Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Vintage" Bible Review: Circa 1960's World Publishing KJV Bible

World Publishing KJV Bible in Black Morocco Goatskin
Check your grandmother's closet. Look closely at the Goodwill. Examine that next garage sale with special care.

You may have a valuable "vintage" Bible in your possession.

World Publishing Bible; Double Column Setting, Red Letter
Photographed here is a circa 1960's KJV published by World Bible Publishers in Cleveland, Ohio. Once a dominant presence in the high quality Bible publishing industry, World Publishing Bibles can still be found,  but have been long since out of production.

Formerly the leader in the industry, (insiders say some of their work rivals R.L. Allan today), World Publishers eventually sold off their various book, dictionary, and Bible manufacturing businesses to other companies including Collins (Great Britain), Simon and Shuster, Putnam, and Riverside Book and Bible (Iowa).

[See an article on the history of World Publishing here].
World Publishing Bible; Gold Imprinted Spine, 5 Rib Spine

This particular Bible is a beautiful, near-perfect condition double column reference Bible. It is cloaked in black Morocco goatskin, with full, hatched-style, leather interior lining.

I should say at this point, "They don't make 'em like they used to!" (Actually, some publishers do; Allan, Crossway, Schulyer, and Cambridge still make high quality Bibles, but most others don't even come close).

(Surprisingly, I could not find a publishing date anywhere in this beautiful little volume).

World Publishing Bible; Leather Interior Lining, Hatched Style
Like all good Bibles coming out in the 1960's this one is Smyth sewn (stitched signatures, groupings of 32 pages), and printed on India paper, the best technology available at the time. The relative whiteness of the paper today after more than 50 years attests to the quality work that World Publishing Company was doing in that era.

World Publishing Bible KJV; Circa 1960's, Cleveland Ohio
Sadly most Bible publishers began in the 1970's to produce much cheaper, and far less quality Bibles. Many today are glued (instead of sewn), printed on almost newspaper-like recycled paper, and worst of all, are tucked inside a cardboard cover, or even "bonded leather" (which is really just scraps, leather dust, and glue--the "plywood" of leathers).

World Publishing Bible; Center Column References
This gorgeous, hand-sized edition (measuring at 7.5 X 5.25 inches) of the Authorized Bible has red-under-gold edge gilding to make the pages really "pop" when opened, and glitter when closed. It utilizes one off-center black ribbon, just left of middle.

As for the Morocco leather, it is very flexible without being wimpy, and has been marked by just one notable battle scar in these five-plus decades. As it came to me, still in the box, with its original "owner care" papers in tow, I can't say that it ever endured much hard labor from its previous owner. It's only notable weakness is some very slight page warping due to many years of life here in the humid South.

World Publishing; Bible Care Instructions
Inside, the text is set in two very readable columns, with references and some annotations in a center column. Words of Christ are printed in red. Extras include a substantial concordance, color maps, and a "Bible Reader's Aids" section edited by one Rev. Charles H. H. Wright D.D. of the Universities of Oxford and London. Presentation pages for matrimony, births, marriages, and deaths are set in between testaments.

The Bible came with several documents in the original box including "Your World Bible and How to Care for It" (pictured), a certification that the leather is hand-grained Morocco goatskin, and "An Important Note about Gilded Edges."

I want to thank the anonymous giver who handed this over to me several months ago. Honestly, I didn't even know what was in my possession until I began to research it.

So do just a bit of homework next time you are at a your church yard sale; you just might discover a vintage era World Publishing Bible.

-Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, FL. Besides being a published author, he is an admitted Bibliophile and an active Bible collector. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

Book Review: Thomas Watson's "The Doctrine of Repentance"

Thomas Watson. The Doctrine of Repentance. Electronic edition. (Public Domain: Amazon Kindle).

Overview: Thomas Watson was a great Presbyterian pastor during the puritan era in England. This book is the first of Watson’s that I have read (to my shame), but I certainly expect that it will not be my last. In The Doctrine of Repentance, Watson shows that he has thoroughly considered the subject of his treatise from nearly every conceivable angle. Watson considers the motives of repentance, the manner of repentance, distinctions between true and false repentance, and the source of our freedom in repentance.

