The Authorship of the Bible
Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things. (I Peter 1:10-12)
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:19-21).
A. Spirit: Author of the Bible…….50
2. Dangerous Directions……..55
3. Theological Description…..58
a. Human authors……….59
b. Divine Author…………62
c. One Book………………65
B. Spirit: Completed Bible…………65
C. Our Response……………………72
The Bible is absolutely unique among books. Though written and authored by men, God is the primary author of the Bible. No other book has been dual-authored in this way. The Bible is not some mixture of God’s words and men’s words. It is not a book of wise sayings which can become the Word of God to us in crisis situations. Every word is the Word of the Living God through the total authorship of its human authors.
The only possible analogy for this dual authorship is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was fully and unambiguously God and also fully and unambiguously man in one, single person. We will discuss that in chapter five of Systematic Theology II. We cannot understand this dual personhood in our Lord, but we accept it because it is the overwhelming testimony of the Scriptures. Now we come to a dual-authored book, and we cannot understand how this can be one book, truly authored by God and truly authored by men at the same time. But we must accept it because, like the testimony to the full and perfect deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, it is the overwhelming testimony of the whole Bible.
The divine authorship of the entire canon of Scripture flows out of its character as revelation. The whole Bible is revelation from the Living God. Chapter one summarized part of the Scriptural testimony to the divine authorship of all revelation with special emphasis on the Bible.
Those who read only small parts of the Bible rather than the whole will have doubts about this because sometimes we read about the words of Satan and other times we read the words of men which are obviously false. But the Bible is not a book of wise sayings. It is a great Story. Every part must be read as a part of its immediate narrative context and also in the larger context of the greater Story.
But when we read the Bible we find that it was written by men. We listen to Moses, David, Isaiah, Luke, Paul, John and others. We might have expected a CD recording of God’s words to us, or even better a video. Why does God use people? Cannot he speak for himself? Do not men spoil and distort everything that they touch? Can the books of these men really be the perfect word of God without any distortion because of their sin and ignorance?
We must listen to God’s revelation in the Scriptures about the Scriptures to understand the problem and the solution of this revelation from God through sinners. This is often not done well by those who are committed to the inerrancy of the Bible. They minimize the authorship of men. It is done even more poorly by those who deny inerrancy. They cannot get past the sin and ignorance of the human authors and end up with a book that is a fallible witness to the revelation of God.
I will begin with a selection of orthodox statements, continue with a description of the persistent heresies, fit the doctrine into its narrative and metanarrative context, move on to a description of the divine-human authorship, discuss the wonderful unity of this dual-authored book, and conclude with the Spirit’s work of illumination.
THE SPIRIT AS THE AUTHOR OF SCRIPTURE
The triune God is the primary Author of Scripture. The Father speaks. The Son is the Word that he speaks. The Spirit produces the Scriptures through the full authorship of the human writers. He also effects a hearing of that Word by his work of illumination. We will look at that later. Now, we must consider the production of the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit.
“Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” II Peter 1:21). “All Scripture is God-breathed.” (II Timothy 3:16). These and other passages focus upon the Holy Spirit as the Author of the Bible. Reading the Bible whole, we recognize the Spirit as the Person of the triune God who directly touches his creatures from the inside. We read about this unique and inner work in the creature from Genesis 1:2 to Revelation 22:17. We will discuss this doctrine more fully in our study of the doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit in Systematic Theology II.
This certainly does not exclude the work of the Father and the Son.1 No work of God is done by any of the persons alone (See the study of the doctrine of the triune God below). The Father speaks. The Son acts and is the subject of all of the Bible. The Spirit works inside the human authors of Scripture to
write the exact words chosen by God through the full authorship of chosen and prepared men.
The old nineteenth century classic on Inspiration by Gaussen guided the thinking of generations of believers. He wrote:
Our object in this book is, with God’s help, and on the sole authority of his Word, to set forth, establish, and defend, the Christian doctrine of Inspiration…. The term is used for the mysterious power which the Divine Spirit put forth on the authors of the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, in order to their composing these as they have been received by the Church of God at their hands. All Scripture… is theopneustic…. Theopneustia is not a system, it is a fact, and this fact, like everything else that has taken place in the history of redemption, is one of the doctrines of our faith.
