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The infallibility and divine authority of the Scriptures are due to the fact that they are the word of God, and they are the word of God because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
The Nature of Inspiration. Definition
The nature of inspiration is to be learned from the Scriptures, from their didactic statements, and from their phenomena. There are certain general facts or principles which underlie the Bible, which are assumed in all its teachings, and which therefore must be assumed in its interpretation. We must, for example, assume, (1.) That God is not the unconscious ground of all things; nor an unintelligent force; nor a name for the moral order of the universe; nor mere causality; but a Spirit,—a self-conscious, intelligent, voluntary agent, possessing all the attributes of our spirits without limitation, and to an infinite degree. (2.) That He is the creator of the world, and extra-mundane, existing before, and independently of it; not its soul, life, or animating principle; but its maker, preserver, and ruler. (3.) That as a spirit He is everywhere present, and everywhere active, preserving and governing all his creatures and all their actions. (4.) That while both in the external world and in the world of mind He generally acts according to fixed laws and through secondary causes, He is free to act, and often does act immediately, or without the intervention of such causes, as in creation, regeneration, and miracles. (5.) That the Bible contains a divine, or supernatural revelation. The present question is not, Whether the Bible is what it claims to be; but, What does it teach as to the nature and effects of the influence under which it was written?
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On this subject the common doctrine of the Church is, and ever has been, that inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in such a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.
This definition includes several distinct points. First. Inspiration is a supernatural influence. It is thus distinguished, on the one hand, from the providential agency of God, which is everywhere and always in operation; and on the other hand, from the gracious operations of the Spirit on the hearts of his people. According to the Scriptures, and the common views of men, a marked distinction is to be made between those effects which are due to the efficiency of God operating regularly through second causes, and those which are produced by his immediate efficiency without the intervention of such causes. The one class of effects is natural: the other, supernatural. Inspiration belongs to the latter class. It is not a natural effect due to the inward state of its subject, or to the influence of external circumstances.
No less obvious is the distinction which the Bible makes between the gracious operations of the Spirit and those by which extraordinary gifts are bestowed upon particular persons. Inspiration, therefore, is not to be confounded with spiritual illumination. They differ, first, as to their subjects. The subjects of inspiration are a few selected persons; the subjects of spiritual illumination are all true believers. And, secondly, they differ as to their design. The design of the former is to render certain men infallible as teachers; the design of the latter is to render men holy; and of course, they differ as to their effects. Inspiration in itself has no sanctifying influence. Balaam was inspired. Saul was among the prophets. Caiaphas uttered a prediction which “he spoke not of himself.” (John 11:51.) In the last day many will be able to say to Christ, “Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?” To whom he will say: “I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:22, 23.)
The distinction between Revelation and Inspiration
Second. The above definition assumes a difference between revelation and inspiration. They differ, first, as to their object. The object of revelation is the communication of knowledge. The object or design of inspiration is to secure infallibility in teaching. Consequently, they differ, secondly, in their effects. The effect of revelation was to render its recipient wiser. The effect of inspiration was to preserve him from error in teaching. These two gifts were often enjoyed by the same person at the same time. That is, the Spirit often imparted knowledge, and controlled in its communication orally or in writing to others. This was no doubt the case with the Psalmists, and often with the Prophets and Apostles. Often, however, the revelations were made at one time, and were subsequently, under the guidance of the Spirit, committed to writing. Thus the Apostle Paul tells us that he received his knowledge of the gospel not from man, but by revelation from Jesus Christ; and this knowledge he communicated from time to time in his discourses and epistles. In many cases these gifts were separated. Many of the sacred writers, although inspired, received no revelations. This was probably the fact with the authors of the historical books of the Old Testament. The evangelist Luke does not refer his knowledge of the events which he records to revelation, but says he derived it from those “which from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word.” (Luke 1:2.) It is immaterial to us where Moses obtained his knowledge of the events recorded in the book of Genesis, whether from early documents, from tradition, or from direct revelation. No more causes are to be assumed for any effect than are necessary. If the sacred writers had sufficient sources of knowledge in themselves, or in those about them, there is no need to assume any direct revelation. It is enough for us that they were rendered infallible as teachers. This distinction between revelation and inspiration is commonly made by systematic writers. Thus Quenstedt (1685) says: “Distingue inter revelationem et inspirationem. Revelatio vi vocis est manifestatio rerum ignotarum et occultarum, et potest fieri multis et diversis modis.… Inspiratio … est interna conceptum suggestio, seu infusio, sive res conceptæ jam ante scriptori fuerint cognitæ, sive occultæ. Illa potuit tempore antecedere scriptionem, hæc cum scriptione semper fuit conjuncta et in ipsam scriptionem influebat.” Often, however, the distinction in question is overlooked. In popular language, inspiration is made to include both the supernatural communication of truth to the mind, and a supernatural control in making known that truth to others. The two gifts, however, differ in their nature, and should therefore be distinguished. Confounding them has sometimes led to serious error. When no revelation was necessary, no inspiration is admitted. Thus Grotius says: “Vere dixi non omnes libros qui sunt in Hebræo Canone dictatos a Spiritu Sancto. Scriptos esse cum pio animi motu, non nego; et hoc est quod judicavit Synagoga Magna, cujus judicio in hac re stant Hebræi. Sed a Spiritu Sancto dictari historias nihil fuit opus: satis fuit scriptorem memoria valere circa res spectatas, aut diligentia in describendis veterum commentariis.”2 It is an illogical conclusion, however, to infer that because a historian did not need to have the facts dictated to him, that therefore he needed no control to preserve him from error.
Inspired Men the Organs of God
A third point included in the Church doctrine of inspiration is, that the sacred writers were the organs of God, so that what they taught, God taught. It is to be remembered, however, that when God uses any of his creatures as his instruments, He uses them according to their nature. He uses angels as angels, men as men, the elements as elements. Men are intelligent voluntary agents; and as such were made the organs of God. The sacred writers were not made unconscious or irrational. The spirits of the prophets were subject to the prophets. (1 Cor. 14:32.) They were not like calculating machines which grind out logarithms with infallible correctness. The ancients, indeed, were accustomed to say, as some theologians have also said, that the sacred writers were as pens in the hand of the Spirit; or as harps, from which He drew what sounds He pleased. These representations were, however, intended simply to illustrate one point, namely, that the words uttered or recorded by inspired men were the words of God. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs. Moreover, as inspiration did not involve the suspension or suppression of the human faculties, so neither did it interfere with the free exercise of the distinctive mental characteristics of the individual. If a Hebrew was inspired, he spoke Hebrew; if a Greek, he spoke Greek; if an educated man, he spoke as a man of culture; if uneducated, he spoke as such a man is wont to speak. If his mind was logical, he reasoned, as Paul did; if emotional and contemplative, he wrote as John wrote. All this is involved in the fact that God uses his instruments according to their nature. The sacred writers impressed their peculiarities on their several productions as plainly as though they were the subjects of no extraordinary influence. This is one of the phenomena of the Bible patent to the most cursory reader. It lies in the very nature of inspiration that God spoke in the language of men; that He uses men as his organs, each according to his peculiar gifts and endowments. When He ordains praise out of the mouth of babes, they must speak as babes, or the whole power and beauty of the tribute will be lost. There is no reason to believe that the operation of the Spirit in inspiration revealed itself any more in the consciousness of the sacred writers, than his operations in sanctification reveal themselves in the consciousness of the Christian. As the believer seems to himself to act, and in fact does act out of his own nature; so the inspired penmen wrote out of the fulness of their own thoughts and feelings, and employed the language and modes of expression which to them were the most natural and appropriate. Nevertheless, and nonetheless, they spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, and their words were his words.
