Systematic Theology

God and Time (Pt. 2)

Part One

Carl Henry proposes the following view of God’s relationship to time:

The biblical view it seems to me, implies that God is not in time, that there is no succession of ideas in the divine mind, that time is a divine creation concomitant with the origin of the universe, that God internally knows all things including all space-time contingencies, and that this knowledge includes knowledge of the temporal succession prevalent in the created universe.  Although God’s nature, including His knowledge, is not in time, nonetheless, because He is omniscient He cognitively distinguishes between what I did in the past, what I’m doing now, and what I shall do tomorrow.  God includes time not as a constituent aspect of His being or knowing, but as a conceptual aspect of His knowledge of created realities.

God’s time-transcending knowledge in Himself does not cancel out distinctive space-time relationships to His created universe.  God is not limited to simply one track of relationships to the temporal order. He knows all historical factualities and contingencies through His eternal decree and He knows them in personal presence in the historical order.  It is therefore one thing to say that God simultaneously knows all things, past, present, and future, and quite another to insist that He knows them only in an eternal now that makes all time distinctions wholly irrelevant. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 5. 276 (My emphasis)

In this quotation Henry has said that God transcends time, so he is obviously a B Theory or Tenseless time advocate.  But he claims that that view does not mean God cannot know the ‘I’ in the now or the ‘I’ in any sentence (this is called the problem of indexical reference).

The reason that Henry gives for this is that God does not have time or include time as part of his nature.  It is not, as he says, “a constituent aspect of his being or knowing, instead it is a conceptual aspect of his knowledge of created realities.”

In other words, it is part of His decree; part of His foreknowledge, and therefore it is not something that impacts God’s being and attributes.  So God does not have to change from an atemporal to a temporal being, as William Lane Craig says.  Such a change would of course impact His immutability.

The way Henry has formulated the issue means that God is both atemporal in His being, but temporal in His knowing (at least within creation).  Henry adds to what he has said by giving the example of the Incarnation of the divine Logos (Ibid, 257).  He asserts the eternality of the Logos, Jesus Christ as the “I am” (John 8:58), yet He enters into time.

Now, if that is possible without any contradiction in the divine essence as far as the second person is concerned, why can’t it be true of the Father and the Spirit, even if they do not take on physicality?

Theologically, one has to start with what the Bible says, and the Bible certainly does seem too intimate in John 1:1-18 that the One who was the Beginner, the One who created all things, was before time.  You see the same thing in Genesis 1:1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

Time is shown as coterminous with creation.

James Barr, in his book on Biblical Words for Time, agrees with this.  He says that is certainly the biblical teaching.  Now if time didn’t start until creation, we can say that God was at least supratemporal or atemporal before He created (the preexistence of Christ plays in to this too).  That being the case, the only issue that has to be resolved is whether God has now confined Himself to time.

John Frame has said that the biblical view reflects God’s immanence, which includes temporality, and His transcendence, which includes atemporality (The Doctrine of God, 551).  It should be recalled that God’s immanence and transcendence in the true biblical view, are part of each another.  Therefore, it is no contradiction to say that God is immanent in time (and therefore temporal in His working), and yet in His actual being He transcends time (and is atemporal, just as He transcends all other things).

Frame writes,

Too little attention has been paid to God’s temporal omnipresence (the term he uses, in the discussion of His relationship to time).  Much of what some writers want to gain by a temporalist view, other than of course libertarian freedom, can be easily secured through sufficient recognition of God’s temporal covenant presence.  In other words His immanence. 

