4. The Bible: The Written Word of God
The Claim of the Bible
Even a casual reader of the Bible will soon discover he is reading a very unusual book. Even though he may not accept its claims, a careful and reflective reading will demonstrate, for most at least, that this book is not only unique, but makes some very unique claims. The following are a number of evidences that support this uniqueness.
In hundreds of passages, the Bible declares or takes the position explicitly or implicitly that it is nothing less than the very Word of God.
Some thirty-eight hundred times the Bible declares, “God said,” or “Thus says the Lord” (e.g. Ex. 14:1; 20:1; Lev. 4:1; Num. 4:1; Deut. 4:2; 32:48; Isa. 1:10, 24; Jer. 1:11; Ezek. 1:3; etc.). Paul also recognized that the things he was writing were the Lord’s commandments (1 Cor. 14:37), and they were acknowledged as such by the believers (1 Thess. 2:13). Peter proclaimed the certainty of the Scriptures and the necessity of heeding the unalterable and certain Word of God (2 Pet. 1:16-21). John too recognized that his teaching was from God; to reject his teaching was to reject God (1 John 4:6).17
For other passages which either declare or assume the Bible as God’s Word see Deuteronomy 6:6-9, 17-18; Joshua 1:8-9; 8:32-35; 2 Samuel 22:31; Ps. 1:2; 12:6; 19:7-11; 93:5; 119:9, 11, 18, 89-93, 130; Prov. 30:5-6; Matthew 5:17-19; 22:29; Mark 13:31; Luke 16:17; John 2:22; 5:24; 10:35; Acts 17:11; Romans 10:17; Colossians 3:16; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:15-17; 1 Peter 1:23-25; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Revelation 1:2; 22:18.
But isn’t this a circular kind of argument, and is that a valid argument? In a court of law, the accused has the right to testify on his own behalf. That testimony should be considered in the light of the evidence. In this case, the evidence, both external and internal, strongly supports the claims of the Bible.
In response to those who would reject the above-mentioned argument, it should be noted that the writers who made those claims for the Scripture were trustworthy men who defended the integrity of the Scripture at great personal sacrifice. Jeremiah received his message directly from the Lord (Jer. 11:1-3), yet because of his defense of the Scripture some attempted to kill him (Jer. 11:21); even his family rejected him (Jer. 12:6). Counterfeit prophets were readily recognized (Jer. 23:21, 32; 28:1-17). However, the Bible’s claims should not be understood as arguing in a circle or by circular reasoning. The testimony of reliable witnesses—particularly of Jesus, but also of others such as Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, and Nehemiah in the Old Testament, and John and Paul in the New Testament—affirmed the authority and verbal inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.18
The ever present assumption of the writers of the Bible is that the Bible is the God-breathed Word of God. A good illustration is seen in Psalm 19:7-11 which not only declares the Bible to be the Word of God, but identifies six perfections with corresponding transformations of human character that the Bible will produce in those who study and apply it in faith.