The style of this work is highly engaging. He uses short, memorable aphorisms (almost “tweetable”) to underscore his primary thrusts: “Either sin must drown in the tears of repentance, or the soul must burn in hell” (location 54); “Many had rather had their sins covered than cured” (location 486); “It is a great shame not to be ashamed” (Location 657); “If prayer does not make a man leave sin, sin will make a man leave prayer” (location 1101) and the like.

These staccato maxims fall like lightening bolts in the midst of his biblical expositions. If Watson preached in the same style as he wrote, his audience must have left the sanctuary convicted each Lord’s Day! These short, almost proverbial, bursts would surely have preached audibly as powerfully as they read in this centuries old book.

Application: If there was a Christian believer who sincerely wanted to begin reading the Puritans—but was either intimidated to read such venerable stalwarts as John Owen, or was simply not sure where to begin—this book might be a good recommended starting point.

More than that, this work is a virtual “how to” manual for the believer to begin to look deep within his own soul when taking time to repent. Watson does his best work in distinguishing many of the false forms of “confession,” by insisting that we grapple with our sin at the root of the issue, refusing to allow lesser, shallow forms of repentance suffice.

Critique: The puritan style of making distinctions between distinctions (and even more distinctions) of theological topics may seem repetitive to some. Others may not be able to see the “direction” of the overall piece as it moves circuitously forward because it seems that Watson retreads some material in several places. In reality this is a fairly typical example of the puritan style of teaching; reemphasizing the basics, and recovering areas already explored in order to to help secure mastery of the material in their hearers or readers. For me, having some familiarity with this literary technique, it is not burdensome, but rather encouraging as I progress through Watson’s eminently practical doctrine of repentance. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Ask Pastor Matt: Should I Invite My Gay Friend?

Pastor Matt, 

I have a good friend at work who is a professing homosexual. Since our relationship as friends and coworkers is growing, I have considered inviting her to important events in our lives (weddings, the birth of children, baptisms etc.). I don't want to promote a sinful lifestyle, but I do want to be a good witness of the love of Christ. Where should a Christian draw the line on these matters? I'm looking for ways to share my faith in Christ with her, but I'm not sure how. Can you help? 

--Anonymous 

What a great question! And one that no doubt many believers are asking, especially as our society grows more and more accepting of the so-called alternative lifestyles. 

Although some Christians may disagree with me on this, I do believe that you should invite this woman who is struggling with her sexual identity to come to witness your family together in important events like weddings, the birth of a child, Christian baptisms, and other great life moments.

I see no reason why not to invite her, as your friendship with her seems to be blooming anyway. If anything, I believe it would be a positive witness to her of the beauty and glory of a Christian marriage, conception within marriage, the miracle of live birth, and the discipleship of child rearing--all for the glory of Jesus. We want people in alternative lifestyles to see up-close and personal the stability and beauty of married life, don't we? We especially want them to see Christian households that live together in peace within the covenant of grace. 

As a matter of fact, I love preaching at weddings and funerals--not to mention baptisms--because these are some of the important Christian life markers that unbelievers still feel some compunction to attend and participate in. Preaching at these events is a great joy for me because I know there will be those who are unbelievers present. I want them to see what we do. Hear what we believe. Even long for what we have in Christ. 

We want LGBT people to be able to see us as Christians in our "real element" with our families and our churches, standing alongside our spouses, loving and raising our children together in the faith. Too often LGBT people  have mental conceptions of Christians holding up signs at street rallies and shouting out our beliefs in megaphones. You know and I know that Christians are loving people, even if we do have many flaws that our Savior did not have. But they have often been fed an 'image' of Christianity that is no more than an angry caricature. 

Part of our problem as believers today is we lack the necessary "street credibility" with the LGBT community who only view us as condescending, hypocritical, and judgmental. The only way to refute and break down that stereotype is to engage in real relationships and honest friendships. This will take time and cannot be done overnight. 

