Scripture: God's Written Word -- Chapter
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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The Character of the Inspired
The character of the Scriptures is now to be considered. We shall
observe, in turn, that the Scriptures are unalterable, infallible, and
Since the Scriptures are Gods written word, they are in no way
to be altered or changed. The Psalmist speaks of how Gods word
is "firmly fixed in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89); it is no
less firmly fixed in writing on earth. The Scriptures, for all their
great extent and variety, make up a complex composite that must remain
intact through all generations.
One of the most striking verses attesting this unalterability is found
in John 10:35"scripture cannot be broken." These words
are spoken by Jesus to His adversaries after quoting a text from Psalms
82:6"I say, You are gods." Jesus argues from this text
to His own statement about being the Son of God, but only does so by
asserting that Scripture cannot be broken (annulled, set aside58). It is worth observing that
this strong statement about the irrefragability of Scripture is actually
made of a seemingly rather insignificant and even marginal text. If
that text cannot be broken, i.e., annulled or set aside, then,
a fortiori, how much more the Scripture!
In this same vein Jesus, early in his ministry, regarding the law and
the prophets, says: "I have come not to abolish59 them but to fulfill them"
(Matthew 5:17). Jesus has no intention of setting aside anything in
law or prophet. Indeed, to make it all the stronger He adds: "For
truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not
a dot,60 will pass from the law until
all is accomplished." In other words, the lawrepresenting
all of Scripture61is absolutely unalterable.
To be sure (as we have before discussed), law and prophets are not "fulfilled,"
that is brought to completion, until Jesus proclaims His message. Only
then is the inner meaning fully set forth, and the higher righteousness
exhibited. But what is declared, in the Old Testament, is nonetheless
the unalterable word of God.62
One further representation of the unalterability of Scripture is found
in some of the closing words of the book of Revelation: "I warn
every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one
adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book,
and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy,
God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city"
(22:18-19). The warning could hardly be more vigorously put, or the
unalterability of even a single word more clearly asserted.
All of this has its quite significant effect upon the one who would
truly hear the message of Scripture. Nothing in Scripture is dispensable:
everything has some place and purpose as Gods written word. Hence,
since there is ruled out any need to decide which Scripture "belongs"
and which does not (as unfortunately some seek to determine), the believerwhether
relatively untutored in biblical matters or the most scholarly exegete
and expositorcan rejoice to place himself under total direction
of holy Scripture.
Since the Scriptures are Gods written word, they are unerring
in what they declare.63 The word "infallible" expresses both
incapability of erring as well as the fact of inerrancy.64
The Scriptures are the infallible word of God.65
Let us observe several grounds for this affirmation of infallibility.
Infallibility, first, is implicit within the total biblical witness.
There is no statement in the Bible that directly declares inerrancy;
however, it is implied throughout: "all Scripture" as "God-breathed,"
"Scripture" and "God" sometimes used interchangeably,
Scripture inspired to is every "iota" and "dot,"
Scripture as impossible to "break" or annulon and on.
Everywhere there is the implication that Scripture is infallible, inerrant,
The infallibility of Scripture, second, is grounded in the attitude
of Christ and the apostles regarding Scripture. We have noted some of
the statements of Christ and His apostles (Peter, Paul, John) about
Scripture: it is apparent that their attitude was one of unhesitating
and unwavering trust. They never call in question, challenge, or dispute
any Scripture; they quote, or make various uses of Scripture, with the
unquestioning certitude that whatever is contained therein is the truth
of God. It is impossible to think, even for a moment, of Christ or the
apostles as viewing Scripture any other way than infallible. Christ
once said, "Ye do err," but not of Scripture, rather
of people "not knowing the Scripture" (Matthew 22:29 KJV).
The Scriptures are an unerring guide to erring people. Truly our Lords
whole attitudeand His apostleswas that the Scriptures
are the infallible word of God.
