What We Believe About the Bible
II Timothy 3:16
September 16, 1990
“Modern theology of almost every shade is in crisis.” With those words Clark Pinnock begins his monumental work Biblical Revelation: The Foundation of Christian Theology. He goes on to say, “While there is no lack of religious verbosity, a sure word resonant with Divine authority is scarcely to be heard. There is ‘a famine… of hearing the words of the Lord.’ (Amos 8:11)” (p. 9)
Clark Pinnock has spoken the truth. Modern theology of all shades is in crisis. It is in crisis for precisely the reason he suggests. Although there is no shortage of religious verbosity, redundancy, and although there is no end to religious thinkers and speakers and writers, modern theology has no sure, clear and resonant word from the Lord.
That is why, at the end of the twentieth century, the words of the prophet, Amos, have indeed come true. There is a famine in the land today. Not a famine of food and water, but a famine of the word of the Lord. And because there is a famine of the word of the Lord in the land today, men and women are turning to mysticism, to idolatry, to dreams and visions and New Age ideas.
Do you doubt my words? Go to the bookstore and pick up the books on religion. Go to the seminaries and listen to what the professors are teaching. Read the books they are writing. Go into the churches of the great denominations. There you will find everything but the clear word of the Lord. Clark Pinnock is exactly right. Modern theology today is in crisis.
One more word from Clark Pinnock. “Modern theology is virtually discredited … (and) the principal cause of the modern theological sickness is a crisis in valid authority.” (pp. 9, 10) Modern theology today is no longer sure what is true and what is false. The pastors who preach no longer preach “Thus saith the Lord.” Therefore, the people in the pews aren’t sure what is right and what is wrong. They aren’t sure where to turn to get a clear word from God.
The Jesus Seminar
There is no question more important than the question of religious authority. There is no issue more hotly debated today. And there is no area of theology about which there is more uncertainty. That uncertainty has produced a generation of men and women in the pews who are confused and frustrated and disillusioned. And it has given us hundreds of thousands of churches across the land which are virtually empty this morning because there are men standing in the pulpits who give no clear word from God.
Have you heard about the Jesus Seminar? That’s the name of a group of well-known scholars from the mainline denominations. Since 1986, they have been meeting twice a year to discuss the sayings of Jesus. Which ones are really the sayings of Jesus and which ones were the creation of the early church? There are those who would say the answer to that is easy. Just go to the Bible and read the red print. But that’s far too simple for the great scholars. When I call them great scholars, I mean no disrespect. These men are truly learned, with Ph.Ds and Th.Ds. They have given their lives for the study of the ancient languages and the biblical texts. When they meet, they read their scholarly papers and they study the words of Jesus. Then those great, learned scholars try to divide the true sayings of Jesus from the words which were created by the early church.
Do you know how they make their decisions? After the presentations are made, each scholar is given four pieces of cardboard. They come to a certain text of Jesus, such as “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3) Then the chairman asks the scholars, “Do you believe this is an original saying of Jesus?” And if the answer is yes they hold up a red card; if the answer is maybe, they hold up a pink (“Probably”) or a gray (“Doubtful”) card; if the answer is no, they hold up a black card. And so, by majority vote they decide which of the sayings of Jesus are genuine and which are not.
(Incidentally, they ultimately concluded that only about 1/5 of the words attributed to Jesus are authentic. cf. “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Writer,” National Review, April 1, 1991, pp, 16, 18; “Voting Out the Fourth Beatitude,” by Walter Wessel, Christianity Today, December 12, 1986, pp. 34-35)
Is it any wonder that the average church member comes to church and leaves more confused than when he came in? Is it any wonder that people are leaving the mainline churches by droves? It is because they come and they are listening for the clear sound of the trumpet, but as the Bible says, “If the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who will gather to go into battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8)
My brothers and sisters, the issue at the end of the twentieth century is this: Has God spoken? And if God has spoken, did he speak the truth? And if God has spoken truth, where can we find it? Those are the questions. Those are the great questions of our time. Has God spoken? Has he spoken the truth? Where can we find the true words of God?
