Introduction to Theology; Revelation & Scripture
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This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together. In this lesson Dr. Ware introduces the what and why of theology and discusses the foundational doctrines of Revelation and Scripture.
I. What is Evangelical Systematic Theology?
B. Elaboration on the Definition
1. The Subject Matter
2. The Sources
3. The Structure
4. The Setting
5. The Satisfaction
II. Why Study Evangelical Systematic Theology?
A. Comprehensive Scriptural Vantage Point
B. Interpretive Guide
C. Religious Pluralism
D. Head, Heart, Hands, Habitat
A. The Concept of Revelation
2. Scriptural Examples
B. Forms of Revelation
1. General Revelation
a. Main avenues
2. Special Revelation
a. Main avenues
1) Personal encounter
2) Mighty act
3) Propositional revelation
III. Inspiration of Scripture
1. General Meaning
2. Verbal, Plenary Inspiration
B. Key Passages and their Teachings
1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
2. 2 Peter 1:20-21
3. 1 Corinthians 2:13
IV. Inerrancy of Scripture
A. The Debate of Recent Years: What is at Issue?
B. Defining Inerrancy
C. Authority and Inerrancy
Course: Understanding Theology
Lecture: Revelation and Scripture
This is the first of ten lectures on Systematic Theology, a survey of the whole corpus of theology, and each lecture will be one hour long and each covering a separate doctrine or series of doctrines together.
Introduction to Evangelical Systematic Theology
I. What is Evangelical Systematic Theology?
Let me give you first a definition, it is a rather long one, but you can consider it and then I will give some elaboration on this definition. It is a definition that I have written but comes from a variety of different sources, different theology texts and dictionaries, and it goes as follows:
A. Definition: Evangelical Systematic Theology is the comprehensive study and coherent organization of what can be known, primarily from Scripture, (theology’s only final and ultimately authoritative source) and secondarily from any and all relevant sources, about God and His relation to the created universe, in a manner that is understandable and applicable to contemporary audiences, to the end that God’s people are strengthened and satisfied in Him, to the praise and glory of His name.
B. Elaboration on the Definition. Consider with me five different areas that are elaborations on this definition.
1. Notice that the subject matter of Evangelical Systematic Theology according to this definition is God, God and His relation to the created universe. It is stated this way because theology, theos-logos, is, in essence, the study of God, and of course it is a study of who God is, His own nature. It is a study of God’s work, the creation that he has made, and it is a study of all that God is doing in accomplishing his purposes for creation, which includes human history. The study of every aspect of theology, whether it is the study of Christology or the study of the Holy Spirit, or the study of man and his nature, sin, salvation, church, eschatology; all these areas are really studies about God and his relation to the created universe. Theology is centrally about God and what God is doing through his purposes in creation.
2. What are the sources of Evangelical Systematic Theology? The definition says that theology comes primarily from Scripture, which is theology’s only final and ultimately authoritative source. Let me be clear that Scripture is not the only source for theology. Even the reformers, Calvin and Luther, who upheld Sola Scriptura, were also quite prone to look back to historical sources, make philosophical distinctions, and the like. Scripture was not the only source they looked at but it was the only final, only ultimately authoritative source.
This really distinguishes Evangelical Systematic Theology from other kinds of more liberal theologies that are present today and have been for several hundred years, that with Evangelical Systematic Theology there is a commitment to Scripture and Scripture alone as the only final, ultimately authoritative source and, of course, its most important source for doing theology. Any other source, whatever that may be, has to bow to the teaching of Scripture. We accept Scripture as the primary source for theology, but then there are secondary sources. They can come from the history of doctrines. For example, with biblical studies, archeology can be a helpful source. Philosophy can provide helpful ways of thinking about the distinction of concepts. The study of anthropology or sociology can be useful. All of these bow ultimately to the primary authority of Scripture and only supplement that authority.
3. What about the structure of Evangelical Systematic Theology? You can see in the beginning of the definition, Evangelical Systematic Theology is the comprehensive study and coherent organization of what can be known about God and his relation to the created universe. Theology is meant to be comprehensive in its scope of what we can know about God and his relation to the created universe. Of course, we never can bring everything together, but we try.
Theology attempts to avoid missing anything that is relevant and certainly attempts to avoid distorting different truths that are important to theology and then it packages those, as it were, in a coherent fashion. It takes all that Scripture teaches and whatever else we can learn from creation, say about God and his nature and character, and tries to organize those truths in ways that make sense, in ways that are understandable to us and in ways that are ordered. For example, in theology we talk about the doctrine of sin before we talk about the doctrine of salvation. There is an order to this. Obviously, salvation makes no sense if there is no sin. No penalty, then why a rescue? Why is God saving people if there is no need? Theology works at presenting things in a coherent, ordered fashion.
