By S. Leonard Tyler
This is a searching but fair and vitally important question. The answer is basic and, to me, essential to any who believes in the all-sufficiency of the Divine Volume, the Bible. Can one be sure, positive, when he is a Christian, a member of the church of Christ? Can he proclaim with confidence this message to others for their salvation? Can a Christian tell when one is turning back into the world or wallowing in the mire? If one starts turning toward denominationalism, can that be recognized? If these questions have a positive answer, truth makes a distinction and we must recognize it. If, on the other hand, the response is negative, truth makes no difference, and we had just as well forget the whole matter – because no one can be positive what is right. If the word of God is not clearly understandable, man is left without clear knowledge and convictions.
These terse questions demand a positive response if one is to find revealed in the Bible an indispensable, vital faith and life in Christ.
Is the Bible the inerrant word of God, complete, absolute, understandable, and the unique standard by which man is to be reconciled to God in Christ, directed and saved eternally? Is the Bible reliable, worthy of trust and confidence? Is it understandable, especially the New Testament, so one can be uniquely, intelligently, and Scripturally identified with its teaching? Can one say like Paul, “I know in whom I have believed and am persuaded (convinced, NASB) that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day”? (2 Tim. 1:12).
To respond positively does not necessarily identify one with the Pharisaic, “braggadocios,” self-justifying attitude. It does imply, however, that he possesses a genuine, active, and confident faith in the word of God as trustworthy, authoritative, positive, and understandable. It is saying, “Speak, Lord, I will believe, Command, I will obey. Promise, I will trust.” Then, we must search the Scriptures to learn what the Lord says, commands, and promises, and accept His will by faith with complete confidence.
Attitudes Toward The Bible
There are many views regarding the Inspiration of the Bible. We notice two very briefly. (1) The Bible is Inspired in Thought or Principle. God miraculously and directly revealed His will to certain chosen men but left them to express the message in their own words without Divine assistance. This leaves too much to human judgment or wisdom. Subjectivism and relativism have a great and lasting influence upon the minds of those adhering to such a loose concept of inspiration. Skepticism which opens the door to denominationalism is also very common to such a view. But these delight in the “non-essentials” and the “non-essentials with liberty” rule their religion. Notwithstanding all the warnings contained in the Bible (Matt. 15:9; 2 Cor. 10:5-6, 12-18; 2 Thess. 2; 1 Tim. 4:1, 15; Heb. 2:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:1-5; Acts 20:28-32), these continue to allow the doctrines and commandments of men to predominate in their lives (Isa. 8:20; Jer. 10:23; Prov. 14:12).
(2) The Second View is Plenary Verbal Inspiration. God miraculously and directly revealed His will to certain chosen men and miraculously and directly superintended their choice of words. Thus, they could speak and write verbally and inerrantly exactly what God wanted them to, exactly as He wanted it said or written, giving man an understandable and infallible guide. This is the claim the Bible makes for itself (Acts 2:1-5; 1 Cor. 2:12-13; 1 Tim. 4:1; Rev. 2:7, 11, 17; 2 Tim. 3:16-17), and I most sincerely believe it will stand against every evil wind that blows.
Is It Understandable?
Many accept the verbal inspiration of the Bible but are skeptical about understanding the Bible itself. So, to them, one can not be positive enough to say, “This is it.” If the teaching of the Bible is unattainable to man, he is left without positive directions or law. This brings to my mind, an old but true Latin expression, “Ubi jus incertum, ibi jus nullum” – where the law is uncertain, there is no law. Here the religious wonderers gather, separate, reform, tolerate, and split again. And here the word of God is thrown to the four winds of the earth. Emotionalism, confusions, divisions and every philosophy and doctrine imaginable to man finds tolerance. The sociological changes sway minds, evolutionary theories are planted, and spiritualism goes wild in this incomprehensible Bible whirlpool. Surely, God would not give man such a Book as that! God has not authored mass confusion and wild contradiction in religion (1 Cor. 14:33). Our concern is not, “Can one person judge another?” We are deeply concerned with, “Can we understand the Bible?”
The Bible is filled with propositional truth. A proposition is “An expression in language, symbols, or signs of anything which is capable of being believed, doubted or denied: a verbal expression which is either true or false” (Webster’s New International Dictionary, Unabridged). Scripture is to be accepted or rejected upon the credibility of its understandable truths.
