Biblical Studies

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn (Pt.3)

Part Two

Going Far Beyond the Bible

All of the major advocates of apocalyptic gather data, albeit not exclusively, from outside of the Bible.  Brent Sandy demonstrates his procedure of going beyond Scripture when he says, “In order to understand the language of apocalyptic, we must review the period of world history relevant to Daniel 8 and then examine Daniel’s language.”[1]  He is not alone.  Notice what is entailed in this statement about the genre:

Apocalypse was a literary genre that flourished in the period between the OT and NT (though apocalyptic visions of the future can be found in the OT as well as the NT).[2] 

Here is another statement from the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery:

Apocalyptic forms of expression were very common outside the Bible, and contemporary readers need to become familiar with that mindset to understand biblical apocalyptic literature and symbolism.[3]

What the author of this article is saying is that one cannot comprehend large parts of Daniel and Revelation, not to mention certain parts of Isaiah, Ezekiel, Zechariah, Matthew, and some Pauline letters[4], unless one goes beyond the Bible for clues of how the ancients used this sort of imagery.

Holding to this understanding of apocalyptic involves an implicit denial of the sufficiency of Scripture.   Whenever we go foraging into profane history, for example, to try to determine genre[5], ideas which are foreign to the Bible are inevitably brought to bear on the text of the Bible, thus essentially undermining the Bible’s own ability to explain itself.

We encounter this again in a recent evangelical work:

Old Testament apocalyptic literature belongs to a genre of Jewish writing that includes both canonical and non-canonical texts.  For a proper understanding of this genre within the context of its historical development, neither of these groups of texts should be examined in isolation from the other.[6]

Notice the position that inspired Scripture is being forced to take.  It must remain content to be analyzed alongside of non-inspired writings and until the accidental artifacts of ancient history have been sifted through.   But letting the Bible be its own interpreter clears away a lot of confusion.  For one thing, one sees the likelihood that later Jewish apocalypses (e.g. The Book of the Watchers; The Testament of Levi) are attempts to copy the biblical writings and put them to use in circumstances of hardship and hopelessness.[7]

Again, if we are going to insist that it is wrong to think of apocalyptic as serving up specific prophetic content, but rather leaving us with an image or impression of something it seems natural that we ask just how God will wrap up history, since basically all the passages that speak of it are lumped together as “apocalyptic” texts.  Will He do it by “rolling up the heavens as a scroll” (Isa. 34:4)?  Will Jesus really come “in the clouds with great power” (Mk. 13:26)?  Will the armies of heaven really follow Him (Rev. 19:14)?  Will there be a great earthquake (Rev. 16:18)?  Will the moon become blood red (Rev. 6:12)?    The answer coming from the apocalyptic corner is No, these are symbols meant to create impressions.  For the record, my answer is Yes!

Reminding Ourselves of the Bible’s “Wild” Worldview

Let us assemble some of the things that people actually saw and experienced in Old Testament times.  It would be a salutary exercise to ponder these events before considering apocalyptic as a genre. (more…)

Advertisements

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn – Pt.2

Part One

The ‘Apocalypse’ of John and Picking Sides     

The first composition to call itself an “apocalypse” was the Book of Revelation, written by the Apostle John circa 95 A.D.[1]  “And even there” says Collins, “it is not clear whether the word denotes a special class of literature or is used more generally for revelation.”[2]   But right here at the start I believe we are misdirected.  John expressly tells us that his book is a “prophecy” (Rev. 1:3; 22:7, 10, 18, 19), and is “the testimony of Jesus Christ” (Rev. 1:2), which “is the spirit of prophecy” according to Revelation 19:10.  So every indication within the Book of Revelation itself is that it is a prophecy.  Hence the term apokalypsis as John uses it does not refer to a special class of literature, but rather does stand generally for a revelation from Jesus Christ.

After the time of the dissemination of John’s Revelation, other writings used the term,[3] though arguably in service of the genre.  The decision that modern readers have to make therefore is whether to interpret Revelation as if it were self-consciously penned as a piece of “apocalyptic” literature in a continuum with a genre established in the inter-testamental period, or as a straightforward account of what John thought of as a prophecy.  What goes for John’s Apocalypse also goes, for example, for the visions of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah.  The decision will inevitably divide one group of interpreters off from the other.

