Revelation and Inspiration
November 9th, 1980 @ 8:15 AM
2 Timothy 3:16
REVELATION AND INSPIRATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Timothy 3:16
11-9-80 8:15 a.m.
Now our study today, Revelation and Inspiration: in 2 Peter chapter 1, he closes the first chapter with these words: "No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation"; idias," a Greek word referring to one’s own private ownership, idias, translated here "private." "Interpretation," the word is epiluseōs, which means "unloosing, origination." "Is" is the word ginetai, a word meaning "to come into being or existence." So let us translate that exactly as [Peter] wrote it, "No prophecy ever came into existence by one’s own private origination"; it did not come out of him. Then he explains it: "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 1:20-21]. When we turn to 2 Timothy chapter 3, verse 16, 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." "I charge thee therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ . . . Preach the word!" [2 Timothy 4:1-2].
Now the word that will largely color the message this morning is the word translated here "given by inspiration of God" [2 Timothy 3:16]; all of that is a translation of a Greek word theopneustos, "All Scripture," and even the "is" is in italics here, which shows it’s not in the original, "All Scripture theopneustos," literally is "God-breathed." Theo is the word for "God," pneustos comes from pneuma, "breath," such as you have a pneumatic tire, it’s a tire filled with breath, with air, with wind; theopneustos, God-breathed. The imagery is of a flute player blowing into an instrument: so Scripture is the vehicle, the instrument into which the breath of God is blown [2 Timothy 3:16]. The word has two parts, as you can see, and it has two meanings; each part has a meaning. The first one Theo, "God," the flute player, the One who breathes into the Holy Word, the One who reveals divine truth. The words we use "revelation, inspiration" are Latin words, revelo, revelatio; revelo is the Latin word for "uncover, to lay bare," and revelatio is the Latin word for "what is laid bare, what is seen, what is uncovered." In Greek you have identical words for that: apokalupto is the Greek word for "unveiling, to unveil, to disclose." And apokalupsis is the word for "the unveiling, the disclosure, the apocalypse." That’s the first part of that word: the revelation of God, the One who uncovers for us the truth that no man could ever know.
The second part of the word pneustos. When we use the word "inspiration," that’s a Latin word, inspiro, means "to breathe in," and inspiratio is the Latin word for "breathing in." In Greek, pneuma, "breath," and empneō means "to breathe in"; and in classical Greek, it is used to refer to a flute player. So the word in its imagery is God, who is using an instrument to reveal His divine truth in the same way that a player, you, blow into that flute. God uses His Holy Scriptures in the identical way that that sweet child there blows, plays, breathes into that flute.
Revelation therefore, is a disclosure of truth that no man could ever learn by his own powers. It is something known but to God, that God had to uncover, to disclose. That is revelation. Inspiration is that supernatural agency of the Holy Spirit by which God made a record of His self disclosure, of His revelation – without error, without mistake. This is revelation: how God created the world in the beginning [Genesis 1:1-23]. No man was there, no man saw it, and if it is disclosed to us, God would have to do it. That is revelation. This is inspiration: that Moses wrote it down, infallibly, inerrantly, without mistake. This is revelation: when John on the isle of Patmos sees all of those marvelous disclosures of the consummation of the age and of the denouement of history [Revelation 1:19]. No man can see that; there’s not a man that knows even five minutes from now what could happen.
As you’ve heard me say many times, I can tell you how to be a billionaire overnight, I mean over a minute, just that you know what’s going to happen a minute ahead. And it’d be very simple: buy a stock on the exchange before it goes up; sell it just before it goes down. You’ll be a billionaire in no time, if you know the future one minute, just a minute. On the isle of Patmos, John stands there and sees the apokalupsis, the unveiling of Jesus Christ, and the consummation of the age, the end of all history [Revelation 1:19]. That is revelation. This is inspiration: that God empowered John to write it down in this Holy Book, without error, without fault, correctly [Revelation 22:18-19]. Revelation, therefore, refers to content, the disclosure of the truth of God, and inspiration refers to the transmission of the truth, that we have it as God disclosed it to us [Revelation 1:19].
