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Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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THEOLOGY

Scripture: God's Written Word -- Chapter 2

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Theologian

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

 


Chapter Two

Evidence of Scripture as God's Written Word

This leads to the next affirmation, namely, that Scripture is the written word of God, or the word of God in writing. As we have observed above, there is, first, the spoken word of God—and we have considered various relations of Scripture to it. Now we move on to deal with the quite important affirmation that the Scriptures themselves are God’s written word.

A. The Self-Attestation of Scripture

The classical verse in this connection is II Timothy 3:16, which begins: "All Scripture is inspired by God." The word translated as "inspired" means literally "God-breathed."21 Thus does Paul claim for the totality of Scripture—"all"22—an immediate inspiration from God. It is not said that the Scriptures are breathed into, rather they are God-breathed; it is not so much "inspiration" but "spiration." Hence, they are the product of God’s Spirit23—the Holy Spirit. The conclusion: the Scriptures –as God-breathed—are His written word.

We may look again at the words "all Scripture." What does this include? Undoubtedly, at least the Old Testament scriptures are being referred to. Just prior to this verse Paul speaks to Timothy about "how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings..." (II Timothy 3:15). "Sacred writings" may also be translated as "holy scriptures,"24 thus making reference to the Old Testament and possibly certain Christian writings.25 In any event Paul is claiming for the Old Testament, at least, the status of all Scripture as given by immediate inspiration of God. One further Pauline statement may be noted: "whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction" (Romans 15:4). "Whatever," by definition, signifies "all": and in this instance would seem clearly to point to the whole of the Old Testament.

Now, turning specifically to the New Testament, we observe the words in II Peter which speak of Paul’s letters, plus other undesignated writings, as Scripture: "our beloved brother Paul wrote to you... in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures" (3:15-16). The word "all" is likewise used here; hence this would obviously include Paul’s second letter to Timothy, and since "the other scriptures" are mentioned, the implication is clear that all of Paul’s letters are Scripture. What "the other scriptures" are, in addition to Paul’s letters, is not specified, but in all likelihood the reference is to other portions of what will later become the New Testament canon.

We may conclude this section with the observation that Scripture attests to its own immediate inspiration. II Timothy 3:16 which declares "all scripture" to be "God-breathed" is itself (according to II Peter 3:15-16) Scripture. Thus there is unmistakably the self-attestation of Scripture to being God’s written word.26

B. The Frequent Identification of Scripture with God Speaking

Reference has been made to God’s spoken word as not being simply identical with Scripture. However—it is now quite important to add—Scriptures often are referred to as God speaking. That is to say, while God’s word is surely more than Scripture (for example, God speaks in and through creation, incarnation, and proclamation), it is also declared to be Scripture. In such cases, God speaking and Scripture speaking are viewed as identical.

A number of examples are readily at hand. Jesus Himself on one occasion says: "Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife’" (Matthew 19:4-5). The Old Testament passage, Genesis 2:24, from which this quotation is taken, makes no reference to the words as being spoken by God. The words would seem simply to be those of the writer; however, Jesus refers to them as spoken by God. Also, we may observe instances in Paul’s letters where Scripture and God are actually interchangeable terms. "For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up’" (Romans 9:17), and "the scripture... preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham saying, ‘In you shall all the nations be blessed’" (Galatians 3:8). In both cases these Old Testament words spoken by God (see Exodus 9:16 and Genesis 12:3) are identified with Scripture speaking. One further example, in Hebrews: "as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, when you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’" (3:7-8), a quotation from Psalm 95:7-8 where the Psalmist is exhorting the people. Thus, again, a particular Scripture is identified with God (in this case, the Holy Spirit) speaking.27

In the same vein there is the occasional designation of Scriptures as "the oracles of God." Paul speaks of the Jews as having been "entrusted with the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2), and in Hebrews reference is made to the "elementary principles of the oracles of God" (Hebrews 5:12).28 Scriptures, accordingly, are divine sayings or utterances.29 Hence, once again, there is a biblical identification of Scripture with God speaking. One further word might be added: it is quite significant that the commandments given to Moses on Mount Sinai are described in Acts 7:38 as "living oracles." Accordingly, the law—and, by extension, the whole of Scripture—is the living voice of God.