If we take a sketch of the two sides; the “prophecy side”[4] will declare that only the Bible is needed to decipher the writing and its message, while the “apocalyptic side” will generally see such an approach as obscurantist “biblicism” which disregards the cultural setting in which the writing was given.[5]  This thorough-going biblicist has no difficulty in laying aside the partial understandings of the ancient mindset and listening with both ears to the Bible’s own interpretation, which it provides with reassuring regularity.  As one commentator of the “prophecy” school put it,

In interpreting visions, symbols and signs in apocalyptic literature, one is seldom left to his own ingenuity to discover the truth.  In most instances an examination of the context or comparison with a parallel biblical passage provides the Scripture’s own interpretation of the visions and symbols employed.[6]

But that is a naïve way of looking at the literature according to the apocalypticists:

Biblical scholarship in general has suffered from a preoccupation with the referential aspects of language and with the factual information that can be extracted from a text.  Such an attitude is especially detrimental to the study of poetic and mythological material, which is expressive language, articulating feelings and attitudes rather than describing reality in an objective way.  The apocalyptic literature provides a rather clear example of language that is expressive rather than referential, symbolic rather than factual.[7]

Of course, Collins et al do not believe that works of apocalyptic literature are describing actual events.  He views Daniel for example as ex eventu prophecy, written centuries after the protagonists were dead.  Neither does he hold that books like Daniel, Ezekiel and Zechariah record genuine predictions.

From this starting point it is a foregone conclusion that Collins and those who agree with him will entertain very different opinions about the nature of apocalypses than the biblicist.  The effect that presuppositions about dating, divine inspiration, predictive prophecy, and borrowing from Canaanite myths[8] has upon ones understanding of the genre is very profound.  But many conservatives have bought into the conclusions of such scholars while trying to hold on to traditional dating.  Moreover, those evangelicals who have drank most deeply from the liberal wells are the ones who end up sounding more and more like their critical mentors. (more…)

The Apocalyptic (Wrong) Turn – Pt. 1

This is a draft chapter from the forthcoming book ‘The Words of the Covenant’ 

The purpose of this article is to cast a little doubt upon the generally received view of the reading of biblical apocalyptic literature.  As the unique Word of God, the Bible itself is its own interpreter, and much of the edifice of genre criticism and particularly apocalyptic genre is not based on biblical premises, nor should the “apocalyptic” sections of the Bible be read as if at odds with the understanding of God’s covenants that we have been considering.  In point of fact, read against the backdrop of the divine covenants apocalyptic presents few problems for the interpreter and makes its own contribution to the prophetic big picture of the Bible.

Apocalyptic as We are Supposed to View It

According to the leading writers on the subject, the study of apocalyptic literature only gained impetus in the latter half of the nineteenth century, and really began in earnest in the second half of the twentieth century.  Though there has been some shift in opinion over the past fifty years, the overall consensus is fairly stable.  Mainline scholars have broken down their study into three major strands:

Apocalypse is “a genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world.”[1]

Apocalyptic includes the “language and conceptions” of the genre of apocalyptic literature.[2]

Apocalypticism is the worldview or mindset of those who wrote apocalypses, and the community for whom they wrote.[3]

John J. Collins, who is the most recognizable scholar writing on the subject, says that,

“A movement might reasonably be called apocalyptic if it shared the conceptual framework of the genre, endorsing a worldview in which supernatural revelation, the heavenly world, and eschatological judgment played essential parts.”[4]

This way of speaking is so inclusive as to embrace nearly everything in the Bible.  Yet only in this sense is Ernst Kasemann’s statement that “apocalyptic is the mother of all Christian theology” true.[5]

The Bible and “Apocalypse”

In historical-critical assessments of the genre the story goes that a movement sprang up in the centuries before Christ of which some biblical writers were a part.  Some scholars, like P. D. Hanson, believed that the movement had its roots in the 6th century B.C.[6], but for all intents and purposes it is held to have truly sprung up in the 3rd century B.C., thus making all the Jewish writers (including, as they believe, Daniel and Second Isaiah) pseudonymous.[7]  For reasons that have been debated, but which often include pious mysticism, fear and persecution, or plain confusion[8], some writers developed this genre of apocalyptic literature.  Briefly stated, the genre,

…focuses upon a dramatic revelation (Gk apokalypsis) to an outstanding religious figure …a revelation that typically anticipates the climax of history for a deteriorating world with the destruction of the forces of evil and the victory of God.  This revelation is characteristically coded with striking images and mediated through angelic mediators.[9]      

It is not my purpose in this chapter to question the whole genre of apocalyptic.  I do think that for example, Daniel 7 and 8 and Revelation 12 and 13 contain visions and images (e.g. composite beasts) which may represent a certain literary genre.  Also, the angelic messengers to Ezekiel (Ezek. 40 – 48) and to John (e.g. Rev. 17 – 22) appear within a genre of divine disclosure which one may wish to call “apocalyptic.”  But I am of the strong opinion that the angels in both cases were real, and so was much of what they revealed (in the sense that it was not symbolic), so that both the temple in Ezekiel and the New Jerusalem in Revelation should be taken literally.  There is little clear evidence to suggest that the generally accepted perspective on apocalyptic genre should be foisted upon the biblical materials.  For example, although the beasts of Daniel 7:3-7 are figurative in that they stand for something else (i.e. kings and kingdoms), there is no reason to think of the “living creatures” in Ezekiel 1 and 10, or the supernatural horses of Zechariah 1:7 or even the stork-winged women in Zechariah 5:9 in the same way.  In other words, I view Daniel’s “beasts” as impossible creatures[10], but these other beasts as entirely possible.[11]  Discerning the difference is an important part of the literary study of the genre, but it produces little to improve one’s comprehension of the revelation. (more…)