We shall talk first then about revelation, the self disclosure of the truth of God, truth that no man could know except God revealed it to him. There are three assumptions about revelation that make it possible. Number one: it is assumed that God is able and willing to communicate the truth to man. The second assumption: that man is able and willing to receive the communication of God. And third: that the communication is of a nature that he could never understand it or know it by his own faculties and by his own powers. For example, the sun burns my skin. I don’t need a revelation for that; that’s an experience, that’s an observation. I can see that; I get sunburned out in the sun. But this is revelation: where did that sun come from, and who put it there? I can observe the sun forever and forever and forever and all of these scientists can do the same thing, and they will never know where that sun came from, and who created it and placed it there, aside from a revelation of God.
There are three ways by which God communicates His divine truth to man. One: God communicates it sometimes objectively, by external manifestation. Twice, once in Exodus and once in Deuteronomy, for example, it says, "God wrote the Ten Commandments with His own finger" [Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 9:10]. God did it; that’s an external revelation of the truth of God. Remember a like thing when Belshazzar was in his feast, God’s finger wrote in the plaster on the wall [Daniel 5:5]. That’s an external manifestation of the revelation of God. You have the most mighty and wonderful external manifestation of the Word of God in John 1:14, "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory as of the glory of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth." If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. If you want to hear God, listen to Jesus. If you want to follow God, follow the Lord Jesus. That is the first way of the revelation of the truth of God: external manifestation, objectively.
A second way that God manifested His divine truth is mystically, by dreams and by visions. When you read in Ezekiel all of those marvelous visions that he had, or when you read in Daniel the dreams and the visions, or when you read in the Revelation, the Apocalypse, all of those marvelous, incomparable panoramic descriptions of the future, that’s a second way that God manifested His divine truth; mystically, in dreams and visions.
A third way that God manifested His truth is subjectively. Do you remember reading in the third chapter of 2 Kings? When Elisha was asking the revelation of God, he requested that a minstrel be brought, and as the minstrel played, the Word of God came to Elisha, subjectively, in the heart [2 Kings 3:15-19]. And so many times in the Bible will you read, "And the word of the Lord came to such and such messenger, or such and such prophet." So divine truth in the Bible is revealed also in a man’s heart; God speaks to his heart [2 Kings 3:15-19]. That God wrote on the plaster of the wall in Belshazzar’s palace is an objective revelation of divine truth [Daniel 5:5]. That Daniel was able to interpret the meaning of the words is a divine truth that came to Daniel subjectively in his heart [Daniel 5:17-28]. Those are the three ways that God makes known to us divine truth, revelation.
Now, there are three characteristics of the divine revelation as we see it in the Holy Scriptures. Number one: it is always moving, it is always progressive, it is always going on; it is never static. Divine truth moves; there is an upwardness in it, and an onwardness in it that is always characteristic of it. God moves, and the divine revelation moves. His creation, for example, is followed by redemption; and His redemption is followed by justification; and His justification is followed by sanctification; and His sanctification is followed by glorification. Always there is an upwardness and an onwardness in revelation of God. There is movement in it, there is development in it. According as the man is able to receive it, and according as the wisdom of God presents it, so revelation moves, it expands, it grows; it is more patent, more seen and understandable all the time.
It is like the gathering of a river. Here and there and these tributaries, and the river finally swells into its tremendous strength. That’s the revelation of God. Hebrews 1:1 will say, "God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake unto the fathers in these days past, has spoken unto us in these last days by His Son" [Hebrews 1:1-2]. It gathers, and gathers, and gathers, until finally it’s a great stream. Revelation, God’s revelation in the Bible is, it’s like picture writing, it’s like writing. At first writing was pictured; it’s called hieroglyphics – picture writing. When you go back into those tombs in Egypt, for example, in the beginning of the use of writing, it’ll be picture writing, hieroglyphics. Then as time went on, why, we wrote by alphabets; we didn’t have to have pictures. We have grown in our understanding of the word, and we write with alphabet. It’s like a child, a child develops; so the revelation of God moves, and it develops in the Bible. At the beginning, for example, there will be coercion and force; God teaching by coercion and force. Finally, it will be by moral suasion, by persuasion. But back there in the beginning, it’ll be like a child, disciplining a child; it’ll be by force, by coercion. God will annihilate the Canaanites [Deuteronomy 20:17], or God will tell Saul to destroy Agag and the Amalekites [1 Samuel 15:1-3]. A child is like that: the child has to be guided in early days by coercion and by force. "You spare the rod, you spoil the child" [Proverbs 13:24]. The child has to be corrected, coercively, if you rear a beautiful child.
