How the Bible looks at Itself
[I am deeply indebted to - and give full credit - to brother Paul Earnhart for the content of this article. I heard brother Paul present thoughts along these lines in a sermon back in 1982. The logic of brother Earnhart’s sermon and references sited made a great impression on me. I thank him for his diligence in regards to this subject.]
HOW THE BIBLE LOOKS AT ITSELF:
AN EVALUATION OF SCRIPTURE AND THE
AUTHORITY OF GOD IN THE 21ST CENTURY
S. CRAIG BEAN
If we decide that we do not agree with the Bible’s own view of itself, if we are not convinced or convicted that it is the Word of God, then we will have to look somewhere else for answers to human suffering and man’s problems. But if we believe it really is revelation from God then we must look inside its pages to see what its attitude is towards itself. And then we will know what our attitude should be if we want to be true followers of God.
We will concern ourselves with three specific areas: The nature of the Bible, the completeness of the Bible, and the silence of the Bible. After addressing these areas of Biblical authority we will try to draw some conclusions.
There has been in recent years, even among conservative Evangelical Protestant groups, a very rigorous controversy and struggle over the nature of inspiration. Harold Lindsell, editor emeritus of Christianity Today, has outlined several challenges for those who say they believe the Bible but yet reject what is there. They believe the Bible is true on salvation but not necessarily true on the subjects of history or science. Lindsell states that there are problems with this view because the Gospel itself is history and is presented as such – a story out of time about God’s dealings with men.
To illustrate that this is not far fetched but really very practical, consider the viewpoint of Jack Harwell, editor of The Christian Index, a publication of the Southern Baptist Convention of the State of Georgia:
“I do believe that the Bible is the Word of God. I do not use the word infallible because the Bible is written by men. I do not believe in the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. I do not believe that Adam and Eve were one man and one woman. I believe that the terms “Adam” and “Eve” represented mankind and womankind. One of the most simple and basic answers to refute the idea that Adam and Eve were one man and one woman is the simple question: ‘Where did Cain get his wife?’”
Harwell tends to fixate on the issue of Cain’s wife, but we must ask: is his logic consistent?
We can add to that another viewpoint, this time from Robert Bratcher, a Southern Baptist preacher and research assistant for the American Bible Society, in addressing the Southern Baptist Convention he stated:
“Only willful ignorance or intellectual dishonesty can account for the claim that the Bible is inerrant and infallible. No truth loving, God fearing individual, no Christ loving believer would ever be guilty of such heresy. To invest the Bible with the qualities of inerrancy and infallibility is to idolatrize it and transform it into a false god.”This is the passionate belief of a Southern Baptist preacher! Lindsell states that this same attitude toward the Scriptures can be seen in every major denomination in America today.
Is it really heresy to believe that the Bible is without fault? What does the Bible say for itself in regards to this all important matter? Let’s consider the Bible’s own claim. We will consider three texts of Scripture in this regard.
The Nature of the Bible
First, we will consider the words of the apostle Paul to the young evangelist Timothy:
“But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work,” 2 Timothy 3:14-17.
Here Paul speaks of the “holy Scriptures.” Timothy had known them from his childhood, taught them by his mother and grandmother. Paul links together the Old Testament (“holy Scriptures”) with the New Testament (“faith in Christ Jesus”) which together provides “salvation,” so “continue” in them. Then Paul adds, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” or “inspired.” Paul states that God’s inspiration is not just in the thought – or in the writers in some general sense – but God’s “breath” is in the actual scripturated word. Paul says the writings are inspired by God.
To help us understand that the New Testament is included in this, we will consider our second text, 2 Peter 3:15-16:
“Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable men distort, as they do the other Scriptures to their own destruction.”
Peter and Paul had a rather famous conflict in Antioch (see Galatians 2) where Paul rebuked Peter “face to face” and exposed Peter’s hypocrisy. Make note of the fact that Peter refers to Paul in this text as our “dear brother.” Then Peter refers to Paul’s writings and to “the other Scriptures.” Peter said Paul’s letters were Scripture! If we read that into 2 Timothy 3:15-16 (“All Scripture”) that means 13 (maybe 14) books of the New Testament. Or stated another way that is half of the New Testament.
