How you view the inspiration of Scripture— whether it was penned by God or a fabrication of man—is critically important relative to what is authoritative in your life.
Some time ago I was speaking to a friend on the Hill whom we all know. He said, “Ralph, you have almost convinced Congressman_______ that Scripture is inspired by God. But he realizes that if he agrees with you, then the Bible will become the final arbiter for his life and policy decisions…. You’ve got him thinking!” He went on to encourage me to continue working through this with him.
What follows is the case for the inspiration of the New Testament, and as illustrated above, this study has huge implications: Where you come down on inspiration will ultimately determine whether you are the judge of Scripture or Scripture is the judge of you. Heavy stuff, my friend! Inspiration is a watershed issue.
May God bless and buoy your confidence in His Book as a result of this week’s study.
Several questions will help a public servant, or for that matter, any individual, address the question of God’s inspiration of Scripture.
First, what is the testimony of Scripture itself ? Did the authors of the Bible know they were penning Holy Writ? Did they say they were writing God’s words? Did they make this claim themselves or is this an idea later foisted onto them by others wanting that to be the case?
Second, what is the testimony of the early Church regarding the books that now make up the Bible? Were the Scriptures deemed God’s Word by those closest to the human authors of the Bible? And …
Third, how exactly did our Bible get to be in the form we have today? It’s not as if the Bible suddenly dropped out of the sky.
Again, and akin to my prologue, the answers to these questions are extremely important to our beliefs. If the Scriptures are from God, that is to say they are inspirated by Him to man, then the Bible is the last and final authority in one’s formation of principles, values and policy. Rightly so, the late Francis Schaeffer deemed inspiration to be the watershed issue of the Christian faith.1Accordingly this study is intended to build your understanding of, passion for, and conviction regarding the inspiration and authoritativeness of the whole of the Bible.
Holding to, or else rejecting the inspiration of Scripture greatly impacts value formation.
When Paul said, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27)2, he was expressing to the Ephesian elders to whom he had ministered for over three years, his conviction that what he was saying and writing was indeed inspired by God. Therefore, for a teacher of it or a believer’s following it to be slack regarding it was irresponsible. Paul’s statement assumes that God inspired what he was saying. It follows that such a statement is ridiculous if Paul did not believe his speech and writings were inspired by God and infused with His authority.
As Members of the White House Cabinet and Congress, you face multiple demands on every hour of your time. Your regular participation in our Members Bible studies requires persistent and determined effort on your part to block and protect your schedule (from your schedulers!) for the regular consumption of God’s Book. Why would you do that if you don’t believe it is God’s Book? Conversely, why would you not discipline yourself and prioritize Bible study if indeed it is His Book? All that to say: your conclusions relative to inspiration even affect your weekly calendar!3
What follows are three reasons why a person can trust in the plenary inspiration4 of the Bible and more specific to this lesson, the 27 New Testament (NT) books.
II. THE TESTIMONY OF THE AUTHORS
If today the whole of the New Testament is to be taken as the plenarily inspired authoritative, infallible, inerrant oracle of God, then it stands to reason that the writers would know this and would say so. Note the following NT writers in this regard:
A. THE APOSTLE PAUL
(1 CORINTHIANS 14:37, 2:13; 2 CORINTHIANS 2:17)
“If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
“Which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
“For we are not like many, peddling the word of God, but as from sincerity, but as from God, we speak in Christ in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 2:17).
Likened to Acts 20:27 quoted in the introduction, the Apostle Paul clearly understood he was speaking and writing for God.
B. THE APOSTLE JOHN
“The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by His angel to His bond-servant John, who testified to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Cf. Revelation 1:10–11; 21:5; 22:6; 22:18, 19).
This passage serves to indicate that the Apostle John (here referring to himself as His bond-servant John) realized as he testified herein, that he is penning what Jesus Christ told him to reveal.
C. THE APOSTLE PETER
(1 PETER 1:12B)
“These things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look.”
