The Witness of Scripture Concerning Its Inspiration Part One
In the previous article, which presented the biblical view of inspiration, we saw that both human and divine factors were involved in the writing of the inspired Scriptures. This means that the Bible, as the written Word of God, has both a divine and a human nature, just as Jesus Christ, as the living Word of God in the world, had both a divine and a human nature.
This article presents the Bible’s witness concerning some aspects of its human nature.
Human Purposes and Methodology
According to the Scriptures, some writers employed human purposes and methodology in the production of their biblical writings. We shall examine two examples of this.
Luke 1:1–4: After referring to other prepared accounts of the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ (vv. 1–2), Luke stated, “It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (vv. 3–4).
The words translated “It seemed good to me also” convey the meaning “I decide.”* The language indicates that Luke purposed on his own to write his Gospel.
Luke’s goal was to write his account “in correct chronological order,”* so that his reader, Theophilus, would know the certainty of the things he had been taught about Christ.
In order to accomplish this goal, Luke carefully investigated everything related to Christ’s life and ministry before he began to write his Gospel. From the very beginning of his investigative activity he was careful to be accurate (the word translated “understanding” means to “investigate a thing,”* and the word translated “perfect” means “accurately, carefully”*).
It is interesting to note that Luke is the only Gospel writer who recorded the circumstances related to the birth of John the Baptist, the visit of the angel Gabriel to Mary, Mary’s innermost feelings in response to that visit, Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, and the angelic announcement of Christ’s birth to the shepherds. How did Luke obtain his information concerning these events and the responses of the people involved in them? He may have personally interviewed Mary, Elizabeth, and perhaps some of the shepherds as part of his investigative activity.
These details indicate that Luke obtained the information that he recorded in his Gospel through hard research and study. It did not come to him through divine revelation. In other words, he employed human methodology, using his human abilities.
Although Luke had his own purpose for writing his Gospel and employed human methodology in gathering his materials, the Bible’s witness concerning its divine nature prompts two conclusions. First, as Luke sorted through his gathered information, the Holy Spirit guided him in his choices of what to record and what to delete. Second, during the writing process the Spirit worked with him in such a way that he recorded everything accurately.
John 20:30–31: Toward the end of his Gospel, the Apostle John wrote, “And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book; But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name.”
John thereby indicated that he had his own purpose for writing his Gospel—bringing his readers to eternal life by convincing them to believe the truth that Jesus of Nazareth is the true Messiah and the Son of God. In order to accomplish his purpose, out of an abundance of material available to him (see 21:25), he carefully selected just those items that would suit his purpose. This implies human methodology.
Concerning John’s statements in these verses, Leon Morris wrote:
In this statement of intention John first makes it clear that in his Gospel he has made a selection. He has not by any means written all that he knows about Jesus…He has written what served his purpose and has omitted much…Now John gives us the purpose of his book, that purpose which he has had steadily in mind from the beginning…He tells us that the purpose of his writing is that men may believe…He has not tried to write an impartial history. He is avowedly out to secure converts.*
The Use of Uninspired Sources
Several writers of biblical books recorded some information derived from pieces of literature that were not divinely inspired. The fact that they did so indicates that they obtained these materials through personal research rather than by divine revelation. The following examples demonstrate the usage of such uninspired sources by some writers.
1 and 2 Chronicles: The writer of 1 Chronicles declared, “Now the acts of David, the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the book of Samuel, the seer, and in the book of Nathan, the prophet, and in the book of Gad, the seer, With all his reign and his might, and the times that went over him, and over Israel, and over all the kingdoms of the countries” (29:29–30). The books of Samuel the seer, Nathan the prophet, and Gad the seer apparently were historical records of King David’s deeds written by these three prophets, who had close associations with him. Their books were never recorded as divinely inspired by the Israelites. They were never included in the canon of the Scriptures. The fact that the writer of 1 Chronicles referred to these books at the end of his own book implies that he used them as sources of information for what he wrote.
