1942 Synod Convention Essay
At one time or another everyone who has been instructed for confirmation in a congregation of the Norwegian Synod has learned something very definite about the inspiration of the Scriptures. Question 6 of our Synod Explanation reads: “How can the word of these men (namely the prophets,evangelists and apostles) be the Word of God?” The question is answered in this way: “The word of these men is the Word of God, because the Spirit of God in a miraculous manner gave to them what they should speak and write, and the very words which they should use.” The doctrine set forth in that answer of our “Explanation” has been called the “Inspiration of the Scriptures.” That is what we have learned to believe; that is what we preach; that is what we teach our children. That answer shows why we can set forth the doctrines of the Scripture and say with certainty of each one of them: This is what God says; this is the eternal truth; anything contrary to this is false. The doctrine of inspiration gives the Christian preacher assurance and definiteness in his preaching. This doctrine gives the hearer confidence in the teachings of Scripture that are proclaimed to him.
But our position has been called in question concerning this doctrine. Voices have been raised against it. Those voices have come not only from teachers outside of the Lutheran Church, but also from teachers who call themselves Lutheran. Many of them dare even to adorn their denial with the fair name of Luther. And because those voices have not been silenced or have been allowed to sound with but feeble protest, many trumpets within the Lutheran Church have begun to give an uncertain sound at best. Satan has raised his voice to ask: “Yea, hath God said?” and many Adams and Eves have repeated after him: “Yea, hath God said?”
By God’s grace, the teachers in our Church in the past have given clear and definite answers on questions of doctrine. When the archenemy asks concerning the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures, “Hath God said?”, we expect by the same grace of God to continue to give a clear and definite answer.
The task assigned to this essayist is to present the teaching of Scripture concerning its origin, particularly what Scripture has to say on the doctrine of Inspiration. In doing this we do not intend to go to great lengths of interpretation and explanation. The only theology that is worth anything to anybody is the theology that is based directly upon the clear word of Scripture. Accordingly, in the present discussion we intend to bring forth the Bible passages that treat of Inspiration and let them speak for themselves. If we add comments to passages, those comments will be there to point out the setting of the text or to call attention to certain words that are especially important in the discussion.
It may be that such a presentation will have to suffer the charge of being dry and outmoded, unoriginal and unprogressive. To such a charge we shall let the Scripture give the answer: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). “These things are written that ye might believe” (John 20:31). “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that ye through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (I Peter 2:2). Dr. Luther expressed himself beautifully on this matter: “No dearer book has been written on earth than the Holy Scriptures.” “When a believer but hears the Scriptures, they are so clear and full of light to him that he says, without any glosses of teachers, ‘That is true; that I believe’.” (Quoted in F. Pieper’s “Conversion and Election,” p. 94.)
2 Tim. 3:15–17
The first Bible passage to which we shall call your attention is the one in which we find the expression, “inspiration.” The whole passage reads: “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; That the m? of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”
The part of this passage which shall occupy our particular attention is verse 16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” For the time being we shall point out three things in this passage. First, the expression, “Scripture.” The word means “writing,” that which is written. In the verse preceding, Paul has made it clear that it is a special writing that he speaks of. He speaks of “holy writings.” “From a child thou hast known the Holy Scriptures.”
Next we call attention to the expression, “given by inspiration of God.” That is a translation of one Greek word, “Theopneustos.” The word means, “God-breathed,” “breathed by God.” The Scripture is inspired by God; it is breathed by God; it came from the mouth of God.
The third point: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” From one end to the other the Scripture is God-breathed. Everything that goes to make up Scripture proceeded from the mouth of God.
That is not all that this passage says. But it says no less than that. If anyone has gotten less from this passage, it is not because the language is faulty and obscure. Nothing could be clearer.
All Scripture, Both Old and New Testament, Proceeded from the Mouth of God
An objection has been raised that when St. Paul said: “All,Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” he was referring only to the Old Testament Scriptures. It is no doubt true that when Paul wrote this, some of the New Testament books were not yet written. It may be also that when Paul wrote this, the average reader would think mainly of the Old Testament. Our purpose now, however, is to point out that when Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” not only the Old Testament, but also the New is to be included. In doing this, we shall adduce passages that put the writings of the New Testament on the same level with the Old Testament.
In 2 Peter 3:15, 16 we read: “Our beloved Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these thing; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.” Here Peter puts Paul’s epistles on the same level with the Old Testament Scriptures, saying that certain people “wrest”, distort things in the epistles of Paul as they do the “other Scriptures.”