Here the Apostle Peter testifies that he (and other apostles) who preached the Gospel did so via the Holy Spirit, the message being sent from heaven.
( JOHN 12:48)
“He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day.”
Jesus speaks of God the Father’s judgment for the person who rejects what Jesus says.
The skeptic will often reason that since the written NT did not exist when these men penned the aforementioned testimonies regarding the inspiration of Scripture, that their statements must have been in reference to the Old Testament (OT), which was then existent in canonical form. In rebuttal of this reasoning, note that the apostles cross-pollinate one another. For instance, Peter testifies that Paul was writing Scripture, Paul testifies that Peter was writing Scripture, etc. Such affirmation is evident in the following passages.
E. PETER TESTIFIES OF PAUL
(2 PETER 3:15, 16)
“And regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.”
Peter directly testifies that what Paul wrote was Scripture. How do the skeptics discount the strength of this passage when they debate inspiration? Since this passage of the Apostle Peter’s attesting to the Apostle Paul’s writing of Scriptures (graphe) is so strong and straightforward, many liberal theologians of the twentieth century have tried to claim it was written much later, and not by Peter. However, 2 Peter was widely circulated and accepted by Church leaders in the second century! They were obviously much closer to the book’s creation and publication, and they classified it as being inspired exactly as they did the other 26 books of the NT. They did not question its authenticity nor its date of authorship like those of more recent days!
F. PAUL TESTIFIES OF PETER
(1 THESSALONIANS 2:13)
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.”
Wow! How much more direct can you be? Paul is referring not only to himself but to the other apostolic preachers as recorded in the birth of the Church, the chronological account of which is located in the NT book of Acts. “Heard from us” refers to the other preachers, such as the Apostle Peter. What was heard? The “word of God.”
G. JUDE TESTIFIES OF THE APOSTLES
( JUDE 17–18)
“But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, ‘In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.’”
An apostle is “someone who not only saw, but who spoke on behalf of the second member of the Trinity, Jesus Christ.” As such, Jude is saying that the apostles spoke for God!
H. ALL OF SCRIPTURE
In addition to referring to their own and each other’s writings as inspired by God, both Paul and Peter attest to the whole inspiration of Scripture—all of Scripture—elsewhere in their various letters. The following are several examples:
“All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).
This Scripture is another very clear and straightforward passage that again scores a knockout punch for “team inspiration!”
Of course, theological liberals to interpret this important passage in another way. Here’s their twist: this passage means All Scripture inspired by God is … thereby leaving open the possibility that some Scripture is not inspired, and therefore, it is incumbent upon man to figure out what is and what isn’t inspired—something they enjoy doing! Witness the “Jesus Seminar” wherein liberal “scholars” voted on what was “inspired” and what was not. Don’t fall for their Scripture-twisting antics! Save a lengthy grammar lesson in Greek, it is clear from similarly constructed passages in the Greek NT (Romans 7:12; 2 Corinthians 10:10; 1 Timothy 1:15, 2:2, 4:4; and Hebrews 4:17) that such a translation is intentionally misleading. “All Scripture is inspired” is the proper translation.
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:20–21).
This passage clearly states that the Bible was not and is not the product of human will. Rather, the writers were carried or moved along by God.
To summarize this second Roman numeral point in the outline, the testimony of the inspirated authors of Scripture roundly indicates that they knew that what they were writing was from God! In the attempt to convey the idea that inspiration was later foisted onto their ancient writings, a person cannot say that these men were unaware that when they wrote, God was inspirating their writings. These passages serve to indicate that they knew it when they wrote! Nor does it make sense to say these men were lying about what they wrote because of everything else that surrounds and comes forth from their writings. Obviously, these were men of great integrity!
