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Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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November 26, 2022 12:01 am

Inspiration and Authority of Scripture

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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November 26, 2022 12:01 am

All of Scripture, down to the individual words penned by the prophets and Apostles, has been breathed forth by the Holy Spirit. Today, R.C. Sproul discusses the authority and inspiration of the Bible.

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Renewing Your Mind
R.C. Sproul

The apostle Paul makes the claim that all Scripture is God-breathed. The point that we have here that Paul is making is this astonishing claim when he says that all of these writings, all of the graphi, are given by divine inspiration. That is an astonishing claim, especially in a society that rejects the supernatural.

Critics claim there's no way to verify that scientifically. So what do we mean when we say that all Scripture is from God, that it's absolutely trustworthy and without error? Well, we need to form a firm foundation of our doctrine of the Bible, and R.C.

Sproul helps us do just that today on Renewing Your Mind. At the time of the sixteenth century Reformation, of course, the historians look back and say that the chief debate, the crucial issue that provoked that controversy, which is called the material cause of the Reformation, was the doctrine of justification by faith alone. But lurking behind the scenes and slightly under the present view was another issue that was very, very important, and that was the question of authority. When Luther was engaged in debate with the leaders of the church over the doctrine of justification, and he had his disputations with Pajetan and with Eck, with the meetings at Leipzig and at Augsburg, Luther was maneuvered into a position where he had to confess publicly that his views did not agree with previous statements that the church had made in church council and also that his views didn't agree with certain statements that had been issued by former popes of the church. Now that provoked quite a crisis for Luther because the question was, how dare you question the authority of the church or the authority of the pope? And Luther finally at the Diet of Worms said, unless I'm convinced by sacred Scripture or by evident reason, I can't recant, for my conscience is held captive by the Word of God. And out of that conflict came the slogan at that time called sola scriptura. And behind that brief little slogan, which means simply the Scripture alone, Luther and the Reformers were saying that there is only one authority ultimately that has that has the absolute right to bind our consciences.

Now Luther didn't demean the lesser authority of the church or the importance of historic church councils like Nicaea and Chalcedon and the rest, but he's saying even those church councils don't have the same authority or the same level of authority that the Bible has. And now this focused attention on the nature and basis for such biblical authority. Now fundamental to the Reformers' view of the primacy of Scripture and of the authority of Scripture was the question of the Bible's authorship. Notice the closeness between these two words, authority and authorship.

They both contain the word author in it. And what the Reformers were saying is that though it is certainly true that in the scope and movement and progression of human history, the Bible appeared one book or one letter at a time written by human beings like you and I, that nevertheless the primary author, the ultimate author of the Bible is not Paul or Luke or Jeremiah or Moses, but rather the ultimate author of the Bible is God Himself. That is the idea that God exercised His authority through the writings of human authors who were His spokespersons to reveal Himself to the world.

So the question obviously that we face then, how is it possible that human authors can be invested with the authority of God? We saw in our last session that the prophets, for example, would frequently say before they would utter their words, not, Thus saith Jeremiah, but they would say, Thus saith the Lord, that the prophets claimed that their message came from God and that they were merely communicating to their hearers that which had its origin in God. That's why historically two Latin phrases have been used frequently to refer to the nature of sacred Scripture.

One is that it is the Werbum Dei, and another one is that it is the Wachs Dei. And the Werbum Dei means, of course, the Word of God, and what we call the Wachs Dei means the voice of God. And the Reformers such as Luther and Calvin believed that even though God did not personally write down the words on paper or on parchment for the original Scriptures, but that the Bible is no less His Word than if it were delivered to us directly from heaven, or if God would have been heard to speak audibly in the clouds, that that would make that Word no more His Word than it is right now. So that raises this whole question of what we call the inspiration of the Bible. Let me direct your attention back to 2 Timothy 3.16 which we've looked at for another reason earlier to consider the value and importance of theology. Now, as I promise then, we'll go back and examine what this text has to say about the Scripture. Paul writing to Timothy says in verse 16 of 2 Timothy chapter 3, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. Now, when Paul writes these words, he uses the term graphi, which is the word for Scripture. Now, in a general, loose sense, the term graphi simply means writings. And somebody could come to this text and say, well, Paul was saying that everything that's ever been written down is inspired of God.

