The teaching of the church on the inspiration of the
Bible. / Book by James M. Boice 00, page 9
The evangelical churches and the doctrine
of freedom from error.
The Word of God.
The inspiration of the authors of the
The inspiration of readers of the scriptures.
The interpretation of scripture.
Does the Holy Spirit preach untruth? / Reply
Josef Karpisek 00, 2002-11-16
The unique foundation for the full authority of the Bible consists in the
fact that the Bible is the Word of God. If the Bible is not the Word of God, it has no divine
authority. We know that there are those who do not grant that the Bible as a whole is free from
error, and yet maintain that there are parts of it, which they term the parts necessary for
salvation, which are divinely inspired. This is all very well, but then they cannot characterize
their point of view as maintaining biblical authority, but only as maintaining a
limited and partial form of biblical authority. And in view of the fact that they cannot
tell us exactly which passages in the Bible are inspired, they add insult to the injury they
have already inflicted on the Word of God. They speak of "the parts necessary for salvation",
but they do not tell us where these parts are to be found, or how we are to distinguish them
from those parts that are not divinely inspired, that contain errors and are not necessary for
salvation. (Author’s italics)
John H. Gerstner is Professor Emeritus of Church History at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary
+) The extract is taken from the book "Die Unfehlbarkeit der Bibel" ["The Infallibility of the Bible"] by James M. Boice, in Fundamentum, Verlag Schulte + Gert Asslar [Schulte + Gert Asslar Publishers], ISBN 3-87739-053-6
The title of the book cited above, "The Infallibility of the Bible", contains an
inherent contradiction. Infallibility – the avoidance of mistakes, that is – implies action.
Actions can only be carried out by human individuals. The Bible, however, is a book, is dead matter,
and consequently cannot be infallible.
This point of view that we, as biblical Christians, uphold is in sharp contrast with Islam, where the Koran is seen as "having been given to us by God from heaven", as the "uncreated Word of God", and where the book is kissed and regarded as an object of veneration. This idolization of dead matter – as it appears to be from the biblical Christian point of view – can also be seen to a certain extent, regrettably, in the Catholic church (worship of images of the saints, veneration of relics etc.). Even if the members of the latter church try to obscure their worship of idols by means of the argument that the "Mother of God" and the "saints" of the Catholic church are not worshiped but merely venerated, the actual facts tell a very different story.
The Capuchin Padre Pio, whose "beatification" was pronounced on 2 May 1999 and his "canonization" in May 2002, worked great miracles in his homeland of Apulia in southern Italy from 1940 on. He came to be widely known – in western Europe at any rate – for his miraculous healings, and drew veritable hordes of pilgrims to San Giovanni Rotondo. That this "saint" of the Catholic church is not just venerated but is actually worshiped is proved by a prayer which is recommended to Catholic congregations:
"Padre Pio, may your healing of the sick witness to the fact that the Lord has invited you to be among the blessed company of the saints. Please of your goodness grant me help for my special request…". This quotation is taken from the book "Die okkulte Invasion" [Original title: "Occult Invasion", Harvest House Publishers, Eugene, OR] by Dave Hunt, CLV, Bielefeld, in which other testimonies to the occult miracles of Padre Pio will also be found by the reader.
Italy’s Padre Pio ’faked his stigmata with acid’.
Padre Pio, Italy’s most-loved saint, faked his
stigmata by pouring carbolic acid on his hands, according to a new
(Sourse: : The
But even Calvin is approaching the limits of interpretative discretion when he says "First of all
we owe the Scriptures the same worship that we owe to God, seeing that they come from Him alone and
have no human addition".
In an evangelical understanding of the matter, however, the Bible is not worthy of adoration or even worship, and the property of infallibility must likewise – see above – be denied to it.
Besides, only the triune God is infallible. And no one else. And certainly not the Bible. Consequently we should speak, in this connection, not of the infallibility of the Bible, but rather of its freedom from error.
