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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
J. B. Jeter, 1892
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16)
There are among theologians various theories of inspiration; but we shall notice only two of them. One is that God communicated his truth to the minds of his servants, prophets and apostles, and they retained it in their memories, and expounded it in their discourses by the use of their natural faculties, without divine aid or supervision.
The other that’s generally held by evangelical Christians is that God not only communicated truth to the minds of his servants, but exercised over them an influence by which they were enabled to reveal it, by speech or writing, without any mistake, and in the manner best suited to secure the end of the revelation. It is to the examination of these theories that our article is devoted.
That God can inspire men to reveal his truth infallibly to the world, it is atheistic to deny. That plenary inspiration seems necessary to secure the end of the avowed purpose of the Scriptures, that men may believe in Christ, and by believing secure everlasting life, can hardly be questioned. Still it must be conceded, that not only the reality, but the measure and manner of the inspiration of the Scriptures, must be learned from their own testimony.
What do they teach on the subject? Did their writers claim to be divinely inspired? Did they assume to be partially or fully inspired? Did they say or do anything incompatible with their full inspiration! We should come to the Scriptures, with childlike docility, to learn what they teach on these points.
Moses was the first of the inspired writers. His inspiration is proved by the present condition of the Jews, accurately described in Deut. 28. The manner of his inspiration is given in 18:18. The Lord said unto Moses: "I will raise them up a prophet like unto thee, and will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him." The prophecy relates to the Messiah, and he was to have the words of God put into his mouth, and in this plenary inspiration was to be like unto Moses.
David, the Psalmist, said: "The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue." (2 Sam. 18:2)
"The Lord spake thus to me,…and instructed me," is the language of Isa. 8:11.
His prophecies were a mere reiteration of the words of the Lord: "Thus saith the Lord, behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone," etc., 28:16.
Jeremiah begins one of his prophecies in these words: "The word that the Lord spake against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet." 50:7.
In many other passages, he claimed that his words were the words of the Lord. 9:11, 13:15, etc. Amos professed to speak the very words of God: "Hear this word that the Lord hath spoken against you, O house of Israel." 3:1. Micah closes a prophecy with the words: ”The mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it." 3:4. "The Lord put a word in Balaam's mouth, and said, Return unto Balak, and thus shalt thou speak?' (Num. 18:5)
It would be easy to multiply quotations of this kind; but if the above passages do not establish the fact that the writers of the Old Testament claimed plenary inspiration, it is impossible for language to do it. God spoke by the prophets. In a sense their words were their own; but in a higher, truer sense they were the words of God. There was no possibility for them to err in their words, unless God could be mistaken.
When Christ appeared in the world, the writings of Moses and the prophets, called, by way of eminence, the Scriptures, were held in high estimation among the Jews. How did Christ respect them! He was " God manifest in the flesh," and knew perfectly their origin, history, contents and authority. He treated them with the greatest reverence; and never uttered a word to indicate that he deemed them human and fallible, as well as divine and inerrable. He pronounced them the sure preservative from error: "Ye do err," said he to the Jews, "not knowing the Scriptures." (Matt. 22:29) Could this be true, if the Scriptures themselves abounded in errors? They might, in that case, have been seduced into error by their knowledge of them.
Listen further to the testimony of Jesus: "The Scripture must be fulfilled." (Mark 14:49) The Scripture cannot be broken." (John 10:35) If the Scriptures "must be fulfilled," it is because their predictions are true and accurate: if they "cannot be broken," it is because there is no defect or weakness in them. Jesus, resting his claims to the Messiahship on the testimony of the Scriptures, commended them to the undoubting confidence and careful study of his hearers: "Search," said he, "the Scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life; and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)
The evangelist John furnishes incidentally the strongest possible proof of his high estimate of the Scriptures. He says: "The disciples believed the Scripture, and the word which Jesus had said." (John 2:22) The apostle coupled the Scripture and the word of Jesus as of equal credibility. Could he have done this without dishonoring Jesus, if the Scripture had partaken of the errors prevalent in the ages of its several authors?
