Bible Inerrancy (or the doctrine that “what the Bible says God says”) has been under relentless attack since the Bible was written, but never more so than today. Something new, however, has been added in the modern onslaught. While the old liberal tradition of rejecting vast portions of the Bible still continues, the New Orthodoxy rejects all of it—as the Word of God, that is. John 3:16, no less than the Old Testament command to exterminate the Canaanites, is demoted from the status of Inspiration. The Bible, according to the new view, is the “instrument” (if God wills to make it such) of revelation and not itself revelation. We have tried briefly and non-technically to present a case for Bible Inerrancy that a serious-minded layman can follow and evaluate. Our critique of various false starts is first given to prepare the reader for what we feel is the correct view. While this is not in any way an exhaustive treatment of its divine subject, we trust that it is sound and faithful to the Scriptures of God.
Part I: Some Unsound Bases for Sound Doctrine
1. The Bible’s Own Testimony as the Basis for Inerrancy
We could compose a book many times the size of this one consisting merely of fervent and eloquent evangelical appeals to the Bible itself as the proof of its own inspiration. Some three thousand times the Bible does make this claim for itself. “Thus saith the Lord” is a veritable refrain of the Scriptures. No book in the history of literature has made such frequent and moving assertions of its divine origin. Because of this remarkable characteristic of the Scriptures many have almost unconsciously concluded that the Bible is the Word of God.
This we believe and later shall attempt to prove is the right doctrine. The Bible is the Word of God; the inerrant revelation from above. It is the Word of God indeed, but not because it says so. Rather, it says so because it is.
How, we ask, would anyone prove the Bible is the Word of God simply because it so often says so? There could only be one basis for accepting Scripture for Scripture’s sake: assertion for assertion’s sake. But what an incredibly naive notion: A thing must be what it says it is. A man must be what he says he is. A book must be what it says it is.
Surely the mere setting forth of such an argument must be its sufficient refutation. An identification of claim with proof of claim is palpable error.
If it is not beating a horse that was born dead, let us point out the absurd consequences of the position we are here considering. If everything is to be believed simply because it says it is to be believed, then Hitler was a Messiah, the devil is an angel of light and antichrist is Christ. As Jesus
said: “Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not” (Matthew 24:23).
But on the principle under scrutiny we would have to believe everyone who claims to be Christ—here and there, now and then. After all, according to the supposition we first believed in Jesus as the Christ because He said he was the Christ. We would have to be fair with other claimants whose claim is as loud or louder than his. If we would say “You are not the Christ because the Christ says you are not the Christ,” anti-Christ could well say, “If you believed this other one because he said he was the Christ; why do you not, on the same principle, believe me when I say that I am the Christ; and if you will not believe that I am the Christ because this other Christ, whom you believe merely because he said what I also say, why not believe me when I say that he is not the Christ?”
There cannot be any answer to this criticism, for even to attempt to answer it is to admit it by retreating from the position being maintained (acceptance on mere assertion without any argument). If, for example, one says to antichrist, “I believe Jesus’ claim because He has confirmed it in my experience,” then you do not believe Jesus simply because He says He is the Christ. Rather, you believe Him because of something which He does in your heart; your ground has changed. You are no longer believing Him for His mere word’s sake, but for His work’s sake, specifically, His work in your heart.
Consequently, if you give no answer to the criticism of belief on the mere basis of assertion you are exposed to palpable naiveté and absurdity. But, if you do give an answer you flatly contradict yourself.
Some suppose that the Word of God is a special case to which ordinary rules of evidence do not apply. They admit essentially what has been written above, but take exception to its application to the matter in hand. It is true of men, they say, that their word may be challenged and must be proven to be true. But God’s Word cannot be challenged, but must be immediately accepted as true and obeyed as right. To hesitate when God speaks is to be both foolish and impious, they say.
With all of this we cordially agree, but it misses the point under discussion. We are not here asking whether God should be obeyed when He speaks. We are simply asking whether a being must be acknowledged as God speaking merely because he so claims, or, more particularly, whether the Bible is to be regarded as the Word of God merely because it so claims. It cannot be said too emphatically that when God speaks He is to be instantly believed. Any question whatsoever at that moment is utterly and dangerously out of order. When God the Lord speaks, the devout and intelligent mind can only reply: “Speak, Lord, for Thy servant heareth.” But like Samuel, who spoke those words, we must first know that the voice speaking is God’s.
It would be just as foolish and impious to accept and obey any voice whatsoever which claimed to be divine, as it would be not to accept and obey the divine voice when it is shown to be such. To apply some reasonable test for ascertaining the voice of God and distinguishing it from the voice of men is not presumptuous as many charge, but, on the contrary, is as humble as it is necessary. Humble? Yes, humble because it is using the only means which our Maker has given us whereby we may distinguish between truth and error; God and men; His Word and theirs. To accept any voice which claimed His divine name would be arrogantly to disregard the means God Himself has graciously provided to prevent just such a mistake. The person who professed to believe without evidence would be despising the God who gave us minds, which must have evidence in order to provide a basis for reasonable belief. While God is, of course, infinitely above His creatures it does not follow that if and when He condescends to speak to them He will speak in a manner which is infinitely above them. Manifestly, if He speaks to men He must speak so that men can understand what He says. He must, as Calvin has said, “lisp.” If parents must accommodate their language to their infants when they would be understood, surely God must indulge in baby talk when speaking to those infinitely below Him. If He chose to speak to us in a manner which is as infinitely above us, as His being is above ours, He would be, literally, infinitely over our heads. This would not only make comprehension by us infinitely impossible, but it would inevitably reflect on God’s infinite intelligence, which would know no better than to attempt to communicate with finite creatures by going infinitely over their heads. It is equally evident that He will make it known that He is speaking—which means He will give some signs of His presence which the human mind can recognize.
In conclusion, then, the fact that the Bible claims its inspiration is not the basis for Inerrancy. If there is a sound basis for believing in Inerrancy, as we shall attempt to show in the second part, the self-testimony of Scripture will be a wonderful confirmation of it. Without the Bible’s own claim it would not be impossible, but it would be more difficult, to believe that it is the Word of God. But with such self-attestation the truth of divine Inspiration is gloriously sealed.
2. The Holy Spirit’s Testimony as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy
One of the precious doctrines of the church is called the “Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit.” Like the self-attestation of Scripture, it is a most gracious gift of God to His church. And like that gift it is sometimes misunderstood and misused even by those who love it most. A case in point is the one before us in which the internal testimony is submitted as proof that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
The thinking here may be shown to be wrong, but it does have the merit of being clear. It runs like this: just as the Bible certifies itself by the letter of Scripture, so by the living voice of God the Spirit convinces the hearts of men. Many think that the Bible’s witness to itself remains a dead letter until the living Spirit speaks within the soul. But when the Spirit does thus speak men have the most solid possible basis for knowing that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God. Some, by no means all, of the advocates of this view go on to teach that unless the Spirit testifies, the Bible is not the Word of God; and only when He does is it the Word of God. In any case, the argument at first glance is quite impressive. When God witnesses to His own Word, how can there be any doubt that it is His inerrant Word? If you want evidence, these men assure us, here is the best. What more can any reasonable or spiritual person desire than to have God speaking directly to his own soul?
We agree. As this case is often stated, it leaves nothing to be desired. We would never be so foolish as to question the very voice of God in our souls. Our search for truth would be ended promptly when God opened His mouth and spoke and that to each of us individually and inwardly.
