Today on Renewing Your Mind... Today we return to Dr. Stephen Nichols' series, Why We Trust the Bible, and we'll learn that the issue the naysayers and skeptics have with the Bible is actually a moral problem. In our last session together, we were talking about revelation, and one of those attributes that we talked about of revelation is the authority of revelation. So we're going to spend time in our next two sessions here together talking about the authority of revelation.
Our first of these two sessions, we're going to talk about the doctrine of inspiration. This word actually is a biblical word. It comes from a text that many of you are familiar with. It comes from 2 Timothy 3, verse 16. And as we get to 2 Timothy 3, verse 16, this is what Paul tells us. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. So this word, inspired, and the doctrine of inspiration, comes from this text and actually comes from many more texts than this, but this is where we start.
And it reminds us something. It reminds us something right off the bat, and that is that Scripture is top down. It is the Word of God to us. Now this is what sets Scripture apart. This is what differentiates Scripture from all other views out there, from all other philosophies of life.
And we talked a little bit in our last session together of the philosophies that were around and prevalent in Paul's day, the philosophies of Plato, the ideas of Aristotle. Throughout the centuries of human history, there has been a desire to answer the big questions of life. Who am I? Where did I come from?
Where am I going? What is the meaning of all of this? And they're not just questions on a personal level, are they? They're also questions on sort of the macro level. Where did all of this, as we look around and see it, where did it all come from?
What is the purpose of it? Well, to answer those questions through the ages, different answers have been put forth. There was the mythological age. You know, this is the great stories of Homer as he tries to explain the world by using myth. And coming out of Homer's home city, Miletus is the first of the great Greek philosophers, Thales. And so Thales changes or shifts the world from myth to explain the phenomenon to answer those big questions, switches us over to philosophy. And so philosophy rules. And then, of course, we have the coming of the church and with the passing of the Greco-Roman era into the Middle Ages, we have the era of Christendom.
And now the church is the authority. You couldn't help but see it even. It dominated the landscape. You know, you looked off the horizon and what would you see?
You wouldn't see some skyscraper. You would see the cathedral tower. And so that physical architectural edifice there was pointing to how the church dominated the mental landscape as well. It was the church that told you your place. Well, then we come into the era of the Reformation, right? And the Reformers take us back to Scripture and that wonderful doctrine of sola scriptura. So now Scripture is our authority.
But not everybody agreed that that was the direction to go. And so as we see the era of the Reformation, we also have the era of the Renaissance, right? And with the Renaissance, we have the beginnings of modern science and the beginnings of modern philosophy. And this Enlightenment period moves us into this modern age as we come into the late 1600s and through the 1700s and through the 1800s. And increasingly, there was a shift away from the church, a shift away from Scripture as our authority. And instead, we began to look within our own head and we began to stress human autonomy and rationality and science.
And this was the modern age. Now, those who watch these things tell us that the modern age is crumbling and that we are entering into a new time, a new phase, and they call it post-modernity. And some of those beliefs of modernity that were so solid that much of culture was so committed to seem to have crumbled a little bit around the edges. And there's not so much a firm commitment to science as the answer to solve our problems as there once was.
There's even a little bit of a suspicion about these methodologies that so dominated in modernity. But whether it's modernity or post-modernity, both of those worldviews have a problem with that idea that the answers to the big questions are, in fact, alien to us. That the answers to who am I and why am I here and where am I going, those answers are not going to be found within our own head. Those answers aren't going to be discovered as we apply all of our skill and all of our acumen and all of our abilities to try to figure out the world. Those answers come from above us. Those answers come from beyond us.
Those answers come, in fact, from God. It is top down. That's difficult. We'll just stick with modernity since we're not quite sure what this post-modernity thing is.
We'll just stick with modernity for a while. That's difficult for someone in the modern age to grasp, to have to submit to an ancient book. In fact, there was a professor at Harvard in 1891 published a book by Houghton Mifflin. His name was Joseph Henry Thayer. In his book, he was speaking of the doctrine of inspiration. Just a few years before, Benjamin Warfield, called the Lion of Old Princeton, the great theologian there at Princeton Theological Seminary, Warfield had published an essay on the inspiration of Scripture. Thayer was responding to that essay, among other things. This is what he had to say about Warfield's theory of inspiration, but by reason of improved methods of philological study.
Now, I'll come back to that for a moment. Of progress in science, there's that key modernist commitment, of progress in science and discovery, of accumulating results in archaeological and historical research. The theory of inspiration has come to occasion restlessness and perplexity, at times not a little distress in thoughtful souls.
It has become a yoke, which they, unlike their fathers, are unable to bear. Now let's try to unpack that a little bit and see what Thayer is trying to tell us. When he talks about improved methods of philological study, he's talking about an enterprise of the 1800s that we call higher criticism. This started in Germany. The great evangelist Billy Sunday, who was known for sort of theatrics, he would jump up on the platform and do all kinds of things.