No. For the Jewish people, the phrase, it is written, was a technical term that they all understood to have specific reference to the biblical writings. And also among the Jewish people, the term graphi had specific reference to the Old Testament. And this is significant here because when Paul is writing here, he may not be including his own writings, although Peter does later on in his epistles conclude Paul's writings with the rest of the Scripture. But the term Scripture here has specific reference to the Old Testament and then later, by extension, incorporates the writings of the apostles in the New Testament. But the point that we have here that Paul is making is this astonishing claim when he says that all of these writings, all of the graphi, are given by divine inspiration. And what's he saying here?

Now, this may be a little bit confusing, and so we're going to have to work our way through the following matters with some caution and some care. In the church, we have a doctrine called inspiration. And the English translation of 1 Timothy 3.16 that I just read uses the term inspiration. But I think that we must make a distinction between the use of the term inspiration here and the way it's used theologically in the history of the church.

Because, as Dr. B.B. Warfield once pointed out so eloquently, the real meaning of this text here in 2 Timothy 3.16 has to do not so much with the way in which God communicated His information to us, but also His information to us through the human writers, but rather the emphasis in this text is on the source of that information. What Paul is saying, he uses the word theopneust, and I'll write that out in English. Theopneust in the Greek here when he says, all Scripture is given by inspiration. Literally, what this word means is God breathed in.

And it means that which God has breathed out rather than that which God breathes in. Now, I was just ready to give my next sentence after finishing that sentence. And I noticed that in between that last sentence and the next sentence, I had to pause and take a breath because in order for me to speak, I have to have breath in my lungs. And while I'm speaking, if I continue to speak and don't take a breath, while I continue to speak, pretty soon I start squeaking like a mouse and I run right out of breath. I have to breathe because when I speak, I'm breathing out. And in order to breathe out, I must first breathe in. Now, the force of what Paul is saying here is that he is saying that all of Scripture is breathed out from God. Now, when we breathe out, that means we are involved in expiration, not in the sense of dying, but we expire at death because we breathe out for the last time, and we don't breathe in anymore. But to breathe out is expiration, whereas to breathe in is inspiration. So really, if we were getting real technical here, we should translate this phrase that all Scripture is given by expiration.

Now, so what? What's the difference between expiration and inspiration here? Again, the point that I'm jealous to make here is that what Paul is saying when he insists that all of the Scripture has been breathed out by God, he is saying that its ultimate origin is in Him. It is His Word.

It is His speech. He is the One who is the source of these writings. Now, that's obviously assumed in the doctrine that we call inspiration. And when we speak of inspiration as a concept, we are talking about the work of God the Holy Spirit, whom we read at various points in the Scripture, comes upon people and so anoints them by His power that He inspires them to write what they write, not out of their own auspices, but rather that they are writing the true Word of God.

Now again, how He does it is nowhere defined in Scripture, but that it is not of human initiation is made clear. And so when we talk about the doctrine of inspiration, we're talking about the way in which God superintends the writing of sacred Scripture, that God does not just act and let people respond with their own insight and their own imagination to set forth their view of what God has done, but that God is working by the Holy Spirit to superintend that record to make sure that the record that is written is His Word. Now, there's been lots of controversies over this doctrine of inspiration, and some people have charged orthodox Christianity with teaching a crass type of what's called mechanical inspiration or sometimes called the dictation theory. This is the idea that men who were the authors were reduced to robots or to machines who had no room for their own personality or their own concerns in the writing of the Bible, but they were almost Ouija boards in the hands of God who were involved in automatic writing where God was controlling their hand as they wrote the words on the parchment. Or that inspiration involved a verbal, specific dictation where God said, write this down.

Just as I might say to my secretary, take this letter, and then I dictate it, and though the words are written by her on the page, it is still my message because I have dictated it, and all she did was to write it down. Now, in explaining the doctrine of inspiration, the church has always distanced herself from this kind of simplistic view of the matter. Although there have been a couple of times in church history where words have been used by the church that the critics have jumped on to assume that the church was teaching such a doctrine. For example, John Calvin said that in a certain sense, the prophets and the apostles were prophets and the apostles served as amanuenses, which is a fancy word for secretary, for God.

Well, insofar as that they were agents to communicate His words, they were amanuenses, but that does not carry with it a doctrine of dictation by way of explaining the mode. Also, in the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church says that the Scripture comes to us through the operation of the Holy Spirit, and they use the term et rent in Latin, dictante. That is, they say the Holy Spirit dictating. But even then, it would be unfair to the church of Rome and to the Council of Trent to say that they herein are giving us a whole explanation of how the inspiration of Scripture functions.