We agree, that is, if the Holy Spirit does actually thus speak to individual souls. But I have never heard the Holy Spirit say to my soul or mind, “The Bible is the Word of God.” I have never met anyone who claims to have heard the Holy Spirit say that or anything like that to his soul. In fact, the advocates of the internal testimony as the basis of inerrancy never quite get around to saying it either. Rather, most of them would be inclined to rebuke us at this point for gross misunderstanding, if not outright caricature, of their opinions on this subject. “We do not mean,” they will reply, “testimony as an audible voice in the soul. Of course the Holy Spirit has not spoken to individual hearts telling them that the Bible is His Word! Of course you cannot find anyone in his right mind who claims any such experience,” they may indignantly respond.
Very well,” we reply. “We are sorry; we meant no offense and intended no caricature of a brother’s doctrine. Nor are we totally ignorant of the history of this doctrine. Indeed, we ourselves believe it in the sense in which Calvin, for example, meant it. But when it is used as the argument for inerrancy (which, incidentally, we do not think was Calvin’s idea at all), that is something else. It is that something else which we are now considering.” If it is so used as proof of inerrancy how is it such unless somehow God’s Spirit testifies, tells, signifies to us, reveals in us or the like that the canonical Scriptures are from Him? But very well, we will withdraw our query as we hear our wounded brethren protesting that they mean no such thing. Let it be agreed, then, that the “testimony of the Spirit is not like the testimony of a witness in court speaking to what he did or did not see or hear. The Spirit’s testimony is non-verbal, more subtle, more in the nature of an influence on the soul than an audible voice or mystical writing. But, we must insist, how then does the Spirit’s witness reveal inerrancy?
If the advocates of this line of thought say that the Spirit confirms our own convictions when we read the Bible; if they say that He makes the Bible student sure that the Bible is what the Bible student feels that it is; then the Spirit does not communicate any new information which the Bible reader receives, but somehow intensifies his experiences as he meditates on Holy Writ. We are inclined to believe that the Holy Spirit does precisely that in the hearts of many. But we do not see that even if He does so that this proves the inspiration of the Bible. All we would now have is this: a man reads his Bible. His feelings are stirred as he reads. He senses, or thinks he senses, that there is some other spirit besides his own at work in his heart as he reads. He cannot be sure that there is another spirit. If he does believe it, he cannot know what spirit it is. Certainly, he has no way of knowing that it is the divine spirit. And, even if he did, all he knows is that the divine Spirit is working in his heart as he reads the Scriptures and not “testifying” or saying that this Scripture is the inerrant Word of God. If it is said, “But the Bible tells us that the Spirit bears witness and therefore it must be true and the Word to which He testifies must truly be God’s Word,” we are back where we began: accepting the testimony of the Scripture to itself without any (at present)
just reason for so doing.
In summary, we must reject the testimony of the Spirit as the basis of inerrancy (not, please note, the testimony of the Spirit) because, first, if His “testimony” is construed as audible or verbal, it simply does not exist; second, if His “testimony” is construed as a spiritual effect intensifying our feelings as we read Scripture, this is not a proving of the inspiration or inerrancy of Scripture.
It may be necessary to show that we are not here opposing the Westminster Confession of Faith’s view of things, but actually defending it. It teaches that “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof (of the Scriptures) is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (I, 5). But these words teach only that the “testimony of the Holy Spirit” persuades us of the inspiration of the Bible. It does not prove the doctrine, but persuades us of the truth of the doctrine. It leads us to acknowledge the evidence for inspiration which, apart from the Holy Spirit’s influence, we (as sinful persons, cf. Chapter VI) are prone to resist. This evidence is utterly sufficient to persuade us if we were frank enough to admit evidence when we see it. Thus the Westminster Confession of Faith says in full: “We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture; and the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is to give all glory God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, not withstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (Chap. I, 5).
According to this great creed the various characteristics of the Bible “abundantly evidence” (prove) its inspiration,
but only the influence of the Holy Spirit (overcoming our sinful dispositions) can “persuade” us to acquiesce in what we clearly see is the Word of God.
The reader may notice a certain difference (not discrepancy) between the approach of the WCF here cited and that of this little monograph. The “arguments” to which Westminster appeals are internal evidences drawn from the nature (not testimony) of the Bible itself, such as its harmony, perfection, etc. That these, in their cumulative effect, are arguments we agree, and have so written elsewhere. We are bypassing them in this monograph only because they take longer to develop, involve more debates with modernity, and are not so directly conclusive as the argumentation developed in Part II. That the approach of this Primer was abundantly used by the Westminster divines and seventeenth century Orthodoxy in general could be extensively illustrated, were there any necessity to prove what no one questions.
3. The Believer’s Testimony as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy
It may not have been obvious that the fallacies of the preceding views lay ultimately in their unconscious elevation of the creature above the Creator who is blessed forever. It seemed to have been quite the opposite. By accepting the authority of the Bible on the basis of its own divine affirmation, or its divine corroboration in the soul, advocates of these positions intended to bow before the majesty of heaven, but, in fact, did not. Since there is no evidence that an avowed Word of God is a genuine Word of God simply because it avows itself to be such, accepting it for no reason is sheer arbitrariness (however reverent the intention). Instead of abiding by the laws of evidence which God has given us, we become laws to ourselves. In other words, the first two unsound bases for sound doctrine, though they appear to be quite objective, are actually only appeals to mere personal feelings. But to this position, in the purity of its expression, we now come.
The view runs something like this: the Bible is inspired because it inspires me. It “finds” me. It rings a bell in my soul. I know that this is God’s book because I feel within that this book is God’s book. It affects me as no other literature does. It exhibits a power and an energy which speak to me.
This view is not intended by those who favor it to be an appeal to subjectivity. It is, of course, an appeal to the subject’s experience. However, it is claimed that the subject experiences something not himself. He senses the presence of a spirit not his own. The argument is not subjective, then, in the sense that the subject himself “existentially” produces the experience. It is not a creation of the human soul, but something that happens to the soul, which is thought to prove that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.
This experience, then, is offered as the basis for believing that the Bible is the Word of God. In itself, and in it alone, is the argument for inerrancy. No matter how sincere the Christianity of those who reason thus, no matter how truly the Bible of which they speak may indeed be the Word of God, still their argument amounts to this: “My heart is moved when I read the Bible more and/or differently than when I read any other literature. Therefore, this Bible, which is the occasion or cause of this wonderful feeling, must be God’s Word.” These good men do not phrase their argument that way, or they, too, would immediately recognize its futility as an argument. They imply this, but do not usually express it. Some of them will not even recognize it when someone else expresses it. They may even sincerely resent such a spelling out as saying something which they never intended. And, of course, they may not have meant it. People often imply what they do not intend. “Happy inconsistencies” abound everywhere. Whatever their inner intentions may be we leave to God, the only Searcher of Hearts. We concern ourselves only with their reasoning. Experience is set forth as a case for inspiration, and the only way that it could appear to be such is by supposing that such an inference is valid.
But is it valid to suppose that because I have a certain experience when I read the Bible that the Bible is thereby shown to be the Word of God? Surely not. First, the experience could be a mere coincidence One may have happened to have felt well for some reason when he began to read the Bible. By association he may have attributed this to what he was reading. Thus the Bible reading may have been a mere concomitant, rather than cause, of his experience. Christians do, in fact, testify that often, when they read the Bible, nothing “happens.”
Even if something always happened when one read the Bible, that would not prove that the Bible was the cause of what happened. We all have heard of the rooster who thought that his crowing caused the sun to rise each morning until he found it rising one morning when he had a sore throat. But suppose that rooster had never had a sore throat; he would have gone to his death still thinking that his crowing was the cause of the sun’s rising. We must have more than succession for a causal argument. There must be necessary succession. But this can never be shown by mere experience. Second, even if the Bible were the cause of these experiences, that would not prove that the Bible was the Word of God. It would prove that it had a unique power, but not a divine power. A unique power is not necessarily a divine power. The devil has power that is unique and, so far as men apart from special revelation know, it could account for such a phenomenon as that we are considering. Of course, that is not the case here. Of course the advocates of this view are correct in saying that this power comes from God. They are right, but they have no basis for being right. Their conclusion may be correct (as we think), but, their premises are incorrect (as we have shown).
