The God-Breathed Word
July 26th, 1964 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOD-BREATHED WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3:16-17
7-26-64 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled The God-Breathed Word. In the second letter of Paul to Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16, "All Scripture is theopneustos – all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, theopneustos, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction and righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" [2 Timothy 3:16-17].
Isn’t it a shame to have a chapter division there? "I charge thee therefore." The "therefore" refers to the "all Scripture is theopneustos." "I charge thee therefore, preach the word" [2 Timothy 4:1-2], the God-breathed Word. Theopneustos is exactly that; God-breathed. It has the imagery of a flute player playing into his instrument, breathing into his instrument. All Scripture is theopneustos; God-breathed.
There are two words that so largely characterize what God has done in writing the Bible. The first word is revelation, and the second word is inspiration. Our words revelation and inspiration are Latin words. The Latin word for "to uncover, to unveil, to reveal" is revelo. And our word revelation comes from that. The Latin word for "to breathe into" is inspiro. Our word inspiration comes from that. They are duplicated exactly in the Greek. The Greek word for unveiled, uncover, to make known is apokaluptō, apokalupsis; revelation, the apokalupsis, the uncovering.
The Greek word for "to inspire, to breathe in" is emphusaō, "breathe in," emphusaō, like Latin inspiro, "infused, breathe into." That’s the words that are used to characterize what God has done in giving us the Bible.
Now I want to make a distinction between revelation and inspiration. Revelation refers to the content: God has made known something, He has unveiled something, He has uncovered something. Inspiration refers to the transmission of what is made known. It refers to the method that kept it from error and mistake.
Could I illustrate it? It was an apokalupsis, it was a revelo, it was a revelation when Moses wrote the first chapter of Genesis. He wasn’t there when God created the heavens and the earth, nor was there any other man there. No human eye saw that. So it had to be made known by revelation. That is a revelation from God.
Now this is an inspiration. When Moses wrote, for example, the crossing at the Red Sea, that was an inspired writing. God kept him from error, and he wrote according to the mind of the Holy Spirit, but it was nothing revealed. Moses saw that with his own eyes. He led the children of Israel through the Red Sea.
Could I illustrate it from the New Testament? It was a revelation when John wrote the Apocalypse. No man can see the consummation of the age. Looking ahead thousands of years, the future is known but to God; yet God revealed that to John, and John wrote it down; a revelation, an apokalupsis. But this was inspiration: when John wrote, for example, the story of the crucifixion of Jesus. He was there; he saw it with his eyes. But in writing it according to the mind of the Spirit, without error or mistake, and for the purpose of God, that was inspiration. Revelation refers to the content; inspiration refers to the transmission that was kept from human error and mistake.
Now the message this morning is a discussion of those two; revelation and inspiration. First, revelation: there are three assumptions that make possible a revelation from God. One, we must assume that God would do it, that God can do it, that God can reveal, can uncover, can make known. The second assumption is that a man can know it, can understand it, can receive the revelation from God. And the third assumption is the revelation has to pertain to something that a man in his natural and physical powers could never know. A revelation is something that only God could know and no man could ever find it out. He can’t manufacture it, he can’t discover it; it is something God has to reveal.
Now there are two ways that God makes a revelation: one, He makes a revelation, sometimes, objectively. For example, it says in the Bible that God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger. That would be an objective revelation, a revelation outside of the man himself. Another example of that would be when Daniel, in the Book of Daniel, the finger of God wrote on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast. That is an objective revelation.
Now a subjective revelation is one that comes from the Spirit of God inside the man’s heart and mind. For example, in the third chapter of 2 Kings, Elisha the prophet said, "Bring me a minstrel; bring me a minstrel, and let him play and sing for me" [2 Kings 3:15]. And so, while the minstrel thumbed on his harp and sang, the Spirit of prophecy came on Elisha and he spake to the kings of Judah and Israel concerning these things that came to him in his heart. That was an inward revelation, a subjective revelation.
All right, the instance I used of Daniel, when the finger of God wrote on the wall, that was an objective revelation; but it came to Daniel’s heart, on the inside of it, what those letters, what those words meant. That is a subjective, intuitive revelation.