The arguments for and against the Bible’s freedom from error fill volumes, or even
whole libraries. A great many international theological institutes include a statement on the Bible’s
freedom from error as part of their theological fundamental principles. Many denominations require
of their office-holders, and of those who are to be ordained for Christian service, that they be
committed to believing in and teaching the Bible’s freedom from error.
And vice versa, in these circles any one who casts doubt on this doctrine is frequently stigmatized as being "not evangelical". This is where the first faulty judgment becomes apparent. Those very denominations which in this respect are the most prominent have completely leveled down the term "evangelical"over the last hundred years, so that it has been emptied of all substance. And that in such a way that, alongside Lutherans, the Reformed churches, Anglicans and Baptists, all those churches and movements the origins of which were marked by an orthodox Protestant or evangelical theology are now also described as "evangelical" – without however taking any account of the question whether these groups have continued to adhere to the evangelical teachings that have been passed down to them or not. From this point of view, today one might almost describe the Catholic church itself as "evangelical".
If we now ask ourselves what "evangelical" really means, we must go back to the roots of this term in the Bible itself. And there we find that the "euangelion", the "good news" of Christianity, constitutes the point of departure for this word. But what is the "good news"? This term likewise has in our times increasingly been emptied of content, to a point where it is simply seen as another term referring to the Bible itself.
But the term "gospel" (Gospel = good spell, has the same etymological meaning as the German "Evangelium", from which "evangelical" derives) originally had a quite specific significance. It is the good news, the joyful message of the salvation of sinful humanity through the vicariously atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and thus of salvation by grace alone, through faith in Jesus Christ. So a person’s being evangelical or not has nothing whatever to do with the question whether he believes the Bible to be free of error, but rather with the question whether he does or does not believe in the redeeming sacrifice of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
As for the discussions relating to the Bible’s freedom from error as such, vast quantities of theological articles, essays and books are to be found in which the authors engage in argument on the content of the Bible without there even a single word being found in them of the actual content of the Bible in the form of a scriptural quotation. The arguments are theoretical and abstract to such a degree that the reader may well wonder at times whether the Bible is really still the subject of discussion. That is then also the reason, finally, why one theologian endeavors to refute another in pages of elaborate argument, but only succeeds in getting further into the domain of theory and so offering third parties a handle by which he in turn may be refuted.
If, then, we are to analyze this theme on a realistic basis, we do not need any ecclesiastical dogmas or any views advanced by the Fathers of the Church in past centuries, but solely and exclusively the Holy Scriptures. Here too, and here especially, the principle of "sola scriptura" applies, along with the fundamental point that the scriptures contain their own explanation.
The Bible is frequently referred to as the "Word of God". Without more exact
qualification, this is not just misleading: it simply does not correspond to the facts. When, some
thirty years ago, I took part in bible readings with a Catholic group, a person present read out to
us a biblical passage where the "Mother of God and Queen of Heaven" was mentioned. Now I knew
that there were some texts in the Catholic Herder Bible which deviated somewhat from what I had in
my Luther Bible. But "Mother of God" could not occur even in the Herder Bible (queen of heaven:
Jer 44). So I asked the reader whether these were really the words that were written in his book.
And he answered, shocked, that I should not express doubt of what is written in the Bible.
It emerged in the end that every chapter in his Catholic Bible had a preliminary "listing" which incorporated a Catholic introduction to this section. Although this additional text was actually printed in a different format, for this man – and for the others present, as I discovered – it was perfectly clear that it was still a biblical statement, and therefore formed part of the "Word of God".
But we do not have to go to the Catholics in order to recognize that the content of the Bible cannot in its entirety be described as the "Word of God". When we look at the chapter and verse divisions in our Bibles, or the titles of the various sections, we are doubtless aware that these do not form part of the original text, but were inserted retrospectively – many of the titles only in our own day, at the last revision of the translation.
