Revelation and Inspiration
May 5th, 1974 @ 8:15 AM
2 Peter 1:16-21
REVELATION AND INSPIRATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:16-21
5-5-74 8:15 a.m.
You are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. And this is the pastor bringing the message about, I suppose, one of the most fundamental of all of the doctrinal subjects to which he could address himself. And I hope you will listen with your mind as well as your heart.
In our preaching through the epistle of Simon Peter, number 2, we have come to the closing part of the first chapter. And the text is the last two verses. But I shall read the context beginning at verse 16; 2 Peter, chapter 1, verse 16:
For we have not followed cunningly devised fables, when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
Then he describes his vision of the transfiguration of Christ:
For He received from God the Father honor and glory, when there came such a voice to Him from the Excellent Glory, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
And this voice which came from heaven we heard, when we were with Him in the holy mount
—talking about the transfiguration of Jesus.
But 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.
Now the text:
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 Spirit.
[2 Peter 1:16-21]
Now when you take that whole passage, it is a remarkable thing. The apostle is saying that the Christian faith—that Christ is God, that He died for our sins, that He is coming again, the parousia and the power of the Lord. When he’s talking about all that is contained in the Christian faith, he says that we have not followed cunningly devised fables. When we read about Christ we are not reading something written by an Aesop, an Aesop fable, but we are talking about something that is factual and actual and real. And he gives an illustration of it. “For we saw the divine glory come upon Christ in His transfiguration. We saw it with our eyes when we were with Him in the holy mount. And not only that but we heard the voice of God approving, commending: this My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased” [2 Peter 1:17].
Then to our amazement, having said we saw the divine glory and we heard the voice of deity, now having said we saw and having said we heard; now you look what he writes. “But we have a more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:19]. That’s astonishing! The man says, “I saw with my eyes and I heard with my ears, but the attestation to the deity and sovereignty and glory of Christ is more surely affirmed by the word of prophecy.” Now that’s astonishing! The man says, “I saw it and I heard it,” but having seen and having heard, he avows that the more sure attestation to the deity and glory of Christ is found in the Word of God. Well, I presume that he means by that that what a man sees might deceive him, and what a man hears might mislead him, but there can be no deception and there can be no misleading in the Word of God, the prophetic Scriptures. Then he speaks about those prophetic Scriptures; “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 men: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [1 Peter 1:20-21].
I don’t know of a passage in which there was more diverse discussion and comment than there is in this verse 20, “That no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation.” Let’s exegete that for a second. There is no Scripture that is of any private, idios. Idios is one’s own. One’s own, it belongs to you, it is personal, it is individual. So that’s the word, idios, translated here private. The word interpretation is epilusis, which is a very simple word meaning unloosing. So you would translate it here a disclosure, a presentation. And the word “is” is not the usual este. It is ginetai—came into being, was born, a word fro being born, came into being. So let’s put those three words that we have spoken of, let’s put them together. “Knowing this, that no prophecy of the Scripture is born out of, springs out of, a man’s private disclosure, something that he originates; came out of his head. No!”
“For,” then this verse interprets the one in front of the one I just read—21 is a following of verse 20. “For,” the reason he says that no prophecy originates in a man’s own mind, it isn’t born in his own thinking, it isn’t disclosed to us by something that came of him privately, individually, personally; “for,” he says, “the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man”—he didn’t originate it—“but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21].
Now, I take it that that is almost a comment of Simon Peter on something that he had written here in his first epistle, chapter 1, verses 10 and 11 where he says, talking about the salvation that has been brought to us in Christ; of which salvation the prophets, the men who foretold it, spoke about it, prophesied it:
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you:
Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
[1 Peter 1:10-11]
The prophets themselves, who spoke of these marvelous things concerning the sufferings of Christ and the glory of Christ, though they spoke it, though they delivered the message, yet they inquired and searched diligently concerning the meaning of what they had said. Now I submit to you, that is an astonishing thing. Here are men who are delivering a message, and they themselves, who deliver the message from God, search it and study it, seeking diligently to understand what it meant.