No one is likely ever to admit that the Bible is the Word of God apart from the experience here described. Nothing so powerfully affects men’s convictions about inspiration as this experience. Nevertheless, precious and valuable as it is, the believer’s testimony is not the basis of an argument for Inerrancy. On the contrary, inerrancy must be the basis of validating Christian experience.
4. The Church’s Testimony as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy
The very futility of the preceding views has led some to the church’s testimony as the basis of inerrancy. Sensing that they cannot prove even to themselves, not to mention others, the inerrancy of Scripture from something within themselves or within the Bible, they succumb to the temptation of appealing to Mother Church. Yet, there is more here than that. It is not simply that many are thought to be able to do what a few cannot accomplish, but that God does in the many what He has not chosen to do in the few. That is, God has promised guidance to the body of the faithful and will lead them into all truth and not permit them to be misled fatally.
Now, where does the Church get the idea that it is the “pillar and ground of the truth”; that it is to “bind and loose” on earth? From the Bible! So it is the Bible which is the basis of the Church’s authority, not the Church which is the basis of the Bible’s authority. The Bible is the pillar on which the Church rests, not the Church the pillar on which the Bible rests. Incidentally, the expression in 1 Timothy 3:15 that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth does not point to a pillar on which truth rests, but to a pillar on which truth was posted for public announcement in antiquity. In other words, it refers to the Church as witness to the truth, and not the basis of it.
But some will say that the Church came into existence before the Bible, and then called everyone’s attention to the Bible as the Word of God. This is true in an irrelevant sense and false in a relevant sense. When we say that it is true in an irrelevant sense that the Church existed before the Bible, we mean that granting the Church existed before the written and canonical form of the Bible is no proof of inerrancy. If, for example, the Church is thought of as beginning when the first sinners trusted in the mercy of God, and if sinful Adam and Eve were the first sinners to trust in the mercy of God, then the Church existed centuries before the Bible was probably written, and certainly many centuries before it was gathered into a canon of books recognized as the Bible. If the church is thought of as coming into existence at Pentecost,, then the Bible (the Old Testament) preceded it by centuries. Still, the New Testament Church would have preceded the New Testament Bible because there were New Testament Christians before a word of the New Testament was written.
All of this is obviously true, and just as obviously irrelevant to the matter in hand. First, granted that the Church, in a sense, existed before the Bible in its written form, what does this prove? According to the advocates of the view in question it is supposed to prove that the Church’s testimony is the argument for inerrancy. But does the Church’s testimony, which preceded the Bible, prove the inerrancy of the Bible? How does the fact that the Church may have preceded the Bible in existence prove that the Bible is inspired and inerrant? How does the fact that the previously existing Church testifies to the subsequently existing Bible prove the Bible to be what the Church says that it is? It is no doubt true that if the Church had not testified, and did not continue to testify, to the Bible as the Word of God, the world might soon forget about the Bible and thus never come to realize its inspiration. The Church is indispensable to the Bible’s being considered for what it is. But this fact is in no sense a proof that the Bible is what the Church says it is. The Bible is, we believe, exactly what the Church says that it is, but it is not what the Church says it is because the Church says it is. Rather, in the true order of events, the Church testifies because the Bible is what it is rather than that the Bible is what it is because the Church so testifies.
Perhaps it will become clearer if we outline the order of events:
- God speaks (revelation).
- Men respond in faith (church).
- Revelation is recorded (inerrant Bible).
- The Church recognizes, receives, and testifies to the inerrant Bible.
The question is: what is the basis of the Church’s testimony? Surely it is not the Church’s testimony
Some will still say, “Granted that the Church’s testimony is not the basis of inerrancy, but inerrancy is the basis of the Church’s testimony. Still, is not the Church’s testimony the basis of inerrancy for us? That is, granted that the church had good and sufficient reasons for recognizing the Bible for what it is, nevertheless we do not have access to these reasons, or, even if we did, we do not have the infallible divine guidance necessary for correctly perceiving them. So, we must rest on the Church’s testimony as the basis for our belief in inerrancy, though the Church herself must have another basis.”
We reply that, even if this were so, it grants our main point:, namely that the Church’s testimony cannot be the basis for inerrancy. But this point would still be important because it would terminate our search for the basis for inerrancy. Our search would have ended in a realization that we should not search anymore, that the answer has been found by another (the Church), and can be found by none other.
If this is so, so be it. But is it so? It is not so, nor could it possibly be so! Why not? For the simple reason that if it is proposed that the Church’s testimony must become our argument for inerrancy, we must ask “why?”. If the answer is: “Because the Bible says so,” it is obvious that we are right back where we began. It is the inerrant Bible itself which alone can tell us that the Church alone can tell us that the Bible is inerrant! So for us to accept the position that we can only know that the Bible is inerrant by the testimony of the church, we must first know that the Bible is inerrant. For example, Rome claims papal authority from Matthew 16:18; but to do so she must first prove the authority of Matthew 16:18. If that church is to establish her authority, she must first establish the inerrancy of the Bible. That is, even according to her own argument, she cannot establish the Bible’s authority, but the Bible must establish hers (which, incidentally, it does not do).
This then is another wrong basis for a right answer. We must continue our search. We have not yet found the right basis for accepting the Bible’s inerrancy.
5. The Testimony of Divinely Commissioned Messengers as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy
(A) The Argument from Commissioned Messengers to Inspired Bible.
Let us outline the steps of this argument before proceeding to explain it:
- There is a God.
- Men were made in his image, rational creatures.
- As such, they are designed to make their choices on the basis of evidence.
- The evidence for the Inspiration of the Bible is as follows:
- Men have appeared in history with powers which only God could have given them (miracles).
- Miracles are God’s seal to mark men unmistakably as His messengers.
- God’s message is indubitably true.
- God’s message includes the Inspiration of the Bible.
- Therefore, the inspiration of the Bible is indubitably true.
1. There is a God. This must be assumed here. This is a small, popular Primer on Bible Inerrancy. Time, space, and the nature of the undertaking make certain assumptions inevitable. What is here an assumption (the existence of God) has been proven elsewhere in many, many volumes. If the reader of the Primer does not believe in God’s existence its argument may interest him, but it cannot possibly convince him. We must believe there is a God before we can consistently believe that there is a special revelation of God in the Bible or anywhere else.
But here we will detour a little, for there are many today who say that we can only know the existence of God from special revelation (such as the Bible). Exactly opposite to what we said in the preceding paragraph, they contend that God is utterly unknown until He supernaturally discloses Himself. We say that God cannot supernaturally reveal Himself until He has naturally made His existence known. They say, “No, His existence cannot be naturally known until He supernaturally reveals Himself.”
Let us examine their view. According to it:
- First, there is a book, the Bible, claiming the existence and revelation of God.
- Second, we are to believe in this God.
- Third, apart from this revelation we could not know that there is such a God.
The paucity of this approach is plain to see. First, we would have no possible tests to ascertain whether the deity revealed in the Bible is what He says He is. We do not know, on this view, that there is such a being, nor whether this Biblical being is such. If this is God we can only accept it on His own word. We would not trust a dollar to a human being whose honesty we know only because he claims it. Here we trust our lives to a being whose “Godness” and whose very existence we know only from Himself. Custom inspectors look at a visitor to see whether he resembles the picture in the passport before they admit him to their nation. But here comes a God without passport, a God who wants to rule our lives merely because He says He has a right to do so. If this were not bad enough, we have, second, the further objection that there are many claimants to this role of God. Many books present their candidates. If we worshiped any one of them without credentials we would be out of our mind; if we worshiped all of them we would be multiple-schizophrenic.