Proof of the Doctrine
That this is the Scriptural view of inspiration; that inspired men were the organs of God in such a sense that their words are to be received not as the words of men, but as they are in truth, as the words of God (1 Thess. 2:13), is proved,—
- From the signification and usage of the word. It is, of course, admitted that words are to be understood in their historical sense. If it can be shown what idea the men living in the apostolic age attached to the word θεόπνευστος and its equivalents, that is the idea which the Apostles intended to express by them. All nations have entertained the belief not only that God has access to the human mind and can control its operations, but that He at times did take such possession of particular persons as to make them the organs of his communications. Such persons were called by the Greeks θεοφόροι (those who bore a God within them); or, ἔνθεος (those in whom a God dwelt). In the Septuagint the word πνευματοφόρος is used in the same sense. In Josephus, the idea is expressed by the phrase “τῷ θείῳ πνεύματι κεκινήμενος;” to which the words of Peter (2 Peter 1:21) exactly answer, ὑπὸ πνεύματος φερόμενοι; and what is written by men under this influence of the Spirit is called γραφὴ θεόπνευστος. (2 Tim. 3:16.) Gregory of Nyssa, having quoted the words of our Lord in Matt. 22:43, “How then doth David in Spirit call him Lord,” adds, οὐκοῦν τῇ δυνάμει τοῦ Πνεύματος οἱ θεοφορούμενοι τῶν ἁγίων ἐμπνέονται, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος λέγεται, διὰ τὸ τῆς θείας ἐμπνεύσεως εἰναι διδασκαλίαν, that is, “Hence those of the saints who by the power of the Spirit are full of God are inspired, and therefore all Scripture is called θεόπνευστος. because the instruction is by divine inspiration.” The idea of inspiration is therefore fixed. It is not to be arbitrarily determined. We must not interpret the word or the fact, according to our theories of the relation of God to the world, but according to the usage of antiquity, sacred and profane, and according to the doctrine which the sacred writers and the men of their generation are known to have entertained on the subject. According to all antiquity, an inspired man was one who was the organ of God in what he said, so that his words were the words of the god of which he was the organ. When, therefore, the sacred writers use the same words and forms of expression which the ancients used to convey that idea, they must in all honesty be assumed to mean the same thing.
Argument from the Meaning of the Word Prophet
- That this is the Scriptural idea of inspiration is further proved from the meaning of the word prophet. The sacred writers divide the Scriptures into the “law and the prophets.” As the law was written by Moses, and as Moses was the greatest of the prophets, it follows that all the Old Testament was written by prophets. If, therefore, we can determine the Scriptural idea of a prophet, we shall thereby determine the character of their writings and the authority due to them. A prophet, then, in the Scriptural sense of the term, is a spokesman, one who speaks for another, in his name, and by his authority; so that it is not the spokesman but the person for whom he acts, who is responsible for the truth of what is said. In Exodus 7:1, it is said, “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh; and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet,” i.e., thy spokesman. This is explained by what is said in Exodus 4:14–16, “Is not Aaron the Levite thy brother? I know that he can speak well.… Thou shalt speak unto him and put words into his mouth; and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people; and he shall be, even he shall be, to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God.” (See Jeremiah 36:17, 18.) This determines definitely, what a prophet is. He is the mouth of God; one through whom God speaks to the people; so that what the prophet says God says. So when a prophet was consecrated, it was said, “Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” (Jer. 1:9; Is. 51:16.) That this is the Scriptural idea of a prophet is moreover evident from the formulas, constantly recurring, which relate to his duties and mission. He was the messenger of God; he spoke in the name of God; the words, “Thus saith the Lord,” were continually in his mouth. “The word of the Lord” is said to have come to this prophet and on that; “the Spirit came upon,” “the power,” or “hand” of God was upon him; all implying that the prophet was the organ of God, that what he said, he said in God’s name and by his authority. It is true, therefore, as Philo says, προφήτης γάρ ἴδιον οὐδὲν ἀποφθέγγεται ἀλλότρια δὲ πάντα ὑπηχοῦντος ἑτέρου.
This is precisely what the Apostle Peter teaches when he says (2 Peter 1:20, 21), “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 spake as they were moved (φερόμενοι, borne along as a ship by the wind) by the Holy Spirit.” Prophecy, i.e., what a prophet said, was not human, but divine. It was not the prophet’s own interpretation of the mind and will of God. He spoke as the organ of the Holy Spirit.
What the Prophets said God said
- It is another decisive proof that the sacred writers were the organs of God in the sense above stated, that whatever they said the Spirit is declared to have said. Christ himself said that David by the Spirit called the Messiah Lord. (Matt. 22:43.) David in the 95th Psalm said, “Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your heart;” but the Apostle (Heb. 3:7), says that these were the words of the Holy Spirit. Again, in ch. 10:15, the same Apostle says, “Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord.” Thus quoting the language of Jeremiah 31:33, as the language of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 4:25, the assembled Apostles said, “with one accord,” “Lord thou art God.… Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage?” In Acts 28:25, Paul said to the Jews, “Well spoke the Holy Spirit by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers.” It is in this way that Christ and his Apostles constantly refer to the Scriptures, showing beyond doubt that they believed and taught, that what the sacred writers said the Holy Spirit said.
Inspiration of the New Testament Writers
This proof bears specially, it is true, only on the writings of the Old Testament. But no Christian puts the inspiration of the Old Testament above that of the New. The tendency, and we may even say the evidence, is directly the other way. If the Scriptures of the old economy were given by inspiration of God, much more were those writings which were penned under the dispensation of the Spirit. Besides, the inspiration of the Apostles is proved, (1.) From the fact that Christ promised them the Holy Spirit, who should bring all things to their remembrance, and render them infallible in teaching. It is not you, He said, that speak, but the Spirit of my Father speaks in you. He that heareth you heareth me. He forbade them to enter upon their office as teachers until they were endued with power from on high. (2.) This promise was fulfilled on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit descended upon the Apostles as a mighty rushing wind, and they were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak as the Spirit gave them utterance (dabat eloqui, as the Vulgate, more literally renders the words). From this moment they were new men, with new views, with new spirit, and with new power and authority. The change was sudden. It was not a development. It was something altogether supernatural; as when God said, Let there be light, and there was light. Nothing can be more unreasonable than to ascribe this sudden transformation of the Apostles from narrow-minded, bigoted Jews, into enlightened, large-minded, catholic Christians, to mere natural causes. Their Jewish prejudices had resisted all the instructions and influence of Christ for three years, but gave way in a moment when the Spirit came upon them from on high. (3.) After the day of Pentecost the Apostles claimed to be the infallible organs of God in all their teachings. They required men to receive what they taught not as the word of man but as the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13); they declared, as Paul does (1 Cor. 14:37), that the things which they wrote were the commandments of the Lord. They made the salvation of men to depend on faith in the doctrines which they taught. Paul pronounces anathema even an angel from heaven who should preach any other gospel than that which he had taught. (Gal. 1:8.) John says that whoever did not receive the testimony which he bore concerning Christ, made God a liar, because John’s testimony was God’s testimony. (1 John 5:10.) “He that knows God, heareth us; he that is not of God, heareth not us.” (4:6.) This assertion of infallibility, this claim for the divine authority of their teaching, is characteristic of the whole Bible. The sacred writers all, and everywhere, disclaim personal authority; they never rest the obligation to faith in their teachings, on their own knowledge or wisdom; they never rest it on the truth of what they taught as manifest to reason or as capable of being proved by argument. They speak as messengers, as witnesses, as organs. They declare that what they said God said, and, therefore, on his authority, it was to be received and obeyed.
The Testimony of Paul
The Corinthians objected to Paul’s preaching that he did not attempt any rational or philosophical proof of the doctrines which he propounded; that his language and whole manner of discourse were not in accordance with rhetorical rules. He answers these objections,—first, by saying that the doctrines which he taught were not the truths of reason, were not derived from the wisdom of men, but were matters of divine revelation; that he simply taught what God declared to be true; and secondly, that as to the manner of presenting these truths, he was the mere organ of the Spirit of God. In 1 Cor. 2:7–13, he sets forth this whole subject in the clearest and most concise manner. The things which he taught, which he calls “the wisdom of God,” “the things of the Spirit,” i.e., the gospel, the system of doctrine taught in the Bible, he says, had never entered into the mind of man. God had revealed those truths by his Spirit; for the Spirit is the only competent source of such knowledge. “For what man knows the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so, the things of God knows no man, but the Spirit of God.” So much for the source of knowledge, and the ground on which the doctrines he taught were to be received. As to the second objection, which concerned his language and mode of presentation, he says, These things of the Spirit, thus revealed, we teach “not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches; but which the Holy Spirit teaches,” πνευματικοῖς πνευματικὰ συγκρίνοντες, combining spiritual with spiritual, i.e., clothing the truths of the Spirit in the words of the Spirit. There is neither in the Bible nor in the writings of men, a simpler or clearer statement of the doctrines of revelation and inspiration. Revelation is the act of communicating divine knowledge by the Spirit to the mind. Inspiration is the act of the same Spirit, controlling those who make the truth known to others. The thoughts, the truths made known, and the words in which they are recorded, are declared to be equally from the Spirit. This, from first to last, has been the doctrine of the Church, notwithstanding the endless diversity of speculations in which theologians have indulged on the subject. This then is the ground on which the sacred writers rested their claims. They were the mere organs of God. They were his messengers. Those who heard them heard God; and those who refused to hear them, refused to hear God. (Matt. 10:40; John 13:20.)
