As I pointed out when I commented on Acts seventeen, we will never become engaged in spreading God’s good news as long as we believe everyone’s belief and practice is equally valid. Paul’s evangelistic efforts were prompted by his conviction that the God he worshipped was the only true God and that all others were empty vanities. He was convinced there was only one way to be right with the creator of heaven and earth and that unless his hearers repented, they would perish in their sins.
The basis for this belief was his unswerving conviction that the Scriptures are the inspired record of God’s special revelation of himself and his glory to his people. As we read the gospels, it is clear that Jesus also held the Scriptures of the Old Testament in the highest regard. It was he who asserted that neither the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet nor the smallest mark distinguishing one letter from another would pass away until all was fulfilled. In John ten, he assured his listeners that “the Scriptures cannot be broken” (See John 10:35). Both he and his apostles spoke as with one voice in affirming the inspiration and inviolability of the sacred Scriptures.
Only by Revelation
We must not fail to appreciate that we would have no message to preach apart from God’s special revelation of his wisdom in the contrivance of the plan of redemption. Such a plan would have seemed as foolish and ineffectual to us as it does to those who are perishing in their sins, if God had not revealed it to the apostles. There are two ways we could approach the task of evangelism. We could approach it in the way that seems right to us. We could ask, “What is the minimum amount of truth we could preach to attract the maximum amount of people?” After all, we know not only from the Scriptures but also from long years of experience that people prefer the words of a lying prophet to the truth of God. The other approach is to trust that God will use the “foolishness” of the message he has entrusted to us to accomplish his purpose.
This was exactly the issue Paul was discussing in 1 Corinthians two. The choices he presents are two. He could have preached a message that was in accordance with human wisdom, the wisdom of this age, or he could choose to preach the message God had made known to him by the ministry of his Spirit. He chose to preach the message of a crucified Messiah so that his hearers’ faith might not stand in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
Beginning in verse six of that chapter he begins to draw a distinction between the wisdom of this age and God’s wisdom that had heretofore been hidden but that God has predestined for our glory (v. 7). He, of course, is referring to the mystery of the gospel as it is revealed in the Scriptures.
His point is that we do not proclaim this message of salvation through a Christ who has been crucified because it suits our philosophical scheme or because it seems so logical to us. Such a message would never have entered our minds apart from divine revelation. This is what he wrote— “But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’- these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (vv. 9-10).
We are bold to proclaim the message that God has entrusted to us because we are convinced that it is his inspired and inerrant Word that has been made known to us through the apostles. It is a message we never would have imagined apart from the revelatory ministry of God’s Spirit.
Plenary Verbal Inspiration
When we speak of plenary verbal inspiration we simply mean the Scriptures are fully inspired in every part and that the very words the biblical writers chose to convey what God had revealed to them were determined by the Holy Spirit. We do not mean this in the sense of mechanical dictation, but in the sense that he supernaturally protected them from error in what they wrote. Paul stated the idea of verbal inspiration very succinctly when he wrote, “and we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but [in words] taught by the Spirit (v.13). Of course, there are other well-known verses that teach that this kind of divine activity extended to every part of the sacred Scriptures. One of the better known verses tells us “All Scripture is God breathed. . .” (2 Tim. 3:16). Of course, when this verse was written, Paul was primarily referring to the Scripture of the Old Testament. He told Timothy that he had known these Scriptures from infancy (see v. 15). Assuming Timothy was about thirty years old when the apostle wrote this to him, much of the New Testament Scriptures would not have been written when he was an infant.
Peter makes it clear in his second epistle that the prophesies of the Scripture were not initiated by the prophets themselves but “holy men of God spoke as they were born along by the Holy Spirit (see 2 Peter 1:20-21). It is significant that he does not hesitate to include the writings of the apostle Paul with the “other Scriptures” (see 2 Peter 3:16). Additionally, Paul stated quite unequivocally in his first epistle to the Corinthians that the words he wrote to the churches were the commandments of Christ himself. He wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). He left no question about the origin of his gospel. He wrote to the churches of Galatia, “. . .the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Gal. 1:11-12). To the Corinthians he defends the fact that when he speaks as Christ’s
official representative, it is “Christ speaking in me” (2 Cor. 13:3).
The apostle John established the standard by which those professing to know God might know whether their profession was valid or not. That standard was the word of the apostles. He wrote, “We are of God. He who knows God hears us [it appears that by “us” he refers to himself and the other apostles]; by this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error” (1 John 4:6).
There can be little doubt that when the apostles spoke or wrote, they were conscious that they were doing so as Christ’s official representatives. When they spoke, he was speaking in them. This has been the understanding of the church through the centuries. It was not until the rise of higher criticism that any who wished to call themselves Christians questioned the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.
It follows logically that if these men Jesus had chosen were guided and borne along by the Spirit to the extent that the very words they wrote were the very Word of God, their writings must be without error. Before he went to the cross, Jesus had promised the apostles that after his departure, he would send his Spirit to them so that they would not be left to fend for themselves. As part of that promise, he assured them the Spirit would guide them into all truth. He said, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth. . ..” (John 16:13 We must not understand this as a promise to believers in general as though everyone in whom the Spirit dwells will have a perfect understanding of all truth. If that were the case, every true believe would perfectly agree with every other believer. This is clearly not the case now nor has it ever been the case.
What is even more important to us is that Jesus, himself, promised that the Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth and away from error. The product of this guidance were the inerrant manuscripts that came from the apostle’s pens.
John Jefferson Davis has written about biblical inerrancy as follows: “The inerrancy of scripture is a consequence of its verbal, plenary inspiration. Scripture is free from error in all its teachings and affirmations because it is in its entirety the product of an infinite, all-wise, and all-powerful God who cannot err” (Davis, 1985, 186-87).
Although it is beyond the scope of this chapter to examine the evangelical position on inerrancy in great detail, it is important to be aware of the details of our affirmations and denials. I would suggest a careful reading of the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” that can be found online. I would also suggest that you read “Scripture: Word of the Great King” in Davis’s book referenced above.
We should make it clear that as evangelicals, we do not claim the inerrancy of any one translation of the Scriptures [There is, of course, that radial fringe within Fundamentalism that insists on the inspiration and inerrancy of the King James Version, but such a view is not widely held in the scholarly community]. Additionally, we do not claim that there have been no errors in the transmission of the text of Scripture. When we speak of biblical inerrancy, we refer to the autographs written by the biblical writers. We admit that we no longer have those original manuscripts available to us, though we do have very early copies of those manuscripts. What is important to us is that textual criticism has shown a remarkable agreement among all the text types from which the Bible has been translated. In the comparatively few texts in which variants exist, those variants have little, if any, effect on the meaning the author intended to convey. We can safely say that no major biblical doctrine has been affected by any textual variant that has occurred in the process of scribal transmission. The practical result is that we may have complete confidence in the Bible we hold in our hands [I say this about translations, not about paraphrases. There have been those injudicious individuals who have, in their zeal to promote their own theological slant in paraphrasing the Scriptures, read their theological views into the text. These are not to be trusted in any sense].
When we proclaim the biblical message, we are proclaiming God’s message. It is his good news that comes with his authority. We have no reason or right to alter it or to withhold any part of it. When we proclaim it, we do so with the authority of God himself. Additionally, we may do so with complete confidence that he will bless that message in the manifestation of his own glory.
Davis, John Jefferson, Foundations of Evangelical Theology, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House) 1985.