The Infallible Word (Lecture)
November 10th, 1997
2 Peter 1:15-21
THE INFALLIBLE WORD OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2 Peter 1:15-21
Will one of you turn in your Bible to 2 Peter chapter 1, and read for us verses 15 through 21? Second Peter chapter 1, and read verses 15 through 21, who will do that? All right.
And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.
We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.
For He received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to Him from the Majestic Glory, saying, This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.
Is that . . . no, I want you to read through 21.
We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with Him on the sacred mountain.
And we have heard the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation,
for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
[2 Peter 1:15-21, NIV]
Now, we’re going to speak about that Word, The Infallible Word that came to us by the Holy Spirit.
So let’s start. From a thoughtful reading of 2 Peter 1:21 and the preceding verses, a remarkable fact becomes obvious: it is the paramount place that the Bible, God’s Word, the sure word of prophecy, has in the apostle’s thinking as being more sure, more reliable in attesting to the power and coming of Jesus Christ than the personal experiences which the disciples themselves had with the Lord during His earthly ministry. I just cannot imagine that! Simon Peter, the chief apostle, had said that he knew the time of his own departure was at hand [2 Timothy 4:6]. He had come to that hour when he was soon to put off “this my tabernacle” [2 Peter 1:14], his decease was not long to be postponed. But to his readers, he said, in effect, “I shall endeavor to write down these things concerning the deity of our Lord before I am taken from you” [2 Peter 1:15]. He is referring to the Gospel of Mark. “For,” he says, and I paraphrase, “we have not followed cunningly devised fables, we have not delivered to you myths and legends concerning the heavenly life and miraculous ministry of Jesus our Lord. For we saw those things with our eyes, and we heard those things with our ears. Yes,” he says, “we even heard the voice of the Father God in heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” [2 Peter 1:16-17; Mark 9:7]. And then he adds this astonishing thing, quote: “We have a more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:19], the Word of God, the Bible.
This statement is astonishing because he had just said, and again I paraphrase, “I am going to write down these things that I have seen with my eyes, and I have heard with my ears, even the voice of the Father in heaven authenticating the ministry of the divine Son” [2 Peter 1:15-18]. But now he writes that the surest word of verification for the marvelous, miraculous ministry of the Lord Jesus is not the voice of the Father from heaven, it is not the things the apostles witnessed, having seen them with their own eyes, nor the things they wrote down having heard them with their own ears; but the surest verification for Christ’s ministry is “the more sure word of prophecy” [2 Peter 1:19]. That is almost unbelievable; but that is what Peter writes. What they had seen, what they had heard, and even the voice of God Himself from heaven was not the surest verification of the divine ministry of the Lord Jesus; but it was the things that pertained to the Lord in His flesh.
Then Peter describes that sure word of prophecy: “For the sure word of prophecy came not in old time by the will of man” [2 Peter 1:21]—man did not think it up, nor was it human genius that wrote it down; it is not Shakespearean, or Miltonian, or Homeric genius or inspiration, “but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” [2 Peter 1:21]. Now that is the biblical idea of the inspired word of Scripture: holy men of God wrote it down; they spoke, they used words and syllables, sentences and paragraphs, language, ideas and thoughts, they wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:21]. And that is the number one authentication of the divine mission and ministry of Jesus.
I just can’t get that in my head. They had watched Him, they had seen Him, they had heard Him; but that was not the greatest authentication of the divine mission of our Lord. The number one of all of the authentications is the infallible Word of God, the Scriptures of the Bible [2 Peter 1:21].
How different is the modern popularly accepted idea of the writing of the Holy Scriptures. I shall quote from an eminent theologian, who is apologizing for the Bible; and in quoting his testimony, I am giving you the attitude of almost the entire modern theological world. This man is not unique in his views; he is just expressing the persuasion of the majority of contemporary theologians. As he apologizes for the Bible, he says, “Of course there are scientific errors in the Bible. However, we can excuse such mistakes on the ground that the Bible is not a textbook of science, and therefore we do not expect it to be scientifically accurate.” I agree with that theologian on one thing: that the Bible is not a textbook on science. The Bible is the Word of God, written for the salvation of our souls that we might be delivered from damnation and hell. If a man ever sees the face of God, if a man ever goes to heaven, he must go by the revelation and truth imparted to us in the Holy Word of God. There is no other way to be saved. “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” [Acts 4:12]. There’s only one way to be saved, and that way is revealed in the sacred Book. We are not to read the Book as a textbook on civics, or geometry, or astronomy, or cosmogony, or anthropology; it is a book of God to show us how to be saved. I agree, therefore, that it is not a textbook on science.
