by Doug Smith
Many employers provide workers with a handbook for their job. This handbook is an authority that contains rules and procedures to be followed. These handbooks can be helpful, but they may also contain mistakes and need revision.
The Bible is also a book with authority, but it derives its authority from the absolutely perfect God Who is the Author. It is inspired, unlike any merely human book, and it needs no revision since there are no errors. The inspiration and authority of the Bible is taught in the Scripture itself, and is confirmed by no less an authority than the Lord Jesus Christ, in His own words.
THE BASIS OF THIS CLAIM
There are at least two ways one could proceed in a study of the inspiration and authority of Scripture. The first way is to assume the Bible’s reliability and quote it to prove that it is inspired and authoritative. The second way is to demonstrate its basic reliability and show that it makes these claims. This essay will approach the subject in the second way, because one of the duties of the pastor is to shut the mouths of false teachers (Titus 1:9, 11), who would not assume the Bible’s reliability if they argued against its inspiration and authority. Many false teachers speak about the importance of Jesus but then flatly deny the very claims He makes about the Scriptures. The pastor should demonstrate that one cannot separate the person of Jesus from the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
Therefore, one must answer a common objection, specifically, that the use of the Bible’s words to prove its own inerrancy is circular reasoning. Some dismiss the Bible’s own claim of its inerrancy on these very grounds, so one must consider whether this charge is legitimate.
Generally speaking, circular reasoning does not prove anything. At the most, it simply reasserts a claim. If a teenager says that a certain musical group is the best because every other group is worse, he has not proven anything to anyone. A similar example would be defining a word by using that same word in the definition. If one found a dictionary that defined the word “elephant” as “elephant,” it would not be found helpful, since it would present no new information. When one says that the Bible is inspired and authoritative because the Bible says so, this statement appears unhelpful to critics. But is there an exception to this general rule about the invalidity of circular reasoning?
The exception that would permit a circular argument is when one appeals to a final, undisputed authority. However, the critics would argue that the Bible cannot be said to be the final authority. So, how does one go about convincing others that the Bible is the final authority?
To establish that the Bible is the final authority on what one must believe and do, evidence must be found that the Bible is basically reliable. One must make the case for the authenticity of the New Testament, the historicity of Christ’s resurrection, and the implications of that event for proving Who He is and what He said about the Scriptures.
First of all, the abundant evidence for the authenticity of the New Testament documents must be considered. There are over 5,000 manuscripts and portions of copies of the New Testament – many more than any other ancient document. There is more evidence for the existence of Jesus and the early church than there is for the existence of Julius Caesar! Not only is there more evidence in sheer numbers, but the fact that several manuscripts date only decades away from the original writings gives additional reason to believe that these documents are not forgeries crafted centuries later, but are authentic. In addition, these documents are quoted in outside sources such as the early church fathers.
The New Testament documents make the amazing claim that Jesus died and physically rose again from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Furthermore, they make the claim that this event was witnessed by other individuals, on several occasions, giving what would be ample evidence for even a modern court to consider (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). Over five hundred saw him on one occasion (1 Corinthians 15:6). To make such a claim is to invite careful scrutiny that could prove or disprove the claim. When the New Testament was written, people were still alive who had seen the risen Christ (1 Corinthians 15:6). Although some tried to deny the bodily resurrection with the assertion that the disciples stole Jesus’ body, this is never repeated after Matthew 28:11-15. (No one even came up with the idea advanced in modern times that Jesus only appeared to be dead but revived and moved the stone himself as a man who had just survived crucifixion!) It was a proven fact that Jesus rose from the dead. Furthermore, the followers of Jesus gave their lives for the risen Christ – not something they would have done if they believed His resurrection was a lie.
So, if one accepts the historicity of the resurrection as the reliable New Testament documents presents it, then one must examine the implications of the resurrection. The resurrection declared Jesus to be the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). Jesus Himself had made the claim that He was God (John 8:58), and the people understood what He was claiming, because they tried to stone Him for blasphemy since they did not believe. Only if He was God could Jesus predict with accuracy His death and resurrection. If one understands God, by definition, to be perfect and trustworthy, then if one accepts the claim of Jesus and the evidence provided by the resurrection that He is God, then what Jesus says can be trusted. [cf. Henry Virkler’s adaptation of R. C. Sproul’s argument in Hermeneutics: Principles and Processes of Biblical Interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1981), 43.]
