GOD, REVELATION and Authority; VOLUME IV: GOD WHO SPEAKS AND SHOWS- delivered by Archbishop Uwe AE. Rosenkranz



Fifteen Theses, Part Three

Thesis Eleven: The Bible as the Authoritative Norm

1.    The Modern Revolt against Authority

2.    Divine Authority and the Prophetic-Apostolic Word

3.    Modern Reductions of Biblical Authority

4.    Divine Authority and Scriptural Authority

5.    Is the Bible Literally True?

Thesis Twelve: The Spirit as Communicator and Interpreter

6.    The Meaning of Inspiration

7.    The Inerrancy of Scripture

Supplementary Note: Barth on Scriptural Errancy

8.    The Meaning of Inerrancy

Supplementary Note: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy

9.    The Infallibility of the Copies

10.    The Meaning of Infallibility

11.    The Spirit and the Scriptures

12.    The Spirit as Divine Illuminator

Supplementary Note: Calvin on the Spirit’s Work of Ilumination

13.    Are We Doomed to Hermeneutical Nihilism?

14.    The Fallibility of the Exegete

15.    Perspective on Problem Passages

16.    The Historic Church and Inerrancy

17.    The Uses and Abuses of Historical Criticism

18.    The Debate over the Canon

19.    The Lost Unity of the Bible

Supplementary Note: Scripture as Functional Authority

20.    The Spirit and Church Proclamation

Thesis Thirteen: The Spirit, the Bestower of New Life

21.    God’s Graven Image: Redeemed Mankind

22.    The New Man and the New Society

Thesis Fourteen: The Church as the New Society

23.    Good News for the Oppressed

24.    Marxist Exegesis of the Bible

25.    The Marxist Reconstruction of Man

Thesis Fifteen: God and the End of All Ends

26.    The Awesome Silences of Eternity



The Bible is the reservoir and conduit of divine truth, the authoritative written record and exposition of God’s nature and will.


The Modern Revolt against Authority

The problem of authority is one of the most deeply distressing concerns of contemporary civilization. Anyone who thinks that this problem specially or exclusively embarrasses Bible believers has not listened to the wild winds of defiance now sweeping over much of modern life. Respect for authority is being challenged on almost every front and in almost every form.

In many ways this questioning of authority is a good thing. The Bible stresses that all derived authority must answer to the living God for its use, misuse and abuse. In our time totalitarian pretenders and spurious authorities have wielded devastating power to the psychic wounding of many people. The story of thousands of persons acting under Nazi orders to exterminate six million Jews is but one case in point. As Stanley Milgram reminds us, even reputable professional people willing to obey the orders of superiors despite questions of conscience lend themselves to brutality (Obedience to Authority). The further fact that those in power bend authority for self-serving and immoral ends, and often under the pretext of serving others and advancing good causes, can only rouse skepticism over the legitimacy of any and all authority. The Bible throughout sternly condemns oppressive and exploitive miscarriages of power; Jesus pointedly contrasts those who use power to “lord it over” others (Matt. 20:24–28) with those who serve God truly.

How to justify any human authority becomes an increasingly acute problem. Not only religious authority, but political, parental, and academic authority as well come under debate. “The question of authority for and in ethical life and religious faith is one of the most pressing and challenging of modern issues,” states H. Dermot McDonald. “Is there any final court of appeal, any absolute norm to which the moral life may be referred? And is there any sure word or any ultimate fact in which religious trust can be reposed?” (“The Concept of Authority,” p. 33). In short, is not authority in any sphere of human activity simply a social convention subject to personal veto?

Christianity teaches that all legitimate authority comes from God. Loss of faith in God soon brings a questioning of the transcendent basis of any and all authority, and sets in motion a search for humanistic alternatives. But as McDonald indicates, humanistic theories are unable to sustain objective moral claims: “Humanism fails because it refuses to rest the ladder, by which it would have men ascend, upon the bar of heaven, and it is the verdict of psychology and history alike that ladders without support in a meaningful cosmic Reality are apt to come crashing down again on the earth” (ibid., p. 36). And Donald MacKinnon writes of “the quest” ever since Plato’s time “for an authoritative transcendent norm which at once supplies a standard of judgment and a resting place for the interrogative spirit” (Borderlands of Theology, p. 22). Yet how great in our day is the gulf that separates the relative from the unconditioned, how vast the distance between the subjective and the transcendent, how almost unbridgeable the span between the realm of sense experience and the order of ultimate being. According to Dorothy Emmet, one factor that encouraged abandoning liberal and modernist theologies may be their lack of the “element of awe before what is both absolute and qualitatively different” (The Nature of Metaphysical Thinking, p. 109). Every man-made alternative to the sovereign God soon shows itself to be a monologue projected on a cosmic screen.

The modern loss of the omnipotent God creates a vacuum of which powerful nationalistic ideologies soon take advantage, as the twentieth century learned full well from fascism and communism. A rebellious generation that defects from the authority of God unwittingly prepares a welcome for totalitarian programs that professedly promote the public welfare. In the West one reads more and more about the magnificent social strides made by communism and less and less of communism’s curtailment of freedom of expression and of religion that incarcerates dissenters in mental hospitals, slave labor camps and overcrowded prisons. The important struggle between the so-called free world and the totalitarian world becomes increasingly reduced to simply a conflict between the personal desires of the free, rational self and the compulsory demands of a collectivistic society. In time, both forces, even if in different ways, come to reflect the very same revolt against transcendent divine authority. Even in the United States, despite widespread belief in a God-of-the-gaps and in a blessed immortality come what may, the nationalism of democracy now frequently slips into a kind of political atheism that accommodates only the rituals of civil religion that in fact actually conceal the decline of faith in the schoolroom and in the inner city.

Today’s authority crisis runs far deeper, however, than simply questioning the propriety or legitimacy of particular authorities. Dietrich Bonhoeffer points to modern man’s relegation of God to irrelevance; God is “increasingly edged out of the world.” Now that moderns have presumably “come of age,” both “knowledge and life are thought to be perfectly possible without him” (Letters and Papers from Prison, p. 114). The modern atheistic mood, so effectively delineated by Bonhoeffer, is summarized in Heinz Zahrnt’s word-picture of the radical secularism that threatens to inundate the Western outlook: “In the modern age, secularisation, the ordering of the world on its own terms, has overwhelmed every province of life like an avalanche. This is the greatest and most extensive process of secularisation which has ever taken place in the history of Christianity, or indeed in the whole history of religion.… The metaphysical foundations have everywhere been destroyed: science, politics, society, economics, justice, art and morality are understood in their own terms and follow their own laws. There are no longer any reserved areas which follow some kind of extraneous ‘metaphysical’ or ‘divine’ laws. Man managed without ‘God’ as a working hypothesis; he also copes with the world and with his life without God.… Nowadays people no longer come to atheism through what may be a severe inward struggle or through dangerous conflicts with society, but treat it as their automatic point of departure” (The Question of God, pp 126 ff.). Within this perspective of secularization, as Friedrich Gogarten defines it, “human existence comes to be determined by the dimensions of time and history” (quoted by Arend Th. van Leeuwen, Christianity in the Modern World, p. 331).

Christianity was opposed a few generations ago on the ground that its affirmations—such as its claim to divine authority and hence to religious supremacy—are false; its representations of truth and right were denied to be unquestionably good and valid for man. But more recently a remarkable turn has taken place. Christianity is still said not to be the final religion, not to be objectively authoritative, not to promulgate revealed truth and to identify the ultimate good, but for different reasons. Disbelief now stems from claims that finalities and objective truth simply do not exist; the good and the true are declared to be only revolutionary by-products and culturally relative perspectives.

The radical secularist, vaunting modern man’s supposed maturity, is skeptical of all transcendent authority. He repudiates divine absolutes, revealed truth, scriptural commandments, fixed principles and supernatural purpose as obstacles to individual selffulfillment and personal creativity. Langdon Gilkey describes the mood that now often greets the mere mention of divine authority in an age snared in cultural relativity. “The divine bases for authority in theology,” he says, “seem to have fled with this historicizing of everything historical, leaving us with only … a ‘Hebrew understanding,’ an ‘apostolic faith,’ a ‘patristic mind,’ ‘Medieval viewpoints,’ a ‘Reformation attitude’.… And if … all faiths … are relative to their stage and place in general history, how can any one of them claim our ultimate allegiance or promise an ultimate truth or an ultimate salvation?” (Naming the Whirlwind: The Renewal of God Language, p. 51). Contemporary man, as Gordon D. Kaufman emphasizes, no longer locates himself in a world viewed biblically as God’s world and within the perspective of a Christian world-life view. Instead, it is science or sociology that supplies the framework for comprehending the cosmos and human experience. The result is clear: what was long accepted as God’s revealed truth about the cosmos and man is now viewed as merely primitive Hebrew or early Christian folklore (“What Shall We Do with the Bible?” pp. 95 ff.). Vast reaches of Western society have forfeited the conviction that “the Bible is study material,” as James Barr puts it, “for the world as a whole and not for the church only … for historians … as well as for clergymen and theologians” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 60). In an age enamored of scientific empiricism, the very idea of unalterable absolutes, changeless commands, deathless doctrines, and timeless truths seems pretentious and unpalatable. When academia pursues change and novelty and contingency, when relativity crowds the world of truth and right, when variableness becomes the hallmark of social progress, what room remains for revelation, for a fixed Word of God—in short, for divine authority?

Even some theologians find it more natural to assert their own creative individuality than to accept religious authority; freedom to theologize as they wish is made a supposedly Christian prerogative. Neo-Protestant theologians who disown Scripture as “the final rule of faith and practice” see the rules governing theological gamesmanship not only as revisable but also as optional; emphasis on “functional authority” becomes a sophisticated way of evading the role of Scripture as an epistemic criterion for doctrine and morals. In this way the church itself sets a precedent for the world in reducing interest in the authority of the Bible.

Radically secular man does far more, however, than simply rejecting divine authority and resigning himself to historical relativity. He caps his rejection by affirming human autonomy; he flaunts a supposed inherent ability to formulate all “truths” and “values” by and for himself. Human dignity and self-realization, we are told, require creative liberty to opt for ideals of one’s own making and choosing. Human self-development assertedly demands that individuals fashion and sponsor whatever values they prefer, and assume creative roles in reshaping an ultimately impersonal cosmic environment. In this view of things, supernatural being, transcendent revelation, and divine decrees are threats to the meaning and worth of human existence. Gilkey focuses on the current scene as follows: “Is not—so the modern spirit declares—revelation the denial of all autonomy in inquiry and rationality; is not divine law the denial of personal autonomy in ethics; above all, is not God, if he be at all, the final challenge to my creativity as a man?” (Naming the Whirlwind, p. 61).

The modern loss of the God of the Bible has at the same time therefore involved a vanishing sense of human dependence on anything outside man himself; man sees himself as living on a planet devoid of any intrinsic plan and purpose, and supposedly born of a cosmic accident. He himself must originate and fashion whatever values there are. The current existential emphasis on man’s freedom and will to become himself, particularly on freedom and responsibility as the very essence of human life, regards external authority as a repressive threat. Man’s unlimited creative autonomy is exalted; this “authentic selfhood” consequently requires the rejection of all transcendently given absolute norms, for they are seen as life-draining encumbrances. There is one striking contradiction here, however. It derives from the existentialist interest in Jesus Christ as the model of authentic humanity who, in his concern for others, stood against tradition and convention. Yet at the center of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry remains the unquestioned authority of God and the appeal to Scripture. Gilkey comments pointedly: “Strangely, it is the Lord on the cross who gives to the world which put him there the only model for its own fulfillment” (ibid., p. 381).

The secularist today does not, of course, disown these categories of God, revelation, and divine authority because modern scholarship exhibits them to be unintelligible or because recent discovery indicates their intellectual supports to be demonstrably invalid. He tends rather to subscribe to the contemporary outlook on life because of personal taste or preference. Prevalent antiauthoritarian philosophies notwithstanding, no valid basis exists for declaring the concept of authority meaningless or intrinsically inappropriate. To be sure, many academicians reinforce the revolt against biblical religion by substituting natural process and chance for supernatural causality and purpose. But this does not settle an issue that must be debated head-on. In the last analysis, the question of biblical authority turns on the finality of the contemporary view (which presumes to reject all finalities) and on the intellectual relevance of the Bible for this and every other generation. If God does not truly exist and is not Creator; if evolutionary process and development replace the majesty and authority of the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth; if all truth-claims and ethical precepts are relative, then self-determination and personal taste will supplant divine revelation and will become the “rule” of life. The one reality that individual creativity is powerless to fashion, however, is a valid moral norm. As P. T. Forsyth once so pointedly stated, genuine authority is not the authority of experience but rather the authority for experience.

Any reader of the Bible will recognize at once how ancient, and not at all distinctively modern, is this revolt against spiritual and moral absolutes. The emphasis on human autonomy is pre-“secular” and pre-“modern” and carries us all the way back to Eden. The very opening chapters of Genesis portray the clash between revealed morality and human autonomy; this clash subsequently pervades not only the entire Old and New Testaments but all human history as well. Many a permissive American considers Playboy or Penthouse required reading but dismisses the Pentateuch as an archeological oddity, and debunks Mosaic morality along with Victorian prudity. In doing so he reveals, of course, not how truly modern but how ancient and antiquated are his ethical perspectives. Against the cult of Baal that worshiped nature gods and practiced ritual prostitution, Elijah affirmed Yahweh’s supremacy as transcendent Creator and sovereign Ruler of the world. The book of Judges leaves no doubt that Israel’s syncretistic compromises with Baal-religion were spiritually and morally devastating. But the cost to people and nation meant little to the “moderns” of that day who applauded apostasy and made vice a virtue. That is why Elijah’s call to belief in Yahweh and to cleansing from Canaanite impurities sounds so strange in today’s pluralistic society where history and life are surrendered to cultural contingency and where Yahweh is displaced by the myth of self-sovereignty.

At stake in the current clash over the Bible’s divine authority is a far-reaching controversy over the real natural of man and his destiny. Biblical theism has always openly challenged the rebellious rejection of any and all transcendent divine authority; it has always refused to accommodate divine moral imperatives and revelational truths to human revision. Scripture clearly affirms that man was divinely fashioned for a higher role than the animals: he was “crowned with glory and honour” (Ps. 8:5, kjv). John Baillie comments, “There are some things you can’t comfortably do with a crown upon your head” (A Reasoned Faith, p. 98).

But it is not only the Bible that confronts mankind—modern man included and the radical secularist not exempted—with the fact and reality of the living, sovereign, authority-wielding God. The pagan Gentiles that Paul indicts for their disregard of divine authority had not scorned Scripture; they had not even read Scripture nor so much as heard of it. Their guilt lay in stifling the truth of God as disclosed in nature and history and conscience. They even “offered reverence and worship to created things instead of to the Creator.” “There is,” Paul adds, “no possible defence for their conduct; knowing God, they have refused to honour him as God, or to render him thanks.… They have bartered away the true God for a false one” (Rom. 1:18–25, neb). In this context the apostle speaks of “the wrath of God breaking forth from heaven” (Goodspeed) because humans in their wickedness inexcusably “suppress the truth.” Mankind everywhere has an elementary knowledge of what is ultimate and abiding, of God’s reality, and of final answerability to and judgment by him (Rom. 1:20, 32). In and through human reason and conscience the human race has an ineradicable perception of the eternal, sovereign deity.

The contemporary masses in the Western world, and increasingly masses in large metropolitan centers around the globe where Western technology and ways penetrate, live on a moral merry-go-round. At one and the same time they refuse to come to terms with the image Dei in man yet refuse to fully repudiate man’s eternal value and destiny. A life of ethical dilettantism and of disregard for the ultimate nature of things can yield no valid convictions about God, man and morality. J. N. D. Anderson states the quandary of the practical agnostic: “It seems to me impossible to come to any satisfying conclusions about the source or content of moral imperatives until we have considered such basic questions as the nature of the universe in which we live, man’s place in this universe, and the meaning and purpose of human life” (“Ethics: Relative, Situational or Absolute?” p. 31).

The consequences of smothering this knowledge are cumulative and devastating, and involve an idolatry so monstrous that human beings soon worship and serve “the creature rather than the Creator” and finally “exchange the truth about God for a lie” (Rom. 1:24, rsv). While future and final judgment will fully overtake the godless or reprobate mind, that judgment is already anticipatively under way in a society where God abandons those who deliberately abandon him: “Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct” (Rom. 1:28, rsv). The breakdown of moral principle in a pagan age is therefore no excuse for unbelief; actually it attests God’s punitive judgment on an ungodly generation that repudiates divine authority. The transcendent command of God that confronted Adam in the Garden of Eden still confronts man in the wildernesses of secular society. The difference between ancient and modern man is mainly this: Adam stood to close to human beginnings to call his revolt anything but sin, whereas contemporary man rationalizes his revolt in the name of evolution and progress.

To acknowledge God’s transcendent authority as a reality universally known even apart from Scripture in no way discounts the decisive importance of scriptural authority. Both through the universally shared revelation in nature and history and the imago Dei and in the Scriptures as well, God manifests himself as the transcendent sovereign positioned at the crossroads of human civilization and destiny. To the rhetorical question, “Does not the Protestant principle attribute too much to the Bible, and too little to God himself …?” Karl Barth replies emphatically: “The answer is that there is indeed only one single absolute fundamental and indestructible priority, and that is the priority of God as Creator over the totality of His creatures and each of them without exception. Yet how strange it is that we learn of this very priority (in the serious sense, in all the compass and power of the concept) only through the Bible” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, pp. 497–98). While Brunner too may not have made the most of his acknowledgement, he is nonetheless right: “The Living God is … known through revelation alone. This Lord God is the God of the Biblical revelation. The fact that we speak thus about the nature of the personal being is the result of the Biblical revelation …” (Revelation and Reason, p. 44). Although Barth disowns general divine revelation, he nonetheless sees that only the Bible can now acquaint sinful mankind with the comprehensive and normative content of the nature and will of God. The God of the Bible is not a past and bygone sovereign—he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—nor is he the God only of some remote future unrelated to our present dilemmas. God is the God of the living, not of the dead, the God of the present in whose purview dwell all the spirits of all the ages. Even those who disregard and demean his majestic authority are momentarily within his reach.

It is all very well for Leonard Hodgson to stress that not the authority of the Bible but the authority of God needs to be reaffirmed in a deeper and more active faith (“God and the Bible,” p. 8), and that we need to stress what God himself seeks “to speak to us here and now today” in contrast to what the Bible says. But to equate this emphasis with what God is “now using the Bible to say” gives one the uneasy feeling that Hodgson’s deity has trouble making up his mind and becomes all things to all generations. Hodgson has no room for “a sub-stratum of revealed truth which is immune to human criticism” (p. 14). But if God has no authority over our thoughts concerning his purposes, why should we consider him authoritative over our thoughts concerning ourselves and our neighbors, or about moral principles and actions? If the truth in theology depends upon what I as a theologian happen to approve, then what is right for my neighbor may as readily turn on what he happens to approve. Hodgson prizes “the contribution of theological scholarship … as a gift of God, given to be one of the channels of his self-revelation” (p. 9). Obviously it ill-becomes this or any other theologian to deny that vocational colleagues have contributed in important ways to the realm of theological learning. But to consider ongoing theological scholarship per se a channel of God’s self-revelation raises the question as to just when and in which generation of theologians, or in which ecumenical faith-and-order conference, or on which ecumenical divinity campus God has made up his mind. What sense does it make to insist that “if God is one and is faithful and true there will be a self-consistency in his self-revelation” (p. 9), if theologues sacrifice logical consistency in order to preserve God’s unity, truth and reality?

The only cure for the theological schizophrenia that characterizes neo-Protestant dogmatics is to allow the inspired Scriptures to speak concerning more than just the personal predilections we ordain, since that procedure allows us to extract from them only what we prefer to hear and proclaim. The ambiguity that now encumbers neo-Protestant appeals to the authority of the Bible is exemplified in D. E. Nineham’s warning that any simple answer to the question. “Wherein does the authority of the Bible lie?” is likely to involve “serious, and dangerous, over simplification.… The authority of the Bible,” says Nineham, “is inextricably connected with other authorities—the authority of the Church, of the saints, of the liturgy, the conscience and the reason” (“Wherein Lies the Authority of the Bible?” On the Authority of the Bible, by Hodgson and others, pp. 95–96). Nineham’s answer may not be simple, and in some cases it may even tell us what biblical authority is properly connected with (e.g., reason), but it does not tell us precisely what that authority is.

Dennis M. Campbell insists that the recovery of theology hinges on, among other things, the recognition of “the centrality of the problem of authority” (Authority and the Renewal of American Theology, p. 109). But while Campbell properly identifies the authority problem as the central issue of theology, he rejects the decisive authority of the Bible on the grounds that its vulnerability to divergent interpretations undermines its authority and that apart from one’s reliance on other norms, its meaning is obscure. Campbell impressively shows—what students of recent modern theology know full well—that influential contemporary interpreters freely adjust biblical authority to other norms. William Adams Brown tapers the content of Christianity to the changing social and intellectual milieu, whereas Langdon Gilkey’s criterion of “ultimacy” John Cobb’s process theology, and Gordon Kaufman’s “historicist perspective” all elevate modern secular reasoning as the authority for constructive theology. Frederick Herzog coordinates the appeal to the Bible with liberation theology (cf. his “Introduction: A New Church Conflict?” in Theology of the Liberating Word, p. 20). Herzog, like Barth, aims to be biblical, but just as Barth’s Church Dogmatics all too obviously retained dialectical categories as the controlling norm, so Marxist categories impinge on Herzog’s intention to let the Word speak.

Campbell’s own approach is not unlike that of H. Richard Niebuhr, who promotes authority by fusing the primacy of revelation with the centrality of the Christian community. Campbell at times reflects an openness to multiple authorities, but divine revelation as experienced in the church is ultimately decisive. Thus, like the other theologians he evaluates and criticizes, he too joins the list of contemporaries for whom Scripture is not finally authoritative. But the circumstance that, in deciding the significance of Scripture, many modern theologians resort to extraneous norms—ecclesiastical tradition, inner experience, philosophical reasoning, sociocultural acceptability, or the faith-response of the Christian community—does not of itself, as Robert K. Johnston points out, establish Campbell’s notion that biblical authority is “undermined by the fact that interpretations of Scripture vary” (“American Theology,” review of Campbell, Authority and the Renewal of American Theology, p. 40). Moreover, the norms on which biblical meaning depends, notably the laws of logic, do not at all differ from those which make even Campbell’s views intelligible.

Beyond all doubt, biblical religion is authoritarian in nature. The sovereign God, creator of the universe, Lord of history, dispenser of destiny, determines and rewards the true and the good. God commands and has the right to be obeyed, and the power also to punish the disobedient and reward the faithful. Behind God’s will stands omnipotent power. The notion that the individual subjectively determines what is ultimately good and evil, true and false, not only results in an encroaching nihilism, but also presupposes the illusion of a godless world. God can be ignored only if we assume the autonomy of the world. But it is God who in his purpose has determined the existence and nature of the world. The divine sovereignty extends to every sphere of life—the sphere of work, whether in the laboratory or in the forum; the sphere of love, whether in the home or in neighbor-relations; the sphere of justice, whether between the nations or in local cities and towns. Divine sovereignty can be thus formulated because it extends also to the sphere of truth. We cannot understand the inner secret of the cosmos without God’s Word nor interpret anything comprehensively apart from its relation to the Creator and Sustainer of all. Human beings are commanded by him not only to love the truth but also to do it (John 3:21; 1 John 1:6); knowledge is not simply an intellectual concern but involves ethical obligation as well. Impenitence spells doom, for man can in no way justify his spiritual revolt. God’s authority was firmly stamped on man’s conscience at creation, and clearly republished in the Bible which meshes man’s fall and need of moral rescue with God’s gracious offer of forgiveness and promise of new life to all who repent and trust him.

In many respects—indeed in all essential respects—our situation is not unlike that of the apostolic age. Mankind at that time lived in a world that was passing away, but for which the gospel of redemptive renewal provided a new kairos. Like the Hebrew people before them, the early Christians recognized that divine self-disclosure and divine authority are inseparable corollaries. If on the basis of the ancient Scriptures and in their own consciences they knew man to be the highest form of created existence, they knew also Christ incarnate to be the supreme exegete of ideal humanity and the final exegete of the nature of God. Their sinful aversion to the concept of transcendent authority was breached by news that the God of final judgment had already demonstrated in Jesus’ resurrection his displeasure with oppressive evil powers, and that the final judge of humanity offers spiritual renewal and forgiveness to all who confess his sovereignty.

For many centuries the Western world took seriously its commitment to the supernatural revelation conveyed through Hebrew prophets and Christian apostles, and found in the canonical Scriptures the normative exposition of God’s revealed truth and will. It championed the divinely disclosed truths as authoritative over the deliberations of secular philosophy, over the aspirations of religion in general, and over all inferences and projections gained only from private experience. Man’s only hopeful option in a universe of God’s making and governance lay in the acceptance and appropriation of this divinely inspired teaching. The Bible, the incomparably unique and authoritative source of spiritual and ethical truth, proffered all that is needful for human salvation and felicity; Scripture was a treasured divine provision that equips sinful rebels with valid information about the transcendent realm, and discloses the otherwise hidden possibility of enduring personal reconciliation with God.

For mankind today nothing is of greater importance than a right criterion whereby men may identify the truth and the good over against mere human assertion. Christianity purports to be derived from divine revelation. Throughout the period from apostolic times through the eighteenth century, even most heretics conceded the authority of Scripture. Then in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries biblical criticism redefined “the nature of the Bible’s authority” and viewed Scripture as simply a fallible witness. All the historic Protestant confessions had affirmed the authority of Scripture. By recognizing the Bible as the sole rule of faith and of authentic proclamation, the church preserved Christ alone as its head and declared the Spirit-inspired writings to be superior in authority to the opinions of even the most revered churchmen. Whether it was the ordinary believer or the local clergyman, denominational or ecclesiastical leader, tradition or church confession, each was subject to the test of Scripture and apart from such verification was held to be fallible. As Barth says, “Scriptural exegesis rests on the assumption that the message which Scripture has given us, even in its apparently most debatable and least assimilable parts, is in all circumstances truer and more important than the best and most necessary things that we ourselves have said or can say” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 719).

Under the influence of neo-Protestant theology, large church bodies have ventured in the recent past to approve diluted statements. Ecclesiastical programming and ecumenical serviceability have often relied on ambiguous expressions of biblical authority. As James Barr observes, “apart from minor survivals” ecumenical theology is not carried on in a context of “an ‘authority’ structure that involves authoritative sources and content.” He emphasizes that such “theology is characteristically pluralistic and theologians, apart from those who sigh nostalgically for old times, accept this fact, not just as a fact but as a good thing. Within the older authority structures the authority of the Bible occupied a high place in the hierarchy. It was scarcely doubted that the appeal to scripture formed a major ground for discriminating between theologies, for preferring one and rejecting another. This is no longer in effect the case.… Within this newer context the idea of the ‘authority of the Bible’ has become anachronistic” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 29). Barr’s observations doubtless characterize the predominant ecumenical scene very well, although he tells us little about the contrary convictions of many evangelical theologians worldwide for whom biblical authority still remains a compelling option. In any event, the ecumenical temper today or tomorrow does not decide what ought in every age to be the case for nonchristians and for Christians.

Leading scholars on both sides of the Atlantic are acutely aware of the dilemma concerning biblical authority. Gordon Kaufman writes: “The Bible lies at the foundation of Western culture and in a deep sense, however unbeknownst, has informed the life of every participant in that culture.… But all this is over with and gone.… The Bible no longer has unique authority for Western man. It has become a great but archaic monument in our midst” (“What Shall We Do with the Bible?” pp. 95–96). For many reasons the Bible is declared to be no longer acceptable as authoritative over modern life. Western culture now tends to repudiate the very idea of transcendent authority, and intellectual centers are prone to substitute radically altered values from those identified with historic Christian theism. Even if this were not the case, it is claimed, critical scholarship has so exploded the idea of the Bible as a canon or cohesive literary document teaching a theologically unified view, and influential theologians now find in it so many divergent emphases, that the Bible’s serviceability as an instrument of objective truth is seriously compromised. “A radically new situation has developed, it is claimed,” reports David Kelsey, “in which scripture does not, and indeed, some add, cannot serve as authority for theology” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 1). When Kelsey proposes that in these circumstances the Christian community retain the “biblical texts, and even the historical Christian canon, as authority” by technically redefining authority and Scripture in a functional way (p. 177), he simply compounds the already existing confusion.

Theologians and seminarians now often study biblical texts not as authoritative Scripture but simply as texts per se, as historical sources based on still other historical sources, or as texts used to discern the mind of the writer or that of his ancient readers. This approach has become increasingly common as theological institutions have become unsure about the Bible as the norm or rule of faith and practice.

Meanwhile the role of the Bible in public life and affairs has slumped.

Bound by the “non-establishment” clause in the national Constitution in the controversy over religion in the American public schools, Supreme Court’s Schempp decision approved the study of the Bible only as a literary and historical source; the Bible’s claims as divinely authoritative Scripture were made educationally irrelevant. Even in many Sunday schools the Bible has become, as Edward Farley notes, less a book that evokes the piety of a godly man or woman than an object of intellectual study (Requiem for a Lost Piety, pp. 32–33). In other Sunday schools, we should add, interest in the Bible focuses mainly on personal piety and ignores the intellectual import of revealed doctrine. Once they enter high school and college, many young people from Christian homes abandon what slight biblical interest they have, and in nonevangelical seminaries students often show less interest in biblical studies than in sociopolitical and psychological pursuits.

“The mainstream of American Protestantism … is in danger of losing all its biblical foundations,” writes Elizabeth Achtemeier. “It is now possible in this country to carry on the expected work of a Protestant congregation with no reference to the Bible whatever. The worship services of the church can be divorced from Biblical models and become the celebration of the congregation’s life together and of its more or less vaguely held beliefs in some god. Folk songs, expressive of American culture, can replace the psalms.… Art forms and aesthetic experiences can be used as substitutes for communion with God. The preacher’s opinions or ethical views can be made replacements for the word from the Biblical texts … But the amazing thing is that no one in the pew on Sunday morning may notice” (The Old Testament and the Proclamation of the Gospel, pp. 1–2).

The so-called “modern revival of biblical authority” associated with the neorthodox concept of revelation, Barr comments, swiftly “lost its impetus and leadership” and yielded ground to reemerging nonrevelationally based alternatives. “It sometimes seems as if the great neo-orthodox revolution in theology had not taken place at all,” he writes, “so many of its favourite positions are denied or simply ignored” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 5). “We seem to have returned to a situation in which the status and value of the Bible is very much in question” (p. 8). The “most radical questioning,” Barr adds, appears in “English-speaking theology, both in Great Britain and in the United States,” which questions not merely “the mode of biblical authority” as is more the fashion in Continental theology, but its very legitimacy. Barr makes—but does not answer—queries about the source of this “radical questioning of the status of the bible”: is it the effect of empiricist philosophy, of the self-defeating neoorthodox theology, of the thin tradition of expository preaching, of oratorical pulpiteering frequently centered in personalities, of libertarian social philosophy? The one possible explanation that Barr does not offer is that the modern mind easily succumbs to arbitrary presuppositions that inexcusably strip biblical revelation of its power as an intellectual alternative.

The church’s long and unquestioned belief in the Bible, D.E. Nineham contends, must be compromised in the light of the explosion of modern knowledge. “It is … only since the middle of the eighteenth century that we have begun to make the really fantastic advances in knowledge to which we are now accustomed, and that christians have found themselves holding views and presuppositions on almost every subject markedly divergent from those of the biblical writers” (“Wherein Lies the Authority of the Bible?” p. 91). But such generalities have little force unless Nineham identifies specific instances of assured modern knowledge that decisively contravene the scriptural teaching. The fact that some modern Christians, like some of the Corinthian Christians and some Hebrews also in Old Testament times, hold nonbiblical “views and presuppositions” does not of itself establish the correctness of their positions, or that of the fluid “modern view” (which is really many views), nor does it demonstrate the falsity of the scriptural teaching. As an apostle of Bultmann, Nineham himself tends to accept a positivist view of nature and history that many scientists and historians repudiate. A Canadian scientist, Walter R. Thorson, commenting on Bultmann’s demythologizing of the New Testament on the ground of the supposed requirements of positivism, notes that the philosophy of science espoused by Bultmannians is “fifty years out of date and is losing all philosophical credibility, but the theologians will be the last to find it out” (“The Concept of Truth in the Natural Sciences,” p. 37).

Nineham adds that “it was only with this rapid divergence of world-view that there came, really for the first time, the consciousness of how unlike one another men of different epochs are.… These changes … were reinforced by the conclusions of a growing army of biblical critics” (“Wherein Lies the Authority of the Bible?” p.91). I consider this to be more obfuscating than illuminating. Scriptural perspectives had to contend repeatedly with rival views of the cosmos and human destiny long before the modern era, first in the ancient Semitic milieu and then in the Greco-Roman world. The medieval revival of classic Greek emphases by Thomas Aquinas and other scholastics anticipated currents of Western philosophy from Descartes onward that shifted the case for theism from scriptural revelation to philosophical reasoning. Spinoza, Hume and Kant all prized conjectural religious philosophy above revelational theology as the preferred way of knowing, and in deference to modern scientific emphases abandoned orthodoxy as no longer cognitively credible. Not only the special status of Scripture but the very role of Yahweh the God of the Bible was now also under assault. While Protestant modernism contended that twentieth-century man can still be Christian, it elevated empirical verifiability as decisive for truth; forsaking transcendent revelation and external miracle, it tapered Jesus’ significance to that of the supremely moral human being. Whatever else might be said for this view, it had nothing essentially in common with biblical Christianity. By subordinating revealed theology to empirical inquiry, the modernist era inaugurated by Schleiermacher abandoned the scriptural verification of invisible spiritual realities and excluded any fixed or timeless Word conveyed by biblical revelation. On the basis of the regnant philosophy of science, neo-Protestants assumed the unbroken continuity of nature and the evolutionary development of man and of world religions, and scoffed at the supernatural authority of the Bible. The scientific method became the all-engulfing criterion of credibility; scientific experimentalism displaced the Holy Spirit as the Christian’s escort into the truth. The fact that “a growing army of biblical critics” reinforced such views proves very little, for many such critics, to their own later embarrassment, espoused views predicated on contemporary prejudices. Observed data could in no way adjudicate the transcendent aspects of biblical revelation, and archeological discoveries repeatedly contravened what critics had been denying about historical matters.

In this context a new plea for the Bible is being sounded today even by many critical scholars. “The status of the Bible in the church and in Christian faith … affects every aspect of the life of the churches and the presentation of their message to the world,” comments James Barr (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 112). “Many of the troubles of modern Christianity are self-inflicted burdens which would be much lightened if the message of the Bible were more highly regarded. I have no faith in the vision of a Christianity which would emancipate itself more completely from biblical influence and go forward bravely, rejoicing in its own contemporary modernity. On the contrary, if there are resources for the liberation of the churches and their message, these resources lie to a considerable extent within the Bible.” Barr even makes himself a champion of biblically oriented preaching. “If a personal impression may be permitted,” he says, “from one who generally occupies the pew rather than the pulpit: the quality of most preaching is shatteringly poor, and most of the laity would be greatly relieved to hear some talk, however simple in level, about biblical materials” (p. 140).

Yet Barr dulls the edge of such a plea when he feels no constraint whatever to vindicate the authority of the Bible against skeptics, and instead voices a disposition to “leave the nature of authority to emerge at the end of the theological process” so that theology itself is freed of antecedent answerability to scriptural criteria (ibid., p. 113). The reason for such a stance is not far off: Barr holds Scripture to be errant in theological matters; theological precision and correctness do not belong, he holds, to the purpose of the Bible (p. 119) which for him is a theologically deficient book (p. 120). Barr espouses a doctrine of “scriptural authority” that bypasses questions of the Bible’s inspired origin, and its inerrancy and infallibility, as concerns of merely “marginal importance” (p. 23). As he expounds it, the terms biblical authority involves no commitment to the historical reliability of Scripture, nor does it attach any inherent perfection to the Bible (pp. 24–25). Barr faces the crisis in biblical authority not only on the assumption that “for the mainstream of modern Christian faith … real dogmatic fundamentalism is not a live option” (p. 12), but also on the thesis that the historic Christian view of the Bible ought to be repudiated. He notes that Protestant theology tended in the recent past to avoid the doctrine of divine inspiration of the Bible, although Roman Catholic theology continued to use the term, albeit more flexibly than fundamentalism, since Roman Catholicism considers tradition as well as Scripture a theological norm (p. 15). For Barr the term inspiration focuses on the origin of the Bible but leaves open the question of “in what way” Scripture came from God (p. 13). He emphasizes that the term occurs in the Bible “only in a late and marginal document (2 Tim. 3:16)” and calls what the writer implied by its use “an open question” (p. 14).

Barr wants to retain the scriptural representation of what God should be like—in some respects atleast. He selectively exempts other emphases in a book where distortion, he says, pervades “as a whole—though not necessarily equally over the extent of the whole” (ibid., p. 130). But the ordinary person intuitively senses the artificiality of all such please by scholars who at the same time reject the objective truth of Scripture. Barr may deplore and caricature “how largely the humanized and secularist man of today is imprisoned, in all matters concerning the Bible, within the categories of a fundamentalist approach” (p. 13). But even those who are prone to disown a fundamentalist label know how frequently an odious term can be invoked to divert attention from some highly compromised alternative. Pleas like Barr’s, that first lament “a plain rejection” of the Bible and then urge a critically selective reordering of its content (p. 135), carry no real conviction about why the Bible should truly be expected to answer the problems besetting people in the twentieth century. Barr writes that because of its literary role in conveying “the basic foundation myth of Christianity,” the clergy should preach the Bible “as the proper normal matter for sermons … although more accurate theological ideas can quite conceivably be formulated than those … found in the Bible” (pp. 136–37). Not only to the laity but also to more and more seminarians and clergy such circumlocutions appear like plastic surgery on the content of faith that produces a new and unrecognizable identity instead of restoring its given reality.

It should be clear that any reinheritance of what Leonard Hodgson calls “the assurance of a divinely guaranteed revelation which was immune to the changes and chances of human discovery and criticism” (“God and the Bible,” p. 1) must turn on principles sounder than those which recent neo-Protestantism has been ready to sponsor. When we ask what the living God says to our impoverished humanity and what he expects of us, we are discussing something much deeper than how Calvin understands Romans 5, how Barth expounds election, how Bultmann conceives the resurrection, how Moltmann views the kingdom of God—typical issues thrust upon seminarians on the threshould of their congregational ministries. The men and women in the pew—in some places all too few in numbers—are there not primarily to learn of medieval motifs, patristic perspectives, apostolic attitudes, Christian convictions. Even if ministerial students are exposed to the content of the Bible, they are often no longer sure—at least in some seminaries—that what the sacred writers teach really puts us in touch with divine revelation.

For all that, the Bible still stands provocatively at the heart of the human dispute over truth and values, over the nature of the real world, and over the meaning and worth of human survival. No book has been as much translated and distributed as the Bible; none has been as much studied on questions of authorship and source, of historical accuracy, of faith and morals, of divine inspiration. For all the critical attacks made upon it, multitudes retain a sense of reverence for the Bible and its message. The more one contemplates recent alienation from the Bible, the more one is inclined to say that its great emphases have never been demonstrably discredited. Critical theorists who subscribe to many philosophies very different from biblical theism have indeed declared the Bible to be fallible and errant. The outcome of this critical assault has not necessarily been to discourage a reading of the Scriptures; the Bible has humbled more higher critics than they admit. Not only does the Bible retain its incomparable fascination for the multitudes, but it also reinforces as does nothing else a lively devotion to the good in a society where truth and the good seem daily more elusive. Time after time the critic, if he lives in lands where people are free to practice their faith and where critics are themselves free to dissent from an official propagandistic line, need only look about him to see how people, learned and ignorant alike, still treasure this book. It remains decisively and centrally important for Judeo-Christian faith, of course, and cannot be displaced or neglected without disastrous consequences for the fate of revealed religion and for the church.

But the Bible is just as important for the struggle against skepticism in the whole arena of metaphysical concerns. Unless present scholarship researches the Bible as openly as it does any and all other literature from the past, and unless it copes with its view of nature and history and life as much as with changing modern views, then paganism will rise again to engulf the Western world along with the world at large.

Augustine was right when he declared: “The Faith will totter if the authority of the Holy Scriptures loses its hold on men.” Western civilization falls into fast-decaying generations when generations that know better lose their hold on the Bible. If contemporary civilization truly comes of age, it will recognize and disown the idolatry of its radical secularism along with conjectural myths of past generations, disavow the assumed autonomy of man, and reach anew for the biblical God.

Today Africans and Asians, who in early postapostolic times gave the seed of Scripture scant root, seem to be rediscovering the neglected truth and power of the Gospel; the Bible can help them ward off Western secularization and lift them above the inadequacies of their own religions. The Third World is, in fact, the sending bearer of the Good News to many parts of the world. Who from the West is joining them in this task? A small but spiritually dynamic army of college and university graduates, once thought to be lost to the Christian faith, is sounding this invitation and challenge, and doing so in a time of ecumenical missionary moratorium. Often outstripping their teachers in personal devotion to the realities and vitalities of the Bible, these ambassadors are sharing and implementing a divinely authoritative message. The poignant fact of our times is not simply that a spiritually rebellious older generation is dying in its sins while its own foundlings and castaways ongoingly discover Christ to be risen and alive—among them compromised politicians like Charles Colson (in the train of Matthew the publican), social radicals like Eldridge Cleaver (reminiscent of Simon the Zealot), young university scholars (recalling Saul of Tarsus), and the multiplying task force of African and Asian nationals (recalling the first Ethiopian convert, Acts 8:28). The special irony of our age is rather that a renegade Christian society is forsaking time with the Bible for television, and considers the telecasting of its reflected vices as titillating mature entertainment. Meanwhile its disconcerted younger sons and daughters are probing anew the almost-forgotten frontiers of the authoritative Book.


Divine Authority and the Prophetic Apostolic Word

The new testament makes striking use of the term exousia, a dual-sense word meaning both authority and power. These two ideas are closely related. A ruler’s right to perform an act, that is, his authority to do so, counts for little if he lacks the power or ability to do it. Without power, authority becomes hobbled; without authority, power becomes illegitimate.

Where the Bible speaks of human and of angelic authority, it does so in the context of a possibility granted men and angels by a higher source. Whatever authority exists in the creaturely realm is never a matter simply of creaturely self-assertion. God stands on center stage or at least in the wings whenever and wherever the arm of authority is legitimately bared.

According to the Book of Revelation, even the antichrist is given power or authority to engage in his monstrous work. “The beast was allowed to mouth bombast and blasphemy and was given the right to reign for forty-two months.… It was also allowed to wage war on God’s people and to defeat them and was granted authority over every tribe and people, language and nation” (13:5, 7, neb; italics mine). Great as may be the mystery of evil, the Bible leaves no doubt that God’s dominion so encompasses evil that it does not fall outside God’s purpose. When Pontius Pilate pressed Jesus for an answer by reminding him, “You know that I have authority to release you, and I have authority to crucify you,” Jesus replied: “You would have no authority at all over me … if it had not been granted you from above” (John 19:10–11, neb).

The whole cosmic panorama exists through God alone as the ultimate ground of all derivative authority. Not only supernatural authorities and powers that minister in the heavenly presence of God, but even Satan who exercises and imparts limited power and authority on earth does so only within the defining bounds of God’s sovereign will and purpose. Only as spiritually disobedient creatures do human beings dead in trespasses and sin obey “the commander of the spiritual powers of the air, the spirit now at work among God’s rebel subjects” (Eph. 2:2, neb). For the penitent, God the Sovereign of all has secured release and forgiveness; through his Son he has rescued the redeemed from “the dominion of darkness” and brought us into his kingdom (Col. 1:13, niv). Though Saul of Tarsus had traveled the Damascus Road, as Ananias remarks, “with authority from the chief priests” to arrest Christian believers (Acts 19:14, neb), and acknowledged before King Agrippa that “I imprisoned many of God’s people by authority obtained from the chief priests” (Acts 26:10, neb), after his conversion he stresses that it is God who is the seat of authority. Confronted by the crucified and risen Lord, Paul declares himself now under transendent divine appointment to turn men “from Satan’s dominion to God” (Acts 26:18, nas).

The right or authority to become God’s children is divinely given not to rejectors, but to acceptors, of the Son of God sent into this world for man’s redemption. “As many as received Him,” says the Gospel of John, “to the He gave the right [exousia] to become children of God” (John 1:12, nas). Here not only power over sin is divinely conferred, but also a status otherwise impossible to man, that of being spiritually and morally reborn and of becoming children of the heavenly Father. By whose word other than God’s Word could iniquitous creatures gain the prospect of this almost incredible status? How else could the fallen sinner be designated for God’s Who’s Who? John uses the term gave to emphasize that grace alone makes this acceptance possible; salvation is God’s gift to the recipients: “to them he gave the authorization.…”

Even the world’s far-flung apparatus of civil government, as Paul’s letter to the Romans emphasizes, has a derived authority. “There is no authority but by act of God and the existing authorities are instituted by him.” Precisely for that reason, “anyone who rebels against authority is resisting a divine institution” (Rom. 13:1–2, neb), one that reflects, even if indirectly, the lordship of God into the fallen world. That is why, when the Roman Emperor Augustus decreed a national census, Joseph traveled with Mary, despite her pregnancy, to register in far-off Bethlehem. Yet the power of civil government is not absolute. The New Testament speaks of a final judgment of both men and nations. Jesus instructed his disciples: “When you are brought before synagogues and state authorities, do not begin worrying about how you will conduct your defence or what you will say. For the Holy Spirit will instruct you” (Luke 12:11, neb).

Whether we speak of men or angels, of civil government, even of Satan, none of them holds underived authority. God alone is the absolute power of decision. Only when exousia is used for God’s own unrestricted sovereignty, for the power of God the King, do we behold underived authority, a right suspended on no higher norm or source and which is able to fulfill itself despite any and every obstacle. It was in this sense that King David acknowledged Yahweh’s incomparable authority and power: “Thou rulest over all; might and power are of thy disposing; thine it is to give power and strength to all” (1 Chron. 29:12, neb). Yahweh, Jehoshaphat similarly declared, rules “over all the kingdoms of the nations; in thy hand are strength and power, and there is none who can withstand thee” (2 Chron. 20:6, neb).

The invisible authority which ultimately decides is the power of the invisible Creator, the Ruler of the nations, of him whose will is done in heaven and prevails in nature and history. In God’s case alone is exousia the absolute possibility of action, the source of all other power and legality; such is the authority of the Divine Potter that he is free to do what he wills with the clay of creation (Rom. 9:21). “Those who were not my people I will call My People, and the unloved nation I will call My Beloved” (Rom. 9:25, neb). He is the Sovereign of history who has set “dates and times … within his own control [exousia]” (Acts 1:7, neb). Fear not simply those that can destroy only the body, says Jesus, but “fear him who … has exousia to cast into hell” (Luke 12:5, neb). That is what exousia means in revealed religion: authority and power that the living God alone can wield underivedly and unrestrictedly.

In the New Testament we face the fact that God’s exousia is the power and authority given to Jesus Christ and under him, to his disciples. It is Christ’s special exousia that constitutes him sovereign over the church, and it is exousia bestowed by Christ that alone enables anyone to enter the kingdom of God. Christ is the determining head of the church, the Messiah who inherits all power and shares it with his followers.

This right and power that are Christ’s constitute the fixed center of the Gospels. Mark’s Gospel records how Jesus at the beginning of his ministry healed the paralytic, lowered through the roof, in order to persuade the unbelieving “that the Son of Man has exousia on earth to forgive sins” (Mark 2:10, neb). Jesus’ striking manifestation of “authority and power” (Luke 4:30, kjv) as the embodied Yahweh stuns his hearers and even demons (Luke 4:36). He sends out the Twelve with exousia to expel demons (Mark 3:15–19), to manifest the power of his name over the malevolent realm of Satan. “He taught as one having exousia” (Matt. 7:29, kjv), we read. “His word was with exousia” (Luke 4:32, kjv), “powerful in speech and action” (Luke 24:19, neb). The Word of God proclaimed and exhibited by Jesus in its authority and creative power carried eschatological surprise and finality. He reminds his enemies that of his own free will alone he lays down his life; he has exousia to lay it down, and he has exousia to receive it back again (John 10:18). Those who would slay him he warns that all exousia is his in the future judgment of mankind (John 5:27). Indeed, when after his resurrection he mandates his disciples to “go forth therefore and make all nations my disciples: baptize men everywhere in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matt. 28:19, neb), the “therefore” has for its antecedent this assurance: “Full exousia in heaven and on earth has been committed to me.” Jesus’ exousia is the presupposition of whatever authority the apostles have in respect to the things of God, that is, of all apostolic authority.

Nothing I have said so far has identified the Bible as a special locus of divine exousia. Although God’s “everlasting power [dunamis] and deity [theiotēs]” are everywhere revealed throughout the universe, as the Apostle Paul avers (Rom. 1:19–20), our knowledge that the universe is a divine creation, that God proffers forgiveness to fallen mankind, and of much else that we have already indicated about God and his Christ, is available to us only in the Scriptures. From the Old Testament wherein God in past times spoke “through the prophets” (Heb. 1:1, niv) we first learn of the promised Messiah; of this prophetic disclosure Jesus said: “If you believed Moses you would believe what I tell you, for it was about me that he wrote. But if you do not believe what he wrote, how are you to believe what I say?” (John 5:46–47, neb). Moses derivatively proclaimed God’s authoritative Word; to reject this revelatory Mosaic word dims in one’s personal life the force of the word spoken by the embodied Logos of God. The Bible is, in fact, the only knowledge-basis we have for anything we say about the person and work of Christ, about his distinctive authority, and about the authority he conferred upon the apostles.

The first claim to be made for Scripture is not its inerrancy nor even its inspiration, but its authority. Standing in the forefront of prophetic-apostolic proclamation is the divine authority of Scripture as the Word of God. The main emphasis of the apostolic kerygma in its use of Scripture is that it is divinely authoritative. As in proclaiming the incarnate Word, so in regard to the epistemic Word, the fact of a divine reality holds center stage; related details of birth and growth and underlying psychology have lesser prominence.

Not only behind the Bible, but also in its very forefront, stand prophets and apostles who claim to be God’s chosen and authorized spokesmen. The New Testament apostle stands to God in the same relationship of call and dependence as does the Old Testament prophet, the latter as proclaimer of the divine promise and the former as proclaimer of divine fulfillment. Behind the apostles of Christ and above them stands Christ himself, the Apostle of God.

Karl Rengstorf emphasizes that among the Greek verbs for “sending,” the New Testament term apostellein carries the unusual sense of a special mission or authorization, indeed, a divine commission (“Apostleship,” p. xii); the classical secular use of apostolos did not include the idea of transcendent authorization. The term gains the sense of authorized personal authority only in connection with the communication of an absolute message by the Christian apostolate. The apostles are not merely verbal mouthpieces or messengers but commit their entire being to the Lord’s claim and commission, and in his name they then intrude their presence and his precepts. They see themselves as bondslaves in the context of an unconditional divine appointment. The Jewish rabbis had distinguished from the priesthood revered personages like Moses, Elijah, Elisha and Ezekiel generally because their performance of miracles involved what God elsewhere reserved wholly for himself. First-century Jews did not use the term apostolos in the New Testament sense, however, until the Christian church so used it (ibid., p. 20).

The term apostolos appears sixty-nine times in the New Testament and means an authorized messenger. Designated as a limited collegium whose center is in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1), the Twelve are sent by Jesus as bearers of the gospel (the number is preserved despite the loss of Judas; cf. Acts 1:26; 1 Cor. 15:5). The term is also applied to a wider company, however, that includes Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:4, 14), and Paul reckons not only himself as an apostle but also James the Lord’s brother, who like Paul joined the community after Jesus’ death (Gal. 1:19). James is mentioned also in 1 Corinthians 15:7 as one of a larger circle. Romans 16:7 designates two unheralded fellow-workers, Junias and Andronicus, as apostles.

What specially distinguishes the New Testament apostolate is that they are “apostles of Jesus Christ,” that is, commissioned by him personally in a resurrection manifestation. Paul bases his apostolic authenticity on his meeting with the risen Christ (1 Cor. 9:1, 15:8–11). If names like Junias and Andronicus trouble us because of our lack of further information about them, we must bear in mind two facts: first, that the risen Jesus appeared to a much wider company—for example, to the godly women who saw him first (Luke 24:40–49)—than those who were designated apostles (1 Cor. 15:8–11); and second, that even some prominent New Testament leaders like Apollos and Timothy are not identified as apostles.

Jesus is himself called “the Apostle and High Priest” (Heb. 3:1, kjv), a correlation of terms that emphasizes his superiority to the Old Testament “prophet”—a title not applied to Jesus in the Book of Hebrews but contrasted rather with the word son used absolutely (1:2). The term therefore attaches to a circle of ideas in which, as Rengstorf observes (ibid., p. 30), Jesus is heralded as the final and complete revelation of God who absolutely authorizes his word (Apostle) and his work (High Priest). He is the Apostle “sent by the Father,” as Jesus himself states in the high priestly prayer (John 17:18), in and by whom the Father acts (John 14:10), and who in turn authorizes the apostles for their world mission (John 20:21) and sends them forth.

Already in the delegating of disciples, Jesus bestows on them power or authority, dispatches them on their mission, and asks them to report back to him. The disciples are duty bound to obedient service so identical with Jesus’ objectives that the treatment accorded them by the people is in effect a response to Jesus himself. This phenomenon of being sent on an authorized task occurs early in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry, although specific appointment to apostleship takes place subsequently. Thus Jesus’ gathering of disciples has in view from the outset those who will be specially commissioned for a comprehensively singular role. The ministry of apostles is closely correlated with the preaching and activity specifically authorized by Jesus (Mark 3:14). When later they indicate what they have taught and accomplished, they rejoice in the power of his name (Luke 10:17); the success of his mission is clearly uppermost in their minds. But this preliminary sending of the apostles involved only temporary enlistment for brief missions; it included as yet no permanent commission. It is therefore not surprising that at the crucifixion of Jesus one and all were confused and confounded.

Only the reality of the resurrection welded Jesus’ followers into a joyful community ready for a world task. In this turn of events nothing was more fundamental than the risen Lord’s renewal of the apostolic commission into its final form: eyewitnesses of the resurrection, the apostles are personally enlisted by Jesus from inside the Christian community to be lifelong missionary envoys to all the world. The one New Testament reference we have to a “false apostle” (2 Cor. 11:13, kjv) designates a person who claims to be an apostle of Christ (cf. Rev. 2:2) but lacks this definitive authorization. While the number of apostles may have been somewhat larger than is usually thought (cf. Acts 1:13–15), that a particular Twelve were carefully preserved is significant (1:22–26); moreover, the world scope of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:19–20) may indicate why after Pentecost we know so little of some apostles. As a global mandate the Great Commission has a continuing character; the task of proclamation extends from the now actual resurrection to the promised return of the Lord of all (Acts 1:7–11). The apostles have a decisive role in relation to the church’s ongoing mission.

Through his own obedient apostleship Jesus grounds the authoritative mission of the apostles in the authority of the Father (John 20:21), and pledges his personal presence in their midst (John 14:18, 23; Matt. 28:20). The Holy Spirit manifests Jesus’ presence and power in the course of their obedient evangelistic initiative; in the hour of trial they are to take no thought for what they will say, for Christ by the Spirit will be their mind and mouth. God himself confirms by miraculous signs the apostolic proclamation of the risen Christ.

The apostles were not only eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection but, with the exception of Paul, also had intimate contact with Jesus’ earthly life and ministry. Paul rejects any suggestion of secondary apostleship; alongside his appeal to the risen Lord’s special appearance to him, he unreservedly appropriates the primitive message of the other apostles concerning Jesus of Nazareth (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. 11:23; Rom. 15:3, etc.) as requisite for his own proclamation. Paul always emphasizes that the apostolic commission derives from God himself (1 Cor. 1:1, etc.) and that the work of an apostle required authorization by the risen Jesus (Gal. 1:1).

The coupling of the apostolic consciousness with the revealed purpose of God correlates the witness and work of the apostles with that of the prophets of old. What imparts a special value to the witness and work of prophets and apostles alike is the authoritative Word of God; divine authorization binds them both to proclaiming the divinely disclosed message (cf. 1 Cor. 1:1, 17; 2 Cor. 5:19). As Rengstorf comments: “The apostolate (1 Cor. 12:28 f.) is … an appointment of Jesus creating the Church. For that reason the apostles rank with the O.T. prophets (Eph. 2:20; 3:5), whose office became a preparation for the coming of Christ on the ground of their having been sent” (ibid., p. 29). He adds: “The parallel between the apostles and the prophets is justified, because they are both bearers of revelation, the one anticipating its completion and the other experiencing it. The chronological difference explains why the old title of prophet could not be applied to the envoys of Jesus; the changed situation demanded a name which referred to the commission given by Jesus. On the other hand, it accounts for the way in which the two are brought together under the aspect of their historical importance for the origin of the Church in Eph. 2:20” (p. 60).

Jesus’ pledged presence of the Spirit of truth in their midst (John 14:17) vouchsafes not simply his personal continuance with the apostles in the Spirit, but also their definitive role in expositing Jesus’ own teaching and its larger implications (14:26). Jesus’ apostolic commission is a commission both for world evangelism in his name and for the verbal articulation of his mission by the Spirit. The authority of Christ underlies the apostles’ witness; they are Christ’s ambassadors in declaring the Good News (2 Cor. 5:17). As merely human formulations, even as formulations of advice, the words of the apostles have no authority and need not be followed; only because God has made them bondslaves and constituted them verbal mouthpieces is what the apostles proclaim binding upon us. Nothing whatever requires us to defer to the personal opinions of Saul of Tarsus or any other religious personality, however prestigious, however intellectually gifted, or however clever. Only a divinely conferred authority to communicate a transcendently given message can oblige us. Anyone with a flicker of pride in ecclesiastic authority does well to remember the Apostle Paul’s sobering comment: “our authority—an authority given by the Lord” (2 Cor. 10:8, neb).

So confidently do the Christian apostles convey God’s authoritative Word to the world that they not only speak boldly of God’s revealed truth, but they also declare that to disavow that truth in effect constitutes God a liar. The human denial of God’s truth, as the Apostle John reiterates, leads to self-deception and, worse than that, maligns the very character of God: “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8–10, kjv). We give God the lie if we thrust our rebellion across the intelligible content of divine revelation; if we deny our sin and guilt “the truth is not in us … his word is not in us.” “Who is the liar”—the superlative liar, that is—asks John, “but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ?” (1 John 2:22, neb). However bold the assertion may be, it comes significantly from the Apostle of Love who never made the imperative of agape an excuse for concealing the truth of revelation.

The First Johannine Epistle makes the strongest conceivable epistemological claim on the basis of God’s authoritatively revealed Word. Now and then conjectural philosophers presume to have ultimate knowledge and banner the legend: “We know!” Gnosis was the hallmark of much of the Hellenistic religious philosophy, and Gnostics claimed to have a special cosmological knowledge. Christian believers were exhorted to spurn presumptive speculation and empty talk about God. Instead of Gnostic theorizing about “the deep things of God” John declares that “God is light” in whom is “no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5, kjv); the self-revealed God is definitively known in his authoritative word. On the one hand the apostles affirmed with Paul that “now we know in part” (1 Cor. 13:12); their knowledge of God, they readily concede, is limited by what God himself has chosen to reveal. On the other hand, they revel in the abundant and authoritative word God had graciously made known. 1 John rings therefore with a memorable phrase: “We know that we know!” “We know that we know him,” writes John, “if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, kjv). The Christian community knows the living God and his very commandments, and it seeks to “keep his word” (1 John 2:5, nas). “We know that we know!”—that is the apostle’s incomparable claim. With the other apostles, John stands fast in the sure knowledge of the Word of life “heard … seen with our eyes … looked upon and touched with our hands” (rsv; 1 John 1:1 uses the same Greek verb for “touched” as the Gospel of John in 20:27, thus recalling the resurrection appearances of the crucified Jesus); he stands fast also in the Word of life, in the articulately spoken Word of God, that “goes forth” out of Yahweh’s “mouth” and does “not return … void” (Isa. 55:11, kjv). “We know that we know!” reflects not simply the epistemological self-assurance of the apostles; it reflects beyond that their certainty of being entrusted with God’s objectively authoritative word. The New Testament apostles carry forward the selfsame confidence in the self-revealing God as the Old Testament prophets proclaimed with phrases like “The Word that the Lord has spoken,” and “according to the Word of the Lord,” or, “according to thy Word.”

Jesus announced the good news by word of mouth; his ministry was one of oral proclamation. He composed no written gospels or epistles. Perhaps the only conclusion we can draw from Jesus’ writing in the sand, A. Maude Royden suggests, is that Christ could write in a day when the education of a Jewish peasant boy did not necessarily include writing (I Believe in God, p. 223). But Royden proceeds to draw a further conclusion, that Christ’s failure to write a gospel was intended to save both the apostles and us from a high view of Scripture (p. 224). That inference is wholly unjustifiable. We should note that James the brother of Jesus is traditionally considered the writer of the epistle that bears his name. Luther remarks that Jesus did not “write down his teaching as Moses did, but preached it by word of mouth and ordered it to be preached by word of mouth” (Weimar Ausgabe, XII, 259). He instructed the disciples and apostles to engage in face-to-face witnessing and preaching. The apostles were to herald the message of the kingdom orally by the living voice. Much if not most of what the apostles wrote they first of all preached in the Christian churches; long before they composed New Testament writings they proclaimed God’s authoritative word orally and publicly.

Yet we are not on that account dealing, in the case of New Testament writings, with a miscarriage of divine intention, as if what the apostles wrote must be carefully distinguished from what they taught orally in Jesus’ name. To say that the Christian movement recorded its early oral tradition only out of weakness—R. H. Lightfoot reportedly attributed the writing of the Gospels to the effects of original sin within the church (cf. C. F. Evans, Is “Holy Scripture” Christian? pp. 6–7)—has no foundation whatever. In that day even the Greco-Roman world depended heavily on written sources, prizing the written word above oral tradition. Papias, for example, who in his early years gathered existing verbal traditions about Jesus and the disciples, found that the available writings were more valuable and more reliable (cf. Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, iii, 39, 3). Dewey Beegle remarks that “long before now, as the history of the church in the second and third centuries a.d. indicates, the basic messages of the Old and New Testaments would have been skewed and garbled beyond recognition by an oral tradition that had lost the ancient ability to transmit with fidelity” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 51). Oral tradition apart from the written word would over several generations experience change and could be easily corrupted. Luke mentions as a motivation for composing his Gospel that “many writers” had already undertaken to detail “the events that have happened among us, following the traditions handed down to us by the original eyewitnesses and servants of the Gospel. And so I in my turn … as one who has gone over the whole course of these events in detail, have decided to write a connected narrative for you, so as to give you authentic knowledge about the matters of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:1–4, neb).

The apostles were not only committed to the history of Jesus’ earthly life and ministry as the foundation and content of their message, and were eyewitnesses of the risen Lord, but they were also the specially authorized interpreters of Jesus’ life and mission; even the foremost apostles were judged for their consistency or nonconsistency in practicing the apostolic teaching (Gal. 2:11). The appearance of inadequate representations of Christian truth and the encroachment of heresies and alien philosophies gave the apostles further incentive to write. Yet the New Testament abundantly shows that the missionary churches grew because of resident leadership and that written communication from the apostles was more the exception than the rule. For all that, the New Testament churches do not really distinguish between the spoken and the written apostolic word. The same authority first delegated to the apostles for their oral proclamation was later carried over into their writing. The mobile missionary nature of apostolic church extension required that the content of apostolic teaching be in written form if it was to be known as widely as possible. The written proclamation was read to the churches by apostolic injunction; Paul’s letters were read as if he were personally present, when in fact he could not be, either because of extensive missionary travel or because of imprisonment; regard for the apostolic authority of the writings was made a test of Christian fidelity (2 Thess. 2:15). In view of their nature as apostolic proclamation, the oral and the written word could not be regarded as rivals.

Already at the founding of the Christian church the community of faith had its Bible, the prophetic Scriptures that we now designate as the Old Testament. The New Testament writers consider the Old Testament Scriptures to be completely authoritative. As Alan Richardson says, they held “that the Scriptures were given by God through his Spirit as the means by which the revelation originally imparted to the patriarchs and prophets of old might be communicated to the generations which came after them.… The ancient men of faith to whom the original revelation had been given, had been moved by the Spirit to commit to writing the sacred truths which were to instruct the generations yet unborn (e.g., Acts 4:25). Thus the words of Scripture could be cited as the direct utterance of God (e.g. Heb. 5:5) or of the Holy Spirit (e.g., Heb. 3:7); sometimes a scriptural passage is quoted under the simple formula: ‘He says’ legei; e.g., Eph. 4:8; 5:15; rsv ‘It is said’ is inaccurate” (“Scripture, Authority of,” pp. 248b–249a). “The attitude of the whole apostolic church is epitomized,” Richardson remarks, in the Pauline statement to Timothy that inspired Scripture is trustworthy in its teaching and instruction (2 Tim. 3:15–17).

The authority of the Old Testament prophets as divinely appointed spokesmen anticipates the authority also of the apostles. Repeatedly Yahweh is depicted not only as the God who acts, but also as the God who speaks, and the prophets give us the ne um yaweh, literally, the utterance or declaration of Yahweh. More familiar is the expression koh amar yahweh, translated “thus says” or “speaks the Lord,” a phrase that appears well over four hundred times in the Old Testament. Repeatedly we find such expressions as “the Lord spake unto Moses, saying …” (Exod. 14:1; Lev. 4:1; Num. 13:1; etc.); “the Lord hath spoken …” (Isa. 1:2); “Then said the Lord unto Isaiah …” (Isa. 7:3); “the word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel” (Ezek. 1:3; cf. Hos. 1:1); “the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying” (Jer. 11:1). Statements on this order, notes Henry C. Thiessen, occur more than thirty-eight hundred times in the Old Testament (Introductory Lectures in Systematic Theology, p. 110). Repeatedly and unequivocally Jeremiah, for example, says that what he speaks and writes is nothing other than the Word of the Lord; frequently he gives the specific time, place and circumstances when he was informed and dispatched as God’s spokesman to a designated audience.

The written form of prophetic proclamation is not accidental, however. Gottlob Schrenk emphasizes that “writing down is an important mark of revelation” in the Old Testament. The tables of the Law are said to be written by the finger of God (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10). “God Himself writes down in Ex. 24:12, 31:18, 32:15, 32: 34:1, Dt. 4:13, 9:10 etc. Moses writes down the commandments of the Lord in Ex. 24:4, 34:27; Joshua in Jos. 24:26, Samuel in 10:25. The king is to cause the Law of God to be written down (Dt. 17:18)” (“Graphō,” 1:744). Moses was commanded to write in a book what God had told him, and Jeremiah even calls his writing the book of Jehovah. The verb graphō carried originally the sense of carving, engraving, or inscribing (so the Law was engraved on the stones of Jordan, Deut. 27:3, and Lev. 19:28 prohibited grammata stikta or tatooing), a sense preserved both at the beginning and end of the New Testament: Zechariah designates the name of John (the Baptist) by writing on a waxed tablet (Luke 1:63) and in Revelation 2:17 the new name given to victorious saints is written on stone.

The New Testament, in short, fully endorses the authoritative significance of the Old Testament Scriptures as mediating the declaration of God’s revealed will. The use of gegraptai (“it stands written,” Matt. 4:4–10; Luke 4:8; 19:46; 1 Cor. 9:9; 14:21) reflects the character of the Old Testament as a normative record, the same formula being sometimes used not only of historical annals but even of bronze tablets (cf. Luke 3:4). The Law of God is repeatedly referred to as written, as authoritative not simply in the juridical sense but in an absolute spiritual sense as the Law of Yahweh the sovereign King and Lawgiver; the prophetic word is guaranteed by the binding truth of Yahweh. Paul reminds the Jews that to them had been entrusted the oracles of God (Rom. 3:2).

The theme of Scriptures, David R. Jackson notes, is as prominent in the Acts missionary message as is the resurrection of the crucified Jesus and the new life available through faith in the risen Lord (cf. Acts 2:17–21, 25–28, 34–35; 3:18, 21–25; 4:11; 5:30–31; 10:43; 13:16–23, 27, 29, 33–36, 40–41; cf. 26:22) (“Gospel [Message],” 2:782). The Book of Acts, H. J. Cadbury writes, is the “keystone linking the two major portions of the New Testament, the ‘Gospel’ and the ‘Apostle,’ as the early Christians called them … the only bridge we have across the seemingly impassable gulf that separates … the gospel of Jesus from the gospel about Jesus” (The Making of Luke-Acts, p. 2). It was the bridge also from prophets to apostles, and one well-traveled expressway on that bridge was prophetic scripture alive with contemporary fulfillment. The Christian church and the Bible were therefore inseparable from the outset; the church never existed without a Bible nor was there ever a time when it did not recognize the authority of Scripture.

Yet an important development distinguishes the New Testament appeal to the Old Testament, namely, the emphasis on messianic fulfillment. The principle that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), writes C. K. Barrett, “was an axiom both of Judaism and of primitive Christianity; the two differed only in their beliefs about the fulfilment of Scripture” (The Gospel According to St. John, p. 320). The New Testament message is that the ancient Scriptures, which set forth the prophetic witness to the coming Messiah, can be adequately understood only in the light of Jesus of Nazareth the crucified and risen Lord (1 Pet. 1:10–12). All Old Testament Scripture is said to have as its purpose a witness to Christ that centers in the promise fulfilled by Jesus. Matthew almost routinely emphasizes Jesus’ fulfillment of the prophetic Scriptures. Luke focuses prominently on Christ’s fulfillment of the written Scriptures as the one to whom they bear witness and in this regard speaks comprehensively of the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms (18:31; 21:22; 24:44; Acts 13:29; 24:14). Paul repeatedly correlates what is written with the disclosure in Jesus (Rom. 4:23–24; 15:4–5; 1 Cor. 10:11, etc.). In his compact statement of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1–4 that reiterates what he heard in the primitive missionary churches, Paul affirms both Christ’s death for sinners and his bodily resurrection as historical events that took place “according to the scriptures”. Fulfillment of the authoritative prophetic Scriptures in Jesus of Nazareth is a central emphasis from the very beginnings of the Christian movement.

In thus honoring the Old Testament as divinely authoritative and in designating Jesus as the Christ foretold by the prophets, the apostles actually followed the Nazarene’s own example and self-testimony; they were, in fact, his authorized witnesses.

Because the prophetic witness anticipates Christ as its climax and the apostolic testimony exalts Jesus as the promised Son of God to whom all authority is given, Scripture has sometimes been adversely contrasted with Jesus Christ or with the Spirit of God as the sovereign authority. This contrast has been promoted during the past two centuries by champions of higher critical views of Scripture. But the critical assumptions governing negative theories of Scripture inevitably carry over also into other spheres, such as christology and pneumatology, so that any attempt to seal off the authority of Christ or of the Spirit from the fate of Scripture is vain.

The indissoluble connection between Christ and Scripture is evident in other ways as well. Jesus himself expressly declared that he came not to destroy the law and the prophets but to fulfill them (Matt. 5:17), and he dogmatically endorses the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative word of God. Pierre Marcel rightly remarks that “from the manner in which Christ quotes Scriptures we find that he recognizes and accepts the Old Testament in its entirety as possessing a normative authority, as the true Word of God” (“Our Lord’s Use of Scripture,” p. 133). He upbraids Jewish religious leaders for ignorance and neglect of the sacred Scriptures: “Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:46–47, kjv). “Have you not read …?” (Matt. 12:3, rsv). “Go ye and learn what that meaneth” (Matt. 9:13, kjv, referring ring to Hos. 6:6). He contends that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, kjv), and this finality of scriptural authority he extends even to minute phrases of the Old Testament, as in his quotation from Psalm 82:6.

The correlation of God’s Word and God’s power occurs frequently in the apostolic writings. We read of “the ministry of the word” (Acts 6:4, kjv), of “the word of reconciliation” (2 Cor. 5:19, kjv), “the word of life” (Phil. 2:16, kjv), “the word of rightousness” (Heb. 5:13, kjv). The apostles accredit themselves in a godless world, writes Paul, “by declaring the truth, by the power of God” (2 Cor. 6:7, neb). Only on the basis of God’s revealed Word are we able to delineate the implications even of God’s power. Still more significant, however, is that Jesus supplies the precedent for identifying this powerful word not solely with oral proclamation but with the written Scriptures as well: “You are mistaken,” he tells the Sadducees, “and surely this is the reason: you do not know either the scriptures or the power of God” (Mark 12:24, neb).

Besides endorsing the claim of the Old Testament as authoritative over the lives of others, he himself submitted to it. Even after his resurrection he reminded his disciples that the words and events “must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms,” concerning him (Luke 24:44, kjv). Jesus instructed his followers not to evaluate his life and teaching apart from Old Testament teaching, but to hold them together as a unit. The apostles’ teaching and bearing concerning the authority of Scripture reflect that of their Master.

Jesus not only trusted the Old Testament as divinely authoritative, but he also entrusted the interpretation of his whole life and work to specifically designated apostles; they like the ancient prophets would be Spirit-guided. The incarnate Christ, whose personal word is authoritative, not only acknowledged the derivative divine authority of the Old Testament prophetic proclamation but, as risen Lord in whom is vested all power and authority, he also dispatched apostles; in his name and as divinely authorized representatives they were to teach and expound the significance of his ministry and mission. Jesus left no written word of his own direct authorship and hence no word independent of the prophetic word; this, moreover, he did deliberately. He anticipatively pledged the divine authority of the apostolic word as Spirit-directed; the apostles, in turn, claim divine authority for their oral and written proclamation, and speak of Scripture, as Jesus did before them, as divinely authoritative. The apostles set forth what they write in Christ’s name as divinely authoritative for faith and practice.

Already the earliest Pauline epistles provide a precedent for identifying the gospel not simply with verbal proclamation but also with the written message. In context, Paul’s formulation of the gospel “according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3–4, kjv) refers to what was already the case in the preaching of the primitive missionary churches that dated back virtually to Pentecost. Hence we have here a precedent also for the evangelists’ writings, called Gospels because they witness to the person, words and work of Christ. By gospel, Irenaeus and other church fathers meant the entire New Testament; actually the gospel has as its content both New and Old Testaments (Acts 8:35, 13:32–33).

In whatever way the intrinsic authority of Jesus as incarnate Logos differs from the derived authority of his divinely delegated spokesmen, his word should not be contrasted in absolute terms with the truth and doctrine propounded by the prophets and apostles. A divinely given word mediated by the Logos of God through prophets and apostles is just as authoritative as that spoken directly by the incarnate Logos himself. The witness and work of John the Baptist, as well as that of the Old Testament prophets whose testimony he climaxes, Jesus interprets as theologically continuous with his own mission; Jesus fulfills the dawning kingdom announced by John (Luke 20:2–8). Sending out disciples to preach and heal in his name (Luke 9:2), Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will recall his words to them and teach them all things (John 14:26); the authority exercised by the apostles in the new community is said to have heavenly sanction (Matt. 18:18–20). The apostolic leadership of the church became the channel for extending the divine Word first spoken by the Logos of God through Moses and the prophets, then by Jesus the incarnate Logos, and now in the postresurrection era through his specially commissioned spokesmen.

The fact that Scripture is the instrument of our knowledge of God must not obscure the role of the Logos of God as the supernatural agent in all revelation. But neither need nor does the ontological reality and mediating activity of the Logos of God cloud the epistemic significance of Scripture as word of God. James Boice notes that the Apostle John uses the word logos even “of the Old Testament Scriptures in the phrases ‘the word of God’ or ‘his word’ (5:38; 8:55; 10:35; cf. also 12:38).” “In this perception,” Boice observes, “John is not far from the opening verses of the epistle to the Hebrews in which the revelation of God through His Son is intimately connected with the speaking of God in Old Testament times through the prophets and in which, significantly enough, attention is also given as in John to the activity of the Son in the creation of the world and to the revelation of God in Christ in terms of God’s speaking to men through Jesus” (Witness and Revelation in the Gospel of John, p. 70).

In the apostolic testimony, no less than in the prophetic witness, God’s redemptive revelation thus gained permanent and universally objective form. Writing obviously implies a permanence greater than that of the nonwritten, spoken word. But the special overtones of the fixity and durability of the written word are drawn in Scripture from something else as well, the fact that the compositions bear prophetic and apostolic authority and therefore delegated divine authority.

Whether we deal with God’s ancient revelation to chosen prophets and their verbal proclamation of it, or with the revelation given by God enfleshed in Jesus of Nazareth, or with inspired scriptural writings that transmit the prophetic-apostolic message in permanent form, the Christian community manifests the same continuing and unqualified confidence in a sure knowledge of God’s authoritative Word.

“It was not written for his sake alone,” says Paul, of the record of Abraham’s faith in God’s promise, “but for us also” to whom justification is imputed by faith (Rom. 4:23–24, kjv). Of a passage in Deuteronomy (25:4) Paul says, “For our sakes, no doubt, this is written” (1 Cor. 9:10, kjv). “Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and encouragement of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4, kjv). “They are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world have come” (1 Cor. 10:11, kjv). In other words, the Old Testament as literature retains an interest and value beyond its own time; far more than this, its truth is not limited to either the time of composition or to the audience to whom it was originally addressed precisely because of its revelational authority, especially because of its anticipatory teaching about the Christ and the hope God proffers those who receive him. The content of the prophetic writings had in view not simply a past time, but Paul’s day as well. In the same way the prophetic-apostolic writings are valid not simply for the prophetic era and the apostolic age but for our time also.

The impulse to record Jesus’ words and deeds lay in part in a desire to make the authoritatively revealed truth of God known in a way more accessible and permanent than oral proclamation. The fact that the church had the ancient prophecies in written form, and not merely as oral tradition, furnished a precedent for proclaiming prophetic fulfillment in Jesus of Nazareth in written as well as oral form. But the apostles had an even greater stimulus. Christ himself had designated interpreters of his mission and had pledged them the guidance of the Spirit of truth to bring important considerations to their remembrance and to lead them in expounding their significance. The apostles confront us in their writings not merely as “chosen” spokesmen but as authorized conveyors of divine truth and its awesome consequences for human destiny; they insist that superhuman, supernatural authority inheres in Scripture.

Besides appealing to the Old Testament writings, the apostles imposed their very own New Testament writings as divinely authoritative; they relate what they themselves teach to the very mind and speech of God himself, and to the authority of the risen Jesus. They insist that their writings are no less the Word of God than are the ancient prophetic writings; indeed, the apostolic letters are identified with the Spirit of truth because of their apostolic identification with Christ the Apostle of God and with the Holy Spirit. The apostles speak and write the truth and word of God in the name of the risen Lord; they present their very commands as having divine authority. In enjoining obedience to his written moral instruction, Paul unreservedly adduces the authority of the Lord Jesus as the ground of his own authority: “For ye know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus” (1 Thess. 4:2, kjv). The apostolic “traditions” to which the Thessalonians were to hold fast maintained a direct continuity and identity with the teaching of Jesus, whether this instruction was received, says Paul, by “our word or by our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15, kjv). Paul’s sense of apostolic authority obtrudes frequently from his writings (e.g., Rom. 1:1; 11:13; 1 Cor. 1:1; 9:1; 15:8; Gal. 1:1; 11, 12, 15–17). He claims divine authority for what he writes as an apostle: “Did the word of God originate with you?… If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37, rsv). Claims for the divine authority of apostolic scripture could not be expressed more strongly.

Any attempt ventured in the name of Christ or of the Spirit to remove from Christianity the supposed onus of being a “book” religion is therefore ill-conceived. From the very first, the Christian religion involved a distinctive deposit of authoritative prophetic literature, confirmed as such even by the incarnate, crucified and risen Jesus, who pledged to designated apostles the operative presence of the Spirit of God in their exposition of his life and work. Although not the only factor, apostolicity was a decisive factor in identifying the authoritative writings; whether or not a work was apostolic or sanctioned by the apostles was of crucial importance for the New Testament canon; this is evident from the rejection of the Shepherd of Hermas because of its nonapostolicity.

The authority concentrated in the apostles has not during subsequent generations been extended or transferred to some postapostolic community; it continues to inhere in the scriptural witness of those who were eyewitnesses of the risen Lord and who were specially commissioned by him for their task. The well-founded conviction of the Christian church that absolute authority belongs exclusively and uniquely to the risen Jesus allows no basis for supplementing or replacing that authority expressed by Christ in the apostolic word by some correlative or subsequent authority. To say that an equally authoritative apostolic “tradition” survives alongside or outside the New Testament writings, or that decisions of early church councils are now determinative, or that the apostles transmitted their authority to episcopal successors, or that the church herself now encompasses and displaces apostolic authority, has no foundation whatever in the apostolically attested witness. Obviously the Christian church has certain rights and powers to regulate worship, exercise discipline, and systematically expound revealed doctrine. But, as William C. G. Procter pointedly states, “it is through the Bible that Jesus Christ now exercises his divine authority, imparting authoritative truth, issuing authoritative commands and imposing an authoritative norm by which all the arrangements or statements made by the church must be shaped and corrected” (“Authority,” p. 81).

It may seem incongruous to speak about the Word of God in the words and writings of human prophets and apostles, or to think of mortal men ruling as God’s ministers of public justice. The same sense of incongruity overtakes us when on “the first Palm Sunday” we behold deity astride a donkey. Alongside God and his Christ, these earthly bearers of divine authority are, as it were, but lowly asses. But the omnipotent God can surely speak his Word through human messengers. How often, in fact, humans have misrepresented themselves or one another as gods. Ancient pagan rulers were considered incarnations of divinity, crowding out the King of kings, and modern “wise men” proffering their latest insights as a divine gnosis have crowded out the Word of God. But in and by Scripture alone, the divine exousia, God’s authority and power, authorizes God’s people to withstand any derivative and conditional authority that contravenes what God requires. Scripture—that which stands written—is what Jesus uses in the wilderness to rebut Satan, and Scripture is what he repeats during the agonies of the cross (Matt. 27:46/Ps. 22). Scripture is what Paul adduces to limit the authority of civil government: “He who loves his neighbor has satisfied every claim of the law. For the commandments, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet,’ and any other commandment there may be, are all summed up in the one rule, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Rom. 13:8–10, neb). Carrying mankind to the threshold of the last judgement, the Book of Revelation warns against subtracting from or adding to the word of prophecy lest one forfeit one’s “share in the tree of life and the Holy City” (Rev. 22:18–19, neb). God’s exousia is God’s alone to share. He chooses and authorizes prophets and apostles to publish his unabridgeable word; he entrusts civil rulers with priorities of justice that will finally be weighed by the Lord of glory. In that day he will no longer come upon a lowly ass but astride a white horse and will come in final judgement of men and nations (Rev. 19).


Modern Reductions of Biblical Authority

Never has the christian movement been confronted as in the twentieth century by such an array of influential theologians who profess loyalty to Scripture, who even speak emphatically in the name and on the side of what the Bible affirms, but who nonetheless range themselves against much of what Scripture actually teaches. Even the most fundamental biblical declarations about God, revelation and inspiration, or about the nature and work of Jesus Christ that define the human predicament and man’s salvific rescue are set aside by numerous neo-Protestant theologians who lend an aura of biblical legitimacy to their prejudicial views by appealing to Scripture but only in a selective and restricted way. In the name of a proper understanding of the Bible some recent theologians have disowned, for example, the objective existence of God; his rational self-disclosure; the inspiredness of the biblical writings; the historical incarnation of the Logos; the factuality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection; answerability to a divine revelation that universally penetrates man’s mind and conscience; any grounding of human salvation in Christ’s substitutionary and propitiatory atonement.

