Inspiration of Scripture, by AD
The horrific events in Orlando and Birstall need no comment from me, to add to those already out there. Let’s pray.
And in the meantime…
I have offered my friend Alan Darley the chance to respond to my blog on “God’s Responsibility 1 – the Bible”. Alan is an evangelical scholar studying at the University of Nottingham, a lecturer in Philosophy to A level students and others, and a keen intellectual debater with atheists online and elsewhere, always seeking to promote the gospel.
A defence of the orthodox position on the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.
Cleaning out a store cupboard at work today I found a rare historic treasure in an opportune week ahead of the Queen’s birthday celebrations: A copy of the New Testament presented ‘to the boys and girls of Nottinghamshire’ by Nottinghamshire County Council on the occasion of the coronation of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, 2 June 1953. It shows the extent of secularisation today that 63 years ago the donors felt that the message contained in this gift remained, ‘the most precious possession of the British nation, and indeed of the whole world.’ There is silence on such matters from local authorities today. The preface to the commemorative New Testament records the words of the Moderator at Her Majesty’s coronation: ‘Here is Wisdom; This is the royal Law; These are the lively oracles of God.’
The coronation service represents the historic position of the Church on the inspiration and authority of Scripture, a topic on which I have been kindly invited to write a guest blog this week. I will briefly mention four evidences for the inspiration and authority of Scripture which are : historical, textual , philosophical, and theological reasons:
Contrary to what is sometimes assumed by modern writers, the belief in the authority and inspiration is not an invention of American fundamentalism nor simply a reactionary position in response to negative higher criticism of the Bible. It is the traditional position of Judaism , and the Christian church from earliest times.
Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274) summarises orthodoxy in his Summa Theologiae that human reason can only take us so far. God has revealed himself in nature, but some truths, e.g. the truth of the incarnation or that ‘God is trinity’, can only be accessed through special revelation. “Revelation is the basis of sacred scripture” he wrote, since “The author of Holy Scripture is God.” For Aquinas, it follows from this that Scripture is inerrant:“I firmly believe that none of their authors have erred in composing them” Indeed, “It is heretical to say that any falsehood whatsoever is contained either in the gospels or in any canonical scripture.” The Bible itself is ‘Divinely inspired Scripture’, Aquinas writes, citing 2 Timothy 3:16 (‘All Scripture is inspired by God’). Without this revelation, Aquinas argues, “the truth about God such as reason could discover, would only be known by a few, and that after a long time, and with the admixture of many errors.”. Furthermore, in discussing the relationship of sacred knowledge in scripture to the other sciences, Aquinas teaches: “Sacred doctrine derives its principles not from any human knowledge, but from the divine knowledge, through which, as through the highest wisdom, all our knowledge is set in order”.
Aquinas is reflecting the earlier tradition of the fathers, for example, St. Augustine (354 – 430): “Only those books of Scripture which are canonical have I learned to hold in such honour as to believe their authors have not erred in any way in writing them.” The father of textual criticism, Origen (c.184-254) also maintained this high view of its Divine inspiration: ‘the sacred books are not human compositions, but that they were written and have come to us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father of All through Jesus Christ.’
The text of 2 Tim 3 shows that the traditional view is the Bible’s own view of itself. Although that might sound circular, the point is that if the Bible did not claim this about itself there would be no reason to defend such a view, so it is a vital starting point.
The chapter is a warning about the attitudes of people in the last days, that they will turn aside with itching ears towards false teachings. Paul reminds Timothy that from a child he has known the holy scriptures. Then he gets to our text which is one of the clearest statements on inspiration in the entire Bible: ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ The Greek is pasa graphe which could be translated ‘every scripture’ Inspiration is strictly speaking ‘expiration’ since it is breathed OUT by God (theopneustos), a product of his creative breath (c.f. Ps 33:6). That is its basis for being ‘profitable for teaching’.