Rather, it's just a manner of speaking that is there. Basically, we don't know how God superintended the writing down of sacred Scripture, but the salient point for the church today is that what we have in Scripture, though it contains the personalities, the vocabularies, the concerns of the human writers, that the human writers were writing under the supervision of God, and they were not doing this in their own power. If they were simply writing under their own power, we would expect them to make all kinds of errors. Now, in our next lecture, we will explore the whole question of the infallibility of Scripture and the inerrancy of Scripture, which are issues that have been raging for quite some time. But right now, we're talking about the inspiration of Scripture. Also, historically, the church has believed that the inspiration of the Bible is verbal. That is to say that it extends not simply to the broad outline of the information that is communicated by the earthly authors, but rather that the Holy Spirit's operation of superintendence applies to the very words of Scripture themselves. That's one of the reasons why the church has been so zealous to reconstruct as carefully as possible the original manuscripts of the Bible and have given such care to studying the word meanings of ancient Hebrew and Greek terms, because every word carries with it the importance of divine authority. You recall the debate that Jesus had with Satan in the wilderness during His temptation, how that debate focused back and forth on citations from Scripture. And sometimes Jesus will make His case against the devil or against the Pharisees by the turn, not just of a phrase, but of a single word. And Jesus Himself said that not a jot or a tittle of the law shall pass away until all is fulfilled. At that point, Jesus' view of inspiration was even more detailed and specific than being verbal. It was jot and tittle inspiration for our Lord, saying that what He meant obviously by that expression is that there's not a word in the law of God that is superfluous or that is simply open to negotiation.

It all carries with it the weight of the binding authority of its ultimate author. Now, in our day and age, with the avalanche of criticism against the Bible, there have been attempts to get out from under this concept of inspiration. We know that in the Bultmanian school and the neoliberal school, the whole idea of any kind of divine origin, the Scripture, has been rejected in a wholesale manner.

Neo-orthodox theology, which among other things was concerned to restore the preaching of the Bible to the church and to give a higher view of the Bible than what was left from nineteenth-century liberalism, also rejects verbal inspiration and rejects propositional revelation. Karl Barth, for example, says that the way in which God reveals Himself is through events, not propositions, which is a very, very serious matter because the Bible is not merely a narrative record of events where we are told the story of what happened and then left for ourselves to interpret its meaning. But the Bible gives us not only the record of what happened, but the authoritative apostolic and prophetic interpretation of the meaning of that event. The cross is not a naked event that God performs in history and says, you interpret its meaning. We understand how people looked at it differently. For many of the disciples, it was a tragic disillusionment. For Pontius Pilate, it was a matter of political expediency.

As it was for Caiaphas, it was a matter of political expediency. And Paul, when he expounds on the meaning of the cross, talks about it as a cosmic act of redemption where it was an atonement offered to satisfy the justice of God. That would not be immediately apparent by just looking at the event. Or also, the neo-orthodox theologians would say that the Bible is not revelation, but it is a zoigness or a witness to revelation. And in that sense, that reduces the level of authority for the Bible significantly.

They say, well, we give it lip service. This has some historic significance. It's the primary source of our information of the historical Jesus. And it bears witness to the truth, but it is not necessarily itself the revelation. Where orthodox Christianity says it not only bears witness to the truth, it is the truth. It is the actual embodiment of divine revelation. It doesn't just point beyond itself, but in and of itself, it gives to us nothing less than the veritable Word of God. The Reformation slogan, Sola Scriptura, Scripture alone, shows us that the Reformers firmly believe that the Bible is the very Word of God. This stance on the inspiration and authority of Scripture is just as important today as it was then.

We're thankful for R.C. Sproul's clear teaching on this subject today here on Renewing Your Mind. His message, titled Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, is from his sweeping overview of systematic theology called Foundations. In 60 Lessons, he covers the biblical doctrines of the Holy Spirit, of salvation, sin, the Church, and many others. And as you go through this series, you'll see that the Bible is perfectly consistent. This 20-DVD set is a complete course in systematic theology, and we'd like to send it to you. Just give a donation of any amount to Ligonier Ministries. You can make your request online at Well, is the Bible infallible or inerrant, or is it both? We'll define our terms and learn about the divine inspiration of Scripture next Saturday here on Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2022-11-26 17:26:28 / 2022-11-26 17:34:03 / 8

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