(1) The continuity of the Bible. One of the amazing facts about the Bible is that though it was written by a wide diversity of authors (as many as 40) over a period of 1600 years, from many different locations and under a wide variety of conditions, the Bible is uniquely one book, not merely a collection of sixty-six books. Its authors came from all walks of life. Some were kings, some peasants, still others were philosophers, fishermen, physicians, statesmen, scholars, poets, and farmers. They lived in a variety of cultures, in different experiences and often were quite different in their make up. Regardless of this diversity, as one book, it is:
… bound together by historical sequence, type and antitype, prophecy and fulfillment, and by the anticipation, presentation, realization, and exaltation of the most perfect Person who ever walked on earth and whose glories are manifest in heaven.19
Enns has an interesting comparison as it pertains to the Bible’s continuity. He writes:
The divine origin of the Bible is further seen in considering the continuity of its teaching despite the unusual nature of its composition. It stands distinct from other religious writings. For example, the Islamic Koran was compiled by an individual, Zaid ibn Thabit, under the guidance of Mohammed’s father-in-law, Abu-Bekr. Additionally, in A.D. 650, a group of Arab scholars produced a unified version and destroyed all variant copies to preserve the unity of the Koran. By contrast, the Bible came from some forty different authors from diverse vocations in life. For instance, among the writers of Scripture were Moses, a political leader; Joshua, a military leader; David, a shepherd; Solomon, a king; Amos, a herdsman and fruit pincher; Daniel, a prime minister; Matthew, a tax collector; Luke, a medical doctor; Paul, a rabbi; and Peter, a fisherman.20
Summing up the significance of the Bible’s continuity, Enns writes,
It is apparent that many of the writers did not know of the other writers of Scripture and were unfamiliar with the other writings, inasmuch as the writers wrote over a period of more than fifteen hundred years, yet the Bible is a marvelous, unified whole. There are no contradictions or inconsistencies within its pages. The Holy Spirit is the unifier of the sixty-six books, determining its harmonious consistency. In unity these books teach the triunity of God, the deity of Jesus Christ, the personality of the Holy Spirit, the fall and depravity of man, as well as salvation by grace. It quickly becomes apparent that no human being(s) could have orchestrated the harmony of the teachings of the Scripture. The divine authorship of the Bible is the only answer.21
Speaking of the Bible as “a phenomenon which is explainable in but one way—it is the word of God,” the late Dr. Lewis Sperry Chafer wrote, “It is not such a book as man would write if he could, or could write if he would.”22 It is beyond the scope of man’s capacity to write a book like the Bible under the conditions describes above apart from its divine origin.
(2) The Bible’s revelation of God. The Bible’s revelation of God is unique among all the religious writings of either antiquity or of more modern times. While the Bible is a very ethical book, it never divorces its code of morality from a personal relationship with the God of the Bible, teaching that God’s laws are not meant to hinder joy and pleasure, but to enhance man’s capacity to know and love God and people. Morality is to be a product of knowing and loving the God of the Bible (Deut. 4:4-6; Matt. 22:36-40; Mark 12:28-31).
In addition, no other religious writing presents both the absolute holiness of God combined with God’s love, mercy, and grace that reaches out to sinful man who has been separated from God not only because of man’s sin, but because of God’s absolute holiness. One of the great revelations and themes of the Bible is that which is expressed by Isaiah, “holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” (Isa. 6:3; Hab. 1:13a).
While other contemporary writers were primarily polytheistic, the Bible is monotheistic. It presents a monotheistic concept of God rather than the polytheism which was so flagrant in the days when the Scriptures were written. Furthermore, when later holy books like the Koran and others presented a monotheistic concept of God, the Bible remained unique because it is the only book about God that presents God as one (monotheism) yet one in three persons, the Triunity or Trinity. Indeed, the Bible’s revelation of God is one that is starkly different from the ones depicted in all other holy books whether of antiquity or of modern times.
(3) The nature, condition, and cure for man’s sin. Only the Bible describes man’s condition in sin as it really is and demonstrates the impossibility for man to deal with his sin and sinfulness apart from God’s grace solution in the person and death of His Son. Every other religion in the world, past and present, has man seeking to obtain his own salvation or gain God’s favor by some form of human works or religious activity. Only the Bible presents a solution for man’s sin that is truly life changing, when properly embraced and believed.
(4) The ethics and morals of the Bible. The ethics and morals of the Bible cover all areas of human conduct from the home, the husband/wife relationships, parent/child relationships, to human conduct in society as with employers and employees, neighbors and enemies, and the state and its citizens. It covers morals on all levels as well as business, economic, and social spheres. But as mentioned previously, the ethics and morals of the Bible are unique in that they are always related to one’s belief in the existence of God and one’s relationship with Him; in this way, the motives themselves are judged. Ethics and morals are never simply a matter of outward conformity to the moral standards of Scripture as other religions or religious books do. The emphasis of the Bible is “search me O God, and know my heart.”
(5) Fulfilled prophecy. Another amazing illustration of the divine origin and uniqueness of the Bible is its many fulfilled prophecies.