- This claim to infallibility on the part of the Apostles was duly authenticated, not only by the nature of the truths which they communicated, and by the power which those truths have ever exerted over the minds and hearts of men, but also by the inward witness of the Spirit of which St. John speaks, when he says, “He that believeth on the Son of God hath the witness in himself” (1 John 5:10); “an unction from the Holy One.” (1 John 2:20.) It was confirmed also by miraculous gifts. As soon as the Apostles were endued with power from on high, they spake in “other tongues;” they healed the sick, restored the lame and the blind. “God also,” as the Apostle says (Heb. 2:4), “bearing them witness, both with signs, and wonders, and with divine miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to his own will.” And Paul tells the Corinthians that the signs of an Apostle had been wrought among them “in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.” (2 Cor. 12:12.) The mere working of miracles was not an evidence of a divine commission as a teacher. But when a man claims to be the organ of God, when he says that God speaks through him, then his working of miracles is the testimony of God to the validity of his claims. And such testimony God gave to the infallibility of the Apostles.
The above considerations are sufficient to show, that according to the Scriptures, inspired men were the organs, or mouth of God, in the sense that what they said and taught has the sanction and authority of God.
Inspiration extends equally to all Parts of Scripture
This is the fourth element of the Church doctrine on this subject. This means, first, that all the books of Scripture are equally inspired. All alike are infallible in what they teach. And secondly, that inspiration extends to all the contents of these several books. It is not confined to moral and religious truths, but extends to the statements of facts, whether scientific, historical, or geographical. It is not confined to those facts the importance of which is obvious, or which are involved in matters of doctrine. It extends to everything which any sacred writer asserts to be true.
This is proved, (1) Because it is involved in, or follows as a necessary consequence from, the proposition that the sacred writers were the organs of God. If what they assert, God asserts, which, as has been shown, is the Scriptural idea of inspiration, their assertions must be free from error. (2.) Because our Lord expressly says, “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), i.e., they cannot err. (3.) Because Christ and his Apostles refer to all parts of the Scriptures, or to the whole volume, as the word of God. They make no distinction as to the authority of the Law, the Prophets, or the Hagiographa. They quote the Pentateuch, the historical books, the Psalms, and the Prophets, as all and equally the word of God. (4.) Because Christ and the writers of the New Testament refer to all classes of facts recorded in the Old Testament as infallibly true. Not only doctrinal facts, such as those of the creation and probation of man; his apostasy; the covenant with Abraham; the giving the law upon Mount Sinai; not only great historical facts, as the deluge, the deliverance of the people out of Egypt, the passage of the Red Sea, and the like; but incidental circumstances, or facts of apparently minor importance, as e.g. that Satan tempted our first parents in the form of a serpent; that Moses lifted up a serpent in the wilderness; that Elijah healed Naaman, the Syrian, and was sent to the widow in Sarepta; that David ate the shew-bread in the temple; and even that great stumbling-block, that Jonah was three days in the whale’s belly, are all referred to by our Lord and his Apostles with the sublime simplicity and confidence with which they are received by little children. (5.) It lies in the very idea of the Bible, that God chose some men to write history; some to indite psalms; some to unfold the future; some to teach doctrines. All were equally his organs, and each was infallible in his own sphere. As the principle of vegetable life pervades the whole plant, the root, stem, and flower; as the life of the body belongs as much to the feet as to the head, so the Spirit of God pervades the whole Scripture, and is not more in one part than in another. Some members of the body are more important than others; and some books of the Bible could be far better spared than others. There may be as great a difference between St. John’s Gospel and the Book of Chronicles as between a man’s brain and the hair of his head; nevertheless, the life of the body is as truly in the hair as in the brain.
- The Inspiration of the Scriptures extends to the Words
- This again is included in the infallibility which our Lord ascribes to the Scriptures. A mere human report or record of a divine revelation must of necessity be not only fallible, but more or less erroneous.
- The thoughts are in the words. The two are inseparable. If the words, priest, sacrifice, ransom, expiation, propitiation, purification by blood, and the like, have no divine authority, then the doctrine which they embody has no such authority.
- Christ and his Apostles argue from the very words of Scripture. Our Lord says that David by the Spirit called the Messiah Lord, i.e., David used that word. It was in the use of a particular word, that Christ said (John 10:35), that the Scriptures cannot be broken. “If he call them gods unto whom the word of God came, and the Scripture cannot be broken,” etc. The use of that word, therefore, according to Christ’s view of the Scripture, was determined by the Spirit of God. Paul, in Gal. 3:16, lays stress on the fact, that in the promise made to Abraham, a word used is singular and not plural, “seed,” “as of one,” and not “seeds as of many.” Constantly it is the very words of Scripture which are quoted as of divine authority.
- The very form in which the doctrine of inspiration is taught in the Bible, assumes that the organs of God in the communication of his will were controlled by Him in the words which they used. “I have put my words in thy mouth.” (Jer. 1:9.) “It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.” (Matt. 10:20.) They spoke “as the Spirit gave them utterance.” (Acts 2:4.) “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:21.) All these, and similar modes of expression with which the Scriptures abound, imply that the words uttered were the words of God. This, moreover, is the very idea of inspiration as understood by the ancient world. The words of the oracle were assumed to be the words of the divinity, and not those selected by the organ of communication. And this, too, as has been shown, was the idea attached to the gift of prophecy. The words of the prophet were the words of God, or he could not be God’s spokesman and mouth. It has also been shown that in the most formally didactic passage in the whole Bible on this subject (1 Cor. 2:10–13), the Apostle expressly asserts that the truths revealed by the Spirit, he communicated in words taught by the Spirit.
The view presented above is known as the doctrine of plenary inspiration. Plenary is opposed to partial. The Church doctrine denies that inspiration is confined to parts of the Bible; and affirms that it applies to all the books of the sacred canon. It denies that the sacred writers were merely partially inspired; it asserts that they were fully inspired as to all that they teach, whether of doctrine or fact. This of course does not imply that the sacred writers were infallible except for the special purpose for which they were employed. They were not imbued with plenary knowledge. As to all matters of science, philosophy, and history, they stood on the same level with their contemporaries. They were infallible only as teachers, and when acting as the spokesmen of God. Their inspiration no more made them astronomers than it made them agriculturists. Isaiah was infallible in his predictions, although he shared with his countrymen the views then prevalent as to the mechanism of the universe. Paul could not err in anything he taught, although he could not recollect how many persons he had baptized in Corinth. The sacred writers also, doubtless, differed as to insight into the truths which they taught. The Apostle Peter intimates that the prophets searched diligently into the meaning of their own predictions. When David said God had put “all things” under the feet of man, he probably little thought that “all things” meant the whole universe. (Heb. 2:8.) And Moses, when he recorded the promise that childless Abraham was to be the father “of many nations,” little thought that it meant the whole world. (Rom. 4:13). Nor does the Scriptural doctrine on this subject imply that the sacred writers were free from errors in conduct. Their infallibility did not arise from their holiness, nor did inspiration render them holy. Balaam was inspired, and Saul was among the prophets. David committed many crimes, although inspired to write psalms. Peter erred in conduct at Antioch; but this does not prove that he erred in teaching. The influence which preserved him from mistakes in teaching was not designed to preserve him from mistakes in conduct.
General Considerations in Support of the Doctrine
On this point little need be said. If the questions, What is the Scriptural doctrine concerning inspiration? and, What is the true doctrine? be considered different, then after showing what the Scriptures teach on the subject, it would be necessary to prove that what they teach is true. This, however, is not the position of the Christian theologian. It is his business to set forth what the Bible teaches. If the sacred writers assert that they are the organs of God; that what they taught He taught through them; that they spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, so that what they said the Holy Spirit said, then, if we believe their divine mission, we must believe what they teach as to the nature of the influence under which they spoke and wrote. This is the reason why in the earlier period of the Church there was no separate discussion of the doctrine of inspiration. That was regarded as involved in the divine origin of the Scriptures. If they are a revelation from God, they must be received and obeyed; but they cannot be thus received without attributing to them divine authority, and they cannot have such authority without being infallible in all they teach.
