The Word of God (Guest Post)

Posted: May 4, 2011 in Uncategorized

The Bible is a complex book. And in it is seen the handprint of God on every page, who has set his royal seal upon it, approving every letter as He spoke it. Through it, He makes Himself known to those who seek Him. The Bible says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Yet, a question immediately arises, as it has ever since the Garden: Did God really say this? And how do we know this to be true? Did God Himself create the Bible? If so, what did He really say? Does He still speak today? Can we discern His words?
These questions are not easy to answer, and they are quickly prone to conceive doubt and fear in those unfamiliar with them. However, they can be addressed as we come to more fully comprehend four distinct and essential beliefs regarding the nature of God and the Bible: inspiration, inerrancy, infallibility, and perspicuity. As these are addressed below, it will be found that our fears are baseless and that the Bible is God’s own words, is reliable and wholly true, and can be understood.
To say that the Bible is divinely inspired is to say that God Himself breathed out the Bible as a whole, as well as in its parts, individual words, and even the very letters of Scripture (Enns 164-166; cf. Matt. 5:18; Luke 24:44; John 10:35; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). That is, the Bible is entirely the work of God. This has been termed verbal plenary inspiration; this is the “the view that the inspiration of Scripture extends to the actual words (verbal) and to every part of the entire (plenary) Bible” (Enns 714). But the emphasis on the divine aspect is only one part of the definition. The other half of inspiration states that the Bible is entirely a work of man; that is, the individual, unique style of each author of the Bible was used in the writing of Scripture in such a way that the author himself played an active part in recording God’s words while he also spoke his own words (Enns 26). The implications of these two halves are significant. Because the men who wrote the Bible did so within their personal life experiences, they had a specific meaning they intended to communicate to their readers by their original words. And, because they also wrote under the guidance of the Spirit of God, their own words have authority within our lives today (Vanhoozer, “The Sematics . . .” 725-726), even though we are not the original recipients of their writings. Therefore, succinctly, inspiration as a whole means that God used men to pen specific, unchanging truth in the Bible which has practical importance to our daily lives.
Secondly, inerrancy means that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem 90). As Grudem goes on to affirm, this means that “the Bible always tells the truth”—not that it talks exhaustively about any one subject (91). Therefore, as implied by this definition, the means of communicating truth from one to another in the form of writing can be done through varied genres of literature (e.g., historical prose or poetic song; precise fact or parabolic narrative) (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary of . . .” 725-726). As with inspiration, to support Biblical inerrancy is to affirm that there are many ways to transmit truth according to the nature of human language, and the method of God’s self-revelation to us in Scripture is not hindered by any of them. As well, “inerrancy is reflected in translations” (Enns 171), meaning that we are not restricted to reading only the original language (or, more narrowly, the original manuscripts) in order to have the very words of God without error. And Grudem notes, “For over 99 percent of the Bible, we know what the original manuscripts said. . . . Thus, our present manuscripts are for most purposes the same as the original manuscripts, and the doctrine of inerrancy directly concerns our present manuscripts as well” (96, emphasis his). And of the other portions which are debatable, none of them are significant (ibid.). Thus, what God really said is what is contained in our present manuscripts.
Next, infallibility means that “God’s Word invariably accomplishes its purpose” (Vanhoozer, “The Semantics . . .” 95). That is, when God seeks to state historical fact, he states it truthfully; when He uses non-literal language to build a connection with humans through our common experiences, He succeeds in persuading insofar as we are not blinded by our own sin from receiving his truth (ibid.). Infallibility finds explicit support in the Bible: “So shall my [God’s] word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa. 55:11). In other words, God does not have accidents, and everything in Scripture has a God-given purpose behind it which will be accomplished.
It may be necessary to make a distinction between infallibility and inerrancy at this point. As stated by Vanhoozer, inerrancy is a subset of infallibility (“The Semantics . . .” 95). This makes logical sense. If infallibility means that God does nothing accidentally, then it follows that the Bible must be inerrant. For, if the Bible contained errors in the original manuscripts, then God led Himself astray (that is, he made a mistake). But if God cannot make mistakes, then this scenario is impossible. To say it another way, if God’s intent in Scripture was to communicate truth in every part, then the presence of any error in any part was a failure of God’s purpose, which would inevitably result in fallible interpretation. For God to rightly reveal Himself to mankind, we must know truth and not error about Him. If the autographa were found to contain even one error, then it must be questioned whether or not God is Himself a reliable witness concerning Himself.
