THE GOD-BREATHED WORD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3:16
8-29-71 8:15 a.m.
On the radio you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message on the Word of God. I have been asked to do so by the trustees of our Bible Institute. I like the assignment. There could be nothing that would please me better than to prepare a message on the Holy Scriptures, God’s infallible, inspired, inerrant Word. These are days of great meaning for us.
Across this nation and in other areas beyond the seas, there is genuine and real revival among our young people. I pray that it may spill over into the homes and areas of church life that finally might engulf us all. And in keeping with that march, that new dedication, that new life that our teenagers are finding in Christ, we are dedicating a month to teenage revival, to youth appeal. And it will be a program of visitation and soulwinning during the days of the week. And then each Sunday night for four consecutive Sunday nights, beginning tonight, we will be in revival here in our church.
At nine-thirty today, when I am done preaching, at nine-thirty today there will be a teenage youth rally here in this auditorium. And all of you teenagers and the workers in those Junior High and Senior High and College Career divisions, you are to stay here with us. By next Sunday we shall have had our promotions into our Chapel Choir. This shows you how many of our students have already gone away to college. But it will be full and overflowing this coming Sunday morning and then thereafter for the solid year until the intellectual bug bites them again and they leave for these institutions.
The message is from a text in the third chapter of 2 Timothy, and, as I have said, is a dedication to the teaching of the Word of God in our Bible Institute. And I could say this: I wish all of us might enroll in the Hebrew class. The professor of Hebrew who is going to teach that course said that it is not going to be just grammar, “We are going to learn Hebrew, but not just grammar. We are going to learn the songs and the background of Israel.” And if it is possible for you to enroll in that class, or any of the other fourteen fine courses offered, it would be an incomparable blessing to you. The Institute begins the fourteenth of September, Tuesday night.
Now the text: 2 Timothy 3:14:
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 . . .
I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom;
Preach the word!
[2 Timothy 3:14-16, 4:1-2]
And my text is a word, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, all Scripture is given by theopneusta, all Scripture is God-breathed.” Theopneusta, “All Scripture is theopneusta”; theos, God; pneō, a verbal form pneusō, to breathe; “All Scripture is God-breathed” [2 Timothy 3:16].
I suppose the Word is like a player on a flute: “All Scripture is God-breathed.” There are two parts in the word, and there are two parts in the Holy Scriptures from God. One: theopneusta, theos, God, one part refers to God. That would be the revelation [Deuteronomy 29:29; Amos 3:7]. Pneusta, breathed, that would refer to the transmission, the inspiration, the inerrancy of the Scriptures, the inspiration [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21]. The two parts, revelation of God, comes from God [Deuteronomy 29:29; Amos 3:7], and pneustos, the inspiration, the breathing in to the Holy Word [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21]. Revelation; there’s a late Latin word, revelateo, which is an exact translation of the Greek word apokalupsis, apokaluptō, “to unveil, to uncover, to lay bare.” The Revelation begins, “Apokolupsis Iesou Christou,” there’s no article; “Apokalupsis, unveiling of Jesus Christ” [Revelation 1:1]. Revelation is the unveiling, the uncovering, the laying bare. Inspiration, inspiro the Latin word “to breathe in”; emphusaō, the Greek word meaning the same thing, “to breathe in, to breathe upon”; in the twentieth chapter of John, “And the Lord Jesus breathed upon His disciples and said, Receive ye the Holy Spirit” [John 20:22], inspiration, the breathing in of the breath of God.
Revelation refers to the disclosure to the man what he could not learn by human ingenuity or wisdom or discovery. It had to be revealed from God, revelation. Inspiration refers to the transmission of the message, that it is without error, that it is God-truth [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1;21]. For example, it is a revelation that Moses was able to write the creation story [Genesis 1-2]. He was not there. No man was there, nor did any man see it. It was a revelation of God. God had to uncover it, to disclose it, to lay it bare, to unveil it. That is revelation. Inspiration is that he wrote it down without error [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21]. Inspiration would be Moses describing the crossing of the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31]: that he wrote it down just as God inspired him, breathed into him to do so.