There is no doubt that formally the authority of Scripture—even if its authority no less than its inerrancy can be subverted by an alien hermeneutic—is prerequisite to a persevering church, pledged as the church is to Christ’s magistracy by the Spirit-given Word. Evasion of the authority of Scripture is the sign of a wavering church. However important the fact of divine inspiration is for the commanding importance of the Bible, the apostles like the prophets before them focus attention first and foremost not on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture but rather on its authority: what is crucially important for the human race is that they speak God’s Word and not their own. The historic Christian assurance that the prophets and apostles convey a transcendently given message is therefore being probed anew in an erstwhile empirically oriented age. Both negative and positive factors contribute to this inquiry. The breakdown of optimistic evolutionary theories, the limited ability of scientific observation to inform us about the external world, the conflicting views of reality championed by philosophical reasoning, all help to shape an intellectually open situation. At a time when secular trends are abandoning spiritual concerns to plastic faiths, the reality of God thus exerts a claim upon the mind of man by preserving him in intelligible relationships not only to God’s continuing presence and purpose throughout the cosmos and history but also to his offer of redemption published in the Bible. Man lives in any case by faith—either by a credulous faith in false gods and in the verbal wisdom of this world, or by a rational faith in the living God and life-giving Logos revealed in his prophetic-apostolic Word.

There is, to be sure, a sense in which we ought and must speak exclusively of God as the absolute authority, and acknowledge scriptural authority to be merely derivative and contingent. And yet even this affirmation of God as the absolute sovereign rests upon God as disclosed in his revelation, and for man in his fallen state Scripture is the decisive and normative source of all doctrine about God. It is “in and through Scripture” that “God is the unique, infallible and absolute authority in all matters of faith and practise” (Geoffrey Bromiley, “The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture,” Holman FamilyBible). That does not mean that God is disclosed and known as life’s ultimate authority only in and through the Bible per se. For Scripture itself, which publishes God’s Word normatively and objectively to mankind in sin, reiterates that God is universally known as sovereignly authoritative over man on the basis also of general revelation; even the revelation in nature and conscience suffices to render man inexcusable (Rom. 1:18, 31; 2:15).

Scriptural authority is not unlimited, however; it coincides only with what the inspired writers teach and, as we know, they do not treat throughly every realm of human inquiry. Even if biblical teaching that impinges on subjects like astronomy, botany, economics, geography, history, and politics is trustworthy, it is not comprehensive. One will not find the Bible a textbook on the planets, or a complete guide to the flora and fauna of the Holy Land, or even a detailed history of the kings of Israel and Judah or of the Herodian line in the time of Jesus. Likewise for rules and regulations governing civil and social life even in biblical lands we must consult other authorities. Scripture’s chief sphere is God’s self-revelation of his nature and will. Its primary concern is therefore theological and ethical. This is a very extensive range of authority, to which every other authority claim is subject. Yet God’s work and Word impinge upon scientific, historical and other phenomena. Scripture contains authoritative teaching about many so-called secular matters; the interests of revelation are not to be compartmentalized and sealed off from any human concern. The Bible, for example, condemns predatory political policies and unjust economic programs, and its judgment in such matters is fully normative. On whatever themes it speaks in God’s name Scripture is not to be relativized.

The modern attempt to affirm Christian commitments while rejecting scriptural authority raises evident problems even if those who follow such a course often skirt the difficulties involved. Only on the basis of the scriptural witness, for example, do we know that God is creator ex nihilo of heaven and earth and is lord of the whole universe; no view of origins or principle of universal applicability can be established empirically. Since its teaching centers in supraempirical realities, much of what the Bible teaches cannot be empirically demonstrated. To replace scriptural authority with some rival authority-principle abridges historic Christian commitments in respect to Scripture as the supreme rule of faith and practice and in other respects also.

The historic standards of the Christian churches in their treatment of authority and Scripture differ notably from many expositions found in contemporary church doctrine. The historic standards unhesitatingly affirm the authority of Scripture as the Word of God and sole divine rule of faith and conduct. But modern treatments hedge concerning the correlation of divine authority and the Bible in many ways. They ascribe authority to God or to Jesus Christ the incarnate Lord, or to the divine Spirit, as if such affirmations require the downgrading of Scripture and are best preserved by devaluing the Bible. James Barr derides evangelical Christians as given to “the reification of the Bible” because “God, or Christ, or the Holy Spirit, will not quite satisfy” their need for an objective religious reality that confronts man from outside himself (Fundamentalism, p. 313). Yet some of Barr’s colleagues at Oxford would turn the same argument against Barr for insisting not simply upon God but also upon Christ and/or the Holy Spirit, while others would doubtless consider his refusal to mythologize God a matter of reification.

Barr deplores the elevation of scriptural authority as “the one question of theology, that takes precedence over all others”, while at the same time he declares that “most or all theologians would in some sense, and most of them gladly” agree that “scripture should be received as authoritative” (ibid., p. 163). But when bishops of the Church of England now affirm the authority of Scripture over the church, Barr comments, they are not motivated by a conservative evangelical understanding of biblical authority (p. 167).

While Scripture is indeed at first declared to be authoritative, riders are then appended—some of them so remarkable that closer examination often leads one to wonder whether the expositor is simply prone to exaggeration or given to subterfuge, or is self-deceived in the original high claim made for the Bible. In discussing the unique authority of the Bible, commentators have at the same time so paralleled, qualified, subordinated, and even selectively displaced parts of the Book that they bedim claims for its authority and uniqueness. Efforts by neo-Protestant theologians to clarify the concept of divine authority are often so confusing that they tend to etch a question mark over the very insistence on a transcendent reality. A God who speaks no truths but authoritatively demands obedience, or a Bible that is held to be divinely authoritative although errant, seems to our wary generation far too reminiscent of totalitarian tyranny or literary myth either to serve the cause of biblical authority in its canonical understanding or to elicit trust.

In the aftermath of higher criticism, many New Testament scholars have nonetheless ventured to combine critical views of the scriptural writings with some kind of defense of the Bible’s authority. While rejecting the verbal inerrancy and supernatural inspiration of these writings, they have championed a concept of divine biblical authority provided this is “properly understood.” This scriptural attachment they affirm in large part because no scholar can be readily perceived as bearing a truly Christian identity if in principle he places himself over against the transcendent authority of the Bible. Although some philosophers of religion and secular theologians claim to speak as Christians while they repudiate scriptural authority, even neo-Protestant scholarship in the main recognizes that one’s Christian allegiance is automatically in question if one proclaims open hostility to the Bible. Hendrik Kraemer declares, and rightly, that “the only legitimate source from which to take our knowledge of the Christian faith in its real substance is the Bible” (The Christian Message in a Non-Christian World, p. 61).

During the past half century, therefore, not only evangelical Christian scholars but also many neo-Protestant theologians have at least formally championed the principle of biblical authority. “Virtually every contemporary Protestant theologian along the entire spectrum of opinion from the ‘neo-evangelicals’ through Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, to Anders Nygren, Rudolf Bultmann, Paul Tillich and even Fritz Buri,” comments Yale theologian David H. Kelsey, “has acknowledged that any Christian theology worthy of the name ‘Christian’ must, in some sense of the phrase, be done ‘in accord’ with scripture” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 1).

Such tributes to the Bible, however, are often circumlocutions that soften an underlying rejection of the historic Judeo-Christian affirmation of Scripture as divinely inspired teaching. Critical scholars who say complimentary things about the Bible do not at all intend to imply that what the Bible as such teaches is true. Dignifying the Bible as a unique or authoritative source of information about the biblical past—and some hesitate to do even this—is very different from identifying it as a normatively definitive canon of Christian theological and ethical commitments. As James Barr remarks, “there is an important distinction between the ‘authority’ of a historical source and the ‘authority’ of a theological norm or criterion.… Priority as a historical source is something different from theological normativeness” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 80). To say we are almost wholly dependent upon the Bible for information about the life and teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is quite another matter from saying that this biblically given content is doctrinally and morally determinative for us. The Bible is declared by some scholars to be the literary or historical source from which we know the unique content of the Christian religion, or the document that the Spirit of God authorizes in experience as Word of God, or the bearer of an authority to be personally tested by empirical observation and accredited by empirical confirmation. The implicit assumption is all too clear: the truthfulness of the Bible is not held to be guaranteed by divine inspiration but is to be arbitrated or mediated by something else.

Has any book in the history of literature been so manipulated as has the Bible into a rubber mask to stretch and conform to so many divergent and contrary perceptions of existence and life? Early church fathers resisted an allegorical deployment of scriptural content, whereas neo-Protestants today eagerly prepare the way for allegorical and metaphorical interpretation of key passages by their spirited denunciation of “biblical literalism.”

C. H. Dodd sought to rescue the authority of Scripture from critical repudiations of it by focusing not on the words of the apostles but on their thoughts, which Dodd declares are loyal to God’s thought. Dodd argues that the Bible does not claim infallibility for all its parts (The Authority of the Bible, p. 15). God is personally authoritative, but this divine authority, Dodd says, has no need of speech or words, which are human characteristics. The “Word of God” is only a metaphorical expression for the “thought of God,” he contends (p. 16). Dodd emphasizes that authority rightfully pertains to truth, not words. Thus he seems to deny to words the capacity for conveying truth in precise form, so that the words of the Bible are considered inadequate for expressing the thoughts of God. He next argues for a human origin for Scripture. Dodd suggests that, as an aspect of man’s finiteness, words must in themselves be finite and capable of error.

Despite his affirmation of the errancy of words, Dodd attempts to build a concept of authority for the Scriptures. The Bible does not give us inerrant information, he says, but persuasive data (ibid., p. 289) that reaches its peak in Jesus Christ. The persuasiveness of Christ was so great, in fact, that men hailed him as the incarnate Wisdom of God. For Dodd, both human nature and human words are alike restrictive and allow only an approximation of the absolute truth and being of God. But Christ nonetheless radiated to his audiences a compelling authority to follow him (pp. 292–93). The authority modern man finds in the Bible Dodd therefore relates, not to its doctrines, but to its power to make men follow the “Way.” The Bible is capable of existentially awakening the powers of the mind and heart and of redirecting and reshaping man’s attitudes. This the Bible can do because it is the sincere utterance of men who were mightily certain of God. Biblical authority, in other words, is experientially oriented, and induces in us a religious attitude and outlook. Dodd concludes by stating that if the Bible is the “Word of God,” it is not, however, the final word, but the seminal word that allows man to apprehend springs of truth (p. 300).

We shall readily agree with Dodd, of course, that revelation is not to be sought in isolated words but rather in truths. Words as isolated units of speech are never by themselves either fallible or infallible; truth is a property of sentences or statements, and words serve this purpose only as meaningful referents in a logical, propositional context. But if divine revelation is intelligibly communicated to man, it is difficult to see how its meaning and truth can be conveyed without verbalization. If words necessarily involve error in what is taught, then Dodd’s view cannot be taken as gospel truth either; if human nature is restrictive of God’s being and truth, then the consequences for the incarnation of the Logos are such that Jesus of Nazareth must have been mistaken in his teaching. The personal sincerity and certainty of the biblical writers and the power of Scripture in experience do not vindicate the truthfulness of the Bible any more than they would the truthfulness of other works for which secular claims can be made.

Alan Richardson tells us: “The Scriptures … are not even distinctive on account of any ideas about God that they may contain—e.g., that he is love—for such ideas are found in other books which are not regarded as ‘Scripture’ “; rather, the Bible is unique as “the authoritative historical witness to Christ” (“Scripture,” 4:250b). But if those who gave this witness were, as Richardson insists, “subject to all the limitations of their historical situation,” and the writings are “historically conditioned and therefore fallible” (p. 251a), then what sense any longer attaches to the term authoritative even in this restricted role? Rudolf Bultmann rests Christian faith instead on apostolic witness to the inner significance of Jesus as a symbol of existential new being experienced in responsive faith, and reduces Scripture to the genre of myth.

Tillich considers sola scriptura the Protestant pitfall. For him the eternal absolute is beyond verbalization, is unconditionally beyond predication or the conceptual sphere, is never to be identified with what appears in the temporal order (Systematic Theology, 1:157). Any compromise of these emphases, he holds, opens the door to self-deception and demonic delusion. Were all this the case, neither Tillich nor anybody else would be able conceptually to distinguish or verbally to delineate the unconditional in contrast to the conditional, or to posit any rational basis for affirming the unconditioned. Tillich was himself deceived in his earlier predications concerning an ontological Ground of Being and was finally constrained, in view of his own theory of knowledge, to concede that such affirmation was merely symbolic and not to be taken literally. The failure to honor Scripture as authoritative conceptual-verbal revelation of the nature of the living God becomes in fact the pitfall of neo-Protestantism.

In his Revelation and Reason, Emil Brunner empties the words of Scripture of any revelational value in terms of cognitive validity. He declares that “there is only an indirect identity between the word of the Bible and the word of God; that even the word of the Bible is only the means of the real word of God, Jesus Christ.” The writings themselves “have a share in the absolute authority of the Word, yet they are not the Word, but the means through which the witness to the Word comes” (p. 129). God’s authority is not contained in the Scriptures, but stands behind them, and comes through as man is confronted by the Christ of faith. Brunner contends that the authority of the Bible is Christocentric and that the Bible’s primary function is to point man to the Savior through its witness to revelation (The Word and the World, pp. 86–88). The Bible is the “Word of God” only as the Spirit speaks. Its authority lies in God’s attesting the witness of Scripture in our lives; “We trust the Bible,” he says, not because somebody says that it is God’s Word, but because we hear God say so. The authority of Scripture is said to be indirect, utilizing the frailty of humanity; biblical faith and biblical criticism assertedly open the door for each other (p. 102). Absolute authority is based entirely in the Word, i.e., in Christ. The Apostle Paul possessed a “special degree” of authority, “possibly based upon a special measure of knowledge of Christ.”

John Knox writes emphatically: “The Scriptures are the Word of God” (The Church and the Reality of Christ, p. 127) and means not what this affirmation has historically denoted, but rather that the Bible gives us “a kind of immediate access to the Event” in which the Word is allegedly experienced as a nonobjective, extrarational transcendent reality.

The distinction between Bible and Word of God is stretched almost to the breaking point when K. H. Miskotte writes of Scripture as “the word about the Word of the WORD” (When the Gods Are Silent, p. 112). Insofar as the being of the Logos is to be distinguished from his intelligible revelation, and prophetic-apostolic discourse is to be distinguished from the teaching of Jesus in his earthly ministry, the contrast is quite proper. But insofar as it implies that the revelational word of prophets and apostles is never identical with the Word of the Lord, the distinction is not only confusing but biblically unjustifiable.

Robert H. Bryant sees no reason whatever for regarding Scripture as a standard of authority. “The character of authority is defined ultimately not by abstract doctrine or subjective experience but in terms of a historical event—God’s revelation in Christ.… Every other authority falls short of this perfect union of power with holiness and sacrificial love” (The Bible’s Authority Today, p. 35). He considers Scripture and the church alike as partners in mediating the historical Christ-event: neither one is to be considered as giving more than an approximation of the incomprehensible divine reality. The Christian interpreter must therefore ask, “To what extent does the Bible lead one to encounter anew God’s self-revealing act in Christ?” The answer would be that “the Bible serves only as the obedient guide to Christ” (p. 162).

But the religion in which our Lord was brought up was first and foremost a religion of submission to the authority of the written divine Word. Jews of Christ’s day considered themselves to be the people of God living under the government and laws of the self-revealing God, and bound to obey those laws under penalty of wrath and judgment. There seems no doubt that in Jesus’ day the entire content of the Old Testament was received as divinely accredited and to be treasured, believed, studied, and obeyed. In like manner the Protestant Reformers considered Scripture to be uniquely authoritative and did so not simply because the early Christians before them recognized it as such. Rather, as Schubert Ogden concedes, they held “that it by right ought to be thus authoritative whether they or others recognize its authority or not”—in short, that some preexisting reality, namely, the Spirit of God, conferred authoritative status upon Scripture (“Sources of Religious Authority in Liberal Protestantism,” p. 405). The view of the biblical prophets and apostles, of Jesus Christ of whom they spoke, and of their ancient hearers and readers, is that God by a supernatural activity of inspiration guided these chosen spokesmen in the formulation and communication of their teaching. Historic Christianity declares Scripture to be authoritatively normative over other appeals such as tradition and church teaching.

Many recent theologians emphasize a divine presence in the life and ministry of the biblical writers but expressly repudiate their divine inspiration. God, Christ or the Spirit are stressed; scriptural inspiration is demeaned.

Ogden himself contends that classical Protestantism views “immediate experience of Scripture alone as the primary authority of faith” (ibid., p. 407), or “immediate experience of God as thus revealed through the internal testimony of the Spirit” (p. 408). This restatement of the orthodox heritage in turn provides supposed leverage for Ogden to accommodate the liberal Protestant insistence on experience as a source of religious truth by making the liberal alternative appear quasi-orthodox. According to Ogden, modern Protestant orthodoxy developed the doctrine of verbal inspiration to assert the “uniform authority” of Scripture (ibid.). But it is impossible to segregate the question of the Spirit’s inspiration in this way from the New Testament writings as a matter of theological indifference. Jesus, after all, affirmed that the Spirit would teach the apostles (John 14:26) and lead them into all the truth about his life and work (16:3 ff.). In distinguishing Scripture from the writings of heretics, orthodox churchmen emphasized that the heretical writings were not divinely inspired.

Earlier liberal theologians appealed, as Ogden says, to universal human experience to reinforce their view that Christian revelation and Scripture decisively express our experience of ultimate reality. The later neoorthodox development, by contrast, professed to return “to the sola scriptura and to specifically Christian experience as the sole ultimate source of religious authority.” Concerning neoorthodoxy, Ogden briskly notes that “events have now removed all doubt that this is, at best, an unstable theological position.” The method of neoorthodoxy, Ogden adds, “is particularly vulnerable in not allowing one to answer the question … whether the claims of Christian revelation and Scripture are, after all, meaningful and true because warranted in some way by our common human experience,” and this encourages a demand, he thinks, for warranting Christian claims by “universally human experience and reason” (ibid., p. 410). What access Ogden himself has to “universal human experience” (except on the basis of transcendent propositional revelation infallibly conveyed, which he of course rejects) it is difficult to see.

Ogden asserts that liberal Protestantism’s thoroughgoing historical approach led to relativizing the classical Protestant claim for the unique authority of Scripture (ibid.). “As we have already seen” (what we have “seen” however, is only printed verbal assertion), “it is impossible for us today, given the results of historical criticism that now seem assured, any longer to concur” that the Old and New Testaments attest authoritative Christian claims (p. 414). Ogden goes on: “We now know not only that the Old Testament is not prophetic in the traditional sense of the word but also that the New Testament is not apostolic in the same traditional sense. We know, in fact, that the New Testament canon … itself belongs to the tradition of the church, as distinct from the original witness of the apostles with which it has traditionally been identified” (ibid., italics mine). Here the finality of critical assumptions is taken for granted and becomes the substructure of Ogden’s reconstruction of religious authority.

But Ogden’s emphasis is surely right that “no authority … can be a sufficient authorization for the meaning and truth of the claims derived from it or warranted by it. Unless the claims made by the authority are themselves already authorized as meaningful and true by some method other than an appeal to authority, no claim from them or warranted by them can by that fact alone be said to be so.… The fact that it is authorized by authority is not by itself sufficient to make it so” (ibid., p. 412). In brief, the meaning and truth of any claim must meet the test of rational intelligibility, noncontradiction and consistency or it can only remain suspect.

But when Ogden draws from such observations the conclusion that therefore there is no one ultimate source of religious authority but two, that is, “not only specifically Christian experience of God in Jesus the Christ, but also our own experience and understanding of existence simply as human beings,” he himself seems to throw logical consistency to the winds and to subordinate revelation to experience. Ogden informs us that, while it can sufficiently authorize the meaning and truth of Christian claims, “our common human experience of ultimate reality” is not “the sole ultimate source of these claims” (ibid., p. 414). Yet his exposition of Christian experience, lacking as it does the objective intelligible revelation of Scripture as a transcendently given word of God, tends to channel religious authority vulnerably into experiential considerations.

Despite the concession that Protestant liberalism was unjustifiably selective in what it extracted from religious experience in deriving or verifying its claims, and despite the fact that radical secularity more and more inundates modern religious understanding, Ogden nonetheless appeals to human experience generally as “both confirming and confirmed by the essential claims of the Christian witness” (ibid., p. 412). All this is easier said than demonstrated, of course. Ogden contends that “the source of Scripture’s own authority” is to be found in experience of divine revelation—in Ogden’s words, in “an explicit ultimate source in specifically Christian experience of God in Christ and an implicit ultimate source in universally human experience of our existence as such” (p. 413). The thesis gains an aura of circularity rather than of logicality when Ogden assures us that this “very position” is “required by the explicit ultimate source of all specifically Christian authority” and then relies for attestation on a fanciful exegesis of John 7:16–17 and 2 Corinthians 4:2–4 (ibid.), even if he earlier declares Scripture to be fallible and, as such, not apostolic witness but tradition. Indeed, Ogden insists elsewhere that “merely to determine that a claim is derived from or warranted by the so-called biblical message is not sufficient to authorize it as a Christian claim;” he holds that we must demonstrate that the biblical message is itself in turn authorized by “the apostolic witness of faith” (p. 415), that is, “the earliest witness of the church, which is the real Christian canon” (p. 416). (Where this is accessible in clear distinction from the biblical message he does not inform us.)

Every critical effort that absolutely contrasts the Word of God and the words of Scripture contradicts our Lord’s own representations of the prophets as conveyors of an authoritative word. One does not pay special deference to the incarnate Word by turning Scripture into a nonauthoritative fallible report, to be considered less trustworthy than the verdicts passed upon it by modern theologians and ethicists. However piously they frame representations of the transcendent Word to which (supposedly errant) prophetic-apostolic words witness, or of the Word hidden and revealed in or under (supposedly fallible) scriptural words, concessive critics dissolve an authoritative prophetic-apostolic word, and simultaneously erode confidence in an authoritative divine Word somehow wholly distinguishable from, yet presumably based upon, an equivocating Scripture. On the premise that the Bible is not the unadulterated Word of God, many critical scholars have erected private theological distilleries for extracting a totally foolproof “Truth” from error-prone documents. But informed seminarians know the long list of learned analysts whose personal brand of criticism foundered because of a dilution of the biblical essence and the substitution of ersatz ingredients.

The distinction frequently made by neo-Protestant scholars between the authority of the Bible and that of Christ is untenable on the basis of two considerations. For one thing, the reliability of scriptural assertions is attested by the incarnate Christ; for another, Scripture is, in fact, the only source of significant information we have regarding the Christ. Jesus imparted to his disciples the authority to “teach concerning himself” (Matt. 28:19–20). All four Gospels evidence the truth that Jesus affirmed the authority of Scripture. Luke 24:25 records Christ’s view of the authority of the Old Testament, and this, in correlation with John 14:26, implies his similar view of the New Testament.

Barr criticizes the evangelical doctrine of the divine inspiration of Scripture as involving a concern for “objectivity” that places “the centre of authority … beyond the range of human opinion altogether” (Fundamentalism, p. 311). He comments that “for many Christians the objective reality and authority standing over against them” is found “in Christ as a person and not in the Bible.” He rejects the view that “faith in Christ cannot be considered grounded in objectivity unless the principle of biblical authority is fully conceded” (p. 312). Elsewhere Barr acknowledges that the Bible is our sourcebook concerning Christ, but that he considers it errant, even in doctrinal matters. But during the biblical period, when Christians had as yet no “finished and fixed body of canonical scripture,” he stresses, interpersonal witness was adequate to promote faith in Christ (p. 313). But even Jesus and the apostles, we should point out, appealed to the authority of the inspired Hebrew writings, and the apostles relayed a divinely inspired word often first in oral and then in written form. The objectively given Word of God is not so easily evaporated, as Barr would have it, and without that transcendently authoritative Word no normative view of Christ is possible. Barr is closer to the requirements of logical consistency when he admits that he cannot stop only with a dismissal of the evangelical emphasis on biblical authority and inerrancy, but that “christological orthodoxy has to go too” (ibid., p. 172). Nor does Barr stop there. “Fundamentalists have perceived, however dimly,” he writes, “that modern theology and the critical study of the Bible have initiated, and are initiating, massive changes in the way Christians understand the Bible, God and Jesus Christ” (ibid., p. 185). “Conservatives are perhaps right in their instinct that major changes are taking place” bearing on such basic matters as “belief in God, the understanding of Christ, the character of faith, the ethical demands of Christianity” (p. 186). Indeed, from the errancy of the Bible Barr moves on to the declaration that God’s nature is imperfect, that God is vacillating and changing, and that we must repudiate the view that he operates “out of a static perfection” (p. 277).

The widespread theological revolt against the authority of the Bible tends on occasion to drive even influential evangelical scholars to speak more timidly than necessary on the subject. Bruce Metzger writes: “For the early Christians the supreme authority was not the Old Testament but Jesus Christ, their true Master and risen Lord. The apostles and their helpers did not preach the Old Testament; they bore witness to Jesus Christ” (The New Testament: Its Background, Growth and Content, p. 274). If that is so, must we then not also say that for the ancient Hebrews the supreme authority was not the Old Testament but Yahweh their Lord? But would it not be quite uncalled for on that account to say that the prophets did not proclaim the revealed and written Word of God, but instead bore witness to Yahweh? In other connections Metzger concedes as much when he says that “the Bible of Jesus and his earliest followers was the Hebrew Scriptures, which today are called the Old Testament” (p. 34) and “belief in a written rule of faith was primitive and apostolic” (p. 276).

Even as Jesus as the divine Redeemer saw no conflict between his own claim to special access to and knowledge of the Father (Matt. 11:27) and the authority of the prophetic Scriptures, so the apostles see no tension between the enfleshed and risen Logos and the Scriptures. No New Testament letter speaks more majestically of Christ than does the Epistle to the Hebrews. Christ towers above Moses, above the law and the tabernacle and its priesthood, even above the angels. He is the divine Son through whom God “created all orders of existence … and [who] sustains the universe by his word of power” (Heb. 1:2, neb). He is God’s express image and final word for these last days, “the effulgence of God’s splendour and the stamp of God’s very being” (1:3, neb). But on what foundation do these superlative affirmations rest? Solely on God’s scripturally revealed Word. This very Epistle declares at its outset that God revealed himself in the prophetic past in his spoken Word (1:1); then, by those very prophetic declarations it proceeds to establish the superiority of the Son: “Of the angels he says … but of the son … and again … to which of the angels has he ever said …?” (Heb. 1:5, 8, 10, 13, neb). Indeed, the writer of Hebrews presents Scripture itself as God’s very speech to us: “Speaking through the lips of David … he uses the words …” (4:7, neb); again, in 13:5 we are told: “For God himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor desert you’ ” (neb; cf. Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5, 6; Ps. 118:6). The writer of Hebrews appeals to Scripture, moreover, as God’s truth and guarantee: “Does not Scripture somewhere speak thus …?” (4:4, neb); Scripture, the writer adds, gives “solemn assurance” (2:6, neb). He admonishes us, therefore, not to forget “the text of Scripture” (12:5, neb). God himself has no higher authority than his own Word: the glory he confers on Christ is traced to a verbal investiture (Heb. 5:4–5; 7:16–17). At stake in his Word and promise is God’s own personal integrity (6:13–14). The divine Giver of the promise may be trusted (10:24), we are told, precisely because God’s Word and oath made known in Scripture will not play us false (6:18).

In the modern demand that Scripture be made culturally “understandable” to contemporary man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer discerns an attempt to escape divine moral obedience and to combine the outward profession of Christianity with an inward autonomy. He detects the same pattern—whether in the eighteenth, nineteenth or twentieth centuries—of presumably finding an Archimedean point in culture or in human reason while the biblical teaching is declared “movable, questionable, uncertain.” Here one sifts the biblical message “through the sieve of one’s own experience, despising and shaking out what will not pass through; and one prunes and clips the biblical message until it will fit in a given space, until the eagle can no longer fly in his true element but with clipped wings is exhibited as a special showpiece among the usual domesticated animals” (Vergegenwärtigung neutestamentlicher Texte, G G 111, pp. 304–5, quoted by John A. Phillips, The Form of Christ in the World, p. 93).

Even nonevangelicals like Robert T. Osborn share the verdict that the only alternative to a theology authorized by the Bible is “a natural theology authorized by universal human experience” (“The Rise and Fall of the Bible in Recent American Theology,” p. 61). But universal human experience is still incomplete, and even contemporary empirical observation is fragmentary. Hence experiential authority is fluid and fluctuating, and no final authority at all. Evangelical theology stresses the authority of God’s uniquely inspired scriptural Word, a divine authority transcending fragmentary human experience. As Robert K. Johnston comments, “it is ultimately theology’s fundamental dependence upon the Bible that gives it authority for faith and life” (“American Theology,” review of Dennis M. Campbell, Authority and the Renewal of American Theology, p. 41).

The finality of Christianity is today challenged by humanistic anthropologists and rigorously secular philosophers who proclaim the radical relativity of all beliefs and values. The fact of cultural variation has been a subject of philosophical discussion since Herodotus’s History (5th cent. b.c.). Plato discusses it in his Protagoras and debates its significance in The Republic. Culture may surely shape the beliefs of any given period, but it cannot decide the truth or falsity of those beliefs.

If human concepts are but an evolutionary development, if the laws of logic are an experiential emergent, if all truth is culture conditioned, then no transcendent cognitive-verbal revelation is possible. Nor is that all. If the theory of historical relativity is true, this theory itself cannot be unchangingly true but is a prejudiced absolute. Whoever contends that revelation cannot be the carrier of objective truth transcending our social location in history claims a privileged standpoint of personal exemption from that dictum. Nothing in either history or culture precludes transcultural truth. If the relativist can presume to communicate truth that spans cultural boundaries when he affirms historical or cultural relativity, surely the absolutist can do so; moreover, he alone has adequate reason to do so if in fact God has intelligibly disclosed his transcendent will. The truth of God can be stated in all cultures; it does not need to be restated in any culture except by way of linguistic translation and repetition.

From the very beginnings of the church, the Christian religion has dramatically transcended both national and cultural limitations. To the body of Christ belonged not only men and women of divergent races but also “slave and free” who worshiped before Christ and fellowshiped with each other with equal dignity. Husbands had duties to wives, parents to children, masters to slaves, and not simply the other way around. To approach New Testament ethics, therefore, on the routine assumption that apostolic teaching must mirror the cultural prejudices of the day, or must reflect the inherited rabbinical morality, is presumptuous.

Liberal Protestantism sprang from a misplaced confidence that religious insights implicit in modern secular culture are basically congruent with the claims of Christian revelation. It thought Christian affinity to culture in our day to have been preceded by Christian affinity to culture in the apostolic age also. The theological denial of divine transcendence led in both cases to a leveling of differences; the Sitz im Leben was readily invoked to explain Christian commitments. Even what is most distinctive about Christianity is then derived without revelational consideration from the social milieu. Belief in the resurrection of Jesus presumably has its engendering explanation in the concept of dying and rising gods in the mystery religions and in an orthodox rabbinical bias concerning immortality that Paul inherited from the Pharisees. The Christian practice of baptism derives assertedly from the Greek mysteries and Hebrew proselyte baptism. The patterns of church government are traced to the Jewish synagogue and were later presumably adapted in details to Greek conceptions of ekklesia. Liberal Protestantism explains the New Testament ethical conceptions by inherited Jewish attitudes and by Greco-Roman philosophical ideals; it ascribes the Pauline catalogue of vices to Paul’s puritan Jewish upbringing and refers his view of the woman’s role to contemporary Hebrew and Greek attitudes.

Such “sociological explanation” was not only carried out in the face of limited historical data, and even of divergent sociological evidence, but it also raised a serious theological problem: if congruity with ancient culture discredits the revelational significance of apostolic emphases, then why should congruity with contemporary culture accredit the truth of what Christianity affirms? Deeply conditioned by evolutionary theory, the modernist view ran the danger both of relegating the revealed truths of Scripture to the realm of changing cultural fashions, and of elevating present cultural enthusiasms into eternal religious truths. There was, in fact, a still deeper difficulty: if socio-cultural factors influenced the writers of Scripture in their statement of what they believed to be a transcendently revealed morality, on what basis do we, who (presumably like them) are subject to the same influence, any longer distinguish what is true theology and ethics in the apostolic writings from what is false?

Neoorthodoxy declares the Bible to be essentially a human product, yet considers it to be from God in the sense that it speaks of what transcends human culture, namely, God who reveals himself. But since Barthianism held the teaching of the Bible to be errant, in morals and theology no less than in science and history, its effort to distinguish a revelatory content failed because this revelation could not be identified in intelligible sentences and truths.

Ogden declares that the modernist confidence in the basic congruence of contemporary cultural ideals with the Christian revelation “has now been profoundly shaken, and there are good reasons why few of us today are able to recover it. For one thing … much of the congruence that earlier liberal theologians were thought to have established was the result of their having accommodated the claims of the Christian witness to the very different claims of secularity. Another and even more decisive reason is that secularity as such has increasingly come to be explicated in terms of an out and out secularism, with which the essential claims of the Christian witness, as well as of religion more generally, are obviously incompatible” (“Sources of Religious Authority in Liberal Protestantism,” p. 411).

All the more remarkable therefore is the fact that even some evangelical scholars now apologize for aspects of biblical ethics that are out of tune with the culture of our times, and theorize that apostolic teaching shared the cultural outlook of the past at specific points and must now be superseded by a supposedly superior view more compatible with contemporary insights. Congruity with contemporaneous culture is hardly a stable confirmation of biblical legitimacy; ancient Pompeii considered sexual wickedness the norm, and the now dawning secular West may soon view indiscriminate prostitution to be culturally more acceptable than monogamous marriage. If earlier in this century American culture disadvantaged women because of male bias against the full equality of women taught by the New Testament, American culture today in defining the freedom of both men and women tends to be more libertine than biblical.

This does not mean that the concerns of Bible interpretation and culture are artificial or irrelevant. James Barr appropriately points out that various world views espoused by Christians as supposedly grounded in the Bible are often quite contrary to each other and are subsequently rejected by Christians in other places and times. Noteworthy recent examples include the tendency to correlate the Bible with evolutionary utopianism, existential philosophy, or process theology. We need to examine all outlooks carefully, and as Barr says, to reassure ourselves “whether their character really derives from the Bible or from some other cultural source, and to see whether their use of the Bible can be squared with the Bible itself or with Christian faith itself” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 101).

The question of how, in view of Christ’s lordship, the Christian ought to live in relation to the cultural context of his day, cannot be separated from the prior question of how the giving of divine revelation is itself related to the culture in which it was imparted. Tertullian in early Christian times and Tolstoy in the recent past insisted that Christianity heralds Christ-against-culture; Protestant modernism by contrast, viewed history and culture as the immanent evolutionary unfolding of God’s kingdom. Revelation focuses attention on God’s transcendent relationship to man and to the world as Creator, Redeemer and Lord. Here, rather than culture vaunting itself pridefully as an expression of the divine, God puts the question of what worth and value truly attaches to human culture. In H. Dermot McDonald’s words, “Man ‘come of age’ is still of ‘this age’; of himself he can never make for himself the ‘age of the kingdom of God.’ Indeed, at this point his very culture breaks into idolatry” (“Theology and Culture,” p. 250). Revelation is addressed to a society in which sin is masked and must be unmasked, in which sin is still unforgiven and waits to be forgiven. “How far the gospel can be reinterpreted in terms of the cultural vogue, without losing its distinctive Christian message and meaning,” is therefore, as McDonald remarks, “always an urgent issue. It is perilously easy for the Christian preacher, and more particularly for the Christian theologian, to be found uttering the shibboleths of the hour under the delusion that they are making the eternal gospel cogent for contemporary man” (p. 254).

In view both of the striking cultural changes that have overtaken Western society since New Testament times and of the diversity of contemporary cultures in which Christian missionaries proclaim the gospel today, the biblical expositor is frequently driven to ask a series of pointed questions. What permanent principle undergirds the apostolic teaching? Is that principle best promoted today by the practice or procedure indicated in apostolic times? If it is not, what alternative preserves the biblical intention?

In many ways the early Christians undoubtedly reflected the sociological context in which they lived. Presumably the disciples and apostles followed current modes of dress, hair-styling, as well as other social customs; their public attestation of Christian faith surely did not escape some cultural conditioning of language and idiom, manner and mores. Yet we know too little about sociological conditions in the first-century Greco-Roman world to draw up any confident listing of what must and must not have been merely cultural behavior on the part of the early Christians. Even if we conclude that some given practice is culturally derived, where such a practice was followed or avoided as a higher matter of Christian duty, we still face the implicit recognition of an eternally valid moral principle grounded in divine revelation. The expression of that principle might indeed vary from culture to culture, but that variation would not lessen the principle’s significance simply to a matter of sociological conformity. What is cultural misbehavior and—more than that—sin in the sight of God, is evident from apostolic catalogues of prevalent vices.

Many once-isolated primitive cultures have experienced intrusion not only by missionaries but also by government agents, anthropologists, explorers, merchants, and colonists. Such encroachment shapes changes in technology, medicine, and especially in customs. But it is the missionary especially who engenders a questioning of inherited beliefs and values, even if he or she sometimes does so from a standpoint that ambiguously seems to wed Christianity to Western culture. The missionary is not called to the task of ethnocide—that is, to the eradication of a national or tribal culture and replacing it by a “Christian Western culture.” He does not expect nationals to duplicate his food, dress, education, marriage customs or other ceremonies.

Yet the conscious effort in recent generations to avoid imposing Western Christianity as such upon potential Christians in other lands leads sometimes to their ready abandonment instead to cultural relativism, that is, to the notion that one culture is as good as another.

If the missionary is not called to promote Western Christianity, neither is the missionary called to promote or accept religious syncretism. Ecumenical dialogue has often mirrored the notion that Christ has a hidden presence in all religions, and that the nonbiblical religions share truths and values in common with biblical religion in view of universal divine revelation. The resultant dialogue sometimes achieves a tenuous “tie-in” of the Christian message with alien religious concepts, tribal myths and pagan worship.

The missionary role in relationship to culture is neither one of uncritical acceptance and accommodation, nor of revolutionary repudiation. His or her primary task is proclaiming the self-revealed God, Christ and the Bible, and through the consequent transformation of lives to promote culture-transforming perspectives and practices. To undermine the established culture of a people who have no superior commitment to the living God and his revealed will can only spawn confusion and disorder in the lives of those whose inherited cultural tradition serves as a carrier of the content of traditional morality in personal and social life. The task of encouraging constructive alternatives is no less important than that of identifying unacceptable options. The godly example of the missionary family and of national or tribal Christians bearing witness to the living Christ who transforms human beings by the Spirit gains added force from God’s universal revelation in nature and in the imago Dei. But the translated Scriptures themselves best carry the comprehensive demand for cultural change. In recent decades the propositional exegetical significance of Scripture has, unfortunately, been neglected because the Bible’s meaning was all too often transmuted into internal existential significance. Against the strange and mystical methodologies of our age, Oscar Cullmann notably emphasizes: “I know no other ‘method’ than the proven philological-historical one” for arriving at the sense of Scripture (The Christology of the New Testament, p. xiii).

The missionary may at times minister among tribes where men braid their hair, women expose their breasts, shamans are consulted, teen-age puberty rites are held, a dowry is paid for the bride, multiple mating or polygamy, tribal drunkenness, and even revenge-killing may be common, twins or malformed infants are abandoned to die, and funeral rites are cannibalistic. Which practices are to be accepted or condoned as mere cultural variants, and which require scriptural alternatives?

To distinguish the supercultural from the cultural is a fundamental concern of hermeneutics. Some scriptural injunctions are permanent, some are dated and local. Few issues are more important than the debate over whether the Old Testament forms and ceremonies are permanently applicable, or whether they belong only to a now past Hebrew culture that has given way through revelational and redemptive fulfillment to the Christian realities. Which biblical imperatives are permanent, which are temporary? How do they bear on cultural and tribal patterns? Some evangelical observers think that most external tribal practices need not be changed, since Christian commitment transforms inner attitudes and values; others hold that such an assessment ignores the interrelated and interdependent character of tribal culture far too much. The Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles deplored much in the culture of their day as wicked—including the conduct of some professing believers. What would they say today about human rights in Russia and North and South Korea, about apartheid in South Africa, about the tide of pornography in America?

The problem of cultural adaptation remains an important one for the missionary task force. Few aspects of Christianity’s nineteenth-century extension around the world had as costly a sequel as the frequent shrouding of the gospel in the trappings of Western society. Yet surely all thoughtful missionaries were aware that in its global outreach Christianity must clothe itself in the language, idiom and mannerisms of the nationals among whom it nourished churches. Where is the line to be drawn?

Two recent developments tend to erase any line whatever in regard to cultural adjustment: first, the loss of belief in the authority of the Bible by neo-Christians, and second, the encroachment of secular relativism on many societies around the world. A pluralistic theology often underlies such sweeping affirmations as “Christ accepts all cultures” and “Christians must learn from Buddhists.” As Donald A. McGavran tirelessly points out in his lectures and writings, the element of truth in such pronouncements is vitiated by a failure to emphasize equally that “Christ judges all cultures” and that “Buddhists (and all of us) must learn from the Bible.” The pluralistic approach often stresses the importance of casting the gospel in other than “Western thought-forms” and in “other logics” than that identified by Greek philosophy. Since Christianity teaches that the Logos of God is the source of all meaning, and considers the laws of logic an aspect of the imago Dei, such pleas amount in the end to relativizing Christian theology and replacing it by non-Christian philosophy under the guise of Christian mission.

The initial step in eliminating the Bible as God’s authoritative revelation now often occurs, though sometimes unwittingly, through the emphasis that Scripture encases the mind and will of God in a parochial Greek coloration, and that the Bible and the historic Christian creeds need therefore to be restated in other thought-forms, world views and cultural frameworks. Robin H. S. Boyd, for example, thinks Christian theology must be freed from “Latin captivity” if theology in India is to become free to be truly Indian (India and the Latin Captivity of the Church), but he does not clarify the ultimate standard by which all truth is to be measured. Even an evangelical scholar like McGavran, who insists on the final authority of what God has revealed in Jesus Christ and in the Bible, thinks other ethnic and linguistic churches must state the content of that revelation not only in their own language and idiom, but also in their own “logic systems.” But if “Greek thought-forms” and language or “Latin thought-forms” and language strait-jacket the mind of God, why would “Indian thought-forms” and language transcend such restriction? The early Christians did not, of course, consider the gospel to be true because it was formulated in Greek. Arius’s theology was no less “Greek” than that of Athanasius. The difference between them was that Athanasius’s teaching coincided with what the Scriptures teach. Are we to accept the prevalent notion that the rules of logic—simply because Aristotle first consistently expounded them—are culture-relative? Are they not indispensable—whatever may be one’s cultural limitations—even if one intelligibly questions them? And how, apart from the law of noncontradiction, does one propose to insist on the truth of revelation—whether or not one considers such truth to be authoritatively given in Jesus Christ and the Bible?

Some Asian missions discussion has criticized the evangelical imposition of “Western thought-forms” on the gospel, only to champion post-Kierkegaardian dialectical theology or European neoorthodoxy as somehow more compatible with the logic of Asian religions. In Latin America, some liberation theologians plead for casting the gospel in Latin American “thought-forms” rather than in those of North American-Western European capitalist societies; the result has been, as some critics have noted, that Karl Marx and his social theories suddenly are treated as authentically Latin American. Asian ecumenism is no longer dialoguing as it did in the 1950s about a supposedly “hidden Christ” in Buddhism, Confucianism or Hinduism, as a way of indigenizing the church and theology; this kind of discussion is presently gaining momentum in Africa, however. The notion that God himself stands behind all theological models and that Christ himself stands behind all christological models becomes the first step in an argument in which some preferred contemporary theological and christological model is advanced as alone admissably true by Christians in a particular time and place and then in all times and places. With the emergence of our planet into the mass media and space ages, however, the question of “Indianizing” Christian theology, or of “Koreanizing” or “Africanizing,” must sooner or later yield—without eroding the legitimate national interests of believers—to an adequate biblicizing of Christian theology in order to best maintain its universal revelational import. The alternative is to forfeit needlessly the universal validity of the Christian revelation.

Apart from Bultmann’s imposition of the category of myth upon the Bible as a whole, the most comprehensive subordination of Scripture to a culturally rooted conceptuality occurs in Marxist exegesis of the sort promoted by the theology of revolution. Here the social sciences, conformed to Marxist analysis and solutions, become the contextual starting point for theological reflection and biblical interpretation. Revolution theology contemplates the biblical representations of man’s fall and redemption in terms of the Marxist theory of class struggle and of an impinging socialist kingdom; it wraps its espousal of political and social violence in the eschatological motifs of the Bible. While liberation theology avoids sanctifying its cause in terms of eschatological violence, it too preserves Marxist praxis as its interpretative lens. A regard for the intellectual Zeitgeist in whole or in part as indispensable to the biblical view will only admit into the circle of revelation what is unstable and inadequate as a foundation for life and society.

G. C. Berkouwer finds in the time-relatedness of Scripture no reason “to arbitrarily separate within Scripture … ‘eternal truth’ and … a ‘time-bound’ expression of that truth” (Holy Scripture, p. 173) as Bultmann does in distinguishing inner salvation from the New Testament’s supposedly mythological world-view. Such efforts to isolate form and content in the scriptural revelation obviously conflict with the inspiration of the whole.

Yet Berkouwer notably holds that “revelation comes to us through concepts determined by the age, implying therefore an element of accommodation that should be accounted for in the understanding of revelation” (ibid., p. 174). At the same time he resists the view that the essence of revelation must therefore be sought within the framework of continuity “with the concepts and categories of knowledge from the time of its origin.” He does not mean that divine revelation accommodates “the views and conceptions of the period” in which the apostles lived. Nor is the truth of Scripture to be reduced only to one Truth—Jesus Christ—which ignores all else, so that certain articles of faith in the Christian confessions become marginal (p. 179). Instead, Berkouwer considers the purpose or goal of Scripture, defined as the giving of information relating us to the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (p. 314), to be decisively normative.

There is no doubt that revelation is historically oriented or time-related in that it is communicated in a particular language (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek) and in the context of certain events and situations and peoples. And some forms in which revelation is set certainly reflect similarities to be found in the cultural milieu. The Mosaic law, for example, is not without some formal similarities to the code of Hammurabi; the covenant form is not without some formal similarities to ancient peace treaties; Solomon’s temple is not without some formal similarities to other ancient temples. That does not, however, demonstrate historical derivation and dependence, let alone similarity of meaning and purpose. It would be difficult to imagine what the human species would be like if, as evidence that man is truly a special creation of God, he must have no anatomical similarities to the animals. The fact that the forms of divine revelation reflect some similarities to other existing forms of communication hardly supplies a basis for questioning their legitimacy.

Yet we must look more closely at Berkouwer’s emphasis on “Scripture that is time-related and has universal authority” (ibid., p. 194). A certain ambiguity attaches to Berkouwer’s emphasis that “the gospel did not come to us as a timeless or ‘eternal’ truth” (p. 184). To be sure, God’s redemptive mercy is not known universally as an aspect of general revelation; knowledge of God’s saving grace rests upon the once-for-all prophetic-apostolic disclosure. But the fact that God thus mercifully offers salvation to all who believe is nonetheless as eternally true as is the fact that God exists. The time-relatedness of God’s special revelation, or for that matter of his general revelation, does not require the contrast of “time-boundness (as opposed to timelessness)” on which Berkouwer insists (p. 186).

The fact that some apostolic admonitions are intended only for a local or particular historical situation supplies no basis for clouding the eternal truth of any and all argumentation, including Berkouwer’s own evangelical affirmations. Berkouwer tells us that “Paul … did not in the least render timeless propositions concerning womanhood. Rather, he wrote various testimonies and prescriptions applicable to particular—and to a certain degree transparent—situations against the background of specific morals and customs of that period” (ibid., p. 187). Now this is in some respects more confusing than enlightening. If Paul intended in any case to tell the truth, that truth must be expressed in a timelessly true proposition (e.g., “it was wrong for women in Corinth in a.d. 50 to worship with heads uncovered”). Any implication moreover that Paul’s ethical admonitions concerning women had their basis only in culture-relative considerations is patently false. When the apostle taught that a woman is to have “her own husband” (1 Cor. 7:2, neb), the sense of that biblical imperative is hardly to be reduced to inner personal salvation as its goal or to the avoidance of Corinthian permissiveness in marital affairs. The time-boundedness of certain Pauline admonitions (1 Cor. 7:26), or their formulation in specifics related to the cultural situation of the day (1 Cor. 11:10), supplies no argument against the abiding (eternal, if one wishes) truth that the apostles formulated particular teachings for particular times: the Old Testament similarly includes teaching that is temporarily applicable (e.g., circumcision, animal sacrifices), while the fact of such stipulation for this purpose is timelessly true. The cultic elements of the Old Testament have indeed lost their applicability to Christians inasmuch as Jesus Christ “fulfills the law” both as priest and sacrifice. But that is no reason to distinguish in Scripture teaching that is not permanently true. It is forever true that God willed the Mosaic sacrifices in the Old Testament era, and forever true that he fulfilled them in Jesus of Nazareth.

The real difficulty of Berkouwer’s view derives from the fact that he veers away from the intelligible divine disclosure of truths. He seems to conceive revelation therefore as divinely given not simply in and through a historical epoch and language but also in and through temporally fluid and culturally embedded concepts and categories, even if he denies a cultural accommodation of prophetic conceptions. From temporal milieu and temporal language he moves to temporary meaning and truth as well; transcendence of this limitation becomes “illegitimate desire,” we are told. Berkouwer then invokes the Spirit of God to carry “the message of Scripture” (ibid., p. 193). Consequently he centers the abiding normativeness of Scripture in a narrowly defined purpose or goal, and thereby seems to moderate its fully intended normative range and content as the church has historically perceived it.

According to Jack Rogers, not only human language but also human forms of thought are culture conditioned; on this basis he emphasizes that “God did not communicate divine information to us in … culturally transcendent forms” (“Some Theological Resources for Approaching the Question of the Relation of the Bible to Sociology,” p. 3). Yet Rogers here presumes on his own part to communicate transculturally true information about the nature and content of divine disclosure, despite the fact that he employs the English language and “Western thought-forms.” Rogers ventures to distinguish the “abiding meaning” that biblical teaching contains in different cultural contexts from its meaning in “the time-bound cultural context” in which it came originally. But how can meaning be “abiding” if its meaning is subject to alteration from culture to culture? And with what propriety does Rogers speak, on his premises, of “biblical meaning,” since the Bible spans many cultures? It is, of course, necessary and appropriate to differentiate apostolic admonitions directed at the peculiar cultural aberrations of the time, and to identify procedures which set Christians apart from the observance of contemporary pagan practices, in distinction from the underlying revealed truths or principles that might be applied in quite different ways in other cultural contexts. But if both human language and human thought-forms are culturally conditioned, as Rogers contends, then no enduring meaning whatever either is known to man or can be verbally communicated by or to him; in fact Rogers disowns an intellectualistic view that revelation involves the communication of transcendent truths. Rogers’ theory seems to accommodate contrary and even possibly contradictory formulations of “the meaning” of the same divine revelation in different times and places. But surely then his own declarations can hardly be taken, as he intends them, to tell us what is transcultural truth.

The recent symposium Biblical Authority, edited by Rogers, in which almost all contributors express dissatisfaction with Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible (1976), fails nonetheless in its announced objective, that of presenting “a responsible alternate view in the conflict over the precise nature of biblical infallibility.” Almost all the contributors concentrate on the saving purpose of Scripture and insist, in this context, on its truthworthiness, but they provide no persuasive rationale for an errantly inspired Scripture. The strongest essay, by Clark Pinnock, “Three Views of the Bible in Contemporary Theology,” avoids the extremes of Lindsell’s approach, yet emphasizes that inerrancy should not be lightly dismissed, and moreover insists upon it. He notes that liberal theologians customarily preface their treatment of inspiration with an attack upon the infallibility of the Bible, as does L. Harold DeWolf (A Theology of the Living Church); in consequence their critical interpretation is beset by a confused and subjective notion of biblical authority. Pinnock speaks as “one who defends biblical inerrancy” and warns that its detractors often employ, a liberal theological methodology that renders unstable the authoritative content of Scripture, but he urges charity toward evangelicals “whose hesitation over inerrancy is due to their honest judgment and not to any weakness of their evangelical convictions” (“Three Views of the Bible,” pp. 68–70). In the same volume David Hubbard (“The Current Tensions: Is There a Way Out?”) underplays the significance of the inerrancy-errancy conflict. Lacking enthusiasm for inerrancy (pp. 178–79) and emphasizing that ministerial success need not depend on doctrinal precision (p. 180), he thinks evangelicals should instead rally broadly around “the inspiration and authority of the whole Bible” (p. 171). Rogers himself promotes an errant Bible except in respect to “God’s saving purpose” (“The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority,” p. 45) and seems, moreover, to abandon knowledge of God as he is in himself (pp. 28, 40).

The problem of biblical content and cultural context is rapidly becoming a central concern in current evangelical discussions of Scripture, since more and more theologians hold that the New Testament writers in some respects teach as doctrine what in fact reflects the cultural milieu in which they live. W. D. Davies ascribes, as a case in point, Paul’s openness to the possibility that God has not revoked the promise of a land or territory for Jewry to an unfortunate subordination of christology to the rabbinic ethos (The Gospel and the Land, pp. 195 ff.).

Evangelical mediating scholars took much the same stance concerning indebtedness to culture in Cambridge in the 1930s. In such an approach, even the strongest doctrine of inerrancy is futile, since (even as in extreme dispensationalism) the reputedly inerrant statements are not normative for us, unless our hermeneutical rules or our doctrine of scopus command them that way. The notion that the Apostle Paul compromises New Testament christology under the influence of the rabbinic ethos is often advanced by critical theologians in connection with various biblical emphases that they find personally distasteful. If what Paul teaches about evangelical women or about Christians and divorce, or about homosexuals, is to be comprehended by dismissing the authority of the biblical teaching, the axe surely is laid to the root of the tree. Evasion of the authority of Scripture can only lead eventually to an apostate church.

It is one thing to affirm that the Bible exhibits progressive divine revelation, but quite another to posit contradictions in that revelation, as when Paul Jewett asks us to choose in the New Testament between the rabbinic Paul and the Christian Paul in the apostle’s teaching about man-woman relationships. Jewett contends (Man as Male and Female) “that the scriptural passages that teach woman’s subordination to man are culturally-conditioned rabbinic tradition that the teaching and example of Jesus transcends” (cf. Gal. 3:28). The Apostle Paul is said to err on the ground that the analogy of faith, predicated on Jesus’ instruction and practice, allegedly contradicts some Pauline emphases. Jewett identifies the latter as rabbinical tradition which Paul allegedly failed to convert and sanctify in the light of the gospel and apostolic revelation. Since Paul is acknowledged to have spoken in God’s name even in these supposedly erroneous passages, the divine inspiration of Scripture is here breached. More than this, since the subordination of women that Jewett attributes to rabbinic tradition is also Old Testament teaching (Gen. 3:16; cf. 1 Cor. 14), the authority of Scripture is likewise compromised.

Here the affirmation of a wholly trustworthy Scripture is subverted by a hermeneutic that distinguishes within the teaching what presumably is authoritative and what is not, and thus accommodates twentieth-century cultural preferences. To be sure, Jewett supposes Scripture itself to contain a bifurcation of perspectives, and justifies what he considers the revelational view (which is congruous with that of modernity); this he does by reference to the “higher” stand, as over against the view—now in cultural disfavor—ascribed by him to the unenlightened world-culture of apostolic times.

Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, in a work with many otherwise fine features, claim that Paul’s statements about women are inapplicable to our time because they are culturally conditioned (All We’re Meant to Be). But these authors adduce no rabbinic quotations that parallel 1 Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 on which Pauline teaching depends. Even were they to do so, the question still remains whether rabbinic teaching in this instance necessarily diverges from biblical depiction of the order of creation and salvation, since the rabbis were hardly wrong in all respects. In the context of modern social revolt there is unfortunately a growing tendency to write an agenda of commitments to which God must subscribe as a condition of modern man or woman’s acknowledgment of his authority.

Some writers suggest that the method of interpretation of certain Old Testament passages by Paul and other New Testament writers reflects a dependence on the rabbinic pesher method that introduces a meaning not based on historical-grammatical exegesis. This theory would seem in part to ground apostolic interpretation in a conditioning culture and to question the normativity of apostolic interpretation for contemporary exegesis (cf. Richard Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pp. 219–20). The notion that we need not consider the apostolic method of exegesis as normative for ourselves leads on, if not by necessity then at least by possibility, to Anthony T. Hanson’s view that we need only agree with the intention of the apostolic writers but not with their exegetical method (Studies in Paul’s Technique and Theology).

Win Van Gemeren seems to overstate the case when he says that even Longenecker’s view is “a death blow to a truly Christian understanding of the Old Testament” because it abandons “a punctilious observation of the rules of the historical-grammatical analysis of the Old Testament and leaves us only with pointers to the salvation to come” (Review of Longenecker’s Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, p. 394). For Longenecker does not deny outright that the apostolic method of exegesis is in all respects normative for us. The apostles shared the inspiration of the Spirit and therefore they could identify, even as Jesus did on the basis of fulfillment, a meaning in the Old Testament texts that their Jewish contemporaries did not discern. Longenecker does not say that the content of apostolic exegesis is not normative, whereas Hanson says that only the apostolic intention is normative. Longenecker, moreover, does not say that historical-critical methodology excludes a messianic content in the Old Testament texts.

More than one observer has noted how theologians who reject scriptural revelation of truths or propositions nonetheless often covertly strengthen their alternatives by insinuating into their views a cognitive content borrowed from the Bible and adduced as reliable in view of such conformity. By subscribing to scientific empiricism many liberal Protestant churchmen felt that they could best preserve the essence of Christianity and vindicate the abiding core of the biblical teaching. Not a few quoted the Bible selectively with special unction to support contemporary ideals. While they abandoned special revelation and the final truth of Christianity, and explained the Bible in terms of developmental dependence on other religions, they nonetheless insisted that Jesus is the world’s incomparable moral example, and conformed his ethical priorities to modern motifs. Edwin A. Burtt indicates how modernists invoked elements of Scripture to stimulate enthusiasm for their view: “Ever since the era of the great prophets,” he writes, “sincerity and inward integrity had been praised as essential to true religion; even a certain impartiality and reflective detachment had been encouraged by the sobering lessons of the captivity and the realization that God is the God of all nations alike, not of the Jews alone. These virtues had taken their place among the fundamental religious values of Christianity, and science, whether ancient or modern, is nothing but their systematic expression in the quest for truth about the world” (Types of Religious Philosophy, p. 284).

By way of contrast, G. Ernest Wright stresses God’s mighty once-for-all historical acts as redemptively revelatory, yet notably restricts legitimate theological proposals to the scripturally given inferences of prophets and apostles. Hans-Werner Bartsch seeks to find a cognitively unique revelation of Yahweh in biblical concepts.

Neo-Protestant theologians who insist most strenuously on the fallibility and errancy of the Bible boldly appeal to Scripture in a partisan and restricted way in order to clothe their prejudices with the aura of biblical legitimacy. In repudiating classic modernism and advancing neoorthodoxy, Emil Brunner says indignantly: “This is not the view of the Bible” (The Mediator, p. 408), or, “This idea … is directly in line with the message of the Bible, as indeed it is expressed in the New Testament, although in other language” (p. 492). Brunner can pay tribute to the Bible in a dozen ways: “In the prophets and in the Psalms … there is scarcely a trace of magical or mythical elements” (Revelation and Reason, p. 91); “it was only this written form which preserved ‘the word’ from distortion due to continual changes in the living stream of historical tradition, and to changes derived from the subjective ‘life of faith’ ” (p. 126); “the Bible is a special form of the divine revelation” (p. 135). But Brunner nevertheless cannot bring himself to acknowledge that the Bible is what the Christian church has historically affirmed it to be, namely, the Word of God written, conveying divinely inspired and objectively authoritative truths (pp. 175–76). Of the apostolic writings Brunner says: “They are human testimonies given by God, under the Spirit’s guidance, of the Word of God; they have a share in the absolute authority of the Word, yet they are not the Word, but means through which the Word is given” (p. 129); the Bible is, in short, only the means of the real word of God, Jesus Christ (p. 181). Brunner holds that “even legends … may be used by God as means for proclaiming His Word” (p. 281, n. 17).

Not infrequently other contemporary theologians object that some rival view fails “to pass the test of agreeing with the biblical witness,” when in fact these scholars have themselves earlier undermined Scripture as an authoritatively inspired canon of truth; they proceed then to exhibit an impressive concurrence between their own positions and certain aspects of the Bible which are specially treasured because they so remarkably agree with the authoritative convictions of the present-day theorist. Schubert Ogden, in some of his essays, uses Bultmann and others to “demythologize” Scripture, yet himself then uses Scripture to reinforce his own views. Robin H. S. Boyd likewise makes some strong statements about Scripture, insisting here and there that the test of Scripture be applied to formulations of Christian truth (India and the Latin Captivity of the Church, pp. 128, 132, 138, etc.); nowhere, however, does he develop or explicitly affirm the theme of the authority of the Bible.

The Bible thus remains formally the watershed of present theological debate, even though this fact is not acknowledged. Modern theologians still make special claims for the Bible, and appeal to it to support what they adduce. Yet on their premises they can give no consistent reason for not appealing to the segments that they exclude. The differences between contemporary theologians, therefore, turn largely on which facets of the Bible each one elects or rejects.

In view of the sorry record of repeated revision and ongoing divergency in critical theories about what is and what is not reputed to be authoritative or trustworthy in the Bible, it may be noteworthy that the Apostle Peter characterizes those who wrestle, twist and wrench the biblical teaching as the “unlearned and unstable” (2 Pet. 3:16, kjv). If critical scholars are unable to adduce any transcendent principle that consistently accommodates a distinction between authoritative and non-authoritative facets of the Bible, then their contention that what Scripture teaches is compromised by cultural biases or by the personal fallibility of the writers makes the ordinary lay reader’s effective use of the Bible quite impossible. One scholar after another is found to repudiate the Bible as a full and final authority; some declare that what Jesus taught is Word of God, others say that Jesus Christ as God’s exemplary Son alone is God’s authoritative Word, and others, like Dodd, find in Scripture what they call a seminal Word, the authority of which lies not in its words but in the truth of God. As for Brunner, he thinks that the Bible is an indirect fallible authority that witnesses to God behind the Scriptures. Other examples could be cited to illustrate the divergences among influential contemporary nonevangelical scholars. Such conflict of scholarly opinion, often honored because of the academic credentials of the individual adherents, precludes the effective use of the Bible by seminarians and the clergy. Eminent teachers may individually limit scriptural authority in only one or another respect; the cumulative effect of such modern hedging of biblical authority, however, can only serve to nullify that authority in principle if not in reality.


Divine Authority and Scriptural Authority

The christian apostles affirmed not only the divine authority of Scripture but also its supernatural inspiration. Any repudiation of divine inspiration as a property of the biblical text they would have considered an attack on the authority of Scripture. In their view Scripture is authoritative, because divinely inspired, and as such, is divine truth.

During the past two generations, numerous nonevangelical scholars have professed to champion the authority of Scripture while at the same time they have repudiated its special divine inspiration and have questioned the objective truth of its teaching. These scholars have expounded scriptural authority in irreconcilably diverse ways. The current tendency is to redefine biblical authority functionally and therefore not to identify Scripture with any fixed intellectual content. The Bible is said to be authoritative merely in the manner in which it operates existentially in the life of the believing community. “Inspiredness” is repudiated as a property of the biblical texts; instead, “inspiringness” is championed in relation to the faith-response of the believing individual or of the community of faith.

This modern denial of the objective inspiration of the Scripture does violence, as we shall see, to the prophetic-apostolic view and, further, erodes the propositional authority and normativity of the Bible.

The apostles, to be sure, did not rest the case for Christian realities wholly upon divine inspiration, that is, upon the Spirit’s supernatural guidance in articulating their oral and written teaching. First and foremost they were eyewitnesses of the historical facets of Jesus’ life and ministry. Even before the risen Lord designated them as authorized verbal witnesses on a full-time global mission, they were persuaded of the crucified Nazarene’s bodily resurrection from the grave. Their eyewitnessing of the risen Lord preceded their apostolic authorization; the resurrection realities illumined other opaque facets as well of Jesus’ earlier teaching (John 2:2). During the risen Lord’s postresurrection appearances, he committed a worldwide mandate to those to whom he had earlier also vouchsafed the Spirit’s guidance and recollection of what he had done and said (John 14:26). Without the resurrection eyewitnessing there would have been no commission for world witnessing. Without the Spirit’s guidance there would have been no divinely authoritative teaching.

In his view of scriptural authority B. B. Warfield remains in many ways evangelically representative. However much Warfield insisted on scriptural inspiration and inerrancy, he did not found the Christian system solely on the fact of plenary inspiration; while he championed divine inspiration as the intrinsic distinctive of the biblical texts, he refused to base the case for Christian theism wholly upon it. He writes: “Inspiration is not the most fundamental of Christian doctrines.… We must indeed prove the authenticity, credibility and general trustworthiness of the New Testament writings before we prove their inspiration; and even were they not inspired.” He further notes, “this proof would remain valid and we should give them accordant trust” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp. 210, 212). In brief, the New Testament documents come from competent witnesses; were their reports simply as reliable as those of the New York Times, for example, they would still require of readers a destiny-laden decision in relation to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

One might insist that, since its editorial writers, reporters, and columnists are sometimes mistaken, the New York Times is not really trustworthy. But the paper is hardly on that account comprehensively unreliable. To be sure, even respectable publications have sometimes unwittingly and at other times even wittingly (cf. “Neo-Nephalitism,” Baker’s Dictionary of Christian Ethics, p. 452) published hoaxes. But such hoaxes are soon uncovered. The Gospels deliberately call attention to the Sanhedrin’s charge that the resurrection story was a hoax (Matt. 28:13) and adduce evidence that satisfied even the most doubting disciple. No first-century counter-exposé responds to the Gospels; even the most hostile adversary armed with unlimited authority to persecute the Christians becomes a persuaded witness and ambassador of the risen Lord.

For Warfield, the doctrine of plenary inspiration rests logically on the authority of Scripture, and not vice versa. Warfield argues that whatever doctrine is taught by Scripture is authoritative. Scripture is self-reflexive; it teaches even its own inspiration, and in regard to inspiration teaches biblical inerrancy. The general trustworthiness of the Scriptures can be validly proven, Warfield insists, and therefore “we must trust these writings in their witness to their inspiration, if they give such witness; and if we refuse to trust them here, we have in principle refused them trust everywhere” (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 212). A recent commentator, David H. Kelsey, rightly infers that while the doctrine of inspiration is “methodologically indispensable for doing theology Warfield’s way,” it is “logically dispensable” for Warfield’s defense and explication of other doctrines (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 21).

James Barr specially criticizes both Charles Hodge and Warfield for emphasizing the priority of the teaching of the Bible in formulating Christian doctrine, principally the doctrine of biblical authority and inspiration that undergirds the entire body of revealed doctrine. He declares this view to be acceptable only to those who are already fundamentalists since it makes “no attempt to accommodate the growing practice of biblical criticism” (Fundamentalism, p. 263). Barr comments: “If the only ground for the authority of the Bible lies in its inspiration, and if the only ground for believing in inspiration is that certain biblical texts say so, then the fundamentalist has proved to his own satisfaction that only fundamentalists can affirm the authority of the Bible” (p. 264). Barr therefore misses many of the nuances of Warfield’s thought. In a sweeping judgment on evangelical theological motivation, he says that the conservative view of biblical inspiration “was a doctrine designed to prevent those who were already fundamentalists from abandoning that position, and in that aim it was, perhaps relatively successful” (p. 264, italics mine). Barr boldly declares that “in fundamentalist doctrine, the inspiration of the Bible, far from being deeply grounded in the essentials of the Christian faith, is almost accidental in relation to them” (p. 265).

One might appropriately ask whether the newer theory—that the Bible’s authority consists solely in its functional value in the life of the believing community—stems from the apologetic ingenuity of neo-Protestant theologians instead of the essential nature of revelation or the teaching of Scripture. Barr contends that the so-called (Hodge-Warfield) Princeton School avoided grounding biblical authority in the Spirit’s witness instead of in the Bible because the Spirit—so Barr claims—inwardly witnesses “to the authority of the Bible in the lives of persons and of churches that fully accept the critical approach” (ibid., p. 264, italics mine to emphasize Barr’s functional rather than cognitive orientation of scriptural authority). It is clear that Barr is disinterested in vindicating the doctrinal authority or even an exceptional verbal-propositional inspiration of Scripture on any ground whatever. Warfield did not, to be sure, rest the case for Christian theism wholly upon the Bible, as if the only basis for Christian realities is what the Bible teaches (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 211). But to infer from this, as Barr does, that Warfield thought scriptural inspiration “is not necessarily grounded in the nature of divine revelation” and “might be accidental in relation to God’s total plan of salvation” quite misses the mark (Fundamentalism, p. 265). The evangelical does not dissociate the doctrine of biblical inspiration from the theological framework of God’s self-revelation, his inspired interpretation of redemptive history, and Jesus’ teaching and example. Inspiration rises out of revelation and is an intrinsic ground for positing revelation.

The nonconservative, says Barr, wants “reasons … why biblical inspiration should be essential, apart from the fact that the Bible says so” (ibid., p. 266). That is doubtless the case: nonevangelical scholarship increasingly demands extrabiblical and even extrarevelational grounds—that is, welcomes only what commends itself to philosophical reasoning or personal experience or empirical investigation—relating to whatever it proposes to believe. But when Barr dismisses the evangelicals’ world-life view as a self-contained circle, from which one can escape “only at the cost of a deep and traumatic shattering of their entire religious outlook” (p. 266), he seems to forget that the same characteristic applies also to modernist, neoorthodox and existentialist alternatives. Historic Christian theism, however, insists that its circle of faith be completely answerable to transcendent revelation and logical consistency, and in no way considers logical inconsistency an ideal or secure support for spiritual commitment.

According to Warfield, plenary inspiration guarantees the trustworthiness of biblical teaching in all its parts and minutiae, as well as in the whole. When personal salvation and eternal destiny are at stake, even the details of Jesus’ and the apostles’ teaching are indisputably important.

While the authority and the inspiration of the Bible are distinguishable doctrines, they are nonetheless correlative. The Bible is authoritative because God the revealer of divine truth and redemptive grace authorized selected spokesmen to communicate his specially disclosed word to mankind. These authoritative spokesmen, however, affirm their message to be God-breathed, that is, given by the Spirit through them.

In view of God’s sovereign initiative, and the primary emphasis that the prophets and the apostles themselves place on the authority of Scripture, it seems proper enough to discuss first the divine authority of the prophetic-apostolic word. But the question arises, and rightly so, whether a solid doctrine of biblical authority will long survive if the doctrine of scriptural inspiration is truncated or dismissed.

The point can be illustrated by examining all the index references to “inspiration” in The Interpreter’s Bible, an imposing twelve-volume Bible commentary compiled by American ecumenists. George A. Buttrick, the editor, disowns any “arbitrary doctrine of inspiration,” specifically the “theory of verbal inerrancy”; what he ends up with is an arbitrarily unspecific doctrine. In effect he makes Jesus’ criticism of religious tradition (Mark 7:12–13) a repudiation of “literal inspiration” and “literal infallibility,” of the notion specifically that the Bible is “the literal and explicit Word of God”; such views he even labels “mild blasphemy” (“The Study of the Bible,” 1:166b–167a). Buttrick nonetheless insists on “the fact” of inspiration: “the men who wrote the Bible,” he says, “contend that God found them: that is why they wrote. Likewise hosts who have read the Bible testify that through it God has found them also: that is why they have continued to read” (p. 166b). Later in the same essay Buttrick tells us that “we need not try to define inspiration in terms more exact, whether literal or ‘plenary’; for if God could be defined by man, God would no longer be God” (p. 167b). The noteworthy point is that Buttrick’s thesis of the rational indefinability of God clearly predetermines whatever possibilities he attaches to inspiration; furthermore, it controls what Jesus must have meant in his denunciation of religious tradition even if his explicit appeals elsewhere to Scripture require a contrary view. The recent neo-Protestant revolt against intelligible divine revelation and scriptural inspiration has in fact led to notions that God is so indefinable as to be allegedly dead.

J. Edgar Park writes in the same commentary series: “Being inspired is hard work. Inspiration is not an isolated phenomenon to be found only in the specific sphere of religion. It is very closely related to inspiration in all the creative arts” (“Exodus: Exposition,” 1:912b). Another commentator in the series, James W. Clarke, remarks on Paul’s commendation of the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:13) for receiving the apostolic word as the veritable Word of God and suffering for the faith; if persecution and suffering fell on Christians today, he says, its “great fruits—identification, purgation, and inspiration” would reappear (“I and II Thessalonians: Exposition,” 11:277b). Still another contributor, Albert E. Barnett, in exegeting Jude 20 under the caption “Sound Theology Essential to the Good Life,” interprets the phrase “praying in the Holy Spirit” to involve divine inspiration: “In the language of the N.T. to be in the Holy Spirit means to be inspired. Inspired persons are regarded as thinking, speaking, acting under the power and prompting of the Spirit (cf. Rev. 1:10–11, 4:1–2), and here as praying in the Spirit” (“Jude: Introduction and Exegesis,” 12:388–89). Barnett ignores the decisive New Testament reference to inspiration where Scripture is designated as God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16). Nor does he indicate that John, to whom he alludes, is transcendently given an intelligible message in Revelation 4:1–2 and commanded to write in a book precisely what he sees (Rev. 1:11). Another expositor, Ralph W. Sockman, after acknowledging that the phrase “the words of the Lord came” (1 Kings 16:1, kjv) occurs frequently in that Old Testament book, tells us that “nothing is more certain than that some persons at some moments are carried beyond the usual range of their thoughts and receive insights which seem to be given them from a higher wisdom.… Upon examination, these flashes of inspiration are found not to be wholly intrusions from without.… The rational mind becomes a sort of conductor between the oversoul and the unconscious” (“1 Kings: Exposition,” 3:137a–186a). In the same series, Theodore P. Ferris says concerning Acts 16:16 only that “the border line between insanity and inspiration is so fine that it is often possible to mislead the public into believing that the ravings of a mad man are in reality the revelations of God” (“The Acts of the Apostles: Exposition,” 9:218b).

There may be other incidental references to inspiration in The Interpreter’s Bible, but the editors apparently considered those indicated to be the most important comments by exegetes and expositors. The index, remarkably, contains no reference to comments on the classical text on inspiration, 2 Timothy 3:15–16, where the historic doctrine gains at least some passing reflection. Morgan P. Noyes, the expositor of 2 Timothy, uses the occasion to reject any invocation of the passage as a “proof text for a particular theory of verbal inspiration of the Bible. Such an interpretation reads into the text more than it actually says” (“I and II Timothy and Titus: Exposition,” 11:504a). Noyes assures us that “all scripture is inspired” “obviously refers to the written tradition through which God has spoken and speaks to those who approach him in faith” (apparently God says nothing to unbelievers) and that “the ‘inspiration’ of the Bible means that God speaks to man through the book” (pp. 506b–507a). Scripture is “not unique in being free from error,” its inspiration is not “verbal”; rather, “this passage … takes a practical view of inspiration … attested by the profitable value of the scriptures for the guidance and amendment of life” (p. 507a).

But another scholar exegeting the same passage, Fred B. Gealy, summarizes the scriptural characterization of Timothy’s heritage as follows: “if the purity of the Christian faith is guaranteed by an approved and authorized succession of teachers, it is established beyond the possibility of change on an unalterable bedrock of authoritative sacred writings.… In vss. 15–16 the emphasis is on the fact that the faith stands written. The ‘knowledge of the truth’ is readily and unmistakenly available in sacred writings, writings which God has written and which can be read by anyone” (“I and II Timothy and Titus: Introduction and Exegesis,” p. 505). (Here, contrary to Noyes, God apparently speaks in Scripture to unbelievers also, and not solely to the precommitted.) The terms “sacred writings” (v. 15) and “inspired scripture” (v. 16), says Gealy—who, however, thinks the pastoral letters were written not by Paul himself but by “an ardent Paulinist”—designate not only the Old Testament books but also the Pauline writings, if not the Gospels and other Christian writings as well (p. 506). Whether we take the passage distributively (“every scripture”) or collectively (“all scripture”), says Gealy, “the main point is that the writer is concerned to emphasize the fact that the Christian faith is guaranteed by its inspired scriptures. Once written down, these become the standard for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. The minister finds here correct doctrine whereby he may refute false opinions, correct and restore those who are in error, theoretical or practical, and train men in the moral and religious life” (p. 507).

Gealy alone in this whole range of commentators reflects the meaning of the text, even if he suspends the affirmation of prophetic-apostolic inspiration upon a supposed nonapostolic forger using Paul’s name (v. 1). He recognizes that the passage refers to the objective inspiration of the scriptural writings, that their doctrinal teaching is depicted as the norm of truth by which false and erroneous views are to be tested, and that biblical inspiration cannot be diluted to a merely functional or practical role in Christian experience with no regard for divinely revealed truths.

The insistent modern revolt against rational divine disclosure—particularly God’s communication of truths or of intelligible information—explains why the awakening neo-Protestant interest in revelation has not been paralleled by a recovery of interest in the transcendent divine inspiration of the biblical writings. One can hardly speak of the inspiration of writings without reference to words and sentences, that is, to intelligible propositions. As G. W. Grogan notes in The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, “much modern theology denies the propositional element in revelation and so it is not surprising to find that the return of ‘revelation’ to a central place in the theological vocabulary has not been followed by a renewal of interest in inspiration” (“Scripture,” 5:305a). To detach inspiration from the writings and to append it instead to the writers, asserts a vague type of ‘biblical authority’ that readily dismisses the truth of scriptural teaching.

The foregoing exegetes and expositors of the doctrine of inspiration in The Interpreter’s Bible clearly manifest this confusion and contradiction. The neo-Protestant trend has been to resist any specific doctrine of inspiration and in particular to repudiate the view that Gealy rightly finds in 2 Timothy. It deplores the emphasis that divinely inspired Scripture is what guarantees the Christian faith and rejects the biblical insistence on revealed scriptural truths. Buttrick considers any regard for Scripture as “the literal and explicit Word of God” to be “mild blasphemy”; instead of thrusting this verdict on Jesus in view of his use of Scripture (cf. Matt. 4:4; John 10:34–36), he emotionally enlists Jesus’ repudiation of man-made tradition to support his own speculations. Park dissolves any miraculous basis for biblical inspiration and assimilates it to genius in general. Clarke depicts inspiration not as a divine activity, but rather as a product of suffering; Barnett connects it with fervent praying in the Spirit. Sockman illustrates it by flashes of insight in which reason connects with the oversoul and the unconscious. Ferris thinks the public often cannot distinguish inspiration from lunacy; he might have noted that Joan of Arc was burned as a heretic and canonized as a saint (depending on whether one is English or French). If some of these neo-Protestant representations are to replace what the biblical writers themselves say, Ferris may well be right.

One might in fact considerably parallel and supplement this curious assortment of modern notions of “biblical inspiration” from the writings of still other nonevangelical writers. Austin Farrer redefines inspiration to mean the expression of revelation not in literal truths but in prophetic images that convey their content fictionally or poetically or parabolically—that is, not by discursive reason, but in religious imagination (The Glass of Vision, 1948; A Rebirth of Images, 1949). G. W. H. Lampe writes in The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible that “the Spirit’s inspiration is experienced by all who acknowledge Christ” and that “the whole community of the Church can be said to be inspired” (“Inspiration and Revelation,” 2:716b).

“The Scriptures,” Alan Richardson says forthrightly in another Interpreter’s Dictionary article, “were not held to be authoritative on the ground that they were inspired,” and he insists that fundamentalism in its recent modern discussion of biblical authority elevated “the unbiblical word ‘inspiration’ ” to centrality (“Scripture,” 4:249b).

The apostolic church, by contrast, considered inspiration a ground of the authority of Scripture. Gealy properly notes that “the main point” of 2 Timothy 3:16 is that “the Christian faith is guaranteed by the inspired scriptures” (“I and II Timothy and Titus …” 11:507). Precisely because of its written form as inspired Scripture, the Bible is the permanent standard and norm by which all the church’s doctrine is to be validated. Kirsopp Lake emphasizes that only those unlearned in historical theology can suppose that “the infallible inspiration of all Scripture” is a modern fundamentalist viewpoint rather than the inherited view of the Christian church. “The fundamentalist may be wrong; I think he is,” he writes. “But it is we who have departed from the tradition, and not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with the fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is on the fundamentalist side” (The Religion of Yesterday and Tomorrow, p. 61).

When dealing with authority we are concerned with necessity or compulsion, with what must be believed or must be done. Jesus speaks, in view of God’s sovereign purpose, of what “must take place” (Matt. 24:6), including his vicarious suffering (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22), his resurrection after crucifixion by religious leaders (Luke 24:7), and the worldwide preaching of the gospel (Mark 13:10). Concerning the Scriptures Jesus affirms that their fulfillment is a “must.” “How then shall the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen this way” (Matt. 26:54, nas); “For I tell you, that this which is written must be fulfilled in me” (Luke 22:37, nas); “All things which are written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44, nas). More explicitly, what guarantees the authority of Scripture is their divine truth, truth achieved through a specific relationship of the Holy Spirit to the writers and their writings. Fulfillment of Scripture is assured not simply because God determines the course of history and brings human events including eschatological outcomes under his control. At the selection of Matthias as an apostle, Peter says of the prophetic foretelling of Judas’ defection: “Brethren, the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit foretold by the mouth of David concerning Judas” (Acts 1:16, nas; cf. Pss. 69:25; 109:8). In Scripture we are dealing with what the Holy Spirit tells and foretells, with divinely inspired data, with what is known by special revelation, with what the Spirit communicates in a definitive way. God is the authority who renders Scripture authoritative; inspiration is the special phenomenon that imparts this character of divine authority to the writings and logically necessitates fulfillment of written prophecies.

If one asks what, in a word, eclipsed the biblical doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, what stimulated theological redefinition of inspiration in nonconceptual or existential categories, and what encouraged neo-Protestant denial of inspiration as a decisive New Testament concept, the answer is modern biblical criticism. To be sure, certain modern scholars try to ground nonintellective views of inspiration in the ancient prophetic outlook and depict the conceptual view of scripturally given truths as a postbiblical misunderstanding. Lampe, for example, contends that a new and unacceptable view of inspiration arose because of Christian misinterpretation of the ancient prophetic writings: “The prophets of Israel” he says, “were now seen as men who were moved by the Spirit of God to witness to Christ and his coming before the event took place. Their inspiration was now thought of as a special gift … not simply to discern the significance of God’s acts in history as a whole, but rather to foresee and proclaim the dispensation of the Incarnation” (“Inspiration and Revelation,” 2:714b). But all such representations stumble against the fact that the ancient prophets themselves identify as the veritable Word of God the specific messages they were divinely impelled to write. Any objective reading of the data will trace to the hydra-headed modern phenomenon of biblical criticism the spirited assault on the doctrines of the inspiration and authority of the Bible affirmed throughout Christian centuries by all major groups in their confessions of faith. Richardson remarks that “the authority of the Scriptures was accepted by all parties to the christological debate and other controversies of the ancient church. So matters continued through the Middle Ages and even through the Reformation period; Calvin would have agreed with Aquinas that theology is a matter of deducing and systematizing the truths which were contained in the inerrant words of Scripture” (“Scripture,” p. 249b). From the apostolic age to the nineteenth century no heretic arose to dispute the inspiration or the authority of Scripture per se. “It was the great revolution” in historical method, which took place in the nineteenth century, Richardson avers, “that opened the question of biblical authority in its acute modern forms. If, as a result of the application of scientific, historical and literary methods … to the books of the Bible, it was now no longer possible to believe in the literal inerrancy of scripture,” he asks, “in what sense could it still be believed that the Bible is authoritative?” (ibid.).

Before evaluating the currently fashionable reconstruction of biblical authority ventured by neo-Protestant frontiersmen who disown the revelatory truth-content of Scripture, two pointed observations must be made about modern biblical criticism.

The first observation is that most nonevangelical scholars now seem to agree that biblical criticism precludes viewing the Scriptures as a trust-worthy literary deposit that conveys divinely revealed truths. If neo-Protestant and neo-Catholic biblical criticism shares one indisputably certain conclusion, it is the unacceptability of the inherited doctrines of the inspiration and authority of the Bible.

The second observation is this: the critical results upon which this repudiation of biblical inspiration and authority is said to rest are much less unanimously shared or logically assured than neo-Protestant theologians assume and imply. Not only the details but also the major premises of modern biblical criticism have been revised repeatedly and have suffered reversal through archaeological and linguistic investigation; some of its most confident claims have crumbled under the weight of arbitrary philosophical assumptions. Distinguished scholars remain at serious odds on fundamental issues. Biblical criticism as a science has not only been marked by sharp conflict but also by evident transition; it therefore holds less prestige among the sciences than does chiropractic among some medics. At any rate, in any other sphere biblical criticism would be considered just an infant science.

