2.8.1 The Bible is the Inspired, Infallible Word of God
The inspired writer of Psalm 45 says that his tongue is like the pen of a writer (Ps. 45:1). The writer is God. God was using the inspired person’s words as His pen, with which to communicate to men. Ezra likewise saw himself as a “scribe of the law of the God of heaven” (Ezra 7:21). The God who is in Heaven wrote through a scribe here on earth. That’s the idea of Biblical inspiration.
Use The Word With Others
Therefore we will read, preach and study it with a zest no other piece of writing can command. The wonder of the fact that this book really is the words of God Himself needs repeated meditation. Out of Heaven, Israel heard the voice of God Himself (Dt. 4:36)- a God so infinitely far away, spoke to men. And those words have been recorded. When we read His word, we hear His voice. 1 Kings 13:21 speaks of us hearing " the mouth of God" . Jeremiah spoke " from the mouth of the Lord" (2 Chron. 36:12). His word brings Him that near to us, if we will perceive it for what it is. Thus " Scripture" is put for " God" (Rom. 9:17; Gal. 3:8) and vice versa (Mt. 19;4,5). When we speak and preach God's word, we are relaying God's voice to men, and should make appropriate effort to deport ourselves as the ministers of His word and voice- not to mention diligently ensuring that our expression and exposition of His word is correct and not fanciful. We are to speak / preach " as it were oracles of God" (1 Pet. 4:11 Gk.). We are His voice to men in our preaching of His word. The word was and is God. Dt. 4:12 [Heb.] says that Israel heard God's voice and saw no similitude save a voice. To hear the word is to in that sense see God; for the word was and is God. There are other connections between seeing God and hearing His word in Ex. 20:21 and 1 Kings 19:12-14. Observe the parallelism in 2 Chron. 20:20: " Believe in the Lord your God, so shall ye be established; believe his prophets, so shall ye prosper" . Our attitude to God is our attitude to His word. Because the word is so pure, therefore we love it (Ps. 119:140). John Carter rightly observed: " Upon our understanding of what the Bible is, our attitude to it will be determined" (1).
A comparison of 2 Tim. 3:16 with 4:2,3 makes it clear that because the inspired word is profitable:
for doctrine therefore
preach the word; be instant in season, out of season (i.e. whether
you naturally feel in the preaching mood or not)
for reproof therefore
for correction therefore
for instruction in righteousness therefore
exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
Hebrew poetry rhymes according to the ideas presented rather than the assonance of the words. However, this doesn't mean that in a couplet, the first part is directly equal to the second part. Subtle differences are set up in order to make a point. Am. 3:8 is an example of this. The lion has roared: who shall not fear? God has spoken: who can but speak forth [AV 'prophesy', but not only in the sense of predicting future events]? If a lion roars, so a man naturally fears as a result of it. God speaks, and just as naturally we can do nothing but speak it forth. Hence Am. 3:9 goes on to exhort the hearers to publish God's purpose to the Gentile nations around them. The lion roars, and man fears; and we are set up to expect: God speaks, and man should fear. But there is an intended dashing of this expectation. God has spoken, just as the lion may roar; but we are not to fear but rather to speak it forth to others. We come down, therefore, to something very basic, something in the foundation clause of many statements of faith: that the Bible is the inspired word of God. But if we believe that, if we hear that voice of Yahweh, we will inevitably, axiomatically, speak it forth to others.
If the inspired word of God is made plain, then he who understands it will " run" in response to it (Hab. 2:2). A true understanding of the word of God for what it is will be related to realistic response to it. Insofar as we believe that the Bible is inspired, we will feel the passion and power of it the more, and thereby its impact upon us will be the greater. " Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven [therefore] ye shall not make with me gods of silver" (Ex. 20:22,23). Because of the wonder of having heard God's voice, therefore idolatry of any form will be meaningless for us. One can sense how much Paul felt the passion of God's word. It wasn't just black print on white paper to him. Thus he speaks of how " Esaias is very bold, and saith...Esaias also crieth concerning Israel..." (Rom. 9:27; 10:20). Paul had meditated deeply upon Isaiah's words, even to the point of considering the tone of voice in which he first spoke them. It was because the rulers of Israel " knew not...the voices of the prophets which are read every sabbath day" (Acts 13:27) that they crucified the Lord. He speaks of their " voices" rather than merely their words. They had heard the words, but not felt and perceived that these were the actual voices of men who being dead yet speak. They didn't feel the wonder of inspiration in their attitude to Bible study- even though they would have devoutly upheld the position that the Bible texts were inspired. And here we have a lesson for ourselves. The Lord brought this out in Jn. 5:39, in saying that " Ye search the Scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life…and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life" (RV). Their Bible study did not lead them to Him. And is just as possible that we too can be Bible-centred and not Christ-centred. For to academically study a document and perceive its connections and intellectual purity does not require the living, transforming, demanding relationship which knowing Jesus does.