Now, I’m saying that the passage of our text this morning is a comment on that that Simon Peter had written in his first epistle. “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 Spirit” [2 Peter 1:21].
There is a very, very famous quotation from Plato that I want to present as we begin this message this morning. The greatest of all philosophers wrote, now I quote from him: “We must lay hold of the best human opinion in order that, borne by it as on a raft, we may sail over the dangerous sea of life, unless we find a stronger boat or some sure word of God, which may more surely and safely carry us.”
A remarkable thing; the greatest of all philosophers of all time saying that we must do our best, by human opinion, to frame some kind of a philosophy and interpretation of life experience that can guide us and carry us through the treacherous currents of life. We must do that, unless, he says, unless there can be found a sure word of God that could the more surely and safely bear us through life’s stormy seas.
Well, to us God has spoken. And following this passage this morning, we shall present it as Simon Peter speaks of it in this inspired word. First, verse 20 refers to content. We would call it the revelation: that no Scripture is of any private origination, but it came from God. Now the second verse refers to inspiration, how it was transmitted, how God gave it down to us through the messenger. So we are going to speak of those two things here in this text.
First, the content, the substance of the prophecy. We call that revelation. That’s a Latin word, revelare, to reveal, to disclose. The Greek word is apokalupsis, disclosure, revelation. A revelation, to be a revelation, first must come from God! It must originate in Him. And second, it must be of a nature that no human mind could ever ferret it out. It is something that a human mind could never know. But it has to come to us by a divine disclosure. That’s what you mean by revelation.
You read a book of chemistry, or a book of physics, or a book of anatomy, or a book of medicine, or a book of any other science, that is no revelation. The human mind is looking and observing and writing it down. There are equations, and formulae, and balances, and all kinds of things in the molecular and atomic and chemical world, and they observe it and write it down. That’s no revelation. That’s a discovery. You just look at it. A revelation is something that a man can study, and study, and study, and forever study, and never know it. It has to be something that comes from the disclosure of God.
Now I speak for a moment of the necessity of revelation. If we are ever to know God, ever, it must come from His self-disclosure. For no man by searching the Holy Scriptures, say, can find God. He cannot do it! The mind cannot find God in itself. Now the mind can study the astronomical worlds above us and make deductions. Whoever made that, or wherever it came from, it certainly was born in omnipotence. He could make a deduction from it. But who did it? Who made it? Who flung those stars and Milky Ways and sidereal spheres of these great galaxies? In the current issue of the National Geographic Magazine there is a long, long article with glorious pictures of the magnitude of the infinitude of the macrocosm above us. But you can study it forever and never know who made it or where it came from.
You could look at the world so verdant and beautiful, the sunsets in the evenings, and the rainbows after the shower, and the beautiful flowers that grow, and you could deduct that whoever created this world loved things beautiful and colorful. They are not all gray. They are not all of a insipid bland presentation to the human eye, but it is gorgeous and beautiful. So you could deduct that whoever made it loved things beautiful. But who is He and what is His name? You would never know!
Or look on the inside of you. You could study human personality and give yourself to psychological in-depth programs, just studying the human heart, and soul, and mind, and anatomy from now till the end of the world. And you could make several deductions. You could deduct that whoever made the man certainly had a moral sensitivity in Him. He knows things that are right, and he knows things that are wrong, and he is capable of great intellectual achievement. Whoever made him must have had personality and mind and intelligence and moral sensitivity, but who did it? You could never know. It has to come by a divine self-disclosure. And that is what you call revelation.