If we are going to be a witness to people in the LGBT community, we are going to have to develop authentic relationships with them. We will need to invite them into our homes and dine with them. Serve them meals and love them through their own struggles and trials. Handing them tracts on a street-corner won't likely be enough for them to listen intently to the message we proclaim. They have been trained to shut it out. If we are going to share authentic relationships with LGBT people, that will require us to invite them into deeper moments of our lives beyond professionalism and mere neighborliness (although it often starts there). We will have to go deeper.
Wait longer. Love more compassionately. We have a huge up-hill climb to go. 

The moment will come when you can talk to her about your faith in Christ. Pray for that to come in God's timing. Ask God for His wisdom in discerning when that moment will be. It may not be "the big conversation" but many little conversations over many weeks and months. Or it may all pour out over a very long extended coffee one day at Starbucks. (Pay the bill and give a generous tip too--act like a Christian!).

By all means, include this women in the meaningful moments of your life and show her the love of Christ who Himself met with drunks, liars, thieves, religious hypocrites, adulterers--and loved them all. At the same time, Jesus masterfully defended the law of the Old Testament and gave no ground on moral issues. Neither should we. When the moment comes for you to share your faith--and possibly even defend the line in the sand you draw about human sexuality--you will have earned the right to speak truth into her life rather than assuming it.  

Hope that helps. 

Matthew Everhard is the Senior Pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Old Testament: A Ten Minute Overview

Many overviews of the Old Testament are lengthy and detailed. Here however is a short synopsis (lacking many details) of the narrative of the Old Testament. Much is missing, but for the sake of brevity I have attempted to paint the broad strokes so that you might be able to take in the grandness of the Old Testament in under ten minutes for the average reader. Why not take ten minutes now and refresh your love for God as we overview the incredible story of the Old Testament.

The Creation of a People

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:26-27).

In the beginning of the Old Testament God creates. His creation is incomplete until both man and woman have their being as a people created to glorify God. However Adam and Eve quickly lost sight of their created purpose and sought instead to attain God-likeness in eating from the forbidden tree at the cunning deceit of the serpent. Adam and Eve collided with sin and the creation has been subject to the aftermath ever since. They were kicked out of the garden, out from an in person communion with God. But God did not annihilate them; instead we see from the beginning chapters of Genesis a God who will pursue his people to the utmost, to the point of death on a cross.

Through the lineage of Adam and Eve comes the great family of Abraham, one whom God makes a covenant with and one who exemplifies faith. God declares he will make him a great nation through his offspring and bless him by giving him the gift of land, the Promised Land (Genesis 12). But how can God do this with a man whose wife is beyond childbearing age? The answer is profoundly simple: God is God, He has unlimited creating and redeeming power. And so Isaac is born in their old age. Through Isaac will eventually come Jacob. These are the patriarchs of our faith. Through Jacob will come Joseph who is sold into slavery in Egypt where he eventually rises to prominence and where the family of Abraham grows by leaps and bounds, making the people of God a vast nation. The creator God has created a people for Himself, a people fallen in deep need of reconciliation to their God.

The Exodus

A few hundred years pass as Israel flourishes in Egypt. A new Pharaoh arises and is afraid that Israel has become “too many and too mighty” (Exodus 1:9b) and enslaves them to his service. They have yet to inhabit freedom in the land promised by God to Abraham. In fulfillment of God’s promise, he raises up Moses to set His people free and declare the word of God to the oppressive Pharaoh. Pharaoh’s hardened heart prevents his release of the Israelites which God uses as a means to display his power and glory through ten different plagues. Pharaoh finally capitulates to the mighty hand of God over his people Israel, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the Lord, as you have said” (Exodus 12:31).