Revelation would be John’s vision of the Apocalypse [Revelation 1-22]. No man knows the future, but God revealed it to the sainted apostle John, the consummation of the age, the history of time until Jesus comes again. That is revelation. Inspiration is that he wrote it down just as God willed, without error; that he set it before us just as God showed it to him. Revelation has to do with content [Deuteronomy 29:29; Amos 3:7]. Inspiration has to do with transmission [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21].
Now we’re going to take those two parts and speak of them; first, the revelation; theopneusta, “God-breathed” [Timothy 3:16], first, the revelation, the God part of it; there are three assumptions in revelation. One: that God does reveal, that He communicates with man, that He speaks, that He shows, that He discloses. The second assumption: that the man can receive and understand the God communication, the God unveiling. And third: that it is of a nature that the man by learning, by studying, by discovery could never find it out. It had to come as a self- disclosure of God.
Now there are two ways in which God will disclose Himself, will unveil the truth. One: He will do it objectively. For example, the thirty-first chapter of Exodus says that God wrote with His finger, “With the finger of God, the Lord wrote on the tables of stone the Ten Commandments” [Exodus 31:18]. That is an objective revelation. God did so on the plaster of the wall in the palace of Belshazzar. God wrote with His finger on the wall [Daniel 5:5]. That is an objective revelation. Then, the revelation is disclosed to us subjectively. For example, Elisha said, “Bring me a minstrel”; and while the minstrel played the hand of the Lord came upon Elisha, and he prophesied [2 Kings 3:15-16]. The word was revealed to him inwardly.
Now, there are three great characteristics of revelation, of the self-disclosure of the truth of God as we find it in the theopneusta, the God-breathed word. First: in the revelation there is development. There is progress. There is onwardness. I’d like to illustrate that in two ways.
One, like the gathering of a river; here is a stream. There is a tributary. Here is a part, the gathering of a great system river. So there is progress. There is movement. There is development in the self-disclosure of God. Remember how Hebrews began? “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto our fathers . . . hath in these last days spoken unto us by His Son” [Hebrews 1:1-2]. Here was a revelation. There was a revelation. Here was the self-disclosure. Do you remember in the third chapter of 1 Samuel it says, “And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision” [1 Samuel 3:1]. It had been a long time since God had spoken.
Do you remember the third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew? “And in those days there came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying” [Matthew 3:1-2]. There had been four hundred years that there had been no revelation, no self-disclosure of God. So the progress, the development of the revelation is like the gathering of a great river; a stream here, a stream there, a tributary yonder, the revelation here and there and there.
I’d like also to illustrate it like the development of a child. A child grows and develops in understanding. So it is in the revelation of God. In the beginning the revelation is as a child, and then it continued to maturity. Now I want to illustrate that for you. In the beginning, as with a child, they will use force, coercion, not persuasion. Do you remember the story of Saul and Agag, the king of the Amalekites? God said, “I have devoted the Amalekites to utter destruction” [1 Samuel 15:3]. And Saul didn’t do it [1 Samuel 15:8-9]. He disobeyed God. We don’t have time to follow the story. Then the verse says, “And Samuel, the prophet of the Lord, hewed Agag to pieces before the Lord” [1 Samuel 15:33].
You would not do such a thing as that today in the propagation of the Christian faith. But in the beginning there was coercion, there was force, which is no longer in God’s plan today. Just as in the development of a child; when the youngster gets big you don’t whip him anymore. You don’t punish him as a child anymore. You use suasion and prayer and everything else that you can command. But when he is a child you have to use the rod [Proverbs 13:24, 22:15]. And if you are a good parent, you will because he is not able, he’s not grown enough to understand the force of persuasion. But he sure understands (smack) that!
A Sunday school teacher had a bad boy in the class, and he just disturbed it. And the next Sunday he was a perfect little gentleman. And the Sunday school teacher said, “What did you all do to persuade him to be a nice boy?” And the other boys said, “Teacher, we didn’t do nothing. We just punched him in the nose.” Well, that cured him!