James 1:18 speaks of " the word of truth" , the inspired word of the basic Gospel message. But he goes on to appeal for us to be " doers of the word" (James 1:22,23). " The word" must be that of v. 18- the word of the Gospel. He sensed the tendency to accept the word of God as true, to show this by baptism: and yet not to be " doers" of that word. It is in this sense that the word of the Gospel is what we grow by (1 Pet. 2:2 cp. 1:23,25; 2:8; 3:1); by our daily response to the most basic things which we have understood and claim to believe, we will grow spiritually. When we were baptized, we read the simple Biblical statements about baptism and obeyed them. That translation from Bible reading into practice is something which we thenceforward struggle to maintain for the rest of our lives. There is a power in the inspired word, whereby one mind- God's- can penetrate another with no intermediary but a piece of flattened wood pulp, black print on white paper. It's an amazing phenomena to be part of. Leo Tolstoy in his spiritual autobiography A Confession tells in gripping manner how he read the words of Jesus " Sell everything you have and give to the poor" and then finally overcame all the restraints of his nature to do just that. He freed his serfs, gave away the copyrights to his writings and began to dispose of his huge estate. Words on paper must likewise lead to action in us. The more familiar we become with the text of Scripture by daily reading, the stronger is the temptation to become blasé, and not read the word expecting to be taught something new, expecting to be challenged to change.
Speaking of the witness of Jesus to the words of God Himself, John comments: “He that hath received his witness hath set his seal to this, that God is true” (Jn. 3:33). By accepting words to be Divinely inspired, we set or affix our seal to them- we undertake to have them as binding upon us in daily life. Accepting the proposition that the Bible is inspired is therefore not a merely academic thing, assenting to a true proposition. It has to affect our lives. And note the humility of God here- that human beings can affix the seal of validation to the truth of God’s word. This works out in the way in which lives of obedience to God’s word are actually an affixed seal and testament to the truth of those words. Thus it becomes our lives which are the greatest proof of Biblical inspiration.
Personal Response To The Word: Feeling The Word Speaking To Us
Although we would all agree that the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is quite possible that we fail to feel this as we might when we read it. The people " verily held John to be a prophet" (Mk. 11:32 RV) but they rejoiced only for a short time in the light of his words. They rejected his most essential message- whilst still believing he was an inspired prophet. Or, thinking they believed he was. Moses trembled and Sinai shook and the people fled when they heard God's word. " God's voice was heard at Sinai: the same voice spoke in the Psalmist's words. But the appeal stands written in Scripture and therefore Paul can say that " Today" is a time with limits, but it was yet " today" when the Hebrews was written and Paul repeats the word of the Psalmist as God's voice to the Hebrews of his day. It is significant that Paul immediately adds that " the word of God is living and powerful" . The words he quoted were no dead message but God's living voice… The exhortation " My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord" was God speaking " unto you" , says Paul to the Hebrews. Is it less so to sons of any generation?" (2). Heb. 12:5 alludes to this idea of a living word by speaking of an Old Testament passage as 'reasoning' (R.V.) with us.
Abel, through the account of him in Scripture, " is yet spoken of" (Heb. 11:4 AVmg.). Isaiah was prophesying directly to the hypocrites of the first century, according to the Lord in Mk. 7:6 RV. The passage in the scrolls that said " I am the God of Abraham" was " spoken unto you by God" , Jesus told first century Israel (Mt. 22:31). Note in passing how demanding He was- expecting them to figure from that statement and usage of the present tense that God considered Abraham effectively still alive, although he was dead, and would therefore resurrect him. Although God spoke to Moses alone in the mount, Moses stresses that actually God " spake unto you in the mount out of the midst of the fire" . The word of God to His scribes really is, to the same gripping, terrifying degree, His direct word to us (Dt. 4:36; 5:45; 10:4). This explains why David repeatedly refers to the miracle at the Red Sea as if this had affected him personally, to the extent that he could ecstatically rejoice because of it. When Dt. 11:4 speaks of how " the Lord hath destroyed [the Egyptians] unto this day" , it sounds as if we are to understand each victory and achievement of God as somehow ongoing right down to our own day and our own lives and experience. Thus Ps. 114:5,6 RV describes the Red Sea as even now fleeing before God’s people. And thus because of the records of God's past activities, we should be motivated in our decisions now. Josh. 24:13,14 reminds Israel of the record of their past history with God, and then on this basis exhorts them: " Now therefore fear the Lord and serve him..." .
