The authority of the Bible is a crucial question and one which is very much in dispute today. While the statements and claims of the Scriptures are not proof of themselves, they are a significant body of data which cannot be ignored.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” The word “inspired,” here, is not to be confused with the common usage of the word, as when we say Shakespeare was “inspired” to write great plays or Beethoven was “inspired” to compose great symphonies. Inspiration, in the biblical sense is unique. The word translated “inspired” actually means, “God-breathed.” It refers not to the writers, but to what is written. This is an important point.
2 Peter 1:20, 21 is another important statement: “No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Here again the divine origin of the Scripture is emphasized.
It is important to realize, too, that the writers of the Scripture were not mere writing machines. God did not punch them, like keys on a typewriter, to produce his message. He did not dictate the words, as the biblical view of inspiration has so often been caricatured. It is quite clear that each writer had a style of his own. Jeremiah did not write like Isaiah, and John did not write like Paul. God worked through the instrumentality of human personality but so guided and controlled men that what they wrote is what he wanted written.
Other indications of the claim of supernatural origin of the Scripture are sprinkled throughout its contents. Prophets were consciously God’s mouthpieces, and spoke as such: “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me, his word is upon my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Jeremiah said, “The Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me, ‘Behold, I have put my words in your mouth’.” (Jeremiah 1:9). And Amos cried out, “The Lord God has spoken; who can but prophesy?” (Amos 3:8).
It is also very remarkable that when later writers of Scripture quoted parts of the Scripture which had previously been recorded, they frequently quoted it as words spoken by God rather than by a particular prophet. For instance, Paul wrote, “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’ ” (Galatians 3:8).
There are other passages in which God is spoken of as if he were the Scriptures. For example, “For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all tile earth’ ” (Romans 9:17 and Exodus 9:16). Benjamin Warfield points out that these instances of the Scriptures being spoken of as if they were God, and of God being spoken of as if he were the Scriptures, could only result from a habitual identification, in the mind of the writer, of the text of Scripture with God speaking. It became natural then, to use the term “Scripture said,” and to use the term, “God says,” when what was really intended was, “Scripture, the Word of God, says….” “The two sets of passages, together, thus show an absolute identification of ‘Scripture’ with the ‘speaking God.’ “1
The New Testament writers claimed to have the same prophetic authority as Old Testament writers. Jesus said that John the Baptist was a prophet and more than a prophet; he was the messenger specially sent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus (Matthew 11:9-15).
Paul claimed prophetic authority: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
Peter speaks of Paul’s letters as what some “twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures” (2 Peter 3:16). His reference to them on the same level as “the other scriptures” shows that he viewed them as having the prophetic authority of Scripture.
Most significant of all, however, is Christ’s view of the Scripture. What did he think of it? How did he use it? What was Jesus’ attitude toward the Old Testament? He stated emphatically, “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). He quoted Scripture as final authority, often introducing the statement with the phrase, “It is written,” as in his encounter with Satan in the temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4). He spoke of himself and of events surrounding his life as being fulfillments of the Scripture (Matthew 26:54, 56).
Perhaps his most sweeping endorsement and acceptance of the Old Testament was when he declared with finality, “scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
If then, we accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, it would be a contradiction in terms, and strangely inconsistent, if we rejected the Scripture as the Word of God. On this point we would be in disagreement with the one whom we acknowledge to be the eternal God, the creator of the universe.
Some have suggested that in his view of the Old Testament, Jesus accommodated himself to the prejudices of his contemporary hearers. They accepted it as authoritative, so he appealed to it to gain wider acceptance for his teaching, though he himself did not subscribe to the popular view.
Grave difficulties beset this thesis, however. Jesus’ recognition and use of the authority of the Old Testament was not superficial and unessential. It was at the heart of his teaching concerning his person and work. He would be guilty ‘of grave deception, and much of what he taught would be based on a fallacy. Then, too, why would Jesus accommodate himself at this one point, when on other seemingly less important points he abrasively failed to accommodate himself to the prejudices of the time? This is most clearly illustrated in his attitude toward the Sabbath. And we could ask an even more basic question: If accommodation is his principle of operation, how do we know when he is accommodating himself to ignorance and prejudice and when he is not?
Several definitions will be of great help in our understanding the Bible as the Word of God.
Those who accept the Bible as the Word of God are often accused of taking the Bible “literally.” As it is usually put, the question “Do you believe the Bible literally?” is like the question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?” Either a Yes or a No convicts the one who responds. Whenever the question is asked, the term “literally” must be carefully defined. Taking a literal view of the Bible does not mean that we do not recognize that figures of speech are used in the Scripture. When Isaiah speaks of the trees clapping their hands (Isaiah 55:12) and the psalmist of mountains skipping like rams (Psalms 114:4, 6), it is not to be thought that one who takes the Bible literally views such statements as literal. No, there is poetry as well as prose, and other literary forms, in the Bible. We believe that the Bible is to be interpreted in the sense in which the authors intended it to be received by readers. This is the same principle one employs when reading the newspaper. And it is remarkably easy to distinguish between figures of speech and those statements a writer intends his readers to take literally.
This view is in contrast with that of those who do not take the Bible “literally.” They frequently attempt to evade the clear intent of the text, suggesting that the biblical records of certain events (for instance, the fall of man, and miracles) are merely nonfactual stories to illustrate and convey profound spiritual truth.
Those holding this view say that as the truth of “Don’t kill the goose that lays the golden egg” does not hinge on the literal factuality of Aesop’s fable, so we need not insist on the historicity of biblical events and records to enjoy and realize the truth they convey. Some modern writers have applied this principle even to the cross and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The expression “taking the Bible literally,” therefore, is ambiguous and must be carefully defined to avoid great confusion.