All right, take another angle of it. How could you ever know the beginning? No man was there when the world was created. How could you ever know the beginning of things? Only in a revelation of God. Or take the other side of it. How could you ever know the consummation of the end? You couldn’t. There is no man smart enough to penetrate even thirty minutes of the future, much less the billions of years that may lie in eternity ahead of us. All of these things must come by divine revelation. And if there is no divine revelation, there is no knowledge of God! None. We don’t know Him. We don’t know His name. We don’t know what He is like. We don’t know how He is. God must disclose Himself if we are ever to know God. We can deduct some of His attributes, but you would never know Him.
Now how does that revelation come to us, the content, how does it come to us? It comes to us in two ways. Sometimes that revelation will come objectively. For example, God will take His finger and He will write on tables of stone the Ten Commandments, a very objective thing [Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10]. Or take again, in the Book of Daniel, God took His hand and wrote in the plaster on the wall of the palace of Belshazzar [Daniel 5:5]. Sometimes the revelation will come objectively. Most of the times the revelation will come subjectively; it arises out of the deep inward soul of the man to which the Spirit of God speaks. For example, in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah, Jeremiah says, “Since God sent me, I have spoken nothing but disaster and judgment and captivity, and I am weary of it. For the people hate me and scourge me and deride me, and I am not going to speak anymore. I am not going to say anymore. I shall not deliver another message from God. I will not!” [Jeremiah 20:8]. That’s what Jeremiah said. Then the next verse says, “But His word shut up was like a fire in my bones, and I could not stay” [Jeremiah 20:9]. Now that is the subjective revelation of God—God speaking through a man’s soul, revealing the truth of God in his deepest heart.
Now, there are several characteristics of that revelation. This is one. It is always progressive. There is an onwardness in God’s revelation that is always concomitant and characteristic. It goes on, it moves. God never stays. He never tarries. He moves! He goes on. And anything that is of God is the same thing, it moves! When you see a dead church standing still, it is not God’s! It is some great fatal disease of the human concomitant in it, the people that are in it. If God is there, it moves, it’s quick, and it’s alive, it goes! There is always an onwardness about God’s revelation. His creation will be followed by salvation, and His salvation will be followed by sanctification, and His sanctification will reach out toward glorification. But it’s always moving, it’s always going on, it’s reaching out! Out!
I wish that all of our people were able to come to our lectures on Wednesday night. Last Wednesday night I lectured on the King and the kingdom, and it was an overview of the whole span of God’s ages: this age, when God gave a land to His people; and this age, when He multiplied their seed; and this age, when Christ came, born a king; and this intermittent age, interluding age, intermission age in which we live, the age of grace; and then the great final coming age, when Christ shall come as the King of kings, and the King of the Jews, and the King of the nations, and the re-creator and restorer of the earth, the great Lord God reaching out! That is revelation. It always moves on, always reaching out.
Another characteristic of true revelation: it has continuity. Always, this is built on that, is built on that, is built on that, is built on that. That is why a true minister of Christ will go back into the Old Testament, avowing that it is as much inspired as the New Testament. For without it you can’t have this. It’s like a foundation and up and up and up it goes. That’s God. There is continuity in it. The Book of Genesis reaches toward Exodus, and Exodus reaches toward the story of the kings and the people of God, Israel, and the story of the kings reaches out to the prophets, and the prophets will reach out to the Gospels, and the Gospels will reach out to the Acts and the Epistles, and the Acts and the Epistles will reach out to the great Apocalypse and to the denouement of the age. Always there is that continuity, this and this and this, followed by that, reaching out toward that ultimate consummation.
And in it there is always congruity, always. There is agreement in it, there is agreement in it, always! The revelation at any given time is always congruent with itself and with the needs of the people, as they are able to accept it. Now when you look at that, there is agreement in the revelation. Immediately somebody could say, “Well, how in the world is it, how in the world is it that you have somebody back there in the Old Testament like David who will have eight wives, or like Solomon who will have three hundred wives and seven hundred concubines? How is it that the revelation is ever congruent when you see things like that along the way?”
