Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
In my previous post, I noted that anyone who claims that the Bible is God’s Word should be expected to support that extraordinary claim with hard evidence—for the sake of his reputation, certainly, but more importantly for his own integrity; no one should order his life around a falsehood.
In this post I’d like to begin by defining exactly what the statement “The Bible is God’s Word” claims. No sense in proving something that nobody’s advocating. If we’re going to evaluate the claim, we need to know accurately and precisely what it is.
So does the Bible make any claims about its own nature? If so, what are those claims?
Most conservative Christians have come across the Big Two verses that speak to this question. The first of them is 2 Timothy 3.16, where Paul tells his disciple Timothy that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (KJV). The word inspiration translates the Greek word theopneustos, a compound word meaning “God-breathed.” So Paul says that God breathed, or uttered, the Scripture. I’m going to keep things pretty simple here, but if you’d like (a lot) more information on this concept, I’d recommend this article and this book.
The second Big Verse is actually 2 verses, 2 Peter 1.20-21, which I’ll quote here in full:
20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. 21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.
Three claims to note here:
- The human authors were not making this stuff up or just sharing their own opinions.
- The human authors were under divine compulsion; the word moved here is the same Greek word used to describe Paul’s Roman ship being driven across the Mediterranean by a powerful storm (Acts 27.15, 17).
- The divine compeller was specifically the Holy Spirit.
So the central claim is that God the Holy Spirit breathed out the words of Scripture by compelling the human authors in some way so that they wrote things that originated with Him, not them.
It’s no surprise, then, that Jesus remarks, almost off-handedly, that “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10.35).
But the Bible indicates a few further details about its claim. For example, in places the authors are themselves aware that what they’re writing is not coming from their own minds. Most obviously, the Old Testament prophets repeatedly—415 times in the King James Version—preface their words with “Thus saith the LORD.” And Paul says, “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord” (1Th 4.15), while John famously ends the book of Revelation by insisting that not a word of it be modified, on pain of damnation (Rev 22.18-19).
Further, the authors recognize other passages of Scripture as God’s Word. The New Testament authors repeatedly and consistently cite the Old Testament as authoritative (e.g. 1Tim 5.18); but more impressively, Peter refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2Pt 3.16), even after receiving a public dressing-down from him (Gal 2.11ff), and Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke as Scripture in parallel with the writings of Moses himself in the Torah (1Tim 5.18). This is all the more significant because the ink on the Gospel of Luke was barely dry when Paul wrote these words, and Luke had been a close traveling companion of Paul. Why is that significant? Well, Paul knew if Luke snored, or had bad breath, or had BO. You’re not likely to think of your close friends as Direct Messengers of the Almighty.
Now, none of this proves that the Bible is God’s Word. Anybody can take a piece of papyrus or parchment and write “Thus saith the Lord,” and that doesn’t make it so. In fact, if anyone we know today did that, we’d think he was ready for psychological intervention.
But these statements do help us define exactly what the claim is, and thus they prepare us to evaluate it. Is there verifiable evidence that the Bible is what it says it is—an extraordinary, supernatural book? If there is, we cannot reject the Bible’s claim without dealing with that evidence. And if there isn’t, we ought to return to sanity.
Next time, we’ll begin reviewing the evidence.