Yea, Hath God Said ...
The first recorded words of the devil constitute a challenge to God's word: "Yea, hath God said ...?" (Gen. 3:1, KJV). To this day, he hasn't dropped that challenge. It's the heart of his strategy. Both outside and inside the church, the devil works to impugn the word of God as we find it today in the Bible. Has God really said this? Is the Bible really the word of God?
The Bible Claims to Be God's Word
When you receive a letter, how do you know whom it's from? It's signed by its sender. The Bible is likewise "signed by its sender," God. In the Old Testament alone, the expression "thus saith the Lord" or its equivalent occurs over two thousand times.
Moreover, our Lord Jesus Christ insisted that the Old Testament is the very word of God. He submitted to its authority himself. Read Matthew 4:3-10. Jesus warded off each temptation of the devil with an appeal to the Bible: "It is written ... It is written ... It is written...."
Jesus believed that the Bible spoke about him and was fulfilled in him, and so he interpreted his life in light of the Bible. For example, he stopped Peter's effort to prevent him from being arrested by saying, "But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matt. 26:54). Whenever he debated the Jewish religious leaders, he quoted the Bible as the final court of appeal. On one such occasion, Jesus quoted Psalm 82:6 and then added, "and Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Clearly Jesus treated the Old Testament as the very word of God.
Likewise, Jesus ensured the writing of the New Testament. He chose, called, trained, ordained, and inspired the apostles to write his very word. In the Upper Room, he promised that his Holy Spirit would remind them of all that he had taught them: "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:26). This promise was fulfilled in the writing of the GospelsMatthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus also promised that his Holy Spirit would guide them into additional truth: "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth" (John 16:12-13). He fulfilled this promise in the writing of the rest of the New Testament. And so, our Lord Jesus declared that the whole BibleOld and New Testamentsis the very word of God.
The apostles held this view of the Bible, too. Paul insisted that "all Scripture is breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3:16). Of himself and the other apostles, he claimed, "This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words" (1 Cor. 2:13 niv). He claimed that the gospel of Luke was God's word when he quoted Luke 10:7 as Scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18, "For the Scripture says... 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" Peter was just as resolute: "For no prophecy of Scripture was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21). He also insisted that the epistles of Paul, which make up about half of the New Testament books, are Scripture. He wrote, "Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures" (2 Pet. 3:15-16).
Someone might be able honestly to say, "I don't believe the Bible is God's word." But there's no way that one who knows his Bible can honestly say, "The Bible doesn't claim to be God's word." All through the Old Testament and all through the New Testament, the Bible claims to be God's word.
The Bible Seems to Be God's Word
But the Bible doesn't just claim to be God's word. I keep getting e-mails from people who claim that they want to give me millions of dollars. All I have to do is help them make the transfer by giving them my credit card number or sending them a certain sum of money. You know how it goes. They claim to be my benefactors, but they have the earmarks of being scam artists. But the Bible is nothing like that. It not only claims to be God's word, but also seems to be God's word.
Our Confession of Faith makes this point: "The heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God" (I:5).
The Bible attests itself to be the word of God by its teaching. The Bible insists that the absolutely supreme God created and sustains all things, including us, for himself. Consequently, we owe him everything; we are entirely answerable to him. The Bible tells us how we tried to declare our independence from God, and how that brought us into guilt and bondage and misery, and how it provoked God's white-hot wrath and made us liable to his everlasting judgment. The Bible tells us how gracious he is and how desperately we need his merciful intervention through the one and only Mediator, Christ Jesus, in order to rescue us and set things right. The Bible tells us how we need to surrender to him unconditionally in order to escape his wrath. Now really, is this the kind of stuff that people make up in order to give themselves hope? If so, then why does every other religion and ideologybiblical Christianity is the one exceptioncontend that we, with or without supernatural help, can make ourselves and our situation better? No, the Bible goes against our natural grain.
Thus, John Wesley argued:
The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. It could not be the invention of good men or angels, for they neither would nor could make a book and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying 'Thus saith the Lord' when it was their own invention. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils, for they could not make a book that commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to Hell for all eternity. Therefore, the Bible must be given by Divine inspiration.
It's easy to tell that the Bible is a single, unified book. That's why it is so remarkable that this one book is an anthology of sixty-six different books, written by at least thirty-six different authors in three different languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek) over a period of about fifteen hundred years. These human authors didn't sit down as a committee and agree what to write. They were separated by time, space, and circumstances. But there's no contradiction or confusion. The agreement is amazing.
The Bible tells one story that revolves around one Person. The Old Testament points forward to the Savior to come; the New Testament tells of the Savior who came. Look at Luke 24:27: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Look at Luke 24:44: "All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me " (NKJV). Look at John 5:39: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me."
In that light, isn't it noteworthy that so many of the Bible's prophecies are so clearly fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus? Over seven hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the prophets predicted that he'd be born, how he'd be born, where he'd be born, what kind of person he'd be, and what he'd accomplish. Here's a sample:
- "I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son" (2 Sam. 7:12-14).
- "Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel" (Isa. 7:14).
- "But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days" (Mic. 5:2).
- "For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this" (Isa. 9:6-7).
- "He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Isa. 53:3-6).
When I was a seminarian in the late 1970s, another student, Rich Ganz (now a minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America), told how God used the prophecy of Isaiah 53 in his conversion. He had turned from his Jewish upbringing to a modern, humanistic skepticism. With a doctorate and position in psychiatry, he was traveling in Europe and arrived at L'Abri Fellowship, the ministry of Francis Schaeffer. People tried to share the gospel with him, only to encounter his keen rebuffs. Finally, someone said, "Well, at least listen to this Bible passage." Without identifying the passage, he read from Isaiah 53 and asked, "Who do you think that's talking about?" Rich replied with gruff sarcasm, "Well, obviously it's about Jesus." The fellow responded, "But this was written by the prophet Isaiah about seven hundred years before Jesus was even born." Rich said that chills went from the top of his head to the tip of his toes. He came under conviction of sin and embraced the Lord Jesus as his Savior.
The Bible Proves to Be God's Word
You see, not only does the Bible claim to be God's word; not only does the Bible seem to be God's word; ultimately, the Bible proves to be God's word. As John Stott affirms, "[The Bible] has brought forgiveness to the guilty, freedom to the oppressed, guidance to the perplexed, consolation to the dying, and hope to the bereaved. Everyone who reads it with an open spirit testifies to its power to disturb and to comfort. As a Chinese Christian once said, 'every time I read that book it kicks me!'"
The Bible ultimately proves itself to be God's word by the inner testimony of the Holy Spirit, speaking by and with it. This is what is ultimately convincing. The Bible explains: "The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one" (1 Cor. 2:14-15). In other words, the person without the Holy Spirit simply doesn't have the ability to believe the Bible or to understand its true import. Only the gracious, internal working of the Holy Spirit can open the eyes of a person's heart to the things of God.
I knew a man who was sure that the Bible was a mass of contradictions. He hated Christianity. Ironically, his favorite recreation in life was going to church and arguing with the pastor. He'd show the pastor one Bible difficulty after another. If the pastor could answer his questions, that just made him study the Bible all the harder to find something else with which to trip the pastor up. But during this process, the Holy Spirit supernaturally opened the man's heart and converted him. He submitted to Jesus Christ as his Savior and Lord. And, he said, the many Bible difficulties that he'd imagined suddenly evaporated. The Bible had seemed like folly to him. He couldn't understand it, because it is spiritually discerned. But now the Holy Spirit enabled him to "judge" the Bible truly and to understand its real meaning.
The Bible claims to be, seems to be, and proves to be God's word. The Bible is God's word. That's not just interesting information; it demands a response. Do you believe it? In the Bible, God speaks to you. Therefore, as B. B. Warfield put it, "How unquestionably we must receive its statements of fact, bow before its enunciations of duty, tremble before its warnings, and rest upon its promises." Does that describe your response? Anything less than that is wicked. In the Bible, the living God himself speaks to you. How do you respond?
The author is the general secretary of the Committee on Christian Education and editor of New Horizons magazine. Unless otherwise indicated, he quotes the ESV (the new default translation for this magazine). Reprinted from New Horizons, June 2003.