The Bible – just another book written by men?

Delivered at the joint Wesley/WDA/CCF Apologetics Conference at the University of Georgia in 2001

I. Isn’t the Bible just a book written by Men?

Clearly the Bible didn’t just fall from of the sky – someone had to write it. In fact, after-wards others had to copy it and transmit it from generation to generation, and translate it from the original Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic, and make many theological decision while doing so, in order for us to have a copy today.

Also, when we read the Scripture, we immediately recognize its human origin. For instance, Peter wrote in chapter 2, verse 16, of his second letter;“We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.” Notice who is doing the “telling” – Peter, who is claiming that his testimony should be believed NOT BECAUSE GOD IS SPEAKING THROUGH HIM, but because he was an eyewitness to the things of which he wrote. Also, in 1 Peter 1:10-11, he speaks of the Old Testament prophets searching “intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing…” Here, again, human effort is put into seeking out the truth that was then written down for us.

The human origin of the Bible is made even clearer by passages such as Luke 1:3-4. Here he states; “Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.” Here, not only do we see the author speaking of his own effort in researching the events about which he wrote, but that the book was a personal letter, written to a specific individual, Theophilus, by a specific individual, Paul’s disciple, Luke. In fact, many of the New Testament books in particular are letters to either individuals or churches, each displaying the authors’ own styles, personalities, and concerns.

In all reality, the human origin of the Scripture is so clear that no case really needs to be made for it, but is that ALL that it is? Can it truly be said that the Bible is JUST a book written by men. I don’t believe so, and this is my case.
II. The Bible chronicles God’s working in human history

First, anyone honestly reading the Bible, whether or not they believe it to be true, will recognize that, when taken as a whole, it works on some level as a historical document; an account of the acts of the Hebrew God working and revealing Himself in human history, pinnacling in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and then going on to chronicle the work of the Holy Spirit in the early stages of Christ’s church., with an eye to the future and the full coming of the Kingdom of God. If this history is true, then the Bible is more than JUST a book written by men because those men chronicled GOD’S WORKS, GOD’S WORDS, and their direct EXPERIENCE OF GOD, when writing.

Taking a closer look, notice that the God about which they wrote is not a distant God that philosophers must make wild guesses about, but He is a God who REALLY IS, who is NEAR, and WHO HAS SPOKEN. In the words of the late, great apologeticist Francis Schaeffer, “He is there, and HE IS NOT SILENT.”

Isaiah 51:16 says; “I have put my words in your mouth and covered you with the shadow of my hand– I who set the heavens in place, who laid the foundations of the earth, and who say to Zion, `You are my people.'”Hebrews 1:1-3 speaks to this when it says, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.” The Bible is overflowing with the words “thus sayeth the Lord.” In fact, Robert Reymond, a professor of Systematic Theology at Knox Theological Seminary, counted more than 3,800 time in the Old Testament alone where the writer’s message is introduced with some form or another of “the mouth of the Lord has spoken”, “the Lord says”, “the Lord spoke”, “hear the word of the Lord”, “thus the Lord has shown to me”, or “the word of the Lord came unto me, saying…”

The Bible seems to claim for itself, therefore, not to be merely a just another book written by men, but rather a book chronicling the works and words of a God who SPEAKS. The authors weren’t left playing a total guessing game as to the nature and purpose of the God about which they wrote. Through prophets, pillars of fire, a burning bush, and even “the Angel of the Lord”, they experienced God. The author’s didn’t write about a distant Greek god, or a god of their imagination, but they wrote about the God of revelation – a God that they purport to have KNOWN in a ‘personal’ way.
III. The Bible claims itself to be the Word of God

Though some may think it significant that the Bible chronicles the historical revelation of God, I don’t think this is quite enough. I don’t think that is enough because I believe the Bible makes even higher claims for itself – the Bible claims itself to be the very word of God.

We notice that Paul claims God’s authority for he and the Apostles’ own words in 1 Thessalonians 2:13; “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.” In fact, Scripture is so closely equated with the very words of God that when the New Testament quotes the Old to say “God said” or “(the human author) said” are virtually interchangeable.

