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Part One: The Process Revealed; Inspiration

Today we begin a series on the Book of Books, a series that will in many ways be like the beginning of a tour, a journey. We will not to be able to make all the stops, but every step promises to be exciting and life-changing. As we walk through these lessons, my prayer is that you will go away from our time together with a new love and appreciation for the gift the Lord has given to us.

Famous evangelist Billy Sunday tried to capture his feelings in what might be called a travelogue of his journey through the Scriptures. This is what he said:

Twenty-nine years ago, with the Holy Spirit as my Guide, I entered at the portico of Genesis, walked down the corridor of the Old Tesament art galleries, where pictures of Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Isaac, Jacob, and Daniel hang on the wall.

I passed into the music room of the Psalms where the spirit sweeps the keyboard of nature until it seems that every reed and pipe in God's great organ responds to the harp of David, the sweet singer of Israel.

I entered the chamber of Ecclesiastes, where the voice of the preacher is heard, and into the conservatory of Sharon and the lily of the valley where sweet spices filled and perfumed my life.

I entered the business office of Proverbs and on into the observatory of the propehts where I saw telescopes of various sizes pointing to far off events, concentrating on the bright and morning Star which was to rise above the moonlit hills of Judea for our salvation and redemption.

I entered the audience room of the King of kings, catching a vision written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Then into the correspondence room with Paul, Peter, James and John writing their Epistles.

I stepped into the throne room of Revelation where tower the glittering peaks, where sits the King of kings upon His throne of glory with the healing of the nations in His hand, and I cried out: All hail the power of Jesus' name! Let angels prostrate fall; Bring forth the royal diamdem. And crown Him Lord of all."

Isn't that a beautiful description of his journey through the Scripures?

As we begin our journey, I want to start with a big picture of how God communicates with man.

When some tours travel to Israel, they begin by going to the major mountain peaks—the high places, to see the lay of the land and how the geography of the country has influenced some of its events, as well as to see the context in which the stories of the Bible took place. After they have that perspective, the tour visits the cities, streets, and sights of the land.

Let's do the same, go to the top of a mountain that will give us an even higher perspective on the Bible than the geography of the land. Journeying to this vista will give us an overview of the process God used to communicate with us through the Scripture, and will prove a very beneficial and exciting trip. By studying God's communication with man, we will have an understanding of how the Bible came to us and how we should respond to it.

These are the questions we hope to answer in the first leg of our journey:

 

  1. From what source did we receive our knowledge of God?
  2. Why do we believe the Bible is God's communication to man?

As we explore God's communication process to the human race, we will see how God has revealed Himself to us, and how we got the Bible we have in our hands. Let me prepare you, the process is more involved than we might think; in fact, the flow of truth from God to man is no less than a miracle.

The process of God's communication to man involves several definite phases. To get the whole picture, let's view the process as a chain that stretches from the mind of God, to the act and attitudes of man.

 

The process chain and explanation has been designed by Earl Radmacher, the former president of Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, in Portland, Oregon and one of my professors when I received my Doctor of Ministry degree.
This concise explanation also helps answer a lot of questions people ask believers, e.g.;
  • How do you know the Bible is God's Word?
  • Isn't the Bible full of errors?
  • How can we trust that what was originally God's Word hasn't been changed over the years with all the changes and translations that have been made?

These are questions we hope to answer today and next week.

 

The Process Previewed

Let me give you the big picture and then gradually walk you through it.

The links of the chain start with God's revelation and end with man's application of that revelation. We will capsulize the process first and then look at each part of the chain in more detail.

 

Revelation/Inspiration

A circular process of receiving and recording the Word of God without any error.

 

Transmission

Copying, as accurately as possible, the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and their copies.

 

Translation

Seeking the most accurate translation of the original language manuscripts into our own language.

 

Interpretation/Illumination

Finding what the author meant by what he said and—by the Spirit—putting the meaning into contemporary expressions.

 

Application

Using our varied gifts to make the Word of God relevant to us so that change in behavior results.

With that overview in mind, let's look back at each link/each step of the chain. Some of the terms may be new to you, but don't be discouraged, they will be more clear as we move along. Keep in mind the action at the ends of the chain and that the process moves from left to right. Each link is necessary before we can move to the next.


Revelation

is the first link. The big problem is how to get the mind of God into the mind of man so that it will properly alter his attitudes and actions. We know from Scripture that God's "thoughts are not our thoughts and His ways are not our ways" (Is. 55:8). It is so apparent that His wisdom far surpasses that of man. In the words of Rom. 11:35, "Who has known the mind of the Lord?"

We also have the declaration in 1 Cor. 2:9, "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him." (Note: Some use this at funeral services, as if there is no hope for understanding what God has in mind for us until we reach eternity.)