The rebellion of Pharaoh and subsequent plagues on the people, culminating in the obliteration of Pharaoh and his army, show the end behind God’s actions—his own glory: “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 14:4). In their exodus, the Israelites led by God, part the Red Sea and cross into the wilderness. As the Egyptians pursue, God unleashes the walls of water that have allowed the Israelites to cross on dry land and drowns them. The Israelites are now free but have yet to inhabit the land promised.

The Law, the Wilderness, and the Promised Land

In the wilderness we see two mighty traits emphasized, the holiness of God and the sinful rebellion of mankind. God leads the Israelites by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to Mt. Sinai. It is here that God reveals to Moses the Law—the revelation of God’s holiness and the Israelites subsequent call to live in accord with the honor that is due for God’s people.

However while Moses is receiving the incredible revelation from God on Mt. Sinai, the people rebel. They create for themselves a golden calf under the leadership of Aaron, Moses’ brother. They turn their worship from one who has so miraculously freed them to a golden image, a god of their own creation. The fall echoes everywhere in the lives of mankind.

The Israelites set out from Mt. Sinai towards Canaan, the promised land. As they move they seek to be faithful in their worship of God. They institute the priesthood and the tabernacle of the Lord from camp to camp. The tabernacle exists as a command from God as a dwelling place for the Lord and a place of sacrifice for the sins of the people by the priests.

As the Israelites move towards Canaan, they become discontent and exhibit a rebellious spirit towards God. The providence of God, the physical sustenance of manna and his continual leading, was not good enough. God instead leads them through the wilderness for 40 years, until the generation that left Egypt had passed away and a new generation had been born. With a new generation being called back to faithfulness, Moses retells the law and desires of God for His people (Deuteronomy). At this point Israel crosses into the Promised Land, Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey. The covenant with Abraham is fulfilled as the Israelites conquer the nations in Canaan and grow to be a mighty people of God.

The Rise and Fall of the Monarchy

One would think that the Israelites in knowing their God, one who has displayed Himself as utterly loving and caring, would faithfully serve and worship Him alone. The history of Israel however is quite the opposite unfortunately. In the Promised Land the Israelites rebel against God, “They abandoned the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth” (Judges 2:13). The Lord institutes judges to lead the people towards holiness but even then they did not “listen to the judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them” (Judges 2:17). Sin is an infection of the heart which turns all humanity away from God.

The judges were not good enough for the Israelites. They wanted to be like the other nations. They wanted a king, an evil thing in the sight of the Lord because He was their King. God institutes a monarchy for the purpose of turning them back to Himself, which fails to happen initially, but from whose lineage will come one who will redeem and reconcile God’s people to Himself, the Messiah.

Saul is anointed and installed as the first human king of Israel. The people rejoice and return to the Lord. However Saul soon turns in rebellion and hardness of heart. God raises up a young man David whose celebrity becomes renowned thereby enraging the king’s jealousy. Saul intends to put David to death and pursues him eventually coming to ruin by the hands of the Philistines.

David becomes the second king of Israel. He leads the Israelites as an exemplary king to worship their God. While he may be the greatest king of Israel, he still shows the depths of sin in the human heart through things such as his adultery with Bathsheba and cover-up murder of her husband. Nonetheless God enters into an incredible covenant with David: “Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house…I will raise up your offspring after you…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 Samuel 7:11-14). In spite of all of Israel’s rebellion, God is eternally a God in relationship with them. He will not shake them off like dust from his feet. They are His people and He is their God. Here is a promise greater than any promise of heritage and land, here is the promise of a coming King, one who rules with holiness and grace, one who can blot out transgression and impute righteousness. But this King is far off.

The history of the remaining kings of Israel is a dismal chapter in history. Things begin well with Solomon who builds the temple of the Lord in all its splendor but quickly spirals out of control in sin and rebellion. From one king to another they turn more and more wicked in their worship of other gods, returning here and there to a king who tries to lead in faithfulness. The kingdom splits over desire for power, the north becoming the kingdom of Israel and the south becoming the kingdom of Judah. This period of Israel’s history is covenant disloyalty at its worst.

