The Book of Genesis records how God created mankind in his own image and likeness. One of God's purposes was that Adam should have contact and communion with Him. It is clear from the account that God did care for Adam, talk with him, and give him commands. For the most high God to speak with people in this way was a wonderful revelation of God's word, His being, and His will.
After the sin of Adam and Eve, God could indeed have cast them off. They had deliberately disobeyed; the threat had been death. But God in boundless mercy interposed a divinely intended plan of salvation. So God sought out Adam in the garden and charged him with his sin. This was God's first revelation to fallen man.
God spoke further with Adam, Eve, the Serpent, Cain, Noah, and many others. This direct communication from God is usually called special revelation.
Much can be learned about God from the universe He has made. Such an enormous creation signifies an almighty God. The marvelous intricacy of the world argues for the infinite wisdom of God. Our consciences testify to us of a holy and benevolent God. These evidences of God in His creation are usually called general revelation.
This general revelation has often been denied. People say that what seems to be intricacy in nature is due to chance, and the "moral law within," called conscience, has been ascribed to society, early training, self-deception, etc. But Paul in Romans 1:19-23 clearly affirms that God can be seen in nature and he clearly refers to conscience in Romans 2:15. Actually, it is an impressive phenomenon that the great majority of people have always believed in some kind of deity. Furthermore, although conscience can be denied, every human culture known has some moral rules. It would seem that natural revelation is well established. That it does not lead people to worship the true God is attributed by Paul to human wickedness (Rom. 1:18).
When God spoke to people in the early times, it was an oral special revelation. As far as we know, there was no writing until some time after the flood. Some method of recording numbers of objects may have been used, but it seems that writing as we know it began in Mesopotamia and Egypt a little before 3000 B.C. God's oral revelation, however, was just as special and true and inspired as His later written words. When God spoke to Cain, it was not the voice of conscience within; Cain answered in anger. It was an objective speaking from God.
No one knows the names of many of the people to whom God spoke in the early days. Although the Old Testament records that Enoch "walked with God;" the word here probably refers to habitual living rather than mere walking together. But in any case it indicates a harmony and a fellowship including discourse. This fits with the New Testament reference to Enoch as a prophet (Jude 14). Noah received extensive revelations from God—even as to the dimensions of the ark, the animals to be assembled, etc. Without these specific revelations Noah would have perished too. He did not get the instructions for the ark from his heightened spiritual imagination.
A further lesson from Noah's life is that he ministered the word of God to his generation. The record in Genesis implies and 2 Peter states that Noah warned his generation of the coming judgment. This is the function of a prophet—having received the word of God, to speak it to men.
While the Bible contains no information on God's revelation during the long years from Noah to Abraham, it says much after that. God spoke to Abraham many times. He gave him specific commands and promises that were fulfilled in ways Abraham could not have guessed. Abraham moved among men as a prince (Gen. 23:5) and as a worshipper of the true God (Gen. 14:22). By life and word he ministered to his generation, and through the record Moses wrote, he ministers also to us.
Moses was the first writing prophet. God spoke to Moses face to face (Num. 12:8). In addition, God ordered Moses to write His commands (Exod. 24:4-8). Most of the Pentateuch after Moses' call in Exodus 2 is governed by such expressions as "The Lord said to Moses." At the end of Deuteronomy, it says that Moses wrote down this law of the Lord and instructed the people to obey its commands and to read it publicly at the Feast of Tabernacles every seven years. (Deut. 31:9-13).
More will be said about the prophets and their work in chapter 4. For now, we shall study some of the consequences of this view of the Old Testament prophets as organs of revelation, God's spokesmen to the people (Exod. 7:1-2). Remember that a prophet in Israel was not just a highly spiritual man. A prophet was a man called of God to receive revelation from Him (Num. 12:2-8). The prophet's word was so much God's word that it was as if the prophet had eaten a scroll from heaven and had given it out orally to the people (Ezek. 2:7-3:3). The word spoken was God's word.
The same must be said of the words the prophets wrote. All prophetic messages were not written down. Uriah prophesied in the name of the Lord as Jeremiah had done, but he was killed by King Jehoiakim and his words were not written (Jer. 26:20-21). But when the Lord spoke through the prophets in ancient Israel, their words were truly God's word, whether they were merely spoken or also written down. Joshua wrote his record in the Book of the Law of God (Josh. 24:26). Much, if not most, of the Old Testament was spoken first and written afterwards.
Some make a distinction between the prophetic speech and the prophetic writing, saying that only the writing was inspired, but the Old Testament makes no such distinction.