James Barr acknowledges that “the men of the Bible” tended to assign “the same sacred status … of a message actually formed and communicated by God himself” to “the entirety of materials within the sacred text” (Fundamentalism, p. 180). All of it was considered “the ‘Word of God,’ ” and the whole corpus—not the Ten Commandments alone—was held to have “come from God in the same way” (p. 181). Barr concedes that even the minutiae of Scripture were appealed to as decisive. “The entire scripture, once that entity became established, was alike authoritative”; “anything within the scriptural text could in principle be of vital importance” (p. 181).

But, as Barr sees it, “historical and critical investigation” arising in post-Renaissance and post-Reformation times renders this view impossible (ibid., pp. 181–82). The Bible, he tells us, is a collection of diverse “traditions” and his concern as a critic is to “separate out the various kinds within this mixture.” The Bible contains “historical or history-like matter” that provides a space-time locus for great salvation-events; doctrine “which was understood to be the purest form of doctrine for true religion” along with ethical guidance; discourses “represented as … the actual discourses of God himself,” and “other material describing social customs, traditional legends, customary moral reflections, and soon” (p. 180).

Yet such investigation has led in the past, and still leads, to such variant verdicts and ongoing revisions that one seems always unsure what is historically factual and truly critical.

The critical view assigning biblical reflections of life in the patriarchal era to a much later date is now challenged by textual evidence that popular Mesopotamian customs in the second millennium b.c. parallel certain customs and incidents found in Genesis. At best, such evidence may establish only that aspects of later social customs had precedents in earlier times, and need not demonstrate the historical existence of Abraham and other patriarchal figures. But the discovery in 1976 of almost fifteen thousand clay tablets at Ebla in northern Syria, some twenty-five miles south of Aleppo, supplies documentary evidence of the existence between 2400 and 2250 b.c. of the little known Eblan kingdom and of the Eblans described in the Old Testament. The tablets are from the era of Sargon I of Assyria (c. 2300 b.c.)—two to five centuries before Abraham. Eber is mentioned in Genesis 10:21 as the progenitor of a group of peoples embracing the Hebrews (11:16–26), the Joktanide Arabs (10:25–30) and certain Aramaean tribes (11:29; 22:20–24); Numbers 24:24 uses the name Eber for these people collectively. Many critics viewed the Genesis citation of such ancestors as merely symbolic and as having no historical basis, but the Ebla discoveries indicate that the patriarchal names were regarded as names of historical individuals. The clay tablets mention by name Ebrium or Eber whom Genesis identifies as the great-great-great grandfather of Abraham.

In contrast to many German critics who insist that trustworthy knowledge of the early history of Israel begins only with the Hebrew entrance into Canaan, William F. Albright was one of a growing number of scholars to view the depiction of the patriarchs in Genesis as historical.

Dismissal of the Hittites as an Old Testament fiction (cf. “sons of Heth” and “daughters of Heth,” Gen. 10:15 etc.; “Hittite[s],” Gen. 15:20; 23:10 etc.) set the stage for a spectacular critical reversal. Except for references in the Bible, the historicity of the Hittites was wholly eclipsed until the late nineteenth century, when A. H. Sayce proposed that certain inscriptions in Syria be identified as Hittite. In 1906 Hugo Winckler recovered the Hittite Code among some ten thousand Hittite and Akkadian texts. The Hittites were in fact the dominant power in Asia Minor until about 1200 b.c. (cf. Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., An English-Hittite Glossary, and his essays “Hittites and Hurrians,” pp. 197–228, and “Hittites,” pp. 165–72).

The once widely shared critical notion that Moses could not have written the Pentateuch because writing was then nonexistent today seems nothing less than ludicrous, since full-fledged phonetically spelled writing is now acknowledged to have existed as early as 2400 b.c. and pictographic writing is dated as early as 3100 b.c.

In the face of critical assertions about biblical history, archaeological discoveries have continued to invert negative theories by confirming the scriptural record in significant and surprising ways, most recently by the Dead Sea Scrolls. G. W. Van Beek comments that critical scholars considered various biblical events unauthentic “not because they contradicted known facts but because they seemed implausible or did not fit preconceived patterns of historical or literary development” (“Archaeology,” 1:204b). Some scholars considered Solomon’s power, fame and wealth to be legendary and grossly exaggerated (1 Kings 2:12–11:43; 2 Chron. 1–9). But it is now widely acknowledged that not only did Hebrew prose take classical literary form in the Solomonic era but also, as W. F. Albright comments, that “the age of Solomon was certainly one of the most flourishing periods of material civilization in the history of Palestine. Archaeology, after a long silence, has finally corroborated biblical tradition in no uncertain way” (The Archaeology of Palestine, pp. 123–24). “Excavations at Megiddo, Ezion-geber, and virtually every site occupied in this period have illustrated,” as Van Beek remarks, “that during Solomon’s reign, Israel comprised the greatest and the most prosperous land empire of the ancient Near East and indeed enjoyed a Golden Age. In this instance, archaeology has shown that the Bible actually understates the facts” (“Archaeology,” p. 204b). The discovery in Saudi Arabia in 1976 of the three-thousand-year-old “Ophir” copper mines of Solomon’s era (1 Kings 4–10) was simply the latest of many confirmations.

Almost every year brings biblically significant archaeological finds. In 1977 Israeli and American archaeologists discovered the site of the Philistine city of Timnah, frequently mentioned in the Samson stories in the Book of Judges and where, according to the biblical account, Samson courted Delilah and slew a lion.

Questioning the historicity of the Hebrew exile is another noteworthy example of critical negation. Subsequent excavations in Babylon have decisively confirmed the biblical portrayal. C. C. Torrey, longtime professor of Semitic languages at Yale University, denied the historicity of the account of the Babylonian captivity in Kings, Ezekiel and Ezra, and considered the biblical record of the exile a literary exaggeration of “a small and relatively insignificant affair” (Ezra Studies, pp. 285 ff.). Thus we had the remarkable phenomenon that some learned critics confidently attributed certain Hebrew beliefs to the influence of other religions upon the Jews during their exile, while Torrey and his followers no less confidently denied that the exile had even occurred. Torrey held that Ezra as a person never existed, that the account of the restoration of Jerusalem is a late and largely apocryphal work, that Ezekiel’s mission to the captives is literary fiction. “The terms ‘exilic, ‘pre-exilic, and ‘post-exilic’ ought to be banished forever from usage,” he wrote, “for they are merely misleading, and correspond to nothing that is real in Hebrew literature and life” (p. 289).

Albright notes, however, that the results of archaeological investigation have been “uniform and conclusive” in their confirmation of the biblical record; “there is not a single known case,” he adds, “where a town of Judah proper was continuously occupied through the exilic period” (The Archaeology of Palestine, pp. 141–42). Torrey’s views on the exile and restoration, he comments, “are as totally devoid of historical foundations as they are of respect for ancient oriental records” (From the Stone Age to Christianity, p. 322).

Any student of archaeology familiar with specific sites like Megiddo, Samaria, or Lachish, can multiply such instances of confirmation for every era of Hebrew history. Archaeology, of course, has not and never will confirm all details of biblical history, and it cannot in any event confirm invisible realities of the spiritual world and revelational truths. But its findings now discourage critical negation when historical concerns are at stake. Van Beek pointedly remarks, “most discrepancies are small and can be readily explained in one of several ways, but some are more serious and cannot be accounted for easily. In these cases, scholars do not arbitrarily hold that the biblical authors are wrong, although they may be. In view of the increasing confirmation of the Bible in recent years, they now approach major discrepancies with more caution than was previously used, and usually reserve final judgment until more evidence is forthcoming” (“Archaeology,” p. 204b).

Archaeological finds including manuscript fragments have “dealt the coup de grace,” as Albright puts it, to such critical views as those of the Tübingen school, which held that less than a half dozen New Testament books were composed in the first century a.d., and of the Dutch school, which relegated all the Pauline epistles to the second century a.d. (The Archaeology of Palestine, p. 240). Many critics routinely dated the Gospel of John so late in the second century that it could not conceivably reflect the thought and teaching of Jesus, but discovery of the Roberts fragment has now restored that Gospel to a first-century dating, and critical arguments against its authenticity have been steadily erased. Albright even concludes, although on the tenuous ground of the Qumran discoveries, that “the New Testament proves to be in fact what it was formerly believed to be: the teaching of Christ and his immediate followers between cir. 25 and cir. 80 a.d. In light of these finds the New Testament becomes more Jewish than we had thought—as truly Jewish as the Old Testament is Israelite” (From the Stone Age to Christianity, 2nd ed., p. 23). He also ventured the opinion that “every book of the New Testament was written by a baptized Jew between the forties and eighties of the first century a.d. (very probably sometime between 50 and 75 a.d.)” (“Toward a More Conservative View,” p. 3).

In 1976 the New Testament critic John A. T. Robinson declared unpersuasive the case for a postapostolic dating of the Gospels and of other New Testament writings, and insisted instead, contrary to his own earlier views, that none of the New Testament books need be dated after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 a.d. (Redating the New Testament, p. 10). Before we detail Robinson’s positive affirmations, it is well to note his critical comments on the vast divergence of New Testament datings found among influential scholars, e.g., Kümmel and Perrin—which can only remind us how much the conflicting verdicts turn on disconcertingly tenuous deductions. Robinson considers all too timid and applicable to the New Testament writings as a whole comments made earlier by Austin Farrer on the interrelational datings of the Book of Revelation alongside Matthew, Mark and Luke: “The datings of all these books are like a line of tipsy revellers walking home arm-in-arm; each is kept in position by the others and none is firmly grounded. The whole series can lurch five years this way or that, and still not collide with a solid obstacle” (Austin Farrer, The Revelation of St. John the Divine, p. 37). Robinson writes of “the manifold tyranny of unexamined assumptions,” of “creations of the critics or highly subjective reconstructions” (Redating the New Testament, p. 345). He adds: “It is worth reminding New Testament theologians of the friendly chiding they have received, for instance, from the classical historian Sherwin-White for not recognizing, by any contemporary standards, what excellent sources they have” (p. 355).

Robinson reaffirms C. C. Torrey’s view that the nonmention of the fall of Jerusalem dates all four Gospels before 70 a.d. Torrey affirmed that “no argument from silence” more than that of all the Gospels about the destruction of the temple by Roman armies “could possibly be stronger” and that this “tends to show that all four gospels were written before the year 70” (The Four Gospels, A New Translation, p. 256; quoted in Torrey, The Apocalypse of John, p. 86). C. F. D. Moule commented a half generation ago that the New Testament contains no postevent (ex eventu) projections into the teaching of Jesus of the fall of Jerusalem, an event of which Christian apologists might have made much capital (The Birth of the New Testament, p. 123).

We need not uncritically accept the presuppositions that dispose critics to date John’s Gospel early (e.g., Bultmann’s premise that Christianity began as a kind of Gnosticism that was only later “Judaized” and “historicized”; Albright’s insistence on Johannine indebtedness to the Dead Sea Scrolls; and now Robinson’s renewal of emphasis on the Fourth Gospel’s nonmention of the Roman destruction of the Jewish temple). What we can welcome is their common acknowledgment that no persuasive case exists for late dating. But in the final analysis the proper dating of the Gospels and of the Epistles will be more assuredly established by a regard for what these writings teach and by positive evidence of authorship and historicity than by what they do not contain.

Some readers may think it inadmissable to welcome biblical criticism where its investigations confirm the Bible if one rejects it where they contravene Scripture. In actuality there need be no objection to historical criticism or to form criticism per se. Various literary forms do exist in the Bible and as such are serviceable to preserving the Word of God; they do not by any inherent necessity either erode or destroy it. What’s more, Judeo-Christian religion has nothing to fear from truly scientific historical criticism. What accounts for the adolescent fantasies of biblical criticism are not its legitimate pursuits but its paramour relationships with questionable philosophical consorts. James I. Packer emphasizes that skepticism concerning the pervasive truth of Scripture was not a product of the higher criticism that emerged between 1860 and 1890, but that the welcome for Graf-Wellhausen critical notions of the origins of ethical monotheism and of the Old Testament writings was itself precipitated by a philosophical climate which had already made biblical inspiration and inerrancy problematical (“The Necessity of the Revealed Word,” pp. 33–34). The spreading influence of Kant’s Critical philosophy, which invalidated supernatural revelation, of Schleier-macher’s quasi-pantheistic emphasis on the immediate access of the religious consciousness to the Divine, and of English deism which undermined confidence in the miraculous, combined to shape on the part of many intellectuals a skeptical attitude toward the teaching of Scripture. When the truth of the biblical record was pervasively questioned, the motivation for doubt lay in alien philosophical views rather than in historical or logical disproof.

It is not, in fact, on conclusive historical evidence, but on inconclusive and frequently altered philosophical presuppositions that modern bib-heal criticism has tended to operate. If the history of biblical criticism has made clear any one fact, it is the dependence of many of its supposedly settled conclusions upon debatable conjectural assumptions. “One qannot review the history of biblical interpretation” says Samuel Terrien in The Interpreter’s Bible, “without observing that exegetes have been too often influenced in their work by epistemological presuppositions of which they themselves were more or less unaware.” As an example, Terrien notes “historical” exegesis, “which vehemently claimed to have reached the highest possible degree of objectivity” while chiefly dominated by philosophical premises of a naturalistic type” (“History of the Interpretation of the Bible,” 1:140b). But one need hardly stop there. From its nineteenth-century connection with rationalistic and antisupernaturalist philosophies, biblical criticism—still in disdain for the biblical sources—then joined liberalism in the twentieth century to be enthralled by comparative religions and rationalistic reconstruction of the so-called historical Jesus. Paced by Karl Barth, kerygmatic theology soon differentiated the “Word of God” from the Bible and even if it dismissed a “mythological frame” as alien to the New Testament forfeited historical concerns to negative criticism. Existentialist presuppositions led eventually to Bultmann’s program of “demy-thologization” because of virtual disregard of the historical reliability of the biblical materials.

To say that the trustworthiness of the Bible has been destroyed by secular developments that inaugurated the modern era of biblical interpretation—the discovery of the heliocentricity of the planetary movements, the empirical bias of modern philosophy, and developmental or evolutionary theory—is superficial. Astronomical observation, evolutionary theory or empirical explanation simply cannot yield finalities about anything. The constant upheaval that ensnares biblical criticism remains. The idea so firmly held not many decades ago, that the eighth-century prophets originated monotheism, is now widely regarded as erroneous; once again the great prophets are recognized as the heirs of a much older heritage of Yahweh’s uniqueness and grandeur. Wellhausian notions of the nature of Yahwistic faith and of the origin and development of Hebrew religion have suffered profound alteration. Despite skepticism by the Alt-Noth school, several Swedish scholars have in the name of oral tradition challenged the Wellhausian view that our Pentateuchal documents are late literary recombinations and theological reconstructions of earlier fragments. The recently discovered Ebla tablets carry the possibility that the divine name Yah was well known before Mosaic times.

Even the rise of form criticism has issued in conflicting classifications by its champions; what’s more, their conclusions turn finally not simply on an analysis of form, but on assumptions about content also. As a result, the claims of objectivity are considerably suspect. Representations of the social needs of the Christian community that are said to have shaped specific segments of the literature are increasingly debatable. Terrien discerned already in the mid-twentieth century “a threefold tendency” among biblical critics: a return to relatively conservative datings for composition of some biblical books, an increased confidence in the historical reliability of the documents, and a renewed awareness of the primarily theological intentions of the writers (ibid., pp. 137b–138a).

This is still a far cry, of course, from reaffirming the objective reliability of the Scriptures; the one self-assured premise of modern biblical critics still remains, namely, disavowal of the historic Christian commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible. Paralleling this dogged contention is the equally unyielding confidence of evangelical scholars in the objective authority and divine inspiration of Scripture, and their emphasis that, whatever legitimate rights may belong to biblical criticism, it remains characterized even in the present century by eisegesis as much as by exegesis. Some scholarly circles have rejected the Holy Spirit’s objective inspiration of Scripture only to substitute vagaries of subjective academic imagination spawned by competing contemporary viewpoints. Little stable discussion is possible in this conflict between evangelical and nonevangelical scholars until the champions of biblical criticism list the supposed scriptural errors and misconceptions on which they all agree and whose logical resolution would renew their commitment to the Bible’s objective authority and inspiration. When the discussion is formulated in these terms, it soon becomes evident how the debate is determined by certain limiting philosophical premises. As the critics continue to disagree over an agenda, and the history of interpretation piles up evidence of continuing revisions and reversals, neo-Protestant scholars must bear the burden of establishing logical and credible supports for their views. That burden has become all the more imposing since some frontier theologians are now insisting that even the most radical biblical critics can indeed champion the inspiration and authority of Scripture; all that is needed, they say, is that we assign an updated meaning to the terms inspiration, authority and Scripture.

David H. Kelsey, for one, proposes a functional view of the Bible. This view preserves the authority and normativity of Scripture, he contends, even if one accommodates critical dismemberment of the Bible, and rejects divine inspiration as an objective property of the biblical texts. Kelsey disagrees that negative scientific-historical criticism of the canon and its content makes it “impossible to use the texts as authority in theology” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 158); loss of the Bible as a theologically unified canon does not, he insists, imperil “scriptural authority.” However destructive historical and literary criticism may be, Kelsey superimposes on the writings a logically prior judgment concerning the function of “scripture,” namely, that of existentially shaping the common life of the believing church.

Kelsey declares it his intention to compare and contrast different Christian theologies in a descriptive rather than normative way; he disavows any desire to make theological or dogmatic proposals of his own. First of all he notes that modern theologians appeal to the Bible in strikingly different ways to authorize their theological proposals. To illustrate this divergence he focuses on seven twentieth-century theologians: B. B. War-field, Hans-Warner Bartsch, G. E. Wright, Karl Barth, L. S. Thornton, Paul Tillich and Rudolf Bultmann. Warfield and Bartsch, he points out, emphasize what Scripture teaches, the former the doctrinal content of the Bible, the latter its concepts or main ideas; Wright and Barth stress, instead, what Scripture reports, the former its recital of God’s mighty historical acts, the latter its rendering of God’s personal presence; Thornton, Tillich and Bultmann invoke images, symbols or myths that provide the occasion for a revelatory redemptive event. The samplings Kelsey uses are considered representative but not necessarily exhaustive of how these several theologians appeal to the Bible. While differing in what they mean, all are said to affirm scriptural authority.

Looked at more closely, Warfield is seen to champion the classic Christian view that the content of the Bible, that is, what it teaches, hence its doctrinal truth, is authoritative. While Bartsch likewise comes down on the side of authoritative biblical content, he focuses especially on certain revelatory concepts, whereas Warfield affirmed plenary inspiration, i.e., the Bible in whole and part. Wright, too, disavows doctrinal or propositional disclosure; Scripture, he says, is a record of God’s redemptive acts, from which ontological knowledge about God is to be inferred.

The shift from truths and concepts to events as the revelational center of Scripture anticipates a further disjunction in which revelational content is no longer objectively identified with Scripture even though Scripture is retained as a revelational form. Thus, Scripture for Barth is a fallible witness through which God in Christ personally encounters the trusting reader or hearer. Our theological proposals are to be authorized by the biblical narratives as a fixed form of tradition whose inner unity is found not in its doctrinal structure but rather in its identity-description of a single Agent. Scripture is “authoritative,” in brief, not because it communicates divinely given information about God and his ways but because “it provides our normative link with God’s self-disclosure” (ibid., p. 47). The Bible, for Barth, authorizes theological proposals only indirectly, by pointing to the central revelational reality, Jesus Christ, who encounters us in Scripture, and not because its doctrines, concepts, or historical patterns are divinely mediated.

Barth therefore becomes a watershed for, since he understands “scriptural authority” in functional terms, Kelsey comments that in Barth’s view “the texts are authoritative not in virtue of any inherent property they may have, such as being inspired or inerrant, but in virtue of a function they fill in the life of the Christian community.” “To say that scripture is ‘inspired’ is to say that God has promised that sometimes, at his gracious pleasure, the biblical texts will become the Word of God, the occasion for rendering an agent present to us in a Divine-human encounter” (ibid., pp. 47, 48).

Kelsey observes that Barth, in discussing “The Humanity of God” in Church Dogmatics, affirms in view of God’s personal presence in the world a series of theological proposals not expressly found in Scripture but which Barth considers indirectly authorized “by the patterns in biblical narrative that render an agent and sometimes occasion an encounter with him.” “It is difficult to see,” Kelsey adds, “how this way of construing scripture can be assessed. It can in principle be neither confirmed nor disconfirmed by historical-critical exegesis.… It does not claim that every passage … is self-evidently part of one vast rendering of one agent … [or] that the human authors … understood themselves to be engaged in such an enterprise. It only supposes that it is possible to look at or to take the canonical scriptures this way, without claiming that there is any historical evidence justifying such a construction” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, pp. 49–50).

This functional use of Scripture as “authority” is further exemplified by scholars who professedly discern in the Bible some particular feature—whether images, or symbols, or myth—that they consider “expressive” of a “revelatory event.” They regard not an aggregate of revealed doctrines, nor a report of external happenings accessible to historians, but rather the Bible’s alleged literary symbolism to be a semantic signal that links the believing reader with an internal revelatory event that yields new creaturehood. Kelsey considers Thornton, Tillich and Bultmann as examples of this approach.

For Thornton, biblical “images” are “the aspect of scripture that is authoritative for theology”; he routinely accredits theological proposals by appealing to “symbolic pictures, or events symbolically described” in Scripture (ibid., p. 61). The Bible’s inner unity is said to lie not in a coherently revealed system of truths nor in a sequence of redemptive events that it attests but, rather, in a complex network of images (cf. The Dominion of Christ, pp. 16, 148, 165, 176). Restated in metaphysical language these images, as Thornton presents them, become propositional affirmations that are in some respects curiously compatible with modern process philosophy.

For Tillich, religious “symbols”—particularly the “biblical picture of Jesus as the Christ”—are the authoritative scriptural element, and their authority stems from the function they play in “revelatory events” that transform humans into new beings. Quite apart from any concrete information, the “miraculous revelatory event” produces transforming inner power. As religious symbols, the events constituted by Jesus and his disciples, or for that matter by Buddha and his disciples, engender faith within later communities in the context both of an “original” and a “dependent revelation.” The symbols are not to be translated into clear concepts, however (cf. F E. Johnson, ed., Religious Symbolism, pp. 111 ff.; Kelsey, The Fabric of Paul Tillich’s Theology, chapter 2). Kelsey summarizes Tillich’s explanation of symbol as follows: “The picture of Jesus as the Christ points to the power of being which can be mediated to broken and estranged men, sometimes through the picture itself, so that for them it is a power for new being. The traditional name for this power is ‘God,’ ” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 68). In other words, Tillich makes of the Bible’s depiction of Jesus as the Christ a religious symbol and views this as the authoritative element in Scripture.

In delineating “original revelation,” Tillich expounds a dialectical relationship between symbols that is subordinated to the centrality of the cross and resurrection. But, Kelsey complains, when Tillich then expounds the connection between this so-called “original revelation” and dependent contemporary “revelation,” he shows only that the symbols are functionally appropriate. In other words, Tillich’s theological proposals are very loosely related to the biblical symbols (ibid., pp. 71 ff.). Tillich does not explain, Kelsey notes, how the asserted ability of the biblical symbol to mediate power today is related to the peculiar structure and patterns of the symbol itself which, it is said, expresses original revelation (p. 73). He asserts the functional propriety of the symbols not in view of their intrinsic properties but in and through an ontological anthropology. “The question is left open, Why insist that saving events today depend in any way on Jesus?” Kelsey adds. “Why should the church make the biblical picture of Jesus as the Christ central to saying what it must say today? If there is no connection between what is said (with only indirect appeal to scripture) about making human life whole today and what is said (with direct appeal to scripture) about the person of Jesus, then Christology would seem to have become logically dispensable for contemporary Christian theology” (p. 74).

Like Thornton and Tillich, Bultmann attaches scriptural authority to “passages that express the revelatory and saving ‘Christ event’ and occasion contemporary saving and revealing events” (ibid., p. 74); in his case Bultmann correlates that authority with passages that presumably lead by faith to a new self-understanding. The coherence of Scripture and theology does not follow, however, from any deduction from common first-principles that theology derives from Scripture; it follows, rather, because both theology and Scripture depict the understanding of the self and of God as integral to the believer’s subjectivity. According to Bultmann, scriptural “theological statements” are normative as the earliest expressions of Christian faith. The New Testament uses event-descriptions or myths, he says, to depict the mode of self-understanding that Heidegger’s analysis of authentic existence goes on to illumine and refine. Bultmann restates the concepts of reconciliation and eschatological righteousness in terms of interpersonal divine-human relationships according to this Heideggerian analysis. The so-called kerygmatic statements of Scripture elicit no truth-judgment, nor are they directly authoritative over theological proposals; they serve only indirectly to authorize theological affirmations. Their function is directly authoritative in the practical existence of the man of faith; theological statements express the inward transformation that is involved when one personally responds in faith to kerygmatic utterances. For all that, Bultmann curiously insists that when Scripture speaks of “God acting,” it is making a truth-claim that expresses what is analogically even if not literally the case.

Hence while Thornton locates the “revelatory event” first in the public world as a cosmic reality prior to personal faith, Bultmann locates it in the subjectivity of individual faith-response. Forfeiture of rational divine revelation and of authoritative canonical writings leads, in Bultmann’s case, despite his effort to differentiate between myth and the thesis that “God acts,” to loss of what also belongs to the biblical teaching, namely, the objectivity of divine disclosure. Bultmann supposedly retains some semblance of scriptural “authority”—identified as the category of myth!—and by it routinely distorts evident and primary emphases of the canonical writings. Kelsey comments that “the Bible clearly is talking about revelatory events occurring in a public world” (ibid., p. 84); we might add, that this is by no means the only thrust to level at contemporary notions of the radical “event” character of revelation. While Tillich emphasizes the community context of derivative “revelatory events” and thus tries to avoid making them exclusively private, like Bultmann and Thornton and Barth he construes the Bible as being “authoritative” noninformation.

Kelsey concedes that such multiple and divergent appeal to Scripture to sanction the conflicting theological proposals of contemporary theologians confuses the conceptions of both authority and Scripture. What modern scholars mean when they invoke “scripture” varies according to many and competing notions of its nature and function.

The logical consequence, one would think—if the confusion among neo-Protestant theologians were really decisive for religious fortunes—would be an open and unapologetic repudiation of scriptural authority and Christian theology. But Kelsey ostensibly reverses the field of theologians who repudiate Scriptural authority while they elaborate professedly Christian theology. He recognizes that nonevangelical scholars cannot hope to be regarded as authentically Christian theologians while they are perceived as hostile to scriptural authority; he does not on that account, however, repudiate the neo-Protestant revolt against orthodox biblical theism. In the “unprecedented theological pluralism marking the neo-orthodox era” he refuses to see a sign of “breakdown in consensus about the nature and task of theology” (ibid., p. 163). These highly diverse visions of the basic character of Christianity, he feels, require only a rejection of the historic evangelical view of scriptural authority and our prompt enthronement of an alternative. The divergent schemes of modern theologians who concretely construe Scripture in irreducibly different ways can all be aligned with the authority of Scripture if we abandon and redefine the idea of biblical authority held by B. B. Warfield and evangelical Protestants generally.

There is no “normative” meaning of biblical “authority,” Kelsey insists and, moreover, “no one ‘standard’ concept ‘scripture’ ” (ibid., p. 103), “The suggestion that scripture might serve as a final court of appeals for theological disputes is misleading,” he states, “because there is no one, normative concept ‘scripture’ ” but rather “a family of related but importantly different concepts ‘scripture’ ” (pp. 14–15). To support this judgment he emphasizes the diverse patterns through which recent theologians view Scripture as “authoritative.”

For the standard view of the Bible as a divinely inspired source of revealed truths Kelsey substitutes a “functional” approach, oriented to the life of the church, and correlating “scripture” and its “authority” dialectically with the existential concerns of the belief-ful community and individual. He writes: “The ‘authority of scripture’ has the status of a postulate assumed in the doing of theology in the context of the practise of the common life of a Christian community in which ‘church’ is understood in a certain way. In short, the doctrine of ‘scripture and its authority’ is a postulate of practical theology.… The least misleading conceptual home of … doctrines about biblical authority, would be as part of the elaboration of doctrines about the shaping of Christian existence, both communal and individual” (ibid., pp. 208–9). This approach deliberately abandons the historic evangelical location and explication of scriptural authority in terms set by the doctrine of divine revelation, an orientation preserved even by recent neoorthodox theologians, although in a self-defeating way, through their dilution of revelation into conceptual incoherence. Kelsey does not believe that the Bible expounds only one single concept of revelation, and he especially denies divine revelation in the form of truths. ” ‘The Bible is the church’s book’ makes what is apparently an accurate historical claim,” he writes, “but ‘Biblical texts are the church’s scripture’ makes an important conceptual decision (i.e., self-involvingly to adopt a certain concept ‘church’), and ‘scripture is authority over the church’s life’ makes a conceptual claim that is analytic in the foregoing conceptual decision” (p. 177). Here “scripture” is no longer identical with the whole Bible; moreover, none of the Bible is viewed as Scripture or as authoritative except in a functional sense. Kelsey’s notion of how best to illuminate and fairly to compare and contrast rival theological views rests therefore on highly tendential assumptions. There can be little doubt that Kelsey begins with certain governing presuppositions and reaches at least some conclusions to which a merely descriptive analysis is hardly entitled.

Any effort to establish “standards by which to decide when a ‘theological position’ really” accords with Scripture Kelsey dismisses as “meaningless” (ibid., p. 5). The questions, “Is Scripture the authority for that?” or “Is it based on Scripture?” are virtually pointless, he says, since “one would have to specify in which sense(s) of ‘authority’ one wanted to know the answer” (p. 145). He thinks it preferable to say that theological criticism is guided “not by a ‘norm’ or ‘criterion’ ” but by “a discrimen” which involves a configuration of criteria rather than an absolute or exclusive principle or single authority like sola scriptura (p. 160). “The results of close study of the biblical texts … are not decisive,” he says. “More basic … is a decision a theologian must make about the point of engaging in the activity of doing theology, a decision about … the subject matter of theology … determined … by the way … he tries to catch up what Christianity is basically all about in a single, synoptic, imaginative judgment” (p. 159). This acknowledges far more than simply that every system of thought explains all else through its controlling axioms or first principles. Kelsey’s stance is basically and insistently existential. His emphasis, therefore, on “an imaginative act in which a theologian tries to catch up in a single metaphorical judgment the full complexity of God’s presence in, through and over-against the church’s common life and which both … provides the discrimen” whereby theology criticizes the church’s current witness and “determines” the distinctive shape of theological proposals (p. 163) excludes in advance the understanding of Scripture on its own terms and antecedently erodes evangelical orthodoxy. Although imaginative elements indubitably encroach upon all postbiblical theological elaborations, the inspired Scriptures provide for historical evangelical orthodoxy a body of divinely vouchsafed truths to which all creative theology is answerable, and Scripture remains the objective norm to which all the church’s truth-claims are to be conformed. Theologians do indeed make different policy decisions about “the essence of Christianity” and “the point of doing theology” (p. 177). But imaginable belief about “essence” and “point” is inessential and pointless unless all policy decisions are judged by the superior and logically prior principle of prophetic-apostolic disclosure of revelational truth.

Kelsey contends that Scripture “deserves” to be considered the theological norm and that theologians “ought” (he puts both verbs in quotes) so to regard it. But he swiftly adds that “this ‘objective normativity’ of scriptural authority is not undercut by taking its ‘authority’ in terms of scripture’s functions rather than of its properties” (ibid., p. 152). It follows that ” ‘normativity’ is relative”—as Kelsey would have it, “relative to a specific activity, viz., doing theology. It is not some sort of ‘normativity-absolute’ ” (ibid.). For Kelsey, the theologian’s decision governs what it means to call Scripture “authoritative” (p. 151), whereas historic Christianity honored Scripture as normative over against the theologian’s determination and imagination. The concept of normativity is here no less radically altered than that of Scripture and authority. The consequence, of course, is that theology is left without absolute truth. The implications of this consequence should then be drawn for any exposition of quote-beseiged “authority,” “normativity,” and the functionalist view of “scripture.”

Not surprisingly, the kind of “wholeness” that functionalism ascribes to the texts as canon does not consist, as in evangelical orthodoxy, in the logical and historical interrelationships of inspired writings that convey divinely given truths; it consists, rather, in other aspects that supposedly function in dialectical or existential correlation with faith. Kelsey acknowledges that theologians who agree—in diverse ways, to be sure—that Scripture is “authority” for theological proposals, disagree widely over the extent, content and meaning of canonical Scripture except as to its “sufficiency” for an indicated use, “the occasion for the presence of God among the faithful” (ibid., p. 106). In other words, canonical “wholeness” is not to be confused with “unity” understood as “a coherence or even consistency” of content; it functions rather to “preserve the church’s self-identity” in ways alternative to doctrinal uniformity. Once the notion of “canon” is functionally restated and subjectively grounded, no rational necessity remains for discussing and logically relating parts of a so-called whole, and the very notion of wholeness would seem to be irrelevant and misleading.

Kelsey would displace “the standard picture of the relation between scripture and theology as ‘translation’ ” of the logical content or teaching of the Bible into a consistent doctrinal system, and instead regard a theologian’s appeal to the Bible as “part of an argument” (ibid., p. 123); this appeal “in the course of making a case for the proposal,” an “informal argument,” is not to be formalized in traditional logic (pp. 125–29). The covert assumption here is that prior claims for intelligible divine revelation and biblical authority on the ground of inspired texts are invalid. Kelsey repudiates the analysis of theological systems according to whether their first principle is revelation or Scripture or ontological speculation or religious experience or self-understanding (p. 136). “There is no one distinctively ‘theological method’ ” (p. 134). “Several logically different kinds of statement may all serve to help authorize a given conclusion, although in different senses of authorize”; a theological proposal might be authorized “by data provided by an ontological analysis and also authorized by warrants backed by direct quotations from scripture” (p. 135). It is therefore “pointless,” Kelsey contends, to pose the issue of biblical authority as an either/or that requires scriptural confirmation for theological proposals in contrast to some other appeal, whether it be experience, ontology or something else: “A given theological proposal will necessarily be ‘authorized’ in several different ways all at once” (p. 145). “An appeal to an ontology (or to a phenomenology or to historical research)” authorizes a theological approach as genuinely as does an appeal to Scripture; Scripture is not, therefore, to be regarded as conferring divine authorization. “Taken as wholes,” theological systems are to be regarded “in a quasi-aesthetic way as a solicitation of mind and imagination to look at Christianity in a certain way” and not as logical expositions of the essence of Christian faith (p. 137). Theological evaluation is therefore more illuminating if instead of probing questions of logic and objective truth we ask what roles or “uses” the several theological loci and the appeals to “various kinds of intellectual inquiry such as historical research (including biblical scholarship), phenomenology of religious experience, metaphysical schemes, etc.” fulfill “within the ‘system’ as a whole” (pp. 137–38). This proposal, that theological analysis concern itself with the structure of argumentation rather than with the validity of truth-claims, is reminiscent of a now dated era in biblical studies when documentary scholars competed to dissect the form of the scriptural writings, only to realize belatedly that they had stifled a living body of truth. Moreover, for the underlying validity of Kelsey’s own method of doing theology, his proposal can offer no basis other than private preference.

Kelsey repudiates the emphasis “that there is necessarily a kind of conceptual continuity, if not identity, between what scripture says and what theological proposals say” (ibid., p. 186). Kelsey approves discontinuity of concepts and meaning between Scripture and theological proposals, and allows scriptural authorization only by indirect appeals (pp. 186–87); for Kelsey, therefore, “scriptural normativity” means that any and all logical continuity between Scripture and theology is dispensable. Scripture is normative authority not because it preserves an unchanging content but because it serves rather as the “starting point” and “model” for theological elaboration (p. 196). It is “revelant” to theological proposals but not “decisive” for them (p. 206). Kelsey approves redescription of what the Bible says, as by Tillich and Bultmann, “in different concepts” (p. 189), that is, in different conceptualities. In short, Kelsey spurns the view that “meaning has only one meaning” (p. 109) and that the biblical texts have but one meaning that theological proposals must reproduce if they are to be scripturally authorized.

The epistemological relativity underlying this notion dissolves not only any fixed meaning for Kelsey’s own proposals about “normativity,” “authority,” and “scripture,” but also whatever fixed meaning he would attach to meaning itself under any and all circumstances. It therefore reduces theology to an intricate exercise in futility and nonsense.

Contrary to Kelsey, the historic evangelical alternative to the functionalist notion of normativity does not in the least “beg the root questions … what ‘scripture’ and ‘authority’ are to mean” (ibid., p. 194); rather it is Kelsey’s view of multiplied meanings that precludes attaching any definite sense to them. For all its utility, Kelsey’s volume does not help us much in advancing the transcendent truth of the Christian religion. If the classic concepts of Christian truth are no longer palatable, is a functional redefinition of them really preferable to their outright repudiation?

For Kelsey, “authority” is not an “informative” claim, “a logical predicate naming a property” of Scripture; it should be taken rather “as having self-involving performative force” (ibid., pp. 108–9). “It ascribes no property to the texts which could be checked out independently of the judgment itself” but “draws attention” rather “to the functions they fill.” “Given certain understandings of ‘theology,’ to say ‘Scripture is authority’ is in part to say ‘These texts must be used in certain normative ways in the course of doing theology’ “; that is, by “scriptural authority” functionalist theologians “locate scripture in a certain way in the context of doing theology” (p. 109). In short, the rules of the game of Christian theology require that Scripture—not the Koran or The Manchester Guardian—be used to help authorize theological proposals (pp. 110–11). The notion, “Let theology accord with Scripture,” indicates a methodological decision in which a variety of replies may answer the question: what aspect or pattern in Scripture is to be considered authoritative, and what uses in the common life of the church “make it authoritative”? (p. 111). “In saying … ‘scripture is authority for Christian theology’ … he will not yet have decided just how he will use scripture in the course of doing theology so that it bears on his proposals” (p. 112).

But the rules governing theological games, like Wittgenstein’s language games, do not tell us what games to play. Something very different from abiding by variable rules was intended when the historic Christian confessions affirmed the Bible to be the only divine rule of faith and practice. If the authority of Scripture involves no claim concerning some inherent property of the texts, then the term is a misnomer. To speak of the authority of rulers or rules only in experiential or experimental terms surely ignores the deeper question of legitimate authority.

Kelsey claims that his exposition of inspiration in the context of “Christian existence,” that is, of relational or functional considerations, is “logically congruent with a variety of doctrines about the divine inspiration of scripture” (ibid., p. 211). The functional theory, he remarks, “can be used to state [not only] the traditional view that it is the texts themselves that are inspired,” but also those views which deny that inspiration refers to a property of the biblical texts. Needless to say, such claims do not render the functionalist restatement of inspiration logically compatible with the historic Christian insistence on the objective inspiredness of the originally given texts. To reorient the discussion of inspiration to nontheoretical existential concerns channels and dilutes the objective “inspiredness” of the texts simply into their “inspiringness” in the life of the church. This approach dwarfs the former emphasis on inspiredness to merely an arbitrary postulate and exalts inspiringness to decisive significance; the realities of the Christian heritage are thus inverted.

The authority of Scripture, Kelsey contends, “is not a contingent judgment made about ‘scripture’ on other grounds, such as their age, authorship, miraculous inspiration etc.” but “is analytic in the judgment ‘These texts are Christian scripture’ ” (ibid., p. 97). In other words, the existential faith of the church is dialectically inseparable from faith that scripture functions authoritatively. The “authoritativeness” of the texts for theology depends on this prior affirmation of their “authoritativeness over the common life of the Church” and is therefore circularly suspended on existential considerations. “Writings are not declared ‘scripture’ and hence ‘authority,’ ” Kelsey emphasizes, “because as a matter of contingent fact they exhibit certain properties or characteristics (e.g., ‘inerrancy’ or ‘inspiredness’) that meet some pre-established criteria for inclusion in a class called ‘Christianly authoritative writings’ ” (p. 98). “Given certain views of ‘church,’ ” these writings “ought to be used in her common life to nurture and correct … speech and action.… They are ‘normative’ ” in the context of self-critical reflection on the church’s common life and “in certain rulish and normative ways” to help nurture and reform the church (pp. 207–8).

Kelsey concedes that the functional orientation of the Bible leads to “a revision in the usual way in which ‘Word of God’ is used as a technical theological term for scripture” (ibid., p. 213). He agrees with D. E. Nineham’s rejection of “the assumption that in discovering the meaning of a passage of scripture one is ‘dealing with a word of God, part of God’s self-disclosure to the situation in which the words were originally written and spoken’ ” (ibid., p. 190, quoting Nineham, “The Use of the Bible in Modern Theology”). Writing of Barth’s understanding of “scriptural authority,” Kelsey notes that in Barth’s view the texts are authoritative in a functional rather than an epistemological sense (pp. 47–48). “It would be less misleading and more fruitful of insight,” he tells us, “if a theologian made it explicitly clear when he uses ‘Word of God’ in his doctrine about scripture” that he is “drawing attention, not to ‘what God is using the Bible to say,’ but to ‘what God is using the Bible for,’ viz., shaping Christian existence” (p. 213). Indeed, Kelsey insists that theological proposals are “best seen” in this context of functionalism (p. 206).

On Kelsey’s theory, “scriptural authority” should first be established independently of the Bible’s view of its own inspiration and authority; this is done by postulating “scripture” as being functionally authoritative in connection with a particular ecclesiastical vision and commitment. Then a view of “inspiration” is adduced to explain the dynamic potency of “scripture” wherever and whenever it shows itself to be potent: “Given a doctrine of scripture’s ‘authority,’ i.e., how scripture ought concretely to be used and construed in the common life of the church and in doing theology, a doctrine of ‘inspiration’ gives a theological explanation of why, when scripture is used that way, certain results sometimes follow” (ibid., p. 211). “To say a set of writings is ‘inspired by God’ is to begin to give an explanation, not for why they are to be construed or used in certain ways, but for why they function effectively when they are so construed and used” (p. 211).

The criticism that advocates of the functional view surely cannot lodge against the classical view of inspiration is that of circularity. Circular argument is what characterizes the functional view: “scripture,” we are told, is “authoritative” because it is accepted as “authoritative” by the believing church. Kelsey concedes that “this characterization of the nature of theology applies only to the theologies … in which theology is an activity governed in part by the rule that scripture must be so used in the course of doing theology as to help authorize its proposals” (ibid., p. 159). “Nothing prevents one from defining the task of theology in some other way, without reference to church or to scripture,” he notes. Can this approach lead to anything but the trivializing of theology, not to speak of Scripture and church?

The classical view of inspiration refuses to ground the authority of Scripture in the common life of the community of faith; it correlates that authority instead with a divinely imparted property of the scriptural texts. Nor does it, as frequently charged, in any way reduce the issue of religious authority to a circular argument. The classic view discusses divine authority in the contexts of the authority of God self-revealed in Christ, attested by general and special revelation, including scriptural authority, as objective factors that cannot be reduced to mere “functional authority”; above all the classic view insists that Scripture is authoritative because it is true. The apostolic emphasis that inspiration is a property of the biblical texts clearly contravenes Kelsey’s emphasis (“All Scripture is God-breathed,” 2 Tim. 3:16, niv). Contrary to his insistence that “to say a writing is ‘inspired’ tells one nothing about how it is to be construed, nor does it give reasons for using it one way rather than another to help authorize a theological proposal” (ibid., p. 211), the Bible does, in fact, by its inspired teaching and its own use of Scripture tell us much about these very things. In view of its divine inspiration, what Scripture “is profitable for” includes doctrinal “teaching” and fidelity (2 Tim. 3:16).

Kelsey’s functional view actually erodes sola scriptura in its historic sense. Consistently applied, it can only mean that whatever texts function in an indicated way are therefore “scripture.” In another context, but to the point, Alan Richardson asks: “If we can say only that the Bible is authoritative because it is inspiring, what are we to say to those who declare that they are not inspired by it or about those parts of the Bible which we ourselves do not feel to be very inspiring?” (“Scripture,” p. 250a). These complaints can be strengthened even more. On what basis, we may ask, can one claim that Scripture fulfills the same function for all people? Ought it to do so? May it not fulfill very different and even contradictory functions for the same believing enthusiast? May it actually fulfill no definite function whatever? If the same segments or patterns or whatever elements fulfill one function for some and a different and very contrary or contradictory function for others, or do so for the same person in different times and places, are we not merely playing a word-game with the term inspiration? However much Richardson himself resists the notion of a merely functional authority, and struggles to preserve “the objectivity of scriptural authority,” he nonetheless seems to capitulate to what he disowns when he affirms that “in the last resort the authority of the Bible is apprehended by those to whom the Spirit of God has brought conviction through the words of human writers.… To those who are not yet ready to acknowledge Jesus as Lord, the Bible may perhaps possess other kinds of authority … religious genius … compelling rational and moral conceptions … or … poetic imagination; but none of these admissions is equivalent to the authority acknowledged by the Christian believer who has found in the Scriptures God’s authoritative, personal address to his own soul” (ibid., p. 251b). Such a personal address so pointedly contrasted with compelling rational and moral conceptions would seem to have much more in common with merely functional “authority” than with the authority of the living God self-revealed in the inspired Scriptures.

The functionalist inevitably elevates church tradition to a position with apostolic Scripture. It is possible, of course, to assign the Bible chronological priority. Yet in view of Kelsey’s emphasis that neither authorship nor inspiration is relevant to scriptural authority, how can the functionalist lend any significance to chronology? Although Kelsey pleads an unconvincing neutrality in the controversy as to whether Scripture governs the church, as Protestants historically insist, or, as Catholics hold, the church’s tradition is authority along with Scripture (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 94), his emphasis tends toward the latter view. It is noteworthy that he considers his dialectical relating of the trusting church with “functionally authoritative” “scripture” as specifically significant for the organic unity of the ecumenical church (p. 176). Verily so; the functional approach can supply no objective criterion for distinguishing Jehovah’s Witnesses, Swedenborgians, Mormons or so-called christian Buddhists from the New Testament church.

In trying to resolve the problem of scriptural authority, Kelsey’s functional analysis labors under clear disadvantages. Seen as a mere theological postulate, the “authority of Scripture” can provide no principles or guidelines for theologizing, inasmuch as theologizing is what constructs the postulate. A merely “functional authority” yields no directions concerning what theology is or how it is to be done, and supplies no criterion for commending or criticizing how others conceive and do it.

If our concern is not with objective truth but rather with what is existentially functional, then on what basis can Kelsey complain that Tillich’s view seems to make christology “logically dispensable for contemporary Christian theology” (ibid., p. 74)? And what relevance has the comment, over against Bultmann, that “the Bible is clearly talking about revelatory events occurring in a public world” (p. 84)? The erosion of fixed rational biblical truth by a functional correlation with inner believing response involves each and every biblical concept; no fixed meaning survives for any doctrine whatever if the functional premise is to be consistently applied. Why insist on external revelatory events if no one fixed meaning attaches to Scripture and if functional significance is what defines what is indispensable?

Kelsey might conceivably reply that such criticisms of Tillich and Bultmann stem from the theological programs of other theologians and not necessarily from his own views. His book does not clearly say so, however (the complaint about Tillich specifically refers us for further elaboration to Kelsey’s own earlier work, The Fabric of Paul Tillich’s Theology), nor does it indicate just why he introduces such irrelevancies in some places and not in others. Surely when he judges Warfield’s view, Kelsey is not appending merely the extraneous comments of others, nor amid the same emphasis on cultural outdatedness does he bother to dispute Bartsch’s view that key biblical ideas are unchangingly true. Kelsey at times insists that his descriptive analysis constitutes no argument whatever for any particular normative theological proposal, and concedes that to try to build on such a nonproposal would simply beg the question. The fact remains, however, that the functional analysis itself is governed by spurious a prioris and its implicit exclusion of Scripture as objectively inspired divine truth qualifies whatever legitimate uses are to be made of it. Should Kelsey venture to elaborate comprehensive theological proposals of his own, he will need to break out of his own merely functional analysis in order to assign any objective or normative import to such proposals.

The meaningful retention of scriptural authority in any valid form depends logically upon an enduring alternative to conflicting functionalist claims, that is, upon divinely accredited spokesmen of a specific message and upon authoritative writings whose objective truth in matters of doctrine is vouchsafed by divine inspiration. Questions about the scriptural basis and authority for theological proposals are meaningless only if one insists that the answer be given in functionalist terms. Evangelical Christians will continue to press such questions. They will continue to define biblical authority in a way that avoids the pit of logical contradiction and evident confusion that has swallowed up neo-Protestant theology despite its pretentious appeals to Scripture. Because influential contemporary theologians speak of “scripture” as “authority” for theology while they elaborate grossly divergent views is no reason to abandon the one and only alternative that can deliver us from this sorry predicament. According to Kelsey, the whole case for “scriptural authority” collapses if one rejects the functional reinterpretation of authority and Scripture in dialectical correlation with the life of the church: “If one gives up a concept of ‘church’ of which the concept ‘scripture,’ and especially the concept ‘canon,’ is a part,” he says, “then one is also logically obliged to give up the concept of the ‘authority’ of scripture” (The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology, p. 176). But this is true only if “scriptural authority” is functionally or existentially encased in quotation marks. The intrusion of logical obligation is a Trojan horse whose rigorous advance no functionalist view can long endure. The functionalist hypothesis can only find logic embarrassing; not only does Scripture supposedly function in irreconcilably conflicting ways in a theory like Kelsey’s, but no logical basis can be adduced for curtailing contradictory functions. There remains no way, moreover, to validate any thesis concerning the objective authority of Scripture on the ground of any function whatever that some may claim for it. A consistent application of functionalism’s presuppositions can adduce no objective basis for considering one alleged function either more normative or less dispensable than another. The hypothesis is embarrassed logically even further by covert compromises with the traditional view through which neo-Protestant theologians use certain biblical concepts in a functionalist context; it is these borrowed or retained elements, and not imaginative functionalist expositions built around them, that lend an aura of Christian identity.

For evangelicals a scriptural use of Scripture is both exemplary and imperative; so too “the law is good, if any one uses it lawfully” (1 Tim. 1:8, rsv). Prejudiced and biased interpretation can abandon the proper or divinely intended use of Scripture, however, so that here as elsewhere in life an unnatural function soon appears normal and then normative (Rom. 1:26–27). From its earlier partisan “use” of Scripture that had repudiated “full use,” neo-Protestant theology has now declined further to perverse use of Scripture. This approach precludes any misuse of the Bible, presumably, because no objective norm remains against which use is to be judged. A use which considers all uses proper recalls the exhortation to “use as not abusing” (1 Cor. 7:31, kjv).

The current effort to salvage a special role for “scriptural authority” in a merely functional sense must be recognized for what it is: the newest phase in a continuing antiscriptural revolt against divine authority. It repudiates the Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the scriptural writings, repudiates the contingent divine authority of the apostles in their doctrinal witness to such inspiration, and repudiates the objective truth of the inspired teaching of Scripture.

Jack Rogers promotes as the normative Reformation view, especially of the Reformed (Calvinist) branch, the notion that the significance of Scripture lies solely in its function as a redemptive catalyst. Although he focuses at times on the biblical passages bearing on science in order to discount the comprehensive truth-value of the Bible, by rejecting transcendent revelational truths he jeopardizes the cognitive validity of Scripture in its entirety. None of the content of theological science is unsubject to revision; all theological affirmations are subject to modification (paper on “Some Theological Resources for Approaching the Question of the Relation of the Bible to Sociology”). The method of theology “should be functional (explaining how data relates to us) rather than ontological (asserting the essential nature of reality)” (p. 3). The Bible provides “direction for how to live a Christian life of faith”; it supplies “guidance in the area of the meaning of life and values.”

On the one hand, Rogers insists that “God did not communicate divine information to us in divine, culturally transcendent forms”; on the other, he insists that, on the basis of divine accommodation to our “limited and culture-bound human forms of thought” God has “told us only what we need to know for our salvation and life of faith” (ibid., p. 25). But if the former assertion is true, the latter contradicts it; if the latter is true, the former is false. The contradiction is resolved if Roger’s reference to knowledge is emptied of cognitive content and is viewed only in terms of internal or functional response.

In support of his view, Rogers appeals to “the Dutch Reformed tradition of Kuyper, Bavinck and Berkouwer” who in certain emphases represent a modification of prevalent evangelical positions. Rogers turns what Bavinck considers the “destination” of Scripture—to lead human beings to salvation—into its entire purpose, and he endorses Berkouwer’s concern with Scripture “in a functional, not a philosophical way. The primary issue is, are we rightly related to the Christ of Scripture” (ibid., p. 12).

If, as Rogers insists, “our response to God in Christ moves us to accept Scripture as authoritative” (ibid., p. 44), then its authority pulsates with our response, and Scripture has no antecedent role as divine testimony; moreover, we must be silent in the presence of those who are internally constrained to regard non-Christian and anti-Christian writings as authoritative.

The functional view of scriptural authority finds another stalwart supporter in James Barr. Barr identifies as the basis of the split “between fundamentalist faith and mainstream theology” the evangelical insistence that “biblical authority should be grounded upon its infallibility and inerrancy and defined in these terms” (Fundamentalism, p. 163). The fundamentalist views “the attack on the verbal form of the Bible as part of an argument that Christianity as a revealed religion was not true” (p. 165). That fundamentalism is not much amiss in this claim should be clear from Barr’s alternative, which forfeits not only the propositional truth of the Bible, but the propositional truth of Jesus’ teaching as well, in the interest of a merely functional view seeking internal volitional response. The outcome, as Barr sees it, is that “the concept of heresy has ceased to be functionally useful for the evaluation of present-day theological opinions” (p. 197).

Barr rejects the evangelical emphasis that Jesus teaches “eternally correct information,” as postulating a “superhuman and inhuman” Jesus. Instead, Barr insists, “Jesus’ teaching is time-bound and situation bound.… What he taught was not eternal truth valid for all times and situations, but personal address concerned with the situation of Jesus and his hearers at that time.” His teaching is “functional” in character (ibid., p. 171).

By viewing Jesus’ teaching functionally and noncognitively, Barr sweeps aside any decisive appeal to Jesus’ references to Old Testament authorships and to historical factualities. More than that, Barr erodes in principle the objective truth value of everything that Jesus taught. By extension he also undermines cognitive aspects of the doctrine of scriptural inspiration, since divine revelation would hardly assure the permanent validity of what prophets and apostles teach if it did not do so in respect to Jesus’ teaching.

Barr is fully aware of the implications of this view. Divine inspiration of the Bible is not, he tells us, “the source from which authority is derived.… What came in the end to be written ‘as scripture’ is recognized as that people’s intended expression of what had happened to them in that contact with God” (ibid., p. 299).

Barr contends that deference to the Bible as an authoritative rule of doctrinal conformity or of heresy—echoed by Judaism, Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy as well as by evangelical Christianity—occurs only marginally in the Scriptures, specifically in Deuteronomy and Ezra, and in late New Testament epistles. “In neither Testament is it at the center of the religion in the time of maximum growth and creativity; but in the canonical Testaments as they lie before us as finished books, it is evident enough” (ibid., p. 182).

Barr wants us “to see the Bible in a different way” that looks critically at “those elements in the Bible which can lead and have led to fundamentalism.” He fixes attention on what he calls the “deeper-laid, more basic, and more creative strata within the Bible itself” (ibid., p. 183). “It is not fundamentalism, but the main stream of modern theology, including … critical biblical scholarship, that really stands in continuity with … the Bible, the Fathers, the Reformers” (p. 184). Barr says that “to argue and expound this in full” would exceed his limits of space and personal competence. But he refers us to G. Ebeling’s view that the nineteenth-century critical method perpetuates the stance of the sixteenth-century Reformers and that the critical method has “a deep inner connexion with the Reformers’ doctrine of justification by faith” (Word and Faith, p. 55). Neither of Ebeling’s claims is incontrovertible; both bear marks of theological rationalization (cf. Carl F. H. Henry, “Justification by Ignorance: A Neo-Protestant Motif?” pp. 10–15).

It is therefore not radical or modernist theology but fundamentalist-evangelical theology that Barr’s community of faith, in which the Bible wields only a functional rather a cognitive authority, seeks to put on the defensive. The new cognitive authority to which all must pay homage is the gnosis of certain biblical critics whose sporadic “inspired” insights now displace the sporadic inner “revelations” for which neoorthodoxy recently pleaded.

“Far from it being true,” says Barr, “that the fundamentalists, sure of holding the true and ancient Christian faith, can act in judgment on the rest of Christianity, the question for the churches is how far they can recognize fundamentalist attitudes, doctrines and interpretations as coming within the range that is acceptable in the church” (Fundamentalism, p. 344). All range of nonevangelical opinion and attitude are tolerable, while Barr singles out only fundamentalist views for exclusion. He confesses that “there is no formula which will tell us whether a person, or a church, that is fundamentalist is working positively for the church as a whole, or working negatively and destructively against it. That must depend on persons and groups, the content and expression of their faith, their understanding for others and their vision of God’s work in the world.” But Barr’s intolerance of fundamentalists is as patently clear as his liberality toward biblical critics hostile to their views. “Fundamentalism never sought or intended to preserve something” that would serve “the church as a whole”; the church must not credit any achievement to fundamentalists, he insists, without simultaneously crediting those they most bitterly opposed, particularly nonevangelical teachers whom fundamentalists sometimes drove from their teaching posts. He deplores the fact that nonevangelical forces do not more tightly control university posts in biblical studies filled by evangelicals (pp. 102–3). And in a closing note freighted with inconsistency Barr, after stripping the Bible of cognitive authority, exemplifies how functionalists can deploy their view of Scripture to accredit a privately preferred brand of theology: “the liberal quest is in principle a fully legitimate form of Christian obedience in the church, and one that has deep roots … even within the Bible itself” (p. 344).

Barr’s broad and tireless use of the term fundamentalism should not deflect the reader from seeing that Barr objects not simply to an extreme aberration of biblical Christianity, but to historic evangelical orthodoxy as well.

There is room for evangelicals in the ecumenical community of the church, Barr comments somewhat magnanimously, provided they do not link evangelical faith with “a certain kind of intellectual apologetic” (ibid., p. 339). Their alienation with mainstream Christianity, he declares, otherwise “becomes nearly absolute,” and renders “almost impossible … compromise with other currents of theology, and most of all biblical interpretation” (ibid.).

Barr wishfully seeks to assimilate fundamentalism to a functional, experiential and pragmatic view of inspiration. He affirms that its broad-based belief in the truth of the Bible derives actually not from an intellectualist view of scriptural authority, but rather from the circumstance that “every portion” seems in experience to speak to the fundamentalist about God and “to bring him a living experience of God in Jesus Christ” (ibid., p. 76). He speculates that most evangelicals, despite their theologians and commentators, regard the Bible as authoritative because it functions that way in their personal experience (ibid., p. 270). Reorientation of their doctrine along lines of the functional view, he stresses, would accommodate a more relaxed attitude toward error in the Bible. Yet they resist such a move because they “would have to give up their mode of arguing that the Bible is inerrant, and infallible because Christ and the apostles said so,” and in principle would accommodate neoorthodox theology, acquiesce in biblical criticism, and require a new philosophical perspective. Barr could not have expressed better some of the consequences of the functional theory of biblical impact, even if he somewhat understates the evangelical case for the orthodox alternative. Yet he concedes that fundamentalists undeniably present a didactic case for inspiration, and insist that Jesus’ view of Scripture should be the Christian’s view (p. 76). But because they emphasize cognitive considerations, Barr charges, fundamentalists unwittingly align themselves with “liberalism,” since they derive their view from what is believed to be the biblical teaching rather than from kerygmatic events that Barr prefers to stress.

Barr deplores the evangelical “apparatus of argument” that replaces faith by “dependence on rational use of evidence” and “in place of the religious functioning of the Bible … takes, as primary guarantee of the authority of scripture, the absence of error, especially in its historical details” (ibid., p. 339). He holds that fundamentalists completely ignore “the complex and indirect character of Jesus’ self-presentation in the gospels” (p. 77). In deference to neoorthodoxy and in the interest of his functionalist theory of biblical authority, he insists that neither Jesus nor the Bible makes direct claims (p. 78).

We should not be thrown off track by Barr’s caveats against rationalism and proofs: “It is striking that a religious form which places so much stress on personal faith in Christ,” he comments, “is made dependent on a rationalist proof of the inerrancy of the Bible” (ibid., p. 339).

A sound reply to the functionalist view is that it can provide no objective reasons why any portion of Scripture ought to sustain a living experience of God in Jesus Christ, or why such a living experience is to be found in Jesus Christ alone, or even that God, whom Barr affirms, truly lives. Evangelical Christianity rightly emphasizes that the Bible functions as it does in human life because there is persuasive evidence for the ontological reality of God, for the authority of the Bible as divinely inspired Scripture, and for Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah of Old Testament promise. Had liberalism and neoorthodoxy alike remained faithful to these verities, they would not have gone the way of all rubbish.

Specially noteworthy is Barr’s redefinition of biblical authority in terms of function in the life of the community. He projects the Christian community as one in which the Bible no longer functions epistemologically as an objectively authoritative carrier of revealed doctrinal truths, and in which religious faith dispenses with rational evidence. “However justified the evangelical assurances are, they cannot provide a reason for exclusiveness” (ibid., p. 340), Barr emphasizes.

But if that be so, God and the devil become bedfellows, and Christ and antichrist as well. The fact that some modern theologians already consider Scripture and myth coterminous can then be hailed as the first happy turn on this awesome road. Ecumenical inclusivism here welcomes evangelical Christianity only on conditions so exclusive that it loses the right to call itself either Christian, ecumenical, or inclusive. For it was not modern evangelical Christianity that first defined itself “against all others” (ibid., p. 341), but revealed religion, the faith of Yahweh (Exod. 20:3) and of Jesus Christ his only Son (John 1:18; Acts 4:12).

Barr indicates that arguments from the side of historic evangelicalism are unlikely any longer to “carry conviction” to nonevangelicals. Yet he concedes that it is “perfectly possible that conservative evangelicals might produce a set of intellectual arguments that would seriously disturb mainstream theology and biblical study” (ibid., p. 338), although he thinks these would need to be novel rather than traditional. But revelation and reason remain the best armory truth has; if nonevangelical theology is undisturbed by its own logical inconsistencies, then its doom is sealed. Barr may postulate an eschatology of the emergence of the new that successive generations are to welcome as manifestations of the kingdom of God, and in which “such things as the rise of liberal theology or the rise of biblical criticism at the least may be positive elements in the movement of the world process towards its consummation” (ibid., p. 340). But he adduces no basis for confidently characterizing any prospective development whatever as positive other than its congeniality to his own preferences. His notion, moreover, that mainstream theology and nonevangelical theology are synonymous provokes the question of what critical legerdemain enables a functionalist to decognitize an evangelical faith and then objectively to vindicate a nonevangelical alternative?

No reader should miss the fact that Barr’s regression to a Scripture not uniquely inspired but error-prone in all its concerns leads him to call for theological revaluation of the very nature and activity of God. Barr would abandon not only divine authority as the referent upon which all else depends, but also divine revelation as the initial emphasis in the statement of Christian beliefs (ibid., p. 288). One might be tempted to criticize severely Barr’s reluctance to retain divine authority and revelation as the decisive center of the case for Christian theism. But, theologically deplorable as this forfeiture is, Barr is to be commended because, more clearly than many others who adduce a functional view of scriptural authority, Barr here seems aware that no persuasive case can any longer be mounted for even the most fundamental Christian beliefs merely on this functional basis.


Is the Bible Literally True?

Modern theories of religious language and higher critical attacks on the historical trustworthiness of the Bible discourage some Christians from speaking of the literal truth of the Scriptures. If one is unsure of the factuality of certain biblical details, or of the meaningfulness of religious referents, one will obviously hesitate to speak of the literal truth of the Bible.

Evangelical Protestants are frequently caricatured as literalists of unimaginative mentality, who treat even biblical anthropomorphisms as strict prose and are duly embarrased if one will only recite the obviously figurative elements in the Bible.

To be sure, evangelical Christianity resists any imposition of cryptic meanings upon Scripture and understands words in their basic, usual sense and not allegorically. Clement of Alexandria, it should be remembered, held that nothing in Scripture is to be accepted in its literal sense; the real intention of Scripture, he said, is allegorical. Disregarding all recognized methods of interpretation, he considered the most far-fetched interpretations of Scripture to be the most probable (Stromateis, VI, c. 16; V. c. 6). Origen then systematized the allegorical method and developed the principles of allegorical interpretation. So fantastic were some of his views that others have suggested—to quote George Duncan Barry—that Origen was “a master of ‘Biblical alchemy’ ” (The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture: A Study in the Literature of the First Five Centuries, p. 85). According to his theory, the purpose of the Spirit in the prophets and of the Word in the apostles was to conceal the truth and thus to prod discovery of an underlying meaning (Philocalia, c. i, XV). Unperturbed by champions of literal interpretation, and well aware of what his critics were saying (“Some one who hears me will perhaps say, ‘What does this babbler mean?’ ” In Leviticum, xvi), Origen nonetheless clung fanatically to his allegorical interpretations. He and his followers found in the texts meanings that could only have been borrowed from other sources, and typology that could only be derived from imagination (cf. Charles Gibb, Christian Platonists of Alexandria, pp. 148–49). Fortunately their devout spirit preserved them from the worst distortions. Jerome later wrote that heretics “produce their witness from the most pure fount of the Scriptures, but they do not interpret them in the sense in which they were written. They are set upon reading their own meaning into the simple words of the Church’s Books” (Epistola LIII, ad Paulinum, li). Yet Jerome himself, although he warns against allegory run riot, was also prone to mystical interpretation.

Theodore of Mopsuestia (350–428) not only exposed Origen’s type of allegorist school but also championed an uncompromising literalism that focused attention on the historical truth of the narrative. As Barry notes, Theodore granted “that the histories of the Bible contain spiritual lessons”; but “these” he said, “must be capable of being deduced from the histories, and not be arbitrarily imposed upon them” (Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, p. 116). Augustine’s view was that all scriptural narratives are statements of actual fact unless they are quite obviously figurative. His rule of interpretation was: “Whatever there is in the Word of God that cannot, when taken literally, be referred either to purity of life or to soundness of doctrine, you may set down as figurative” (De Doctrina Christiana, iii. 10).

Evangelical consensus today would generally agree with Harold Lindsell, who says, “All that is meant by saying one takes the Bible literally is that one believes what it purports to say. This means that figures of speech are regarded as figures of speech. No evangelical supposes that when Jesus said, ‘I am the door,’ He meant He was a literal door” (The Battle for the Bible, p. 37). As Bernard Ramm writes: “The ‘literal’ meaning of a word is the basic, customary, social designation of that word.… To interpret literally (in the sense) is nothing more or less than to interpret in terms of normal, usual designation” (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, pp. 90–91).

The rule among evangelicals is to follow the natural meaning of a Scripture text. In his Aids to Reflection, Samuel Taylor Coleridge declared himself “long impressed with the wisdom of the rule, now, I believe universally adopted, at least in courts of law, that, in construing all written instruments, the grammatical and ordinary sense of the words is to be adhered to, unless that would lead to some absurdity, or some repugnance, or inconsistency with the rest of the instrument.… To retain the literal sense, wherever the harmony of Scripture permits, and reason does not forbid, is ever the honester, and, nine times in ten, the more rational and pregnant interpretation” (cited by William J. Martin, “Special Revelation as Objective,” p. 70). In brief, evangelical Christianity espouses grammatical-historical interpretation rather than alternatives that attach to the Bible passages exotic meanings that depend upon reader decision. The Protestant Reformers strenuously resisted allegorical exegesis that encourages looking beyond the sensus litteralis to some obscure meaning to which the text is supposed to point or witness. Calvin saw satanic influence at play in the notion that the “fertility” of a text determines its true meaning and nurtures a hidden import (Commentary on Galatians, 4:22).

Berkouwer notes that a hidden apologetic motivation is what often underlies declaring the literal text to be offensive and what proffers a fanciful “deeper” meaning to resolve supposed contradictions and conflicts (The Person of Christ, p. 120). Neo-Protestant writers who deplore evangelical literalism often champion a sophisticated kind of allegorical interpretation. For Rudolf Bultmann, for example, the resurrection of the crucified Jesus was not an event in history but an experience internal to the believer. Recent dialectical theologians have similarly stripped biblical redemptive acts of their objective historical significance and have relocated them instead in some vague realm of superhistory in accessible to historical inquiry and known only in a decision of faith.

James Barr gives us a rather good definition of literality. “To understand the text literally is to suppose that the referents are just as stated in the text, the language of the text being understood in a direct sense.… Where the text in question is a historical text, the literal interpretation may also be called the historical sense” (The Bible in the Modern World, pp. 171–72). Barr remarks that “a more literal and historical reading” of Scripture “can easily elicit a biblical legalism, which,” he adds, “has been the curse of biblically-conservative Protestant streams such as Calvinism” (p. 129). Whether Barr’s judgment on Calvinism is fair is highly questionable, but he concedes that “legalism in one form or another is endemic to Christianity and is stimulated by many of the misunderstandings of it.…” What Barr seems to confuse with legalism is zeal for the truth of the Bible. But zeal for its untruth is what more likely than not produces legalistic intolerance of certain theological positions. Barr criticizes those who make acceptance of the Bible their personal priority (p. 130), whereas priority for what Scripture comprehensively teaches best guards one against a legalistic outlook.

Yet Barr rightly concedes that “the assertion of the primacy of the literal or historical sense … has been an immensely liberating influence in the history of exegesis; this,” he says, “is commonly forgotten or ignored by those who say that it is wrong to ‘take the Bible literally’ ” (ibid., p. 172).

If critics of literalism mean only that all words are symbols, and that all religious language is therefore symbolic, then evangelical Christians have no dispute with them. Words are conventions: an American goes to a meat market for a chop; the Korean, on the other hand, finds what he calls a chop (a kind of name seal) in a stationery store. But if so-called nonliteralists hold that, because of their conventional or symbolic nature, words can convey no literal truth, then their thesis is self-refuting, since if no literal truth can be conveyed because words are symbolic, it is impossible to communicate even this literal truth about the nature of truth. Nonsymbolic communication is humanly impossible; without words or signs others are unsure of our meaning. If all we mean by language as being symbolic is that all words are symbolic, then religious language is no more threatened than any other language; if literal truth can be conveyed anywhere, it can be conveyed by religious language as readily as by language about nonreligious reality; if literal truth is precluded because religious language is symbolic, then it is in principle precluded likewise in other realms of discourse.

Wilbur Marshall Urban contends that completely nonsymbolic truth is impossible and that literal truth is nonexistent. He writes: “Strictly speaking, there is no such thing as literal truth in any absolute sense, for there is no such thing as an absolute correspondence between expression and that which is expressed … and any expression in language contains some symbolic element.… There are no strictly literal sentences” (Language and Reality, pp. 382–83, 433). But to obscure the distinction between literal and figurative or nonsymbolic and symbolic language not only departs from the customary usage but also makes nonsense of Urban’s own representations as well as any other. What underlies Urban’s view is the theory that words somehow must “correspond” (and can do so only in a limited way) to their objects. As Gordon Clark points out, Urban’s difficulties rise in part from the notion that words bear some sort of intuitive meaning-relationship to their objects (Religion, Reason and Revelation, pp. 128 ff.). But words are, after all, conventional signs. The same object can be accurately designated by persons speaking different languages and using totally different terms, and the same term can be used in the same language for a variety of agreed referents. In English dog designates the same creature to which Germans refer as Hund, while the term lemon may refer to a citrus fruit, a constantly malfunctioning automobile, or a caustic person. Words are used by conventional agreement and the sense they bear derives from their logical context or universe of discourse. Urban may insist that truth is necessarily inexpressible in literal categories and that nonsymbolic truth is impossible. But no less brilliant philosophers like A. N. Whitehead and Gordon Clark, who hold totally divergent metaphysical and epistemological views, insist contrariwise that truth is expressed most ideally in nonsymbolic categories. In any event, no persuasive argument can be mounted for the symbolic nature of all knowledge—theological knowledge included—merely on the ground that words are symbolic in nature.

The use of the Bible as literature, that is, as a noninformational story or myth that bears a different kind of meaning and value from factual reports about referents in the outside world, is sometimes justified by appealing to Jesus’ use of parables, and then by extending this line of thought to the Books of Jonah and of Job, and next to the creation narrative, until finally in our time Bultmann applies it to the Gospel accounts from Jesus’ birth to his resurrection. In many churches a ritualistic use of the Bible lends itself readily to retention of the biblical phrasing but subordination of a text’s literal import to some inner subjective value. Barr notes: “The liturgical or devotional use of the Bible appears to accentuate the idea of its reapplicability to new situations, the notion of it as a treasury of imagery usable again and again, a sort of divinely given poetry in which the church of all ages can express itself and’ understand itself. But this kind of usage can leave it unclear just how far the biblical stories depend for their value … on objective external facts to which they refer. The more one hears of the exodus of Israel from Egypt as part of the liturgy for the baptism of infants in water, the less one is concerned to ask whether any Israelites ever came out of Egypt and, if they did, how they got out” (The Bible in the Modern World, pp. 58–59).

It is true, of course, that some of the Scriptures, most conspicuously the Psalms, originated in a liturgical context; other portions (e.g., 1 Cor. 15:3 ff.) reflect what was repeated in the worshiping community. Such regular liturgical use in no way implied, however, a noninformational use undermining Scripture’s claim to cognitive validity. There is no logical support for Austin Farrer’s and Lionel Thornton’s notion that the biblical writers provide us with poetic and symbolic images to be grasped by the imagination but not with intellectual propositions to be rationally appropriated. (See Austin Farrer, The Glass of Vision, and Lionel Thornton, The Dominion of Christ.)

When John B. Magee writes that “it is no more possible to understand religious language with a literal mind than it would be to carry on a conversation in a foreign tongue that one has not studied” (Religion and Modern Man, p. 362), he betrays a bias against the objective truths of revelation. Magee agrees with Farrer’s comment: “Exact prose abstracts from reality, symbol represents it” (A Rebirth of Images, p. 21). But Farrer is inaccurate on both counts; if what he says is true then he could not tell us in prose what is really the case and could only “represent” it (= what?) in poetry. Magee writes: “We cannot speak literally of God” but “we can communicate meaningfully with and about him” through metaphor (Religion and Modern Man, p. 363). But we are merely chasing the wind if God is only metaphorically real, personal, transcendent, and, to use Magee’s pejorative phrasing, “unless these great metaphors degenerate into literalism” (p. 364).

Another modern, David Stroh, sifts out and arbitrarily categorizes as “metaphorical” biblical propositions about the supernatural and metaphysical, while he insists that biblical propositions about historical and empirical facets of the Christian faith are “absolutely vital”: “In arguing as we have for the cognitivity of metaphorical claims we have not lost sight of the fact that theology intends to make truth-claims via propositions of various sorts. While we suggest that some of these propositions are best judged as approximations of, or as examples of, the metaphorical sort of cognitive claim, some of the claims made in propositional theology are historical, and empirical. It would be both foolish and wrong to try to gerrymand all the truth-claims, even all the essential ones, made in propositional theology into the province of metaphor. The historicity of some of the claims, their ‘facticity,’ is absolutely vital to the faith as a whole. If there were, in fact, no Jesus of Nazareth then, it seems to me, the rest of the claims are cut adrift or simply dissolved” (“Propositional Theology and Metaphor: A Study of the Nature of Theological Discourse,” p. 211). Stroh’s distinction clearly does not rest on the internal biblical witness which, after all, is as much concerned for truths about God as about historical redemptive events; his approach, rather, is an effort to adjust theologically uncomfortable views to modern theory. Robert C. Neville raises just such a point in his Harvard Theological Review article “Can God Create Men and Address Them Too?” (p. 604): “The doctrine that God addresses men through the gospel,” he says, “is less easily denied on dogmatic grounds. But it can be played down by calling it a metaphorical expression of something much less human-like. Instead of claiming that what is revealed in God’s address is God doing what he says he is doing, it can be argued that the address reveals the depth of Being, more profoundly than anything categorizable in terms of addresses to men.” Theistic revelation, it must be remembered, preserves the distinction between transcendent truth and falsity in respect to the supernatural.

Barr notes that the effort “to validate for us an approach through images and symbols as the essential mode of appreciation of the Bible” reflects an unjustifiable and simplistic attempt “to pick out and absolutize the poetic and symbolic character of the Bible as the element which is the bearer of revelation” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 69). But even Barr’s criticism fails to locate the essential character of revelation in its conveyance of authentic information about God and his purposes. Barr states that “to localize the authority of the Bible uniquely in the imagery might be as deleterious as to localize it uniquely in the theological propositions or in the historical events reported” (ibid.). But such counterbalancing of what is historical, cognitive and symbolic leaves us unsure of the truth-significance of many central concerns of the biblical revelation.

Dale Vree curiously insists that given the nature of religious language, which he declares to be nonliteral, orthodox Christian doctrines are as true as “true” can be. Vree affirms that such fundamental doctrines as original sin, the incarnation, and the Trinity involve logical contradiction, and those who would regard these doctrines as yielding literal truth about God he considers heretical (On Synthesizing Marxism and Christianity, p. 16). But in that event the early Christians and most of the church fathers were heretics, since they did not by their emphasis on the paradoxical nature of doctrines like the incarnation and Trinity mean that Christians lack objective theological truth about the nature and personality of God. Vree presumes to tell us literally that we cannot know the literal truth about God, while he labels as heretics those who consider historic Christian beliefs to be literally true.

According to George S. Hendry, if truth about God were a human possession it could be misused; what precludes our misuse of truth about God, he affirms, is our nonpossession of it. Few persons would deny that truth about God can be misused—as can truth about anything else—but that possibility hardly supplies conclusive proof that man cannot possess truth about God. The question, rather, is whether the mistaken notion that human beings have no truth about God violates the teaching of Scripture and therefore itself involves a misuse of truth about God. To deny the objective intelligibility and linguistic expressibility of God’s revelation is to misinterpret the Bible.

While evangelicals insist that theological truth is true in the same sense that any and all truth is true, they do not ignore the difference between literary genres. To imply that evangelicals are wooden-headed literalists who cannot distinguish between literary types is a resort to ridicule rather than to reason. No evangelical takes literally what biblical writers explicitly declare to be figurative (cf. Rev. 11:8) or what they portray metaphorically as, for example, the Isaian statement that “the trees of the field shall clap their hands” (55:12, kjv). In no way does the claim for the literal truth of the biblical revelation mean that prose is the only vehicle of truth or, on the other hand, that truth cannot be conveyed by poetry. That Scripture contains metaphors, similes, parables and verbal techniques such as hyperbole in no way excludes the truth of what the Bible teaches. Metaphor is used for drama and color and not because the truth strains the resources of prose. Some literary techniques more than others sharpen the communication of truth by rousing the imagination, stirring the emotions, and stimulating the will. Prose does not wholly lack such potentialities. Poetry can usually be restated in prose form; prose is a kind of linguistic shorthand for poetic expression. Such statements as “the Lord hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations” (Isa. 52:10, kjv) or “the eyes of the Lord are in every place” (Prov. 15:3, kjv) can with little effort be seen to mean that Yahweh will accomplish his sovereign purpose internationally, and that nothing is hid from God’s omniscience.

Like the man in the street and the scholar in ordinary conversation, the Bible uses everyday phenomenological language, as in references to the sun rising or setting. When Jesus referred to the size of the mustard seed (“the smallest of all seeds,” Matt. 13:32, rsv; cf. 17:20), he had in mind neither twentieth-century scientific measurements nor a manual of the flora of Palestine; he was speaking in terms of his hearers’ everyday experience. The mustard seed proverbially represented something miniscule that grew into something strong and towering, a plant in which birds actually nested. No less can mountains and cities unyielding to even modern technology crumble under a mustard seed of faith; too often critics choke on this very seed.

Barr contends that the biblical use of parable precludes such doctrines as the inerrancy and literal truth of Scripture. He asks rhetorically: “Why should God not have inspired a scripture with errors in it, through which he might nonetheless truly communicate with men? The Gospels themselves, after all, are full of parables, which are fictions” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 16). Yet Jesus frequently used parables to communicate one striking truth. Barr’s concept of Scripture as true yet error-prone divine communication is as obscure as a flying saucer.

Several current arguments are used to support the view that theological language cannot literally tell the truth about God.

1. Human language is anthropomorphic, it is said, and hence incapable of providing information about God as he is in himself. As Jack Rogers puts it, God’s revelational communication is incarnational, that is, is accommodated to human concepts and words. Rogers criticizes the Presbyterian theologian Charles Hodge for insisting that we have true knowledge of God as he is on the basis of divine disclosure (“The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority,” p. 40). What leads Rogers to insist on an errant Scripture that nonetheless adequately conveys knowledge of “God’s saving will for us in our imperfect forms of thought and speech” is that “God condescended to reveal himself” in “human forms,” that is, in “the language and thought forms of limited human beings” (p. 45). To support his advocacy of an errant Bible and his view that Christians have no ontological knowledge of God in himself, Rogers appeals to Augustine, Calvin and others who, in fact, hold quite different views.

Calvin does indeed consider biblical references to God’s “repenting” as anthropomorphic; in these references we see God “not as he is in himself, but according to our perception of him” (Institutes, Vol. I, xvii, 13). But in view of Calvin’s many explicit claims for genuine knowledge of God on the basis of divine revelation we cannot from this passage deduce that Calvin rejects human possession of literal truth about God; only someone approaching Calvin with an alien view of religious knowledge could reach such a conclusion.

If what one means by anthropomorphism of human thought and language is that human concepts and words are human, then the point is, in fact, too trivial to mention. How else can human beings think and speak except in human thoughts and words? It is quite another matter, and a very serious one, however, to use this approach for rejecting the human possession of literal truth about God, including revealed knowledge of God as he is in himself. The Bible insists that man was created in the image of God for God’s fellowship and service. To say that because of the limitations of creatureliness we can know God only in human concepts that deprive us of knowledge of God as he truly is gives the lie to Scripture and makes God in man’s image. Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi’s justification of speech about God in human terms on the ground that God assertedly “theomorphized in making man, therefore man must perforce anthropomorphize” is somewhat of an overstatement. Helmut Gollwitzer rightly emphasizes that, in view of God’s approach to man, “the fruitless effort to evade anthropomorphism by means of abstraction, or by keeping as consistently as possible to ‘non-objective’ talk of God, has become superfluous—and not only so, but plain wrong” (The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith, p. 152). The fact that the invisible and immaterial God entered the realm of human existence by incarnation as the divine God-man is an awesome development in the progressive self-manifestation of God; it was no longer merely a matter of anthropomorphism to speak of the eyes and arms and hands of the Lord.

The prime issue is therefore not whether human concepts and words are human, but whether—since man was made in God’s image and God addresses man in revelation—our concepts and words can convey reliable information about God and his will. Do our conceptions of God in all cases originate with man?

The Apostle Paul leaves no doubt that in universal general revelation God conveys transcendent knowledge of himself that discloses his “eternal power and deity” and that in Scripture we have objective information about God and his purposes. From the first, God by creation fashioned man for conceptual-verbal knowledge of himself. The human nature of our concepts and language, divinely intended for man in contrast with the beasts, is precisely what makes possible man’s knowledge of literal truth about the living God. Man’s sinful rebellion against God unquestionably clouds and frustrates this knowledge. But the Bible insists nonetheless that man even in sin cannot escape answerability to God for sure knowledge of his Maker and Lord. Scripture, moreover, publishes divine redemptive revelation and confronts us objectively with a comprehensive disclosure of God’s nature and will.

The problem of anthropomorphism is frequently raised in a more restricted way, but is nonetheless so formulated as to dispute our possession of literal truth about God. The fact that the Bible employs a great deal of pictorial language about God—that is, uses many anthropomorphisms in speaking of God—is held to militate against possession of any literal truth concerning God.