Our concerns about revelation, however, are resolved in the next verse: "But God has revealed it to us by his spirit..." v. 10. (See also 1 Cor. 2:12 and Deut. 29:29.) We're not in the dark anymore—the truth has been revealed to us, because God has revealed Himself.

What is revelation? We use the word in a lot of ways, but it has a particular meaning when it comes to the Bible. Revelation is simply defined as God's self-disclosure, God telling us something about Himself, things He is doing or has done. It is a translation of the Greek term apokalupsis, which means "an uncovering," an "unveiling of God." God in revelation unveils Himself and communicates with us.

Is all revelation the same? No, the Bible speaks of two kinds: general revolution and special revolution.

General revelation is that which God makes known through natural means—the creation. 1)Two Scriptures which describe the revelation are Psalm 19:1-5 and Romans 1:18-20, which reads:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness 19] since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20] For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

This revelation is not written down in any formal language system, but is plain to us because God has made it plain. Even His invisible qualities have been clearly seen from what He has made. This form of communication about God, according to Romans 1:20, leaves men without excuse. God didn't stop here, however, in His communication to man. A more specific revelation to all mankind is called

Special Revelation It is that act of God by which He discloses Himself or communicates truth to the mind of man which could not be known any other way. This communication of God has come to us in three ways:

 

  • The Spoken Word. This is by the prophets and the apostles—2 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 1:1, which says, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways..." (note "times" and "ways")

     

  • The Living Word. This is by His Son, Jesus Christ—John 1:1; Heb. 1:1-2, which says, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2] but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe." 

     

  • The Written Word This revelation is recorded in language/in words. Man is told about God, what he is to believe concerning God, and what is required of him, in a written form we call the Bible. This revelation is necessary for salvation. 2 Tim. 3:16-17—16] All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17] so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

This concept could be charted the following way:

 

General Revelation Special Revelation
God's self-disclosure God's self-disclosure
By natural means By supernatural means
Not written down Revealed in person and written word
Not sufficient for salvation Necessary for salvation
Designed to make plain who God is Designed to make plain who God is and what He wants

 

 

That should give us a pretty good understanding of what revelation is all about, but there is an extension of this subject that I think might be helpful to us as well. Sometimes in descriptions about the Bible we find another word attached to the word "revelation" that explains its timing of revelation: "progressive."

What is progressive revelation? Does God keep changing His mind? Simply put, progressive revelation means that God chose not to tell us everything He intended to reveal all at once. He didn't back up the heavenly truck and dump everything we need to know at one time. Revelation became fuller in content and meaning as it progressed, both in amount and in subject matter. It grew both in size and content.

Let me clarify by stating what progressive revelation does not mean:

 

  • Progressive revelation doesn't mean that former truth became untruthful—"Oops, uh...I'm sorry. What I said before... why don't you scratch it ...forget it." It simply means the former truth was made clearer by the addition of more details or information.
  • Progressive revelation doesn't mean that this truth was discovered by trial and error. "Oh that sounds good to me, how about you? Well, let's try it and see if it works."
  • Progressive revelation does not mean that the revelation of the Bible started out as untrue, but was eventually altered so that it reflected more truth than error. Some actually believe that and thus cast the Old Testament aside, reasoning that it reflects the Old Covenant and that we're under grace, not the Law. They say the Old Testament was the book before the cross, and the New Testament is the book after the cross, so we don't need to read the Old Testament. On the contrary: the Old Testament and the New Testament are both still true.
  • Progressive revelation is not that which was improved through the investigative efforts of men.

It means, then, that each truth was made clearer by the addition of more of God's truth. This is very important in interpretation. In the book of Job, for instance, are many comments from the characters of that great drama that weren't complete. They didn't have the full picture, so they misinterpreted the events of Job's life. They needed more of God's revelation, and by the end of the book, God revealed Himself in the storm.

Progressive revelation is why we are not involved in the sacrificial system today. It was a true picture of what Jesus came to do for us, and that was made clear when He died on the cross.

You will notice revelation and inspiration are on the same chain link, because this is a circular process with inspiration and revelation interrelated.

Inspiration

"The doctrine of inspiration has to do with the writers of Scripture receiving and recording God's truth accurately. Many Christians are confused about this doctrine because they don't understand the biblical meaning behind the word inspiration. When people applaud an artist's work as inspired, they're not saying it is without error or the result of some supernatural act of God. But when the same word is used of the scriptures, that's exactly what we mean." Charles Swindoll, A Look at the Book, 1995, p. 5.