Meanwhile it is of consequence for us to say…that this miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost had not the sacred writers for its object—for these were only his instruments…but the holy books themselves…. The power then put forth on those men of God, and of which they were sensible only in very different degrees, has not been precisely defined to us. Nothing authorizes us to explain it. Scripture has never presented either its manner or its measure as an object of study. What it offers to our faith is solely the inspiration of what they say—the divinity of the book they have written
And though it be always the word of man, since they are always men who utter it, it is always, too, the word of God, seeing that it is God who superintends, employs, and guides them…. It is the book that is inspired, and altogether inspired; to be assured of this ought to satisfy us.2
The orthodox Lutheran view is described by Robert Preus in the following quotation.
Inspiration is generally defined by the dogmaticians as the act whereby God conveyed to men both the content of that which He wished to be written for man’s sake and the very words expressing that content. It connotes the communication of the content of Scripture, a communication of the words and the…command to write. Inspiration is not a general action of God like that by which He incites good works in all men. Neither is inspiration a special or advanced action of God like that by which He is present to believers, guiding and approving their actions. It is an absolutely unique and extraordinary action of God…which pertains only to Scripture.3
Warfield described inspiration as follows:
The church, then, has held from the beginning that the Bible is the Word of God in such a sense that its words, though written by men and bearing indelibly impressed upon them the marks of their human origin, were written, nevertheless, under such an influence of the Holy Ghost as to be also the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will. It has always recognized that this conception of co-authorship implies that the Spirit’s superintendence extends to the choice of words by the human authors (verbal inspiration) and preserves its product from everything inconsistent with a divine authorship—thus securing, among other things, the entire truthfulness, which is everywhere presupposed in and asserted for Scripture by the Biblical writers (inerrancy).4
Carl Henry treated the doctrine of inspiration in the twelfth thesis of his magnum opus.
The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first as the inspirer and then as the illuminator and interpreter of the scripturally given Word of God…. Inspiration is a supernatural influence upon divinely chosen prophets and apostles whereby the Spirit of God assures the truth and trustworthiness of their oral and written proclamation. Historic evangelical Christianity considers the Bible as the essential textbook because, in view of his quality, it inscripturates divinely revealed truth in verbal form.
While it is not quite correct to speak of a dual authorship or of a divine-human coauthorship of Scripture, the sacred writers were more than simply divine amanuenses, penmen or secretaries…. The Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the chosen writers involves a special confluence of the divine and human. The simultaneous agency of God and man in one and the same event, whether historical (Acts 2:23) or literary (II Peter 1:21), is a doctrine not foreign to biblical theism.5
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was published about the same time as Henry’s volumes and presents a broad consensus of conservative evangelical theology.
A SHORT STATEMENT
1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.
2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters on which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge in all that it promises.
3. The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.
Article VI — We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts,
down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.
Article VII — We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God
by His Spirit, through human authors, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us. We deny that inspiration can
be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.6
These various traditions agree that, though the Bible was written by human authors, the primary Author was the Holy Spirit. He so worked that the resulting Bible is the Word of God in the most powerful and fullest sense and that it is absolutely important truth without any lack or error.
The most obvious heresies are those that deny that God had anything to do with the production of the Bible or that deny men had little more to do than to take dictation, making the human writers mere scribes rather than authors. Few take either of these directions. Those who do are so out of touch with the Bible’s testimony to itself.
The most dangerous heresies are those which divide the responsibility for the content of the Bible between God and the human authors. The result is that the Bible becomes better and more authoritative and trustworthy than the work of humans alone, but significantly less authoritative and trustworthy than it would be if it were all the pure Word of God.
A LIBRARY OF HUMAN BOOKS
Anyone who comes to the Bible as an outsider will assume from the beginning that this is just another human book, or library of human books. This is especially true in the modern age when divine revelation is not considered an option for intelligent people. Readers who are committed to other religions will read these books in the same way. In a world filled with books that claim to be the truth, why should this one be unique?
Farley and Hodgson wrote about this totally human bible.