How Firm A Foundation
The question of religious authority is not just some ethereal debate. It is the supreme issue. Until you’ve decided that issue, until you’ve answered those questions, until you’ve settled your life one way or the other, you’re going to be tossed to and fro.
In the old days, our spiritual ancestors sang, “How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord is laid for your faith in his excellent word.” They sang it with all their hearts because they believed it was true. But in our day, though we sing those words, many people do not really believe it. They’re not sure if the Bible really is the Word of God.
No issue is more pressing. Dr. Pinnock is exactly right. “Modern theology today is in crisis.” It’s in crisis over biblical revelation and over the question of authority.
Four Key Words
So, I come this morning to tell you that there is nothing more important than for us to be well grounded in what we believe about the Bible. It’s more than just a statement of faith. What we believe about the Bible is fundamental and foundational to everything else we are trying to do as a church.
I am reading now from the Articles of Faith of Calvary Memorial Church. Article A—The Scriptures—reads as follows:
We believe in the divine, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, and in the absolute authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.
That’s a wonderful one-sentence statement of faith that the Bible is the word of God. I’d like to call your attention this morning to four key words in the first part of that statement. “We believe in the divine, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures.” It is around those four words that our whole faith is built.
What do we mean when we say we believe in the divine inspiration of the Bible? The word divine means that we believe it comes from God. We believe that when the writers of Scripture penned their words, what they wrote ultimately came from God. When Hosea was writing out his prophecies and when David was writing out his Psalms and when Paul was writing out the letter to the Corinthians, those men wrote using their minds and their own thoughts. They wrote what was truly on their hearts. They were not mere dictating machines. But (and this is a big But) God was working in them and through them so that what they wrote was exactly what he wanted written. That’s what the word divine means. Behind holy Scripture stands God himself. Therefore, it is perfectly correct to say that there is a dual authorship of Scripture. And though it is true to say that Paul is the author of I Corinthians, yet behind Paul stands God himself. What Paul wrote ultimately God wrote. That’s what we mean when we use the word divine.
Then there’s a second key word in the statement of faith: “We believe in the divine, verbal, plenary inspira-tion of the Scriptures.” What do we mean by the term verbal inspiration? Verbal has to do with words that you speak and words that you write. Verbal inspiration means that inspiration extends all the way down to the very words that the apostles used when they wrote the word of Scripture, or that the prophets used when they wrote the books of the Old Testament. Let me clarify. We do not believe that God simply inspired the writers of Scripture so that they felt very close to God and that out of their closeness to God they sat down and wrote whatever they wanted to write. Inspiration is not merely in the writers of Scripture; inspiration extends to the very words they wrote. We believe the inspiration of the Bible extends to the very words of the text. Verbal inspiration means word-for-word inspiration.
Then, there’s the third key word: “divine, verbal, plenary inspiration.” What is plenary inspiration? The word plenary means extending to all the parts. Verbal means word for word. Plenary means to every part. For instance, we believe that the book of Leviticus as it was written by Moses, though Moses wrote it down using his style and his words and his thoughts, was so controlled that the words of Leviticus are really the words of God. We say the same thing for II Kings. We say the same thing for Ezra. We say the same thing for Song of Solomon, the same thing for the gospel of Luke, the same thing for the book of Philippians, the same thing for Hebrews and the same thing for the book of Revelation. Plenary means that inspiration is not just for the “good” parts. Inspiration is not just in the parts that we use for our quiet time. Inspiration is not just for the parts that really move us. We’re saying that God inspired the whole of Scripture, not just John 3:16, but all the way out to the very ends of the text. God inspired every part of it.
Finally, we come to the key word: inspiration. “Divine, verbal, plenary inspiration.” In order to under-stand what this word inspiration means, because it is fundamental to everything we believe about the Bible, let’s take a closer look at the central passage—II Timothy 3:15-17. This is the most important passage in the Bible on the inspiration of Scripture. It’s the bottom line. It’s the key passage. It’s the touchstone, the lodestar.