These examples illustrate what is meant by the term "inspiration" and a good definition is "that work of the Holy Spirit in chosen individuals by which the person is moved to speak or write in his own idiom the very words of God without error in fact, doctrine, or judgment." Chapters 2 and 3 will give further biblical evidence for this concept.
This view of inspiration holds that the words themselves are truly God's words, inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is sometimes caricatured as a "dictation theory." But most conservatives today do not believe that God simply dictated His Word to scribes working like a modern secretary or a robot. God used the prophets and controlled them, but did not violate their style or personality. The nearest thing to a theory of dictation is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Council of Trent in 1545 which said in Latin that the Scriptures were "Spiritu Sancto dictante" But the Latin dictante does not mean "dictate" in the modern sense. It simply means "spoken" or "said."
Historically, the Bible has been called inspired, meaning that it is God's Word and fully true. Traditionally it was also called "infallible." That is to say, it is incapable of mistake. In more recent times conservative believers have included belief in the Bible as "the only infallible rule of faith and life." This was clearly meant to affirm that the Bible is infallible and that it is a rule of faith and conduct. But with the rise of liberalism, this vow was often reinterpreted to mean that the Bible was only infallible in matters of faith and morals. Thus the word "infallible" was watered down to allow errors of science and history and this view is widely held among liberals today. To protect against this lower view of the Scriptures, conservative believers have found it necessary to use the additional adjective "inerrant" which is to say that it is without error.
To say the Bible is infallible ought to be enough. But in the current situation, we find it necessary to say also that the Bible is inerrant, if you mean that it is really true in all it says. The Bible is verbally inspired, it is infallible, and it is inerrant in the manuscripts as they were originally written. The statement of faith of the Evangelical Theological Society expresses it briefly but well: "The Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written and is therefore inerrant in the autographs."
Many think that this view of the Scriptures is too narrow. They say that in this 20th century, people cannot believe this. They say that the facts are against it, the Bible's science is outmoded—belief in a flat earth with heaven upstairs can no longer be held. They say that belief in a literal creation of a literal Adam or in the story of Jonah and other such tales must be denied. Indeed, they say, the Scriptures contradict themselves. They claim that there is a human element in Scripture that inerrancy does not allow for and therefore, by insisting on inerrancy, will not reach modern men.
Some brief answers may be suggested which will be developed in chapter 8. It may first be said that we should be slow to depart from an ancient doctrine—grounded as it has been on the teaching of Christ and his apostles—just in order to reach hypothetical "modern men." The prophets of old were commanded to preach the Word of God whether people would listen or not (see Isa. 6:9-10; Jer. 20:9; Ezek. 2:5-7).
Secondly, it is highly doubtful that the Bible pictures a flat earth with heaven upstairs. The claim is that it does if you "take it literally." But actually, no one, not the staunchest conservative takes the Bible "literally." The Bible is full of metaphors, parables, and poetry which are to be interpreted as in any other piece of literature. How could anyone take "literally" such common expressions as "tickled to death,"
"a heart of gold," "ages since I saw you," etc. The objection depends on a crassly literal interpretation of various poetic passages and then says the Bible violates common knowledge. So would most poetry describing the moon, the trees, the mountains, and anything wonderful or beautiful. Many forget that the standard astronomy of the New Testament world taught that the world is round. Eratosthenes had measured its circumference quite accurately in 250 B.C. It is curious that recent theologians who object to the idea that heaven is "up" speak of the "breaking in" of the kingdom of God. It is as strange to picture heaven this way as outside a box as it is to picture it as "up." But, as C. S. Lewis in his book, Miracles, beautifully shows, all language about things which are not perceived by the senses must be metaphorical language. No other way can be found to describe the unseen. So the Bible language does not mean to imply that the spiritual heaven is just upstairs (although Hebrew, like English, uses the same word for the heaven of stars and clouds and space where birds fly, which indeed is "up"). Similarly, "the ends of the earth" does not imply a falling-off place. The Hebrew word "earth" is very often used for "land." The "ends of the earth" usually mean only distant places and the "four corners of the earth" refer only to wide areas in all directions (cf. Ezek. 7:2).
Thirdly, if people cannot believe in a literal creation, they must be able satisfactorily to ascribe to chance the marvelously intricate pattern of life, or, for that matter, the unique creature of intelligence, purpose, and moral consciousness which is known as man.
Finally, to object to the inerrancy of Scripture because of alleged contradictions neglects the years of study on these matters since the days of Justin who was martyred for the faith in A.D. 148 and who had written, "I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another" (Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 65).