The rest of that theologian’s statement is blasphemy. He says, “Of course, there are scientific errors in the Bible. However we can excuse such mistakes, we do not expect it to be scientifically accurate.” My brother and my young men here in the class, if the Bible is not also scientifically accurate, it is not, to me at least, the Word of God. I have a very plain reason for that: the Lord God who made this world and all the scientific marvels which we are now discovering in it, that same Lord God knew all these things from the beginning. We do not surprise Him with our discoveries of the waves on which our church services are broadcast and televised; God made those waves. He did it in the beginning, and we have just now in our modern life discovered them. Jet propulsion that speeds planes all along through the sky is not a surprise to God: He made that force in the beginning. Now if the Bible is the Word of God, and if God inspired it, then it cannot contain any scientific mistakes; because God knew every truth and fact of science from the beginning.
When we compare the Word of God with science, much of which is actually hypothetical, theoretical guesswork by men who are mostly darkened in counsel, when we come to compare the Bible with these modern pseudoscientific theories and postulates and hypothesis, let us be careful of two things. First: let us be very certain that we are conversant with the Word of God; that’s the first thing. Let us be sure that we know the Word of God when we start thinking about the scientific facts that they say apparently contradict the Bible.
Some time ago, there was a world famous minister who was also a scientist, who loved both God and His marvelous works. From one side of this nation to the other, he published in all the newspapers an advertisement saying that he would give one thousand dollars to anyone, anywhere, anytime who would point out to him one scientific error in the Bible. He received a letter, among others, from a graduate of the University of Michigan, who resided in Detroit. She was claiming that one thousand dollars, “For,” she declared, she had found “a certain scientific error in the Bible. It is said to be true,” she pointed out, “that the garden of Eden was in the valley of Mesopotamia.” That is correct, because the Euphrates River ran through it. “But,” she added, “it has been scientifically demonstrated that no apples can grow in the Mesopotamian Valley; and we are told in the Bible that Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden because they ate of the fruit of an apple tree. Therefore,” she said, “I am waiting for my one thousand dollars.”
The minister wrote back to her, “My dear, the Bible mentions the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil [Genesis 2:9, 17], but it does not mention an apple.” The woman finally wrote back, after thorough investigation, and said, “I cannot find in the Bible where it says apple, but I know it is there because my teacher told me so.”
Let me tell you something I found this week. Reading in preparation for this message, I stumbled across the debate concerning the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. That’s the calendar we live by. That is the calendar that we live by. It is the calendar that has been adopted by all the civilized world. As you know, January 1 begins our new year in the Gregorian calendar. Did you know that when the Gregorian calendar was adopted, and men were discussing it and debating it, its beginning date, January 1, was bitterly opposed on the ground that Eve ate an apple, and apples do not ripen until September? Therefore, they argued, the year began in the Bible, in September—all on the basis of Eve’s eating an apple in the fall of the year. Now that was the finest science in those days. I am just saying that first we must be sure and certain that we are conversant with the Word of God and what it says.
Second: let us be sure of our scientific facts. There are two facts, I say, we ought to be sure of when we say all of these things that modern science avows. The first one is, let us be sure we know what the Bible says; and second, let us be sure of our scientific facts. True science is always changing. It is like a chicken: always molting. Did you know that it has been estimated that in the library of the Louvre in Paris, France, that there are at least three and one half miles of books on science which are obsolete, outdated, outmoded, so that nobody ever reads a syllable of them anymore. A book of science ten years old is nine years obsolete. Just think about that.
Now what if you were to take this Bible and update it to the latest scientific facts and theories and hypothesis? Think of what you would do to the Bible. Think of what you would have done to the Bible in 1000 BC had you updated it then to the latest scientific facts. What would you have done to the Bible in 500 BC? What would you have done in AD 1? What would you have done in AD 500? What would you have done in AD 1000? What would have become of the Bible had you put into it all the scientific ideas and conjurations and monstrosities of AD 1660? You would have had a new edition in 1760 and another one in 1860. And had we done so in 1960, we should be looking for a new edition in 1970. Had you updated the Bible according to the latest scientific fads in any generation, in fact it would have been filled with pseudoscientific absurdities and nonentities.