Let us now examine the testimony of the apostles on the inspiration of the Old Testament. Their own inspiration we shall now take for granted, and prove in another place. Peter, proposing to fill the vacancy in the apostleship caused by the apostasy and death of Judas, said: "Men and brethren, this Scripture must, needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas." Acts 1:16. The apostle had reference to Psa. 12:9. The text had not a very clear reference to Judas; but Peter, himself inspired, declared that it was spoken by the Holy Ghost, that the mouth of David was merely the organ for uttering the prophecy, and that its fulfillment was a matter of necessity.
No advocate for plenary, verbal inspiration has ever expressed it more clearly or strongly than did Peter on this occasion. To the same effect was the language of all the disciples, when Peter and John, released from imprisonment and the power of their enemies, "reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto 'them." "They lifted up their voice to God with one accord," saying, “Thou art God, … who by the mouth of thy servant David hath said, why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?" (Acts 4:25)
These words were not David's, but God's. David uttered, but God indicted them; and filled them with a meaning of which probably the Psalmist had but little conception. (1 Pet. 1:11-12) On this subject the teaching of Paul is explicit and full: all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; and is profitable for doctrine (teaching), for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works." (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)
The apostle affirms, not only that Scripture, but that "all Scripture" is Divinely inspired. The language clearly means, not merely that every book of Scripture, but that all the contents of every book, historical, geographical, and scientific, as well as doctrinal, is inspired of God; and therefore infallible, and fitted to make the man of God perfect.
As Paul teaches the measure, so Peter states the manner, of Divine inspiration. He says: "Prophecy came not in old time (at any time.) by the will of man; but holy men of God spake (and doubtless also wrote) as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." God employed holy men to reveal his truth to the world. They did not speak or write by their own knowledge or will; but as they were enlightened, guided and influenced by the Holy Spirit. Their messages were instructive, threatening, encouraging or consolatory, according to the Divine will.
We think it an error to say that the Scriptures do not teach the manner of inspiration. We do not see how the manner of Divine inspiration could be more clearly taught than in this language of the apostle Peter. The manner, too, is such as to preclude the possibility of error in the Scriptures. Surely the Holy Spirit, infinitely wise and good, can move holy men to teach only what is true, and pure, and adapted to subserve the ends of Divine revelation.
Having considered the inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures, we propose now to examine that of the New Testament writings. If Christianity is true and a consummation of the Mosaic economy, the inspiration of the apostolic writings may be fairly inferred from that of the prophetic Scriptures.
It is unreasonable to suppose that the foundation of the edifice was laid with Divine wisdom, and. its completion left to human weakness and fallibility. The Spirit of inspiration which commenced, we may be quite sure, finished the volume of religious instruction to men. We are not left, however, to the uncertainty of conjecture or of logical deduction on this subject. We have the most abundant evidence of the plenary inspiration of the writers of the New Testament.
When Jesus sent out his apostles to announce the approach of the kingdom of heaven, he informed them that they would be subjected to fierce persecutions, delivered up to councils, scourged in the synagogues, and brought before governors and kings; and for their encouragement and comfort, he said: "When they shall deliver you up, take no how or what ye shall speak; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you." Matt. 10:19, 20.
It is impossible to imagine an inspiration more full and complete than this promised to the apostles, extending to matter, language and manner. True, this promise had special reference to the apostles in their persecutions; but we cannot reasonably suppose that they had an inspiration less full and perfect for the prosecution of their work, than they possessed to extricate them from the perils into which it brought them.
Jesus, in his memorable farewell discourse to his disciples, designing to comfort them under their approaching sorrow, and fit them for their great lifework, said to them: "The comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. … 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 show you things to come. He shall glorify me; for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you." (John 14:26; 16:13, 14)
We have nowhere so full an account of the manner and measure of Divine inspiration as in these passages. Christ was to be the chief matter of revelation: "He (the Spirit) shall glorify me (Christ); for he shall receive of mine, and show it unto you."