Well, the answer is very plain. Jesus said in the nineteenth chapter of the Book of Matthew, Jesus said, “From the beginning it was not so. But Moses, for the hardness of your hearts, permitted certain things” [Matthew 19:8]. The revelation of God always is just to the extent that a man can receive it. For example, in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of John, Jesus said to His disciples, “I have many things, I have many things yet to say unto you, but you cannot receive them now. Your heart just will not take it. Your lives just cannot stand it” [John 16:12]. So God had to take us as primitive little children, and bring us up, and bring us up, and bring us up, and that is the revelation.
These are Old Testament saints back here, and up and up and up. And these are New Testament saints here, and up and up and up and up, and finally we will be glorified saints up there! This is the self-disclosure of God. For no prophecy is an origination of a man himself, but it comes, the content comes from God Himself [2 Timothy 3:16].
Now we speak of—and we must hasten—we speak of the transmission of that revelation. You call that inspiration. “For the prophecy came not by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” [2 Peter 1:20]. That is inspiration. It refers to the transmission of the content to the messenger, of the revelation to the messenger.
Inspirare, the Latin word, to breathe into, inspirare, inspiration; the Greek word would be theopneustos, God-breathed. Inspiration, the breath of God, and it refers to the transmission. Now it is necessary, it is necessary that the revelation be given to us without error. If the revelation is given to us with error, than how am I to know which is true and which is not? And who is going to arrogate to himself the authority to say to us which is true and which is not? Now that is modernism. That is liberalism. The modernists and the liberal will stand up in the professor’s class or in the pulpit, and he will say, “This part is not true, and this part is not true, and this part is full of error, and this part is full of mistake, and this part deceives you, and this is fable, and this is legend.” And then who is going to say which is legend, and which is myth, and which is deception, and which isn’t true, and which is in error? He says, “I do it!”
So, I place my whole hope for truth and knowledge, and God, and salvation upon that man. And I want you to know that is a poor foundation upon which to rest your faith, and your hopes, and your salvation. He says, “I am able to tell you, and listen to me and I’ll tell you which is true and which is in error.” Ah, you just might as well say there is no truth, there is no revelation, God hasn’t spoken, because if God speaks in error and if God speaks in deception, then I don’t know; I’m as lost as though God didn’t speak at all.
It is necessary, it is vital, for God to transmit that revelation inerrantly, infallibly, if I am to base my soul and my life upon it. So let’s speak of how the transmission is made, the inspiration of the Word, the God-breathing of the Word. One: God does it dynamically. Now that is the word that I am using to refer to how God uses the man’s personality. He doesn’t use the man as though he were a Dictaphone, but He uses the man dynamically. That is, He speaks through that man’s personality. I’ll give you two illustrations, one in the old and one in the new. Isaiah is a court preacher. He is a city preacher. He stands up and in the presence of the court of Judah he speaks in high-flown literary words, and perorations, and beautiful language, and poetic thought and imagery beyond anything in the earth. When you compare a Shakespeare or a Dante or a Homer or a Milton to Isaiah, you are talking about a Lilliputian pygmy compared to the giant of an archangel. They are just not in the same world. Now, that’s Isaiah—literary, poetic, city-polished.
Amos is from the country. When you read Amos you can smell the fresh-turned furrows. You can smell the corral and the sheepfold. He’s a country preacher, and he uses country language. That’s Amos. God used the personality of the polished Isaiah and of the rustic Amos. I like my name Amos. Better than Joel.
Let’s take the New Testament. Dynamically, God will speak through Paul, and Paul is a dialectician. Oh, those fine rabbinical arguments that he will follow! He is a born, natural theologian. He studied at the feet of Gamaliel. He was learned in all rabbinical lore and literature. That’s Paul.
But James is of an altogether different kind of a man. James is a practical man. He is the pastor of the church in Jerusalem, and when he writes, he will always write from a practical point of view, as the undershepherd and pastor of the church. They are like that in personality. But that is inspiration. Dynamically God uses the man as he is.