The attitude of Christ and the apostles to Scriptures surely must have
critical bearing on any Christian attitude. If they held without the
slightest hesitation to the total integrity, indeed the infallibility,
of Scripture, this would seem to call for a like attitude on the part
of all who are their true followers. It is difficult to imagine a proper
Christian response to be: "Well, they may have thought so, but
I beg to differ." Whether this is said from a presumably more enlightened
viewpoint (twentieth century over the first) or a more informed viewpoint
("critical" understanding of the Bible over a "nave"
one), it places a Christian in the strange and uncomfortable position,
at least at this point, of moving away from the original Founder and
witnesses of faith. Even worseit must be addedif Christ
and the apostles are mistaken in their view of Scripture, how can we
be sure of their view or teaching about anything else? Maybe Jesus
attitude toward God as His Father, or the apostles attitude about
Jesus as a Savior, was likewise off base. One does not need to add more:
the whole edifice of Christian faith comes near to toppling down. In
other words, to put it bluntly, if Christ and the apostles cannot be
trusted about Scripture, can they really be trusted in other matters?
Third, it is significant to observe that the historic church tradition
through the centuries has held the Scriptures to be Gods infallible
word. The early church Fathers affirmed such; for example, Irenaeus
claimed that "the Scriptures are perfect, seeing that they are
spoken by Gods Word and his Spirit,"67
and Augustine wrote concerning the Scriptures of his conviction that
"no one of the authors has erred in anything, in writing."68
Such total acceptance of Scripture implicitly undergirds all the great
creeds and confessions, and becomes explicit in later Protestant and
Roman Catholic formularies. For example, the Westminster Confession
of Faith (1646) speaks of "the entire perfection"69
of Scripture, and Vatican Council I (1870) affirms that Scriptures "contain
revelation with no admixture of error
because, having been written
by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author."70 The infallibility of Gods
written word has been generally affirmed through the centuries by the
great church traditions.
It is important, next, to state the form of infallibility is to be
observed from the phenomena of Scripture. In speaking of Scripture as
being infallible or inerrant, we need to see how this works out in the
actual composition of the Bible. A mistake sometimes made is that of
seeing error where a proper understanding of the form of Scripture would
rectify this judgment. Let me note a few things.
First, there is freedom in Scripture in the matter of quotation. If
a New Testament writer quotes the Old Testament with variation from
the original text, such is no error. The Holy Spirit is not bound to
a prior utterance, and may wish to bring out something other, perhaps
new, in additional revelation.
Second, there is often a diversity of historical and geographical data
within the Scriptures. There are frequently divergences between various
Old Testament historical books (for example, between Kings and Chronicles)
and likewise among the four Gospels in the time, place, and sequence
of events. Such divergences are no denial of inerrancy. Rather do they
represent the diversity of Gods intention and expression as well
as the situation of the writers.
Third, there are occasional irregularities of grammar and spelling.
The Holy Spirit takes what he finds, and makes use of various human
instruments. He does not change uneducated men into educated (except
in the ways of the Lord!); thus the Scriptures may and do vary in literary
character and quality. So, when the human form is properly recognized,
there is no denial of infallibility.
Fourth, there are instances in Scripture of non-exact, even hyperbolic
language. For example, the statement that "Judah and Israel were
as many as the sand by the sea" (I Kings 4:20), while not literally
true, expresses, in hyperbole, their rapid growth and Gods blessing
upon them. It would be naive to say that the writer of Kings erred because
the Israelites were not "as many as the sand"!
Fifth, and in a similar vein, biblical writers are often less concerned
about precision in detail than might be expected. For example, a name
in a genealogy may represent more than one person, an event may be reported
in various accounts with differing participants, and the words spoken
in a given situation may be reported differently in parallel narratives.
All such variations rather than denying inerrancy represent the freedom
in which the Scriptures are set forth.