Did you know that in 1861 the French Academy of Science published a little brochure in which they stated fifty-one scientific facts that controverted the Word of God? Today there is not a scientist in the world who believes a single one of those fifty-one so-called scientific facts that in 1861 were published as controverting the Word of God, not one.
The most phenomenal thing of all this is that the Bible, the Word of God, has not changed. All through these centuries, every syllable of it is just as it was when God, through the Holy Spirit, wrote it down [2 Peter 1:21]. The Bible is written by forty authors, over a period of one thousand and five hundred years. Most of them did not know each other personally; there was no collaboration, no conclusion, and they wrote each one of them as they were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16]. And they wrote it over a period of one thousand and five hundred years; yet with all of the unbelievable, weird, wild background of the days in which they lived, there is no repercussion of any of that darkness and superstition in the Word of God.
For instance, in Acts 7:22, we are told that Moses was learned in all of the science of the Egyptians. Moses was learned in all of the wisdom, all the sophia of the Egyptians. He knew all the latest scientific fads; he was abreast with all of the latest scientific discoveries in his day. Now today we can know exactly what Moses was taught. Archaeologists have dug up and put together all of these things that Moses read; all the textbooks of science in his day. They are now before us, and we can study them just as Moses did in his day. Those Egyptians were brilliant people. They had a science of cosmogony, the origination of the world, the creation of the world. Those Egyptian scientists believed, in Moses’ day, that this earth was hatched out of a great cosmic egg, an egg: an egg that had wings and was flying around through space. According to the latest Egyptian scientific facts, as this enormous winged egg flew around, the processes of mitosis on the inside of the shell were completed, and out hatched the [world]. Out of that flying ovum, here we are. That was the latest scientific fact among those who taught in the days of Moses.
So I turn over here to the Word of God, expecting to read about that flying egg, for, after all, Moses was learned in all the science of the Egyptians. But I find nothing at all about that enormous hatchery. Instead of that, I read of creation in the sublimest words that man could pen: “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth” [Genesis 1:1].
Those Egyptians also had a science of astronomy. They believed that the sun was the reflection of the light on the earth, and that the earth was the center of this universe. But in Genesis, I find that Moses reversed the order: it is the sun that gives light to the earth [Genesis 1:14-18].
The Egyptians had a science of anthropology. They were naïve evolutionists: they believed that mankind sprang from little white worms that they found in the slime and ooze and mud of the alluvial deposit after the Nile’s annual overflow. Perhaps they supposed so because they observed the metamorphosis of the caterpillar into a butterfly. The scientists of Moses’ day, with their theory of evolution from worms, were not far behind those who would have you believe that your remote ancestors were flea-bitten apes hanging on their tails in a primitive jungle. I read in the Bible that Moses was learned in all the science of the Egyptians [Acts 7:22]. But he says nothing about those little white worms and how we were descended from them. Instead he writes in the most majestic language in human speech, “And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness. . .So God created man in His own image, in the image of God created He him; male and female created He them” [Genesis 1:26-27].
The Bible is thus throughout the whole Word of God: it does not reflect the scientific background of the day in which it was written. The Bible is an historical book, but it has been kept from error by the Holy Spirit of God [2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:16]. It’s a miracle! When you hold it in your hand, you hold what I think is the greatest miracle the world has ever known.
In the background of many of the centuries of the Bible is the Chaldean civilization. They also had definite scientific hypotheses concerning the origin of the world and all things therein. Their cosmogony went like this: the earth is one gigantic monster covered with feathers and scales; the feathers and the scales are the rocks and the trees. As a flea lives in the hair of the hide of a dog, so the human race lives on the hide of this big monster, and we burrow into the rocks and live beneath the trees. Then these Chaldeans said, “If you dig down too far and hurt that monster, he will shake himself, and buildings will fall down.” They had scientific proof for this theory: for they did dig down into the earth for such things as gold and silver, and earthquakes did happen, and buildings did fall down. Such was their scientific proof for their theory of what kind of a world we live in. But in all the Word of God you will not find a semblance of that monstrous weirdness.