Specifics on what inspiration actually means
1. It does not mean that the writers were inspired every minute of their lives.
It is All Scripture (graphe) that is inspired (theopnuestos) (or better, God-breathed, i.e., inspirated). Specifically, it’s not the writers; it’s the Scriptures that are given by the breathing forth of God in and through them. When speaking and writing apart from the penning of Scripture, the writers of the NT were human and subject to fallibility and inaccuracy.5
2. It means that God worked in unison with the writer’s mind.
Sometimes God dictated through the writer (Jeremiah 1:9b, “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth.”), but most often God utilized the personality, education, and setting of His prophets and apostles.6 Note the following excerpt in this regard:
But, as clearly seen in Scripture itself, God’s divine truth more often flowed through the minds, souls, hearts, and emotions of His chosen human instruments. Yet, by whatever means, God divinely superintended the accurate recording of His divinely breathed truth by His divinely chosen men. In a supernatural way, He has provided His divine Word in human words that any person, even a child, can be led by His Holy Spirit to understand sufficiently to be saved.7
3. It means that only the original autographa8 were inspired.
Being pro-inspiration implies the person believes only in the error-free original autographa. Critics point out that none of the original manuscripts is in existence today. This is a challenge: copying scribes could and did err, but it does not decide the inspiration debate. Note the following in this regard:
The NT Scholar is not significantly hampered by the unavailability of the autographa, however, because of the science and art of textual criticism. The abundance of manuscripts of the NT or portions thereof and the earliness of their dates in relation to the original compositions places him in a better position to know precisely what was originally written than for any other ancient writing.9
III. THE TESTIMONY OF THE SECOND-CENTURY CHURCH
The last book of the NT to be written was the apocalypse, which we call today the book of Revelation. Around AD 94–96, the Apostle John wrote this book. Thus, the era of the first-century church ended, and the writing of the NT was completed (cf. Revelation 22:18–19). Many of the NT books were known as encyclicals, meaning they were intended for more than one audience to read. Soon all 27 books would become encyclicals as the various papyrus10 manuscripts that contained the NT books were passed around and often recopied as they circulated from church to church during this period. Importantly, they were immediately viewed as authoritative because in addition to Christ’s words, the apostles had always been seen as Christ’s representatives, having been appointed by Him (cf. Acts 1:8). There was never any reason for the second-century church to doubt that the apostles were Christ’s spokesmen. As a matter of fact, after the ascension and the day of Pentecost they were even given miraculous sign gifts by Him to further legitimize their appointment and authority. Given their own written affirmations (as previously mentioned), they were viewed and accepted by the early church leaders as authoritative. There was never any doubt.
Moreover, the apostles’ writings contained commands that they be read in the church services. In that the early church patterned their services after those of the Jewish synagogues (where the inspired OT Scriptures were given preeminence and authority by their regular reading in the worship service), the internal demand by the apostles to have their apostolic writings read alongside of the OT readings communicated a huge message both to the audience then and to the reader of the Bible today: their apostolic writings are equally Scripture! Note such apostolic commands to the early church in the following passages:
A. COLOSSIANS 4:16
“When this letter is read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and you, for your part read my letter that is coming from Laodicea [Ephesus].”
B. 1 THESSALONIANS 5:27
“I adjure you by the Lord to have this letter read to all the brethren.”
C. REVELATION 1:3
“Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of the prophecy, and heed the things which are written in it; for the time is near.”
The second selection, 1 Thessalonians 5:27, especially underscores the idea of apostolic commanding. The Greek word for adjure (enorkizo) means “to put under an oath.” This is very forceful language: Paul put the Church at Thessalonica under oath by God to read his letter to them and in the main service! Again: The fact that all of these verses explicitly say to read the apostolic writings in the church services is akin to placing these writings on par with OT Scripture.