No, there must be evidence of the existence of God from the creation, of which we ourselves are the most exalted part, if we are to recognize a further revelation of this glorious being, if and when it comes. So here we assume what most people do quite rightly assume, that God exists. This we can safely assume here only because it is proven elsewhere. Otherwise, the assumption would be gratuitous.
1. Men were made in God’s image as rational creatures. This point also we must largely assume because of the limitation of this little book. But this is a very safe assumption, is it not? If we were not rational beings, you would not be reading this (or any other) book in your search for knowledge, nor would we be writing books. Aristotle was quite right that man is a rational animal. If we were not rational beings, no one could prove (for this involves reasoning) that we were not rational beings. We could not even think that we were not. So our rationality must be assumed, for even to deny it is to assume it.
2. As rational beings, men are designed to make their choices on the basis of evidence.
Being rational beings they are not the mere product of natural forces. They choose according to reason (or what appears reason). That is virtually the definition of a rational being. If he were merely the product of external forces, how could his own reason and will be operative; and, if not, how could he be a rational being?
Being rational beings they are not the mere product of supernatural forces. That is, not only does nature not force rational beings, but even supernature, that is God Himself, does not force them. We would go so far as to say that God cannot force men. By definition, they have been made (by God Himself) rational beings. If they were forced, even by God, they would cease to be the kind of beings He had made them, that is, rational beings. So if God forced men they would cease to be men. Or, to put it another way, so long as men remain men they are not forced even by God (in fact,, least of all by God, who made them rational in the first place).
Being rational beings they cannot be forced by sin. Granted that man is not what he ought to be. Granted that there is something perverse within him. Granted that he does not always (if ever) think what is true and do what is right. Still, this evil bent of his nature does not actually force him to will against his will. The absurdity of the notion is seen in the last statement: “Still this evil bent of his nature does not actually force him to will against his will.” How could he meaningfully be said to will against his will? If he wills against his will, that would be his will, namely, to will against his “will.” So his willing against his “will” would not truly be against his will; or, if it were against his will, it could not be his will.
Therefore, man is a rational being. It is his very nature to choose according to the judgments of his mind. Nothing could possibly take that character away from man without taking his humanity away from him.
Consequently, if God is graciously disposed to reveal Himself to His creature, man, God must necessarily reveal Himself according to the rational nature of His human creature. The necessity is self-imposed and, therefore, consistent with the sovereignty of God.
God cannot go over or under the “head” of man. He cannot treat him as a God or an animal, but as the creature which He, God, made: a rational being.
4. The evidence for the Inspiration of the Bible is as follows:
a. Men have appeared in history with powers which only God could have given them, namely, miracles. (The discussion of miracles which follows is reproduced from the author’s Reasons for Faith, published by Soli Deo Gloria.)
Concerning miracles there are two important questions to be asked: first, what is the evidence for miracles, and, second, what is their evidential value? If there is to be any argument from miracles, there must first be clear evidence that they actually occur.
Before we proceed to consider the evidence for miracles, let us ask ourselves whether there can be any such evidence. This is a rather absurd question, we grant, but we must consider it. Many persons never face the question at all because they rule out the possibility of miracles before they consider any actual evidence for them. One of the most outstanding Biblical scholars in the country once said publicly, in answer to a question concerning his interpretation of miracles in the Old Testament, “When I meet an alleged miracle, I simply treat it as legend.” This scholar no doubt would not bother reading this chapter or anything like it. He knows in advance that any and all alleged miracles are merely legends. But how does he know it? He does not know it; he merely declares it. However, there are more philosophically-minded thinkers who would say that this professor is right in his conclusion, but wrong in the way he arrives at it. They agree that there is no such thing as miracles, and that records of them must be legends of some sort, but these men attempt to prove their statement and not merely to assert it arbitrarily.
Some would offset the evidential power of miracles by claiming that there never could be enough proof of a miracle in the face of the overwhelming evidence of natural law against it. David Hume once argued that there is more evidence for regularity in nature than for irregularity (supernaturalism); therefore, regularity, and not irregularity, must be the truth of the matter. The argument is palpably unsound, indeed irrelevant. Certainly there is more evidence for the regular occurrence of nature than there ever could be for any supernatural occurrence. But the argument for miracles is not meant to be an argument against the regularity of nature. It is merely an argument against the regularity of nature in every particular instance. Indeed, the argument for miracles rests on the regularity of nature generally. There is no such thing as supernatural events except as they are seen in relation to the natural. And they would not be extraordinary if there were nothing ordinary against which background they are seen. They could not be signs of anything if they were not different from the status quo. When one argues for the occasional miracle, he is, in the same breath, arguing for the usually non-miraculous. If all nature became supernatural, there would be no room for miracles; nothing would be a miracle because all would be miraculous.
At the same time, all the evidence that there is for the regularity of nature generally is no argument at all against the occasional miracle. Such evidence simply argues for the fact that the normal course of nature is natural. It does not rule out or in, for that matter, the possibility that the irregular may happen. It only proves that as long as there is nothing but nature to take into consideration, there will probably be no deviation from the order with which we have become familiar. If there is a God, all the evidence of an undeviating nature from its creation to the present moment does not provide the slightest certainty that nature will continue the same way another moment. The same God who made it, and preserved it in the present pattern for so long, may have fulfilled His purpose in so doing, and may proceed immediately, this moment, to do otherwise than in the past. Only if the evidence for the regularity of nature were somehow to show that there is no being outside nature who can in any way alter it could there be an argument against the possibility of miracles. But this the evidence does not do, does not purport to do, cannot do. Therefore it can never be regarded as an argument against miracles. In the strictest sense Hume’s objection is irrelevant.
What is the relation of unpredictability in modem physics to the notion of miracle? Certainly the universe is no longer thought to be fixed in the sense that it once was. The quantum theory has satisfied most physicists that there is such a thing as indeterminism, or unpredictable behavior, in the laws of nature. As Bertrand Russell has remarked, while psychology in our time has become more deterministic, physics has become less so. Some have utilized the concept of indeterminacy in nature as a wedge for miracle. Having felt fenced in by the arguments based on the regularity of nature, they have welcomed this apparent avenue of escape by which they may remain scientific and still affirm miracles. Indeterminacy runs interference for the power of God, or more piously we should say, makes it possible to believe that God may act miraculously inasmuch as he acts indeterministically in created nature.
So far as we can see, the situation for the credibility of miracles is neither improved nor worsened by indeterminacy. For one thing, indeterminacy is hardly a proven concept. Or, more precisely, it would seem more likely that man cannot in every case determine the laws by which nature operates than that she herself is indeterministic. It is conceivable that in the area of quantum physics, no less than elsewhere, nature is deterministic, and what is undetermined are the laws of her behavior. Nature may be determined, but man has not determined how. If this is the case, the to-do about indeterminism is wasted mental effort.
If nature herself is indeterministic, then what? Then it still would remain highly unlikely that an indeterminism in nature could explain why once and only once, thousands of years ago, a man walked on water, but no one else has been able to do so before or since. Presumably the indeterminism of nature could never be employed to account for such a unique phenomenon. Furthermore, if this is the explanation, Christ Himself was deceived. He should have been surprised to be around at the one moment when nature was behaving differently from all previous times. He should have been as much amazed as the others, unless (and here is the hopeless supposition) He were a downright, sophisticated fraud who took advantage of the most unbelievable opportunity that the world could imagine. Furthermore, there is the matter of His actual predictions, which would be rendered impossible in an indeterministic universe.
Some would affirm the a priori impossibility of miracles because of the nonexistence of God. They rightly state that a miracle, to have meaning, must be the work of an intelligent, powerful, and purposive divine being. In this we go along with them. Then they say that since there is no such being as this, there can be no such thing as a miracle. And we agree with that. If it can be shown that there is no God, it will also be shown in the same effort that there is no miracle. But the non-existence of God cannot be proven, while His existence has been.