4. What about the setting of Evangelical Systematic Theology? You will notice toward the end of the definition that it presents what it does in a manner that is understandable and applicable to contemporary audiences. Both understandability, presenting it in a way that people can get it, and applicability, so people can understand the relation of this to life; what it means to how they live their lives, to what they should believe and how they should live, is part and parcel of what theology is about. There is a sense in which theology is contextual then. Every evangelical theologian who is doing his job correctly will seek to apply his theology in a way that is relevant for the particular setting to which it is addressed. Contextualized theology is really part and parcel of what Evangelical Systematic Theology is about.
5. What is the satisfaction of Evangelical Systematic Theology? The definition ends with this: Theology is for the purpose or to the end that God’s people are strengthened and satisfied in Him to the praise and the glory of His name. This simply is a recognition that theology is not primarily for the purpose of filling our heads with knowledge about God or about His purposes or about His work.
All of that is important, but the purpose of it is that as we know these marvelous truths about God, we are strengthened, we are satisfied in God, we turn from other sources of satisfaction to Him and, by this, we give to Him the praise and the glory that is due His name. As John Piper so well puts it, “God is most glorified in us as we are most satisfied in Him.” This really is the goal of theology, to be satisfied in God, that we may give to Him our glory.
II. Why study Evangelical Systematic Theology?
Let me suggest four things here for you quickly.
A. Comprehensive Scriptural Vantage Point. Theology has the advantage of looking across the landscape, as it were, of all of the Bible’s teaching on various subjects, whereas biblical exegetes may focus in particular areas. They may focus on what Isaiah says about, say, God, or what John says about God, or what Revelation says about God.
Exegetes may focus on a particular passage and do careful work there, which, of course, is enormously valuable, but then what the theologian seeks to do is take the findings of biblical exegetes and biblical theology and put it together in a way that gives us a holistic, comprehensive scriptural vantage point on various teachings of the Bible. When someone asks you, what does the Bible say about sin? What does the Bible say about salvation? What does the Bible say about the future? Those are questions that are answered by systematic theologians that seek to give this broad, comprehensive, whole-Bible answer to those questions and do so in a manner that relates to their contemporary audiences.
B. Interpretive Guide. Theology has the advantage of providing for us an interpretive guide. We can interpret the Bible knowing what we’re doing as we are doing this. For example, if you are interpreting a passage of Scripture and you’re wondering, “I wonder if this passage should be interpreted this way or that?” You know from your theology that if you take one of those interpretations you’re really stepping outside the bounds of the theological convictions that you have previously formed or at least have been informed of and so you might reconsider this.
On the other hand, you might reconsider your theology if you’re convinced the passage teaches that, but, at least, what you do when you’re interpreting the Bible then is you endeavor to do so in a way that is consistent. All of Scripture is ultimately from one source. We’ll talk about this in a little bit. Scripture is inspired by God and so we should not interpret one passage that contradicts how we interpret another passage. God doesn’t speak out of both sides of his mouth, so theology provides us a sort of warning. If we are interpreting a passage of Scripture that violates other teachings of Scripture, then we go back and look again at what we’re doing.
C. Religious Pluralism. Because of religious pluralism, it is so important for Christian people, probably more so now than ever, to know what they believe and why. We face a world now where there is anything but sympathy for Christian faith. Perhaps that was the case some years ago and Christians could be at ease in their own cultures, but this is not the case really anywhere in the world any longer.
There is a challenge being put forth to Christians to compromise what they believe in order to fit in better with the culture. We can see this happening within evangelicalism. There are compromises taking place on a variety of doctrines, on the doctrine of hell, on justification, on open theism, on inclusivism, a variety of areas where pluralism is forcing the issue of compromising on what we believe. Christian people need to know what the Bible teaches, that it, in fact, requires us to hold these particular truths and to do so with courage and conviction in an increasingly pluralistic world.
D. Head, Heart, Hands, Habitat. I understand theology to function basically in this way, that it penetrates first our heads. We think carefully about, accurately about, and refine our understanding about what God has revealed to us in His Word, who He is, what His purposes are. God’s purpose is never for that knowledge to reside just in our heads but rather to penetrate our hearts so that our very affections are moved and shaped and, as it were, remade because of those truths that become to us dear and precious. We not only need to know the truth, the head part of it, we need to love the truth. Truth that is not loved, I am convinced, will not be held by people long term.