Consider those Babylonian people: much of the Bible is written against the culture and scientific background of their civilization. The Babylonians also had a theory of anthropology, of human creation. They said that in the beginning there was a monster by the name of Tiamat, and a great god by the name of Marduk. These two had a fierce battle, and Marduk overcame Tiamat. When Marduk flattened out Tiamat, his body became the earth. Then according to that latest Babylonian science, Marduk spat, and where he spat men came up; much like the dragonese of that story about Jason. And then the men spat, and wherever the men spat women came up. And then the women spat, and wherever the women spat animals came up. That was the latest science in the Babylonian days.
Do you find any of that idiocy in the Word of God? In all of such mythology, and a thousand other things just as wild and weird and unimaginable, were currently believed in the days when the Bible was written—such was the science of that day.
Now let us turn to the Word of God to see what kind of scientific background is written here large upon the pages of God’s Holy Book. Choosing from a multitude of passages, let us turn to Job 26:7, quote, “God stretcheth out the north over the empty place, and hangeth the earth upon nothing.” Look at that North Star up there in the universe of God, shining alone: “And God hangeth the earth upon nothing.” Did you know that human beings, for thousands of generations before and after Job wrote these scientific words, believed that the earth was sustained by some kind of solid foundation? Everyone believed that. Every civilization did, every culture did, every nation did. The earth is built upon some kind of a solid foundation.
The Egyptians said that the world is sustained by five great pillars: one at each corner, and one in the middle. Five great pillars, they said, sustained the earth. When Job wrote, “God hangeth the world upon nothing” [Job 26:7], that was not the science of the Egyptian. The Greeks were taught to believe that this world is held up by an immense giant by the name of Atlas, upon whose great shoulders and back the world rested. That is what the learned, sophisticated Greeks believed. The Hindu scientist and theologian believed that this earth is sustained on the back of a gigantic elephant, that the elephant stands on the back of an enormous sea turtle, and that the sea turtle swims in a cosmic ocean. Then he ran out of imagination, and quit without saying what the ocean stands on. But that was their latest scientific theory in the day Job wrote, “God hangeth the world on nothing” [Job 26:7].
Turn now to Isaiah 11:12: “And God shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.” And the infidels and cynics and critics and new lights in theology say, “See what Isaiah wrote? ‘God shall gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.’ Therefore in keeping with the scientific theories of his day, Isaiah believed the earth was flat and that it had four corners.” This is one of the passages they quote to criticize. Remembering that Isaiah wrote not in English, but in Hebrew, and that to know what Isaiah said one must read the original Hebrew text. I looked it up; his Hebrew idiom is altogether different from our English idiom, but both mean the same thing. We say “the four corners of the earth,” meaning “the whole world.” For example, during a violent storm at sea, when the passengers on the boat became afraid, the captain called them all together and said, “Now you listen to me: I have sailed this boat to the four corners of the sea, and I tell you this wind is not dangerous. This is just a hard blow.” Another example comes from signs the United States government placed in all the post offices, reading, “Join the United States Marines, and visit the four corners of the earth.” Isaiah presents the same meaning in Hebrew: the Hebrew idiom meaning “to the farthest extremity,” is taken from the spreading of a bird’s wings. The Hebrew word for the two wings of a bird is kanaph. Isaiah says in Hebrew idiom, “And He shall gather together the dispersed of Israel from the four kanaph of the earth, from the four wings of the earth.” Thus I discovered while the Hebrew idiom “wings” refers to the uttermost parts of the earth, it was their word for “extremity.” This is as far as the extremity would reach. The prophet could have said, “From the four parts of the compass, north, south, east, and west, God is going to gather His children together,” but he more graphically said it the other way [Isaiah 11:12].
Now it is such discrepancies in translation that seem baffling, but if you know your Bible, you will not be confused by the critics. These so-called scientific errors in the Bible melt away under close analysis. Turn to Isaiah 40:22: “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth.” When Isaiah wrote that, there was not a living man in the world who believed that the world was round, not one. Isaiah lived about 750 BC, and there was not a man in the earth before him, nor after him, for countless generations, who believed that the earth was round. But look what Isaiah wrote by the Spirit of God: “He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth” [Isaiah 40:22].
