READ : 2 Timothy 3:16
2 Peter 1:21
We are confident that the Holy Spirit worked in such a way that God’s truth is communicated fully, accurately and completely in the Bible.
Christians of all ages and places have agreed that the Bible, unlike any other book on earth, is uniquely the Word of God. John Wesley, the great 18th century evangelist and church reformer, spoke for every believer when he wrote these words, which he called “the inmost thoughts of my heart”:
I want to know one thing, the way to heaven: how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book! Oh, give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me.
(John Wesley, from the Preface to his Collected Sermons, 1747)
So there’s the issue and it is a very basic one: Is the Bible the book of God, as Wesley calls it? Or is it merely a human book, a collection of interesting stories, perhaps, or of religious precepts, a book that might be useful or even inspiring, but one that shares the limitations and imperfections of every other human writing? If it’s the latter, then we can take the Bible or leave it as we please, or take parts of it that appeal to us and discard other parts of it that don’t. However, if the Bible is God’s Word in written form, then we must accept it, all of it, and believe it and obey it. In the one case, we can judge the Bible. In the other case, the Bible judges us.
In order to make a decision about the Bible, you should know just what orthodox Christians do believe about this book. The first thing we believe about it is that the Bible is inspired. The concept of inspiration is a corollary of the doctrine of revelation. If God has indeed made himself known in a special way, beyond the general testimony of the created world to his existence, then he has done that by causing the truth about himself to be written down in human words in a book. “Inspiration,” like several other common English words, is built on a Latin root spirere, which means “to breathe.” Respiration respiration means to breathe over and over again; when you expire you breathe out and if you don’t breathe in again, you really have expired! To conspire means to breathe with, as in a group of conspirators putting their heads together so no one will overhear their whispered plots. And, returning to our original word, to inspire is to breathe in. This term is usually used figuratively, in the sense of one person or thing having life or truth breathed into it from outside.
The Bible’s own testimony about itself is this: “All scripture is inspired by God.” Not “some scripture,” or even “most scripture,” but All scripture. This is what Paul affirms in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All scripture meaning the whole Bible is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” I want to look at that whole verse in more detail in a future program, but for now, I’d just like to concentrate on the first part of the statement. What does it mean to assert that all scripture is inspired by God?
We sometimes speak of great poets like Shakespeare or Milton as being inspired. By this we mean that they wrote in an unusually beautiful or profound fashion, as if they were getting their ideas from outside themselves. Or when somebody suddenly comes up with the solution to a vexing problem they might claim to have had “a sudden inspiration,” as if the answer came to them from some higher place. These are approximations of the biblical concept of inspiration.
But when Paul writes that all scripture is inspired, he is saying something more than that the prophets and apostles were somehow touched by a spark of divinity, or that the Bible exudes a spirit that is vaguely otherworldly and sometimes has a tonic effect on people. Paul doesn’t just say the biblical writers were inspired, but that the very words they wrote were inspired. To translate literally the Greek word he uses, all scripture is “God-breathed.” The Bible offers us “the heart of God in the words of God,” as Pope Gregory the Great said. The words of Scripture have God’s breath behind them just as surely as the words I’m speaking have my breath behind them, and it is this that sets the Bible apart from all the other words that have ever been uttered or recorded on earth.
MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT
In 2 Peter 1:21, the apostle Peter explains how the Bible actually came to be written: “Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” This asserts that the Bible was written both by human authors and by God. If we put the question this way: “Is the Bible a human book or a divine book?” the answer is that it is both. Christians do not believe, as some religions do, that our holy book was literally written entirely by God and then miraculously dropped to earth from heaven. No. It was written by real people, several dozen of them, who worked over a span of 14 or 15 centuries and who spoke different languages, lived in different places and under different circumstances. Moreover, the personalities of each of these individual writers come through in their work, so that their books have different perspectives, viewpoints, and emphases. The words they wrote were not literally dictated to them by God in the sense that the authors merely transcribed a message that was given to them verbatim. No, they wrote the Bible; they didn’t just copy it down.
But they also wrote, as Peter says, “as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” That word translated “moved by the Holy Spirit” is used elsewhere in the New Testament to refer to sailing ships being moved along by the wind. We are to picture the biblical writers as being filled with the Holy Spirit the way sails are filled with the sea breeze. So Peter can say that these writers “spoke from God.” In the whole process of writing, using their own words, and with their own insights and their own characteristics, these holy men were superintended by God so that in every case what they wrote could be accurately described as God’s Word. We are confident that the Holy Spirit worked in such a way that God’s truth is communicated fully, accurately and completely in the Bible.
So because the Bible has this double authorship in its writing holy men spoke from God – Christians also take a double approach to scripture. On the one hand, we read it like any other book, that is to say, we read it carefully, thoughtfully, studiously, applying all the insights of scholarship and historical understanding. On the other hand, we read the Bible like no other book, reverently, prayerfully, submissively, obediently, knowing that in these pages we are hearing the very voice of the living God. We are face to face with the truth of God.
And one further point: that same Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of the Bible, who moved them along like the wind moves a sailing ship, he can illuminate our minds as we read it so that in reading, we too come to a saving knowledge of the living Lord God.