I heard of a spoiled, little brat that was taken to one of our department stores. And he got on a rocking horse. And the mother couldn’t get him off. It was time to go, and he was on that rocking horse, and he wouldn’t get off. And the manager of the store couldn’t get him off. And she was a very affluent member, she was a fine customer of the store, and they didn’t want to offend her, so they did all they could to get that little boy off that rocking horse. And nobody succeeded, so finally they called the child psychologist.
And the child psychologist whispered something in that little boy’s ear, and he got off just like that. And when they got home the mother said, “What did that child psychologist say to you?” And the little child said, “Well, Mama, he whispered in my ear, ‘If you don’t get off of that rocking horse right now I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you!’” That’s good psychology. Now, so it is in revelation. Back yonder in the beginning it is as God is speaking to a child, then it develops and it progresses into an altogether different approach.
All right, second: about the characteristic of revelation, it has purpose in it. It is reaching toward a great goal. All through the revelation there is redemption, and the purpose that lies back of it, its great underlying theme is always that. Whatever the revelation is, whatever the self-disclosure of God is there is always underneath that theme. Now, it may be latent in the Old Testament and patent in the New. It may be infolded in the Old Testament, and unfolded in the New. But it is always that.
The revelation of God, the self-disclosure of God is always reaching out toward a great purpose, consummation. For example, in the humblest, simplest mathematical axioms, there are all of the truths of calculus. So in the Word of God: in every self-disclosure of God there are the germs, the germinal theme toward which the great revelation is moving; the redemption of our souls. Why, when the cherubim were placed there on the east side of the garden of Eden [Genesis 3:24], that’s where Abel learned to bring a lamb and offer it as a sacrifice unto God [Genesis 4:4]. Think what was latent in that sacrifice of a lamb to God, which the after years disclosed [John 1:29]. Or again, the tabernacle; the tabernacle was a very physical thing with a brazen altar, and with a laver, and then the sanctuary, and then the Holy of Holies [Hebrews 9:1-5]. But as the years progressed, we came to know exactly what that nomenclature meant. A sacrifice, an altar, the washing of regeneration, the veil and the mercy seat [Hebrews 9:1-10]; all of the gospel, the full disclosure of the revelation of God is germinal in all of the things that He did. There is purpose in it. It reaches out toward a glorious consummation.
Third characteristic of revelation: there is harmony in it. There is congruity in it. It is in keeping all the way through, all the way through, and it never deviates. It’s like a marvelous symphony. The author has made it in a way that it fits all the way through, one movement enmeshes into the other. And this bar and these notes prepare for the notes and the bars that are to follow. There is harmony in it, congruity in it, all the way through. Now a man, if he were writing, for example, this revelation of God—oh, how differently he would do it!
And I want to illustrate that. Take an anthropologist; he’s going to write for us the story of man. How does he do it? Always he will do it; magnifying the man as a hero. He will start in some primeval mud, back there in some green slime. And limited by nothing but his own fevered imagination, he’ll write the textbook about how the man started in the mud and ascends, and ascends, and develops, and develops, and comes up, and up, and up until finally he’s now the Lord of the universe, and finally we’ll be archangels in heaven. Now that’s the way the man does it, and he does it without fail. Every anthropologist will write just like that and teach his kids that.
But how does God do that? He does that just the opposite, for this is a self-disclosure. It is a revelation. God says that man was made in the image of God [Genesis 1:27], and God breathed into him the breath of life [Genesis 2:7]. And he was perfect, and he lived in an Edenic paradise. And he fell [Genesis 3:1-6], and the whole story of the revelation of God is one concerning fallen man. He needs regeneration [Romans 5:12]. He needs redemption [Ephesians 1:7]. He needs restoration [1 Corinthians 15:21]. He needs to be made back again, born again as God first intended him [John 3:3-7]. Now that is the revelation of God, and it follows all the way through.
