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“Thy word is Truth” The Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Authority of the Bible

The tall, balding, Air Force major leaned back in his chair, took another drag from his smoke. “OK. Sergeant Jones, let’s go through this again; you have tried every step in the troubleshooting manual, we have test flown the aircraft, we have talked to the engineers, we’ve even tried improvising, and we still don’t know why this landing gear is not working.” The sergeant and his assistants, standing in the windowless office around the desk of their commander, nodded in unison. Their branch chief (me, an Air Force captain at the time) watched intently from the side of the desk. The major pulled the large, grease-stained technical manual over to his side of the desk. He read through the initial setup sequences for testing the landing gear, then came to Step 1 of the troubleshooting guide. “It says, ‘check the X dimension on the main actuator, and adjust if necessary,’ “ The major read, then looked up and squinted at them through his glasses, “You did that, correct?”

Sergeant Jones, who had lighted up with the permission of his commander, gestured with his half-smoked butt, shook his head, and said, “Oh, no sir, that procedure is a real bucket of worms and never yields anything--nobody ever does that step. “

The major dropped his chin, shook his head, and turning to me, sneered slightly, turning up the right corner of his mouth. I’d been working for him long enough to know that sneer of his meant, “Captain, your sergeant is a Bozo, and you’ve been had.”

I said, “Jones, you told me you’d done all the steps!” (I’d watched him do most of them, but had missed the first two or three because of a staff meeting). The sergeant hemmed and hawed, and would not look at me. Sighing, I took the manual, grabbed my hat and radio, and said, “C’mon, let’s go fix this airplane.”

We did the prescribed first step, discovered the problem, and managed a temporary fix which got the airplane ready to fly back to its home station for permanent repairs. Later, the major and I were alone in his office; I was sitting on his couch drinking coffee. He was leaning back in his chair with his feet up on the desk, blowing rings of foul-smelling smoke into space. He chuckled and said, “Charley, chalk it up to experience, but remember the old saying--’when all else fails read the book.’”

I took a long sip from my coffee, shook my head, looked up at him, and said, “No, boss, Jones was reading the book--the idea is to follow the book.”

I spent many years as an aircraft maintenance technician, supervisor, and officer in the U.S. Air Force. One of the great lessons I learned was that the technical manuals we had, while not perfect, were usually a lot more reliable than our own guesses, and often held just the answer we needed for problems that seemed unsolvable. Several times in years after the above incident, I would use the method I learned from the major that day, questioning the technicians, dealing with a problem “line by line” with the book in my hand. In 90% of the cases, we found the problem before the interview was over. Reading and following the book works.

What is true about fallible but fairly reliable technical manuals is infinitely more true when we consider the infallible and inerrant Book of Books, the Bible. We must live our life, define our faith, and order our worship and praise by what is written in the Scriptures, the 66 commonly accepted books we call the Holy Bible. We saw in the last chapter that “Thy word is Truth.” In this depraved and rootless world, we as believers have a sure guide to life, we have an anchor that grips the Rock, and we have a source book of pure Truth to base everything on. The second major principle of the rule of faith, then is that the Bible is Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible, and True, and that it is a sure guide to follow for our faith and our lives.

Inspiration

2 Timothy 3:16 “. . . All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (KJV)

Inspiration is a much used and abused concept. We hear a pretty song, see a beautiful painting, witness a great theatrical performance, or hear a stirring speech, and we say “Wow! That was inspired!” An athlete goes beyond his or her normal abilities to win a contest, and the sportscaster says, “We are witnessing an inspired performance here tonight!” Sometimes, even base and ugly things are called inspired, like some of the deviant art works and pornographic literature that passes as artistic in our decadent age.