The writer of 1 Chronicles also referred to genealogical records of the tribes of Israel that provided him with information (4:33; 5:17; 7:9, 40; 9:22). Concerning these sources, C. F. Keil wrote, “These genealogical lists were most probably in the possession of the heads of the tribes and families and households, from whom the author of the Chronicle would appear to have collected all he could find, and preserved them from destruction by incorporating them in his work.”*
The same writer quoted directly from royal letters of King Sennacherib of Assyria (2 Chr. 32:17) and a written royal proclamation of King Cyrus of Persia (36:22–23). He also derived much of his information concerning various kings of Judah from “the book of the kings of Israel and Judah” (2 Chr. 27:7; 35:27; 36:8), the official court records of the reigns of Judah’s kings.*
Concerning the use of these and other uninspired sources by the writer of 1 and 2 Chronicles, J. Barton Payne made the following significant comments:
That the Chronicler used many sources does not mean that these were “lost biblical books” but merely indicates the honest research he conducted in writing his inspired account. Nothing in the Chronicler’s remarks need be construed as suggesting that the canon is incomplete or that the entirety of the sources named here was inspired.*
1 and 2 Kings: It appears that the writer of 1 and 2 Kings used at least three uninspired royal annals or records as sources of information for his inspired books: “the book of the acts of Solomon” (1 Ki. 11:41), “the chronicles of the kings of Judah” (1 Ki. 14:29; mentioned 15 times in 1 and 2 Kings), and “the chronicles of the kings of Israel” (1 Ki. 15:31; mentioned 17 times in 1 and 2 Kings).*
2 Samuel: The writer of 2 Samuel quoted a strongly emotional poem that David wrote as a lament over the deaths of King Saul and Jonathan (1:17–18). The content of the poem is presented in its entirety in verses 19–27. The writer indicated that he derived this poem from “the book of Jasher” (v. 18). The book of Jasher, also mentioned in Joshua 10:13, “is thought to have been a collection of poetry, probably odes and psalms in praise of Israel’s heroes and exploits.”* Some scholars believe that it was lost during the Babylonian Captivity.*
Numbers: In Numbers 21:14–15 Moses quoted a portion from “the book of the wars of the Lord.” It is believed that this ancient book “contained songs celebrating the victories of the Israelites led by YHWH.”* For example, the portion that Moses quoted refers to the victory that God gave the Israelites over Egypt at the Red Sea.
Jude: In verses 14–15 Jude recorded a statement either from the book of Enoch or from the oral tradition of Enoch’s declarations.* The original Hebrew text of the book of Enoch “was written by the Chasidim or by the Pharisees between 163–63 B.C.” and was “a collection of apocalyptic literature written by various authors and circulated under the name of Enoch.”* Although it was highly regarded by the Jews, they never recognized it as divinely inspired and therefore never included it in the canon of Scripture.
The fact that several writers of biblical books recorded some information derived from uninspired sources prompts a question. In an earlier article we examined seven principles that constitute the biblical view of inspiration. One of those principles was, “Inspiration guarantees the inerrancy of the Scriptures.” This means that the Bible was written without any error. By contrast, uninspired literature can contain error. In light of this contrast, does the use of uninspired sources by the biblical writers jeopardize the inerrancy and therefore the inspiration of the Scriptures?
The answer to the question is that the use of uninspired sources does not jeopardize the inerrancy and inspiration of the Scriptures if the writers used parts of the uninspired sources that were not erroneous. It is essential to note that although uninspired writings can contain error, not everything in that kind of literature is erroneous. It is my conviction that the Holy Spirit guided the writers of Scripture to use only those parts of uninspired sources that were free from error.
Edward C. Pentecost gave a specific example of this answer. He indicated that Jude’s use of an uninspired source does not affect “the doctrine of inspiration adversely. If Jude quoted the apocryphal book, he was affirming only the truth of that prophecy and not endorsing the book in its entirety.”*
Individual Literary Style and Vocabulary
Each writer of the Scriptures employed his own literary style and vocabulary, which were distinct from those of the other writers. A prime example was the Prophet Isaiah, as noted by the following comments of Israel W. Slotki:
Scholars pay wholehearted tribute to Isaiah’s brilliance of imagination and his picturesque and graphic descriptions, his command of powerful metaphor, alliteration, assonance, and the fine balance of rhythmic flow of his sentences. His poetical diction is superb, and every word of his kindles, stirs and strikes its mark. His thought constantly and spontaneously blossoms into imagery, and the images are no mere rhetorical embellishments but are always impressive in themselves and always appropriate and natural expressions of his ideas.*
Victor Buksbazen stated,
Isaiah was endowed with a superb mastery of language, which was concise, colorful, harmonious and effective…With the talent of a great master, he always manages to make his visions or thoughts come to life with vivid and bold strokes. No other prophet was able to conjure up before the eyes and ears of his listeners such a vivid sense of the awesome majesty of God’s presence as did Isaiah…Isaiah is justly considered the greatest of all the writing prophets.*
This article has observed the Bible’s witness concerning some aspects of its human nature. The next article will begin to examine the Bible’s witness concerning its divine nature.