He was a pro baseball player, so he was a pretty athletic guy. This was in the 1910s, it was during World War I, so maybe you can understand this. Billy Sunday would say, turn hell upside down, and you know what's stamped on the bottom?
Made in Germany. That's what Sunday would say. Now, it was the time of World War I, there might be just a little bit of American nationalism coming out there and that, but what was he talking about? He was talking about higher criticism that had flourished in Germany in the 1800s and had washed ashore in America from the 1880s into the 1920s, when the fundamentalist modernist controversy raged. And the theory of higher criticism started in the Pentateuch to tell us that Moses didn't write the first five books of the Bible. Now, what's really going on there is not just a question of Moses' authorship, which the Pentateuch claims to be the books of Moses. What's really going on there is that these books, the first five books, the Pentateuch, the foundation of Scripture, are not the result of a top-down revelation from God.
But these five books are the bottom-up discussions and working out of what the Israelite community came to understand about God and the relationship to Him. The upshot of all of this challenge to Mosaic authorship is that Scripture is not a divine revelation, but a human creation, just like all of the other religious texts. And then it moved from Moses and the Pentateuch into Jesus and the Gospels. And so, Matthew is not by Matthew, Mark is not by Mark, Luke is not by Luke, John is not by John.
These Gospels are in fact the product of later communities and their, again, sort of ideas of Jesus and who He was and how we relate to Him. And so, this is what Thayer is talking about when he says, improved methods of philological study. It is no longer tenable for us to hold to inspiration. And then he says, improved methods of science, progress in science and discovery. This is something that's hard for us to see because it's so prevalent, but this idea of progress is such a fundamental commitment of modernity and even of postmodernity. And one of the byproducts of progress is the idea that newer is better. So, this is an ancient book. Does it really tell us how to live? Does it really tell us about human psychology and about human relationships?
Or is it, in fact, outdated and outmoded? And Thayer admits as much. He says, you know, in a previous age, when there weren't such advances in science and there wasn't all of that accumulating data, our fathers could easily bear the yoke of a word from God. But we know better. We now know better.
And we can't bear this yoke anymore. As we approach Scripture, we have a fundamental question to ask ourselves. It's a question of commitment, a question of first principles. Is this the word of God or not?
That's the fundamental question. Now, we have to nuance this because we think that Scripture is both a divine book and a human book. We don't see the doctrine of inspiration as implying that somehow the biblical authors entered into a trance-like state and their hand was sort of taken over and maybe their eyes rolled in the back of their head. And before you know it, there was a book.
If only writing were that easy, right? We see that the biblical authors' personalities are preserved in the text itself. There are differences. John reads differently than Paul. Peter reads differently than Paul. These are real human authors. So the Bible is a human book.
That's a true statement. It's not written in some mystical language, you know. Well, if you look at Hebrew, you might think it's mystical.
But actually, it was just the language that was spoken. And Greek might, it's all Greek to me, right? It might look mystical to you too, but it was written in the common Greek language of the day.
In fact, there were sort of two major dialects of Greek. There was the High Greek, the Attic Greek they call it, like the attic of a house. That's the Greek of the philosophers. That's the Greek of the poets. That's the Greek of the writers. And then there was Koine a, a word that just means common.
In Latin, the word is vulgar, which just means common. And that's the language the Bible was written in. So it's a human book. It's written in ways that we can understand. But we must always say that while it is a human book, it is a divine book.
So we need to avoid two extremes there. One is not acknowledging that it's a divine book. And this is just a human product. Oh, it's a great read, very insightful, might even help in your life if you need it. But don't think of it as God's word. It's sort of the secular view. And there's a long history of that. Then there's the other side that doesn't want to take into account the human authorship of the text that again, sees these biblical authors as sort of entering in a trance-like state.
We don't see that either. So to start off, we need to balance these ideas that the Bible is a divine book. It is sourced in God. Its origin is God.
It is breathed out from God. But God used human instruments in the recording and writing down of His Word. We see this a little bit more in another text that is used when we talk about inspiration, right up there with 2 Timothy 3.16, is 2 Peter 2. Here as we get to the end of 2 Peter 2, we see in verse 16 that Peter again is differentiating Scripture from other approaches or other answers to those big questions. And so he says, we did not follow, in verse 16, we did not follow cleverly devised myths.
There were plenty of those around in the first century. That's not what this is. Now, this is from God. If we drop down to verse 21, no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man. Remember here, echoes of Paul from 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, when he says, you received it as it is not as the word of man, but you received it as what it really is, the word of God. Peter is saying the same thing. It was never produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
A nice imagery there sometimes given as a way to understand this is sort of like the way the winds may carry a ship or the waves may carry a ship. And so there's a preserving there of the human authorship, and Peter well knows humanity, doesn't he? There's a preserving there of the human authorship, but these words are the words from God. So we start off with the doctrine of inspiration, of recognizing that it is in fact a top-down revelation, that that differentiates all of these other attempts throughout human history, throughout these different philosophical schools or approaches of trying to answer these questions.