Our thesis is that scripture and tradition are vehicles of ecclesial process by means of which the originative event of Christian faith is able to endure as normative and to function redemptively in the transformation of human existence. Implicit in this thesis is a rejection of the traditional way of understanding the church as primarily a community of revelation…. Rather we have to look to the character of the writings themselves as comprising intrinsic literary and theological power to evoke a fresh disclosure of God and consequent redemptive transformation of human existence…. Writings having these qualities came to be regarded as ‘scripture’ within the Christian community. Obviously no hard and fast line may be drawn between the writings called ‘scripture’ and other early Christian literature. God saves through the historical manifestation of human possibility, not from history or in spite of it. God does not ‘cause’ or ‘control’ these manifestations, nor does
any sort of direct identity exist between what God wills and specific historical occurrences.7
But these men have read the Bible from the perspective of their own agenda. They have not listened and become disciples The truth lies in the reading of the entire library, carefully and more than once. If any book really does tell the truth, one will find it by reading with care and attention and without any previous commitments. C. S. Lewis wrote:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic —on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He did not leave that option open to us. He did not intend to.8
The same is true of the Bible. One cannot say that this is a great human book. It is either the Word of the Creator of the cosmos or it is a book of lies. There is no middle ground. We will have no patronizing nonsense about this being a great human book. God did not leave that option open to us. He did not intend to do so.
A BOOK OF DIVINE PROPOSITIONS
Ever since the Bible was divided into verses for ease of reference many have treated it as a collection of wise sayings and eternal truths. We read and memorized “good verses”. We claimed a “life verse”. We proved our convictions by “proof-texts”. We preached on verses. In the twentieth century, conservatives had to stress the literal truth of biblical propositions against those who emptied the Bible of meaning in a wrong-headed metaphorical reading of the Bible. The scholars of the “Jesus Seminar” were prone to attribute wise sayings to Jesus and little else got their approval.
Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, deeply impacted by modernism, preached and taught the great propositions of the Bible and used the biblical narratives as examples, illustrations or as stories for children.
But all of the Bible is the Word of God and the propositions flow out of the narratives and the metanarrative. We lose the radical uniqueness of the Bible when we begin with the propositions. We lose the truth of the narratives when we forget the propositions. The Bible is more than its propositions. It is also more than its narratives. It is an “interpreted metanarrative”.
Many of us who are fully committed to the full divine authorship of the Bible take this position because the propositions seem to come directly from the mouth of God, uninfluenced by human contamination. We fear real human authorship because we are not sure that we can retain God’s authorship if we permit the human writers to be also authors.
Since the Bible is not merely a human collection of books nor a series of divine propositions uninfluenced by human authorship, we seem to be left with some kind of dual-authorship, some kind of cooperation between God and the human authors.
There are a large number of contemporary positions that allow God some measure of authorship that is less than full and active sovereignty. Some teach an inspiration like that of the literary giants. Some teach God’s guidance which guaranteed truth in all matters of faith and practice but not in history, science and numbers.
Some would divide the Bible into parts that are from God such as the ten commandments and the words of Jesus, and other parts such as the arguments of Job’s friends, the wisdom literature and some of the prophet’ and apostles’ unacceptable teachings are regarded as being from the human authors.
Once anyone accepts one of these partial inspiration views, there does not seem to be any criteria for deciding where our doctrine of inspiration should be located on this continuum of options. It is normally decided on the basis of individual preference. Proponents of these views want the Scriptures to have the significance that comes from divine authorship, but they also want to be able to reject parts of the canon that they do not like, and so propose that the latter are the result of human ignorance.
All of the various views on this continuum have in common a false theology of the relationships between God and man. They cannot understand that the relationships between Creator and creature in his image are radically different from any other personal relationship. God can be sovereign in giving us the Scriptures without in any way hindering the full authorship of prophets and apostles. Human sin and ignorance does not hinder his speaking the perfect truth through these men.
Karl Barth and many of his followers have viewed the Scriptures as a record of past existential encounters with God. These records may not be true in themselves but are descriptions of the meetings with God of prophets and apostles. As such, they may become the occasion for our encounter with God.
Revelation is then an existential encounter. The Bible is a record or witness of valid encounters with the Living God. The Scriptures are then a fully human book with all of the attending problems and weaknesses. But they are the ultimate place for our meeting God in this age. This view certainly stands a significant distance from the biblical self-testimony.
THEOLOGICAL DESCRIPTION OF INSPIRATION
The Calvinistic-Arminian controversy is replayed in this doctrine. Calvinistic readers of the Bible emphasize the total sovereignty of God in the production of the Scriptures and try to make some kind of human authorship fit with His absolute authorship. Arminian readers of the Bible emphasize the authentic human authorship and try to fit God into the process in subordination to the integrity of the human authorship. If God is the primary Author, then the human authors seem to be pens in His hand or complex computers operated by Him. If humans are true authors, then, it seems that God must respect that and their wills and their sin and their ignorance will make the final result somewhat less than God had wanted.