For example a covenantally present God, like a temporalist God, can know and assert temporarily indexed expressions like “the sun is rising now”…  He can feel with human beings the flow of time from one moment to the next.  He can react to events in a significant sense, events which to be sure, He has foreordained. He can mourn one moment and rejoice the next.  He can hear and respond to prayer in time.  Since God dwells in time, therefore, there is give-and-take between him and human beings.  But God’s temporal immanence does not contradict his Lordship over time or the exhaustiveness of His decree.  These temporal categories are merely aspects of God’s general transcendence and immanence as the Lord.  The give-and-take between God and the creation requires, not a reduced, but an enhanced view of His sovereignty.  God is the Lord in time, as well as the Lord above time.  So God is temporal after all, but not merely temporal.  He really exists in time, but He also transcends time in such a way as to exist outside of it.  He is both inside and outside of the temporal box; a box that can never confine Him nor keep Him out. This is the model that does the most justice to the biblical data. – John M. Frame, The Doctrine of God, 558-559†

Frame’s account is on a par with Carl Henry’s view; and that is, I believe, the biblical view.††  We should look at the problem of God’s working in time through the theological categories of God’s immanence in transcendence.  God is temporal through his “covenant presence.”††† He is atemporal in his transcendence or Lordship.

Some Scriptural Representations of God, Eternity, and Time

Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. – Psalm 90:2

Many have noted here the duplication of the word olam which should be recognized as a way of speaking of eternity.

I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty. – Revelation 1:8

Although these references to the “Alpha and the Omega” seem to be temporal references, they are explained as atemporal by the description that is appended to them.  The text describes the Lord thus: He “is and was and is to come.”  It does not say that God “was and is and is to come.”  That would imply a temporal existence always.  The presence of God in the ‘now’ situation (“is”) is placed first, therefore putting emphasis on God’s atemporality.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. – Romans 11:36

By “all things” this passage must mean all things in time and space.  Creation and its time are from God.  By saying all things are of God, through Him, and to Him Paul is not claiming creation is an emanation from God.  They are created separate from Him.  Only He is eternal.


†  My quotations here come from lecture transcripts.  Though I own these books, I do not have them in front of me as I write this.

††  In saying this I am not claiming to have answered every objection or read every counter-proposal.  This is my opinion so far as I can give one.

†††  By speaking of ‘covenant presence’ Frame (if I understand him rightly) is invoking the theological covenant(s), not those clearly found in the Bible.  However, one can use the term ‘covenant presence’ just so long as it is understood more as a figure of speech than as a reference to the biblical covenants.

 

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How Might We Glorify God in His Attributes? (2)

Part One

As we contemplate God’s perfections, we need to pay attention to what God has disclosed about Himself, linking these qualities together as they are linked together in His person.  The perspectival aspect that is so important to grasp when we are dealing with the attributes should be remembered.  Millard Erickson actually criticizes the great Puritan Stephen Charnock for seeming to compartmentalize the attributes of God.  When we are dealing with the perfections; whether it be the power of God, the presence of God, the holiness of God, or His patience, love, justice, grace, mercy, truth, eternality, immutability, omnipotence, etc., we should see the attributes wrapped up in each another; that they are different perspectives on the unity of the one God, not parts of God, but rather perspectives on God.

We have been saved by God’s grace and mercy and love and power and truth and justice, so this places us under an obligation to glorify Him.  I Corinthians 10:31 declares,

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.

But how can we do that truly if we have not made ourselves familiar with the way God has disclosed Himself in the Bible?

The Glory of His Name

Psalm 29 reminds us to,

Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness. – Psalm 29:2

When the psalmist speaks of the “name” of God here, he is talking about the character of God; that which defines God, that which God, in naming Himself for us, wants us to know about Himself.  We are to proclaim the honor due to His name; in fact the honor of His name, and make His praise glorious.  As the psalm suggests, this is best done when the truth about God arrests our hearts and we begin to reflect His holiness.

Sing the glory of his name; give to him glorious praise! – Psalm 66:2

We’re scarcely in a position to participate in this if we are ignorant of what it means to speak of God’s attributes.  To glorify God in His attributes is to declare either to oneself or to another, the absolute perfections of our Creator.  It is also to apply this knowledge to ourselves.

For example, how might a Christian’s contemplation of God help him in trying times? Here are eight things to ponder.