II Timothy was Paul’s last letter. He wrote it from the jail in Rome. Not long afterward he was beheaded by the Emperor Nero. He is writing to Timothy, his young son in the faith. Timothy evidently was opposed by some heretics and false teachers. Perhaps Timothy as a young man was tempted to waver, tempted to equivo-cate, tempted to doubt, tempted to hold back in his proclamation of God’s truth. And so Paul writes to Timothy to encourage him in his youthfulness not to be ashamed of God and not to be ashamed of God’s Word.
His message is very simple: “Go ahead and preach because you are resting your words upon a sure foundation.” In II Timothy 3:14-15, he exhorts his young friend to remain firm in his faith. He does it by appealing to his great spiritual heritage:
Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation in Christ Jesus.
When Paul says, “how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures,” he’s reminding Timothy that from childhood he has been taught the words of God, especially the Old Testament. (By the way, this is the biblical basis for Sunday School. This is the biblical basis for the Christian education of children. When we teach children the Word of God, we are simply following the biblical model.)
In verse 16 Paul gives us a fundamental doctrinal statement—”All Scripture is God-breathed.” That’s how the New International Version reads. The King James Version says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration.” That’s a perfectly fine translation. But what the NIV translators have done is very interesting. Instead of just giving us a word like inspiration they have transliterated a Greek word to get this expression “God-breathed.”
The word behind inspiration or God-breathed is one word in the Greek—theopneustos. Theopneustos is a Greek word which itself comes from two other words—theos meaning God and pneustos meaning wind or breath or spirit. Theos means God. The English word theology means the study of the truth about God. Pneustos means wind or breath or spirit. We get from it pneumatic drill, an air-powered drill. Take theos and pneustos together and you’ve got God-breathed. That’s the word Paul chose to explain what holy Scripture is. It is theopneustos. It’s a verbal adjective describing the Scripture. It is God-breathed.
God-Breathed Vs. Inspired
The Apostle Paul is telling us something about the origin of holy Scripture. He is explaining to us that it did not simply come from the mind of man. It is not simply made up by the biblical writers. It comes ultimately from the mind of God. That’s what theopneustos means. It means that God breathed out the very words of the Bible. The very words of Scripture come ultimately from the mouth of God. It’s a very strong word.
Before we go on, let me clarify the difference between “God-breathed” and “inspired.” From one point of view, there is no difference at all. But there is one possible area of confusion. The word inspiration comes from the Latin in and spiro meaning “to breathe into” something. Theopneustos means to breathe out something. Those are really two different concepts. Does it make any difference? Just this. If you think of inspiration as God breathing into the writers who then wrote the words, you’re not really thinking of what Paul was thinking of. That is not the sense of II Timothy 3:16. II Timothy 3:16 is not telling us anything about the biblical writers. It’s telling us something about what they wrote. Do you get the difference? It’s not telling us about how they felt about it. It’s telling us that what they wrote was the very words of God. It was breathed out by God.
Inspired Writers Or Inspired Writings?
Sometimes we talk about the inspired writers of Scripture. May I suggest to you that that is not an entirely accurate statement. A much more accurate statement would be to speak of the writers of inspired Scripture. It has to do with the very words they wrote.
II Peter 1:20-21 says the same thing:
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of men, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter means that when Isaiah sat down to write, he didn’t just sit down and say, “I think I’ll write some Scrip-ture today.” On the other hand, God didn’t whisper the words in his ear. When Isaiah sat down to write his prophecy he wrote using his own mind and he put things in his own words, using his own natural style. No one else could have written exactly what Isaiah wrote. The book of Isaiah is truly his composition. Moses could not have written it, nor could David or Jeremiah have written it. The book has Isaiah’s “fingerprints” all over it. Yet as he wrote he was “carried along” by the Holy Spirit so that the result was entirely Isaiah’s and at the same time (and without any contradiction) the perfect Word of God. II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20-21 suggest that as the writers of Scripture put their words on paper, God so controlled them and the Holy Spirit superintended the whole process so that what was ultimately written was exactly what God wanted written. No more and no less.