A definition and comparison can be very helpful; in fact, it is important to see the difference between revelation and inspiration. Revelation is what God has chose to tell us; how He told us is called inspiration. Revelation is the message, and inspiration is the process of accurately recording the revelation.

Several questions accompany a discussion of inspiration.

 

  • How did it happen?
  • How were the words of Scripture actually recorded?
  • Did the writers of Scripture go into a trance?
  • Did they write it and God was the editor, i.e., gave the final approval?
  • Was God even involved at all in putting together the Bible?

You can imagine how much controversy exists about this subject with those who don't believe the Scripture. Some have taken the ultimate step and proposed we give up any claim that the Bible is authoritative. One professor has said, "I propose... that we forthrightly give up any claim that the Bible is authoritative... in guidance for contemporary faith and morals. This, I would argue is the inevitable and appropriate final step in a long story of the erosion of biblical authority... the Bible has no 'legal' authority to determine our 'now'"—Robin Scroggs, Professor of New Testament, Interpretation Magazine, Union Theological Seminary, New York, Jan. 1995.

Why would a professor in a seminary come to that conclusion?

Many see this as a logical conclusion because of the constant erosion of biblical authority. Downplaying absolutes in our culture has exaggerated the role of subjectivity. This explains why 53 percent of evangelical Christians believe there are no absolutes, as compared to 66 percent of Americans in general.

Obviously there is a great need for us to understand about the inspiration of Scripture, and how authoritative the Scriptural revelation is, so let's begin with some very basic questions: Who wrote the Bible? Where did Scripture come from? How is man involved in the process?

The origin of Scripture is made quite clear in 2 Pet. 1:20-21:

 

20] Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. 21] For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

This is a very important passage! A double negative makes it very clear we received the Scriptures from God. "... no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation... for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man."

We reject any idea/notion that the Bible is a purely human book which belongs beside other books and is the product of human literary genius. When we put these negative clauses together, we see that no prophecy/scripture originated either in the mind of the prophet, or in the will of the prophet. The initiative for speaking and writing was never the prophets. They didn't think with their minds or decide with their wills what they wanted to say.

To further make the case, a double positive in this passage lets us know "... men spoke from God... (by His initiative, His command, His authority) ...as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

A definition of "carried along" is very helpful at this point; a description of the phrase is found in Acts 27. Paul's boat was caught in a storm and couldn't turn around and head into the wind, so the crew just gave in to it. Luke writes in v. 15, "so we gave way to it and were driven along." In other words, the ship drifted at the mercy of the wind.

An application is obvious: "As the ship was driven to a destination determined by the wind and not by the ship, so the prophets were carried along by the Holy Spirit and inspired to say things determined by Him and not by them." B.B. Warfield: "They were taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to a goal of His choosing."

It is impossible to miss what Peter is saying here. The double negative and positive statements about Scripture affirm that Scripture did not originate in human minds and human wills, but in God's. As we consider what Peter wrote, however, it is necessary to add an important qualification, an explanation. We need to talk about the double, or dual authorship of Scripture.

Although no Scripture originated in the minds or wills of human beings, that does not mean it bypassed the minds and wills of the human authors. Although they were carried along by the Holy Spirit, they were not so overpowered by His Spirit that they were deprived of their own speech.

In verse 21 it says, "...men spoke from God." In comparison, Heb. 1:1 says, "God spoke through the prophets." Is that a contradiction?

This is two ways of saying the same thing with a different emphasis (the subject of the verb "to speak" is different). So how do we answer this dilemma: Is the Bible the Word of God because God spoke it, or is it the word of man because men spoke it? Both answers are right. God spoke through men, and men spoke from God.

The Bible is the Word of God, and the Word of men—the Word of God through the words of men. It is very important to preserve the concept of double authorship of the Bible, because that's what the Bible says of itself. We should not affirm either human authorship or God's authorship in such a way as to contradict the other. The process of inspiration is mysterious in that we're not told the precise way it took place, but we do know it was dual (concurrent) authorship. We must keep a balance in what we say about the Scripture and avoid extreme positions.

 

  • We cannot confuse inspiration with dictation. The prophets and apostles who wrote God's Word were not mere passive machines, functioning like tape recorders. The Holy Spirit did not violate their personalities and perspective; He respected them. Consciousness, vocabulary, and personal circumstances were fully preserved. The authors conducted research, e.g., Luke. They had their own literary styles, e.g., Paul, Peter, Matthew. They used their human abilities freely.
  • We must remember the Holy Spirit so guided the process that they expressed the truth exactly as God wanted it. The writers were not free to express in whatever words or phrases they pleased. When Paul, Peter, Moses, and David wrote, they conveyed exactly what God wanted to say and their personalities served to cast it in the mood that God wanted it to project.