Throughout Scripture, hundreds of prophecies were made by Old Testament writers concerning the Messiah, the future kingdom on earth, the restoration of Israel as a nation, and their return to their Promised Land. In the New Testament also many predictions are made of events to come. As Scripture unfolds, about half of these prophecies have already been fulfilled, but others, following the same pattern of literal fulfillment, are subject to fulfillment in the future. The perfect precision of prophecy extending to such details as the place of Christ’s birth, the character of His execution, the very words He would speak on the cross testify to the absolute accuracy of the Word of God. In Scripture, prophecy is just as accurate as history.23
(6) The Bible as Revelation Beyond Human Comprehension.
The extent of Bible revelation is beyond human comprehension. Like a telescope, the Bible reaches beyond the stars and penetrates the heights of heaven and the depths of hell. Like a microscope, it discovers the minutest details of God’s plans and purposes as well as the hidden secrets of the human heart. The Bible deals as freely with things unknown as it does with the known. It can speak with complete freedom and assurance about situations and events outside the realm of human experience. The Bible knows no limits to the infinite knowledge of God who guided its writers. It permits its readers to gaze on events in eternity past as well as in eternity future. The comprehension of divine revelation is utterly beyond the capacity of even the most brilliant men unaided by the Spirit of God.24
Other unique features of the Bible that give evidence of its divine origin are its types and antitypes, its nature as unique literature, its scientific accuracy when compared to true science, its enduring freshness, and its power to change lives.25
God’s Special Revelation
Definition of Revelation
The term revelation comes from the Greek word apokalupsis, which means “a disclosure” or “an unveiling.” It is used in the New Testament of the disclosure of truth in general (Luke 2:32; Rom. 16:25; Eph. 1:17), of the disclosure of a specific area of truth (2 Cor. 12:1; Gal. 1:12; 2:2; Eph. 3:3), of the second coming of Christ (1 Cor. 1:7; 1 Pet. 1:7, 13; 4:13), and of the book of Revelation (Rev. 1:1). Theologically, Bible students use this word to signify God’s work of revealing Himself to mankind through the various sources of revelation as in creation (Rom. 1:18-21; Ps. 19), in providential acts (Acts 14:17; Rom. 8:28), in miracles (John 20:30-31), through direct acts of communication (Ex. 3:1-9; Acts 22:17-21), through the person of Christ (John 1:14, 18), and through the Bible.
What then is revelation? Thiessen defines it as:
… that act of God whereby he discloses himself or communicates truth to the mind; whereby he makes manifest to his creatures that which could not be known in any other way. The revelation may occur in a single, instantaneous act, or it may extend over a long period of time; and this communication of himself and his truth may be perceived by the human mind in varying degrees of fullness.26
Erickson defines “revelation” as: “By special revelation we mean God’s manifestation of himself to particular persons at definite times and places, enabling those persons to enter into a redemptive relationship with him.”27
The concept of revelation falls into two principal divisions or areas: (1) general, natural, or original, and (2) special, supernatural, or soteriological. The first pertains to revelation revealed through nature and history, the second to what God has revealed as He intervenes in human history to reveal Himself in supernatural ways.