Why is this? Because Scripture is “God-breathed.” 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”, and much has been said about this. I’ve been told numerous times by others that we simply don’t know WHAT “God-breathed” means. Well, if understood in a literal sense, the Greek here – and I am not a Greek scholar but am trusting the scholarship of others – has the sense not that God “breathed into” the words of man, as He breathed life into Adam, but rather that he “breathed out” the words of Scripture through men. If this is true, we can only affirm that in some sense the human authored words of Scripture are God’s very own. B. B. Warfield wrote, “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the divine Spirit and heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men.”

It is also clear that the words of the Bible are much more than just normal human prose because, for instance, mishandling As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, great book though it may be, will not likely have negative eternal consequences for your soul. However, Peter, when referring to Paul’s letters states in 2 Peter 3:15-16; “…our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Notice here that Peter, long before the canonization of the New Testament, and most likely even before the writing of the four Gospels, already considers Paul’s letters to be of the same quality as the Old Testament Scriptures – and equally dangerous if misunderstood or misused.
IV. The External evidences

“Okay, Shannon”, I hear some saying, “I’ll give you that the Bible makes some pretty extraordinairy claims for itself, but apart from it’s own claims, you’ve given me no reason to actually BELIEVE that the Bible is the Word of God!” The fact is, many of the world’s holy books make extravagant claims for themselves, but clearly they cannot all be true because many are at odds with one-another. I posit three main ways in which we may place faith in the Bible as truly the word of the one true God, the first of which I’ve adapted from Norman Geisler’s final chapter in Christian Apologetics, and the final two from Richard Swinburne’s book, Revelation.

First, the New Testament documents, or at least the core of the gospel story as recorded there, can be shown historically reliable – especially the resurrection of Christ. These documents present Jesus as claiming to be the messiah, and lend credence to it by fulfilled prophecy, a miraculous life, and predicting and accomplishing his own resurrection from the dead. Whatever Christ teaches, as God, is true. Christ taught as though the Old Testament were the written Word of God and essentially promised that his disciples would write the New Testament by promising that the Spirit would “remind them of the things he had taught” and “lead them into all truth.”student Therefore, it is true on the confirmed divine authority of Jesus Christ that the Bible is the written Word of God. In fact, the overall historical reliability of the whole Bible, should lend credence to it’s other claims – if the Bible has proven consistently true in one area, what reasons have we to mistrust it in another? My own personal trek towards recognizing the authority of the Scriptures is much like this. I was an Atheist and devout skeptic for most of my life, and even after I came to the conclusion that a God existed, and that Jesus was his way of restoring our relationship to Him, I still believed most of the Bible to be an elaborate myth with just a core of historical reality. However, I recognized great practical wisdom at work in the proverbs, which kept me coming back for more. That, and the fact that Jesus miraculous life was historically verifiable was enough to bring me face-to-face with Jesus, and as I fell more in love with Him, and as the Spirit worked in me the work of Sanctification, over time I was challenged to be like Jesus – and Jesus trusted in the Scriptures as the Word of God. As Jesus said, “a student will become like his teacher.”

Secondly, the Bible speaks to reality as it really is. For one, the Bible speaks to our deepest needs, and is true to the human condition. Unlike many other religious texts, it admits that sin is REAL and, in fact, that the world is REAL. Many Eastern religions, for instance, believe that this world is an illusion – that even our own individuality is an illusury. However, even those individuals live in a rational world created by the one true God – when one of them approaches a door, they must truly act as though that door is REALLY THERE – if they behave otherwise, and thus do not open it, they are likely to bloody their nose. We should expect any book claiming to be the Word of God to conform with reality. In fact, I believe this is what we find concerning the Bible. Again, looking back on my own life, the basic honestly and WISDOM of the Scripture, particularly the Proverbs, is what led me back again and again to the Bible, even at a time when I didn’t believe it to be inspired.

Lastly, the test of the miraculous. According to Douglas Blount, “This test concerns whether an alleged revelation contains claims which only God could know at the time of their disclosure but which later are shown to be true.” Due to fulfilled prophecies, the Bible shows itself sure.

