1. Revelation and Scripture*.
The term ‘special revelation’ may be used in more than one sense. It may denote the direct self-communications of God in verbal messages and in miraculous facts. The prophets and the apostles often received messages from God long before they committed them to writing. These are now contained in Scripture, but do not constitute the whole of the Bible. There is much in it that was not revealed in a supernatural way, but is the result of study and of previous reflection. However, the term may also be used to denote the Bible as a whole, that whole complex of redemptive truths and facts, with the proper historical setting, that is found in Scripture and has the divine guarantee of its truth in the fact that it is infallibly inspired by the Holy Spirit. In view of this fact it may be said that the whole Bible, and the Bible only, is for us God’s special revelation. It is in the Bible that God’s special revelation lives on and brings even now life, light, and holiness.
2. Scripture Proof for the Inspiration of Scripture.
The whole Bible is given by inspiration of God, and is as such the infallible rule of faith and practice for all mankind. Since the doctrine of inspiration is often denied, it calls for special consideration.
This doctrine, like every other, is based on Scripture, and is not an invention of man. While it is founded on a great number of passages, only a few of these can be indicated here. The Old Testament writers are repeatedly instructed to write what the Lord commands them:
“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. (Exodus 17:14)”
“And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel. (Exodus 34:27)”
“And Moses wrote their goings out according to their journeys by the commandment of Jehovah: and these are their journeys according to their goings out. (Numbers 33:2)”
“And Jehovah said unto me, Take thee a great tablet, and write upon it with the pen of a man, For Maher-shalal-hash-baz; (Isaiah 8:1)”
“Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and inscribe it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever. (Isaiah 30:8)”
“And I will bring upon that land all my words which I have pronounced against it, even all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah hath prophesied against all the nations. (Jeremiah 25:13)”
“Thus speaketh Jehovah, the God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book. (Jeremiah 30:2)”
“Again, in the ninth year, in the tenth month, in the tenth [day] of the month, the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, (Ezekiel 24:1)”
“But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (Daniel 12:4)”
“And Jehovah answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tablets, that he may run that readeth it. (Habakkuk 2:2)”
The prophets were conscious of bringing the word of the Lord, and therefore introduced their messages with some such formula as, “Thus saith the Lord,” or, “The word of the Lord came unto me,”
“Then the word of Jehovah came to Jeremiah, after that the king had burned the roll, and the words which Baruch wrote at the mouth of Jeremiah, saying, … 32 Then took Jeremiah another roll, and gave it to Baruch the scribe, the son of Neriah, who wrote therein from the mouth of Jeremiah all the words of the book which Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire; and there were added besides unto them many like words. (Jeremiah 36:27,32)”
(Cf. Ezek., chapters 26, 27, 31, 32, 39.)
Paul speaks of his words as Spirit-taught words, I Cor. 2:13, claims that Christ is speaking in him, II Cor. 13:3, and describes his message to the Thessalonians as the word of God, I Thess. 2:13.
“Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual [words]. (1 Corinthians 2:13)
seeing that ye seek a proof of Christ that speaketh in me; who to you-ward is not weak, but is powerful in you: (2 Corinthians 13:3)
And for this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, [even the word] of God, ye accepted [it] not [as] the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe. (1 Thessalonians 2:13) “
The Epistle to the Hebrews often quotes passages of the Old Testament as words of God or of the Holy Spirit, Heb. 1:5; 3:7; 4:3; 5:6; 7:21. The most important passage to prove the inspiration of Scripture is II Tim. 3:16, which reads as follows in the Authorized Version: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.”
” For unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my Son, This day have I begotten thee? and again, I will be to him a Father, And he shall be to me a Son? (Hebrews 1:5)
Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, To-day if ye shall hear his voice, (Hebrews 3:7)
For we who have believed do enter into that rest; even as he hath said, As I sware in my wrath, They shall not enter into my rest: although the works were finished from the foundation of the world. (Hebrews 4:3)
as he saith also in another [place,] Thou art a priest for ever After the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:6)
(for they indeed have been made priests without an oath; but he with an oath by him that saith of him, The Lord sware and will not repent himself, Thou art a priest for ever); (Hebrews 7:21) “
3. The Nature of Inspiration.
There are especially two wrong views of inspiration, representing extremes that should be avoided.
a. Mechanical inspiration.
It has sometimes been represented as if God literally dictated what the human authors of the Bible had to write, and as if they were purely passive like a pen in the hand of a writer. This means that their minds did not contribute in any way to the contents or form of their writings. But in view of what we find this can hardly be true. They were real authors, who in some cases gathered their materials from sources at their command,
“Now the rest of the acts of Solomon, and all that he did, and his wisdom, are they not written in the book of the acts of Solomon? (1 Kings 11:41)”
“Now the rest of the acts of Rehoboam, and all that he did, are they not written in the book of the chronicles of the kings of Judah? (1 Kings 14:29)”
“Now the acts of David the king, first and last, behold, they are written in the history of Samuel the seer, and in the history of Nathan the prophet, and in the history of Gad the seer, (1Chronicles 29:29)”
” Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. (Luke 1:1-4)”
in other instances recorded their own experiences as, for instance, in many of the Psalms, and impressed upon their writings their own particular style. The style of Isaiah differs from that of Jeremiah, and the style of John is not like that of Paul.
b. Dynamic inspiration.
