Below is the text of the address which Dr. Edward J. Young of Westminster Theological Seminary at Philadelphia gave at Oak Glen, Illinois, under the auspices of the Layman’s League of Illiana.
This address mentions no names of opponents. However, it does reply to criticism that recently, in a public lecture, was directed at Dr. Young’s book: THY WORD IS TRUTH. It is a defense of the Reformed doctrine of Inspiration against various departures from that doctrine which by this time have become familiar to leaders and members of our churches.
This lecture is to be commended as a forthright and exceptionally lucid presentation of the Reformed position on Bible Infallibility and was written especially for the ordinary layman. None of our readers should have any difficulty understanding it.
In the second part of the Age of Reason Thomas Paine gave the following summary of the work which he believed he had accomplished. “I have now gone through the Bible, as a man would go through a wood with an axe, and felled trees. Here they lie, and the priests may replant them, but they will never make them grow.”
One reads such words with some amazement; they are words of brag-gadocio if ever there were such. Can one man really believe that he has separated the so-called “chaff” from the “wheat” in the Bible? Attempts have been made, I believe, to reestablish the writings of Thomas Paine, but such attempts have not met with much success. How many people today have ever read anything written by Paine? How many even know of his existence? We may be sure that his boastful words have not harmed the Bible. A mosquito might as well try to sting the Matterhorn.
Paine was not the first who thought that he could go through the Bible and dispose of what he believed should be disposed of. But his example may serve to remind us of the need for true humility in approaching the Scriptures.
IS THE BIBLE INFALLIBLE OR NOT? THE ISSUE BEFORE US
Our concern is with the question of the infallibility of the Bible. If something is infallible, it is free from error. It is absolutely trustworthy and sure. When we apply this term to the Bible we mean that the Bible has an indefectible authority. In all that it says and teaches it possesses absolute authority, for it is the very Word of God. This is simply the position of our Lord Jesus Christ who said of the Scripture that it cannot be broken.
At the outset it is necessary to guard our usage of terms carefully. It is sometimes asserted that evangelical Christians all believe in the infallibility of the Bible but that they believe in it in different ways. Some think that the entire Bible is infallible, true in all of its statements, containing no error. Others, it is said, believe in a general infallibility of the Bible. In matters of faith and practice the Bible is infallible, they say, but in minor matters of historical detail it is not necessarily infallible. They tell us that we need merely believe that the Bible is generally infallible.
For the sake of clearing the atmosphere we must protest against such loose usage of language. Either the Scriptures are infallible, as the Lord Jesus Christ said they were, or they are not infallible. We may say that there are certain statements in the Bible which in themselves are infallible, and we may say that there are certain utterances which in themselves are not infallible. If we say that, we shall be saying something which is not true to fact, but at least we shall be saying something that makes sense. And if we believe that there are statements in the Bible which are not infallible statements, let us cease talking about a general infallibility of the Bible. A Bible that is only generally infallible is a Bible which is not infallible at all.
The question with which we are concerned, then, is not whether the Bible is generally infallible. but rather whether the Bible is infallible or not. Is the Bible the infallible Word of God, or is it not? Those who hold that the Scriptures contain error embrace the position that the Bible is not infallible. They do not believe in the infallibility of the Bible at all, and to say that they believe in the infallibility of the Bible, but not in the orthodox sense, is to becloud the question. If a man thinks that there are errors in the Bible, he simply does not believe in an infallible Bible. There is no escaping this conclusion. And it would be a boon to discussions of the nature of the Bible if men would cease saying: we all hold to the infallibility of the Bible, only we differ as to how we believe in infallibility. That is not the question. The question which we must face is rather: Is the Bible infallible or is it not? That, and that alone is the issue.
HOW SHALL WE ANSWER THIS QUESTION?
But how shall we proceed in determining whether the Bible is infallible or not? There is only onc thing that we can do. We must go to the Bible itself and hear what it has to say. It is the Bible which tells us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty he requires of us. It is the Bible which is to tell us what we are to believe, for example, concerning God, predestination, the Person of Christ, the Atonement, the Resurredion, and every other article of our faith. And it is the Bible which alone can tell us what we are to believe concerning itself. Any doctrine of Scripture that is not taught in the Bible itself is one that must be rejected. Would we know what kind of book the Bible is, we must listen to the Scripture. The Bible, and the Bible alone, can tell us what we arc to hold with respect to its infallibility.