Is anthropomorphism really an embarrassment to truth when we speak of God? Even the Septuagint, by its disposition to minimize and discard many of the Old Testament anthropomorphic statements, reflects a certain embarrassment in the presence of biblical anthropomorphism. Philosophers try to rid the discussion of God of all anthropomorphism, and to substitute instead such abstract conceptions as first cause, supreme good, pure being and “Being-itself” (Tillich); but such efforts, while professing to preserve divine personality from degrading human attributions, succeed only in losing the personality of God. Tillich defends “anthropomorphic symbols” as “adequate for speaking of God religiously” but then declares that “theology … must … interpret them in abstract ontological terms” (Systematic Theology, 1:268–69); for Tillich this means dismissing biblical anthropomorphism and divine personality in one and the same stroke. Numerous early twentieth-century philosophers discarded all talk of divine personality as prephilosophical naïveté, and looked to secular philosophy to expound the doctrine of God in superpersonal or subpersonal or impersonal terms. In such an approach, a scripturally unapproved anthropomorphism—that is, conforming God to human conceptions—actually replaces a biblically approved one so that God no longer survives as the living, acting, speaking personal deity of the Bible.

Surely the biblical writers did not think it was inappropriate under some circumstances to speak of God in human forms and ways, that is, to speak as if God has eyes and ears and arms and hands. We must allow the scriptural revelation to stipulate what anthropomorphism is appropriate to the knowledge of God and what is inappropriate. In Gollwitzer’s words, it is not a case of “avoiding anthropomorphism as much as possible, but only of (a) examining what kind of anthropomorphic talk is appropriate, and (b) of leaving no doubt about the ‘improperness’ of such talk” (The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith, p. 152). But on no account are we to infer that whatever anthropomorphic language we choose to use of God is therefore divinely licensed. Even the church’s hymnody has, in the main, shown restraint in the use of anthropomorphism, reflecting the fact that Scripture alone authorizes how we may properly speak anthropomorphically of God. Not religious meditation nor even prophetic-apostolic contemplation but God alone in his revelation explicitly establishes the proper limits of anthropomorphism.

Scripture is, in fact, highly discriminate in the anthropomorphisms it employs of God. The Old Testament, for example, nowhere attributes sexual organs to God despite the fact that the Near Eastern cultural milieu of the religion of the Hebrews abounded with fertility cults. William F. Albright comments that the Old Testament ascribes to Yahweh “none of the human frailties that make the Olympian deities of Greece such charming poetic figures and such unedifying examples. All the human characteristics of Israel’s deity were exalted” (From the Stone Age to Christianity, p. 265). The Old Testament likewise avoids theriomorphism or representation of deity in animal form, another practice prevalent in the surrounding culture. Noteworthy, too, is the fact that while Scripture speaks anthropomorphically of the eyes and ears and arms and hands of God, it reserves the use of the term head for the relationship of Jesus Christ to the church. Only in the context of the incarnation, and in reference to Jesus Christ, does some terminology that the Old Testament does not employ of Yahweh gain an appropriate use. The New Testament speaks of God as Christ’s head and of Christ as man’s head (1 Cor. 11:3; cf. neb).

Many modern theologians and philosophers consider biblical anthropomorphism to be a crass, primitive way of speaking about God that requires replacement by more advanced evolutionary insights, and for them scriptural allusions to “the arm of the Lord” reflect an inferior materialistic outlook calling for a more spiritual alternative. Their complaint fails to recognize, however, that no book more than the Bible insists that God is Spirit. God is not to be confused in whole or in part with the universe; as Creator, he is ontologically other than man and the world. It was pantheistic thinkers who represented the human mind as part of God’s mind, and who considered even man’s body an aspect of God; Judeo-Christian religion, on the other hand, while emphasizing that humans are created in the divine image, insisted on human finitude and fallenness, and never intended anthropomorphism to be taken literally. Edwyn Bevan observes in his Gifford Lectures that “if we leave out of account the peculiar development of pantheistic mysticism in India, seen already in the Upanishads … it cannot be denied that the idea of God in the Old Testament … is less anthropomorphic than the idea of God in any other religion of the ancient world, till we come to the philosophical transformation of the religious tradition in Greece” (Symbolism and Belief, p. 20). Yet Old Testament revelatory religion nowhere approves speculative philosophical pantheism or idealism, and because God has no visible form, strenuously prohibits making images of Yahweh.

For all that, biblical religion does include anthropomorphic language to communicate literal truth about God. Even Bevan, while critical of the anthropomorphism of Scripture, acknowledges that figuratively presented truth can be grasped without great difficulty in nonfigurative statements; expressions like “seeing the hand of God” in a particular event, he says, may serve the cause of truth no less effectively than the intellectual proposition that the event came about for God’s purpose (ibid., p. 259).

The biblical passages that express Yahweh’s change of mind concerning his actions toward mankind (e.g., Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11) have often been singled out as clear instances of primitive anthropomorphism incompatible with the higher scriptural view of God. But Jörg Jeremias emphasizes that Yahweh’s change of will is not a recurring feature implying that vacillation is a divine attribute; rather, such representations are limited, and in each instance God repents but once (Die Reue Gottes: Aspekte alttestamentlicher Gottesvorstellung). Jeremias thinks the biblical narrators projected the notion of God’s “repenting” in order to rationalize singular events of divine punishment. But this approach introduces subjective considerations into the Old Testament that would bear also on its other theological representations.

When the Old Testament writers speak of human repentance, they routinely use the term shūbh, but they use the term nāḥam of God in almost all forty of its uses. By depicting God as repenting in response to man’s genuine reformation or as only finally inflicting delayed penalties (Gen. 6:6; Jon. 3:10), the biblical writers emphasize the fact that two historical alternatives are always open to the sovereign God of creation and history and judgment; in other words, the course of events is in the final analysis God’s decision and determination, even when that course rests upon the obedience or disobedience of his creatures.

2. Another argument deployed against the literal truth of biblical teaching is that all language and knowledge are culturally conditioned and are therefore relative.

Scriptural revelation was indeed communicated at a particular time in history and in the particular language of a particular people. The Old Testament was written mainly in Hebrew, the New Testament mainly in Greek. Every language reflects its cultural context and, in many ways, cultural contingency as well. The idiom of modern science, for example, would have been almost as enigmatic to our great grandparents as was Babylonian cuneiform to those who just happened on it; indeed, the idiom of modern science baffles many contemporaries.

Barr states and somewhat criticizes this emphasis that cultural relativism erodes fixed biblical meaning: “The Bible, like all other literary works, is dependent on … a plurality of cultural milieus in which it was written. Our modern culture is different, and it is not possible that … the Bible can have the same meaning as it had in its own cultural milieu [but] in our time may have a different meaning, or indeed may have no meaning at all” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 39). Barr rightly observes that the thesis of cultural relativism “appears to encapsulate man within his own contemporary culture and leave him with no bridge by which he can communicate with any other culture” (p. 46). His counteremphasis that cultures are “not homogeneous monads but are mixtures” is not, however, an adequate defense of transcultural revelation, since it leaves in doubt the timeless and unchanging meaning of religious truth.

Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote: “It is impossible that a Book written two or three thousand years ago should be used in the twentieth century a.d. without having some of its forms of thought and speech translated into modern categories. When, therefore, a man says, I believe in the immortality of the soul but not in the resurrection of the flesh, I believe in the victory of God on earth but not in the physical return of Jesus … only superficial dogmatism can deny that the man believes in the Bible” (The Modern Use of the Bible, p. 129). Fosdick obviously exalts his own beliefs as normatively true and demeans those of the inspired writers as transitional and false. But the idealistic premises of Fosdick’s generation are no more scripturally authentic than the radically naturalistic premises of our own generation, premises which deny even the immortality of the soul and the reality of God. If Fosdick assumes the culture-dependency of all religious propositions, he can hardly exempt his own. Worse yet, he implies that the very forms of human thought are impermanent and changing. If that is indeed the case, then not even the law of contradiction is universally valid, and all of Fosdick’s contentions are destined to become nonsense; in short, skepticism becomes the final order of the day.

For all its historical particularity, human language is not merely an evolutionary deposit incapable of conveying truth that transcends the cultural context. Indeed, if language were incapable of doing so, we could not communicate even this information. In fact, we could not express in language anything at all that is unchangingly and universally true. Yet we know that modern scientists readily communicate their ideas across cultural barriers, even if they must sometimes escape from the communist world in order to do so. Russians, Chinese, Koreans and others have no problem learning the formulas of modern physics and the foreign languages in which implications are expounded for nuclear bombing and space shuttling. If scientists can communicate their ideas across cultural barriers, God certainly can do so.

Divine revelation is assuredly conveyed in the conceptual thought and language of a particular people. But God’s revelation is addressed not only through the thought and language of those to whom it comes, but also to their thought and language. So it was with God’s disclosure to Hebrew-speaking prophets and to Aramaic and Greek-speaking apostles. The doctrines which the biblical writers ascribe to Yahweh were not derived from the limited cultural perspectives of their day, but rather from transcendent divine revelation that stands in frequent judgment upon all prevailing cultures.

3. A third argument raised against the possibility of our knowing literal truth about God is that finite language is too limited to depict the Infinite. Knowledge of God, it is said, cannot be compressed into human words because of the finitude of man’s thought and language.

Zen Buddhism espouses this kind of skepticism about human language and reason: language, it says, is unable to express truth, and human reason incompetent to grasp it. Hilary of Poitiers wrote (c. 356) that “all language is powerless to express what is to be said about God” yet he ventured, for all that, to tell us that God is invisible and infinite and ineffable (On the Trinity, ii, 6, 7).

Christianity counters these claims by insisting upon incarnational theology. It teaches that the Word of God not only became flesh but is also conceptually given, verbally expressible and verbally expressed.

Infinite language would be beyond human comprehension and service-ability. An infinite number of ways of expressing anything would deprive any particular expression of sure meaning. If every word had an infinity of meanings, then no word would mean anything distinctive; all words would be interchangeable and no unique meaning would attach to any word.

Certainly we use words in more than one sense. But it is wholly possible to determine in which of the several or numerous conventional meanings a term is used because of the pattern of thought or universe of discourse in which it is employed. In America the word dart might refer, among other things, to a small pointed toy, or a javelin, or an automobile, the Dodge Dart. But all ambiguity about the sense of the term is quickly resolved by the context of its use.

Perpetuating his revolt against “literal theism,” Paul M. van Buren attempts “to work out … the implications for Christian theology of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations” (The Edges of Language, p. ix). In applying Wittgenstein’s later thought to religious concerns, van Buren places God-talk at the “edges” of language in order to avoid making it either literal or “unsayable” (the wholly other). For van Buren, poetry carries a nonliteral message. But that hardly settles the issue of whether and when statements in poetic form tell the truth. In contrast to his earlier The Secular Meaning of the Gospel, van Buren in his The Edges of Language defends the meaningfulness of God-language. But he leaves the truth of God-language as indeterminate as in the previous work. Indeed, when he distinguishes in midcourse between the literal and the unsayable, van Buren finally is moved to affirm that believing in God is “in no way like believing a statement to be true” (p. 76). But if truth is irrelevant to belief in God, informed believers will sooner or later consider belief no less irrelevant.

Human language is an adequate instrument for divine disclosure. The fact that words bear not only a variety of possible meanings but also various shades of meaning enhances its serviceability. God himself employed human language in conversing with Adam before the Fall, and used it after the Fall to bestow special revelation. The prophets identified their inspired words as the veritable Word of Yahweh.

There is no doubt that the Gospels, as Richard Longenecker remarks, depict Jesus on numerous occasions “as interpreting the Old Testament in a literalist manner, particularly in matters concerned with basic religious and moral values”—e.g., in the straightforward quotation of the Shema (Deut. 6:4–5; cf. Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29–30; Luke 10:27) and the threefold wilderness rebuke to Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; Luke 4:4, 8, 12) by an appeal to the teaching of Deuteronomy (Deut. 8:3; 6:6; 6:13) (Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pp. 66–67). Jesus employs the Old Testament straightforwardly with only minor textual variants, whether he discusses the honoring of parents (Exod. 20:12; 21:17; cf. Matt. 15:4; Mark 7:10), the indissolubility of marriage (Gen. 2:24; cf. Matt. 19:5; Mark 10:7–8), or the settlement of disputes between brothers (Deut. 19:15; cf. Matt. 18:16). The fact that he frequently applies the prophetic word to his own ministry in pesher fashion—that is, explicating the enigmatic in the Old Testament passage and emphasizing the motif of fulfillment by applying the passage to himself—does not contradict the fact that he found literal meaning in the Old Testament revelation. Nonliteralists, who now sometimes prize the compassionate social impetus of Jesus above a regard for his doctrinal conceptions, have, in fact, no consistent basis for taking literally Jesus’ words about compassion for the poor and suffering, and his call for justice and love. Of the scriptural revelation, Jesus declared, “not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18, niv).

Jesus as the incarnate Christ found human language fully serviceable for worship and praise of God, for the communication of revelational truth, and for the presentation of his credentials as the promised Messiah. When Jesus taught his disciples to pray and preach and praise God, he invoked no mysterious language spoken by angels or unknown to the world, but he found the accepted language of the day completely adequate for advancing the will of God. The simplicity of Jesus of Nazareth in presenting the profoundest truths contrasts strikingly with the intricate vocabulary of theologians and philosophers who, for all their linguistic skill, sometimes declare the whole range of human vocabulary to be inadequate for communicating the truth of God. When Jesus taught his disciples to closet themselves in prayer, he used the most familiar Aramaic word for father—abba, or daddy as we would say—in addressing the heavenly Father. The New Testament is written in koine, the ordinary language of Greek street conversation, which was wholly serviceable to the proclamation of the good news of redemption.

4. We should here also note objections to the possibility of literal truth concerning God as formulated by champions of analogical knowledge. More than anyone else Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica I, q. 13) emphasized analogical knowledge.

Edwyn Bevan remarks that “any Theism which says that conceptions by which men think of God are not literally true, has to answer the question how then God can be known at all” (Symbolism and Belief, p. 310). He observes that “Roman Scholastic theology … goes as far as any Theism can go in denying resemblance between our ideas of God and the Reality,” yet when Rome crushed the modernists early in this century it did so because they regarded “all symbols to be destructive of the Christian faith” (ibid., p. 255). Bevan asks: “How … can a Church at the same time admit that all its ideas of God have only analogical truth, and at the same time denounce, as destructive of the essence of faith, a symbolical interpretation of religion …?” (p. 256). Rome distinguished between symbols which are only symbols, and symbols which are symbols analogically. Bevan thinks this distinction has some merit. But it does not, I believe, close the door in the long run upon the notion that valid human knowledge of God is impossible of attainment.

Analogy is, of course, a phenomenon of Scripture, and both Jesus and the biblical writers at times refer to likenesses and dissimilarities between the material and spiritual worlds. That the human person bears the image of God and that the visible world mirrors certain of the Creator’s invisible attributes are frequent emphases of Scripture. Yet the Bible does not argumentatively develop a doctrine of analogical proof of God. Indeed, the only passage containing the term analogy is the apocryphal Book of Wisdom (“For by the greatness and beauty of the creatures proportionably [analogōs] the maker of them is seen,” 13:5). In Romans 12:6 “the analogy of faith” (literal; “in proportion to our faith,” rsv) does not deal with an ontological correspondence between the human and the divine. Not revealed religion but natural religion typically seeks to rise to God from the wonder and majesty of the universe. Scripture, moreover, does not present the epistemological theory that the nature of human knowledge is such that even on the basis of divine revelation man cannot possess literal truth concerning God.

Today a considerable variety of doctrines of analogy crowd the philosophical mart. Battista Mondin provides a comprehensive overview in The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology and argues that Aquinas formulated not one but several doctrines of analogy. Generally speaking, the Thomistic doctrine of analogy has fallen into much disfavor, and a number of Roman Catholic scholars are uneasy over its serviceability. The analogical approach to religious knowledge has recovered some interest, however, in circles where the biblical emphasis on transcendent rational revelation has been forfeited. But interest in analogical reasoning has grown elsewhere as well. A number of evangelical scholars, such as Norman Geisler (“A New Look at the Relevance of Thomism for Evangelical Apologetics,” pp. 189–200) and Stuart Hackett (The Resurrection of Theism) have espoused analogical knowledge of God.

Thomists hold that familiar predicates like love and father are not used of God univocally, that is, they do not carry the same meaning when employed of God as when used of humans. Yet they deny that the consequence of such thinking is equivocation or skepticism. Such predicates, they insist, apply to God analogically and therefore somehow involve genuine knowledge. Today this doctrine is most frequently championed in terms either of an analogy of proportionality of qualities and nature, or of an analogy of attribution. But both approaches are laden with concealed assumptions and difficulties, as Frederick Ferré points out (“Analogy in Theology,” pp. 94 ff.).

The main logical difficulty with the doctrine of analogy lies in its failure to recognize that only univocal assertions protect us from equivocation; the very possibility of analogy founders unless something is truly known about both analogates. Gordon Clark observes that whereas Étienne Gilson, in the 1938 first edition of his The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, states that according to Thomism “nothing can be said univocally of God and his creatures” (p. 105), in the 1956 edition he more moderately says in effect that Thomas “seems never to have said that the names we give are not equivocal; but only that they are not altogether equivocal.… not altogether equivocal is what Thomas calls analogy.” This adjustment seems to allow for a univocal element that in turn would contradict the 1938 statement. Gilson also observes that Thomas’s texts on analogy “are relatively few, and in each case so restrained that we cannot but wonder why the notion has taken on such an importance in the eyes of his commentators.” Yet Gilson’s first edition had depicted analogy as the great discovery that saves us from univocity and from equivocation involving no knowledge at all. The earlier Gilson seems in fact much clearer in the presentation of Thomism at this point than is the later Gilson. In Summa Theologica I, 13, Thomas says: “Univocal predication is impossible between God and the creatures” (cf. Mondin, The Principle of Analogy in Protestant and Catholic Theology, pp. 29 ff.).

Geisler, in a modified break with Thomistic analogy, concedes that without univocity we can have no knowledge of God (“Analogy: The Only Answer to the Problem of Religious Language,” pp. 167–79). Alongside analogical predication, Geisler consequently champions universal concepts. But not even this modification will provide univocal truth.

The proper focus of the issue lies elsewhere. The key question is: are human concepts and words capable of conveying the literal truth about God?

All man needs in order to know God as he truly is, is God’s intelligible disclosure and rational concepts that qualify man—on the basis of the imago Dei—to comprehend the content of God’s logically ordered revelation. Unless mankind has epistemological means adequate for factual truth about God as he truly is, the inevitable outcome of the quest for religious knowledge is equivocation and skepticism.

Robert Blaikie holds that while we appropriately depict God’s actions as personal Agent in personal terms, such descriptives as speech “cannot be applied to God, the altogether unique One, in the same more or less adequate way in which they are applied to men” (“Secular Christianity” and God Who Acts, p. 72). But the propriety of characterizing God objectively as personal Agent who stands in causal relationships to the world and man would then seem also to be threatened. For unless terms at some point apply alike to God and man, theological affirmation has no valid conceptual value at all and must then be considered nonobjectifying, whatever one’s intentions to the contrary may be. Blaikie asserts that the underlying theological anthropomorphism of the Bible on which all others depend is “that God acts, God is Agent” (p. 73). But must not even this claim be disallowed as unintelligible if the term has different meanings throughout the universe of human discourse? Gollwitzer’s comment is more restrained than Blaikie’s; he emphasizes that when applied to God, the validity of such expressions cannot be derived a priori from their use in human relationships, but is stipulated by God’s revelatory activity (The Existence of God as Confessed by Faith, p. 163).

Robert H. King insists that to speak of God as person is not only characteristic of but also essential to the Christian way of speaking about him (The Meaning of God). Yet he maintains that we have no literal ways of speaking about God and that all references must be nonliteral and analogical of the human self. At times King makes strong cognitive claims for God’s objective personal agency. Yet should not someone who denies that our predications can be literally true of God be more reticent? We are further confounded when King not only appeals to God’s omnipotence (a literal predication?) to emphasize the adequacy of the concept of personal agency, but seems also to siphon all logical import from everything that we say about God.

5. Some neo-Protestant writers reject the literal truth of Scripture on the ground that religious language is by nature metaphorical or figurative.

Tillich, for example, holds that no predications made of God are literally true. He rejects supernaturalism and contends that to speak of God’s transcendence or of God’s creation of the cosmos is to speak metaphorically. God is not really personal, says Tillich, but we characterize him as such compatibly with our offering of prayer and praise. Tillich argues that the exceptional reality of deity is best protected by abandoning even the term existence when we speak of God, since we predicate existence of many kinds of objects. For many years Tillich informed his readers that the Depth of all Being is factually an ontological reality, and that this “beyond” functions in our lives as a creative ground of being and meaning. Tillich even spoke of ultimate Being not as a neutral reality but—for all its nonpersonality—as gracious. Yet if all predications of the ultimate are metaphorical, then such claims for Being-itself can hardly be nonmetaphorical. Critics finally drove Tillich to concede that even his statements about Being-itself must on his own assumptions be considered theologically nonobjectifying. It is not surprising that in his retirement years advocates of a “death of God” theology acknowledged their debt to Tillich, since his emphasis cannot logically escape skepticism concerning religious reality.

James Luther Adams holds that, unlike poetry, religious words and images affect life profoundly; that is, while religious images assertedly do not convey objective truth about God, they nonetheless have a tremendous capacity to move us (presidential address, American Theological Society, April 13, 1973). We shall not here debate the obvious question of whether poetry too may exercise a profound influence on life. The more relevant question is whether one religious symbol is fully as appropriate as another, and if not, what criterion we are to use for assessing and discriminating between symbols.

Presumably the biblical writers had reasons for choosing the particular metaphors they used. Unless symbols are cognitively significant, it would make little difference what symbols one employs. In that event the psalmist might have spoken with equal propriety of God as a grain of sand as of God as “my Rock” (Ps. 18:2, 31). For the Christian, the value of the biblical symbols lies not simply in their capacity to move us but more fundamentally in what they presumably tell us about God. It is cognitively significant that Jesus is declared to be the “lion” (Rev. 5:5) of the tribe of Judah. What is expressed in figures of speech can be stated more precisely in literal prose, but verbal representations—whether figurative or not—make sense only if reason dictates the choice of words.

Evangelical Christianity has always recognized that the presence of figurative statements in the Bible requires distinguishing between what is literal and figurative. The reborn sinner is not likely to think that God is literally a shepherd, Jesus literally a lion, sinful man literally a stubborn ox or sanctified man literally a tree planted beside a river. Not believers but unregenerate humans are prone to confuse fiction with fact in the realm of religion, as Paul observes of pagan Gentiles who actually worshiped trees, beasts and humans (Rom. 1:23). The evangelical rule has been to opt for the literal sense of the Bible where the language does not preclude it. All thinking aims to say what is actually the case—we cannot even recognize the distortions of metaphor and parable unless literal truth is the context of the discussion.

The figurative sense must not be “wrung dry” but must be sensitive to a balancing of metaphors. Jesus portrays himself as the Door, Vine, Bread, Water, the Life. The literal sense is sometimes said to be doubly disqualified by multiple figures, as when “the Lamb … will be their shepherd” (Rev. 7:17, neb) is dismissed as a double metaphor. But, as T. F. Glasson notes, “The Lamb has become a title for ‘the Messiah,’ or ‘the Son’ of God,’ ” so we have something more than a mixed metaphor (The Revelation of John, p. 55), and the literal sense is not beyond comprehension: the crucified Messiah, now exalted to the place of supreme power, will intimately guide and preserve the victorious saints.

Figurative language provides no basis for ignoring the ontological question. Without a literally true ingredient, allegorical language cannot insist on a rationally identifiable objective referent. Otherwise symbols would collapse into emotive preferents, and this would raise the specter of illusion. If none of our statements about God is literally true, is God truly known at all?

James Barr has been constrained to concede that the point of conflict between evangelical Christians and others “is not over literality.” “Within the pattern of modern exegesis,” he writes, “the idea that one should not ‘take the Bible literally’ has become an anachronism.… The idea of avoiding literal interpretation … actually becomes an obstacle to the discovery procedures of modern sophisticated exegesis” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 175).

In his later writings Barr builds on the growing recognition that the modernists’ hostility to literal biblical interpretation was ill-advised. Nonevangelical criticism of fundamentalists as literalists, which was “intended to damage the fundamentalist position,” he acknowledges, was “a misunderstanding and a wrong conceptualization of the issue,” since many texts “should indeed be understood ‘literally,’ in that the literal sense was the one intended by the author” (Fundamentalism, p. 54). The flight from literal meaning in fact accommodated all variety of existential nonsense in nonevangelical hermeneutics.

Barr is not, however, disposed to align fundamental Christianity on the side of the literal truth of the Bible. Many liberals, it will be recalled, emphasized that such are the limitations of human knowledge that human beings do not and cannot possess any objective truth about God; therefore, they contended, fundamentalists are misled when they insist on the literal truth of the Bible and that the writers of Scripture intended a literal meaning. Barr alters only the last prong of this argument; he insists that the biblical writers usually intend to be taken literally. Yet he holds that when they do thus convey literal meaning they often do not tell the literal truth.

Barr confuses the theological situation by contending that nonevangelical biblical critics have become the real guardians of literal meaning. He seeks to discredit the evangelical emphasis on literal interpretation as unworthily motivated, while he praises neo-Protestants as commendably reaffirming literal interpretation. Evangelical Bible commentators will readily forfeit the literal sense of a text for some other meaning, Barr asserts, in order to preserve the semblance of biblical inerrancy. He is determined to crack open “the common misconception that concern for the Bible is a fundamentalist position” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 171). He declares that “the typical fundamentalist insistence is not that the Bible must be interpreted literally but that it must be so interpreted as not to admit that it contains error” (p. 168). Evangelicals sacrifice literality whenever necessary in order to preserve inerrancy: “to avoid imputing error to the Bible” they equivocate between literal and nonliteral interpretation (Fundamentalism, p. 40). The evangelical rule for discriminating between literal and figurative meaning, Barr charges, is not that the literal sense should be preferred where possible, but that it is to be evaded wherever the literal sense would jeopardize the doctrine of biblical inerrancy (p. 123).

The lost modernist battle over the literality of Scripture therefore spurs Barr to relocate the center of theological controversy: “The point of conflict between fundamentalists and others is not over literality but over inerrancy” (ibid., p. 40). In brief, the issue becomes the literal sense of an errant Bible, which Barr champions, versus the literal truth of an inerrant Bible, which evangelicals affirm.

To establish his criticism, Barr cites examples of exegesis from widely used evangelical commentaries. He argues that conservative commentators routinely flee the literal sense of words in the literary contexts in which they occur, whenever such exegesis would conflict with scientific consensus. He protests, no doubt rightly, that some conservatives violate the literal sense of the text when—in the interest of congruence with science—they depict miracles in the Bible in terms only of a providential confluence of natural forces. It should not, of course, be overlooked that in working the biblical miracles, God was free to use or not to use secondary causes or so-called natural events; interpreters must not, however, obscure the difference between once-for-all miracles and special providences that in principle are repeatable.

As a case in point, Barr points to evangelical interpretation of the Genesis creation story in terms of geologic ages rather than of twenty-four-hour days. Or the Genesis writer may be said to present a topical or pictorial rather than chronological arrangement. Or by tapering the literal factor to moral and spiritual emphases, the conservative exegete says very little, if anything, more than nonevangelical interpreters would say. Barr seems to insist that the only meaning that can properly be assigned in the context of Genesis 1 to the Hebrew word yom is a twenty-four-hour period (Fundamentalism, p. 42). But not all moden scholars will agree, and the reading of Genesis in terms of ages reaches far behind modern geological theory to Augustine’s expositions based on exegesis. Donald MacKinnon remarks that “in the Bible time-words like ‘hour’ and ‘day’ have varied and elastic uses. Even schoolboys see there is a difference between the day of the Lord and founder’s day or parents’ day or what day have you. Even someone reading St. John’s Gospel for the first time realizes that when Christ speaks of his hour he means something more than the mere revolution of the clock” (Antony Flew and D. M. MacKinnon, “Creation,” p. 170). The Genesis creation account itself uses the term yom in at least three senses.

Again, Barr insists that the genealogical lists of Genesis (5:1–4; 11:10–32) intend a strict and unbroken succession. The notion that the genealogy is contracted to give only key persons, rather than information about the precise number of generations, he considers an ingenious device of fundamentalist hermeneutics that “enables the genealogy to be stretched … to accommodate a more or less unlimited time span from the creation of the world down to Noah’s flood” (Fundamentalism, p. 43). But here, too, competent scholars have argued that biblical chronology does not require an exhaustive statement of human generations and in some instances precludes exhaustive lists. If that is so, Barr is attaching a superliteralist expectation to the biblical content and unjustifiably rules out a foreshortened genealogical perspective.

The normal sense of the statement that Jochebed “bore to Amram” Aaron and Moses is assuredly, as Barr says, a relationship to immediate parents. Yet Barr’s own premise that the Pentateuch is the work of redactors would all the more accommodate the possibility of an edited or foreshortened genealogy. But this likelihood does not at all depend upon the documentary hypothesis. Bishop Ussher doubtless computed biblical chronology on the questionable assumption that the genealogies in all instances teach what Barr insists they literally do, as in fact did almost all Ussher’s learned and unlearned seventeenth-century contemporaries. But the Old Testament in some later genealogies gives only the first two or three links and then the last two or three in the ancestry (cf. Josh. 7:17–18). The prime purpose of the early genealogies is to give the line from Adam to Noah before the flood and from Noah to Abraham after the flood by listing the chief men and nations. The links from Levi to Moses are abridged in Exodus 6:16–20. The Pentateuch frequently hurries over worldly descendants to concentrate on the godly line (cf. Gen. 25). Incomplete as they are, the genealogies and chronologies are not as piecemeal as other ancient histories, and serve to connect early and later biblical history. At the outset of the New Testament the Gospel of Matthew abridges the list of kings in the genealogy of Jesus.

Many nonevangelicals view the accounts of the longevity of Adam (930 years) and Methuselah (969 years) as legendary (which is hardly a means of preserving literality), since Oriental tradition ascribes to some ancestors a longevity of more than 20,000 years. Barr does not quite know how to dispose of Karl Barth who, although reluctant to champion the full historical reliability even of the Gospels, in a conversation in which John Baillie wanted to dismiss Methuselah’s age as legend, asked Baillie what theology could hope to gain by demonstrating that Methuselah did not live that long. Barr complains that the evangelical plays it both ways—gaps for genealogies of succeeding generations, strict chronology for particular persons, as long as inerrancy is preserved. Yet no intrinsic logical impossibility cancels such dual handling of genealogies; its probability is reinforced, moreover, by the textual considerations already indicated.

Barr does make his point in respect to passages where the pressure of current scientific opinion has prompted evangelical interpreters, in the supposed interest of scriptural inerrancy, to abandon the apparently literal sense of particular passages in order to follow an unnatural exegesis which accommodates the biblical content to modern theory. In these cases evangelical exegetes preserve biblical inerrancy in principle by subordinating the literal meaning of the supposedly inspired text to the superior criterion of scientific legitimacy, and thus in actuality promote biblical errancy by forfeiting the literal truth of what the passage teaches. But Barr ignores the fact that evangelical expositors often adduce explanations compatible with current scientific theory not in order to circumvent the miraculous, but to show that the scientifically minded skeptic even on his truncated assumptions has no basis for skepticism concerning the possibility of an event’s occurrence.

Barr also argues that evangelicals evade literalness by subordinating the biblical reports to modern scientific knowledge; he cites as an example Bernard Ramm (The Christian View of Science and Scripture, pp. 159 ff.; cf. also E. F. Kevan in The New Bible Commentary, p. 84), who holds that the Noahic flood is local rather than universal. But Barr is himself hardly the champion of literal meaning when he belabors Ramm for not viewing the flood narrative as myth or legend, an approach that would embrace a world view alien to the Bible (Fundamentalism, pp. 94, 96). While the biblical world view and the scientific world view do indeed differ, the contrast is not to be designated, as Barr sometimes implies, in terms of biblical myth and of scientific fact (Fundamentalism, p. 96).

Barr’s point is nonetheless hermeneutically important, even if it is more appropriately discussed not under the rubric of literalness but rather under that of the fallibility of the interpreter. In the interest of biblical inerrancy, he says, evangelicals are sometimes prone to appeal to compatible emphases in modern science rather than primarily to pursue exegetical considerations to decide textual meaning. Barr comments that there is “a general tendency among conservative evangelical interpreters, to accept entirely from science its picture of natural conditions in the world and to manoeuvre the interpretation of the Bible in order to find a place for its narratives within this picture.… They totally accept the scientific picture and work within it” (ibid., p. 97). Such comment is clearly an overstatement and indeed a misstatement of theological orientations. It was Protestant modernism, and not evangelical theism, that subverted transcendent revelation and miracle to the scientific world view and consequently humanized Jesus of Nazareth and ascribed many of the biblical representations to legend or myth. The evangelical deference to science may indeed at times ignore the fact that empirical judgments are subject to constant revision, and mistakenly allow the hypotheses of a particular decade to define what the Bible teaches. But even such evangelical interpretation or misinterpretation is motivated by the conviction that the truth of revelation sought by exegesis cannot conflict with any assured results of science, since God is the author of both scriptural and cosmic factuality. And disciplined scientists are increasingly reluctant to claim “assured results” from their ongoing empirical studies.

When Barr additionally insists that the J, E, D, P documentary hypothesis is a product of literal exegesis of the texts, he strains credulity to the limit (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 170), since no objective independent sources are adduced. Barr contends that, in contrast with the traditional view of the Bible, modern biblical source criticism—such as the division of the Pentateuch into J, E, D and P (the order in which critics supposed the sources to have originated)—is “the result of ‘taking the Bible literally’ ” whereas noncritical interpretation is “often not literal.” Barr writes: “It was just because they took the texts literally that the critics were able to break through the screen of ancient or more recent harmonizing and apologetic interpretations and were led to reconstruct different sources behind the biblical books” (Fundamentalism, p. 46). This is surely a remarkably diminished justification for reconstructing the biblical narratives into multiple sources. If divergent and conflicting narratives appear in the same account, says Barr, the documentary scholar takes them both literally and ascribes them to different sources, whereas other researchers will resort to non-literal interpretation in order to preserve the factuality of both accounts. But if the central rationale for the documentary hypothesis lies in logically contradictory narration, then Barr has notably restricted the theory’s supports. Moreover, since he considers the biblical writings to be errant, even striking divergences within them would not conclusively imply different sources. On the other hand, if different sources are postulated on the basis of their inner logical congruity, may not such projections reflect an excessive expectation (on Barr’s principles) of narrative consistency—or are we here dealing with inerrant redactors? And do modern documentary interpreters truly follow the literal implication of the biblical narrative? Does the text literally state or imply that “J” reports or that “P” asserts, and so on? And is one concerned for literal truth if one concludes that the creation story is told from “E’s” viewpoint in Genesis 1 and from “J’s” viewpoint in Genesis 2 but that neither tells us what was actually the case?

By literal interpretation, evangelicals mean that when Jesus attributed a passage to Moses, he was not attributing it to some redactor living centuries later; that when Jesus ascribes a passage to Isaiah, he is not to be interpreted as believing that Deutero-Isaiah or Trito-Isaiah was its source; that when Jesus associated a passage with Daniel, he was not giving veiled support for locating its source in the Maccabean era. Now it may well be that Jesus used such referents only in the prevalent cultural understanding of traditional authorships, and that such ascription, at least in some instances, is not to be taken as express teaching on the details of authorship. But if so, the canons of literal interpretation are violated no less if critics reconcile what is presumably nonteaching about authorship with the modern source-theory by viewing Jesus’ representations as an accommodation to the times that did not in fact reflect Jesus’ own beliefs. The latter view imposes upon the narrative a literal sense that it does not bear, and hence it becomes exegetically irresponsible; worse yet, since we cannot on the basis of Jesus’ own distinctions identify what are his supposedly veiled actual beliefs from his supposedly culturally accommodated statements, we are uncertain—wherever Jesus does not either explicitly approve or disapprove the inherited tradition—what Jesus truly believed over against what he actually said in the course of his ministry; the literal sense thus hangs irrecoverably in midair.

One should bear in mind that the sense is just as literal if the author literally intends either twenty-four-hour days or longer epochs, a detailed succession or a gap genealogy. In any event, the comment that “some figures in the biblical text and some relations stated in genealogical form, are to be taken … as corresponding more or less precisely to historical reality as it was” while “others are to be interpreted as being only loosely related to that reality,” involves no more difficulty than does the way in which contemporary reporters speak of historical actualities in our time, nor does it establish Barr’s thesis that “fundamentalist interpretation does not take the Bible literally, but varies between taking it literally and taking it non-literally” (ibid., p. 46).

If Barr means only—and he does not—that evangelical Christians acknowledge that the Bible states truth at times in figurative and at times in nonfigurative language, it is scarcely worth the saying. Barr comments rightly that “only in part” is literal interpretation “a fundamentalist characteristic.” But when he adds that literal interpretation “is in fact much more an element in critical scholarship” (ibid., p. 47), he has little basis for the notion that nonevangelical more than evangelical scholars champion the literal truth of what the Bible teaches. We therefore need to distinguish between “literal interpretation” and “literal truth.” Barr seems at times also to confuse or equate historical factuality with literal truth. Not even extreme fundamentalists, he notes, “take explicit parables and similes as if they were literal historical narrations,” and from this observation concludes that for conservative evangelicals the literal is not “the only kind of truth” (p. 48). But, we would ask, while parables do not presume to depict historical factualities, is not whatever truth they teach literal truth? Barr insists that “it is certainly wrong to say, as has often been said, that for fundamentalists the literal is the only sense of truth” (p. 49). Is he not really talking about literal meaning? If the question is whether the persons in the parable of the foolish virgins are identifiable historical figures, the evangelical answer is that they are figuratively adduced in order to enunciate what is literally the truth. Barr therefore confuses matters when he states that “fundamentalists … are not literalists, or not consistent literalists” (p. 47). When Barr writes that “a main problem confronting a fundamentalist exegete is that of deciding which passages, or which elements … he will take literally and which he will not” (ibid.), Barr is indicating a problem that surely confronts all interpreters. In most cases where the writer intends a figurative rather than literal sense, the context remains the best means of determining this intention; if the writer intends a mythical or legendary meaning, as non-evangelical interpreters frequently insist, that notion is not as easily attested in the case of Scripture as some interpreters would like to think.

Barr seeks to drive a wedge between “veracity as significance” and “veracity as correspondence with empirical actuality” (which he somewhat unsatisfactorily identifies as the evangelical view). Such dichotomy deprives fundamentalists of an interest in the truth-significance of the biblical accounts and limits their interest to the “correspondence between the biblical account and the actual event or entity” that Scripture is held to depict (ibid., p. 49). Barr’s point is that what evangelicals insist is factual history nonevangelicals readily take as mythical and can append truth to myth and legend as easily as they do to empirically actual events (p. 50). Because evangelicals insist that what the Gospels depict as healings or miracles by Jesus are not just creative theological contributions of the early church, Barr presumes that these depictions lose veracity and significance. But if the significance of the scriptural passages centers in, requires, or presupposes Jesus’ actual healing of the sick, or working of a miracle as evidence of his factual and not legendary lordship over sickness, over nature or over sin, then Barr’s dichotomizing of veracity is artificial.

Yet problems of literal interpretation do indeed face the evangelical exegete no less than other interpreters. The routine examples, heaven and hell, are not as troublesome for the evangelical as for the nonevangelical who reduces God’s nature to love alone. Heaven and hell can be both a future state and a place, even as the joys of heaven and the pangs of hell can be represented in figurative depictions of what is literally the case. But a narrative like that of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, portrayed in Acts 1:9 as an upward spatial movement, at first glance involves many difficulties. It will not do, however, to interpret the account as meaning merely a passage from one state of being to another, or to reduce to figurative imagery what the Book of Acts expressly represents as a visible spatial transition.

What redisposes a number of critical scholars to the literalistic view of the Bible is this: they tend to correlate emphasis on literal meaning with an interpretative procedure in which the author’s intention (in depicting certain events or presenting teaching) appears to be motivated as much or more by apologetic purposes as by a desire to depict externally factual data. Barr notably differentiates between the neo-Protestant and historic evangelical expectations; for Barr the “literal” intention of biblical teaching is not decisive for one’s theological views: “Our understanding of the writer is based on the detailed linguistic form of his text, but what we believe is another matter” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 175).

Evaluation of an author’s intentions can, of course, be manipulated by critical presuppositions: the question may become, for example, not whether Jesus fed the multitudes but why the Gospel tradition depicts him as doing so; not whether Jesus rose from the dead, but why the writers portray him as rising from death. Surely writers who use sayings or events for apologetic purposes need not require or presuppose the nonfactuality of those sayings or events. Yet Barr proposes that we take “very seriously” what is nonfactual, and dignifies this approach as literal interpretation. In respect to the creation narrative, he writes: “We certainly have to take very seriously the six-day scheme, because it is so evidently central to the writer’s intention; but this is quite a different matter from supposing that there is in the actual external world and its history some real event or process corresponding to this scheme” (ibid., pp. 174–75).

One reason for such disjunction between literal interpretation and factual representation lies in the modern repudiation of the divine inspiration and trustworthiness of the biblical writers. As Barr puts it, neo-Protestant scholarship “does not move directly from biblical texts to external referents, but from biblical texts to the theological intentions of the writers and only from there indirectly to external referents. Thus the modern interpretative pattern is seldom or never a direct referential relation between the text and the entities referred to” (ibid., p. 175). The method of examining an author’s intention can be readily subverted by arbitrary assumptions concerning the origin and purpose of the narratives. Earlier nonevangelical scholars often repudiated literal interpretation in order to escape historical factualities. Some of their contemporary successors now affirm literal interpretation, but escape historical factualities by branding the writer’s historical representations as an apologetic artifice.

The readiness to reinstate the literal sense of the Bible, now that a critical hermeneutical device can avail to frustrate the historical factualities, shows how much the repudiation of so-called “fundamentalist literalism” turned upon philosophical rather than exegetical considerations. The readmission of literal interpretation on neo-Protestant premises should therefore not be welcomed as unmitigated gain for evangelical theology, since its premise is the noninspiration, untrustworthiness and errancy of much that the writers teach. It may be welcomed, however, as further evidence of the instability of neo-Protestant views of Scripture that intermingle affirmation and concession in a never-ending sequence of kaleidoscopic change.

The alternatives to the historic evangelical insistence that Christianity conveys literal truth about God are hardly convincing and lead invariably toward skepticism. There is only one kind of truth. Religious truth is as much truth as any other truth. Instead of being devised for tasks other than to express literal truths about God, human language has from the beginning had this very purpose in view, namely, enabling man to enjoy and to communicate the unchanging truth about his Maker and Lord.


The Holy Spirit superintends the communication of divine revelation, first as the inspirer and then as the illuminator and interpreter of the scripturally given Word of God.


The Meaning of Inspiration

Inspiration is a supernatural influence upon divinely chosen prophets and apostles whereby the Spirit of God assures the truth and trustworthiness of their oral and written proclamation. Historic evangelical Christianity considers the Bible as the essential textbook because, in view of this quality, it inscripturates divinely revealed truth in verbal form.

James Barr says that conservatives largely base their claim that the Bible is “authoritative, inspired and inerrant” upon “one single point,” viz., that “the Bible itself says so” (Fundamentalism, p. 260, cf. p. 268). He compresses Geoffrey Bromiley’s statement in The New Bible Commentary Revised that if the Bible did not claim to be inspired, evangelicals would have “no call to believe it” (“The Authority of Scripture,” p. 3) into the narrower thesis that only because the Bible claims inspiration do evangelicals believe it to be inspired. But when Barr says that “it would be difficult” for evangelicals “to think of any reason at all why one should not believe” in the divine inspiration of the Bible (Fundamentalism, p. 261), he should be reminded that evangelicals apply to the Bible the same logical tests that they apply to modern writers.

Does the teaching of the biblical writers support the claim that the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are the inspired Word of God?

It may surprise many that the terms inspiro and inspiratio are more firmly rooted in Latin translation than in original Hebrew and Greek usage, and that the Vulgate Latin Bible attaches these words to a variety of phenomena. The Latin translators use the verb inspiro in translating Genesis 2:7, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21 as well as the apocryphal Wisdom 15:11 and Ecclesiasticus 4:12; they use the noun inspiratio in 2 Samuel 22:16, Job 32:8, Psalm 17:6 and Acts 17:25. Generally speaking, the English equivalents to inspire and inspiration are employed less frequently in recent versions. But in one form or another the term has been retained in translating 2 Timothy 3:16 (kjv “inspiration,” rsv “inspired”), and theologians of all persuasions have therefore made that particular text a lively center of discussion and controversy.

Alan Richardson is right in saying that the biblical writers and the apostolic church “worked out no theory of the ‘inspiration’ of Scripture”—any more than they did of the “incarnation” or other loci of the Christian faith. But he conveys a misimpression when he remarks that “the word and idea of inspiration are hardly biblical at all” (“Scripture,” 4:249a). To be sure, the Revised Standard Version introduces the term in several passages where it does not really occur in the Hebrew (Exod. 35:34) or Greek (1 Cor. 12:11; 1 Thess. 1:6) and thus dilutes its technical sense, a sense that is at least implicit in some other verses (e.g., Matt. 22:43/Mark 12:36, where the prophet David is said to have spoken of Christ “in the Spirit” and where the rsv accurately gives the meaning, “David himself, inspired by the Holy Spirit … declared”; and also 1 Tim. 1:18, where Timothy’s heritage includes instruction in the inspired writings). The Greek term, it is true, occurs only once in the Greek text: “All scripture is theopneustos” or “God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16, rsv). But to read this reference, as Richardson does, to mean that “God has breathed into the dry dust of the scriptural words the breath of life” (cf. Gen. 2:7, where God breathed life into the dust of the ground and formed man) misses the point, for theopneustos emphasizes the God-breathing of Scripture itself as a divine activity.

James Orr’s observation in an earlier day is still timely; he writes that “it may surprise those who have not looked into the subject with care to discover how strong, full and pervasive, the testimony of Scripture to its own inspiration is” (Revelation and Inspiration, p. 160). And Edward John Carnell remarks: “We are free to reject the doctrine of the Bible’s view of itself, of course, but if we do so we are demolishing the procedure by which we determine the substance of any Christian doctrine. If we pick and choose what we prefer to believe, rather than what is biblically taught, we merely exhibit once again the logical (and existential) fallacy of trying to have our cake and our penny, too” (Letters to the Editor, Christianity Today, Oct. 14, 1966, p. 23). “When the Church has been most vigorous,” concedes C. F. Evans, “she has assumed the Bible to be inspired” (“The Inspiration of the Bible,” p. 27).

When Barr surmises that evangelicals “would probably believe in” biblical inspiration “even if it was not asserted in the Bible” simply because of Scripture’s dynamic efficacy in religious experience (Fundamentalism, pp. 260–61), he gratuitously imposes neoorthodox and modernist misconceptions upon evangelical practice. Barr quotes the Westminster Confession (“holy scripture … doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God; yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts”) and unjustifiably shifts the meaning so as to ground the case for inspiration wholly in inner persuasion.

Among the texts that bear decisively on God’s action in providing the Scriptures and on their consequent authority are 2 Timothy 3:14–16, 2 Peter 1:19–21, and John 10:34–36.

2 Timothy 3:14–16 reads: “But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them; And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (kjv).

Here the Apostle Paul exhorts Timothy to continue faithfully in the body of truth that Timothy had learned in a Christian home (1:5) and from the apostle himself (1:13; 3:10). Even already from our childhood the sacred writings can make us wise concerning salvation in Jesus Christ (3:15).

In this context Paul then emphasizes the divine origin and incomparable value of Holy Scripture (3:16). The phrasing of this key verse raises two issues of high importance: (1) whether the claims for Scripture are made in its behalf collectively or distributively, and (2) whether the divine activity here predicated concerning Scripture is properly depicted by the views of inspiration now prevalent in many Christian circles. Contrary to some expositors, the first question does not require a Pauline implication that only certain and not all segments of Scripture are divinely inspired. Whether Paul speaks of “every Scripture” or of “all Scripture,” he ascribes to it a “theopneustic” quality and affirms its consequent worth; whether contemplated in its entirety or in its parts, Scripture is distinguished by one and the same high claim regarding its source and value. The marginal reading in some translations, “Every scripture which is inspired by God is also profitable,” means that the sacred writings previously referred to by the apostle (v. 15) are both divinely inspired and profitable in each passage; in other words, no verse should be exempted or neglected.

Paul derives the special value of Scripture from its divine foundation, and uses the term theopneustos to express God’s relationship to the sacred writings. The Scriptures in their written form are a product of divine spiration, that is, are divinely “breathed out” and therefore owe their unique reality to the life-giving breath of God (cf. Gen. 2:7), even as man himself owes to it his distinctive existence. In this way Paul moves beyond simply apostolic oral instruction and asserts the permanent validity and value of the inspired writings.

The translation, “Every inspired Scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error” (neb), carries the unfortunate and unnecessary implication that a distinction is to be made within Scripture between what is and is not inspired and useful. But the predicative significance of theopneustos is clear. The passage is more appropriately rendered, “Every Scripture, since inspired of God, is also useful …” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 134). In other words! passage upon passage of Scripture is divinely inspired.

2 Peter 1:19–21 states: “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts: Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (kjv). Here the Apostle Peter contrasts “cunningly devised fables” with the knowledge Christians have of “the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ,” inasmuch as the latter rests upon the testimony of “eyewitnesses of his majesty” (1:16, kjv). But revealed truth is exalted as something more than just the word of eyewitnesses. What attests its supernatural origin and permanent validity is its nature as the “prophetic word” (1:19, rsv), that is, as scriptural prophecy (1:20).

Because of the phrasing at this point, the question arises whether “every prophecy of Scripture” and “the prophetic word” refer only to those extensive portions of Scripture that are technically prophetic because they supernaturally unveil God’s otherwise unknown purposes. Or, since the entire body of Scripture is elsewhere characterized as revelatory and prophetic, are the collective writings in view here? Even if we accept the former (narrower) meaning, the rest of Scripture would then be only momentarily dropped from view and no negative implication should be drawn concerning it.

The apostle writes both negatively and positively about the origin of Scripture. First of all he disavows its human derivation. No Scripture, he says, is “of private interpretation” (1:20, kjv); that is, Scripture does not have its ground in human inquiry and investigation or in philosophical reflection. As The New English Bible puts it, “No one can interpret any prophecy of Scripture by himself.” This assertion is reinforced by a subsidiary statement: “no prophecy ever came by the will of man” (1:20, neb); in brief, the origin of Scripture is not due to human initiative, “For it was not through any human whim that men prophesied of old” (neb). Second, Peter affirms the origin of Scripture to be divine: “Men spoke from God” (1:21, neb). There is no reason to translate the passage, “holy men of God spake,” as does the King James Version, since the context so contrasts divine over against human origin that the emphasis on divine origination is unmistakable.

These spokesmen, moreover, adds the apostle, were “moved” or “borne along” by the Holy Spirit (1:21). In this latter respect the Petrine passage goes beyond 2 Timothy 3:16. While both passages unqualifiedly assert the divine origin of Scripture, that by Peter more specifically identifies the operation of the Holy Spirit and by using an illuminating contrast clarifies the nature of this divine activity. Four times in different forms 2 Peter 1:17–21 uses the verb pherō meaning to bring, to bear or carry, to drive as by the wind, to produce, to utter (as a word) or to make (as a speech). (Heb. 1:3 employs pherōn in the statement, the Son of God “bears up the universe by His mighty Word,”) The second half of verse 21, where the Spirit’s moving or bringing forth of the words is depicted, employs the same verb pherō used in the first half where it is declared how prophecy did not originate by human means. The prophetic word was not brought into being “by the will of man” but was produced, rather, by the Spirit. The New English Bible puts it thus: “Men they were, but, impelled by the Holy Spirit, they spoke the words of God” (1:21b). The reason the prophetic word is sure—surer even than that of eyewitnesses—is that God is its source and that specially chosen men spoke by the Spirit’s agency.

In John 10:34–36 we read: “Jesus answered them, Is it not written in your law, I said, Ye are gods? If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (kjv).

Here Jesus appeals to the Scriptures to counter an accusation of blasphemy leveled by offended Jews. It is noteworthy that Jesus adduces a passage from the Psalms (82:6) as law (cf. John 12:34; 15:25) since the Jews shared this sense of the legal force of Old Testament Scripture (cf. John 12:34); the Apostle Paul in Galatians 4:21–22, 1 Corinthians 14:21, and Romans 3:19, for example, refers likewise to passages from Genesis, Psalms and Isaiah as law. Rabbinic literature sometimes uses Torah for the entire Old Testament. So Edwyn C. Hoskyns comments: “The ‘law’ here … and in Rabbinic literature (see Strack-Billerbeck) embraces the whole corpus of Old Testament Scriptures” (The Fourth Gospel, p. 391).

Not only does Jesus adduce what is written in Scripture as law, but also explicitly adds: “and the scripture cannot be broken” (10:35, kjv). He attaches divine authority to Scripture as an inviolable whole. The authority of Scripture, he avers, cannot be undone or annulled, for it is indestructible.

This comment, it is important to note, refers not simply to the one passage singled out by Jesus but to Scripture as an entire literary document. This unalienable authority of Scripture is affirmed, in fact, concerning even a cursory passage that might seem to have only random significance: “I said, ye are gods.” In other words, Jesus’ declaration clearly attests that the entire corpus of Scripture is an authoritative document; not even casual or incidental elements are to be presumptively exempted from divine authority. In the cited passage men such as magistrates are granted divine dignity because of their official functions in the service of justice. While a note of satire may tinge Jesus’ reminder that even corrupt judges are thus esteemed because of their office, the argument is not therefore ad hominem. The real force of the statement lies in Jesus’ pointed contrast: “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” (10:35–36, kjv, italics mine).

These passages make clear that Jesus Christ viewed written Scripture as divinely given (John 10:35) and that the apostles viewed it not only as produced by the Spirit of God (2 Pet. 1:21) but also as providing—in the form of a permanent verbal record—information necessary to man’s salvation (2 Tim. 3:16). There is no need to regard these several passages as anything but a mirror of what the apostles routinely assert and exemplify in their appeal to Scripture, and as being in full accord with the express teaching and evident implication of Jesus himself. Scripture is invariably invoked as bearing an inherent divine authority. On the basis of this written Word of God, the apostles challenge and call to account the most venerable traditions and even the most influential religious leaders.

Barr dismisses as “nonsense” the emphasis that “the Bible as a whole ‘claims’ to be divinely inspired.” He holds that “there is no ‘the Bible’ that ‘claims’ to be divinely inspired,” nor can we speak of the Bible as an entity that presents “a ‘view of itself’ ” (Fundamentalism, p. 78). To the extent that Barr stresses “the absence from the New Testament of clear and unambiguous ‘claims’ ” about the inerrancy of “the total New Testament as we have it today” (p. 78), he has a point. Jesus’ references to Scripture have the Old Testament primarily in view, except in forward-looking passages like John 14:26. But “it is impossible to show,” as Barr comments, that statements in the epistles “refer expressly and uniquely to exactly the group of books which now constitute our New Testament canon, or our total biblical canon” (ibid.). Indeed, Barr views the whole notion of canonicity with skepticism; he acknowledges that—in contrast with traditional evangelicals—”some of us … can perhaps take the canon fairly lightly” (p. 79). The fundamentalist use of references to inspiration, he comments, “goes back to a time when a traditional boundary for ‘scripture’ ” was assumed (ibid.).

We cannot here do justice to arguments pro and con that belong properly to New Testament introduction and govern the discussion of the canon. Yet a stronger case than Barr acknowledges can be made out for the present canon. Barr’s dismissal of biblical inspiration, it should be noted, rests upon his prior disavowal of prepositional revelation. He claims that only certain sources like 2 Timothy or 2 Peter make statements, and “rather undefined” statements at that, about the inspiration of “certain other writings” (ibid., p. 78). But, however “undefined,” 2 Timothy 3:16 stresses that Scripture, whether taken distributively or collectively, is a divine product. 2 Peter 3:15–16, the only interconnective reference by one apostle’s letter to another, identifies Pauline writings as Scripture. This reference to Paul’s letters as “inspired wisdom” reflects a situation in which the apostle’s epistles were considered no less authoritative than Old Testament Scripture; hence it embraces much of the New Testament. One should perhaps note that in 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul speaks of “holy scriptures” in relation to the message of salvation “in Christ Jesus.”

But “it does not matter much,” Barr holds, even if passages like 2 Timothy 3:16 or 2 Peter 1:20 do refer to the present canon. These books, as Barr sees it, “quite probably” belong to the “late strata” and to the “margin” of the New Testament, and “may express only … limited trends of opinion at a time when the main core and growth of the New Testament was already well past” (ibid., pp. 78–79). Barr considers it “very likely” that “the writer of II Timothy did not know some of the books of the present New Testament or … considered them unauthentic, and perhaps … included within ‘scripture’ a few documents that now count as postbiblical or apocryphal” (p. 79). The highly conjectural character of these comments is obvious; what holds them together is Barr’s insistence on a post-Pauline and post-Petrine dating of the very books that carry the most explicit teaching on scriptural inspiration. He inveighs against the view that 2 Timothy and 2 Peter come verbatim or substantially from the apostles whose names these books bear. The critics allege, he emphasizes, that Paul did not write Timothy or Titus and that Peter did not write 2 Peter.

Yet certain considerations bear in an important way on any discussion of these letters. The phrase “Paul, our friend and brother” (2 Pet. 3:15, neb) reflects a context in which Peter and Paul are considered the chief apostles, as is the situation in the Book of Acts. The argument of 2 Peter turns finally upon authenticity of authorship, and both the prologue and the explicit statement, “This is now my second letter to you” (2 Pet. 3:1, neb) point to Petrine authorship. 2 Timothy, moreover, has often been aptly called Paul’s “swan song,” since in it the imprisoned apostle passes the torch of faith to a successor, a wholly natural expectation. All three Pastoral Epistles, furthermore, claim Pauline authorship, and there is no evidence that the early church ever thought otherwise, nor is there anything in the content that is alien to Paul’s teaching. Barr may insist upon late datings, but scholars of such divergent views as William F. Albright, George E. Ladd and John A. T. Robinson declare the case for such late datings to be unpersuasive.

With a touch of sarcasm Barr asks: “Why … did St Paul not include a strong statement on divine inspiration in his letters to the Romans and the Galatians, as a modern fundamentalist Paul certainly would have done?” (ibid., p. 67). Paul did include one of his strongest statements on the divine status of the Old Testament in the Epistle to the Romans; the Jews, he says, were entrusted with “the oracles” (logian) of God (Rom. 3:2, kjv, rsv, neb; “the very words of God,” niv). Peter repeats the term (“speak as if you uttered oracles of God,” 1 Pet. 4:11, neb) when he sketches the Christian’s special calling. But already in 1 Thessalonians, indisputably among the earliest Pauline letters, Paul identifies the apostolic message as “the word of the Lord” (1:8, neb) and commends his readers for accepting it as such (2:13; cf. 1:6). Moreover, Paul stresses that the apostolic appeal has no error-prone source but springs from divine entrustment (2:3–4). He identifies apostolic instruction with the elaboration of God’s will (4:2–3). He indicates the role of apostolic writing in conveying doctrine and morals (4:9–15). He views his written word as an authoritative source of comfort (4:18). From the first, therefore, the emphasis on the scriptural word has prominent visibility alongside the apostles’ oral teaching (4:9, 18; 5:1); indeed, in closing his epistle, Paul writes: “I adjure you by the Lord that this letter be read to all the brethren” (5:27, rsv), thus giving it a role in the worship services paralleled only by the Old Testament writings. Other passages that reflect apostolic inspiration are found not simply in the late but also in the early writings (cf. 2 Thess. 2:13). The emphasis on inspired Scripture, moreover, involves a distinction not within writings but between writings.

For all that, few Christian tenets are now more misunderstood and more misrepresented than the doctrine of the inspiration of Holy Scripture. Whether one speaks today of classic modernists or of neoliberals, there is, as Klaas Runia notes, “hardly any place left for inspiration” in their views. Neo-Protestants have weakened this doctrine until their theology has become a confusing chaos; even where it retains vitality for them, their view lacks stability. Runia continues: “They are willing to allow for some kind of illumination, but … of the same nature as that which all believers receive. It may be a little ‘higher’ or ‘stronger’, but … only a difference of degree. Of the Bible itself one can only say that it is inspired because it inspires,” which reduces inspiration to “a subjective concept” (“What Do Evangelicals Say about the Bible?” p. 6). Some neoorthodox theologians who try to surmount such limitations nonetheless reject the historic view that the scriptural writings are the Word of God; they hold, rather, that Scripture “becomes” the Word of God when and as the reader hears and submits to the divine Spirit speaking through the writings. “While the liberal subjectivizes and relativizes inspiration, the neo-orthodox actualizes it. It is something that happens again and again” (ibid.).

While the apostolic church did not subscribe to certain later conjectural notions of inspiration, such as mechanical views of divine dictation, the inspiration of vowel pointings, etc., it did affirm scriptural inspiration. Moreover, the importance of this theme in Scripture itself far outruns the infrequent use of technical terminology. The concept of “the Word of the Lord” is very common in the Old Testament, and the words of the Lord are what Moses is said to have received and written (Exod. 24:3–4, 7). The prophets were personally conscious of divine inspiration in communicating the Word of God. This Word of God that the prophets relay is never simply their own thought or experience or word, but rather the thought and Word of God; Nathan expressly contrasts the two (2 Sam. 7:3–5). Jesus testified not simply to the authority of the Old Testament prophets but to the Old Testament writers themselves as instruments inspired by God’s Spirit. His frequently employed formula “it is written” emphasizes the present relevance of Scripture as God’s living voice, inasmuch as the perfect tense gegraptai may also be translated “it stands written”; elsewhere Jesus links what the ancient Scriptures say (in the present tense) to his contemporaries (Matt. 13:14; Luke 20:42; John 5:45).

The prophets, and Jesus, and the apostles all held that God had spoken and is speaking through the Scriptures. More than this, they considered Scripture itself to be “the Word of God,” a designation that underscores both its origin and nature (cf. Mark 7:13; Rom. 9:6; Heb. 4:12). The Word of God came not from the prophets but “through” them (Matt. 21:4–5; Luke 18:31). What David said of Christ the Son, he said “by the Spirit” (Mark 12:36). What Moses said is “the Word of God” (Mark 7:10, 13, rsv). Scripture is God’s Word (John 10:34); what Scripture says, God says (Matt. 19:4–5).

John Marsh remarks that Jesus of Nazareth “takes, or the evangelist presents him as taking, the same attitude to scripture as the early Church. The same Old Testament was authoritative for both Judaism and Christianity” (The Gospel of St. John, p. 405). John W. Wenham says of Jesus’ use of Scripture, that his question ” ‘Have you not read …?’ is equivalent to ‘Do you know that God has said …?’ (cf. Mt. 12:3; 19:4; 21:16; 22:31; Mk. 2:25; 12:10, 26; Lk. 6:3)” (Christ and the Bible, p. 27). Phrases like “Have you not read” and “It is written” (Matt. 11:10; 21:13; 26:24, 31; Mark 9:12–13; 11:17; 14:21, 27; Luke 7:27; 19:46) are applied “not only to oracular prophetic utterances but to all parts of Scripture without discrimination—to history, to laws, to psalms, to prophecies” (p. 27). The church historian Adolf Harnack held that Christ was one with the Jews, and with the entire early church, in a complete commitment to the infallible authority of Scripture; the New Testament critic H. J. Cadbury once declared himself more sure of the historical fact that Jesus held to the prevalent Jewish view of an infallible Bible than that Jesus believed in his own messiahship (cf. Kenneth Kantzer, in The Church’s Worldwide Mission, p. 31). Rudolf Bultmann concedes that “Jesus agreed always with the scribes of his time in accepting without question the authority of the [Old Testament] Law.… Jesus did not attack the law but assumed its authority and interpreted it” (Jesus and the Word, pp. 61–62).

The New Testament view of the inspiration of the Old Testament writers is precisely that of Jesus Christ himself. Like him, that view unqualifiedly affirms both the divine origin of Scripture and its divine authority. The Word of God is a legacy given “through” the prophets as divine instruments (the phrasing occurs frequently in Matthew; cf. also Acts 1:16; 2:16; 28:25; Rom. 9:29). The expression “the oracles of God” occurs in Acts 7:38, Romans 3:2, Hebrews 5:12 and 1 Peter 4:11. The New Testament apostles, no less than the Old Testament prophets, are conscious of their divine inspiration; the Apostle John emphasizes this truth in the context of a confessional test: “We are of God. Whoever knows God listens to us.… By this we know the spirit of truth” (1 John 4:6, rsv), a conclusion that recalls John 14:26.

In order to eliminate superficial misunderstandings, it may be helpful to indicate just exactly what the evangelical view denies and what it affirms.

The biblical-evangelical view denies:

1. That the Holy Scriptures are a product of mechanical divine dictation. Statements that depict inspiration in terms of supernatural dictation are untrue to the Scriptures, unrepresentative of evangelical doctrine, and prejudicial to theological understanding. Neither the Bible nor standard evangelical theological works teach this extreme view.

The writers of Scripture are not unhistorical phantoms whom the divine Spirit controls like mechanical robots. Even in the Gospels, the biblical writer is completely candid about the use of human sources (Luke 1:1–2). Nowhere does the Bible claim, like the Book of Mormon, to have fallen from the skies. Nowhere does it claim, like the Koran, to have been directly and angelically revealed from heaven as a sacred book—an earthly copy of a heavenly original alleged to have been made known to Muhammad during his ecstasies—that cannot even be touched without a handwashing ritual.

The Koran is a collection, made after Muhammad’s death, of writings reciting what Muhammad assertedly heard from Allah and repeated (xvii.108; xx.1; lxxvi.23; xxvii.6; xxviii.85). Muhammad regarded his revelations as taken from a heavenly tablet (lxxxv.22)—the “mother of the scripture” or original scripture (xliii.4; cf. iii.7), a hidden book that only the pure can touch (lvi.79). His basic notion is of a well-guarded book existing in heaven (al-kitab), communicated to the prophet piece by piece—although not the entirety—in an Arabic version intelligible to Muhammad and his people (cf. xii.1; xiii.37; xx.113; xxvi.192; etc.). The Koran contains “only a few and very obscure hints regarding the process of communication of the revelations; it is wrapped in a secrecy which Muhammad either could not or would not illuminate” (“Al-Kur‛an,” in Shorter Encyclopedia of Islam, p. 274). The rather abnormal ecstatic circumstances that overcame him in the overwhelming conviction that he must proclaim a prophetic word link him less to the biblical prophets and apostles than to a succession reaching down to the Mormon spokesman Joseph Smith, although he claims to climax a succession of prophets that began with Adam and Jesus, yet concedes that unlike Jesus he was unable to perform miracles. Students of the Koran note that it “gives only a few hints about the manner of these inspirations; a veil lay over them which the Prophet either could not or would not raise completely,” yet he seems thoroughly convinced that “the spirit was continually hovering about him to communicate the revelations to him” (“Muhammad,” in ibid., p. 393). As evidence of the truth of his teachings Muhammad frequently emphasizes their agreement with the ancient religions of revelation and scripture, Judaism and Christianity (cf. Sura x.94), although he had no direct knowledge of Hebrew or Greek and reflects Midrashic and apocryphal sources as well as canonical materials. Moreover, the religious traditions on which he leans, for all his insistence on full agreement with earlier revealed religion, do not affirm the divine Sonship of Jesus Christ and hence may have been Ebionite. This circumstance may account for Muhammad’s emphasis only on the humanity of Jesus.

The charge that evangelicals worship the Bible like a fetish is unworthy. Critics have sometimes likened trust in the biblical promises to Israel’s attitude toward the brazen serpent (Num. 21:8) that, while helping to focus messianic expectation (John 3:14), for all that became an object of idolatry and had to be destroyed (2 Kings 18:4). C. A. Briggs was playing the galleries when he deplored verbal inspiration as a “barrier” that keeps human beings “from the Bible” and then emphasized that “there is nothing divine in the text—in its letters, words or clauses” (quoted in Carl E. Hatch, The Trial of Charles A. Briggs, p. 32).

James Barr remarks that while the Bible determines the shape and character of fundamentalist religion, not even fundamentalists believe that “the Bible is Saviour and Lord. From this point of view it is wrong to say, as is sometimes said, that they put the Bible in the place of Christ” (Fundamentalism, p. 36). Yet Barr then confusedly identifies the Bible as the “absolute and perfect symbol” in fundamentalist religion (p. 37). Evangelicals have never worshiped the Bible by transferring to it attributes that belong only to God. One does not exhaust everything that can be said about the Word of God when one speaks about Scripture, nor can one equate the prophets and apostles with the Holy Spirit. It was one thing for the Israelites to call the bronze serpent Nehushtan and to offer sacrifices to it; it is quite another for evangelicals to recognize the derivative authority of what Scripture says, as when, for example, the New Testament speaks of the Old in terms of what “God says” or “the Holy Spirit says” (cf. Acts 1:16; 3:24–25; 1 Cor. 6:16, etc.).

G. Voetius and V. Polanus were patently mistaken in their extreme notion that divine inspiration must have extended even to the vowel points because of Christ’s declaration that not a jot or tittle would pass away until “all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17–19). The fact is that the biblical autographs had no linguistic vowel pointings. A specific registration of vowel pointings of the Hebrew text was first added by the Massoretes (c. a.d. 600–900) many centuries and in some cases even millennia after the texts were composed. Some claimed inspiration of vowel pointings because they wrongly thought the vowel pointings belonged to the original text. James Barr comments that Protestant theologians who held to the divine inspiration of the vowel points were not really given to “the ultimate and crowning absurdity” of inspiration-theory, as they are often depicted; rather, the verdict was “sensible” and “perhaps the only logical one,” since the vowel points function as determiners of meaning, and they did not know that “the vowel points were a late graphic registration of the oral tradition and did not belong to the original writings” (Review of J. K. S. Reid, The Authority of Scripture, p. 92).

Barr says the notion that the vowel pointings were divinely inspired—which he excessively imputes to “much of orthodoxy”—”makes sense only on the assumption that inspiration was understood as, or as including, dictation” (Fundamentalism, p. 298). But that is not at all the case; rather, the belief that inspiration is verbal (which Barr belatedly approves) would look in this direction, since vowel pointings serve to fix meaning. Barr in fact comments that the Massoretic interest in vowel points reflects the conviction that inspiration was connected “with the exact verbal form,” and moreover, that divine inspiration was connected with “the writing of books” (ibid.).

Neo-Protestant theologians routinely misrepresent and even malign the doctrine of verbal inspiration as a dictation theory. Insofar as Gregory the Great may in some statements have given the impression that divine inspiration wholly displaces any human authorship of the writings, he went both beyond what Scripture itself asserts and what the evangelical doctrine of inspiration affirms. Brunner uses the terms “automatic dictation and verbal inspiration” in the same breath or interchangeably (Revelation and Reason, p. 128; cf. pp. 273–74). He compounds this confusion by adding the notion that verbal inspiration demands flawless copies; he reasons that because Luther made corrections in the text he could not have believed in verbal inspiration (p. 127, n. 21). Alan Richardson also mistakenly states that fundamentalism supports a mode of biblical inspiration “which regards the written words of the Bible as divinely dictated” (“Fundamentalism,” in Chambers’s Encyclopedia, 1950 and 1957 editions). Heinz Zahrnt quotes no sources but apparently relies only upon a fertile imagination when he writes: “According to the orthodox understanding of Scripture, it was not developed and handed down like any other book; God himself dictated it, and the writers, stripped of almost all human individuality, served only as automatic instruments of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, just as God had seen to the writing of Scripture, so too he made special provision for its transmission, so that what he had dictated might remain for all time without error or falsification” (The Historical Jesus, p. 30). But, as Pinnock remarks, the difficulties in the evangelical view of the Bible are “seldom quite those which our opponents suppose, and are in fact less intractable and obstinate than those which plague the various current alternatives” (Biblical Revelation, p. 17).

James Barr is aware that evangelical theologians reject the doctrine of divine dictation, although he names Jacob Huttar and J. A. Quenstedt as post-Reformation Protestant scholastics who, at least in some passages, adhered to verbal dictation. As a staunch foe of verbal inerrancy, Barr insists, in an effort to embarrass those who hold the doctrine, that the dictation theory of inspiration may be wrong, but “it makes some kind of sense” (Fundamentalism, p. 290). He notes that evangelicals resist it on the ground of the evident stylistic peculiarities and vocabulary range of the different writers. But he fails to note that evangelicals have long shared his further, emphasis that divine inspiration did not occur ex machina but crowned a long period of providential preparation involving diverse experiences. Barr holds that while evangelicals back into the modern world when they emphasize the psychological preparation of the writers, they swiftly remove themselves from it when the literary consciousness of the biblical writers is declared by critics to have embraced the categories of myth and legend. Yet a clear distinction should be made between the language that belongs to a given culture and by which not only divinely inspired writers but most human beings profess to communicate some transcultural truth, and the notion that when the writers speak of divine incarnation in Jesus, virgin birth and bodily resurrection, they aim merely to convey legend or myth.

Appealing to the specter of “a dictation theory,” as Hans Küng does, to reject verbally inspired Scripture, is arbitrary. Küng indicates that the curial preparatory commission for Vatican II shared this same misunderstanding when, supposedly to avoid “an impersonal mechanistic interpretation of the origin of Scripture” (Küng here approvingly quotes A. Gillmeier’s comments in Commentary on the Documents of Vatican II, p. 204), they eliminated all reflections of scriptural inerrancy. Küng caricatures the doctrine of verbally inspired Scripture as one in which “the authors of the books appear as unhistorical phantom beings through whom the Holy Spirit effects everything directly” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 209).

Already a century ago, A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield insisted on a necessary differentiation between scriptural inspiration and verbal dictation: “The great majority of those who object to the affirmation that Inspiration is verbal are impelled thereto by a feeling, more or less definite, that the phrase implies that inspiration is, in its essence, a process of verbal dictation, or that, at least in some way, the revelation of the thought, or the inspiration of the writer, was by means of the control which God exercised over his words.… The advocates of the strictest doctrine of Inspiration, in insisting that it is verbal, do not mean that, in any way, the thoughts were inspired by means of the words, but simply that the divine superintendence, which we call Inspiration, extended to the verbal expression of the thoughts of the sacred writers, as well as to the thoughts themselves, and that, hence, the Bible considered as a record, an utterance in words of a divine revelation, is the Word of God to us” (“Inspiration,” Presbyterian Review 6 [April 1881]:232–44).

The “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” approved by associates of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy in October 1978, subject to future revision, strenuously disavows dictation, but unfortunately in some passages suggests divine causation of each and every word choice. Scripture is said to be “wholly and verbally God-given” (“A Short Statement,” #4); moreover, we read of God “causing these writers to use the very words that He chose” (Article VIII) (see Supplementary Note, Chapter 8). The emphasis on the connection of thought and words, both in propositional revelation and in verbal inspiration, is somewhat obscured.

The objection that verbal inspiration is mantic dictation—that if the Spirit superintends their words “the writers must have received them either in a trance (automatic writing) or as secretaries”—ignores the fact that very little if anything in the Bible even remotely approximates the mantic ecstasy prominent in some of the ancient pagan religions. Geoffrey W. Bromiley differentiates biblical inspiration from manticism in four respects: “First, the Bible does not make unintelligible or sporadic pronouncements. Secondly, the divine aspect is not inscrutable providence, fate, or destiny. Thirdly, the biblical sayings, though often oracular in form, are not obscure or devious. Finally, there is an ethical quality about God’s word and work in Scripture” (“The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture,” in Holman Family Reference Bible).

While it is not quite correct to speak of a dual authorship or of a divine-human coauthorship of Scripture, the sacred writers were more than simply divine amanuenses, penmen or secretaries; they themselves, on occasion, had amanuenses of their own. They were auctores secundarii (see Barth, Church Dogmatics, I/2, pp. 503–526) and their various differences of personality and style carry over into the sacred literature. The Holy Spirit’s inspiration of the chosen writers involves a special confluence of the divine and human. The simultaneous agency of God and man in one and the same event, whether historical (Acts 2:23) or literary (2 Pet. 1:21), is a doctrine not foreign to biblical theism.

2. The biblical evangelical view denies further that inspiration consists primarily of God’s heightening of the psychic powers or creative energies of prophets and apostles. Biblical inspiration is something different from a quickening or striking manifestation of artistic, literary or poetic genius. The locus of inspiration would in that case be found in some special internal disposition of the chosen writers, or in human imagination somehow divinely differentiated from fantasies of the ancient Babylonian and Egyptian myth-writers (cf. Barth, Church Dogmatics, III/1, pp. 92–93).

But to depict divine inspiration in terms of an inner frenzy of enthusiasm or of mantic excitement is to impose pagan motifs upon the biblical representations. Plato has a dialogue, Ion, in which he speaks of poetic inspiration by divine power. “There is no invention in him until he has been inspired and is out of his senses, and the mind is no longer in him: when he has not attained to this state, he is powerless and unable to utter his oracles.… God takes away the minds of poets, and uses them as his ministers, as he also uses diviners and holy prophets, in order that we who hear them may know that they speak not of themselves who utter these priceless words in a state of unconsciousness, but that God is the speaker, and that through them he is conversing with us” (The Works of Plato, 4:287). Such theories would identify God’s relationship to Scripture as being only before, above or behind the Bible, and hence as prior to or superior to the writings; they center inspiration in prophetic or apostolic experience, and misunderstand its nature.

To say that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16) rules out any derivation from a presumptively latent divinity in man and emphasizes instead a divine initiative and compulsion (2 Pet. 1:21). To confine inspiration to the writers, as William Sanday did in his 1893 Bampton Lectures (Inspiration) frustrates the purpose of inspiration. G. W. H. Lampe insists that inspiration is “a quality of persons rather than of writings as such, and there can be little doubt that whatever is meant is that the scriptures … are the product of men who were specially inspired and empowered by the divine Spirit” (“Inspiration and Revelation,” 2:713b). To be sure, the Christian church has always insisted that the prophets and apostles were divinely inspired. They stand as the foundation of the church (Eph. 2:20), and in their witness for Christ the apostles were sheltered by the Spirit of truth (John 15:26). But when the Scripture speaks of inspiration, it does not stop short with the inspiration of only the person; rather, it affirms something specific also about the written texts.

No less does it frustrate the goal of inspiration to confine it to mental concepts in distinction from words, since improperly phrased ideas fall short of being a communication of truth. The biblical emphasis falls not on revealed concepts and ideas but on inspired Scripture. Commenting on the view that divine inspiration encompasses the thoughts of the biblical writers but does not extend to the words, Harold Lindsell observes, “Thoughts, when committed to writing, must be put into words. And if the words are congruent with the ideas, the words no less than the thoughts take on great importance. Words have specific meanings. To suppose that thoughts are inspired but the words that express them are not, is to do violence even to the thoughts” (The Battle for the Bible, p. 33). In view of its weaknesses, the Baptist theologian A. H. Strong supplemented the concept theory of inspiration, as opposed to verbal inspiration, by emphasizing a superintendence of the Scripture writers by the Spirit of God that excluded “essential error”: “The Scripture writers appear to have been so influenced by the Holy Spirit that they perceived and felt even the new truths they were to publish, as discoveries in their own minds, and were left to the action of their own minds in the expression of these truths, with the single exception that they were supernaturally held back from the selection of wrong words, and when needful, were provided with right ones.… Inspiration is therefore not verbal, while yet we claim that no form of words which taken in its connections would teach essential error has been admitted into Scripture” (Systematic Theology, 1:216). Although Strong commendably emphasizes the reliability of Scripture, the weakness of his theory lies in representing inspiration as a phenomenon internal to the writers more than as a quality of the writings.

Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture, and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. Gordon H. Clark rightly remarks, “The Bible puts more emphasis on the inspiration of the words than on the inspiration of the apostles and prophets” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 209). In Warfield’s words, “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153).

Over against the aforementioned denials, the evangelical doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures makes the following affirmations:

1. That the text of Scripture is divinely inspired as an objective deposit of language. The attack on verbal inspiration in the orthodox sense is always an assault on the Bible as a linguistic revelatory deposit. The biblical and evangelical view does not limit divine inspiration as an activity internal to the psyche of the writers, but recognizes its importance beyond the subjective psychology of the chosen prophets and apostles. The nonbiblical notions of inspiration obscure the nature of biblical inspiration by asserting the inspiration of only the writers, and not of the written truths they enunciate. The biblical doctrine of inspiration, on the other hand, connects God’s activity with the express truths and words of Scripture. The New Testament teaching correlates inspiration with the sacred writings and their verbal statements.

Only because James Barr overlooks the evangelical emphasis on prepositional revelation can he presume to score a point against conservative Christians when he demeans a verbally inspired record as insignificant on the ground that “signs on paper are not true or false. They have meaning only through their nexus with the semantics of the language in which they are written” (Fundamentalism, p. 301). Not evangelical theologians but their nonevangelical counterparts tended most rigidly to distinguish between the inspiration of ideas or concepts and the inspiration of words; evangelicals emphasize revealed truths and verbal inspiration side by side.

Yet many who heartily dislike the doctrine admit its New Testament base. Although rejecting plenary inspiration, John Baillie, for example, concedes that in the apostolic view inspiration extended “not only to the thoughts of the writers, but to the very words they employed in the expression of these thoughts” (The Idea of Revelation in Recent Thought, pp. 115–16). George Duncan Barry acknowledges that the church fathers talk of Scripture as though “the Books, the actual words, rather than the writers, were inspired” (The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, p. 10).

In a noteworthy shift of critical opinion, Barr declares that non-fundamentalist Christianity took a wrong turn when it reacted against the fundamentalist insistence on verbal inspiration. “The conservative argument that, if the Bible is to be inspired at all, the inspiration must extend to the words, is not in itself an unreasonable position,” he concedes. Nonfundamentalist Christianity should in fact have emphasized “that the Bible is inspired, and even inspired verbally” (Fundamentalism, p. 287).

The liberal movement emphasized instead that “perhaps the ideas were inspired, or the general contents …, or the people who wrote it …, but the actual words were not inspired.” But, comments Barr, “it is not very convincing if one supposes that the writers were inspired, but not the sentences and books they wrote, or that the ideas were inspired, but not the verbal form in which they are expressed. Theological assertions about the status of the Bible can quite properly be assertions about its verbal or linguistic form. What we know about the authors, the ideas, the inner theology and so on is known ultimately from the verbal form (I would prefer to say, the linguistic form) of the Bible.… As in any other linguistic work, the verbal form is its mode of communicating meaning. If the verbal form of the Bible were different, then its meaning would be different” (ibid.).

This is a highly welcome critical admission after many decades of biting nonevangelical caricature of the evangelical emphasis on verbal inspiration. Verbal or plenary inspiration has not infrequently been viewed as the issue separating nonevangelical and evangelical views of the Bible. (The distinction between plenary inspiration and verbal inspiration is largely semantic, since both terms rule out partial inspiration. The term plenary signifies that inspiration extends to the whole—not merely to the ideas but to the words also.) Barr’s acknowledgment will serve to focus attention once again on the significance of the doctrine, much as Barr adds that he does not really consider the issue “very important” (ibid.).

Barr’s restored emphasis on verbal inspiration breaks with evangelical conservatives, however, by sacrificing biblical inerrancy and by applying the quality of verbal inspiration primarily to the formation of Hebrew and Christian tradition, rather than reserving it for prophetic-apostolic proclamation, oral or written. He assimilates Scripture to tradition and subordinates the doctrine of Scripture to the doctrine of the church (ibid., p. 288). In Barr’s view, inspiration “does not in the least guarantee accuracy in verbal form, much less in historical reporting, dating, attribution of authorships and so on.… In the end verbal inspiration is not very important; and not too much sleep should be lost over it” (p. 299).

By way of contrast, J. M. Creed remarks that the truth of revealed religion has through the long centuries of Christian history been found only in the inspired biblical writings: “Had any Christian of any church between the end of the second century and the closing decades of the eighteenth century been asked a question as to the content of the Christian religion, his answer could scarcely have failed to be to the general effect that the truths of the Christian religion were contained in the inspired books of holy scripture” (The Divinity of Jesus Christ, p. 105).

But Barr declares “now most out of place” the strict attachment of verbal inspiration to “the point of writing” (Fundamentalism, p. 293). He breaks with the scriptural use of the term primarily of what stands written when he finds the main locus for verbal inspiration “not in the writing down of the sacred books but in the formation of tradition in Israel and the early church” and refers it “only in an indirect and remote way … to the actual writing down of the books” (p. 288).