But there is more, Paul says something to further show the seamless garment that Scripture is. Our third text is 1 Timothy 5:17-18:
“The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honor, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,’ and ‘The worker deserves his wages.’”
The first statement, “Do not muzzle the ox…” is found in the Old Testament in the book of Deuteronomy chapter 25, verse 4. So we are not surprised that Paul says “the Scriptures say.” But the second statement, “The worker deserves his wages,” cannot be found anywhere in the Old Testament. It is a statement of Jesus recorded in Matthew’s Gospel (10:10) and in Luke’s Gospel (10:7). So now we have: Matthew, Luke, and thirteen letters of Paul – all being referred to as “Scripture.”
So the Bible claims to be “inspired” by God. But the definitive answer to our question must come from Jesus Himself. For the Christian, every question (essentially) is answered when I first say “Jesus Christ is Lord.” In that statement I am declaring that His attitude is my attitude – about everything. Even before I know what the issue is, I have made a commitment. When I can learn what Jesus’ attitude towards the Scriptures is, then I know what my attitude toward the Scriptures must be if I am going to be His disciple.
In the last chapter of Luke’s Gospel, contained in the post-resurrection accounts, there are remarkable observations – by Jesus Himself – as to the nature of Scripture. In chapter 24 of Luke’s Gospel (vv. 25-27), on the road to Emmaus as Jesus is speaking to two disciples, He chides them for not believing “all that the prophets have spoken.” He said you should have believed it all. Then in verse 44 He states:
“’This is what I told you while I was still with you: everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms.’ Then He opened there minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
The “Law of Moses,” “Prophets,” and the “Psalms” comprise all of the Old Testament. Jesus’ attitude was this is the Word of God and it must be fulfilled.
We can add to this the words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount. By the time we come to the fifth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus has already done considerable teaching and had direct conflicts with the Pharisees. Jesus must have known there had to be confusion regarding who He was and the purpose of His teaching. In the Mountain Message He addresses the issue that some thought He had come to break or destroy the Law of Moses. Jesus states in Matthew 5:17:
“Do not think that I have come to break the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to break them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stoke of the pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet is “yo” (King James Version; “jot”). The “tittle” was a small mark like a comma indicating the way in which a word was to be pronounced. In our idiom we would say, “Every cross of the “t” and every dot of the “i.” Jesus said I have come to fulfill it all. This is a marvelous claim by Jesus. This is not just an ethical teacher come to town saying “I have a few interesting ideas for you folks.” This is the One who stands at the apex of human history and declares “I will fulfill it all!”
Never did the Son of Man express even the smallest kind of doubt about the veracity of every last word of Scripture. In Matthew chapter 22 we get a bit of flavor of how Jesus felt about every last word of Scripture. The Sadducees came to Jesus (who did not believe in the Resurrection) with a hypothetical question. They told of a woman who had been married seven times in succession, out living each of her husbands. “Now then at the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (22:28). The Sadducees just knew that this “knotty problem” could not be worked out. And since it could not be worked out, they concluded there could not be a resurrection. People often raise the same kind of hypothetical questions today: “What about that man in the middle of the desert who wants to be baptized?” What we need to remember is that all the hypothetical cases we could ever raise won’t change one verse of Scripture.
Jesus replied in verse 44:
“You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. But about the resurrection of the dead – have you not read what God said to you, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living.”
Jesus uses a hermeneutical devise to establish Biblical authority. In essence Jesus asked, “Didn’t you read that passage? ‘I am the God of Abraham, etc?’ You should have known!” But wait a minute! That passage doesn’t say there is going to be a resurrection. The passage does not state it explicitly it says so implicitly. Jesus said you could have known there was going to be a resurrection by just reading the passage and judging for yourself its significance. One word – and the tense of that word – was His argument. Not “I was” but “I am.” Jesus rested confidence on every last word of Scripture. Jesus expects us to read the Scriptures with the same care and draw the logical conclusions that are there.