If, in fact, they hold to something that really they have deep reservations about or they find something else much more attractive, their affections are drawn to something else. They will find reason eventually to give that truth up. In fact, I think you can see how liberalism often happens. It is a matter of heart-rejection of truth that leads the head to reject it. Of course, God’s idea is for this to work just the opposite way, namely, we accept the truth of His Word and that informs our heart and we embrace, then, truths that become to us precious and dear, cherished beliefs. We love the Word. As that happens, then our hands are affected. The way we live flows out of what we value most deeply, what we have the strongest convictions about. Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, so from our hearts, our mouths and our hands, our lives will be oriented and, of course, that will effect then, finally, the habitat in which we live, the environment, the people around us. As we live out the Christian faith, this will have an impact on the world around us.
These, then, are at least four reasons; of course there are more, of why to study Evangelical Systematic Theology. I commend it to you. It is a marvelous tool for understanding God, His purposes, His work, and some of His most cherished truths from Scripture to us.
Doctrines of Revelation and Scripture
A. The Concept of Revelation
1. Definition. If you look in a dictionary and look up this word, particularly a Bible dictionary or a theology dictionary; you will find that the term revelation can be understood to mean either “to reveal,” “to uncover,” “to lay bare,” “to disclose” or “to make known.” The Hebrew term, galah, and the Greek term, apokalupto, both mean essentially the same thing, “to uncover something that was covered” or “to lay bare something that was hidden.” Revelation is the act of God by which He lays Himself bare, as it were.
Now, of course, God is there, the truth is there. It is not as though truth comes to be by revelation, but rather, the truth of God is made known. Here is an analogy of revelation: if someone were to have a painting in the front of a room and they wanted to show it to a group of people, there may, in fact, be a cloth covering the painting so no one can see it in advance. Then, at the right moment, with the spotlight on the painting that is covered, the person may say, “Now I give to you this painting.” He pulls away the cloth and you see the painting that was there before, but it was hidden. It was covered. Now it is laid bare. It is disclosed for what it is. That is revelation. God laying Himself bare before us.
2. Scriptural Examples. Let me give you just a few. Obviously, Psalm 19, which speaks of “the heavens that declare the glory of God,” is a good example of revelation in one of the aspects we will look at in a moment, in creation itself, where God actually speaks forth in silent speech, is the way I understand this passage, speaks forth His glory in the created order. “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.” Now verse 3 as translated in the New American Standard Bible says, “There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.” I think the point of this is that the actual revelation of God is speechless speech, is voiceless voice. It is so powerful, it is as if people are screaming the glory of God but the heavens quietly present it.
Some other examples of the term revelation being used, Matthew 11:25-27, where Jesus says the following, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.” There is our term, apokalupto. He has revealed them, uncovered them. “Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight. All things have been handed over to Me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” There we have it again. It is clear that God has the prerogative, the right, when and what and to whom to reveal, what subject matter it is, when he is going to do this, and who will receive it. This is very clear.
Another example of this is in Matthew 16:17, where Peter had just said in the previous verse to Christ, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Here is how Jesus responded, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but my Father who is heaven.” Now notice that Jesus does not say to Peter, “Peter way to go! You figured it out! Wow! You’re smart, Peter.” No, rather, Jesus makes clear that Simon Peter could not have known this on his own. The only way he could know this and did know this, that Jesus was, in fact, the Christ, the Son of the living God, was as the Father revealed it to him. The Father, as it were, laid bare the truth about Jesus’ identity and, apart from that, Peter could never have known that but with that then, he does know it.
B. Forms of Revelation. Let’s look at two main forms of revelation that theologians have seen in Scripture and seem to be very clear from the Bible’s teaching. These forms are general revelation and special revelation. Let’s just take a minute on each one of these.
1. General Revelation. Please understand that general revelation is general both in terms of its content, it gives general rather than very specific, very finely tuned truths about Jesus or about God or about his purposes in His work, it is general in its nature but it is also general in terms of its scope, that is, it covers most people. So you might think of it this way, it is general in substance or content and general in scope or to whom it covers, all people who are able to be a part of the created order, all people who have a conscience have this revelation given to them.
a. What are the main avenues of general revelation?