Unfortunately, I don’t have time to work through each one of the above, but if you’ll like to explore these for yourself, for A. read William Lane Craig’s Assessing the New Testament Witness to the Resurrection of Jesus and Craig Blomberg’s The Historical Reliablity of the Gospels. For B., check out Francis Schaeffer’s The God who is There, and for C. read In Defense of Miracles by Douglas Geivett and Gary Habermas, or any other of a number of books on Old Testament prophecy fulfilled in the New.
Closing statements; The Word written & the Word enfleshed

So, the question many will ask is HOW this can be true? For instance, the Bible speaks of man being sinful, and thus FULL of error – how is it that the Bible can be both 100% the Word of God and yet written by men, if men tend towards error and God always speaks truth? For one, no one is continually at err – total depravity doesn’t mean that we are by nature as evil as possible all the time, thank God, though you may have known an individual or two in your life who appears to have made this their goal. Rather, total depravity means that no part of us was untouched by sin. When I was sitting at a green light several Sundays ago, still stopped and not yet proceeding to go, and a good friend in the car with me said, “Shannon, the light is green”, should I have doubted her word because people are prone to err? Of course not – people make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean that every single individual is always wrong all of the time. If it did, wouldn’t we be in trouble?! Though, of course, the more someone writes, given our human nature, in and of ourselves, the more likely it is that we will make a mistake. However, the authors of Scripture were not writing of their own power, either – they were writing by the power of the Spirit. How can we make sense of this?

Is it logically consistent to believe that the Bible was truly written by men, and yet is fully the Word of God? Isn’t it true, that if God totally overwhelmed a human, and dictated Scripture through them, that that text would not be the words of men at all? But clearly this isn’t the case – again, we see the author’s own personalities, styles, and concerns ALL OVER the Scripture. Now, let it be known – we do not actually have to PROVE HOW God wrote the Scriptures through men, to show that it is logically plausible for it to have happened – all we must do is show a possible avenue for Him to have done so. If we can give a clear example of how God MIGHT have inspired the authors of Scripture in a way that maintains their human authorship, yet ensures that a text is still HIS words, then we can truly say, and reasonably so, that the Bible is both the Word of God and the words of men. In fact, I believe that I can do so.

I’m going to use the Gospels genre within the New Testament as my example in this case. The authors of the Gospels were all eyewitnesses or disciples of eyewitnesses to the life or resurrected life of Jesus. They not only relied on their own experience and memories, which Jesus promised would be quickened by the Spirit, but, as Luke mentions, also relied upon other eyewitness accounts of the events that had taken place. Now, though the Spirit of God might have led Luke to have a great concern for Theophilus, and thus given him the desire to write to him an “orderly account”, and the Spirit also was at reminding his apostolic sources of all that Jesus had taught (John 14:26) and leading them “into all understanding”( John 16:12-13), the desire to write, and the words themselves would be Luke’s very own. In fact, even to get an inerrant Bible, all God would have to do is suppress ideas and concepts in the minds of the authors that might be misleading to their audience or misrepresent the truth! This is not outside the way God sometimes works; regularly God redirected Paul by blocking him from going one way or another during his missionary journeys. If so, can the Holy Spirit not also block a neural pathway in the brain, so a certain faulty or misleading idea might not be retrievable? So, if this were how God inspired the Gospels, what you would have is this; Jesus as God taught the importance of spreading the good news, to which Luke was responding by writing an account of the Good News for Theophilus. The content of the Gospel, though remembered in detail and understood by the apostles by the aid of the Spirit, was researched and written by Luke’s own effort. The teachings contained within that Gospel would reflect the mind of God for they are the words and acts of God working in the world through Christ Jesus and by the Holy Spirit. God, by suppressing content or ideas that might be misleading, maintains that Luke’s letter to Theophilus contains nothing more than what God wants conveyed. However, Luke himself is choosing terms, ordering sentences, and doing the writing reflecting his own style and concerns. If this were so, the whole content, message, and truth of the text of Luke would be from God, yet written by a man using his own skills ultimately of his own free-will. This being one possible route for God to have worked, and containing no logical inconsistencies, we are perfectly reasonable in saying that the Scripture is both the words of men AND the Word of God.