So, what then does Jesus say about the Scriptures?
JESUS ON THE CANON OF SCRIPTURE – WHAT BOOKS?
First, Jesus explicitly endorsed the Hebrew Scriptures, or Old Testament. Luke 24:44 gives a clear testimony: “And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.” The law, the prophets, and the psalms are identical with the three-fold division and order of the Hebrew Scriptures, which contains 22 or 24 books that correspond directly to the 39 books in English Old Testaments (the discrepancies in numbers occur because the Jews did not have a I and II Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, etc., but had those books joined; Ezra-Nehemiah is not two, but one book in the Jewish Bible, therefore the different numbers refer to the same amount and content of Scripture). Although the books are the same, the order in the Hebrew Scriptures is different from the English order, with the Hebrew concluding with the books of Chronicles. This Hebrew order is consistent with Jesus’ words, “from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias” in Matthew 23:35 (cf. Luke 11:51), in which he references individuals from the books of Genesis (4:8) and 2 Chronicles (24:21).
Second, Jesus implicitly endorsed the New Testament, the writing of which was future when He spoke of the teaching the apostles would receive. Jesus explicitly gave authority to the apostles when He said in John 13:20, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me.” He promised to send the Holy Spirit to teach the apostles, guiding them into all truth and teaching the things of Christ to them (John 14:26; 15:26-27; 16:12-15). Out of the teaching and revelation the apostles received came the writing of the Gospels, history of God’s work in the early church, the epistles, and the book of Revelation. Every book of the New Testament is either written by an apostle or a close associate (such as Mark and Luke).
JESUS ON THE QUALITY OF THE BOOKS
Jesus’ words and actions indicate that He believed in the unwavering trustworthiness, accuracy, and authority of Scripture. He believed that God’s written Word was incapable of error. He taught that the God’s Word had been and would continue to be faithfully transmitted and preserved. When Satan tempted Jesus, He responded by quoting Scripture, making God’s Word His final authority (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 12). In Matthew 22:29, He spoke of those who did “err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” The idea is that the Scriptures would have kept them from making an error, so, the Scriptures must be inerrant, according to Jesus. In John 10:35, Jesus states that “the scripture cannot be broken.” He said, “Verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). Jesus affirmed even the smallest stroke of the pen in each letter of the law to be from God. He said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). We still have these words preserved in Scripture.
THE CLAIMS OF THE APOSTLES
The apostolic claims about Scripture are derived from Jesus’ authority and the Spirit’s inspiration, which Jesus promised.
Jesus said to the apostles, “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (Matthew 10:40, cf. John 13:20), showing that the one who accepted His messengers accepted God.
Furthermore, Jesus promised that the Spirit of God would grant further revelation to the apostles. Speaking to the apostles, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would “bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said to you” (John 14:26); that “the Spirit of truth … shall testify of Me” (John 15:26) and “ye also shall bear witness” (John 15:27). He also promised that “the Spirit of truth” would guide them “into all truth,” even showing “things to come” and giving them more knowledge (John 16:13-15).
Jesus’ promise of God’s Spirit to guide the apostles into all truth is His endorsement of the New Testament writings. The New Testament writings claim that Scripture’s source is God the Holy Spirit and that these writings bear witness to the truth.
THE BIBLE ON THE INSPIRATION OF THE BIBLE
Having established that our understanding of the Bible is based on the person of Jesus, and that He taught that the Scripture is from God, we are better prepared to examine the Scripture’s claims about itself.
The apostle Paul wrote that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). All Scripture is the product of God. This means every word of the whole Scripture come from God (the meaning of plenary, verbal inspiration). Both Old and New Testaments have God as their source. Paul quoted from both the Old and New Testaments in 1 Timothy 5:18, referring to Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7 as Scripture. “Given by inspiration” translates a word, theopneustos, which literally means “breathed out.” The Bible’s ultimate source is God, and it is useful, necessary, and sufficient to provide everything God’s man needs to do what God has called him to do.
