God’s Infallible Word (2)

The late Dr. Edward J. Young taught Old Testament Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. Following is the first installment of an address Dr. Young delivered at Oak Glen, Illinois under the allspices of the Layman’s League of Illiana as it appeared in the April 1960 issue of TORCH AND TRUMPET. This address has lost none of its timeliness since then and is especially relevant now that the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church is about to come to grips once again with “The Nature and Extent of Biblical Authority.”


Let us now return to II Timothy 3:16. Is it true that we can learn nothing about Scriptural infallibility from this verse? Must we resort to deduction, if we wish to appeal to this verse for support for our belief in the infallibility of the Bible? Those who speak, do not seem to understand what this passage teaches. Paul declares here that every Scripture is “God-breathed.” That is a strange word, but it is a remarkable word. It means simply that the Scriptures are the product of the breath of God; they are of divine origin. The same thought has been expressed throughout the Old Testament, not merely once or twice, but over and over again in the words, “God said.”

We read, for example, in the preface the Ten Commandments, “And God spake all these words saying,” etc. We read this Scripture each Sabbath in our churches and we read it because we believe that the Ten Commandments were spoken by God. Then, if the proponents of the theory which we are now considering are correct, we make a tremendous “deduction.” Every time we read the Ten Commandments we make this “deduction” that inasmuch as God has spoken these commandments, they arc therefore true, and are to be believed and obeyed. But if that is only a deduction, would it then not be better if we simply said to our congregation, “Now, God spoke these words. that is true enough, but we cannot say that these words are true. We shall have to examine the phenomena of Scripture to ascertain whether these commandments are true and infallible. Possibly they are infallible commandments; possibly they are not. It may even be that our examination of the phenomena of the Bible will lead us to conclusions that we fear and prefer not to accept. Possibly it wi1l turn out, after all, when we have finished studying the data of the Bible, that it is not really wrong to break these commandments. But be of good cheer, let us not be afraid. Let us boldly accept what our studies bring to us. Fear should not motivate our study of the Bible.”

Now to talk this way is to talk nonsense, and yet that is the way men do talk and interpret II Timothy 3:16. The Scripture is God-breathed, they may say. well and good, but we must not deduce from that that Scripture is also infallible. But to say that Scripture is God-breathed is the same as saying that Scripture is spoken by God. What a terrible calumny we utter against the very nature of God when we conclude that when God has spoken something or breathed forth something, it is not therefore infallible! Let us rather boldly and with all confidence proclaim that God has breathed forth the Scripture and that for this very reason the Scripture must be infallible. To talk of a God-breathed Scripture that is not infallible is to say a meaningless thing. If Scripture is God-breathed, it is also infallible; the two cannot be separated.


Possibly it may be granted that our interpretation of II Timothy 3:16 is correct. Granted that all Scripture is God-breathed. so it may be argued. it does not, however, follow that every wore! of Scripture is God-breathed. The verse simply states that “all Scripture” is God-breathed; it does not state that every word thereof is God-breathed. This assertion would hardly seem worthy of refutation; and were it not for the fact that it has actually been employed to defend the position that there is error in the Bible. we should prefer to pass it by in silence. On the other hand. if a consideration of this argument, weak as it is, will enable us the better to understand what Paul has written in II Timothy, it will be worth our while to devote brief attention to it. Let us then examine more closely what Paul has written.

“All scripture.” states the Apostle, “is God-breathed.” We reject most heartily the erroneous translation of this verse proposed by Sigmund Mowinckel, namely, “Every scripture inspired by God is useful for doctrine.” This translation entirely omits the significant word “also” and consequently cannot be considered as correct. The late Benjamin B. Warfield has adequately discussed the proper interpretation of this passage, and there is no point in repeating what he has so admirably said. We focus our attention now upon the word translated “scripture.” What is the Scripture? In itself the Greek word simply means “a writing,” “the thing written down.” Scripture is writing. Paul had previously (verse 15) designated the Scriptures as the “holy scriptures” although there he used a different word (literally; the holy letters). But what is the Scripture? It is simply writing composed of individual words. We do not see how writing can be composed of anything else. If therefore we say that the writing is God-breathed, we are in the very nature of the case saying that the words which go to make up that writing are also God-breathed. How the writing could be God-breathed while the words of that writing are not God-breathed passes our comprehension. If words have any meaning whatever, then to state that the Scriptures are God-breathed is to make the assertion that the individual words of the Scriptures are God-breathed. Without the individual words there can be no Scripture.