The organic unity of the Scriptures proves them to be the product of one mind. They are not only so united that we cannot believe one part without believing the whole; we cannot believe the New Testament without believing the Old; we cannot believe the Prophets without believing the Law; we cannot believe Christ without believing his Apostles; but besides all this they present the regular development, carried on through centuries and millenniums, of the great original promise, “The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head.” This development was conducted by some forty independent writers, many of whom understood very little of the plan they were unfolding, but each contributed his part to the progress and completion of the whole.
If the Bible be the work of one mind, that mind must be the mind of God. He only knows the end from the beginning. He only could know what the Bible reveals. No one, says the Apostle, knows the things of God but the Spirit of God. He only could reveal the nature, the thoughts, and purposes of God. He only could tell whether sin can be pardoned. No one knows the Son but the Father. The revelation of the person and work of Christ is as clearly the work of God as are the heavens in all their majesty and glory.
Besides, we have the witness in ourselves. We find that the truths revealed in the Bible have the same adaptation to our souls that the atmosphere has to our bodies. The body cannot live without air, which it receives and appropriates instinctively, with full confidence in its adaptation to the end designed. In like manner the soul receives and appropriates the truths of Scripture as the atmosphere in which alone it can breathe and live. Thus in receiving the Bible as true, we necessarily receive it as divine. In believing it as a supernatural revelation, we believe its plenary inspiration.
This doctrine involves nothing out of analogy with the ordinary operations of God. We believe that He is everywhere present in the material world and controls the operations of natural causes. We know that He causes the grass to grow and gives rain and fruitful seasons. We believe that He exercises a like control over the minds of men, turning them as the rivers of water are turned. All religion, natural and revealed, is founded on the assumption of this providential government of God. Besides this, we believe in the gracious operations of his Spirit, by which He works in the hearts of his people to will and to do; we believe that faith, repentance, and holy living are due to the ever-present influence of the Holy Spirit. If, then, this wonder-working God everywhere operates in nature and in grace, why should it be deemed incredible that holy men should speak as they were moved by the Holy Spirit, so that they should say just what He would have them say, so that their words should be his words.
After all, Christ is the great object of the Christian’s faith. We believe him and we believe everything else on his authority. He hands us the Old Testament and tells us that it is the Word of God; that its authors spoke by the Spirit; that the Scriptures cannot be broken. And we believe on his testimony. His testimony to his Apostles is no less explicit, although given in a different way. He promised to give them a mouth and a wisdom which their adversaries could not gainsay or resist. He told them to take no thought what they should say, “For the Holy Spirit shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say.” (Luke 12:12.) “It is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.” He said to them “he that receives you receives me”; and He prayed for those who should believe on Him through their word. We believe the Scriptures, therefore, because Christ declares them to be the Word of God. Heaven and earth may pass away, but his word cannot pass away.
A large class of the objections to the doctrine of inspiration, which for many minds are the most effective, arise from the rejection of one or other of the presumptions specified on a preceding page. If a man denies the existence of a personal, extramundane God, he must deny the doctrine of inspiration, but it is not necessary in order to prove that doctrine that we should first prove the being of God. If he denies that God exerts any direct efficiency in the government of the world and holds that everything is the product of fixed laws, he cannot believe what the Scriptures teach of inspiration. If the supernatural be impossible, inspiration is impossible. It will be found that most of the objections, especially those of recent date, are founded on unscriptural views of the relation of God to the world, or on the peculiar philosophical views of the objectors as to the nature of man or of his free agency.
A still larger class of objections is founded on misconceptions of the doctrine. Such objections are answered by the correct statement of what the Church believes on the subject. Even a man so distinguished for knowledge and ability as Coleridge, speaks with contempt of what he regards as the common theory of inspiration, when he utterly misunderstands the real doctrine which he opposes. He says: “All the miracles which the legends of monk or rabbi contain, can scarcely be put in competition, on the score of complication, inexplicableness, the absence of all intelligible use or purpose, and of circuitous self-frustration, with those that must be assumed by the maintainers of this doctrine, in order to give effect to the series of miracles by which all the nominal composers of the Hebrew nation before the time of Ezra, of whom there are any remains, were successively transformed into automaton compositors,” etc. But if the Church doctrine of inspiration no more assumes that the sacred writers “were transformed into automaton compositors,” than that every believer is thus transformed in whom God “works to will and to do,” then all such objections amount to nothing. If God, without interfering with a man’s free agency, can make it infallibly certain that he will repent and believe, He can render it certain that he will not err in teaching. It is in vain to profess to hold the common doctrine of Theism, and yet assert that God cannot control rational creatures without turning them into machines.
Discrepancies and Errors
But although the theologian may rightfully dismiss all objections founded on the denial of the common principles of natural and revealed religion, there are others that cannot be thus summarily disposed of. The most obvious of these is, that the sacred writers contradict each other and that they teach error. It is, of course, useless to contend that the sacred writers were infallible if in point of fact they err. Our views of inspiration must be determined by the phenomena of the Bible as well as from its didactic statements. If in fact, the sacred writers retain each his own style and mode of thought, then we must renounce any theory which assumes that inspiration obliterates or suppresses all individual peculiarities. If the Scriptures abound in contradictions and errors, then it is vain to contend that they were written under an influence that precludes all error. The question, therefore, is a question of fact. Do the sacred writers contradict each other? Do the Scriptures teach what from any source can be proved not to be true? The question is not whether the views of the sacred writers were incorrect, but whether they taught error? For example, it is not the question Whether they thought that the earth is the center of our system? but, Did they teach that it is?
The objection under consideration, namely, that the Bible contains errors, divides itself into two. The first, that the sacred writers contradict themselves, or one the other. The second, that the Bible teaches what is inconsistent with the facts of history or science.
As to the former of these objections, it would require, not a volume, but volumes to discuss all the cases of alleged discrepancies. All that can be expected here is a few general remarks: (1.) These apparent discrepancies, although numerous, are for the most part trivial, relating in most cases to numbers or dates. (2.) The great majority of them are only apparent and yield to careful examination. (3.) Many of them may fairly be ascribed to errors of transcribers. (4.) The marvel and the miracle is that there are so few of any real importance. Considering that the different books of the Bible were written not only by different authors but by men of all degrees of culture, living in the course of fifteen hundred or two thousand years, it is altogether unaccountable that they should agree perfectly, on any other hypothesis than that the writers were under the guidance of the Spirit of God. In this respect, as in all others, the Bible stands alone. It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the Sacred Scriptures filled with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane man would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure. Not less unreasonable is it to deny the inspiration of such a book as the Bible, because one sacred writer says that on a given occasion twenty-four, and another says that twenty-three thousand, men were slain. Surely a Christian may be allowed to tread such objections under his feet.
Admitting that the Scriptures do contain, in a few instances, discrepancies which with our present means of knowledge, we are unable satisfactorily to explain, they furnish no rational ground for denying their infallibility. “The Scripture cannot be broken.” (John 10:35.) This is the whole doctrine of plenary inspiration, taught by the lips of Christ himself. The universe teems with evidence of design, so manifold, so diverse, so wonderful, as to overwhelm the mind with the conviction that it has had an intelligent author. Yet here and there isolated cases of monstrosity appear. It is irrational because we cannot account for such cases, to deny that the universe is the product of intelligence. So the Christian need not renounce his faith in the plenary inspiration of the Bible, although there may be some things about it in its present state which he cannot account for.
Historical and Scientific Objections
The second great objection to the plenary inspiration of the Scripture is that it teaches what is inconsistent with historical and scientific truth.
Here again, it is to be remarked, (1.) That we must distinguish between what the sacred writers themselves thought or believed, and what they teach. They may have believed that the sun moves around the earth, but they do not so teach. (2.) The language of the Bible is the language of common life, and the language of common life is founded on apparent, and not upon scientific truth. It would be ridiculous to refuse to speak of the sun rising and setting because we know that it is not a satellite of our planet. (3.) There is a great distinction between theories and facts. Theories are of men. Facts are of God. The Bible often contradicts the former, never the latter. (4.) There is also a distinction to be made between the Bible and our interpretation. The latter may come into competition with settled facts, and then it must yield. Science has in many things taught the Church how to understand the Scriptures.
Genesis 1:1 BDC: Is the earth only 6,000 to 10,000 years old? Are the creative days literally, only 24 hours long?