What is the positive evidence that miracles have occurred? A discussion of this subject with any degree of fullness would require an entire volume itself. We must delimit the field. And so we will consider here only the miracles of Jesus Christ.
Everyone knows that the Gospel narratives (considered only as good historical sources, not necessarily inspired) tell of a large number of miracles that were performed by Christ. A great many more are alluded to, but not related. This is so generally known that I feel perfectly safe in assuming the readers’ acquaintance with the accounts of Christ’s healing the sick, opening the eyes of the blind, raising the dead, walking on water, multiplying a boy’s lunch to feed more than five thousand hungry persons, and a host of other such deeds.
No one disputes the fact that the Gospel accounts tell of Jesus Christ’s performing miracles. There have been attempted naturalistic explanations, to be sure, but so far as we know no one has attempted the job of showing that all accounts of the apparently miraculous are merely accounts of natural events which were misconstrued by the writer or reader. For example, who would care to show that John’s report of Thomas’ placing his fingers in the side of the resurrected Christ to feel his former wounds was not meant to present an essentially supernatural event, namely, physical resurrection? Persons may or may not believe what John says, but how can they doubt that John presents them as happening? As even naturalistic New Testament critics usually say, there is no doubt that the early Christians believed these supernatural things did occur.
If it is granted that the biographers of Christ say He wrought miracles, the only questions remaining are: can these writers be believed (please note again we are not, in a circular fashion, assuming their Inspiration but the well-established historical value of their manuscripts), and, if so, what do the miracles prove?
Can these writers be believed when they relate that Christ wrought supernatural deeds or miracles? Well, why not? People are assumed to be reliable in their relating of events unless there is some reason for thinking that they are not so. What reason is there for thinking that these writers are not reliable? So far as they are known, they have the reputation of honesty. Was there some bias present which would have tended to corrupt their honesty in the case of these miracles? There is no evidence of bribery by money or position. Their reporting of miracles as vindications of Jesus did not bring them into good standing with the powers in their own community. It caused Peter and John to be imprisoned and all the apostles to be brought into disfavor with most of the Jewish community. It stands to reason that a person cannot advance his own worldly interests by championing a person condemned by law and executed as a criminal.
But what about their other-worldly interests? Is it possible that these men believed that by shading the truth and relating what did not occur they would thereby gain an interest in heaven? Did they think that because of their lying about “miracles,” Jesus would own them in the next world?
Merely to ask this question dispels it. The whole picture of Jesus is that of a teacher of righteousness who required His disciples to make righteous judgments and speak the truth which alone could make free. It would not seem reasonable to believe that they could have thought they would please Jesus by telling lies about Him, and actually earn His praise in the world of perfect righteousness to come.
Or could they have been sentimentalists? That is, could they have supposed that, by telling what they knew to be untrue, they could nevertheless do good? Could they have felt that if people could be persuaded that this Jesus was a supernatural being with supernatural powers, they would then obey Him and walk in paths of righteousness? Could they have supposed that by doing evil this great good would come? Is it possible that they, knowing there were no miracles, were nonetheless willing to follow Christ to the death, but that others would need the help of such superstition?
There is an insuperable objection to this “pious fraud” idea. As we have already mentioned, Christ Himself is depicted as a teacher of strict truth and righteousness. If the disciples had told deliberate and huge falsehoods, their very zeal would have led them into the grossest kind of disobedience. They would also have known that their own souls were in peril, for Christ had said that a good tree brings forth good fruit, and that He would say to liars in the last day, “I never knew you; depart from Me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22–23). “If you love Me,” Christ had said, “keep My commandments.” It seems incredible that the disciples, in their very zeal for Jesus, would zealously disobey His commandments, that in their desire to be with Him and advance His cause they would seal their own doom.
So much for the inherent improbability of such a course on the part of the disciples. But there is equally great difficulty in the external situation. Even if it were conceivable that the disciples so forgot their Master’s teachings and their own spiritual interest as to violate this grossly His canons of righteousness, it does not at all follow that those to whom they addressed themselves stood to be deceived. After all, the disciples would have foisted these “pious frauds” upon those among whom they were supposed to have been done. They would have told the very people who were supposed to have been present on the occasion the fiction that Jesus fed five thousand. They would have told the people of Cana themselves that Christ turned water to wine at a feast in their small community, which everybody in that community would immediately deny ever took place there. The “pious fraud” idea, even if it were psychologically thinkable, could be historically thinkable only if it were perpetrated in a different land at a different time. But that in the same generation these things could have been preached as having occurred among the very people who knew that they had not occurred is hardly credible.
Although the witnesses of these events might have gotten away with such reports among highly credulous strangers who knew nothing about the events in question, they could never have deceived the very people among whom the miracles were supposed to have taken place. It would therefore seem impossible to impeach the honesty of the witnesses. All the factors actually favor their honesty, which must be assumed in the first instance unless there is some reason for questioning it. But when we examine any possible reasons, we find none. Candor requires that their record be received as a record of what they thought took place.
But the question still remains whether what they thought took place actually did take place. Granted that they meant to tell the truth, but did they succeed in their honest intention? With the best of intentions men have often been grossly mistaken. Is it not possible that these writers were similarly mistaken? In other words, there remains the question of the competency of the witnesses.
We note, in the first place, that they had the best possible jury to test their competency—their own contemporaries, among whom the events related were said to have taken place. If the writers had been palpably contradicted by the
facts, the people to whom they related the facts would have been the very ones to expose them. If they had been misguided zealots, the non-zealots to whom they spoke could have spotted it in a moment and repudiated it as quickly. If they had garbled the actual events, eyewitnesses in quantity could have testified to the contrary. If these historians had actually been bigoted, benighted fanatics with no historical sense, incapable of distinguishing between fact and fancy, between occurrences in external nature and in their own imagination, thousands of Israelites could have made that very clear.
As a matter of fact, their record went unchallenged. No man called them liars; none controverted their story. Those who least believed in Jesus did not dispute the claims to His supernatural power. The apostles were imprisoned for speaking about the resurrection of Christ, not, however, on the ground that what they said was untrue, but that it was unsettling to the people. They were accused of being heretical, deluded, illegal, un-Jewish, but they were not accused of being inaccurate. And that would have been by far the easiest to prove if it had been thought to be true.
Actually, the Israelites of Jesus’ own day, so far from denying his miraculous power, admitted it. They not only admitted it, but they used it against Him. Precisely because He did miracles, they condemned Him. That is, they attributed the miracles, which they admitted He did, to the power of the devil (Matthew 12:24). We are not here concerned with the accusation, but with the incidental admission. What we are concerned with here is that hostile, contemporary leaders freely admitted that Jesus’ miracles were true, however evil they held their origin to be. The fact they did not dispute, only the interpretation of it. The witness they did not question. The competency of the writers was not doubted by the very generation which alone could have challenged it. It seems highly irrelevant on historical grounds for subsequent generations to raise such questions when the generation in which the events are said to have occurred did not do so. Later generations may object on philosophical grounds, or argue a priori that these things could not have happened. Those arguments have to be met on their own grounds, as we have attempted to do. But the historicity of certain events cannot be questioned by people who were not there when they were not questioned by the people who were there. We may or may not agree with the Pharisees’ interpretation that Christ did His works by Satan’s power, but we are in no position to contest the Pharisees’ knowledge of what He did. They were there and we were not.