Warfield devotes several pages to prove by a study of the contents of the Bible that the Scriptures are “a compact mass of words of God,” and that for this very reason this compact mass of words of God came to be designated by the term “the holy oracles.” If then we assert that Paul here teaches only the God-breathed character of Scripture but not of every word of Scripture we are flying in the face of the plain Biblical evidence. Furthermore, what we say does not make good sense. Scripture and the words of Scripture are identical. The words go to make up the Scripture. If the words of Scripture are true, the Scripture is true. If the words of Scripture are false, the Scripture itself is false. Scripture and the words of which it is composed cannot be divorced.


And that brings us to another consideration. Certainly the Bible is God-breathed, and therefore infallible, it will be acknowledged. “But,”—and now another charge is leveled against those of us who hold to the infallibility of the Scriptures, “this infallibility has to do only with matters of faith and morals.” Again we must look at II Timothy 3:16. If we take the first part of this verse, it is said, and then apply it to all matters, we are acting in an unwarranted fashion. The verse itself, so the argument runs, places a limit upon infallibility; it limits that infallibility to the realm of faith and morals.

And so another objection to the infallibility of the Bible appears. What can be said concerning it?

In the first place, as we have pointed out, Paul makes the definite statement that ALL Scripture is God-breathed. Paul does not limit the words that are “God-breathed” to certain parts of the Bible. He speaks of “all” or “every” Scripture. It is Paul, therefore, who applies this epithet “God-breathed” to all or to every part of Scripture. It is the Bible itself which asserts with crystal clarity that “all Scripture,” or “every Scripture,” (the Greek is pasa graphe) is Godbreathed. What warrant or right then has any man to deny the truthfulness of what Paul has here written?

In reply it may be said that, true enough, all Scripture is God-breathed, but Paul in this very verse limits that God-breathed quality only to matters of faith and morals. But does Paul really do that? We must examine carefully what the apostle has written. In this remarkable verse Paul makes two statements which apply to all Scripture. In the first place he makes the statement that all Scripture is God-breathed. He then makes a second statement which is joined to the first by the word “and” (kai ). He says that all Scripture is profitable. Those are the two statements which Paul makes with respect to all Scripture. How different this is from what we at times might be tempted to think! We are very prone to say that certain passages of the Bible have nothing to do with faith and ethics; that certain parts of the Bible arc not important or necessary. Paul, however, in distinction from the modern practice, asserts that all Scripture (without exception) is profitable. Not only therefore is all Scripture God-breathed, but all Scripture is also profitable. The one thing Paul does not wish to say is that Scripture is God-breathed only with respect to the realm of faith and practice. To force such a construction upon this verse is to read one’s own ideas into it, and to do exegetical violence to a clear passage of Scripture.

This procedure of wresting the language of a document to make it mean what we want it to mean is also applied to the creeds of the Church. He who is ordained to be a Presbyterian minister must declare that he believes that “the Scriptures arc the infallible rule of faith and conduct.” And then this Confession is wrested to mean that the Scriptures are infallible only in matters of faith and conduct. Of course, as a little reflection will make clear, this Confession means no such thing. This formula of subscription does not mean that when the Bible speaks on matters of faith and conduct it is an infallible rule, but that when it speaks on other matters it is not an infallible rule. Not at all. The framers of this formula were deeper thinkers and more devout Bible students than to frame nonsense of that sort. This formula states that the Bible is an infallible rule. If, however, there arc errors in the Bible, then the Bible is not an infallible rule. If the Bible is not trustworthy on matters other than those of faith and conduct, it is not infallible. If it is an infallible rule, it is infallible in all that it says. Otherwise, as we have pointed out earlier, it is not infallible.

Why, then, does this formula mention faith and conduct, and why does Paul in II Timothy 3:16 speak of the God-breathed Scripture as being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness? Paul himself gives the answer, namely, that “the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work” (II Timothy 3:17). The purpose of the Bible is to tell us what we are to believe and how we are to act. In order that we may know these things we need an infallible rule. A fallible rule would not be sufficient. For if the rule were fallible in minor matters, how do we know that it would not also be fallible in the more important things? We can trust it because it is infallible. Were it not infallible, we could not trust it. We merely cloud the question when we confuse the nature of the Bible as God-breathed Scripture with its purpose to instruct us with respect to faith and conduct.