“What of earlier drafts, previous editions, and of oral tradition from which reports were later taken to be written down?” he asks (pp. 293–94). Barr considers it impossible “to separate the moment of origin of a biblical book from its prehistory, and postulate a special divine intervention at this point” (p. 294). But why may not certain biblical books, e.g., Paul’s letter to Philemon, have originated by spontaneous inspiration? Yet evangelical scholars do not deny that sometimes a long period of providential preparation, and then an extended period of writing, may well have entered into the completion of the end product. Luke writes of including the patient sifting of sources (cf. Luke 1:1–4). But evangelicals affirm that inspiration uniquely and plenarily qualifies Scripture as a literary deposit. There is no external support for Barr’s view that the completion of some Old Testament books “may have lasted hundreds of years” (ibid.), nor do the scriptural books internally affirm this.

Barr insists without warrant, moreover, that “any viable modern idea of inspiration … cannot be localized at any particular point of original ‘giving’ or in the original autographs; on the contrary it must be an aspect of the total tradition of Israel and of the church, a tradition that is known to us not through the Bible directly but through historical study of many sources, of which the Bible is only one” (ibid.).

But if by inspiration one means what the Bible means, one must reject Barr’s view that “there is no single unique form of words which could be counted as the one inspired text” (ibid.).

Barr declares it difficult for contemporary Christians “even to imagine … the strict, precise and quantitative character” that evangelicals have assigned the doctrine of verbal inspiration, namely “that God inspired one unique finite set of words, these and none other, namely the total string of words as set down in the original autographs” (ibid., p. 295). But one must suffer from retarded imagination to find this conception all that unimaginable. Since Barr himself has tardily acknowledged that verbal inspiration—the view of divine inspiration extended to the words—”can be reasonably argued” (ibid.), we may ask what words other than finite words or finite sets of words would share in divine inspiration, and if not all words, what but a total string of words set down somewhere as distinct from everywhere?

Barr speculates that evangelicals locate inspiration in the autographs in order “to exclude as far as possible any active role of church tradition in the formation and preservation of scripture” (ibid., p. 297). But this is rather confusing and in some respects inaccurate. Nothing precludes church tradition from preserving the Scriptures alongside other tradition, or simply as tradition. But that Scripture owes its origin to church tradition is another matter. As Barr sees it, and confidently adds, “as probably all scholars see it today, the processes of passing on oral tradition, converting it to a written medium, sometimes also translating it into another language, producing a final text, copying and preserving that text and adding exegetical comments at any or all of these stages, cannot be separated, but … form one total complex of tradition” (ibid.).

The historic evangelical view of inspiration does not at all deny the fact that the text may have passed at times through a complex contributory process. But it affirms that, in the broad stream of tradition, the Spirit of God has vouchsafed one authentic tradition, the inspired prophetic-apostolic writings. Barr notes that “verbal inspiration as conservative evangelicals apply it is totally irrelevant to work in the history and formation of texts as we now carry it out” (ibid.). But that is simply to say that we are not inspired prophets and apostles, and that if we claim inspiration for our work in the biblical sense, we do so gratuitously.

Barr’s modern critical view of inspiration nonetheless regards “inspiration as a part of the total movement of tradition out of which the Bible came” (ibid., p. 298). This reinterpretation of inspiration can only result in massive confusion. Many theological illiterates will hail the news that biblical critics have now decided that “the Bible is inspired,” indeed, that it is “verbally inspired” (Barr is willing even to accommodate divine inspiration of the vowel pointings). Only tardily would they come to realize that inspiration—which historic Christianity had reserved for apostolic oral proclamation and writings—was now being disjoined from inerrant autographs and applied to all the extant copies and versions, and also to oral tradition, multiple fragments of written tradition, all stages that entered into the preparation of a text, copying, translation; moreover, that inspiration in this new projection is no longer reserved for the canonical books, but is in fact considered an endowment even of modern biblical critics. For, as Barr emphasizes, if divine inspiration does not guarantee inerrancy, as held by nonevangelical and some mediating scholars, then “inspiration can no longer be used as an argument against biblical criticism” (ibid., p. 303), a term Barr routinely connects with modern revision of historic Christian theology. Thus the classic doctrine of inspiration, which arose in the context of the scriptural insistence on divine authority, is altered into a modern rationale conferring special sanction on critical revaluation of the Bible and critical reformulation of the God of the Bible. Modern biblical study thereby forfeits the written Word of God that sifts the thoughts and intentions of the reader (Heb. 4:12), only to exalt the critical scholar to decide whether and when and why the traditional writers deserve to be influentially heard, and what modern tradition is to hold center stage. Through what modern critics dignify as progress in theology it has become possible to subscribe semantically to inspiration; biblical scholars then, on this critical basis, find it possible to interpret the whole content of Scripture contextually and culturally, or literarily in terms of myth, and thereby to subvert the cognitive revelational import of the Bible.

The Bible provides no sanction for Barr’s notion that “if inspiration is to be thought of at all, it has to extend … in some degree to post-biblical tradition” as well as to the prescriptural materials used by the writers (ibid., p. 294). To be sure, the inspired New Testament writers cite and interpret Old Testament materials and reflect their own inspired oral proclamation. But Barr’s extension of inspiration to prescriptural tradition and to postbiblical tradition in effect undermines the historic Jewish and historic Christian insistence on a unique canon of books distinguished from all others by their divine inspiration. Moreover, it operatively substitutes a fluid canon of tradition, suspended in turn upon the changing valuational assessment of the momentarily regnant critical school, which tends to dignify its preferred views as contemporary church tradition and as the authentic distillation of the biblical tradition. The writings which are then readily viewed as exceptionally inspired are those containing the novel constructions of contemporary critical scholars.

Barr’s waffling reassertion of inspiration should, therefore, not obscure his equally insistent repudiation of Scripture in whole or part as the Word of God written. His sharpest thrusts against evangelicals are aimed at their regard for Scripture as the veritable Word of God. In the evangelical handling of the doctrinal passages of the Bible, he protests, “the biblical wording is taken … as an exact and direct transcript of God’s intention” (ibid., p. 54). Fundamentalism insists that “the real author of the Bible was God. God revealed what he pleased of himself by giving such and such information to each of the human writers” (p. 65).

Karl Barth’s interpretation of the Bible as an instrumentality through which God sporadically communicates his paradoxical Word—a theory that, as Bromiley observes, substitutes the “inspiringness” for the “inspiredness” of Scripture—redefines the doctrine of inspiration dynamically and connects it with the psyche of the believer. In a similar vein, James D. Smart writes: “It is through these words and no others that God speaks to us, and, when he does, we know that there is no other kind of inspiration than verbal inspiration” (The Interpretation of Scripture, pp. 195–96, italics mine). George S. Hendry likewise contends that where a belief-ful response to the transcendent Word of Christ-confrontation is lacking, “the Bible consists of human words, which like all such are subject to error.… The Bible is the Word of God only by inspiration of God” (“The Exposition of Holy Scripture,” p. 36), that is, only by a contemporary divine act that submerges the Bible as mere words to the Word who demands and inspires our obedience. Scripture is significant only as a pointer to the personal Word dynamically moving through it. Such views of inspiration are not derived from Scripture; they are influenced rather by modern philosophical theories in deference to which the Christian doctrine is altered while biblical representations are ignored.

2. The evangelical view affirms, further, that inspiration does not violate but is wholly consistent with the humanity of the prophets and apostles. The Spirit of God made full use of the human capacities of the chosen writers so that their writings reflect psychological, biographical, and even sociohistorical differences. In discussing biblical inspiration, nonevangelical theologians repeatedly misrepresent the evangelical view as somehow requiring a violation of or disregard for the humanity of the writers of Scripture. Brunner writes: “The Bible is the human, and therefore not the infallible, witness to the divine revelation in the Old Covenant and in the history of the incarnate Son of God” (Revelation and Reason, p. 276). The underlying assumption seems to be that God simply cannot enlist human beings to tell the truth, and that insofar as men remain human they must distort what God says about himself and about his purposes.

Barth asserts that “we cannot possibly deny” that the writers of Scripture are “all vulnerable and therefore capable of error even in respect of religion and theology … if we are not to take away their humanity, if we are not to be guilty of Docetism. How can they be witnesses, if this is not the case?” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, pp. 509–510). This appraisal seems to imply that the biblical witnesses cannot be true witnesses until they also bear false witness. In some passages Barth prefers to speak not of errors in the Bible, but rather of the writers’ “capacity for error”; in context, however, he stresses the universal human capacity for error (ibid., pp. 509 ff.) and maintains that contradiction and error are found in Scripture, and necessarily so.

Clark remarks that “the only accountable assumption from which such inferences could be drawn is the peculiar prejudice that their humanity is violated if the apostles accurately report revealed information” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 190).

“Properly defined and guarded,” Barr says, the idea of verbal inspiration “is not at all incompatible with critical scholarship and modern theology.” How then does Barr propose to redefine it? Not so that it means and entails “the total infallibility and inerrancy of the Bible, … unity of books, and so on.” Barr then pours new content into an old form. In rejecting verbal inspiration, nonevangelical intention was “quite right” in its insistence that the Bible is not perfect but must be understood “through the human thought-processes of the writers” (Fundamentalism, p. 287). Barr apparently means that the biblical writers cannot have told the truth (even if divinely inspired), because they were human. What we should say, he tells us, is that the Bible is “verbally inspired, but it remains fallible; it is not inerrant; and investigation of it has to proceed on the lines of examining [it] not as a book that shares in the perfections of God” (ibid.). Barr thinks Protestant scholarship should unhesitatingly have followed the course charted by some Roman Catholic biblical critics: inspiration without inerrancy.

Barr’s “recovery” of verbal inspiration detaches the doctrine from “the idea that God had somehow himself provided exactly the right words.… The words would be fully human and in every way explicable as words of men spoken in the situation of their own time and under the limitations of that situation” (ibid., p. 288). Evangelical theology will welcome this emphasis that God did not dictate the words; consistent with their differing personalities and stylistic peculiarities, the inspired prophets and apostles in fact spoke in the language of their time and place. But, in the context of verbal inspiration, what are we to make of Barr’s insistence on inexact wording and on situational limitation? Barr does not long leave us in doubt: fully human words “would be subject not only to mistakes in historical and geographical matters, but also might incorporate myths and legends with no historical basis whatever. Moreover, they would be subject to the faults of human passions, defects and sins, and even taken as doctrine … they would not be final and infallible but would have to be considered and evaluated, respectfully but also critically, by the community of the church” (ibid.).

The implications of Barr’s emphasis on inspirational errancy are far-reaching. Barr does not discuss its christological relevancy at this point, but elsewhere he scorches fundamentalism for underplaying the humanity of Jesus. If to assume authentic human nature Christ needed to share in human fallibility, we have lost Jesus as an inerrant teacher of doctrine; even if his teaching was inerrant, we would have its content only in the “fully human” words of the New Testament writers. Since Barr stresses that “the community of the church” is critically to evaluate the supposedly errant Scriptures, either the church possesses a kind or degree of inspiration superior to that of the biblical writers or we have a case of the errant leading the errant. And can anyone miss the further implication—intended or not—that since the Christian community is to pursue “critical” evaluation of the Bible, we are to regard biblical critics like Barr, and surely not scholars who may deeply question their critical constructs, as the enlightened bearers of contemporary gnosis, even if Barr as well cannot escape human thought forms and historico-cultural particularity?

Barr tells us candidly that he would not begin theologically “from the idea of an antecedent ‘revelation,’ the communication of which [is] the essential function of scripture” (ibid., p. 288). Revelation “would not … be the first and initiatory article in statements of Christian belief: in other words, authority … is not the first thing to be stated nor the thing from which all else-has to be derived” (ibid.).

Having stripped the biblical witness of divinely assured truth, and having accommodated cultural prejudice and legend, it is small wonder that Barr should find himself lacking assured ties to divine revelation and authority. Having, moreover, subordinated the doctrine of Scripture and its inspiration to the church, whose edge is most sharply honed in the critical scholarship represented by higher critics, it should surprise nobody that, upon reflection, Barr asks whether, after all, “the term ‘verbal inspiration’ is very fitting, very characteristic, or very helpful” (ibid., p. 289). Yet, Barr comments, it nonetheless does “seem worth while” to state in revised form “the limited valid insights used in the fundamentalist idea.… In any case it is essential that the fundamentalist concept of verbal inspiration should be totally dismantled” (ibid.). If this dismantling leads, however, as Barr assuredly thinks it does, to the loss of priority for divine revelation and authority, to the loss also of validity for the teaching of Jesus, and finally to a welcome for the fallible teaching of contemporary critics as a divine voice within the church, it will be well to probe anew the evangelical insistence on verbal-plenary inspiration on its own terms.

With remarkable conceit many modernists (quite apart from any claim to special transcendent inspiration) assumed finality for their communication of what supposedly was the authentic content of Christianity, while at the same time they argued that if inspired apostles told the infallible truth about Christ and the Christian faith their humanity must somehow have been breached.

But the Holy Spirit’s employment of human writers does not at all require or demand error in what they wrote. Barth’s notion that the humanity of the biblical writers demands their fallibility leads, as Clark remarks, to the devastating consequence that God cannot verbally inspire even one true sentence—since the argument based on the incompatibility of humanity and verbal infallibility would otherwise collapse (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 203).

3. It affirms also that inspiration did not put an end to the human fallibility of prophets and apostles. In their daily lives they remained fallible men prone to mistakes, and frequently made them. The doctrine of biblical inspiration does not deny that the sacred writers had a great deal of merely human learning that was acquired within their own limited cultural milieu and whose form and content scholars in our generation would rightly dispute. The men and women of the Bible shared the culture of their age.

But the revelational conceptions of the writers cannot be criticized as culture-bound merely because revelation and inspiration were accommodated to human thought and words, and involved language and expressions peculiar to the times in which the prophets and apostles lived. These formal aspects attach necessarily to any historical communication of intelligible information, be it divine disclosure or not. The biblical message centers, indeed, from start to finish in a historical revelation, and the particular linguistic form of its revealed and inspired content is an aspect of this historical particularity. But if it cannot communicate truth because of this historical particularity, neither can anyone else, its critics included.

Nor does the fact that prophets and apostles frequently affirmed their doctrinal positions amid lively controversies militate against the inspired nature of their content. C. K. Barrett asserts that “no denial of a valid doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is involved in the recognition that Paul’s theology evolved in concrete situations under the stimulus of events and especially of controversy” (A Commentary on the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 42).

In charging the biblical writers with an objectionable and erroneous dependence on the limited cultural outlook of the past, modern critics readily fall into two antibiblical prejudices.

For one thing, all too often contemporary criticism of earlier views arbitrarily presumes the infallibility of the so-called modern world view. In a noteworthy remark Barth reminds us that “in relation to the general view of the world and man the insight and knowledge of our age can be neither divine nor even solomonic” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 509). Clark states that “the philosophy of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not necessarily better than that of earlier ages, nor dare we suppose that our vaunted science will never be discarded” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 195). Obviously the Scripture writers did not possess the encyclopedic data of the twentieth century which in many respects would have enhanced their past knowledge; on the other hand, the full range of contemporary learning would not have conferred infallibility upon any philosopher or prophet of earlier ages, nor does it confer infallibility upon contemporaries.

A second contemporary prejudice, popularized by Heidegger and taken over by Bultmann as a theological presupposition, is that the historicity of understanding nullifies any and all claims to objective truth. Reality is grasped through self-understanding as we pursue phenomenal investigation of the experienced world. Here the possibility of universally valid truth, even on the basis of divine revelation, is excluded; all assertions about history and reality are held to reflect the creative contribution of the knower, so that no assertions can be credited about what is independently or objectively the case. We have yet to be told by what special revelational prerogative this profoundly important information, if valid, was vouchsafed to Heidegger and Bultmann. If modern thinkers can acquire such comprehensively valid information, despite their historical particularity and apart from divine revelation, then no objection should be mounted against prophets and apostles who relay a transcendent message on the basis of divine disclosure. This critical historicist outlook therefore not only openly espouses the second prejudice against objectively valid truth, but at the same time also secretly harbors the first prejudice, namely, the supposed finality of a modern view of reality.

The evangelical view of inspiration does not assert that prophets and apostles were infallible, nor that in their own learning they were exempt from limitations imposed by the cultural horizon of their day. What it asserts, rather, is that the inspired writers did not teach as doctrine the doubtful views of the cultures in which they lived.

4. The evangelical view also holds that divine inspiration is limited to a small company of messengers who were divinely chosen to authoritatively communicate the Word of God to mankind. This inspiration is no universal phenomenon, nor is it necessarily or actually shared by all or most spiritually devout and obedient men of God.

The claim to verbal inspiration that first emerged in the context of prophetic-apostolic revelation was later appropriated by post-Christian religious movements to support their own documents. The Muslims, for example, believe that the Arabic wording of the Koran was verbally disclosed to Muhammad and that its exact textual form was supernaturally inspired. Similar claims are made by modern cults, including Jehovah’s Witnesses and Christadelphians. Mormons believe that the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, as their body is technically known, may receive revelations for the guidance of the church as a whole. Since its origin in 1830 the Mormon Church has barred black members’ of African descent from ordination to its priesthood. In 1978 the church’s president announced a divine “revelation … that the day has come” when such restrictions of race and color are no longer to be maintained, a change in policy as significant as the church’s tardy banning of polygamy in the 1890s. Such cultic developments supply no valid basis for rejecting the Bible as an objectively authoritative revelation, or for insisting that the evangelical view leads necessarily to such contrary conceptions. Nor ought the Bible to be held responsible for religious alternatives that contradict its teaching.

It remained for modern critics like James Barr to extend the claim of verbal inspiration—although in dissociation from inerrancy—not only to ancient prebiblical and postbiblical religious literature, but also to modern and contemporary writings. Barr’s formulation breaks in principle, however, with the biblical doctrine of miraculous inspiration. If pre- and post- and even antiscripture were just as divinely inspired as Scripture, it would be pointless to emphasize that Scripture is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16).

According to Barr, inspiration has “nothing to do with inerrancy or infallibility. It would have to apply in the first place not to the formation of Scripture but to the formation of tradition in Israel and the early church …; secondarily it would apply to the process of making this tradition into Scripture, and thirdly but most unimportantly to the process of limitation within a sacred canon.… The production of tradition, and eventually of scripture is … a ‘spin-off’ from the actual work of leaders” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 131). Barr says he is unable to say more about “the mode” in which God was thus ” ‘with’ his people,” except to add that it was “in the Spirit”—not as a supply of “intellectual links” but in personal presence—and this relationship did not differ basically from that of the divine presence today. What “may make it fitting for them to be called ‘inspired’ in a special sense,” he adds, “is that the biblical leaders functioned at a different stage of tradition-formulation” (p. 132). But Barr insists that no special transcendent divine agency is allowable; the Spirit similarly accompanies all human thought and action, so that Scripture involves no supernatural intervention. He holds that “a modern view would … have to abandon” the traditional insistence on “a special mode of direct communication from God to persons like prophets” along with a subsequent “cessation of this special mode at more or less the end of the biblical period” (p. 17). “Today … we … have to believe that God’s communication with the men of the biblical period was not on any different terms from the mode of his communication with his people today” (pp. 17–18).

While this account of the nature of the Bible may have an “appeal” for Barr (ibid., p. 132), such appeal hardly lies in any coincidence with what the prophets, apostles, or Jesus of Nazareth indicate and teach about Scripture. Their insistent contrast of a divinely authorized tradition with the traditions of men, the reference of the origin of the scriptural writings to divine initiative and command, their connection of the Spirit of God with a rational-verbal content distinct from the thought and action of the prophets and apostles, all suggest that Barr does not in fact reflect the realities of the biblical heritage. Instead he adapts and transforms these realities in deference to what is fast becoming a contemporary neo-Protestant tradition erosive of scriptural inspiration. If the modern theological view demands such illogicality as one’s correlation of divine inspiration with errancy, one would expect a regard for reason to lead either to serious doubts about theological validity or to a rejection of the concept of inspiration, instead of to a masked retention of inspiration in a sense that the inspired biblical writers would disown.

What made it possible for modernism to elevate man to the level of prophet and apostle was its philosophy of exaggerated divine immanence; first, it put all men and history on the same plane, then, by exalting empirical methodology and evolutionary dogma, it raised the modernist to superior religious insight. Schleiermacher’s deference to pantheism was already evident in his On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, in which he sought to give religion universal significance but did so by trivializing God’s special initiative and activity: “What is revelation? Every new and original communication of the Universe to man; and every elemental feeling to me is inspiration.” As H. R. Mackintosh summarizes Schleiermacher’s perspective: “Nowhere is there any action of God which we are justified in calling special” (Types of Modern Theology, p. 71).

Over against this approach, the Bible emphasizes the once-for-all nature of special revelation and inspiration as occurrences of restricted divine initiative, and on this basis establishes the unique position and authority of the prophets and apostles. While the New Testament speaks of Christians as sharers in the new covenant and as “taught of God” (theodidaktoi, 1 Thess. 4:9), it reserves the designation theopneustos for the sacred writings (2 Tim. 3:16; cf. John 6:46–47); it is on this ground that the latter term has been regularly correlated with the canonical scriptures. God’s inspiration is vouchsafed only in a special time and special place and special way, and not always and everywhere. Least of all is it available to twentieth-century man in a command performance that aims to satisfy an experimental scientific approach to God. According to the evangelical view, special revelation and divine inspiration pertain only to prophetic and apostolic proclamation; the phenomenon of inspiration does not continue into the present day, even on a sporadic basis. As Luther put it, we might “have made as good a New Testament as the apostles wrote” if we stood in the same relationship to the Holy Spirit, but since we “have not the Spirit in so rich and powerful a manner we must learn from them and humbly drink from their fountains.”

5. The evangelical view believes that God revealed information beyond the reach of the natural resources of all human beings, including prophets and apostles. Biblical doctrine has an authoritative basis only because of communication of specially revealed truths to chosen messengers. Job’s friend Zophar rules out observation as a means of definitively discovering God’s nature and purpose (Job 11:7–8); while some of Zophar’s statement’s are elsewhere divinely deplored (42:7), here his statement wholly agrees with the emphasis of Romans 11:33 that God’s judgments and ways are “past finding out” (kjv) and known only on the basis of divine revelatory disclosure.

Neo-Protestant theologians distinguish the Scriptures from revelation by sharply severing God’s personal and/or historical revelation from the fact of biblical inspiration; the locus of divine disclosure they transfer to inner personal confrontation or to unique external events independent of prophetic-apostolic inspiration. The doctrine of revelation has proper and necessary correlations with divine redemptive acts and with the spiritual illumination of the believer. But neo-Protestant theological revisionism deprives the Bible of objective textual authority and substitutes personal encounter for propositional revelation or replaces the normative written record with cognitively ambivalent historical disclosure-situations. Pinnock remarks that “the shift from the propositional to the personal is the favorite of the [neo-Protestant] systematic theologians, and the shift from literature to history is preferred by the [critical] biblical scholars” (Biblical Revelation, p. 23). But “the two views, revelation as encounter and revelation as activity … both play down the noetic side of revelation and fail to do justice to the pattern of divine revelation in Scripture” (p. 26). The deliberate disjunction of special revelation and sacred Scripture has substituted an unclear echo of the Eternal for a definite Word of God. Barth should have set the pace among contemporary theologians in reasserting divinely revealed truths, especially in view of his insistence that man comes to know the Triune God not by natural theology but only by God’s special disclosure.

Despite his earlier claim that the doctrine of the verbal divine inspiration of Scripture is a post-Reformation invention, Emil Brunner later had to concede that Calvin, Melanchthon and also Luther subscribed to it, and that the identification of the Word of God with words of Scripture is found not only in Paul’s second letter to Timothy (3:16) but even earlier in the Old Testament. It should surprise no one that, having rejected the identification of Scripture as the Word of God (Revelation and Reason, p. 118), and having declared the doctrine of verbal inspiration to be an inadequate formulation of the authority of the Bible (p. 127), Brunner then declares that the Bible, despite its priority as the original witness to revelation, “stands upon the same level as the testimony of the Church” (p. 145). In that case the connection between Bible and revelation is wholly jeopardized. It is significant, however, that the church in its historic confessions has always assigned the Bible a different and higher role in relation to revelation than does Brunner, a role superior to that of the church, and from that perspective it must recognize that revelation as an ongoing sporadic event is a neoorthodox fiction.

Gordon Clark refers to a passage in which even Barth admits that the Apostle Paul taught verbal inspiration (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 168). What is more curious is Barth’s notion that instead of allowing the Bible to control them, men erected the doctrine of verbal revelation as a kind of barricade to control the Bible. “We do the Bible a poor honor, and one unwelcome to itself,” Barth contends, “when we directly identify it … with revelation itself.… The historical conception of the Bible with its cult of heroes and that mechanical doctrine of verbal inspiration are products of the same age and the same spirit.… They stood for the means by which man at the Renaissance claimed to control the Bible and so set up barriers against its control over him, which is its perquisite” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, pp. 126–27). These assertions obviously embrace considerable misinformation about the Bible and reflect a misunderstanding of revelation as well. It was precisely their confidence in the revelational authority of Scripture that brought the lives of Luther and the sons and grandsons of the Reformation into new and scriptural ways of belief and action, and away from long-established medieval customs.

Clark insists, moreover, that Barth’s emphasis that subjective response alone achieves “direct identification of revelation and the Bible” cannot escape skepticism as its logical consequence. Barth asserts: “Where the Word of God is an event, revelation and the Bible are one in fact, and word for word at that” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 127). To say that the Bible becomes God’s Word rather than someone else’s only when we hear it that way, and that unless we hear it that way it is somebody else’s word, so inverts what is the case in all other human relationships that it is highly suspect. On Barth’s premises, as Clark notes, where the same words are heard by two people, “they may at the same time both be and not be the Word of God” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 168).

To be sure, Barth focuses on Jesus Christ as the inner Word: “Literally we are … concerned with the singular word spoken, … really directly, by God himself. But in the Bible we are invariably concerned with human attempts to repeat and reproduce, in human thoughts and expressions, this Word of God in definite human situations.… In the one case Deus dixit, in the other Paulus dixit. These are two different things” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 127). But this passage, while distinguishing revelation from the Bible, does little to clarify the relationship between them on which Barth elsewhere insists, although in context Barth proposes to explain “that and how far they are also always not one, how far their unity is really an event.…” Barth comments: “The revelation upon which the Biblical witnesses gaze … is, purely formally, different from the word of the witnesses just in the way in which an event itself is different from the best and most faithful narrative about it,” and the contrast “beggars all analogy” when “in revelation we are concerned with Jesus Christ.” Here Barth shifts ground from our hearing of the words of the Bible, which in a series of repeatable events may become the Word of God for us, to the event Jesus Christ, whose incarnation is once-for-all. How, we ask, can it be seriously thought that the biblical writers seek “to repeat and reproduce” the incarnation? And does not our very confidence in the incarnation of God in Christ involve the surety that the “human thoughts and expressions” of the Epistles and of the Gospels communicate the truth of revelation, indeed that, contrary to Barth, Deus dixit and Paulus dixit are not at all “two different things”? “They are not materially different, if the sentences are identical,” Clark comments; “nor are they even formally different, if God speaks through Paul” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 169).

Just as in the case of the doctrines of election and providence, so also in respect to the inspiration and authority of Scripture, G. C. Berkouwer follows neoorthodox theologians in rejecting a “timeless correlation” with the mind and purpose of God and insists, rather, on a teleology of the Christ of the Bible. In his later writings, Berkouwer rejects the attribution of the real authorship of Scripture to God in any causal way (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, p. 47) and espouses an activistic view of biblical inspiration, a view for which, in fact, he had earlier criticized Barth. The priority of grace is preserved, he insists, by speaking of Scripture only as witnessing to Christ (p. 53). In commenting on this view, Cornelius Van Til rightly recognizes that Berkouwer continues to think of Scripture as God’s direct revelation to man (The Defense of the Faith, vol. 1: The Doctrine of Scripture, p. 152). Yet, as Van Til notes, Berkouwer fails to see that by forfeiting Scripture’s objective inspiration, authority and perspicacity (Triumph of Grace, pp. 249, 256) he jeopardizes even its teleological goal in respect to the reliability of its witness to Christ. Berkouwer holds that the formal notion of scriptural inerrancy eclipses the human and the historical and even makes “the gospels appear untrustworthy” (ibid., p. 211); an acceptable teleological view, on the other hand, is unconcerned about “perfect precision” that excludes all “interpretative subjectivity.” But just how “interpretative subjectivity” can preserve the teleology of Christ, if Scripture as the only source of cognitive information about Jesus of Nazareth is held to be errant, must be evident only to those who are at home in paradox. While Berkouwer does not go as far as Barth, he nonetheless manifests kerygmatic influences in his later positions.

By separating the Scriptures from the Word of God and subsequently appealing to sporadic events in which they are said to unite, and by his correlated limitation of the truth and authority of the Bible to man’s subjective response, Barth in principle destroys not only any significant view of Scripture, but also the revelation of the Word of God attested by Scripture.

To be sure, Barth asserts that “no distinction of degree or value” should be affirmed between the Word of God as revelation, Bible, or proclamation. “So far as the Bible really attests revelation, it is no less the Word of God than revelation itself” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 136). To this Clark puts the obvious question: what criterion does Barth offer us for deciding the “so far as”—for knowing how far the Bible actually attests revelation? On evangelical presuppositions the difficulty vanishes; the Bible is itself the criterion. But when Barth leaves us to relate two things, “one … verbal, the text of the Bible, and the other a poorly defined event, an historical or perhaps psychological surd, inexpressible by nature and unintelligible, how can any comparison be made?” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 174).

What needs to be emphasized against Barth’s view is that today—and ever since the end of the apostolic age—the church and the world have had special revelation only in the verbal text of the Bible. If, as Barth contends, revelation is primarily something other than Scripture and still occurs from time to time in the experience of those who respond to it, and if its content is not identical with the words of Scripture but is another kind of truth, Barth in effect fosters a revelation-mysticism or gnosticism for which no sympathy can be found either in the historic witness of the church or in the Scriptures themselves. For those who have the prophetic-apostolic Scriptures, this special revelational “something else,” as Clark remarks, is neither possible nor necessary (ibid., p. 174).

In a remarkable comment critical of Tillich, Barth, in fact, ventures to say: “God reveals himself in propositions by means of language and human language at that.… Thus the personality of the Word of God is not to be played off against its verbal character” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 156). But if Barth really means that God’s Word is rational language objectively given in propositional form, he could hardly insist that “we can never by retrospect … fix what God is or what His Word is: He must always repeat that to us and always repeat it afresh” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 146). Indeed, Barth adds that we can only “indirectly” say what the Word of God is. The human propositions stand in a broken relationship to the Word of God; as Barth puts it, they correspond “with human inadequacy, with the brokenness with which alone human propositions can correspond with the nature of the Word of God” (I/1, p. 150). For Barth, God’s Word means “God speaks,” but “God’s Word is not … a concept to be defined … neither a content nor an idea … not even the very highest truth.… It is the truth because it is God’s person speaking …” (I/1, p. 155). “The real content of God’s speech … is thus never to be conceived and reproduced by us as a general truth” (I/1, p. 159). “The Word of Scripture, by which God speaks to us, really becomes quite different in the transition from the mouth of God himself to our ear and to our own mouth.… Its real content remains inconceivable to us on our side” (I/1, p. 160).

If this does not play off the Word of God against its verbal character it would be difficult to imagine a more obvious example. It virtually erodes the fact that God speaks, for—as Barth here depicts him—he does not speak intelligibly; his truth is inconceivable and his Word undefinable.

6. Evangelicals insist, further, that God is the ultimate author of Scripture. The Holy Spirit is the communicator of the prophetic-apostolic writings. In view of its divine inspiration, the scriptural message is therefore identified as a content conveyed by “the Spirit of the Lord,” “the mouth of the Lord,” and as that which “the Holy Ghost by the mouth of, (his chosen prophet) spoke.” The truth of what the prophets and apostles wrote is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit.

As Gerhard Kittel reminds us, the way in which the New Testament cites the Old Testament leaves no doubt that “God Himself is firmly regarded as the One who speaks in Scripture. The only point is that this insight is not a theory which denies or excludes the human authors. These men are not introduced merely indirectly as intermediaries, but directly as the true subjects of what is said.… For the most part the quotation formulae which refer to the human authors are freely interchangeable with those which refer to the divine subject. These facts are cogent proof that the co-existence of the two groups of formulae does not imply any cross-cutting or antithesis for the NT writers” (“Legō: Word and Speech in the New Testament,” 4:111).

Nothing is subtracted from the divine nature of Scripture when the writers adduce Scripture as spoken or written by men, nor does their unwavering emphasis that God is the superhuman source and speaker in Scripture exclude human subjects to and through whom the divine Word is given. That some New Testament citations of the Old Testament mention no human speaker or writer does not mean that the New Testament writer is trying to avoid recognition of human involvement, any more than that citing only an Old Testament writer—be he Moses, David or Isaiah—is intended to deny the divine inspiration and authority of the text. God is the one who speaks the Word either explicitly or implicitly. The Thessalonians received the Word spoken by the Apostle Paul as it is in truth, God’s Word (1 Thess. 2:13). It is on God’s authorship that the efficacy of the Word depends; for that reason no human and earthly effort can finally frustrate it (2 Tim. 2:9).

Warfield writes: “The Church … has held from the beginning that the Bible is the Word of God in such a sense that its words, though written by men and bearing indelibly impressed upon them the marks of their human origin, were written, nevertheless, under such an influence of the Holy Ghost as to be also the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will” (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 173). Revelation takes at times a form that involves the total personality of the recipient and communicator of it, a form which, in distinction from Old Testament prophecy, Warfield called “concursive operation” (“Revelation,” 4:2580a). Here the “enunication of divine truth is attained through the action of the human powers—historical research, logical reasoning, ethical thought, religious aspiration—acting not by themselves, however, but under the prevailing assistance, superintendence, direction, control of the Divine Spirit” in contrast with the “supercessive action of the revealing Spirit” as in prophetic revelation. “The Spirit is not to be conceived as standing outside of the human powers employed for the effect in view, ready to supplement any inadequacies they may show and to supply any defects they may manifest, but as working confluently in, with and by them, elevating them, directing them, controlling them, energizing them, so that, as His instruments, they rise above themselves and under His inspiration do His work and reach His aim. The product … attained by their means is His product through them.” This concursive operation specially characterizes the epistolary writings of the New Testament wherein revelation and inspiration often converge.

Vatican I said of the Scriptures: “Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God for their author.” It rightly rejected any impersonal mechanistic interpretation of the origin of Scripture, and denied a displacement of the human activity of the writers. In the schema on revelation (Article 12) the curial preparatory commission for Vatican II somewhat ambiguously declared the biblical writer to be not the “instrument” but rather the “true author,” while God was identified not as “principal author” but merely as “author.” The final statement of Vatican II reads: “everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit.…”

Yet it is misleading to speak, as some do, of either the divinity of Scripture or of its humanity. Despite its very human features, the Bible assuredly has far more than human authority; for that reason some scholars have called it a divine-human book. This characterization is confusing, however, since it implies a tertium quid of sorts. To make an analogy between incarnation and inscripturation is not wholly helpful either, for while each involves divine and human, each does so in distinctive ways; the God-man and God-book are not equivalent analogues. In the incarnation one divine person assumes sinless human nature alongside his eternal divine nature; in inscripturation the divine Spirit selectively superintends fallible and sinful human beings in the inerrant oral and written proclamation of God’s message.

7. The evangelical view affirms that all Scripture is divinely inspired—Scripture as a whole and in all its parts. The idea of degrees of inspiration, a notion found in Philo and borrowed from Plato, has no support in the biblical narratives. The historic evangelical insistence has been on the plenary inspiration of the Bible; in other words, that Scripture is fully inspired. To stress verbal-plenary inspiration simply brings out what this view necessarily implies: since it is written Scripture that is in view, inspiration extends to the very words. Even in incidental parts Jesus and the apostles appealed to the very words as authoritative (John 10:34–35; Gal. 3:16). The whole content, historical no less than theological and moral, is both trustworthy and profitable (Rom. 4:23; 9:17; 15:4; 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:11; Gal. 3:8, 22; 4:30; 1 Pet. 2:6).

8. This view that all Scripture is inspired is the historic doctrine of all denominations. All major bodies have explicitly affirmed the divine inspiration and authority of the Bible.

Only in the twentieth century have major Protestant denominations such as the United Presbyterian Church in the United States compromised their traditional commitments in deference to modern critical theories. In adopting the new Confession of ’67 in its 179th general assembly, the United Presbyterian Church abandoned the view of the Westminster Confession that the Bible is the Word of God written.

The Roman Catholic Church’s Constitution on Divine Revelation approved by Vatican II declared: “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and present in the text of sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” The Roman Church, “relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 20:31; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:19–21; 3:15, 16), they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church itself.” To be sure, Rome greatly restricts and even nullifies the authority of Scripture by correlating it with oral tradition and with the church’s teaching function as the seat of infallible interpretation. Such a departure set a precedent for liberal theology which, in turn, added other factors alongside Scripture to formulate its particular doctrine of authority. In the case of liberalism, not merely tradition and the church hierarchy in its teaching office became the sources of revelation, but culture, experience and human reflection as well.

To maintain silence about the divine inspiration of the Scriptures is, in effect, to attenuate the work of God and to minimize the ministry of the Spirit. As Bromiley puts it, inspiration of Scripture “is part of the essence of Christianity. To confess it is part of being a Christian.… Scripture proclaims its own inspiration as part of what it says about God the Holy Spirit” (“The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture” [Eternity], p. 12). He emphasizes that “any work of the Spirit is a breathing, a ‘spiration,’ ” and the Spirit’s ongoing work must not be denied as a vital aspect of a divine ministry. But, he continues, “in an important sense inspiration, like Christ’s alonement, is a finished work. The breathing took place in history, on the authors” (ibid., p. 14).

In view of their divinely inspired character, the biblical writings were patiently copied, globally distributed, and translated into the world’s languages and afresh into the idiom of successive generations. No book has been translated into as many languages and versions as has the Bible. As the inspired Word of God, it still shows itself strong and irresistible even behind the iron curtains of geopolitical conflict and the velvet curtains of ecclesiastical neglect.


The Inerrancy of Scripture

The New Testament passages already examined clearly teach the plenary inspiration of Scripture; that is, inspiration extends to the writings in their totality, in the whole and in the parts. These inspired writings are distinguished from all other literature in that divine agency accounts for their production and divine authority inheres in their teaching.

Warfield long ago pointed out that our English term inspiration less than adequately expresses what the Bible itself asserts of God’s active communication of the prophetic-apostolic message. The classic text (2 Tim. 3:16) with which we associate the doctrine uses the Greek word theopneustos. This word signifies not simply that God “breathed into” but rather that God “breathed out” the prophetic-apostolic message. Gordon Clark rightly observes: “Paul said that Scripture is God-breathed; it is the words written that were breathed out by God. It was not the apostles who were breathed out” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 194). There is a marked difference between the notion that God “breathed into” the biblical writings, and the biblical declaration that God “breathed out” the writings; the former merely approximates the Scriptures to revelation, whereas the latter identifies Scripture as revelation.

What significance has this for the very words of Scripture? Can we associate divine authority with anything less than verbal inerrancy? Need we associate it with anything more than general reliability? We do not require inerrancy in other decisions of life involving divinely stipulated relationships such as picking a particular mate, or in choosing one’s vocation, buying a home or investing in securities. Do we really require it in spiritual matters? Do the inspired writers themselves in fact teach or even imply the doctrine of verbal inerrancy? If Scripture itself makes no explicit or implicit claim to inerrancy, then anyone who professedly honors the witness and authority of Scripture would be foolhardy and irresponsible to gratuitously impute the doctrine to the Bible. “The function of revelation,” Bernard Ramm writes, is “to bring to the sinner a soteric knowledge of God; it is the function of inspiration to preserve that in a … trustworthy and sufficient form. About this form we can have no a priori notions but gratefully accept it in the actual form it takes” (Special Revelation and the Word of God, pp. 175–76). Even if revelation conveys much more than a minimal redemptive knowledge, the point is well taken that God decides both its content and form.

Warfield insists that the Bible not only teaches the divine origin and full inspiration of Scripture but also explicitly teaches the doctrine of verbal inerrancy, thus disallowing the possibility of error in the text of Scripture. While not an a priori commitment, the doctrine of inerrancy rests, he emphasizes, on what Christ and the apostles taught. But we know what Christ taught only if the Bible tells the truth. Warfield stresses that if the apostles are wrong in teaching inerrant inspiration, they are not trustworthy in other doctrinal matters (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 174). He so connects the truth of inerrancy with the teaching of Jesus and the apostles that a necessary forfeiture of the doctrine would undermine their reliability: “The evidence for its truth is … precisely that evidence … which vindicates for us the trustworthiness of Christ and His apostles as teachers of doctrine” (p. 218).

Harold Lindsell affirms similarly that inerrancy is not solely a presuppositional deduction from the doctrine that God is the author of Scripture, but is expressly “taught in Scripture, just as the deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Jesus, and the bodily resurrection of our Lord from the dead are taught in Scripture” (The Battle for the Bible, pp. 162, 188). The biblical teaching includes an affirmation of scriptural inerrancy, he stresses, so that the doctrine of inerrancy must be considered an induction from the textual phenomena as well as an advance verdict on so-called discrepancies in the texts.

Many scholars assert that the Bible does not expressly or formally claim inerrancy, yet contend that this inference is nonetheless necessarily drawn from the scriptural teaching and is fully supported by Jesus’ own attitude toward the Old Testament. Clark Pinnock denies that inerrancy “is … a claim for Scripture … constructed more rationalistically than biblically.” Rather, he declares “it is the conclusion reached by inductive examination of the doctrine of Scripture taught by Christ and the biblical writers” (Biblical Revelation, p. 74). Frederick C. Grant acknowledges that the New Testament everywhere takes “for granted that what is written in Scripture is trustworthy, infallible and inerrant. No New Testament writer would ever dream of questioning a statement contained in the Old Testament, though the exact manner or mode of its inspiration is nowhere explicitly stated” (Introduction to New Testament Thought, p. 75). In the context of this comment Grant further concedes that the view of 2 Timothy 3:16, “the most explicit statement of the doctrine of biblical inspiration to be found in the New Testament,” as he calls it, “is not more advanced than that of any other part of the volume.”

Grant’s verdict differs remarkably from that of C. A. Briggs, his predecessor at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Spearheading an assault on the doctrine of scriptural inerrancy, Briggs said in his 1891 inaugural address that “the theory that the Bible is inerrant is the ghost of modern evangelicalism to frighten children” (quoted in Carl E. Hatch, The Trial of Charles A. Briggs, p. 33). Grant’s view contrasts sharply also with that of D. E. Nineham that “the bible itself nowhere claims inerrancy nor is it by any means consistently implied in the way the biblical writers treat one another’s texts” (“Wherein Lies the Authority of the Bible?” p. 88).

Dewey Beegle, however, says that “with respect to the authority of the Hebrew Bible, its inspiration, and its origin from God, … Jesus and the New Testament writers were on the same ground as the rabbis” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 130). He adds that the tractate Sanhedrin in the Talmud reflects the dominant view among ancient Jewish rabbis: “He who maintains that the Torah is not from Heaven shall utterly be cut off—even if he states that the whole Torah is from Heaven excepting a particular verse which was not uttered by God but by Moses himself” (99a). Without elaboration or justification, Beegle then curiously dismisses this emphasis as a capitulation to “the Greek concept of inerrancy”; this in effect attributes Jesus’ reference to “not one jot or tittle” (Matt. 5:18; “the smallest letter or stroke,” nas) to Greek influence. Apparently unaware of any self-contradiction, Beegle elsewhere ascribes the unique authority of the Decalogue to its divine derivation in all details. He writes that “the uniqueness of the Ten Commandments, especially the first three, is made crystal clear in one biblical tradition where the stipulations are attributed to ‘the finger of God’ (Ex. 31:18). The basic claim of the Israelite prophets was that their oracles came from Yahweh.… In general … the prophets disclaim any credit for their declaration” (p. 70).

James Barr declares to be logically sound the emphasis that if Scripture is held to be inspired and divine inspiration means inerrancy, then any actual error in the autographs would destroy the structure (Fundamentalism, p. 302). “Little respect can be shown to those, who maintain a doctrinal position like Warfield’s but then cheerfully say that they are not tied to complete inerrancy” (ibid.). “It is extremely unlikely,” Barr adds, “that fundamentalism will ever find a doctrinal position that will be stronger for its own purposes than that furnished by Warfield” (p. 303). The more evangelicals become aware of the implication of qualifications that some of them are making in Warfield’s basic emphasis, he says, “the more they have cause to worry about the integrity of their position and the chances of its future viability” (ibid.).

“There are only two possibilities,” Barr emphasizes. “Either the Holy Spirit inspired an erroneous statement, and if he did so once then he may have done so many times, for inspiration by the Holy Spirit is after all not a guarantee of truth. Or else the Holy Spirit did not inspire the position of scripture in question; but if there is any part of the text that he did not inspire then there may be others, and so we cannot know that the entire scripture is inspired.… Either the inspiration of the Holy Spirit does not guarantee truth, or there are passages or words of scripture where the inspiration for some reason was not working” (ibid., p. 303).

Barr insists that the view of inerrant inspiration—much as he concedes its “logical strength”—is doomed by the realities of scholarly biblical study: “The simple logical strength of Warfield’s doctrine can avail little in the long run against the anomalies and unrealities into which it falls when applied to the detailed facts of biblical scholarship” (ibid.). More and more conservative scholars, Barr states, now opt for mediating views on the basis of scholarly critical study. And it is clear that Barr would like to split the evangelical movement down the middle on the issue of critical biblical scholarship, aligning inerrantists as fundamentalist obscurantists opposed to scholarly interest in Scripture over against scholarly evangelicals who, along with Barr, reject inerrancy while they affirm inspiration. Two striking differences, however, distinguish Barr’s view from that of some pro-errancy evangelicals: Barr associates divine inspiration with much that falls outside the canonical Scriptures, and he does not seek to salvage the inerrancy of one special track of the Bible, such as the theological or ethical.

Barr argues that “the link between authority and inspiration on the one side and inerrancy on the other” rests solely on philosophical supposition and has “no rootage in the Bible” (ibid., pp. 84–85). “The essential connection between inspiration and inerrancy,” he adds, is simply a matter of evangelical opinion (p. 277). He insists that evangelicals do not derive the doctrine from exegetical considerations. There is “no biblical or exegetical ground” upon which the evangelical view of an inerrant Bible can be based (ibid.). Not even such texts as 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20–21, he emphasizes, will bear the weight of an inerrancy doctrine (p. 84). Barr insists that sin distorts all that man does, including what the biblical writers wrote (p. 187); in view of this, he declares that “the pretence of fundamentalism” to a profound and radical doctrine of sin “is a bluff which should now be called” (p. 179).

“What evidence is there,” Barr asks, “that a biblical writer (like II Peter) who used the word translated as ‘inspired’ expressly and definitely intended this to mean ‘without error in all matters’?” (ibid., p. 267). Barr caricatures the evangelical view: “A conservative position … simply had to be asserted,” and “any allegation of a defect in scripture required an incredibly exhaustive process of ‘proof’ ” (p. 268).

Insofar as Barr grounds the emphasis on inerrancy solely in evangelical postulation, he widely misses the mark. Barr may not, and does not, accept the argument for inerrant divine inspiration, but that does not destroy its logical force. To Barr’s credit he notes the evangelical correlation between the nature of God and of Scripture as a divinely inspired end product. The implication, as he says, is “a philosophical one. The nature of God is to be perfect; and if he involves himself … in inspiring a collection of books, these books would partake in the divine qualities of perfection” (ibid., p. 277).

While Barr acknowledges some “apparent justification” for a “perfection-centered perception” of God, he rejects the transfer of such perfections, even if in a lesser degree, to the Bible (ibid., p. 277). Of three possible alternatives—that Scripture is errant because the all-perfect God did not inspire the Bible, that Scripture is inerrant because the all-perfect God did inspire the Bible, or that although divinely inspired, the Bible is errant because God is less than perfect, Barr opts for the last and worst of the options. The evangelical representation of God as perfect, he declares, “does not come from the Bible. In the Bible God is presented above all as active and personal; he can change his mind, he can regret what he has done, he can be argued out of positions he has already taken up”—in short, he does not operate “out of a static perfection” (ibid.). Put in another way, Barr champions a changing God. He depicts as Greek—particularly Platonic and Aristotelian—”the picture of God which represents perfection as the essence of the doctrine of God” and he declares that “insofar as modern Christianity has been able to escape from this idea, it has been through the influence of the historical approach to reality, represented by biblical criticism and historically-oriented theology” (ibid.).

Barr labels the evangelical doctrine of inspiration as “in the end an empty doctrine”—that is, one which requires “formal assent” but “leaves the possibility that the content of biblical authority will not be filled in any consistent way” (ibid., p. 269). Yet Barr’s alternative of an errant Bible and a changing God is far more likely to lend itself to an almost infinite variety of liberal and rationalistic formulations.

The prevailing evangelical view affirms a special activity of divine inspiration whereby the Holy Spirit superintended the scriptural writers in communicating the biblical message in ways consistent with their differing personalities, literary styles and cultural background, while safeguarding them from error. As J. Gresham Machen expressed it, the biblical writers were preserved by a “supernatural guidance and impulsion by the Spirit of God … from the errors that appear in other books and thus the resulting book, the Bible, is in all its parts the very Word of God, completely true in what it says regarding matters of fact and completely authoritative in its commands” (The Christian Faith in the Modern World, pp. 36–37). Edward J. Young quite representatively states the inerrancy position: “The scriptures possess the quality of freedom from error. In all their teachings, they are in perfect accord with the truth” (Thy Word Is Truth, p. 113). Elsewhere he writes: “Every assertion of the Bible is true, whether the Bible speaks of what to believe (doctrine), or how to live (ethics), or whether it recounts historical events.… It speaks the truth, and one may believe its utterances” (“Are the Scriptures Inerrant?” pp. 103–4).

Biblical inerrancy has been the traditional Roman Catholic stance no less than that of evangelical Protestantism. While James Burtchaell remarks that inerrancy “has recently and rather abruptly become a Catholic ’cause,’ ” he emphasizes also that “whether it has been in any given age stressed or inconsistently pursued, [inerrancy] has been a tenet of every age of Catholic belief” at least in the sense of a “working assumption” (Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration since 1810, p. 286). Hans Küng concedes that Roman Catholicism has at least from the time of Leo XIII (1878–1903) affirmed the inspiration and propositional inerrancy of Scripture. Vatican I declared, somewhat more broadly, that the Scriptures “contain revelation without error.” Küng notes that the curial preparatory commission for Vatican II put forward the view of scriptural inerrancy in the schema on revelation (Article 12), but that the third session of the Council eliminated all reflections of verbal inerrancy. The final statement of Vatican II stated that “since everything asserted by the inspired authors or sacred writers must be held to be asserted by the Holy Spirit, it follows that the books of Scripture must be acknowledged as teaching firmly, faithfully and without error the truth which God wanted to put into the sacred writings for the sake of our salvation.” On this in some ways remarkably ambiguous affirmation, Küng comments: “This solution had a lot to do with policy and little with theology” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 209).

Both critical scholars and some mediating evangelical scholars tend to quote only past-generation champions of verbal inerrancy and to give prominence to present-day scholars who criticize or oppose the inherited view. This creates the misimpression that the doctrine has little contemporary support. Many biblical and theological scholars holding advanced degrees in related fields of learning adhere to the doctrine of inerrancy, and teach in theological colleges and divinity schools that shape the doctrinal convictions of many ministerial candidates on the American scene. Founded in 1949, the Evangelical Theological Society currently has a membership of hundreds of biblical scholars who annually reaffirm that “the Bible alone, and the Bible in its entirety, is the Word of God written, and therefore inerrant in the autographs.” This statement suggests that inerrancy is implicitly taught, is logically deducible, and is a necessary correlate of Scripture as the inspired Word of God.

Long treasured by American Baptists, the New Hampshire Confession of Faith affirms that Scripture “has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any admixture of error, for its matter.” The Southern Baptist Convention in 1925 adopted a confession of faith affirming: “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is the record of God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any admixture of error, for its matter.”

The Brief Statement of the Doctrinal Position of the Missouri Synod adopted by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1932, was adopted in 1947 at the denomination’s centennial celebration as part of official convention proceedings. It affirms that the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is “taught by direct statements of the Scriptures, 2 Tim 3:16; John 10:35; Rom 3:2; 1 Cor 2:13” and adds: “Since the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God, it goes without saying that they contain no errors or contradictions, but that they are in all their parts and words the infallible truth, also in those parts which treat of historical, geographical and other secular matters, John 10:35” (Proceedings of 1932, p. 1548). But in 1948 a number of Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod theologians affirmed that “the doctrine of verbal inspiration is not the basis of our systematic theology and is not the major premise of Christian assurance.” By this they apparently also meant that inerrancy is a dispensable secondary doctrine.

Warfield excluded any dilution of inspiration. Whenever issues of theology and morals are compartmentalized and sealed off from the historical and scientific aspects of biblical teaching, then vital epistemological concerns are neglected. That the Holy Spirit is the source of faith and new life cannot be made a basis for indifference to the verbal reliability of Scripture without imperiling even this insistence on the Spirit’s role. Warfield recognized that the easy dismissal of inerrancy often rests on wrong views of the nature and purpose of Scripture and soon jeopardizes all the cognitive concerns of revealed religion.

While Warfield held that the Bible explicitly teaches its own inerrancy, he left open the possibility that inerrancy is not a correct biblical interpretation: “This evidence is not in the strict sense ‘demonstrative’; it is ‘probable’ evidence. It therefore leaves open the metaphysical possibility of its being mistaken” (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 218). Warfield did not, moreover, suspend the truth of Christianity solely upon the doctrine of verbal inerrancy (p. 211). Personal faith in Christ nonetheless remains inescapably imperative, he held, even if the New Testament only reliably reports and interprets the historical factualities of the birth, ministry, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Even if his contemporaries factually reported only the main aspects of Jesus’ mission and ministry, quite apart from incidental details—much as United Press International and Reuters cover modern-day happenings—the data concerning Jesus Christ irreducibly confronts every reader with a destiny-laden demand for personal spiritual decision. Yet the Gospel events gain their crowning significance not as bizarre historical exceptions only, but in the light rather of the Old Testament prophecies. The precise nature of an efficacious spiritual decision and the specific ground on which it rests and the rationale on which it is predicated are of such supreme importance that not even the narrative details can be considered insignificant. Can the newswire services be trusted, for example, to give an accurate account of justification by faith? The New Testament reporters were more than reliable eye witnesses; from the very first their apostolic proclamation, oral or written, was a message about the Savior of mankind inspired and vouchsafed by the Spirit of Truth. While Warfield did not suspend the case for Christian theism entirely upon the doctrine of inerrant inspiration, he nonetheless emphasized the importance of the doctrine of the pervasive inspiration and unbreachable authority of Scripture for the specifics of Jesus’ message and ministry, and stressed that Jesus and his apostles were pledged to the very minutiae of Scripture.

Arthur F. Holmes holds that inerrancy is neither explicitly taught in Scripture, nor is it a logical induction from the phenomena of Scripture. Rather, Holmes states, it is “a second-order theological construct that is adduced for systematic reasons.” Addressing the Evangelical Theological Society of Canada (Toronto, December 1967), he said: “Inerrancy … I … do not find logically entailed in the statement ‘Scripture speaks the truth,’ at least not in a form sufficiently precise to ‘fit’ all the facts. Rather, inerrancy is adduced because of the high kind of truth demand created by the Biblical doctrine, and the attractiveness of rounding out the doctrine with this further extrapolation.” Expanding and somewhat restating this view, Holmes writes in the Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society (Summer 1968, and Fall 1968): “I am not convinced that fully developed and with the usual qualifications and in its usual extension to all historical details inerrancy is logically entailed in the Scriptural statements.” Holmes does not say inerrancy is not logically grounded in Scripture. But he holds that it is neither logically deduced from Scripture nor the result of inductive generalization. Yet Christ and Scripture affirm that “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35, kjv). The difficulty with Holmes’s view lies in relating Scripture to inerrancy by an informal logic that grounds inerrancy in Scripture logically while not deriving it from Scripture as a deduction or induction and viewing it instead “adductively” as a model for explanatory purposes. Without some basis in formal logic it is difficult to preserve more than tentative significance for explanatory models.

In almost a century of debate over Scripture, the central issues, as Richard J. Coleman remarks, have not changed very much (“Biblical Inerrancy: Are We Going Anywhere?” pp. 295–303; cf. also Issues of Theological Warfare: Evangelicals and Liberals). In debating the issue of inerrancy or errancy, scholars divide over whether the decisive appeal should be to the scriptural teaching or to the textual phenomena of Scripture. Those who appeal to the biblical teaching, that Scripture is God-breathed, acknowledge “problems,” “variations” and “seeming contradictions” in view of certain texts, while those who begin with the textual phenomena speak more readily of “contradictions” and “errors.” Evangelical theologians and church historians who work mainly with doctrinal systems and the history of theology tend to focus on the comprehensive exegetical teaching of Scripture; biblical scholars who deal constantly with the texts more often concentrate on difficulties posed by variant readings and other linguistic phenomena. But whichever group is in view, most evangelical scholars mitigate such observations by appealing to the inerrant original writings in contrast to copies and translations, and characteristically emphasize not problems and supposed errors but the intrinsic reliability or trustworthiness of the Bible.

Yet any emphasis only on biblical trustworthiness in distinction from scriptural inerrancy involves a measure of ambiguity and may in fact embrace also a significant shift in the conception of scriptural authority. The Bible merits confidence, on this view, because of its dependability; it is fit or worthy to be relied on, that is, of proven consistency in producing satisfactory results. But unless such conceptions of trustworthiness and reliability include a cognitive claim for the objective truthfulness of the Bible, they seem to deploy the emphasis from intellectual to volitional concerns. The governing issue is whether the Bible is reliably truthful. Is it then trustworthy not simply in respect to salvific efficacy but also as objectively inspired truth? Some mediating thinkers emphasize that Scripture is not a source of truth in matters of history, science, geography, and so on. But can the Bible be comprehensively trusted, that is, can it be considered truly reliable, if an acceptance as truth of some of its teaching would commit us to error? Unless one deprives biblical truth of an objectively valid and sharable content, and transmutes it into an internal faith-stance, can we with Daniel P. Fuller hold on the one hand that the biblical writers are not vehicles of revelatory truth in matters other than salvation, while on the other hand we affirm the Bible’s infallibility? Fuller writes that “we assert the Bible’s authority by the use of such words as infallible, inerrant, true, and trustworthy. There is no basic difference between these words. To say that the Bible is true is to assert its infallibility” (Fuller Theological Seminary Bulletin 18, no. 1, March 1968). The theory seems in fact not only to involve an adjustment of the notion of truth, but also to accommodate an unstable view of biblical inspiration and authority. “By shifting the line of defense from ‘absolute truth’ to ‘essential truth,’ ” Dewey Beegle writes, “it is possible to reckon with all the phenomena of Scripture, and to have a sound view of authority as well” (The Inspiration of Scripture, p. 3). But in an errant text, how do we tell essential truth from inessential truth, and all the more from inessential error (e.g., Jesus’ teaching on hell, which is neither geographical nor historical)? And what essential truth that is not also absolute truth is divinely authoritative?

Herbert Braun seeks to defuse the debate over biblical error by stressing that in the 121 occurrences of the Greek term planaō, “the purely theoretical orientation to knowledge is not found at all” (“Planaō,” 6:233). The term literally means “to lead astray” or “to wander off course”; in the Septuagint the verb is used often in connection with transgression of God’s revealed will, and with idolatry. In a secondary sense it means “to vacillate” or “to deceive” by behavior, speech or writing, whether in respect to theoretical or to practical and ethical matters; it is therefore used for “to be mistaken” or “to err.” The reference to lying prophets (e.g., Ezek. 14:9) hardly fits Braun’s verdict that epistemological error is never in view. The Old Testament considers a prophet false whose assertions about historical developments were not fulfilled. Braun finally concedes that in the usage of the verb in the New Testament, “there is only an occasional echo” of a “purely epistemological straying” (ibid., p. 243). He notes that in the Pastoral Epistles, error sometimes carries the sense of conflict with rational teaching, e.g., 1 Thessalonians 2:2, 1 Timothy 1:10, 4:3–6, and 2 Timothy 4:3 (p. 249). Moreover, 1 John declares that false teachers deny that Jesus is the Christ (2:22, 26). It can hardly be the case that Mark 12:24, 27 and Matthew 22:29, as Braun contends, contemplate error “in a non-intellectual, religious sense” (ibid., pp. 243–44), since Jesus correlates his hearers’ error with their ignorance of the Scriptures, or that 1 John 1:6, 8, 2:21–22, 2:26–27, 3:7 and 4:6 have in view only error of a practical and not theoretical nature (ibid., pp. 245–46).

To counter the claim that inerrancy is a necessary implicate or correlative of plenary inspiration, some scholars emphasize the priority of an inductive over a deductive approach in formulating the doctrine of Scripture. Just as many interpreters rely on empirical scientific evidence to explain the Genesis creation narrative, rather than allowing exegesis to decide what the Bible teaches, so also the nature and scope of scriptural inspiration, it is said, should be determined by inductive examination of the textual phenomena. The biblical teaching is said to disclose the “why” of inspiration, whereas the “what” and “how” are referred to empirical observation.

Yet in consequence of this approach to the creation account, the Genesis writer has, over several generations, been made to teach notably different views to and from which modern scientists have successively committed and then detached themselves. At the turn of the century the Baptist theologian A. H. Strong professedly found Sir James Jeans’s tidal-wave theory of origins in Genesis 1. Since then, an assortment of evolutionary alternatives has settled there, each attesting how very contemporary the inspired writer is, more recently in view of supposed compatibility with the “Big Bang” theory, while none has had the enduring enthusiasm of either scientists or theologians. The net effect has been to characterize the narrative as so nebulous that it means nothing specific or so cryptic that it means anything and everything.

More and more scientists currently view evolutionary theory as an explanatory model or framework useful in interpreting the data; since present empirical confirmation of past events is impossible, however, many are reluctant to claim that this model actually describes the origin of things. Any theologian who ventures to contemporize the creation account in such terms must regard the writer to Genesis as simply postulating an explanatory model to organize the data of experience, without intending to depict the actual formation of the world and man. The speculative and changing contemporary conceptualities should call the theologian anew to an awareness that the definitive sense of biblical teaching is derived not by conversation with scientific frontiersmen who must insist upon a revision of entrenched hypotheses as the route to progress, but by faithful exegesis of an inspired record.

To be sure, empirically oriented scholars emphasize that the inductive data on which they rely in establishing the nature of biblical inspiration are integral to the Bible and not extraneous to it. But they nonetheless turn first and foremost to the textual phenomena rather than to the textual teaching in order to decide the debate over inspiration and inerrancy. Warfield did not, of course, disallow an appeal to biblical phenomena to control the exegesis of Scripture, including passages that teach or imply inerrant inspiration (Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pp. 204, 206–7). But he opposed any attempt to derive the doctrine of inspiration by the inductive method. The significance of inspiration, he insisted, is to be deduced from the didactic teaching of the apostles.

Harmonizing the phenomena with this biblical teaching is not unimportant, as Warfield sees it; the attempt to exhibit harmony should indeed be made and earnestly pursued. But it is a second-order concern. Warfield comments: “We are not bound to harmonize the alleged phenomena with the Bible doctrine; and if we cannot harmonize them save by strained or artificial exegesis they would be better left unharmonized” (ibid., p. 219).

Barr therefore somewhat overstates the matter when he declares the harmonization of apparently conflicting passages to be “one of the most essential elements in conservative evangelical interpretation” (Fundamentalism, p. 56). Barr seems exasperated that evangelical harmonizers resort now to one principle and then to another, and do not uniformly apply the same principle in somewhat similar instances (e.g., the differently dated cleansings of the temple may suggest that Jesus performed this act twice, whereas the fact that Luke 24:51 in contrast with Acts 1 does not stipulate an interval of forty days between the resurrection and ascension is not made the basis of two ascensions). Barr thinks the appeal to multiple cleansings of the temple approximates, in a somewhat restrained way, the tendency of Andreas Osiander (in his Harmoniae Evangelicae, Paris, 1545) to multiply events routinely to account for differences in the Gospel reports (Fundamentalism, p. 57). But this complaint bears marks of pedantry and seems prompted by an eagerness to find divergent sources; the evangelical harmonizations here discussed are logically possible. It is not fundamentalist interpreters alone, moreover, who have suggested duplicate cleansings of the temple. Nor, contrary to Barr, does one eviscerate the literal sense if one considers the Lucan account of the ascension a telescoped version of the Acts narrative.

Fundamentalist hermeneutics is assertedly governed by a prejudiced a priori, that the Bible is inerrant and that its errorlessness is to be understood principally as “correspondence with reality and events,” says Barr, in contrast to critical interpretation on the basis of “linguistic and literary structure” that defers until later the question of external factuality (ibid., p. 51). But one cannot both have his cake and eat it. One approaches Scripture either on the premise that its teaching is reliable unless logical grounds exist for a rejection, or on the premise that what Scripture teaches is errant unless independent grounds can be found for crediting its content. Is the evangelical approach less principled than the view that the Bible must not be taken as reliable except where empirically verified—when in fact its supernatural claims and past historical events are beyond empirical accessibility? The constant factor in some nonevangelical interpretation may well be that Scripture should be regarded as myth when it speaks only on its own, but this exegetical a priori is not to be dignified as objectively neutral.

Warfield’s view that inspiration is inerrant is not merely a methodological hypothesis. He insists that since inspiration is plenary-verbal, we should follow the rule that apparent inconsistencies or errors in the text are not actually errors but difficulties that can be resolved when all the relevant data are known. This approach has some similarities to that of scholars who, affirming a major explanatory hypothesis in the physical sciences, are confident that apparent factual conflicts can be resolved within the context of the theory itself and which only overwhelming incompatible evidence seriously jeopardizes. No scholar views the phenomena—whether of Scripture or of nature—in terms of isolated, discrete units: some interpretative framework there must be, if the data are to be coherent and meaningful. But while scientific hypotheses are formulated on the basis of observable data, in view of which rival theories are always possible, referring biblical assertions (e.g., about the Hittites) to inspired writers is not subject to empirical scientific analysis.

Critical interpretation of biblical phenomena has in fact been marked by even more spectacular revision and reversal than in the case of changing evolutionary theory. Archaeological and linguistic findings have time and again exposed the arbitrariness of negative critical dismissals of the textual data. Higher criticism and empirical scientism alike maintain a good press through their discreet periodic interment of now discredited views which, when first adduced, were proclaimed with all the professional prestige and authority of their updated contemporary alternatives. The critics once insisted, for example, on the nonexistence of ancient Hittites in the Fertile Crescent, of camels in Egypt in Abraham’s time, of writing in Moses’ time, and of Sargon and Belshazzar in much later centuries. Now all learned men are aware that the Hittite empire rivaled the Babylonian and Egyptian, and even the Hittite language has been recovered; moreover, camels and writing have both been restored to ancient Egypt, and Sargon and Belshazzar are no longer dismissed as imaginary. Many other “historical impossibilities” once detailed to discredit the accuracy of the Bible and to caricature any notion of its total reliability have emerged to render ludicrous some gifted critics whose remarkable learning was dwarfed by a prejudice against scriptural reliability. Today the documentary theories of Wellhausen are no longer assigned mantic authority, and what was historically impossible to many biblical critics a few generations ago is frankly conceded by more critical historians to be now convincingly attested. The difficult chronology of the kings of Judah and Israel was long held to disprove inerrancy, but even this argument has now lost force.

Evangelical Christianity insists that scriptural revelation is intelligible and propositional, and it therefore cannot dispense with an interest in harmonizing precepts and phenomena. Whatever is logically contradictory and incapable of reconciliation simply cannot be accepted as truth. Should the representations of Genesis conflict with scientific finalities, if there be such, then the creation narrative could not be regarded as teaching the truth of God. Nor can the inspiration passages be received as legitimating biblical inerrancy if irrefutable contradictory evidence exists. So frequently, however, has what higher critics depicted as absolute contradiction been subsequently vindicated that, instead of prematurely and prejudicially dismissing the biblical testimony, one may covet for the enterprising critical evaluation of inductive data that mood of tentativity that properly suits all empirical study. It is curious that some scholars who readily embrace the doctrine of the Trinity, aware as they are that this involves a highly complex divine ontology, simultaneously reduce biblical epistemology to simplistic terms and reject scriptural inerrancy although the textual conflicts involve no logically demonstrable contradiction.

The possibility of harmonizing apparently contradictory passages has time and again been demonstrated by evangelical scholars who have patiently explored textual problems in the light of new historical studies and linguistic discoveries. “Our method of approach to the dark places of Scripture,” Clark Pinnock remarks, “is synthetic and integrating: that is, in the case of apparent contradictions we assume as a working hypothesis that both poles are correct and seek to trace connecting wires between them. In most cases where this is carefully done, the data is found to harmonize rather easily” (Biblical Revelation, p. 179).

Yet the premature demand for absolute reconciliation in the presence of any and all diversity can lead also to a forced and highly speculative harmonization. The Gospels depict the death of Judas Iscariot as a suicide by hanging (Matt. 27:5); Peter says Judas fell headlong and burst asunder (Acts 1:18). This called forth ingenious suggestions such as that Judas took his life on a tree overlooking a precipice and was mutilated when the rope or a limb gave way (cf. John W. Haley, Alleged Discrepancies of the Bible, p. 284). That complex possibility need not, of course, be ruled out. But Greek scholars have discovered that the word prēnēs (Acts 1:18) need not mean “falling headlong” but can also mean—even if this sense is not too well supported—”swelling up” as a natural consequence of death (George Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament, p. 377). Reconciliation ought not to be hastily forced when more data could resolve apparent difficulties. Because 1 Corinthians 10:8 (rsv) reports that “twenty-three thousand fell in a single day” whereas Numbers 25:9 puts the figure at twenty-four thousand, one need not insist, as does one commentator, that an additional thousand fatalities occurred at night.

Scripture alone can define its claims in respect to its range of trustworthiness. Edward J. Young emphasizes that “the Bible alone must tell us in what sense it is free from error” (“Are the Scriptures Inerrant?” p. 104). Up to a point J. T. Forestell is right when he remarks that the criterion of inerrancy is to be found “in the intention of the sacred writer himself” (“The Limitation of Inerrancy,” p. 15). But he declares that inerrancy “is not to be found in any material division of the text.” Are we then to infer that inerrancy is at best a matter of authorial intention but does not bear on textual reliability or unreliability? The Lausanne Covenant adopted at the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization stated in its final draft that the Bible is “without error in all that it affirms.” Some have contended that this wording provides an escape hatch for those who exclude a historical Adam and Eve (Richard N. Ostling, “A Message from Lausanne,” p. 24); members of the drafting committee disowned this intention, however, declaring that they emphasized only that biblical inerrancy relates to the range, purpose and genre of the content.

The matter of authorial intention now enters prominently into the discussion of inerrancy so that the hermeneutical question is increasingly given priority. A wide gulf separates those interpreters ready to believe whatever the inspired writers intended to teach from those who would impose upon Scripture a historicist perspective, as does Gordon D. Kaufman, or some other frame that selectively features only certain facets of the intended canonical teaching and obscures other doctrines that the Bible expressly and intentionally teaches. Yet a prejudiced hermeneutics can also serve to neutralize inerrancy, as when an interpreter denies the event-character of Adam’s fall and then proceeds to champion the inerrancy of the record.

The intended teaching of the biblical passages is indeed a forefront issue. Clark Pinnock stresses that scriptural inerrancy “is restricted to the intended assertions of Scripture understood by an ordinary grammatical-historical exegesis of the text.… Inerrancy … is relative to the intentionality of Scripture” (Biblical Revelation, pp. 71, 75). In his later work Pinnock emphasizes “the intended teaching of each passage of Scripture” (The Inerrant Word, p. 148). But in concentrating on authorial intention, some commentators seem to imply that the biblical writers need not always have intended to teach the truth. Others emphasize scriptural intention in order to distinguish different layers of teaching, some inerrant, some errant. Richard Coleman writes: “Scripture is inerrant in whatever it intends to teach as essential for our salvation; whether it includes historical, scientific, biographical, and theological materials. Undoubtedly not everything in Scripture is necessary for our salvation …” (“Reconsidering ‘Limited Inerrancy,’ ” p. 213). Daniel P. Fuller has recently refined his views to remove earlier ambiguities that promoted a distinction between revelatory and nonrevelatory content in the Bible. Fuller now declares himself as supportive of the inerrancy of the scriptural teaching in its authorial intention. The intended scriptural teaching thus becomes subject to debate and can be manipulated by presuppositions brought to the text both by nonevangelicals and evangelicals.

The term inerrancy needlessly becomes a specter if one ignores the referential frame in which it is intended. Everett F. Harrison asserts that while the fact of inerrancy is properly deduced from the teaching of Scripture, its form is to be defined inductively from an examination of the content of Scripture (“Criteria of Biblical Inerrancy,” p. 17). Harrison stresses that it would be wholly inappropriate to demand of the biblical writers a precision in mathematical details peculiar to the modern scientific era; inerrancy does not require total detachment from the writer’s own cultural milieu. In a cursory examination of alleged errors in the Bible, Lindsell in one instance requires modern mathematical precision of the inspired writers (measurements of the molten sea, 2 Chron. 4:2) but inconsistently dismisses this requirement in another (the missing thousand in 1 Cor. 10:18 / Num. 25:9) (The Battle for the Bible, pp. 165, 168).

B. B. Warfield emphasizes that “no objection is valid which overlooks the prime question: what was the professed or implied purpose of the writer in making this statement?” (Presbyterian Review 6 [1881]: 245). Pinnock enumerates sample cases of inerrancy qualified by the intention of the writers: there are everyday references to nature, for example, that imply no technical scientific accuracy when used even in our age; or apostolic appropriation of Old Testament texts for a larger purpose; or the evangelists’ freedom with Jesus’ ipsissima verba to express a latent emphasis. “When we qualify inerrancy hermeneutically, and place it in relation to the authorial intention,” he states, “we shift the emphasis from errors as such and place it instead on the nature and purpose of each biblical passage.”

Instead of simply declaring that scientific technological sophistication is not to be superimposed as a requirement of biblical representations in the ancient world, some conservative scholars apply the term inerrancy only to modern mathematical precision and therefore reject as metachronous and irrelevant any inerrancy-errancy discussion concerning Scripture. But error is what is wrong, inaccurate, incorrect, mistaken. If we declare the category of inerrancy to be irrelevant for Scripture, can we any longer contend for the truth of Scripture? Surely if we ignore the logical distinction between truth and error, then whatever significance is attached to the Bible must be unrelated to any truth-claim.

Some evangelicals consider the concept of inerrancy not worth retaining; as they see it, the term must be too much qualified to make it meaningful. But that is hardly a persuasive objection. Every word must be qualified to establish its precise denotation and connotation, from the “none” in Peter’s statement “silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6, kjv) to the “all” in Caesar Augustus’s decree “that all the world should be taxed” (Luke 2:1, kjv). David A. Hubbard thinks that the term inerrancy should be sacrificed because it “conveys a somewhat mathematical precision and often forces us to be defensive” (Theology News and Notes, September 1966). But this rationalization of the rejection of inerrancy is disappointingly oblique. If inerrancy is misunderstood in terms of intricate mathematical precision, would it not be better to rectify any misunderstanding than to opt for errancy, unless one considers errancy to be the truth?

Some mediating scholars invoke 2 Timothy 3:16 to support a broader emphasis on the “profitability” of Scripture. But in this selfsame epistle the writer also attaches an irreducible truth-claim to Scripture as such (1:13, 2:11, 2:18, 4:3), and even in 3:16 embraces its truth-significance: “Scripture has its use for teaching the truth and refuting error” (neb). This emphasis has its precedent in the teaching of Jesus: “Do ye not … err, because ye know not the scriptures?” (Mark 12:24, kjv). Say what one will about the usefulness of Scripture, or about The Enjoyment of Scripture, as Samuel Sandmel titles a recent volume (1973), the fundamental issue remains its truthfulness.

Although long a champion of scriptural inerrancy, Pinnock has recently voiced some dissatisfaction with the term for numerous reasons (“Inspiration and Authority: A Truce Proposal for Evangelicals,” pp. 1–3). In an essay he had earlier presented to the Theological Students Fellowship of Toronto, Pinnock said the term “requires major qualifications almost as soon as it is uttered”; it refers “only to lost autographs” and “does not describe the Bible we actually use”; it “directs attention at once to the small difficulties in the text rather than to the infallible truth of its intended proclamation”; and finally, the term has become a slogan promotive of “internecine strife and dark suspicion” among evangelicals. Consequently Pinnock suggested that “in view of the serious disadvantages the term inerrancy presents, we ought to suspend it from the list of preferred terminology for stating the evangelical doctrine of Scripture, and let it appear only in the midst of the working out of details. It is sufficient for us in our public statements to affirm the divine inspiration and final authority of the Bible” (cf. his “Inspiration and Authority: A Truce Proposal,” p. 65). Pinnock would emphasize that the Bible’s infallible authority resides “in the message presently conveyed by the existing texts and translations despite the minor imperfections (whatever may be their explanation) that exist in them.” No one involved in intra-evangelical debate, he stresses, maintains that “anything substantive as regards the message of the Bible is at stake” in the inerrancy/errancy controversy over minor difficulties in Scripture.

Pinnock’s objections to the term inerrancy are nonetheless unpersuasive. All terms require strict definition, terms like infallibility and inspiration no less so than inerrancy. If the possibility of misunderstanding becomes all-decisive for our choice of words, we would need to remain speechless. Furthermore, Pinnock too imprecisely asserts that “inspiration does not simply refer to ancient autographs now lost, though indeed they were given by the Spirit; it also characterizes as a present quality the Bibles which we now read and is the reason they have such life-giving power.” But inspiration cannot strictly be claimed for copies, which contain textual variants, far less for translations which, even if only now and then, accommodate doctrinal error, and far less still for paraphrases, except as any and all of these writings accurately reproduce the truth of the original text of which divine inspiration is a property. Inspiration attaches to the prophetic-apostolic writings alone, and not to copies or to versions, whether King James or Amplified or whichever. Only faithful reflection of the inspired autographs accounts for the life-giving power of the versions and paraphrases we have.

On Pinnock’s emphasis that “divine inspiration and infallible authority” reside “in the message presently conveyed by the existing texts and translations despite the minor imperfections … that exist in them,” I would comment that only where and as transcripts and translations in fact fully accord with the original can the quality of the original be claimed for them. Every translation is a reduction of the autographs. Pinnock’s emphasis on “small difficulties” doubtless reflects the situation in most of the evangelical arena. But once errancy of the texts is accommodated, the universe of controversy quickly enlarges. If geographical and historical details are untrue, why should the events or doctrines correlated with them be true? Neo-Protestant biblical studies today attest the fact that a priori restrictions do not long serve to confine the range of error, not to preserve any span of infallibility. If evangelical spokesmen now correlate inerrancy only with minor areas of dispute, once biblical inerrancy is set aside, errancy is readily correlated with much broader spheres of conflict. Nor is the fact that inerrancy has become a polemical slogan a sufficient reason for abandoning the term; polemicists will always find their slogans, and the term infallibility can serve their controversial interests no less than can inerrancy.

In a later essay on “The Inerrancy Debate among the Evangelicals,” Pinnock apparently has second thoughts and reaffirms that “strong terms like inerrancy are needed to articulate our proper high regard for the written Word of God.” While he declares that all terms definitive of scriptural authority are in some way defective, he nonetheless considers it “important to have forceful terms” in a day when intense pressure is exerted against biblical authority; he resists “weak and permissive” alternatives that dilute the evangelical doctrine of inspiration and sidestep biblical teaching. “The category ‘inerrancy,’ ” he says, “need not occasion great controversy among evangelicals” if its champions note its limitations and its critics acknowledge its strengths. Biblical inerrancy must be qualified by scope, aim and genre, he adds.

Edward John Carnell noted that although the Bible does not teach untruths, it contains untruths (e.g., “There is no God,” Ps. 14:1, spoken by the fool; the fallible counsel given by Job’s friends; the misdirectives of Satan), and on this basis he poses the possibility that inspiration may guarantee not the entire truthfulness but simply the accuracy of the biblical record (The Case for Orthodox Theology, p. 111). If inspiration guarantees an unfailing copying of sources, Carnell held, then the troublesome statistics in the Book of Chronicles may be due to an errant source; in that event, historical errors would be “lifted without correction from the public registers and genealogical lists” (pp. 102 ff.). James Orr had earlier (1910) espoused this view that inspiration may not supernaturally correct ordinary sources of information in historical matters (Revelation and Inspiration, pp. 165, 179–80, 216). Harrison likewise concurs that historical errors may be due to sources on which the writers depend (“The Phenomena of Scripture,” p. 249; cf. also J. Levie, The Bible, Word of God in Words of Men).

Orr, Carnell and Harrison must be considered beyond doubt among this century’s bold champions of the essential trustworthiness of the Gospel record. Orr accommodated a considerable range of factual error especially in the Old Testament, whereas Carnell shortly before his death wrote: “In my heart, I am unconditionally committed to inerrancy” (quoted in a 1967 Christianity Today editorial, “The Loss of Two Leaders,” p. 30). The strength of the view championed by these scholars lay in their insistence on the Bible’s plenary inspiration, contrary to theories that subdivide Scripture into revelational-versus-nonrevelational and inspired-versus-uninspired segments and which must then adjust such data to what seems integral to the redemptive message.

Pinnock too finds in the appeal to authorial intention a basis for expecting in the text only that degree of historical precision which serves the writer’s purposes, and therefore presumably for accommodating error in the biblical content. By way of example, he sees no reason to probe any harmonization of the Chronicler’s use of figures that diverge from parallel passages, since the writer’s intention assertedly was “only to set forth the record as he found it in the public archives.” Nor does he fault Stephen for assertedly diverging from the Old Testament narrative nor fault Luke for recording Stephen’s statistics (Acts 7:6–8, 14–16). On this view the Bible contains error but teaches none; a distinction is required between the teaching or subject and the terms and components in which this is formulated. As Pinnock puts it, “an ‘error’ in the unintended teachings of Scripture is not really an error in Scripture.… The Bible is not free of all ‘errors’ in its whole extent, but free of errors where its intended teachings are concerned.”

In a review of Carnell’s volume in Interpretation, John B. Cobb remarks that, on Carnell’s position, “the fact that a statement appears in Scripture is not grounds for believing it to be true.” This criticism is somewhat wide of the mark, however, since the misrepresentations of Job’s associates, the denials of the atheist, the secularist misunderstanding of life depicted in Ecclesiastes, and much else appear in Scripture as an accurate statement of the facts but representative of human folly rather than as divine truth. Robert Preus emphasizes that inerrancy does not apply to everything recitative that appears in Scripture—although its recording of what the devil or some evil person said is always true—but it applies to everything assertive in Scripture (The Inspiration of Scripture, pp. 77–78). But in such instances the literary form of the narrative enables us to distinguish truth from error; that distinction cannot be made, however, in the areas where Carnell concedes possibilities of historical error. Pinnock once pronounced Carnell’s theory “hazardous” because “in admitting errors … into the body of teaching that the text affords, the point is conceded … that the actual teachings of Scripture may, or may not, be true” and this admission seriously undercuts “the truth value of the Bible” (Biblical Revelation, p. 78).

Pinnock preserves the distinction between what the Bible does and does not teach as doctrine, and at times tends to speak only of the former as Scripture. Does his view of an indeterminate authorial intention alongside the notion that inspiration guarantees the scribal accuracy but not necessarily the historical errorlessness of the prophetic-apostolic writings really escape these same consequences? Christian redemption is admittedly suspended on historical factualities. Not only the Chronicler but also Moses and Luke, among others, used extensive sources. According to the indicated theory, must not every historical assertion be considered unsure unless and until it is independently verified? The theory provides no secure basis for discerning where in the revelational history the inspired writings inerrantly report their errant sources and where they inerrantly report the truth. In an article assessing the relative importance assigned by contemporary evangelical writers to textual phenomena and to apostolic doctrine, Millard J. Erickson remarks that if inspiration guarantees only inerrant copying of what may be errant sources, “one can only be sure of accuracy where he knows that direct revelation is involved or where he has some independent way of checking the correctness of the underlying sources.… This position is an unstable one, and would tend logically to move toward … admission of historical errors in the text” (“A New Look at Various Aspects of Inspiration,” p. 21). Would a span of possible error in acknowledged sources about Jesus’ public ministry (Luke 1:1, 2), let alone the record of his virgin birth or bodily resurrection, cast considerable doubt on what actually took place? Does the special ministry of the Spirit of truth pledged by Jesus to the apostles imply for their handling of historical data something superior to an inerrant copying of errant materials?