Sixth, Scriptures are written in popular, non-technical language. We
are not therefore to expect precise, scientific terminology. The forms
of expression inevitably belong to the time and culture of the writers
of a given portion of Scripture, and will be colored thereby. This does
not mean error, for within differing forms of expression the truth is
resident.71 Also it is to be recognized
that scientific truth may be set forth in other than scientific form,
and be none the less factual.72
Seventh, Scriptures must always be read with the given or implied purpose
in mind. If this is not done, error may be supposed where there is none.
For example, the Gospel of Luke is declared to be written for the purpose
of setting forth "an orderly account" (1:3) of events; the
gospel of John is said to be written "that you may believe that
Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have
life in his name" (20:31). Hence we should not expect quite the
same concern for historical sequence in John as in Luke. Thus John may
have some different ordering of events. Accordingly, Scripture is not
to be adjudged as in error if there is diversity here. To repeat: the
given or implied purpose must be kept in mind when speaking of the inerrancy
It is apparent from the preceding paragraphs that the form inerrancy
takes is not to be presupposed, but to be recognized from the way Scripture
was actually written. Alien approaches to the Bible will bring other,
and possibly negative, results.73 However,
when there is proper understanding of the biblical phenomena, the infallibility
of Scripture is all the more fully grounded.
It is of no small significance also to observe that with the passage
of the years so-called discrepancies in Scripture are increasingly being
resolved.74 It is, further, quite significant that with
the advance of historical and archeological studies, the credibility
of Scripture rather than being undermined is being more confirmed.75 There are, to be sure, many
problem areas remaining, but the contemporary trend is toward the recognition
of Scriptural integrity.
C. Completely Trustworthy
Since the Scriptures are Gods written word, they are completely
trustworthy. All that has been said about the Scriptures as unalterable
and infallible leads to the further affirmation of their total trustworthiness.
We may be fully assured that in every portion of Scripture Gods
word is being expressed.
There can be no question, therefore, as to whether the Scriptures are
true; the only real issue is whether we are properly using them. Shortly
before Paul writes the words to Timothy about all of Scripture being
"God-breathed," he says to him: "Do your best to present
yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed,
rightly handling the word of truth" (II Timothy 2:15). With the
full assurance that the Scriptures are totally trustworthy we may give
ourselves to the task and challenge of their "right handling."
To say that the Scriptures are trustworthy does not mean that
they are the object of our trust. Our trust is in the Lordin a
personal relation to Him. The Scriptures cannot take the place of Him
who is Author of Scripture. However, since He has given us His word
in writing, we can have full confidence in its trustworthiness.
The total trustworthiness of scripture is a fact in which we may greatly
58 "Set aside" is the NEB translation. The Greek word is luthenai.
59 Katalusai in Greek. The root, luo, is the word used
in Jn. 10:35. Both words may be translated as "annul."
60 "Iota" is "the Greek equivalent of the Aramaic yod,
which in the original form of the saying represented the smallest letter
of the alphabet" (Bauer, Arndt, and Gingrich, A Greek-English
Lexicon of the New Testament [Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1979]).
The word translated as "dot," keraia, is literally
"hook," the little projection which distinguishes some Hebrew
letters from those otherwise similar.
61 In the previously noted conversation with His adversaries about "gods,"
where Jesus quoted from the Psalms, He asks: "Is it not written
in your law, I said, You are gods." The word "law"
apparently includes the Psalms, and, by extension, all of the Old Testament.
Incidentally, Paul does not hesitate to assign passages from the Psalms
and Isaiah to the Law (see Romans 3:19 for the former, I Corinthians
14:21 for the latter).
62 This does not mean that Old Testament statutes and ordinances that related
to the peculiar circumstances of Israel are necessarily still in effect.
Many of the judicial and ceremonial requirements were temporary, and
ceased with the New Testament dispensation. For example, over against
the many Old Testament stipulations concerning clean and unclean foods,
Jesus (according to Mark 7:19) "declared all foods clean."