1) Creation. They are creation and conscience. The two main passages that speak of each of these are in Romans 1 and Romans 2, respectively. In Romans 1 we have the avenue of general revelation through creation spoken to us when Paul says in verse 18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.” Of course, the question that ought to come to your mind when reading that is, how did God make this known to them? He is talking about, perhaps, pagan people who have never been exposed to the teaching of torah or to the Jewish religion.
How is Paul so confident that this truth about God is evident to them? Verse 20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” Here we see this revelation of God in creation is clear enough that they can see from these invisible attributes of God, His eternal power, His divine nature. They can understand sufficiently that there is a God and what he is like, that they are held accountable for this revelation, that they have seen and reject it.
Now, we know that they rejected it because in verse 21 we read, “For even though they knew God,” How did they know God? Somebody told them? No. This is from the creation again, verse 20, “since the creation of the world,” so “even though they knew God,” through creation, “they did not honor him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” Paul continues the list here of things that go wrong in terms of their understanding and embrace of this revelation. Clearly, through the created order God makes himself known. The starry heavens above, the beautiful landscapes that we see as we travel are witnesses, handprints, as it were, of God and His mighty work that He has done.
2) Conscience. Another avenue of general revelation is conscience, the human moral sensibility, if you will, as we can see in Romans 2. Paul says in Romans 2:14, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written on their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing,” I take it when they do wrong and their conscience tells them so, “accusing or else defending them,” I take it when they do right their conscience tells them this is the right thing to do and they do it.
Paul says on the basis of that they will be judged, “on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” God not only has made himself known in the created order he has also made his moral law known in the hearts of people. Now granted, their hearts in that sense of the moral law can become callused. We can in our sin tread upon our consciences and make them very feeble instruments in helping us understand what is right and wrong, but that does not change the fact that we are given consciences before God that announce to us from our inner selves what is right and wrong and Paul even goes so far as to say that the very law of God, in verse 15, they show that the work of the law. Of course he has in mind there the Law of Moses, so think, for example, the Ten Commandments, “You shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not bare false witness.”
These are moral statutes, which are written on the hearts of people. C. S. Lewis in a marvelous lesser read book of his entitled The Abolition of Man devotes that book really to this thesis that you can travel the world or you can look back in history and you find that there is in the hearts of people a uniform moral law. There is a sense in every culture that it is wrong to steal, wrong to commit adultery, wrong to murder. What constitutes stealing, what constitutes adultery, what constitutes murder can differ from one culture to another, but the fact that it is wrong to steal, wrong to murder, wrong to commit adultery is true across cultures. Of course, the question must be raised why is this the case? Lewis argues that the only explanation that works is that God is a moral law giver and has provided for people this inward sense of right and wrong, the law written on their hearts.
b. Now what about the efficacy of general revelation? By this I mean, what effect does it have? I think the sobering answer to this, we can see it in Romans 1, is that general revelation is sufficient to hold people guilty before God, but not sufficient to provide them saving revelation. There is nothing in Romans 1 or 2 that would give us reason to think that there is somehow saving revelation given through creation or through conscience.
There is nothing about the work of Christ; there is nothing about atonement for sin that is given in creation or in conscience. Rather, we are told about God sufficiently to know we are guilty before Him and realize we need help. This is the point. As Paul develops his thesis in Romans 1 and following in chapters 2, 3, and 4 it is clear that the solution to this problem is not creation, not saving revelation in creation, but saving revelation in the gospel which is special revelation. The efficacy of general revelation then is this: it is sufficient to condemn but not sufficient to provide saving revelation, for that we need special revelation.
2. Special Revelation. As general revelation was general in scope and in substance, likewise, special revelation is special or specific, if you will, both in scope and in substance. In scope, in that God’s special revelation is given just to some people at some times as He so chooses. Think of God’s appearance, for example, to Abraham. He gave this revelation just to Abraham and then you can think through the Bible, What about Moses and the burning bush? This was special revelation just to Moses. He told Moses, go back and tell the people what I have said, so even there, Moses becomes the one who tells them what it is. God does not tell them directly.
Through the rest of the Bible you can see special revelation being these specific revelatory acts where God makes himself known to specific people. It is special or specific in scope but also in substance. It is far more fine-tuned. We learn specific things about God and His purposes and His work; specific things about His will and ways; specific purposes, specific goals, specific actions of God through special revelation that we could not know just by looking at the created order or by examining our consciences. Special revelation then is the specific revelation of God to specific people and of specific content or substance.
a. What are the main avenues of special revelation? I have four listed here. Perhaps there could be others that would be added to this, but I think these are a helpful listing.
