By Keith Ward
Many have tried to discredit the Bible’s authority over our lives. Some say it has no value because its truths are dated and not applicable to modern times; others maintain that scribal copying errors have so corrupted the text that it is no longer the word of God. A third group feels that so much is lost in translation that we cannot take the Bible as a rule of faith. Even many in the church will accept only the words of Jesus; unless they find the words in red letters, these people discount their value. Let us turn to the Bible itself to answer the arguments of these critics, scholars and Jesus-only people.
Jesus’ Historical Position Parallels Ours
Jesus’ attitude toward the Old Testament shows his reverence for scripture as the word of God. Many do not realize that Jesus stood in approximately the same relationship to the law of Moses as we do to the New Testament. Jesus lived 1,500 years after the giving of the law; we are 1,900 years after the writing of the New Testament. Jesus had a text that had been copied for centuries and nearly lost during the reign of idolatrous kings (Remember how Josiah found the lost copy when he restored the Temple, 2 Chron. 34:14-23). We have the New Testament which has been copied for centuries and was nearly lost during the Dark Ages. Roman culture was at its zenith and scholars scoffed at the peasants backward belief in God and in life after death. Today, even theologians are teaching, “God is dead,” and our society has no room for God. By examining this parallel, we see how we ought to treat the inspired New Testament.
By observing how the Son of God treated and used the Old, we can grasp the power and relevance of the New.
All Must Be Fulfilled
Jesus did not dismiss the Old Testament as outdated or say that its truth was lost in scribal errors. He stated that it all must be fulfilled (Luke 24:44). Further, he said, “Till heaven and earth pass away one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law till all things are accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). Hebrew looks like chicken scratching and would be even more susceptible to scribal error than New Testament Greek. In spite of this, Jesus said that not even one of the smallest marks would pass away until all was fulfilled. A jot and a tittle are comparable to the dotting of an “i” or the crossing of a “t” in English.
Jesus used scripture as the ultimate authority. “It is written,” left no room for appeal; it was unanswerable. He obviously believed that short scripture quotations were authoritative and valid, though such is often patronized as “proof-text quoting” today.
Scripture Terminates Temptation
Appeal to scripture terminated the temptation in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11). Satan three times tempted Jesus and three times Jesus answered with a quote from the Law of Moses (Dent. 8:3; 6:16, 13). Satan did not appeal to the fact that the law was 1,500 years old, had been copied by innumerable fallible scribes, or that an ink-drop or fly speck could change the meaning of the Hebrew. Both Jesus and Satan recognized that the quotes were accurate and authoritative. Despite elapsed time and numerous copyings and translations, it was still the word of God.
Better than Testimony from the Dead
When Jesus related the story of Lazarus and the rich man, he placed the scripture above the testimony of one raised from the dead.
Consider how closely you would listen to a friend whom you had seen dead and buried, but a year later rang your doorbell. Being skeptical, you would check fingerprints and shared memories, until at last you were sure he was your dead friend come alive. Would you not strain to hear every word of his message from the beyond? When the rich man requested that Lazarus be allowed to return and warn his brothers, Abraham replied, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Words Inspired not Merely Concepts
Jesus gave attention and significance to the smallest detail of the language. Modern scholars reject much scripture to avoid “being picayune,” or they appeal to possible scribal error. They do not feel that we can trust the words of the scripture, but should deal only with general teaching and broad concepts.
The Son of God based an argument on the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, the yodh. When teaching the Lordship and eternal nature of the Messiah, Jesus posed a riddle (Matt. 22:41-46). David said, “The Lord said unto my Lord” (Psa. 110:1). “The Lord” is Jehovah; “my Lord” is the Messiah. Jesus asks how the Messiah can be both the son of David and David’s Lord. The Pharisees could not answer. We know that it was because Jesus, the eternal Son of God, was born of a virgin in David’s lineage. Jesus’ opponents recognized the argument as valid and unanswerable, although it was based on the little word “my.”
In the same chapter, Jesus based his argument for life after death on the verb tense used by Moses (Matt. 22:31-32). “1 am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, .and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6). At the time Moses wrote, these men had been dead for hundreds of years. Thus, when Jesus states the axiom, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living,” he has shown that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were alive at the time God spoke. Therefore, man has an immortal soul. Today, men say we cannot trust the words of the scripture because of various possible meanings and difficulties of interpretation. Jesus, the divine interpreter, used a verb tense as his only proof of man’s immortality.
Is the New Testament as Strong?
It is clear that the Son of God believed in the verbal inspiration of the Old Testament. We can trust it to be word for word exactly what God said, modern scholars notwithstanding. Can we trust the New Testament in the same manner, or is it subject to human error? Jesus promised that the New Testament would be as strong as the Old. “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth is come, he will guide you into all truth; for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit was to guide the Apostles into all truth. Therefore, when they finished speaking, no truth was left unrevealed that God desired man to know. The Holy Spirit spoke from God and the Apostles declared what the Holy Spirit gave them. This is the same method used to reveal the Old Testament which Jesus taught was all powerful (2 Pet. 3:20-21). Thus, the New Testament is the word of God. The apostles themselves recognized their inspiration and often spoke of it.