So that when Moses wrote, it was his style. When David wrote, it was his style. When Luke wrote his gospel, it was his style. And when John wrote his gospel, it was his style. Those styles are very different and yet theopneustos suggests to us that when they wrote the words of Scripture using their own personalities and their own styles, God was so controlling the process that what they produced was the very word of God.
What The Bible Says, God Says
Which means that what the Bible says, God says. What Scripture says, God says. Let me make three clarifica-tions on that point. Number one: Inspiration applies to the words of Scripture and not primarily to the writers of Scripture. That’s an important point. We are talking about inspired words from God. Words breathed out by God. Number two: Inspiration applies to the words of the text as they are and not to the words of the text as they apply to my life. Did you get that? What I am really doing is speaking against the old neo-orthodox view or the old Barthian view that the Bible contains the word of God or the Bible becomes the word of God. We deny that. We do not believe that. We say flatly that that is not true. It is not right to say that the Bible contains the word of God. It doesn’t simply contain the word of God. It is the word of God. The old neo-orthodox view suggests that the Bible is a good book and it’s inspired in a general way. But as you read it, suddenly something will connect between you and the text—an “encounter” in which the message burns its way into your heart and you say, “Yes, that’s true. That’s the word of God for me.” Now, we’ve all had that happen. That happens to everyone who reads the Bible. But there are some people who would say that the Bible only becomes the word of God when one of those transcendent things happens to you. We deny that.
The Bible is the word of God whether you read it or not. The Bible is the word of God whether you believe it or not. The Bible is the word of God whether you obey it or not. It is the objective word of God.
Inspiration involves the words of the text without regard to how you apply them in your life.
Does Your Bible Begin With Genesis 12?
Number three: Inspiration involves the words of Scripture and it involves every word of Scripture. Inspiration involves the words in the text and it involves every word in the text. This is an absolutely crucial point because there are some—even in the evangelical world—who do not believe that.
You cannot say that the Bible is without error when it speaks on matters of salvation but when it comes to history, when it comes to science, when it comes to geography, when it comes to names, dates and places there may be errors in there but in the central message there is no error at all. I am saying we cannot say that and we as a church flatly deny that and we as a church do not believe that. We believe that the inspiration of the Scripture involves the words of the text and all the words of the text from the beginning of the Bible to the end of the Bible.
When the Bible speaks, it speaks only the truth. And everything the Bible speaks is the truth. Let me clarify. The Bible is not a book of history but when it speaks historically it speaks the truth. The Bible is not a book of geography but when it speaks geographically it speaks the truth. And most importantly, the Bible is not a textbook on science but when it speaks on the area of science it speaks the absolute truth from God. That’s what I’m saying.
That’s why we invited John Morris from the Institute for Creation Research to speak last Sunday on creation and evolution. Too many churches today want to begin their Bible with Genesis 12. They want to forget the first eleven chapters. They call it myth or legend or saga or they say it is something like Aesop’s fables. Just some stories about Adam and Eve, just some stories about the flood which are meant to teach spiritual truth. We don’t believe that. We deny that that can possibly be true.
What we are saying is that inspiration extends from Genesis 1:1 all the way through Revelation 22:21. Every part of it is true. And very specifically this morning, let me go on record that we believe that no theory of science can ever be used to overturn what the Bible teaches about creation and the flood. And more to the point, we believe that when all the facts are finally in (and we cheerfully confess that they won’t be finally in until we get to heaven) and when all the evidence has finally been gathered and when the Bible has been correctly interpreted, there will be no final conflict between true science and the message of the Bible. That is what we believe.
