THE GOD- BREATHED WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3:16-17
7-26-64 8:15 a.m.
We do pray God’s blessings upon this chapel choir as they represent our Lord and us in this strategic and interesting tour through the northeastern part of the United States. This coming Sunday morning they will be singing in Jackson, Mississippi and in Birmingham, Alabama. Then making their tour through Washington and singing at the White House and on through New York City and the World’s Fair and how many other places, they will be doing good for God. It will be marvelous to behold. And our prayers and love follow these dear young people.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The God-Breathed Word. In the sixteenth verse of the third chapter of Second Timothy, 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is theopneustos, God-breathed." In the King James Version translated, "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." Then the seventeenth verse, "That the man of God may be complete, may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
Now this is the text. It is a subject sermon, The God-Breathed Word. "All Scripture is theopneustos , God-breathed."
The figure of that word is as a player blows into his flute. So God breathed, the Holy Spirit guided, illuminated, infused these writers who wrote our Bible. I wish now to make a distinction between the words revelation and inspiration. And then I am going to speak on revelation first and inspiration second.
Our word revelation and our word inspiration come directly from Latin words. Revelo, a Latin word for uncover. Draw back the curtain from. Uncover. It is an exact duplicate of the Greek word apokalupsis, an uncovering, apokalupto, to uncover, to unveil. Same way about our word inspiration; the Latin word inspiro is to breathe into; inspiro, breathe into. The Greek word is emphusao, breathe into. So inspiration, breathe into, revelation to uncover, to unveil.
I can illustrate those things in the writers of the Bible better than I can expatiate upon it. By revelation, by apokalupsis, by an uncovering, by revelation to Moses, Moses wrote the first chapter of Genesis. He wasn’t there. Nor was anybody else there in the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. So God had to reveal that to Moses. That is revelation.
This is inspiration. By inspiration Moses wrote for example the crossing at the Red Sea. He was there and he saw it. But when he wrote the account without error and according to the mind of God that is inspiration.
Let’s take another instance. By revelation, by apokalupsis John wrote the last book in the Bible. For no man knows the consummation of the age. Only God knows it. So God unveiled the future and John wrote it down. That is revelation.
This is inspiration. When John wrote the account of the crucifixion of Jesus he was there. He saw it. And in order that the record might be without error or mistake, by inspiration John wrote it down according to the mind of God.
So revelation refers to the content and inspiration refers to the transmission. By revelation God made known to His servants who wrote this Bible, the things of the Lord. And by inspiration it was recorded for us by these authors without error and without mistake.
Now may I speak first of revelation? There are three assumptions to begin with concerning the possibility of a revelation. First, that God is willing and able to communicate truth to us, that God will do it.
Second assumption, that the man is able to receive the communication, to hear it, to see it, to accept it from God, to understand it and third that the man in all of his natural powers is unable to ferret out that revelation. It is something over and beyond the natural powers of a man to think of for himself. He can’t manufacture it. It comes by revelation, by disclosure from God.
Now there are two ways by which a revelation is made to man from God. One, objectively; God will make a revelation objectively. That is it is something on the outside of a man himself.
Here is an example. It says in the Bible that God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger. That’s an objective revelation. With His own finger God wrote out the Ten Commandments. In the story of Daniel the finger of God wrote on the wall. Now that is an objective revelation.
Then there is another kind of revelation. There is a subjective revelation when God speaks to a man on the inside of his heart. A good example of that would be the third chapter of Second Kings. When Elisha called for a minstrel, called for a singer and as the minstrel played on his harp and sang, the Spirit of prophecy came upon Elisha and he prophesied what Israel and Judah should do and what should happen.
Another instance, I’ve used the case of Daniel and the handwriting on the wall as an objective revelation. Now a subjective revelation speaking on a man’s heart would be when Daniel interpreted the meaning of those letters, those words that God wrote on the wall.
Now there are three characteristics of revelation. First, there is progress in it. There is development in it. In the first chapter of Hebrews, in the first verse, the Lord inspired that author to say God gave, God spake, God gave His revelation in sundry times and in diverse manners. He meant by that the revelation did not come all at one time. But it came in pieces and in parts through all of the years.
Remember in the days of Samuel there was no open vision, no Word of God for years, and years, and years. And do you remember when John the Baptist stood up to preach for over 400 years there had been no prophet and no revelation from God?
So the revelation was given by pieces and at different times and in different manners. It’s like a great river and a tributary comes into it here, and one here, and one here and the waters are gradually gathered.
So it is in the revelation of God. It was not given all at one time but over a long period of time. And there was progress in it and there was development in it as God added to it. The reason for the necessity of progress and development in the revelation is very apparent. You finally get an illustration of that when the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Lord, why if a man is not to put away his wife, why did Moses give the authority to make a writ of divorcement and put her away?"