The Bible is God’s book, but it is also a human book. Although the Bible’s ultimate source is God, it did come through the agency of men. Scripture presents itself as the writings of men controlled by the Holy Spirit as a wind blows a sailboat on the sea. The apostle Peter, who referred to the epistles of Paul as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16), wrote this about inspiration in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 indicate that Scripture is a product of God’s Spirit; it is inspired. Inspiration refers to the original writings themselves, not to the men who wrote (who made plenty of mistakes in their lives), nor to translations of their writings. Inspiration refers to the writings that the original human authors actually penned. Those original writings are called autographs.
This inspiration resulted in completely accurate, since the ultimate Author, God, is truthful and perfect.
Inspiration includes inerrancy
Inerrancy means that the Scriptures contain no errors. This is the clear implication of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 22:29: “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures, nor the power of God.” According to what Jesus said, Scripture, by definition, does not have error.
At one time, many who held Jesus’ view of Scripture as having no errors would have referred to it as infallible. However, the term “inerrancy” became a better term for distinguishing a high view of Scripture when the term “infallible” was redefined several decades ago by theologians who claimed that the Scriptures were infallible on matters of faith and practice while still containing errors. [Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 93.] This redefinition is a major problem, as “infallible” has historically meant “incapable of error” and is a stronger term than “inerrant” which means “contains no error.” Adam was created upright and without error, and for a time was inerrant. But he was not infallible, otherwise he would not have sinned. (The author of this paper cannot be infallible in this life, but he can be inerrant from time to time – making a perfect score on a test, for example.) When one says “inerrant,” that does not imply that the Bible could have had an error. However, “inerrant” does seem weaker than the term “infallible,” which certainly exalted the Scripture as not only without error but as not having the ability to err, according to the historic understanding of the word “infallible” and not the recent redefinition.
Those who redefined “infallibility” sometimes argued for a “limited inerrancy” – that the Scripture is only inerrant on matters of faith, not necessarily on historical and scientific details. However, if all Scripture is “profitable,” how could mistaken details about history and science be profitable? A “limited inerrancy” is inconsistent with the Bible’s teaching. Gordon Clark raised the penetrating question: if the Bible errs in statements about its own inerrancy, how can we have any confidence that it correctly teaches us about God? [Gordon Clark, Inerrancy, audio cassette message distributed by Chapel Library (a ministry of Mount Zion Bible Church, 2603 West Wright Street, Pensacola, Florida 32505).] In other words, if Scripture not truly inerrant, then it is not truly trustworthy. An attack on inerrancy is an attack on the character of God, who cannot lie (Hebrews 6:18).
To further understand the Biblical teaching about inerrancy, one must correct several potential misunderstandings about the concept that the Bible is without error.
First, inerrancy does not mean that no mistakes are recorded in the Scripture. Scripture contains some false statements, but that is in the context of reporting what people said. In so reporting, the Scripture does so accurately.
Second, inerrancy does not alter the purpose of Scripture to being a science textbook. However, a truly inerrant book must be accurate on all matters. This accuracy must not be confused with exact precision, since such devices as “rounded” numbers are sometimes used. But rounded numbers does not negate inerrancy. Figurative language does not undermine inerrancy either. It is commonly accepted in modern times to speak in round numbers and figures of speech. When one says that the sun rose this morning, he is not usually attacked as being unscientific, since we know what is meant by that figurative expression.