Exile and Return

As a consequence of this faithlessness, God hands over his people to foreign nations and foreign lands. Their freedom and Promised Land is lost. The northern kingdom Israel is exiled in 722 B.C. after their capture by the Assyrians. In 587 B.C. the southern kingdom Judah is taken captive and led away by the Babylonians who destroy God’s temple. At this point things seem like God is done with His people, maybe He has had enough with their wanton rebellion and contempt for His mercy towards them. But even in the midst of sin God does not give up on His people. We cannot read the Old Testament and see a God of wrath only; He is a God of grace and mercy that pursues His people relentlessly.

In 538 B.C. the southern kingdom of Judah that was exiled to Babylon began to return to the Promised Land. The Persians, under the leadership of Cyrus, conquer Babylon. Cyrus permits with a public edict the return of God’s people and the rebuilding of His temple. The northern kingdom Israel remains in exile. The return of God’s people to Jerusalem culminates in the rebuilding of the temple and the walls of the city. It is here in postexilic Jerusalem that the Psalms take a prominent role as the hymnbook of God’s people.

Conclusion

The Old Testament is a continual witness to the mercy of God in creating and sustaining a people for Himself. The events that transpire are a continual declaration of who God is and who He calls His people to be, a faithful people restored in relationship. But yet there is much left wanting. There is an unfinished covenant made with king David, there is a promise of a coming Messiah through the prophet Isaiah that God’s people long for. God’s holiness and mankind’s sin are ever on display in these 39 books. The reader cannot help but see their own heart’s rebellion and need for forgiveness. The Old Testament points towards a need for restoration, it points towards the total sinfulness and rebellion of mankind, it points to a God who will not let us wallow in sin, it points to Jesus.

*     *     *

JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Ask Pastor Matt: Were There People Before Adam?

Hey Pastor Matt!

Was there life on earth before Adam? I was recently in a Bible Study and we were discussing early Biblical history. I conjectured that it was possible that there were people here before Adam and Eve who were really horrible and they displeased God so much that He wiped them out. I would like to know if maybe that suggestion was off base. Maybe I could help clear that up with my study group.

 --Keri


Thanks for writing, Keri! I love a good challenge for our occasional "Ask Pastor Matt" feature article on Whitefield's Prayer.

The question of life before Adam and Eve is a provocative one indeed. In fact, the answer that we give regarding the possibility of life before our Ancient Parents is one that could spill into other areas of our theology and worldview.

Of course, the Bible teaches unequivocally that there WAS life before Adam and Eve. Humanity was created on the sixth day, and other creatures, fish and birds and such, were made on days prior (Genesis 1:20-23). There is no controversy there. The problem arises with what we might call humanoid or proto-humanoid creatures (ancient man, cavemen, whatever you want to call them).

So to re-state the question: Is it possible that there were other humans before Adam and Eve? 

There are some (indeed many) who conjecture that there were in fact humanoid predecessors to the Biblical Adam and Eve. Some would say there were thousands and thousands of years of human beings--much like ourselves--who lived prior. Most of these scholars tend to dismiss the first few chapters of Genesis as entirely non-historical. Some would even say there was no such thing as Adam and Eve at all. (Of course, most of those who hold this position take quite liberal views on a lot of other matters as well).

The problem with that, as you will see, is that it raises quite a few difficulties for orthodox, Biblical evangelicals such as us.

The Bible certainly presents the story of God's special creation of Adam and Eve as unique, distinct from the other creatures, and original (compare Genesis 1:26-28 & 2:5-9). There are no hints of even the possibility of other fully developed humans before Adam anywhere in the Biblical text itself.

Those who would hold that there were humans before Adam and Eve typically view the second and third chapters of Genesis as mythological, and therefore non-historical. This is to say that the Fall did not happen literally and historically, but is rather a story the ancients told and passed down to explain the problem of human sin. But if we dismiss the creation account as non-historical/mythological, do we do the same thing with other places that recount God's great power such as the resurrection of Jesus as mythological too?