First, the saints are never alone.  The Lord is always with us.  Hebrews 13:5  instructs us:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

The love of money is a rejection of providence of God and of rewards in heaven.  It is also a snubbing of the presence of God.  As Psalm 139:7 says,

Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

Second, God knows all about our situations.

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. – Psalm 139:2-3

The thought is a beautiful one to meditate upon.  The verse is not saying anything about God’s control, but rather about His knowledge.  We honor God’s knowledge when we plan our steps with this truth in mind.  And so,

The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. – Psalm 37:23-24

Third, all believers are destined for a kingdom of love and peace, they are to enter into the joy of the Lord.

And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. – Revelation 21:22

Then, really for the first time, we will know the value of goodness, holiness, peace, and wisdom, and be able to appreciate what these things are to the optimal degree.  For eternity we shall dwell in the House of the Lord (Psalm 23:6).

Fourth, these things are as true for us now as if we were already there!  Because of the predestination and plan of God (Romans 8:28-30)

Fifth, God’s nature never changes (Malachi 3:6), therefore, neither will His tender mercies toward His children.

So that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:7

Our Relationship to This World

In terms of the present, as adoptive sons and daughters of God and partakers of the divine nature, we are not to think of this world as our home.  In Jesus’ prayer to His Father for us He spoke of us thus:

They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.  – John 17:16

This is a profound idea.  We really don’t belong here.  Not in this era.  Not is this act of the play.  Once we are regenerated we are children of the resurrection; and of that coming world of which the resurrection of Jesus was the prelude. (more…)

How might we glorify God in His Attributes? (1)

Calvin on God’s Powers

John Calvin’s treatment of Psalm 145 offers some great ruminations about the attributes of God.  The psalm can be broken down into three parts:

Verses 1-3 are David on his own speaking of the greatness of God celebrating God’s praise.

Verses 4-9 speak of David bringing in the people of whom he is king and bringing them to praise and prompting them to consider God’s greatness and goodness.

Verses 10-21 he brings in the whole of creation; he is not satisfied with just himself praising God or with Israel praising God, but he wants the whole of God’s creation to do what it ought to do, which is to look at the revelation of God that He has given and to respond in worship and praise to Him.

Calvin deals with Psalm 145 he speaks of his comments on verse one: “since God is constant in extending mercies, it would be highly improper in us to faint in his praises.”  He continues by saying that even when David was in his ascendancy he did not permit his royal trappings to interfere with the glory due to God – John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:1

It doesn’t matter what we are in this world, God is far above us, God is transcendent, God is King over us, and our proper position is of worshipers.  Calvin then refers to being overwhelmed by “the immensity of His power.”  Calvin means that we are brought out of ourselves and our condition by our ruminations upon God and His wonders.

“There is an implied contrast between the eternal name of God, and that immortality of renown which great men seem to acquire by their exploits. Human excellencies are eulogized in histories; with God it stands differently, for there is not a day in which he does not renew remembrance of his works, and cherish it by some present effect, so as indelibly to preserve it alive upon our minds.” – John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:4

God does great things everyday that deserve our recognition!  So God’s glories are displayed for us:

“We may infer from this, that the greatness of God is not that which lies concealed in his mysterious essence, and in subtle disputation upon which, to the neglect of his works, many have been chargeable with mere trifling, for true religion demands practical not speculative knowledge.” John Calvin, Commentary on Psalm 145:4

We don’t just leave in our heads what we have learned, we do something with it, we nurture a practical knowledge of God.

Calvin next turns to the use of the memory:

“To celebrate the memory of the Lord’s goodness, is the same with recalling to memory what we have personally experienced of his goodness. We cannot deny God’s claim to praise in all his excellencies, but we are most sensibly affected by such proofs of his fatherly mercy as we have ourselves experienced.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:7

Calvin is saying that whether we have experienced all of the attributes of God in the same measure, all of us can recall the goodness of God in our lives.