Both Calvinists and Arminians assume a rather simple relationship between the divine and human authorships after the pattern of relationships between creatures. One or the other must be primary author. If it is God, then the human authorship is limited. If it is man then the divine authorship is limited. Dual-authorship must be a some kind of cooperation between God and men.
But, since God is our Creator and Sustainer, the problem is much more complex than this. God has established a double relationship with us. On the one hand he gives us being and continues to give us existence every instant. We depend upon his gift of grace every instant for existence, for our gifts, our choices, our thoughts and acts. God’s total sovereignty over every thought and act is necessary for our existence, the reality of our choices and the integrity of our personhood.
On the other hand, God has created us as persons in his image and likeness. As such he respects the reality of our choices and the integrity of our personhood. He interacts with us in history. He takes our actions so seriously that they determine our future in eternal hell or in heaven and on the new earth with him forever.
Since both of these are true, the word “cooperation” and the phrase “dual-authorship” take on whole new and unique meanings. This is no cooperation of equals, each of which contribute 50%. It is not a cooperation of a great person and a lesser person with 99% and 1% contributions. It is rather a unique relationship where God contributes 100% as Creator and co-worker, and men contribute 100% as creature and co-worker. God’s 100% is not a competitor to our participation, but is rather the absolutely necessary foundation for any freedom and contribution on our part.
THE HUMAN AUTHORS
There is no doubt that the Scriptures were written by men. There are thousands of passages which testify that Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, or any one of many others wrote these sixty-six books of the Bible.
We who are committed to God’s authorship have little problem with the fact that various men wrote the Bible. But we have had a difficult time accepting full authorship. The early and medieval church was so convinced that God was the only Author of Scripture that they viewed the human writers as passive “quills” in the hand of God. They taught a strong view of the “dictation” theory of inspiration. Of course, they were partly correct. As far as the results were concerned, the human authors were mere tools in God’s hand. God was the primary Author. He was totally sovereign in the act of “inspiration”. They were “Docetists” in their view of the production and nature of Scripture. That is, they minimized the humanity of the Bible as some have minimized the humanity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Others have minimized the divine authorship, but we will look at their position in the following section.
Modern exegetes have recognized the marks of a real human authorship. They rejected the naive and simplistic Docetic view of the earlier church. They took Luke seriously when he described his own authorial project:
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)
They also listened to Paul’s struggle to remember who he baptized in a little monologue which sounds like anything other than dictation:
I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanus; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else). (I Corinthians 1:14-15).
When we read these and other Scriptures, it is clear and obvious that the human writers were normally serious authors, much more than secretaries taking dictation from God.
But there are some places where the human authors do take dictation. God’s ten commands from mount Sinai were dictated. The prophets often are given the words that they must preach. Jesus dictates much of what John is to write in the book of Revelation. Any doctrine of inspiration needs to be aware of the great diversity of relationships of the human authors to God.
We must recognize then that God relates to the human authors in several different ways. A reading of the whole Bible reminds us that we ought not simplify these relationships
Gaussen’s great nineteenth century classic Theopneustia summarizes the orthodox position on human authorship.
The individuality of the sacred writers, so profoundly stamped on the books they have respectively written, seems to many impossible to be reconciled with a plenary inspiration. No one can say they, can read the Scriptures without being struck with the differences of language, conception, and style, discernible in their authors, so that even were the titles of the several books to give us no intimation that we were passing from one author to another, still we should almost instantly discover, from the change of their character, that we had no longer to do with the same writer, but that a new personage had taken the pen…. Observing from each of them, how much his views of the truth, his reasonings, and his language, have been influenced by his habits, his condition in life, his genius, his education, his recollections—all the circumstances, in short, that have acted upon his outer and inner man. They tell us what they saw, and just as they saw it. Their memory is put into requisition, their imagination is called into exercise, their affections are drawn out—their whole being is at work.9
A reading of the Bible which is attentive to style and language recognizes that the various human authors had their own writing style and their own vocabulary. Had God dictated all of the Bible, it would seem that it would be his style and vocabulary that would dominate and that the whole Bible would have his distinctive style.