Now there are three characteristics of a revelation from God. The first one is it has progress and development. The revelation was not given all at one time; but, as the author of Hebrews wrote in the first chapter of Hebrews and the first verse, "God spake at sundry times and in diverse manners" [Hebrews 1:1]. The revelation from God came as a river gathers its waters; here is a tributary, and there is a tributary, and there is a stream, and there is a stream, and finally it all is gathered together in one mighty, flowing river. So it is with the revelation of God. It was given in pieces. It was given in parts. It was given in separate times, by many authors, through long centuries; and as it continued, it had movement and it had progress.
Now the reason for that is very apparent, for the revelation of God and the Word of God was always adapted to the status of the man at the time it was given. And God could not speak in the youth time of the race what He could speak in the adulthood of the race, and what God said back there had to be made such as the man could receive it. And as the progress of the human soul and as the capacity of man for God increased, so did the revelation development continue upward and heavenward.
A good illustration of that is Jesus and divorce. When the disciples said to the Lord, "Lord, you say this thing is not possible; and yet Moses, according to the law, the Old Testament, gave a writ of divorcement. And the man who ordered to put away his wife wrote out that writ of divorcement and put her away. Now why, Lord, if you say thus-and-so?" And the Lord replied, "For the hardness of your hearts Moses allowed such a thing" [Mark 10:4-5]. That is at that stage in the human family they were not able to bear the full revelation of God in Jesus Christ as we know it today in the Christian dispensation.
You have another instance of that in the use of force in the Old Testament, and the use of moral persuasion as you find it in the New Testament and in the Sermon on the Mount. In the childhood of the race discipline and force was necessary just as it is in the childhood of the human family.
There was a bad boy in a Sunday school class misbehaving terribly. And during the days of the week his fellow students in the Sunday school class attended to him and the next Sunday he was a model of excellence. So the teacher asked the other boys, "What did you say to him that he is so nice today?" And the other boys said, "Well, teacher, we didn’t say nothing to him. We just punched him in the nose."
I heard of a little boy who was on a little play horse, a little rocking horse, in a department store. And the mother pled with the little boy to get off of the horse; time to go home, and the little boy wouldn’t do it. Well, she was one of these modern mothers you know, who had been taught you mustn’t lay a hand on the boy and you mustn’t discipline the boy; you’ll warp his personality. And so she just pled with the little fellow, "Please get off the horse, pretty please. Please get off of the horse." And he wouldn’t get off. And so the manager was called, and he pled with the boy to get off of the horse. Well, the manager would get in trouble if he tried to discipline the boy, so they called the psychologist. And the psychologist came and whispered something in that little boy’s ear, and he got off just like that. And when they got home the mother said to the little boy, "What did that psychologist say to you?" And that little boy said, "Mama, that psychologist said to me, ‘Listen, if you don’t get off of this horse right this minute I am going to beat the daylights out of you.’"
In the younger age of the race there were revelations of God and mandates of God that were fitted to that age in the youth of the human family. But as the revelation continued and as it progressed, finally we came to the great consummation of the full revelation and word of God in the New Testament.
Now a second characterization of revelation: it has continuity. It has purpose, it has outreach, it is moving towards something. And what it is back here, revealed in the beginning, has in it all of those germinal seeds for which it is reaching in its final and ultimate consummation.
For example, in the simplest mathematical axioms you have the germinal seeds and propositions of all of the vast system of mathematics that is to come, including calculus and all of those Einsteinian theories that gave birth to this new modern atomic age in which we live. But they are all latent and they are all enfolded into the simplest starting mathematic axioms. So it is in the Word of God. Latent in those beginning revelations of the Lord are all of those ultimate consummations that we know in Christ and in the New Testament. They are enfolded in the Old Testament dispensation, unfolded in the New Testament day of grace and glory.
For example, when God gave Moses the tabernacle there was a purpose in the rudimentary, primary-school-day teaching of the tabernacle. God had to teach the human race a language, a heavenly language. God was going to talk about atonement. He was going to talk about an altar. He was going to talk about sacrifice. He was going to talk about the expiation of our sins. But first the race had to be taught the meaning of the language of God when He spake of the things He had wrought for our redemption, so He built a tabernacle. And when God said "altar," I immediately know what He means by an altar; it’s a place to die on. When God then says the word sacrifice, I know what He means by sacrifice; sacrifice is laying down your life for somebody else. I know what He means by atonement; atonement is the spilling out of blood that washes away our sins. I know what He means by going through the veil, and into the presence of God, and there making expiation of sin. You see, I was taught that in the rudimentaries of God’s revelation. But in the seed there, in the germinal revelation there, is all of the glory of the consummation that I read in the death of Jesus that I might live.