But how are we going to find out what the Bible teaches us about itself? It is sometimes said that we must appeal to the phenomena or data of the Scripture if we are to arrive at a proper answer to this question. Now, I find myself in agreement with this claim, if we clearly understand what is involved. The data or phenomena of Scripture are usually considered to mean the facts of Scripture apart from its express didactic statements.* The fact that the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, for example, is one of the phenomena of Scripture. But to assert that, in answering the question what the Bible has to say concerning itself, we must take into account the phenomena of the Bible, simply means that we must consider all that we can learn from the Scriptures.
To the best of my knowledge no Reformed theologian has ever really denied that obvious fact. But it would be a grave mistake to think that we can interpret the didactic statements of Scripture in the light of the so-called phenomena of the Bible. Rather, we must always interpret everything in the light of the express statements and teaching of the Bible. The framers of the Westminster Confession of Faith were very wise when they wrote: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore. when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold. but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.” We must therefore first listen to what the Bible has to say in its express didactic statements, and only then may we examine the phenomena of the Bible and in the light of the clear statements of Scripture learn from the phenomena what we can. That is the only legitimate manner in which we may proceed. If we do not so proceed, we may very easily find that we are setting up the human mind as judge over the Bible.
To take a specific example, if there are didactic statements in the Bible to the effect that the Bible is without error (and there are) it would be the height of folly to ignore these statements and by an examination of its phenomena to conclude that there actually were errors in the Bible. Such a method of procedure could hardly be called Christian. It could never bring us to the truth.
On this point, then, let us be perfectly clear. To discover what we must believe about the Bible, let us first listen to what it says concerning itself. Then, having ascertained from the statements of the Bible what the Scriptural doctrine truly is, let us in the light of this doctrine examine what the phenomena of the Bible may have to teach us. Any other procedure can lead only to error. Were we to place the data of Scripture on a par with its explicit statements, we should fail in our ask. And it goes without saying that if we place the phenomena of the Bible above the didactic teaching of the same, we shall never arrive at a proper conception of the Bible.
Why is this so? Why should we place the didactic statements of the Bible above the data or phenomena? The answer to this question is really not difficult. The Bible is God’s Word; it tells us what we are to believe about God and what duty God has demanded of us. This information we learn from the teaching of the Scriptures. In other words, it is the contents of the Bible which tell us what we are to believe, even concerning the Bible itself. The so-called didactic statements are the teaching of the Bible; they constitute the message which God would have us hear. We must. therefore, first of all, turn to the Scriptures to see what they have to say about themselves, and when once we have ascertained what they have to say concerning themselves, we must be guided by their statements. The phenomena of the Scriptures may enable us to understand better what the Scriptures have to say, but they can never be permitted to conflict with or to modify what the Scriptures explicitly teach concerning themselves.
We may illustrate this matter by a consideration of the all-important passage 11 Timothy 3:16. This verse makes the direct and explicit statement that all Scripture, or every Scripture, is God-breathed. But what has this to do with infallibility? It might be argued that to assert the infallibility of the Bible on the basis of this statement that all Scripture is Cod-breathed is to engage in making a deduction, drawing a conclusion, and to go beyond what is explicitly taught in the verse itself. “The passage says that Scripture is God-breathed,” so it might be argued; “it does not explicitly state that Scripture is infallible. Possibly Scripture is infallible, but if so, we must ascertain that fact, not by an appeal to this present passage, but rather by a consideration of the phenomena of Scripture. Possibly the phrase ‘God-breathed’ permits us to deduce that Scripture is infallible; possibly it does not. We must really go to the data of Scripture and learn from them whether or not the Scriptures are infallible.”
There are several remarks which need to be made at this point. The procedure which we have just been discussing assumes that the mind of man is capable of judging, apart from didactic statements, and only upon the basis of the so-called data of Scripture, whether or not there are errors in the Bible. One can, for example, compare Matthew 20 with Mark 10 and conclude that because they speak of a different number of blind men at Jericho, therefore the Bible at this point is in error. He has been examining the phenomena of the Bible, and upon the basis of an examination of these phenomena he concludes that there is error in the Bible.