Again, we read in Eph. 2:19, 20: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the prophets and the apostles, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone.” This text speaks of those who by the Holy Spirit have come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles were to build faith by their word, as we see from the words of Jesus in John 17:20: “Neither pray I for these alone (i.e. the disciples), but for them also which shall believe on me through their word.” The foundation of which 2:20 speaks is the word of the prophets and the apostles. The words of the Old Testament writers and the words of the New Testament writers are here put on the same level.
Another passage to the point is I Peter 1:10–12: Here Peter says: “Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” In this passage the Apostle Peter first states that the prophets of the Old Testament by the Spirit of God testified beforehand concerning the sufferings of Christ. Then he points out that the Apostles were now reporting the same things by the same Spirit of God.
These three passages will suffice to show that the writings of the New Testament writers are to be considered under the head of “Scripture,” just as the Old Testament writings.
Let us go back now to our passage 2 Tim. 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Scripture means “writing”. The prophets and the Apostles did not write hieroglyphics. Ask any intelligent man (even Drs. Alleman and Traver and their fellow-critics of the Scripture — and they call themselves Lutheran —) and he will tell you that the prophets wrote words. Still, many critics of the doctrine of verbal inspiration insist that only the thoughts of the Scriptures are inspired. When you press them, though, they are forced to admit that by adding or taking away or by substituting a word or two you can change the thought, yes, even create an opposite thought. We make the point that thoughts are expressed in words. Scripture is made up of words. Words set forth the thoughts of Scripture, and as St. Paul says: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Hence, our passage teaches that also the words of Scripture are from the mouth of God.
Other Scripture Testimony
We would not have to go any farther than this. The one passage, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” is proof sufficient that the words of the Bible were breathed by God and are, therefore, God’s own Word. But God is rich in grace and mercy and superabundantly kind and considerate of the weak. He gives us many proofs for our assurance. These many proofs are given also to render the gainsayers without excuse. The next portion of this essay will be an amplification of the first. An examination of Scripture will show that what is taught in 2 Tim. 3:16 is taught fully in many other passages. Our purpose now is to let the various Scripture passages pertinent to the subject march in review.
Let us first hear a group of passages that tell us that the Scriptures were written by men. Paul speaks of himself as the writer: “Nevertheless, brethren, I have written the more boldly unto you” (Rom. 15:15). “I wrote you in an epistle” (I Cor. 5:9). “Now the things which I write unto you, behold, before God, I lie not” (Gal. 1 :20). The Apostle John speaks of himself as the writer: “These things write I unto you, that ye sin not” (I John 2:1, 13). “And these things write we unto you that your joy might be full” (I John 1:4). Jesus says that Moses, David and Isaiah wrote and prophesied: “For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46, 47). “And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand” (Luke 20:42). Matt. 15:7: “Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying.”
The whole Bible has 66 books written by over 40 writers. An examination will show that a great number of different styles of writing are represented. We get a glimpse of many different temperaments, and about every possible mood common to human beings is portrayed, — all going to make up the Holy Scriptures, a book such as none other in the world, intelligible, clear, and perfectly suited, also in its language, to mankind for whose benefit it was given.
Human Writers, But Instruments of God
But while the Scriptures clearly state that the Bible was written by men, it just as clearly states that these men were instruments of God and that what they wrote God Himself said: Matt. 1:22: “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying …” When Peter and John reported to the company of disciples how they had been treated at the hands of the Council of the Jews we are told: “When they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?” (Acts 4:24, 25). The apostle Paul brings a clear testimony on this matter: “Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy Scriptures)” (Rom. 1:1, 2).
“Moved By The Holy Ghost”
It is the testimony of the Scriptures that when the writers of the Scriptures wrote, they wrote as instruments especially of the Holy Ghost. Thus Peter’s words in Acts 1:16: “Men and brethren, this Scripture must needs have been fulfilled which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas which was guide to them that took Jesus.” Also Paul in Rome: “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers” (Acts 28:25). And thus Peter in 2 Peter 1:19–21: “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: knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of men: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Compare also I Peter 1:10–12 quoted above. And finally 2 Sam. 23:1–2: “Now these be the last words of David. David, the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.”