In my reading I came across a Sunday school class that had a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad boy in it. And the next Sunday he was a model, oh, he was a perfect little gentleman. So the teacher asked those other boys, "What did you do to make him such a perfect model?" And one of the boys replied, "Teacher, we didn’t do nothing, we just punched him in the nose!" That’s adolescent, growing up.
Do you remember that famous story of the child of a very rich family in a department store, and the spoiled brat was on a rocking horse, and the mother couldn’t get him off, couldn’t get him off? He’d just stay there disobeying his mother. Well, the store didn’t want to insult the rich patron, so they called for the psychologist. And the psychologist went over there and talked to that little boy, and just like that he was off of that rocking horse. And when they got home, the mother asked the little boy, "What did that psychologist say to you?" And the little boy said, "That psychologist said to me, he said, ‘You get off of that rocking horse right now, or I’m going to beat the living daylights out of you, and your bottom’s going to be so sore you can’t sit down for a week!’" Now that’s the way with God in the revelation of His truth; it’s like the development of a child. In the beginning it was largely coercive – judgmental, by force – and then it grows and grows as we grow and becomes mostly moral suasion and persuasion. That’s one of the characteristics of the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures.
A second characteristic of the revelation of God in the Bible: it is always in a marvelous way, it is harmonious and congruous, and it reaches toward a marvelous goal; it has purpose in it. The revelation is teleological; it has design and purpose in all of its parts. In the beginning, God will teach by types and by costumes and by rituals; and the people can see it and hear it, and the truth of God is lodged in the type or in the ritual or in the costume. But all of it has a divine purpose and meaning; it is moving toward a tremendous spiritual truth. In the garden of Eden, the man and the woman make aprons of fig leaves to cover their nakedness [Genesis 3:7]. But God says, "Not so," and in the garden of Eden somewhere, He slew innocent animals and made coats of skins to cover the man and his wife: a figure, a type, of the covering of our sin in the sacrifice of the crimson of life [Genesis 3:21]. So it was at the garden of Eden when the angel, the cherubim, taught our first parents how to come before God, how to worship the Lord: with an altar and with a sacrificial lamb. Teaching, but the teaching had a tremendously purposefully outreach in it. All the things that God does, they are congruous and they move toward a great spiritual lesson.
Now, when you went to church, when you went to the Levitical services in the Old Testament, the rituals were inspiring, and the symbols were splendid, and the services were superlative. But in themselves, they would have been nothing. The costumes of the priest, the tabernacle, the furniture of the tabernacle, and all of the beautiful rituals of worship, all of them have a meaning, they have a purpose; and they point toward the sacrifice for our sins in the Lord Jesus. And Christianity cast aside the swaddling clothes of those types and rituals, and came forth a mature man. That is a characteristic of the revelation of God: it is teleological, it is purposeful, all the things you read in the Bible have a profound spiritual significance.
A third characteristic of revelation in the Bible: it is homogeneous; it is interrelated. You see that in God’s creation. The whole universe is governed by the same design and the same infinite mind and the same laws of the almighty Creator. If you’re on Mars or Saturn or in the farthest star of the sidereal spheres, you’ll find the same laws of creation there that you find here. The same infinite mind designed it all. The same thing you find in mathematics. If you come to geometry and to calculus and to the farthest reaches of geometry, you’ll find in all of it the same mind as you will find in the simplest mathematical axioms. It’s all homogeneous. It’s all the same. It has one mind. So it is with the revelation of God: it is all of a kind, it is interrelated and interconnected, and all of it agrees. This part never denies that part, and this part is never at odds with that part; but it is all homogeneous, all in agreement. This is the revelation of God.