First We Believe It: Then We Obey It
That’s what it means to say, “We believe in the divine, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures.” The first part of that statement is important because once you understand the first part of that statement, then and only then does the second part of the statement make any sense. Which is, “We also believe in the absolute authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.”
That’s a wonderful statement. We’re saying that because it is theopneustos, because it really is from God, because it really is true in all its parts, therefore when the Bible speaks, God speaks. Therefore, what the Bible says is true is true, and we must believe it and we must obey it. Therefore when the Bible speaks to us, it is absolutely authoritative.
That’s really what Paul said in II Timothy 3. He brackets the statement “All Scripture is God-breathed” two ways. First, he says in verse 15 that the Bible reveals the way of salvation: “How from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” The Bible doesn’t save you, it’s the gospel of Jesus Christ that saves you. But where do you find the gospel? You don’t find it on Oprah Winfrey. You don’t find it on Phil Dona-hue. You don’t find it on Geraldo Rivera. You can’t even find it by watching Designing Women. You can’t find it by listening to Bart Simpson. You can’t get the gospel that way. Where has God put the gospel? He put the gospel in his book. That is where the gospel is. “You have from infancy known the holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.”
Paul is saying that it is faith in Jesus Christ that saves. But where do you find out about Jesus Christ? You find out about Jesus Christ in the pages of this sacred book. So the Bible is authoritative in that it leads us to the knowledge of salvation.
Second, he says that the Bible is authoritative in that it equips us in every way for everything we need in the Christian life. Look what he says at the end of verse 16. The Bible is useful for “teaching.” That is, the Bible is good for teaching truth. It is useful for “rebuking.” You can use the Bible to stand against error. It is use-ful for “correction.” It shows us when we’ve gone the wrong way. It’s useful “for training in righteousness.” That is, it shows us how to please God. Verse 17 gives us the result: “So that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” It’s a military picture. You’ve seen those pictures of the soldiers over in the Persian Gulf. Men and women in full battle dress. That’s the picture in II Timothy 3:17. It’s the picture of a believer totally equipped to go into battle. Whatever you need to go into battle you can find in the Word of God.
This is a high view of Scripture, I realize. But I’m trying to differentiate what we believe versus what some other people believe because nothing is more foundational than this. We believe the Bible is divinely inspired, verbally true, its inspiration extends to all its parts. It is the God-breathed message from the Father and it is therefore absolutely authoritative in everything it says. Every word is absolutely true. Therefore we should hold on to the Bible. Therefore we should believe the Bible and we should never be turned away from it.
A Young Man At The Crossroads
It was around the time of World War II. A young man had gone down to Florida to study at a small Bible col-lege. After graduating, he came up to Wheaton College. He was in Wheaton during most of the World War II years. Everyone recognized his gifts as a preacher of the gospel. As his fame spread across the Midwest, thou-sands gathered to hear this dynamic young man speak. During those years the young man met Torrey Johnson, the founder of Youth for Christ. He and Torrey Johnson toured the United States in 1944 and 1945 speaking in great Youth for Christ rallies. He saw thousands and thousands of people come to Christ. In 1946 this young man left on a tour of Great Britain and Scotland preaching the gospel all over the United Kingdom. Hundreds and thousands of people came to Christ. He wasn’t even thirty years old. Another year passed and another year passed. He formed an evangelistic team and it looked like his star was on the rise, and indeed it was.
Then came 1949. In the early part of the year this young man was beset with inner doubts about the truth of the Bible. He wrestled with questions he could not entirely answer. One of his close friends was a powerful speaker who began to drink deeply at the fountain of higher criticism and liberal unbelief. This friend went to a liberal seminary. There he had his faith in the Bible as the Word of God taken away from him. He came back and told the young man, “You need to give up this fundamentalist view of the Bible. This is the twentieth century. You can’t preach the Bible that way anymore. If you keep preaching the Bible this way, your ministry is going to come to nothing.”