C. Scripture as Self-Authenticating

In addition to the Scriptures’ own verbal witness (attestation and identification) to being God’s word in writing, they bear a character of self-authentication; they show themselves to be the word of God.30 Scriptures convey throughout a note of magisterial authority; they speak forthrightly of God and His activity on almost every page; they move with assurance between the two vast poles of creation and consummation; they focus on the stupendous theme of divine incarnation and redemption; and though written over hundreds of years by scores of authors in many forms—history, law, prophecy, wisdom literature, gospel, epistle, apocalypse—there is the amazing fact of an overall unity. The evidence of a divine hand in the writing is unmistakable.

D. Scriptures are Confirmed as God’s Word by the Holy Spirit

Finally, we speak of the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit: the Holy Spirit bears witness that the Scriptures are God’s written word. Hence, climactically the testimony is not that of Scripture to itself or about itself; rather it resides in the highest possible certitude, namely, the Holy Spirit. Since all Scripture is "God-breathed," "God-Spirited"—given by the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit—then the ultimate assurance of its divine authority is the inner witness of the same Spirit.

This means, accordingly, that the believing community and the individual in whom the Holy Spirit moves and dwells has the ever-present certitude of the Scriptures being God’s written word. Paul writes that "we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit" (I Corinthians 2:12-13 NASB). Thus the Holy Spirit, whom believers have received, alone can bring knowledge and validation of the divine authority and truth of Scripture.

One of the most significant features of the contemporary move of the Holy Spirit in many believer’s lives is the way in which He has brought about also an increasing regard for the high authority of Scripture. The entire Bible is freshly recognized as God’s own written word. With the breath of the Holy Spirit bringing new life and power, there is at the same time a quickening sense of the Scriptures being God’s word in writing. All of Scripture, Old Testament and New, speaks in such fashion that its words are recognized as the voice of God. Truly the identification (earlier mentioned) of "the Scripture says" with "God says" is no longer a formal matter of recognition; it becomes deeply experiential. One knows that when Scripture speaks God speaks. That the Scriptures are "God-breathed," and therefore totally His word in writing, is a matter of immediate apprehension by the "Spirit-breathed" community and person.31

Footnotes

21 As the New International Version (NIV) translates.

22 The Greek word is pasa, which may also be rendered as "every" with the possible translation, "Every Scripture inspired by God" (see the New American Standard Bible [NASB] margin.). This translation (as in the main text of the New English Bible [NEB]), implying that not all Scriptures are inspired, would scarcely seem to be Paul’s meaning.

23 "God-breathed"—theopneustos in the Greek—also means "God-Spirited."

24 As in KJV and NIV. The Greek is hiera grammata, literally "sacred letters."

25 Hiera grammata "is the name for the holy scriptures of the Old Testament in Greek-speaking Judaism" (Dibelius, as quoted in The Interpreter’s Bible [Nashville: Abingdon, 1952] on this text). The expression may also refer to certain "Christian documents, even Gospels as well as Epistles" (ibid.). The context, namely that these "sacred writings" are "able to instruct…for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus," would suggest Christian Scriptures as well.

26 The significance of this self-attestation of Scripture is obvious, for if scriptural testimony is accepted in validating other doctrines, then the testimony to itself is of the first rank of importance.

27 Boettner puts it succinctly: "In the minds of Christ and the apostles there was an absolute identification between the text of the Old Testament and the voice of the living God" (The Inspiration of Scriptures [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1937], p.31).

28 NASB

29 The word translated "oracles" above is logia. In Greek literature a logion was a short saying originating from a divinity, so in the New Testament signifies a divine utterance as oracle of God.

30 According to Calvin, "Scripture bears upon the face of it as clear evidence of its truth, as white and black do of their color, sweet and bitter of their taste" (Institutes [Beveridge tr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1957], Vol. I, Chap. 7, Sect. 2)

31 Clark Pinnock has put it well: "The moving of the Spirit accomplishes more on behalf of biblical authority than all the arguments of conservative evangelicals could" (Biblical Authority, ed. by Jack Rogers [Waco: Word Books, 1977], pp. 72-73).


Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

 

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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