In his observations on verse 8 Calvin notes that David borrows from the great passage in Exodus 34:6:

which as clear and satisfactory a description of the nature of God is given us as can anywhere be found. Were he to bring his power prominently into view before us, we would be cast down by the terror of it rather than encouraged, as the Papists represent him a dreadful God, from whose presence all must fly, whereas the proper view of him is that which invites us to seek after him. Accordingly, the more nearly that a person feels himself drawn to God, the more has he advanced in the knowledge of him. If it be true that God is not only willing to befriend us, but is spoken of as touched with sympathy for our miseries, so as to be all the kinder to us the more that we are miserable, what folly were it not to fly to him without delay?” – Commentary on Psalm 145:8

Some readers may think that Calvin might have benefited from Rudolf Otto’s analysis (in The Idea of the Holy) of the two poles of the dread and the allure of God, but his main point here is crucial to grasp.  The attributes of God as enunciated by God Himself inform us that God wishes us to come to Him.  And the clearer this realization becomes in our minds the more advanced we are in our spiritual maturity.

With this understanding comes also the privilege of witnessing to others of this truth:

“He then assigns the special work of declaring them to believers, who have eyes to perceive God’s works, and know that they cannot be employed better than in celebrating his mercies. – Commentary on Psalm 145:10

Even in our suffering, this knowledge comes to our aid.  As he says, Another lesson taught us is, that none will be disappointed who seeks comfort from God in his affliction.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:14

As to our daily sustenance, we miss the hand of God when we simply imagine that it is just a product of the planet:

“We sinfully confine our attention to the earth which yields us our food, or to natural causes. To correct this error David describes God as opening his hands to put the food into our mouths.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:16

God’ s perfections are active and they are working.  They are to be seen in the everyday habits of life.

“The ground upon which praise is here ascribed to God may seem a common one, being in every one’s mouth; but in nothing is wisdom shown more than in holding fast the truth, that God is just in all his ways, so as to retain in our hearts an unabated sense of it amidst all troubles and confusions.” – Commentary on Psalm 145:17

(more…)

Scripture as Propositional (Pt.2)

Part One

Objection 1: A common objection to viewing Scripture as propositional revelation is that it ends up treating the Bible as a sort of theological concordance, irrespective of the original context of the passage.

Now I agree with that, but that’s not what we’re talking about.  Propositional revelation does not necessarily involve treating the Bible as a theological concordance.

Objection 2:  The propriety of associating the ineffable God with human linguistic forms.

Some scholars balk at the idea that God could employ what they consider to be the culture-bound norms of human language.  To these kinds of people the very thought of propositional truth is archaic nonsense; all propositions are up for grabs as our knowledge moves forward.  So relativism and subjectivism comes in (this can be seen in George Lindbeck’s work The Nature of Doctrine, especially pages 119 and 120).  People like this believe that God’s incomprehensibility makes him completely unknowable objectively, and that He is only subjectively knowable.  He reveals himself to the subject through some kind of existential declaration or disclosure.

Of course, that is not what we should mean when we speak about the incomprehensibility of God.  That doctrine is that God is utterly unknowable unless and to the degree to which He reveals himself to us; and He has revealed himself to us in the Holy Scripture. But the Holy Scripture can only be a proper and sufficient revelation of God if it has the capability of being propositional.  These scholars who speak about the “ineffable and infinite God” employing indefinite symbols of language to communicate to us, are not taking a theistic-biblical view of language.  Therefore, they cannot be taking a biblical view of God either. (more…)

Scripture as Propositional (Pt.1)

The Bible depicts man as specially equipped by God for the express purposes of knowing God’s rational verbal revelation, of communicating with God in praise and prayer, and of discoursing with fellow men about God and his will. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Volume 3, 389

Because of the theistic view of language described above we ought not to be surprised when we turn to Scripture and look upon it as information that has been given to us by God.  Information which discloses a cognitive content; things we are to know.

