Has God Really Spoken?

It would not be an overstatement to say that God’s revealed word has been a source of controversy from nearly the beginning of time. The serpent of old asked Eve, “Did God actually say…” (Gen. 3:1), and that question has been an incessant refrain ever since.

One of the central topics of the conversation, especially during the last 150 years, is inspiration. What do we mean when we say that God inspired the Bible? How has God inspired the texts we understand to have been written by various authors over the course of about 1,500 years? There are many more questions that arise in this kind of conversation, but it is helpful to begin by asking, “Is the Bible the Word of God?”

Of course even this question will require some explanation, but here is a constructive starting point. Basil Manly has written a fantastic work on exactly this topic (The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration), and I found it to be extremely beneficial and compelling. Surprisingly, it was also food for my soul.

Manly sets the stage by helpfully arranging the stuff of Christianity. He writes,

“Christianity is the Religion of the Book. It is not an external organization, nor a system of ceremonies, nor a philosophy, nor a vague inquiry and aspiration, nor a human invention for man’s own convenience or advantage. It is a definite system divinely given, consisting primarily of Facts, occurring both on earth and in heaven; Doctrines in connection with those facts; Commands growing out of both these; and Promises based upon them.”[1]

The ideas that Manly presents here are beneficial for any context, but it seems especially so in the context of contemporary American culture. Christianity is about propositional truths concerning real historical events, from which we derive indicatives and imperatives regarding the most important issues of human existence. This should keep Christians from attempting to minimize the Christian Faith to something of lesser substance or a merely subjective experience.

There may be greater or lesser doctrines, and there are definitely experiences accompanying the Christian life, but the Bible is essential and foundational, and it is highly interested in informing its reader that God has spoken. Because Christianity is so dependent upon the Bible, the nature of this particular book is of greatest importance.

If the Bible is simply one good book among many, then it may still be of significant value. While it may come as a surprise to some, there could still be a Gospel for sinners – we may still know of the person and work of Jesus Christ – even if God did not inspire the Bible. However, there are some serious problems that would arise if one were to demonstrate that the Bible is not the word of God or inspired by God. Explaining the deficiencies of an uninspired Bible, Manly says, “It would furnish no infallible standard of truth.” Truth may still be known with an uninspired Bible, but we would have no objective standard or rule as our guide.
He goes on to say, “it would present no authoritative rule for obedience, and no ground for confident and everlasting hope.” One may still have hope, and one may still find the ‘tips’ or ‘principles’ in the Bible helpful, but there would be a lesser confidence in any promises it contained and it would have no solemn authority that any sinner should obey. Lastly, he says, “it would offer no suitable means for testing and cultivating the docile spirit, for drawing man’s soul trustfully and lovingly upward to its Heavenly Father.”[2] Manly touches on the nature of Scripture well here when he conveys the reality that it is precisely because the Bible is the word of God that it cultivates submission in the heart of a sinner and draws him near with love and trust.

Manly’s defense of Verbal Plenary Inspiration is excellent throughout this text. He articulates the doctrine well, and affirms both divine and human authorship. Both authors are vital to this doctrine. Manly writes,

“The Word is not of man, as to its source; nor depending on man, as to its authority. It is by and through man as its medium; yet not simply as the channel along which it runs, like water through a lifeless pipe, but through and by man as the agent voluntarily active and intelligent in its communication.”[3]

As with other doctrines, such as providence and the hypostatic union of Christ, there is a paradox here that requires adherents to maintain a tension without a contradiction. Manly argues for a view of inspiration that neither obliterates the human participants nor lessens the divine authority. God is the decisive source and author of the Scriptures, and intentional contributors wrote the Scriptures according to their own education, experiences, and understanding. Indeed, both of these truths are simultaneously affirmed from the Scriptures themselves. This is neither a contradiction, for it is in distinct senses that God is author and men are authors, nor is this a denial of any essential participant, for these are the words of men and the words of God. One is not required to leave his rationality behind when he affirms this doctrine, but he is required to believe something that is ultimately a mystery to him.

Verbal Plenary Inspiration has been the assertion of Christians for millennia, though not necessarily under this title, but a recent question has caused the conversation to take a speculative turn. After hearing this doctrine articulated and defended, one may still ask the question, “But how has God done this?” This question gets to the heart of many liberal and speculative arguments against Verbal Plenary Inspiration, and it may be the source of intellectual frustration for some sincere Christians. But Manly reminds us well of what we must know and remember when he says, “If we undertake to go beyond, and to explain how this was accomplished, we leave what has been made known to us for the barren and uncertain fields of conjecture.”[4] God does not tell us how He inspired the biblical writers; He simply told us that He did.

Manly’s text masterfully and passionately defends the doctrine of inspiration. God has spoken, and He has made Himself known through human agency. The Christian need only believe what God has said, just as he should believe that God has said it. This is the only way that a sinner may enjoy a right relationship with God. Humans have had difficulty trusting God at His word since the question was first asked, “Did God actually say…” (Gen. 3:1).
May God help us to answer with confidence, “Yes… As a matter of fact, He did.”

[1] Manly, Basil (2013-10-04). The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration (Kindle Locations 6-9). Titus Books. Kindle Edition.

[2] Ibid. (Kindle Location 27)

[3] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 124-126)

[4] Ibid. (Kindle Locations 138-139)

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