The cornerstone of evangelical theology lies in its confession of the inspiration and authority of the Bible, as the revealed "Word of God Written." Since the term "inspired" is used of the Bible in different ways, it is important to clarify the particular sense in which it should be employed, not because evangelicals have coined a new meaning for inspiration, but rather to make clear their adherence to the sense in which the Church has historically confessed her faith in Holy Scripture. We should also note that by calling inspiration the cornerstone of evangelical theology we deny the strange charge, often leveled against conservative Christians, that they are "bibliolators, " worshiping the Scriptures in the place of God. The seriousness with which evangelicals take the inspiration of Holy Scriptures derives exclusively from their conviction that when they read it they read the very words of God. It is only by attending to those inspired words that believers may properly hear what he has said. Evangelical bibliology (the doctrine of Scripture that centers on its inspiration), far from leading to bibliolatry (the worship of Scripture), lies at the heart of true worship of God. For the doctrine, though itself a biblical doctrine, points beyond itself and does nothing other than direct our attention most carefully to everything Scripture says. It assures us that what Scripture says, God says. We may therefore say that this doctrine serves as the point of connection between the canon of Holy Scripture and the God who is its author; it is the ground of Scripture's authority that itself entails its revelatory character.
In 2 Peter 1:19-21, we read that "no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." The scope of prophecy here is uncertain: It may refer simply to the corpus of the writing prophets, or more broadly to the historical books of the Old Testament also, or indeed (as Warfield argues) to the whole Old Testament. Certainly it speaks precisely of the divine origin of that portion of Scripture to which it refers, and of the role of the Holy Spirit in "carrying along" the human writers, such that the "word of the prophets" may be "made more certain" ( 1:19 ).
The Bible's View of Itself. Every Christian doctrine is founded in Holy Scripture the creeds and confessions of the church, as surely as the pastor's message, find their justification in one place alone: the teaching of Holy Scripture. It is in the course of conveying teaching on every other subject that Scripture also teaches about itself. It is important to note that texts like 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:19-21 are not isolated statements but articulate a doctrine taught throughout Holy Scripture. What is recorded in Scripture comes from God; the very recording has taken place under a divine superintendence.
Substantial portions of the Pentateuch are directly attributed to God. The plainest passage is Exodus 20, in which the Ten Commandments are recorded; we later learn ( 31:18 ; 32:15-16 ) that they were written on two tablets of stone, "inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets." But the context of these laws written by the finger of God is the mass of legislation in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, in which the constant reiteration of "The Lord said to Moses" culminates in Deuteronomy 31:9: "So Moses wrote down this law and gave it to the priests and to all the elders of Israel."
The prophetic books of the Old Testament are largely composed of extended passages placed by the writer in the mouth of God. "The word of the Lord came to me, saying " is the constant refrain of the writing prophets, offering the most explicit endorsement of the apostle Peter's model of prophetic inspiration, as Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel were "carried along by the Holy Spirit."
Simply to focus on those occasions when the biblical writers explicitly attribute elements in their literary product to God's special work might be taken to imply the contrary of the position we are developing; that parts of Scripture have this special status while other parts do not. The evidence of the New Testament (and, indeed, of the development of Jewish attitudes to the books of the Old Testament before that time) suggests something very different: that these books had been accorded the status of inspired Scripture. And the argument is not merely historical, showing what the first Christians believed. Second Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 indicate a settled view of Scripture on the part of the church, which the Gospels demonstrate was in harmony with the teaching of Jesus himself. The Gospel pages are peppered with his question "Have you not read ?" and Jesus' confident assertion, "It is written " (that is, "The Bible says "). That the incarnate Son of God should treat the Old Testament in this fashion offers the strongest possible endorsement of the divine inspiration of Holy Scripture, neatly illustrated in Matthew 19:4-5 were Jesus quotes Genesis 2:24 ("For this reason a man will leave his father and mother "). In Genesis this is a comment by the narrator. Jesus puts it directly into the mouth of God: "The Creator made them male and female, ' and said, For this reason '" Since this example fits so well into Jesus' other use of Scripture, its significance is beyond doubt: He regarded all of Scripture as that which God has spoken.
When Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to the disciples he told them that they would be led by the Spirit "into all truth" ( John 16:13 ). By analogy with the Old Testament, we might anticipate that the Spirit would ensure a further canonical record of the work of God in Christ. And we are not mistaken. As early as the later New Testament documents themselves, there is a recognition of this process. In 2 Peter 3:16 we read that Paul's "letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures." Already, within the pages of the New Testament, Paul's letters are accorded the status of Scripture, setting the pattern for the recognition of all the books of the second Testament as inspired and therefore canonical for the church of Jesus Christ.
Nigel M. de S. Cameron
Bibliography. G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture; D. A. Carson and J. W. Woodbridge, eds., Scripture and Truth; idem, Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon; C. F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and the Bible; R. Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture; I. Packer, Fundamentalism and the Word of God; B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'Bible, Inspiration of the'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".