As Grudem points out, “Once we become convinced that God has spoken falsely to us in minor matters in Scripture, then we realize that God is capable of speaking falsely to us. This will have a detrimental effect on our ability to take God at his word and trust him completely or obey him fully in the rest of Scripture” (100, emphasis his). Therefore, infallibility is intrinsic and basic to right interpretation of Scripture. If God Himself can lead one astray in any part, then every part is untrustworthy to some degree. How, then, can He be absolutely believed?
The last of the four is the doctrine of perspicuity. Perspicuity simply means “clarity.” The belief that the Bible is “clear” means that we can know what the original authors intended by the words they wrote through the employment of right methods of exegesis and through the illumination of the Holy Spirit—not that the Bible is easy to interpret (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary for . . .” 727-728)! And, in general, the Bible is not ambiguous. Against the Gnostic idea that one had to have a kind of “special knowledge . . . of one’s true condition” (Geisler 274), the doctrine of clarity stresses that Scripture does not have hidden meanings that must somehow intuitively be discovered by enlightened individuals. Rather, through careful examination of words’ definitions and syntax in a passage of Scripture combined with correct understanding of the author’s historical placement (the human aspect of Scriptural interpretation), and further aided by the guidance of the Spirit to know God personally (the divine aspect), one can rightly ascertain the author’s original meaning. Is that clear?
Two caveats regarding Biblical interpretation should be noted at this point: first, God has appointed teachers in the church to help aid the laity in interpreting the Bible (Eph. 4:11-14); second, all, including those with gifts of teaching, are subject to a fallen nature able to wrongly analyze an author’s words and may have also impure motives (cf. Jer. 17:9). But while it is true that all people should read and interpret the Bible for themselves, it is not to the exclusion of those with a particular gift set in understanding and teaching the Bible. Yet it is God’s grace to keep us humble by causing interpretation to be difficult (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary for . . .” 728), and to keep us joyful when He reveals specific truths pertinent to the personal situations facing us on a daily basis.
Now, we will turn to see how the latter three concepts (inerrancy, infallibility, and perspicuity) are conjoined to the first, that is, inspiration. To begin, we will address the connection between inspiration and inerrancy. Simply put, the latter depends on the former. If God did not inspire the Bible, then it is highly dubious that it is without errors. Importantly, the presupposition behind this line of thinking is the belief that God is Himself wholly true—inerrant—in all He has and will communicate (Grudem 100). Therefore, the denial of verbal plenary inspiration raises doubt in two hazardous ways, either in relation to the veracity of God’s own nature, or in relation to the authority of all of Scripture (ibid.). Both have the effect of downgrading Scripture to a “pick-and-choose” book, where we disbelieve those portions we think untrue or disobey those portions we think inauthoritative. In essence, we destroy the Bible by denying inerrancy in the original manuscripts.
Next, the connection between inspiration and infallibility is seen by taking a step back from the discussion just entered. If inerrancy is a subset of infallibility, then we can understand the mindset behind affirming Biblical inerrancy through a discussion of infallibility. Some have denied God used men’s personalities in composing the Bible, because they think that it would somehow have hampered the truth of what He spoke (Enns 163). Rather, they affirm that God dictated the words through the authors while they recorded His words in a passive, non-contributory way (ibid.).
The assumption behind such a statement is that men’s intellect and God’s truth are antitheses of each other; that is, they are mutually exclusive. However, if infallibility is unable to be communicated through human authors’ own personalities, then it can be wondered whether anyone can even interpret the Bible correctly, both because right interpretation is the effect of understandable communication and, therefore, because we all have peculiar idiosyncrasies which, if they hinder truthful communication, also keep at bay logical interpretation. Infallibility on God’s part in transmitting the Bible through human agents is recognized as necessary the moment one tries to understand what God has said. Therefore, inspiration is the cause of infallibility and, consequently, inerrancy.
As a caution, we may believe we can interpret Scripture, not because God has infallibly spoken truth to us, but because of the power of our own intellect, essentially making our human minds “a higher standard of truth than God’s Word itself” (Grudem 100). Yet, this is a lie and “the root of intellectual sin” (ibid.). Logically, if our minds are a higher standard of truth than God’s Word (and, consequently, than the author of those words), then the Bible should not even be regarded by us as absolutely authoritative. If the Bible is not infallible, then it is not absolute in its claims. Therefore, infallible inspiration is necessary not only for understanding God’s Word but also for being made subject to its propositions as rightfully commanding obedience on a daily basis.