I wish I had time to discuss these things. I was preaching down here, I gave two addresses to the North American National Convention of Christians, held here in Dallas about a month ago. And the first address was just an address. The second address, when I got through, I was to stand up there and let the people ask me any question that they wanted. So that is one of the questions. One of the men said to me, “If you do not believe in evolution, that the man came up from mud, and was created in the image of God, how is it that you explain the caveman?” I said, “It is very simple. The fact that happened: he was created perfect in God’s image, and he fell, and he fell, and he fell, and finally he became almost like a brute.” And I said, “Don’t think that you have the caveman back there and then these geological ages. He comes right on up. You have the caveman today. I have seen them. I have preached to them down there in the Amazon jungle, cavemen, Stone Age men, all in the same generation. And it’s been that way from the beginning of time. Wherever you find a fossil of a caveman, you’ll also find a fossil of a man who is cultured and coming up. These things are all of the truth of the revelation of God. We are fallen, and the great purpose of the revelation is toward our redemption.
Now, hastily, the second part of that: the Holy Scriptures are theopneusta. They are revelation, things that we could not know, things we could not discover, but God has to unveil them for us. Now the second part of it: pneustos God-breathed, the Holy Word is God-breathed. The transmission of it, the writing of it is according to the Spirit of God. “For the Scripture came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21]. Or as he says here in the text, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” [2 Timothy 3:16]; the Lord saw to it that it was written down.
Now there are many theories of inspiration. One is the rationalistic theory; that is, there’s no God, there’s no supernatural, and the genius that lies in the writing of the Bible is like any other genius. It could be that of Isaiah, or Paul; you have it also in Shakespeare, in Homer, in Dante, in Milton, in Longfellow. It is a common ingredient to gifted men. That’s what they say about the inspiration of the Bible. It’s just like any other human inspiration; and the Bible is not a revelation of God to us, but the Bible is a searching of man for God. And the record of that search is in the Book. Now that’s the rationalistic theory of inspiration. God has nothing to do with it. There’s nothing supernatural in it at all.
All right, another view is that of partial inspiration. That is, it is inspired in spots. They look through the Bible, and they say, “Well, we believe this is inspired.” And then they look at this, and they say, “Well, we believe this is inspired, and then this is inspired.” I sometimes facetiously say the modern liberal for the most part is like that. He believes the Bible is inspired in spots, and then he’s inspired to pick out the spots, and we are supposed to sit at his feet and we accept what he says is the Word of God.
Then of course, there is a mechanical theory of inspiration: that men were automatons. They were Dictaphones, and then they just wrote as the Spirit of God dictated. That’s the kind of a shrewd straw man that the academic professor will largely put up in front of his class. He will refer to us who believe in the inspired Word of God, and he ridicules us by that kind of a theory. He says we believe that the men who wrote the Bible were just mechanical, and they just wrote down like an amanuensis. And then, of course, they destroy that and ridicule all of us who believe in the inspired Word of God.
Well, what is the truth? To me, it is this. There is a dynamic theory, a dynamic presentation, a dynamic delineation. And that dynamic delineation is this; that God used the human instrument, and through that human instrument, He wrote the holy revelation. He did not unmake the man in making the prophet; He just used the man as the player uses the flute. For example, the burning bush burned unconsumed, but it was still a bush [Exodus 3:2-3]. The ravens brought the food to Elijah [1 Kings 17:6], but they were still ravens. Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings, God has ordained praise [Matthew 21:16]; but they were still babes and sucklings.
So it is in the revelation of God; it has two natures in it. It has a God nature in it, and it has a human nature in it. Just like Jesus; He is God as though He were not man; but He is man also as though He were not God. He is the God- Man. He has two natures. So it is in our salvation. There is a God part of our salvation, and there is a human part of our salvation. So it is with the Holy Scriptures. God used men, and He made the revelation using those men.
Here is a poem that I wrote. Stradivarius is talking, and I quote from him:
If my hand slacks, I should rob God
Since He is fullest good.
