December 18, 2017

How Did God Speak?

Bob Jones III

How did God inspire the Scriptures? I believe that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (II Timothy 3:16). I believe that “every word … proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). I believe the Bible is not the product of man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:13), that it is forever “settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89), that “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The Scripture has mixed with it nothing belonging to man’s wisdom except in those places where it clearly delineates that the wisdom of man is speaking and that man is reasoning “under the sun,” as in the book of Ecclesiastes. The authors clearly understood the distinction between speaking under the commandment of God and out of their own understanding (I Corinthians 7:6, 10, 25). In this particular case, since God endorsed the advice by giving His direct permission to Paul to write it, it is inspired advice. The Bible contains that which God says, that which man says, and that which the devil says; but whoever is doing the speaking, the accurate record of what was spoken is given in the original manuscripts and preserved for us in careful translations.

Some of the Bible was given by God speaking directly to man, revealing history or commandment that the writer could not have observed or known from experience. Moses, for instance, did not hear the dialogue between God and our rebellious parents in the Garden of Eden. Nor could he have known about the Flood, about Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac, nor about any of God’s dealing with postdiluvial man prior to the time he lived had God not told him what to say. The same is true of the writers of the Gospel accounts whom God used to give to us the knowledge of the preparing of the virgin to bring into the world His Eternal Son to bear the sins of the world. These men were not present to hear the announcement of the archangel to Mary or her eloquent words of humility spoken afterwards in praise to God. Someone had to tell them. It was the Holy Spirit! It is unlikely that Mary could have related it verbatim without additions or omissions. The same is true of John’s writing of the book of Revelation. He says clearly in Revelation 1:10 that he “was in the Spirit on the lord’s day,” and heard behind him a great voice, as of a trumpet, saying, “I am Alpha and Omega,” and so forth. The voice commanded him to write the things which he had “seen … which are, and … which shall be hereafter” (Revelation 1 :19). John related the things revealed unto him.

In other places the writers of Scripture told their personal experiences, such as Paul’s account of the shipwreck on his way to Rome when all of the ship’s passengers were cast on a certain island to be protected by God without a hair of their heads being lost. In recording this, Paul was not revealing a message from God to His people in the same sense the prophets did or John did on Patmos; the words he used to describe that event were his but chosen of God. They were words from Paul’s vocabulary, yet superintended by God so that they were the words of God. Paul’s conscious mind was not suspended so that he was merely an automaton. He spoke of an event in which he participated. The stamp of human personality is clearly seen in all of the writings throughout Scripture. There is diversity of vocabulary and incidents of illustration that are drawn from the lives of the writers. Peter was a rough fisherman, and it showed in his manner of expression; Paul, a well-educated Pharisee. In these and all cases the writers’ expressions reflected their personality. The words were both God’s and theirs. Inspiration involves a supernatural element which we cannot understand. The words came from the mouth of God (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4) and from the vocabulary of the writers. God had decided aforetime what the writers would say, since the Word of God is forever “settled in heaven” (Psalm 119:89). That means that every writer of Scripture was chosen of God, just as Jeremiah, from “before … the womb” (Jeremiah 1:5), and that their lives, personalities, and backgrounds were uniquely prepared of God so that these words, God’s words, would be spoken from their mouths and written from their pens and, therefore, would be the pure, eternal Word of God — inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. This sets the Bible apart from all other books. It is the only book in the world that reveals to us the mind of God. God, the divine author of the Bible, accomplished this through human instrumentation but without the folly, error, and mistaken judgments of men entering into the book.

I do not believe in mechanical dictation but do believe, as set forth above, that God directly revealed eternal truth which was recorded in the writers’ vocabulary and that He also brooded over the recording of events in their ministries and caused them to tell it in His words, through theirs. Oftentimes holy men of old did not understand the meaning of events of which they spoke, though they used the words that they would have ordinarily used in speaking publicly or privately (1 Peter 1:11, 2 Peter 1:21). On other occasions, when someone such as Luke described an event like the uproar at Ephesus created by the worshippers of the goddess Diana when threatened by the Gospel, the writer related the incident accurately, as it happened; and the words he used to describe what took place were the words God wanted to be used. There was not more said, nor less — word for word God saw to it that the writer said what He wanted said. That is verbal inspiration.

We must face the fact that we are dealing with the mysteries of the wisdom of God. It is presumptuous for this writer, or any other, to think he can understand the complex working of God in accomplishing verbal inspiration. “His ways [are] past finding out” (Romans 11:33), and the human mind is incapable of understanding the complete mechanics of verbal inspiration. God was the technician, and we can’t explain His technique. When we read the Bible, we see the result of it. We have His Word and the evidence of its power to tell us this is a book beyond all books, unique and different from all other books. It is the Word of God; that is enough for me. I stand in awe of it, and while I would not insult God by saying that I understood the mechanics of verbal inspiration, I will affirm plenary verbal inspiration to my dying breath.

Adapted from an article in Faith for the Family, January/February 1975. It is published here by permission.

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