A third characteristic of the revelation: it has congruity. It has inner-relatedness, it has agreement and harmony: this is the part of this, is enmeshed with this, is interconnected with this, and all of it makes the whole revelation of God. There is one divine mind back of the universe, and whether you are looking at Jupiter or whether you are looking at a pinhead you are looking at the same divine, creative genius. And everything that is, that God has done; the mind of God is stacked upon it.
You will find that in the revelation of God. It has the same great marks of continuity, the same great theme and subject that is faithfully followed and increasingly revealed to the whole Word of God. Herein you will find, for example, the difference between how God will do a thing and how a man will do a thing.
Let’s take, for example, God’s theme of redemption to the whole Bible; never turning aside from it, always that same presentation, that same continuity, that same interconnectedness, that same interrelatedness, that same unvarying story. Now let’s look at it in the Bible, and look at it as a man would say it. No man could write that Bible. No man would write that Bible.
Now here is an example of the purposefulness of God, in one great continual theme throughout the whole book; now you look at it. You ask an anthropologist – he’s a man who studies the race, the beginnings and origins of the race, and the development of the human family – you ask an anthropologist, "Stand up here and tell us how man came to be." And the anthropologist will answer, "Back there in those primeval antiquities, in the dim mist of the past eons and ages, out of the slime and out of the dirt, there was lifted up a primate, and a man. And man is the hero, and he rose, and he rose, and rises, and up, and up, and up, and finally someday he will be an archangel." Now that will be an anthropologist’s reply; up, onward, hero, glory to the man for ascending out of the slime of the earth. That is what he will say.
Now let’s take God. What does God unvaryingly declare in the revelation? This is what God declares: man is a fallen animal, a fallen creature. Man is an abysmal, everlasting failure. He used to be perfect, set in the glory of the Eden of God. And he fell, and he fell, and he fell, and he always falls. And the only hope for the redemption of the man is in the grace of God. He can never save himself. He can never achieve heaven in himself. But the grace of God must reach down and wash his sins away, and regenerate his heart, and make him a new man. And that is the unvarying theme of the Word of God all the way through. A man is a lost creature. A man is born, and he lives in iniquity and transgression, and a man is lost forever, except for the intervention for the goodness and grace of God and the atonement of Jesus. That is the way God would say it.
But I pause for a moment and say, you can listen to a preacher and he will be one of those two things; he will be one of them. The preacher will stand up and he will speak of the glories of the hero man: oh, what we did yesterday, and then what we are going to do today, and what we are going to do today is nothing to we are going to do tomorrow; and finally, we are going to build our Tower of Babel to reach the sky and the heaven itself. Now that is one preacher.
There will be another preacher who will stand up and look at his congregation and say, "By the Word of God, and in our own experience, we are lost sinners, lost sinners. And the only way we can find hope, and life, and forgiveness, and salvation is in the grace of God and in the atonement of Jesus for our sins. Come, let us bow at the foot of the cross. Let us confess our weaknesses, and our iniquities, and our sins. Let us lay them all at the feet of Jesus, and let’s ask God to come into our souls, and come into our homes, and come into our churches, and come into our nation, and save our people. Our hope lies in God." That’s another kind of a preacher.
And you will always find him one or the other. That’s the revelation of God. And it never departs from it; sin and atonement, and our hope lying in the grace of Jesus.
Now I come, and we must hasten – now I come to inspiration. I copied down through books, and books, and books all of the theories of inspiration that I could find. And then I assorted them, and I found that, at least to me, every one of them is one of four.
First, there are many theories of inspiration that I would call rational or radical. Let’s use the word rational, for we have come to look upon the word rationalistic, rationalism, as being a method of approach that denies a personal God and denies a supernatural. So there are theories of inspiration of the Bible that say that it came out of man’s own intuitive powers. There wasn’t anything supernatural. There wasn’t anything from God, but the authors of the Bible were inspired only in the sense that Shakespeare was inspired, Homer was inspired, Milton was inspired, Tennyson was inspired, Browning was inspired. They were just ordinary men, and maybe once in a while they might have been raised to a little higher point of intuitive understanding than, say, Shakespeare or Homer. But they still were just ordinary men using ordinary intuitive human judgments and faculties, and therein they wrote the Bible. Now that’s one theory of inspiration; denying a personal God, denying the supernatural, and the men who wrote are just like all other men.