Let us turn again to 1 Corinthians 15:39: “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.” We could translate the passage like this: “All protoplasm is not the same protoplasm: there is one protoplasm of men, there is another protoplasm of beasts, there is another protoplasm of fishes, there is another protoplasm of birds.” That is what Paul wrote. But when men discovered cells, and when on the inside of cells they discovered protoplasm, it became the scientific rage to avow that all of life was made out of the same and identical stuff, protoplasm. But Paul wrote that that was not so. He wrote that there is a protoplasm of men, and that the protoplasm of men is not like the protoplasm of animals, and the protoplasm of animals is not like the protoplasm of fishes, and the protoplasm of fishes is not like the protoplasm of birds. And we became more learned, and our scientists finally discovered the truth, and found it to be exactly as Paul wrote. The cytoplasm and the nuclei on the inside of the cells of man are altogether different from the cytoplasm and the nuclei on the inside of the cells of any other animal, or beast, or bird; and that all of them are different from one another [1 Corinthians 15:39]. Isn’t that remarkable?
Turn to Hebrews 1:10-12, which quotes from Psalm 102:25-27:
Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of Thine hands:
They shall perish; but Thou remainest; and they shall wax old as doth a garment;
And as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail.
Did you know that here is a better scientific statement of Sir James Jeans’ book, The Wider Aspects of Cosmogony, that Jeans himself wrote, for he finally came to the conclusion that this universe is like a great clock that is running down, running down:
Every time there is liberation of energy, the complex nuclear structure of a substance dissolved, breaking down into simpler construction. But you can never put that energy back into it again, and you can never build it up again. This whole universe is like a vast wound-up clock: it is running down, running down, running down. And finally someday even the sun will go out, and this universe will be extinct.
Quote, “Thou Lord made the heavens and the earth. In the beginning, God wound it up. They shall perish; but Thou remainest; they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt Thou fold them up, and they shall be changed, they shall die: but Thou art the same, and Thy years shall not fail” [Hebrews 1:10-12].
The latest scientific theories are confirmed by the Word of God. To take just one other example, turn to Hebrews 11:3: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear.” Let me paraphrase that: “So that the things that are visible are made out of entities which are invisible.” Did you ever hear a finer statement of the molecular atomic nature of this universe in substance and reality than that? “The things that are visible,” the things that we see, “are made of things and entities that are invisible,” made of things you cannot see [Hebrews 11:3].
From the beginning to the end, there is not a word or a syllable or a revelation in the Word of God that has contradicted or ever will contradict any true substantiated scientific fact. The reason is very simple: the Lord God who inspired the Bible [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21], is the Lord God who made these things from the beginning [Colossians 1:16]. That is why when the Lord speaks through His servants you can base your life and your soul and your salvation on what God has said [2 Timothy 1:12].
There is not a more familiar story in the annals of literature than the story that describes the death of the immortal Scottish poet and novelist, Sir Walter Scott. As he lay dying, he turned to his son-in-law Lockhart, and said to him, “Son, bring me the Book.” There was a vast library in Walter Scott’s home; and bewildered, the son-in-law said, “Sir, what book? Which book?” The dying bard replied, “My son, there is just one Book. Bring me the Book.” It was then that Lockhart went to the library and brought to Sir Walter Scott the Bible; and he died with that Bible in his hand.
“For the prophecy came not by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” That’s that verse in 2 Peter 1:21. And this Holy Word of God, infallible, holy, inerrant, is the living Word of the living Lord. “The grass withereth, the flower fadeth; but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” I write that, Isaiah 40:8, as my favorite verse in the Bible. “Heaven and earth will pass away: but My words will not pass away,” in Mark 13:31. “For ever, O Lord, Thy word is firmly fixed in the heavens,” Psalm 119:89. O what a blessedness, what a holiness, what a foundation eternal and immovable is the living Word of the living God; “And His name is called The Word of God,” Revelation 19:13.
Well, how do you like that? Isn’t it remarkable? Unbelievable, how the Word of God stands through all of the centuries, through all of the millennia, through all the changes in civilization, and through all of the books that are in the libraries. Oh! what a privilege to stand up there with a Bible in your hand and proclaim the infallible, inerrant, unchanged, inspired Word of God! [2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21]. Well, Dr. Allen, I turn it back to thee.