This corroborative testimony of contemporaries, friends, and, especially, enemies, is the main vindication of the competency of the Gospel witnesses. But there is also the feasibility of the documents themselves. These miracles are not fantastic things such as those recorded in the apocryphal accounts of Jesus. They are of a piece with the character of Jesus Himself—benign, instructive, redemptive. He Himself was a special and unique person; it is not surprising that He had special and unique powers. Indeed, it would be more surprising if He had not had them. Never man so spake, never man so lived, never man so loved, never man so acted. As Karl Adam has said, Jesus’ life was a blaze of miracle. Miracles were as natural to Him as they would be unnatural to other men. He was a true man indeed, but He was no ordinary man. Miracles are surprising when attributed to other men; it would appear surprising if they had not been associated with this man.
Some have asked whether the miracles may not be naturally explained as the result of Christ’s unusual knowledge and understanding of the laws of nature. May he not have possessed some occult acquaintance with the secrets of nature that enabled Him to unleash certain of her powers in a perfectly natural manner, however supernatural it may have appeared to those unfamiliar with these esoteric laws?
To this there are several negative replies. For one thing there is a moral objection. Jesus Himself referred to His works, or allowed others to refer to them, as evidence of His supernatural power. It would have been palpable dishonesty to do so if He had known all the time that He was merely exerting secret, but natural, power. Thus He asked His disciples, if they could not believe Him for His words’ sake, to believe Him for His works’ sake (John 14:11). He reassured the doubting John the Baptist of the reality of His Messianic calling by appealing to the miracles He wrought (Matthew 11:2–4). He did not object when Nicodemus said, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2). The blind man whom He healed believed on Him because of this miracle, and Christ took full advantage of that belief to press His claim to being the Messiah (John 9:35ff.). He refuted the Pharisees who had criticized Him for forgiving a man’s sins by pointing out that He was able to do the equally supernatural thing of instantly curing his sickness. “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins (then saith he to the sick of the palsy), Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:5–6).
The Messianic prophecies had frequently foreseen the Messiah as a miracle worker. Jesus not only knew this, but obviously pointed to Himself as qualified in this very particular. If He did not believe Himself to be possessed of supernatural powers, He must have known Himself to be engaged in palpable fraud and deliberate deception. So from the moral angle, if Christ wrought what He wrought merely by an unusual knowledge of nature and not by supernatural power, He must have been a lying deceiver. That is more difficult to believe than any miracle with which He has ever been credited.
Second, on the supposition before us, His own argument in His defense would be an argument against Him. That is to say, when the unbelieving Jews claimed that He did His works by the power of Beelzebub, He replied, “How can Satan cast out Satan? And if a kingdom be divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house be divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan rise up against himself, and be divided, he cannot stand, but hath an end” (Mark 3:23 ff.). But if Christ really did not do true miracles, but only took advantage of His superior knowledge to play on the credulity of His times and later times, then He would have been perpetrating fraud as the prince of deceivers, and as such He would have been the devil’s instrument. For He regarded the devil as the father of lies, and He would have been his son. Not only is such a thing utterly unthinkable from a moral standpoint, but it is, as His argument makes it, utterly irrational. For Satan would have been using lies to destroy his own kingdom. By these frauds of his servant Jesus, he would have been establishing the kingdom of Jesus, which was founded on truth and which called men to repent of their sins. Thus Satan’s house would have been divided against itself, for Christ, the son of lies, would by His lies have been destroying His father’s kingdom of lies.
Third, if Christ had the kind of knowledge which this theory attributes to Him, such knowledge would have been as miraculous as the miracles it attempts to explain away. For centuries before and for centuries after, no other person but this solitary, untutored Jew knew how to walk on water. Modern science has performed many amazing feats in this century, but it still is nowhere nearer than it was in Jesus’ day to multiplying loaves and fishes by a mere word. Machines can compare, classify, and do hitherto unbelievable things, but with all their powers they still depend on the feeble mind of man, their inventor. They cannot even put a question to themselves, but can only operate with their wonderful efficiency along channels made for them by men. Certainly none of them can anticipate an historical event tomorrow, much less predict the fall of a city a generation hence as precisely as Jesus did (Matthew 24:1ff.). This explanation of the miracles of Jesus, therefore, requires as much, if not more, explanation than the miracles. It would be the miracle to end all miracles. Intellectually, it would be straining the gnat and swallowing the camel.
b. Miracles are God’s seal to mark men unmistakably as His messengers.
If the evidence is convincing that Christ did work miracles, what do these miracles prove? Miracles as such do not prove that Jesus was more than a man. For though men do not have this power as men, they could be enabled by God to perform them in His name. Miraculous power belongs only to the Author of nature, but apparently it is not incommunicable as God’s omniscience, omnipotence, or eternality must be. So the power to work miracles is not necessarily proof that the person who has that power is God Himself. But it does prove Him to be sent from God, for only God has this power and can delegate it. This is the very conclusion which Nicodemus drew when he said to Jesus, “We know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him” (John 3:2).
At this point, however, we face another problem or question. Is it not possible that there are other, non-human beings who, though not the Author of nature, are nevertheless able to influence nature in supernatural ways? Apart from revelation, we cannot know there are not such beings; we therefore consider the possibility that Christ’s miracles were wrought by a man who had received His power from some supernatural being other than God, whether good or evil. If there are such beings, and they are good, then they are in subjection to God and His servants. If, therefore, they communicated their powers to the man Jesus, they must have done so in obedience to the will of God. Thus their giving of power would be essentially the same thing as God’s giving it, for they would give it in accordance with His will.
If these beings are evil beings, what then? Then they are not subservient to God and do not deliberately do His will. In that case they would not necessarily have power over nature, for that would obviously be in the hands of the Author of nature and of those to whom He willingly permits it to pass. If, therefore, these evil spirits possess any such power as we are here supposing, it can only be by the permission of God. So the question is, is it conceivable that God would permit these evil spirits to possess such power? Maybe we cannot answer that question, but we do not have to. The question that really concerns us here is not whether such spirits could possess such powers, but whether, even if they could, they would be able to communicate them to a human being. But we do not even have to answer that question, for we are dealing with a specific human being, Jesus Christ. So the question precisely is: if there are such evil beings and these beings are permitted by God to have power over nature which could conceivably be communicated to some human being, could they conceivably communicate it to such a human being as Jesus Christ? We have already shown that they could do so only if they wished to destroy themselves. They would be empowering Him to make converts to a kingdom which was set up to destroy the kingdom of evil. They would be giving power to one who would use it only for good when, by definition, evil spirits would want it to be used only for evil. They would be providing an instrument for healing when they wished only to spread sickness and death; they would insure the success of the person best fitted to insure their own failure. If these evil spirits were intelligent spirits, they simply could not do such a thing even if God would permit it. And is it possible that God would communicate His great power to a man after His own heart by spirits utterly alien to Him? So, from the standpoint of the devils themselves or from the standpoint of God Himself, it would seem inconceivable that Christ’s supernatural power could have been derived from Satan, if there is such a being. And since there is no other conceivable source from which His power could have come, it must have come, as Nicodemus said, from God.
As observed above, what is shown of Christ in particular would apply in general to all true miracle workers from whom the Bible comes.
c. God’s Message Is Indubitably True.
There are only two ways by which any person can come to say something that is untrue: either by ignorance or lying. A person may either mean to speak the truth but not know it; or know the truth but not mean to speak it. Thus the error must come from a defect of mind (not knowing enough) or a defect of heart (not loving the truth). God suffers from neither limitation, and therefore cannot speak untruth. His message must be true indubitably.
First, God cannot err from ignorance. His knowledge is infinite. There is nothing which He does not know. All things which exist, exist of His power and will and cannot lie outside the range of His knowledge. If there were anything which God did not know it would lie outside His domain. If so, He would not be infallible, all-powerful, independent; in short, He would not be God.
