“That Book in Your Hand”
As we continue the study on Bibliology (the study of what the Scriptures are, and how they came to us), I’ve spent four posts on how the Spirit moved in giving us the Scriptures. In this post, I’d like to do three things:
- Briefly summarise what was covered in the last four posts.
- Talk about why the dictation question (“Did God dictate to the human writers the words they were supposed to write?”) misses the whole point.
- Discuss why it was so important that God gave the Scriptures in the way He did.
Rewind — What We’ve Covered
The first sermon in this series was from from II Timothy 3:16, dealing with the fact that the Scriptures are inspired, divine in nature (summarised discussion with links here). The second sermon was on how that divine nature came into being, their divine origin. This original act of God in giving us the Bible is sometimes called “immediate inspiration” or “inscripturation” (definitions). II Peter 1:19-21:
19 We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
- The Holy Spirit “moved” the human authors so that they would write that which He intended. The Scriptures weren’t man’s idea, but God’s. The meaning is not nebulous or uncertain, but firm — it means what God intended it to mean. The Bible is indeed the Word of God (part one).
- In part two, we saw that God’s work in giving the Scriptures extended to placing divine authority in the words. “God the Holy Spirit ‘moved’ His prophets and apostles not only in the thoughts but also in the detailed choice of the individual words of Scripture.”
- We looked at the fact that God worked in the development of the languages in which the Scriptures were written (part three). “God the Holy Spirit ‘moved’ sovereignly in developing the vocabulary, structure, and geographical acceptance / usage of the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek languages so they would be perfect vehicles for conveying His truth.”
- God didn’t just use whatever human authors came to hand. He prepared them, even before birth, for the task of writing the Scriptures (part four). “God the Holy Spirit ‘moved’ sovereignly in the lives, personalities, and writing styles of the human writers of the Scriptures, so they would be just what He wanted to use to communicate His Word.”
Words, languages, human authors, all were part of God’s plan from the very beginning in giving us His holy and perfect Word. It is fully His.
So, Did God “Dictate” the Scriptures?
This question is frequently asked, often (though not always) by those who are skeptical of the truth that the Bible is God’s Word. “It was written by human authors. Are you saying that God dictated it to them, telling them what to write down one word at a time?” The skeptics think they have you on the horns of a dilemma.
The First Trap. If the answer is, “No, God didn’t dictate it,” then they will respond, “So humans wrote it, God didn’t dictate it; so He didn’t tell them what to write, so clearly, it is a human production.” Sometimes, the response is a little more devious — “Ok, so when you say it is inspired, you mean God influenced it, not that it is actually God’s words. If He didn’t dictate it, you can’t really say it is His words.” This response sounds more spiritual, but it isn’t any better. If the Bible is partly human and partly divine, then we can only guess as to which parts are completely reliable and which parts have flaws. Our evaluation of Scripture and its authority is only as good as our guess as to which parts are from God. “Influenced by God” falls far short of “Given by inspiration of God.”
The Second Trap. Of course, the Bible makes it very clear that the very words are indeed God’s words. As a result, some have answered that He did dictate it — but the skeptic is ready for this answer as well. “The human authors and personalities are evident. It’s obvious God didn’t dictate the Bible, because it isn’t written in God’s writing style. It is written in Paul’s style, and Isaiah’s, and Luke’s, etc.” So if you answer that the Bible was “dictated” by God, they will say that it obviously wasn’t. So again, it must be either a completely human product, or a human product with some divine influences. Either way, the skeptics will say, it isn’t God’s perfect Word.
Missing the Point. The question of dictation misses the point. We serve a sovereign God, a God who works all things together for good in the lives of those who love Him (Romans 8:28-29). If He works in the details of the individual lives of every believer, so that we are being conformed to the image of Christ, surely we can believe that He worked in the lives of the human writers of Scripture, as we’ve seen. From part three (linked above):
Language was not something that “happened” to God, something that confined Him in communicating His message. Rather, a sovereign God “happened” to the languages, forming them to be exactly what He wanted to use to convey His truth.
So also, human writers and their styles didn’t “happen” to God, He “happened” to them. God was forming everything, languages, writers, historical and cultural settings, in such a way that the words that resulted from all of these influences would be His words. God is the influence Influencer, the Cause of the causes, the Ultimate Factor in all the factors. He didn’t have to dictate the words, word for word, for them to be His. He had already determined every factor that went into the writing so that the final result would be exactly as He had ordained. Personality, writing style, family history, quirks of language, cultural context, all of these were part of God’s plan in preparing for the writing of the Scriptures.
Dictation? It misses the point entirely. “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” That “moving” went into everything in their lives, language, and culture so that God’s Word was and is, word for word, the very thing He wanted to communicate to us.
Why it Matters
Why is it so important that God’s work in giving us the Scriptures extends to the very words? We have to look at the purpose for which He gave us the Bible. We might boil it down to three primary purposes:
- To bring us to salvation through knowing Him (John 17:3; I Peter 1:23; Romans 10:17).
- To purify / sanctify us, once we have believed (John 17:17; I Thessalonians 2:13).
- To declare His sovereign purposes (Isaiah 44:26-28; 45:23; 46:10).
These are important matters, and matters in which we depend on facts, not vague, unformed ideas. Perhaps we see this most clearly in the matter of our salvation. I Corinthians 15:3-4:
3 For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;
4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:
Our salvation is based on facts, rock-solid facts. If Christ didn’t die, it all falls apart. If His death wasn’t for our sins, we have nothing. If He wasn’t buried, and didn’t rise again, our faith is vain. The Scriptures laid out this plan of God’s, described how it was carried out in great detail, and elaborated on its completion and its ramifications.
It’s all dealing in facts, carefully defined so there can be no misunderstandings or confusion. God didn’t leave our eternal destiny in the hands of a book which was nebulous, uncertain, confusing. He gave us a Book which is clear and certain. Every word is as He wanted it so that we could learn what He is like from His description, not from our own ideas. His plan is laid out in His words so that we don’t make anything up. Our faith is not a “fuzzy” faith, like so many religions, where truth is uncertain and ill-defined, where one person’s “truth” can differ from another’s. We have a Book from God.
Our salvation is clear — because “That Book in Your Hands” is His Book. The ideas, the words, the languages in which they were given, the styles in which they were communicated, the personal experiences of the writers, it is all His. We don’t have to worry about whether Paul’s personality, or Luke’s Greek education, or David’s warfare, hindered God’s truth and puts our eternal destiny at risk. Your Book is God’s Book, and our salvation is on solid ground.
The hymn writer said it well:
How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!
Update: next main article.