The Completeness of the Bible
Now we want to pass to another consideration: Is this all God had to say, just this one book? All of humanity’s problems are addressed in just this one simple volume? We will attempt to get an answer to this question the same way we did the first question: What does the Bible say?
First we will consider that Jesus promised all truth. Jesus promised that He would give all necessary truth to His apostles. The night before He was arrested, Jesus said:
“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you,” John 14:26.
This statement expresses the ideas of revelation (“He will teach you all things”), that is, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would reveal to the apostles what they did not yet know or understand; and inspiration (“remind you of everything I have said”) that is, every word the apostles spoke was guaranteed to be exactly like it was even when referring to things they had seen or done themselves. Even honest men can make mistakes. That is why Jesus promised the apostles would be led by the Holy Spirit so there would be no human error.
Later that same night, Jesus told His apostles: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can bear now. But when He, the Spirit of Truth comes, He will guide you into all truth,” John 16:12. Pause for a moment to observe the patience of Jesus, never does He give them (or us) more than we can handle. He realized the apostles’ weaknesses. They could not understand what He was about to say. They did not believe He was going to die!
Now if we did not have any other Scripture to draw on in regards to this matter of the completeness of the Gospel to the apostles than this one, this would be sufficient. To affirm that Jesus promised something is to say that it happened.
Not only did Jesus promise all truth, but all truth was received. The apostle Peter in his second letter states:
“Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness,” 2 Peter 1:2-3.
Peter said that “through…Jesus our Lord” we have it all. All truth (“everything we need for life and godliness”) was received by the apostles.
Not only was all truth promised and all truth received, but all truth was delivered. Luke records for us a tender reunion between the apostle Paul and the elders of the church in Ephesus. These were men that Paul knew and loved. As he weeps with them and reminisces with them about their work together in the Gospel, he states emphatically: “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God,” Acts 20:26-27. (NKJV) Paul said to the Colossian Christians that the Gospel had been “proclaimed to every creature under heaven,” (1:23). He and the other apostles had been faithful in the task of delivering the message received.
Another important matter is that “all truth” was delivered once for all time. The New Testament writer Jude states in verse 3: “…contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” (NKJV) The expression “once for all” is also used by the writer of Hebrews. In Hebrews chapter 10, verse 10, he writes: “…we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  If we can know how many times Jesus is to die – and is intended to die – we can know how many times “the faith” has been delivered to the world. “Once for all time” – it was a unique event.
But the critical issue in this regard becomes “all truth” delivered once for all time and preserved for all time. We recognize that many – well meaning or otherwise – have suggested that we cannot really know what God has said to us because the Bible has been corrupted. For certain, every group that believes in some “later day revelation” inevitably at some point will make an attack on the veracity of the Bible. When considering alleged contradictions between the Bible and the Book of Mormon, for example, the final analysis of the Mormon (often times) will be that the Bible has been corrupted. The Book of Mormon is true but the Bible has been corrupted. If God really did speak in the Bible is it logical that He would then allow it to be corrupted? If it has been corrupted was it really God’s Word to begin with?
The apostle Peter addresses this issue in his first letter:
“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For: ‘All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever,” 1 Peter 1:23-25.
Peter sees the Word of God as “enduring” and “imperishable.” There is inherent in this Word a sense of preservation for all time. We cannot argue for some “later day revelation” based on an alleged corruption of the Bible. It simply is not logical.
An interesting point regarding “later day revelations” is that all of them must come to the conclusion that God held out on His own Son. That is: God did not tell Jesus (who in turn did not tell His apostles) these important and vital truths and saved them for a 6th century Arab named Mohammad, or a 19th century American named Joseph Smith. The apostle Paul stated that in Jesus “dwells all the fullness of Deity in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete,” Colossians 2:9-10. (NASB) Nothing was held back from Him. If we have Jesus we have it all.