Many passages tell us that the Lord supplied the very words which the Prophets and Apostles used. Hear what the Lord told Moses when Moses objected that he was not eloquent, but slow of speech and slow of tongue: “Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say. … And thou shalt speak unto him (namely Aaron), and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. And he shall be thy spokesman unto the people; and he shall be, even he shall be to thee instead of a mouth, and thou shalt be to him instead of God” (Ex. 4:12, 15, 16). Jer. 1:9: “Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth.” I Thess. 2:13: “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” And most striking are the words of St. Paul in I Cor. 2:12, 13: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”
Inspired Words Written
It might be objected that the passages cited refer only to the words that the prophets and apostles spoke. But other passages speak the same way of their writing. Thus the Lord spoke to Moses: “Write this for a memorial in a book” (Ex. 17:14). When Moses reported to the people what the Lord had told him on Mt. Sinai, we read in Ex. 24:4: “Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.” Note also the Lord’s command to Jeremiah: “Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book.” (Jer. 30:2. Compare also Jer. 36:2). Dan. 12:4: “But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end.” And finally a passage in which the apostle Paul puts his oral teaching on the same level with his writing: “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).
The Inspiration of the Words of Scripture Proved by the Manner in Which Jesus and the Apostles Used the Scripture
Another striking proof that the very words of Scripture are given by God is found in the use that Jesus and the apostles made of the Scriptures. In John 10:34, 35 Jesus makes this clear statement: “The Scripture cannot be broken.” We see that by that statement He means that not a single word of the Scripture can be invalidated. In that connection He clinches an argument with the Jews, an argument in which the proof lies in one word. The whole passage reads thus: “Is it not written in your Law, I said, Ye are gods? If He called them gods unto whom the Word of God came, — and the Scripture cannot be broken, — say ye of Him whom the Father hath sanctified and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest, because I said I am the Son of God?” Matt. 22:31, 32: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus is quoting from Ex. 3:6, and the weight of the argument depends on a present tense, “I am,” not “I was,” or “I will be.” Another interesting case in point is Matt. 22:41–45: “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, What think ye of Christ? Whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call him Lord, how is he his Son?” Jesus simply quoted from one of the Psalms of David to clinch his argument; and note that the argument he brings rests on one word of the Old Testament Scripture, the word Lord.
St. Paul also uses the Old Testament Scripture, laying the burden of proof on single words. One instance very familiar is Gal. 3:16: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, and to seeds, as of many; but as of one, and to thy seed, which is Christ.” Note that Paul proves his whole argument by pointing out that the Old Testament text which he is quoting has the singular “seed” and not the plural “seeds.”
Following are a few more examples of how the New Testament writers prove their arguments by pointing to single words. Rom. 10:16: “But they have not all obeyed the Gospel. For Esaias saith, Lord, who hath believed our report?” I Peter 3:6: “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord.” Heb. 12:27: “And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that are made, that those things which cannot be shaken may remain.” Heb. 4:7: “Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”
The passages we have heard are by no means all that treat of the doctrine of Inspiration. There are many more. Of course, one clear passage would be enough to establish the doctrine. But we thank God that He has given us so many proofs. That strengthens our conviction. Having heard ample testimony of Scripture in this matter, let us now take time to hear how teachers in our church have summed up this doctrine.
Definitions of Inspiration
It is difficult to find anything more concise than the statement in our own Synod Explanation: “The word of the Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles is the Word of God, because the Spirit of God in a miraculous manner gave to them what they should speak and write, and the very words which they should use.” (q. 6). On the basis of Scripture teaching such as we have heard, Dr. Vilhelm Koren writes: “What do we mean, therefore, when we say that the Scripture is inspired by the Holy Spirit? We mean according to the Scripture’s own words a peculiar working of the Holy Spirit whereby He led the instruments whom He chose to say the things which He wanted said, and to write the things which He wanted written, in such a way as He wanted the things said or written.” (Samlede Skrifter, vol. II, p. 293). Dr. A.L. Graebner in his “Doctrinal Theology” puts it this way: “The Bible was written by divine inspiration inasmuch as the inspired penmen performed their work as the personal organs of God, especially of the Holy Spirit, who not only prompted and actuated them toward writing what they wrote, but also suggested to them both the thoughts and the words they uttered as they wrote.” (p. 5). Dr. P.E. Kretzmann writes somewhat more at length: “Inspiration is that miraculous, supernatural process by and through which God, specifically the Holy Spirit, at specified times and for specific purposes, caused certain men, the prophets of the Old Testament and the apostles (and evangelists) of the New Testament, to write down in words of human speech both such historical incidents as they were already familiar with and such other accounts of persons and events, together with immediate revelations concerning future events and the mysteries of salvation, as are a matter of His divine omniscience and wisdom alone, so that every possibility of error, not only in every main proposition with its discussion, but also in every subsidiary remark and reference, was eliminated from the outset; while still in this breathing-in, which must be claimed for every word of the original documents, both the natural characteristics and temperaments and the acquired abilities of the various writers were employed in such a way as to produce that variety of style which gives to the Bible its wide and varied appeal.” (Concordia Theological Monthly, Sept. 1931, p. 655.)