The living word of God which speaks to us each personally. In this sense, we are constantly being invited to place ourselves in the position of those who played a part in the historical incidents which that word records. The Jews quoted to the Lord Jesus: “He gave them bread from heaven to eat”, to which the Lord replied [after the teaching style of the rabbis to which they were accustomed] by changing and challenging a word in the quotation they made: “It is not Moses who gave you the bread”. He wanted them to see that the account of bread being given to Israel in the wilderness was not just dry history. They, right there and then, were as it were receiving that same bread from Heaven.
Personal Relationship With God
" Therefore have I hewed them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of my mouth" (Hos. 6:5). This was and is the power behind the black print on white pages in our Bibles. Yet we can fail to perceive that God's word is His voice to us personally. Like David hearing Nathan's parable, we can get so caught up in the Bible story that we fail to perceive the message for us personally. Our familiarity with the Bible text is in some ways our greatest problem. Thomas Merton observed: " We manage to get so used to it that we make it comfortable for ourselves…Have we ceased to question the book and be questioned by it?…the understanding of the Bible is, and should be, a struggle: not merely to find meanings that can be looked up in books of reference [including, we might add, the writings of our own brethren], but to come to terms personally with the stark scandal and contradiction in the Bible itself…let us not be too sure we know the Bible just because we have learned not to be astonished at it, just because we have learned not to have problems with it" (3). Of course the Bible does not ultimately contradict itself; and yet the paradoxes presented there to challenge us can appear like this on a surface level.
The majority of words we hear lack power. We have got used to not paying deep attention to words. The Christian who hears a Sunday morning sermon every week for 40 years will have heard about 9 million words. 50,000 new books will appear this year alone. Those words, as my words, are coloured by the dysfunctions, background, experience, limited perception of the writer or speaker. And so we skim read, we listen with only half an ear to conversations. Rarely are we transfixed by a speaker or writer. And sadly we can tend to feed this attitude back into the words of God. We aren't used to reading inspired words. Words which have meaning and relevance and power. If we truly believe the Bible to be inspired, we will come to it in quite a different frame of mind to that which we normally have. But we need to click into this; a moment's silence and a prayer before we begin our daily reading are surely good disciplines. We should speak " as oracles of God" ; not in that we are infallible, but in that our words should have real weight and intention. As God's word signals to the world that He is both real and credible, so should ours. We should be putting meaning into our words. And yet the confessions of one-time journalist Malcolm Muggeridge surely resonate with our own consciences: " It is painful to me now to reflect, the ease with which I got into the way of using this non-language; these drooling non-sentences conveying non-thoughts, propounding non-fears and offering non-hopes" (4). Our words are so easily empty and meaningless and pointless. All this is why we simply must read the word of God daily; for it is designed for " the reformation of manners" (2 Tim. 3:16 NEB), it is able to change habits and reconstruct our daily human personality.
We are born again by the word of truth. Having said this, James comments: " Ye know this...but let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath" (James 1:19 RV). If we are truly born by the word then we will swift to hear it, as Jesus was of quick understanding in the word (Is. 11:3). We will share His aptitude for it, and we will be slow to speak anything else. The great danger is to be hearers and not doers of the word (James 1:22), but James implies that the antidote to this is to reflect upon the very nature of the word which gave us spiritual birth.
The fact that God’s word is true means that we also ought to be truthful- for we should speak “as oracles of God”. Moses surely intended a connection between his words recorded in Dt. 8:3 and Dt. 23:23- for they are the only times he uses a particular Hebrew word translated “proceed” or ‘go out’, within the same speech uttered the same day: “By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live…that which goeth forth [s.w. “proceedeth”] out of thy lips / mouth thou shalt keep and perform”. The influence of continually hearing God’s word should be that our words are likewise truthful and trustworthy. The fact that the Bible as God’s word is true has implications for our own truthfulness. Pistos is listed as a fruit of the spirit in Gal. 5; but the idea it can carry is not so much of faith in the sense of belief, but of faithfulness, loyalty, reliability, utter dependability. If this is how God’s words are to us, then this is how we and our words should be to others.