This raises significant problems for evangelicals who hold to the Bible's infallibility and inerrancy as we do. For one, the creation and fall texts do not really read as myths. For instance, actual places and locations are named (2:12-14); some of which can still be identified today. Further, other places in Scripture (1 Chron 1:1; Hosea 6:7; Luke 3:38; Romans 5:14 & etc.) refer to these events as literally historical, and given that Scripture is the best interpretive grid for Scripture, it would seem that the whole scope of the Bible views these events as literal-historical and not mythological.

Not only that, but if the Adam and Eve stories were mythological, how would we then explain the pervasive power of sin in the lives of every human? How did the human race get so corrupt? If there were humans before Adam and Eve how did they fall into sin? Following that line of logic we might even need many "creations" and many "falls."

We can see why many liberal scholars would WANT the story of the Fall to be mythological, though: It would dull the blade of the Bible's teaching on total depravity (the radical nature of sin)--an age old obsession of liberal scholars to free mankind from his guilt.

So my short answer is, "No," I don't think there were humans before Adam and Eve. I believe (and am convinced that the Bible teaches) that they were unique, hand-made, original creations of God with no direct predecessors.

Suppose, however, that a follow-up question is asked: What do thoughtful Christians do with such things as the fossil record? How do we explain the fact that the earth certainly appears to be very old under scientific examination? Why does it seem that all of the various natural sciences agree that the earth is very, very old? Indeed, billions of years old? 

I would answer that by looking carefully at the first few days of creation. Notice that when God makes anything in the six days of creation, He makes them in a state of full maturity. The trees are bearing fruit (Genesis 1:12). The celestial bodies of stars are shining forth (1:14-19). Fish are swarming and birds are flying (Genesis 1:20-22). Notice that none of these things are in their nascent forms (eggs, seeds etc.) but are created fully mature.

A bird or fish would appear to be months old five seconds after God called them into being. A fully mature tree would be called into existence with years of age in its appearance. If we cut down a tree five minutes after God created the first live oak, its trunk would contain rings that make it look decades old. A star in a far away galaxy would appear to be billions of years old, its light penetrating throughout the universe--and yet it is just seconds old!

So too with Adam. When God created him, Adam was created in a state of maturity. Of full manhood. He was old enough to work (Genesis 2:15), marry, speak, love, and procreate.  He was not created an embryo or a fetus, but rather fully mature.

In my view, the best way to understand the scientific analysis of the earth's apparently-very-old-age is to acknowledge that God created the world in a state of complete maturity (appearing billions of years old) while yet holding to the literal six day creation reading of Genesis 1-3.

Pastor Matthew Everhard is the senior pastor of Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Brooksville, Florida. 

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Author and Authority of Scripture

It is my hope in writing here that our understanding of the personal authority of Scripture will be refreshed. It is a powerful word that bears weight in our lives precisely because of Him who authored it, God Himself. The words in Scripture are God’s very own words revealing His very own self to us. For when the Scripture speaks, God speaks. If in the Scriptures God speaks, then there is nothing that bears greater authority for the life of the Christian.

The Author of Scripture

In an overview of Scripture, we must first begin with who authored the words we hold before us in our Bible. Paul reveals to us and the church at Thessalonica who authored the words we read, “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard form us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess. 2:13, emphasis mine). Scripture self-attests that is itself written by and contains the words of God Himself. Orthodox Christians have held to this understanding of the Bible for century upon century, before even both the Old and New Testaments were formally canonized. John Calvin reiterates the orthodox understanding that in the Bible, “God in person speaks in it.”[1]

Scripture is first and foremost a personal revelation. God in Scripture reveals Himself to His creation through a written medium. What once was orally circulated among the Israelites and early church was written for our benefit. It was written for many reasons[2] but chief among all reasons the Apostle John records for us in 20:31, “but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  The content of the Christian faith, which has come to be written in our Bibles, is a personal revelation of God. It contains that which God has designed and implemented for His creation to know regarding who He is and therefore who we are. Or as R.C. Sproul puts it,

“The Scriptures come to us as divine self-disclosure. Here the mind of God is laid bare on many matters. With a knowledge of Scripture we do not have to rely on secondhand information or bare speculation to learn who God is and what he values. In the Bible he reveals himself.”[3]

Think with me now for a moment. Imagine you have been diagnosed with a rare disease. You head to your doctor for treatment and while waiting in the room you see a diploma on the wall. The diploma states that the doctor graduated a month ago. That might not instill much confidence in you for the decided treatment. If however the diploma was issued twenty years ago, it might garner more trust with the recommended treatment for the disease.