     

J.I. Packer—This is the Biblical idea of God's concursive operation: "in, with and through man's own mind, the Holy Spirit carried them forward to say what He wanted to say."

Because God was superintending this process, we have amazing results to praise Him for. He so worked in the process that the authors produced a document totally free from error or omission of any kind. With the dual authorship of all the books of the Bible, a unity throughout the Bible was preserved. The Bible displays a harmony, progression of thought and unity of doctrine which makes evident to all that it is the book of books—the only book of its kind. Think of it: a variety of men from all kinds of locations, times, and personalities developed a wide range of subject matter with different literary styles into a book which displays unity of doctrine.

Defining the technical terms may be helpful in fully understanding what was written. Four essential factors in our doctrine of inspiration are:

 

  • Infallible: This means freedom from any doctrinal misstatement of any kind.
  • Inerrant: This means freedom from any error in facts or details.
  • Verbal: The matter of inerrancy extends to the very words in the "original" Hebrew and Greek manuscripts.
  • Plenary: The matter of inerrancy extends to every portion of the Bible; all 66 books from Genesis to Revelation. That means each book of the Bible is the product of God speaking through human writers—some 40 men over a period of about 1600 years.

Many hear us say these words and can't believe that intelligent people could come to this conclusion about the Bible. "How can that be?" they say. "Everyone knows the Bible is full of errors and contradictions. How could you possible believe all 66 books of the Bible are free from misstatements and errors in the facts and details, and that that extends to the very words in the "original" Hebrew and Greek manuscripts?"

The answer to this kind of question is really one word: God. If there is no God, then throw this book away. To believe it is the height of stupidity. If there is a God, however, then He can and did communicate with man in a way fitting with his nature—free from error or misstatement!

You might be asking yourself, what is the practical value of this first link in God's communication process to man? Bible doctrine, to many people, is nothing more than esoteric mumblings of monks, and boring seminary professors. They think it's dead, impractical and ancient history. To show just how wrong they are, let's close this study with a number of implications highlighting the practical side of what we have been studying.

The dual authorship of Scripture requires we take the following approach. Because Scripture is the Word of God, we read it like no other book, on our knees, with great humility, crying to the Holy Spirit for His help. Because Scripture is also the word of men, however, we read it as we read every other book, paying attention to its historical, geographical, and cultural background; literary form, grammar, syntax and vocabulary.

We need to keep the two approaches together: the humble, because it is the Word of God; and the thoughtful, because it is the word of men. Paul puts it together in his second letter to Timothy, "Reflect on what I am saying (give your mind to what I am saying) and the Lord will give you understanding in all things."

This process also has a profound impact on our everyday life and should give us great cause for thanksgiving. If God had not given us His revelation, we would be living our lives in spiritual ignorance, with

  • no standard
  • no knowledge
  • no assurance
  • no victory over evil
  • no direction
  • no hope

If God had not protected His revelation from error, the Bible would be an unreliable book, of no greater value than any other written by human beings. Thanks be to God for His revelation and inspiration.


Small Group and Personal Reflection Questions

  1. Discuss in your group, or reflect personally, why some Christians read the Old Testament infrequently. What passages (commands, promises, warnings) of Scripture in the New Testament did you find illustrated in Old Testament characters' lives?

     

  2. What is the impact on a culture when there are no absolutes? Does Judges 13:1 give you any insight? What becomes the final authority to a non-Christian who has no biblical absolutes? How has the lack of absolutes affected those around you, e.g., friends, family, fellow workers, students? Why do you believe such a high percentage of Christians do not believe in absolutes either? (According to a recent survey, 53 percent of Evangelical Christians did not believe in any absolutes. In the same survey, 66 percent of non-Christians believed there were no absolutes).

     

  3. How does the dual authorship of Scripture impact our study of Scripture?
    • First, because Scripture is the Word of God, we read it like no other book, ___________________________________________(fill in blanks).
    • Second, but because Scripture is also the word of men, we read it as we read every other book, paying attention to ________________________ __________________________________________(fill in blanks).

       

    • How does 2 Tim. 2:7 help us to keep the balance between the Bible being the Word of God and the word of men?

     

     

  4. If you knew the Bible was filled with errors in its facts and contradictions in its teachings, how would it affect your appreciation and study of the Scripture? How would it affect your confidence in God?

     

  5. Close with your favorite verses about the Bible, e.g., Psalms 119 and 19.

Give Thanks

If God had not given us His revelation, we would be living our lives in spiritual ignorance, with no standard; no knowledge; no assurance; no victory over evil; no direction; and no hope. If God had not protected His revelation from error, the Bible would be an unreliable book, of no greater value than any other written by a human being.

Thanks be to God for His revelation and His inspiration!