And this brings us to a great question, a question which has been completely ignored by those who think that the Bible is infallible “only” when it speaks of matters of faith and conduct. The question is this:

Who is to tell us what is a matter of faith and conduct and what is not? Who is to show us what the so-called minor matters of Scripture are? Who has the knowledge (I ask in seriousness, would he not need omniscience?) to draw lip a list of those parts of the Bible which are infallible and those which are not? Whose judgment shall we trust in this matter?

There are many Christians today who seem to think that the doctrine of creation is a comparatively minor matter. Shall we therefore follow them and reject the first chapter of Genesis as irrelevant to faith and conduct? On the other hand, there are Christians who think that the first chapter of Genesis and the doctrine of creation are essential to the Christian faith. Whom shall we believe? A very good friend of mine, a devout Christian, wrote some time ago that the Virgin Birth was of no theological consequence. On the other hand, a Christian like the late J. Gresham Machen has written a large volume on the subject, simply because he believes that the doctrine of the Virgin Birth is very important and significant. To judge from what Karl Barth has written about the Trinity. one might conclude that Barth does not think that the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity is of much significance, for he does not present the Biblical doctrine correctly. On the other hand, think of the grand things that John Calvin has written on the Trinity! Evidently Calvin thought that the doctrine was of the utmost significance. ‘Whom shall we follow, Barth or Calvin?

Of course, an objection is immediately at hand. Those who hold that the Bible is not infallible will say, “This is not what we mean. The Trinity is important; the Virgin Birth is important; the doctrines of Christianity are important. What we have reference to is such things as the numbers of the Old Testament, the parallel passages, the chronology of the kings of Israel and Judah, and similar matters. “In these minor matters,” they would say, “there may be error.” Even with this delimitation, however, we have not escaped difficulty. Even here, who is to tell us what is essential to faith and what is not; what is infallible and what is not?

What surprises one who reads the Bible attentively is the manner in which the Bible regards as important and Significant matters which a reader might regard as being only of minor consequence. Let us note a few examples. In his first epistle to Timothy (5:17, 18) Paul makes an exhortation to the elders, especially to those who labor in the word and doctrine. To support is exhortation he quotes from the book of Deuteronomy, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn” (Deuteronomy 25:4). What does this passage in Deuteronomy have to do with our Christian life? Surely, if ever there was a passage that might seem to us to be irrelevant and without weight, it is this one. What can this ancient Hebrew law possibly have to say to us today? Is this not one of the minor matters of the Bible, a matter so insignificant that it really is irrelevant, whether it is infallible or not?

Such is the way in which we might be tempted to reason. Plausible reasoning it might seem to be; plausible indeed, but utterly false. What does Paul do with this passage? He adduces it to support his charge to the elders. And he introduces it with the words. “For the scripture saith.” In other words, this passage, which we mi~ht have considered insignificant and irrelevant, is said by Paul to be Scripture; and because Scripture has spoken, men must obey. They must even obey this particular Scripture. Indeed, this particular Scripture is so relevant and important that Paul—rather the Holy Spirit -uses it to substantiate the charge made to the elders. The words, “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn” are infallible Scripture. Because they are infallible, the elders must obey the charge which Paul makes to them.


And again, we have the conclusive and infallible statement of Cod, that “whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). I do not understand how a Christian can dare to go contrary to the clear language of this verse. Whatsoever things were written aforetime, we are told, were written for our learning. That is simply another way of saying that anything that was written aforetime, anything that can be called Scripture, was written for our benefit. We might state the truth in still another manner. All Scripture written previous to Paul’s lime was written for our benefit. This verse does not say that only some things were for our good. It does not say that only those Scriptures that had to do with faith and morals are for us. It does not assert that only those Scriptures that are infallible are for our learning. No, it says that whatsoever things were written before—whether we think them relevant or not; whether we consider them significant or not -all that was written before is for our learning. Here is a clear-cut, explicit statement that all the Scripture written before the time of Paul is for doctrine. From whatsoever was written aforetime we are to learn. We are not to pick and choose what sections of those Scriptures appeal to us. No, we are to consider whatsoever things were writ ten aforetime and from these things we are to learn.