But a reading of the four prophets of the latter half of the eighth century: Amos and Hosea to Israel and Micah and Isaiah to Judah shows the uniqueness of each of these authors. They were all speaking the Word of Yahweh to God’s people in a time of disobedience and judgment, but anyone who regularly reads these men would have no trouble deciding who wrote a paragraph or a chapter. Isaiah, for instance, is an artist with words. He writes with high dignity. Amos lacks both this high style and dignity. We are not surprised to hear him describe the rich ladies of Bethel as “cows”. We could not imagine Isaiah doing that.
A beginner in Greek can become overly impressed with his or her ability to read and translate Greek when working with the writings of John. He normally uses a simple vocabulary and grammar. But a move to Paul’s writings reminds us that not many authors have as simple a style as John. But after we learn how to read Paul, and move on to the book of Hebrews, we find a whole new level of style, structure, and vocabulary. It seems obvious that while Paul dictated his books to an amanuensis (For example, Tertius in Romans 16:22, “I Tertius who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord.”), whoever wrote Hebrews carefully constructed his book with several rewrites. All of these men were true authors who did research, selected writing styles, chose their vocabulary, and took great care in constructing their books.
The biblical authors were true authors and not mere transcribers. Their writing styles and experiences color all that they wrote. This does not distort God’s message through them. One theologian said that the human authors were like the various shapes and colors in a stained glass window. The light of the sun shines through them and is changed by those shapes and colors. So, he concluded, God’s pure Word is changed by the human authors into something quite different from what he intended. But what if God made the stain-glass windows? What if he intended these human styles, experiences, vocabularies, etc. Then, the result would not be a distortion, but exactly what God intended to produce through these men.
We do not honor God by denying the reality and significance of human authorship. In fact we dishonor him because we have failed to listen to his Word about itself. We need to take seriously all of these facets of human authorship s when we listen to God in the Bible and when we interpret these books.
THE DIVINE AUTHOR
Full human authorship does not limit God in the production of the Scriptures. It is not as if he is unable to say all that he wants to saybecause of some ignorance, sin, or interference of the human authors. Our Creator and Sustainer can accomplish his perfect will through the total activity of humans. He is fully sovereign in his giving of the Bible. Peter wrote:
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came from the Majestic Glory, saying: ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’ We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain.
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain and you will do well to pay attention to it, as a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (II Peter 1:16-21).
Peter compares the word he heard from heaven at the transfiguration with the Scriptures of the New Testament (and the Old Testament as well). It would be easy to think that it would be far better to be on the mount of transfiguration, seeing Jesus glorified, seeing Moses and Elijah, and hearing the Father speak from heaven than to read the account in the Bible. But the reverse is the case.
The fear, shock, sensory overload of the transfiguration experience left Peter, James, and John uncertain. Not knowing what to say, Peter suggested that they build three tents for Jesus, Elijah, and Moses, and immediately recognized his foolishness. Not knowing what to do, the disciples went to sleep. Jesus told them not to tell the others what happened on the mount. The disciples for once agreed. No one would believe them anyway. Stupid suggestions and going to sleep were not really things that they wanted to talk about. They were not sure what had happened.
But now God had told them what had happened and what it meant. They had the record in the Gospels. It was much better than being there. It was much more certain. So Peter reminds his listeners that only when God selects and interprets an event, do we really know what happened.
Prophecy (the production of the Scriptures) did not have its origin in the will of the human authors, but in the will of God. God’s sovereignty figuratively “picks up the human authors and carries them along” in the production of the Bible. The purpose of this statement is not to deny all human authorship, but to give a powerful stress to the fact of the divine sovereignty in the human authors of the Bible.
Paul also wrote about the production of the Bible.
But, as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed
and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. In the presence of God and of Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge; Preach the Word. (II Timothy 3:14-4:2)
Paul reminds us that every part of the Bible is the Word of God. “God-breathed” is the most powerful way to say that God has spoken and is speaking in these words of prophets and apostles. As we breathe words through our voice boxes, the Spirit of God breathed the Scriptures through the human authors. Every passage of the Bible is the Word of God in the same way as was his voice from heaven at Sinai speaking the ten commandments.
Because the Scriptures are the very words of God, they accomplish great thing. They are powerful to change lives. Because they are the word of God, we must preach them to a world that has lost its way.
