This world is no friend of grace and it is no friend of the Book that brings us grace. As the centuries have come and gone it seems that all controversies over the Christian belief in God, in Christ, in salvation, eventually come back to the reliability of our Bible. Surely such will be the case as we approach the end of the age. Already we can feel the animosity and antipathy from the world when we speak of the Word of God, or speak as though we were speaking for God Himself, as Peter admonished us, “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11). The unbeliever chafes at the idea that someone might actually have the very Word and therefore the very authority of God to tell him of his soul’s destiny.
Many have said, in effect, that the Bible is something in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim. Rabbi Eleazer’s words are often quoted,
If all the seas were of ink, and all ponds planted with reeds, if the sky and the earth were parchments and if all human beings practiced the art of writing—they would not exhaust the Torah I have learned, just as the Torah itself would not be diminished any more than the sea by the water removed by a paint brush dipped in it.1
Perhaps that was the inspiration for one of the most beautiful verses of hymnody,
Could we with ink the oceans fill,
and were the skies of parchment made;
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
and every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
would drain the ocean dry;
nor could the scroll contain the whole,
tho’ stretched from sky to sky.2
It is enough that we face all the forces of Satan in this world against the Bible without having to face disagreement and controversy from within Christianity. We must first read the Bible. Statistics abound which point to the fact that Christians who say they believe the Bible is the very Word of God spend precious little time reading it. We must also believe it. The present age demands that we have confidence in this Book as we face such critical unbelief. We must also understand what we read and believe about this Book, that though it was given by inspiration once years ago, and though it has been handled by human hands over the centuries, it remains the Word of God spread over the whole globe, translated in scores of languages, and preached by faithful men in all cultures.
We have a revealed Bible
When we speak of biblical revelation we mean that God has made known to us things which we could not have otherwise known. Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10). If God is the God of Whom the Bible speaks, then such revelation is not only possible but probable and necessary.
Revelation is usually divided into two areas: general and special (or non-miraculous and miraculous). General revelation refers to how God has made Himself known in nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament sheweth his handywork” (Psalm 19:1); “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). Though nature does not delineate the gospel of the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ it does reveal enough about God to leave man without excuse.
A second area of general revelation is man’s conscience. Conscience isn’t a complete revelation either, but it is God’s witness to us about things we should know. “For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14-15).
When speaking of Scripture, however, we usually speak of special or miraculous revelation. We understand that God has revealed Himself to humans many times throughout history. We only know some of what God spoke to Adam when they walked in the garden. The same could be said for Enoch who walked with God, or any of the prophets who wrote some of the things they heard from God. Miracles, dreams, visions, and the like were also various means of revelation, as the book of Hebrews begins, “God, who at various times and in different ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1, NKJV).
There were two magnificent and final ways in which God revealed Himself. The writer of Hebrews continues to say, “but has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (1:2). The incarnation of God in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ was the greatest revelation of God to man. “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). When the disciple Thomas asked Jesus to show him the Father Jesus answered, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?” (John 14:9). This incarnation happened only once. Jesus resurrected and ascended back into heaven with the same fleshly existence which He gained by His journey to earth. His post-resurrection appearances only showed the truth of His incarnation.
The other great and final way God revealed Himself was through Scripture. As we will see next, inspiration was also a one-time event, that is, though it was accomplished over a fifteen hundred year span, it is finished and no more inspiration has happened since John finished the book of Revelation. This was indeed a miraculous revelation, as 1 Cor. 2:9-10 above shows. To claim that God again opened the gift of inspired written revelation would be as serious an error as claiming that the Son of God was again incarnated. Neither revelation had to happen twice for either one to be authoritative, final, and a powerful truth that transforms lives throughout the rest of history. Jude called Scripture, “the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
We have an inspired Bible
Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The claim of having the only book in the history of the world that is completely without error and therefore completely truthful does not sit well with this postmodern, deconstructive culture. Yet that is exactly what we do claim. The miraculous writing of the Scriptures was as perfect in every detail as the incarnation of the Son of God.
It is common to use the words “plenary” and “verbal” to describe the process of inspiration. “All Scripture” is inspired, the apostle said. That is, it is “God-breathed.” God made man a living soul when He “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). “By the word of the LORD were the heavens made; and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth” (Psa. 33:6). So God created the Scripture when He breathed into them by His Holy Spirit the very words He wanted on the paper. This process happened sixty-six times so that they were all, “plenarily,” inspired yet making up only one Book with inspiration extended to all its parts. J. Gresham Machen described the process of various writers with various talents and vocabulary as many musicians blending their various instruments together into one great harmonious song.3
That the Bible was inspired in a plenary fashion speaks to its broadness. The Bible was also inspired in a verbal fashion which speaks to its narrowness. Verbal, of course, means pertaining to the very words. The word “scripture “ comes from the word graphe, which means writing, or the marks on the page. David declared that “the words of the LORD are pure words” (Psa. 12:6). The mind of God could not be made clear to us merely by thoughts. W.H. Griffith Thomas said, “Surely inspiration cannot mean an uninspired account of inspired thoughts.”4 He also quoted Abraham Kuyper as asking if we can have music without notes, or math without numbers? Neither can we have a meaningful inspiration that does not pertain to the words.