Third, the doctrine of inerrancy does not abolish the human element in the writing of Scripture. The Bible is a human book as well as a divine book and includes evidence of the personality of the human authors. Yet God inspired this book with no errors, an unlikely feat for with so many authors over so long a period of time! As John Piper has written,
An evangelical believes that God humbled himself not only in the incarnation of the Son, but also in the inspiration of the Scriptures. The manger and the cross were not sensational. Neither are grammar and syntax. But that is how God chose to reveal Himself…There are no distinctively divine language conventions. That is, when God spoke through men, he did not always use the same language or the [page break] same style or the same vocabulary. Rather all the evidence points to the fact that God always availed himself of the language, style, vocabulary, and peculiar usages of individual Biblical writers. Even in the prophetic speeches where God is directly quoted there are language traits that distinguish one author from another. [John Piper, Biblical Exegesis: Discovering the Meaning of Scriptural Texts (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God Ministries, 1999) 11-12.]
Fourth, inerrancy coexists with various literary types. The Bible is a book, and therefore is literature, with various genres of literature and forms of speech. This includes symbolic speech, metaphors, and hyperboles. Many of the so-called contradictions or false statements can be reconciled by interpreting statements in their genres.
Fifth, inerrancy does not do away with the fact that some details in the Scripture may appear contradictory – but we must remember that methods of reckoning days can account for such apparent inconsistencies. The reports of numbers are not always given with exact precision, so that one number may include the other (such as the account of the transfiguration taking place after six days, according to Matthew 17:1, while Luke 9:28 records “about eight days after these sayings”; Luke may have been reckoning time by including the day of the sayings and the day of the transfiguration, whereas Matthew may have only listed the time between Jesus’ most recent discourse and this event). One may also attribute some apparent problems to scribal errors for which the original reading of the inspired autographs is in dispute.
Sixth, inerrancy does not mean that every copy of the Scripture is without error. It is possible for copies of the original manuscripts, and especially for translations into other languages, to be imperfect. The doctrine of inspiration teaches that the original autographs were perfectly inspired so as to contain no inaccuracies. Inspiration and inerrancy are not promised beyond the original manuscripts to copies and translations.
THE BIBLE ON THE AUTHORITY OF THE BIBLE
Since the Bible is inerrant and inspired by God, it has authority. The Author, who created all things and is omnipotent and sovereign over all, has the right to impose obligation upon us. The Bible clearly teaches the authority of Scripture.
God has given His Word, not merely to be known, but to be obeyed. Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, said, “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The context of the quotation reveals that God gave His Word in order that people would respond with obedience to it.
All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD swore unto your fathers. And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or not. And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. (Deuteronomy 8:1-3)
James wrote of obedience to God’s Word as the believer’s duty, since it is that Word that gives life. “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves” (James 1:21-22). In other words, one’s obligation to the Word is not fulfilled if one only hears it. One must also do what it says.
The inspired Scripture is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Scripture is a necessary (“that the man of God may be perfect”) and sufficient (“thoroughly furnished unto all good works”) authority to determine what we believe and teach (“doctrine”), to point out wrong (“reproof”), to set one back on the right path (“correction”) and to train one in the right way (“instruction in righteousness”).
A solemn warning is given in the book of Revelation in its final paragraphs: “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19). If the Scripture had no authority, this warning would make no sense.
The Lord Jesus spoke these words before He ascended back to the Father: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matthew 28:18-20). His commands can be taught and observed because they are recorded in the Scriptures.
If one accepts the fact that Jesus was proved to be the Son of God, then one must submit to His teaching on the Scripture. The authority of Scripture means that people must hear and obey God’s Word.
RESPONDING TO THE INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
Speaking of God’s Word, the Psalmist wrote: “More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:10-11). Since Scripture is inspired and authoritative, it is to be trusted, loved, learned, taught, preached, and obeyed. Acquisition of the original languages of Hebrew and Greek is a worthy goal, given that translations are not inspired, but if learning the Biblical languages is not a present possibility, one should read the Bible in a translation of his native language.
Ezra is a good example of how one should respond to God’s Word: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments” (Ezra 7:10). Nehemiah 8 gives a record of Ezra’s teaching ministry. It could be summed up with Nehemiah 8:8: “They read in the book of the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.”
The reader must learn and understand God’s Word so that it may be practiced. The Bible is more important than any employee handbook or other merely human document. It is God’s Word, and God’s handbook for our lives – the perfect, inspired, authoritative Word that gives life.