This doctrine of the divine authorship of the Bible does not depend upon these two passages alone, though they would be sufficient. These passages are only summaries of many hundreds of passages that say the same thing: “The Lord said”, the word of the Lord came to me, saying”, and many other such passages. The evidence is overwhelming. Warfield has listed many of these passages and described their significance for us. 10
Jesus gave powerful evidence of his belief that the Scriptures of the Old Testament were the Word of God. His whole life was given “in order that the Scriptures may be fulfilled.” The book of Hebrews continually quotes the words of Moses and others as the word of God:
For to which of the angels did God ever say, Your are my Son, today I have become your Father (the words of David in Psalm 2, Hebrews 1:5)
And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, Let
all the angels of God worship him (Hebrews 1:6)
In speaking of the angels he says, He makes his angels winds , his
servants flames of fire. (Hebrews 1:7)
Or about the Son he says; Your throne O God will last forever and ever…. (Hebrews 1:8)
These are only a few of many passages in which the book bypasses the human authors and attributes their words to God. If we read the Bible whole, these passages do not surprise us, because they are its constant testimony.
We ought not go to an extreme and ignore the human authorship, as many have done. This is an unbiblical “Docetism” (See the Christological controversies in chapter five of the Systematic Theology notes). Nor do we follow those who deny the full deity of the whole of the Scriptures. That is an unbiblical “Arianism”.
Whenever God and man meet, we have a mystery beyond our understanding. We must accept both the full divine authorship and the full human authorship of the Bible even if this does not seem reasonable. What is unreasonable is to assume that it cannot be true unless we can readily understand it, unless we can find a simple analogy of it. God’s sovereignty in authoring the Scriptures is no competitor to real human authorship. It is rather its absolutely necessary foundation.
THE UNITY OF THE BOOK
The Symbol of Chalcedon11 confessed that Jesus Christ is fully God, fully man in one person. It located the mystery in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, stated the things that we must say, and the things that we must not say. It was a brilliant statement and deserves our careful study.
The pastors who gave us this symbol also gave us a powerful tool for understanding the full divine and human authorship of the Bible in a single book. We who confess its divine and human authorship do not go through it saying: this part was authored by God” and “This part was authored by a man”. Rather we confess that every word was authored by God and by man. We must treat the book this way.
We sin by forgetting the divine authorship and the divine authorial intent of every passage that we study. We sin by forgetting the human authorship and authorial intent of every passage that we study. We sin if we try to distinguish what is from God and what is from man. We must read this book in a way that we can never read any other book ever written. We will attempt to model this in our doing of all of Systematic Theology.
THE SPIRIT AND THE COMPLETED BIBLE
The Holy Spirit who breathed the Scriptures through the human authors does not stop with the production of the Bible. He goes on to complete the message from God to people by producing hearers.
Inspiration and canon are inseparable. What the Spirit inspires is canon. When the Spirit stops his work of inspiring the canon is completed. He gave us the Old Testament books and stopped with Ezra. He gave us the New Testament books and stopped with John. He then became active in Israel and in the Church to guide them in their recognition of the canonical books. I will deal further with canon in chapter four below.
The Scriptures are the word of the triune God to those who will listen to him. With Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden, the entire human race chose to shut their ears and refuse to listen to God. Every time that we sin, we give our vote for Adam’s sin. Every time that we go a day without delighting in reading a significant part of the Bible we give our vote to Adam’s refusal to listen to God. A part of God’s word to us then is an opening of our closed ears. It was necessary before sin for the Spirit to complete God’s words to Adam. It is infinitely more necessary for that completion of revelation now that we have chosen not to listen.
Full communication takes place only when we have heard, believed, and obeyed what God has said to us. There was an old cartoon featuring a boy and his dog, Spot. This particular cartoon has three boxes. In the first, the boy brags to his friend: “I taught Spot how to whistle!” In the second box, the friend is listening, but Spot is not whistling. In the third box, Spot’s master says: “I said that I taught him how to whistle. I didn’t say that he learned.” In the same way, God’s full revelation to us is only complete when we have heard and responded positively.
The Bible is revelation whether we hear or not. But the Holy Spirit does complete that message from the Father about the Son who is the Word, by changing our hearts to make us hearers of that word. Jesus concluded the parable of the Sower with the words: “He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9). Later, in dictating the letters to the seven churches, Jesus concluded each letter with the same thought: “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29, 3:6, 13, and 22).
In his work of illumination, the Holy Spirit completes the work that he began when he breathed that Scripture through the human authors. The one who produced the Scriptures is the same one who produces a hearing of the Scriptures.