Lastly, we should EXPECT the Bible to be both divine and human in origin, because the Word of God enfleshed, Christ Jesus, was so. Granted, how Jesus was both fully man and fully God may be a mystery beyond all mysteries, yet it makes our own salvation possible and believing it explains and makes sense of so many other things. If Jesus as the Word of God enfleshed is both fully divine and fully human, then we should expect nothing less of the Scriptures, the Word of God written.

So, what are the practical applications of this? First, and most importantly, since the Bible is the word of God, we should us humble ourselves before it. Part of the fall of man according to Genesis was to doubt God at his word, “did God REALLY say?” Let this be known – if you read the Scriptures and see that they fully affirm who you are, where you are, what you do, and everything that you believe, I’d take a step back and examine yourself, for the word of God is like a two-edged sword, and if you are not being cut, you may not be letting yourself truly read it on it’s own terms. Our high view of the Bible should spurn us on to well-thought and devoted engagement with the text, incredible productivity in solid evangelical scholarship, and application, ultimately resulting in this; a change life. Let us humble ourselves, and take God at His word, and expect to meet Him there while doing so.

Secondly, however, the human nature of the Scriptures works to put some limitation on how we read them an apply them. Since the Scriptures were written by men, understanding the culture, historical, social, and logical context of a verse will work to put limits on how we understand the text’s, and aid us in getting at a passage’s intended meaning. For example, I have heard this mistake made numerous times by authors and writers, and I’ve even done it once myself. The word dynamite is derived from the Greek work “dynamis”, which means power or miracle. I have heard ministers read Romans 1:16 as follows; “I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the dynamite of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.” Following the statement they pause, and look around the room, just hoping for a reaction. Now, do you think Paul had DYNAMITE in mind when he penned that line? Not at ALL likely. Quoting Carson; “Dynamite blows things up, tears things down, rips out rock, gouges holes, destroys things. The power of God concerning which Paul speaks he often identifies as the power that rose Jesus from the dead; and it operates in us, its goal is salvation, aiming for the wholeness and perfection implicit in the consummation of our salvation. Quite apart from the semantic anachronism, therefore, dynamite appears inadequate as a means of raising Jesus from the dead or as a means of conforming us to the likeness of Christ.” By recognizing the HUMAN origin of Scripture, we are better able to understand passages as they were intended to be understood by their human authors.

It could be said that, because the texts making up the Bible were written by human authors, we should recognize that they have one true intended meaning, and we should seek to get at that meaning when studying it. However, recognizing God behind the human authors of the Scripture, we should expect the Spirit to illuminate us in our reading, and recognize that there may be an abundance of applications because it is not only the words of men, but is also the word of God speaking to us today.

I’d like to close with a quote by James Montgomery Boice from his book Foundations of the Christian Faith; “The Biblical writers wrote out of their own experience. They used their own vocabulary. The literary polish of their writings varies. They sometimes use secular sources. They are selective. In many ways the books of the Bible bear evidence of having been written by people who were very human and very much people of their time. Yet the books of the Old and New Testaments bear evidence of being something more than merely human. Peter says that these writers ‘spoke from God’ and were ‘moved by the Holy Spirit.’ The word translated ‘moved’ is significant. …Luke once again employs the word in the dramatic account of the Mediterranean storm that ultimately destroyed the ship taking Paul to Rome. Luke notes that the ship was CARRIED ALONG by the wind…driven…Luke was saying that the ship was at the mercy of the storm. It did not cease to be a ship, but it did cease to have [full]control over its course and destination.”

He is there, and He is NOT SILENT – let this humble us in our dealings with God’s word.

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~ by heatlight on August 27, 2007.

8 Responses to “The Bible – just another book written by men?”

  1. Nice post. Let me ask a question. Who put the Bible together? Who decided which books went in? Who was given that authority?
    Thanks,
    Tim

  2. From what I’ve gathered from a thorough study some friends of mine & I did about 5 years back (we read the church father’s, and particularly any reference to ‘scripture’, what books were considered ‘canonical’, etc), the authority was inherent in the texts. In other words, the church universal (which was just then beginning to become the ‘Roman Catholic Church’, but wasn’t quite near the form it would eventually take) recognized the texts which were universally accepted as authoritative – they recognized the apostolic authority (i.e. – the hand of Christ’s chosen apostles was ‘in’ the text, either immediately – i.e., they personally wrote it – or secondarily – a disciple of an apostles wrote down the apostle’s ideas) of the texts, and simply received – after some discussion and debate over a few disputed texts – those texts as canon.