Leaving a blank, instead of violins,
God cannot make Antonio Stradivarius violins
Now that’s it exactly. God used these men, and He used them just as they are. For example, Isaiah is a court preacher, and he speaks in the language, the lofty style of the court. But Amos is a country preacher, and when you read Amos, you can smell the soft turned furrow of the soil. He’s a country preacher. Yet God used both instruments in the revelation of His Word.
Why, I see that all the time in preachers. Phillips Brooks, Trinity Church in Boston, was a polished orator. At the same time he was preaching, Dwight L. Moody was preaching, who had never gone to the third grade, and who literally decimated the grammatical structure of the English language. But God used both of them. His Spirit breathed through both men. And the forms that you find in the Bible are the forms of literature. Some of it is legalistic. Some of it is like Proverbs. Some of it is like songs and poetry. God used both the man and the Holy Spirit to write down the revelation. It is inspiro, it’s emphusaō, it is God-breathed [2 Timothy 3:16]; using the man to do it.
So there are three characteristics of that dynamic theory in which I think the Bible is written. One, plenary: all of it is inspired, all of it. Now, the value has different degrees, but all of it is inspired, all of it, plenary.
Second, verbal: you cannot have an inspired Bible without inspired words. You can’t have music, melody, without notes. You cannot have mathematics without figures. You couldn’t have a sun without light. Nor can you have a revelation of God without words. It is the vehicle. For example, Jesus said, “Not one jot or tittle will pass from this law until it is all fulfilled” [Matthew 5:18]. Jot, the little yod; tittle, the little horn, say on the “t.” Every piece of it, all the way through, is inspired of God [2 Timothy 3:16]. It is verbal; God used words, not just thoughts. For if the thought is not placed in inspired words, then the thought is not inerrant, it has lack in it. It had to be placed in God’s words. And the words are inspired. That’s why a man can preach a sermon as I do this morning, an exegetical sermon: theopneusta, one word. God inspired that word. And the whole Bible is like that; and you can exegete the whole Bible. That’s why a man who preaches the Bible could preach all of his lifetime and a thousand lifetimes and never get to the base, to the bottom, to the depths of the unfathomable sea of God’s revelation.
And third and last: it is not only in this dynamic theory, it is not only verbal, but it is also supernatural, both in its outline, in its giving, and in its effect [2 Peter 2:21]. There is something about the Word of God that has God in it. In one of my pastorates long time ago, out in the country, one of my deacons, a farmer, came in possession of a Spanish Bible. Why, he didn’t know a word of Spanish, didn’t know what to do with it, and he happened to think down the road from his house, there lived a Mexican family. He went down there and gave them that Bible.
Bless your heart, as time passed the family came to the deacon and to the church and said, “We have been reading this Book, and we found Jesus as our Savior. And we want to be baptized.” I baptized part of that family. And upon a day, when I went to my pastorate, why, the deacon took me to the home of the Mexican family. They were living in another place. Their house had burned down. And the father of that Mexican family came up to me with a Bible that was partly burned, and he said to me that “When the house was on fire and burning down, I ran into the flames, and I took that blessed Book. It’s the only thing that we have rescued out of the flaming embers.” And he placed it in my hand. He said, “This is the greatest treasure that we have on earth.” It is supernatural. It has God in it. It is theopneusta, it is God-breathed. It is God-inspired [2 Timothy 3:16]. It speaks to you. It convicts you. It will convert you. It’ll bring you to heaven; the Word, the living Word, the revelatory Word, the inspired Word of God.
Now our time is gone. And we’re going to stand and sing our song of appeal. And while we sing it, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you coming down that aisle, placing your life into the church, would you do that on the first note of the first stanza? Or, “Pastor, today the Lord has spoken to me, and I am coming forward with my heart and my life, and here I am.” As God shall lead in the way, shall open the door, in a moment when you stand up, stand up coming into that aisle and down to the front: “Here I am, pastor, I make it now,” while we stand and while we sing.