The Use of the Term “Scripture”

The Inspiration of Scripture – Part Three

N.B. This is a companion piece to the articles on Inspiration

“Scripture” usually translates the Greek term graphe.  Sometimes, as in 2 Timothy 3:15 one finds hieros grammata, but it is clear that in the context grammata is referring to the Scriptures of verse 16.  In other words it is just a synonym.  Also, Paul is referring to the Old Testament as a unit – as a whole, and not to the different books of the Old Testament.  This is important because when the translators rendered those words as “Scripture” in 2 Timothy 3:15-15, that is, grammata and graphe respectively, they understood that Paul here was referring to the whole of the Old Testament, the whole of the inspired Scriptures together as God’s word.  That is why they translated the article pas not as ‘every’ but as ‘all’ in verse 16.  So the correct reading here is ‘all’ Scripture, not ‘every’ Scripture, is inspired.

This becomes important when you want a doctrine of inspired Scripture which covers the whole of Scripture; the whole and not just the parts; which is to say, a plenary version of inspiration.  Translating pas as ‘all’ avoids any ambiguities and stops liberals to picking and choosing what passages within the Bible they will designate as Scripture and what passages they will say aren’t God-breathed.  (For more on this argument look at Warfield’s article on the term “‘Scripture’ and ‘Scriptures'” in The Inspiration of Authority of the Bible, especially pages 233 – 238, etc.

The designation ‘all Scripture is God breathed’ is passive in form, not active; it is designating what the Scriptures are in fact, not what they are when they are actively employed, or what they are in some continuing dynamic way.  (elsewhere it’s called ‘living and active’, but that is not what Paul is trying to get across here).

Texts from the New Testament that Employ the Term ‘Scripture’

Have you not read this Scripture: “‘The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. – Mark 12:10

Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament while questioning the Jewish religious leaders.  He is using the designation ‘Scripture’ to speak to what he is about to quote.  However, the inference is that everything in the Old Testament makes up Scripture and therefore is from God.

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life. – John 5:39

Again ‘the Scriptures’ are a group or body of writings that are holy and are from God.  In Berea the Scriptures were being read and searched. (Acts 17:11).  According to Romans 15:4 the Scriptures have an ongoing effect and influence and relevance for us today.

They were also prophetic:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures. – I Corinthians 15:3-4

Because the Scriptures are the Word of God you would expect to find in them the prediction of Christ’s suffering and death in the OT which were in accord with what the circumstances were surrounding the death and resurrection of Christ.  That is Paul’s argument there…the basis for his Gospel.

Theopneustos and the Autographs

Now the Scriptures Paul is talking about in 2 Tim. 3:16 are obviously the ones Timothy knew and read.  That being the case we have an interesting usage of the term theopneustos.  The Scriptures that Timothy was reading were God breathed, at least Paul. In context, Paul is not, first and foremost, dealing with the original autographs.  This is important because evangelicals and fundamentalists have usually said that only the originals were inspired.  The Bible seems to throw a spanner in the works.  We tend to speak of inspiration in the past tense when we are trying to be accurate.  But the Apostle doesn’t.  What is one to do with this?

A former acquaintance of mine who teaches Comparative Religion at Berkeley, certainly no Christian, was amazed that I held to biblical inspiration.  She pointed out to me that we have so many variants among the extant manuscripts that it is entirely indefensible to hold to the conservative evangelical position.

Replying to this, I said two things:

First – if we adopt a provenance view of the origination of the Books of the Bible I think we can only speak meaningfully of inspired autographs, so we’re certainly not disagreeing with the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy or any other statement like that.

Second – such is the wonderful overall agreement of the manuscripts, Hebrew and Greek, plus other ancient witnesses, that we can refer to the Scriptures we possess as God breathed because they have so much of the content and character of the autographs. Indeed this is how Paul referred to the copies which Timothy read growing up.

I like what Geisler and Nix say in this regard:

A good copy or translation of the autographs is, for all practical purposes, the inspired word of God. – Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, 44

In fact, most of the passages where the word Scripture is used, do not allude to the original autographs either.  Furthermore, let us suppose that Timothy read a Greek translation of the Old Testament, as is likely.  This translation Paul says is inspired in someway.

Again, let me be clear what I am saying.  I’m not denying inspiration to the originals.  I am facing a fact that is all too often left unconsidered in discussions of this doctrine.

