples of the same people. In heaven, I will still be “me”; but I will be the me that God always intended for me to be. I will be the perfect me. And l’ll be able to express God’s thoughts in my words.
Now, in the unique case of the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible, should you believe that when the Holy Spirit came upon them that God obliterated their individual personalities? Absolutely not! God doesn’t work that way (I have frequently wished that He would!). Rather, under special inspiration, God guided and shaped each writer’s experiences, thoughts, feelings, etc., in such a manner that they thought God’s thoughts after Him. And they expressed those thoughts – in their own words – exactly as God intended. Because they were uniquely filled with the Spirit of God.
Orthodox Christians who believe in the faith “which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3) understand that the Bible is infallible and inerrant. Both of these terms are nothing more than the inevitable concomitant of the divine authority and inspiration of the Bible as God’s Word. To assert with Jesus that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17) and to literally appeal to its very letter (Matt 5:18; Luke 16:17) is the essence of what we seek when we use terms like “infallible and inerrant.” “Infallible” carries the primary quality of not being misleading. All the Bible’s assertions are truthful and worthy of confidence. There is a contrast between God’s eternal self-testimony with human fallibility. There are a few things that must be understood, such as that “infallibility” refers to God’s message as a whole rather than in isolation. For example, if we quote James’ question, “Can faith save him” (James 2:14 KJV) with its implied answer “no,” we miss the point of the Book of James. The infallibility of Scripture is attained when we read James 2:14 within the total framework of the letter of James as set alongside the complementary teaching of the rest of Scripture. Another qualification of “infallibility” is the intention of the author. Scripture is infallible ONLY AS CORRECTLY INTERPRETED; it does NOT follow that every human interpretation of the Bible is infallible.
“Inerrant” conveys the sense that the Bible has been supervised down to its very words by the God of truth, and therefore we can be confident that it will be free from error. Thus whenever the Bible prescribes the content of our belief (doctrine) or the pattern of our living (ethics), or records actual events (history), it speaks the truth. We go back to the intention of the author or speaker: the inerrant truth of Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son does not require us to assert that there has ever been such a family or that the events of the story actually occurred. It was a parable and the inerrant truth was the meaning of the story, not the historicity of events. Again, like infallibility, we find that only when any passage of Scripture is interpreted in harmony with the rest of the Bible and we consider the author’s/speaker’s intention, will the inerrant truth be plainly perceived.
So having the very Word of God, how should we interpret it? Let’s talk about “hermeneutics,” the science of interpretation (that’s what the Greek word “hermeneutics” means, “to translate or to interpret”). To be properly interpreted, the Bible must be interpreted literally (i.e., the historico-grammatical method), with the natural, straightforward sense of a text being fundamental. This sense does NOT demand “literalism.” We do NOT need to interpret 2 Chron 16:9 (“For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth”) as meaning that God has a whole bunch of eyeballs sweeping over the globe. We rather understand it as being a passage that literally teaches God’s omniscient knowledge. Further, we interpret according to the original meaning of a passage, and therefore we must seek to understand the original setting as we try to relate a passage to ourselves. We interpret according to literary form, and thus read poetry or parables differently than we would read historical narrative or doctrinal passages. And we interpret according to context. We do not take a verse in isolation, but we also read the rest of the paragraph and we also understand what we read as it relates to the rest of the Bible. The Bible must be interpreted by the rest of the Bible. This is known as “harmonization.” There is a unity and a self-consistency in Scripture that derives from its Ultimate Single Author God. Also, the Bible must be interpreted by the Holy Spirit. True spiritual understanding is not natural to us; it is God’s gift (Matt 11:25; 16:17). It is crucial to understand that God’s Spirit is HOLY, and what we understand of God’s truth is therefore related more to the extent of our obedience than it is to the capacity of our brains. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). Note He did not say, “Blessed are the vast in intellect” or “Blessed are the weighty in academia.” How far one can see depends upon how high one has climbed and NOT to how well one is equipped. We have to approach Scripture in an attitude of prayer from an obedient heart if we seek to rightly understand it. Finally, the Bible must be interpreted dynamically. Hebrews 4:12 teaches, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” God’s Spirit is a living Spirit and He uses His Word in accordance with His goals for His people, their regeneration and sanctification. And therefore the Word of God as we rightly divide it (2 Tim 2:15) must be brought to the surface and put to work in the present rather than being a scholarly tome that gathers dust on a shelf. Therefore, having asked, “what did this passage mean in its own time and context?” and “what does it mean in the light of the whole of Scripture?” we must additionally ask, “what does this mean today – here and now – in the lives of people today, that person I’m trying to reach, and my own life?”
Tags: 2 Peter 1:19-21, 2 Tim 3:16, 2 Tim 4:3, All Scripture is God-breathed, analogy for faith, Bible must be interpreted by the Holy Spirit, Bible must be interpreted by the rest of the Bible, context, hermeneutics, historico-grammatical method, inerrant, infallibility, infallible, literary form, plenary, science has become a religious system, Scripture cannot be broken, the Bible must be interpreted literally, verbal, what is fBible must be interpreted dynamicallyaith?, what is wisdom?, wisdom is