Does not refuge in an unknown and unknowable authorial intention serve only to multiply uncertainties, since the biblical writers themselves do not distinguish between their teaching and its components? How can the writer’s internal intention be translated into external affirmation except by the very records that we possess, which make no distinction between dispensable and indispensable historical statements? Does not the appeal simply to authorial intention leave us with no criterion for distinguishing within any biblical writer’s communication when and where he inerrantly teaches factual truth or merely inerrantly transmits an errant content? Evangelical theologians may apply the principle mainly to statistical details, but on what basis are we to determine that Stephen or the apostles or Moses and the prophets sought to tell the truth factually in other respects? The theory affirms that historical error in the canonical writings is not incompatible with plenary inspiration; once this is affirmed, by what objective criterion is a distinction to be drawn between essential and inessential historical representations?

Is faithful transmission of errant and inerrant data the best that we may expect from prophets and apostles gifted with supernatural inspiration, or is that what we might expect rather from mere skillful scribes? To be sure, George Mavrodes argues that the use of amanuenses or secretarial help (e.g., 1 Pet. 5:12) already compromised in principle any role for inerrant autographs, since the apostolic original writings would in this case at the same time be the first copies (“The Inspiration of the Autographs,” pp. 19–29). But the inspired writers would doubtless have checked, revised and approved letters dispatched as from them, and the apostolic amanuenses would have reviewed their own work also. If inspired Scripture is inherently errant, then more is compromised than simply the content transmitted by a careless copyist or inexact translator; the very message of the prophets and apostles is shadowed as well, for the inspired biblical writers then are not per se true witnesses. To affirm the errancy of the text but to insist on the divine authority and reliability of the Bible requires one to impose upon the notion of biblical authority “the death of a thousand qualifications.” What is more, no projected and preferred combination of errant and inerrant aspects is normative over against alternative schematizations, since evangelicals who hold this approach evaluate the text in notably divergent ways.

Daniel Fuller insisted at first that “there is no basic difference between … such words as infallible, inerrant, true and trustworthy” and that “to say the Bible is true is to assert its infallibility” (Fuller Theological Seminary Bulletin 18, March 1968). His colleague David Hubbard disowned the term inerrancy, however, as “too precise, too mathematical … to describe … God’s infallible revelation” (in a letter to Fuller Theological Seminary alumni, 1970). The revised doctrinal statement adopted by Fuller Seminary (affirming the Bible to be “the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice”) exempted only matters of doctrine and morals from scriptural errancy. Faculty members were therefore free to affirm biblical errancy for historical and cosmic concerns. Jesus himself, of course, believed the historical assertions of Scripture and attributed divine sanction to them (Matt. 19:5; cf. Gen. 2:24; Matt. 24:15; Luke 4:25) and did not isolate redemptive from historical concerns.

Fuller asserted that the biblical writers made and taught historical and scientific errors and that only in respect to salvific concerns are they inerrant. He excluded from the category of revelation whatever might make men wise unto cosmology, history, physics, and so forth, and included only what will make them wise unto salvation; the former data, he asserts, are readily accessible to human beings, whereas the latter information requires divine disclosure (“Benjamin B. Warfield’s View of Faith and History”). Conceding that the New Testament teaches the doctrine of inerrancy, Fuller nonetheless correlates inerrancy only with part of the Bible. In a paper read at Wheaton College on November 5, 1970, Fuller on the one hand spoke approvingly of “the inerrancy of the Bible,” but on the other restricted this inerrancy to a definitely limited so-called revelational-content: “The Bible is inerrant because, being verbally inspired, it fulfills its intention to recount and give the correct meaning of God’s redemptive acts in history.” He insists that revelation does not expunge historical error, and that “the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture … demands” that “non-revelational cultural references” (those not dealing directly with salvation, e.g., scientific-historical matters) “be left unchanged” (“The Nature of Biblical Inerrancy”).

Contrary to Carnell, Fuller thus correlates plenary divine inspiration with supposed textual error in what the Bible expressly teaches in historical and scientific matters. His subdivision of Scripture into revelational-inerrant and nonrevelational-errant content and his express contrast of the revelational with the historical and scientific, moreover, involves an arbitrary and costly disjunction. Surely the creation account is not extraneous to God’s salvific purpose in view of the centrality of miracle in the Bible and the cosmic implications of redemption. The biblical conceptions of body and soul “certainly border on the scientific,” observes James Barr. “But in the Bible they are worked into the theological statements and cannot easily be disentangled from them” (The Bible in the Modern World, p. 103). Scripture, moreover, expounds its redemptive panorama by exhibiting the history in which God has made known the truth about himself and his saving plan. The virgin birth of Jesus is a biological matter and yet is related to concerns of salvation. Nor can the salvific significance of Jesus Christ be disengaged from his historical resurrection from the dead (1 Cor. 15:14); if the empty tomb and resurrection appearance narratives are false, then the bodily resurrection cannot logically be maintained. Fuller himself has written a vigorous defense of the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ, but his assurances about the relevant historical data go beyond what his own empirical methodology sustains, and his mediating doctrine of revelation and inspiration narrows the cognitive content and scope of Christian faith. If belief in the resurrection of Jesus Christ is necessary to salvation, and if the resurrection is historical, how can the historical aspects of biblical teaching be detached from revelation as not making us wise unto salvation? Scripture nowhere suggests a divine restriction of inspiration that provides inerrant information on salvation but leaves the sacred writers to fend for themselves in respect to all other concerns. Scripture’s emphasis falls rather on “believing all things which are written in the law and the prophets” (Acts 24:14, kjv); its premise is that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16, niv). Fuller’s mediating theory is unstable; consistently extended, it would require a total rejection of the principle of inerrancy. If Scripture is declared unreliable in regard to the empirically testable, then with what consistency does one declare the Bible to be reliable where it speaks about what is revelationally transcendent? The facts of anthropology and physics, moreover, are not as readily accessible apart from revelation as Fuller implies. Scientific operationalism no longer ventures to tell us how the observable world is inherently constituted. Wherever biblical teaching impinges upon the realms of scientific study, it safeguards the attentive empiricist from arbitrary views of nature, history and man.

Pinnock emphasizes that the distinction of revelational-inerrant (“faith and practice”) from nonrevelational-errant (historical and scientific) aspects superimposes on Scripture a category of error “whose limits are fixed apart from Scripture and thus removed from exegetical restraints.” His own emphasis on “inerrancy relative to the intended assertions of the biblical documents,” however, “permits Scripture to limit inerrancy according to its own intentions as discernible in each text or passage” (“The Inerrancy Debate among the Evangelicals”). Actually, Fuller as well argues in effect from “the intended assertions of the biblical documents” and holds that these do not include empirically available scientific-historical data. It is difficult to see how the historical errors Pinnock professes to find in the Bible can be identified as errors according to scriptural “intentions as discernible in each text or passage.” While Pinnock avoids the damaging concessions of Fuller’s theory, his proposals do not emerge full-formed simply because of a hermeneutical requirement; for both men certain controlling assumptions are operative.

In Confessions of a Conservative Evangelical, Jack Rogers professes to accept “the full inspiration and authority of the Bible” but interprets it “in the context of human language, culture and history. To judge biblical science and history by contemporary standards, he insists, is to deny the limitations of human authorship, and to divert attention from the Bible’s redemptive purpose which spans time and culture. The issue of biblical error in scientific and historical matters, he contends, is an anachronism created by those who espouse inerrancy. This flurry of circumlocution hardly obscures the fact, however, that Rogers does not look for valid truth in scientific and historical matters even where what Scripture teaches as doctrine impinges on these concerns; what he does is to arbitrarily seal off certain facets of biblical teaching from the cultural context to which he yields other facets. G. C. Berkouwer contends that the limitations of human language and the historically conditioned nature of Scripture preclude a formal idea of inerrancy that demands “the exact accuracy of all scriptural presentations” (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, p. 93); curiously, Berkouwer thinks the Gospels are made to look untrustworthy by those who insist on their inerrancy (p. 211). But if writing must be errant because it is expressed in a particular language and arises within a particular culture—as all literature must—then biblical representations on any and all themes are fallible; Berkouwer then is equally fallible when he says so because he writes in Dutch, and not even English translation of his work can overcome his erroneousness. But is not divine inspiration something less than divine if it cannot be addressed to the cultural milieu without being infected by it?

Even Fuller Seminary’s revised doctrinal commitment was breached on the ground of cultural relativity when Paul K. Jewett emphasized that the Apostle Paul erred in the matter of wifely subordination to the husband (Man as Male and Female, pp. 119, 134). Once the errancy of the Bible was affirmed, faculty members were unable to hold the line on two successive institutional formulations concerning the authority and inspiration of Scripture. The thesis that the biblical writers were influenced in what they taught doctrinally by the cultural milieu in which they lived may on first concession be restricted only to scientific and historical facets of Scripture. But Jewett’s attribution of aspects of Paul’s ethical teaching to the cultural prejudices of his age indicates how difficult it is, once one champions biblical erroneousness, to correlate God’s mind and will with a fixed and determinate scriptural content. Since the writers in their writings do not distinguish between culturally indebted and nonculturally indebted teaching, an interpreter prone to elevate the contemporary mind as infallibly authoritative and unrevisably definitive will readily assume that more and more of the scriptural doctrine—ethical and theological affirmations included—is culturally conditioned.

Richard J. Coleman concedes that “unequivocally the doctrinal verses teach the inspiration of Scripture as a whole.” But, he insists, “to impose on all Christians the deduction that plenary inspiration automatically guarantees total inerrancy is unwarranted.” “Plenary inspiration and inerrancy are not synonymous or inseparable,” he contends. “Scripture is inerrant in whatever it intends to teach for our salvation”; in short, “the gift of inspiration was granted not to insure the infallibility of every word and thought, though it did accomplish this in particular instances, but to secure a written word that would forever be the singular instrument by which man learns and is confronted by God’s will” (“Reconsidering ‘Limited Inerrancy,’ ” p. 214). In other words, Coleman champions total inspiration and limited inerrancy (“in particular instances”)—the weakest of the options; this approach involves a large span of divinely inspired error and adduces no objective criterion for firmly distinguishing the true from the presumably false in the plenarily inspired passages and, in fact, it implicates all Scripture in the possibility of error. It would take very little change of emphasis to elaborate an alternative view that the Bible is plenarily and propositionally errant except for “particular instances” where God is thought to confront man. In any event, the Bible itself, although Coleman holds it to be plenarily inspired, ceases on his theory to serve as an objectively authoritative book and ceases to be normative. Presumably the modern critic is able to do what the inspired writers could not do, that is, distinguish truth from error; he is therefore to be trusted more than the writers, first at some points and then at most if not all.

Dewey Beegle holds that the Bible neither teaches nor implies textual inerrancy. He insists that “a truly Biblical formulation of inspiration must give equal weight to the teaching and to the facts of Scripture” (The Inspiration of Scripture, p. 14), then proceeds to widen its range of error on the premise of errant inspiration. Beegle repeats the canard that “the doctrine of inerrancy leads eventually into the mechanical or dictation theory of inspiration” (ibid., p. 84; cf. p. 163). This judgment is uninformed, inasmuch as proponents of inerrancy reject the dictation theory as being erosive of inspiration. Beegle’s doctrine of errant inspiration claims to honor the biblical phenomena in its exposition of the nature of inspiration and devaluation of the deductive approach. But if all doctrines of the Christian religion were suspended on empirical considerations, then all the basic theological affirmations of the Bible would dangle indecisively in suspense. Beegle’s requirement of an inductive determination of the nature of inspiration would in fact disallow all confidence in his own view as being irrefutably true. According to D. P. Livingston, Beegle’s supposed inductive case against scriptural inerrancy is not actually arrived at by induction; the scriptural phenomena Beegle adduces to support the errancy of Scripture are far less than incontrovertible evidence. His theory actually rests upon deductive presuppositions favorable to errancy (see Livingston, “Inerrancy of Scripture: Critique of Dewey Beegle’s Book,” in which he replies to Beegle’s claim that certain texts—Jude 9, Acts 7:4, 15, 16; Genesis 5, and the late Kingdom chronology of Israel—demonstrate biblical errancy).

The syllogism “God does not err, God inspired Scripture, therefore Scripture is inerrant” Beegle manipulates into a weaker form that is far from conclusive: “God is perfect, God revealed himself in the autographs, therefore the autographs had to be inerrant” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 156). This conclusion need not logically follow, however, since the revised version does not unqualifiedly identify the autographs with revelation. The issue is not whether God “revealed himself in” Scripture, but whether Scripture is divinely inspired. Beegle reflects the logic of his position less consistently when he insists that although some Scripture is errant, the whole is inspired, than when he unwittingly writes of “Scripture, none of which was inerrant” (p. 157).

Beegle insists that “God recognizes the sincere doubts of men and he undoubtedly saved men who do not have enough faith to believe certain teachings of Scripture” (ibid., p. 65). That may be the case, although it can hardly be so where men, however sincere, deny the existence of God and the gift of salvation. While Beegle does not clarify in detail just which biblical truths concerning divine salvation may be denied, he does include the one doctrine that the Apostle Paul considered a sine qua non of genuine redemptive faith. Beegle writes of Willi Marxsen’s rejection of the bodily resurrection of the crucified Jesus which prompted heresy charges by the Evangelical Church of Westphalia: “Neither this writer nor any other Christian has the authority to declare that Marxsen cannot possibly have genuine faith because he cannot bring himself to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus” (p. 63). The clear implication is that the Apostle Paul’s authority is suspect, since Paul affirms that our faith is vain except for the third-day resurrection of the buried Jesus (1 Cor. 15:17). Just as Jewett extends the erroneousness of the biblical teaching to some of its moral emphases, so Beegle considers disbelief of a foundational New Testament doctrine to pose no obstacle to personal salvation.

While Donald Bloesch professes to uphold the inerrancy of the Bible (or at least declares himself “not willing to abandon the doctrine of inerrancy”), he simultaneously affirms that the inspired writers recorded faulty historical data and an outdated world view (Essentials of Evangelical Theology, vol. 1, God, Authority, and Salvation, p. 65). Bloesch holds, in fact, that “not only the historical and cultural perspective of the biblical writers was limited but also their theological and ethical ideas” (p. 68). He shifts inerrancy away from the letter of the Bible to “the Scripture illuminated by the Spirit.” One does not “detract in the slightest from the full inspiration of the Scriptures,” he writes, if one insists that not everything in Scripture is factually accurate (p. 67). Bloesch tapers inerrancy to “trustworthy … witness to the truth of divine revelation,” and this in turn is centered in the self-revelation of Jesus Christ which the Spirit gives. Only when the testimony of the biblical writers is “related to and refined by the self-revelation of Jesus Christ” has it the force of inerrant authority (p. 68). The Bible is “not mistaken in what it purports to teach, namely, God’s will and purpose for the world” (p. 69). But “faith alone can grasp the significance of Scripture” (p. 68); the husk, or “cultural limitations of the writers,” must not be confused with the gospel known only to faith (ibid.; cf. p. 84, n. 74).

Martin Marty claims that most Lutherans adhere to the Bible, not in expectation of comprehensive inerrancy, but because “it brings them Jesus Christ and speaks with authority to them in matters of faith and hope.” “They believe that it is ‘infallible’ and unerring in its setting forth of all that one needs to be made right with God; Scriptures will not mislead believers” (Lutheranism, a Restatement in Question and Answer Form, p. 8). Marty thus deploys the vocabulary of errancy and inerrancy (“unerring”) from propositional errorlessness to experiential relatedness; although he selectively champions elements of Scripture, he defends neither its historical and scientific aspects nor its theological and ethical content as such as objectively true.

Herman N. Ridderbos asserts that the doctrine of scriptural authority, that is, of inerrancy or infallibility, is not expressly taught by the Bible but is a product of theological reflection. The authority of the Scriptures is “the great presupposition” on which the Bible itself invokes Scripture. The whole body of Scripture is inspired, Ridderbos insists, for a limited and specific purpose; we are not to speak of its inspiration and authority “apart from the nature and purpose of God’s revelation” (“An Attempt at Theological Definition of Inerrancy, Infallibility, and Authority,” p. 29). Ridderbos detaches scriptural authority from textual inerrancy and correlates it with salvific infallibility. The Bible is not written from a scientific-theological viewpoint concerned with questions of human relativity, but rather from a religious-ethical perspective concerned with salvific efficacy; it, therefore, has no room, we are told, for the matter of mistakes and inaccuracies. “The purpose and nature of Scripture” involves a “qualified sort of teaching and instruction” (p. 30). The authority and trustworthiness of Scripture have significance only in the context of its saving message; its trustworthiness is not to be conceived “in a purely intellectual sense” (p. 31). Ridderbos warns that “one denatures the Scripture” if he removes its correlation with faith in Christ (p. 33); he declares “docetic” any view of the Bible that does not focus its authority on its ethico-religious nature and purpose.

The doctrine of scriptural inerrancy, Ridderbos complains, disregards this limitation by its “readiness and obedience to accept as correct and exact all that the Scripture contains of pronouncements, statements and data” (ibid., p. 34). This places the exegesis of Scripture under an a priori necessity to harmonize the phenomena, or refers any content that conflicts with other established data to a corruption of the original manuscripts. Ridderbos finds no fault with “the a priori of the inspiration and of the authority of Scripture [which] brings exegesis into an a priori position,” but he does object to any postulate that “takes too little into account the factual content of the Scripture and the manner in which it came into existence” (ibid.).

Few evangelicals would dissent from Ridderbos’s appeal to the “organic” character of inspiration, or his emphasis on personality and stylistic differences of the biblical writers, unless these are held to require erroneousness as a quality of inspiration. Ridderbos disowns “a ‘doctrine of verbal inspiration’ which aims at placing the historical precision and accuracy of every word in the Bible beyond discussion” (ibid., p. 36). He gratuitously implies that evangelicals who insist on scriptural inerrancy are less interested than those who subscribe to errancy in such matters as literary genres, the rub-off into Scripture of the cultural outlook of the age in which the biblical writers lived, and apparent textual divergences, as reflected, for example, by the Synoptic problem. Ridderbos seems to work his assumption in contrary directions, moreover, when he entertains the possibility that the concept of inerrancy may lead to an approach far more concerned “with the details than with the whole of Scripture and its purpose” (p. 40).

Ridderbos does not tell us how his insistence on all-inclusive divine inspiration that moves beyond words to substance bears on his distinction between ethico-religious content and scientific-theological content. Do these contents never permeate each other? Even if it is held that they do not, can salvific efficacy—once the verbal errancy of the ethico-religious as well as the scientific-theological content is conceded—be coordinated with a verbally erroneous exposition of it? If one maintains the verbal inerrancy of what is ethico-religious, then in principle one concedes everything that is necessary for inerrant inspiration of the whole; why swallow the camel and strain out the gnat? If Scripture achieves its salvific purpose even where it supposedly errs in expounding ethico-religious concerns, are we to view redemption as an internal existential event unrelated to definite doctrinal conceptions? If the authority and purpose of Scripture lie in its redemptive efficacy alone, defined anticognitively, then the biblical texts would be stripped of valid doctrinal information.

In the end Ridderbos in fact appeals to the Holy Spirit’s validation of Scripture as Word of God (ibid., p. 39), to the “unassailability of the divine and the relativity of the human” (p. 40), and even to Scripture’s self-accreditation. He emphasizes the clarity of “the Scripture and its authority … in the manner in which it teaches man to understand himself, the world, history, and the future, in the light of the God and Father of Jesus Christ” (ibid.). “On account of this clarity and this [soterological] purpose,” Scripture “can be identified with the Word of God.”

Yet elsewhere Ridderbos concedes the “real danger” of lapsing into subjectivism through an inability to “establish precisely where the boundaries lie between that which certainly does and that which does not pertain to the purpose of Scripture” (ibid., p. 32). One might ask how anything in a book can be wholly extraneous to its purpose. Emil Ludwig’s biography of Bismarck is tedious and detailed, but every detail is at least supposed to advance the book’s purpose. When Ridderbos writes that “Scripture is God-breathed, not in order to make us scholars, but to make us Christians” (p. 30), one wonders if intellectual compart-mentalization is a component of salvation, and what happens to scholarly religious-ethical concerns (let alone scientific-theological) when the scholar becomes a Christian. Despite his disclaimers of dualism, spiritual commitment seems to involve for Ridderbos an isolation of theoretical or cognitive from spiritual and ethical concerns. The difference between Scripture and all else, Ridderbos says, lies not in “a greater accuracy” but “inheres in … the purpose and qualitative content of the Scripture” (p. 41). It is, of course, easy to equate the concern for accuracy with “legalistic scrupulousness, flight into the speculative,” and so on, but that one’s alternative is confessedly “difficult to put into words” hardly commends it.

Ridderbos seems in fact finally to make internal assurance the basis for accepting what Scripture teaches about its religious-ethical concerns. But no objective reason can in that case be adduced for challenging those who choose instead to orient life to the spiritual perspectives of the Koran or of Zen, or for that matter of atheism and irreligion. When Ridderbos resorts to the Belgic Confession to emphasize that the “Scriptures ‘carry the evidence in themselves’ of their divinity and authority” (Article V), he does not tell us how undefined areas of supposed historical and factual error commend the divine inspiration of the entirety of Scripture and how they correlate with the infallible salvific material that has implications for nature, history and mankind generally.

In his latest (1975) work, Holy Scripture, G. C. Berkouwer contends vigorously for the infallibility of Scripture; to forego this emphasis, he says, “would contradict the confession of the God-breathed character of Scripture” and give the misimpression that one is shifting from an emphasis on “the reliability of Scripture to its ‘unreliability’ ” (p. 265). This statement ought not conceal the fact, however, that Berkouwer’s preference for the term infallibility over inerrancy when dealing with the prophetic-apostolic writings involves a very significant alteration; speak as he will of infallibility, Berkouwer in his approach drains away much that evangelical Christianity has historically maintained about the Bible, and reduces the cognitive importance of Scripture. “Could it be then,” Pinnock asks, “that the term infallibility is preferred because it has come to have a weaker meaning than it used to have, one that is compatible with an unacceptably diluted conviction about the veracity of the Bible?” (“The Inerrancy Debate among the Evangelicals”).

Berkouwer’s emphasis on a teleological view—that Scripture centrally witnesses to Christ (an emphasis that no Christian dare deny)—is correlated with epistemic concessions that raise serious questions. We are forced to ask whether Scripture’s goal of testimony to Christ can itself be preserved under any and all conditions, or whether some formulations of the scopus of Scripture may not, in fact, attenuate and imperil that very goal. The scriptural witness to Christ, Berkouwer writes, need not concern itself about “perfect precision” and with excluding all “interpretative subjectivity”—in brief, with avoiding prophetic-apostolic conceptual error. The limitations of human language and the historically conditioned nature of Scripture, Berkouwer remarks, preclude any formal idea of inerrancy that demands “the exact accuracy of all scriptural presentations” (The Triumph of Grace in the Theology of Karl Barth, p. 93); indeed, we are told that the formal notion of inerrancy eclipses the human and the historical and even makes “the gospels appear untrustworthy” (p. 211).

When Berkouwer shies away from reducing Scripture “to a number of central truths that could be known and understood by all” (Holy Scripture, p. 361), his aversion to reductionism is far more commendable than his ambiguity over revealed truths. Berkouwer considers “error” as the contradictory of truth a category irrelevant to the Bible (p. 181), and admits into the teaching of Scripture limited and time-bound conceptions that he brushes aside as extraneous to the teleological nature and purpose of Scripture (p. 182). His approval of Barth’s emphasis on grasping God’s Word through human words (pp. 361 ff.) leaves in doubt the propositional content of divine disclosure. “It is not that Scripture offers us no information,” he writes, “but that the nature of this information is unique. It is governed by the purpose of God’s revelation. The view of inspiration that forms the basis of the misunderstanding of this purpose considers ‘inerrancy’ essential as a parallel characterization of reliability; that is a flight away from this purpose” (pp. 183–84). Here we can only observe that if the nature and purpose of the Bible so fully exclude propositional truth as irrelevant to its testimony to Christ, then no sound reason remains for understanding “testimony,” “to” or “Christ” in any objectively uniform or intelligible sense. The activist view of inspiration and authority to which Berkouwer leans cannot preserve the intellectual foundations on which he predicates his thirteen volumes of Studies in Dogmatics. Indifference to the propositional truth of Scripture has a way of nullifying even its christological purpose by imperiling the very trustworthiness of the biblical testimony to Christ on which Berkouwer insists.

Bernard Ramm argues that to be inerrantly sure of scriptural inerrancy requires a theology of glory which we do not yet have; rather, “we must … have a doctrine of the Scriptures which is of the same heartbeat as the theology of the cross” (“Misplaced Battle Lines,” review of Harold Lindsell’s The Battle for the Bible, p. 38). But to be inerrantly sure of anything—including Ramm’s alternative—would seem to fall under the same judgment. Ramm reaffirms Scripture as “the supreme and final authority in matters of faith and conduct,” yet commends Berkouwer’s Holy Scripture as being centrally in the great tradition or historic Christian outlook.

Rejecting scriptural inerrancy, Daniel R. Stevick argues that the Bible contains no doctrine of infallible or inerrant revelation (Beyond Fundamentalism, p. 54). Evangelicals who maintain the doctrine, he says, must be omniscient in order to do so. Stevick not only misunderstands or ignores the supernatural basis on which evangelicals rest their view of the nature of the biblical writings, but he also overlooks the presumptive omniscience implicit in a theory that discounts Jesus’ view of Scripture and downgrades the Bible’s reliability on the basis of empirical refutation. Pinnock remarks that “until the interpreter is omniscient and all the evidence comes in, it is impossible to press the theory of ‘inductive errancy’ ” (A Defense of Biblical Infallibility, p. 73). The noteworthy factor here is the inability of empirical observation to supply a complete induction. Scientific observation, in view of its inherent limitations, is always incomplete, and no past historical even is in any case accessible to direct observation. The value of the scientific method lies not in its establishment of final truth but in its elimination of evidentially false hypotheses, and even the latter can and do revive when the notion of constant as opposed to variable error is found to influence the readings. Short of absolute logical contradiction—and most debate over textual divergences does not occur on this level—an interpreter will face difficult passages on either of two governing presuppositions. If one accepts the biblical teaching of plenary inspiration with its implicate of pervasive reliability, then he will probe all possibilities of reconciliation, even to the point of patiently anticipating further light from the study of archaeology or linguistics. If he does not accept plenary inspiration, he will likely consider every biblical affirmation to be questionable unless independently verified. If phenomena alone are considered determinative of the biblical doctrine of inspiration, then except for the revelational assurances of pervasive divine inspiration of the writings, both the surface textual difficulties and the possibility of human error become decisive. A vast range of possibilities of error now arises, from the view of Howard P. Colson, long the editorial secretary of the Sunday School Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, that “the error from which biblical truth is completely free is spiritual error” and not error in other respects (Outreach, Feb. 1971, p. 4), to Bultmann’s prejudiced dismissal of a supernatural-miraculous world view as mythical, and his depiction of the miracle content of the Gospels as a dramatically creative apologetics. Those who construct their view of bibliology only from problem passages and apparent errors may well ask what theory of christology they would entertain were they to rely only on reports of Jesus’ apparently questionable activities such as driving the moneychangers from the temple, turning a farmer’s swine into the sea, and conversing with winebibbers and prostitutes.

The Protestant Reformers were governed by both the pattern of biblical truth and sound theological instinct when they inseparably related the inerrancy and the authority of Scripture. Their discussion of the prophetic-apostolic writings, notes Preus, “often included inerrancy and authority under the rubric of infallibility” (“Notes on the Inerrancy of Scripture,” p. 137).

Remarkably inconsistent are those churchmen who, in conformity with the confessions or standards of their denominations, publicly affirm the authority and inspiration of the Bible while they blithely reject the inerrancy of the autographs. Assuming the sincerity of such doctrinal subscription, their plain implication seems to be that God inspired error and that error has divine authority. The doctrine that the Bible is divinely inspired is as incompatible with the notion that God inspired error as it is with the doctrine that he need not have inspired truth. John Wesley’s position is clear: “If there be one falsehood in that book it did not come from the God of truth” (Journal, 6:117). Lindsell states: “If inspiration allows for the possibility of error then inspiration ceases to be inspiration” (The Battle for the Bible, p. 31). It is curious that Francis L. Patton, in other respects a staunch conservative, should write: “It is a hazardous thing to say that being inspired the Bible must be free from error; for then the discovery of a single error would destroy its inspiration” (Fundamental Christianity, pp. 163 ff.). One is tempted to ask how often God can err and be God (cf. Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). If the content of revelation is not to be identified with valid logical propositions, as Berkouwer seems to imply and as Barth expressly asserts, then perhaps an infinite range of prepositional error would be compatible with the christological content of divine disclosure, but in that event must we not withdraw the affirmation that Christ is the Logos of God?

The contemporary revival of emphasis on biblical authority while forfeiting scriptural inerrancy and affirming the doctrine of plenary inspiration reflects the modern correlation of revelation and faith with volitional factors but neglect of the intellectual. Berkouwer deliberately sets aside inerrancy in order, professedly, to emphasize the reliability and authority of the Bible, as do several contributors to Jack Rogers’s recent symposium Biblical Authority. While a correlation of errancy with authority and trustworthiness may promote ecumenical congeniality, it provides no adequate basis for a sound apologetic. Only logical imprecision can begin with errancy and conclude with divine authority. What is errant cannot be divinely authoritative nor can God have inspired it. Gleason L. Archer speaks to the issue: “God could never have inspired a human author of Scripture to write anything erroneous or false” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 17). Pinnock writes: “Inerrancy is … an essential concomitant of inspiration.… Inerrancy is a property of inspired Scripture” (Biblical Revelation, p. 73). A contributor to a major recent encyclopedia states: “The first and foremost consequence of inspiration is certainly ‘immunity from error’ ” (Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, p. 1067b).

James Barr rejects the close association of biblical inspiration with inerrancy, but in so doing transforms the concept of inspiration as well. Barr thinks that the conception of inspiration can be “revitalized” today only if one indicates that the Bible comes from God and does so without implying that God inspired an errorless message, and without sharply distinguishing inspiration from day-to-day reflection by Christian leaders (The Bible in the Modern World, pp. 15 ff.). Barr accordingly abandons even the attempt to salvage isolated segments of Scripture as inerrant. Those critics who would partition Scripture into errant and inerrant segments have never achieved a logically persuasive division; those who venture to take this course disagree radically among themselves. They have never, moreover, adduced a theological, philosophical or biblical principle that objectively justifies dividing the Scriptures into “truth and error” rather than “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, kjv). The inevitable consequence of insisting on biblical authority and inspiration on the one hand and on an errant Bible on the other is, of course, that inspiration ceases to be a guarantee of the truth of what the Bible teaches; the authority of Scripture must then somehow be divorced from the truth of its content. The problem with such alternatives is that they destroy the objective truth of the Christian religion, trivialize theology, and lead finally to skepticism. The historic Christian case for the inspiration, authority, and inerrancy of Scripture is not predicated on wildly irrational argumentation, nor has it been logically invalidated by modern biblical studies. What has led modern critical scholars away from this evangelical affirmation has been considerations of another kind, that is, philosophical preconceptions to which they alternatively adjust the evidence, and which often involve—even while the critics lay claim to be Christian—a conception of God different in many respects from the God of the Bible who himself is truth and who cannot lie.

It may be well to remind Barr of the simple illogic of the nonevangelical view he espouses: that the God of the Bible personally inspired error and falsehood. Would not reason and logic instead side with a denial that God inspired what is declared false and errant, and therefore dismiss divine inspiration itself as a myth? Does Barr cling to the concept of inspiration simply because it is difficult to be perceived as a Christian theologian if one repudiates it, or because it is difficult to justify one’s vocation as professor of “the Interpretation of Holy Scripture” if one expressly lowers divine involvement in biblical literature to the level of literature in general? Almost inevitably the further question arises why inspiration, which Barr extends over a broad literary horizon, should then be confined to the biblical tradition. And if biblical critics share its privileges, however vaguely defined, why should a professor of the interpretation of the Koran be excluded, or of Marxist and atheistic literature? Or would the only persons devoid of inspiration perchance be those who question whether the assumptions governing some regnant critical views may be timebound perspectives more than timeless truth?

Barr concedes that his critical approach to Scripture relativizes the objective distinction between truth and error in the materials it manipulates. He says: “It should not be supposed that critical scholarship is exercised to discover ‘errors’ in the Bible or that the critical reconstruction of biblical literature is built upon the detection of such ‘errors’. Readers of critical introductions and commentaries will not find much about ‘errors’ in them at all. Indeed one could … say that the critical approach to biblical literature is the one in which it becomes (for the first time!) possible to understand the literature without having to use the category of ‘error’ ” (Fundamentalism, p. 55).

Empirical linguistic study cannot, of course, adjudicate questions of metaphysics. But the detachment of investigative biblical criticism from the question whether the Bible’s teaching is literally true can only indicate the erosive skepticism that is overtaking nonevangelical biblical studies. In earlier centuries historical criticism was stimulated by a desire to investigate the truth and factuality of the biblical representations. Something is profoundly wrong when the enterprise of biblical criticism gains its respectability through the rejection of truth and error as significant criteria.

To be sure, Barr acknowledges that “discrepancies and ‘errors’ can be important as indications of source differences and the like, and thus of the way in which the traditions have grown up historically.” Moreover, he does not hesitate to brandish apparent divergences to embarrass fundamentalist claims. But this is only side-play; biblical error is “a matter of comparatively little interest to scholarship and other elements of the critical operation are much more important” (ibid., p. 55). Here one gains the sad impression that its loss of the doctrine of intelligible inspiration has maneuvered the critical enterprise into a skeptical forfeiture of the referent that originally sustained it—the claim of Judeo-Christian revelation to be the one true religion.

It is no accident that those who deplore the concept of biblical inerrancy are increasingly uncomfortable with the doctrine of biblical inspiration as well, and prefer to speak instead, sometimes quite amorphously at that, only of the authority of Scripture. Barr dismisses inspiration mainly by way of criticizing fundamentalist theology, and then reinstates inspiration by extending it far beyond the Bible. He caricatures fundamentalism as having a fixation upon the King James Version, his complaint being that for evangelicals, “a form of words was there which corresponded directly to the will of God” (Fundamentalism, p. 210). In a more temperate moment, Barr acknowledges that fundamentalists have not held the King James Version in the same high regard as the attachment of Jewish conservatism to the Massoretic text in which Jewish conservatives are extremely reluctant to admit the existence of any error (pp. 284–85). Although Barr specially criticizes the high regard which Christians have long held for the Authorized Version and scorns the notion that “the semantic effect” of its words and sentences “formed a direct and not a mediated transcript of God’s intention” (p. 210), his criticism extends in principle also to the primary Hebrew and Greek sources. He wishes to assure us that “the Greek or Hebrew text cannot be taken as the direct transcript of the mind of God either” (p. 212).

But does Barr’s insistence that we “search the mind of the author, in his historical setting, in order to interpret his words” (ibid., p. 210), necessarily strip the biblical text of its identity at any and every point as a veritable Word of God? Barr asserts that in neoorthodoxy the classical doctrine of “scripture as the Word of God” came into its own again (p. 214). In the Barthian view, Barr recognizes, “the revelatory content is not the Bible, its words and sentences, but the person and acts to whom it testifies” (p. 215). “The whole conservative attempt to maintain the authority of the Bible by combatting the movement of biblical criticism was totally wrong,” he says; “Christ was the true and only revelation of God” (p. 216). Neoorthodoxy thus subordinated the Bible to the higher authority both of God’s internally encountered “self-revelation” and of higher critics as the final arbiters of the Bible’s historical factuality and verbal reliability. Barr expressly rejects the conception that the Bible is a divinely inspired literary corpus that authoritatively depicts God’s nature and purposes, conveys revealed interpretation of his saving work and includes other specially disclosed information (ibid., p. 228). One should not be surprised, therefore, that for all his focus on Christ as the “true and only revelation” Barr is as obscure in fixing the identity of Christ as he is unconvincing in conferring divine inspiration on an errant Bible.

Supplementary Note: Barth on Scriptural Errancy

Karl Barth’s insistence that error belongs to Scripture as Scripture in effect undermines every effort to find an authoritative norm in Scripture as Scripture, whether it be in the original prophetic-apostolic writings or in our available copies and versions.

Barth’s Church Dogmatics tributes the Bible with “rare exactitude” (a highly significant characterization in our scientific age) even in its chronology and history (I/2, pp. 50–51). Yet in context he soon muffles this eulogy. The writers, he says, may have used an “antiquated number-symbolics or number mysticism, whereby arithmetical errors, whimsies and impossibilities may have crept in” (I/2, p. 51), and “the fact that the statement ‘God reveals himself’ is the confession of a miracle that has happened certainly does not imply a blind credence in all the miracle stories related in the Bible.… It is really not laid upon us to listen to its testimony when we actually hear it” (I/2, p. 65). Whatever he means by “rare exactitude,” Barth deplores as “very ‘naturalistic’ ” the postulate that “the Bible … must not contain human error in any of its verses” (I/2, p. 525). He attributes error to prophets and apostles in their authoritative teaching; “The prophets and apostles as such even in their office,” he states, “were really historical men as we are, and … actually guilty of error in their spoken and written word” (I/2, pp. 528–29). The error that Barth ascribes to Scripture, moreover, is not limited to its historical details, but stretches even to its religious or theological teaching. “The vulnerability of the Bible, i.e., its capacity for error, also extends to its religious or theological content” (I/2, p. 509). “There are obvious … contradictions—e.g., between the Law and the prophets, between John and the Synoptists, between Paul and James.… Within certain limits they are all vulnerable and therefore capable of error even in respect of religion and theology” (I/2, pp. 509–510; cf. also III/1, p. 80).

Barth’s insistence on the original errancy of Scripture even as inspired Scripture—that is, his insistence on the Bible’s errancy from the outset as a necessary presupposition—puts so many obstacles in the way of effective reliance on the Bible, and involves such dire theological consequences, that we do well to note some of the difficulties. For, despite Barth’s desire to revive a theology of the Word of God, one cannot in any case appeal to Scripture as Scripture as authoritative, even on the assumption of the essential continuity of our best versions with the original manuscripts, if errant prophetic-apostolic writings are the basis of whatever copies or versions we have.

If the Bible is thus humanly fallible, and necessarily so, as Barth contends, what sense does it make to insist, as he does, on its divine infallibility? Why should the church accept the Bible as a God-given canon? Barth’s repeated appeal to faith is of no help; if we know that Scripture is fallible and necessarily so, in view of the humanity of the writers, can even faith that moves mountains turn the writer’s supposed contradictions and errors into the truth of revelation? Could even God work this miracle of transmuting error into truth? Elsewhere Barth insists that “God himself says what his witnesses say” (I/2, p. 518), and maintains that when we hear the biblical writers we must hear “all their words with the same measure of respect” (I/2, p. 517). As Clark shrewdly notes, there is one colossal difference between this emphasis and that of evangelical orthodoxy: orthodox doctrine holds that “God speaks the truth” in their biblical words (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 214).

Despite his uncertainty about the nature of revelation, Barth is constrained to say that “revelation engenders the Scripture which attests it … as the judge at once and the guarantor of the truth” of prophetic-apostolic “language” and “as the event of inspiration in which they become speakers and writers of the Word of God” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 129). Barth is here saying not only that the writers were personally inspired—as indeed they were—but also that “the truth of their language” is divinely vouchsafed, that revelation guarantees “the truth” of “the language” of the biblical writers; this, of course, is what the New Testament affirms. Barth, to be sure, wrongly distinguishes Scripture from revelation. But how else can the truth of the language of the Bible be assured than by strictly correlating divine revelation with the written Scriptures? It soon becomes apparent that Barth has no intention of affirming the permanent truth of the Scriptures. His foregoing remarks quickly serve as refusals to subsume the Bible under the category of revelation. We are to listen to the Bible “in what is certainly always the very modest, changing, perhaps even decreasing compass in which it is true from time to time for each individual, according as the human words of the Bible are carriers of the eternal word” (II/1, p. 131). Clark is surely right in commenting that “the idea of sentences, propositions, verses of the Bible increasing or decreasing in truth from time to time and from individual to individual is a skeptical delusion” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 172). Indeed, what can Barth possibly mean by revelation guaranteeing the truth of biblical language when he also insists on the “utter multiplicity” and “contradictoriness” of the Bible? “The unity of revelation guarantees the unity of the Biblical witness, in spite of and within its utter multiplicity, in fact its contradictoriness” (Church Dogmatics, I/1, p. 131). Here revelation obviously no longer guarantees the truth of the language, but the unity of revelation—whatever in paradox’s name that may mean!—now guarantees the unity of alleged untruths in Scripture.

In two passages which we have already noted to be centrally important for the New Testament doctrine of inspiration—2 Timothy 3:14–17 and 2 Peter 1:19–21—Barth professes to find a recollection of revelation in the past and an expectation of revelation in the future. He curiously maintains the dual insistence, first that an overwhelming divine confrontation imposes the Bible as the Word of God, and second, that we are not obliged to believe what the Bible says. What Barth actually asserts is that “if we are serious about the true humanity of the Bible, we obviously cannot attribute to the Bible as such the capacity to reveal God to us” by our mere reading of it (I/2, pp. 506–7). Does Barth here mean only that the Spirit must illumine the Scripture and is the only source of believing faith, or does he mean also that the truth about God cannot be gained simply by reading the Bible? This is what Barth says: “It witnesses to God’s revelation, but that does not mean that God’s revelation is now before us in any kind of divine revealedness. The Bible is not a book of oracles; it is not an instrument of direct impartation.… How can it be witness of divine revelation, if the actual purpose, act and decision of God … is dissolved in the Bible into a sum total of truths abstracted … and … propounded to us as truths of … revelation? If it tries to be more than witness, to be direct impartation, will it not keep us from the best, the one real thing, which God intends to tell us and give us and which we ourselves need?” (I/2, p. 507). This passage is liable to many possible detours, and it may be well to signpost the main road. The basic issue in debate is not whether the Scriptures are mediated through chosen writers, but whether divine revelation is mediated in the form of truths by which the prophetic-apostolic writings communicate accurate information about God. According to Barth, if it is true that the inspired writers give us a body of revealed propositions, then we lose what we most need and what God intends most to tell us and give us. Now, whatever Barth may mean by man’s supremely needed word—whether it be the apostolic message that Christ died and rose again, or Barth’s own notion that all men are already redeemed, or whatever else—we would surely not lose the former (nor be misled into the latter) if we read the truths of revelation in the Bible. Either Barth means that God’s revelation does not involve rational communication—in which case no one could know what God intends most to tell us or that he intends to tell us anything—or Barth must unequivocally espouse rational revelation, and retract his speculative notion that written truth necessarily conceals the truth. All the more strange is Barth’s own reliance on written propositions (volume after volume of them in his Church Dogmatics alone) to convey the truth to us, including even this supposed truth that written truth cannot be the truth!

Barth may here and there say what he wishes about the Bible being written by true men who speak in behalf of the true God, yet, as Clark notes, unless what the writers assert is true, “the fact that they were truly men will not enhance the value of the Bible over that of other books” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 194). Commending belief in the Word of God has little value if men do not know the intelligible content of such belief. Barth attempts the impossible feat of simultaneously riding two uncoordinated moving horses on a merry-go-round.

Barth contends that by transmuting revelation into human words, verbal inspiration deprives “the mystery of the freedom of its presence both in the mouths of the biblical witnesses and also in our ears and hearts” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 518). Post-Reformation orthodoxy froze the understanding of the Bible as the Word of God, he says, transforming it “from a statement about the free grace of God into a statement about the nature of the Bible as exposed to human inquiry brought under human control. The Bible as the Word of God surreptitiously became a part of natural knowledge of God” (I/2, pp. 522–23). This loss of mystery, he avers, turned the Bible into a historical phenomenon that can be neutrally studied and established like any other religious document, and launched it on the sea of secularization.

But only a deficient view of post-Reformation history would blame the emergence of secularism on belief in the verbal inspiration of Scriptures; surely those who asserted the divine authority of Scripture were not on that account incipient Deists and naturalists. What is rather the case is that secularism precludes belief in the verbal inspiration of Scripture. Clark describes as “a singularly inept defense of falsehood in the Bible” Barth’s further innuendo (II/1, p. 525) that orthodoxy is impious because it threatens atheism, skepticism or distrust in God if the Scriptures prove erroneous. Says Clark: the God of the Bible himself “permits and demands that we test prophets by the truth of what they say; if they do not speak the truth, they are not the Lord’s prophets” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 215; cf. Deut. 18:22).

Barth maintains that while they did not change the content of the doctrine of inspiration, post-Reformation expositions altered the intention of the doctrine. Post-Reformation Protestantism, he complains, associated inspiration with a systematization of Scripture, “a codex of axioms which can be seen with the same formal dignity as those of philosophy and mathematics,” instead of placing Scripture “in the right context backwards and forwards” (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 525). Barth’s relocation of Scripture “backwards and forwards” in the context of a revelation-event does indeed—if that is what one wants—set the matter of authority of Scriptures in an atmosphere of mystery.

No theologian objects to a proper distinction of Christ from the Bible, of the ontological Word from written words. But Barth postulates a nebulous “revelation” behind the Scriptures—he denies that “the sacred text as such is the proper and final basis” of Christian knowledge (IV/2, p. 119). “We distinguish the Bible as such from revelation” (I/2, p. 463). Only when “revelation” takes place afresh, says Barth, does any part of the Bible become Word of God. The Bible is conceptual and verbal, or propositional, whereas Barth’s kind of “superior” “revelation” is held to be personal and nonverbal. For Barth, Scripture is not truly the Word of God, but becomes the Word of God only in some mysterious divine confrontation. The Bible plays only an instrumental role in relation to revelation; it is the framework through which God’s voice may be heard. In Barth’s view, Scripture emerges from an apparently supra-verbal divine event, and must return to a wordless divine event if there is to be revelation or Word of God. But if this is the case, then we should speak at most of Voice of God rather than Word of God. What’s more, even this restriction has no criteria for recognizing whose voice this is, or for defining what we mean by a revelational voice. The enigma of Barth’s theory is: why should revelation—which according to Barth is not to be hardened into concepts and words—ever have become so entangled in concepts and words that it requires the disentangling that he proposes? If revealed religion does not begin with words, Clark asks—and the question is a good one—”how can it later attach itself to one set of words rather than to another, or to any words at all?” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 221). But this is not all. If the Bible, in view of its supposedly contradictory or erroneous content, is to be set aside as a norm, on what basis can one determine from revelation which passages are erroneous and which are not (ibid., p. 223)? Moreover, as Clark remarks, the mystery extends to how Barth can dignify false statements—if he must view the Bible in this context—as the Word of God. Clark’s comment is to the point: “The logic of the Enlightenment is unimpeachable; if the Bible is untrue, it cannot be the Word of God. Would that modern theologians attacked the premise instead of the logic” (p. 215).

The difficulty lies not in Barth’s appeal to divine revelation as the basic axiom of the Christian faith. It lies, rather, in his presuming to derive two incompatible positions from this appeal, positions which from the outset ought to be seen as incompatible and contradictory. The axiom that the Bible contains errors and contradictions cannot be reconciled with the axiom that the prophetic-apostolic writings are the Word of God. Barth, in other words, develops his theology in terms of irreconcilable axioms. By trying to maintain these positions side by side, or emphasizing now one view and then the other, Barth burdens his Church Dogmatics with confusion. By respecting the law of contradiction he could and would have avoided irrationalist tendencies. The difficulties of Barth’s exposition can be overcome only by closing the gap, as Scripture itself does, between divine revelation and the prophetic-apostolic writings, between the Word of God and the Bible.


The Meaning of Inerrancy

We have already stated what the doctrine of inspiration does and does not imply. We shall now summarize the evangelical doctrine of biblical inerrancy in the same way.

Negatively, scriptural inerrancy does not imply the following:

1. Inerrancy does not imply that modern technological precision in reporting statistics and measurements, that conformity to modern historiographic method in reporting genealogies and other historical data, or that conformity to modern scientific method in reporting cosmological matters, can be expected from the biblical writers. The creation narrative does not adduce its data in the form of modern scientific explanation, nor does it use the technical scientific idiom of our or any other age. In denoting lineage, biblical genealogies often omit intermediate generations.

Such reports do not therefore lack historical or scientific import, on the one hand, or make scientific learning dispensable or superfluous on the other. We have no right to impose upon the biblical writers methods of classifying information that are specifically oriented to the scientific interests of our time, or to require their use of scientifically technical language, or to demand the computerized precision cherished by a technological civilization.

To show up ten minutes late for a Washington business appointment often means being scrubbed from the appointment; in Hong Kong, if one shows up on time one is likely to be considered unimportant; three o’clock does not imply quite the same thing in different cultures. To depict an event as happening at one o’clock, if technically it occurs at ten seconds before or after, is deadly important in the successful projection or recovery of a space missile, but it seldom affects historical accuracy. Conformity to twentieth-century scientific measurement is not a criterion of accuracy to be projected back upon earlier generations.

2. Inerrancy does not imply that only nonmetaphorical or nonsymbolic language can convey religious truth. Scripture employs a wide range of figurative language and many literary forms, such as parable, poetry and proverb. All are capable of serving appropriately as vehicles to communicate truth. William Eichhorst emphasizes that “figurative language is a part of normal literary form and cannot be considered errant language. It expresses truth and meaning in its own particular way” (“The Issue of Biblical Inerrancy,” p. 8). Sometimes it is contended that Scripture includes literary genres to which inerrancy is inapplicable, and that expressions of hyperbole or exaggeration rule out inerrancy’s relevance as a criterion. But in that event truth would also then be an illicit expectation.

All language is in fact symbolic. But anyone who, on this account, argues that language cannot convey literal truth, disadvantages biblical teaching no more seriously than any and all other communication. If such a theory were consistently applied, it would involve a skeptical view of all statements, and would erase the literal truth even of the critic’s assertions.

3. Inerrancy does not imply that verbal exactitude is required in New Testament quotation and use of Old Testament passages.

Roger Nicole reminds us that technical elements used in scientific quotation today—such as quotation marks, ellipses marks, brackets for editorial comment, and footnotes to distinguish different sources—were not in use in prophetic-apostolic times. J. Oliver Buswell, Jr., suggests that both the scarcity of ancient scrolls and the difficulty of handling them would encourage free quotation (A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion, 1:206). Besides quoting them exactly, the New Testament writers were free to allude to such passages by expressing only their sense, or by applying them by way of specific christological fulfillment, or by singling out a particular element or elements for emphasis. Since the Spirit-given christological meaning was often the central interest of the writers, they chose freely among the variants. In some instances the Apostle Paul quotes no specific passage but correlates Old Testament phrases and allusions to communicate the intended christological meaning.

Paul’s loose citation of some Old Testament texts is invoked at times not only to oppose a high view of inspiration, but to support the prejudice that an exacting view of the text involves preoccupation with “the letter” more than with the spirit of the Bible. Gottlob Schrenk remarks: “The fact that Paul … sometimes handles his texts very freely shows us that his belief in inspiration does not entail slavery to the letter” (Graphē,” 1:758). This appropriately emphasizes the Spirit’s freedom in apostolic inspiration to selectively reinforce, explicate or expand particular facets of Old Testament teaching. But any notion that the New Testament writers question the verbal inspiredness and revelational status of the Old Testament text is unjustifiable. Schrenk himself notes that “in comparison with the liberties and capricious alterations which are made by Josephus in spite of his insistence on the sanctity of the very letter of Scripture, Paul is by far the more reverent, especially in his high regard for the fact of what is reported in the Old Testament” (ibid.).

The New Testament writers had to translate quotations from the Old Testament and, while they did not attribute inspiration to the Septuagint, widely used by dispersed Jews, the apostles nonetheless were not precluded from relying on the Septuagint text when their own inspired purposes rendered its quotation useful and desirable. On occasion Paul even quotes a select portion of a not wholly acceptable translation in order to emphasize the truth that is acceptably given. It is well, however, to recall C. C. Torrey’s comment that “no portion of the lxx is in any sense a paraphrase” but that all is “a close rendering of a Heb.-Aram. original differing somewhat from the Massoretic text.… Like all other known Greek renderings of Semitic originals it is faithful“. Torrey notes, as have others before him, that the Septuagint is essentially a literal translation, characterized by changes in vocabulary but seldom in construction (The Four Gospels, p. 247).

4. Inerrancy does not imply that personal faith in Christ is dispensable since evangelicals have an inerrant book they can trust. J. K. S. Reid objects to inerrancy on the ground that thereby “God’s Word is petrified in a dead record” (The Authority of Scripture, p. 279). A Bible without error, it is held, would become an idol exercising an inadmissible mechanical authority over our lives and would require us to accept its truth apart from personal faith in Jesus Christ who is the embodiment of true divine revelation. But the New Testament writers did not hesitate to speak of the Bible, precisely in view of its authority and truth, as God’s “living oracles” (Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2, rsv). There is no justification for ranging the Living Word and the Written Word in absolute antithesis. The Written Word itself demands personal faith in Christ (John 20:31). But the indispensability of personal faith in Christ in no way implies the dispensability of the Scriptures as the Word of God written; apart from Scripture we can say nothing certain either about Jesus Christ or about the necessity of personal faith in him. To displace the truth of Scripture would of necessity lead to heretical if not idolatrous views of God and Christ; without the truth of the prophetic-apostolic word we would not know which of the many “christs” we should honor (cf. John 5:43). It is Scripture that preserves the demand for trust in the life and work of the incarnate, crucified and risen Logos of God as the ground of our redemption (John 5:39).

5. Scriptural inerrancy does not imply that evangelical orthodoxy follows as a necessary consequence of accepting this doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church correlates its present emphasis on biblical inerrancy with the insistence on the church’s role as supreme interpreter of Scripture, even while it supplements the Bible with apocryphal books and unwritten tradition. Jehovah’s Witnesses and numerous other cults affirm the inerrancy of the Bible, while they superimpose their own strange notions upon Scripture. The powerful Filipino sect Iglesia ni Cristo professes to accept the Bible fully and strictly as its only rule of faith and practice, yet it denies the essential deity of Jesus Christ (cf. Arthur L. Tuggy, Iglesia ni Cristo, A Study in Independent Church Dynamics, pp. 109, 126). Many Seventh Day Adventists honor Ellen G. White on a level with inspired prophets. A prominent feature of Adventist teaching concerns the “three angels” (Rev. 14:6–7, 8, 9–11), the message of the third angel, with which Adventists associate White, being interpreted as a warning against Sunday observance (Francis D. Nichol, Answers to Objections, pp. 668–711). White herself writes ambiguously: “I am instructed that I am the Lord’s messenger.… Early in my youth I was asked several times, are you a prophet? I have always responded, ‘I am the Lord’s messenger’ ” (Selected Messages, pp. 31–32). A somewhat similar claim was made by Felix Manalo, who left the Seventh Day Adventist church and founded the now influential Filipino sect Iglesia ni Cristo.

Seen honestly, some Protestant denominational and interdenominational groups are prone to similar compromises on a lesser scale; certain revered writers gain an almost prophetic reverence and their inherited traditions are uncritically respected as if biblical. James Burtchaell’s verdict on biblical renewal in Roman Catholic circles has therefore a wider application that evangelical Protestants dare not themselves overlook: “At the very time when Catholic theologians were making their strongest statements in favor of the Bible’s authority and inerrancy, they were most neglectful of it when actually building their theological treatises. Scripture was being apotheosized as peerless among the monuments of the Judeo-Christian past; however it was the one monument of which Catholic divines seemingly felt they could most safely be ignorant” (Catholic Theories of Biblical Inspiration since 1810, p. 286). Eichhorst remarks: “Inerrancy neither guarantees adherence to Scriptural teaching in general nor that a valid hermeneutic will be followed in interpreting it” (“The Issue of Biblical Inerrancy,” p. 15).

It is wrong, however, as A. C. Piepkorn does, to convert the possibilities of misconstruing Scripture into an argument against the importance of inerrancy (“What Does Inerrancy Mean?” p. 591). The Bible remains the only objectively authoritative norm by which divergent movements in Christendom can definitively judge each other and examine their own claims. While a priori commitment to the inspiration of Scripture does not of itself preclude all deviation from the truth of revelation, it does provide an objective norm for settling theological disputation.

Calvin associated the existence of rival factions with a wrong use of Scripture and warned against man’s readiness “to consult the oracles of God, in order that they may there find support to their errors” (Tracts and Treatises in Defense of the Reformed Faith, 3:417).

Positively, verbal inerrancy does imply the following:

1. Verbal inerrancy implies that truth attaches not only to the theological and ethical teaching of the Bible, but also to historical and scientific matters insofar as they are part of the express message of the inspired writings. The Genesis creation account has implications for God’s causal relationship to the cosmos; the Exodus narrative teaches the historical flight of the Hebrews from Egypt; the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth and resurrection describe factual events in the external world. On numerous occasions the distinguished archaeologist Nelson Glueck said that in all of his archaeological investigations he had never found one artifact of antiquity that contradicts any statement of Scripture.

While the Bible is not intended to be a textbook on scientific and historical matters, it nonetheless gives scientifically and historically relevant information. Express teaching that falls into these realms is not to be set aside as culturally conditioned and historically contingent. The inspired wording of Scripture is indeed accommodated to the language and vocabulary of the sociocultural environment in which the writings appear, but the sense of revelation is intelligible to readers in all times and places. Bernard Ramm rightly remarks that Scripture’s attributing of psychic properties to bowels, heart, liver, kidneys or bones, in conformity with the prevalent culture-idiom, in no way provides evidence that the Bible is unscientific; but it attests, rather, that “divine revelation came in and through these modes of expression” (Protestant Biblical Interpretation, p. 211). Today we speak of the heart as the seat of the affections; ancient Greeks spoke in that way of the chief intestines, or bowels. The New Testament writers here obviously use the idiom of their age (cf. kjv “bowels of compassion,” 1 John 3:17; 2 Cor. 6:12; Phil. 1:8; 2:1; Col. 3:12; Philem. 7, 12, 20).

The Bible places its readers, in their scientific inquiry and learning, in right relationship to God. But Scripture depicts God as concerned not only with the internal needs of man, but also with the world and all mankind in respect to beginnings and destiny. The Bible is an important book for the consideration of origins, nature, history and the future. Its concern with history is so fundamental, in fact, that without certain basic historical considerations its central message of redemption would be nullified (1 Cor. 15:14–15). Proper regard for its teachings will preserve the reader from narrow and restrictive interpretations of science and history that are peculiar to a given cultural mindset.

2. Verbal inerrancy implies that God’s truth inheres in the very words of Scripture, that is, in the propositions or sentences of the Bible, and not merely in the concepts and thoughts of the writers. We are not free to formulate the doctrine of inspiration as if verbal expression lay wholly outside its scope in some sections of Scripture so that in some places only concepts and not words are involved. Thoughts can be properly expressed only by certain pertinent words. What God reveals is truth, and the inspired writers’ exposition of the content of that revelation is true; inerrant inspiration is what assures the absence of logical contradictions and verbal misrepresentations.

The critics of verbal inerrancy often reflect a strange misunderstanding of what is involved, for truth or falsity, accuracy or error, attach not to isolated words but rather to judgments or sentences. Dewey Beegle contends that “no writer under the conviction of the inerrancy of every word of Jesus would have dared take the liberty that the author of John did” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 132). Yet it is precisely the writer of the Fourth Gospel who speaks of the Spirit pledged to lead the apostolic writers into all truth (John 14:26) and of the guiding presence of the Spirit of truth (14:17) who would enable the disciples to relay and interpret the message of Jesus.

The harmonization of scriptural accounts by weaving divergent elements into a congruous whole is commendable; it is not the only alternative, however, as Ned B. Stonehouse reminds us, nor is it always the best one. To be sure, this procedure is far preferable to the critical tendency of labeling even minute linguistic divergences as discrepancies. It is preferable also to automatically attributing striking differences in parallel accounts to radical editorial liberties with a common source. But, Stonehouse cautions, we must “not maintain that the trustworthiness of the Gospels allows the evangelists no liberty of composition whatever” or that “in reporting the words of Jesus … they must have been characterized by a kind of notarial exactitude” (Origins of the Synoptic Gospels, p. 110). Stonehouse cites numerous Reformed theologians—among them A. A. Hodge, B. B. Warfield, A. Kuyper, H. Bavinck, L. Berkhof, and John Murray—who reject the notion that only pedantic precision in all that the evangelists say can guarantee their accuracy and truth (cf. also Leon Morris, “Biblical Authority and the Concept of Inerrancy,” pp. 22–38; Bastiaan Van Elderen, “The Purpose of the Parables According to Matthew 13:10–17,” pp. 18–190; and Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic Period, pp. 56 ff.).

To uniformly impose the same formula of verbal precision upon the entire content of Scripture raises unnecessary difficulties in defining inspiration. Both thoughts and words are a divine product in view of the divine-human concursus involved in inspiration, but the specter of divine dictation ought not here raise its head. The human writers, to be sure, are not to be regarded as co-creators of Scripture. Yet even the inscription of the divine Law on stone is more a matter of direct miraculous revelation than an instance of inspiration by dictation. If in the prophetic-apostolic context the category of dictation is at all appropriate, then the only instance would be Balaam’s ass, where the medium can hardly have contributed significantly either to the content or to the form of the message. Inspiration need not always have involved either a direct communication or a suggestion of the written words, and frequently did not. Some types of literature allow fuller scope than others for the expressing of differences of personality, stylistic peculiarities, vocabulary range and personal preferences. While inspiration extends beyond thoughts to words, reporting the missionary travels of Paul requires less precision in vocabulary choice than does expounding his teaching; detailing how Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee requires less precision than elaborating the Sermon on the Mount. The Synoptic Gospels illustrate that inerrancy does not require absolute uniformity in all details of expression in parallel accounts penned by different authors (cf. René Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, pp. 123 ff.). Inerrancy does not require absolute uniformity in the details reported in analogous accounts; it does, however, exclude falsity in what the several writers affirm.

We may assume that in his didactic teaching, Jesus himself chose appropriately different words to emphasize the same important theme. In some instances only one word will express the thought precisely or tell what was actually said; in others, a number of alternatives may serve equally well. But in all cases inspiration safeguards the writers from error in communicating the content of their message.

3. Verbal inerrancy implies that the original writings or prophetic-apostolic autographs alone are error-free. The theopneustic quality attaches directly to the autographs, and only indirectly to the copies. The sacred writers were guided by the Spirit of God in writing the original manuscripts in a way that resulted in their errorless transmission of the message that God desired them to communicate to mankind.

F. F. Bruce considers the interest in “autographic” texts complicated by “the fact that for some of the most important books of the Bible autographs never existed” (foreword to Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 8). The Epistle to the Romans, he notes, was dictated by Paul and recorded by Tertius, who, at Paul’s direction, may have prepared not only the primary copy but others (without the personal greetings at the end) for churches outside of Rome. But the decisive issue is not apostolic handwriting but a primal content vouch-safed by chosen writers, whatever the actual mechanics of implementation may have been. Had Tertius drafted an epistle for Paul’s approval or revision, much as modern ghost-writers project tentative drafts of political speeches, we would have a wholly unthinkable situation within the context of the inspiration of the scriptural writings. What the copyists write gains its validity and propriety in biblical context only on the basis of the prior inspiration and authority of the divinely designated prophets and apostles.

J. Gresham Machen writes: “Only the autographs of the Biblical books …—the books as they came from the pen of the sacred writers, and not any one of the copies of these autographs which we now possess—were produced with that supernatural impulsion and guidance of the Holy Spirit which we call inspiration” (The Christian Faith in the Modern World, p. 39). Machen was well aware that the apostles at times used amanuenses even in preparing their original writings, but he distinguishes the apostolically vouchsafed originals (cf. Philem. 19) from subsequent copies. Would not the inspired apostles guarantee the content of the letters that they themselves dictated to a scribe? Such dictated letters are technically not copies, but dictated originals, even as secretarially transcribed letters from an employer are today considered original letters. The primary issue is not whether he handwrote or dictated the content but whether the inspired writer imposed the written end product upon the recipients as divinely authoritative. The basic question is not who did the actual physical writing, but who gives and vouches for the truth and accuracy of the content. In this sense there was obviously an autograph for each book of the Bible.

It hardly follows, as George Mavrodes thinks it does, that the use of an amanuensis requires the divine inspiration of both apostle and amanuensis (“The Inspiration of the Autographs,” pp. 19–29). While dictation is an unacceptable definition of divine inspiration, it surely does characterize the relationship between the inspired writers and amanuenses whenever such helpers were employed. The use of secretaries does not at all mitigate, therefore, against the concept of inerrant autographs.

We are told that Jeremiah’s scribe Baruch “wrote upon a scroll at the dictation of Jeremiah all the words of the Lord which he had spoken to him” (Jer. 36:4, rsv). When King Jehoiakim burned the scroll, Jeremiah was divinely commanded to dictate another, adding additional material such as the oracle against Jehoiakim (Jer. 36:28–30). Beegle thinks that the ongoing additions to the Book of Jeremiah, which gave it the character of a collection of materials first circulated as separate units, leaves us in some doubt as to just what is to be considered autographic. He does acknowledge, however, that the original scroll which corresponded in length to the traditional canonical compilation may appropriately be regarded as the autograph (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 152).

The familiar rejoinder that no one can exhibit the errorless autographs need not discomfit evangelicals in their claims about the inerrant originals. The critics similarly can furnish none of the errant originals that they so eagerly postulate. In both instances the purity or impurity of the autographs rests on an inference from data and doctrine that are considered to be decisive. The supposed errant originals are as hard to come by, if not more so, than the inerrant originals.

The assumption that the present texts were originally errant is what enabled the critics to postulate alongside the written sources those phantom redactors (J, E, D, P, etc.) whose unmistakable priority could be reliably identified by modern textual authorities. In short, inerrancy seems to have been transferred to editorial redactors from whom we have no independent writings (and who like Melchizedek appear without father and mother and even lack a proper name), or to contemporary experts whose gnosis is exasperatingly ephemeral. Indeed, when the critics postulated Ur-Markus or the Logia and a nonsupernatural historical Jesus as the source on which the synoptists depended, were they not in effect projecting an unerring prototype in their own image? In their documentary reconstructions of the present texts, were they not presuming to give us trustworthy redactions to replace the supposedly unreliable accounts given us in Scripture? Were they not preferring alternatives allegedly uncorrupted by the theological convictions of the Gospel writers?

Emil Brunner writes sarcastically of the Hodge-Warfield school of Princeton for engendering “an infallible Bible, of which two things only were known: first, that it was the infallible Word of God; and secondly, that although it was very different from the present one, yet it was still the same Bible. Thus an otherwise absolutely honorable orthodox view of the authority of the Bible was forced to descend to apologetic artifices” (Revelation and Reason, p. 275). Must we not, in all candor, ask whether such a one ought not to eat such words about apologetic artifices? For by what logic does Brunner unqualifiedly claim that biblical criticism “has opened up the way … blocked by the theory of verbal inspiration” to learn afresh that God spoke by the prophets and in His Son (p. 195); that if the church recognizes that Christ is Lord of Scripture, then biblical faith can be combined with biblical criticism (p. 276); that “even the most intensive historical criticism leaves ‘more than enough’ of the Gospel story and its picture of the central Person to enkindle and support faith” (p. 284); and that “precisely the non-uniform doctrine of the Bible … becomes a demonstration of the divine mercy and of His education by love” (p. 293)? If doctrinal contrariety is presumed to be a special mark of divine presence, and radical criticism enhances the biblical witness, then the prophetic-apostolic autographs obviously become an embarrassment from almost every point of view. Contemporary neoorthodox theologians especially would find this to be the case. They set forth sporadic disclosures in frequently revised autographs of their own, yet dare to invoke the biblical writers to corroborate the type of exotic revelations that they profess to receive. The neoorthodox theme that God personally confronts us was early recognized as a bit of theology whose constant repetition somehow suggested a concealed weakness of the theory. The strange notion that an errant apostolic word should be considered a fallible witness to salvific revelation the Apostle Paul drove to a much more logical alternative conclusion: “If the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie, unto his glory, why yet am I also judged as a sinner?” (Rom. 3:7, kjv).

On the basis of all the existing early testimony, it is clear that the generation which possessed the apostolic autographs viewed them as the veritable Word of God. The fact of inerrant autographs is both theoretically and practically important. If the originals were errant, then textual criticism would expect to give us not more truthful readings but only more ancient ones.

4. Verbal inerrancy of the autographs implies that evangelicals must not attach finality to contemporary versions or translations, least of all to mere paraphrases, but must earnestly pursue and honor the best text. Every translation is to some extent a reduction of the original. All the versions have strengths and weaknesses. While unexcelled for literary power, the long-cherished King James Version is nonetheless based on manuscripts which are inferior in many details to manuscripts presently available to us.

The question of the agency that sponsors a particular translation or revision—whether ecumenically inclusive or evangelically separatist—should not be made the final basis for judging a text. Evangelical Christians need not commit themselves only in principle to versions translated by evangelical scholars. God’s truth is communicated in objective propositional form, and does not require personal faith to understand it. Those who have faith may indeed be more sensitive and receptive to the subtler nuances of the biblical teaching, but the message is given in objective grammatical expression that anyone may comprehend. Linguistic competence is obviously therefore the most important qualification for effective translation.

Yet philosophical and theological bias sometimes intrudes into translation as well as into exegesis; when this happens it must be disowned in faithfulness to the text. Goodspeed’s reduction of John 1:1 to “… the word was divine” is an example; so is The New English Bible‘s avoidance of propitiatory significance in translating atonement vocabulary. The Revised Standard Version translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 seems to reflect modern prejudices about inspiration, yet the same version tends to favor the higher christological alternative when a choice in readings is to be made. In discussing the Filipino sect Iglesia ni Cristo, which denies Christ’s deity, Arthur L. Tuggy notes ambiguous translations in the Tagalog Bible that may have abetted this heretical development, e.g., the rendering of Romans 9:5 to obscure the teaching that Christ is God over all, blessed forever—a sense already unfortunately obscured by the King James Version (Iglesia ni Cristo: A Study in Independent Church Dynamics, p. 131). Textual reduction can be effectively challenged only by exegetical fidelity, not by the personal faith of the translator. What is fundamentally at stake is competence and integrity in the translation of the best available manuscripts.

Supplementary Note: The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy


The authority of Scripture is a key issue for the Christian church in this and every age. Those who profess faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are called to show the reality of their discipleship by humbly and faithfully obeying God’s written Word. To stray from Scripture in faith or conduct is disloyalty to our Master. Recognition of the total truth and trustworthiness of Holy Scripture is essential to a full grasp and adequate confession of its authority.

The following Statement affirms this inerrancy of Scripture afresh, making clear our understanding of it and warning against its denial. We are persuaded that to deny it is to set aside the witness of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit and to refuse that submission to the claims of God’s own Word which marks true Christian faith. We see it as our timely duty to make this affirmation in the face of current lapses from the truth of inerrancy among our fellow Christians and misunderstanding of this doctrine in the world at large.

This Statement consists of three parts: a Summary Statement, Articles of Affirmation and Denial, and an accompanying Exposition. It has been prepared in the course of a three-day consultation in Chicago. Those who have signed the Summary Statement and the Articles wish to affirm their own conviction as to the inerrancy of Scripture and to encourage and challenge one another and all Christians to growing appreciation and understanding of this doctrine. We acknowledge the limitations of a document prepared in a brief, intensive conference and do not propose that this Statement be given creedal weight. Yet we rejoice in the deepening of our own convictions through our discussions together, and we pray that the Statement we have signed may be used to the glory of our God toward a new reformation of the Church in its faith, life, and mission.

We offer this Statement in a spirit, not of contention, but of humility and love, which we purpose by God’s grace to maintain in any future dialogue arising out of what we have said. We gladly acknowledge that many who deny the inerrancy of Scripture do not display the consequences of this denial in the rest of their belief and behavior, and we are conscious that we who confess this doctrine often deny it in life by failing to bring our thoughts and deeds, our traditions and habits, into true subjection to the divine Word.

We invite response to this statement from any who see reason to amend its affirmations about Scripture by the light of Scripture itself, under whose infallible authority we stand as we speak. We claim no personal infallibility for the witness we bear, and for any help which enables us to strengthen this testimony to God’s Word we shall be grateful.

—The Draft Committee

A Short Statement

1. God, who is Himself Truth and speaks truth only, has inspired Holy Scripture in order thereby to reveal Himself to lost mankind through Jesus Christ as Creator and Lord, Redeemer and Judge. Holy Scripture is God’s witness to Himself.

2. Holy Scripture, being God’s own Word, written by men prepared and superintended by His Spirit, is of infallible divine authority in all matters upon which it touches: it is to be believed, as God’s instruction, in all that it affirms; obeyed, as God’s command, in all that it requires; embraced, as God’s pledge, in all that it promises.

3. The Holy Spirit, its divine Author, both authenticates it to us by His inward witness and opens our minds to understand its meaning.

4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation and the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.

5. The authority of Scripture is inescapably impaired if this total divine inerrancy is in any way limited or disregarded, or made relative to a view of truth contrary to the Bible’s own; and such lapses bring serious loss to both the individual and the Church.

Articles of Affirmation and Denial

Article I. We affirm that the Holy Scriptures are to be received as the authoritative Word of God.

We deny that the Scriptures receive their authority from the Church, tradition, or any other human source.

Article II. We affirm that the Scriptures are the supreme written norm by which God binds the conscience, and that the authority of the Church is subordinate to that of Scripture.

We deny that Church creeds, councils, or declarations have authority greater than or equal to the authority of the Bible.

Article III. We affirm that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.

We deny that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.

Article IV. We affirm that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.

We deny that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.

Article V. We affirm that God’s revelation within the Holy Scripture was progressive.

We deny that later revelation, which may fulfill earlier revelation, ever corrects or contradicts it. We further deny that any normative revelation has been given since the completion of the New Testament writings.

Article VI. We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.

We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.

Article VII. We affirm that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.

We deny that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.

Article VIII. We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.

We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

Article IX. We affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the biblical authors were moved to speak and write.

We deny that the finitude or fallenness of these writers, by necessity or otherwise, introduced distortion or falsehood into God’s Word.

Article X. We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original.

We deny that any essential element of the Christian faith is affected by the absence of the autographs. We further deny that this absence renders the assertion of biblical inerrancy invalid or irrelevant.

Article XI. We affirm that Scripture, having been given by divine inspiration, is infallible, so that, far from misleading us, it is true and reliable in all the matters it addresses.

We deny that it is possible for the Bible to be at the same time infalliable and errant in its assertions. Infallibility and inerrancy may be distinguished, but not separated.

Article XII. We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.

We deny that biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

Article XIII. We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.

We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.

Article XIV. We affirm the unity and internal consistency of Scripture.

We deny that alleged errors and discrepancies that have not yet been resolved vitiate the truth claims of the Bible.

Article XV. We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.

We deny that Jesus’ teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

Article XVI. We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy has been integral to the Church’s faith throughout its history.

We deny that inerrancy is a doctrine invented by scholastic Protestantism, or is a reactionary position postulated in response to negative higher criticism.

Article XVII. We affirm that the Holy Spirit bears witness to the Scriptures, assuring believers of the truthfulness of God’s written Word.

We deny that this witness of the Holy Spirit operates in isolation from or against Scripture.

Article XVIII. We affirm that the text of Scripture is to be interpreted by grammatico-historical exegesis, taking account of its literary forms and devices, and that Scripture is to interpret Scripture.

We deny the legitimacy of any treatment of the text or quest for sources lying behind it that leads to revitalizing, dehistoricizing, or discounting its teaching, or rejecting its claims to authorship.

Article XIX. We affirm that a confession of the full authority, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture is vital to a sound understanding of the whole of the Christian faith. We further affirm that such confession should lead to increasing conformity to the image of Christ.

We deny that such confession is necessary for salvation. However, we further deny that inerrancy can be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.


Our understanding of the doctrine of inerrancy must be set in the context of the broader teachings of the Scripture concerning itself. This exposition gives an account of the outline of doctrine from which our summary statement and articles are drawn.

Creation, Revelation and Inspiration

The Triune God, who formed all things by His creative utterances and governs all things by His Word of decree, made mankind in His own image for a life of communion with Himself, on the model of the eternal fellowship of living communication within the Godhead. As God’s image-bearer, man was to hear God’s Word addressed to him and to respond in the joy of adoring obedience. Over and above God’s self-disclosure in the created order and the sequence of events within it, human beings from Adam on have received verbal messages from Him, either directly, as stated in Scripture, or indirectly in the form of part or all of Scripture itself.

When Adam fell, the Creator did not abandon mankind to final judgment but promised salvation and began to reveal Himself as Redeemer in a sequence of historical events centering on Abraham’s family and culminating in the life, death, resurrection, present heavenly ministry, and promised return of Jesus Christ. Within this frame God has from time to time spoken specific words of judgment and mercy, promise and command, to sinful human beings so drawing them into a covenant relation of mutual commitment between Him and them in which He blesses them with gifts of grace and they bless Him in responsive adoration. Moses, whom God used as mediator to carry His words to His people at the time of the Exodus, stands at the head of a long line of prophets in whose mouths and writings God put His words for delivery to Israel. God’s purpose in this succession of messages was to maintain His covenant by causing His people to know His Name—that is, His nature—and His will both of precept and purpose in the present and for the future. This line of prophetic spokesmen from God came to completion in Jesus Christ, God’s incarnate Word, who was Himself a prophet—more than a prophet, but not less—and in the apostles and prophets of the first Christian generation. When God’s final and climactic message, His word to the world concerning Jesus Christ, had been spoken and elucidated by those in the apostolic circle, the sequence of revealed messages ceased. Henceforth the Church was to live and know God by what He had already said, and said for all time.

At Sinai God wrote the terms of His covenant on tables of stone, as His enduring witness and for lasting accessibility, and throughout the period of prophetic and apostolic revelation He prompted men to write the messages given to and through them, along with celebratory records of His dealings with His people, plus moral reflections on covenant life and forms of praise and prayer for covenant mercy. The theological reality of inspiration in the producing of biblical documents corresponds to that of spoken prophecies: although the human writers’ personalities were expressed in what they wrote, the words were divinely constituted. Thus, what Scripture says, God says; its authority is His authority, for He is its ultimate Author, having given it through the minds and words of chosen and prepared men who in freedom and faithfulness “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (1 Pet. 1:21). Holy Scripture must be acknowledged as the Word of God by virtue of its divine origin.

Authority: Christ and the Bible

Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is the Word made flesh, our Prophet, Priest, and King, is the ultimate Mediator of God’s communication to man, as He is of all God’s gifts of grace. The revelation He gave was more than verbal; He revealed the Father by His presence and His deeds as well. Yet His words were crucially important; for He was God, He spoke from the Father, and His words will judge all men at the last day.

As the prophesied Messiah, Jesus Christ is the central theme of Scripture. The Old Testament looked ahead to Him; the New Testament looks back to His first coming and on to His second. Canonical Scripture is the divinely inspired and therefore normative witness to Christ. No hermeneutic, therefore, of which the historical Christ is not the focal point is acceptable. Holy Scripture must be treated as what it essentially is—the witness of the Father to the incarnate Son.

It appears that the Old Testament canon had been fixed by the time of Jesus. The New Testament canon is likewise now closed inasmuch as no new apostolic witness to the historical Christ can now be borne. No new revelation (as distinct from Spirit-given understanding of existing revelation) will be given until Christ comes again. The canon was created in principle by divine inspiration. The Church’s part was to discern the canon which God had created, not to devise one of its own. The relevant criteria were and are: authorship (or attestation), content, and the authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit.

The word canon, signifying a rule or standard, is a pointer to authority, which means the right to rule and control. Authority in Christianity belongs to God in His revelation, which means, on the one hand, Jesus Christ, the living Word, and, on the other hand, Holy Scripture, the written Word. But the authority of Christ and that of Scripture are one. As our Prophet, Christ testified that Scripture cannot be broken. As our Priest and King, He devoted His earthly life to fulfilling the law and the prophets, even dying in obedience to the words of Messianic prophecy. Thus, as He saw Scripture attesting Him and His authority, so by His own submission to Scripture He attested its authority. As He bowed to His Father’s instruction given in His Bible (our Old Testament), so He requires His disciples to do—not, however, in isolation but in conjunction with the apostolic witness to Himself which He undertook to inspire by His gift of the Holy Spirit. So Christians show themselves faithful servants of their Lord by bowing to the divine instruction given in the prophetic and apostolic writings which together make up our Bible.

By authenticating each other’s authority, Christ and Scripture coalesce into a single fount of authority. The biblically interpreted Christ and the Christ-centered, Christ-proclaiming Bible are from this standpoint one. As from the fact of inspiration we infer that what Scripture says, God says, so from the revealed relation between Jesus Christ and Scripture we may equally declare that what Scripture says, Christ says.

Infallibility, Inerrancy, Interpretation

Holy Scripture, as the inspired Word of God witnessing authoritatively to Jesus Christ, may properly be called infallible and inerrant. These negative terms have a special value, for they explicitly safeguard positive truths.

Infallible signifies the quality of neither misleading nor being misled and so safeguards in categorical terms the truth that Holy Scripture is a sure, safe, and reliable rule and guide in all matters.

Similarly, inerrant signifies the quality of being free from all falsehood or mistake and so safeguards the truth that Holy Scripture is entirely true and trustworthy in all its assertions.

We affirm the canonical Scripture should always be interpreted on the basis that it is infallible and inerrant. However, in determining what the God-taught writer is asserting in each passage, we must pay the most careful attention to its claims and character as a human production. In inspiration, God utilized the culture and conventions of his penman’s milieu, a milieu that God controls in His sovereign providence; it is misinterpretation to imagine otherwise.

So history must be treated as history, poetry as poetry, hyperbole and metaphor as hyperbole and metaphor, generalization and approximation as what they are, and so forth. Differences between literary conventions in Bible times and in our time must also be observed: since, for instance, nonchronological narration and imprecise citation were conventional and acceptable and violated no expectations in those days, we must not regard these things as faults when we find them in Bible writers. When total precision of a particular kind was not expected nor aimed at, it is no error not to have achieved it. Scripture is inerrant, not in the sense of being absolutely precise by modern standards, but in the sense of making good its claims and achieving that measure of focused truth at which its authors aimed.

The truthfulness of Scripture is not negated by the appearance in it of irregularities of grammar or spelling, phenomenal descriptions of nature, reports of false statements (e.g., the lies of Satan), or seeming discrepancies between one passage and another. It is not right to set the so-called phenomena of Scripture against the teaching of Scripture about itself. Apparent inconsistencies should not be ignored. Solution of them, where this can be convincingly achieved, will encourage our faith, and where for the present no convincing solution is at hand we shall significantly honor God by trusting His assurance that His Word is true, despite these appearances, and by maintaining our confidence that one day they will be seen to have been illusions.

Inasmuch as all Scripture is the product of a single divine mind, interpretation must stay within the bounds of the analogy of Scripture and eschew hypotheses that would correct one biblical passage by another, whether in the name of progressive revelation or of the imperfect enlightenment of the inspired writer’s mind.

Although Holy Scripture is nowhere culture-bound in the sense that its teaching lacks universal validity, it is sometimes culturally conditioned by the customs and conventional views of a particular period, so that the application of its principles today calls for a different sort of action (e.g., in the matter of women’s headgear/coiffure, cf. 1 Cor. 11).

Skepticism and Criticism

Since the Renaissance, and more particularly since the Enlightenment, world views have been developed which involve skepticism about basic Christian tenets. Such are the agnosticism which denies that God is knowable, the rationalism which denies that He is incomprehensible, the idealism which denies that He is transcendent, and the existentialism which denies rationality in His relationships with us. When these un-and anti-biblical principles seep into man’s theologies at presuppositional level, as today they frequently do, faithful interpretation of Holy Scripture becomes impossible.

Transmission and Translation

Since God has nowhere promised an inerrant transmission of Scripture, it is necessary to affirm that only the autographic text of the original documents was inspired and to maintain the need of textual criticism as a means of detecting any slips that may have crept into the text in the course of its transmission. The verdict of this science, however, is that Hebrew and Greek texts appear to be amazingly well preserved, so that we are amply justified in affirming, with the Westminster Confession, a singular providence of God in this matter and in declaring that the authority of Scripture is in no way jeopardized by the fact that the copies we possess are not entirely error-free.