Objections Answered by Scripture
A good many objections have been raised against the doctrine that the whole Bible in its every word was written as God wanted it written. We have not considered it necessary in this essay to take them up in detail, but shall take a brief look at several, and give a sample of how we treat them. Some have objected that the Bible contains contradictions; therefore God cannot have inspired it. Answer: We deny the premise for two reasons: First, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;” second, we have never seen a real contradiction in the Bible. Some have objected that the fact that the Bible writers studied and did research work in preparation for their writing shows that what they wrote was not inspired. Answer: The texts say, nevertheless, that though the writers did study and did do research work, what they wrote was just as God wanted it written. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Some have objected that a book which has so many different styles of writing cannot have been inspired by God. Answer: The texts still say: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” And so we would answer other objections in like manner.
We realize that the objectors regard us as very impossible people, always going back to what they call the dead letter of the Bible text. Luther has a good bit of advice for such cases: “If the people will not believe, you are to keep silence; for you are not under obligation to compel them to regard the Scriptures as God’s Book or Word; it is enough if you give your reason therefor. When you hear such people as are completely blinded and hardened as to deny that what Christ and the apostles spoke and wrote is the Word of God and to have doubts concerning it, then you keep silence; do not speak one word to them, and let them go their way; say only this: I shall give thee sufficient ground from Scripture; if thou believest, well; if not, just go thy way.” (IX, 1238.)
A Precious Doctrine
The doctrine of verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is a precious doctrine. It is precious first of all because it is a gift of God, who certainly knows how to give good gifts to His children. He has not neglected, either, to show us again and again why the Scripture doctrine of inspiration ought to be so precious to us. When the apostle Peter said: “Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21), he said right in the same connection: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy.” When Jesus confirmed the verbal inspiration of the Scripture by pointing to one word of the Old Testament to prove His point, He said in the same connection: “The Scripture cannot be broken,” i.e. the Scripture cannot be invalidated, made void (John 10:34). In the connection in which St. Paul taught Timothy that all Scripture is “God,breathed,” he said: “Continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and been assured of … From a child thou hast known the holy Scriptures” (2 Tim. 3:14, 15). The inspiration of the Scriptures is what makes the Scriptures the Word of God. And since Scripture is God’s Word from beginning to end, it is the highest authority to which we can appeal. Because it is in every word the Word of God, it is a Word that cannot make a mistake, as the Apostle says: “It is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18). To concede that it is not the inspired Word of God in every word is to make the concession that it might contain error. To make such concessions would rob God of the honor that is due Him, making Him a liar. Such concessions would deprive the sinner of the certainty that God wants him to have. For then the whole foundation of his faith would become uncertain, and he would have grounds to fear that his faith does not rest upon the rock of God’s own Word. St. Augustine, centuries ago, saw what would be the con, sequences of admitting that there are errors, even small ones, in the Bible, and he expressed it in clear words: “If you once admit an error against such eminent authority, not a particle of those books remains which could not be questioned.” (An investigation, by the way, would show that every serious objector to the doctrine of verbal inspiration makes his objection because he does not want to be bound by a book that cannot be questioned. He wants to be a “sværmer,” an enthusiast, and he knows that a book whose authority is complete and unquestionable would not allow him to be one.)
Scripture is the inspired Word of God and “cannot be broken.” It therefore, the only Word that can serve as “a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path” (Ps. 119:105). It is the only more “sure word of prophecy, whereunto we do well that we take heed” (2 Peter 1:19). It is the only Word that is “able to make us wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15). Our Lord Jesus, by His “It is written,” has shown us that it is the only authority that can close the mouth of our arch,enemy, Satan, and cause him to depart from us (Matt. 4). It is the only Word that is able to assure us and cheer us with the announcement of the forgive, ness of sin (Matt. 9:2). It is the only Word that is able to “build us up, and give us an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:32). It is the only Word that can guide us through the dark valley of the shadow of death and into the glorious heavenly mansions of life eternal. This is the Word that has created faith in our hearts. This is the Word that daily comforts, cheers, and preserves us. This is the Word which gives us courage to defend it against all those who would destroy the foundation upon which our faith rests. This is the Word of which we sing:
“God’s Word is our great heritage,
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor;
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay;
Lord grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure,
Throughout all generations.”