A second theory, groups of theories, I would call fractional or partial. They believe that the Bible is inspired in spots: here is an inspired passage, there’s one; here’s one, there’s one, there’s one. The Decalogue, they would say, is inspired; but the historical section that tells about David and Goliath, that’s a myth, that’s a fable. And this is inspired – say, the twenty-third Psalm; but this isn’t inspired, the imprecatory psalms. Just things like that. It’s inspired in spots. It’s fractionally inspired. It contains the Word of God, but it is not the Word of God.
You have a colossal, colossal weakness in that theory, because it calls for another inspiration. If it is inspired in spots, somebody has got to be inspired to pick out the spots so they can tell them what is inspired and what is not inspired. Anyway, that is a very common, very common theory.
Now a third theory, and we must hasten, is the mechanical theory; that’s the persuasion that would say that the men who wrote the Bible were just automatons; they were like a Dictaphone, they were like amanuenses, they were like secretaries. They just wrote down as God dictated it.
Now the fourth is the one that I want to speak of now; which, I think, in my humble opinion, describes how God has given us the Holy Bible in revelation, without error or mistake. I believe in a dynamic, plenary, verbal, supernatural presentation in the writing of the Holy Bible. It is dynamic in the sense that God used the personalities, and minds, and experiences in hearts of men to do it. It is plenary in the sense that all of it, all Scripture, is theopneustos, all of it, plenary. And it is verbal in the sense that every jot of it is inspired, and it is supernatural in the sense that it comes from God and has a supernatural effect upon those who receive its message and believe its Christ.
Now, quickly as we can, may I speak of those four things. First, dynamic: and as I said, by that I mean that God used men, the minds of men, the personalities of men, the hearts and souls of men, the experiences of men – God used men to write the Book. It is not something that is alien to a man’s intelligence or alien to human reception and understanding, but it is something that a man can read, and know, and understand. It is written that we might be intelligent Christians and disciples of our Lord.
When God made the prophet, when God made the apostle, He did not unmake the man. He’s still a man. He’s still Peter, or Paul, or David, or Moses. When the bush burned unconsumed it was still a bush. When the Lord sent a raven to feed Elijah, it was still a raven. And when God said He ordained praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings [Psalm 8:2], they have to remain babes and sucklings or the imagery and the prophecy of God is of no effect.
So God uses in a dynamic, theopneustos, God-breathed way the personality of the man who writes. You have that conjoining of the human and divine in Christ: He is both man and He is God also. You have it in your salvation. There was a part in your salvation you played; there was a part in your salvation regeneration that God played. You have it in all that God does in this world.
For example, George Eliot wrote a poem about Antonio Stradivarius and puts in Antonio’s voice, words, these words: "God Himself cannot make Antonio Stradivarius violins without Antonio." God uses the man, breathes upon the man.
Now that means that every man will have his own personality. He will have his own approach. He will have his own language. He will have his own idiosyncrasies and style. For example, Isaiah was a brilliant court preacher and he spoke in high-flown glorious alliterations and perorations. But Amos was a country preacher. And Amos, when he talked, when you read his book, it smells of a new-plowed furrow. It smells of the dirt and of the soil. Now for God to place in the mouth of Amos the high-flown literary language of Isaiah would be a monstrous, an anomalous thing to do. So Amos speaks like a farmer would speak, and Isaiah speaks like a brilliant court preacher would speak; but both of them God-breathed, God using their personality. Now you will find that all through God’s use of a man.
Christmas Evans had one big eye, the other one was out; one big eye, and I’ve read I don’t know how many accounts how that luminous eye was used of God to bring sinners to repentance. Dwight L. Moody was very ungrammatical in his message, but God baptized that lack of grammar in Moody and made him a tremendous soulwinner. Phillips Brooks was a chaste and polished Bostonian preacher. Sam Jones was a humorist, and he cut with a two-edged sword with devastating effect, his humor. And Billy Sunday, Billy Sunday would break a chair on the pulpit. If I could have seen him I would have liked that.
You see, God uses the personality of the man, and you will find that in the form of the revelation that God will give to him. Moses, of course, is the heir to the throne of Egypt, was trained in all of the legal law and background of the Egyptians. So in the Law of Moses you will find a reflection of that marvelous training. Paul was trained in rabbinical casuistry, in rabbinical polemics and hair-splitting theology, and you will find all of that in the background reflected here in the letters he wrote. David was a sweet psalmist, he was a sweet singer of Israel, and you will find that in the beautiful songs that he wrote. And Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived; you will find that in the proverbs that he wrote. So the whole Bible, it has a dynamic of God in it as God used the mind and soul and personality of the author.