Illumination is not new revelation, whispered guidance, nor an inner conviction of the meaning of a passage of Scripture which makes hard study unnecessary. It is not merely an intellectual work, but a work of transformation, convicting of sin, giving repentance and faith, regenerating, and sanctifying. Illumination is thus not separate from these other works of the Holy Spirit. All of the above works are essential to illumination. He does not illuminate apart from new life, repentance, faith, sanctification, and the fruit of the Spirit. It is the Spirit’s work in opening deaf ears to hear what God is saying, opening blind eyes to see the truth of God, and giving new hearts to believe and obey the truth revealed.
A popular saying of the Reformation period is often quoted, and seldom referenced: “Without the Spirit, the Bible is a dead letter. Without the Word, the Spirit is mute.” This can be misused. Certainly, the Bible is truth in itself and is also self-authenticating. But, both because the Bible is always a present and personal revelation and because of our sin and rebellion against God and truth, we need the Spirit to counter our rebellion and to contemporize God’s Word to us. Certainly the Spirit can speak outside of the Scriptures, but the pattern of his ministry is through the Bible. He does not ordinarily speak outside of it. We will discuss this further in the doctrine of the person and work of the Holy Spirit.
Man in the natural state is unable to recognize and respond to divine truth. When regeneration takes place, however, the spectacles of faith vastly improve one’s spiritual eyesight. Even after regeneration, however, there is a need for progressive growth which we usually call sanctification. In addition, the Holy Spirit works internally in the life of the believer, witnessing to the truth and countering the effects of sin, so the inherent meaning of the Bible can be seen.12 (John Calvin, Institutes, book one, chapters 7 and 9).
Otto Weber described the newness of this doctrine as it replaced the Roman Catholic theology of the Church as the teacher and authenticator of Scripture.
The doctrine of the inward testimony of the Holy Spirit in both its detailed form and in the central position which Calvin ascribed to it is the only really new development which Reformation theology produced in regard to the establishment of the authority of Scripture.13
Bernard Ramm reminds us of the need for care and discernment when discussing this doctrine. His book on The Witness of the Spirit gives a careful and extensive treatment of the testimonium of the Spirit. This book is the most careful discussion of this them available to us.
Among all the points of doctrine which distinguish the Reformed churches from the church of Rome on the one hand and the sects on the other hand, the doctrine of the inner witness of the Holy Spirit is perhaps one of the most delicate to grasp and one of the most difficult to discuss.14
Don Matheny wrote a nice summary of this doctrine in his class notes for his summer course in Doctrine at the Grand Rapids Baptist Seminary.
Illumination is the redemptive transformation of a person by the Holy Spirit through the Word of God which enables that person to have a capacity for the understanding and practical application of the truth of the Bible. It is a turning on of the light. Illumination is the supernatural enablement by the Holy Spirit in the heart of a person to make possible the forming of a throughly Christian epistemology. It answers the question; ‘How do we know that we know?” 15
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy states:
The Holy Spirit, Scripture’s divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning…. We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word. We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture. (Short Statement #3 and Affirmation and Denial # XVII).
Bernard Ramm (who reminded us of the discernment needed in discussing this doctrine above) gave a careful and extensive treatment of the testimonium of the Holy Spirit in his The Witness of the Spirit. It deserves careful attention because it explores the whole doctrine more carefully than others have done. He wrote:
Man’s real difficulty is that he is spiritually blind; the truth of God does not impress the sinful mind for what it is. Sinful man always equivocates the truth one way or another. The remedy does not consist in attempting to outwit his equivocations. The remedy consists in the restoration of spiritual vision ans sight, of the opening of ears and eyes resulting in an intuition of the truth of God.
The testimonium is, then, no audible voice; no sudden explanation that the Bible is the Word of God; no miracle removing us out of our normal routine of creaturely existence; no sudden surge of a religious emotion; no revelation with flashing lights and new ideas; no religious experience as such; no creation of some special organ of spiritual vision, but rather, it is the touch of the Holy Spirit upon native and resident powers of the soul which had been rendered ineffectual through sin. It is an opening of the eyes resulting in an intuition of seeing; it is the unplugging of the ears resulting in an intuition of hearing. It is the removal of a veil; it is light dispelling darkness. It is illumination granting the powers of spiritual perception. The total inward man now sees revelation, he intuits truth as truth; he hears Scripture as the truth of God. The testimonium acts with the simplicity of seeing or hearing; and results in the certainty of can object clearly seen or a sound distinctly heard.