The authority and therefore subsequent trust of the patient, relies on the experience of the doctor. We assess articles and books in much the same way. We assess their ideas and propositions based on who wrote it, do we not? If we read a statement on the political climate in Israel only to find it was written by a botanist, it might not carry the same weight from a statement provided by a foreign affairs journalist.

The same concept holds true for Scripture. If we say they are simply words thought up by some who had incredible wisdom and stories to share, it would bear some weight. But if we were to say Scripture instead contains the very words of God almighty, there is no higher trump card with regards the author’s authority in the subject. Therefore we must begin any discussion on the place of Scripture in the life of the Christian with the awe-inspiring understanding that the words contained therein are no mere human word, but a divine self-disclosure of God Himself written for the benefit and direction of mankind.

Divine Inspiration

But the question then becomes “How did God reveal Himself if we know human authors put pen to paper to record the words we find in our Bible?” Theologians call the how of this recording process inspiration.

Among the many verses that speak of the inspiration of Scripture, 2nd Timothy 3:16 ranks highest in clarity, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The term “breathed out,” θεόπνευστος in the original Greek, literally translates “inspired by God.” Paul here with this language urges Timothy to recognize the Author of Scripture and the means by which He used to bring His word into being, inspiration. Inspiration is God’s design and means to reveal himself, and therefore “God’s word is God himself, understood as a speaking God, one who eternally communicates.”[4] Scripture therefore comes from God. It is his word, His pouring into written form His very own self. The Westminster Confession of Faith describes inspiration in this way,

“The Old Testament in Hebrew (the native language of the ancient people of God) and the New Testament in Greek (the language most widely known internationally at the time the New Testament was written) were directly inspired by God and have been kept uncontaminated throughout time by his special care and providence.”[5]

Through the means of inspiration, God literally “breathing out” His word, God enables human writers to accurately record in written format what He desires us to know. Chief among this relationship between the breathed out word and the method of writing it down is the action and influence of the Holy Spirit, “The infallibility and divine authority of the Scriptures are due to the fact that they are the word of God; and they are the word of God precisely because they were given by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.”[6] But the Spirit guided the inspiration of God’s word through human writers, a relational dynamic between the Author and authors to which we must now turn.

Inspiration and Human Authors

While God inspires Scripture He has only written by hand the Ten Commandments on the two tablets of stone that He gave to Moses (Exodus 31:18). He has spoken to many to record what He has said and stimulated others to write a Divine word. God’s method of inspiration has worked in a myriad of ways to record for us, in our Bible, the very words of God, even if mankind was the one to put pen to paper. Or as John Calvin puts it, “…we affirm with utter certainty (just as if we were gazing upon the majesty of God himself) that [scripture] has flowed to us from the very mouth of God by the ministry of men.”[7] There is a miraculous relationship in the formation of the Bible between man and God.

In the Old Testament we see many examples of this inspiration. In Exodus 19:6b we see God speaking and inspiring Moses to record God’s very words, “These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.” The inspiration and recording of God’s word continues with Joshua and moves towards the prophets. When a prophet says, “Thus says the Lord,” they are speaking on behalf of Another the very words God inspired them to speak. The prophets are “claiming that their words are the absolute authoritative words of God.”[8] In the New Testament we have a myriad of written forms, from Gospels and Acts recounting the life, death, burial of Jesus, and the formation of the Chruch, to a myriad of letters to individual churches or peoples. In all of these writers God inspired both the form and words to communicate the good news of the Gospel for our benefit. The great Princeton theologian Charles Hodge states the doctrine of inspiration this way,