This process of inspiration was for the purpose of giving us the Word of God. When that process was complete the miracle of inspiration ceased. That’s why Jude said it was “once for all” given to us (Jude 3), and why Paul called it a “perfect” thing (1 Cor. 13:8-13) which when it came, incomplete things would be finished.
Rolland McCune offers three reasons why inspiration pertained only to the original documents or autographs. First, God’s direct involvement with the text was only with the originals, seen in various texts which state that God spoke by the mouth of a certain author (Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25). Second, the Bible’s various warnings about adding or subtracting from the text “presuppose” that only the originals were guaranteed from error and not subsequent copies. Third, there are warnings about corrupting the meaning of a text because that would not properly represent the text as originally written (Mk. 7:9; 2 Cor. 4:2; 3:5-6). “Therefore,” McCune says, “to tamper with meaning one must corrupt the original revelation’s words, presupposing again the complete, uncorrupted state of the original.”5
We have a canonized Bible
When we say this we mean that the “canon” is complete, i.e., the number of books God intended to have in the Bible are all in the Bible and none others. We can’t expect the unbelieving world to accept this concept either because it would take an unmistakable, providential work of God to put together such a book. They would rather believe that the Bible was an invention of man from beginning to end. To them, some men with an agenda made the Bible with these 66 books and eliminated books that would have contradicted their purpose. To this end, every generation throughout the church age has resurrected this old canard in an attempt to discredit the Bible. Dan Brown’s make-believe book, The Davinci Code, is built upon the theory that the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ was fabricated by the established church, and if they would have allowed other books into the Bible they would have to admit that Jesus had a child by Mary Magdalene who carried on the secret bloodline. It is always interesting to see unbelievers opt for the most fantastic things so long as they don’t have to believe the Bible.
It is for the above reason that W.H. Griffith Thomas says, “The Bible is not an authorized collection of books, but a collection of authorized books.”6 He means that the canon was not made by men but was recognized by men to be from God. This field has been studied, critiqued, investigated, attacked, and vindicated as much as any field of study. Therefore, good men write about it from a variety of profitable ways. Almost all speak of the tests that were applied to the Biblical books. Ryrie uses authority, uniqueness, and acceptance by the church.7 Geisler and Nix ask, were the books authoritative, prophetic, authentic, and dynamic?8 Thomas says, “The basis of our acceptance of the New Testament is what is called in technical language, ‘Apostolicity’; because the books came either from Apostolic authors, or through Apostolic sanction.’ Our view of the Old Testament [also] corresponds to this.”9
We can also place the process of canonization into different stages. The first stage would be the self-authentication stage, i.e., when the books were being written and recognized by the church. Ryrie says, “The books were canonical the moment they were written. It was not necessary to wait until various councils could examine the books to determine if they were acceptable or not. Their canonicity was inherent within them, since they came from God.”10 That’s why Paul could begin the book of Galatians by saying, “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1).
To Timothy Paul says, “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, the laborer is worthy of his reward” (1 Tim. 5:18). It is significant to note that Paul quotes Moses from Deut. 25:4 and also Jesus (and therefore Luke) from Luke 10:7. Before the whole New Testament was even completely written, Paul calls the words of Jesus and the writing of Luke, “Scripture.” In another example of self-authentication, Luke 11:51 says, “From the blood of Abel, unto the blood of Zechariah, which perished between the altar and the temple: verily I say unto you, It shall be required of this generation.” The blood of Abel is recorded in the first book of the Old Testament (Genesis 4), and the blood of Zechariah is recorded in the last book of the (Jewish) Old Testament (2 Chronicles 24). In this way Jesus was including all of our 39 books of the Old Testament in the canon.
The second stage of canonicity would be debating authentication, or the time after the first century when the church affirmed our 66 books to be the canon of the Bible. Of this Ryrie says, “People and councils only recognized and acknowledged what is true because of the intrinsic inspiration of the books as they were written. No Bible book became canonical by action of some church council.”11 This stage of the canon was complete by the council of Carthage in 397 A.D. There seems to be no serious question about the canon after this time.
The third stage could be called ongoing authentication. Throughout the history of the church, no other books have been able to lay any serious claim to authenticity. From Carthage forward books were categorized as homologoumena (accepted by all); pseudepigrapha (rejected by all); antilegomena (disputed by some); and apocrypha (accepted by some).12 But in all of this, only our present canon remain as the 66 books of the Bible.
Geisler and Nix summarize by writing that “the vast majority of the New Testament books were never disputed from the beginning. Of the books originally recognized as inspired but later questioned, all of them came to full and final acceptance by the universal church.”13
This article will be finished in the next issue as we talk about preservation, translation, and interpretation.
1. I have this quote even from the French skeptic Jacques Derrida in his Grammatology (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997) p. 16.
2. Frederick M. Lehman, The Love of God, verse 3.
3. J. Gresham Machen, The Christian Faith in the Modern World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947) 53.
4. W.H. Griffith Thomas, How We Got Our Bible (Chicago: Moody Press, 1926) 89.
5. Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, vol. I (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2008) 94-96.
6. Thomas, 25.
7. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987) chapter 15.
8. Norman Geisler & William Nix, From God To Us (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974) chapter 6.
9. Thomas, 22-23.
10. Ryrie, 105.
11. Ryrie, 105.
12. See Geisler & Nix, chapter 10, for a thorough discussion of these terms.
13. Geisler & Nix, 125.