Owen

To show you that I’m not completely around the bend here, let me quote from the great 17th century English theologian John Owen and his view of inspiration.  Firstly, his work On the Divine Original of the Scripture, which is in his Collected Works , Volume 16.  Owen says,

The whole authority of the Scripture in itself depends solely on its divine original is confessed by all who acknowledge its authority.” 297

I certainly agree with that view.  If the originals were not inspired then it is useless to speak about inspiration at all.

Owen says in another place,

Sacred Scripture claims this name for itself.  It has its origin from God, so that what God wants said to the church through the medium of the prophets, apostles, and other inspired writers, was still spoken directly by God and that not only in the primary sense to those whom he delegated his task of reducing his revealed will to written form, but also no less so in a secondary sense. He speaks to is now in his written word, as in days past he spoke through the mouths of his holy prophets. – “A Defense of Holy Scripture”, reprinted in Biblical Theology, 788

According to Owen the modern-day recipients of those original writings are still receiving the Word of God.  This is because of what Owen believed:

It is true we have not the autographa [the originals], but the apographa [or copies] which we have contain every iota that was in them. – The Divine Original of the Scriptures, 301

Turretin

Another great theologian of the past shares Owen’s opinion:

By original texts we do not mean the autographs which we certainly do not now exist, we mean their apographs, which are so-called because they set forth to us the word of God in the very words of those who wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit. – Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1, 106

Now Turretin is a great scholar, as of course is Owen; they know what they’re talking about, they know that the manuscripts have errors in them.  Owen grants this fact:

For the first transcribers of the original copies and those who have done light work from them, it is known, it is granted, that failings have been amongst them and that various lections [i.e. variants] are from thence risen. – John Owen, Of the Integrity and Purity of the Hebrew and Greek Text of Scripture – Works, Volume 16, 355

So Owen certainly knew that the manuscripts had variants, still for all that he could say that the apographs; the copies, were inspired.  He believed this, although not exactly in the same way as the autographs (which is why Turretin talks about those that wrote under the immediate inspiration of the Holy Spirit).  But both men certainly believe we have good enough copies of the originals to call what we have inspired.  Hence, it seems to these men that Paul is not so much bothered with the autographa, as with the state of the extant copies,which if they accurately reflect their originals, may be designated, at least by extension, as inspired.

To summarize, the context of 2 Timothy 3:15-16, and the use of the term “Scripture” to elsewhere in the New Testament, speak about copies, but copies which are reliable enough, preserved enough, and used by God enough to be called theopneustos.

They are not inspired in the way that Peter is referring to in his First Epistle, and they are not the work therefore of the direct concursive influence of the Holy Spirit on the original writers.  But they are, in Paul’s thought, and in Owen’s and Turretin’s, inspired. (more…)

The Inspiration of Scripture (Pt.3)

Part Two

Let us reproduce the Pache definition:

Inspiration is the determining influence exercised by the Holy Spirit on the writers of the Old and New Testament in order that they might proclaim and set down in an exact and authentic way the message as received from God. – Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 45

When one is dealing with Pache’s definition, it is vital to notice that he was speaking very much about the writers, so let’s get back to the writers.

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. – 2 Peter 1:20-21

This passage is the most important text dealing with the writers of Scripture.  It refers to the origin of prophecy, which we take to include not just the predictions, but all the words of the true prophets.  The prophecy uttered by these men of God was not of any private interpretation, they did not think up their prophecies (unlike the false prophets that you read opining Jeremiah 23, Ezekiel 13, or Micah 3), nor did they reinterpret or paraphrase what God had told them.  This is the first thing that Peter wants his reader to understand. We are to know this – the term is ginoskontai – in the sense of apprehending it.  These men were ‘moved’ or ‘born along’ (pheromenoi) by the Holy Spirit.  They were His human instruments, although in saying this we do not want to leave the impression that these men were entirely passive agents, they certainly were not; clearly they employed their own idioms and styles.  Nevertheless they spoke and later wrote under the supervision of the Blessed Spirit.  Maier is assuredly right when he observes:

None of them, curiously enough, spoke from the standpoint of men, but from God; that is ‘sent from him’, empowered, proceeding from his vantage point, and bringing across a message from him that is no less than a divine message. – Gerhard Maier, Biblical Hermeneutics, 102

What Maier has said is terribly important to grasp.  Truly Scripture is God’s Word.  It is God’s Scripture, it is then not a human word, other than the obvious fact that it is given through human instrumentality.  Men conveyed it, their personalities were not obstructed or overcome in order to bring it about.  Rather by what Warfield and others have called a ‘concursive’ working of the Holy Spirit with the personalities of the individual writers, what materialized was what the Holy Spirit Himself wanted written through them.  Because it was the Holy Spirit who was in control of the process what was created is an infallible Book.  In my opinion, we should look at the process of inspiration as just an intensification of the normal providential working of the Spirit in all the world.