The Bible was for ages understood and explained according to the Ptolemaic system of the universe; it is now explained without doing the least violence to its language, according to the Copernican system. Christians have commonly believed that the earth has existed only a few thousands of years. Geologists have finally proved that it has existed for myriads of ages, it is found that the first chapter of Genesis is in full accord with the facts and that the last results of science are embodied on the first page of the Bible. It may cost the Church a severe struggle to give up one interpretation and adopt another, as it did in the seventeenth century, but no real evil need be apprehended. The Bible has stood, and still stands in the presence of the whole scientific world with its claims unshaken. Men hostile or indifferent to its truths may, on insufficient grounds, or because of their personal opinions, reject its authority; but, even in the judgment of the greatest authorities in science, its teachings cannot fairly be impeached.
It is impossible duly to estimate the importance of this subject. If the Bible be the word of God, all the great questions which for ages have agitated the minds of men are settled with infallible certainty. Human reason has never been able to answer to its own satisfaction, or to the assurance of others, the vital questions, What is God? What is man? What lies beyond the grave? If there be a future state of being, what is it? and How may future blessedness be secured? Without the Bible, we are, on all these subjects, in utter darkness. How endless and unsatisfying have been the answers to the greatest of all questions, What is God? The whole Eastern world answers by saying, “That He is the unconscious ground of being.” The Greeks gave the same answer for philosophers and made all nature God for the people. The moderns have reached no higher doctrine. Fichte says the subjective Ego is God. According to Schelling, God is the eternal movement of the universe, subject becoming object, object becoming subject, the infinite becoming finite, and the finite infinite. Hegel says, Thought is God. Cousin combines all the German answers to form his own. Coleridge refers us to Schelling for an answer to the question, What is God? Carlyle makes force God. A Christian child says: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth.” Men and angels veil their faces in the presence of that answer. It is the highest, greatest, and most fruitful truth ever embodied in human language. Without the Bible, we are without God and without hope. The present is a burden, and the future a dread.
Short Article Than Above Did God Create the Earth In Six 24-hour Days?
Although substantial unanimity as to the doctrine of inspiration has prevailed among the great historical Churches of Christendom, yet there has been no little diversity of opinion among theologians and philosophical writers. The theories are too numerous to be examined in detail. They may, perhaps, be advantageously referred to the following classes.
There is a large class of writers who deny any supernatural agency in the affairs of men. This general class includes writers who differ essentially in their views.
First. There are those who, although Theists, hold the mechanical theory of the universe. That is, they hold that God having created the world, including all that it contains, organic and inorganic, rational and irrational, and having endowed matter with its properties and minds with their attributes, leaves it to itself. Just as a ship, when launched and equipped, is left to the winds and to its crew. This theory precludes the possibility not only of all miracles, prophecy, and supernatural revelation but even of all providential government, whether general or special. Those who adopt this view of the relation of God to the world must regard the Bible from beginning to end as a purely human production. They may rank it as the highest, or as among the lowest of the literary works of men; there is no possibility of its being inspired in any authorized sense of that word.
Secondly. There are those who do not so entirely banish God from his works. They admit that He is everywhere present, and everywhere active; that his providential efficiency and control are exercised in the occurrence of all events. But they maintain that He always acts according to fixed laws; and always in connection and cooperation with second causes. According to this theory, also, all miracles and all prophecy, properly speaking, are excluded. A revelation is admitted, or at least, is possible. But it is merely providential. It consists in such an ordering of circumstances, and such a combination of influences as to secure the elevation of certain men to a higher level of religious knowledge than that attained by others. They may also, in a sense, be said to be inspired in so far as that inward, subjective state is purer, and more devout, as well as more intelligent than that of ordinary men. There is no specific difference, however, according to this theory, between inspired and uninspired men. It is only a matter of degrees. One is more and another less purified and enlightened. This theory also makes the Bible a purely human production. It confines revelation to the sphere of human knowledge. No possible degree of culture or development can get anything more than human out of man. According to the Scriptures, and to the faith of the Church, the Bible is a revelation of the things of God; of his thoughts and purposes. But who knoweth the things of God, asks the Apostle, but the Spirit of God? The things which the Bible purports to make known, are precisely those things that lie beyond the ken of the human mind. This theory, therefore, for bread gives us a stone; for the thoughts of God, the thoughts of man.
Thirdly. There is a theory far more pretentious and philosophical, and which of late years has widely prevailed, which in reality differs very little from the preceding. It agrees with it in the main point in that it denies anything supernatural in the origin or composition of the Bible. Schleiermacher, the author of this theory, was addicted to a philosophy which precluded all intervention of the immediate efficiency of God in the world. He admits, however, of two exceptions: the creation of man, and the constitution of the person of Christ. There was a supernatural intervention in the origin of our race, and in the manifestation of Christ. All else in the history of the world is natural. Of course, there is nothing supernatural in the Bible; nothing in the Old Testament which the Adamic nature was not adequate to produce; and nothing in the New Testament, which Christianity, the life of the Church, a life common to all believers, is not sufficient to account for.
Religion consists in feeling, and specifically in a feeling of absolute dependence (or an absolute feeling of dependence) i.e., the consciousness that the finite is nothing in the presence of the Infinite,—the individual in the presence of the universal. This consciousness involves the unity of the one and all, of God and man. “This system,” says Dr. Ullmann, one of its more moderate and effective advocates, “is not absolutely new. We find it in another form in ancient Mysticism, especially in the German Mystics of the Middle Ages. With them, too, the ground and central point of Christianity is the oneness of Deity and humanity effected through the incarnation of God, and deification of man.” Christianity, therefore, is not a system of doctrine; it is not, subjectively considered, a form of knowledge. It is a life. It is the life of Christ. Ullmann again says explicitly: “The life of Christ is Christianity.” God in becoming man did not take upon himself, “a true body and a reasonable soul,” but generic humanity; i.e., humanity as a generic life. The effect of the incarnation was to unite the human and divine as one life. And this life passes over to the Church precisely as the life of Adam passed over to his descendants, by a process of natural development. And this life is Christianity. Participation of this divine-human life makes a man a Christian.
The Christian revelation consists in the providential dispensations connected with the appearance of Christ on the earth. The effect of these dispensations and events was the elevation of the religious consciousness of the men of that generation, and specially of those who came most directly under the influence of Christ. This subjective state, this excitement and elevation of their religious life, gave them intuitions of religious truths, “eternal verities.” These intuitions were by the logical understanding clothed in the form of doctrines. This, however, was a gradual process as it was effected only by the Church-life, i.e., by the working of the new divine-human life in the body of believers. Mr. Morell in expounding this theory, says:4 “The essential germ of the religious life is concentrated in the absolute feeling of dependence,—a feeling which implies nothing abject, but, on the contrary, a high and hallowed sense of our being inseparably related to Deity.” On the preceding page he had said, “Let the subject become as nothing—not, indeed, from its intrinsic insignificance or incapacity of moral action, but by virtue of the infinity of the object to which it stands consciously opposed; and the feeling of dependence must become absolute; for all finite power is as nothing in relation to the Infinite.”
Christianity, as just stated, is the life of Christ, his human life, which is also divine, and is communicated to us as the life of Adam was communicated to his descendants. Morell, rather more in accordance with English modes of thought, says, “Christianity, like every other religion, consists essentially in a state of man’s inner consciousness, which develops itself into a system of thought and activity only in a community of awakened minds; and it was inevitable, therefore, that such a state of consciousness should require time, and intercourse, and mutual sympathy, before it could become molded into a decided and distinctive form.” He represents the Apostles as often meeting together and deliberating on essential points, correcting each other’s views; and, after years of such fellowship, Christianity was at last brought into form. Revelation is declared to be a communication of truth to our intuitional consciousness. The outward world is a revelation to our sense-intuitions; beauty is a revelation to our esthetic intuitions; and “eternal verities,” when intuitively perceived, are said to be revealed; and this intuition is brought about by whatever purifies and exalts our religious feelings. “Revelation,” says Morell, “is a process of the intuitional consciousness, gazing upon eternal verities; while theology is the reflection of the understanding upon those vital intuitions, so as to reduce them to a logical and scientific expression.”