1) Personal encounter. Think, for example, of Abraham or Moses that I mentioned a moment ago where God actually came to them and spoke with them in an encounter and gave them specific commandments and warnings and promises. This is a revelation of personal encounter that God is free to do when He wishes but is not obligated to do.
Clearly, when God has chosen to do this He has done so with various people we find through the whole history of the Canon. I think, for example, of Saul’s conversion. Saul who became Paul the Apostle where Christ revealed himself to Paul as he was on the road to Damascus about to persecute Christians. This is a personal encounter.
2) Mighty act. The revelation of God through mighty act is His revelation in miraculous and astonishing actions that take place, deeds that he performs. Think, for example, of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone from heaven. This is a revelation of God in mighty act. No word needs to be spoken to understand what is going on here. God is angry and he is bringing his judgment against the sin of this culture and it is shown in such forcefulness.
Think of the Red Sea crossing and how God saves his people by parting the waters of the Red Sea. They walk across on dry ground and after they are across then the armies of Egypt come after them pursuing them. What does God do? He brings the waters back over the Egyptian soldiers and kills all of them in the Red Sea. This is mighty act revelation where God demonstrates his power and his purposes in the actions he performs in miracles.
3) Propositional revelation. This is a term that can be easily misunderstood. Proposition here does not mean simply propositional statements as apposed to poetic or metaphorical or symbolic statements. No, the word propositional is being used here in the sense of in the form of human language, using language as the conveyance of this revelation. God revealed, His purposes revealed, His promises, His commands revealed in human language is propositional revelation.
Now, of course, propositional revelation includes the Bible. All of the Bible, because it is inspired by God (we will come to this in just a few moments), is, in fact, propositional revelation, but it would not be right to say that all of propositional revelation is the Bible. Can you see why that is? Obviously God has spoken more, said more than we have recorded in Scripture. All of Scripture is God-breathed, so all of Scripture is propositional revelation, but God spoke to prophets and apostles. Jesus, when he was here, spoke many more things we know than what is recorded for us in the four gospels and all of that was propositional revelation. The revelation of God through human language is much more extensive than the Bible but God has left for us all that is sufficient, all that is needful for us in the Bible, which is propositional revelation.
4) Incarnation. It really deserves a separate place as an avenue of special revelation because here we have all of the above forms coming together. Incarnation is certainly a personal encounter of God in human flesh. As John says in John 1:14, “We beheld His glory, glory as of the only begotten Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.” This was God manifest in the person of Christ. And, of course, it is mighty act. Jesus came and healed the sick and touched the lepers and the lame. He performed miracles among them, turned water into wine, walked on the water, raised people from the dead, and by these various mighty acts that He performed demonstrated the truth of His words that He was, in fact, the Son of God.
Of course, in Jesus own ministry there was much propositional revelation. He taught the disciples in so many, many ways, truths that came in the form of discourses and parables, teachings to them by using human language. In the incarnation you have the epitome of the revelation of God to His people. As Hebrews says in Hebrews 1 that although God spoke in the past in a variety of different portions and ways, “in these last days,” he says in verse 2, He “has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” Jesus is, in a very special sense, the ultimate revelation of God that is the capstone of God’s revelation to us.
b. What is the efficacy of special revelation? I think you can put it this way, that special revelation, when it comes to people, provides them either greater basis for guilt, if they reject it, or the promise of life and hope, if they accept it. I think that is the easiest way to think of it, because when special revelation comes, remember to whom much is given much will be required. Why is it that the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida in Matthew 11 were held more accountable according to Jesus than Sodom and Gomorrah? Remember Jesus said to them, “Woe to you Chorazin and Bethsaida! If the miracles performed among you had been performed in Sodom and Gomorrah they would have repented in dust cloth and ashes. It will be more tolerable for them on the day of judgment than it will be for you.” Now why would that be? Because greater revelation was given. They did not have, that is Sodom and Gomorrah, Jesus in flesh, the Son of God in the flesh, performing miracles and teaching, providing this revelation and so when that revelation is rejected by the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, this results in greater incurring of judgment upon them for this.
On the other hand, special revelation when accepted provides greater and greater basis for hope and life and joy. This is why becoming a Christian is just the beginning. When one’s eyes are opened to see the truth and now more and more truth can be understood and embraced so that greater freedom, greater joy, greater blessing, greater experience of what God has for us can come through the effect of special revelation on our minds and hearts. Efficacy of special revelation either brings greater judgment or greater blessing depending upon its refusal and rejection or its acceptance and embrace.
