A revelation in writing must necessarily be given in words. Thus the apostle Paul spoke of knowing the things which have been freely given to us of God “which also we speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2: 13, my emphasis). The separate words in which the divine revelation is given must therefore be accorded the same importance and authority as the revelation as a whole. If we accept the Bible as a revelation from God, we cannot separate from it the words of which it is made up, nor allow the assertion that the Bible only contains the Word of God. The position conveyed by the latter idea is both illogical and impossible.
The Bible itself is the best proof of its inspiration. It claims to be the Word of God, and if it is not what it claims to be, then it is neither a ‘good book’ nor worthy of our further attention. The Bible does not attempt to seek to prove its claim to be the Word of God. It merely assumes it and asserts it and it is for us to believe it or leave it. Hence we do not now attempt to establish that claim but, believing it, our aim instead is to seek to understand what God has thus “written for our instruction” (Rom. 15: 4).
Nor do we offer any theories as to how inspiration was brought about. The divine explanation is given in Acts 3: 18 where we read that “God has thus fulfilled what he had announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets”. Of course what God fulfilled here is that “his Christ should suffer” but the assertion is surely comprehensive and includes all other things “announced” by God. Now if it was God who had previously “announced” these prophecies, then it was the same God who had “fulfilled” them. The “mouth” was the mouth of “all the prophets” but they were not the prophets’ words, they were the words of God. Again, it is written: “it was necessary that the Scripture should have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before, by the mouth of David, concerning Judas” (Acts 1. 16). It was David’s “mouth” and David’s pen, David’s vocal organs, and David’s hand, but they were not David’s words. David knew nothing about Judas, and he could not possibly have spoken anything about him. David’s “mouth” spoke concerning Ahithophel not Judas, but nonetheless they were the words “which the Holy Spirit spoke ... concerning Judas”. David was a prophet (see Acts 2: 30) and, being a prophet, he “spake under the power of [the] Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1: 21).
Here then, is what God condescends to tell us about the inspiration of the Word and its words. This is the divine explanation of it, and this is all that can be known about it. It is not for us to explain this explanation, but to receive it and believe it. It is enough for us that God speaks to us, and that He says ‘Thus saith Jehovah’. We do not question the fact: we believe it, and only seek to understand what He has said. Our desire should be to be in the position of those Thessalonian saints who accepting the Word “became models to all that believe” (1 Thess. 1: 7). To them Paul could write: “And for this cause we also give thanks to God unceasingly that, having received [the] word of [the] report of God by us, ye accepted, not men’s word, but, even as it is truly, God’s word, which also works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2: 13).
The Word and the Words
The Word of God is thus for those that “believe”, and this includes both the Word as a whole, and the words of which it is made up. They cannot be separated. The Lord Jesus prayed to the Father concerning His own “I have given them thy word” (John 17: 14, my emphasis) but He also referred to “the words which thou hast given me I have given them” (v8, my emphasis). In the former of these two solemn statements the Greek word used is logos, while in the latter it is rhema. Generally speaking, logos is taken as meaning a word as made up of letters, while rhema is a saying as made up of words. The Lord also told His own that in His absence the Holy Spirit would bring to their “remembrance all the things which I have said to you” (John 14: 26). We have the benefit of their inspired recollections in the Scriptures.
Whether words or sayings, a revelation is impossible apart from words, hence the importance of studying, not merely the Word as a whole, but the actual words in which it is given to us. Now when we speak of the words we mean Hebrew and Greek words, for it is in these languages that the revelation is supplied. We cannot hold the Spirit of God responsible for the way in which individual men have chosen to translate the original words into other tongues. Doubtless each translator has done the best he could but at the end of the day he will have given us only his own judgment and view. Does this mean that we must read the Bible in Greek or Hebrew? Not at all, but we need to be assured that the words given to us in our native language accurately convey the sense and meaning of the original text. This also applies not only to what we read in the Bible, but also to what we say about it. Our expressions may be ‘orthodox’, but are they rooted in the Word or man’s world? The use of English words or concepts that have no equivalent in Greek or Hebrew is a dangerous practice. The only safe place is in adhering to the revelation that has been given.
The man of God will not be taken up with mere theology. He will want to get to the very words of Scripture—for that and that alone is the message from God. Everything else is what man has made of it. Jeremiah epitomises the desire of the true saint of God: “Thy words were found, and I did eat them, and thy words were unto me the joy and rejoicing of my heart” (Jer. 15: 16). It must be the same with us if those words are to be our joy as well. It will not do to merely read a daily portion of the word as the performance of a duty or as a matter of form—we must be searchers of the Scriptures (see Acts 17: 11), seeking in them the One of Whom they testify (see John 5: 39).
Guidance in the Way
One such seeker was the eunuch of Acts 8 who went up to Jerusalem from Ethiopia. He had expected much in Jerusalem but was returning home with his spiritual hunger unmet. Being directed by the angel, “Philip, running up, heard him reading the prophet Esaias, and said, Dost thou then know what thou art reading of? And he said, How should I then be able unless some one guide me? And he begged Philip to come up and sit with him” (vs. 30–31, my emphasis). Of course, the Holy Spirit Himself is the guide and teacher of His own Word (see John 16: 13), but often, as in this case, He uses human instruments and agencies. Now the Greek verb translated guide here means to lead in the way. It is this guidance which the ordinary reader stands so much in need of today, and never more so than at the present hour when many would–be guides are “blind leaders of blind” (Matt. 15: 14).
However, any genuine guidance will be useless unless we are first prepared to unlearn. If any think they know everything, or imagine that what they set out to learn is only to be in addition to what they already know, instead of sometimes in substitution for it, then none of God’s true servants and helps will be of any use to them. We need to be forever asking ourselves ‘Where did I learn this? How did I get this? Who taught me this?’ It is astonishing to find how much we have imbibed from man and from tradition and not directly and for ourselves from the Bible. All that we have learned from our earliest days must be tested and proved by the Word of God. Where it will not stand the test of His Word we should be happy to give it up, and receive divine revelation in the place of man’s imagination. Too often we believe what we have received from man and we do our best to get it confirmed by the Bible. When we are unable to get the confirmation we require, then we have what we call a ‘difficulty’. But the difficulty is not in the Word of God itself, it is in our own minds. The real difficulty is in giving up our own views because we fail to make the Bible conform to them. Even where there is no difficulty, and our view is indeed in accord with the Word of God, we shall find it better to study the Bible afresh, and learn the truth again directly from the Scriptures. We shall then find that the truth will hold us, rather than us trying to hold the truth. Take the deity of Christ. You say you believe in it. That is very good, for all hangs on the deity of Christ. But who or what did you believe? You believe it because God has said it in His Word— the Bible. There is no other reason. Sadly, many believe things that are true without really knowing why. Let us not have a second–hand faith, believing because others have told us, but instead believe because God has told us: “So faith then [is] by a report, but the report by God’s Word” (Rom. 10: 17). Belief in Scripture takes precedence over all else – everything hangs on it.
The root of many of the evils and weaknesses which abound in the spiritual sphere in the present day lies in the fact that the Word and the words of God are not fed upon, digested, and assimilated as they ought to be. The cloud that now rests over the intelligent study of the Bible arises from the fact that it is with us today as it was with the Jews of old—the Word of God has been made void by the traditions of men (see Matt. 15: 1–9). Hence it is that on some of the most important questions of the understanding of Scripture we are, as someone has perceptively called it, in a desert. The Reformation came as an oasis after one of these desolate epochs. Men were sent out of the barren wilderness of traditional teaching to the fountain–head of truth and drank deeply. Sadly, within two or three generations the Church entered the desert again. Creeds, confessions, and catechisms took the place of the open Bible, and genuine Bible study was largely abandoned. One party abides today by ‘the voice of the Church’, while other parties abide by the dicta of those who had stronger minds. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and Darby would be surprised to find that those who question what they believed are today treated as guilty of presumption, and of a sin to be punished with excommunication. These good men little thought that the inferences which they drew from the Bible would be raised to a position of virtual equality with Scripture itself. The result of all this is painfully evident: controversies, bitterness, and strifes are rampant among Christians. If the Bible is studied at all it has been too much with a view of finding support for one or other of the conflicting sides of a dispute instead of discovering what God has really revealed and written for our learning. Failing to understand the Scriptures we cease to feed on them and then, as a consequence, we lean on and submit to the doctrines of men.
The word and words of God are the only food of the new nature: “man doth not live by bread alone, but by every thing that goeth out of the mouth of Jehovah doth man live” (Deut. 8: 3). As it is in the natural sphere so it is in the spiritual: the measure of the appetite for the food which is the proper support of the new nature is the measure of the spiritual health. How sad it is to see so many neglecting the food that God has provided and pursuing the ‘quick–fixes’ and supposed ‘short cuts’ to spiritual maturity that abound in the religious world! We cannot live on our own feelings and the experiences of others. We must feed on Christ—and we find all the “things concerning himself” (Luke 24: 27) in “all the scriptures”. The way of discovery still lies open to us in divine things if we would only go to the fountain–head of truth, instead of filling our vessel out of this or that doctor’s compendium of knowledge, as if spell–bound by the shadow of some great name. Is it not incredible that a book which has been so long in the possession of God’s people should contain so many truths as yet not understood? The majority of Christians flatter themselves that they are progressing steadily, when they are actually growing older with scarcely a conviction that they can call their own. So it always was, and so it will ever be. The more difficult the subject, and the more serious the consequences of error, the more averse the majority are to what is called ‘unsettling people’s minds’, as if the truth must play second fiddle to what has been traditionally held as true.
Like Ezra of old, our object must be to open the book (see Neh. 8: 5), to let it speak, to hear its voice, to study it from within itself, and to have regard to other objects and subjects only from what it teaches about them. Let the Word speak for itself, with the full conviction that if this can be done it can speak more loudly and more effectively for itself than any man can speak on its behalf. As with ordinary bodily food so it is with the spiritual food of the Word of God: others may prepare the food and serve it up in various forms, they may cook it in more senses than one, they may present it in different ways, they may carve it and cut it up, and even put it in the mouth as with babes but after all that is done there is no more that they can do. Let us not disparage the service of real teachers, but let us also remember that they cannot eat or digest our food for us, and that if we are to grow then we must assimilate it for ourselves. We must not forget that a large part of Bible study will always remain intensely personal. It must be so because we have a personal Saviour, and the grand object of the written word is to deepen the relationship of the soul with that blessed One who is the living word.