In reality, the word “inspired” originally had a very special meaning which couldn’t possibly apply to any of the things above--this original meaning can only apply to a direct and infallible revelation of God’s word. The word translated from the original Greek as “inspired” in the older English translations of the Bible is theopneustos, a word which literally means “God-breathed.” The concept is that God “breathed” the words of Scripture into the minds of those who wrote them, and they wrote as they were thus “inspired.” The following two passages from the New International Version translation are the classic Biblical texts for understanding this process of inspiration.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

2 Peter 1:19-21 And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (NIV)

We might ask (and some theologians do) “How much of the Bible is inspired?” The text in 2 Tim 3:16 answers the question directly: “All Scripture . . .” “But,” you say, “how do we know what is Scripture and what is not?” Or, what is part of the “canon” (rule) of Scripture? A full answer to that question is beyond the scope of this book, but it is a very good question, because many opponents of the faith, including liberals, cynics, and cultists, challenge Christians on just that count. Usually, the fiction is put forth that the early church theologians and the emperors met together, decided what books they wanted in the Bible, edited them to suit their tastes, and forced them upon the people. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    The Old Testament Canon

The early church basically received the Old Testament intact from the Jewish nation, though the arrangement and names of the books are somewhat different. The part of the Bible known as the apocrypha, which is attached to the Old Testament in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, was never accepted by the Jews, and was separated from the Scripture by the most of the early church. It was never officially considered Scripture by anyone until the Roman Catholic church mandated its full acceptance in the Council of Trent in 1546. With a few exceptions, Protestants and Free Churches have never accepted the apocrypha as Scripture, though some parts of it have historical value.

    The New Testament Canon

From the earliest days of the church, there were false letters and books circulated in the names of apostles (2 Thess. 2:1-2), so there was a process of sifting the churches went through to determine which books were authentic and which were not. There were only a few of the New Testament books which were ever seriously questioned, and there were only a few non-Biblical books seriously considered. Gradually, the church identified which books were acceptable by a stringent set of criteria, including content, apostolic authorship, and acceptance by the church as a whole. All the councils did was rubber-stamp what the laity had already recognized by the witness of the Spirit.

    The Degree of Inspiration

There is a subtle heresy around today which says “the words themselves are not inspired, just the concepts.” That is about as ridiculous as you telling the Internal Revenue Service, “Most of the numbers on my tax form are not reliable, but the bottom line is accurate!” Concepts, of course, are made up of words--if the words are not inspired, the concepts are not either. The truth is, that the Bible is full of references to the inspiration of the words themselves. “. . . More than 3800 times in the Old Testament we have such expressions as ‘thus saith the LORD,’ ‘the word of the LORD came unto me,’ ‘God said.’. . . (Thomas A. Thomas).

The following Scripture references should help illustrate this.

And God spoke all these words. Exodus 20:1

1 Corinthians 2:13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. (NIV)

Matthew 5:18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (NIV)

John 6:63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (NIV)

John 17:8 For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. (NIV)

Inerrancy:
There are no Errors in the Bible

As with other issues concerning the Bible, there are those claiming to be part of the body of Christ who try to say there are errors in the Bible, but somehow maintain its authority. They do this because they are uncomfortable with some Bible teachings and want to pick and choose what to believe--kind of like “Buffet Christianity.” However, the faith of the Church has always been that There were NO errors in the original manuscripts of the Bible, and we possess ample manuscript evidence that we have received a faithful transmission of those original manuscripts, which has been translated into our English (and other modern languages) translations. There are a handful of manuscript problems--there are a few places where there is disagreement as to what should be written. However, these places are very few, they involve none of the basic (or even secondary) doctrines of the faith, and usually the various different readings mean the same thing anyway. There are, as Peter said “Many things hard to understand” in the Scriptures, but that is not a defect in the Bible--that is a defect in our understanding.

Sometimes, people within the professing church try to challenge the authority or truth of part of the Bible, without taking away from other parts. However, the Bible must be taken altogether. Hebrews chapter 1 sets forth the unity of the Scriptures, and establishes the distinction between the giving of the Old and New Testaments:

Hebrews 1:1-2 In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. (NIV)

Our Lord testified to the truth of the Old Testament, including many of the parts people don’t want to accept. In Matt 12:39-42, he authenticated the story of Jonah; He stated that Moses wrote the books of Moses in Mark 7:10 (See also John 5:45-47, 7:19); and in Matt 19:4-5 he authenticated the creation account, that the human race started from one pair of fully developed humans specially created by God.