“I Accept The Bible As Thy Word”
That young man was torn in his heart and by his own testimony, the turning point came early in l949 when he and a group of men and women met at a place called Forest Home, a Christian conference center in southern California. He was there, deeply troubled over the raging battle in his soul: Is the Bible the word of God or is it not? Can I believe it or not? His friend was telling him, “Don’t be a fool. If you follow that fundamentalist path your ministry will come to nothing and nobody will ever hear you.”
Finally the night came when he knew he had to make a decision. He skipped the evening meeting to pray by himself. He talked to his friend J. Edwin Orr early that evening and laid out the great dilemma of his heart. Orr said, “You’d better go off and pray and get the matter settled.” So off he went into the woods to settle the matter once and for all. Finally, he realized that he would never have all the answers. And so he knelt down and began to pray. These are his own words:
I dueled with my doubts, and my soul seemed to be caught in the crossfire. Finally, in des-peration, I surrendered my will to the living God revealed in Scripture. I knelt before the open Bible, and said, “Lord, many things in this Book I do not understand. But Thou hast said, ‘The just shall live by faith.’ All I have received from Thee, I have taken by faith. Here and now, by faith, I accept the Bible as Thy Word. That which I cannot understand I will reserve judgment on until I receive more light. If this pleases Thee, give me authority as I proclaim Thy Word, and through that authority convict men of sin and turn sinners to the Savior.”
That was the turning point for Billy Graham. Six weeks later the great crusade began at the Canvass Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles, a meeting which would change the course of American history. The crusade was extended and extended and extended because so many thousands of people were coming to Christ. You remember the story of how William Randolph Hearst instructed all the newspapers in his chain to “Puff Graham.” And the word about Billy Graham was spread from coast to coast. And his fame was assured. The rest is history.
Like A Hammer
By his own admission, everything that has happened in Billy Graham’s life goes back to that night at Forest Home when he put the Bible down and knelt before God and said, “Oh, God, I do not understand it all, but I am willing to believe it and willing to obey it.” Billy Graham later wrote:
During that crusade I discovered the secret that changed my ministry. I stopped trying to prove that the Bible was true. I had settled in my own mind that it was, and this faith was conveyed to the audience. Over and over again I found myself saying, “The Bible says.” I felt as though I were merely a voice through which the Holy Spirit was speaking …
I found that the Bible became a flame in my hands. That flame melted away unbelief in the hearts of people and moved them to decide for Christ. The Word became like a hammer breaking up stony hearts and shaping them into the likeness of God …
I found that I did not have to rely upon cleverness, oratory, psychological manipulation of crowds or apt illustrations or striking quotations from famous men. I began to rely more and more upon Scripture itself, and God blessed. (All quotes from “Give Me That Book” by Robert Coleman in The Alliance Witness, January 7, 1987)
No Middle Ground
All of us stand exactly at that same position right now. We can do what Billy Graham did. We can say we believe the Word of God is true even though we don’t understand every part of it. Or we can follow the way of liberal unbelief and apostasy and ultimately drift away from God. The decision is as sharp as that, and there’s really no middle ground. Either you believe the Bible is the word of God or you don’t.
I believe the Bible is the word of God. This church does. That’s why the Bible has such a high position around here. That’s why we give out Bibles to the little children who graduate from kindergarten into first grade. We don’t give them Weekly Readers. We give them Bibles. We believe the Bible is the word of God. That’s why we have a Sunday School. That’s why we have Sunday School teachers. That’s why we spend thousands of dollars on Christian education. That is why we send the best and the brightest we have to the ends of the earth with the message of the gospel. That’s why we do everything that we do. We have decided that the Bible is the word of God and we are going to stand upon it. We have staked our lives upon that fact.
A Standing Vote
I want you to stand with me now, and as you stand I’d like you to hold your Bible in your hand. This is what we believe. “We believe in the divine, verbal, plenary inspiration of the Scriptures and the absolute authority of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.”
I’m going to ask you four questions this morning. If your answer is yes I want you to respond as a congrega-tion, “We do.”