Another very important term we must clearly define is “inerrancy.” What does it mean and what does it not mean? Considerable confusion can be avoided by clear definition at this point.
A temptation we must avoid is that of imposing on the biblical writers our twentieth century standards of scientific and historical precision and accuracy. For instance, the Scripture describes things phenomenalogically – that is as they appear to be. It speaks of the sun rising and setting. Now, we know that the sun does not actually rise and set, but that the earth rotates. But we use “sunrise” and “sunset” ourselves, even in an age of scientific enlightenment, because this is a convenient way of describing what appears to be. So we cannot charge the Bible with error when it speaks phenomenalogically. Because it speaks in this way, it has been clear to men of all ages and cultures.
In ancient times there were not the same standards of exactness in historical matters. Sometimes round numbers are used rather than precise figures. When the police estimate a crowd we know the figure is not accurate, but it is close enough for the purpose.
Some apparent errors are obviously errors in transcription, which means that careful work is necessary in establishing the true text. We will discuss this more fully in the chapter on whether or not we can trust the Bible documents.
There are some other problems which as yet do not yield a ready explanation. We must freely admit this, remembering that many times, in the past, problems resolved themselves when more data became available. The logical position, then, would seem to be that where there are areas of apparent conflict, we must hold the problem in abeyance, admitting our present inability to explain but awaiting the possibility of new data. The presence of problems does not prevent our accepting the Bible as the supernatural Word of God.
Carnell puts it succinctly: “There is a close parallel between science and Christianity which surprisingly few seem to notice. As Christianity assumes that all in the Bible is supernatural, so the scientist assumes that all in nature is rational and orderly. Both are hypotheses-based, not on all of the evidence, but on the evidence ‘for the most part.’ Science devoutly holds to the hypothesis that all of nature is mechanical, though as a matter of fact the mysterious electron keeps jumping around as expressed by the Heisenberg principle of uncertainty. And how does science justify its hypothesis that all of nature is mechanical, when it admits on other grounds that many areas of nature do not seem to conform to this pattern? The answer is that since regularity is observed in nature ‘for the most part,’ the smoothest hypothesis is to assume that it is the same throughout the whole.”2
A helpful guide to apparent contradictions in the Bible is Some Alleged Discrepancies in the Bible, by John W. Haley (Gospel Advocate).
A further indication that the Bible is the Word of God is in the remarkable number of fulfilled prophecies it contains. These are not vague generalities like those given by modern fortune-teller – “A handsome man will soon come into your life.” Such predictions are susceptible to easy misinterpretation. Many Bible prophecies are specific in their details, and the authentication and veracity of the prophet rests on them. The Scripture itself makes it clear that fulfilled prophecy is one of the evidences of the supernatural origin of the word of its prophets (Jeremiah 28:9). Failure of fulfillment would unmask a false prophet: “If you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously, you need not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:21,22).
Isaiah ties the unmasking of false prophets to the failure of their predictive prophecy. “Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods” (Isaiah 41:22, 23).
There are various kinds of prophecies. One group has to do with predictions of a coming Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Others have to do with specific historical events, and still others with the Jews. It is very significant that the early disciples quoted the Old Testament prophecies frequently to show that Jesus fulfilled in detail the prophecies made many years earlier. Only a small but representative number of these prophecies can be mentioned.
Jesus refers to the predictive prophecies about himself in what must have been one of the most exciting Bible studies in history. After his resurrection, he met two disciples on the road to Emmaus. Listening to their tragic story of his own death and burial, he responded: “O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!…And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25, 27). Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is the most outstanding example of predictive prophecy about Christ. It is full of contingencies which could not be rigged in advance in an attempt to produce fulfillment. They involve his life, his rejection in ministry, his death, his burial, and his reactions to the unjust judicial proceedings.
Micah 5:2 is a striking illustration of both a prediction about Christ and historic detail. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephratah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”
It took a decree from the mighty Caesar Augustus to bring this event to pass (Luke 2:1-7).
Predictions dealt not only with the coming Messiah, but with kings, nations, and cities. Perhaps the most remarkable (Ezekiel 26) has to do with the city of Tyre. Here a whole series of little details are given as to how Tyre would be destroyed, the utter completeness of its destruction, and the fact that it would never be reconstructed (cf. v.4). How this prophecy was fulfilled by degrees, in Nebuchadnezzar’s attack and through the savage onslaught of Alexander the Great, is a phenomenal illustration of the accurateness and reality of predictive prophecy in the Bible.
Then there are the remarkable prophecies about the Jewish people, the Israelites. Again, only a few of these startling prophecies may be cited here.
Their dispersion was predicted by Moses and Hosea. “The Lord will cause you to be defeated before your enemies…you shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth” (Deuteronomy 28:25). “My God will cast them off, because they have not hearkened to him; they shall be wanderers among the nations” (Hosea 9:17) .Persecution and contempt were predicted: “I will make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth, to be a reproach, a byword, a taunt, and a curse in all the places where I shall drive them (Jeremiah 24:9). Jeremiah 31 makes the astonishing prediction of the restoration of Israel as a nation. For centuries, this was considered to be unthinkable. Events in our own time, however, may well be at least partial fulfillment of these prophecies. All observers agree that the reestablishment of Israel as a nation, in 1948, is one of the amazing political phenomena of our day.
One cannot gainsay the force of fulfilled prophecy. Many prophecies could not possibly have been written after the event predicted. There are, then, a number of pieces of evidence on which one can reasonably base his belief that the Bible is the Word of God. Despite the importance of this belief, entry to Christianity need not require it. The crucial issue in salvation is one’s relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ – not his view of the Bible.