II. Inspiration of Scripture
A. Definition of Inspiration
1. General Meaning. The term in English, inspiration, is not the most helpful one because in English we use it in very colloquial senses. We might talk about Mozart who was an inspired musician or we might talk about Shakespeare as an inspired writer. Of course, we mean by that that these people had exceptional gifting, remarkable ability in their various fields.
We use inspiration in that kind of common colloquial sense but as it is used in the Bible in 2 Timothy 3:16, clearly it has more of a sense of expiration, that is, it is spirated out from God. The Scriptures, then, according to the proper definition of inspiration, are the out-breathing of God’s breath that results in the writing of the Scriptures as they were originally given by the apostles and prophets. The Scriptures, then, yes, they are written by human beings; every one of the books of the Bible is written by a human being (some of them are written by more than one person or involved in the writing of it), but nonetheless, behind all of the sixty-six books of the Bible there is the one author, the divine author, God who breathes forth the Scriptures.
The general meaning of inspiration has to do then with the fact that all Scripture is God-breathed. It is, in fact, the product of God’s out-breathing or God’s breath. Actually a better word, I suppose, for us would be expiration but that has a problem doesn’t it? If we talk about the expiration of Scripture, we use that term in other ways that would not have the right connotation to it. I think that we are stuck with the term inspiration, although, we have to realize it means something qualitatively different than when we use it of Shakespeare or of Mozart or another.
2. Verbal, Plenary Inspiration. We should also understand that evangelicals have affirmed, have wanted to affirm, the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. By this they mean these two things: verbal, first of all, that the very language of the Bible is the result of God’s out-breathing; that is, the very grammar, syntax, words that are used; every component of the language of the original writings of the sixty-six books of the Bible is the result of God’s out-breathing. That is why in conservative, evangelical seminaries there is more attention paid to learning the original languages, Greek and Hebrew.
Have you wondered why the students at conservative schools are put through the grueling task of learning, as well as they can, these biblical languages? The answer is very simple, we believe in verbal inspiration. We believe that the very language of the Bible as it was written, in Greek and Hebrew, represents what God wanted communicated. We want to pay attention to whether this is a perfect or an aorist or a present tense. We want to be careful that we understand the syntax of the passage. We want to be careful to analyze the specific words that are used in the original and not be dependent just on a translation that will provide an English or another language translation of those terms.
Verbal inspiration, then, refers to the very language of the Bible and all of its parts, its grammar, its syntax and so on. It’s terminology that comes as a result of God’s out-breathing.
Plenary inspiration refers to the fact that all of the Bible, in all of its parts, is this way. Plenary is a term referring to all of it together, all of the Bible, in all of its parts, is the result of God’s out-breathing. What we cannot do is go through the Bible and pick those parts of the Bible, which are inspired, and those parts that are not. Rather, all of the Bible, in all of its parts, is inspired by God, is the result of his out-breathing. This is the view that evangelicals have held. Some, I should just tell you, are giving this doctrine up these days, verbal, plenary inspiration. I challenge you to think through the implications of this if, in fact, either one of these, the verbal inspiration of Scripture or the plenary inspiration of Scripture is abandoned. Where does that leave us in terms of an authoritative Bible for our faith and practice?
B. Key Passages and their Teachings. I want to look with you here just at these three which are primary texts for the doctrine of inspiration.
1. 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Paul writes to Timothy, “All Scripture is inspired by God.” There is our term, theopneustos, in Greek. “All Scripture is, theopneustos, inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Just a few comments on this.
Notice that all Scripture is this way. Here we have this sense of plenary inspiration, don’t we? All Scripture is God-breathed. We do not go through the Bible and pick out parts that are inspired and parts that aren’t and scrap the parts that aren’t. No, we don’t have that luxury if we believe the Bible is what it is, what it is claimed to be, namely, the out-breathing of God. Notice the second point; that inspiration precedes, in this verse, profitable; that is, what Scripture is, inspired by God, is the basis for what it can do, namely, it is profitable for teaching for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.
Now I think that this is such an important thing to realize that what something does is dependent upon what it is. Just to give you an example of this, if you had a race car and you wanted it to win the Indianapolis 500 race and you took out several of the spark plugs from it and you put it on the racetrack and expected it to run, it cannot do what you want it to do if it is not in the right condition to do it. You have to have, if it is going to win a race, a race car that is in optimal condition in order for it to do what you want it to do.