Another important text supporting inspiration is 2 Peter 1:19-21. There is something ‘more sure’ even than eyewitness testimony, and that is the prophetic word shining as in a dark place. It is something ‘we have’ he says in our hands. This verse shows that we are dealing with prophetic inspiration akin to Jeremiah 1:4 ‘the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah saying.’ It gives no specific theory, so we must be careful not to go beyond what is written. Nevertheless there is a clear twofold activity of human and divine which we could see as analogous to the human and divine natures of the one person of Christ. Humans are borne along (Greek pherein to ‘bear’), like a tree bearing fruit, suggests God’s providential care over the whole life of the prophet. Isaiah said ‘I and the children God has given me are for signs and wonders.’ Their whole lives were signs prepared by God to carry the word.
The historical person of Paul is important to our interpretation of the passage, since both conservative and liberal scholars generally agree that Paul shared the views of the later Jewish schools known as the Tannaim and Amoraim who regarded certain Hebrew scriptures as both canonical and inspired. (n’amarah b’ruach hakodesh – ‘spoken through the Holy Spirit’).This can be seen in the way Paul sometimes apparently confuses the term Scripture with God e.g. in Romans 9:17 ‘For the scripture saith unto Pharoah, for this very purpose did I raise you up.’ Or ‘the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the Gospel beforehand unto Abraham.’ We can only conclude from this that in the mind of Paul the word of scripture is the word of God. Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, who studied under Gamaliel. Even after his conversion he says that it is of advantage to be a Jew because ‘to them has been committed the oracles of God (Romans 3:2 ta logia tou theou), an expression which reappears in Her Majesty the Queen’s coronation service referenced previously. This verse in Romans is strong evidence in support of Paul’s acknowledgment of the canon as recognized by the Jews and certainly established by the time of the Council of Jamnia in AD 90. When he is in prison in Rome Paul requests for a cloak to keep him warm and the books (Biblia = scrolls) but ESPECIALLY the parchments (membranas) (2 Tim 4:13). The parchments were the Hebrew Scriptures.
The most basic philosophical question is arguably ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ (Leibniz). There are not many possible answers to this question: either everything came from nothing, everything came from something or everything came from Someone. Steven Hawking who declared that ‘philosophy is dead’ in his book ‘The Grand Design’ appears to opt for a universe from nothing, yet even he presumes a ‘;aw such as gravity’ to explain this – which is not a nothing, but a something. If we opt instead then for an impersonal something as the ultimate explanation, this is inadequate to account for meaning, purpose, reason, life, consciousness etc.. Since effects share in their causes, if ultimate reality is impersonal then we too would remain at the level of impersonal matter which is nihilistic. The best explanation then for something rather than nothing is Someone! Even atheists resist the conclusion that they are ‘home alone’ in the universe. Many seek refuge in the possibility of extra terrestrials, evolved gods etc… Atheism reduces then to a form of idolatry – ascribing divine attributes to created objects.
John 1:1 instead reveals a profound explanation of reality. God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation. The Christian answer is that love and communication are eternal: ‘In the beginning was the Word.’
For Christians the highest authority is the words of Jesus, vindicated by his unique life, ministry, death and resurrection. Jesus himself declared: ‘Heaven and earth may pass away but my words will never pass away.’ (Mark 13:31).
Jesus used the authority of the Old Testament to resist the devil (Matt 4:4, 7, 10; Lk 4:4-8) and said that “the scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35) in reference to an argument over a single word ‘gods’ c.f. Psalm 82:6 which Jesus calls ‘Law’ (‘Is it not written in your law’ 10:34, giving a section from the Writings legal authority). To say that the scripture ‘cannot be broken’ is to use a word normally used for breaking the law e.g. the Sabbath law (John 5:18). He further proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount that ‘not a jot or tittle will pass form the Law until all be fulfilled.’ (Matt 5:18). A ‘Jot’ refers to the smallest Hebrew letter (yod) and ‘tittle’ is a horn on the top of a Hebrew letter. This indicates that inspiration extends even to letters within words! In his resurrection appearance to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:26-27). In this context of prophecy the most remarkable evidence for plenary verbal inspiration is fulfilled prophecy e.g. Isaiah 53. I would like to ask all my listeners, ‘of whom does the prophet speak himself or some other?’ (Acts 8:34). Isaiah has been called the fifth Gospel because of its accurate foretelling of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
Luke 24;44 ‘all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms concerning me.’ is a witness to the Jewish canon (and its prophetic content) which was divided into Law, Prophets and Writings. (Psalms was the first book of the Writings). Matt 23:35 blood of Abel to blood of Zechariah = Genesis to Chronicles (the last book of the Writings section). Even when he was hanging on the Cross he was quoting Scripture. ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit’ etc..