“Inspiration was an influence of the Holy Spirit on the minds of certain select men, which rendered them the organs of God for the infallible communication of his mind and will. They were in a sense the organs of God, that what they said God said.”[9]

However Hodge’s initial definition could lead us to believe that all the human writers did was act as “organs” for God, as mere puppets whose hands the Spirit moved. Theologians call this misunderstanding of inspiration the “mechanical theory of inspiration.” Hodge continues to clarify what we mean and don’t mean with inspiration,

“The ancients, indeed, were accustomed to say, as some theologians have also said, that the sacred writers were as pens in the hand of the Spirit; or as harps, from which He drew what sounds He pleased. These representations were, however, intended simply to illustrate one point, namely, that the words uttered or recorded by inspired men were the words of God. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs.”[10]

We must affirm that men were not coopted by the Spirit, but retained their very humanness in the inspiration and recording of Scripture. The writers of the Old and New Testament “wrote out of the fullness of their own thoughts and feelings, and employed the language and modes of expression which to them were the most natural and appropriate. Nevertheless…the spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, and their words were his words.”[11] God employed the uniqueness of his writers but this does not negate it is a word from God. 2nd Peter 1:21 sums it up nicely, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.”

The means of God’s self-revelation in Scripture, divine inspiration through created beings, is simply an astounding method. Of all the ways God could have given us a revelation of Himself, He chose to employ His very fallen creation to do so. In so doing God further displays His desire to be in relationship with us when He could have simply written it all with His own hand. This is the awe-provoking doctrine of inspiration.

Authority

Therefore, because of the cooperation in Scripture’s inspiration, it is “correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness of error in any part of the words of Scripture.”[12] Scripture retains then the utmost authority, because of the Author and truthfulness of the words recorded. Calvin states, “Hence the Scriptures obtain full authority among believers only when men regard them as having sprung from heaven, as if there the living words of God were heard.”[13] The reformers in the Protestant Reformation came to refer to this understanding of the authority of Scripture as sola scriptura, Latin for by Scripture alone. Scripture is the sole rule of faith and practice for the life of the Christian. It’s authority for our lives cannot be overstated.

But what do we mean by authority? Authority implies obedience. If you have a supervisor at work, he bears authority over you in regards your job. If he is a tyrant who knows little of the job he is asking you to perform, it will be difficult to be obedient to his authority. If however he is all-knowing, all-powerful, and has your flourishing in mind, obedience and submission will be a delight. God wields this kind of authority and it is given to us in the Scriptures. The Westminster Confession of Faith speaks of this authority,

“The Bible speaks authoritatively and so deserves to be obeyed. This authority does not depend on the testimony of any man or church but completely on God, its author, who is himself truth. The Bible therefore is to be accepted as true, because it is the word of God.”[14]

God has chosen to reveal Himself to us. He does so through human writers who are inspired by His Spirit to record everything sufficient for our salvation and knowledge of Him. Therefore the Bible itself bears the authority of God Himself. How joyful we are to be to submit to His word for our lives because God longs for our flourishing, He longs for us to be a joyful people, a people knowing their created purpose to bask in and exalt in the very glory of God Himself. Christian, know that when you pick up your Bible and read it, you are reading the very words of God to you that He has so miraculously joined together for His glory and your joy. 

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JT Holderman is Assistant Pastor of Bellevue Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Gap, PA.



[1] Calvin John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, Ford Lewis Battles trans. (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 78.
[2] See chapters 2, 3, and 4 for a fuller understanding of the purpose of Scripture.
[3] R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1977), 25.
[4] John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God (Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 2010), 48.
[5] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.8, emphasis mine.
[6] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, vol. 1 (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2008), 153.
[7] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 80.
[8] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 74.
[9] Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, 154.
[10] Ibid., 157, emphasis mine.
[11] Ibid., 157.
[12] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, 83.
[13] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 74.
[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1.4.