All right, a second thing about this theory of inspiration in which I humbly subscribe: I believe in the plenary inspiration of the Bible; all of it, all of it. Now there are degrees of value, there are degrees of worth in the Bible. But there are not degrees of inspiration. I may not find as much worth in the catalogs of these genealogies in, say, Chronicles as I do in the Sermon on the Mount or the story of the death of Christ. But one is as inspired as the other. It takes it all to make it complete, and there are no degrees in completeness. This is complete, and this part is just as true; and this is complete, and this part; and this is complete, and this part; and put it all together, and it makes the whole full-orbed revelation of God. I believe in the plenary revelation of the Book, in the plenary inspiration of the Book, all of it is inspired of God. The fallible man passed away, but the infallible Word that he delivered abides forever.
Now I believe in the verbal inspiration of the Bible. Our Lord said there will not be a jot, there will not be a dotting of an "i," there will not be a tittle, there will not be the crossing of a "t" that shall pass away from this law until all be fulfilled [Matthew 5:18]. I believe in the jot and in the tittle, in the word that is used in the Holy Bible to reveal the great uncovering and the disclosure of God to us.
Let me say it like this: you can’t have melody without notes; you can’t do it. You can’t have mathematics without figures; you can’t do it. And you can’t have thoughts without words. And when those thoughts are inspired, the words by which God expressed them is a vehicle of that same inspired revelation.
That’s the basis for all exegesis. The man who preaches the Bible and is expounding the Word of God is doing it on the assumption that that Word is inspired by theopneustos, God-breathing into the mind and soul or objectively portraying His revelation from heaven.
Now the last, and quickly: it is a supernatural revelation. It is a gift from heaven. God pulls back the veil, and He speaks to us, and He reveals to us, and He uncovers to us, and He makes known to us. It is from heaven. No man can unveil the future and look ahead. That was my sermon last Sunday morning. It is supernatural. It is above what a man could ever know or ever discover, however heightened his intuitive faculties. It had to come from God.
And then, it is supernatural in its divine and heavenly effect upon those who hear its message, and receive its word, and are transported and translated into the kingdom of everlasting light and glory; in its effect upon the human soul and the human family.
When I was a pastor in a little country church, one of the men, a godly deacon, one of the farmers fell heir in some way to a Spanish Bible. He couldn’t read a word of it and wondered what to do with it. And it came to his heart in the community there was one Mexican family. And he made his way up to the house, and stopped, and knocked at the door, and greeted the father of the large family, and said, "I have a gift for you. I have a Bible and it is written in Spanish. It’s written in your language. And I am giving it to you".
So the Mexican took it with gratitude, "Gracias. Gracias." And upon a day the farmer had even forgotten about it. Upon a day there was a knock at the door and there stood that Mexican farmer, that tenant farmer. And he said, "You know the Book you gave, you know the Book? We’ve been reading the Book, and we’ve all been saved. We’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior. We’ve all been saved. And it says in the Book that we are to be baptized. And I’ve come to ask if I and all of my family, if we could be baptized." Well, they brought it to me. I said, I said, "We rejoice. We thank God. Oh, glory, glory!" So I baptized the Mexican and his large family.
Upon a day a fire broke out in the tenant’s house and the thing was going up in flames. And while the farmers around who gathered watched the house go up in smoke and in fire, they saw that Mexican dash into those falling embers and come back out. He had rescued from the flame the Word of God and held it in his hand, part of it still burning. It is supernatural in its effect upon the human soul. This is the Word of God.
I am preparing a sermon that I hope to preach in September. I am preparing a sermon on the miracle, the miracle of the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God: tribes, families, nations, houses, men changed, made like the glory of the revelation of the Lord that shined in the face of Jesus Christ. This is the Book of God. "The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our Lord," inspired, plenarily, verbally, dynamically, supernaturally abides in glory and in power forever [Isaiah 40:8].
Now on the first note of the first stanza, while we sing our appeal, you come and stand by me. "Pastor, today I give my heart to Jesus. I give you my hand. I give my heart to the Lord." "Today, pastor, we are coming into the fellowship of the church." One somebody you, a family you, a couple you, "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children. All of us are coming today." However the Spirit of God shall lead in the way, come. Make it now. Make it now while we stand and while we sing.