  3. “In other words, the church universal (which was just then beginning to become the ‘Roman Catholic Church’, but wasn’t quite near the form it would eventually take)”
    I’m not quite sure what that means.
    But thanks for the response.
    Tim

  4. So sorry that was so confusing – I was trying to insert too much information into one sentence. I was saying that the church (i.e. – not the ‘Roman Catholic Church’, as is sometime suggested, but the general ‘Christian collective’ – the body of Christ) recognized which texts were authoritative, and ‘inspired by God’. Those texts became our New Testament.

  5. I was saying that the church (i.e. – not the ‘Roman Catholic Church’, as is sometime suggested, but the general ‘Christian collective’ – the body of Christ) recognized which texts were authoritative, and ‘inspired by God’.

    In other words, “by popular opinion”?

    First, the New Testament documents, or at least the core of the gospel story as recorded there, can be shown historically reliable – especially the resurrection of Christ.

    This seems to be the only real argument you’ve made. Unfortunately, it’s deeply flawed. There are some things which match up with history, but the same thing can be said of many fictional works. What’s astounding about the Bible is that it’s remarkably inaccurate. Go through the list: the origins of humankind, the origin of our planet, the origin of language, the origin of disease, the origin of life itself, etcetera. It gets all of these wrong. All of them. You’re counting the hits and ignoring the misses. That’s classic confirmation bias.

    And by the way, there’s absolutely no independent, secular evidence that the resurrection ever happened. All of the evidence comes from Christian historians or the Bible.

  6. I beg to differ, however, instead of chasing that rabbit, need I point out that ‘the Bible’ IS corroborating evidence, since it’s not a ‘single book written by one author’, but rather a number of different testimonies, by very different authors, writing in varied places, testifying to the same core historical realities – they were much later pulled together and compiled into a single book.

    I think, however, if you are interested in critiquing the fore-mentioned statement that you would be wise to check up on my sources, which were mentioned in the text. My personal favorites are N.T. Wright’s major works (New Testament and the People of God, Jesus and the Victory of God, and the Resurrection of the Son of God – which must be read in that order to be properly understood), and William Lane Craig’s magnum opus, “Assessing the New Testament Evidence for the Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus” – get it on interlibrary loan instead of buying it, as it’s the sort of book that can break the bank.

    Enjoy your research, and keep an open mind, at least until you find something solid to close it on!

  7. “In other words, “by popular opinion”?”…

    Close…not ‘popular opinion’, but ‘insider opinion’…
    the difference would be – as an example, asking the general populace of the USA on the thought life and ideas of Jonathan Edwards would be ‘popular opinion’. The answers received, of course, would be far less ‘close to the source’ or reliable than would we, say, pull together the students of all the college professors who studied under Edward’s scholars who, when younger, were in Jonathan Edward’s congregation, and later went graduated from Princeton where he was once president.

    The answers of the later would be far closer to the truth…similarly, many of the early church ‘fathers’ have direct ties back to Jesus and the Apostles, separated only by a couple generations, as I mentioned in my other essay on the Resurrection, also posted on this site.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  8. Some of you forget that the letters that were written by Paul, Peter, James or John were written to certain individuals or congregations to either admonish them for not doing what was required of them in order for them to take part in this royal priesthood that they were going to take part in. Now the emphasis here is on THEY. These letters were written to the chosen ones and holy ones of God(some Jews-144000 of them and some Greek and others such as the people in Asia and Galatia-which is now Turkey). These letters served to remind them that their end was near and that they needed to be on guard against all kinds of immoral behavior that was not accepted by God. Once you sit down and carefully examine these letters you will come to the conclusion that, hey these letters were written to those people because they were going to serve a special purpose in this Kingdom that God had prepared for THEM. If you don’t believe this, carefully read the beginning of each letter and you will see that Paul, James, John and Peter had certain people in mind when they wrote those letters.

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