by Bob Burridge ©2016, 2019
Lesson 5 of Our Reformed Heritage
Some of the things I treasured instantly were the little hand made cards, pictures, and things my children made for me. There were those little traced hands, Father’s Day and Birthday cards, some interesting drawings Brian did for me, and that little clay dragon (or dinosaur) Amy made that sits in my office to this day.
Sadly most of them were lost in the tornado that destroyed our house in 1992. But I still have a few tucked away that are very valuable to me. I even have some of the letters my wife Lois wrote to me before we were married. I’ll always consider them among my most important possessions. We’re not talking about great art from the kids, or award winning literary prose from my wife to be. But no work of artist or poet could measure up in value, because these were expressions of personal love.
That’s why the Bible is so important to us as God’s people. It’s a book of love written by the one who made us and who redeemed us. It’s the promises he made, and the price he paid to make sinners into beloved sons and daughters.
We treasure God’s word. It gives us what the world has openly given up on: a firm foundation for truth, hope and morality.
Scripture is God-breathed …
it’s as if it contains his
actual spoken words to us.
2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Many translations say, “All Scripture is inspired by God”. The word translated as “inspired” is “theopneustos” (θεόπνευστος). The ESV is very accurate here because this word literally means “God-Breathed” (θεό-πνευστος).
We often use the English word “inspired” in a very different way. People say poets, composers, or artists are “inspired” when they breath-in a higher perception of something and they’re enabled to create a wonderful poem, book, song, or painting of what they perceive. But Scripture comes into being as if it was breathed out of God’s mouth. More exactly the word “theopneustos” (θεόπνευστος) means to breathe out, “to expire”. Obviously if we translated it that way here it would give the wrong idea. People would think it means that Scripture is expired – lapsed like an expired driver’s license. It doesn’t mean that at all here.
Speech is the expiring, the breathing out of air through the larynx. Scripture is as if it was directly breathed out of the mouth of God. That’s its authority. The Bible is God’s word to us whom he loves. It’s God talking to us when we read the Bible.
2 Peter 1:20-21 explains the origin of Scripture very clearly.
20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.
21 For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Verse 20 is often misunderstood because of some English versions of the Bible. The King James Version says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” The Roman Catholic Church interprets this to mean that individuals should not privately interpret the Bible. Interpreting the meaning of Scripture should be left up to the Priests and trained scholars.
The ESV more accurately translates it, “… that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.”
Literally, word for word, it reads, “… that every prophesy of Scripture by one’s own interpretation does not come into being.”
The words “come into being” is the meaning of the Greek word here, “ginetai” (γίνεται). It’s translated poorly in those translations by the words “is of” private interpretation. The verse is about where the interpretation came from originally, not about the reader’s interpretation of it.
Verse 21 clarifies this.
For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter explains that the Bible writers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit,” and that they spoke from God. They didn’t decide what to write by their own will. Or decide what it meant on their own,
It’s about the interpretations given by God to the writers of the Bible. When you read Moses, or David, or Luke, or Paul you read what God moved them to write.
Scripture originated as a special act of God at work on the human writers. It made their interpretations absolutely perfect and accurate. The resulting Bible is a prophetic word even more certain than the direct testimony of fallible human eye-witnesses.
Peter was a direct witness to all Jesus said and did, but still in 2 Peter 1:16 he wrote, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.”
Instead what he wrote came from God, not by human interpretations. God kept the writers free from incorporating inaccurate human interpretations as they wrote. The Bible did not come into being by humans interpreting events. God gave the interpretation.
The verb translated “carried along” in verse 21 is “phero” (φέρω). It means “to bear something (as one would a burden)” or “to carry along.”
The men God used to write the Bible were “carried along, born up” by the Holy Spirit. That word was used at that time to describe how a flying bird is supported by the wind, and how a ship is born along on the water as the wind fills its sails.
So also, these chosen writers were carried along by the Holy Spirit himself. They “spoke from God.”
A classic definition of biblical inspiration comes from Dr. Allen MacRae. “Inspiration is a special act of the Holy Spirit by which he guided the writers of the books of the Scriptures so that their words should convey the thought he wished conveyed, should bear a proper relationship to the thought of the other inspired books, and should be kept free from errors of fact, of doctrine or of judgment.”
There are different views about how God
and the human writers worked together.
On the one hand it’s clear that the Bible says exactly what God wanted it to say. The very words are 100% right for expressing the message. Every interpretive thought or fact in the Bible is 100% accurate and true. Technically we call this view “Verbal-Plenary Inspiration.” It means the Bible is totally accurate, right down to the choice of each word.
In Liberal Theology the Bible is seen as just inspired literature like Shakespeare, or John Bunyan. They say God moved the writers hearts but they were influenced by local customs and myths. They even say the historical books in the Bible are just fiction written to teach lessons.
On the other hand, God didn’t just dictate the words to men who acted like mere word-processors for God. We see the individual personalities and backgrounds of each human author in their writings. Luke was a physician. As expected he used technical medical terms. He wrote in a more academic and formal style. John used a vocabulary that often reflects his background and experience as a fisherman. His writings use a very simple common style.
The style of each writer varies with his personality, background, the age in which he lived, the circumstances of his writings, the political and cultural setting in which he wrote, and so on. But what they wrote was kept perfectly accurate, and said exactly what God wanted said.
I chose two men from American Church History who helped promote this important biblical teaching. They are both Benjamins …
Benjamin Morgan Palmer was born in Charleston, South Carolina in January of 1818.
Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (usually referred to as B. B. Warfield) was born in Grasmere, Kentucky – not far from Lexington, in 1851.
Palmer was about 33 older than Warfield, so they were about a generation apart.
Benjamin Morgan Palmer’s parents
had a Puritan background.
When he was young, Benjamin did very well academically. He was accepted into Amherst College in Massachusetts when he was only 14 years old. But he didn’t last long there. He had some difficulties with the teachers and quit after 2 years.
His life turned around in 1836 when he put his full trust in Christ as his Savior. He returned to college graduating with honors from the University of Georgia in 1838 at age 20. Then he graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary and was licensed to preach in 1841.
One of his greatest teachers was his Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Columbia. It was James Henley Thornwell. He became one of our nations all-time top Theologians. When Thornwell left the church to become more involved as a teacher, Palmer succeeded him as Pastor.
He served for a while as a Chaplain to the Army during the Civil War, and took over as Professor of Theology at Columbia Seminary after the death of Thornwell. Palmer used the notes of Thornwell as well as those of A. A. Hodge showing the link between the Old-school orthodox Calvinists in both the Northern Presbyterian churches and the Southern ones. He was elected the first Moderator of the Southern Assembly of Presbyterian Churches.
He produced many important writings at a time when he could see some seeds of unbelief creeping into some Presbyterian Churches. There have always been men with weak convictions who try to turn things away from biblical truth.
Palmer eloquently defended the full inspiration of God’s word until he died in 1902.
Benjamin Palmer said about the Bible: “the revelation to which Christ bears witness as final and permanent, is reduced to record in the dialect of men.”
He spoke of a connection between the members of the Trinity in the writing of Scripture: “The Son as revealer lifts from concealment what eternally lay his in the divine counsel. The Holy Spirit wrought the vast conception into the texture of finite and fallible minds, so that it could be rendered into speech and made intelligible to man.”
“The words of the Father are delivered by the Son, through the power of the Spirit”
“The subject matter is always and exclusively divine, while the medium of conveyance is not only distinctively human, but also characteristic of the author whose name it bears.”
B. B. Warfield was another
of the strong defenders
of the inspiration of the Bible.
His teachings, writings, and editorials presented the facts when the liberal movement attacked.
His middle name Breckinridge was his mother’s maiden name. Her father was the famous Robert Jefferson Breckinridge. He was the moderator of the Presbyterian General Assembly in 1841, the president of Jefferson College, and founder of the Theological Seminary in Danville, Kentucky.
Benjamin went to the College of New Jersey which later changed its name to Princeton. He graduated with high honors in 1871 when he was only 19 years old.
Nobody expected him to become a minister because he was deeply into science as a young man. He collected bird’s eggs, butterflies, rocks and learned all he could about math and physics. He became an avid evolutionist. But God had a special plan for him.
While studying in Edinburgh, then in Heidelberg, he changed his views about many things. He became a Christian. He shocked his family by writing home that he’d decided to become a Presbyterian minister. When he was finishing his seminary degree in 1876 at Princeton Theological Seminary he married Annie Pierce Kinkead. They went to Germany on their honeymoon and were caught out in a dangerous thunderstorm. Annie was struck by lightning and was permanently paralyzed.
Warfield’s career was busy, but he gave his disabled wife very good and loving care. He pastored a church in Baltimore for a short time but soon took up teaching. He became professor of New Testament at Western Theological Seminary in Allegheny, PA. Then in 1887 he took over as professor at Princeton Seminary after A. A. Hodge died.
During this time he wrote articles and books clarifying and defending the basic Reformed Faith. He was a strong Calvinist, and was brilliant in developing evidence from Scripture.
One of his best known works is his book on The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. In it he writes, “… entire trust in every word of the Scriptures has been characteristic of the people of God from the very foundation of the church. Christendom has always reposed upon the belief that the utterances of this book are properly oracles of God. The whole body of Christian literature bears witness to this fact. We may trace its stream to its source, and everywhere it is vocal with a living faith in the divine trustworthiness of the Scriptures of God in every one of their affirmations. This is the murmur of the little rills of Christian speech which find their tenuous way through the parched heathen land of the early second century. And this is the mighty voice of the great river of Christian thought which sweeps through the ages, freighted with blessings for men.”
His writings clarified every passage of Scripture about it’s being God’s word of love to his children.
God has greatly used Warfield’s books, writings in the Presbyterian and Reformed Review magazine, and in the Princeton Theological Review.Many of his articles are printed in encyclopedias and Bible dictionaries.
He personally and devotedly cared for his paralyzed wife Annie. With all his duties and responsibilities he would seldom leave her home alone. When he did, it wasn’t for more than two hours at a time. He tended to her lovingly until she died in 1915. B. B. Warfield died in Princeton on February 17th, 1921.
Though students of the Bible treasure the writings of these great Christian writers, the best writers mainly teach us to treasure the Bible even more.
We should prize the word God gives to us in the Scriptures even more than we prize getting an autograph of a famous person, or cling to the little notes and drawings of our children, grand-children, and spouses.
We should read the Bible as eagerly as a parent reads his child’s hand drawn note, or as a girl reads a love note from her boy friend, or as a mother reads a letter from a grown up child who is no longer living in the home.
We should read God’s word personally with great interest and determination to know and understand every sentence. We should appreciate the love that gave it to us, and made our hearts open to its promises. If we love God truly, it will be clear to those who know us that we treasure his word above all else in our lives.
(Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)
Back to the index of Our Reformed Heritage