Second, God cannot err by lying. If God lied as well as told truth, His creatures could never know which was which. Nor would it do any good to ask Him, for if He lied He would tell us that the truth was falsehood and falsehood was the truth. This would be cruel. It would leave the creature in hopeless confusion. It would also be unintelligent on the part of Creator, for His creature would be of no use as He wandered hopelessly in the dark. So, if God lied He could not be God for He would not be good or intelligent
Thus, God’s message is indubitably true. He could not lie if He would, nor would He lie if He could. He could not be wrong if He would, and He would not be wrong if He could.
d. God’s Message Includes the Inspiration of the Bible.
Jesus Christ, the “teacher sent from God,” taught that the Bible (Old Testament) was the inspired Word of God. “Scripture,” He said, “could not be broken” (John 10:35). Every “jot and tittle” was to be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). He claimed to be divine (Matthew 11:27; John 10:30; 14:9), and also said that the Scriptures bore witness of Him (John 5:39) which implied their inspiration. He argued from details (John 10:34) and recognized Biblical authority by the formula: “it is written” (Mark 11:17; Luke 18:31). This is admitted by virtually all modern scholars. As one of them put it: Christ’s teaching concerning the Old Testament Bible was “fundamentalistic.”
Likewise, Christ authenticated the New Testament by promising to send the Spirit to lead the apostles into all truth (John 14:26). This leading the apostles, in turn, claimed (cf. for example, 2 Corinthians 12; 13) as they wrote or sanctioned the writing of the New Testament.
e. Therefore the Inspiration of the Bible Is Indubitably True.
One may and must question whether a message is from God, but one cannot question a message which is once shown to be from God. This is the basic point which those who rest the inspiration for the Bible on the Bible’s own testimony overlook. They rightly and righteously recognize that the Bible must be instantly accepted as what it says it is; namely, the Word of God. But they overlook the fact that the Bible is not instantly accepted because it says it is the Word of God. They are unconsciously persuaded of the Bible’s divinity on other grounds. Consequently each time they hear the Bible referring to its inspiration, they know and accept this as true. Nevertheless they forget, because they never consciously recognize, that the truth of this self-affirmation is established on other grounds and merely confirmed by the self-affirmation.
There can be no higher proof of anything than the ipse dixit of God. God speaking is Truth speaking. What God says is so is so. It could not be otherwise. If God could be supposed to have made an error, our world and all worlds are in ruins. Reason, meaning, life and all have perished instantly. We may ask these prior questions about God’s existence necessarily assuming the validity of our thinking processes as we do. These lead us to the knowledge of God. He, in turn, verifies the validity of our prior assumptions. But if He did not exist, or if He could err (which are one and the same thing), then the very thinking processes by which we arrive at the conclusion that God does not exist are so many gratuitous assumptions. Therefore if God could err, error would have no meaning, for truth would have no meaning. Nothing would have any meaning. Nothing would even be.
So God who is truth, who cannot err, has inspired the Bible, and the Bible is truth and cannot err.
6. The Testimony of Divinely Commissioned Messengers as the Basis for Bible Inerrancy(continued)
(B) The Argument from Inspired Bible to Inerrant Bible.
So far we have shown the inspiration of the Bible. But some will say, “You are supposed to show more than that: namely, the inerrancy of the Bible.” They seem to think that it is possible to have an inspired Bible which is yet an errant Bible. Or, to put it another way, they suppose that it is possible to have a partially-inspired Bible. If this were so we would readily grant that we have not proved our point. If the Bible is partially inspired and partially not inspired, there can be no denying the possibility of error in the uninspired part of the Scriptures. So let us attempt to show the movement from inspired to inerrant Bible.
1. An inspired Bible means an inerrant Bible. They are one and the same thing. To put it another way, an inspired Bible is a completely inspired Bible. If it is completely inspired it is, as we have shown above, a completely inerrant Bible, because God cannot err or lie.
Why do we say that for the Bible to be inspired is to be completely inspired? The question should be the other way around. That is, if a message is said to be inspired, why does anyone say that it is only partly inspired? We have said above that God commissioned these Bible writers and that they wrote under His commission. If this is so, why would we not assume that all that they wrote rather than certain parts of it were inspired? We admit that if they said that their message was only partly inspired that would prove that such was the case. But then for those parts they would not be speaking as the divinely commissioned writers, but on their own, as it were. In other words, the burden of proof is on partial inspirationists and not total inspirationists. They must show that these writers who claimed inspiration for the Bible exempted certain parts of it from their claim.
Some have accepted this burden of proof. Let us examine one of the very few texts to which they appeal to show the merely human writing of certain parts of the Bible. Here are Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7:10: “And unto the married, I command, yet not I, but the Lord . . . .” First, we note that this proves far more than our friends want to prove or can admit. If these words were intended by Paul as this interpretation would have it, then he is uninspired unless he specifically claims to be inspired within the contexts of his writings. “Not I, but the Lord,” according to this view, means that it was Paul alone who had been speaking, but at this particular juncture the Lord Himself speaks. That this is not the meaning we have already shown by proving that the Bible writers claimed the authority of Christ in writing. They were commissioned by God to give His message. On the view being considered, Paul would be going back on that and rarely, on occasions such as this one, actually claims inspiration for himself. According to this, then, only a tiny fragment of the Bible is the Word of God. Second, another construction of these words is possible which would fit with Paul’s over-all doctrine and appears, therefore, to be his meaning. He may, according to the words themselves, be here distinguishing his particular revelations on the subject of marriage from that which came from the teaching of Jesus Himself. (Jesus, in fact, did teach in Matthew 5:32 that infidelity was a just basis for divorce by the innocent party, but said nothing about separation, which Paul here reveals as another just ground for divorce.)
Paul is also thought to contradict total inspiration doctrine when in 1 Corinthians 1:16 he says he is unable to remember whether he had baptized any others. But how this in any way, directly or indirectly, denies his inspiration at that moment is never shown. It is merely insinuated. The insinuation seems to be that God could not inspire forgetfulness. But God’s inspiration guarantees only inerrancy, not necessarily total recall. If Paul remembered wrongly we would have an uninspired Paul; but a Paul who does not remember is a Paul who is inspired to record that very fact for our instruction (presumably, concerning the nature of inspiration, what it does and does not include, what it does and does not exclude) .
- There are not merely implicit, but also explicit statements that the Bible is completely and not merely partially inspired. The classic text is 2 Timothy 3:16. We cannot in a small work go into a detailed exposition, but can merely say here, as is generally granted, that the correct translation of this text is: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (RSV) . “Not one jot or one tittle” (the slightest detail, that is) of the law shall pass away until all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18; cf. also 1 Corinthians 2:13). This could never be said of any partially fallible law. Christ and Paul could not make their arguments rest on single words (John 10:35; Galatians 3:16) if inspiration did not extend to the individual words.
- If the Bible were merely partially inspired, we would be worse off than if it were totally uninspired, for we would then have the excruciating task of distinguishing the Word of God in the Bible with no means for so doing. No one who has ever advocated the partial-inspiration view has provided us with a means of separating the inspired and uninspired parts. Some think that Luther, for example, used the doctrine of justification by faith alone as the touchstone of inspiration. We do not think that is an accurate understanding of Luther; but, for the moment, let us suppose it is. How could Luther or anyone else know that justification by faith is true, if not on the ground that it is taught by the Word of God? If the Bible is the Word of God because it teaches justification rather than justification being the truth of God because it is taught in the Bible by what means do we know this? We have shown how we know that the Bible is the Word of God, and how from this we could know that justification is true, but how can anyone prove that justification is true and able to serve as the touchstone to the Word of God? This is a basal fallacy of the “Confession of 1967” (cf. appendix) which virtually makes “Reconciliation” as the mark of the Word of God.
If we pushed this matter to fundamentals we would find ourselves back on one of the wrong bases for the right doctrine which we considered in Part I. This is no doubt the reason that adherents of this view prefer merely to advocate it rather than argue for it, that is, to assume that one can know what part of the Bible is inspired and what part is not (but neglect to tell us how to do this little thing).