Who am I? Why am I here? What is the purpose of all of this? We see it, that Scripture is top-down, not only in these proof texts, as we call them, of 2 Timothy 3.16 and 2 Peter chapter 1. We also see it all throughout the Bible. We see it even more in Paul. You know, Paul, whether he's writing to the Corinthians or even writing to the Galatians, he doesn't say this, does he?
You need to do this because I'm telling you to do this. He says, you need to do this because I speak for God as his apostle. In fact, he makes it clear that these are not his words. These are not his thoughts.
These are not his ideas. These are in fact the words of God. He is simply an apostle who speaks the Word of God. We see it in the Old Testament. You trip over this phrase in the Old Testament, don't you? Thus says the Lord.
Thus says the Lord. It's never the word of Malachi. It's the word of the Lord through the prophet Malachi. And we even see this differentiated in Matthew chapter 5 to 7. Christ does something the Old Testament prophets never did in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, you have heard it said, and he quotes the Old Testament. Then he says, but I say unto you, no biblical author ever claims that authority.
They are always the mouthpiece of God. And so it's not just a proof text. It's woven all through Scripture. If we're going to come to Scripture, if we're going to read it, if we're going to look to it, we're going to have to let it tell us what it is. And what it tells us very clearly is it is the word of God. Now, different people have tried different ways to explain this doctrine of inspiration.
We could have what we call the liberal view. This sort of comes out of that era of the 1880s to the 1910s. This is probably seen best in a quote like Thayer, you know, who says, we can't bear the yoke of this inspiration anymore. But it was also put out there by the pastor, Harry Emerson Fosdick, who pastored Riverside Cathedral in New York and had his national program on the radio.
His sermons were published in the New York Times. He said, we have to distinguish the Shekinah from the shrine. The shrine is the book and somewhere contained in this book is what Fosdick liked to call abiding truths. That's what's inspired. Not the very words, but these sort of general truths that abide through the ages. So we have the liberal view of inspiration.
Somewhere embedded in all of these details is that sort of nugget of truth that you can hold on to and latch on to. In the 1950s and 60s, we have the theologian, Karl Barth, who tells us that God inspires his word when it is proclaimed to his people. So God hasn't spoken in his word.
He speaks through his word when it is proclaimed. In a nutshell, that amounts to saying the Bible is not the word of God, but the Bible contains the word of God. Well, against those various options, we have what we call the verbal plenary view of inspiration. Vocal tells us that it's the very words that are inspired. Plenary tells us that the whole thing is inspired, not just where it talks in terms of the gospel or in terms of salvation. So when it speaks of history or when it speaks of this subject or that subject, well then it's, you know, not necessarily.
Plenary tells us the whole thing is inspired and verbal tells us it's the very words of God. Well, here we are again without our GPS. So what are we going to do, right? Are we going to follow these philosophies, these cleverly devised myths, or are we going to say God has spoken and he's given us his word? That's the choice that's before us. That is the choice before us. God has given us his word. The question is, will we accept it? I hope you'll plan to be with us tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind as we continue Dr. Steven Nichols' series, Why We Trust the Bible.
I also hope you'll contact us and request this full six-part series. If there was ever a topic the 21st Century Church needs to hear, it is this one. More than 40% of professing Christians who were polled in our State of Theology survey disagree that the Bible is 100% true in all that it teaches. Like me, you've probably read stories in recent weeks about membership in some denominations dropping like a rock. Those reports claim that people are leaving because those churches have taken unbiblical stands on cultural issues. But the issue we've studied today is the root of the problem.
Many of those churches have rejected the inspiration and authority of Scripture. I would encourage you to consider using this series in a Sunday school class at your church or a small group meeting in your home. And then you can donate the DVD to your church library. So contact us today with a gift of any amount at renewingyourmind.org, and we will send this series to you. You can also call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. Perhaps you have friends or family members who struggle with submitting to the authority of Scripture. You can share this video series with them as well. Again, the title is Why We Trust the Bible by Dr. Stephen Nichols. Let me give you our phone number again.
It's 800-435-4343, and our online address is renewingyourmind.org. We hope to hear from you. Well, here's a preview of what we'll hear tomorrow. If we say the Bible is God's Word, then we will be led to say the Bible is true, because the Bible reflects God's character.
Now, think about this. To say that the Bible contains error is like saying God lies. That's quite an accusation, isn't it? But there are many in the evangelical church today who inadvertently claim that. Dr. Nichols will address that tomorrow here on Renewing Your Mind. I hope you'll join us.
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