The book of Hebrews again helps us understand the authority of (and how God revealed and confirmed) the New Testament:

Hebrews 2:1-4 We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (NIV)

Our Lord pre-authenticated the New Testament, by explaining to the apostles beforehand how they would be able to remember perfectly all He had said and done, as well as receive new teachings:

John 14:26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (NIV)

John 16:12-13 I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (NIV)

Finally, the apostles themselves made numerous declarations as to the truth of the New Testament, and how it came to be. Peter wrote:

2 Peter 1:15-19 And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things. We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain. And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. (NIV)

Paul testified about the revelations he had received:

Galatians 1:11-12 I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ. (NIV)

The aged apostle John’s stenographer wrote:

John 21:24-25 This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (NIV)

A more recent attack on the truth of the Scriptures is very sneaky, but no more valid than other attacks. It is the problem of “cultural relevance.” The argument goes that culture has changed, times have changed, so many of the rules in the Bible have to be changed. While it is true that our technology has come a long way, the Bible does not address technology. It does not tell us we have to use horses instead of cars; it does not tell us we can’t use airplanes--it makes no statements about technology at all.

Most of human society is really the same as it was back then. Money is still money, work is still work, people are still people, and sin is still sin. The truth is that the Bible’s rules having to do with the roles of women in the church, morality (to include sex outside of marriage and homosexuality), and sin were not in line with the common culture of the old world either. Israel’s strict moral code was as different from the nations around it as the moral code believers are expected to follow makes us different today. The early church was asked to live New Testament standards of conduct in the midst of a society just as wild, free, and sinful as the one we live in. The real issue of cultural relevance is that sin is still sin and righteousness is still righteousness.

The Authority of the Bible

2 Timothy 3:16-17 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (NIV)

It does us no good to have a Bible that is inspired and inerrant if we do not recognize and use it authoritatively. I remember as a young Christian when I bought my first big study Bible--it was expensive, it was big, and I was fairly well lost trying to use its various helps. I brought it to a Bible study with me, and the pastor of our group, a crusty but loving old ex-biker rebel, spied me lugging it in and said, “Big caliber weapon there, troop, do you know how to use it?” We must learn to use the Bible, and we must use it, not just as an intellectual exercise, but in helping us learn to follow Christ daily. The ways of using the Bible given us by our text in Timothy are teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training.

Teaching (Doctrine)--All doctrine must be “. . . according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:1-4). This doesn’t mean that teachers cannot write and comment on Scripture (as this book does!), but it does mean that all teaching in the church must stand to be judged in the court of the Bible itself--The Bible is the final authority. Paul stresses in many places, such as 2 Timothy 1:13 and 2:2 that we must “. . . teach no other doctrine”; in Galatians, he pronounces judgment on all who would deviate from scriptural teaching on vital doctrines such as justification by faith and salvation by grace. (Gal 1:6-9)

Rebuke--the word in the Greek means to convict someone of sin. If a brother or sister is heading the wrong way, we are to rebuke them, in the hope of restoring them (Matt. 18:15-17, James 5:19-20, 1 Cor 5:1-11). This discipline must be meted out in accordance with, and by the judgment of the Bible.

Correction--the word means to restore to an upright state. After the rebuke of one who is going the wrong way, the Bible can then be used to apply the oil of mercy to the wounded one, and to keep them from repeating their mistake.

Training (Instruction in righteousness--KJV) Proper Christian teaching from the Bible should have the goal of the students successfully living as followers of Christ (John 10:27). Doctrine, even deep, thought-provoking doctrines such as those about the nature of God or the return of Christ, should always be applied practically. Bible study that is a mere intellectual exercise is vain and useless.

The results of the proper use of the Bible, “ . . .so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work . . .” are what all Christians need in their lives. If you want to be Holy and be a faithful follower of our Lord, read and study the Bible, believe what it says without question, and accept its authority in your life. There is a popular saying, which even became a song, “God says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” That is not true. The truth is--If God says it, that settles it, whether anyone believes it or not.

See Appendix 4 for study questions and projects for Chapter 2.

Related Topics: Bibliology (The Written Word), Basics for Christians