By the middle of the second century, “the authority of the apostles was accepted as equal to that of the OT apostolic writings were read in church services along with those of the OT. By the end of the period the principle of a fixed and written NT canon was established.”11
By the end of the second, the classification of the NT writings as scriptural is evident in the apologetic writings of Irenaeus. Irenaeus was a disciple of Polycarp, who was a disciple of the Apostle John. Irenaeus wrote to defend the faith from heretical teachings in his compendium of books titled Against All Heresies. In his treatment, he quotes 21 of the 27 NT books as his authority in refuting doctrinal errors. And his NT quotes far outweigh his use of the OT. As of yet, the 27 NT books had still not been formally “sewn together” in what is referred to as the canonization of Scripture. What is especially important about the aforementioned is the acceptance and adherence of the second-century church leaders and believers to the scriptural authority of the apostolic writers.
The second-century church had a much closer vantage point than we do: looking back they could see the bakery through their binoculars.
… so to speak. How can liberal theologians criticize the apostolic writings from their vantage point 2000 years later? How can they think they have a better perspective than the second-and third-century church leaders who personally witnessed and supervised the germination of the encyclicals into the formal canonization of the Scriptures? Comparatively speaking, today’s attempts to superimpose personal ideas on the clear pronouncements of apostolic authority, as well as first- and second-century church leader attestations, are not only arrogant but laughable!
IV. THE TESTIMONY OF THE CANONIZING PROCESS
The canonization of Scripture did not occur until the early fourth century. From AD 200 to 300, the church knew of the basic contents of the NT and continued to view them as inspired and authoritative (although precise limits had not yet been defined). Prior to discussing the actual formalizing of the canon, pointing out what the word means is essential.
The English word canon is transliterated from the same word in Greek. Its etymology stems from its most literal understanding: “a cane or a reed” seguing into meaning a “rod” (since a cane or reed, like a yardstick could be used as an ancient measuring device). Over time it took on the meaning of a “bar.” And since a reed became related to the idea of measuring, the word took on the metaphorical meaning of a “standard.” Used in literature, it meant, “A list of works correctly attributed to an author.”12 Used in English today, it means the authoritative books accepted as Holy Scripture.
In a proper sense, the canon actually came into existence when the original penning of the autographa occurred— even though it took the church many years to recognize that. In other words, the authority is in the books themselves—not the body that later “canonized” them.13
Importantly, the canon consists of those God-inspired books when penned by God’s agents.
Much more could be said about the historical authenticating events that led up to the official recognition of NT canonization. This fascinating story is for another time. In this lesson, for the sake of brevity, I will cut to the chase.
Diocletian was the Roman Emperor at the dawn of the fourth century. He was a vicious man who ordered all religious books be burned in his attempt to have everyone worship him as god. Christians risked death by hiding a copy of Scripture. One person who lived through this ordeal was Eusebius of Caesarea (AD 270–340). He was a respected church leader and historian who spent an abundance of time and attention on the canon. The future of the Scriptures was at stake. In his book, Church History, he speaks much about the subject of the canon.
In 313 Constantine conquered the Roman Empire and declared Christianity as a legal religion. Soon thereafter he commissioned Eusebius to make him 50 copies of the NT. Eusebius followed through, and this led to the actual “sewing together” of the books of the NT. Until this time, the NT existed in various codices,14 and the criteria for determining which books would actually be in the canon had not been solidified. Eusebius may be credited with achieving that among the church leaders.
Athanasius then completed Eusebius’ work. Therein the extent of the NT was codified and ratified by the Church Counsel of Laodicea in AD 365. The pronouncement of this gathering read, “Psalms composed by private men must not be read in the church, nor books not admitted into the canon, but only the canonical [books] of the New and Old Testaments.”
Following the Laodicea gathering, in two subsequent church leader councils, the canon was further ratified throughout the world. These councils were: The Council of Hippo in AD 393 and The Council of Carthage in AD 397. In this latter counsel, Augustine said the following:
[It is decreed] that nothing except the canonical Scriptures be read in the church under the name of divine Scripture … Of the New Testament the four gospels, Acts, thirteen epistles of St. Paul, the epistle of the same to the Hebrews, Peter (2), John (3), James, Jude, Apocalypse …”
“General accord with this decision was evidenced in the practice of all the churches from that point on.”15
The NT was now canonized. The latently authoritative writings had now been formally recognized for what they always had been since their origination, collected and bound. The church had assented unanimously— inspired by God!