It is obvious that the Bible contains some seeming difficulties and things which are hard to understand. Surely this is to be expected in a document from ancient times and from another culture. If culture shock is expected when travelling to foreign countries, how much more should surprising things be found in the Bible. But so many such difficulties have been solved by new discoveries about ancient practices and languages that an informed believer can attribute the few remaining problems to people's ignorance of the details of ancient life and history. Factual problems continue to be answered to the satisfaction of a host of scholars today.
Conservative believers do not accept that real contradictions are contained in Scripture. Like the early church fathers, they believe that such alleged contradictions are due to lack of knowledge or to minor errors of copying.
The Protestant Reformation was a great "back to the Bible" movement. The emphasis was on giving the Bible to the laity. Wycliffe had stood for the principle previously, but Luther, Tyndale, and others carried on the work of translating the Bible into the languages of the people. The corollary was that the Bible is a plain book that the common people can read and understand. Certainly the history of succeeding years has supported this view. This does not mean, however, that everyone can fully understand every passage. Rather, any reader can learn of God and His way of salvation and can by faith accept it. But the judgments of God are unsearchable and "his ways past finding out" (Rom. 11:33). Even references to historical incidents and ancient daily practices are difficult for anyone who does not have the ancient and Eastern background.
So the interpretation of the Bible in detail requires studying of ancient languages, culture, history, etc. But a new approach to hermeneutics says that the Bible is not relevant to us today. Advocates of this position say that ancient Jews lived so differently from us. They were not interested in exact figures, chronological relationships, historical accuracy. Critics say the Bible was not wrong by its standards, but errs by modern scientific standards. Several things should be mentioned in reply. First, the ancients were not so careless as some think. The pyramids, built 500 years before Abraham are oriented to the North Star to within 5 degrees! Hezekiah's engineers in about 732 B.C. dug a winding tunnel through 1800 feet of rock in Jerusalem. They started from both ends and met in the middle, being only a foot or two off in their alignment. Secondly, no one is always exact. Every carpenter knows that a 2" x 4" stud used in house construction is only approximately 1-1/2" x 3-1/2". Being approximate is not being wrong. Historical errors have been alleged in the Bible, but many times later archeological discoveries have shown the Bible was right after all.
The argument has been overworked that says the Bible is not relevant for today because it is the product of the ancient world. Millions of people who have found comfort, meaning, and salvation through the Scriptures testify otherwise. And, although ancient culture differs much from the modern, the differences do not overshadow the similarities. People lived, loved, ate, were ill, fought, thought, sinned, and died as they do today. It is not true that the ancient mind was so different from modern man's. E. D. Hirsch calls this the fallacy of the inscrutable past. He remarks that there is less difference between modern man and the ancients than there is between various modern men. The Bible is understandable and it is relevant.
Others today who call themselves evangelical nonetheless hold that there are errors in the Bible. They claim, however, that these errors are only negligible and do not affect the spiritual message. They say that a strict inerrancy does not allow for the human element in the Bible. But this view is based on a misconception. The historical concept of verbal inspiration and inerrancy assumes the view that God by His Spirit works powerfully on people although His work is behind the scenes. The process of inspiration is not all of God and none of man—this would be dictation. Neither was it all of man and none of God—this would be humanism. Nor was it 50% of God and 50% of man—then errors of major magnitude would be inescapable. But the real picture is that God used men in their total activity and yet He worked upon them powerfully being 100% in control. Hence, verbal inspiration is possible only because the Spirit of God is perfectly able to work like that. The result was that the Bible's authors wrote as no ordinary people wrote, but "as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). Like most spiritual truth, this view involves mystery But it is a wonderful mystery and it has given us an inerrant Bible.
The view of verbal inspiration or inerrancy has been held by the leaders of the church since early days. A view so widespread would surely be basic. One of the main emphases of the Reformation was sola scriptura, "The Bible alone." This emphasis was vital to that great spiritual renewal.
Due to liberal influences, this doctrine was largely lost in Germany in the 19th century and in many areas of America in the early 20th. A revival of full trust and belief in the Bible has accompanied a real resurgence of evangelical strength and outreach in the later 20th century. It is not difficult to see the connection.
Without a real and true word from heaven, people are lost in a sea of human opinion and moral weakness. The Ten Commandments have been taken out of public schools. Their authority has been denied in many of our older church bodies. The result is disastrous. But the warning was given long ago by the beloved disciple. "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Rev. 22:18-19).
The Scriptures are God's Word to us. We should personally read them, study them, meditate upon them and, most of all, practice them. And then we should join with others of like precious faith to see that they are honored and taught unto the ends of the earth.
General revelation, infallible, inerrant, hermeneutics.