The Word of God: A Designation used in the Bible to show Inspiration as its inherent Property

The most important term for our subject doctrinally speaking is undoubtedly ‘the Word of God’, which is used often, particularly in the New Testament.  Jesus objected to the religious leaders’ confusing tradition with inspiration.

Thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do. – Mark 7:13

Jesus upbraids the Jews when he says that they make the Word of God of no effect through their tradition which they have handed down.  The point is that if you nullify Scripture as the Word of God then its authority to speak for God is stifled.

And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.'” – Luke 4:4

Man needs a divine revelation, he needs a word from outside to sustain him and to guide him.  Any position on the Bible that does not recognize it as being that word from outside, that word from God, is a false and heretical position.

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. – Luke 8:11

Then in the Parable of the Sower, the seed that is sown is the Word of God.

Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away. – John 8:18

This means that the way that we use the Word of God when we hear it, the way we respond to it, and the way that we do it, will have an effect on how we end up at the end of this life.

But he answered them, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.” – Luke 8:21

Because the connotation is that there are people, many people, most people in the world, who do not hear and do the Word of God; they hear and do the Word of man. (more…)

The Inspiration of Scripture (Pt.2)

Part One

The Divine over the Human

What all this does is that it causes us to conclude that as evangelical Christians we should emphasize the divine aspect of the Bible more than the human element, though not neglecting the human aspect.  This is the biblical pattern:

Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” Then I said, “Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am only a youth’; for to all to whom I send you, you shall go, and whatever I command you, you shall speak. Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you, declares the LORD.” Then the LORD put out his hand and touched my mouth. And the LORD said to me, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. – Jeremiah 1:4-9

O LORD, you know; remember me and visit me, and take vengeance for me on my persecutors. In your forbearance take me not away; know that for your sake I bear reproach. Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O LORD, God of hosts. Therefore thus says the LORD: “If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me. If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth. They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them. – Jeremiah 15:15-16, 19

 

There is much in Jeremiah 15 which is somewhat obscure and which we don’t have the time here to exegete, but the emphasis of Jeremiah, especially in 15:19, was on the fact that his predictions, his prophecies, were God’s words first and foremost not his own. Therefore the Divine element is far greater and far more important than the human element, in a Doctrine of Inspiration.

I will take my stand at my watchpost and station myself on the tower, and look out to see what he will say to me, and what I will answer concerning my complaint. And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. – Habakkuk 2:1-2  

Again the emphasis falls on the divinity of Scripture and the person who reads it will act upon it because it is from God, not just from Habakkuk.

I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. – John 17:6, 17

Now just look at the implications of that verse: man is not the fount of truth, therefore man cannot be the source of the truth that is in the Word.  Ergo, the humanity of Scripture, which would have to mean fallibility, has to be overcome by the divinity of Scripture which is infallible. I believe a great deal of harm has been done within evangelicalism, and particularly in the realm of hermeneutics, by over-emphasizing the humanity of Scripture.  The humanity of Scripture would, if left to itself, tend towards some truth and a lot of falsehood and certainly no definitive truth, but the divinity of truth, coming from the source of all truth, makes the whole Word, even when it is written by human agents, the truth, because it witnesses to its divine author.

Yet among the mature we do impart wisdom, although it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to pass away. But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”– these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. – I Corinthians 2:6-13

The whole basis of Paul’s argument here is rooted in the Word of God, he even quotes the Word of God in verse 9 and continues to do so throughout his letters. In other words, his truth is based on Scripture’s truth.  And he is also superintended by the Spirit himself.

I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, ‘Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.’ – Revelation 1:10-11

What we see here is the Lord himself giving the revelation, also giving the commandment, and the ability through the Spirit for John to write down this inspired book.

Now it is because of the relationship between the Scriptures and God himself, because of their God-breathed character even though using human instruments, that we have some rather startling sayings about the Bible.

And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” – Galatians 3:8

Now here, what Paul is arguing is that the Scripture itself, because of what is written in Genesis 12:3, foresaw the importance of justification by faith.

For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Romans 9:17

Paul doesn’t say ‘God said to Pharaoh’ he says ‘the Scripture said to Pharaoh’. Why does he say that? Because what God said to Pharaoh through Moses is what Scripture says; the words are the same…they are God’s words.

This is why the writer of Hebrews can write:

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. – Hebrews 4:12-13

The Word of God, because it is living, discerns our thoughts and intents – what’s going on in our hearts, in our minds, and in our thinking. Now the “him” in verse 13 is not the Scriptures, it is God himself. Because the Word of God searches us out and discerns where we are in relation to God himself, the relationship between God and his Word is such that in verses like this, they actually coalesce; the writer having no problem going from the One – the Scripture, to the other – the person of God himself. (more…)

The Inspiration of Scripture (Pt.1)

We have seen that God has revealed Himself to us in two ways, and yet these two ways are really one whole.