Now the inspiration of the transmission of the blessed revelation: how God by His supernatural supervision overshadowed the writer, that he write the revelation of God without error and without mistake. Now, there are three theories about inspiration that I think are altogether wrong. Number one: there are rationalistic theories of inspiration. The rationalist denies the personality of God and denies the supernatural; and to him the Bible, the record of the revelation, is just the product of human mind and human genius. He defines inspiration as the ability of a man raised to a higher than ordinary degree. He says that inspiration is found as much in, say, Homer, or Virgil, or Cicero, or Dante, or Milton, or Shakespeare as you would find it in a Moses, or an Isaiah, or a John, or a Paul. To him the revelation is no revelation of God, but it is the product of a man’s own prowess. Now that’s the rationalistic interpretation of inspiration.
Another theory of inspiration is what I would call – and this is just my own word for it – fractional. This man studying the Bible would say that the Bible is inspired in spots; and of course he’s inspired to pick out the spots. It does not, it is not the Word of God, but it contains the Word of God. And this part may be inspired, but that part is not inspired. They fractionalize the Bible. That’s a second theory of inspiration.
A third theory of inspiration is ridiculous, and I think that some men use it – the liberal always refers to us as following this idea of inspiration – mechanical, that the writer, be the prophet or the apostle, that he was a dictaphone, and God just wrote the revelation through him as He would dictate it into a machine, mechanically. And of course, they put that straw man up in order to knock it down, in order to ridicule us who believe in the supernatural writing of the revelation of God.
Well, what, to me, this to me is the true understanding of the transmission of the truth of God, inspiration: it is dynamically done under the supervision, the supernatural direction, of the Holy Spirit of God. As the man was moved by the Spirit of God, he chose these words and this language as God breathed the truth into his mind and into his heart [2 Peter 1:20-21]. Now, this means that God used the man as he was, and he used the faculties of the man as he possessed them. But they were breathed upon by the Spirit of God that he write down the truth of the revelation of God without error and without mistake [2 Timothy 3:16].
God did not unmake the man in order to make the writer of the Bible; he is still the man. It is exactly like the burning bush: the burning bush is still a bush, though it burns unconsumed [Exodus 3:2-4]. It’s like the raven: the raven is still a raven, though he feeds Elijah by the direction of God [1 Kings 17:2-6]. It’s like babes and sucklings out of whose mouths God ordained praise, but they are still babes and sucklings [Matthew 21:16]. So it is in the divine transmission of the truth of God, the inspiration of the Bible: it has God and man [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. You find it in the nature of Christ: He is the God Man [Colossians 2:9]. You find it in our salvation: God has a part in it, and we have a part in it [John 3:16]. So it is in the inspired writers of the Bible; they are still men according to their own personality and faculty and genius, but they are breathed upon by God to write down the transmission of the truth [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. The man is still the man.
Moses, the Bible says, was learned in all the arts and wisdom of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. Moses being trained in the court knew law, and the legal mind of Moses you’ll find as God used him to write the Mosaic legislation. Isaiah is a court preacher; polished, oh, in the highest degree does he soar from one marvelous incomparable peroration to another. Amos is a country preacher; the smell of the furrow is in the words that Amos will use. God used him. David had poetic genius and fire, and God used him in the songs, the psalms of Israel, "the sweet singer" the Bible calls him, David. The Solomonic proverbs are written there by the wisest man who ever lived. Jeremiah is a heartbroken, sensitive prophet; never married, wept and lamented over the captivity of Israel all the days of his life. Daniel is a prophet statesman, and he speaks of the political course of human history. Doctor Luke has an affinity for history, for the affirmation of things in historical perspective. Consequently he will write his Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts after careful historical observation, he will say. Paul is a rabbinical theologian – grew up in the school of Hillel – and everything that he writes has Talmudic reasoning, theological background in it. He is first and foremost a theologian. And God uses these men just as they are, as He presents the truth of the Lord. Now that’s the way I think the transmission, the inspiration of the Bible, is: God moving upon the man just as he is.
In modern times, let me give you an illustration. I don’t suppose there has ever been a more cultured preacher than Philips Brooks in Boston. And I don’t suppose there has ever been a rawhide, rawboned, down-to-earth, sawdust trail, more than Billy Sunday of Chicago. But both of them preached the same truth of God: Philips Brooks in a cultured and aesthetic atmosphere to a learned, distinguished, Bostonian audience, and Billy Sunday out there gumming the devil when he lost his teeth, still at it. That’s God and the Holy Spirit of God. So I must conclude.