Now think how this applies to the Bible. If the Scripture is not entirely inspired, how can it be profitable? If parts of the Bible aren’t, in fact, inspired by God, how can those be profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness? The fact of the matter is people who have rejected inerrancy also reject part of the Bible as exactly not profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction. We understand that the only way all of the Bible can be profitable for us is that all of the Bible is, in fact, inspired by God.
Third point, I just want you so see that Paul’s main reason for talking about Scripture here is not to talk about Scripture, per say, but to talk about its effect upon us. He says at the end of verse 16 and 17 that “Scripture is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” I believe with all of my heart that if Christian people truly believed what was stated in verses 16 and 17, they would devote far more time to reading, meditating upon, and reflecting deeply upon the teaching of Scripture. Look at what Paul says. Do you want to be a person who is adequate, equipped for every good work? How is this going to happen? Scripture is profitable to do this. May God give us hearts not only to embrace a strong orthodox, evangelical doctrine of Scripture, yes, verbal, plenary inspiration is essential, but also to embrace the necessity of devoting ourselves to Scripture in order to become the kind of people God calls us to be.
2. 2 Peter 1:20-21. Here the apostle Peter describes Scripture in this way at the end of this chapter, “Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Now here, I think Peter is making a very helpful observation that adds to what Paul has said in 2 Timothy 3 and that is that while Scripture is, in fact, from God, 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is inspired by God,” it is also the result of human origin. Human beings write Scripture. As he says, “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke.”
Even though Scripture did not, as it were, originate ultimately from human beings, they did not make this up, they did not think this up; they did not come up with it on their own. They wrote out of their own hearts, they wrote from their own convictions and beliefs. When you read the gospel writers you are reading what they believed was true about Jesus and His teaching and His works. When you read the apostle Paul to the Galatians, for example, in Galatians 4:19, “I am as a woman in labor until Christ is formed in you,” Wow! What an amazing, powerful metaphor that Paul is using as pastor of these people who cares so much for their souls. This is coming out of Paul’s heart. This is not by dictation.
The amazing thing is that Scripture, yes, is 100 percent divine but it also is 100 percent human. It is the result of men who were moved by the Holy Spirit who speak from God, so both are true in our doctrine of Scripture. Some have likened the Living Word to the written Word on this score. The Living Word, Jesus, He is 100 percent God and 100 percent human, two natures in one person. The Bible, the written Word, is 100 percent divine and 100 percent human. It is ultimately from God. The author of all of the Bible is God, that is why we call it the Word of God and we believe that that is the case. It is also the word of Moses, the word of Isaiah, the word of Ezekiel, the word of John, the word of Paul, and the word of Peter. All of these various authors of Scripture wrote what they believed from their hearts but they did so as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
3. 1 Corinthians 2:13. This is a very interesting passage because it really culminates here Paul’s teaching about the revelation that God had given and now he shifts in verse 13 to inspiration. In order to see this, back up with me for a moment and look with me at verse 10. Here we see revelation is being spoken of, “For to us God revealed them.” Now, what did he reveal? “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man.” These things that God had not made known before verse 8 that the rulers of this world had not understood. Now verse 10, “To us God revealed them through the Spirit.” Revelation comes through the Spirit.
Verse 11, “For who among us knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man that is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who was from God, so that we might know the things freely given to us by God.” In other words, the Spirit of God brought to Paul revelation. Who knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God? No one does. The Spirit brought to Paul these words of revelation. Now look in verse 13, it shifts to inspiration. “Which things,” that is, which truths, “we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual with spiritual.”
The New American Standard adds in here “spiritual thoughts with spiritual words,” which probably is correct. Paul is saying that God not only gave us the concepts, the truths, the revelation by his Spirit, but His Spirit also gives us the very words by which to articulate them. The revelation given to us is by the Spirit and that revelation expressed to others in words taught by the Spirit is also Spirit-derived. Inspiration then is the work of the Spirit in the heart of a biblical writer to say what he believes but to do so to say the things with the Spirit, or God, more generally, is at work in him to prompt him to say.
One more comment on this and then we will move to the last area of inerrancy. It does seem to me that the doctrine of inspiration can only rightly be accounted for if one holds a view of the relationship between divine sovereignty and human freedom, a relation of that that is called compatibilism, that is, it is compatible that both God accomplishes what He wants and we do what we want and the two mix together. In inspiration it is clear that God is the author of all of the Bible and yet this did not happen by dictation; it happened by a process in which he moved in the hearts of people so that what they wrote is what He wanted written, so that what they wrote was, in fact, the word of both Paul and God so you have compatibilism. What Paul wanted to write, what God wanted Paul to write are the same thing. Human free will is not violated by the work of God within a heart to prompt it and move it to do what God, in fact, seeks it to do. We will talk more about that notion of compatibilism when we get into the areas of the attributes of God, and particularly the sovereignty of God.