This makes it plain that the Bible, though it may well contain the Word of God in its original form, is by no means to be seen in its entirety as equivalent to it. In view of the fact, however, that there are also theological groups that use precisely this formulation in order to criticize the original text of the Bible as well – as such and in its entirety – and to deny divine inspiration to parts of it, we must here state explicitly that this judgment applies primarily only to the non-biblical additions, and not to the actual text itself.
Before we approach the text itself, the divinely inspired text of the Bible, we must
engage with a further influential factor – it might almost be said, a further obstacle –
relating to our judgment of the Bible’s freedom from error: namely, the translations.
To avoid discussing the problems of biblical translation on a merely theoretical level, we will here introduce a few examples which illustrate the connections that are involved in such a way that they may be relatively easily understood.
Visitors to the church of Santo Pietro in Vincoli, in Rome, are able to admire the world-famous marble statue of Moses created by Michelangelo Buonarotti. One who goes a little closer to the statue and looks carefully will see that two horns project from Moses’ forehead. Why Michelangelo should have put two horns on Moses’ forehead is explained by the following story.
In Ex 34,29 we are told of Moses’ meeting with God. In the original Hebrew text, which registers only the consonants, not the vowels, the word "KRN" occurs here. Now when this passage was spelled out by the Masoretes (between 780 and 930 AD), two "E"s were inserted, resulting in the word "KEREN", meaning "horned". The text of this verse now read, in the translation:
It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (…), that Moses
did not know that his face was horned because of his speaking with the LORD.
This translation was subsequently passed down for centuries, and was also adopted by
the Vulgate (Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome at the end of the fourth century). And that
was where Michelangelo – like all the painters and sculptors of his day – obtained his
Only much later, when other passages were adduced for comparison, was it recognized that not "E" but "A" should have been inserted, so that the word should read not "KEREN" but "KARAN". And suddenly this biblical passage acquired a different and more comprehensible meaning. The skin of the face of Moses "shone" because of his speaking with God, as we find it written in our Bible today.
Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him.
2Mo 34,29 It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai
(and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the
mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with
Him. Ex 34,29;
So Michelangelo’s horned Moses turned out to be an error of translation set in
For our next example of an error of translation, we will quote Dave Hunt. In his book "The occult invasion" he describes a translation problem in the English King James Bible, and the incredible effects that resulted from it.
"Human beings have always found it helpful to have something
concrete to believe in. A magic wand is a magical instrument that apparently works miracles. Any
object may be used as an auxiliary tool for prophecy, if it constitutes a point of contact with the
spiritual world. Fetishes and talismans and Roman Catholic scapulars, crucifixes, medals and images,
as well as the icons of the Orthodox church, all fulfill the same function. (…)
The "point of contact" of the charismatic movement belongs in the same category of occult aids. (…) W. V. Grant sent his followers an outline of his feet, so that the recipients could use this as a point of contact by standing on it. Oral Roberts on more than one occasion sent his followers an outline of his hand, so that they might lay their hands on it and so experience contact in the same way. Other "faith healers" have their own variations on this occult technique – and in television transmissions the screen itself becomes for the viewer an object that may be touched.
This mistaken belief in a "point of contact" results from a misunderstanding of Jesus’ statement as it is rendered in the English King James Bible: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven" (Mt 18,19, King James version). The expression "touching" is here understood as meaning that two persons must literally be touching the same object in order to activate the power of God. But the archaic English term "as touching", as it occurs in the King James Bible, has nothing to do with physical "touching". The Greek word that is translated here as "touching" is peri, which means simply "about, with reference to, relating to", and is also rendered in this way in other translations.
Simple ignorance here led to the false conclusion that some kind of "point of contact" would be the key to unlock miracles. In this way faith healers have led millions of their followers into yet another form of occultism."
So as to get the better of translation problems of this nature, and also of course,
and above all, in order to adapt the various translations to current changes in linguistic
understanding, revisions are carried out and published at intervals of several decades. From these
result the various revised editions of the different biblical translations.
Whereas the above example was taken from the New Testament, let us here adduce another example, from the Old Testament this time, which in the nature of things is of a much more ancient date, but nonetheless has been responsible for errors of interpretation right up to the present day. It has to do with the "Paradise" in which Adam and Eve supposedly lived in the beginning.