The Bible has so much to say against this, the pervading evil of human societies down the ages. Ezekiel's audiences loved to come and hear God's words at his mouth- and in response to them, " with their mouth they shew much love, but their heart goeth after their gain" (Ez. 33:31 RV). Materialism stopped them from really accepting those words, even though they theoretically assented to their inspiration. Only in their condemnation would they know " that a prophet hath been among them" (:33). And so there is a chilling choice: to really accept the power of inspiration now; or have to learn it through the process of condemnation when judgment comes.
I suspect we all tend to read the Bible subconsciously searching for more evidence for our own pre-conceived ideas, be they doctrinal issues or practical. Yet if this book and these words are truly God's words, and we feel this, than we can actually be nothing other than truly sensitive and open hearted to whatever He is going to teach us through them. We will not seek, therefore, to induce our own conclusions from Scripture, but will rather come seeking to simply be taught, whatever the cost, whatever the surprise. Much of the knowledge which we have about life is merely the reflection of our own ideas. Imagine looking at the Mona Lisa painting in the Louvre art gallery in Paris, protected as it is behind glass casing. You look into her eyes, asking the usual questions as to what that look of hers is really saying, or whether it's just your own worldview which suggests to you what meaning there might be in her eyes. But then you see that your own eyes, and those of the other viewers, are being reflected back to you from the glass casing. To come to true knowledge is so hard. We need to clear our minds as far as we can before we begin our Bible reading, and pray earnestly that what we read there will be for us " the truth" ; that we will not read those words to just find our own preconceived ideas there. We are up against this problem continually, when we ask, e.g., a Catholic to read the Biblical record about Mary with a clean, child-like mind, with no expectations as to what we expect to find there. And actually it's still just as hard for us to read Scripture with that same pure mind, as the years pass by after our baptism. Israel 'heard' the word, and yet they did not ''hearken" to it (Rom. 10:16,18)- we can hear but not hear. Yet if we really believed that Scripture is inspired, we wouldn't be like this. It is awesome to reflect how those Hebrew letters, those Greek ciphers written on parchment 1950 years ago, were actually the very words of God Almighty. But this is the real import of our understanding of inspiration. Israel literally 'heard' the words of Ezekiel, knowing that a prophet had been among them- but they weren't obedient. We too can pay such lip service to the doctrine of inspiration- and yet not be truly obedient to the word we know to be inspired.
James 1:24,25 parallel looking at ourselves, and looking into the perfect law of liberty. To read Scripture as God really intended, not as mere words on paper, is to find ourselves engaged in an inevitable self-examination. Reflect a while on two consecutive verses in Ez. 8:18; 9:1: “Though they [Israel] cry in mine ears with a loud voice [when they are under judgment for their actions, which I now ask them to repent of], yet will I not hear them. He [God] cried also in mine [Ezekiel’s] ears with a loud voice, saying…”. Do you see the connection? As we read and hear God’s word today, He is passionately crying in our ears with a loud voice. Just imagine someone literally doing this to you! If we refuse to hear it, then we will cry in His ears with a loud voice in the last and final day of condemnation. The intensity of His appeal to us now will be the intensity with which the rejected plead for Him to change His verdict upon them; and God, like them in this life, will refuse to hear. What arises from this is a simple fact: as we read and hear the pages of Scripture, as we turn the leaves in our Bibles, God is crying in our ears with a loud voice. Our response to Him is a foretaste of our acceptance or rejection at the day of judgment.
Knowing that the Bible is God's inspired word means that of course we will read it in a way that we do not read any other literature. This may seem obvious, but we need to consciously reflect upon the reality of inspiration before we settle down to any protracted Bible reading or study. Here we have the very word of God. " Recent research has indicated that the average individual listens for only seventeen seconds before interrupting and interjecting his own ideas" (5). This happens, of course, when we read the Bible, and hear God's voice. 'Our' voice is there in conflict with God's; but the reality of inspiration should mean that we bring ourselves back to His voice, the words of God rather than those of men or ourselves.
(1) John Carter, in Dare We Believe?
(2) John Carter, Delight In God's Law, pp. 232,233
(3) Thomas Merton, Opening The Bible (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1986 ed.)
(4) Malcolm Muggeridge, Chronicles Of Wasted Time (London: Collins, 1972) p. 171.
(5) Cited in Gary Chapman, The Five Love Languages (Chicago: Northfield, 1995) p. 64.