And the Lord said it was because of the hardness of the heart. It was because of the inability of the man to receive it in Moses’ day that this thing was done. "But I say to you," says the Lord Jesus, "In this day, in this day, in the Christian era we are going back to that hour and day of perfection when God made the first man and the first woman. There is a man for a woman". It was only out of deference to the inability of the people to receive it in Moses’ day that this arrangement was made whereby the home could be broken.
Now that principle of a revelation from God having to be made to fit the ableness of a man to receive it is to be found all through the Bible. Now may I illustrate that? It is true that there is a day of youth in the story of the human race as there is a day of youth, of childhood, in our upbringing, in our growing up. And the manner and method of the Word has to differ according to the age of the race, or the age of the child.
Now we can see that very easily in a thing that comes to pass in the development of the Christian faith. We are taught today to use moral suasion and not force. To use force is not according to the will of Jesus. We ought to use moral suasion. But in the young day of the race as in the young day of a child, moral suasion sometimes is not sufficient.
There was a bad boy in a Sunday school class and the next Sunday he was a perfect model of discipline. He was just perfect. And the teacher inquired and found out that the other boys in the class had seen to it that the fellow was going to behave the next Sunday at Sunday school. So the Sunday school teacher asked the boys in the class, "What did you say to him?"
And the other boys in the class said, "We didn’t say nothing to him. We just punched his nose."
I read the story of a little boy in a department store and he was on a little rocking horse, a little toy rocking horse. And he wouldn’t get off. And his mother was one of these modern mothers who you must not touch the child, you mustn’t discipline the child. You mustn’t spank the child. You’ve got to talk and reason, you know. So the mother was talking and reasoning until she was blue in the face. And the little old kid was there on the horse and wouldn’t get off and the mother had to go.
So she made appeal to the manager and of course the manager pled and he wouldn’t dare touch the child. And the little fellow stayed right on that horse. So they called the psychologist. And the psychologist came up there and looked into the situation and he walked over, whispered something in that little boy’s ear and that little guy got off the horse just like that.
And when they got home, the mother said, "What did that psychologist say to you that made you get off that horse?"
He said, "Momma, momma, that psychologist said to me, ‘If you don’t get off of that horse this very second I am going to beat the living daylights out of you.’"
Now I am saying that as there is an age in childhood where you just don’t use moral suasion for example as you would in later life. As there is an age in childhood so there is an age in the human family. And God could not do back there as God did later on.
And there are some methods and disciplines back there, such as I say the use of force that you will not find in the Sermon on the Mount. Now that is the revelation of God. It has development in it. It has progress in it.
All right, a second thing about it, it has continuity in it. It has purpose in it. What is here is reaching forward towards some great objective and consummation out there.
As in the simplest axioms of mathematics all of the truths of calculus are to be found. So in the simplest self-disclosure of God in the Old Testament all of the ultimate truths and revelations of God are to be found. They are in germinal form here. They are in consummation there.
Let’s take for example the tabernacle. Before God could speak to us we had to learn a nomenclature. For example, if God were to say to us a sacrifice, if God were to say to us an altar, if God were to say to us atonement we wouldn’t know what altar was. We wouldn’t know what atonement was. We wouldn’t know what sacrifice was unless first God had taught us the language of heaven.
Then after the days of that schooling, that paidagogos, after the days of that Old Testament dispensation, the law, the covenant of Moses after those days then when God spoke of an altar I knew exactly what He meant. An altar is a place to die on. I know what He means by a sacrifice. A sacrifice is the pouring out of life for the saved in behalf of somebody else. I know what atonement is. Atonement is in the blood poured out upon the altar for the expiation of sin.
And the revelation is like that. God teaches us like a child is taught the first words of the language. And then God continues to make known to us the ultimate of His revelation, the self-disclosure of Himself.
All right, I have a third characteristic of revelation. And it is this. That in it there is always continuity, and agreement, and harmony. There is one divine mind, the author of the whole Bible. And that unites it together and makes it interrelated and correlated. It’s all one tremendous story and it has one great theme.
The mind of God is back of this universe. And you will find that every part of it will fit every other part, whether you are looking at a pinhead and the atomic structure of a pinhead; or whether you are looking at Jupiter, the largest satellite; or whether you are looking at the greatest sun in the universe, or our sun, or any parts of it. The same mind, and the same laws, and the same marvelous creative handiwork is back of all of it.
So you will find that same mind through all of the Bible. It is God’s mind that is reflected here. And it will reach up and forward toward that great consummation of a theme that God is revealing to us.