Similarly, no translation is or can be perfect, and all translations are an additional step away from the autographa. Yet the verdict of linguistic science is that English-speaking Christians, at least, are exceedingly well served in these days with a host of excellent translations and have no cause for hesitating to conclude that the true Word of God is within their reach. Indeed, in view of the frequent repetition in Scripture of the main matters with which it deals and also of the Holy Spirit’s constant witness to and through the Word, no serious translation of Holy Scripture will so destroy its meaning as to render it unable to make its reader “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

Inerrancy and Authority

In our affirmation of the authority of Scripture as involving its total truth, we are consciously standing with Christ and His apostles, indeed with the whole Bible and with the mainstream of church history from the first days until very recently. We are concerned at the casual, inadvertent, and seemingly thoughtless way in which a belief of such far-reaching importance has been given up by so many in our day.

We are conscious too that great and grave confusion results from ceasing to maintain the total truth of the Bible whose authority one professes to acknowledge. The result of taking this step is that the Bible which God gave loses its authority, and what has authority instead is a Bible reduced in content according to the demands of one’s critical reasonings and in principle reducible still further once one has started. This means that at bottom independent reason now has authority, as opposed to scriptural teaching. If this is not seen and if for the time being basic evangelical doctrines are still held, persons denying the full truth of Scripture may claim an evangelical identity while methodologically they have moved away from the evangelical principle of knowledge to an unstable subjectivism, and will find it hard not to move further.

We affirm that what Scripture says, God says. May He be glorified. Amen and Amen.


The Infallibility of the Copies

No Informed Christian contends for the inerrancy of the presently existing copies of the prophetic-apostolic autographs, far less for the inerrancy of the many translations and versions based on certain families or selections of those copies.

Claims for inerrancy are not in principle to be extended beyond the originally inspired scriptural writings, even if the extant ancient copies, despite minor textual variations, give the impression of comprehensive identity even in details. Nothing requires or demands that such reproductions of the inspired originals be errant. Many of the early transcripts might indeed have been inerrant, in view of the care exercised in copying important manuscripts, particularly in copying Scripture. But such inerrancy would have resulted from painstaking human carefulness only, and not from the Holy Spirit’s special inspiration that governed the initial prophetic-apostolic writings.

The question posed by the extant copies therefore concerns not their inerrancy but rather their corruption or infallibility: do they reliably convey the Word of God, or are they undependable? The Apostle Peter declares the prophetic word as it was known in his day to be “sure” (bebaios, 2 Pet. 1:19; cf. Heb. 2:3), and the Apostle Paul repeatedly characterizes the transmitted word as “trustworthy” (pistos, 1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8). Today these terms are often employed by theologians to cast doubt on the cognitive validity of the transmitted teaching while concentrating instead merely on the spiritual potency of the message. Did the biblical writers use these terms with this intention? Was biblical reliability connected only with internal efficacy in nurturing personal trust and obedience? Or are the copies to be considered also as cognitively dependable carriers of objectively inspired truths about the nature of God and his relationships to the cosmos, history and man?

The discerning reader will recognize at once that some attacks on the cognitive validity of the surviving biblical scrolls and manuscripts spring from philosophical assumptions that militate equally against the handwritten prophetic-apostolic messages and copies and translations. In such cases the emphasis on copies and translations of the originals merely confuses the issue or perhaps is even intended to multiply doubt about the supposedly inaccessible original text. If the purpose of the existing copies and translations is not to convey objective information but only to stimulate internal faith, then the underlying theory that revelation is noninformational invalidates the objective truth of the autographs no less than of the copies.

After the Protestant Reformation, certain Roman Catholic scholars insisted that error permeated and therefore corrupted the translations then in use. They were zealous to sustain the claim that the teaching hierarchy of the Roman church is the ongoing locus of divine revelation and authority. Calvin took note of “a saying common among them … that Scripture is a nose of wax, because it can be formed into all shapes” (Tracts and Treatises, 3:69).

This is not the time or place to discuss the extensive activity of Bible translation into the language of the common people precipitated by the Reformation. We should note that in many places the appearance and use of Roman Catholic editions followed fast on Protestant editions, although Catholics were long prohibited from using editions without notes. Obviously the Reformation did not place the Scriptures into the hands of the masses overnight; translation and printing took time, and publication and distribution cost money. The Rheims New Testament, the work of exiled English priests and educators banned from England when the Roman Catholic church was outlawed in 1560, was published in 1582, followed in 1609–10 by the Douay Old Testament. Based upon the Vulgate, both profess to be “faithfully translated out of the authentical Latin, diligently conferred with the Hebrew, Greek, and other editions in divers languages” and are provided with “helps for the better understanding of the text, and specially for the discovery of the corruptions of divers late translations, and for clearing the controversies in religion of these days” (cf. Gregory Martin, A Discoverie of the Manifold Corruptions of the Holie Scriptures by the Heretikes of our Daies, etc., Rheims, 1582; William Fulke, A Defence of the Sincere & True Translations of the Holie Scriptures … against … Gregorie Martin, London, 1583, ed. C. H. Hartshorne for the Parker Society, Cambridge, 1843). “The Authorized Version” was published in England in 1611 as an achievement of Anglican scholars congenial to King James I; its clear, dignified and idiomatic style gradually won its way until it became the preferred text of English-speaking Protestants for many generations.

With the rise of higher criticism in the nineteenth century, neo-Protestant theologians increasingly affirmed the pervasive errancy of Scripture. Prestigious scholars like Karl Barth and Emil Brunner in the twentieth century refused to dignify the prophetic-apostolic writings as objectively true and authoritative, even though they stressed certain preferred biblical portions and positions to enhance their own views. Barth attempted to graft an authoritative dialectical Word upon a presumably errant and contradictory Scripture, but this effort soon withered into existential subjectivity. And Brunner, treading the Barthian road of higher critical concession, insisted that the Bible “is full of errors, contradictions, erroneous opinions, concerning all kinds of human, natural, historical situations. It contains many contradictions in the report about Jesus’ life, it is overgrown with legendary material even in the New Testament” (The Philosophy of Religion from the Standpoint of Protestant Theology, p. 155). Reflecting this neoorthodox mood, Elmer Homrighausen writes similarly that “the existence of thousands of variations of texts makes it impossible to hold the doctrine of a book verbally infallible” (Christianity in America, p. 121).

The word infallibility is not a biblical term, but like the word inspiration, it entered theological discussion through medieval Latin. While found in Acts 1:3 of the King James Version (“many infallible proofs,” used of the risen Jesus’ self-manifestations to his chosen disciples during the forty days after the resurrection), the word infallibility is omitted in later versions because it does not occur in the Greek. Nor does the term figure significantly in Reformation theology as a dogmatic concept.

It was in the Church of Rome that the term took on associations objectionable to historic evangelical theology. And it was Thomas Aquinas who elaborated the concept of papal infallibility in dogmatic theology. When Pope John XXII declared that Aquinas had written by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Thomistic theology became official dogma. Rome considers its teaching hierarchy to be in official succession to the apostles to whom Christ promised the gift of the Spirit of truth. Papal infallibility was formulated by the Vatican Council on July 18, 1870, as an extension of the postulate of the Roman church’s infallible authority in its teaching capacity, affirmed of the hierarchical body of bishops with the pope at their head. The Holy Spirit is said to enable the supreme magisterium (the bishops teaching jointly and the pope teaching singly) to set forth authoritatively in their official teaching the deposit of Christian truth, and to formulate the content of doctrine and morals. On this basis the Roman church considers its teaching infallible, free of error in all matters of religion, faith and morals.

Catholicism does not differentiate between this asserted hierarchical infallibility and prophetic or biblical inspiration. The teaching church—that is, the episcopate and the Roman pontiff as its prime bishop—is considered to be the divinely appointed custodian and authoritative interpreter of all revelation, whether it be in Scripture or in tradition. This Roman emphasis on a central ecclesiastical authority as the supreme, infallible guide in all matters of religion, faith and morals defines infallibility very differently than does evangelical Christianity; for Catholicism the church and not the Bible is the infallible guide.

In the Middle Ages the “heretical book” was in the keeping of the ecclesiastical magistracy. In 1546 the fourth session of the Council of Trent listed the apocryphal books as Scripture, and affirmed also that Scripture alone is insufficient but needs supplementation by “traditions pertaining both to faith and manners … perceived by uninterrupted succession in the Catholic Church.”

The Council of Trent prohibited the printing and sale of Scripture or of commentaries without official imprimatur, and especially commended the ancient Latin Vulgate edition. We should not underestimate this translation by Jerome (who died c. 420). B. F. Westcott praised Jerome as “the rich source from whom almost all critical knowledge of Holy Scripture in the Latin Churches was drawn for ten centuries” (The Bible in the Church, p. 181). “No Biblical scholar, since the time of Origin,” says George Duncan Barry, “has placed the Church under so great a debt as Jerome” (The Inspiration and Authority of Holy Scripture, p. 130). Unfortunately the Roman Catholic church’s endorsement of the Latin Vulgate as the only authentic translation of the prophetic-apostolic writings served ecclesiastical aspiration more than the purposes of truth.

The stance of Trent provoked Calvin’s rejoinder: “First they ordain that in doctrine we are not to stand on Scripture alone, but also on things handed down by tradition. Secondly, in forming a catalogue of Scripture, they mark all the books with the same chalk, and insist on placing the Apocrypha in the same rank with the others. Thirdly, repudiating all other versions whatsoever, they retain the Vulgate only, and order it to be authentic. Lastly, in all passages either dark or doubtful, they claim the right of interpretation without challenge.… Whatever they produce, if supported by no authority of Scripture, will be classed among traditions, which they insist should have the same authority as the Law and the Prophets.… Add to this, that they provide themselves with new supports when they give full authority to the Apocryphal books. Out of the second of Maccabees they will prove Purgatory and the worship of saints.… As the Hebrew and Greek original often serves to expose their ignorance in quoting Scripture … they ingeniously meet this difficulty also by determining that the Vulgate translation only is to be held authentic.… One thing was still wanting; for disagreeable men were always springing up, who, when anything was brought into question, could not be satisfied with Scriptural proof.… That they may not sustain loss from this quarter, they devise a most excellent remedy, when they adjudge to themselves the legitimate interpretation of Scripture” (Tracts and Treatises, 3:67–68). In an essay on “The True Method of Giving Peace to Christendom and Reforming the Church,” Calvin remarks: “That it is the proper office of the Church to distinguish genuine from spurious Scripture, I deny not, and for this reason, that the Church obediently embraces whatever is of God.… But to submit the sound oracles of God to the Church, that they may obtain a kind of precarious authority, is blasphemous impiety. The Church is, as Paul declares, founded on the doctrine of Apostles and Prophets; but these men speak as if they imagined that the mother owed her birth to the daughter” (ibid., p. 267).

Only the Protestant Reformation made the Bible once again a people’s book. In recent years Roman Catholic agencies have cooperated in Bible translation and distribution, in their case always including also the apocryphal books. Even so, the self-sufficient and self-explanatory character of the Bible on which the Reformers insisted still remains obscured for the Roman church, since in principle the Catholic receives even the Scriptures from the infallible teaching authority of the church. Until Vatican II (1962–65), the Vulgate remained the official translation of the Roman Catholic church. Just as the papal assumption of Christ’s vicegerency in effect veils the lordship of Christ over the church, so the teaching hierarchy’s insistence on infallible authority in faith and morals in effect clouds the Spirit of truth operative in and through inerrant prophetic-apostolic writings.

The Latin terms infallibilitas and infallibilis designate the dual quality of not being liable to err or to fail. The papacy contends that the Catholic church enjoys from God “a certain shared infallibility” and therefore asserts papal infallibility. Evangelical Christianity denies that God has to some or any extent transmitted infallibility either to the pope or to the church. It attributes inspiration and inerrancy only to the prophetic-apostolic autographs; it never predicates inspiration of scribes, amanuenses, copyists, or postapostolic ecclesiastical leaders. Evangelical Christianity affirms also that the existing copies of Scripture, while not inerrant, nonetheless bear an authority and trustworthiness superior to that of the pope of Rome even when he speaks in his office, and that substantially and principially the copies reflect the theopneustic quality of the prophetic-apostolic autographs.

Controversy over the presumed infallible teaching authority of the Roman church is now raging among scholars both inside and outside that church. The contemporary debate has reached its sharpest focus in the theological dispute between Hans Küng and Karl Rahner (cf. G. C. Berkouwer, “The Küng-Rahner Debate,” pp. 45–46). Both Rahner and Küng contend that the Holy Spirit’s guidance promised by the Lord has been continuously present in the teaching hierarchy. Yet both consider dogma as a historically conditioned, time-bound human formulation of God’s absolute truth. Rahner’s view of developing precision and refinement of dogma correlates their relativity, inadequacy and limitations with the supposed infallibility and errorlessness of Roman church teaching; Küng, on the other hand, insists that the teaching church has made obvious errors and that relativity extends also to the church’s teaching authority. Granting that different times and circumstances call for changing interpretations, Rahner nevertheless defends the theory of Rome’s unchangeable and infallible dogma, and declares that the “system-immanent” is unchanging (Stimmen der Zeit, March 1971). But Küng insists that the Spirit’s guidance guarantees immunity not from all error in teaching but only from fundamental departures from the truth of Christ.

Küng complains that the windows opened by Vatican II have since been shut, particularly in regard to any reexamination of the nature and function of the Roman church’s teaching authority (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 15). The emphasis of Vatican I on the church’s “teaching office” he views as a novelty that lacks basis both in Scripture and tradition, and he criticizes it as an ambiguous concept (pp. 221 ff.). He enumerates several “classical errors of the ecclesiastical teaching office, now largely admitted,” including the prohibition of monetary interest on which Rome finally reversed itself; the condemnation of Galileo and subsequent actions largely responsible for the estrangement between the church and science; the condemnation of new forms of worship; the longtime maintenance of papal secular power with the means of excommunication (pp. 32–33).

Küng proposes that over “against the infallibility of the bishops and particularly of the pope” Catholics should “place … emphasis on the indefectability or perpetuity of the Church in the truth” (ibid., p. 185). But elsewhere Küng has himself noted that the Roman church once taught “no salvation outside the Church” and that the Council of Florence in 1439 on this basis excluded multitudes from the possibility of salvation, whereas Pius IX in the nineteenth century and others since then have excluded only those willfully outside the church. He therefore considers indefensible the notion that the Roman church has “always and really” taught one and the same truth. Since Küng’s example of Romish error concerns the unjustifiable exclusion from salvation, one might even ask what, if not this, would approximate a fundamental departure from Christ’s truth? The New Testament, moreover, does not seem to rule out the possibility of massive ecclesiastical apostasy, a time of such extensive spiritual declension that Jesus asked, “When the Son of man cometh, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8, kjv). In insisting that God alone is “a priori free from error,” Küng is on sure ground, and likewise in acknowledging that the church is not gifted with infallibility. One cannot, however, square his imputing to the institutional church a “fundamental remaining in the truth in spite of all ever possible errors” (ibid., p. 185) with the biblical references to apostasy or with church history (and not only in the tenth and fifteenth centuries, at that). It is remarkable that churchmen whose predecessors argued for the corruption of Scripture now contend for the incorruptibility of the institutional church.

C. F. Evans says that “the desire for an infallibility short of the infallibility of God, be it of Church and Bible, is an idolatrous lust” (“The Inspiration of the Bible,” p. 32). But if we have a Word of God, it surely does not cease to be God’s word simply because it is written; if we do not, writing about God’s infallibility, or even about God, is superfluous. The decisive issue is not that to err is ecclesiastical and papal since, as Küng reminds us, “to err is human” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 186), for such reasoning would destroy the inerrancy of the Logos who assumed human nature, no less than that of the prophetic-apostolic writings. Whether the Spirit of God has gifted the truth, and when and where and how, is the crucial matter. Küng is therefore on sounder terrain when he insists that “the revelation of the Spirit is and remains always the source and norm for the Church’s sense of faith” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 190).

But where is this revelation, where is the truth of divine disclosure, now normatively available to us? It is not, says Küng, in an infallible Bible. Evangelical Protestants he accuses of “materializing God’s presence in the Church … in the letter of Scripture” even as Roman Catholics do so in “the person of the pope” (ibid., p. 208). Nor, says Küng, is the revelation given in valid propositions: “an ultimate ambivalence can never be excluded even in propositions of faith and all language even in matters of faith” (p. 191). “Are we to have the infallibility of a ‘paper pope’?” he asks (p. 209). In that case, he replies, “the Christian message, Christ himself as preached, is no longer the real ground of faith, but the infallible word of the Bible as such” (p. 210). “Not the infallibility of Scripture, but the testimony of the entire content of Scripture,” is Küng’s proffered alternative. “Today a deviation from the truth in historical and scientific questions in no way endangers the authority of Scripture. In theological terms, this would rather be the evidence of divine condescension” (p. 213). Indeed, “errors of the most varied kind cannot a priori be excluded” (p. 215).

How then, we may ask, can the church hope to have even “a fundamental indefectibility in the truth” (ibid., p. 219)? It matters little that Küng insists—despite his concession that “errors of the most varied kind cannot a priori be excluded”—that only “up to a point” do the New Testament testimonies “contradict one another” (p. 217); he can adduce no independent criterion to distinguish their truth from error. On occasion he asserts that doctrinal affirmations can be true but for linguistic reasons cannot be infallible, and indefectibility he reduces to an inner assurance. The Vatican’s rejection of such positions is wholly justifiable, since they cannot be persuasively defended. But the reply of some Vatican spokesmen that concepts may change but that the meaning of dogma may not is just as indefensible. If the meaning of doctrine can be expressed in logically contradictory conceptions, then it can be neither infallible nor intelligible. If, as Küng holds, erroneousness is evidence of divine condescension, does this not cancel the validity of the teaching of the incarnate Christ—despite Küng’s high profession of the infallibility of Jesus (p. 219)? Does not this view, moreover, devalue even our knowledge of the Godhead, since we know God only in his revelation?

The doctrine of the indefectibility of the church—that is, the view that the Holy Spirit so protects and guides the church that its faith in Christ remains authentic in all generations—has neither biblical basis nor confirmation in the history of either Catholicism or Protestantism. The church is not governed by the Spirit so as to preclude neglect or circumvention of the superior authority of the prophetic-apostolic Scriptures, the only oracles of God. No sound scriptural basis exists for the infallibility of the church’s teaching office in distinction from that of the apostles. Refusing to concede the inerrancy of councils, Luther answered: “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of Scripture or evident reason (for I do not believe either pope or councils alone, since it is certain that they have both erred frequently and contradict themselves).…” Luther and Calvin both rejected precisely the claim that dogma is infallible because taught by the Roman church, and stressed the authority of the prophetic-apostolic writings over that of the teaching hierarchy. They repeatedly emphasized that Scripture alone is God’s Word and is alone authoritative. Calvin repudiated the Roman church’s desire “to make certainty of doctrine depend not less on what they call agrapha (unwritten) than on the Scriptures” (Tracts and Treatises, 3:70). He declares that it is “the Holy Scripture, on which alone our faith should be founded, as there is no other witness proper and competent to decide what the majesty of God is but God himself” (ibid., 2:141). Long before the Reformers, Augustine emphasized the priority of Scripture. “Who would not know,” he said, “that the holy canonical Scriptures have a priority over all subsequent writings of bishops such that there cannot be any doubt or dispute at all as to whether whatever is written there is true or right …?” (De baptismo contra Donatistas, Book III, Ch. 2).

When alongside rejection of the infallibility of popes, councils and the church, Küng fails to recognize the infallibility of the scriptural record, he inherits as a neo-Catholic much the same predicament as neo-Protestants who speak of the prophetic-apostolic writings as only a fallible propositional witness to Christ the Word. Küng writes: “Believing … does not mean accepting true or still less infallible propositions … but it means, throughout all perhaps ambiguous or perhaps in particular even false propositions, committing one’s whole existence to the message, to the person proclaimed: believing in Jesus Christ” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 192). Even though he exalts their testimony to Christ as the center of faith, Küng declares the biblical witnesses to be fallible; he apparently considers them witnesses to religious reality even if they bear false witness. The conclusion is unavoidable that simply on the basis of an intrinsically fallible biblical witness one can no longer assuredly and confidently distinguish the true from the false. Such reasoning recalls Kierkegaard’s elevation of passionate inwardness above valid truth: “If one asks subjectively about the truth, one is reflecting subjectively about the relation of the individual; if only the How of this relation is in the truth, then the individual is in truth, even though he is thus related to untruth.” Kierkegaard adds: “if … one who lives in an idolatrous community prays with the entire passion of the infinite, although his eyes rest upon the image of an idol … [he] prays in truth to God though he worships an idol” (Concluding Unscientific Postscript, pp. 179–80). Dewey Beegle, who defends this notion of subjective truth in distinction from objective truth and considers the biblical witnesses fallible, remarks: “There is certainly some truth” in Kierkegaard’s emphasis (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 38; cf. p. 48), and—with colossal inconsistency—here intends, we suppose, truth of an objectively sharable kind.

Brunner took this same path; since he demeans Scripture as a whole to the level of a fallible guide to the Christ-event, even presumably false propositions are held to point to Christ, and Scripture per se can therefore have no decisive role in validating authentic as against inauthentic encounters. If the entirety of Scripture (even where assertedly false) is welcomed as testimony, the efficacy of Scripture hardly depends on true testimony. Indeed, Brunner not only holds that “the Bible is the human, and therefore not the infallible, witness to the divine revelation” (Revelation and Reason, p. 276), but also that “in spite of its priority as the original witness, fundamentally it stands upon the same level as the testimony of the Church” (p. 145). Anyone familiar with either the legend-crowded Middle Ages or the theological diversity and confusion of the neo-Protestant ecumenical era will find little reason for satisfaction in this appraisal of the content of Scripture.

With high presumption Küng then inconsistently distinguishes between true and false prophets (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 233), for their prepositional teaching is first held to be inescapably fallible. It does not seem to trouble Küng that he repeatedly invokes Scripture propositions to establish his own positions (cf. pp. 222 ff.); indeed, he even joins in lament over what is “unbiblical” (p. 231). Is it not somewhat misleading to emphasize the “truth of Scripture,” as Küng does, if Scripture merely (fallibly) “attests” the Truth (pp. 220–21)? The ecclesiastical use of Scripture wherever it is serviceable, albeit in the absence of a persuasive theory of religious knowledge, provokes René Pache’s comment that the authority claimed for Christian theological assertions, insofar as they are sound, invariably involves using scriptural claims in disguise (The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, p. 306).

According to G. C. Berkouwer, the real question posed by the controversy over Rome’s claim to infallibility is whether we can “tolerate a disturbance in the development of dogma when the Word of God tests it?” (“The Küng-Rahner Debate,” p. 46). The problem is therefore not simply the one that Küng has raised. It is rather whether Scripture itself provides a normative basis for testing what is said by any teaching hierarchy, with or without a presumptively infallible pope. Evangelical Christians hold that the Bible as we have it unfailingly communicates God’s Word, that it cannot lead men astray in the knowledge of God and his will, and that whatever collides with the express teaching of Scripture is fallacious. In short, evangelicals apply the term infallibility to the extant copies of the inspired prophetic-apostolic writings, rather than to the Roman teaching hierarchy. If the churches were to crumble, but the Bible survived, men would still find that God personally forgives sins, regenerates the penitent and gives them new life in Christ. But if the Bible were destroyed or hidden, we would soon return to medieval legends or be left to wallow in modern myths.

Küng assures us that the testimony of Scripture has its unity in “the message of God’s saving act to men in Jesus Christ” (Infallible? An Inquiry, p. 218); infallibility, he says, belongs to God alone and to his Word enfleshed, Jesus Christ (p. 219). But why then does Küng not deal with Jesus’ references to Scripture that he accepted as propositionally revealed, including historically and scientifically relatable matters?

Not only did Jesus begin his earthly ministry with an emphasis on the authority of Scripture in the copies accessible to his countrymen (“it stands written”, Matt. 4:4; see above, p. 34), but even after his resurrection declared “foolish and slow of heart” those who did not believe “all that the prophets have spoken,” and “explained … in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:25, 27, nas). The force of the perfect tense (Matt. 4:4) is that God’s providence preserves the unbroken authority of the copies. When Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You are wrong, … you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God” (Mark 12:24, rsv), he was evidently referring to the Old Testament as his contemporaries possessed it.

The implication in the apostolic emphasis “it says,” moreover, is not only “read it for yourselves” or “as you yourselves know from reading,” but that Scripture ongoingly speaks the Word of God. As F. F. Bruce remarks, “When the New Testament writers … appeal to the authority of the Old Testament, they appeal to such texts or versions as lay ready to hand in the first century a.d. For practical purposes the situation is still the same for the majority of Bible readers who are concerned with the every day issues of Christian faith and life” (Foreword to Dewey M. Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 8). The believer has no need to wait until the “autographic” text is conclusively established, since the effective continuity of the copies and of faithful translations is not in question. Beegle is surely right that “for more than 99 per cent of the people involved in the Judeo-Christian tradition,” knowledge of God has come through errant copies of Scripture (ibid., p. 157).

James Barr declares that the distinction between inerrant autographs and fallible copies to accommodate “possible occasional minor error” is only “a convenient escape route from the prior emphasis that divine inspiration is incompatible with error,” and holds that it “has no effect other than to avoid the psychological consequences” (Fundamentalism, p. 55). Albertus Pieters couples the emphasis on the reliability of the available texts with the insistence that the prophetic-apostolic writings were errant from the beginning. He writes: “That many errors now found were not in the original manuscripts is highly probable; that none of them were is pure assumption” (The Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 17). But simply because Jesus and the inspired writers appeal to the authority of extant copies, and, as Beegle puts it (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 155), make “no essential distinction between the originals and the copies,” we are not entitled to conclude that the autographs were errant, or as Harold Lindsell does, that the copies and even some of our present versions are to be considered inerrant. Beegle is less than accurate when he implies that “the copies … were also to be considered as being from God” in the same sense as the originals (ibid.), even if his intention, contrary to Lindsell’s, is to declare the autographs and copies alike errant. No biblical writer argues for the sacred inspiration of the amanuenses or scribes, although by profession such secretaries were men of dedicated and devout vocational proficiency.

Lindsell makes a sound point that “a copyist’s mistake is something entirely different from an error in Scripture. A misspelled or a misplaced word is a far cry from error, by which is meant a misstatement or something contrary to fact” (The Battle for the Bible, p. 36), although the latter statement overlooks the possibility that a misplaced word could in fact yield a misstatement and contradiction of fact. Likewise, the addition of questionable vowel pointings by the Massoretic texts does not “mean there are errors in Scripture.” Lindsell insists, however, that textual reconstruction by lower criticism has “produced a product” that can unqualifiedly be said to be “the Word of God.… We can say honestly that the Bible we have today is the Word of God” (p. 37). It is, of course, the case that evangelical Christianity insists that both the ancient originals and the copies of those originals give us the revealed truth of God in propositionally reliable form, and that in popular parlance we speak not only of the inspired Hebrew and Greek originals but even of our contemporary Bible translations as “the Word of God,” but surely in the latter case not unconditionally so.

Alvah Hovey, a sturdy champion of biblical inerrancy, almost a hundred years ago rebutted those who contend that the inerrancy of the autographs requires in turn inerrant copies and even inerrant translations, since the benefits of inerrancy would then supposedly be lost to all but the first readers. “But this,” he asserted, “is a mistake; for the errors from transcription, translations, etc., are such as can be detected, or at least estimated, and reduced to a minimum; while errors in the original revelation could not be measured” (Manual of Systematic Theology and Christian Ethics, p. 83).

William E. Hull writes that “the infallible text [original] is a theory, not a reality.… To affirm something about a Bible that does not exist can hardly help but be misleading” (“Shall We Call the Bible Infallible?” p. 17). But no errant original is extant either, and on Hull’s own premises it is just as misleading to speak of the autographs as errant. Worse yet, it is logically inconsistent to argue, as Hull does, that God mediated to the biblical writers “saving knowledge” in the form of “truth, without any mixture of error” and yet correlated this historical revelation with historical inaccuracy (p. 61).

If error pervaded the autographs, then the copies no longer face us only with sporadic textual problems, because the entire content is then disputable. Both where the biblical testimony involves some divergencies, however minor, and even in the preponderance of the content where the writers wholly agree in their teaching, we would need to remember that, because error-prone, the witnesses are not to be considered true either because they speak as prophets and apostles or simply because they agree in what they say. If the autographs are not inerrant and the inspired prophets and apostles in their teaching were unable to discriminate truth from falsehood, how are we to tell what parts are true and what parts are false either in the copies or in the autographs?

On the other hand, if we presently possessed an inerrant version, or even an inerrant copy, the science of textual criticism would need to come to a halt; any further textual changes required by earlier manuscripts would have to be rejected as corrupting the text. As it is, the translations we have are in no case beyond the possibility and even the necessity of improvement by revision, and sounder discrimination between early copies remains in prospect.

Perhaps Lindsell means only to say that the presently restored Hebrew and Greek texts unconditionally give us the truth of God, and that the textual variants in no instance affect the meaning. But he does not explicitly say this; he insists that he uses all terms, such as infallibility, trustworthiness, reliability, and so on, synonymously with inerrancy (Battle for the Bible, p. 27, n. 1). Yet even in respect to extant copies, the claim of autographic inerrancy is excessive (Beegle—with equal unjustifiability—inverts the argument and claims that autographs and copies alike partake of errancy). The Greek text has been standardized in the sense that lower criticism seldom achieves alterations in the text, but textual criticism nonetheless ongoingly finds additional variants in the early copies. And the most troublesome discrepancies occur not in passages where the biblical text is in doubt, but rather where the text is not in question. We read in Genesis 50:4–13, for example, that Abraham bought a burial place in Hebron and in Acts 7:16 that he bought it in Shechem. There are a number of similar instances in the Synoptic Gospels. Most problems of divergence arise not because of probable textual differences between copies and autographs, but because of apparent factual differences in the copies where no dispute exists over extant texts. Not even an appeal to general coherence or even to the attestation of the Spirit can compensate for such discrepancies in historical data, although earlier and better copies might make a difference. Moreover, even in some of the best Hebrew copies that we do have, numerous places remain where the text is obscure or unclear. Whatever terminology is used, evangelical scholars must put at least some slight distance between the best translation we have today and the autographs, and between the oldest extant copies and the autographs, while at the same time insisting on a very high view of the copies and of the best translations.

Beegle peculiarly understates the significance of the autographs. Noting that Jesus argued for the authority of the Old Testament scrolls extant in his day, Beegle adds, “it is implied, of course, that Jesus thought as highly of the autographs” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, pp. 154–55, italics mine)! Albertus Pieters held that we should unhesitatingly commend our present translations as “the Word of God” because of Scripture’s converting power. He makes the further comment that while “far from being inerrant,” the translations can do “all that the inspired Scripture can do for any man”; therefore we should forego all emphasis on inerrant verbal inspiration of the autographs (The Inspiration of the Scriptures, p. 17). But only as the translations are faithful to the inspired originals can we speak of the translations as the Word of God, as Scripture in which the property of inspiration inheres.

The original manuscripts have a theopneustic quality because of their divinely given rational and verbal content and because of the Spirit’s superintendence of the prophets and apostles in the process of writing; copies of the originals, and copies of the copies, on the other hand, share in the theopneustic quality of the originals only to the extent that they faithfully reproduce the autographs.

The apostles appealed to extant scrolls or copies not simply because they assumed their reliability, but also because they had the mind of the Spirit in appealing to these texts. The overall content of the copies does not differ essentially from that of the autographs, and to insist that all of the ancient copies must have been errant is unwarranted. Their differences lie in degree of accuracy, and here they range all the way from what may at that time have been perfect copies to those that contain some margin of error.

Edward J. Young observed that 2 Peter 1:21 makes a distinction between autographs and copies by linking the Spirit’s inspiration not with copyists but with inspired writers: “Men moved by the Spirit spoke from God” (Thy Word Is Truth, pp. 55–56). The copies are not the direct product of divine inspiration, but are a consequence of it. While Beegle nowhere adduces a supportive text in which the biblical writers identify a scriptural passage as errant and then argue for its divine inspiration, he boldly argues that “the teachings and the data of Scripture indicate that the New Testament writers considered the errant manuscripts of the first century a.d. as inspired” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 165). If this is a sample of careful biblical induction by which conclusions are to be established, in contrast with the deductive approach that Beegle elsewhere deplores, we prefer to be delivered from it.

To assume that the prophetic-apostolic writings cannot have been inerrant because revelation is nonintellective or because human fallibility cannot be breached even by divine initiative (this has dire consequences not only for the entirety of Scripture but for the doctrine of Christ’s incarnation) makes the effort to rescue any part of the Bible for a transhuman authority very shaky indeed. John Murray put the matter well: “Human fallibility cannot with any consistency be pleaded as an argument for the fallibility of Scripture unless the position is taken that we do not have in the Scriptures content of any kind that is not marred by the frailty of human nature” (“The Attestation of Scripture,” p. 5). To this should be added that divine inspiration cannot be pleaded as an argument for the errancy of Scripture unless one considers God to be finite or believes that inspiration does not guarantee the truth of whatever the writers speak or teach in the name of divine revelation.

Beegle is therefore wrong also in implying that the Holy Spirit effectively convicts and illumines men through errant propositions: “errant copies … have not hindered the Holy Spirit in his conviction and illuminating activities” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 165). Textual variations in the copies have in no way clouded a single theological doctrine or moral precept. But rejection of the content’s inerrancy is what has encouraged critics to differ widely over what facets of biblical doctrine are or are not to be required as divinely revelational. Because the Spirit has, since postapostolic times, engendered and nurtured the church through errant copies and translations is no reason to consider the inerrant autographs dispensable and unnecessary to God’s purposes. It is true, of course, that reverent care in copying and translating has produced texts that are deeply serviceable to the church’s role in evangelizing the lost, in nourishing believers, and in communicating the propositional truth of God. But such care in preserving the purity of the text has in the past been motivated by the conviction that the original writings are authoritatively inspired and inerrant documents. If there are no inerrant autographs then no objective textual basis exists for distinguishing fact from fancy, as the confusion of the critics abundantly attests. Despite numerous narratives we, like Luke’s contemporaries, would lack written records that vouchsafe “the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed” (Luke 1:4, neb). The loss of this conviction of inerrant originals has helped to destroy the historic sense of canon, and has encouraged interest both in a “canon within the canon” and increasingly in a “canon wider than the canon” in which Scripture compromises into tradition.

The notion that the original writings were themselves pervaded by error has led professional biblical scholars into irreconcilable confusion over what if any parts of Scripture are divinely trustworthy. Taken by itself as an essentially reliable report, the text does indeed require a life-or-death decision concerning Jesus Christ. But in our day of rampant antisupernaturalistic philosophy in the schools and homes, of ecumenical theological divergence in the churches and seminaries, and of skeptical secularization of biblical teaching by much of the mass media, Scripture is seldom communicated on its own assumptions except by evangelical pulpits, publications, missionaries and teachers. Influential theologians constantly affirm the fallibility of the biblical witness, and even mediating evangelical institutions often initiate affirmations that the inerrancy of Scripture is not an indispensable evangelical commitment. Some of the more radical critics, like Bultmann, contend that internal new being is the goal of the biblical “myth,” others insist that the scriptural goal is not existential subjectivity but rather sociopolitical revolution. The promotion of original errancy, therefore, encourages selective and creative rearrangements of the biblical data that soon frustrate the purpose of Scripture ordained for the infallible copies. The affirmation of errant originals jeopardizes both the epistemological and the evangelistic utility of the copies and translations because the thesis of propheticapostolic errancy is repeatedly correlated with the superiority of contemporary ecclesiastical gnosis. All the infallible functions of confessedly errant copies are easily subverted once the errancy of the autographs is affirmed: in misguided efforts to segregate the truth from supposed error the theological content is repeatedly manipulated and corrupted, and the salvific message altered.

It is naïve to contend, as Beegle does, that “what really mattered” was the vitality of the extant errant copies of the Old Testament that the New Testament writers used, and which they considered “the very message of God to them,” and to say that it is “not important” whether the writers were aware of textual errors (ibid., p. 166). If the apostles considered what was fallacious no less than what was true to be divinely trustworthy and authoritative, then they not only impugn the reliability of Scripture but actually impugn the truth of God.

The copies are only as inerrant as the copyists and that, of course, implies the possibility of mistakes even in the course of uncompromised devotion. Alterations in the copies of the biblical texts are of two kinds, intentional and unintentional. Unintentional alterations would include such things as skipped or duplicated words, misspellings, use of a wrong word due to a copyist’s misunderstanding of dictation, faulty judgment or memory (recollection of the text in a different form or insertion of a marginal note into the body of the text). The addition of vowel symbols and punctuation marks could also result in unwitting alteration. Among intentional changes might be the inclusion of grammatical or linguistic updating, and in some texts even elimination of an apparent incongruity or an attempted harmonization of passages. As the science of textual criticism attests, none of these alterations—unintentional or intentional—need involve a change in theological substance.

The fact must not go unmentioned that modern textual scholars themselves disagree over the most reliable family of available copies; neither the oldest nor the most prevalent texts available to us from the past can be considered the final criteria of the original text and equated with the inerrant autographs. Merrill C. Tenney holds that the Codex Vaticanus and the Codex Sinaiticus used by Westcott and Hort “is still probably the best critical text available” (“Reversals of New Testament Criticism,” p. 365), yet he agrees with F. F. Bruce that neither the Byzantine nor the Alexandrian (including the Sinaitic and Vatican) texts can “stake an exclusive claim to represent the first-century texts” (Answers to Questions, p. 160).

F. J. A. Hort’s verdict remains timely, however, that “for practical purposes in the case of the New Testament, textual critics have been successful in restoring [the copies] to within 99.9% accuracy” and that “only about one word in every thousand has upon it substantial variation supported by such evidence as to call out the efforts of the critic in deciding the readings” (B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, The New Testament in the Original Greek, “Introduction,” p. 2). According to Joseph P. Free this is the equivalent of about a half page in a five hundred-page New Testament (Archaeology and Bible History, pp. 4–5). And Bruce writes that “the variant readings about which any doubt remains … affect no material question of historic fact or of Christian faith and practice” (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable? pp. 19–20). Whatever uncertainties copying has contributed, the Bible remains virtually unchanged and its teaching undimmed. The text of Old and New Testaments alike has been preserved even in the copies in a remarkably pure form.

Not a single article of faith, not a single moral precept is in doubt. Those who make an issue of snake-handling or drinking deadly poison miss the point; this passage falls within the disputed ending of Mark’s Gospel and cannot be considered binding unless and until better manuscript evidence is found. Curiously, those who appeal to the passage to encourage the handling of poisonous snakes as evidence of faith’s power are seldom as inclined to drink deadly poison!

Barr criticizes the evangelical emphasis that no point of doctrine is involved in the textual problems that face us in the extant copies. What is very much affected, he says, “is the conservative belief that the Bible is inerrant” (Fundamentalism, p. 360, n. 35). But the universally acknowledged presence of variants in the copies is not decisive for the question whether the original writings are errant or inerrant. Most evangelicals insist, not that the Bible explicitly teaches inerrancy, but that inerrancy is logically implicit in and logically inferred from its doctrine of divine inspiration, and that no basis whatever exists for the alternative view that the Bible teaches its own errancy. The “sublime pair of propositions” that many nonevangelical critics entertain is that the Bible is errant in its teaching (theological, moral, historical and scientific) and that God inspired it.

The fact that 2 Timothy 3:16 emphasizes the ongoing profitability of Scripture “for doctrine, reproof … correction … and instruction in righteousness” presupposes its theopneustic quality; Beegle argues therefore that no significant distinction exists between original writings and copies. “The clear implication is that theopneustos is a permanent attribute of Scripture. The extant manuscripts were considered the same as the original writings because they were inspired by God and capable of accomplishing the purpose for which they were given. In all likelihood Paul never thought in terms of the technical distinction between the autographs and copies of Scripture. More important … he never makes any claims that would set the original writings apart as a special group to be clearly distinguished from copies of Scripture” (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, pp. 153–54).

In the letter to Philemon, however, Paul emphasizes what is personally handwritten (v. 19). When he addresses his Epistle to the Colossians, he directs that it be “read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and that ye likewise read the epistle from Laodicea” (Col. 4:16, kjv); the latter has frequently been thought to be our Epistle to the Ephesians. The apostle was surely aware of the technical distinction between an original letter and a copy. What Paul writes by his own hand by way of appended greeting (e.g., Gal. 6:11; 2 Thess. 3:17) is not, of course, more authoritative than what he imparts to the Christian community by dictation. Yet the use of amanuenses is not to be gratuitously assumed. In 1 Peter 5:12 the reference to Peter’s writing “through Silvanus” may indeed point to an amanuensis, but it could also refer to the carrier of the letter, as in Acts 15:23, where Judas Barsabbas and Silas are given a letter for delivery.

The Westminster Confession, after affirming that the Old and New Testaments were “immediately inspired by God” only in the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts, goes on to emphasize that the Scriptures were “by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages.” It therefore rejected the assaults of those who spoke of the comprehensive corruption of the biblical text. The evangelical view is not, as Barr declares it to be, that “the Bible is reliable because its text contains numerous corruptions,” nor that the extant copies have been “preserved free from corruptions” (Fundamentalism, p. 284), but that the text has been preserved with such fidelity that the copies available to us are as sound for doctrinal purposes as were the autographs, and that a Greek or Hebrew Bible of modern times reliably conveys the Word and will of God.

A modern doctrine of inspiration, Barr tells us, “could not possibly take the view” that inspiration extends only to “the word of the original autograph, … while all textual variations were in principle noninspired words and merely human intrusions” (ibid., p. 295). Barr’s way of putting the matter gains its force from ambiguity. Neither faithful translations nor a limited range of textual variations need destroy the propositional truth of the original text, since meaning is expressed by sentences rather than words. But the original text remains the inspired text, and variations and translations are alike capable of corrupting it. If inspiration pertains equally to all texts, and all are considered errant, the autographs included, the notion of inspiration becomes simply a matter of rhetoric. Barr in fact softly concedes the point when he says that on his view one is “no longer … dealing with absolutes.” Inspiration, as he sees it, “would have to extend to varying sources and drafts” and also “embrace the entire textual tradition in which the Bible has been preserved”; it would include “the original words of a prophet [where does Barr propose to find these?], … the comments of an editor or glossator, and attempts to improve the text centuries later” (ibid.). Presumably copyists would also be considered inspired, but in any event, certainly the contemporary biblical critics would be so, for without their illumination the manuscripts from the past would presumably be of only qualified use to the Judeo-Christian community.

At times, Barr writes of textual criticism and its interest in textual variants as if no distinction between the apostolic writings and later copies or translations was made before the nineteenth century. But he states candidly that his view renders impossible a claim that “the words of any one stage, or the contribution of one person at any one stage, formed the unique and absolute locus of inspiration” (ibid., p. 395). Barr even invokes a certain confessional sanction for this approach, since the Westminster Confession affirms that the biblical text has been adequately preserved (p. 299), but he momentarily overlooks the confessional emphasis that only the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures were “immediately inspired by God.”

One need not, however, agree with Cornelius Van Til that, apart from a perfect original text, Judeo-Christian Scripture offers nothing superior to Buddhist or Hindu literature (Introduction to B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 46, n. 22). The broad difference between Christianity and Judaism, let alone between Judeo-Christian and Buddhist or Hindu traditions, could be established in some respects if the writings had only the accuracy of the New York Times. If without inerrant documents we can know the main differentiae of Buddhism and Hinduism, we can gain information about Christ (John 20:31) from sources that bear the marks of credibility which characterize the scriptural reports; these, after all, are a distinctive literature in some respects when ranged even as literature alongside other religious writings. The case for Christian theism does not depend only on an inerrant text, though the divine inspiration of the biblical teaching surely implies comprehensive inerrancy.

Beegle thinks that inerrancy was attached to the autographs as a compensatory maneuver when believers, who thought that the value and authority of extant copies were ensured only on the assumption of inerrant autographs, discovered that copies of the Hebrew Old Testament and Greek New Testament contained errors (Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 156). He argues that the autographs had “little standardizing control” because they appeared at different times over many centuries and soon perished through continual use or deterioration (p. 157). Yet he himself concedes that, at least in regard to the specific issues of faith and practice, it is legitimate to assume inerrancy; if the present ending of Mark’s Gospel actually belongs to the original, then religious snake-handling has evidential value. But if inerrancy is irrelevant as a governing epistemological principle, why should any specific issue of faith and practice be thought beyond the possibility of apostolic error? Why should the value and authority of extant copies be required to coincide with the specifics that some particular exegete wishes to champion from within an errant norm? To argue that the modern exegete can trustworthily distinguish what is true and false in Scripture, even if the inspired prophets and apostles could not do so, is like swallowing a camel and straining at a gnat.

Yet those evangelicals are wrong who reject the inerrancy of the originals because, they say, inerrant autographs that perished in ancient times have no value now and because the copies have fully met the needs and purposes of Christian worship and evangelism for almost twenty centuries. If it was not important to God to spare the autographs, were they ever indispensable? Why can we not assume that the originals too were errant like the copies that serve us so well today and that served believers well even in Old Testament and New Testament times? It would seem that the more we insist that the copies are anything but corrupt, and the more we stress their approximation of the originals, the more we seem to make inerrant originals dispensable; whereas the more we stress the importance of the inerrant originals which are beyond our reach, the more we disparage the only texts Christendom has found serviceable. But who would contend that the prophets and apostles are dispensable since God has not given them a two thousand-year longevity and because contemporary Christians must in their name carry on proclamation and evangelism in our generation? The fact that the prophets and apostles are no longer with us and that we possess neither their original writings nor their recorded voices does not cancel the epistemological primacy of their proclamation, both oral and written.

Even should the autographs never be recovered, evangelicals insist, this does not lock them into the pursuit of “an insignificant ideal,” since the original text is the only reasonable locus for inspiration. Although nonevangelical scholarship often lampoons evangelical interest in the autographs, even Barr emphasizes the importance of a distinction between the original and all translations, lest the misconception prevail that the King James or some other version is a wholly accurate transcript of God’s will (Fundamentalism, p. 280). To some extent, however, this is theological shadowboxing on Barr’s part, since he does not regard even the originals as an errorless transcript of the divine Word and will.

What troubles Barr is that evangelicals, as he sees it, appeal to the autographs in distinction from the copies not by way of “concession to critical methods” but rather “as a device for negating them entirely” (ibid., p. 280). The resort to the inaccessible original sustains an argument that a discrepancy or supposed error resulted from corruption of the inspired text. The appeal therefore becomes “a means of making it impossible for discrepancies to be demonstrated” (p. 281). Consistent with this approach, Warfield made textual certainty the first requirement of the attempt to prove the existence of error in the Bible (A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, “Inspiration,” p. 242).

Yet the many copies clearly presuppose an original, and it is obviously impossible to treat existing textual variants as though they were all autographic. Barr complains that evangelicals at times appeal to an inaccessible autograph to explain inaccuracies “not only where actual textual evidence exists but where it simply would be convenient if it did exist” (Fundamentalism, p. 283). He holds that when commentators emend the text on the ground that the extant written signs are corrupt, and propose an altered meaning, they attest that instead of being inerrantly dependable the Bible is subject to meaning changes. “A Bible understood on the basis of a few hundred or a few thousand new meanings … is just as much a different Bible as one which depended on emendation of the text” (ibid., p. 300). Quite apart from the legitimacy of speaking as Barr does of thousands of such emendations of meaning, one may note that only the assumption of a fixed text whose original content is authoritative justifies a protest against arbitrary meaning changes.

Suggested emendations are not to be viewed as inspired achievements of biblical scholars—although such a claim would accord rather well with Barr’s own modern view of inspiration—but as a devout yet fallible effort to import into currently obscure phrasing the sense of the inaccessible original on the basis of known context and of available semantic helps.

The crux of the issue therefore centers in two attitudes toward textual discrepancy or conflict where there is no independent evidence that the text is in fact corrupt. Barr takes one stance: “The corruption of the text is pure guesswork, entered upon in order to avoid the possibility that biblical reports are erroneous, or are legendary, or are discrepant with one another.… It is an attempt to get rid of a discrepancy by wishful thinking.… It is pure hypothesis” (ibid., p. 283). Most evangelicals take a contrary stance. The history of textual criticism is replete with instances of textual alteration through the discovery of earlier or better scrolls or manuscripts; where discrepancies remain, only the original text can settle whether or not the alleged discrepancy in fact corrupts the text. The insistence on errant autographs is sheer hypothesis, and incompatible with divine inspiration of the writings.

In conclusion, then, let us emphasize the importance and indispensability both of inerrant originals and of copies which, while not inerrant, can nonetheless be considered infallible.

1. If there are no inerrant originals, then the emphasis on God-breathed Scripture must be correlated with errant writings. But the Bible says that the sacred writings are inspired, and God does not speak untruths or inspire error.

2. The whole science of textual criticism presupposes that the copies are answerable to a normative text. The variations in the copies cannot all be attributed to the originals. The question of a preferable text thus arises, not only for purposes of translation, but also for purposes of understanding and exegesis.

3. Why should biblical scholars consider it, as F. F. Bruce says, “important to aim, by means of all the resources of textual criticism, at recovering as far as possible the ipsissima verba of the sacred writers” (in Beegle, Scripture, Tradition, and Infallibility, p. 8) unless what we are seeking is not simply an older text but a divinely definitive text? If the original autographs were errant, then the recovery of older and more authentic texts would bring us no nearer to the truth of God. The serious reader of the Bible cannot rest in errant copies except on the thesis that the Word of God is something other than Scripture, an alternative that merely erodes the Word of God by pursuing novelties.

4. The derivative authority of the Bible as we now have it depends on the essential continuity of the copies with the inerrantly given Word of God, that is, on the scriptural authenticity of the copies. The Bible’s authority is weakened in respect to tenses, words, phrases and sentences where copyists have compromised the autographs as evidenced by textual variations.

The fact that the churches have for nineteen centuries possessed only errant copies and not inerrant autographs, and that these copies have been adequate for effective evangelical engagement around the globe, does not prove that the authority and reliability of the Bible could have been adequately achieved from the outset without errorless apostolic proclamation or autographs. Infallible copies combine the features of divine authority and trustworthiness, but the logical necessity for inerrant autographs still remains. The infallibility of the copies presupposes not only the ongoing special providence of God, and the continuing dependence of copies and translations on the best available texts, but also the inerrancy of the original writings.

Because the church now has only copies of the autographs, Dallas M. Roark argues that we could not now recognize the originals even if they were recovered unless some direct revelation from God accredited them as such (Review of Gordon Clark, Biblical Revelation, p. 105). Roark emphasizes that “a copy which is substantially like the original can function like the original itself” (p. 85). Of course copies that approximate an original can function like the original to the extent that they are identical with it. But if error permeated the original, we could never under any circumstances arrive at an inerrantly authoritative text, but only at an older one. What indeed was the function of the inspired texts but to give us what God breathed through his chosen prophets and apostles? And can the copies ever function in that capacity except as copies and not in their own right? Is Christ’s own witness to an unbreachable Scripture compromised by an errant original? And did the original text bear an errant witness to Christ? If copies and original alike are per se errant, then the church would have in the ancient texts no basis for discriminating truth from error. In that case one might then expect the church to evaluate copies and to promote translations that are supposedly superior to the witness of prophets and apostles and to achieve a version that functions more acceptably to the contemporary mind than the original.

Since God is sovereign, no a priori reasons can be adduced why the Deity ought even to have provided inerrant autographs, or why he allowed them to disappear. The witness of Scripture is that it was his good pleasure thus to communicate his holy Word to the prophets and apostles; it is this inerrantly communicated Word of God that remains a presupposition of the church’s mission in the world. Why God permitted the apostolic original writings to disappear, instead of permanently preserving them, has elicited some ingenious suggestions: to stimulate textual, linguistic and archaeological study (Merrill Unger); because God knew that devout believers would conscientiously preserve the truth (Dewey Beegle); because Christians might have been tempted to worship the autographs (H. C. Thiessen; cf. also Abraham Kuyper, Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, 3:67, and Erich Sauer, From Eternity to Eternity, p. 110). If the autographs had been preserved, Harold Lindsell argues, “they would have been accorded a treatment similar to that given to the Granth, the sacred scriptures of Sikhism. That writing is virtually worshipped and is kept encased in such a way as to place the emphasis on the book rather than on the god who lies behind it” (Battle for the Bible, p. 36). But no such temptation was in fact present in ancient prophetic or apostolic times. The Middle Ages reflected no excessive ecclesiastical reverence for Scripture, although the Roman church eagerly preserved supposed relics of both Jesus and Mary. While it is true that the Bible has stimulated vast interest in archaeological and linguistic studies, it is not easy to see why inerrant originals would necessarily have discouraged these same concerns, since the Christian faith pursued them eagerly to commend its claims to the world of unbelief.

One obvious reason why the autographs disappeared is decomposition of the scrolls in contrast with the resurrection body of the enfleshed Logos. Christ’s resurrection and his Great Commission stimulated the preparation of the autographs and distribution of copies to the far-flung missionary frontiers of the growing church. In addition to miraculous inspiration in the apostolic age, the God of revelation in his special providence purposed the ongoing preservation of the canon through wide distribution of copies of the autographs. God could have superintended copyists so that their manuscripts would be as inerrant as the autographs, but there is no biblical or empirical basis for thinking that he purposed to extend the phenomenon of inerrant inspiration to the copying and translation of Scripture. In that event, inspiration would have had features of dictation, something which evangelical orthodoxy disowns in view of the biblical characterization of divine theopneustos. The disappearance of the inerrant autographs, furthermore, was not technically requisite for translating the Bible into many languages.

Christian proclamation involves a global witness to Jesus Christ that stimulated the availability of Scripture in other than the original languages and ultimately in multilingual translations. Instead of an artificial preservation of his Word in the original Hebrew and Greek autographs, or the transmission of a source-document of Jesus’ sayings in the original Aramaic, or the permanent freezing of his message in any one select version—as the Roman Church attempted in the case of the Latin Vulgate—God willed the Bible’s translation and distribution first in koine Greek, the language of the people, and then in the tongues of all nations, as Pentecost already anticipated, so that those of all lands could share in God’s good news. Indeed, the true and living God has had from the very first a far higher goal than evangelical recovery of the inerrant autographs, or the writing of his law upon stone and scroll; his ultimate goal is to etch his Word fully upon the hearts of believers.


The Meaning of Infallibility

We have already noted the scope and significance of inspiration and inerrancy. Here we shall outline the meaning and implications of infallibility.

We distinguish between infallibility and inerrancy; inerrancy applies only to the originals as the pervasive achievement of divine inspiration, while infallibility is a more qualified or conditional perfection of the copies of those originals. Textual criticism is therefore appropriate and necessary not simply in respect to translations, but also in respect to the best extant copies. Its legitimacy lies in attempting to recover as far as possible the perfect and inerrant original text, rather than in trying merely to achieve a desirable alteration of the texts presently in use.

In earlier chapters we noted that terms like inspiration, inerrancy and infallibility are given divergent meanings by different scholars, and that definition of the sense in which theological words are used is important.

Roger Nicole thinks it unfortunate that a distinction is made between inerrancy and infallibility in contrasting the original writings and the copies. He insists that the terms inerrancy and infallibility are synonymous; if any distinction is to be made, he says, infallibility should be considered the stronger of the terms. Inerrancy means freedom from error, he stresses, while infallibility means freedom from liability to err (cf. Century Dictionary, 1911, pp. 3074, 3077; Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, 5:242–43, 249; Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1966, pp. 1156–57). But while these terms have indeed been used this way, they are not invariably so used. Moreover, it would be semantically confusing were evangelicals now to argue that the copies are inerrant whereas the originals are infallible.

In recent decades, mediating theologians have frequently used infallibility to imply a claim less comprehensive than inerrancy, particularly where they limit infallibility to “salvific infallibility,” that is, to the notion that Scripture unfailingly leads us to salvation, while they abandon the cognitive inerrancy of the Bible. I reject, as does Nicole, this unjustifiable narrowing of the sense of infallibility. But for reasons here indicated I nonetheless insist on the propriety of a certain contrast between infallibility and inerrancy.

What then, specifically, do we mean and not mean by the infallibility of the copies of Scripture?

First let us indictate what the infallibility of the copies of Scripture does not imply.

1. Infallibility of the copies does not mean that prophetic and biblical inspiration extends beyond the biblical writers to the copyists or to the translators of the transmitted originals, let alone to interpreters of the Bible. In the Gospel statements pledging the Spirit of truth to the apostles as a guide in the exposition of Christ’s work, there is no basis for extending that promise to the teaching hierarchy of the Roman (or any other) church, to the translators of the Bible into new languages, or to the work of copyists who prepared transcripts of the apostolic originals.

2. Infallibility of the copies does not imply the inerrancy of the copies. Inerrancy is a divinely vouchsafed quality of the prophetic-apostolic autographs; it was a consequence of divine inspiration, of that special activity of inspiration whereby the Holy Spirit safeguarded the writers from error by superintending the choice of the words they used. But such inspiration extended only to the original writings, not to transcripts or to translations. This does not mean that all copies from the first necessarily contained errors. But no claim is made that the copies, like the autographs, are error-free on the basis of divine inspiration. Doubtless the vocational proficiency of copyists resulted in many early transcripts that perfectly duplicated the autographs, but these copies owed their perfection to vocational expertise rather than to divine inspiration.

3. Infallibility of the copies does not imply the personal infallibility of the copyists. No claim is made for the copyists’ individual infallibility, any more than for inerrancy as a personal property of prophets and apostles. The written copies retain reliability or infallibility through their epistemic and verbal continuity with the autographs, not because of any personal infallibility of human agents engaged in the task of transcribing Scripture.

4. Finally, infallibility of the copies does not imply the equal adequacy of all families of texts, versions, and translations. During the Reformation, Calvin declared the ancient Latin Vulgate, which the Roman Catholic church specially approved, to be a “defective version” in the light of then available superior sources. He did not, however, declare Scripture in any extant edition to be corrupt, as did some Roman Catholic polemicists. He cited examples to support his claim that the Vulgate “teems with innumerable errors,” however, and noted by way of contrast that “the ancients … always candidly acknowledge that nothing is better than to consult the original, in order to obtain the true and genuine meaning” (Tracts and Treatises, 2:71).

Versions or translations, as Bruce M. Metzger reminds us in The Early Versions of the New Testament, suffer from the inability of one language to fully convey the features of another. A ready example is the inability of translations of the New Testament into Latin, which has no definite article, to reproduce all the nuances and subtleties conveyed by the definite article in the original Greek.

In the light of the best available copies or families of texts, textual criticism will expose corruptive tendencies in translations and paraphrases of Scripture. Jehovah’s Witnesses rely on a corrupt translation of John 1:1 (“… and the Word was a God”) to establish an Arian view of Christ.

The King James Version rests only on the Greek manuscripts that were available over three centuries ago. Its literary power and overall accuracy have so endeared it to Christians that many would prefer to retain it as unrivaled. But evangelicals who treasure Scripture as the Word of God written dare not put their imprimatur on what we know reflects less than the earliest sources and in some cases less than the best translations. The notion that the “textus receptus,” on which the King James Version is based, remains as a reflection of the apostolic autographs superior to extant manuscripts now available from the first three centuries after Christ is baseless. Allan A. MacRae and Robert C. Newman remind us that the notion of a “received text” applied to a particular Greek New Testament text derives from a publisher’s blurb for a text actually published thirteen years after the Authorized Version. The King James Version was based rather on the third edition of the Greek New Testament (issued in 1550 by the Parisian publisher Stephanus) which differed in 287 places from the later so-called “received text” (The Textus Receptus and the King James Version, p. 1). As numerous marginal notes indicate, the King James translators were fully aware of copyists’ divergences and possible errors (e.g., Luke 17:36; Acts 25:6). Moreover their idiom is sometimes unintelligible to modern readers (e.g., Ps. 5:6; Rom. 1:13; 2 Cor. 8:1).

In view of the availability of superior ancient texts, textual criticism of modern and contemporary translations remains a continuing necessity. We have more cumulative evidence decisive for the text of the original New Testament writings than we do for any other writing from the ancient past. We can now very nearly identify the text of the autographs. Yet we cannot in fact say that the original text is wholly sure. The conviction of the normativeness and inerrancy of the original writings underlies the legitimate effort to recover the best possible text in all details.

The need for new translations is stimulated by the fact that some past translations employ in places a vocabulary no longer lucid in our generation, while others in certain respects do not adequately carry the sense of the biblical writers. It is often forgotten that early translations of copies based on Alexandrian or Western texts were already made by 300 a.d. into Latin, Syriac and Coptic (Egyptian), and by 500 a.d. into the Syriac Peshitta based on a Byzantine type text.

The infallibility of the copies distinguishes them from all translations, ancient or modern. Even where a translation does not incorporate serious theological error, as does that used by Jehovah’s Witnesses, it may in other important respects embody mistranslations. Loose popular paraphrases sometimes serve a devotional purpose much more readily than they accommodate serious textual study, although there are noteworthy differences even between paraphrases. A good translation may have to sacrifice literary form to preserve the components of meaning, but a paraphrase will sometimes take liberties with the precise meaning of the received text in the course of idiomatic translation, or it may be based not on the original biblical languages but upon a translation which it restates in current idiom.

When Barr says that, unlike modern evangelicals, the Massoretes “took care to provide for the authority of the Bible as it stood in their own time and not only as it had been in its origins” (Fundamentalism, p. 298), he reveals his unfamiliarity with the extensive evangelical interest in Bible translation based on the best texts. Such parallel text editions as The New Testament in Four Versions and The Eight Translation New Testament exemplify only some of the plethora of translations now available. Many evangelical scholars insist that certain current translations are less than ideal because in some respects they do not fully or properly express the truth of revelation. The New American Standard (nas) version of 1971 was an evangelical revision of the highly regarded American Standard Version of 1901. But in contrast to the literalism and strict consistency of the nas in rendering tenses and particles, other evangelical scholars produced a fresh translation more akin to the Revised Standard Version but more conservatively oriented; the New Testament portion of their New International Version (niv), which uses an eclectic Greek text, appeared in 1973, and translation of the whole Bible was completed in 1978. But not even late twentieth-century evangelical scholarship will achieve a version wholly beyond the need of future replacement.

The infallibility of the copies of Scripture does imply:

1. That copies reliably and authoritatively communicate the specially revealed truth and purposes of God to mankind. The copies or transcripts of the original writings retain the epistemic consequences of divine inspiration of the inerrant prophetic-apostolic autographs in such a way that they authoritatively communicate the truth about God and his purposes. They and the translations faithful to them are so continuous with the original autographs that they cannot deceive men or lead them astray. J. C. Wenger reminds us, “It was the Old Testament almost exactly as we have it, which our Lord knew, and which he assured us was the infallible truth of God” (God’s Word Written, p. 50).

There is no evidence that copyists or editors handled earlier texts either so carelessly or so creatively that they perverted them in transmission. F. C. Grant writes: “We cannot hope to recover the autographs, and the best that modern textual scholarship can possibly achieve is an approximation of the MSS which were in circulation during the second century.… The probability is that the text, for all the thousands of variations in MSS, patristic quotations, and ancient versions, is correct to within one or two percent” (“Jesus Christ,” 2:876b). The verdict of F. J. A. Hort still stands, that the divergencies in the earliest New Testament manuscripts are matters of minutiae that in no way affect a single scriptural doctrine.

The same may confidently be said for the Old Testament text. Before the Qumran discoveries in 1947, the earliest copies of Hebrew Scripture preserved to us had been transcribed (with scant exception) at the close of the ninth and opening of the tenth centuries a.d. But the biblical manuscripts found at Qumran go back to a period before a.d. 100, and antedate by a thousand years the earliest manuscripts of the Massoretic text on which our Old Testament translations have been based. The question naturally arose whether the discovered Dead Sea Scrolls would require substantial alteration of the traditional text. The answer was prompt and unhesitating; in the words of F. F. Bruce, “the general Bible reader … could go on using the familiar text with increased confidence in its essential accuracy. There was already good reason to believe that the Jewish scribes of the first thousand years a.d. carried out their work of copying and recopying the Hebrew scriptures with utmost fidelity. The new discoveries bore impressive testimony to this fidelity. A few scribal errors, indeed, found their way into the text in the course of the thousand years separating the Qumran manuscripts from the Massoretic manuscripts; the impressive feature was that these were so few and relatively unimportant” (“New Light from the Dead Sea Scrolls,” p. 1175). Concerning the two copies of Isaiah found in Qumran Cave I in 1947 that are a thousand years older than any extant manuscript, Gleason Archer remarks: “They proved to be word for word identical with our standard Hebrew Bible in more than 95 per cent of the text. The 5 per cent of variation consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen and variations in spelling” (A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 19). For twenty centuries God had providentially watched over this scroll of the Book of Isaiah hidden in the inaccessible caverns of the Judean caves. But no less remarkable is the fact that across more than twenty-seven centuries God has providentially preserved Isaiah’s writings first in publicly treasured copies and then also in translations of those transcripts into more than a thousand tongues.

While Jesus did not speak of the Old Testament copies in use in his generation as inerrant, he unhesitatingly considered them the criterion of infallibility: “Ye do err, not knowing the scripture” (Matt. 22:29, kjv; cf. Mark 12:24). What contravenes the teaching of Scripture contravenes the truth. Moreover, Jesus appealed to Scripture as an unbreachable authority (John 10:35). Even at a span of many centuries from the original writings, the copies retain divine authority and epistemic reliability.

Frequently found on Jesus’ lips, the statement “it stands written” focuses attention on the extant texts; the customary translation “it is written” obscures his use of the perfect tense which indicates action completed in past time the effect of which continues into the present. The presence of this phrase in parallel passages of the earliest sources indicates that this emphasis was a characteristic of his ministry (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10/Luke 4:4, 8, 10; Matt. 11:10/Luke 7:27; Matt. 21:13/Luke 19:46/ Mark 11:17/Matt. 26:31/Mark 14:21). Jesus adduced the fact “thus it is written” as the sufficient basis of belief (Luke 24:46). Warfield remarks: “As Jesus’ official life begins with this ‘It is written’ (Mt. 4:4), so the evangelical proclamation begins with an ‘Even as it is written’ (Mk. 1:2), and as Jesus sought the justification of his work in a solemn ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer, and rise again from the dead the third day’ (Lk. 24:46 ff.), so the apostles solemnly justified the Gospel which they preached, detail after detail, by appeal to the scriptures, ‘That Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures’ and ‘That he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures’ (1 Cor. 15:3; cf. Acts 8:35; 17:3; 26:22, and also Rom. 1:17, 3:4 10; 4:17, 11:26; 14:11; 1 Cor. 1:19; 2:9; 3:19; 15:45; Gal. 3:10 13; 4:22 27)” (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 145). Jesus and the apostles after him constantly appeal to the Scriptures as they were then accessible to their hearers as God’s infallible Word.

The apostles repeatedly cite quotations from the then-existing copies or versions of the ancient Hebrew writings, and in presenting the verifiable text the New Testament speaker or writer uses the formula “it says.…” Even where God himself is assumed to be the speaker, the quoted text verbalizes what is divinely spoken (cf. 1 Cor. 6:16; 2 Cor. 6:2; Gal. 3:16; Eph. 4:8, 14; Heb. 4:3; 8:5). The Spirit’s special guidance preserved the apostles from any modicum of error in their quotation from the Massoretic text or from the Septuagint translation, yet the emphasis of the apostles routinely falls on the trustworthiness of the extant texts, and not on doubt concerning their essential reliability.

In the presence of an apparent error, Augustine did not assume the errancy of the original, nor did he automatically assume error even in the transcripts. Rather he contemplated several possibilities—either (1) a copyist’s error, or (2) a translator’s error, or (3) his own obtuseness. He writes to Jerome as follows: “I have learned to yield such [absolute] respect and honour only to the canonical books of scripture; of these do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the manuscript is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it” (“Letter to Jerome,” 82.3).

“Evangelicals hold with good reason,” Clark Pinnock writes, “that the Bible they possess is substantially identical, apart from minor transcriptional variations, with the inspired originals, while their critics prefer to believe that the authenticity of the Bible is discredited in both copy and original” (Biblical Revelation, p. 86). The infallibility of the copies lies in their essential textual continuity with the inerrant prophetic-apostolic autographs. Protestant orthodoxy emphasizes that inspiration and inerrancy apply essentially to the Scriptures in their original form (the autographa); in a derived and extended sense the effects of inerrant inspiration survive insofar as the secondary forms of Scripture remain true to the original. There is a significant distinction, as Johannes Quenstedt (1617–88) noted in his Theologia didacticopolemica; sive; systema theologicum, between copies (which are the Word of God in content, words and very idiom) and the versions (which are the Word of God only in content and words). Neither the transmission of the copies (the apographa) of the original text nor the translation of versions erodes the authority of the originals in principle. We therefore know the authoritative and inspired Word of God today, since the truth and meaning of the prophetic-apostolic writings have been providentially and reliably preserved.

2. That the copies unfailingly direct mankind to God’s proffer of redemption. They are intended to make us wise concerning salvation in Christ (2 Tim. 3:15). Luther and Calvin speak of Scripture as an infallible divine Word because its goal is the transformation of sinful men. The Word of God is a double-edged sword (Heb. 4:2) that does not return to God short of accomplishing its task (Isa. 55:11).

The efficacy of Scripture is a consequence of the inerrancy of the autographs and an implicate of the infallibility of the transcripts. The Bible’s amazing vitality and character as a spiritual oasis where men find God seeking, speaking, commanding and inviting them, where he responds to their penitent pleas and bestows his healing presence, promotes godliness. Countless multitudes think of it as the “holy Book” and turn to it as the “sacred page” where man may meet the living Lord.

Scripture is not of course savingly efficacious apart from the Spirit’s bestowal of personal faith whereby the Bible becomes a means of personal grace. Some who hold the Bible to be only an errant witness to the Christ-Word or Christ-Presence declare the sole purpose of the scriptural writings to lie in their leading of individuals to a personal relationship of saving faith to the exclusion of any objective epistemic significance for the Bible. Scripture’s infallibility is declared to consist only in its unerring “finding” of spiritually lost men and women and its power of escorting them to God. Ridderbos, for example, asks: “In respect of the inerrancy concept can anything better be said” than that the Bible’s purpose is leading the devout reader to Christ and salvation? (“An Attempt at the Theological Definition of Inerrancy, Infallibility, and Authority,” p. 40). “Scripture is infallible,” as Ridderbos sees it, “because it does not fail, because it has the significance of a fundament upon which the ecclesia has been established and upon which she must increasingly establish herself” (p. 29).

But this narrows objective epistemic concerns too exclusively to internal salvific considerations. Leading men to salvation is not the only infallible role of Scripture. James Packer rightly emphasizes that God has preserved Scripture as an instrument of infallible truth precisely in order to bring men and women to salvation in Christ: “Faith in the consistency of God warrants an attitude of confidence that the text is sufficiently trustworthy not to lead us astray. If God gave the Scriptures for a practical purpose—to make men wise unto salvation in Christ—it is a safe inference that he never permits them to become so corrupted that they can no longer fulfill it” (“Fundamentalismand the Word of God, p. 90). Even where and when its readers and hearers are uncommitted to Christ and personally disinterested in salvation, the Bible infallibly fulfills an epistemic purpose. One need not be a believer to “get the message”; indeed, the Bible’s message of rescue is particularly beamed towards doomed sinners. The spiritually given truth has intellectually enlightened many unregenerate persons about God’s way of salvation, the fact of divine creation, the consequences of sin, and the awesome final destiny of mankind. Those who contend that the role of the Bible is exhausted by its witness to salvation in Jesus of Nazareth—important and central as that witness is—are victims of spot reading. The infallibility of the copies is not to be made a pretext for the notion that the exclusive purpose of the copies is to escort sinners to saving faith in Christ.

It is therefore wrong to say that apart from the Spirit’s bestowal of saving faith the “graphe can be nothing but gramma” or letter. Both the copies and the translations faithful to them infallibly convey objectively valid information about God and his purposes for man. It is human unregeneracy and not any inadequacy of Scripture that obscures the comprehensive message that the Bible reliably conveys.

3. That the infallible copies and accurate versions remain the conceptual frame by which the Holy Spirit, Inspirer of the originals, and Illuminator of the transcripts and translations as well, impresses upon human beings their created dignity and duty, their ongoing answerability for moral revolt, and the differing destinies of believers and unbelievers.

Those who postulate the errancy of both the originals and copies often consider the Holy Spirit, the divine agent in inspiration and in illumination, to be the perpetual guarantor of the epistemic aspects of special revelation. But this emphasis on the Spirit of truth must not obscure the objective validity of the truth-content of the scriptural revelation. The recent neo-Protestant attempt, as by Barth, to dispense with inerrant autographs by assigning a larger role to the Holy Spirit, has exchanged the objective validity of the text for a subjective paradoxic Word.

Efforts by mediating evangelicals to correlate the Spirit with selective segments of Scripture declared to be trustworthy have failed to provide a guiding principle that accommodates such distinctions. It is a sign of a reactionary age when the discussion of the Bible is focused almost entirely on the question of distinguishing supposedly inerrant versus errant parts of the Bible and a mark of theological declension when evangelical spokesmen in discussing Scripture emphasize above all else that “one need not believe in inerrancy to be an evangelical Christian.” An age that trumpets the notion of an errant Bible to a spiritually confused world can hardly expect to enlist a following of would-be Christians; it is far more likely to enlist a chorus of sympathetic critics undevoted to either the Bible or to Christianity.

The Scriptures are not a textbook on cosmology, history or psychology. But whatever they teach as doctrine is trustworthy and will guard even specialists in nontheological pursuits from arbitrarily restrictive theories. The Bible constitutes a propositionally consistent revelation whose principles and logical implications supply a divinely based view of God and the universe. All other claims about God’s character and will and about human nature and destiny must be verified or denied by their teaching.

Writing of recent attempts to “distinguish between a doctrinal sphere of infallibility and a historical or scientific sphere of fallibility,” Geoffrey W. Bromiley states that the Bible does not seem to make the distinctions suggested. “By its very nature the biblical revelation is historical. Many of the details may be incidental, but the gospel has to be factually as well as doctrinally true if it is true at all. To make distinctions here is to bring it into jeopardy at a crucial point” (“The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture,” p. 12). He adds that when mediating scholars appeal to the purpose of God to declare that Scripture “is meant to teach us about God, not about geology or botany,” or that “infallibility extends only to the specific teaching about God, not to other areas …, this plausible position raises its own difficulties. Can one trust the doctrine if the facts are unreliable? As Tertullian remarked … why should one believe someone in hidden matters if he has been found so false on a plain fact?”

Pinnock is right in the judgment that “the rejection of Biblical infallibility is not only responsible for the chaos of modern theology … but for the most serious apostasy in the history of doctrine” (Biblical Revelation, p. 108). No institution whose faculty declare for the fallibility of the Bible has long limited that supposed fallibility only to a commonly agreed area of biblical content; instead, its spokesmen sooner or later are found to forsake more and more of the Bible in deference to the philosophy or culture regnant in their own generation.

4. That copies expound God’s will and purpose and truth with clarity. In them all knowledge necessary to human salvation is clear even to the unlearned. It was “from his youth” that Timothy knew the scriptural writings that were able to make him “wise unto salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15, kjv). Luther challenged the slander that the Bible is “obscure and equivocal” as “a pestilent dictum of the sophists” (Bondage of the Will, p. 125). The prophetic-apostolic writings are addressed to the people, not to professional theologians only. The Bible is a book not simply for ministerial perusal; like the Pauline Epistles, which were addressed to early Christian congregations, it was from the beginning to be studied by seekers and followers as well. All things necessary to salvation are lucid even to the unlearned; to common folk everywhere it yields unclouded doctrinal and moral norms. Scripture summons the whole human race to hear and read the Word of God as a message that is clearly understood.

Scripture doubtless contains some things not easily understood on initial reading, even some things difficult for the disciplined reader (2 Pet. 3:16), and here as elsewhere the rich heritage of evangelical commentary is an invaluable aid. Yet there is wisdom in the saying that the Bible sheds more light on its commentaries than they do on it. The accurate interpretation of Scripture requires the comparison of Scripture with Scripture. We should distinguish disagreement among Christians over the meaning of a limited number of passages both from the outright rejection or evasion of its clear teaching by nonevangelical theologians, and from the deliberate transmutation of Scripture into alien philosophical conceptualities and its subordination to preferred theological schemas, as well as from the ready misuse of Scripture simply to promote division and polemical debate. The Scriptures are to be searched, as Jesus said (John 5:39), and the exhortation accords fully with the conviction of devout scholars that they need also to be painstakingly researched. Yet the New Testament, significantly, was written in koine, that is, popular marketplace Greek, and it is intended for the masses.

5. That the copies preserve the only sufficient divine rule of faith and conduct. The light of Scripture is adequate both for the salvation of sinners and for guiding the church in doctrinal, spiritual and moral concerns (2 Tim. 3:16). No additional or complementary lamps are necessary (Rev. 22:18–20), other than the illumination of the Holy Spirit who leads us by the express teaching of the text. Roman Catholicism denies the finality of the Bible by deferring to the papacy and to ecclesiastical tradition. Neo-Protestant theologians deny the Bible’s finality in the interest of philosophically prejudiced criticism reflecting the ruling tenets of our age. Numerous cults compromise the finality of the Bible by elevating a particular gnosis as the key to understanding the meaning and intention of Scripture. Even evangelical Christians are not invulnerable to obscuring the finality of the Bible. They always run the danger of relying on inherited tradition instead of deriving their convictions firsthand for themselves from the scriptural revelation; in these circumstances, they fall ready victim to extreme, uncritical, and indefensible formulations of their own heritage.

Some Pentecostalists, Barr notes, move away from an evangelical emphasis on biblical authority to an experience of tongues or healing as “the real center of religion” (Fundamentalism, p. 208; cf. W. J. Hollenweger, The Pentecostals, pp. 291 ff.). This stress on personal experience more than on shared doctrine tends to enlist the Bible more as a functional catalyst than as a cognitive and propositional authority, and sometimes issues in an express rejection of intellectual apologetic concerns. The repeated accommodation of a divine “word of wisdom” said to be sporadically vouchsafed to charismatic leaders, anticipating miracles of healing and other phenomena, borders on a claim to prophetic revelation as a continuing reality. Sometimes the Spirit’s role in revelation is exalted above Scripture. Pat Robertson of the charismatically oriented 700 Club has declared the inspired Bible to be errant because the canon was given through human agents, in contrast with the incarnate and inerrant Christ, who was filled with the Spirit; Christ’s reliability in turn, he says, is presently reflected in his followers when the Holy Spirit likewise indwells them (comments on 700 Club, Television Station WDCA, Channel 20, Washington, D.C., August 7, 1977).

In summary, it may be said that although the copies are not inerrant, they are nonetheless infallible, and that they possess this quality of infallibility because of their perpetuation of the truth of the inerrant autographs. This acknowledgment of error in copies and translations does not require the insistence on error in the text of Scripture per se, nor is there anything logically contradictory or incredible about the view that the sovereign God inspired inerrant autographs. While the content of the autographs was subsequently transmitted or translated with less than perfection, the truth-content of the originals remains uncompromised. The distinction between inerrancy and infallibility follows necessarily from the insistence on the divine inspiration of chosen writers over against even the most careful labors of devout copyists who did not share that special superintendence. For all that, the copies and the faithful translations of the copies give us a propositionally trustworthy statement of God’s truth, and the copies are to be honored as the Word of God written in view of their infallibility. The infallible copies unfailingly direct mankind to the redemptive grace of God and serve ongoingly as the conceptual framework whereby the Spirit of God convicts human beings of sin and enables them to share in salvific mercy.

Since the extant copies of Scripture derivatively retain divine authority, it is important to note the epistemological consequences that flow from divergent attitudes toward the content of the Bible. The various efforts to salvage certain elements or parts of the New Testament as true, while discrediting the remainder, involve premises which, if consistently applied, would vitiate the whole. If for any reason one restricts the divine authority of the New Testament teaching, one not only rejects the biblical testimony to the plenary inspiration of Scripture, but also undermines the trustworthiness of the apostles. No one has shown this more effectively than B. B. Warfield, whose survey of the consequences of the critical views (“The Real Problem of Inspiration,” pp. 83 ff.) retains permanent value for its incisive elaboration of the point.

Warfield focuses attention on the four main formulas to which critics resort in expounding a broken or partial authority for New Testament teaching: (1) Christ’s teaching versus apostolic teaching; (2) apostolic accommodation or ignorance versus apostolic beliefs; (3) apostolic opinion versus apostolic teaching; (4) Scripture phenomena versus apostolic doctrine.

1. Christ’s teaching versus apostolic teaching concerning Scripture.

The consequences of this contrast are: (a) It involves a distrust of apostolic teaching as being less than authoritative. (b) What the apostles represent as Jesus’ view of Scripture and say regarding his authority as a teacher of doctrine must then also be discounted. It is Matthew who tells us that Jesus considered the Old Testament inspired in all its parts (not “one jot or one tittle,” 5:18, kjv) and John who informs us that Jesus viewed the whole as plenarily authoritative (“Scripture cannot be broken,” 10:35, kjv).

To contrast Christ’s teaching with apostolic teaching is in fact precluded by two considerations: we have no Christ except the Christ of the apostolically attested writings; and, moreover, the Christ of the Bible is committed to the trustworthiness of the apostles as teachers (John 14:26; 16:12–15). Our Lord’s use of Scripture implies the same high view as that of the apostles. If the apostles are untrustworthy in depicting Scripture as authoritative, then their integrity as teachers of doctrine cannot be salvaged nor can their portrait of Jesus.

2. Apostolic accommodation or ignorance versus beliefs of the apostles.

On this theory the apostles in their view of Scripture made concession to the prevailing Jewish cultural outlook while at the same time they called their contemporaries to a new way of life.

It cannot be shown, however, that the apostles did not really believe these so-called concessive views to be true, nor can it be shown that they held such views as an accommodation.

The consequences of the accommodation theory are clear: (a) It implies the unimportance of apostolic views whenever they coincide with what their Jewish contemporaries believed; in that event, the apostles are authoritative only where they teach novelties. (b) If the apostles in their writings made excessive claims simply to give divine authority to their own teaching, the veracity of their writings is impeached.

The alternative theory of apostolic ignorance rather than of conscious accommodation to contemporary culture avoids the problem of moral integrity; the apostles, it is said, would not claim for their writings a divine authority that they supposedly knew to be contrary to fact. But the consequence of this theory, that in ignorance they made excessive claims, is clear: (c) if we must separate their teaching into two parts, the true and the false, on the basis of ignorance, then all their teaching becomes vulnerable to the limitations of their own human reasoning, and their trustworthiness as doctrinal teachers is everywhere questionable.

3. Apostolic opinion versus apostolic teaching.

This theory holds that the apostles personally believed the high view of Scripture but did not authoritatively teach it as doctrine.

The consequences of this are clear: (a) It imputes to the apostles private religious opinions that critics consider not only fallacious but in some instances blasphemous (e.g., that their own writings are God’s Word), and at other points also makes a shambles of any regard for them as authoritative religious teachers. (b) It is incredible that the underlying personal assumptions and fundamental conceptions of the apostles should be regarded as untrustworthy while their didactic teaching is exalted as trustworthy.

The theory itself, of a cleavage in the apostolic outlook between doctrinal beliefs privately entertained and doctrinal teaching authoritatively promulgated, is contradicted by the fact that the apostolic writings include didactic passages that expound the full authority of Scripture (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16). Moreover, no sources can be adduced in which the apostles enumerate private opinions they supposedly held other than the express statements and teachings found in the documents of Scripture. No one questions the fact that the apostles were personally fallible, or that they held and expressed individual opinions and perhaps even wrote uninspired letters besides the inspired writings. But such opinions are not imposed on believers in Christ’s name, nor are such writings imposed as Scripture that sets forth authoritative divine teaching. 2 Corinthians 7:8 presupposes inspired, authoritative teaching. 1 Corinthians 7:6, 12 does not support the critical theory of a distinction between private, fallible doctrine and publicly espoused revelational alternatives. If in the passages cited from Corinthians Paul distinguishes personal opinion from inspired teaching, then we may be sure that he specifically differentiates the two rather than blurring them into one conglomerate. But even here Paul conveys inspired apostolic teaching (7:25), in distinction from any commandment that can be directly derived from Jesus’ earthly ministry (7:10); in other words, his own apostolic teaching is placed on the same level as the teaching of Jesus.