III. Inerrancy of Scripture
A. The Debate of Recent Years: What is at Issue? Essentially, what happened a number of years ago, say 25 years or so, is that within evangelicalism there began to become questions regarding whether or not the historicity and the facticity, the factual nature, of all of the Bible was, in fact, true. And some evangelicals began raising questions of whether or not we can accept everything that is said in the Bible as it is meant as true. People would raise questions about, for example, trying to harmonize the Easter accounts, as it were, because it looks as though that one gospel writer may say that a cock crowed a certain number of times and another say something different or a question was raised about whether the mustard seed is the smallest seed as Jesus said and was Jesus correct about that.
There began to arise within evangelicalism a dispute over the nature of the Bible and people who sided with the errancy group, who said we really have to discard the notion of inerrancy, were people who said, “The Bible is a human product. Now, granted, God gets His Word across; the big picture gets communicated even though there are lots of little errors that happen in the Bible. We have to look out for those errors and just recognize that we can’t accept those while we do accept the main message of the Bible.”
But others who held to inerrancy argued, “No, if the Bible is, in fact, inspired by God, if it really is ultimately His Word, God does not lie. He does not misrepresent the truth and so God must work through the writers of Scripture to present the truth.” Now, that does not mean that they can’t present things with round numbers, e.g. 5,000 died in battle. Do you mean that is wasn’t 5,001 or 4,999? It is a round number and we ought to understand that. If someone asked you after church Sunday how many were at church, you might say 350. Is that an accurate statement? It is if you understand that it is meant to be a round number. Or phenomenological statements, “the sky above and Hades beneath,” these are phenomenological ways of thinking with the grave below you and clouds above you.
B. Defining Inerrancy. In essence, what happened was that people who held to inerrancy then defined inerrancy in a way that accommodated, as it were, these various ways in which biblical authors were attempting to speak so that we took their teachings in ways that were consistent with what they sought to teach. Ultimately, the definition given for inerrancy by people such as us as Southern Seminary and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and the Evangelical Theological Society is a definition that says that all that the Scripture teaches or intends to present as truth is true.
C. Authority and Inerrancy. It just is very simple, it seems to me, to realize that if inerrancy is given up, if in fact all of the Bible is not true, then the authority of Scripture is compromised. The fact is that we don’t know, when we are reading the Bible, where the problems are. The Bible does not come with an errata page that gives you where the mistakes can be found on page such and such. No, it is up to us to try to find those, and that is why people can discard things like Paul Jewett did at Fuller Seminary in the mid 70’s. He said we have Paul the Pharisee who says that wives should submit to their husbands and women should not teach or exercise authority over men, that was Paul the Pharisee that said that and, of course, that is not really true, so we discard that.
The question then becomes where do we draw the line on what we discard? Who is to say what is true and what isn’t in the Bible? So ultimately the authority resides with us and not with the Bible. The inspiration of Scripture demands the inerrancy of Scripture and only an inspired inerrant Bible is fully authoritative for our lives, our faith, and our practice.
- What does systematic theology have to do with your own relationship with God? Do you think that understanding theology helps people have a better relationship with God? Why or why not?
- What does systematic theology have to do with what we actually do in church?
- What are some questions you have about theology that you would like to learn more about as a result of this study? Why are those questions important to you?
- What are your basic goals for this study? What do you need to do to make sure that you accomplish those goals during this study?
- Have you ever had an experience where you felt that you had learned something about God from creation? What was that like? What did you learn?
- How is learning about God through creation different from learning about God from the Bible? Why are both of these important? How can you make sure that you are including both avenues of revelation in your own life?
- Why is it important to affirm the inerrancy of the Bible? How can understanding increase your confidence in the Bible? How should it affect the way that we approach the Bible?
- Read Psalm 34:8. What does this verse have to do with studying systematic theology? How can it help you appreciate what theology is all about?
- Read and reflect on 2 Timothy 3:16. In what ways have you found the Bible to be ‘profitable’ in your own life? Have you ever found the Bible (or parts of the Bible) to be unprofitable? Why do you think that was? What are some things you might be able to do to remedy that?
Big Truths for Young Hearts: Teaching and Learning the Greatness of God, by Bruce A. Ware, pp. 13-28.
Systematic Theology: A Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne Grudem, pp. 21-138.