Only the Holy Spirit can make the printed page the Word of Life; only the Holy Spirit can make the historical Christ a present person; only the Holy
Spirit can make theological notions saving truths; and only the Holy Spirit an move the mind out of historical probability into divine certainty.16
Roman Catholicism has replaced the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit with the magisterium or teaching authority of the Church. This gives both the only trustworthy interpretation of Scripture and the certainty of the truth of Scripture.
Some Anabaptists, most Pentecostalists and Charismatics, some Holiness groups, Evangelical, and Fundamentalists make illumination into new revelation with God’s words of guidance and phrases like; “The Lord told me….”
Many in the Modern, Enlightenment age replaced illumination with reason, apologetics and historical/grammatical exegesis. By these methods one could know what the Scriptures said and have assurance of their truth apart from any specific work of illumination.
Karl Barth and many of his followers turned illumination into revelation. The Bible was viewed as an imperfect witness to the truth. Only when the Spirit made a passage of the Bible real to the reader did the Bible then become the Word of God.
A BIBLICAL FOUNDATION
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” (Acts 16:13-14).
He (Jesus) said to them, ‘This is what I said while I was still with you; Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so that they could understand the Scriptures. (Luke 24:44-45).
Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of the sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. (Romans 8:5-7).
We have not received the mind of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us…. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:12-14)
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the glory of the gospel of Christ…. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has made his light to shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God in the face of Christ. (II Corinthians 4:4-6).
Peter gave a great confession in response to Jesus’ question: “Who do you say I am?” Peter responded: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Jesus replied: “…this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” Peter had heard these words from Andrew, from John the Baptist and from Jesus himself. Now, his hesitations and problems are overcome by the illuminating work of God. Luke reminds us that this is in response to Jesus’ prayer that immediately preceded the original question (Luke 9:18).
THE PATTERN OF ILLUMINATION
I. The Father speaks to us
II. The Son is the content of the Father’s message to us
III. The Spirit effects an obedient hearing in us
B. He convicts of sin
C. He convicts of the truth of the Bible
D. He convicts of the attractiveness of Jesus Christ & the Gospel
1. He gives us ears to hear God’s word
2. He gives us submission to the message from God
3. He gives us certitude that
4. The Scriptures are true, clear, sufficient, and powerful
5. God is real, holy, gracious, and trustworthy
6. We are God’s children
7. He gives us understanding of the Scriptures
8. Regular reading of the whole Bible
9. Hard study of the Bible
10. Sermons, books, etc.
11. Spiritual growth
So, illumination is not a separate work of the Holy Spirit which guarantees an accurate interpretation of the Scriptures. Nor is it some special guidance of the Holy Spirit in the lives and ministries of believers.
Illumination is a part of God’s work of revelation and this is integrally related to his work of conversion, regeneration, and sanctification. Knowledge and holiness are not separable in God’s revelation to us. One cannot hear and understand the Bible apart from a growing trust and obedience. The Spirit’s work of illumination cannot be separated from the “fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23).
The Holy Spirit is God working within us and within all of our thinking, emoting, choosing and acting. As the Father relates to us primarily in his transcendence (“Our Father in heaven” — Matthew 6:9), so the Son and the Holy Spirit relate to primarily in immanence. The Son comes down to be “God-with-us”. The Holy Spirit comes down to be “God-in-us”. So the Spirit does not relate to us by speaking to us or by our praying to him. Rather he works in us and through our total activity.
So, his illumination is not a voice in our mind telling us what to do or how to interpret the Bible. He works through our reading of the Bible, our careful study of it, and our meditation upon it. He works through our disciplined study and our faith and obedience. Our knowledge of the Bible grows as we ask for this kind of help and then do everything we can in total dependence upon him.
Illumination is not an alternative to study. It is an encouragement to reading, trust, obedience, and holiness. In this sequence we grow into an understanding of the message of the Bible.
OUR RESPONSE IN LIFE, WORSHIP AND MINISTRY
But there were false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (II Peter 2:1).
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. (II Timothy 4:1-3)
Chapter divisions have too often blinded us to the fact that the above passages follow the great descriptions of the production of the Scriptures in II Peter 1:19-21 and II Timothy 3:16-17. Peter describes all who teach anything different from the whole Bible as “false prophets” who refuse the truth and bring in heresies. Paul reminds Timothy that he must preach the Word to people who will want something less or something more that will meet their felt needs. Both Peter and Paul demand complete submission to the whole Bible which stands in powerful contradiction to our lives, desires and felt needs.