4. Scriptural phenomena versus apostolic doctrine.

In this view, the so-called empirical textual and linguistic phenomena are said to conflict with the apostolic teaching on Scripture.

The consequences of this view are that it discredits the apostolic doctrine of plenary inspiration and also the reliability of the apostles as teachers of doctrine.

In any case apostolic doctrine is not to be determined by inferences from the supposed character of the text as a factor of coequal importance with the express teaching of the apostles. The character of the text is divergently represented according to the presuppositions of those who handle it. Apostolic doctrine must be first determined by scientific exegesis of the apostolic teaching. The apostles’ express teaching, together with the teaching of Jesus which they carry forward, is that Scripture in its permanently written form is divinely authoritative and fully trustworthy.


The Spirit and the Scriptures

Barthian theology elevated the long-neglected role of the Holy Spirit to new significance in its exposition of divine revelation.

Modernist theology had reduced the Spirit of God from a distinct person to a divine power or influence. Neglecting divine transcendence, it subordinated revelation to human reasoning or private faith. Evangelical theology focused on the supernatural authority of the Bible and tended to concentrate the Spirit’s role in revelation almost exclusively in the prophetic-apostolic recording of the divine message. While acknowledging that the biblical writers did not distinguish between oral and written proclamation in respect to divine inspiration, evangelicals considered the Bible, in view of its canonical authority, to be the singularly important achievement of inspiration. Moreover, evangelical emphasis on the perspicuity or clarity of Scripture seemed somehow to displace the affirmation that the Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is alone their proper interpreter to us; in other words, concentration on Scripture as it stands appeared prematurely to close the hermeneutical circle in which both the Spirit’s inspiration and interpretation are necessary and integral to each other.

Barth emphasized the self-actualization of the revealed Word of God manifested by the free Spirit of God: God sovereignly thrusts himself upon us in sporadic encounter, making himself known in his transcendent Christ-Presence on the occasion of man’s obedient response to the Spirit’s address. Barth also stressed that the Spirit’s function in divine revelation is not limited to giving, proclaiming and recording the Word of God.

Because the divine authority of Scripture echoes like thunder from heaven in such passages as 2 Timothy 3:14–17, 2 Peter 1:19–21, 1 Corinthians 2:6–16, and 2 Corinthians 3:1–18, Barth tries to loosen inspiration from what he calls its “rigid” and “narrow” connection with the written Scriptures. He correlates inspiration more widely, rather, with the activity of God that brings his Word to bear on continuing life-concerns in the church. Ongoing postapostolic relationships exist, he emphasizes, between the inspiration, authority and interpretation of Scripture in the context of God’s activity through the Holy Spirit. For Barth, divine authority does not channel into biblical inspiration; rather, inspiration, subsumed under authority, focuses on God as the originator of his Word and is broader than Scripture. The superior role of the Spirit means, as Barth sees it, that inspiration, authority, and interpretation must be understood “spiritually”—that is, in the context of a dynamic, trusting response. He therefore correlates inspiration with the power and certainty of the Word, qualities we can know only in personal appropriation. Barth not only gives divine inspiration a role beyond the boundaries of Scripture—as does Christian orthodoxy—in respect to apostolic oral proclamation, but he also sees it as a spiritual dynamic in which all believers are said to share in the ongoing life of the church. For Barth, it is the transforming dynamic and functioning of Scripture in the lives of the faithful that demonstrates the authority of the Word.

Howard J. Loewen insists that Barth’s emphasis, that the validation of scriptural authority takes place in the faith-response and obedience of believers, is “a fundamental ingredient in the scriptural approach to apologetics” (“Karl Barth and the Church Doctrine of Inspiration, An Appraisal for Evangelical Theology,” 1:286, n. 269). While he concedes that Barth’s selection of texts to support this exposition “already reflects a particular emphasis in his view of inspiration” (ibid.), he nonetheless defends Barth’s view.

Loewen contends that even the church fathers insisted that “only within the Church can and must Scripture be understood … only in the context of faithfulness, obedience and prayer to God can Scripture be understood aright” (ibid., p. 418). The Protestant Reformation, he feels, similarly emphasized “that the message of the inspired Scriptures and the manner in which it was given, demands that the Word of God in Scripture be interpreted by regenerate reason, by believing minds, by a sacred hermeneutic” which Loewen then correlates with “the inner witness of the Spirit” (p. 509). Because Loewen contextualizes the church doctrine of inspiration in the Barthian context of divine mystery and grace, he consequently understands it as an affirmation of obedience to God’s revelation in Christ.

Historic evangelical theism has insisted, no less than did the church fathers, that at no point is the Word of God to be considered a merely human phenomenon. It identifies the authority of the Scriptures with the authority of God; the authority of the Bible is not some authority other than divine authority. Only because Scripture in fact has its source and sustaining authority in God does it confront us as self-authenticating. Yet the reality of the Word of God is not at all exhausted by evangelical orthodoxy in the concept of prophetic-apostolic teaching, whether oral or written; the eternal, incarnate, and now risen personal Word stands at the very center of the Scriptures. The authority of Scripture is the authority of Christ who rules over the church by the prophetic-apostolic word and who publishes his will in the Bible. The christological view of the Scriptures that Luther and Calvin affirm, together with their emphasis on the dynamic relationship of the Spirit and the Word, nonetheless identified Scripture as an express form of the Word of God—that of an objectively given linguistic statement of the divine mind and intention—whose goal is human appropriation of the redemptive truth and grace of God.

Evangelical orthodoxy recognized the Spirit’s role both in the original imparting and in the present reception of the written Word; it emphasized no less the continuing activity of the Holy Spirit of truth in the life of the believing and obedient community of faith.

The transcendent Spirit of God therefore remains no less active in relation to the authority and the interpretation of Scripture than in its original inspiration. Prophetic-apostolic inspiration stands in the larger context of the whole process of divine revelation involving the communicating activity of the Spirit of God.

This view made the subjective appropriation and application of the Bible in the believer’s life an integral aspect of its doctrine of Scripture. It did not, however, condition the inspiration, authority and infallibility of Scripture on man’s personal response. To be sure, it grants Loewen’s insistence that “the notion of biblical inspiration, authority and infallibility are not manifest truths in the life of the church apart from their confirmation in the believers’ humble, obedient acceptance of … the living word of God” (ibid., pp. 477–78, italics mine)—that is, it agrees that personal appropriation publicly demonstrates in human life and experience the conceptual claim and transforming power of the scriptural message. But in highly important ways it rejects Barth’s notion—and Loewen’s—that the true nature and meaning of biblical inspiration is to be found in the church’s belief-ful subjection to the Bible as the Word of God. What the inspiration and authority of Scripture imply may not be apparent to the eye apart from the activity of the regenerate church, but their meaning is clear to the mind of the ordinary reader, and does not hinge upon internal appropriation.

The functional reinterpretation of inspiration enables Barth to detach discussion of the doctrine from any correlation of it with a cognitively valid and infallible text. Barth’s strictures against bibliolatry actually become a cover under which he promotes a broken biblicism while he professes to exalt the Spirit. The consequences are far-reaching, as we shall see, for religious epistemology, theology and apologetics. While Protestant orthodoxy insists that to fully understand Scripture one must be aided by the Spirit, it differs in fundamentally important ways from the Barthian emphasis. To be sure, evangelical orthodoxy does not associate divine inspiration only with the language of the biblical text or limit inspiration to the initial deposit of Scripture as God’s Word, in view of the inspired oral proclamation of prophets and apostles and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth that often preceded and may at times have exceeded the content of the written form (cf. John 21:25). There is also the possibility that some inspired apostolic letters, serving merely a temporary purpose, were not preserved in the canon. Evangelicals nevertheless connect inspiration primarily with the Scriptures as we have them. They distinguish the Spirit’s original inspiration of chosen prophets and apostles from the Spirit’s ongoing illumination of readers and hearers of that word, and therefore regard inspiration as technically concluded with the completion of the New Testament and the death of the apostles. They subsume the inspired content of the Scriptures under the authoritative role of the risen Christ who, through the prophetic-apostolic teaching, exercises his headship over the church. While the Spirit retains an expositing ministry within the church, that role is predicated on the divine authority of Scripture and does not involve the communication of new truths as was the case in the inspiration of the biblical autographs.

Karl Barth’s denial that revelation involves the conveyance of valid truths, and his correlation, instead, of revelation with trustful obedience, prepare the way for his assimilation of prophetic-apostolic inspiration to present-day Christian experience except for emphasis on the chronological priority of the biblical spokesmen. Evangelical theologians do not agree with the Barthians, that—as Loewen puts it—”in order to understand the meaning of Scripture … one must understand it in faith and obedience to God” (ibid., p. 419). They insist rather that the authority and sense of Scripture objectively precede the reader’s faith; the Bible’s given meaning and authority are not definitively conditioned or dependent upon present-day belief-ful response.

Barth moves paradigmatically from the fact that even the prophets and apostles, although they were firsthand witnesses to the mighty deeds of the God of the Bible, heard the Word of God only in obedience and servitude, to the view that only in obedience can we today hear God’s Word. The Bible, he says, is to be honored as Word of God because of its self-attesting nature in the context of the faith-response of the believing community.

Massive presuppositions are involved here. Universal or general revelation is denied since Barth considers all revelation is denied since Barth considers all revelation to be saving; mankind is no longer held to be guilty of culpable rebellion against any disclosure in nature and conscience. The prophets themselves are ignored when they insist that revelation came even to them at times when they were not obediently submissive. Representations of Scripture as the objectively given Word of God made by Jesus of Nazareth and by the apostles are compromised. The idea of a fixed scriptural canon collapses. Only isolated fragments of the Bible that “impose” themselves become Word of God, and these cease to be Word of God when not self-imposing. What is Word of God for some need not be Word of God for others—or can be, or not, at different times and places. Anyone who is “confronted” by imposing counterclaims becomes stripped of external criteria for rationally discriminating between conflicting (so-called) “words of God”; the Christ-Presence is assured only in obedient submission.

If God presumably can be known only in one’s inner decision of faith, and if God’s revelation assertedly does not involve the communication of valid truths, then the Christian task force can no longer offer reasons for accepting or rejecting the specially revealed Word of God.

Barth’s postulated demands that we receive the Word of God—attested by Scripture—by the same inspiring and illuminating activity as did the prophets and apostles, clearly issues from his dynamic view of revelation. Barth dissolves an objectively given revelational-textual Word and substitutes for it an inner dialectical Word by which he presumes to preserve the transcendent Christ-Presence. The Christ-Presence witnessed by the language of the Bible—errant though its teaching is held to be—is declared to be the revelational center of God’s self-communication. The sense of inspiration is therefore not tied to historical events in the past. The living God is reputedly manifested anew and anon through the Spirit’s sporadic inspiration. Through this continuing dynamic, superhistorical activity, God becomes manifest to the submissively obedient heart.

All the more remarkable, in view of this formulation, is Loewen’s comment that “the strength of Barth’s doctrine of inspiration is therefore apparent” (ibid., p. 589). One would think that the weaknesses of the dynamic view, already indicated, would require its rejection rather than its approval. That the Word of God cannot be shackled by human controls, that the Spirit ongoingly manifests the reality of the risen Christ attested in Scripture, and that the Christian community lives by the freedom of God’s grace and the empowering of the Spirit demands in fact—if we are to possess any valid information about any spiritual realities whatever—an express alternative to the Barthian view of inspiration. To commend Barth’s emphasis on the free, active and decisive nature of the Word of God as Barth understands this arbitrarily requires submissive faith as the sine qua non for perceiving the truth of God’s Word. Loewen unpersuasively claims that the New Testament supports Barth’s view, namely that the content of revelation cannot at all be known by the unbeliever!

Loewen concedes, curiously, that “given his dynamic conception” Barth is unable to conceive of an abiding fixation of the Word of God in Scripture, and that precisely here Barth “has seemingly fallen short of an adequate biblical notion of inspiration” (ibid., p. 597). With an eye on sporadic moments when Scripture is declared to revelationally “become” the Word of God, Loewen assures us that “Barth certainly holds to the corporeal and verbal nature of inspiration—that the Word of God can be communicated only through the actual human words of Scripture” (p. 590). But does not Barth’s “tendency to minimize the effects of inspiration on the text of Scripture per se” tend also “to reduce the significance of the text in its ability to convey an inspired word” (ibid.)? Indeed it does, Loewen answers; the Bible as Barth sees it “does not possess the ability, in terms of its verbal nature, to convey the message of inspiration in a perpetual manner” (p. 591). Barth speaks of a “binding and loosing” of Spirit and Scripture; the transcendent Word of God in freedom and grace, he holds, governs the Spirit of God in sporadic relationships to the Bible as a creaturely norm.

Barth’s doctrine of inspiration rests on this dogmatic theory. In consequence, Barth imperils the authority of the text of Scripture. The Bible loses its direct and abiding authoritative function as God’s Word in the life of the church.

Loewen acknowledges that Barth’s doctrine of inspiration involves “an inherent separation between the revealing and inspiring activity of God’s Spirit, and the Word of God as revealed in the Scriptures” (ibid.). The requisite separation between Spirit and Scripture that Barth thus unnecessarily and unjustifiably postulates, that is, between Scripture and the revealing-inspiring event, he seeks subsequently to overcome as a free, sporadic decision of God’s grace. Loewen rightly sees in Barth’s separation of the scriptural text from the Spirit’s revealing-inspiring activity a misreading of the biblical teaching and therefore a basic defect of Barthian theology. The New Testament, by contrast, places “a much stronger emphasis on the effect of inspiration on the text of Scripture per se, and thus upon its abiding value, as God’s Word, in continually addressing the needs of the church” (p. 597).

Loewen concedes that “the very fact that Barth has defined the Word of God (revelation itself) purely in terms of an act or event that can be grasped (by faith) only in recollection and anticipation, tends to adversely affect the very concept of Scripture as the Word of God in terms of its ability to be of abiding significance in holding the Word of God as such before us.… Barth’s notion of the Word of God as event or act tends to remove its presence in the Bible itself so far from the human grasp that the question of the authority of Scripture as a Word from the Spirit of God tends to be severely begged” and engenders “a certain hesitancy in placing unreserved confidence in the text of Scripture as an abiding authoritative Word for the church” (ibid., pp. 596–97).

Loewen perceives, moreover, that Barth’s faulty view of Scripture is what frustrates the ability of this “creaturely norm” to point back to the Spirit (one might add: also to the supernatural in its entirety, hence to the Trinity, to the Christ-Presence, or to any other reality that Barth postulates as the ontological context of transcendent revelation) (ibid., p. 593). If Scripture is a fallible pointer to the Spirit, while the Spirit now and then makes this same fallible pointer revelationally authoritative through submissive faith, are we not inviting mumbo-jumbo or risking flights of fantasy?

Even more than this, Barth violates the very appeal he elsewhere makes to the nature of Christ as a model of the nature of Scripture. The Barthian rejection of the fixed written verbalization of revelation would imply a basically docetic view that involves sporadic incarnations. If the restrictions Barth imposes on Scripture were applied also to his own view of Jesus Christ then, as Loewen adds (p. 598), the Word of God could in neither case be conceived as an abiding or continuing divine deposit in history.

Loewen therefore criticizes Barth for attributing to post-Reformation theologians facets of the doctrine of inspiration that, in fact, were held by the Reformers and can be traced back to the Bible. He declares Barth to be “overly critical and excessively harsh on” the strong Protestant orthodox association of inspiration with the text of Scripture, a correlation which in fact “stems directly from the positive and high view of the text manifested in the Reformation doctrine” (ibid., p. 510). He thinks that Barth selects biblical data tendentiously when testing church doctrine, and hence formulates a defective theory of the scriptural view of inspiration (p. 515). In protesting against an excessive subordination of the text of Scripture to the activity of the Spirit, and affirming a divinely inspired text, Loewen is formally on the side not only of the Protestant Reformers but also of Jesus and the apostles; both the biblical teaching and church doctrine weigh decisively against Barth.

Loewen further criticizes Barth for “minimizing the inner connections of inspiration with the written Word” and for consequently under-emphasizing “the effects of inspiration upon the record and actual use of Scripture” (ibid., 2:579). This deficiency, Loewen discerns, follows from a Barthian “tendency … to subordinate the text of Scripture to the activity of the Spirit in a manner that violates the textual evidence regarding the relationship between the Spirit and the Scriptures” (ibid.). By contrast, Loewen identifies himself with “the dominant emphasis on the implication of inspiration for the text of Scripture” that characterizes the history of the doctrine, and with “the tangible verbal and historical dimension and quality of inspiration” in view of “the strong connections which the biblical data itself makes between inspiration and the text of Scripture” (p. 580). He faults Barth for subordinating the biblical text to the manifestation of the Spirit in sustaining the authority of the Word in the life of the church (p. 600), and for minimizing the role of the Scripture text in the believer’s personal appropriation of the Word of God (p. 601).

For all that, Loewen insists, against evangelical theologians, that Barth’s inadequacy is “more one of selective omission than false presupposition” (ibid., p. 516). Loewen seems in consequence to reach for the best of two irreconcilable worlds. He fails to note that Barth defines dynamic and static views of revelation as wholly antithetical. Thus Loewen clings to facets of the dynamic view of revelation but pleads also for reimporting facets of an evangelical orthodox view of inspiration. He protests that “Barth’s strong dynamic, activistic concept of revelation … leaves too ambiguous the relation between revelation and history” (p. 613, italics mine). “The fact that Barth views the Word of God in dynamic and not also in some abiding (if even subordinate) sense, in static, historically fixated terms, prevents him from adequately viewing Scripture as a repository of God’s Word (through his inspiring Spirit) in the context of history” (p. 598, italics mine). “Barth has not allowed the Word to be fully taken up in a human repository at the level at which men can grapple with it and interact with it concretely, albeit indirectly; but not merely in terms of an act or event. For if the Word of God in Scripture is defined merely in terms of eventness, then we must constantly deal with a reality (Scripture) which is less than the Word of God” (p. 601, italics mine). One would think that careful attention to Barth’s definition of revelation as event would exclude the accommodating supplementation suggested by the underscored terms, and would call rather for a consistent alternative to Barth’s exposition of revelation as dialectical event. Loewen’s failure to delineate the full epistemic implications of revelational eventness in the Barthian sense enables him to overcredit Barth with guaranteeing the objectivity of the Word of God simply because Barth opposes reducing it to a human phenomenon (p. 603). Loewen contrasts a supposed objectivity of dynamic revelation with “the subjective authority of Scripture in the life of the believer.” Approving Barth’s concern “to place the notion of inspiration within the proper objective context of the mystery and grace of God’s Spirit,” he calls at the same time for a more radical “subjectivizing” of the Word of God in Scripture and in the life of the church (p. 602). The terms objective and subjective are here used in various senses, and Loewen seems not to grasp the essential incompatibility of the Barthian view with the more evangelical features that he desires to graft into it.

Loewen does, however, charge Barth with not “entirely” escaping a “subjectivization of the Word” (ibid., p. 603). The reason, says Loewen, lies in Barth’s “failure to incorporate the middle term of Scripture sufficiently into the concept of inspiration as a co-equal with the activity of the Spirit” (ibid.). In a hurried comment, Loewen even adds that Barth’s tendency “to separate the activity of the Spirit from the text of Scripture as the Word of God … finds its origin … in Barth’s conception of the Word of God” (pp. 603–4). Loewen does not carry through the significance of this cursory complaint in any epistemologically decisive way, however.

Instead, Loewen insists that Barth’s doctrine of the Word and of inspiration is not to be regarded as “founded on false presuppositions or faulty foundations” (ibid., p. 604). The “weaknesses” or “deficiencies,” as Loewen calls them, are “not necessarily foundational errors” but involve instead “partially correct, or partially inadequate presuppositions” (ibid.). He achieves this defense by viewing Barth’s emphasis on the activity of the Spirit in regard to God’s revelation—surely a basic biblical affirmation—as central and basic to Barth’s view; in brief, Loewen expresses “fundamental agreement with Barth on the matter of the dominant role of the Spirit” (p. 605). He explicitly approves Barth’s “theological methodology” and expresses fundamental agreement with Barth’s “theological starting point,” while disapproving of only certain secondary developments (p. 606). His sympathetic identification with Barth therefore extends beyond simply commending his best intentions; Loewen agrees in starting point, methodology and even an essentially dynamic view of revelation (which Barth combines integrally with the activity of the Spirit in revelation).

Loewen commends Barth unreservedly for “necessary emphasis on the dynamic role of the Spirit which he has captured in … perhaps an unprecedented manner in the history of the doctrine,” and for his “utterly unique contribution” to the history of the doctrine of inspiration (ibid., p. 605). He then faults Barth for regarding the Spirit’s dynamic role as “the only essential motif for the notion of inspiration” (p. 604), and for disregarding the text of Scripture as itself God’s Word (p. 605). But if the activity of the Spirit, foundational as this is, is itself from the outset conceived in a particular and partisan and questionably biblical way, as in Barth’s definitively dynamic and dialectic approach, then is not this protest registered much too late in the argument? The fact that Barth has not included Scripture as the middle term in his concept of inspiration is due, though Loewen seems not to recognize this, to an intrapersonal dialectical theory of revelation that governs Barth’s doctrine of Christ the Word and of the Spirit and as such becomes paradigmatic for his entire theology.

While Loewen criticizes Barth for not “defining the concept of inspiration also in terms of the text of Scripture” (ibid., p. 598), Loewen himself does not view all Scripture as inerrantly authoritative. Loewen faults Barth for a defective view of inspiration—one that tends “to minimize the reliability of the language of the Bible to such a degree that he contends for its necessary fallibility … divorced from its association with the Word of God” (ibid.); Barth espouses instead “Scripture’s necessary reliability in the larger context of the Word of God as such” (p. 599). But at the same time Loewen criticizes evangelicals for insisting on the necessary inerrancy of God’s inspired word (pp. 619 ff.).

Loewen sees Barth’s “activistic” concept of revelation as “a primary source of Barth’s difficulties” but nonetheless defends “a dynamic concept of revelation or inspiration” over against the evangelical opposition to the latter (ibid., p. 614). Important differences with evangelicals soon emerge both over the nature of biblical authority and over the other concerns as well. Loewen acknowledges “far more substantial” disagreements than agreements with evangelicals, and these in the realm of “basic presuppositions” and not merely on secondary considerations (p. 616). His basic objection, he says, is that evangelicals treat Barth’s view of Scripture from “a predominantly philosophical-theological perspective” with “a minimal amount of historical, and virtually no exegetical, inquiry” (p. 617). But if Loewen implies that sustained historical and exegetical investigation establishes the correctness of a dialectical-dynamic theory of revelation, or of other points at which he specifically agrees with Barth rather than with historic evangelical theism, then we must still be convinced.

Neither Loewen nor Barth before him escapes basic philosophical-theological presuppositions that govern the use of Scripture, differ as these presuppositions may from the tenets of evangelical orthodoxy. The fact that Loewen chooses to postpone basic epistemological questions until near the end of his dissertation (ibid., p. 617) is not helpful to technical analysis. Such postponement may indeed avoid an early polarization of views, but it blurs important differences while emphasizing verbal similarities; after all, appraisal in terms of governing principles cannot be forever excluded. For example, in evaluating Barth the issue is declared to be primarily “a matter of deciding on whether or not biblical authority and thus certainty can be maintained by holding to the way in which Barth has cast the role of Scripture relative to the function of the Holy Spirit.” This approach is in express contrast to the evangelical interest in “whether the Bible is fallible or infallible in order to retain biblical authority and therefore theological objectivity” (p. 618). But who is to say that these concerns are mutually exclusive, or that Loewen’s option is not philosophical-theological, or that the evangelical option is not historical-exegetical in orientation?

Loewen overstates the matter when he protests that evangelical theologians oppose Barth “primarily around the single issue of how Scripture is the authoritative Word of God” (ibid., p. 608). “Evangelicalism has found no point at which it can meaningfully and significantly affirm any aspect of Barth’s doctrine of inspiration because Barth outrightly and without apology denies the fundamental premise (verbal historical inerrancy of Scripture) upon which the Evangelical doctrine of Scripture is constructed” (pp. 619–20). Loewen’s borderline position places him intentionally against both Barthians and evangelicals, but on larger issues he identifies with Barth’s theology. Such a stance does no justice to the evangelical insistence on general as well as special revelation, to the objective intelligibility of divine disclosure, to the propositional nature of revelation, to the authority of God which defines prophetic verbal inspiration, and to what plenary inspiration implies for the text of Scripture. The inadequacy of Barth’s view lies not simply in his failure to identify Scripture as God’s Word written and his consequent reduction of the Bible to a fallible witness; these concessions were already made by pre-Barthian modernists. It lies—as Loewen accurately says that evangelicals contend—also in Barth’s “dynamic view of revelation” (ibid., p. 609) and in the theological subjectivism into which this dynamic view unwittingly channels. Even had Barth affirmed the verbal inerrancy of Scripture—which his governing epistemological assumptions disallow in any evangelical intention—the crucial differences over intelligible propositional disclosure and general revelation and the nature of the imago Dei would remain.

Barth confuses inspiration and illumination, and this misunderstanding adversely affects his exposition of both doctrines. He makes the fact that hearers and readers of the prophetic-apostolic message also need the Holy Spirit’s work, “if they are really to read and to hear,” a basis for criticizing the early church for concentrating interest in the inspiration of Scripture in the prophets and apostles, and even further for delimiting inspiration to the writings of Scripture (Church Dogmatics, I/2, p. 517). Barth contends that post-Reformation orthodoxy narrowed the Protestant Reformers’ supposedly broader understanding of inspiration: “As Luther insisted in innumerable passages the word of Scripture given by the Spirit can be recognized as God’s Word only because the work of the Spirit which has taken place in it takes place again and goes a step further, i.e., becomes an event for its hearers or readers.… We cannot speak of the inspiration of the Bible without … that other royal act—which is only a continuation of the first—in which the inspiration is imparted to us” (I/2, p. 522).

Were it the case, as Barth would have us believe, that illumination is simply a continuation of inspiration, then, as Clark remarks, “the readers would soon be writing more Scripture; for since the first work of the Spirit, his work in the prophets, resulted in the writing of the Biblical books, a continuation of the same work would result in additional books of the Bible” (Karl Barth’s Theological Method, p. 210). But not even the best sections of Barth’s Church Dogmatics are to be nominated as possible additions to the canon. Indeed, the canon is not nearly as fluid as Barth thinks.

That illumination is a work of the same Spirit who inspired the sacred writers is indeed the case. But it does not follow that the Spirit’s work of illumination is an extension or continuation of the activity of inspiration. The Protestant Reformers can no more be quoted in support of the latter notion than can Scripture itself. The Reformers took sharp issue with fanatical Anabaptist leaders who considered themselves recipients of direct divine revelation on a par with Scripture, and they emphasized instead the divine authority of the Bible as the sole rule of faith and practice. The inner testimony of the Spirit convinces men that Scripture is in truth what it claims to be, the very Word of God. By the illumination of the Spirit, believers are aided in their understanding of particular passages of Scripture, but it is Scripture that the Spirit illumines, and not simply the believer.

Loewen pronounces the evangelical evaluation of Barth’s concept of Scripture “fundamentally incorrect” (“Karl Barth and the Church Doctrine of Inspiration,” 2:620) because it is “constructed on a different foundation than Barth’s” and therefore “veers from the New Testament and historic church doctrine” (p. 621).

Yet the point at which evangelicals hold that Barth jeopardizes an adequate view of biblical authority does not lie, contrary to Loewen, in Barth’s insistence on “a necessary human involvement in the act of revelation” (ibid., 2:610) if we are speaking of general revelation (which Barth in fact disallows). Nor does it lie in “an essential human participation (a response of faith) in the process of Scripture becoming an authoritative Word of God” (ibid., 1:93; 2:609), if we are speaking of personal appropriation of the biblical revelation. Paul emphasizes in Romans 1:18 that general divine revelation penetrates to the mind of every person and that human beings in turn seek to suppress that revelation. Moreover, the scriptural Word does indeed function in experience and life in a saving way only in correlation with subjective appropriation. Where evangelicals disagree with Barth is in his explicit affirmation of the dialectical event-character of revelation that declares God to be propositionally unknowable to man in the present, and in his denial of the objectivity of the Scriptures as God’s written Word that robs Scripture of any revelatory-epistemic significance as a carrier of valid information about God. These tenets underlie Barth’s limitation of scriptural authority to merely a fallible human witness to an internal divine communication of saving grace. But unless Scripture has objective epistemic authority as a verbally inspired record, its validity as revelational truth remains obscure and its internal divine communication of saving grace. But unless Scripture has objective epistemic authority as a verbally inspired record, its validity as relavational truth remains obscure and its internal personal authority is grounded solely in individual decision.

Loewen contends, moreover, that evangelical warnings against irrationalism and skepticism latent in neoorthodox theology spring from a penchant for theological certainty (ibid., 1:94, 510; 2:610). To guarantee an objective criterion for Christian faith, he says, evangelicals oppose dynamic divine revelation and internal response as the condition of its communication, and instead champion an externally authoritative inspired Scripture. Consequently, says Loewen, evangelical Protestants really oppose Barth in the interest of “theological certainty more specifically than that of Biblical authority” (ibid., 2:610, 621–22). But this comment dwarfs the matter of validity and exaggerates the matter of certainty, since evangelical theology is motivated in its appraisal of Barth not merely by concern for inner certainty, but even more by concern for the universal validity of the truth of revelation which Barth forfeits, and still more by a desire to honor the scriptural view of inspiration.

The differing appraisals of Barth, Loewen notes, involve a critical verdict on the nature of Scripture as God’s Word. Loewen professedly shares the evangelical concern that Scripture should function as the “actual and abiding authoritative norm” in the context of the Spirit’s inspiring and illuminating activity (ibid., p. 612). But while Loewen views Barth’s “minimization of the text of Scripture … as a threat to the concept of biblical authority,” he nevertheless shares Barth’s insistence that an adequate view of scriptural authority does not require “an inerrant view of the Bible” (p. 614).

Loewen grants that Barth’s doctrine of inspiration “tends to raise seriously the question of certainty with respect to our knowledge of God” (ibid., p. 615). But his agreements with Barth are nonetheless “more fundamental than with Evangelicalism with respect to the doctrine of inspiration” (p. 622). Indeed, he sees no reason “to re-establish the text of Scripture as an … objective criterion” (ibid.). Instead, he thinks that the authority of Scripture is best correlated with “the inner personal and subjective appropriation of its message through the inspiring activity of the Holy Spirit” (p. 615). He views “the personal, subjective dimensions in appropriating God’s revealed Word through the Spirit as a necessary correlative to understanding and making known God’s Word as authoritative and inspired.” He grants that “in Barth” this emphasis “poses some dangers” (ibid.) but does not tell us how, in his own view, a Christian believer’s inner appropriation of the Bible in any way makes it an inspired work, any more than a Hindu believer’s inner appropriation of the Bhagavad-Gita might constitute it likewise inspired.

Nor does Loewen indicate how his own alternative to Barth’s misunderstanding of the activity of the Spirit and of the function of Scripture secures the abiding normative function of Scripture as God’s Word in human words, or how it overcomes Barth’s hesitancy to trust the text of Scripture per se as God’s abiding authoritative Word.

The basic issue, Loewen says, in an extended sentence that I quote in abbreviated form, is “whether the authority of Scripture is best maintained by appealing to the historical and verbal inerrancy of the Scriptures itself originally given by the Spirit, or … by recognizing that the original inspiration of the Scriptures implies that its present authority can never adequately be upheld unless the Spirit continually accompanies the appropriation of the written Word by men of faith; in other words, that the authority of the Bible can never be spoken of, nor truly demonstrated, in and of itself, but always in the context of, and in relation to, the abiding presence and activity of the Holy Spirit who is essential to the personal appropriation of the Word of Scripture” (ibid., p. 619).

This extensive and complicated statement needs close analysis. That the Spirit of God “continually accompanies the appropriation of the written Word by men of faith” and that “the authority of the Bible can [or preferably ‘ought’] never be spoken of … in and of itself, but only in the context of, and in relation to, the abiding presence and activity of the Holy Spirit who is essential to the personal appropriation of the Word of Scripture” is acceptable enough. But any implication that “the authority of the Bible can … be … truly demonstrated” only in the context of the “presence and activity of the Holy Spirit who is essential to the personal appropriation of the Word of Scripture” is highly questionable, if this means that inner personal experience establishes the truth and/or the authority of the Bible.

Loewen stresses that he differs with evangelical Christianity in his fundamentally “different presuppositions regarding the locus of biblical authority” (ibid., p. 619). He refuses to reject outright Barth’s view that the doctrine of inspiration “cannot be defined merely in terms of the text of Scripture per se” but is predicated rather on “the revealing activity of the Spirit then and now” (ibid., p. 620). But if Loewen does not hold Barth’s view that revelation is intrinsically dynamic and dialectical, his compromise can only imply his condoning the possibility that truths supplemental to the content of the New Testament are conveyed to Christians in successive generations. If he does indeed hold the Barthian view, then what the Bible teaches objectively is of no concern to the world since its “personal truth” can by definition eventuate only for trustful believers. In a recent volume, Barth’s translator Geoffrey Bromiley, while commending Barth’s emphasis on the ongoing ministry of the Spirit, rightly asks “whether it is not a mistake to stress the present ministry of the Spirit in the use of scripture at the expense of the once-for-all work of the Spirit in its authorship” (Historical Theology—An Introduction, pp. 420–21).

It will be well, therefore, to examine more closely Loewen’s proposed alternative to both Barthian and evangelical views which, despite their different emphasis in respect to inspiration, are said nonetheless to have “similar adverse effects upon an adequate conception of biblical authority and personal certainty” (“Karl Barth and the Church Doctrine of Inspiration,” p. 622). Barth dissociates the authority of the Word of God from the biblical text, correlates that authority with personal appropriation, and bases that authority not on an unparalleled activity of objective divine inspiration of prophetic-apostolic proclamation but on a sporadic activity of the Spirit that continues now as then. Loewen depicts the evangelical alternative in an inadequate and somewhat prejudiced way: “Evangelicalism,” he says, “stresses the necessary authority of the text of Scripture as God’s revelation … at the expense of recognizing the accompanying activity of the Spirit in the giving of Scripture now as well as then” and “has failed to incorporate the component of the personal and subjective appropriation of the Word into its understanding of the authority of Scripture” (p. 623, italics mine). Evangelicals assuredly do not speak of a present “giving” of Scripture, as Loewen does in the Barthian sense, but they insist nonetheless on the vital activity of the Spirit in scriptural inspiration and in an ongoing illumination of the inspired record; they strenuously emphasize, moreover, that Scripture is to be heard and obeyed as the authoritative divine rule of faith and practice.

When Loewen concludes that evangelical Christianity jeopardizes the authority of Scripture “because of its failure to incorporate the on-going activity of the Spirit into its view of biblical authority,” this complaint must be understood to involve his express repudiation of the objectification of the authority of the Word in an inerrant Scripture text (ibid., p. 623). Loewen’s alternative is to “radically correlate” the doctrine of “the authority of the Word of God … to the responsibility of the believing community” (ibid.). Barthians underemphasize biblical reliability by viewing the text as necessarily fallible, Loewen remarks, whereas evangelicals overemphasize biblical reliability as necessarily inerrant (p. 624). Loewen does not bother to explain either how errancy can enhance or how inerrancy can endanger scriptural reliability. He declares that we need not contend either for the necessary errancy or necessary inerrancy of the text per se, but that we ought rather “to speak of the Bible always in the context of the objective activity of the Spirit (who has given to us the deposit of Scripture).” Loewen does not stop there, however. He insists that we must speak of the Bible in the context also of “the personal, subjective appropriation of the Word of Scripture, accomplished in us by the activity of the same Spirit who originally gave the Scriptures to us” (ibid., p. 624).

In larger context this can only mean that the authority of the Bible—rather than being comprehended intellectually as a corpus of objectively valid truths binding upon us—is to be functionally realized as a life-transforming dynamic. Although Loewen speaks of an objectively active Spirit but no longer of an objectively authoritative Bible, the reality of both the Spirit and of revelation are knowable in his view only through inner personal decision. The “authority and certainty of the Word of God” are therefore to be distinguished from “a strong tendency to rationalize” (ibid., p. 625) these elements (a tendency which Loewen attributes to both Barthian and evangelical views). Instead, Loewen would deintellectualize and deobjectify the authority of Scripture even more than does Barth. He observes, “There is a strong propensity to intellectualize and objectivize the authority of Scripture in abstraction, even in Barth, for all his emphasis on the actuality of the Word” (ibid.). We seem, therefore, in Loewen’s alternative to be rather well on the way to the predominantly functional interpretation of biblical authority carried out in a more through way in David Kelsey’s The Uses of Scripture in Recent Theology. Loewen’s passing comment, “no matter how well one has rationalized the authority of Scripture (as necessary as that may be)” (“Karl Barth and the Church Doctrine of Inspiration,” p. 627), reflects his lack of sensitivity to the relation of revelation and reason. Such basic biblical truths as that God created the entire universe, that all men are sinners, that final divine judgment awaits all men and nations, can hardly be dependent on individual response.

Loewen, moreover, so connects the truth of revelation with the obedient response of the faithful that he seems, like Barth, to obscure the transcendent ontological realities given in revelation. That Loewen views the content of revelation in terms of transforming power rather than in terms of valid truths seems inherent in his repeated references to the “practical authority” of Scripture. He criticizes Barth’s merely secondary role for Scripture in the context of divine-human confrontation as being restrictive of “the Bible’s authority in the life of the believer and the church” by minimizing the “abiding instruction … in and for the life of the believer and the church” (ibid., p. 600). Responsible Christian living would, of course, involve meditation on biblically disclosed information about the nature of God, but Loewen does not discuss ontological revelation. Indeed, he insists that only his personal-subjective orientation of the authority of God’s Word will shelter us from an excessive regard for “the text of Scripture at the metaphysical or historical level in formulating a view of biblical authority” (p. 628). And he does not explain how from sporadic encounters one identifies in the Bible “abiding” instructions for the Christian life.

Loewen contends that unless the authoritative Word of God in Scripture is “demonstrated within the living body of the believing community … then it cannot also be legitimately upheld in a doctrine; then it does not really exist at all, for the authoritative Word exists for man” whereas “it is precisely in relation to the believing community that both Barth and Evangelicalism fail to define the authority of the Word of God in Scripture” (ibid., p. 626). To argue that biblical doctrine gains credibility through personal appropriation is wholly proper; Scripture enjoins us not merely to know but also to perform the truth and reminds us that Christian nonfulfillment of moral imperatives brings reproach upon doctrinal profession. But to imply that all biblical doctrine—e.g., creation ex nihilo, the flood, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, the final judgment—can on the basis of personal life be thus commended is quite another matter, and obviously ridiculous. To imply, moreover, that the unbelief of man in any generation dissolves the objective authoritative Word of Scripture is poor religious psychology and worse epistemology. Loewen’s option—that of escaping two rival authorities (Spirit or Scripture)—by profoundly and radically “subjectivizing and actualizing … the concept of the authority of God’s Word in the life of a disciplined and believing community, the church” (p. 628) imperils the biblical significance of both the Holy Spirit and of Scripture. No adequate scope remains for the propositional content of revelation, and in any event the objectivity of God’s Word—whether related to Scripture or to the Spirit or to both—is made instrumental only to functional transformation in the life of the believing community. Loewen is disinterested in adjusting tensions between the Spirit and the Scriptures as two theological principles; his declared concern is with “the Word of God in a very concrete sense” as “an actual and concrete manifestation in the life of the people who formally claim that authority” (pp. 629 ff.). But if that is the case, then no valid criterion remains for distinguishing objective theological from subjective psychological phenomena. Nor can any transcendent reason be given why one ought to be obediently submissive. Nor can a persuasive case be made to indicate why alternative authorities may not prove equally, if not preferably, functional. Transcendent authority has confronted human life in many forms, and after some initial reluctance men have responded in obedient and enthusiastic submission and trust. Objective rational and moral criteria—which Loewen’s functional reorientation of scriptural authority cannot provide—are necessary if we are to discriminate intelligibly between rival führers. “The Word of God in a concrete sense”—for which Loewen calls—requires an orientation of Spirit and Scripture very different from the functional perspective he proposes.


The Spirit as Divine Illuminator

Theologians of the past, we are often told, left us no full delineation of the Holy Spirit’s ministry. To neglect the doctrine of the Spirit’s work—inspiration, illumination, regeneration, indwelling, sanctification, guidance—nurtures a confused and disabled church. The proliferating modern sects may, in fact, be one of the penalties for the lack of a comprehensive, systematic doctrine of the Spirit. Unfortunately, verbal reaffirmation of the doctrine has frequently lapsed into a kind of mechanical routine; it has chained classic affirmations concerning the Spirit within the ancient creeds, while contemporary Christianity has forfeited the Spirit’s power. Only where the Holy Spirit holds priority over the church—as he does in the third article of the Apostles’ Creed—will the church fully enjoy Spirit-borne fruits and gifts.

In our generation, ecumenical enthusiasts have sometimes given highest priority to the doctrine of the church. But in the biblical pattern the Spirit and the church are seen to stand or fall together. Those who promoted charismatic interests in a sense attempted to restore this balance. But what has often resulted is a subordination of the role of Scripture to various aberrations concerning the Spirit. Where the church holds priority over the Spirit, all manner of curious intrusion—for example, Mariolatry—can be thrust between the Christian and God; where the Spirit is severed from the Word, an interest in other tongues may displace interest in what the speaking God has said to the churches.

The Holy Spirit appears in the Old Testament as the ground of life (Gen. 1:2; 2:7; cf. Ps. 104:29–30), but he functions notably also as the supernatural conveyor of divine knowledge. The Spirit is the personal instrumentality by whom God through the Logos inspires both the prophetic and the apostolic oral and written proclamation. In the New Testament era the apostles, who are eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, supersede the prophets, although prophets no doubt still appear in local situations. But prophets no longer receive or impart new doctrinal revelation; their function as they possess the mind of the Spirit is to lend guidance in confronting particular problems.

Much recent New Testament criticism assumes that early Christian prophets spoke on behalf of the risen Lord much as Old Testament prophets spoke in Yahweh’s name. Hence some scholars assert that confusion arose in the tradition between what Jesus of Nazareth said and what these prophets said. The Gospel sayings are then sifted to see what belongs to whom. Some recent discussion assigns many of the earliest elements of the supposed Q source to such Christian prophets. But, as I. Howard Marshall comments, no convincing evidence supports the assumption “that there were early Christian prophets, that they spoke as if they were mouthpieces of the risen Lord, and that the early church received their utterances as if they were sayings of Jesus and absorbed them into its collection of sayings of Jesus” (I Believe in the Historical Jesus, p. 193). D. Hill passes the same verdict on the theory that Christian prophets exercised a creative role in formulating sayings of Jesus. He declares: “The position and the necessary presuppositions are simply affirmed or reaffirmed, virtually without argument of any kind” (“On the Evidence for the Creative Role of Christian Prophets,” p. 272). The New Testament clearly places apostolic revelation on a higher plane than the prophetic, and always specifically identifies recipients of prophecies. Occasional unauthentic sayings may have crept into early reports about Jesus, but the preface to Luke’s Gospel indicates that the evangelists separated the wheat from the chaff.

God intends that Scripture should function in our lives as his Spirit-illumined Word. It is the Spirit who opens man’s being to a keen personal awareness of God’s revelation. The Spirit empowers us to receive and appropriate the Scriptures, and promotes in us a normative theological comprehension for a transformed life. The Spirit gives a vital current focus to historical revelation and makes it powerfully real.

Dealing with the fascinating subject of manuscript illumination in his volume The Illuminated Book: Its History and Production, David Diringer gives extended attention to Bibles, and discusses illumination or embellishment as only an aspect of artistic book production. With far less justification theologians can write volumes on the Bible with not even a single index reference to the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination.

Twentieth-century biblical criticism runs the gamut from mythologizing parts of the Bible to mythologizing even the speaking God. Although James Smart does not challenge the notion that the Bible contains myths (cf. his review of God, Revelation and Authority, vols. 1 and 2, p. 214), he does deplore, and strenuously so, the fact that Bultmann reduces the New Testament’s representations of the Holy Spirit to mythology (cf. Hans W. Bartsch, ed., Kerygma and Myth, 1:6–7, 22). Bultmann rather pitied those who engaged in bit-by-bit biblical mythologizing; for him the whole Bible—except for a highly obscure person named Jesus of Nazareth and the existentially experienced reality of God—was mythological. Bultmann thus became a rallying point for those who dismiss even the person of the Holy Spirit—whom the apostles identify as the inspirer and illuminator of Scripture—as an unsophisticated vestige of a prescientific mind-set.

According to James Barr, Jesus himself was indebted to prevalent cultural assumptions; that is, all Jesus’ teaching is “time-bound and situation-bound” (Fundamentalism, p. 171). Neither Jesus’ references to the particular authorship of certain Old Testament books nor his teachings on any subject whatever are to be considered “eternal truth valid for all times and situations” (ibid.). In that case, of course, Jesus’ view that the Old Testament writings carry singular divine authority must also be dismissed. Barr affirms that for most Christians (in ecumenical circles, presumably, where church attendance statistics lag embarrassingly behind those of official membership rolls) theological claims represent not “straight communicated information” but merely “personal address seeking a personal response,” so that historical and factual interests are subordinated (pp. 70–71, 171).

Barr then proceeds to confer divine inspiration on even contemporary biblical critics. The modern critic readily displaces the Holy Spirit as the illuminating exegete by dismissing the apostolic witness to the exceptional divine inspiration of the biblical writers, and by endowing his own verdicts and writings instead with superlative modern wisdom. By thus eliminating the Holy Spirit as the Illuminator who definitively and exactly communicates the Word of God, the critic becomes free to preempt that role.

Modern criticism insists that Scripture be studied first and foremost in its cultural context so that the religious milieu—its literary documents, prevalent concepts and social mores, and even contemporary myths—definitively illumines the sense of the Bible. It is true, of course, that human history, including language and behavior, bears significantly on Scripture. But replacing the Holy Spirit as inspirer and illuminator of the scriptural word with environmental inspiration and illumination is something far different. When the critic emphasizes that the Bible is inescapably conditioned by its cultural setting, he all too often exaggerates the impact of ancient culture on Scripture and minimizes or neglects the impact of modern culture on the critic. Modern notions of progress encourage us to assume unquestioningly that the contemporary culture lens through which we view Scripture gives us a normal twenty-twenty reading. But as R. C. Sproul reminds us in Knowing Scripture, the twentieth-century secular mind-set is a far more formidable obstacle to accurate interpretation of the Bible than is its conditioning by ancient culture.

As Bernard Ramm puts it, modernism politely tipped its hat to the Bible but “ignored its magisterium.… Rather than a binding to the Word of God, there is criticism of the Word of God” (The Witness of the Spirit, pp. 121–22). Unless the inspired words of the Bible convey transcendent revelation—and they do—the words of postbiblical writers soon assume the authority and normativity of gospel truth. Nowhere does the New Testament consider postbiblical critics as the first adequate or accredited interpreters of the Word of Scripture; rather, it identified the Holy Spirit of inspiration and illumination as the only key to the Bible (1 Cor. 1:18–2:16). Within the prophetic-apostolic heritage it is the Spirit who speaks and ratifies the inspired Word of revelation.

The church must resist and reject stifling of the Holy Spirit, must preserve “breathing room” for him. It was the Spirit who breathed into the first humans “the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). It was the Spirit who “breathed out” the prophetic-apostolic Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16). It is the Spirit who founds and fashions the new life and knowledge of the people of God (John 3:5; 14:26). Jesus himself implies the Christian’s dependence on the life-giving Spirit: when, anticipating Pentecost, he breathes (emphusaō) on the apostles and says, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit,” Jesus brings to mind the creation narrative (John 20:22, kjv). While the Spirit’s gifts had special significance for the apostolic office-bearers, in an enlarged and more general sense they also comprehend all believers. The Spirit’s coming at Pentecost is sounded as by a noisy, powerful wind (pnoē), the same term Paul uses in describing the Creator’s imparted “life and breath” (Acts 17:25, rsv). Paul expressly identifies the apostolic Scriptures as God-breathed (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16). Peter uses the term pherō (cf. Isa. 64:5, of the blowing of the wind) in connection with the divine bestowal of prophecy.

Paul’s declaration to the Corinthians, “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10, niv), is now frequently cited to prove that the Spirit revelationally addresses all Christians and that only in this revelational address does the meaning of Scripture become clear. Sometimes the Spirit is considered the link between the “divinity” and the “humanity” of the Bible. We are told that Scripture is but a sterile letter that “kills” and the gospel is not good news until the Spirit revelationally addresses us. But surely the dynamic of the Spirit cannot be identified with Scripture only when and if we personally appropriate Scripture. The Holy Spirit brings God’s Word to us not first and foremost in illumination—although as a matter of psychological case history the experience of the new birth may indeed appear to rank first; in actuality the Holy Spirit has already engaged antecedently in revelation and inspiration. Moreover, God’s special revelation to the biblical prophets and apostles and the Spirit’s inspiration of their proclamation hold logical priority. In short, the Spirit’s “revelation … to us” moderns does not signal a contemporary impartation of new and original revelation, but rather the Spirit’s enlivening to us individually of the objectively given special biblical revelation or of general revelation already present in nature and conscience.

Two considerations support the view that by the phrase “revelation … to us” (1 Cor. 2:10) the Apostle Paul means first and foremost God’s disclosure to the apostles. The term apokaluptō usually designates a supernatural disclosure of what was previously hidden (e.g., Matt. 16:17; Luke 10:22), or of what is yet eschatologically future (e.g., Rom. 8:18; 1 Cor. 3:13). Paul, moreover, in this passage employs the first person plural (“we”) more frequently than the second person (“you”). Charles Hodge interprets the text “God hath revealed (them) unto us by his Spirit” (1 Cor. 2:10, kjv) as meaning that what human reason was unable to discover, God revealed by his Spirit to the holy apostles and prophets (cf. Eph. 3:5). On 1 Corinthians 2:12 (“Now we have received … the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God,” kjv) Hodge comments: “The whole connection shows that the apostle is speaking of revelation and inspiration; and therefore we must mean we apostles, (or Paul himself), and not we Christians” (An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, p. 40).

Yet apostolic teaching also embraces the emphasis that in some secondary sense the Spirit carries the prophetic-apostolic revelation to all Christians as a whole. The revelation we share comes to us ultimately from no other source than the Spirit of God, who inspires, illumines and interprets the prophetic-apostolic disclosure. Yet this fact implies no basis for holding that the depths of God are disclosed to us directly as they were to prophets and apostles, and apart from dependence on them. Special revelation does not continue sporadically throughout the post-biblical era; it is once-for-all. Were that not the case, Paul and John and Peter would be but the first of an unending list of names through whom the revelation in its technical sense has come to the world. Special revelation came to and through the apostles by the Spirit, and by the Spirit it comes through their inspired word to us; revelation comes to us through their words illumined and interpreted by the Spirit; and through our witness in turn, revelation proceeds to others who like us must depend for its normative cognitive content upon the inspired writings.

So what was true primarily only of Jesus’ disciples, namely, that the Holy Spirit “will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26, rsv, italics mine), becomes in a secondary sense applicable to us also through the disciples’ teaching, and does so by the illuminating and interpreting Spirit. In short, the Spirit’s conveyance of revelation to us presupposes the definitive disclosure antecedently given to the inspired prophets and apostles.

In his moving appeal to the Christians at Ephesus, Paul prays for “the saints at Ephesus, and … the faithful in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 1:1, niv) that God “may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, … which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him … and … put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church …” (Eph. 1:17–22, kjv). Hodge comments that Paul here prays “that God would give them that wisdom and knowledge of himself of which the Spirit is the author (v. 17); that their eyes might be enlightened properly to apprehend the nature and value of that hope which is founded in the call of God” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians, p. 68). By “the Spirit of wisdom is to be understood the Holy Spirit, the author of wisdom” (ibid., p. 72). “There is a twofold revelation of this wisdom, the one outward by inspiration, or through inspired men; the other inward, by spiritual illumination. Of both these the apostle speaks in 1 Corinthians 2:10–16, and both are here brought into view.” By revelation “in this passage is not to be understood the knowledge of future events, nor the prophetic gift, nor inspiration. It is something which all believers need and for which they should pray. It is that manifestation of the nature or excellence of the things of God, which the Spirit makes to all who are spiritually enlightened, and of which our Saviour spoke, when he said in reference to believers ‘They shall all be taught of God’ ” (pp. 72–73). The work of the Spirit is therefore here related to ever-increasing Christian enlightenment in the inspired prophetic-apostolic revelation.

The context of Philippians 3:15 (“if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this to you,” kjv) refers not to theoretical knowledge but to moral maturity. The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and stimulates the redeemed church to conform all its conduct to God’s revealed will. In Colossians 1:9 Paul and his companions pray that the Colossian saints “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” This passage, according to H. A. W. Meyer, refers to “a knowledge which is to be the product not of mere human mental activity, but of objectively divine endowment by the Holy Spirit” (Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Epistles to the Philippians and Colossians, p. 263).

If we ask how the Holy Spirit illumines us, we must readily acknowledge that Scripture does not supply much data about the how of inspiration or illumination, any more than about the how of divine incarnation in Jesus Christ. Yet the ministry of the Spirit of God, distinct in each operation, is as essential and unique in enlivening God’s revelation in the lives of his people as it is in the phenomena of divine incarnation and divine inspiration. Unregenerate nature fights to disavow its condition unmasked by its futile crucifixion of Jesus. Christ’s resurrection signals that our times are in God’s judgmental hands; the new era that dawned with the “Shalom!” of resurrection morning and places all of life within the horizon of God’s “last days” declares that only by entering God’s kingdom by the new birth does one assuredly gain a life fit for eternity. Not because of any silence by God is the revelation in Scripture “hidden,” nor because of obscurity in the historical realities of redemption, or some ambiguity in the prophetic-apostolic message, or something in Scripture that renders it “dead.” Veiling in comprehension stems, rather, from the resistance and contradiction of the sinner. As the Spirit confutes the rebellious sinner, persuading him that God veritably speaks what the texts say, the beleaguered trespasser, who vacillates between two worlds yet senses that there is no secure shelter in vague promises of his own future virtue, concedes that only by accepting God’s grace can he transcend his abject plight, and the gift of faith engenders repentance. The Spirit illumines Scripture, evokes trust in God, and regenerates contrite sinners.

The controversy dividing theologians of the post-Reformation era over the Spirit’s illumination of Scripture must not be confused, however, with the Barthian denial that Scripture is objectively the Word of God.

The Lutheran theologian Quenstedt considered the Bible an instrument of revelation in which God’s power and efficacy permanently in here. This emphasis may in part have been intended to carry forward Reformation criticism of extreme Anabaptists who frequently appealed to the Spirit independently of the Bible. But it seemed to imply also that the Holy Spirit’s illumination is not necessary for applying the Word of God to the mind and heart of the reader of the Bible.

Reformed theologians insisted on the necessity of divine illumination by the Spirit when and as he will, although never apart from the Scriptures. Although here and there a passage in the Institutes may seem to suggest that the authority of Scripture depends on our experience of it, Geoffrey Bromiley emphasizes that Calvin does not base the authority of Scripture, or even our assurance of its authority, on our experience of its authority; for Calvin, he says, “the testimony of the Spirit forms the basis of the authority and grants the assurance” (Historical Theology—An Introduction, p. 224). The Spirit’s testimony is both external and internal (see Supplementary Note to this chapter: Calvin on the Spirit’s Work of Illumination). The Reformers do not sacrifice the objective authority of Scripture.

Barth, however, in contrast to both Lutheran and Calvinistic theologians of the past, detached revelation and the witness of the Spirit from the Bible as the objective Word of God. Orthodox Protestant theologians insist that the Scriptures are identical with God’s Word. But Barth depicts the Word of God as an event of revelation behind or above the Bible; only by a sporadic sharing in this event does the Bible “become” the Word of God. The role of the Spirit in Barthian theology differs notably, therefore, from the evangelical emphasis, that the Spirit communicates and illumines the Word of God. It is therefore naïve to consider Barthian theology as a wholesome corrective of those views which consider the Scriptures to be automatically efficacious.

It is somewhat misleading to say that without the Holy Spirit’s action the truth of Scripture is not apparent even to the intelligent reader, for such a statement can mean various things. The witness of the Spirit does indeed persuade the hearer and reader that Scripture is true in its affirmations. The Reformed view, as Bernard Ramm emphasizes in The Witness of the Spirit, is that the Spirit convinces readers of the Bible of its truth and elicits from them the believing response that links them experientially with the saving grace of God in Christ. But it is wrong to argue, as a consequence, that without the perspective-transforming work of the Spirit one cannot understand the teaching of the Bible. The words that “God is Spirit” and that “Christ died for our sins … and was buried, and rose again the third day” are plain enough for anyone to comprehend at face value. One need not take a master’s degree in biblical theology, nor even read Greek and Hebrew, to know the sense of most scriptural propositions. The revelational truth conveyed by objective scriptural disclosure itself stipulates the need for subjective illumination and appropriation. But to make the fact of illumination and need of appropriation a reason for compromising the perspicacity of scriptural teaching is unjustifiable.

James Barr, who has contributed significantly to semantic studies, rightly scoffs at the notion that “biblical interpretation cannot be undertaken” without lexical resources, and emphasizes that “since biblical interpretation in theology must work from the things said in the Bible … the fundamental points of biblical assertion will normally be visible to those who do not know the original languages. Those who do know them will be able to understand the text with very much greater accuracy, provided that their knowledge of the original language is in fact sound, careful and accurate in detail; but it is unlikely that in more than a few special cases this knowledge will lead to a recognition of some biblical conception which is vital to the understanding of the Bible, but which is quite invisible to the reader of the English Bible because it is tied to the layout of the Greek or Hebrew lexical stock. If such cases were both numerous or important, one need hardly remark, it would be a poor prospect for the average layman—and indeed, one may add, for the average minister, whose Greek and Hebrew are not always excessively fluent” (Biblical Words for Time, p. 162).

Yet Barr is now specially critical of fundamentalist laymen—”cryptoclericalists” he calls them—who on the basis of the Bible distinguish right from wrong doctrine and declare some people heretical and unorthodox (Fundamentalism, p. 102). But by placing the Bible into the hands of the people, did not the Reformation raise up a laity with doctrinal discernment? Barr considers doctrinal disagreements among fundamentalists a conclusive argument against the evangelical view of biblical authority (pp. 189, 191). But in that case we must nullify every authority simply because it is subject to misunderstanding.

The Cambridge Bultmannian D. E. Nineham once remarked that it is not the local policeman arriving at the scene of a murder who unravels a mystery, but rather the trained detective who can discern the hidden clues from misleading evidential features, and that he would prefer to approach the Gospels on this premise. But the underside of this assumption is the extravagant presumption that the biblical writers on the surface mislead their readers, and that their motivations can be discerned only by someone who looks beyond their verbal testimony and the historical evidence they offer.

F. C. Grant says that for a correct understanding of the life of Jesus the student requires more than “impressions derived from a careful reading of the English Bible. He needs ancient languages, and also should be familiar with ancient literature and history, not only classical but also Semitic … he should also be familiar with ancient historiography.… He must also realize that the criteria of the validity or authenticity of tradition were not at all what we demand.… Finally, the student must realize that the ancient world had no interest in what we call ‘personality,’ the unique combination of physical and mental, emotional and spiritual characteristics which distinguishes the individual from all other men” (“Jesus Christ,” 2:876). If all this be the case, a literate understanding of the central message of the Bible seems—in contrast with the experience of the early church and of ordinary believers throughout the centuries—to be now inaccessible to the modern layman without dependence upon learned theologians and critical scholars.

The Word of God is sometimes alleged to be unintelligible to the ordinary lay reader of the Bible because presumably only modern literary and historical criticism can extrapolate its meaning. “We can no longer assume that what seems to be the plain meaning of the Biblical passage is indeed what its author intended to convey” (Proceedings of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand, 1966, p. 460a). But the breakdown of consensus among modern critics is almost incalculably more extensive than among the dogmaticians of post-Reformation denominations.

Significantly, the New Testament does not specify that true exposition of Scripture is a special gift of the Spirit reserved for only a few specially endowed Christians, a chosen illuminati, whether a cadre of scholars, or ecclesiastics, or charismatics. A. Berkeley Mickelsen emphasizes the interpreter’s need of pure motives (2 Cor. 2:17) and skill in accurately handling the Scriptures (2 Tim. 2:15), particularly in setting forth their grammatical-literal sense (Interpreting the Bible, p. 4). In contrast with critics who imply that the Spirit was specially at work in passages they impute to late redactors, the evangelical exegete will not circumvent the Spirit’s inspiration of the prophets and apostles, and then plead the Spirit’s illumination of the interpreter to justify fanciful theories. Scripture itself is the Spirit-given truth of God, and Scripture exhorts all believers to appropriate its adequate reserves to cope with the demands of this life (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

The ancient prophecies and hence the apostolic writings are to be interpreted definitively by the same Holy Spirit who inspired their writing, and not by individual taste or ecclesiastical dictate. When the Protestant Reformers stressed that the Bible is its own interpreter and does not need arbitration by a superior teaching authority of the church, they were not displacing the Spirit as Scripture’s interpreter but preserving Scripture as Spirit-inspired and Spirit-interpreted. Luther rejected the ecclesiastical claim that the church and her dogmas illumine the Scriptures. Authoritative tradition can in fact hinder the understanding of the Bible. The church does not have the last word—whether the most prestigious ecumenical body in the city or the most isolated independent assembly across the way—but the Spirit-breathed Scripture does.

Emphasis on the inspired writer’s intention as the key to the meaning of Scripture has become highly important in recent decades when post-Bultmannians have emphasized, instead, the interpreter’s creative contribution to meaning. But this stress on the importance of an author’s intention can be misapplied. For one thing, it is now often assumed, in the interest of a prejudiced hermeneutic, that the scriptural writers did not intend or could not tell the truth, e.g., state historical facts or convey permanently valid revelational teaching. For another, even where this intention to tell the truth is granted, it must not be assumed—since the Holy Spirit is the primary communicator of Scripture—that the human author necessarily is aware of the full meaning of his message. The exegete is indeed bound to the text that expresses the mind of God and the writer’s purpose; he has no other access to this purpose except the text taken in its literary and historical context. But the meaning of the text may also bear nuances of which the writer is unaware. In applying the Old Testament, the New Testament writers sometimes find a prophetic significance that becomes evident only in the context of fulfillment. As inspirer of the prophets and of the apostles, the Holy Spirit thus stretches the evident meaning to embrace what is not contrary to the writer’s intention but need not have been consciously intended by him. The prophets themselves at times sought earnestly to “find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ which was in them was pointing” (2 Pet. 1:10–11, niv). In short, the larger analogy of Scripture, whereby the Spirit speaks the whole mind of God to the churches, must not be ignored for a proper understanding of authorial intention and textual meaning.

While Donald Bloesch concedes that reason can understand the “external meaning” of many biblical propositions, such as that Christ has been “raised for our justification” (Rom. 4:25, rsv), he contends that reason cannot comprehend their “revelational or deeper meaning, the one that God Himself gives it” as “a truth of revelation” (correspondence with Institute for Advanced Christian Studies, Feb. 14, 1977). In short, “reason can understand the intellectual form or language in which revelation comes to us, but it cannot understand the content of revelation apart from the witness of the Spirit.” Bloesch holds that even after one’s illumination by the Spirit, the “central mysteries” of the faith—e.g., the Trinity and the incarnation—”still elude rational comprehension … but … can be understood in part.” While he affirms that revelation discloses “objective truth,” Bloesch insists that it cannot be divorced from “subjective illumination.” God’s objective truth is “contained or imbedded in Scripture though hidden from the eyes of reason.… The Spirit gives to us the divinely-intended meaning of Scripture so that we can make an intelligible commitment.” Scripture, he declares, is never a channel of revelation “by and in and of itself” but is a special mode of revelation only when “illumined by the Spirit.”

Bloesch approves Albrecht Oepke’s emphasis on “a present revelation effected here and now” as well as in the prophetic-apostolic past (“Apokaluptō,” 3:580 ff., especially 591 ff.). Oepke does not wish to imply that “revelation does not become revelation” until it is transmitted to the hearer and is “received as such.” While “it thereby becomes revelation for individuals,” he says, “from the very first it comes with the claim to be heard in the name of God, and with divine power it creates for itself the organ of reception unless culpably prevented” (ibid., p. 591). Yet if one’s grasp of the meaning of revelation requires personal commitment, then how could an unsure spectator discern true from false prophets on the basis of “the content of the message” (p. 575), or how does “the person of Jesus Christ provide a definite criterion” by which the inquirer in New Testament times was to discern the spirits (p. 590)? The emphasis that we can know the essential hiddenness of what is revealed only in personal response through a contemporary revelation that transmits a content not objectively given in Scripture depends upon a prejudiced reading of a few Pauline texts, already discussed, and imposes on the New Testament a structure not borne out by apostolic exhortations to the early Christians.

Bloesch’s distinction between “external” and “internal” meaning is ambiguous and confusing. For meaning is meaning, and attaches to logical propositions stated externally in print or verbally, or internally thought and either volitionally acted upon or disregarded. The test of whether one personally believes the propositions to be true as a basis for action lies in one’s personal appropriation or nonappropriation of them in daily life. But such appropriation or nonappropriation does not establish the truth or falsity, the meaningfulness or meaninglessness, of propositions. Bloesch emphasizes that “historical understanding” and “perception of theological significance” are two different things. But he confuses where the difference lies. Surely it does not turn on a kind of theological meaning knowable only through prior commitment. In that event we would need to become Buddhists, for example, to know the theological meaning of Buddhism, and would have no objective criteria by which to assess the theological significance inherent in competing religious traditions.

The Bible does not use the specific term illumination; it does, however, refer to that special activity of the Holy Spirit by which man can recognize that what Scripture teaches is true, and can accept and appropriate its teaching. Clark Pinnock writes: “The Scripture is not an effective medium of revelation where the Spirit does not speak” (Biblical Revelation, p. 69, italics mine). It would be a misunderstanding to say that Scripture is revelation only where and when the Spirit speaks, or that only when men exercise faith are they confronted by the Bible’s truth. While Pinnock stresses that the Spirit alone gives faith, he also approves the tenet that “whatsoever is taught by Holy Scripture is taught by the Holy Spirit” (p. 71).

The Spirit alone gives life—the Spirit will not always strive: these staggering realities overarch and challenge human obduracy. The penitent reborn renegade will gladly concede that in Scripture the Spirit of God personally addresses each of us, speaking to us what he first spoke to the inspired writers and still speaks through them as he becomes our lifelong companion and counselor.

The carping comment that the Holy Spirit has been gagged by evangelicals, who emphasize the completion of the canon, is an outright caricature. The far larger danger is that human beings will snap a lock on the Bible.

Frank Lake notes that, in reading the Bible, Christians often experience times when God speaks to them “with the intimacy and penetrating personal relevance which one would imagine could arise only out of a strictly confidential relationship in which everything had been divulged to a counselor, yet without the intervention of any human being.… The Holy Spirit is a clinical pastoral counselor in private” (Clinical Theology, p. 47). Those who truly search the Scriptures soon find themselves in the presence of the Great Searcher of souls whom the apostle declares to be also the heavenly explorer of “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10, kjv). The mention of the Spirit who “searches” (ereunai) recalls Francis Thompson’s “The Hound of Heaven” (Homer uses ereunaō of animals “sniffing out” their quarry, and Aristotle of men searching homes and possessions). No human “search and arrest” effort matches the investigative thoroughness of the Spirit’s testing of human desires and determinations. The Spirit who penetrates God’s innermost being is the selfsame Spirit who searches the heart of man (Rom. 8:27; cf. Prov. 20:27). Gerhard Delling observes that Plato and Philo use ereunaō of academic, scientific, philological and philosophical investigations (“Ereunaō,” 2:656). The believer is under mandate to search the Spirit-given Scriptures, for they are the locus of divine revelation (John 5:39). The perspicacity of Scripture is sound doctrine. The Bible was—and is still—addressed to the multitudes, to masses of the poor, uneducated and even enslaved. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit as the sovereign interpreter of Scripture is not intended to deny this, or to compensate for any alleged opaqueness of Scripture.

The divine Spirit speaks in Scripture, a fact not to be derogated by appealing instead to present-day charismatic utterances or experiences. David speaks in the Psalms by the Spirit (Matt. 22:43; Mark 12:36; Acts 1:16); the Old Testament prophets likewise speak by the Spirit (Acts 28:25; 1 Pet. 1:11); the Spirit speaks generally in the affirmations of the Old Testament (Heb. 3:7; 9:8; 10:15; cf. Acts 1:16; 28:25–26). The Spirit illumines the truth, not by unveiling some hidden inner mystical content behind the revelation (or, as A. W. Tozer unfortunately suggests, making known its “soul” in distinction from the “body” [in a sermon reprinted by the Presbyterian Journal, Feb. 11, 1970, pp. 7–8]), but by focusing on the truth of revelation as it is. The Spirit illumines and interprets by repeating the grammatical sense of Scripture; in doing so he in no way alters or expands the truth of revelation.

Those who prefer to begin with revelation in order to account for the Bible must recognize the complex cause-effect relationship that exists between revelation and the content of Scripture. Revelation is derived from the Bible, not from experience, nor from the Spirit as a second source alongside and independent of Scripture, unless we presume to share the office and gifts reserved for prophets and apostles.

The increasing number of charismatic Christians who profess to speak prophetic utterances by the Spirit’s revelation are not yet widely perceived as a threat to orthodoxy because, as Dale Vree says, these utterances are usually “very personal and doctrinally conventional” (On Synthesizing Marxism and Christianity, p. 18). Yet every departure from the express teaching of Scripture, every appeal to a knowledge immediately given by the Spirit rather than through the prophetic-apostolic Word, increases the possibility of generating still another novel cult. The charismatic emphasis on “a fresh word” from Christ by the Spirit suggests an immediate revelational authority different from that of the scripturally mediated word. Some of the conciliar welcome given to the Pentecostal “third force” stemmed from ecumenical interest in a view of religious authority that is less insistent than historic Christianity on the Bible as the final rule of faith and practice. Spirit-oriented movements of recent times tend to appeal first to the Spirit and then ransack the Bible for verses to support their special views.

But others besides charismatics plead the notion of ongoing prophecy to support novel modern doctrines. As Vree notes, “politicized Christians” often appeal to the Spirit when they expound the contemporary “politics of God” in which the Spirit of the Age or Zeitgeist displaces transcendent realities. The line is not long, Vree observes, from Walter Rauschenbusch’s emphasis that “the gospel … must be the highest expression of the moral and religious truths held by that age” (Christianity and the Social Crisis, pp. 336–37) to that of pro-Hitler German Christians who supported National Socialism as a new revelation of God’s will (On Synthesizing Marxism and Christianity, p. 26). In Hungary, the Reformed Bishop Albert Berecsky viewed communism as an epihany of God and elevated it into the divine vehicle of redemption. Such modern appeal to the Spirit to justify all variety of political acts, Vree thinks, has its antecedent in Montanism where revelational status was given its affirmations of new truth. Christian orthodoxy in the past identified such extravagant pronouncements as evidence of a false prophet; Christian ecumenism today commends them as prophetic frontiersmanship.

The modern openness to charismatic emphases is directly traceable to the neglect by mainstream Christian denominations of an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is conceded almost everywhere that recovery of the vitalities of the Spirit is a major Christian imperative. The response to this need reflects far less agreement. Usually and most acceptably it centers in a call for the Spirit’s daily infilling of regenerate believers. It also emphasizes the Spirit’s apportionment of distinctive gifts to members of the body for the service of God in the world and for mutual enrichment of fellow-believers, and stresses an operative divine providence that among its genuine possibilities includes divine healing. Emphasis on one or more of these concerns is today increasingly common in mainline churches, and particularly so in evangelically oriented congregations.

In nonévangelical centers, the Spirit has been viewed more as a divine influence than as a distinct person. It may at times be tempting to see the inspiration of the Scriptures, as does F. W. Dillistone, in the context of that inner creative stimulus experienced by all great artists (The Holy Spirit in the Life of Today, pp. 96–97). But such theories can only lead to misconceptions of the biblical doctrines of inspiration and illumination. Moreover, they leave unbridged the chasm between the believer and the living God that many persons seek to span by some charismatic experience.

What now specially characterizes much of the charismatic movement is its stress on either or both glossolalia and faith healing. By the latter many charismatics mean that Jesus Christ’s substitutionary atonement for fallen mankind’s total need pledges faith-deliverance from all sickness no less than from all sin. The choice of faith or of unbelief is the key to either human health and wholeness or human affliction and judgment.

The “tongues movement” has won considerable following throughout Christendom. As presently conceived, the movement embraces many Roman Catholics who preserve their traditional church association, and many members of mainline churches with a “renovationist” stance, as well as those identified with Pentecostal churches. Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today, contends that glossolalia is also “a worldwide phenomenon among pagans, Hindu holy men, Mormons, and countless others” and that “some converts from the drug culture say tongues was part of their psychedelic experience.” He therefore emphasizes the need for tests to distinguish Christian from counterfeit glossolalia. But in the final analysis, he adds, neither those who speak in tongues, nor those who do not, have anything to fear in the judgment if they persist in a godly Christian life.

The phenomenal growth of Pentecostal Protestants in Latin America is one of the amazing chapters of mid-twentieth-century church growth. At the beginning of this century Protestant Christians in Latin America numbered less than one hundred thousand; almost none of these were Pentecostal. At midcentury there were three million Protestants, less than half of whom were vigorous Pentecostals. Today the estimated number of Protestants is 20 to 25 million; almost four-fifths of them are Pentecostal. A lay-oriented phenomenon, the Pentecostal movement in Latin America stresses the Bible and Christ presently active by the Spirit. It views the church not so much as an institution but as a fellowship of love, a disciple-making community that gathers the outsider into an evangelical brotherhood. Often isolated from a hostile social milieu and not much given to penetration of the secular world, such a community represents an oasis of interpersonal fellowship and compassionate concern. More recently, novel authoritarian structures have been emerging in Latin America in an effort to give direction to this surging Pentecostal movement; some observers fear that such institutionalizing may signal divisions and spawn divisiveness. The noncharismatic groups in Latin America, while a minority, also actively pursue spiritual renewal but in other ways.

In view of the scant attention given by the New Testament to glossolalia, the contemporary church’s extensive interest and even preoccupation with it are phenomenal. Some spokesmen contend that while the Bible does not explicitly say so, tongues were divinely intended only for a transition period in the church’s life when the gospel was scarcely known. Paul looks upon tongues as a gift not given to all; “Do all speak with tongues?” he asks, and his negative reply is based on the principle that the Spirit divides “to every man severally as he wills” (1 Cor. 12:11, 29–30, kjv). Furthermore, he does not discuss tongues among the “greater gifts” to be universally desired (1 Cor. 12:31). In the interest of edification of the saints, he restricts the use of tongues, moreover, to but three persons in any given service, and requires that they speak in order and only with an interpreter present (1 Cor. 14:13). Since women had Pauline permission to pray and to prophesy in public (1 Cor. 12:10), some interpreters have thought that the injunction that women keep silence in church (1 Cor. 11:13; 14:26–36) refers to tongues-speaking. In any case, Paul attaches but limited positive value to speaking in tongues (1 Cor. 14:5, 14–17, 22, 28). Some observers say this downplay was influenced by the fact that he was writing to the church at Corinth, where ecstatic utterances by Greek priests in pagan temples might be confusing to immature believers; Scripture, however, does not say this.

The modern church’s growing confusion over the “outburst of tongues,” as Frank Farrell refers to it (“Outburst of Tongues: The New Penetration,” pp. 3 ff.), is evident in the ambiguous verdict that it constitutes neither a new Babel nor a new Pentecost, and is to be both welcomed and criticized in this light. Pentecost was a once-for-all event that marked the founding of the church as the body of the redeemed ruled by the risen and ascended Lord. The account in Acts 2 gives every indication that Christ’s pouring out of the Spirit, manifested in the speaking of tongues intelligible to those from afar, symbolized the Spirit’s divine enablement of the church to proclaim understandably the message of redemption in Christ to all nations. The transition history of the Book of Acts further reflects this original manifestation of tongues when, at the so-called Gentile Pentecost, Gentiles are first added to the body of believers (Acts 10:24–48; cf. “even as on us at the beginning,” 11:15, kjv). But the New Testament refers also, although with much less prominence, to tongues as a phenomenon of worship in the early church. Some scholars view speaking in tongues as a special gift conferred on the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 12:14), although Scripture does not expressly say this.

A further distinction between the “fruit” (Gal. 5:22, 23) and the “gifts” (1 Cor. 12:8–10) of the Spirit does not settle the issue. Influential expositors like B. B. Warfield (Counterfeit Miracles), and W. H. Griffith-Thomas (The Holy Spirit of God) held that the charismata, in view of their primary significance for apostolic times, have ceased. The written New Testament is said to have ended any need for apostolic tongues-speaking. Those who insist that the gifts continue, generally concede that the New Testament phenomena of “helps” and “governments,” to which some proponents appeal, are rather obscure. Yet the New Testament does not explicitly indicate whether tongues would or did end. Mark 16:9–20 is a disputed ending of that Gospel; some scholars argue, however, that because it is found in most extant Greek manuscripts and was known to Tatian (c. 140 a.d.) there existed at least some early acceptance of its indicated signs of healing the sick, casting out demons, speaking in strange tongues, snake-handling, and drinking deadly potions unharmed. We know that Paul healed the sick and was bitten unharmed by a viper (Acts 28:3–6). But, as Kenneth Kantzer notes, the signs indicated in Mark were not specifically promised, nor were they received as evidence of a second work of grace or of postconversion maturity; they were regarded, rather, as evidence of the truth of the gospel message (“The Tongues Movement of Today: Bane or Blessing?” pp. 14–15). Kantzer emphasizes that the purpose of signs in Old and New Testaments alike is to accredit the spokesman and the message, but that no one has a right to apply an expectation of all signs to all Christians in every generation, and least of all to isolate speaking in tongues as the guarantee of Christian maturity.

The present controversy focuses largely on the charismatic claim that tongues evidence the baptism of the Spirit or, others would say, the fullness of the Spirit. This view has no support from such Christian stalwarts of the past as Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Whitefield, Edwards, Carey, Judson and others. Nor does the New Testament provide any basis for the notion that many or most regenerate Christians are strangers to the baptism of the Spirit and that those who have not spoken in tongues are at best immature believers. To say that Christians must be baptized twice is divisive by insisting on a postconversion bestowal of the Spirit attested by tongues. The linguist William J. Samarin contends that glossolalia sounds lack basic elements common to all spoken languages (Tongues of Men and Angels, p. 76). Human communication may indeed include vocalizations or noises that are not properly language, as well as gestures and bodily movements. But charismatic spokesmen do not catalogue glossolalia with noises like laughing or crying or groaning, but with systematically differentiated sounds arranged in grammatically significant sequences, and insist that a verbally interpretable content is at stake.

From Pentecost onward, the New Testament interest in tongues has centered around the intelligible worldwide proclamation of the gospel. The apostles leave no doubt that the test of whether one is “speaking by the Spirit of God” consists in what one says about the Lord Jesus (1 Cor. 12:3; 1 John 4:1–3). What is crucial is neither the language used nor the mode of expression but rather the logical content of what is conveyed. Speaking in incomprehensible tongues edifies neither believers (1 Cor. 14:21–22) nor unbelievers (1 Cor. 14:23–25). While it may be helpful to some in private prayer or praise, Jesus’ earthly ministry provides no known precedent for it, nor does that of the apostles.

The welcome for the charismatic movement in some circles raises critically important issues whenever its emphasis on a sporadic divine creative force is preferred above a rational approach to Christianity. There can be no doubt that secular rationalism is the enemy of revealed religion and, moreover, that a proper doctrine of the Holy Spirit who testifies to the centrality of the incarnate, crucified and risen Jesus is integral to biblical theism. But those who champion Spirit-Christianity often tend to dismiss the rationality of revelation as an intrusion into Christian theology of Greek philosophy, particularly of Platonism. Christianity, however, espouses a highly different doctrine of the divine Logos, of the relation of created human reason to the eternal world and to the temporal world, and of the ground and nature of man’s knowledge of God than do such philosophies. The biblical doctrine of illumination has little in common with Platonic philosophy other than the term itself.

To repudiate reason in the interest of spiritual reality can lead openendedly into the realm of the supernatural and the occult. The revival of witchcraft, Satan-worship, voodoo and astrology reflects an outreach toward the transcendent in an age of disenchantment with science and technology. In the absence of rational revealed religion such phenomena readily become counterreligious. John P. Newport estimated that in 1972 in the United States the number of professing witches dealing with evil spirits was “perhaps as many as one hundred thousand … about one-half the number of clergymen or physicians” (Demons, Demons, Demons, p. 45). The phenomenon of exorcism, long consigned by naturalistic theorists to the realm of mythology, has again become a familiar theme. Some psychiatrists, Christians as well as others, insist that they have not confronted a case of supposed demon possession that cannot be explained in terms of subjective psychological disorder. Only where the Holy Spirit is acknowledged in biblical fidelity and power is the phenomenon of demon possession today dynamically confronted in a society that probes the transcendent spirit world without the sure guidance of scriptural revelation.

We should not therefore be amused by the comment of those who suggest that, had the magi come to Bethlehem from the West rather than the East, one of them would surely have been a theologian bringing a theological system. Modern complaints that it is arrogant and impudent to box God in a system usually stem from an even more arrogant and impudent transmutation of Elohim into an existentialist. The expositor who brings to the Bible presuppositions foreign to its content, judges its message by extraneous expectations, and poses as an exegete while engaged in the role of an eisegete, needs to learn a lesson from the magi. Many who lay claim to being critically learned in the Bible preserve their own preferred options by first depriving the Scripture of any unified view. When critical scholars disagree so radically among themselves over the essential content of the Bible, it is hardly surprising that ordinary mortals are tempted to accommodate exotic tongues in place of rational truths.

The Spirit of God—not any private interpreter (2 Pet. 1:20), evangelical or nonevangelical—is the authoritative illuminator of the scripturally given Word. Evangelicals are properly disconcerted by proposals to enlarge the canon with apocryphal books that lack the necessary warrants for inclusion. They should be no less disconcerted, however, by their scanty knowledge of the very books they profess to cherish, and by their charitable views of rival exegetical claims that impose multiple and divergent meanings upon God’s Word. Pinnock speaks of the battle for biblical inerrancy which “seems to take on the character of an internal political struggle in which, by means of one technical term, ‘inerrancy,’ fundamentalist forces in the evangelical coalition hope to control and limit membership in the orthodox party” alongside the lack of “militancy on the Bible’s behalf … to hear and to obey God speaking in the Scriptures” (“Fruits Worthy of Repentance,” p. 29). We are all prone, moreover, to approach Scripture in the light of inherited or acquired traditions. It is fully possible that evangelicals, like the Pharisees of Jesus’ time, will be chastised for deferring uncritically to certain of their own traditions more than to the Word of God. The baggage of evangelical tradition is no divine criterion with which the Scripture must accord. The Spirit of God alone searches and knows all things, the self-same Spirit from whom the apostles received the inspired Word (1 Cor. 2:11–13), the Spirit who, in illumining the biblical revelation, “judges all things, [while] he himself is judged of no man” (1 Cor. 2:15, kjv).

Supplementary Note: Calvin on the Spirit’s Work of Illumination

In the theology of Calvin, the role of the Holy Spirit in the illumination of human beings, particularly of God’s elect, is highly important. Ford Lewis Battles, who has researched Calvin’s vocabulary, has placed at my disposal an index to passages in the Latin text of the Institutes in which Calvin uses the following terms (frequency of occurrence is indicated):

illuminamur (2), illuminandam (2), illuminando (4), illuminans (5), illuminant (2), illuminantur (4), illuminare (2), illuminari (10), illuminat (17), illuminatam (2), illuminatio (20), illuminatio (4), iluminateone (18), illuminateonem (22), illuminationis (2), illuminatissimi (2), illuminatos (10), illuminatum (4), illuminatus (4), illuminavit (6), illuminemur (4), illuminentur (2), illuminet (7), illuminetur (1).

The force of these numerous terms is evident in Battles’s 1960 English translation (The Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols.) of the 1559 Latin text Institutio Christianae religionis edited by