We may add to this the use of the plural term ‘Scriptures’ by Christ which are treated as a whole: Mt. 26:54 ‘scriptures’; Mt. 21:42 (‘have you not read in the scriptures the stone which the builders etc..’); 22:29 (‘you are in error not knowing the scriptures nor the power of God’.); Mk. 14:49 (‘the Scriptures must be fulfilled’) ; Jn. 6:45; (‘It is written in the prophets, And they shall all be taught of God. Every man therefore that has heard, and hath learned of the father, comes to me.’).
What is the relationship between Jesus as the Word of God and the Bible as the Word of God? This is a profound area and I am still thinking this through. I wonder if you have ever had the experience of trying to find the word for something? You have something you want to say but you are trying to find the right word to say it? Augustine says something similar about language in a sermon on John 1. There is the verbum and there is the voce. Jesus is the meaningful utterance of God which is then translated into the language or voice of Scripture. A voice has no meaning without the verbum, it is a meaningless noise. By extension the voice of the Bible mediates the incarnate Word. (John 1 Augustine). The Catholic Catechism 1992 makes a similar point:
‘Through all the words of Sacred Scripture, God speaks only one single Word, his one Utterance in whom he expresses himself completely: You recall that one and the same Word of God extends throughout Scripture, that it is one and the same Utterance that resounds in the mouths of all the sacred writers, since he who was in the beginning God with God has no need of separate syllables; for he is not subject to time. (102).
Sceptics regarding plenary verbal inspiration might react to this evidence by producing their own inductive evidence for errors in the text. So, for example the genealogy of Christ in Matthew 1 contains a variant list to the one in Luke 3. Matthew’s genealogy also omits certain kings to arrive at ‘fourteen generations’. Isn’t this an error? My response to this would be to question the methodology of suspending judgement regarding inspiration until every conceivable problem has been exhaustively answered. Christians have good reasons to trust the authority of Jesus regarding his claims, including his claims on inspiration. Faith is a kind of knowledge based on the highest authority, but this is not to say that it is opposed to reason nor that reason will not eventually ‘catch up’ with faith.
Therefore in the specific problem of the genealogies we can ask whether the differences really add up to a contradiction. According to Aristotle the definition of a contradiction is that ‘ the same attribute cannot at the same time belong and not belong to the same subject and in the same respect..’ But no contradiction would be present if one genealogy were traced through Joseph’s line and the other through Mary’s. If Matthew records an official line and Luke the blood line this would harmonise with Jeremiah 22:30 which prophesies a curse on King Jeconiah (Jehoiachin):
“This is what the LORD says: “Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule any more in Judah.”
Neither does a list need to be exhaustive in order to be true, so that a schematic arrangement of kings into groups of fourteen for symbolic, theological reasons does not entail that there were only fourteen with no gaps.
In conclusion we have examined arguments from the text of 2 Timothy and other passages within scripture itself which testify to its own inspiration, which we have identified as the historic Christian position and the theological position of the apostles and supremely of Christ himself. We have argued that this view alone gives adequate answers to the philosophical questions of existence and meaning and justifies the claim made 63 years ago by Nottinghamshire County Council that the Bible remains ‘the most precious possession of the British nation, and indeed of the whole world.’
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a 1,10
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a 1,10
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a.1,8.
 Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Book of Job,13, lecture 1
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae 1a 1, 1
 Ibid 1a 1,1
 Ibid 1a 1,6
 Cited in ST 1a, 1, 8, ad 2.
 The Philocalia of Origen, 1,9
 Austin Farrar, ‘Life of Paul’ 1,49
 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book IV, chs. 3 & 4, 1006a 18-1007b 18 in Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics,tr. John P.Rowan, Preface by Ralph McInerny (Dumb Ox Books, 1995), Book 4, lesson 6, p.220. See also Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, 2.72a7, 1005b-2-34, St Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics, tr. Richard Berquist (Dumb Ox Books, 2007), p.25.