  1. General Revelation proclaims the existence of the Creator even in a sin-scarred, even though we reject the revelation that is in us and all around us in nature, yet this revelation is clear and authoritative. The testimony of the natural world, though perspicuous in itself, is obscured by our sin and the curse.
  2. Special Revelation both interprets General Revelation and tells us about God and reality through the medium of the written Word, especially today. The Bible is God’s Word to man, and that being so it must speak authoritatively.  In fact, it’s authority must be the authority of its Author.  The God-givenness of Scripture is what we generally call ‘inspiration’.

A Starting Definition

Inspiration is the determining influence exercised by the Holy Spirit on the writers of the Old and New Testament in order that they might proclaim and set down in an exact and authentic way the message as received from God. – Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 45

This definition well describes the teaching of the Church through the centuries. The Almighty has communicated His Word to mankind in the Bible, employing the instrumentality of chosen men to write and preserve their works.  Since God is true and cannot lie or err (Tit. 1:2), it stands to reason that His written Word will be infallible and inerrant.  We are not left with a book that is an admixture of God’s words plus the well-intentioned, but flawed musings, of human beings about God.

Although Scripture does refer to mistakes and faults, it does so as a faithful witness to those failings.  It does not fail itself, but as the production of God is completely trustworthy upon whatever the subject it touches.  Indeed, this cannot be otherwise or else the entire revelation is put in jeopardy; the whole Scripture is the unalloyed truth.

According to Pache the first thing to state about inspiration is that it is ‘Spirit directed’; the whole enterprise from the choosing and guiding of the individuals, to the finished canon, was under the minute direction of the Third Person of the Trinity.

This is a very important point for at least two reasons:

  1. because it shows that God Himself is in control of the entire production, through the history of its production, and its preservation.

2. it shows that the divine side of the Scripture is more preeminent than the human side.  Yes the human side is there…it can be detected in the style, the language, and the personalities of the writers, but these are superintended by the divine power, and it is the divine will that they are bringing about. Therefore, the relation between the divine aspects of Scripture and the human aspects of Scripture are unequal – because God is in final control, the human beings are not.

Also, Pache says that inspiration is “the Spirit’s exercise of His authority on the writers of the Old and New Testaments in order that they might proclaim and set down”.  That is, inspiration involved both the proclamation of God’s message and the setting of it down in permanent written form.

Pache continues that this proclamation and setting down of the message of God was in an exact and authentic way – the message as received from God. In other words, what God wanted written got written! What Scripture says is what God says!

An Examination of this Doctrine

The key text is from Paul:

And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3: 15-17

Pache does not put a lot of emphasis on this passage and its teaching in his definition.  I think that is where we will need to amend his work.  In this famous verse we have –  provided we accept the usual translation – a straightforward declaration of the Bible’s connection with the supreme God.  Men of God may have set down their writings while being ‘born along’ by the action of the Holy Spirit (as in 2 Pet. 1:21), but in this verse the attention is all on the production itself.

The Meaning of Theopneustos

All Scripture is theopneustos; literally ‘God breathed’, a term unique to Paul and to this passage.  Theopneustos is a compound verb constructed out of the welding together of two familiar words – theos: Greek word for God, and pneuma: the Greek term for ‘breath, wind, or spirit’.  So, as many interpreters have pointed out, Paul describes Scripture as being ‘God breathed out’.

The next thing to discover is what exactly the Apostle wanted Timothy to understand by this term; that is, what relationship does the breath of God bear to the written Word?

B.B. Warfield demonstrated a century ago that theopneustos, “very definitely does not mean inspired.”  Our word ‘inspired’ connotes in-breathing, whereas Paul’s word conveys the notion of ‘breathing out’ or spiration.  To attempt to get closer to the meaning we could turn to the term ‘expired’.  But of course that term has already been rendered inappropriate for our use by the fact that it usually connotes the last breath of something, therefore indicating that something is dead.  That gives us exactly the opposite meaning we are after, because the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12).

So perhaps we’re better off with the term “spirated.”  Or maybe it is just better to retain the word “inspired” while giving it this special meaning?  This means that in the Spirit’s superintendence, the Bible (in this context it would be the Old Testament, but also by extension the New), is as much a word spoken by God as the words which called for a universe to be created at the very beginning.  The Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.

Because the Bible is “God breathed” it is truly the Word of God before it is the word of man.  It is truly “the Sword of the Spirit” before it is the sword of the saint (Eph. 6:17).  It “cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35).  It’s profitability for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, is linked inextricably with its divine provenance.  It’s power, authority, integrity, and permanence are byproducts of its theopneustic or inspired character.   (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.5)

Part Four

The Unsaved do not know God

The NT seems to say that the unsaved person does not know God.  We see this in several places.  Let us begin with Galatians 4:

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? – Galatians 4:8-9

We are told that the Galatians once did not know God, and because of that they served false gods.  But now they are known by God and therefore know God.  Here Paul is plainly saying that there is a difference between those who know God, the saints, and those that do not know God, the lost or unregenerate.

