The Inspiration, Revelation and Canon of Scripture

The Inspiration of the Scriptures
Any discussion on the inspiration of the Holy Scriptures must include both the Old and New Testaments. The apostle Paul declares that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). He probably had in mind the Old Testament writings – “because that unto them [the Jews] were committed the oracles of God” (Romans 3:2), but it is certain that various New Testament writings were in circulation at that time and were viewed as inspired and authoritative, for as Peter remarks concerning Paul’s letters, “And account that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:15-16).

Both the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Word of God is in view by the apostles, and it is such inspiration that Christian accept. Plenary Inspiration means that every book, chapter, and verse of the Bible comes directly from God. Verbal Inspiration explains that both the text and the themes contained in Scripture are divinely inspired by God.

The word “inspired” (theopneustos – a technical term for the Holy Spirit’s supernatural guidance of those men who recieved special revelation to write) actually comes from two Greek words “theos” (God), and “pneo” (to breathe). Therefore, the Scriptural use of the word means “God-breathed”. The Scriptures originated with God. He is the Author, man is simply a secondary author. Man’s part was to transmit what he had received from God. God is an intelligent Being and capable of communicating with man. Through this we can understand that the Bible is the very Word of God from His own mouth. “God-breathed” is an important way of looking at the Bible, for just as man exhales his own breathe (not someone else’s or someone for him) so too God speaks His own words in Scripture. For this reason we can say that the Bible is the product of God.

Such inspiration means that the Scriptures are faithful, trustworthy, and without error or contradiction, “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: 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 Ghost” (2 Peter 1:19-21). Any supposed error must lie with man’s faulty understanding of the text. In all doctrines, teachings, history, and revelations God’s Word is inerrent and infallible, “So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).

The Old Testament writers were conscious of the fact that they were speaking or writing God’s Word, “The spirit of the LORD spake by me, and His word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). Throughout the Scriptures we find the expression “Thus saith the Lord” as the prophet or man of God begins to address his listeners with a word from Heaven. His inspiration to speak or write came from God through visions, dreams, angelic visitations or by audible words. Such a communication from God guarantees the absolute truthfulness of what is declared or written; this is the idea behind divine inspiration.

The Lord Jesus Christ believed that the Scriptures are the inspired Word of God even to the smallest written detail, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18). He quoted from such Biblical characters as Moses, David and Isaiah, “And He said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me” (Luke 24:44). Jesus also made it plain that His own words were recieved from His Father so therefore are absolute truth, “Then answered Jesus and said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He seeth the Father do: for what things soever He doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise … I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgement is just; because I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me. If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true … My doctrine is not mine, but His that sent me … I have many things to say and to judge of you: but He that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him” (John 5:19, 30-31; 7:16; 8:26). He spoke of the fact that the Holy Spirit would inspire others in the revelation of the truth, “Howbeit when He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth: for He shall not speak of Himself; but whatsoever He shall hear, that shall He speak: and He will show you things to come … And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you … But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me: And ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning” (John 16:13; 14:16-17; 15:26-27).

This inspiration does not come through a man’s personal thoughts or intelligence. Though the writers seem to have been free to use their own style, culture, and personality, they were in fact moved upon by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of God implanted the words or the desire to write in their hearts and minds. At times the man may have decided to record certain events, as is the case with Moses in Exodus 24:12; 31:8; 32:16, yet even this is through the direct inspiration of God. The topic, words, and reasons for writing began in the mind and will of God before He gradually passed them down to His human authors. It should be noted that this is nothing like the automatic writing practised in the occult or spiritism. This is the reason why we can claim that what these men of God wrote is free from error and contradiction, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16); “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 Ghost” (2 Peter 1:20-21); “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

It was God’s will to communicate His wisdom and truth to mankind, since left by himself it is impossible for man to find the truth. Without God’s direct intervention we would never have His word in spoken or written form. There are no other writings that have ever been inspired by God in the same way as the Holy Bible. We may say that God inspired John Bunyan to write The Pilgrim’s Progress, but such inspiration would lay solely with the topic rather than the very words themselves. It would be heretical even to suggest that such a work was God’s authorative or inspired Word.

The Holy Scriptures alone are inspired by God for they are the direct word from His throne. It alone has the power (through the power of God’s Spirit) to inspire our hearts to salvation, faith, prayer, and worship. By such inspiration the Scriptures can guide us in both faith and practice.