We said above that the partial-inspiration doctrine is actually worse than no doctrine of inspiration. With no doctrine of inspiration you would be most unfortunate; however, you would not be doomed to searching for it where it could not be found. On this present view one would have to search without ever knowing whether he had found. By comparison, searching for a needle in a haystack would be child’s play, for you know there is the needle and, given sufficient effort and time, it can be found. But on the partial-inspiration theory you know that a great and invaluable mine of divine truth is there, but you also know that, while you must seek for such a treasure, it is impossible that you would ever find it. You could never know that you found it even when you had it in your hands, as it were. You could hold the precious gold of God’s Word in your hand and not be sure that it was not human slime, while, on the other hand, you could hold human slime and not be sure that it was not God’s precious truth. You must ever be searching, and never coming to the knowledge of the truth.
Thus, we believe that we have shown that the Bible is the Word of God, inspired and inerrant. Not everything that God says, He says in the Bible. We have indicated that He revealed Himself to us before He revealed Himself further and savingly in sacred Scripture. But everything that the Bible says, God says.
Objections Allegedly Arising from Science
It is objected to the inerrancy doctrine that the Bible has many errors traceable to the inadequacy of the knowledge of the period during which the Bible was written. This is a major reason for setting aside the Westminster Confession by the drafters of “The Confession of 1967,” as may be seen in the Appendix. It is added that these errors do not invalidate the message of the Bible, but merely disprove its inerrancy and inspiration. Adherents of infallibility, it says, are forced into all sorts of unscholarly and obscurantist positions in their necessary defense of the Bible versus the findings of modern science. Admitting the mere humanness of the Bible, and seeking the Word of God elsewhere than in its pages, are presented as truly scientific and, at the same time, truly spiritual.
To this we reply, first, this position overlooks the two kinds of authority in an infallible Bible. There is what is called “historical authority” and “normative authority” (which is discussed more fully in the Appendix). Historical authority applies to every word of an inerrant Bible, and tells us simply that whatever the Bible says was said or done was indeed said or done. Such information does not tell us whether what was said and done ought to have been said or ought to have been done. Only the normative authority of the inerrant Bible answers that question. For a fuller discussion of this difference see the Appendix. Its relevance to the point under question is important. It teaches us that Bible writers themselves may have been laboring under erroneous impressions without this being normative instruction for us. Suppose they did think of a three-storied universe, which was the common opinion in their day, the Bible does not err unless it teaches such as a divine revelation of truth. In fact, by showing that the writers may have personally entertained ideas now antiquated it reveals its own historical authenticity without its normative authenticity suffering.
Second, sometimes the difference between popular and technical or pedantic language is overlooked. “At sunset, Isaac went out to meditate” (Genesis 24:63) does not mean that the Bible teaches the Ptolemaic astronomy. It is not pedantically teaching that the sun rotates about the earth so that there is a literal “sunset.” This was and is a common way of speaking and does not necessarily reflect the thinking of those who use such language. Someone has said that if the Bible were to be scientifically exact it would have read: “when the rotation of the solar luminary on its axis was such that its rays impinged horizontally on the retina, Isaac went out to meditate.” I once lived in “Sunset Hills,” and not one adult in the community believed that the sun ever sets. Likewise the “sun’s standing still” (Joshua 10:12) would be the way things would appear, not necessarily the way they would be. While we are referring to this miracle let us add another observation dealing with another criticism. Some object to the accuracy of this particular miracle, arguing that if the sun did appear stationary for so long a period the whole universe would have been thrown out of order in one way and another. The objection is puerile. If God is able to do as much as the narrative relates it would be no more difficult to take care of all the attendant details! For the Creator, any manipulation of the creation whatsoever would be infinitely easy—but it seems infinitely difficult for some to see this.
Third, much unnecessary strain is caused by the hasty judgments of the Bible’s friends and foes alike. We cannot examine at all thoroughly all the problems growing out of the creation narrative (Genesis 1–3), for example; but this general statement is true, we believe: If every Bible scholar were careful not to read anything out of the Scripture teachings except what it indubitably teaches, and natural scientists were equally careful to claim nothing as scientifically established but what is indubitably true, the tensions between science and Scripture would be reduced to a negligible minimum. For example, the Bible does not teach that God created the world in 4004 B.C. As Gordon Clark has written, “We defend the inspiration of the Bible, not of Archbishop Ussher.”
These are merely a few samples of a few types of objections to the doctrine of inerrancy. There are many more types and there are many more answers. But this would seem to be a sufficient sampling for our purposes. A select and recommended bibliography may be found appended which will serve for further and more extensive investigation. In closing we should like to say only this: in the case of alleged discrepancies, it is not our burden to show how these may be reconciled as we have done above out of the “goodness of our hearts” and not the exigencies of our situation. We have given a case for the inerrancy of the Bible. Unless this case can be shown to be false, then it carries with it the guarantee that there are no discrepancies. We have, in other words, if our case is sound, shown that discrepancies are only apparent and must be reconcilable, even if we say not one word about how this reconciliation is to be shown. It behooves the opponent to prove us wrong by showing his “discrepancies” to be discrepancies incapable of harmonization. We have every reason to anticipate that he can succeed in so doing no better in the future than he has in the past because the Bible, we believe, is the inerrant Word of God.
Objections Arising from an Alleged “Docetism”
A very modern theological objection to inerrancy is an implied “Docetism.” Docetism refers to an early heresy denying the genuineness of Christ’s humanity. It maintained that Christ merely appeared (dokein) to be human. Inerrancy does essentially the same thing to the Bible, it is said, that the docetists did to Christ namely, deny its genuine humanness. “To err is human” and to be human is to err. If the Bible has no error it could not really have been written by men. Thus the human authors of the Bible, according to inerrancy, it is charged, only appear to have written the Bible. In brief, the argument runs thus:
- Inerrancy teaches that the Bible authors could not err.
- But humans can err.
- Therefore, inerrancy implicitly teaches that the authors of the Bible were not human.
However, in this neat little syllogism they have neglected to observe a crucial part of the picture. Perhaps it will be clearest if we insert it where it belongs in the otherwise consistent syllogism:
- Inerrancy teaches that the Bible authors could not err.
- But humans can err (unless the omnipotent God preserves them from error without destroying their humanity).
- Therefore inerrancy implicitly teaches that the authors of the Bible were human (but we deny merely that their sinful erring tendencies were in operation during the writing of Holy Scripture).
Some may think that we here deny a principle we have defended above. There we said that God could not force the will of man without destroying man as man. Here we say that God can suspend the operation of human sinfulness without destroying the humanity of the persons concerned. The difference is this: freedom is essential to the nature of man but sinfulness is not. Remove freedom and man ceases to be; remove sinfulness and he does not cease to be a man (in fact, he is only perfectly human without sin).
Furthermore, there is a rather interesting inconsistency among most of our critics. While they deny that the Bible writers can be truly human while writing without error, they will not deny that Jesus could be truly human while living without error or even sin of any kind.
This criticism has the value of calling even greater attention to inerrancy’s insistence on the genuineness and indispensable importance of human participation in the writing of Scripture. While God’s part has been insisted on throughout this and most literature on the inspiration of the Bible, this is because it is so often challenged and is of such infinite importance. Sometimes in this stress on the divine, the human is, we regret to say, overlooked. Finally, some critics appear who claim that we deny the human role altogether. This calls forth our reiteration that the Bible is no less the word of man than it is the Word of God. But it is the word of men inspired by God. The Bible, then, is the Word of God expressed in the inspired words of men.
Editor’s Note: This long-form was originally published by Baker Book House. John H. Gerstner, Bible Inerrancy Primer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1965).