The Apostles Claimed Inspiration
Peter placed the writings of Paul on the same plane as the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:15-16). Peter says that unsteadfast men wrest with the epistles of Paul as they also do with other scripture. That word “other” shows that Peter believed that Paul’s writings were scripture. Peter commands his reader to remember two things (2 Pet. 3:2). One is the words of the Holy Prophets (the Old Testament); the other is “the commandments of the Lord and Savior through your apostles.” Peter states that the words which he and the other apostles spoke and wrote were in truth the Lord’s. Paul also claimed inspiration when he wrote. “The things which I write unto you they are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). He did not imagine them or devise a logical system of philosophy; they were given him by God. (Other passages where writers claim inspiration are: 1 Thessalonians 2:13, 1 Cor. 2:4, 13, 2 Cor. 13:3, Eph. 3:25). Jesus promised it. The apostles claimed it. Are we going to call them liars by denying the verbal inspiration of the New Testament?
The role of inspiration in preserving the scripture word for word as God meant for us to have it is seldom studied. Almighty God, the creator spoke to man. It is inconceivable that our all-powerful, all-wise God would allow his word to fall into a state of disrepair. The Holy Spirit guarantees that the truth was correctly recorded in the right words (1 Cor. 2:13), and preserves those words for future generations. Having once given man the truth that he intended to be the standard until the end of time (Acts 2:39), God did not fumble the ball and leave us without a guide to save our souls.
The Bible does not contain the word of God; it is the word of God. “God having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son” (Heb. 1:1). Old and New Testament alike are the very word of God, given and preserved by the Holy Spirit.
Means and Methods and the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit sometimes dictated word for word what the prophet was to write. Moses was commanded, “Write these words” (Ex. 34:37). On this occasion he was merely a secretary who took dictation from God. Much scripture does not seem to be dictated. The authors are permitted to use their own style and background. Their vocabularies and grammatical ability vary widely. In such cases, the role of inspiration is to guarantee that the words or illustrations the author chooses exactly express the will and word of God. The author is given some freedom in his writing, but not the freedom to err.
Revelation and Inspiration
What is inspiration? Often it is described as “Godbreathed,” which means that God breathes the words into the mouths of the men who speak. But this does not answer, “How?” Perhaps more can be understood if it is compared to something it is not.
Revelation and inspiration overlap in many areas, and some mistakenly believe that they are the same. It was necessary for many things to be revealed. Creation is a good example; man could not have learned,the origin of the universe unless God told him. However, other things such as the shipwreck in Acts 27, can be known exclusive of revelation. Luke was there and suffered the storm with Paul, thus, he could write from memory. It was not necessary for the Holy Spirit to reveal what happened. In the case of revelation, inspiration insures that what has been revealed is correctly recorded. In the case of personal memories or research, inspiration protects the truth from a faulty memory or a poor perspective and guarantees that it is correctly recorded. Revelation makes truth known that could not otherwise have been learned. Inspiration guarantees that what is recorded is truth and preserves it.
Revelation and Understanding
It is evident that the inspired men did not always understand what they were doing. Luke investigated and researched. Seemingly, he did not know that he was inspired, that the Holy Spirit moved him to write. He said, “It seemed good to me . . . to write” (Luke 1:1-4). He was not commissioned to write as was John (Rev. 1:19). Luke took it upon himself to “write in order” the narrative of the life of Jesus. Neither did the Holy Spirit reveal anything to him, he talked to witnesses as would any biographer who wrote the life of a great man, “even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses.” He researched, “having traced the course of all things accurately from the first.” Luke was moved by the Holy Spirit, and though he did not know that he was inspired, we do. Paul quoted Luke’s writing in the same sentence as a statement from the law, and made it equal with that statement (1 Tim. 5:18).
The prophets knew they were inspired, yet often did not understand what they wrote. Peter comments that they searched “what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). They spoke the words of God, but were not permitted a full understanding of what they had said.
Some men spoke, neither realizing that their words were divine, nor understanding them. The classic example ig Caiphas, who prophesied, “One man should die for the people” (John 11:49-52). Caiphas referred to the death of one whom he considered a revolutionary in order that Israel might maintain her remaining independence and not be crushed in a futile revolt against Rome. John reveals that Caiphas prophesied of the atoning sacrifice of Jesus death for all men.
All were Inspired
All these groups of men spoke by inspiration: Peter, Paul, et al, who knew they were inspired and understood what they spoke; Luke, et al, who understood but did not realize that they were inspired; the prophets who knew they were inspired but often did not understand their words; and Caiphas who neither knew nor understood.
It is the words that are inspired, not the method or the man. No matter how great or small the man’s understanding, the words are given, guaranteed, and preserved by the Holy Spirit. We can depend on them. (Additional copies of this article may be ordered from Keith Ward, above address.)
Truth Magazine XIX: 49, pp. 773-775
October 23, 1975