The Revelation of the Scriptures
The word Revelation (Hebrew ‘galâ ’; Greek ‘apokalypsis’) means ‘an unveiling’ of something that is otherwise hidden or unknown. The Scriptures were verbally revealed to those God chose to use to write down what the Holy Spirit directed them to. It would be impossible for any man to write a book like the Bible even if he attempted to do so. Such attempts have been made in the Apocrypha, the Koran, The Book of Mormon, and the Gita, but these and others fall to far short of the glory of God’s revealed Word to even consider them as God’s word. World religions and philosophies seek to find answers to the meaning of life, but God has already revealed all that man needs to know.

All Scriptures, as contained in the sixty-six books of the Bible, began in the mind of God, He revealed them to His prophets, who in turn passed them down to others, “Surely the Lord GOD will do nothing, but He revealeth His secret unto His servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7). The Bible is the revelation of God Himself, His power, glory, nature, character, ways, plans, promises and purposes. God must first disclose Himself before we can know Him.

God revealed to the prophets the correct understanding of the past, present and events regarding the future. His revelation therefore often begins on a historical level. The revelation of His Word and will relates to what was happening at that time (as with Israel in captivity in Egypt and Babylon), or with what will soon happen (the birth, death, resurrection, ascension, and second coming of Christ). We can say that God revealed in the Bible what He has done, what He is doing, what He is going to do, and how we should respond to this.

Through the Scriptures God reveals His plans and purposes regarding the redemption of man. This was gradually unfolded over 1,800 years, through over forty different authors. It begins at the Fall of Adam in the Garden of Eden and climaxes with the eternal Kingdom of Christ.

The Revelation of Scripture also includes its ability to open up its truths to the minds of sinful men. Though man can know something of God through the witness of Creation, Creation cannot reveal to man’s need for a personal Saviour, only the written Word of God can do this. We cannot understand Christ through any other means but by the testimony of the Holy Spirit as He reveals the Word to us.

God’s Word is fully revealed in the Scriptures (that is, what God has deemed necessary for man to know), this cannot be added to or diminished in any way. Yet the Spirit of God is continually at work revealing the meaning of the Bible to those who determine to seek the truth within its pages. It is the Holy Spirit’s duty to make the Scriptures a reality to us.

The chief purpose of revelation is to make Christ known, for He is the central theme of the Scriptures. As we learn more about what God says we realise that such revelation demands a response. God does not reveal His word without a call for us to benefit from it, “The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). A response it necessary since we are coming face to face with Almighty God as we open up the pages of the Bible.

The Canon of Scripture
The word “canon” comes from the Greek word “kanon” which means “rule, measure, standard” and “something that must be kept straight”. In its relation the Holy Bible it refers to the 39 books of the Old Testament and the 27 books of the New Testament.

Though there have always been those who have sought to add extra writings to the canon of Scripture (i.e. The Roman Catholic Church’s insistence in including the apocryphal books) these have been dismissed as uninspired and lacking spiritual authority. Only those books that agreed with the rest of Scripture have been permitted into what we call the Holy Bible.

The Jews determined that only the 39 books contained in the Old Testament (i.e. The Torah, The Prophets, and The Writings) were authorative and the inspired Word of God. This canon may have been brought together by Ezra. The Christian Church took exactly the same position but included the 27 books that form the New Testament. Therefore today we have the 66 books in the volume we call the Holy Bible (the Protestant Bible).

The canon came as a result of the early Church wanting to known which manuscripts and documents in circulation at that time were really authentic. There were those (amongst the Gnostics) who wanted to include The Shepherd of Hermes instead of the Book of Revelation for instance. Finally only those books, letters, and documents that were of apostolic authorship, honoured Jesus Christ as Lord and God, and contained truths necessary for edification and spiritual growth. All books that were written after the death of the apostles were automatically rejected from the canon.

It is very obvious to us that the Holy Spirit was behind this venture. He inspired men’s minds and hearts as they investigated, prayed, and sorted through the many documents vying for a place in the canon. These men were used by God to bring together a volume that could be truly titles the Holy Word of God.

The earliest evidence for the Canon of Scripture can be found in the Festive Letter of Athanasius (297-373 AD), Jerome’s version of the Bible (347-420 AD), and the Canon of Carthage (367 AD).