Here is Ephesians 2:

Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:12

Paul says that the Gentiles, by which he means the pagan world, were once “without God in the world.”  If they were without God it is hard to claim that they knew Him.  This is Paul’s view also in 1 Thessalonians 4:5 (“…like the Gentiles who do not know God” – cf. 2 Thess. 1:8).

From these texts it seems quite clear then that unregenerate people do not know God in any way, whereas saved people have been brought to a knowledge of God, and they are the only ones who truly do know God.

The Unsaved do know God

Now, if the unsaved are ignorant of God then what does one do with Romans 1?  Here Paul insists that the unsaved are aware of God.  In fact, it is on account of this that “the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.”  How can this be?  It is because of what the Apostle identifies as a suppression of the truth that their ignorance is willful (1:18).  The suppression is driven from within; from the “default setting” of the sinner, who, as the truth comes to him as revealed truth, changes it into something different.

In Romans 1 Paul is speaking about General Revelation, not Scripture.  And he says plainly that there are things that “can be known about God”, revealed things in creation (1:19-20).  Paul surprises us, for he declares this revelation from and about God to be “plain to them” and “clearly perceived” 1:20).  Hence, he can be dogmatic; “they are without excuse.”

Paul continues,

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images… – Romans 1:20-22

The problem with man’s thinking does not stop with the exclusion of the revelation about God in the world.  The mechanisms of thought are polluted or corrupted in their functioning.  Having ignored General Revelation the human mind must fill in the gap and imagine a story in its place.  Ironically, the sinner has a “God of the gaps” fallacy which effects their senses and their experiences.  They claim to “know” but that “knowledge” is not justified true belief, it is foolishness.

Then what the passage does is make connections between the almost reflexive denial of God and the inevitable manufacture of idols to take His place, at least superficially (1:23-25), and the knock-on effect this has upon morals.

Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen… God gave them up to dishonorable passions…and since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done… Though they know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. – Romans 1:24-26, 28, 32

Here then, quite clearly we have Paul, the same Paul who said that the Gentiles do not know God, teaching quite clearly that in fact the Gentiles, the unsaved people, do know God and they know God because God has revealed Himself in their surroundings and also within them.  Therefore, they are without excuse for their rejection of God and they are without excuse when they worship and serve idols. In fact we told in verse 25 that, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie”. This lines up with Jesus’ words:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. – John 3:18-21

 

Where Jesus speaks about the fact that men loved darkness rather than light (that is, in contrast to light), because their deeds were evil, so that they would not come to that light. There is some knowledge, some sense, and some acknowledgment of the light.  Or to shift back to Paul’s wording, there is some knowledge of the reality of the Creator God.  And yet they are said not to know God. (more…)

General Revelation (Pt.4)

Part Three

God’s revelation is woven into the ‘warp and woof’ of everyday living. This is because General Revelation and Special Verbal Revelation work together in unison.  This is most important to keep in mind.  When God gives someone something like, revelation or ability, never works against Himself, He always gives in accordance with His will and His decree for the gift to be used.  So it is with the gift of General Revelation.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:17

General Revelation and Special Revelation in the Scriptures both work together according to the intention of the revealing God.  We see this in Psalm 19 where ‘nature’ and ‘word’ are both revelations of God working together.

We see this also in Eden where Adam and Eve are placed in a revelatory environment and then are told how to function within it.  That is, God uses General Revelation, the naming of the animals, the creation mandate, to bring Adam to do several things:

First – to delineate and define animal characteristics in his naming of them, therefore using the abilities that God has given to him.  Those abilities themselves are revelatory, and we should link them to the phenomenal world in order to find out about the world.  This is the mandate for science and scientific endeavor in the world.

Second – God uses General Revelation in Eden so that man realizes his need of a suitable companion during the process of his scientific investigation and naming of the animals. But then the activities of Adam and Eve in the Edenic environment is prescribed also by the Word of God.  This is most important.  By the Word of God, given for example through the creation mandate itself – which is a verbal mandate – and the prohibition in Genesis 2:17, our first parents were given parameters within which to operate.  But within those verbal parameters there was a great deal of freedom to interact and respond to the natural realm.  It was never intended that God would leave us in a nonverbal atmosphere to find our way without another word from the Creator. General Revelation and Special Revelation are two sides of the one system of Divine communication.