Inspiration is the inward state of mind which enables us to apprehend the truth. “Revelation and inspiration,” says Morell, “indicate one united process, the result of which upon the human mind is, to produce a state of spiritual intuition, whose phenomena are so extraordinary, that we at once separate the agency by which they are produced from any of the ordinary principles of human development. And yet this agency is applied in perfect consistency with the laws and natural operations of our spiritual nature. Inspiration does not imply anything generically new in the actual processes of the human mind; it does not involve any form of intelligence essentially different from what we already possess; it indicates rather the elevation of the religious consciousness, and with it, of course, the power of spiritual vision, to a degree of intensity peculiar to the individuals thus highly favoured of God.” The only difference, therefore, between the Apostles and ordinary Christians is as to their relative holiness.
According to this theory there is no specific difference between genius and inspiration. The difference is simply in the objects apprehended and the causes of the inward excitement to which the apprehension is due. “Genius,” says Morell, “consists in the possession of a remarkable power of intuition with reference to some particular object, a power which arises from the inward nature of a man being brought into unusual harmony with that object in its reality and its operations.” This is precisely his account of inspiration. “Let,” he says, “there be a due purification of the moral nature,—a perfect harmony of the spiritual being with the mind of God,—a removal of all inward disturbances from the heart, and what is to prevent or disturb this immediate intuition of divine things.”2
This theory of inspiration, while retaining its essential elements, is variously modified. With those who believe with Schleiermacher, that man “is the form in which God comes to conscious existence on our earth,” it has one form. With Realists who define man to be “the manifestation of generic humanity in connection with a given corporeal organization;” and who believe that it was generic humanity which Christ took and united in one life with his divine nature, which life is communicated to the Church as his body, and thereby to all its members; it takes a somewhat different form. With those again who do not adopt either of these anthropological theories but take the common view as to the constitution of man; it takes still a different, and in some respects, a lower, form. In all, however, inspiration is the intuition of divine truths due to the excitement of the religious nature, whatever that nature may be.
Objections to Schleiermacher’s Theory
To this theory in all its forms it may be objected,—
- That it proceeds upon a wrong view of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. It assumes that religion is a feeling, a life. It denies that it is a form of knowledge or involves the reception of any particular system of doctrine. In the subjective sense of the word, all religions (i.e., all religious doctrines) are true, as Twesten says, but all are not equally pure, or equally adequate expressions of the inward religious principle. According to the Scriptures, however, and the common conviction of Christians, religion (subjectively considered) is the reception of certain doctrines as true, and a state of heart and course of action in accordance with those doctrines. The Apostles propounded a certain system of doctrines; they pronounced those to be Christians who received those doctrines so as to determine their character and life. They pronounced those who rejected those doctrines, who refused to receive their testimony, as antichristian; as having no part or lot with the people of God. Christ’s command was to teach; to convert the world by teaching. On this principle the Apostles acted and the Church has ever acted from that day to this. Those who deny Theism as a doctrine, are atheists. Those who reject Christianity as a system of doctrine, are unbelievers. They are not Christians. The Bible everywhere assumes that without truth there can be no holiness; that all conscious exercises of spiritual life are in view of truth objectively revealed in the Scriptures. And hence the importance everywhere attributed to knowledge, to truth, to sound doctrine, in the Word of God.
- This theory is inconsistent with the Scriptural doctrine of revelation. According to the Bible, God presents truth objectively to the mind, whether by audible words, by visions, or by the immediate operations of his Spirit. According to this theory, revelation is merely the providential ordering of circumstances which awaken and exalt the religious feelings, and which thus enable the mind intuitively to apprehend the things of God.
- It avowedly confines these intuitions, and of course revealed truth, to what are called “eternal verities.” But the great body of truths revealed in Scripture are not “eternal verities.” The fall of man; that all men are sinners; that the Redeemer from sin was to be of the seed of Abraham, and of the house of David; that He was to be born of a virgin, to be a man of sorrows; that He was crucified and buried; that He rose again the third day; that He ascended to heaven; that He is to come again without sin to salvation, although truths on which our salvation depends, are not intuitive truths; they are not truths which any exaltation of the religious consciousness would enable any man to discover of himself. 4. According to this theory the Bible has no normal authority as a rule of faith. It contains no doctrines revealed by God, and to be received as true on his testimony. It contains only the thoughts of holy men; the forms in which their understandings, without supernatural aid, clothed the “intuitions” due to their religious feelings. “The Bible,” says Morell, “cannot in strict accuracy of language be termed a revelation, since a revelation always implies an actual process of intelligence in a living mind; but it contains the records in which those minds who enjoyed the preliminary training or the first brighter revelation of Christianity, have described the scenes which awakened their own religious nature to new life, and the high ideas and aspirations to which that new life gave origin.” The Old Testament is the product of “the religious consciousness” of men who lived under a rude state of culture; and is of no authority for us. The New Testament is the product of “the religious consciousness” of men who had experienced the sanctifying influence of Christ’s presence among them. But those men were Jews, they had Jewish modes of thinking. They were familiar with the services of the old dispensation; were accustomed to think of God as approachable only through a priesthood; as demanding expiation for sin, and regeneration of heart; and promising certain rewards and forms of blessedness in a future state of existence. It was natural for them, therefore, to clothe their “intuitions” in these Jewish modes of thought. We, in this nineteenth century, may clothe ours in very different forms, i.e., in very different doctrines, and yet “the eternal verities” be the same.
Different men carry this theory to very different lengths. Some have such an inward experience that they can find no form for expressing what they feel, so suitable as that given in the Bible, and therefore they believe all its great doctrines. But the ground of their faith is purely subjective. It is not the testimony of God given in his Word, but their own experience. They take what suits that and reject the rest. Others with less Christian experience, or with no experience distinctively Christian, reject all the distinctive doctrines of Christianity, and adopt a form of religious philosophy which they are willing to call Christianity.
- That this theory is antiscriptural has already been said. The Bible makes revelation as therein contained to be the communication of doctrines to the understanding by the Spirit of God. It makes those truths or doctrines the immediate source of all right feeling. The feelings come from spiritual apprehension of the truth, and not the knowledge of truth from the feelings. Knowledge is necessary to all conscious holy exercises. Hence the Bible makes truth of the greatest importance. It pronounces those blessed who receive the doctrines which it teaches, and those accursed who reject them. It makes the salvation of men to depend upon their faith. This theory makes the creed of a man or of a people of comparatively little consequence.
In the Church, therefore, Christianity has always been regarded as a system of doctrine. Those who believe these doctrines are Christians; those who reject them, are, in the judgment of the Church, infidels or heretics. If our faith be formal or speculative, so is our Christianity; if it be spiritual and living, so is our religion. But no mistake can be greater than to divorce religion from truth and make Christianity a spirit or life distinct from the doctrines which the Scriptures present as the objects of faith.
This theory belongs to the category of natural or supernatural, according to the meaning assigned to those terms. By natural effects are commonly understood those brought about by natural causes under the providential control of God. Then the effects produced by the gracious operations of the Spirit, such as repentance, faith, love, and all other fruits of the Spirit, are supernatural. And consequently, the theory which refers inspiration to the gracious influence of the Spirit, belongs to the class of the supernatural. But this word is often used in a more limited sense, to designate events which are produced by the immediate agency or volition of God without the intervention of any second cause. In this limited sense, creation, miracles, immediate revelation, regeneration (in the limited sense of that word), are supernatural. As the sanctification of men is carried on by the Spirit by the use of the means of grace, it is not a supernatural work, in the restricted sense of the term.
There are many theologians who do not adopt either of the philosophical theories of the nature of man and of his relation to God, above mentioned; and who receive the Scriptural doctrine as held by the Church universal, that the Holy Spirit renews, sanctifies, illuminates, guides, and teaches all the people of God; and yet who regard inspiration to be one of the ordinary fruits of the Spirit. Inspired and uninspired men are not distinguished by any specific difference. The sacred writers were merely holy men under the guidance of the ordinary influence of the Spirit. Some of those who adopt this theory extend it to revelation as well as to inspiration. Others admit a strictly supernatural revelation but deny that the sacred writers in communicating the truths revealed were under any influence not common to ordinary believers. And as to those parts of the Bible (as the Hagiographa and Gospels), which contain no special revelations, they are to be regarded as the devotional writings or historical narratives of devout but fallible men. Thus Coleridge, who refers inspiration to that “grace and communion with the Spirit which the Church, under all circumstances, and every regenerate member of the Church, is permitted to hope and instructed to pray for;” makes an exception in favour of “the law and the prophets, no jot or tittle of which can pass unfulfilled.” The remainder of the Bible, he holds, was written under the impulse and guidance of the gracious influence of the Spirit given to all Christian men. And his friends and followers, Dr. Arnold, Archdeacon Hare, and especially Maurice, ignore this distinction and refer the whole Bible “to an inspiration the same as what every believer enjoys.” Thus Maurice says, “We must forego the demand which we make on the conscience of young men when we compel them to declare that they regard the inspiration of the Bible as generically unlike that which God bestows on His children in this day.”