Many still espouse Theological Liberalism. But I must add it is a dying breed because what results from their theology is little motivation to save or evangelize the lost. With too few converts, their churches are aging and merging.
Whether or not the Bible is inspired by God is a watershed issue. Where a person stands on inspiration will either solidify or discount the Bible as authoritative in terms of his or her personal formation of principles and values, and for a public servant, his or her policy decisions. If you accede to inspiration, then it follows that the Word becomes authoritative in your life. If you reject inspiration, you conclude that you (or some liberal pastor) is the final authority.
When you think about it:
Rejecting inspiration means you or some other human stands in authority over God.
Intellectual arguments against inspiration could be a smokescreen for a heart in rebellion to God. If you argue against the authors and those who knew the authors, you are arguing against history and the internal attestation of Scripture itself ! Submit to Scripture, submit to the revealed Christ of Scripture, and follow the precepts of Him and His Book! Allow Jesus and His Word to inform and determine your thinking, your values, your decisions, and actions. He loves you and His ways are always best for you and the nation! It is not as if God created mankind and left him without a manual to guide him personally— and in the governing decisions public servants must make for the betterment of a nation. All of the right solutions to our personal and national problems are right there in His inspired Book!
“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple,” states Psalm 19:7b. God’s Word will give you the skill to live life (wisdom). And He promises He will reward you if you obey Him. Verse 11b of the same Psalm states, “In keeping them there is great reward.” Inspiration is a pivotal, watershed issue! The Scriptures are the Word of God! Accede today to their authority in your life!
1. Schaeffer, Francis. He is There and He is not Silent (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 1972).
2. Note too that Paul and other NT authors strongly condemned those who in any way adulterated or diminished the Scriptures (cf. Galatians 1:6–9; 2 Corinthians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:3, 4; Revelation 22:18, 19.
3. Harold Lindsell’s classic book, The Battle for the Bible, was penned after Fuller Theological Seminary had abandoned inerrancy. He went on to help found Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary with a high view of inerrancy. In his book he builds the case for how the abandonment of inerrancy leads to missiological atrophy. All that to say, inspiration or not determines a myriad of things in the Christian life: missions, national policy and even the discipline of Bible study attendance.
4. Plenary Inspiration is a historic reformation term that codifies the belief that God is the ultimate author of the Bible in its entirety. That is, God’s superintending work in inspiration extends to the whole Bible and to each part of the Bible … and that it is authoritative. [Cf. Stanley J. Grenz et al, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 1999).]
5. Nowhere in Scripture, including Matthew 16:18–19, can one support the idea of ex-cathedra (Latin, “from the chair”), i.e., that supposedly a lineage of leadership stems from the Apostle Peter to a present-day church leader, who when he speaks ex cathedra, he is speaking for God.
6. Sometimes this included the use of an amanuensis, which is a secretary to whom they dictated.
7. John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 2 Timothy (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1995), 143.
8. Autographs or manuscripts written by the author.
10. This was (and still is) a sedge plant that was made into a primitive form of paper. Later, vellum or parchment, a processed animal skin that was much more expensive than papyrus, was used in the copying of NT books.
11. Dr. Robert Thomas, The Canon of the New Testament, excerpt notes, 13.
12. Merrill Tenney, The New Testament, A Survey (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), 417.
13. In theology, this word is termed as “a collection of authoritative writings” versus “an authoritative collection of writings.” Whereas the former stresses the latent authority of the documents, the later stresses the authority of the collection agency, i.e., the church rather than the books.
14. A codex (plural: codices) was “an early, primitive form of a modern-day book, contrasted with a scroll, which was a rolled-up papyrus manuscript.”
15. Brooke Westcott, The Bible, 189. 9. Dr. Robert Thomas, The Canon of the New Testament, excerpt article, 2.