An Old Testament text that speaks to this matter of preserved for all time is Isaiah chapter 55. The prophet speaks for God when he writes:
“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is My word that goes out from My mouth: It will not return to Me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it,” (55:10).
God states that when He sends forth His Word no one will frustrate His purposes. God promises that the pages of Scripture are exactly as He intended them to be. No well meaning or vicious person will be able to permanently pervert or destroy the Scriptures.
If God was willing to send His Son to die for humanity – if He was willing to invest so much in our redemption – is it reasonable to then believe He would allow a few foolish or evil men to pervert the message on which the salvation of every human soul depends?
The Silence of the Bible
Now we want to turn our consideration to our final concern: What the Bible doesn’t say. Why should we be concerned about that? It seems as humans we have a problem. Our curiosity gets the better of us. We just can’t stand the fact, for instance, that we are not told about Jesus’ life from age 13 to 30. In fact, the Gospel of Thomas was written in part to help “fill in the gaps.” A document filled with superstition written nearly 300 years after the apostles and eyewitnesses lived.
What we need to realize it that it is marvelous that God has spoken to us at all! The Hebrew writer begins his letter with an incredible declarative statement: “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets at many times and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us by His Son,” (1:1-2). God has spoken! The only way we can know what God desires or what He thinks, or what He wants, is to read what He has said. If God had never spoken at all we would know nothing about human redemption. We are dependant upon what we read to understand the mind of God.
In that regard, look at how Jesus answered certain questions in His day. Luke records a young lawyer who comes to Jesus and “put Him to the test,” (Luke 10:25). The “expert in the Law” asked a good question but apparently He was not very sincere in his inquiry: “’Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Jesus answered, “What is written in the Law?” then Jesus asked “How do you read it?” Jesus highly complimented all of humanity with His response and approach to Scripture: Just use the gray stuff between your ears, WHAT DOES IT SAY? Jesus took the young man right back to the text and asked him, “What have you read?” You know you could have the answer to that question if you’d just read the Scriptures!
The young man knew what the Scriptures said. He responded, “’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” Jesus replied, “You have answered correctly. Do this and you will live.” See you knew what it said! You had the answer to your question right there! But the young man was not satisfied with this, he continued “wanting to justify himself,” he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” In short, the young man said, “It’s not that easy! There are some hard questions here! Now I’ve got to figure out ‘who is my neighbor?’” It is at this point that Jesus tells the young man and all who were listening the disarming story of the Good Samaritan. At the conclusion of the story Jesus simply asks, who was “a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law responded simply, “The one who had mercy on him.” The answer was correct. Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” See, it’s not quite so hard, is it? Look at the Scriptures with an open mind. Pursue the truth that is there! Jesus said it’s in the Scriptures
When the Pharisees came to Jesus and wanted to know if it was lawful (“scriptural”) for a man to divorce his wife for any reason, Jesus said to then in essence, “What does the Bible say?”
“’Haven’t you read,’ He replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and his mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate,’” Matthew 19:4-6.
Again Jesus calmly lets the Word of God speak for itself.
So what is this about what the Bible doesn’t say. For our purposes we will consider one Old Testament text, Leviticus chapter 10. There we find the account of two of Aaron’s sons – Nadab and Abihu. They are priests preparing for the Day of Atonement and the offering of the Sacrifice for the sins of the people. Before their father, Aaron the High Priest, could take the atonement blood into the Most Holy Place, incense were to be offered to God. God had given strict laws and protocol regarding the offering of incense and the keeping of a sacred fire used for just such occasions. Nadab and Abihu we are told offered “unauthorized fire before the Lord, which He had not commanded them.” (10:1). Perhaps they thought, “Well, fire is fire; let’s just get the job done.” Of their motives we cannot be sure. But it is certain that God was displeased. The text continues, “So fire came out from heaven and consumed them, and they died before the Lord,” (10:2). It is interesting that the text does not say “strange fire that the Lord said ‘Do not use.’” But “unauthorized fire (“strange fire” NASB) …which He had not commanded.”