In Psalm 82:6 we read, “I have said, Ye are gods.” That little quotation, “Ye are gods,” what is its significance for our Christian lives? Is it not merely a quotation, a secondary clause in a main sentence? Yet what did our Lord do with that clause? He used it in his argument, and then, with respect to that apparently insignificant clause, he remarked, “It is not possible for the Scripture to be broken” (John 10:35). This clause, so His argument may be paraphrased, is a part of Scripture, and the Scripture cannot be broken. Not even this apparently unimportant clause can be broken; for even it is a part of the indefectible Scriptures.


The great question with which the Church today must deal is that of the nature and authority of the Word of God. What kind of a book is the Bible? Is it a trustworthy revelation of the one living and Triune God, or is it a book in which error and truth are mixed? Can the Church any longer go to the Bible for her doctrine? She went to the Bible to learn what she was to believe about the Trinity, about the Fall of Man, about Sin and the Redeemer, about Justification by Faith. Can she also go to the Bible and learn from it what she is to believe about the Bible itself? Is that Bible true and trustworthy or is it not? Is it free from error in the original manuscripts, or are there errors in the autographa? That, and precisely that, is the question that is before us today.

One thing is clear. The position that the Scripture is only generally infallible, or infallible only in certain spheres. was not the position of J. Gresham Machen. If we adopt this position we part company with Machen. More than that, we part company with Warfield and Hodge. And we certainly part company with Bavinck and Abraham Kuyper. And that is serious, for these men whom I have just named are some of the greatest theologians that God has given to his church during this and the past century. But we must go back further. Luther and Calvin would certainly separate from us. They would never have tolerated the idea of a generally infallible Bible. Nor would Augustine nor Paul. If we part from these men in our doctrine of Scripture it is surely serious, for these were great men in the church and Paul was an inspired apostle. 1t is tragic if we separate from them on this matter.

But what is of infinitely greater sadness is to part from Him who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. There can be no denying the fact that Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, believed that the Old Testament Scriptures in their entirety were the infallible Word of God. The evidence for this has been presented many times. Those who claim that the Scriptures are infallible only in the realm of ethics and faith arc in disagreement with that Holy One who said, “The scripture cannot be broken.” Before we dare to set our views in opposition to him, let us count the cost of what we are doing.


It is not my privilege to be a minister in the Christian Reformed Church. But I am a minister in a Church which officially holds the same position with respect to the infallible Scriptures as does your own Church.

Your Church has stated very clearly what it believes about the Bible. In the answer to Question 21 of the Heidelberg Catechism we read, “True faith is not only a sure knowledge, whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word,” etc. Now, if there are errors in that Word, we ought not hold them for truth. If, however, we hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in His Word, and there actually arc errors in that Word, it follows that we are holding for truth what is really error, and to do that is to sin. We had then better revise the Catechism to read “. . . whereby I hold for truth all that God has revealed to us in his Word which has to do with faith and morals, and I must decide for myself what has to do with faith and morals.” That is the logical conclusion to which we are compelled to come if we adopt the view that the Bible is only generally infallible and contains errors.

Then again I read the noble statement in Article Five of the Belgic Confession which speaks of our attitude toward the Scriptures: “. . . believing without any doubt all things contained in them,” the reason given being this that “the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God.” But must we now revise this statement to read “believing without any doubt only those things contained in them which are infallible?” God grant that we may never adopt such a position.

It has often been my privilege to preach in a Christian Reformed Church. And sometimes when I have arrived early for the service, I have sat alone in the consistory room and read the admirable statement which precedes the Belgic Confession as it is printed in your hymnals. It is a statement which we all should read from time to time, for it expresses the conviction of the early adherents of the Reformed faith, who testified concerning the truths contained in this Confession that they would “offer their backs to stripes, their tongues to knives, their mouths to gags, and their whole bodies to the fire,” rather than deny the truth expressed in this Confession. And one bit of the truth expressed in this Confession is that set forth in Article Five, “We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith; believing without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the Church receives and approves them as such, but more especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God and because they carry the evidence thereof in themselves. For the very blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled.”

God grant that this may be our faith. God grant that in this day, when so large a part of the Protestant Church has followed the errors of modern theology, we may say to those that walk in darkness, Be of good cheer; God has spoken, and His Word is truth.