Finally, we ought not to overlook the connection between inspiration and the perspicuity of Scripture. Inspiration means that essentially all of the Bible is both divine and human and, as a result, anthropomorphic in nature. That is, God uses human authors and human language to express the existence of Himself. But, the question is: How can limited, human language effectively bring a reader to grasp, in any measure, infinite truths about God? The answer is that, in itself, it can’t (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary for . . .” 727). We, as fallible human beings, require the aid of the Spirit of God to begin to understand truths which are, by nature, infinite (ibid.). The Bible itself says, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:14). The solution is given a few verses earlier: “These things [which have been hidden] God has revealed to us through the Spirit” (vs. 10a).
As Vanhoozer points out, “Scripture is clear to the mind enlightened by the Holy Spirit to perceive the revelation offered in Christ” (“Dictionary for . . .” 727). The purpose of Scripture is to reveal Christ. Now, note the connection in 1 Corinthians 2:14 between accepting the things of God and understanding them; the Bible assumes that those who really understand God’s Word will obey it. In other words, clarity of Scripture necessitates our obedience to Scripture. I have heard it said, “If theology doesn’t shape your life, then you don’t understand it.” As a result, the tie between inspiration and perspicuity is that, though God speaks in human language with precise meaning, we cannot understand this meaning in its revelation of Jesus correctly unless the Spirit reveals it to us. Without clarity, inspiration is pointless and the Christian life is impossible. But because of inspiration, we have confidence that God will reveal His Word to us.
It is natural at this point to ask, If so much depends on the inspiration of Scripture, then how do we know what has been inspired? If this question is not addressed, then all that has been discussed up to this point is irrelevant. If we don’t even know how to determine which books God has inspired, then we have no idea which books are inerrant, infallible, and clear; therefore, we cannot have specific revelation of Jesus Christ. The focus will not be on the specific principles involved in discovering which books are canonical but on the more general relation between inspiration and canonization.
How we define the word canon is important at this point, as it refers to a “measuring rod or rule . . . or set of standards” (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary for . . .” 97). More specifically, Wayne Grudem states that “the canon of Scripture is a list of all the books that belong in the Bible” (54). However, Paul Wegner defines its contemporary meaning as a “collection or list of books accepted as an authoritative rule of faith and practice” (101). The distinction between the latter definition and Grudem’s is that Wegner says “accepted” as authoritative. In other words, if certain parts of Scripture are not accepted as authoritative, then they are not canonical. To the contrary, Grudem implies that, whether we accept certain parts of the Bible or not, they are canonical insofar as they belong in the Bible. Grudem’s definition is more in line with the word’s original meaning of being a measuring rod, since it does not change on the basis of whether or not someone accepts it. It determines, and is not determined by, acceptance.
The distinction may seem insignificant, but what it implies is that we as the church are not above Scripture, as if we decide what is inspired or what is not inspired (Vanhoozer, “Dictionary for . . .” 99, cf. 724). That is, we don’t make something inspired. However, the church’s role is not diminished. It was the role of the early church to discover which books are inspired (through objective standards and the self-authenticating nature of inspired material [Grudem 77]) and to subsequently label them as—not make them—canonical. And it is the role of the modern church to confirm the validity of the early church’s persuasion and to defend it insofar as it was right in its canonical claims. In summary, the books of the Bible were not canonized and then shown to be inspired; rather, because they were already inspired and, therefore, canonical, they were recognized as being God’s and belonging in the Bible (Grudem 67-68).
Additionally, it may be reasoned that the God who originally inspired the words of Scripture did so because He wanted to truly reveal Himself; therefore, would it make any sense that He would leave us without sufficient witness concerning Himself (Grudem 68)? Of course not. The fear that we cannot know God is dissolved, and our doubts about His Word can be tossed aside. Therefore, in conclusion, God’s self-revelation has been thoroughly confirmed century after century in His church, and we can be sure, by objective reasoning and personal apprehension of God through faith, that the Bible we have today is all we need to seek Him and know Him.

Works Cited
Enns, Paul. The Moody Handbook of Theology. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 1989, 2008.
Geisler, Normal L. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, Great Britain:
Inter-Varsity Press, and Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House; 1994, 2000.
Holy Bible, English Standard Version, The. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2001. Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Vanhoozer, Kevin J. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book
House Company, 2005.
—. “The Semantics of Biblical Literature: Truth and Scripture’s Diverse Literary Forms.” Hermeneutics,
Authority, and Canon. Eds. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1995.
Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1999.

  1. *This post was not written by me but I have received permission to post this*

    *Written by Bennett Sweat (Rebel Theologian)*

  2. Era Merkling says:

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