The penalty for neglecting rational criteria in respect to revelational considerations is the constant danger of ascribing subjective impressions and personal decisions to some divine disclosure and demand.” – Ibid, 433

What Henry is speaking about there is the fact that we must approach the Bible, if we approach it as it is…that is the word of God – a revelation of God to man, in an objective way and as an objective disclosure.  It certainly has subjective meaning and makes a subjective impression upon us, but it is objectively true whether we feel anything or are moved one way or another and the objectivity is to be found in the amenability of Scripture to be worded in propositions; evangelical scholars have generally spoken about Scripture as propositional revelation. Holy Scripture is the faithful written testimony of God’s special revelation to man. ‘God has spoken!’  Those three words make all the difference, and the Bible is, by virtue of its inspired nature, the sole source of special revelation. In written form, the Bible is propositional in character; therefore special revelation is propositional in character.

Proposition – an objective disclosure in contradistinction to a purely personal subjective impression.

The Bible depicts God’s very revelation as meaningful, objectively-intelligible disclosure. We mean by propositional revelation that God supernaturally communicated his revelation to chosen spokesmen in the express form of cognitive truths and that the inspired, prophetic, apostolic proclamation reliably articulates these truths in sentences that are not internally contradictory. –  Carl F. H. Henry, Ibid, 456-457

The reason that we are devoting a whole lecture to this issue of propositional revelation is because this is where the battleground is, at least for the next few years, maybe a decade or more. The postmodern ethos challenges propositional revelation and the influence of postmodernism upon evangelical hermeneutics challenges propositionalism and if we don’t have propositional revelation then we don’t have objective truth from God and therefore we have to defend this crucial issue.

The Unsettling Notion of Propositionalism

The kind of definition that I’ve just read from Carl Henry is being challenged even within evangelical circles by theologians who’ve drunk too deeply from the cup of postmodernism and as a result, have over-applied the objections to classical foundationalism; that is that classical or Cartesian foundationalism just deals with certain undeniable truths and as a result leaves everything else up to scientific inductive experimentation. As we have discovered, that idea has been overthrown now and few people hold it. Unfortunately what has happened is that in evangelicalism people like Stanley Grenz, John Franke, Roger Olson, and others have thrown out foundationalism altogether and they have moved on to a different kind all epistemology. Now, we don’t need to throw at foundationalism; we can speak of ‘soft foundationalism’ as many evangelical scholars do today.  Or we can even prefer the kind of transcendental work of Cornelius Van Til which is better than even ‘soft foundationalism’ for an epistemological base.

These writers are attacking the idea of propositional revelation because they claim that to refer to the Bible as propositional turns it into a rationalistic concordance for theology. One writer of the evangelical left has recently objected that this leads to,

…viewing Scripture as a source of information for systematic theology, as such, it is viewed as a rather loose and relatively disorganized collection of factual, propositional statements.” John R. Franke, The Character of Theology, 88 [in a footnote on the same page Franke notices that Carl Henry develops his definition of theology based on biblical propositions in the first volume of his God, Revelation, and Authority.  But interestingly, Franke neglects to refer his readers to Henry’s thorough examination of the pros and cons of propositional revelation in volume 3 of his magnum opus, pages 403-487]

“A Repository of Proof Texts”

Now this idea of propositional revelation necessitating a concordance view of theology, where we just reduce everything down to certain statements to use at the behest of systematic theology, reveals a reaction to certain statements made by men like Charles Hodge in the 19th century which seemed to imply that the Bible was simply a repository of proof texts to be sorted out into the respective corpora of systematics.

This concordance view was not what Hodge intended. Besides whatever definitional failings may be found in Hodge the same cannot be said of Carl Henry; indeed that author offers one of the clearest and best definitions of propositional revelation available when he writes: (more…)

The Phenomena of Scripture

This piece is based on transcripts of a lecture I gave on the subject.

This lecture on the so-called phenomena of Scripture is necessary because in the modern and postmodern eras it has become more and more common not only to refer to the inspiration of Scripture, which is clearly a biblical doctrine, but to bolster this claim with the assertion of biblical inerrancy; it is perfectly justifiable to think and speak in these terms.  Inspiration includes inerrancy and authority requires inerrancy. 