The Bible claims positive, yea, even Divine truths. David declared, “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is settled in Heaven” (Psa. 119:89). Jesus said, “My words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35). Peter states, “For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is, through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23; NASB).
God’s truth stands regardless of one’s attitude toward it. It is absolute truth. God can declare the end of a thing at the beginning (Isa. 46:10). If a person contends that Bible knowledge is unattainable, or impractical, he cannot claim a firm guide into God’s provision for salvation. To whom shall he go?
God spoke plainly to Moses when Israel was preparing to possess the land of Canaan (Deut. 30:11-30). Moses called the children of Israel together and reminded them of God’s goodness, love, and care for their forefathers and His gracious provision for them. He, then, read the Law: (1) He read so all could hear and understand it. (2) They could know their God and His way. (3) This was in order that they might do all the words of the law (4) Thus, Israel could share in all the blessings of their God. (5) And, then they could teach God’s law to their children with the same provisions, conditions, and blessings. Some one observed: “This law was plain enough to be understood; practical enough to be obeyed; and divine enough to be essential. ” This, I believe, is applicable to all of God’s will to man for salvation. The gospel is God’s power unto salvation to every one who believes (Rom. 1:16) but “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). Further, Paul told Timothy, “These things I write unto you . . . that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God” (1 Tim. 3:14-15). It certainly seems from these expressions that God intended for man to understand His written word. Why else would He have written it?
The Bible is what God teaches – no more and no less neither can any man add to it nor take from it (Gal. 1:6-9; 1 Pet. 4:11; 2 Pet. 1:3; Titus 2:7-8, 10). Too many times however, what is called “interpretation” is nothing more than what man thinks, feels, or assumes and has no place in the Divine Volume. If the Bible does not teach it, it is no part of God’s word -regardless of what or how anyone thinks or feels about it. Bro. M.C. Kurfees makes the following observation:
It follows that the Divine Creed can never be an unnecessary inference or merely what man thinks. This, according to the etymology of the term, would make it merely man’s opinion. How can we tell, in a given case, whether a thing is what God says or merely what man thinks? Here again, if we have no infallible rule for our guidance, we are in hopeless confusion . . . the science of hermeneutics is a false science unless it seeks, by its principles, laws and rules, to ascertain, and is willing to be satisfied with, what an author says, and this fact especially applies in the case of religion where the search is for what God says. In fact, when we have learned by absolutely correct translation from one language to another, exactly what God says, we have reached the limit of legitimate interpretation and are justified in saying that we have found what God means by finding what God says. He who repudiates this position has only the alternative of committing himself to the lax and latitudinarian position of guessing at what God means beyond what he says . . . (Abilene Christian College Bible Lecture 1920-1921, page 17).
Paul wrote the Ephesians to assure them of a definite and positive standard by which to be governed and sustained in Eph. 4:10-16. He assured them that miraculously inspired teachers would continue until the complete, perfect will of Christ was revealed and confirmed.
When that time arrived, God’s people would have a full knowledge of Christ communicated, God’s complete will made known. By that will Christians both were and are to be firmly sustained and directed in true fellowship, grace, faith, hope, service and all spiritual relationships in Christ with God, the Holy Spirit and all the saints for salvation (1 Cor. 1:9; Titus 2:11-12; 1 John 1:3-7; 1 Pet. 1:3-9). The same apostle told the Corinthians that “when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away” (1 Cor. 13:10). James shows that the “perfect law of liberty” is come (James 1:25; 2:12).
The Bible is the positive, unalterable standard by which man is to be drawn to Christ, directed, and sustained. “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom. 10:17). So Paul told Timothy to charge certain men “that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). Peter said, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Pet. 4:11). Thus Paul warned the Ephesians about the “cunning craftiness” and deceptive doctrines and pleaded with them not to be “tossed to and fro” by such false teachers and doctrines. Then Paul added, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things which is the head, even Christ.” He wrote the Colossians to be “grounded and settled and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:23). In Jude 3, the instruction is to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.” This is God’s will for all men today. May God help us to study, believe, obey and teach it with full assurance that what God has promised He is able to fulfill.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 36, pp. 584-586
September 13, 1979