I have a good illustration of that in the consistency that God has in the Bible concerning the estate of a man and what a man needs. No man would write that Bible. No man could write it. No man would write it. Jesus wouldn’t do it like that.
I have a good illustration of that. You take any anthropologist that is practically all of the anthropologists and you ask the anthropologist to describe to us the story of man. That’s what he studies, anthropology, the story of man. And here is the way he will answer.
Way back yonder in the dim mist of iniquity, in the slime of the earth there began to grow and develop life. And up, and up, and up, and up, and up, and finally he comes to the man, and up, and up, and up until finally he says we are going to develop into archangels one of these days. That is the way an anthropologist will reply and that is the kind of a book that he would have written.
When you turn to the Bible you will find an exact diametrical opposite of that. For to God man is no hero and he is not up, and up, and up, and up, and up. What happened to the man was according to the Bible and the theme it constantly pursued, the man went down, and down, and down, and down, and down. He’s a sinner. He is lost in iniquities and transgressions. And he must be redeemed. And outside of the redemptive love and grace of God he is forever lost. Now that is the Bible and that is the theme. That is the reflection of the mind of God. You will find all through the Word of the Lord.
Same thing you will hear in a theologian. When you hear a theologian stand up and he is speaking about the man and as he presents the story of man he presents him as being a great hero and up, and up, and up, and up, and up does he rise in glory. Well, he is following the line of the wisdom of man. That is the anthropologist. That is the sociologist. That’s this modern day knowledge.
But when he reflects the heart of God, what that man will do is this. He will say, "My brother you are lost in sins and in transgressions. And if you don’t repent, and if you don’t trust Christ, and if you don’t receive the free pardon of salvation you are going to die, and doomed, and a damned sinner. Turn my brother, turn. Live, my brother, live. Look to Jesus and live."
That’s the way a man will preach who will preach according to the mind of God in the Bible. And there is a consistency in that all the way through. That a man is a lost and fallen sinner and that he must be redeemed by the grace and forgiveness of Jesus in the blood of the cross.
Now we must hurry. The second part of the sermon I have just a few moments for. So just listen the best you can as I rapidly go through it. Inspiration, I say has to do with the transmission, the writing of the Book. There are four. I’ve just gathered them all together. I’ve copied them out of these books, books, books. And when I went through all of them that I could find it seemed to me that every one of the theories of inspiration could be grouped under four headings.
First, the radical theory and that is that there is no personal God. There is nothing supernatural. These men who are inspired in the Bible are inspired as Shakespeare, or Milton, or Homer, or Tennyson, or Browning, or any other man, maybe in a little higher degree but in the same way. Now that is the radical theory. There is no such a thing as supernatural inspiration. These men are just like any other men. That is the radical theory.
The second theory that encompasses so many attitudes is the fractional theory, the partial theory. That is that the Bible is inspired in spots and parts. It contains the Word of God but it is not the Word of God. Now what that does of course, you have to have another inspiration. If it is inspired in spots somebody must be inspired to pick out the spots.
But that doesn’t bother them at all because they look upon themselves as inspired creatures who are well able to pick out what is inspired but what is not inspired. They say the Decalogue was inspired. They say the historical portions are not inspired. They say the twenty-third Psalm is inspired. They say the imprecatory parts of the Psalms are not inspired. On and on it goes. They believe in a fractional and a partial inspiration, some of it is.
All right, a third theory; the third theory is the dictation theory, the mechanical theory, the automaton theory. That is that the man just wrote and his mind didn’t enter into it at all. But he wrote like a Dictaphone would take a thing down, like an amanuensis, like a secretary.
Now the forth is the one that I’ve gathered together in which I so firmly believe. It is the dynamic, plenary, verbal, supernatural theory. Dynamic in the sense that God used men. Plenary in the sense that all of it; all Scripture is God-breathed. Verbal in the sense that every jot of it is inspired and supernatural in the sense that it came from God and has a supernatural effect among those who read it, and believe it, and accept it.
Now I want to discuss those four things of the theory of inspiration that I believe, of the truth of inspiration that I believe. First, it is dynamic. By that I mean God used the man, all of the man; his personality, his mind, his heart; his characteristics, his idiosyncrasies, even the way that he put words together.
God breathed upon the man. The Holy Spirit came upon the man and used the man. But in making the prophet or the apostle he did not unmake the man. He’s still a man. Paul is still a man. Isaiah is still a man even though the God breath inspired him to write these marvelous things.
The bush that burned unconsumed was still a bush. The raven that fed Elijah was still a raven. Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings has God ordained praise but they have to remain babes and sucklings or the prophecy has no pertinency at all.