Objections to the Doctrine that Inspiration is common to all Believers
That this theory is anti-scriptural is obvious.
- Because the Bible makes a marked distinction between those whom God chose to be his messengers, his prophets, his spokesmen, and other men. This theory ignores that distinction, so far as the people of God is concerned.
- It is inconsistent with the authority claimed by these special messengers of God. They spoke in his name. God spoke through them. They said, “Thus saith the Lord,” in a sense and way in which no ordinary believer dare use those words. It is inconsistent with the authority not only claimed by the sacred writers but attributed to them by our Lord himself. He declared that the Scripture could not be broken; that it was infallible in all its teachings. The Apostles declare those anathema who did not receive their doctrines. This claim to divine authority in teaching was confirmed by God himself in signs, and wonders, and divine miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
- It is inconsistent with the whole nature of the Bible, which is and professes to be a revelation of truths not only undiscoverable by human reason but which no amount of holiness could enable the mind of man to perceive. This is true not only of the strictly prophetic revelations relating to the future but also of all things concerning the mind and will of God. The doctrines of the Bible are called μυστήρια, things concealed, unknown and unknowable, except as revealed to the holy Apostles and prophets by the Spirit. (Eph. 3:5.)
- It is inconsistent with the faith of the Church universal, which has always made the broadest distinction between the writings of the inspired men and those of ordinary believers. Even Romanists, with all their reverence for the fathers, never presumed to place their writings on a level with the Scriptures. They do not attribute to them any authority but as witnesses of what the Apostles taught. If the Bible has no more authority than is due to the writings of pious men, then our faith is vain and we are yet in our sins. We have no sure foundation for our hopes of salvation.
- Partial Inspiration
Under this head are included several different doctrines.
- Many hold that only some parts of Scripture are inspired, i.e., that the writers of some books were supernaturally guided by the Spirit, and the writers of others were not. This, as mentioned above, was the doctrine of Coleridge, who admitted the inspiration of the Law and the Prophets but denied that of the rest of the Bible. Others admit the New Testament to be inspired to an extent to which the Old was not. Others again hold the discourses of Christ to be infallible, but no other part of the sacred volume.
- Others limit the inspiration of the sacred writers to their doctrinal teaching. The great object of their commission was to give a faithful record of the revealed will and purpose of God, to be a rule of faith and practice to the Church. In this they were under an influence which rendered them infallible as religious and moral teachers. But beyond these limits they were as liable to error as other men. That there should be scientific, historical, geographical mistakes; errors in the citation of passages, or in other unessential matters; or discrepancies as to matters of fact between the sacred writers, leaves their inspiration as religious teachers untouched.
- Another form of the doctrine of partial, as opposed to plenary inspiration, limits it to the thoughts, as distinguished from the words of Scripture. Verbal inspiration is denied. It is assumed that the sacred writers selected the words they used without any guidance of the Spirit, to prevent their adopting improper or inadequate terms in which to express their thoughts.
- A fourth form of the doctrine of partial inspiration was early introduced and has been widely adopted. Maimonides, the greatest of the Jewish doctors since the time of Christ, taught as early as the twelfth century that the sacred writers of the Old Testament enjoyed different degrees of divine guidance. He placed the inspiration of the Law much above that of the Prophets; and that of the Prophets higher than that of the Hagiographa. This idea of different degrees of inspiration was adopted by many theologians, and in England for a long time it was the common mode of representation. The idea was that the writers of Kings and Chronicles needed less, and that they received less of the divine assistance than Isaiah or St. John.
In attempting to prove the doctrine of plenary inspiration the arguments which bear against all these forms of partial inspiration were given or suggested. The question is not an open one. It is not what theory is in itself most reasonable or plausible, but simply, What does the Bible teach on the subject? If our Lord and his Apostles declare the Old Testament to be the Word of God; that its authors spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit; that what they said, the Spirit said; if they refer to the facts and to the very words of Scripture as of divine authority; and if the same infallible divine guidance was promised to the writers of the New Testament, and claimed by themselves; and if their claim was authenticated by God himself; then there is no room for, as there is no need of, these theories of partial inspiration. The whole Bible was written under such an influence as preserved its human authors from all error and makes it for the Church the infallible rule of faith and practice.
The Completeness of the Scriptures
By the completeness of the Scriptures is meant that they contain all the extant revelations of God designed to be a rule of faith and practice to the Church. It is not denied that God reveals himself, even his eternal power and Godhead, by his works, and has done so from the beginning of the world. But all the truths thus revealed are clearly made known in his written Word. Nor is it denied that there may have been, and probably were, books written by inspired men, which are no longer in existence. Much less is it denied that Christ and his Apostles delivered many discourses which were not recorded, and which, could they now be known and authenticated, would be of equal authority with the books now regarded as canonical. All that Protestants insist upon is, that the Bible contains all the extant revelations of God, which He designed to be the rule of faith and practice for his Church; so that nothing can rightfully be imposed on the consciences of men as truth or duty which is not taught directly or by necessary implication in the Holy Scriptures. This excludes all unwritten traditions, not only; but also, all decrees of the visible Church; all resolutions of conventions, or other public bodies, declaring this or that to be right or wrong, true or false. The people of God are bound by nothing but the Word of God. On this subject little need, be said. The completeness of Scripture, as a rule of faith, is a corollary of the Protestant doctrine concerning tradition. If that be true, the former must also be true. This Romanists do not deny. They make the Rule of Faith to consist of the written and unwritten word of God, i.e., of Scripture and tradition. If it be proved that tradition is untrustworthy, human, and fallible, then the Scriptures by common consent stand alone in their authority. As the authority of tradition has already been discussed, further discussion of the completeness of the Scriptures becomes unnecessary.
It is well, however, to bear in mind the importance of this doctrine. It is not by Romanists only that it is denied, practically at least, if not theoretically. Nothing is more common among Protestants, especially in our day, than the attempt to coerce the conscience of men by public opinion; to make the opinions of men on questions of morals a rule of duty for the people, and even for the Church. If we would stand fast in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, we must adhere to the principle that in matters of religion and morals the Scriptures alone have authority to bind the conscience.
Perspicuity of the Scriptures. The Right of Private Judgment
The Bible is a plain book. It is intelligible by the people. And they have the right and are bound to read and interpret it for themselves; so that their faith may rest on the testimony of the Scriptures, and not on that of the Church. Such is the doctrine of Protestants on this subject.
It is not denied that the Scriptures contain many things hard to be understood; that they require diligent study; that all men need the guidance of the Holy Spirit in order to right knowledge and true faith. But it is maintained that in all things necessary to salvation they are sufficiently plain to be understood even by the unlearned.
It is not denied that the people, learned and unlearned, in order to the proper understanding of the Scriptures, should not only compare Scripture with Scripture, and avail themselves of all the means in their power to aid them in their search after the truth, but they should also pay the greatest deference to the faith of the Church. If the Scriptures be a plain book, and the Spirit performs the functions of a teacher to all the children of God, it follows inevitably that they must agree in all essential matters in their interpretation of the Bible. And from that fact it follows that for an individual Christian to dissent from the faith of the universal Church (i.e., the body of true believers), is tantamount to dissenting from the Scriptures themselves.
What Protestants deny on this subject is, that Christ has appointed any officer, or class of officers, in his Church to whose interpretation of the Scriptures the people are bound to submit as of final authority. What they affirm is that He has made it obligatory upon every man to search the Scriptures for himself and determine on his own discretion what they require him to believe and to do.
The arguments in support of the former of these positions have already been presented in the discussion concerning the infallibility of the Church. The most obvious reasons in support of the right of private judgment are,—
- That the obligations to faith and obedience are personal. Every man is responsible for his religious faith and his moral conduct. He cannot transfer that responsibility to others; nor can others assume it in his stead. He must answer for himself; and if he must answer for himself, he must judge for himself. It will not avail him in the day of judgment to say that his parents or his Church taught him wrong. He should have listened to God, and obeyed Him rather than men.