This term "Paradise" – an Iranian loan word, which literally means "enclosure" – was mistakenly used in the LXX (LXX = Septuagint: the oldest translation of the Old Testament into Greek, the language of the Hellenistic world of the time, around the 3rd or 2nd century BC) to translate the Hebrew "garden of God" in the creation story of Gen 2. From that time on, "Paradise" established itself in Greek Judaism as a religious concept. By contrast, Hebrew Judaism is quite ignorant of the expression. And it is not found in the entire Hebrew Old Testament, where only the term of the original text, the "garden of Eden" or "garden of God", occurs.
The name which is given in the Old Testament to this tract of territory – for that is what it was – is "Eden". In this land of Eden, and specifically in the eastern part of it, God created a beautiful blossoming garden and placed man within it.
The LORD God planted a garden toward the east, in Eden.
1Mo 2,7 Then the LORD God formed man of dust from the ground, and
breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. 2,8 The LORD God
planted a garden toward the east, in Eden; and there He placed the man whom He had formed. 2,9
Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for
food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good
and evil. Gen 2, 7- 9;
As a result of the translation in the LXX the term "Paradise" survived for
centuries, and has remained a synonym, up to the present day, for the garden of Eden, in which Adam
and Eve lived immediately after they were created.
This mistranslation, in connection with the fact that Revelation 2,7 also speaks of the (genuine) "Paradise of God", has occasioned great confusion among biblical commentators.
The tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.
Rev 2,7 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the
churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise
of God.’ Rev 2, 7;
And this actually incorrect Septuagint translation is the basis for one of the most
important fundamental beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, namely that the New Creation of Rev 22
does not refer to a new heaven and a new earth, but to this earth we live on today, which will once
more become the Paradise in which Adam and Eve dwelt; even though this "Paradise", according to
the scriptures, has never existed on earth, and never will.
(See also Excursus 09: "The Paradise.")
With this we can proceed to the actual text of the Bible, and to the question to
what extent the statements it makes are to be judged free from error.
Let us first of all assert that according to the Bible’s own testimony, in 2Tim 3,14-17, "all Scripture inspired by God" – that is, those scriptures in the original text which are inspired by the Holy Spirit (in Greek, theopneustos = in-breathed by God) – "is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness".
All Scripture inspired by God is profitable for teaching.
2Tim 3,14 You, however, continue in the things you have learned and
become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, 3,15 and that from childhood you
have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through
faith which is in Christ Jesus. 3,16 All Scripture inspired by God is profitable for
teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 3,17 so that the man of
God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. 2Tim 3,14-17;
Now in order to answer the question which of the original texts of the Bible are
inspired and therefore free of errors and mistakes, we must first of all clarify the question what
is actually meant by "inspired by the Holy Spirit". Does this mean that a person who is inspired
by the Holy Spirit, one in whom the Holy Spirit has made his dwelling, will consequently be
infallible and incapable of error?
This question too may be answered in the light of the scriptures, if we consider the statement made by the Lord in Mk 12,35-37:
David himself said in the Holy Spirit.
Mk 12,35 And Jesus began to say, as He taught in the temple, "How
is it that the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 12,36 "David himself said in
the Holy Spirit, ‘the LORD said to My Lord, "sit at My right hand, until I put your
enemies beneath your feet."‘ 12,37 "David himself calls Him ‘Lord’; so in what sense
is He his son?" And the large crowd enjoyed listening to Him. Mk 12,35-37;
Here the Lord confirms that David made this statement "in the Holy Spirit". At
that point in time, then, the Holy Spirit was manifested in him. That this was only a temporary
phenomenon, however, is shown us through the fact that David rendered himself highly culpable
through his affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and this could not possibly have
occurred if the Holy Spirit had been dwelling within him. The conclusion "Once in possession of
the Holy Spirit, always in possession of the Holy Spirit" is therefore wrong, and must be
The only exception to this is to be seen in the Lord himself. John the Baptist says of him:
He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him.