Nonethelessand in relation to our point concerning unalterabilityat
the time when they were given the requirements were binding, not
to be broken, hence the unalterable word of God. This, again, is a case
of progressive revelation andwe should addof the fulfillment
Christ has brought about.
63 We are referring to the Scriptures as originally written. Some
copyist errors in transmission have occurred, as is shown by comparing
extant O.T. and N.T. manuscripts (no originals remain). However, that
deviations from the original text are quite minor is shown by their
relative fewness. We may rest assured that Gods inerrant word
stands behind the slight variations in the several manuscripts.
64 In the "Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" (drafted
October, 1978, by a number of evangelicals)a distinction is made between
infallibility and inerrancy, infallibility referring to Scripture being
"true and reliable in all the matters it addresses," inerrancy
to "being free from all falsehood, fraud, and deceit" (Articles
XI and XII). However, it is also asserted that infallibility and inerrancy
may be distinguished, but not separated" (Article XI). The distinction
is so slight that we shall use the two terms interchangeably. (For a
copy of the complete statement, write The Coalition on Revival,
Box A, Sunnyvale, CA 94087.)
65 The opening article in the Regent University "Philosophy of Education"
affirms "that the Holy Bible is the inspired, infallible and authoritative
source of Christian doctrine and precept."
66 The word "indefectible" while less common than "infallible"
or "inerrant" has a specific value in combining the idea of
permanence (not subject to failure or decay) and flawlessness
(free of every fault or error). It is the latter meaning, of course,
that more specifically relates to the subject at hand. The Scripture
is "without defect," i.e., indefectible. See Psalm 12:6"the
words of the LORD are flawless" (NIV).
67 Against Heresies, ii. 28.
68 Ep. ad Hier. 1xxxii. 3.
69 Chap. 1, Sect. 5. Also after listing the 66 books of the Bible, the
Westminster Confession says: "All which are given by inspiration
of God, to be the rule of faith and life" (Chap. I, Sect. 2).
70 Vatican Council I, Chap. II, "Of Revelation." It is further
significant to note that Pope Leo XIII in his Encyclical of 1893 vigorously
states: "It is absolutely wrong and forbidden either to narrow
inspiration to parts of Holy Scripture or to admit that the sacred writer
has erred" (see Modern Catholicism by Walther Loewenich
(New York: St. Martins Press, 1959), p. 125. Vatican Council II
(1963-65) also declares that "the books of Scripture must be acknowledged
as teaching firmly, faithfully, and without error" divine truth
(Vatican II, Chap. III, Sect. 11, "Dogmatic Constitution on Divine
Revelation"). Unfortunately as we have previously noted, the Roman
Catholic Church elevates tradition to a place of equality with Scripture.
Nonetheless, our point here is that in regard to Scripture, Roman Catholicism
is at one with historic Protestantism.
71 This, e.g., is the case in the opening chapter of Genesis where though
much of the language reflects an ancient era, the truth remains intact
and may be apprehended as a guide for our own time. See my Renewal
Theology, Vol. 1, Chap. 5, on "Creation."
72 This may also include historical data: "Scientific and historical
facts can be presented in popular, figurative and symbolic formand
still be just as factual as a more literal account" (Davis
Dictionary of the Bible, p. 141). This comment relates specifically
to the words in Scripture about the grain of mustard seed.
73 In "The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy" there are
the significant words: "We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture
according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage
and purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena
such as lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar
or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of
falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement
of material, variant selection of material in parallel accounts, or
the use of free citations" (Article XIII).
74 See, e.g., An Examination of the Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible,
J. W. Haley (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977).
75 Nelson Glueck, noted archeologist, writes: "It can be stated categorically
that no archeological discovery has ever controverted a Biblical reference"
(Rivers in the Desert: A History of the Negev [New York: Grove
Press, 1960], p. 31). Historical references in the Bible are likewise
being more and more substantiated.
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