Some may dismiss the significance of this text as merely Old Testament “legalism” and not of any value for us today. But the apostle Paul warns us that “these things happened to them as examples and were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come,” 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 (NKJV). God had something in mind when He told us these things. Its purpose is to help us understand that when God tells us what to do that is what He wants us to do. If we trust Him and believe Him and know that He is wise beyond our understanding, we can recognize that we don’t know anything unless He tells us and then we do exactly that.
Now we will look in the New Testament to consider some examples of the silence of Scripture and its significance. In Hebrews the first chapter, the author makes an argument about “angels” and “sonship.” In verse 5 he states: “For to which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are My Son: Today I have become Your Father’? Or again, ‘I will be His Father and He will be My Son’?” Search as we may, we will never find that statement in the Old Testament. God never did say that. That is the point. Because God never said to any angel, “You are My Son,” we can draw a conclusion. In fact, it is a mandate. Conclusion: The Son is not an angel. Here we have an example of the silence of God interpreted by the Scriptures of God. In this text we have the New Testament looking back on the Old Testament and drawing a conclusion for our consideration. To the Holy Spirit it is evident even when not stated explicitly.
Further in Hebrews the writer recalls God’s instructions to Moses regarding the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain,” (8:5). Why? Because they serve as a “shadow of heavenly things” to come. So God’s advice to Moses is not to bother with that one bit! Make sure, Moses, you build it exactly as I said because it’s going to foreshadow something important I have in mind. Now Moses didn’t know anything about what was to come, but he believed God and Moses did everything “just as the Lord had commanded,” (Exodus 39:43). It is the very essence of creaturehood to respond to the Creator by respecting His wisdom and His revelation – and His silence.
The Bible claims to be revelation from God. It claims to contain within itself the authority of God Himself. From the first century to the twenty-first century the Bible has been – and always will be – viewed as a controversial book. We have attempted to look at the Bible’s own view of itself in a fair and objective manner – to see within its pages what its attitude is towards itself. And to help us understand what our attitude toward the living, abiding, Word of God should be.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations used in this paper are from the Holy Bible, New International Version.
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Bloesch, Donald G. Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP. 2006
Carson, D. A. and John D. Woodbridge, ed. Scripture and Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. 1992
________. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock. 2005
Geisler, Norman L. ed. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 1980
Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Greenville, SC: A Press. 1995
Keller, Werner. The Bible as History. Rev. ed. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble, 1995
Lindsell, Harold. The Battle for the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. 1976
McElveen, Floyd. God’s Word, Final, Infallible and Forever. Port Orchard, WA: McElveen, 1985
McRae, William J. A Book to Die For. Toronto, ON: Clement. 2002
Moo, Douglas. ed. Biblical Authority and Conservative Perspectives, Vol. 1: Viewpoints from Trinity Journal. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel. 1997
Neil, William. The Rediscovery of the Bible. New York, NY: Harpers. 1954
Pinnock, Clark H. and Barry L. Callen. The Scripture Principle. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker. 2006
Sanders, James A. Torah and Canon. Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1972
Saphir, Adolph. The Divine Unity of Scripture. Los Angeles, CA: Biola, 1976
Wright, N. T. The Last Word: Beyond the Bible Wars. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2005
 Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible , page 97
 March, 1981. Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission Seminar, Dallas, TX. Quoted in “Liberalism in the Southern Baptist Convention,” www.wayoflife.org.
 Lindsell devotes an entire chapter to “The Southern Baptist Convention,” another entire chapter to “The Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod Battle,” and has another chapter titled “Other Denominations and Parachurch Groups.”
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 The complete Coptic version of the Gospel of Thomas dates to about 340 A.D. Although a few Greek manuscripts containing statements similar to or credited to the Gospel of Thomas date back to about 200 A.D.