The apostles were not to be left to the unaided exercise of their fallible memories in reporting the truth: He (the Spirit) shall "bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." They were to have the fullest instruction for the prosecution of their mission: "He (the Spirit) shall teach you all things—shall guide you into all truth." They were to be endowed with the gift of prophecy: "He (the Spirit) will show you things to come." Thus equipped, they were to enter on the work which Christ commenced, and in the prosecution of which he sacrificed his life.
When Jesus was risen from the dead, he commissioned his apostles to enter on their life-work, with the promise: "Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (Matt. 28:20) The presence which Jesus promised to his disciples was not his personal presence, but the presence of his representative. "It is expedient for you," He said, "that I go away; for if I go not away the Comforter will not come; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7) They were commanded "not to depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father," which they had heard of him the promise that they should "be endued with power from on high." (Luke 24:49)
The apostles obeyed the command of their Lord and continued in Jerusalem, with the other disciples, men and women, in prayer and supplication. “When the day of Pentecost was fully come,…they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance." (Acts 2:1, 4)
The promise of their inspiration was most strikingly fulfilled. They were not only filled with the Spirit, but they spake as he gave them utterance, in languages which they had never learned. Their inspiration was clearly verbal, and must have included thoughts as well as words. Their utterances were not senseless jargon; but clear and convincing and impressive speech, piercing the hearts of them that heard it, and extorting from them the cry: "Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Paul was not a participant in the on this occasion. He was introduced into the apostolic ministry by a special Divine arrangement. He said "I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me, is not after men. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ." (Gal. 1:11, 12) Paul, having received the gospel by direct revelation from heaven, was not left to the exercise of his unaided powers in its proclamation.
To the Corinthians he wrote: "Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." (1 Cor. 2:12, 13) In this language Paul claims for himself and others, not only to know the things freely given to them of God the things pertaining to their salvation, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit; but also that they spoke them in words which he taught them.
The apostles were inspired, not only to preach but to teach the gospel; and they taught by their writings as well as by their voices. It is unreasonable to suppose that they were not equally inspired to teach by their writings and their oral addresses. The apostle Peter classes the epistles of Paul, which form a large part of the New Testament, with the Scriptures of the Old Testament, whose inspiration we have already shown.
He says: "Our beloved brother Paul according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction." (2 Pet. 3:15, 16) The epistles of Paul are not only classed with other inspired writings, but the peril of perverting them is clearly and strongly pointed out. If Paul's epistles were divinely inspired, there can be no ground to question the inspiration of all the apostolic writings.
The apostles not merely claimed to be inspired; but furnished the most conclusive evidence of their inspiration. The author of the epistle to the Hebrews exhorted his brethren to give earnest heed to the things which they heard, and not to neglect the great salvation, which at first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed by them that heard him, (that is, the apostles), "God also bearing them witness, both with signs, and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will." (Heb. 2:1-4) It is easy to claim Divine inspiration.
Impostors have done it in all ages. Miracles are the seal and proof of inspiration. Even Jesus did not claim to be received on his own testimony. "If I bear witness of myself," said he, "my witness is not true", should not be regarded. "The works which the Father hath given me to finish, the same works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me." John 5:31, 36.
The ministry and the messages of the apostles were confirmed by miracles which only God could enable them to perform, and by signs and wonders which only he could show. The words of an apostle, in the execution of his commission, were of Divine authority. "If any man think himself," said Paul, "to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord." (1 Cor. 14:37)
It would be interesting to show how the exact truth of the writings of the New Testament is confirmed by the testimony of ancient and authentic history, by the monuments and coins which have descended to us from the early times, and by the originality and purity of the sacred Scriptures; but this is quite beyond the limit prescribed for this article.