To the present writer it has always been a source of amazement that any man could dare to speak in such a vein. He is surely a bold man indeed who dares to make the positive statement that there are actual errors in the Bible. Not only is he bold; he is reckless. One might be pardoned for questioning whether he had ever studied the many, many instances w her e archaeology, for example, has shown that so-called “errors” in the Bible were not errors at all. Let us consider a few of these. Not so long ago, the mention of the Horites in Genesis was considered by men who were perfectly sure (just as sure in fact as the neo-evangelicals of our day) to be a mistake. These men had studied the phenomena of the Bible—they didn’t seem to be particularly concerned with the Bible’s didactic statements—and as a result of their study of the phenomena of the Scriptures they were sure that here was an error. The Horites didn’t exist. Today such an opinion seems laughable; we possibly know more today about some phases of Horite life (the Horites were the ancient Hurrians) than we do about some phases of early American history.
Then again, as we were once told, the book of Daniel had made a mistake in mentioning Belshazzar. But now the name of Belshazzar has occurred on the cuneiform tablets. And Daniel, it is said, surely made a mistake in mentioning Darius the Mede! Here, if ever, the data of the Bible were in conflict with secular history, and so the data were in error. And yet, during this past year, two excellent Bible-believing schoars have come forth with proposals for a solution of the problem, each of which can command approval. It is now perfectly possible to fit Darius the Mede into the scheme of history. The Bible had not been in error, but the men who thought that in their unaided strength they could interpret the phenomena of the Bible had been in grievous error.
Let us consider one or two further examples. In Judges 20:40 we read, “But when the flame began to arise up out of the city with a pillar of smoke, the Benjamites looked behind them, and, behold, the flame of the city ascended up to heaven.” The historicity of this statement has often been doubted. After all, it is a minor matter; what could it possibly have to do with our faith? Thus one might erroneously reason. But when excavation was undertaken at Gibeah of Benjamin, the modem Tell el-Full, it was found that the first stratum of the tell had been burned, just as the Bible says was the case.
Again, we read in the Bible that Shalmanezer the king of Assyria came up against Hoshea and apparently took Samaria. But Sargon, the successor of Shalmanezer, claims on his own inscription that he took Samaria. Here the data of the Bible were in conflict with the express claims of the Assyrian monuments. Hence, some were perfectly ready to assert that the data of the Bible showed that the Bible was in error; therefore it could not be infallible. The only trouble with all this is that further study has shown that the error was not in the statements of the Bible but that it was made by those who declared that there was here a mistake in the Bible. For, as a matter of fact, the one who took Samaria was not Sargon but Shalmanezer.
Again, we find in the Bible that Tiglath-pileser III is called by another name, Pul. But surely this is an error, according to some. Here the phenomena of the Bib1e must show us that the Bible is no infallible book. Surely, the name Pul is simply the invention of the Biblical writer. We will grant that the Assyrian king had the name Tiglath-pileser, but not the name Pul. But again it has been shown that the opinion of men on this matter had to be revised. The (lame Pul has now been found on the Babylonian documents. The statements of the Bible were correct; the phenomena of the Bible were in perfect accord with the didactic statements of Scripture. Once again the error was not in the Bible but in those individuals who thought that they knew enough to declare positively that there were mistakes in the Bible.
And this brings us to the heart of the matter. Anyone who believes that he is competent to make the judgment that there is actual error in the original manuscripts of the Bible and that is the question which concerns us now—is setting himself up in the position of God. He is flying in the face of express statements of the Bible which assert the contrary. Jesus Christ says, “The Scripture cannot be broken”; a sinful man says, “The Scripture is broken.” This is to elevate the human mind to the position of judge; it means that we substitute the human mind for the Word of God. It is to assume that the human mind knows so much that it can say with assurance that there is actual error in the original manuscripts of the Bible. It is rationalism of the worst kind. Serious indeed is this charge, but there is no escaping it. If the Bible is the Word of God, he alone can tell us what we are to believe about the Bible. God has so told us; in statement after statement he has spoken to us about his Word. If we think that we can disregard these clear statements and by simply examining the phenomena of the Bible conclude what the true nature of the Bible is, we have simply set our minds up as higher than God himself. We have fallen into the worst kind of unbelief.
SCRIPTURE GOD-BREATHED AND INFALLIBLE
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 in this vein, and I fear that there are too many who so 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 to 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 are 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 will 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.
FURTHER REFLECTIONS ON II TIMOTHY 3:16
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 word 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.
WHEREIN IS THE BIBLE INFALLIBLE?
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 arc 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 God-breathed. 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 are 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 are 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 are 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 up 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 arc 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 his 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 might 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 God, 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 time 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 arc 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 written aforetime and from these things we arc 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. nut we must go back further. Luther and Calvin would certainly separate from us. They would nevcr 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. It 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 are 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 are 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 Cod 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.