General or Natural Revelation
By general revelation, we mean revelation that is simply general in its extent. Ryrie explains:
General revelation is exactly that—general. It is general in its scope; that is, it reaches to all people (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:17). It is general in geography; that is, it encompasses the entire globe (Ps. 19:2). It is general in its methodology; that is, it employs universal means like the heat of the sun (vv. 4-6) and human conscience (Rom. 2:14-15). Simply because it is a revelation that thus affects all people wherever they are and whenever they have lived it can bring light and truth to all, or, if rejected, brings condemnation.28
General revelation comes to mankind in a number of ways (creation, order and design, the nature of man as an intelligent being), but the most obvious and powerful means of general revelation is nature or creation. As powerful and universal as this is, however, it is inadequate or has certain limitations. It cannot tell us about the love and grace of God nor of His perfect holiness. Furthermore, creation does not tell us of God’s plan of salvation nor how man may procure that salvation. Still, general revelation “is nonetheless an important antecedent to salvation. General revelation is God revealing certain truths and aspects about His nature to all humanity, which revelation is essential and preliminary to God’s special revelation.”29
Creation as a part of God’s general revelation affirms certain facts about God. Two key passages emphasize God’s general revelation in creation:
(1) Psalm 19:1-6 affirms (a) the heavens declare the fact of God’s glory to the human race throughout the earth (vs. 1), (b) that this revelation is constant, occurring “day to day” and “night to night” (vs. 2), that (c) it is a nonverbal revelation, “there is no speech, nor are there words, their voice is not heard,” (v. 3), and (d) its scope is worldwide, “Their line [sound] has gone out through all the earth, And their utterance to the end of the world” (v. 4). “Being unrestricted by the division of languages, natural revelation transcends human communication without the use of speech, words, and sounds. To those who are inclined to hear, revelation comes with no regard for linguistic or geographical barriers.”30
No one is excluded from this revelation of God. Wherever man peers at the universe, there is orderliness. At a distance of ninety-three million miles from the earth, the sun provides exactly the right temperature environment for man to function on earth. Were the sun closer, it would be too hot to survive, and were it further away it would be too cold for man to function. If the moon were closer than two hundred forty thousand miles the gravitational pull of the tides would engulf the earth’s surface with water from the oceans. Wherever man looks in the universe, there is harmony and order. Similarly, God has revealed Himself on earth (v. 1). The magnificence of the human body is perhaps the best evidence of general revelation on earth. The entire human body—its cardiovascular system, the bone structure, the respiratory system, the muscles, the nervous system including its center in the brain—reveals an infinite God.31
(2) Romans 1:18-21 develops the truth of general revelation through creation even further. It draws our attention to four vital characteristics of what the revelation of God in creation does. (a) It is a clear testimony, being clearly seen by the things which are made (vss. 19 and 20). (b) The word “understood” (noew, “of rational reflection, inner contemplation, perceive, apprehend, understand …”)32 indicates this general revelation goes beyond mere perception; creation’s revelation is such that it is expected to result in reflection so there is a conclusion drawn about the Creator. (c) As Psalm 19 affirms, this testimony is constant being witnessed “since the creation of the world” (vs. 20). And (d) it is limited in what it reveals; only certain aspects about God’s invisible qualities or nature are revealed, specifically, “his eternal power and divine nature.”
As mentioned previously, to learn of God’s love, grace, and plan of salvation, one must turn to God’s special revelation, the Bible, and the revelation of His Son (John 1:14, 18). Natural revelation, however, is more than sufficient to make mankind responsible and to show he is “without excuse” for his indifference and failure to seek to know God and to be thankful.
Providence and Human Conscience
In addition to creation, God has also revealed Himself to the human race through His providential goodness in the world and through the human conscience.
It is through His providential goodness in supplying people with sunshine and rain that enables them to live and function (Matt. 5:45; Acts 14:15-17). Paul reminds the people at Lystra that God’s providential goodness was a witness to them (Acts 14:17). God’s providential control is also evident in His dealing with the nations. He disciplined His disobedient people Israel (Deut. 28:15-68) but will also restore them (Deut. 30:1-10); He judged Egypt for sinning against Israel (Ex. 7-11); He raised the nations to power and also caused their demise (Dan. 2:21a, 31-43).
Further, God has revealed Himself through conscience. Romans 2:14-15 indicates God has placed intuitional knowledge concerning Himself within the heart of man. “Man intuitively knows not only that God values goodness and abhors evil but also that he is ultimately accountable to such a righteous Power.” (Bruce A. Demarest, General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982, p. 231.) While the Jews will be judged according to the written law, Gentiles, who do not have the written Law, will be judged according to an unwritten law, the law of conscience written on their hearts. Moreover, Paul says the conscience acts as a legal prosecutor (v. 15). “Conscience may be regarded as an inner monitor, or the voice of God in the soul, that passes judgment on man’s response to the moral law within” (Ibid., pp. 232-33).33
While God has revealed Himself in His creation, which gives us general revelation about God, and in the person of Jesus Christ, which gives us revelation of God incarnate, our focus in bibliology is on the revelation of God in the Bible, the written Word of God. As God’s Word the Bible reveals much more about God than can be known from nature or creation or even through the person Christ.
