The Scripture Had to Be Fulfilled: Can We Still Believe the Bible?
Acts 1:15, 20
May 10, 1998
It is sometimes asked why the early church grew so explosively. We know, for instance, that after Jesus ascended into heaven, approximately 120 men and women gathered in the upper room to wait for the coming of the Holy Spirit. While there were doubtless other disciples scattered across Israel, this tiny group represented the heart of the Christian movement. After ten days the Holy Spirit came with great power on the Day of Pentecost, leading to Peter’s sermon in Acts 2, which resulted in the conversion of 3000 people (Acts 2:41). At the end of Acts 2 we learn that people were being saved and added to the church every day (2:47). Within a few days the number of men alone who believed in Christ had reached 5000 (4:4). Luke tells us that multitudes of men and women were being saved in the early church (5:14), including many Jewish priests (6:7). New churches sprang up all across Judea and eventually spread into the region of Samaria and ultimately across the Roman Empire (9:31; 12:24; 13:49; 16:5; 19:20).
What started as a tiny trickle became a stream that broadened and deepened until it turned into a mighty, rushing river that flowed across the Mediterranean region and eventually to every corner of the earth. After 2000 years there are nearly two billion Christians—and the number continues to grow.
They Believed the Bible
How do we account for the amazing growth of the Christian movement—especially in those critical early days? I think it’s fair to say that there are many good answers to that question—including the obvious one that God wanted the church to grow, so it grew. He intended to bless the world through the Church of Jesus Christ—and so he prospered it in spite of persecution, idolatry, and persistent unbelief.
But if we examine the early church closely—especially the church in its early, infant days—one might even call them the pre-natal days—one factor stands out above many others. The early church grew because it had a deep faith in the Word of God. The first Christians believed what God said and made his Word the basis for everything they did. And because they believed God’s Word, they constantly referred to it every time they had to make a big decision.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in Peter’s speech to the 120 disciples in Acts 1:15-26. No doubt they had been discussing how to replace Judas after his shocking betrayal and suicide. Should they elect another person or should they leave his position unfilled and go on with 11 apostles? After some discussion, Peter rises to address the group: “Brothers, the Scripture had to be fulfilled which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16). Then in verse 20 he introduces his quotations from the Psalms with this phrase “It is written in the book of Psalms.”
I am struck by two phrases Peter used: “The Scripture had to be fulfilled” and “It is written.” Everything he says is based on those two statements. The first speaks to God’s sovereignty over the affairs of men and of nations. History really is His Story. Everything happens as part of God’s ordained purpose. The second statement teaches us that the Word of God is a written revelation—not a hunch or feeling or a mystical revelation. If you want to know what God says, read the Bible. What the Bible says, God says. This is the position of historic Christianity.
I. Peter’s two great convictions
These words reveal Peter’s two great convictions about the Word of God.
A) The Word of God is true.
B) The Word of God speaks to this situation.
Peter actually believed that hundreds of years earlier, David had prophesied in the Psalms about the betrayal of Judas. He also believed that by studying Holy Scripture, the early church could find out what God had to say about their particular situation. This is a very high view of biblical inspiration.
II. What This Teaches Us
A. Divine-human authorship of Scripture
Note carefully how Peter chooses his words. He says that “the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through the mouth of David” (1:16). You can’t find a clearer description of divine inspiration in all the Bible. Theologians sometimes speak of the “dual authorship” of Holy Scripture. They mean that when Moses sat down to write the first five books of the Bible, he wrote using his own words and vocabulary, and so did David when he wrote Psalms, and John when he wrote his gospel, and Paul when he wrote his epistles. Each man writes in his own way, reflecting his own personality. But how do we know that what they wrote was what God wanted written? Acts 1:16 tells us that the Holy Spirit spoke first. He spoke the words “through the mouth of” Moses, David, John and Paul—and all the rest of the biblical writers. It was their words but those words came first from the Holy Spirit. And because they come from the Holy Spirit, those words are true and accurate and trustworthy and inerrant and infallible. This doesn’t mean that the biblical writers wrote Scripture by taking dictation from God. If that were the case, then they would all sound exactly the same. But it does mean that God superintended the entire process so that when Moses, David, John and Paul sat down to write, they weren’t just writing their words, they were also writing God’s words.
That’s why you can read anywhere in the Bible and have complete confidence in what it says—even though in one place it’s law, in another it’s history, in another it’s poetry, and in another place it’s prophecy. The books of the Bible don’t sound alike because they were written by 40 authors over a period of 1600 years. But each part of the Bible is the true Word of God because each part was spoken by the Holy Spirit.
B. God’s foreknowledge of all human affairs
This text also teaches us that nothing ever catches God by surprise. Because he’s God, he knows about every event in history before it takes place. He knew all about Judas before that traitor was ever born. Consider what this means: