Knowing the Scriptures
Rules and Methods
Dr. ARTHUR T. PIERSON
Bible Study. Some of Its Laws, Methods and Principles. 12
Chapter 1 Supreme Authority of the Word of God. 14
Chapter 2 The High Level of the Word of God. 21
Chapter 3 The Identity of the Written and Living Word. 28
Chapter 4 The Prophetic Element in Scripture. 34
Chapter 5 Structural Form in Scripture. 42
Chapter 6 Mutual Relations of the Two Testaments. 49
Chapter 7 The Bible as a Book among Books. 56
Chapter 8 Numerical and Mathematical Features. 63
Chapter 9 The Law of Grammatical Construction. 70
Chapter 10 Bible Versions and Translations. 77
Chapter 11 Biblical Names and Titles. 85
Chapter 12 Scripture Dialect and Self Definition. 91
Chapter 13 Verbal Changes and Variations. 99
Chapter 14 Scriptural Precision and Discrimination. 106
Chapter 15 Similar and Equivalent Terms. 114
Chapter 16 Prominent and Dominant Words and Phrases. 121
Chapter 17 Leading Paragraphs and Passages. 130
Chapter 18 Summaries of Biblical Truth. 137
Chapter 19 Marked Recurrence of Like Language. 146
Chapter 20 The Refrain and Chorus in Scripture. 153
Chapter 21 Thoughts Which Transcend All Speech. 161
Chapter 22 Context and Connection. 168
Chapter 23 Recurrence of Thought and Idea. 175
Chapter 24 Topical Methods of Study. 182
Chapter 25 The Totality of Scripture Testimony. 191
Chapter 26 Analysis and Synthesis. 199
Chapter 27 Combination and Unification. 206
Chapter 28 Classification and System.. 216
Chapter 29 Comparison and Contrast 225
Chapter 30 Systematic and Progressive Teaching. 234
Chapter 31 Poetic Parallelism.. 243
Chapter 32 The Scattered Proverbs of Scripture. 254
Chapter 33 Divine Patterns and Encomiums. 265
Chapter 34 Legal and Ethical Standards. 273
Chapter 35 Miracles and Discourses. 282
Chapter 36 The Place and Province of Parables. 293
Chapter 37 Biblical Figures of Speech. 303
Chapter 38 Typology and Symbolism.. 312
Chapter 39 Value of Historic Sidelights. 321
Chapter 40 Representative Historical Scenes. 330
Chapter 41 Links between the Historical and Ethical 339
Chapter 42 The Illustrative Typical Element 348
Chapter 43 Misunderstandings and Perversions. 355
Chapter 44 Dispensations, Ages and Covenants. 361
Chapter 45 The Mystical Element and the Mysteries. 369
Chapter 46 Occult References and Intimations. 379
Chapter 47 Pictorial Helps to Impression. 387
Chapter 48 The Humorous Element in Scripture. 396
Chapter 49 Finding Hid Treasure in God’s Word. 403
Chapter 50 Gathering Up Fragments. 410
“Thou hast magnified Thy Word above all Thy name”—Psalm 138:2.
This saying of the Psalmist may primarily refer to some specific word of God, some promise, like that recorded about the future of David’s own house (2 Samuel 7:11; 2 Samuel 7:19); but the larger truth it contains and conveys is capable of so much wider scope and broader application that it may well be said to include the whole body of Holy Scripture.
Calvin translates: “Thou hast magnified Thy name, above all things, by Thy Word;” and Luther, “Thou hast made Thy Name glorious, above all, through Thy Word.” But, with Hengstenberg, the majority of the best Bible students favor substantially the common rendering: “Above all Thy Name, thou hast made glorious Thy Word”—meaning that, beyond all works of Creation and Providence, or other means whereby God has made Himself known, He has exalted His written Word.
To those to whom it is addressed, it has power to convict and convert, sanctify and edify; but it has even a higher power and province: it is the mirror of its Author; meant, first of all, to reveal, unveil, magnify and glorify Him from whom it originally went forth.
This high tribute found expression when as yet there was only the Written Word. Without doubt the Living Word is a fuller unveiling of God’s inmost self. In the incarnation, “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among men,” as a living Presence. In the Person of His Son, the Logos, the Word Incarnate, the Father made Himself known as never before, with new clearness and fullness of revelation.
Yet it still remains true that, in the Inspired Scriptures, He has glorified His own Name, or nature: revealing His mind, heart, will—His whole character—and, especially, His gracious attitude toward sinners; and, in such manner and measure, as to make all other revelations of Himself in the creation of the material universe and the control of human history comparatively dim and indistinct, only as the first faint flushes of the dawn in comparison with the fuller light of day.
One of the main uses of the Word of God is to supply us with a divine standard of both doctrine and duty. In his travels in the Dark Continent, Dr. Livingstone found his native guides either so ignorant or so determined to deceive and mislead, that he could do better without them than with them; and so he constantly referred to his own compass and sextant to determine direction and location. What would he have done if, by any accident, or defect in his instruments, he had found even these scientific guides utterly untrustworthy?
For God’s written Word no substitute has ever been found. Whereas other ancient civilized nations, such as Egypt, Assyria, Persia, Rome, Greece, have left monuments in law and letters, mechanic arts and fine arts, Judea, as Dr. Jamieson remarks, while leaving us no legacy of secular achievements, rose immeasurably above all other lands in the possession and transmission of the Living Oracles of God. In fact, the Hebrews were rather warned against some things in which other nations prided themselves. The fine arts, for instance, were so often the handmaids of polytheism and the promoters of idolatry, finding their highest sphere in glorifying image-worship, that Jehovah required His people to be, in this as in many other respects, separate from the nations (Exodus 20:25; Isaiah 2:16).
In every department of life the need for some exact and unvarying standard, as in weights and measures, time, etc., compels resort to the works of God for guidance, for here alone are found perfect forms and changeless models. Man’s best watches and chronometers have to be corrected by nature’s horologium—God’s sidereal clock, which has not varied the one-thousandth part of a second, since He appointed sun, moon and stars for times and seasons. And, so, from all human oracles, however self-confident, we turn at last to the Inspired Word, where instead of ambiguous and untrustworthy utterances we find teachings distinct and definite, authoritative and infallible.
One very conspicuous feature of the Word of God is its Self-Interpreting power. In the mastery of human books help is needful from large libraries and patient research in the realms of science and philosophy. Grammars, and glossaries, histories and biographies, copious lexicons and learned encyclopedias, often become necessary to furnish the mere sidelights to interpret the terms and illumine the sense of human literature. But, in studying this Divine Book, confessedly the crown of all literature, other writings, though often helpful, are never indispensable. To a remarkable degree, God’s Word explains and interprets its own contents, is its own grammar and lexicon, library and encyclopedia. Within itself may be found a philosophy which interprets its history, and a history which illustrates its philosophy. Even what in it is most obscure and mysterious is not dependent upon outside helps for its completer unlocking or unveiling. The humblest reader, if shut up by circumstances to this one Book, as was Bunyan, almost literally, in Bedford jail, might, without any other guide than the Bible itself, by careful, prayerful searching, come to know the Word; exploring its contents till he became another Apollos, mighty in the scriptures. This statement has been often verified by fact, as in the experience of believers, actually imprisoned for Christ’s sake but carrying their Bibles with them as companions in solitude, and coming forth enriched in the knowledge of God.
The highest secret of Bible study, however, is that teachable spirit which is inseparable from obedience. Spiritual vision, like the physical, is binocular: it depends on both reason and conscience. If the intellectual faculties are beclouded, the moral sense is apt to err in its decisions; and, if the conscience be seared, the reason is blinded. Our Lord says, “If any man will do His will he shall know of the doctrine” (John 7:17); in other words obedience is the organ of spiritual revelation. Insight into the scriptures is never independent of the obedient frame, but is conditioned upon actual conformity to their precepts and sympathy with their spirit. True biblical learning is not so much mental as experimental. There are professed teachers and preachers who no more grasp the truth they nominally hold than does the sparrow grasp the message that passes through the telegraph wire on which it perches—as Norman McLeod quaintly put it.
It is sometimes worse than vain to read, or even to search the scriptures, with mere intellect, as though they were merely literary productions to be examined and understood with no higher faculties than those which are associated with an unsanctified scholarship. Many a man who has approached the Word of God without prayer for God’s help, without reverent attitude, or any ultimate end beyond a critical, intellectual analysis, has been left to grope his way blindly while persuading himself that he had even exceptional insight. On the other hand, many a humble and uneducated believer has had his eyes unveiled to behold wondrous things out of God’s law (Psalm 119:18), and become an expert in its “mysteries.”
Critical study is not to be discouraged; it is not only proper but helpful in its proper sphere, when conducted with a proper spirit. But there is a sort of analysis that is destructive; like the vivisection that invades the domain of life, in cutting in pieces the organic body of truth, it sacrifices vitality, and leaves only dead, disconnected fragments of what was one living organism. The Bible is such a living organism. Its various parts are members of a common body; they have a vital connection and relation, and must be examined, not in isolation and separation, but in union as integral parts of a great whole. Then criticism, instead of being arrogant and destructive, will be reverent and constructive.
The late Dr. A.J. Gordon of Boston—in that memorable visit to Scotland with the writer, in 1888—used to relate an anecdote which the great Scotchman, Principal Cairns, declared to be the best illustration he had ever met of the mistakes of modern “critics.” In a conversation with a deacon of a colored church in his neighborhood, Dr. Gordon drew out from him the fact that the people did not like the new pastor “berry much;” and, when pressed for an explanation, the deacon added that the pastor told too many “antidotes in the pulpit;” and, when Dr. Gordon expressed surprise, saying that he had supposed his pastor to be a great Bible man, the deacon replied, “Well I’ll tell yer how it is. He’s de best man I ebber seed to tak’ de Bible apart, but he dunno how to put it togedder agin!” Modern critics have proved adepts in pulling to pieces the blessed Word, but they are too much like those to whom Asaph referred, who in his day had broken down the carved work of the sanctuary with axes and hammers, and burned up the synagogues (Psalm 74:3-8).
No student of Holy Scripture should forget that, to see the highest truth man needs the verifying faculty. “The light of the body is the eye,” because the condition on which depend the perception and reception of all light is a healthy organ of vision, without which there is in effect no light. This is a thought of profound outreach. Objective testimony, or external evidence of truth, is never enough; there must be also subjective capacity, internal receptivity to its witness. We must not be so absorbed in simply gathering proofs or evidences of Christianity, as to overlook the need and value of an inward readiness to receive and feel the force of proof, when furnished. The candid mind, the clean conscience, and the obedient-will, are all necessary to the open eye. Their opposites, an uncandid mind, corrupt conscience, and perverse will, are in scripture compared to an eye veiled, voluntarily closed, or judicially blinded. Compare 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 John 2:27; 1 John 4:1; 2 Corinthians 3:14-18; John 3:19-21; Acts 26:18-19; Acts 28:26-27; 1Timothy 1:19; Romans 8:6-7; 2 Corinthians 4:3-4; John 7:17; 2 Corinthians 11:3.
To understand the importance of this verifying faculty in ourselves is very rare. A mind, candidly open to conviction, asking only to know “what is Truth?” and a will that turns to truth, when found, and yields to its sway, as the needle to the pole—how seldom these conditions are found—probably never where persistent unbelief reigns. The two veils of prejudice and self-interest are still as common and as effective hindrances as in our Lord’s day. The Pharisees and Scribes were so built into the errors of that time, that to accept His teaching meant turning their little world upside down—upsetting the whole fabric of their individual, social and religious life; and hence their invention of every possible pretext for opposing and rejecting Him (John 11:47-48). Prejudice implies that a wrong or partial view has been formed which leads to antagonism; there is no longer a clear eye to see truth. Self-interest warps the whole mind, so that conviction cannot fit the demands of truth even if recognized; and, often unconsciously, men devise excuses or invent difficulties, which would at once disappear were there a fair, impartial judgment.
Gregory the Great, left us a sublime maxim: “Discere cor Dei in verbis Dei”—“We are to learn the mind of God from the words of God.” True, but we must be both prepared and willing to be taught. Our Lord rebuked even professed leaders among the Jews, because, while claiming to be exponents of the Law, they “knew not the scriptures nor the power of God.” This reminds us of the necessity, if we are to have a true acquaintance with scripture teaching, that we should feel the force of truth, not only as directly declared, but as inferentially taught. This rebuke was especially to the Sadducees, who denied both separate spiritual existence apart from the body, and the reality of the future state. And yet Jehovah had declared: “I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob;” referring to them, not as dead but as living; and these Sadducees might have deduced from this declaration the doctrine of the survival of the spirit at death, and of the future state which they denied. While we are to be on our guard against those false inferences which are due to careless reasoning, we are not to forget that prejudice will blind us to true and safe deductions.
This unique peculiarity which has been adverted to, the self disclosure of the Word of God, it will be the main purpose of what follows to exhibit and illustrate. This is a convincing proof of a supernatural origin, and shows the universal fitness of the Scripture for man, as man, while it both incites and inspires a reverent and searching study.
As a possible help to the appreciation and interpretation of the Scriptures, attention will be called to some of the leading ways in which the close study of this divine book has been found to disclose its meaning, even in cases where at first there seemed to be not only obscurity but contradiction. The year of the issue of this book marks the completion of a half century since the writer entered upon the full work of the gospel ministry; and it is intended as a sort of gathering up of some results of fifty years of Bible study, putting in form some of the laws, principles and methods found by actual trial to yield the best fruit, and so promising to be of like service to others.
A rightly conducted examination of God’s Word will be found to yield not only rich results in homiletics and hermeneutics, but in apologetics. In the structure and contents of Holy Scripture may be found a triumphant answer to all assaults upon its inspiration and authority as a divine Book and the standard of doctrine and duty. The Bible is its own witness; and whoever, turning from all external defenses to the book itself, will seek to make himself master of its contents and to enter sympathetically into its spirit, will find himself lodged in an impregnable fortress where he laughs in derision at all who, like Voltaire, threaten to overthrow it, while he holds in scarcely less contempt the timidity which fears such threats. The Ark of the Covenant needs no help from puny human hands to steady it, nor is the Shekinah fire in danger of being quenched by those who blow upon it to put it out. Light needs only to be let shine and it becomes its own witness. A lion has only to be let loose and he needs no defender. Give the Word of God free course and it will be victor over all assault.
Let us imitate the Bereans who “searched the Scriptures daily.” That word “search,” is emphatic, implying a thorough examination, a judicial investigation, reminding of the work of the civil engineer, mapping out a newly-explored coast line, with triangulation of every bay and inlet. Search into the Scriptures should be thorough, systematic, habitual, tarrying over peculiarities of conception and expression, emphatic words and phrases, and seeking to know the exact meaning and order of words used by the Spirit of God. It is safe to assume that nothing is purposeless; and that to the great end of the whole every part, however minute, contributes, somewhat as, in creation, every whit subserves God’s great design. Whether or not all these mutual bearings are seen, they exist; and our dimness and narrowness of vision cannot obliterate what they only obscure.
Nothing like an exhaustive treatment is attempted in the pages which follow. No doubt many a devout reader might, out of his own treasure, bring forth things new and old, outranking in importance what is here found. Perhaps, however, others who have not digged so deep into this mine of celestial wealth may find somewhat here to incite to a more painstaking study. But all who, for themselves, will prayerfully search, will find the scriptures testifying to their own divine original, and will reap the reward of the explorer who, from new paths of investigation and discovery, brings new trophies; or of the miner who digs up new nuggets of gold, or gems. Here are to be found ever new truths, precious stones of beauty and radiance surpassing the gold of ophir, the precious onyx and the sapphire.
Bible Study. Some of Its Laws, Methods and Principles
As History teaches philosophy by examples, both exhibiting and testing ethical principles, so practical results both manifest and prove the utility of methods. For many years certain laws and modes of scripture research have been adopted and approved in actual daily practice, and with such growing confidence in their value and helpfulness as to suggest their formal statement and illustration, in hope of aiding, in some measure, other bible students, and especially those who are either comparatively beginning such study or who, by reason of other necessary secular labors, have less leisure for systematic search into the Word of God. We are all dependent in part upon the experience of others. It is a necessity that there should be a division of labor, for we cannot all, in one short life, do everything; and so each of us is appointed of God, to some specific form of activity, both to accomplish and accumulate somewhat for ourselves, and to contribute somewhat to the common store and stock of knowledge and experience from which others may draw. It is a law both of privilege and of obligation, that we should pass on what we learn, give what we get, communicate what we receive. It is only selfishness that is content to hoard; all noble living spends; and so one naturally desires to suggest what has been tried and proven to be valuable and useful in that first of all the sciences and fine arts, the accurate understanding of the inspired Word of God. The method here followed will be to indicate, first, a law, principle, or mode of scripture study, and then give some amplifications, applications, corroborations and illustrations of it.
Manifestly the Word of God consists of form and substance, expression and conception, what is external and what is internal; and the natural and normal method in study will be from what is without to what is within. That famous saying of Wordsworth, however, “Language is the incarnation of thought,” suggests that the ideas and the words which embody them are inseparable, and cannot really be studied wholly apart from each other. The shell of a nut is so related to the kernel, and the shell of a mollusk, to the animal that inhabits it, that each variety has its own peculiar enclosure or tenement, adapted to its nature and uses, and could not exchange with another; and we shall find, as we examine closely the literal element in the Word of God, that we are passing, by unconscious and gradual steps, into the spiritual content. We shall, however, approach our great subject as from the outside, proceeding from what is general to what is special, and from the letter to the spirit; seeking to begin at the beginning, with what is fundamental and rudimental, and as far as practicable advancing, step by step, from vestibule and outer court to inner chambers and inmost shrine. There should be in all this advance no careless, prayerless step; the place where we stand is holy ground, and should be trodden with reverent feet; and, if such an attitude is imperative for one who ventures to act as guide, it is scarcely less needful for those who would follow. We trust, therefore, that the reader will peruse these pages in sympathy with the spirit and motive with which they have been written, seeking only to “know the scriptures” and “the power of God.”
First, then, we take a glimpse of this divine book as a whole; then look at its language and literary features, its words as indexes of its thought; then at its ideas, ideals and conceptions, advancing toward what is mystic and mysterious.
Chapter 1 Supreme Authority of the Word of God
“These are the faithful and true sayings of God (Revelation 19:9; Revelation 22:6). Its Divine authority and inspiration are primary and rudimentary, and therefore to be first of all and finally settled. In the Scriptures, God Himself is speaking to man, in many parts and ways, at different times and by various human instruments (Hebrews 1:1). Any theory of inspiration or interpretation which sacrifices or diminishes this majestic authority is fatal to the claims of the Word of God, as such, upon man’s acceptance and obedience.
In Revelation 5, is found a pictorial exhibit of the authority and majesty of Holy Scripture.
A scroll, written within and on the backside, and sealed with seven seals, is seen in the right hand of Him who is seated on the Throne, and it partakes of His own unapproachable glory.
A seal stands in scripture for silence, mystery, completeness, but especially for the sacredness connected with authority, authenticity, inviolability. Whatever this particular scroll is, it represents some written word of God. We cannot escape the suggestion of divine sanction or authority as stamped upon Holy Scripture, and there is a hint of a sevenfold attestation which makes His Word the mirror of His attributes. It also bears seven seals:
- The seal of omnipresence, eternity, immutability, in its production, independent and irrespective of time and place, variety of matter and diversity of human writers.
- The seal of sovereignty and majesty, in the providential control of historic events, and of individual and collective history.
- The seal of omniscience, wisdom, in its forecasts of the future and its revelations of the events of a remote and unhistoried past.
- The seal of truth, veracity, verity, infallibility, in its general accuracy, not only in the ethical and spiritual realm, but in the whole sphere and domain of truth.
- The Seal of Righteousness and Justice in its immaculate, moral and spiritual standards of character, conduct and administration.
- The Seal of Omnipotence, Benevolence, and Love, in its moral and spiritual transformations and miracles of grace, its purpose and promise of regeneration.
- The Seal of Infiniteness and Holiness in the superhuman revelation of the absolute perfection and glory of the divine character.
Such multiplied testimony puts upon the Word of God a sevenfold sanction of supreme authority. It asserts its divine origin with an emphasis to which nothing can be added.
This most notable chapter is unique, as showing God’s opinion of his own Book: for, even if the scroll, here referred to, be only the Apocalypse itself, what is true of a part is true of the whole. Scanning the whole chapter we further see:
- The unparalleled majesty of the Scriptures. No created intelligence, even though angelic, worthy to open the seals, take the scroll in hand, or even to look upon it.
- The inviolable mystery of the Scriptures—sealed up with sevenfold secrecy apart from the one and only interpreting Power.
- The inseparable unity of the Book and the Lamb—the written Word and the living Word. He only is worthy to take the scroll or capable of unloosing the seals.
- The complex character of the person of Christ—Lion and Lamb in one, King and a Priest. Hence able to make us kings and priests.
- The solvent power of the blood of Christ, which alone unlooses the seals and interprets the contents. Two thoughts pervade the Word—Priesthood and Kingship—and the Lamb and the Lion explain both.
It is necessary also to settle the question of the Inspiration of Scripture. It is divinely declared to be “theopneustic”—that is “God-in-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). This language suggests a body of language, in-breathed with a spirit of divine life, somewhat as the body of the first man was when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and he became a living soul: this is a living Book.
We need to distinguish between revelation, interpretation, illumination and inspiration.
Revelation is the divine impartation and communication of truth to the mind of man, whatever be its mode or channel (Romans 1:17; Romans 16:25; Ephesians 3:3-5; Amos 3:7).
Interpretation is the science of discovering and disclosing the true meaning of the holy oracles. It is sometimes a function of inspiration to enable a prophet or teacher to give an authoritative meaning to a divine utterance (Daniel 4:24-28; Daniel 5:17-28).
Illumination refers more to the province of the Spirit in so enlightening the mind of the believer as to enable him to discern, and in a measure beyond his natural, unaided powers to apprehend and comprehend the beauty and glory of a divine revelation (Ephesians 1:17-18; Ephesians 3:16-19).
Inspiration is rather the method of revelation rendering its subject capable of receiving and transmitting revealed truth, communicating it to others without error, either by tongue or pen. Obviously the value of a written revelation must depend upon its inspiration.
As to the method of inspiration—the modus operandi of the Holy Spirit in revealing truth—it is inscrutable, wrapped in the mystery of silence, like His other operations in regeneration and miracle working (John 3:8). All we know or need to know about it is its effects; and these may be learned from the didactic statements of the Word itself, and the phenomena of its operation, as we may know the wind by its working. Inspiration rendered whomsoever it controlled an adequate medium or vehicle of God’s utterance, His mouthpiece or spokesman, so that “He spake by the mouth of His Holy prophets who have been since the World began” (Luke 1:70; Hebrews 1:1).
We need also carefully to define the measure of authority which Inspiration carries. The Bible is, in part, a record, embracing narratives of fact which form part of the history it records, and the sayings and doings of fallible and fallen human beings. In such cases Inspiration assures only the essential accuracy of the narrative, not the sanction of God’s approval of the utterances or conduct of the parties. But, in all cases where God speaks directly in His own person or by His appointed agents, Inspiration covers not only the truthfulness of the record but the sanction of the statements expressed.
“Verbal Inspiration” is a term much misunderstood. It does not, of course, mean that every word found in Scripture is God’s word or represents His mind, for some words record the acts of the erring and the ungodly, or are their sayings, and in some instances Satan is the speaker. Any theory would be absurd that clothes all words found in Scripture with equal authority or importance. But whatever is meant to convey God’s thought is used with a purpose and adapted to its end, so that, as the Angel said to John, on, Patmos: “These are the true sayings of God” (Revelation 19:9).
Every student must observe what in Holy Scripture carries authority, and what only accuracy. Satan’s words to Eve (Genesis 3:1-5), though accurately recorded, are false and misleading in intention and sentiment, exactly contrary to God’s mind. The greater part of the book of Job, though an inspired record of events and sayings, is expressly disowned of God as not rightly spoken (Job 42:7). More than this, many other well meant words and deeds of men, embodied in the history, here recorded, may lack authority because due to imperfect knowledge of the mind of God or partial obedience to His will. Even prophets and apostles, apart from their character and capacity as such, being only fallible men, were liable to mistakes (1 Kings 19:4; Galatians 2:11-14).
A very instructive instance of this principle may be found in 2 Samuel 7:2-7. David declares his purpose to build God a house, and his reasons are both devout and unselfish: he is unwilling to have his own palace outshine the dwelling place of Jehovah. Not only so but, on communicating to the prophet Nathan his purpose, he meets with entire approval; the prophet bids him do all that is in his heart, assuring him that the Lord is with him. Did the narrative give no further light, we should infer this to be a God-inspired thought of David; but the prophet is bidden to go to the King and tell him that he is not to build the house—that privilege being reserved for Solomon. Here the narrative is inspired, but the proposed action is not. It was well meant but not in God’s plan—a very conspicuous example of the principle that many a good man says and does what is not authorized by God; and that the fact that such words or deeds are recorded in Scripture carries no necessary sanction of them as prompted of God.
We must therefore discriminate and distinguish three degrees of authority in the inspired record:
- An authoritative narrative where sentiments and acts are not sanctioned and may be disowned as disapproved of God.
- An authoritative narrative where sentiments and acts are not expressly approved or disapproved and must be judged by the general standards of Scripture teaching.
- An authoritative narrative where the sentiments and acts are inspired and controlled by the Spirit of God, and therefore represent His mind and will (Example, 2 Samuel 7:4-17).
Lack of proper discrimination in matters such as these has often led to much confusion and needless controversy.
But, with these careful limitations, Verbal Inspiration is an absolute necessity if, in any proper sense, there be divine inspiration at all. As Dean Burgon has expressed it, what music would be without notes, a mathematical sum without figures, so would an inspired book be without words controlled by the inspiring Spirit.
We have taken pains to determine this principle at the outset, for without such foundation we have no solid bottom for the studies which follow. The more carefully this Book of God is examined, the more exact do its choice and use of words appear, and the more precise its phrases and terms and even grammatical forms. It is a matter of great importance to scrutinize the very language God employs to convey His mind, and in all the details which follow part of the purpose is both to demonstrate and illustrate the significance of every atom of Scripture—what our Lord called every “jot and tittle.”
The following important considerations should always be borne in mind:
- It is not necessary that the man inspired shall always understand his own message, for even the “prophets inquired and searched diligently” after the meaning of their own predictions which were an enigma even to themselves (1Peter 1:11-12).
- It is not necessary to comprehend the mode of inspiration. All we are concerned with is the result, the investment of the message with unique authority as from God, who was pleased thus to supply to men a final standard of doctrine and duty.
- Inspiration is affirmed, of course, only of the original documents, now no longer extant. Many mistakes may have been made by copyists, and some interpolations by officious scribes and translators are fallible. It is the part of reverent criticism to seek, by careful examination and comparison of all existing documents, to detect errors and restore as far as possible the Scriptures in their original purity.
- Inspiration is not affected by minor differences in various narratives. While God used men as media of communication, they were not mere machines, but were left to use their faculties in individual freedom. Hence arose peculiarities, not only of style, but of treatment, according as the same utterances or occurrences might impress each observer or narrator. But this, instead of impairing, rather increases, the trustworthiness of the record, as it proves that there could have been no prior agreement or conspiracy among the various writers.
- Most so-called discrepancies or disagreements disappear, when the various records are regarded as partial, rather than complete, as each of the four Gospel narratives may present some features not found in the rest, but capable of being combined with the others in one full statement. For example, the complete inscription over the cross was: “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Of this inscription of ten words, Matthew records eight, Mark five, Luke seven, and John eight, and not the same in any two cases; but the full inscription includes all the words found in any record. There is, therefore, no antagonism or contradiction.
- That which is essential in inspiration is the action of the mind of God upon the mind of man, in such way and measure as to quicken and qualify the human medium for the true conveyance of the Divine message. Revelation expresses the informing process, and inspiration the imparting.
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