Accordingly, the Bible may be regarded as completing the intended divine revelation of God partially revealed in nature, more fully revealed in Christ, and completely revealed in the written Word.
The Nature of Special Revelation
This section will examine how God has revealed Himself in special revelation. The nature of this mode of revelation is that it consists primarily of words. The author of Hebrews reminds us that God has made Himself known by speaking long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, and in these last days has spoken to us in His Son (Heb. 1:1-2a). There are three elements to special revelation: specific times, specific modes, and specific persons. Later, still dealing with this special revelation that reveals our “so great salvation,” the author of Hebrews says:
After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also bearing witness with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will (Heb. 1:1-2).
Again we see the same elements: a specific mode (special revelation embodied in words), at a specific time (during the life of Christ and the apostles), and in specific persons (those who heard the Lord, His apostles whose teaching or words were confirmed by signs and wonders). This was precisely in keeping with Christ’s own words in John 16:12-15.
Special revelation involves a narrower focus than general revelation and is restricted to Jesus Christ and the Scriptures. Of course, all that is known of Christ is through the Scriptures; therefore, it can be said that special revelation is restricted to the Scriptures.34
The Necessity of Special Revelation
Why does man need special revelation? Special revelation is needed because of man’s blind and sinful condition caused by his fall as recorded in Genesis 3, a blindness that is made even stronger by the blinding activity of Satan (cf. Eph. 4:17-19 with 2 Cor. 4:4). This necessitated the need for special revelation so God could reveal Himself and His plan of salvation that man in turn might be reconciled from his condition of alienation and restored to fellowship with God.
God’s special revelation of Himself centers in the Person of Jesus Christ as the only One who fully reveals both God and His plan of salvation; Jesus is the heart and testimony of Scripture in its promises and fulfillment and the means of salvation (John 1:14, 18; 3:16-18; 6:63; 14:6; Heb. 1:3; 2:3; Rev. 19:10).
In addition to the above, man needs special revelation for two more important reasons. First, so he correctly interpret the truths revealed in general revelation, and second, because these general truths are very limited. As is obvious from the many religions of the world, man consistently misinterprets what he can learn from creation or providence. Therefore, man desperately needs God’s special or supernatural revelation.
The Avenues of Special Revelation
Drawing on his knowledge of the Old Testament and the testimony of those who had personally heard the Lord Jesus, the author of Hebrews speaks of the various ways God has spoken to reveal Himself in history through the prophets and then through His Son who is the very outshining of God (Heb. 1:1-2). Ryrie gives us an excellent summary of the various avenues God has used to reveal Himself.
A. The Lot: While today we would not highly regard the use of the lot, it did serve sometimes to communicate the mind of God to man (Prov. 16:33; Acts 1:21-26).
B. The Urim and Thummim: The breastplate which the high priest wore in the Old Testament was a square piece of beautiful material which was folded in half and open at the top like a pouch. It was adorned with twelve precious stones on which were engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Urim and Thummim possibly were two precious stones placed inside the pouch which were used, like the lot, to determine God’s will (Ex. 28:30, Num. 27:21, Deut. 33:8; 1 Sam. 28:6, Ezra 2:63).
C. Dreams: God apparently used dreams to communicate many times during the Old Testament period, and He will do so again at the time of the second coming of Christ (Gen. 20:3, 6; 31:11-13, 24; 40-41; Joel 2:28). Nonbelievers as well as believers experienced God-given dreams (Gen. 20:3; 31:24). Though a common experience, dreams were used by God in this special way to reveal truth.
D. Visions: In a vision the emphasis seems to be on what is heard, while in a dream, on what is seen. Also the human being involved seems to be more active in receiving a vision (Isa. 1:1; 6:1; Ezek. 1:3).