You see that divine union of human in the life of Christ. He’s both. He’s human and divine. You see it in your salvation. You had a part in it and God had a part in it. One of the most effective poems I have ever read is George Eliot about Antonio Stradivarius who says, "Even God can’t make Antonio Stradivarius’ violins without Stradivarius". So God used the mind and the personality of a man.
For example, Isaiah is a polished court preacher. Amos is a country preacher and all of his symbols and figures are from the south. They just smell of fresh plowed earth. God used Isaiah in his portly, princely, marvelous, poetic, oratorical prophecies. He used Amos, talking like a country preacher. But God inspired both of them and left them just as they were.
Some of these modern preachers in these last hundred or two years, it is remarkable how God uses them. Christmas Evans had one eye and the effect that that man had in that one big luminous eye was marvelous I have been told.
Dwight L. Moody couldn’t use good English and he made grammatical errors all through his message. Phillips Brooks was a polished Bostonian preacher. Sam Jones used humor with bold, and incisive, and devastating effect. Billy Sunday broke chairs over the pulpit. God used them. God blessed them. But He didn’t change them.
The Spirit of the Lord used the mind and the personality of the man. So did God use different forms of literary expression for the revelation. Moses was trained as the Prince of Wales, as the heir apparent in Egypt. Moses was trained in the law of the land. And God used that legal experience when He gave the Mosaic Legislation to the people.
Paul was learned in theology, the casuistry of the rabbinical school of theology. And you will find that in the epistles of Paul over and over again, that theological background and polemic of the apostle Paul. David was a natural poet. You will find that in the Psalms that he wrote. Solomon was the wisest man in all the world. You will find that in the Proverbs that he wrote. And on and on in the Bible you will find all the literary forms, the dynamic theory that is that God used the personality of a man.
All right, a second thing about that theory that I think is true. It is plenary. It is plenary. There are degrees, there are degrees of worth in the revelation. But there are not degrees in inspiration. When I turn over here and read all of those genealogies in Chronicles for example why, I don’t get the profit from it that I get from reading about the cross of Jesus and how He died for my sins.
So there are degrees of worth in the revelation. But there are not degrees of inspiration. All of it is inspired. And all of it has to be taken as true to make it complete and completeness has no degrees. All of it is a part of that great purpose of God.
All right third, the verbal inspiration of the Bible. I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Word of God. You can’t have a song, a melody without notes. And you can’t have mathematics without figures. And you can’t have thoughts without words.
And the words of the Bible are inspired. It is on the basis of inspiration that the words of the Bible that a preacher exegetes, that is he takes the Word of God and he follows it word by word and tells the people what is means.
That is a basic assumption when you exegete the Bible that the Spirit of God entered into the choice and the use of the very words. And as Jesus said not a jot or a tittle will be taken from the law until all of it be fulfilled.
And then last it is supernatural. Supernatural beyond what any man could write. And I spoke on that at great length last Sunday. And the supernatural effect it has upon the people who read it.
In a little country pastorate that I had, in a little country pastorate, there was one Mexican family, one Mexican family. And upon a day one of my deacons in the church fell heir to a Spanish Bible. He couldn’t read a word of it. But being a Bible he didn’t want to throw it away and he didn’t know what to do with it. And upon a day, it just came into his mind. Give it to that family. He made a special trip up there and gave that Spanish Bible to that family. And then forgot about it.
Upon a day there was a knocking at the door. And in a broken English that I can’t mimic why, the father of that Mexican family had been reading God’s word. He and his entire family had found the Lord and they had read in there how they ought to be baptized and he had come to my deacon and wanted to know if I could baptize his family. Bless your heart, one of the sweetest experiences of my life to get to do it.
And upon a day their house burned down. And in that blazing fire when the little farmhouse was going up in flames, they saw that Mexican father dash in to the burning building and he came out with that book in his hand and half of it had been burned. But they couldn’t let the fire destroy the living Word of the living God. And that was one of the precious things that I saw in that community was that Bible half burned.
It is miraculous. It is supernatural. Not only in God’s inspired writing of it and in God’s revelation of the content of it but in the incomparable effect it has upon civilization, and life, and homes, and family, and children. And God help us as we try to lift up the Word of God which alone reveals to us our blessed Lord and His grace that reaches down even to the saving of our souls.
Now we must stop and we must sing our song. And on the first note of this stanza, somebody to give his heart to Jesus or somebody to put his life in the fellowship of the church, you come and stand by me. You come and stand by me. "Pastor, today I am taking the Lord as my Savior." Or, "Today I am coming into the fellowship of this church." A family or a couple or just one somebody you on the first note of this stanza, come and stand by me while all of us stand and sing together.