Jn 1,33 "I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in
water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is
the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 1,34 I myself have seen, and have testified that
this is the Son of God." Jn 1,33-34;
From this passage we may draw three important conclusions:
1. If any confirmation of this should still be required – that the Lord Jesus
was perfectly without sin.
2. That the Holy Spirit can only remain upon human beings who have no sin.
3. By inference from this, and in view of the fact that all human beings are
sinners – that the Holy Spirit is never able to dwell in a human being for more than a limited
time, and that that human being, for this time that the Holy Spirit dwells within him, must be free
But what, then, is meant by the inspiration that comes from the Holy Spirit? Who
brings it about, and how does it "function"? Here we again have a testimony in scripture itself.
In Jn 3,6-8, the Lord explains to Nicodemus the nature of those who are born of the Spirit.
The wind blows where it wishes and so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
Jn 3,6 "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit. 3,7 "Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born
again.’ 3,8 "The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know
where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit."Jn 3,
Although this passage does not speak of the Holy Spirit directly, but rather of
those who are born of the Spirit, it is surely a reasonable assumption that the Holy Spirit will
behave similarly in this respect. It "blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but you
do not know where it comes from and where it is going". Whether the Holy Spirit makes its dwelling
in a human being, then, is a matter that only the Spirit can determine. And seeing that God the
Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are a unity in Trinity, it is also determined by God and by Our
Lord Jesus Christ.
From the human angle, we can recognize three criteria that must be fulfilled if the Holy Spirit is to act in an individual:
1. The requirement willed by God must exist for it, that is: the will of God to
2. It must be a suitable person, and the person must have true faith.
3. The person must be in the appropriate state, and must be willing to receive.
Whereas the first two criteria are self-explanatory, the third prerequisite is less
easily understood. What does "the appropriate state" mean here, and why does the individual need
to be in this state? As we read below in Acts 13,2-3, the faithful of the early church fasted and
prayed, in order to obtain the help of the Holy Spirit in connection with a specific matter. Whereas
this request was offered up to God in prayer, the fasting served for the physical and spiritual
preparation of the faithful for the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and this is relevant to the way
in which the Holy Spirit manifests itself in human beings. Although we may also find testimonies in
Scripture according to which individuals who were filled with the Holy Spirit went into convulsive
states or spoke in other languages (e.g. Acts 2,4; 19,6), this somewhat spectacular form of
manifestation actually remains an exception. In most cases the Holy Spirit shows itself in an
individual through the latter’s standing up and speaking out what the Holy Spirit, in spirit, has
communicated to him.
The Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Acts 13,2 While they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the
Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
13,3 Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
Acts 13, 2- 3;
Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine.
Acts 11,27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to
Antioch. 11,28 One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there
would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of
Claudius. Acts 11,27-28;
Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his gaze on him.
Acts 13,9 But Saul, who was also known as Paul, filled with the Holy
Spirit, fixed his gaze on him, 13,10 and said, "You who are full of all deceit and fraud,
you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease to make crooked the
straight ways of the Lord? Acts 13, 9-10;
This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘The Jews at Jerusalem will deliver the man who owns this belt into the hands of the Gentiles.
Acts 21,10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named
Agabus came down from Judea. 21,11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet
and hands, and said, "This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem
will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’"
After the spirit of the individual has been filled with the Spirit of God, the Holy
Spirit has access not just to all the thoughts of the individual, but also to all that the
individual sees, hears, feels and does in this period of time. In this state, the individual cannot
think, speak or act, without the Holy Spirit being aware of it. And seeing that the Holy Spirit
cannot endure sin, there are only two possibilities: either the individual manages to remain free
from sin for this time (in thought, word and deed), or the Holy Spirit abandons him.
The third possibility, of which we are told in the passage below from Acts 5,1-12,
relating to Ananias and Sapphira, has plainly, through the grace of God, only been instanced on this
Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?