E. Theophanies: Before the Incarnation, theophanies were associated with the appearance of the Angel of the Lord who communicated the divine message to people (Gen. 16:7-14; Ex. 3:2; 2 Sam. 24:16; Zech. 1:12).
F. Angels: God also uses created angels to carry His message to people (Dan. 9:20-21, Luke 2:10-11, Rev. 1:1). (Notice Rev. 19:17 where God will use an angel to communicate to birds!)
G. The Prophets: Old Testament prophets brought God’s message to mankind (2 Sam. 23:2; Zech. 1:1) as did New Testament prophets (Eph. 3:5). They spoke with authority because they were communicating the Word of the Lord. A preacher or teacher today does not qualify as a prophet since he proclaims or explains God’s Word, previously given and encoded.
H. Events: God’s activity in history also constitutes a channel of revelation. Delivering the people of Israel from Egypt revealed the righteous acts of the Lord, according to Micah 6:5. Acts of judgment reveal who God is (Ezek. 25:7). And, of course, the incarnation of Christ exegeted God (John 1:14). It does not go without saying today that these events have to be historical and factual in order also to be communicative; for today some are putting existential faith before the historical. In other words, they are attempting to create revelation apart from historical facts. Such existential historiography was never a part of the framework of the biblical writers.
Not only must the events be historical, but they also need to be interpreted through divine inspiration if we are to understand accurately their meaning. For example, many people were crucified; how do we know that the crucifixion of one Jesus of Nazareth paid for the sins of the world? The Word of special revelation clarifies and correctly interprets the obscurity of the meaning of events.
I. Jesus Christ: Undebatably the incarnation of Jesus Christ was a major avenue of special revelation. He exegeted the Father (John 1:14), revealing the nature of God (14:9), the power of God (3:2), the wisdom of God (7:46), the glory of God (1:14), the life of God (1 John 1:1-3), and the love of God (Romans 5:8). Our Lord did all this by both His acts (John 2:11) and His words (Matt. 16:17).
J. The Bible: Actually the Bible serves as the most inclusive of all the avenues of special revelation, for it encompasses the record of many aspects of the other avenues. Though God undoubtedly gave other visions, dreams, and prophetic messages that were not recorded in the Bible, we know no details of them. Too, all that we know about the life of Christ appears in the Bible, though, of course, not all that He did or said was recorded in the Scriptures (John 21:25). But the Bible is not simply the record of these other revelations from God; it also contains additional truth not revealed, for example, through the prophets or even during the earthly life of Christ. So the Bible, then, is both the record of aspects of special revelation and revelation itself.
The revelation in the Bible is not only inclusive yet partial, it is also accurate (John 17:17), progressive (Heb. 1:1), and purposeful (2 Tim. 3:15-17).
Two approaches exist as to the credibility of the scriptural revelation. Fideists insist that the Scripture and the revelation it contains is self-authenticating, that is, autopistic. The infallibility of the Bible must be presupposed and can be because the Scripture says it is inspired and the Spirit accredits it. Empiricists, on the other hand, stress the intrinsic credibility of the revelation of the Bible as being worthy of belief, that is, axiopistic. The Bible’s claim to authority is not in itself proof of its authority; rather there exist factual, historical evidences which constitute the Bible’s credentials and validate the truth of its message. My feeling is that there is truth in both approaches so that both can and should be used.35
22 Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol 1, Kregel, Grand Rapids, 1947-48, p. 22.
23 Lewis Sperry Chafer Systematic Theology, Vol. 1, Abridged Edition, Walvoord, Campbell, Zuck, p. 53.
25 For further reading on these and the features mentioned above see Chafer’s Systematic Theology, pp. 22-36, or the Abridged Edition of Chafer’s Theology by Walvoord, Zuck, and Campbell, pp. 48-55.
26 Henry Clarence Thiessen, Introductory Lectures in systematic Theology, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, MI, 1949, p. 31.
27 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1983, p. 175.
28 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.
30 NIV Bible Commentary, Kenneth Barker & John Kohlenberger III, Consulting Editors, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1994, electronic media.
32 Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1979, electronic version.
35 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.
Related Topics: Revelation