Others thought of the process of inspiration as affecting only the writers, and having no direct bearing on their writings. Their mental and spiritual life was strengthened and raised to a higher pitch, so that they saw things more clearly and had a more profound sense of their real spiritual value. This inspiration was not limited to the time when they wrote the books of the Bible, but was a permanent characteristic of the writers and affected their writings only indirectly. It differed only in degree from the spiritual illumination of all believers. This theory certainly does not do justice to the biblical view of inspiration.
c. Organic inspiration.
The proper conception of inspiration holds that the Holy Spirit acted on the writers of the Bible in an organic way, in harmony with the laws of their own inner being, using them just as they were, with their character and temperament, their gifts and talents, their education and culture, their vocabulary and style. The Holy Spirit illumined their minds, aided their memory, prompted them to write, repressed the influence of sin on their writings, and guided them in the expression of their thoughts even to the choice of their words. In no small measure He left free scope to their own activity. They could give the results of their own investigations, write of their own experiences, and put the imprint of their own style and language on their books.
4. The Extent of Inspiration.
There are differences of opinion also respecting the extent of the inspiration of Scripture.
a. Partial inspiration.
Under the influence of Rationalism it has become quite common to deny the inspiration of the Bible altogether, or to hold that only parts of it are inspired. Some deny the inspiration of the Old Testament, while admitting that of the New. Others affirm that the moral and religious teachings of Scripture are inspired, but that its historical parts contain several chronological, archaeological, and scientific mistakes. Still others limit the inspiration to the Sermon on the Mount. They who adopt such views have already lost their Bible, for the very differences of opinion are proof positive that no one can determine with any degree of certainty which parts of Scripture are, and which are not inspired. There is still another way in which the inspiration of Scripture is limited, namely, by assuming that the thoughts were inspired, while the choice of the words was left entirely to the wisdom of the human authors. But this proceeds on the very doubtful assumption that the thoughts can be separated from the words, while, as a matter of fact, accurate thought without words is impossible.
b. Plenary inspiration.
According to Scripture every part of the Bible is inspired. Jesus and the apostles frequently appeal to the Old Testament books as ‘scripture’ or ‘the Scriptures’ to settle a point in controversy. To their minds such an appeal was equivalent to an appeal to God. It should be noted that of the books to which they appeal in this fashion, some are historical. The Epistle to the Hebrews repeatedly cites passages from the Old Testament as words of God or of the Holy Spirit. Peter places the letters of Paul on a level with the writings of the Old Testament, II Pet. 3:16,
“as also in all [his] epistles, speaking in them of these things; wherein are some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and unstedfast wrest, as [they do] also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (2 Peter 3:16)”
and Paul speaks of all Scripture as inspired, II Tim. 3:16.”Every scripture inspired of God [is] also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16)”
We may safely go a step farther and say that the inspiration of the Bible extends to the very words employed. The Bible is verbally inspired, which is not equivalent to saying that it is mechanically inspired. The doctrine of verbal inspiration is fully warranted by Scripture. In many cases we are explicitly told that the Lord told Moses and Joshua exactly what to write,
“And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,… And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, (Leviticus 6:1,24)
“v.22 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying,…v.28 And Jehovah spake unto Moses, saying, (Leviticus 7:22,28)”
“Now it came to pass after the death of Moses the servant of Jehovah, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ minister, saying, (Joshua 1:1)”
“And it came to pass, when all the nation were clean passed over the Jordan, that Jehovah spake unto Joshua, saying, (Joshua 4:1)”
“And Jehovah said unto Joshua, See, I have given into thy hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valor. (Joshua 6:2)”
and so on. The prophets speak of Jehovah as putting His words into their mouths,
“Then Jehovah put forth his hand, and touched my mouth; and Jehovah said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth: (Jeremiah 1:9)”
and as directing them to speak His words to the people,
“v.4 And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. … v.10 Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thy heart, and hear with thine ears. 11 And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. (Ezekiel 3:4,10-11)”
Paul designates his words as Spirit taught words, I Cor. 2:13, “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual [words].”
and both he and Jesus base an argument on a single word, Matt. 22:43-45; ” He saith unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet? If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? (Matthew 22:43-45)”
“If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came (and the scripture cannot be broken), (John 10:35)”
“Now to Abraham were the promises spoken, and to his seed. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ. (Galatians 3:16)”
5. The Perfections of Scripture.
The Reformers developed the doctrine of Scripture as over against the Roman Catholics and some of the Protestant sects. While Rome taught that the Bible owes its authority to the Church, they maintained that it has authority in itself as the inspired Word of God. They also upheld the necessity of Scripture as the divinely appointed means of grace over against the Roman Catholics, who asserted that the Church had no absolute need of it, and some of the Protestant sects, who exalted the “inner light,” or the word of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of the people of God, at the expense of Scripture. In opposition to Rome they further defended the clearness of the Bible. They did not deny that it contains mysteries too deep for human understanding, but simply contended that the knowledge necessary unto salvation, though not equally clear on every page of the Bible, is yet conveyed in a manner so simple that anyone earnestly seeking salvation can easily gather this knowledge for himself, and need not depend on the interpretation of the Church or the priesthood. Finally, they also defended the sufficiency of Scripture, and thereby denied the need of the tradition of the Roman Catholics and of the inner light of the Anabaptists.
*This is an excerpt from the book, Summary of Christian Doctrine by Louis Berkhof (1873-1957).