Acts 5,1 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece
of property, 5,2 and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and
bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. 5,3 But Peter said, "Ananias,
why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the
land? 5,4 "While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was
it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not
lied to men but to God." 5,5 And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his
last; and great fear came over all who heard of it.
5,6 The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. 5,7 Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 5,8 And Peter responded to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?" And she said, "Yes, that was the price." 5,9 Then Peter said to her, "Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well."
5,10 And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 5,11 And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. Acts 5, 1-11;
(See also Discourse 51: "The reception of the Holy
Spirit - how does it happen?")
The Holy Spirit, however, does not just come to be manifested in certain individuals
and to speak through their mouths: of course it can also direct events and set up contacts between
people. So, for example, the writing of the four Gospels of a certainty did not entirely happen
through the direct inspiration of the evangelists by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit brought these
men – if they were not apostles themselves – into contact with those contemporary witnesses who
could give them an account of these events.
As we all know from our own experience, an event which is reported by a number of
different witnesses may be very variously represented. And this too is how we must see the reports
in the Gospels. We find there, for example, somewhat disparate stories in the accounts of the two
sons of Zebedee, who asked the Lord to sit on his right and on his left in his kingdom. In the
gospel of Matthew this question poses the mother, with Mark it is the two disciples who asked the
Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with her sons.
Mt 20, 20 Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to Jesus with
her sons, bowing down and making a request of Him. 20,21 And He said to her, "What do you
wish?" She said to Him, "Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one
on Your right and one on Your left." 20,22 But Jesus answered, "You do not know what you
are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?" They said to Him, "We
20,23 He said to them, "My cup you shall drink; but to sit on My right and on My left, this is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by My Father." 20,24 And hearing this, the ten became indignant with the two brothers. Mt 20,20,24;
James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus.
Mk 10,35 James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus,
saying, "Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You." 10,36 And He said
to them, "What do you want Me to do for you?" 10,37 They said to Him, "Grant that we
may sit, one on Your right and one on Your left, in Your glory." 10,38 But Jesus said to them,
"You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be
baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?"
10,39 They said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. 10,40 "But to sit on My right or on My left, this is not Mine to give; but it is for those for whom it has been prepared." 10,41 Hearing this, the ten began to feel indignant with James and John. Mk 10,35-41;
There are also differences in the report of the crucifixion of the Lord. All four
evangelists agree, admittedly, that two robbers were crucified along with the Lord. But while
Matthew and Mark indicate, in this connection, that both the crucified robbers mocked at the Lord,
Luke tells us that only one of the robbers mocked him, while the other rebuked him and so obtained
the Lord’s promise: "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise."
The robbers who had been crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words.
Mt 27,38 At that time two robbers were crucified with Him, one on
the right and one on the left. 27,39 And those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging
their heads 27,40 and saying, "You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three
days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross." 27,41 In the same
way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking Him and saying, 27,42
"He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from
the cross, and we will believe in Him. 27,43 "He trusts in God, let God rescue Him now, if HE
delights in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’" 27,44 The robbers who had been
crucified with Him were also insulting Him with the same words. Mt 27,38-44;
Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.
Mk 15,27 They crucified two robbers with Him, one on His right and
one on His left. (15,28 And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "And He was numbered
with transgressors.") 15,29 Those passing by were hurling abuse at Him, wagging their heads,
and saying, "Ha! You who are going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,15,30
save Yourself, and come down from the cross!" 15,31 In the same way the chief priests also,
along with the scribes, were mocking Him among themselves and saying, "He saved others; He
cannot save Himself. 15,32 "Let this Christ, the King of Israel, now come down from the cross,
so that we may see and believe!" Those who were crucified with Him were also insulting Him.
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him but the other was rebuking him.