- The Scriptures are everywhere addressed to the people, and not to the officers of the Church either exclusively, or specially. The prophets were sent to the people, and constantly said, “Hear, O Israel,” “Hearken, O ye people.” Thus, also, the discourses of Christ were addressed to the people, and the people heard him gladly. All the Epistles of the New Testament are addressed to the congregation, to the “called of Jesus Christ;” “to the beloved of God;” to those “called to be saints;” “to the sanctified in Christ Jesus;” “to all who call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord;” “to the saints which are in (Ephesus), and to the faithful in Jesus Christ;” or “to the saints and faithful brethren which are in (Colosse);” and so in every instance. It is the people who are addressed. To them are directed these profound discussions of Christian doctrine, and these comprehensive expositions of Christian duty. They are everywhere assumed to be competent to understand what is written and are everywhere required to believe and obey what thus came from the inspired messengers of Christ. They were not referred to any other authority from which they were to learn the true import of these inspired instructions. It is, therefore, not only to deprive the people of a divine right, to forbid the people to read and interpret the Scriptures for themselves; but it is also to interpose between them and God, and to prevent their hearing his voice, that they may listen to the words of men.
Belief In the Doctrine of [Absolute] Inerrancy of Scripture Is THE Identifying Mark of a True Christian
The People commanded to search the Scriptures
- The Scriptures are not only addressed to the people, but the people were called upon to study them, and to teach them unto their children. It was one of the most frequently recurring injunctions to parents under the old dispensation, to teach the Law unto their children, that they again might teach it unto theirs. The “holy oracles” were committed to the people, to be taught by the people; and taught immediately out of the Scriptures, that the truth might be retained in its purity. Thus, our Lord commanded the people to search the Scriptures, saying, “They are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39.) He assumed that they were able to understand what the Old Testament said of the Messiah, although its teachings had been misunderstood by the scribes and elders, and by the whole Sanhedrim. Paul rejoiced that Timothy had from his youth known the Holy Scriptures, which were able to make him wise unto salvation. He said to the Galatians (1:8, 9), “Though we, or an angel from heaven,—if any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.” This implies two things,—first, that the Galatian Christians, the people, had a right to sit in judgment on the teaching of an Apostle, or of an angel from heaven; and secondly, that they had an infallible rule by which that judgment was to be determined, namely, a previous authenticated revelation of God. If, then, the Bible recognizes the right of the people to judge of the teaching of Apostles and angels, they are not to be denied the right of judging of the doctrines of bishops and priests. The principle laid down by the Apostle is precisely that long before given by Moses (Deut. 13:1–3), who tells the people that if a prophet should arise, although he worked wonders, they were not to believe or obey him, if he taught them anything contrary to the Word of God. This again assumes that the people had the ability and the right to judge, and that they had an infallible rule of judgment. It implies, moreover, that their salvation depended upon their judging rightly. For if they allowed these false teachers, robed in sacred vestments, and surrounded by the insignia of authority, to lead them from the truth, they would inevitably perish.
- It need hardly be remarked that this right of private judgment is the great safeguard of civil and religious liberty. If the Bible be admitted to be the infallible rule of faith and practice in accordance with which men are bound on the peril of their souls, to frame their creed and conduct; and if there be a set of men who have the exclusive right of interpreting the Scripture, and who are authorized to impose their interpretations on the people as of divine authority, then they may impose on them what conditions of salvation they see fit. And the men who have the salvation of the people in their hands are their absolute masters. Both reason and experience fully sustain the dictum of Chillingworth, when he says, “He that would usurp an absolute lordship and tyranny over any people, need not put himself to the trouble and difficulty of abrogating and disannulling the laws, made to maintain the common liberty; for he may frustrate their intent, and compass his own design as well, if he can get the power and authority to interpret them as he pleases, and add to them what he pleases, and to have his interpretations and additions stand for laws; if he can rule his people by his laws, and his laws by his lawyers.” This is precisely what the Church of Rome has done, and thereby established a tyranny for which there is no parallel in the history of the world. What renders this tyranny the more intolerable, is, that, so far as the mass of the people is concerned, it resolves itself into the authority of the parish priest. He is the arbiter of the faith and morals of his people. No man can believe unless the ground of faith is present to his mind. If the people are to believe that the Scriptures teach certain doctrines, then they must have the evidence that such doctrines are really taught in the Bible. If that evidence be that the Church so interprets the sacred writings, then the people must know what the Church is, i.e., which of the bodies claiming to be the Church, is entitled to be so regarded. How are the people, the uneducated masses, to determine that question? The priest tells them. If they receive his testimony on that point, then how can they tell how the Church interprets the Scriptures? Here again they must take the word of the priest. Thus the authority of the Church as an interpreter, which appears so imposing, resolves itself into the testimony of the priest, who is often wicked, and still oftener ignorant. This cannot be the foundation of the faith of God’s elect. That foundation is the testimony of God himself speaking his word, and authenticated as divine by the testimony of the Spirit with and by the truth in the heart of the believer.
Rules of Interpretation
If every man has the right, and is bound to read the Scriptures, and to judge for himself what they teach, he must have certain rules to guide him in the exercise of this privilege and duty. These rules are not arbitrary. They are not imposed by human authority. They have no binding force which does not flow from their own intrinsic truth and propriety. They are few and simple.
- The words of Scripture are to be taken in their plain historical sense. That is, they must be taken in the sense attached to them in the age and by the people to whom they were addressed. This only assumes that the sacred writers were honest and meant to be understood.
- If the Scriptures be what they claim to be, the word of God, they are the work of one mind, and that mind divine. From this it follows that Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. God cannot teach in one place anything which is inconsistent with what He teaches in another. Hence Scripture must explain Scripture. If a passage admits of different interpretations, that only can be the true one which agrees with what the Bible teaches elsewhere on the same subject. If the Scriptures teach that the Son is the same in substance and equal in power and glory with the Father, then when the Son says, “The Father is greater than I,” the superiority must be understood in a manner consistent with this equality. It must refer either to subordination as to the mode of subsistence and operation, or it must be official. A king’s son may say, “My father is greater than I,” although personally his father’s equal. This rule of interpretation is sometimes called the analogy of Scripture, and sometimes the analogy of faith. There is no material difference in the meaning of the two expressions.
- The Scriptures are to be interpreted under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, which guidance is to be humbly and earnestly sought. The ground of this rule is twofold: First, the Spirit is promised as a guide and teacher. He was to come to lead the people of God into the knowledge of the truth. And secondly, the Scriptures teach, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:14.) The unrenewed mind is naturally blind to spiritual truth. His heart is in opposition to the things of God. Congeniality of mind is necessary to the proper apprehension of divine things. As only those who have a moral nature can discern moral truth, so those only who are spiritually minded can truly receive the things of the Spirit.
Was There Really an Epistle to the Laodiceans as Stated at Colossians 4:16, and, If so, Why Is It Not In Our Bibles?
The fact that all the true people of God in every age and in every part of the Church, in the exercise of their private judgment, in accordance with the simple rules above stated, agree as to the meaning of Scripture in all things necessary either in faith or practice, is a decisive proof of the perspicuity of the Bible, and of the safety of allowing the people the enjoyment of the divine right of private judgment.
- INSPIRATION and the Bible
- WHAT IS THE EXTENT OF BIBLICAL PLENARY INSPIRATION?
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: Application of the Argument
- WHAT IS THE CORRECT VIEW OF VERBAL BIBLICAL INSPIRATION?
- How Does the Bible View Its Own Inspiration?
- HOW ARE WE TO UNDERSTAND THE NATURE OF BIBLICAL INSPIRATION?
- Introduction to the Doctrine of Divine Inspiration of Scripture
- How Can We Know That the Scriptures are Infallible, i.e., Given by Inspiration of God?
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: Inward Confirmation of the Truthfulness of the Scriptures
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Completeness of the Bible Demonstrates its Divine Perfection
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Marvelous Influence of the Bible Declares its Super-Human Character
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Miraculous Power of the Bible Shows Forth That its Inspirer Is the Almighty
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Wonderful Unity of the Bible Attests its Divine Authorship
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Fulfilled Prophecies of the Bible Evidence the Omniscience of its Author
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Unmistakable Honesty of the Writers of the Bible Attests to its Heavenly Origin
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: Creation Does Not Present a Complete Unveiling of God’s Character
- DIVINE INSPIRATION: The Enduring Freshness of the Bible Bears Witness to its Divine Inspirer
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 153–188.
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