Evangelicals Against Inerrancy

There are some though who do not take this position, who we would yet call evangelical in most other respects. Contemporaries whom we might identify as non-inerrantists are A.T.B. McGowan, William Lane Craig, and Craig Blomberg.  Older representatives would be James Orr, and Francis L. Patton.  Patton, for example, said this:

To say that the Bible is trustworthy because of its accuracy is by implication to say that we have the right and power to discern between truth and error. You cannot license reason to seek truth and deny her right to see error. It is a hazardous thing to say that being inspired the Bible must be free from error, for then the discovery of a single error would destroy its inspiration. Nor have we any right to substitute the word inerrancy for inspiration in our discussion of the Bible, unless we are prepared to show from the teaching of the Bible that inspiration means inerrancy and that I think would be a difficult thing to do…  

Suppose that scientific proofs should compel you to put another interpretation upon the program of creation as it has compelled you to give another meaning to the word ‘day’. Would you give up the whole of the New Testament?  Without pertaining to any special scientific knowledge, it seems to me remarkable that the biblical account of creation, which so wonderfully taught the essential truth of creation to man ages before science was born, still teaches it to scientific men if their prosaic science has not caused their imagination to suffer atrophy.  But how foolish it would be to give up the Gospel simply because of a dead literalism of interpretation would find no support in a modern textbook on biology. – Francis L. Patton [President of Princeton Seminary, 1902-1913], Fundamental Christianity, 163-165

We see from that quotation from Patton’s book, which was written in 1925, reveals a man who certainly is very clearly evangelical and yet who strongly hesitates to equate inerrancy with the doctrine of inspiration. In fact, that whole chapter has to do with the seat of authority in Christianity and therefore he does not believe either that the doctrine of inerrancy is necessary for the Scriptures to be authoritative.

Now these objections to inerrancy are from a clearly evidentialist perspective, that is from the perspective of someone who is concerned with matching the assertions of Scripture with the ‘facts’ of science.  They serve to show us that this subject of the actual contents of the Bible as we have it, is an important subject for evangelicals to get straight.

A Way to Proceed

I am concerned to answer the objections of those who have claimed to find errors in the text of Scripture as it has come down to us; thus, we are dealing with what has become known as the phenomena of Scripture.

Here is the NT scholar Everett Harrison:

If a person has become convinced by the study of the word that its majesty and perfection can only be accounted for on the basis that the text was free from error as originally given, such a person ought not to be charged with intellectual dishonesty if he refuses to let perplexing problems in the sacred record move him from his solid conviction. He may feel bound to seek explanation for the problems and perhaps be dissatisfied with the explanations he receives, yet he continues to rest in his conviction less the abandonment of his position mean the forsaking of Scripture as the word of God. – Everett F. Harrison, Revelation and the Bible, edited by Carl F. H. Henry [1958], 238

Now what he’s saying here is, as all evangelicals have basically said – including the drafters of the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, the Bible in its original manuscripts, in its autographs, is inerrant.  There is a possibility that you may find certain problematical errors which you cannot explain, but you do not have to admit them as errors.  If you have a poor translation you may very well find some errors within it, but those are translation errors not textual errors or errors in the text that has been providentially given to us.  Of course, the word “errors” has to be defined.

What does an ‘error’ mean?

Here is a basic definition of an error:

If the statements that it contains, that is the Bible, concerning matters of history and science can be proven by extra-biblical records, by ancient documents recovered through the archaeological digs, or by the established facts of modern science to be contrary to the truth then there is grave doubt as to its trustworthiness in matters of religion. – Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, 23

In other words, if the biblical record can be proved fallible in areas of fact that can be verified, then it is hardly to be trusted in areas where it cannot be tested. As a witness for God, the Bible would be discredited as untrustworthy. (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…)