There are these characteristics in that dynamic persuasion in which I believe of the transmission, the inspiration of the revelation of God [2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Number one: it is plenary, plenary. All of it is God-breathed; from the first verse to the last benedictory sentence. All of it is God-breathed, plenary. Second: it is verbal; all of the words are inspired by God. You can’t have music without notes. You can’t have mathematics without figures. And you can’t have Scripture without words. And if the Scripture is to be inspired, the words have to be inspired. And third, not only is it plenary, not only is it verbal, but third: it is supernatural. It presents what no man could ever write. It reveals what no man could ever know. And it has an effect that no man in himself could ever bring to pass.
Now, I thought of a thousand illustrations of that, the supernatural effect of the preaching, the delivery of the transmitted truth of God, the Book of God, the Holy Scriptures. And so, I thought I would choose one in which all of us share this morning, right where we are. There are very few of you that can remember when I first came to this church; now, in my thirty-seventh year. Eileen Turner can; several of you can, you were here, but most of you were not here. I have been here so long; you look at the miracle of that. Did you ever hear me say that if I had another life I would love to be a professor of English literature and teach it? Did you ever hear me say that? I would love to do that. I’d love to teach English literature. All right, let’s say that for thirty-seven years I stood here in this pulpit, and I lectured on English literature. Or let’s say that I, for thirty-seven years, lectured here on economics, or on church history, or on mathematics, or on astronomy, or chemistry, or medicine, or any other subject that you can name. The prospect of the people coming for thirty-seven years, to listen to me speak, preach, lecture, on literature or science is unthinkable. After one or two Sundays, the congregation would have so eroded there’d be a handful. Look at the miracle of this. You yourselves bear witness to the fact that your preacher does one thing: he preaches the Bible. That’s all. When you come here to church, you don’t say to one another, "I just wonder what that preacher’s going to preach about this morning. Will it be astronomy? Or will it be chemistry? Or will it be economics?" No. When you come to church, and if you talk about what you’re going to listen to, it’ll always be this: "He be preaching the Bible; that’s what he be preaching, the Bible." And after thirty-seven years, come back here; and the next Sunday come back again, and the next Sunday, still here again; and the next year, and the next decade, and the whole lifetime; and after you’ve been listening to this preacher for a lifetime, some of you, you still say, "I was glad when they said unto me, ‘Let’s go up to the house of the Lord’" [Psalm 122:1].
And the effect of the preaching of the gospel is miraculous. Look around you, right next seated to you may be a man, marvelously changed, wonderfully saved, by listening to the Word of God. The whole family saved, the children, the father and mother, the parents, the whole circle of the home remade by listening to the Word of the Lord: it is supernatural. It’s like that sentence on the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren, who built St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and he’s buried in it. And above his tomb, you can read these words: "Lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice," reader," lector, si monumentum requiris, circumspice." If you’re looking for a monument, look around you, look around you." If we had hours today, I’d have you stand up. My brother, stand up and tell how God lifted you out of the miry pit and set your feet on the Rock. Sweet family, stand up and say how God remade your house and your home. Stand up and tell how the Lord delivered you out of the darkness into His glorious, saving light. That’s supernatural. That’s miraculous. And we live in that kind of a world, in the fullness of the faith of Jesus our Lord, whose face is revealed on the pages of this sacred Book. Now may we stand together?
Our Lord in heaven, what a wonder, what a wonder, that God’s mind could be extended into His Book, that reading these holy pages we see the face of Jesus Christ, we hear the voice of the Almighty, and He reaches down into our souls, and He leads us to a beautiful faith and commitment in Thee. "O, bless the name of the Lord: bless Him O my soul, and all that is within me" [Psalm 103:1].
In this moment that we abide, and it has to be just for a moment, in this moment when we wait and pray, a family you, a couple you, or just one somebody you; out of the balcony and there’s time and to spare, on this lower floor, down a stairway, down an aisle, "Here I come, pastor; here we are; here I am." Do it now. Make it now.
And thank Thee, Lord, for the sweet gift of the harvest, in Thy precious and saving name, amen. While we sing, come, come, come.