After the Fall

After the fall of man the verbal aspect changes because Special Revelation was not at first instrumental.  That is, God did not use something else like a book or a prophet to speak to us, but spoke directly and personally in his own presence there in the Garden to Adam and Eve.  But after sin ruptured the relational and spiritual facets of the God / man connection, it became necessary for Special (verbal) Revelation to take other forms with only selected individuals hearing the voice of God.   It also became necessary for that verbal revelation to have a different content, where the denunciation of man’s wicked heart and the promise of future redemption played a major role.  It didn’t need to take any kind of role at all in the Edenic environment.

Yet the General Revelation, which now operates with the data of a fallen creation, and is effective despite it; and the Special Revelation, which operates within that fallen creation and interprets it, are still essential and are still meant to work together; they never work independently of each other, and so they must never be characterized as working independently of each other.

Certainly, they are different, but they are not self-supporting.  Each relies on the other:

General Revelation is non-verbal and non-redemptive, but requires an initial verbal identification and description.

Special Revelation is verbal and is both condemnatory and redemptive, but it operates within the created realm, which itself reveals God.

We can further examine this interplay between General and Special Revelation by studying the Noahic Covenant, and in doing this, also understand the different roles played by these two forms of God’s disclosure.  (See Genesis 8:15-9:17).

Notice here that the Noahic Covenant is the first covenant we find in the Bible.  This covenant is a covenant given by God on behalf of not only man, but on behalf of every living creature on the earth.  Because every living creature was affected by the Flood and its destruction, every living creature there by the will of God is included in the terms of this first covenant.  Therefore, this covenant has to do with the way that God is going to work in history in General Revelation, in the working out of his plan in history.

Now this means there is a connection between the “nature” and the plan of God.  But we couldn’t know this without Special Revelation.

The sign of the covenant is the rainbow.  People have noticed that this bow is rested and  is a bow without arrows.

The bow is an excellent symbol, particularly as it is now transformed into a thing of awe and of beauty.  It reveals the fact that God is a Judge over the wickedness of man, but will not revisit the earth with a global flood (Special Revelation).  But it also a symbol to us of our privileged relationship to God because it is a thing of great beauty (General Revelation), which only humans appreciate.

(more…)

General Revelation (Pt.3)

Part Two

The “Nature” Psalms

A good place to look for the doctrine of general or natural revelation is the so-called Nature Psalms.  But we might pause here to correct the title “Nature” Psalms, because although they have been classically referred to as that, it is not a very accurate name; it straightaway gives the impression that the psalmists are looking at nature and are deriving their views of God from their analysis of it.  But these Psalms (e.g. 8, 33, 104, 145), are actually Creation Psalms.  They are hymns to the God who has created all things. Therefore, they look at the effects of God’s working, and so they ought to be examined from a believing point of view.  We see God in these things just as the psalmist did, and our reaction to them should be that we are overwhelmed by the power, by the majesty, by the greatness of God, and that we worship Him for it.  These Psalms point to God.

O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!  You have set your glory above the heavens. – Psalm 8:1

Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven.  He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his saints, for the people of Israel who are near to him.  Praise the LORD! – Psalm 148:13-14

Bless the LORD, O my soul! O LORD my God, you are very great!  You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering yourself with light as with a garment, stretching out the heavens like a tent. – Psalm 104:1-2

One of the main lessons then of these Creation Psalms is that God is far greater than what he has made.

The first and foundational truth in the Creation Psalms is that Yahweh has taken the initiative to communicate with us in every way possible.  He has given himself a constant witness in the creation around us and every time we open our eyes or ears we are reminded of the great Creator of all things. – Michael Travis, Encountering God in the Psalms, 122

At least the writer of Psalm 19 thinks so, and so does Paul in the New Testament. God has not remained silent.

So when we look at Psalm 19, perhaps the most clearly pronounced of the creation hymns, we see that it expounds the clarity of General Revelation to all men:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament show his handiwork – Psalm 19:1

So the wonder of the heavens, the demonstration that is put on for us in the skies, both the morning sky, the afternoon sunshine, and the night sky, these things declare our glorious God; they show us that God is God majestic.  We see the great blue of the sky, or the gathering storm clouds, we see the wonderful contrasts in the natural world, and we wonder at the wisdom of what we might call the ‘God’s eye for beauty’.  We look at the stars and we just cannot fathom the power, the might, and the greatness of a God who would make all of those stars, burning so far away, millions upon millions of them, in millions of galaxies, and only mention them in passing in Genesis 1:16.

Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. – Psalm 19:2

In verse 2 we are told that there is a communication going on from day to day, from the creation to the creature – man: “night to night reveals knowledge”, they impart knowledge to us, provided we open our eyes and our hearts.

There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. – Psalm 19:3

The testimony is universal, a General Revelation.

Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat. – Psalm 19:4-6

The whole day, from sun up to sun down (v.6), is an ongoing witness to the revelation of the glory of God; it speaks to us of the reality of our Creator.  We recognize it intuitively when we look at it, when we listen to it, when we experience it.  There is a resonance between ourselves and the created environment. (more…)