All right, second characteristic of inspiration: it is plenarily given to us. Plenary refers to fullness; that is, all of it is inspired, the whole piece from beginning to end. It is plenarily inspired, the whole thing, not just a section or a part, but all of it. The transmission of all of it is by the breath of God [2 Timothy 3:16].
Third: it is verbally inspired. When God speaks, if we are to understand and to know and if the message is to be transmitted, it has to be in words. There is no other way but for God to transmit His revelation to us by the means of words. And the words that these men use, moved by the Holy Spirit, are the words that God chooses. God chooses the word.
I want to give you, if I can take the time for it, an illustration of that. I have a sermon that I would preach in a revival meeting. It is the favorite of all the sermons that I have ever preached, and it is built upon the inspiration of a word! Now it is this. The text is the last invitation of the Bible. “And the Spirit of the Lord says, ‘Come.’ And let him that hear, say ‘Come.’ And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” [Revelation 22:17]. And the sermon is on the inspiration of that word, ho thelon, “whosoever will.”
The Holy Spirit, in guiding John in writing that last invitation, the Holy Spirit said, “John, don’t you write down there, ho ginoskon, ‘Whosoever understands, let him come.’ Don’t you write down, ho lambanon, ‘Whosoever receives, let him come.’ Don’t you write down there in that text, ho philon, ‘Whosoever loves, let him come.’ Don’t you write down there in that text, ho paschon, ‘Whosoever feels, let him come.’ And don’t you even write down there, ho pisteuon, ‘Whosoever believes, let him come.’” But the Holy Spirit guided John to write down there, ho thelon, “Whosoever will, let him come.” If a man is just willing, God will save him. God will talk to his heart. God will forgive his sin [Colossians 1:14]; write his name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20]; keep him and save him forever [John 10:28], ho thelon.
Now that is a very typical sermon of your pastor. It is built upon the persuasion and the conviction that every word of God in the Holy Bible is chosen by the Holy Spirit [2 Peter 1:21]. It is verbally inspired. The reason this word is used ho thelon, and not ho ginoskon, or ho paschon, or ho lambanon, or ho philon, the reason is because the Holy Spirit inspired the writer to use that word. And that is the kind of preaching you have here in the pulpit, built upon the conviction that the Word is inspired.
Well, our time is gone. Let me say just this. What becomes of the revelation when you believe and receive it as the inspired Word of God? It is God-breathed [2 Peter 3:16]. There are two. One: it has unity, all the way through. There may be forty writers, and there are; over fifteen hundred years, and that was the time that elapsed. But there is one Author; one Author. All the way through there is that unity in the revelation. Like the lines, the rope in His Majesty’s navy. If it belongs to the navy of the British Empire, every piece of rope has through it a scarlet strand, a scarlet thread. I preached here one time on the scarlet thread through the Bible, all the way through. It has unity of authorship.
And second and last: under divine inspiration, the Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:21], the revelation has unity of purpose. It reaches out toward a great and marvelous goal; namely, that we might be saved, God revealing to us His love and His redemption and His gift of life; that we poor, lost, undone sinners, that we might know God whom to know is life everlasting; that we might be saved.
So the Lord came into the world to die for our sins [John 17:3]. So the Lord was buried, and with Him all of our guilt [1 Corinthians 15:3]. And the Lord was raised that He might declare us righteous [Romans 4:25]. And He is coming again someday that He might give to us our inheritance, the full purchased redemptive possession in glory [Colossians 3:24]. And all through the Holy Word, there is always the reaching out and the presentation of that unity of purpose, that we might come to know God and live.
We must stand and sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a couple, a family, you, on the first note of this first stanza, come. “Today, I open my heart heavenward, God-ward, and invite the Lord into my soul.” Or “Today, God has spoken to us, and we are putting our lives in the circle and the circumference of this wonderful church.” If you are in the balcony, there is time and to spare; come. On this lower floor, down this aisle, make it now, do it now, while we stand and while we sing.