Lk 23,39 One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling
abuse at Him, saying, "Are You not the Christ? Save Yourself and us!"23,40 But the
other answered, and rebuking him said, "Do you not even fear God, since you are under the
same sentence of condemnation? 23,41 "And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving
what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong." 23,42 And he was saying,
"Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!" 23,43 And He said to him, "Truly
I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." Lk 23,39-43;
And in John we find, again, that neither the one nor the other is mentioned:
instead, he tells us only that both robbers finally had their legs broken, so that they would die
more quickly. This detail is missing in the other three Gospels, on the other hand – and this is a
state of affairs that we find consistently to prevail, throughout the Gospel according to John: not
only do we meet there with a different literary style, in many cases he also gives us an account of
quite different events from those related by the other three evangelists.
(See also Table 05: "Synopsis of the Lord’s
There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.
Jn 19,17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own
cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 19,18 There
they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. Jn
So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him.
Jn 19,31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that
the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked
Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.19,32 So the soldiers
came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 19,33 but
coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.19,34 But one
of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 19,35 And
he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth,
so that you also may believe. Jn 19.31-35;
Similar differences we find in the reports of the evangelists concerning the number
of women who had been at the grave on the "first day of the week". While John is only speaking
of Mary Magdalene (Jn 20,1), there are with Matthew two (Mt 28,1) with Mark three (Mk 16,1-2) and
with Luke finally a greater number of women (Lk 24,1.10). And those women then saw at the grave with
Matthew (Mt 28,2) and Mark (Mk 16,5) one angel, with Luke however two angels (Lk 24,4).
The question why the Holy Spirit did not inspire these authors in such a way that they all made identical statements may be immediately answered in the light of the criteria set forth above:
1. If a person believes in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, he will have no
problem with these insignificant differences between such statements – so here we cannot suppose
any reason for the will of God to intervene.
2. The persons on whom the evangelists relied for their information were not
always believers. The important thing was that some one was in a position to supply proof, that he
could give an authentic account of the event.
3. And finally these individuals were not – or not always – free from sin.
But the fundamental principle that applies to such events is that God acts on the
level of his creation through his creation. We can see this best in the example of the
feeding of the five thousand. They were a multitude of people, and they were all hungry. Doubtless
it would have not been hard for the Lord Jesus to "make it come about", through the Holy Spirit,
that they should immediately be satisfied and without hunger. He did not do this, but rather chose a
different course, which was certainly more complicated, but still in conformity with God’s
creation: he took the five loaves and two fishes that were brought him, and divided them for as long
as was necessary, till the very last person had been fed.
So we cannot assume that the Holy Spirit has overseen and controlled every single word that is written in the Bible. Where God judged it to be necessary, then yes; but not in cases where Christian believers were in a position to manage the situation themselves, or where spiritual matters were not at issue, but rather greetings, communications, warnings, praise, blame and other such exchanges of information between one person and another (e.g. Rom 15,1-23; 1Cor 16,19-24; 2Cor 13,11-13; Phil 4,21-23; Col 4,7-18; 1The 5,23-28; 2Tim 4,9-22; etc., etc.). To invoke the Holy Spirit in such cases would show an incorrect understanding of the nature of the Spirit.
This, obviously, was the reason why Paul’s so called "Letter of Tears" which he mentioned in 2Cor 2,3-4 and 7,8-9 which had been written probably between the two canonical letters to the Corinthians and delivered by Titus was not accepted into the canon at the canonicity of the New Testament (Catholic Church in 1546 in Sessio 4 of the Council of Trient and Lutheran Church in 1580 with the Formula Concordiae).
But even where the Holy Spirit has had a hand in the composition of the biblical text, we cannot assume that the content in consequence must be completely free of errors. The authors were filled with the Holy Spirit, similarly to the Old Testament prophets, without this however effecting any changes in their personal abilities or capacities. One who was previously left-handed remained left-handed, even under the direction of the Holy Spirit. One who was an educated person before remained so. One who already had an extensive vocabulary retained it. And all these factors naturally had an effect on the way the text was formulated by these individuals as also Peter said in his second letter in concern to the letters of Paul "in which are some things hard to understand" as Peter wrote.
In his letters in which are some things hard to understand.
2Ptr 3,14 Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be
diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless, 3,15 and regard the patience of our
Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him,
wrote to you, 3,16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are
some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the
rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 2Pet 3;14-16;
This fact, indeed, has frequently supplied a basis for subsequent endeavors to
allocate, through the comparison of literary styles, various books of the Bible the authorship of
which cannot be determined with certainty, to the one or other writer (e.g. the Epistle to the
Hebrews to Paul, Revelation to the apostle John).
And where in important cases it is not possible to find a single individual in possession of all the prerequisites and capabilities that are needed for an accurate and detailed report, the Holy Spirit inspires several individuals from among the faithful to engage with one and the same theme, and to place an emphasis, in their accounts, on those details that are in keeping with their spiritual and intellectual qualifications.
Thus we can find statements about the Last Days in many Old Testament prophets, and also, in the New Testament (alongside the eschatological discourses of the Lord in the Gospel), in Paul, Peter, and more especially in the Revelation of John. The Gospels too are themselves a prime example of the way in which the Holy Spirit brings it about that an account of important matters will be supplied by a number of believing Christians who bring different qualifications to their task.
So we may recognize the goodness of heart and love of the Lord as typical of the Gospel according to John, the striving for truth and accuracy in selection of the texts in Luke, or Matthew’s special gift for collecting and arranging stories so that they relate to one another logically. While the way in which Paul attests his analytic and intellectual talents in the Epistle to the Romans is perhaps unsurpassed in the whole Bible.
And here we now come to the central point at issue in the theological debate between on the one hand those of the orthodox evangelical persuasion, who insist that every single word of the Bible was inspired and overseen by God as it was written down - a view, incidentally, which is nowhere attested in the Bible, and which cannot be derived in this form , objectively speaking, from the passage in 2Tim 3,16: "every scripture inspired by God". And on the other hand those who would grant that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, in many cases representing a direct and literal transmission ("Say to the people of Israel" etc.), but would in other cases attribute the realization of it to the scriptural writers themselves, and so deny its direct, divine infallibility in what concerns this second phase of realization.
The essential points of this debate can be summarized in the following statements, in very simplified form:
- The one side thinks it must insist on literal (verbal) inspiration, and
on the writing of the Bible as having been overseen by God, in order to ensure the appropriate
authority for the scriptural authors and the statements they make, and to protect them against
- The others assume that the Holy Spirit had sought out those individuals
whom it inspired on the basis of their strength of faith, gifts of understanding and personal
abilities, so that it did not either have to communicate word by word, or directly oversee the
writing down of these same words.
If we are to pass judgment on this question, our position is similar to that of a
publisher who has to decide whether he should give a commission to a less talented author, and then
try to put the book across by getting a famous literary figure to write the preface, or whether he
should engage a competent author whose book will sell automatically.
And one who asks, like the author quoted at the beginning of this discourse, which biblical passages are inspired, and which are not, should just read the Bible. If he does this with a genuine desire to understand, the Holy Spirit will be sure to instruct him.
As nobody would wish to deny, inspiration is a process that occurs in the mind and thoughts of a human being. But a human being, now, does not think – unless he thinks of spoken words or a written text – in words, but rather in pictures. If I recall a particularly good meal that I enjoyed yesterday, I will not, in thinking about it, give a verbal recitation of the individual courses and the composition of the dishes; rather, I will have a picture of the experience in my head. I move from the pictorial representation of the hors d’oeuvre to that of the various main courses, and so on to the dessert.
And this is the way in which any process of recollection develops in the human mind. We first have a picture in our heads – of a person dear to us, our last holiday, a new acquaintance – and only then, if it is required, do we strive to capture the picture we see in our minds in the medium of words and sentences. Here too a widely known phenomenon makes its appearance: even when several individuals have observed the same event, their stories will repeatedly turn out to be different from one another. And that to such a point that one could suppose that some of them were reporting a different event altogether.
The reasons for this are complex. Apart from education, intelligence, the gift of observation, capacity of linguistic expression, facility of recall – to mention just a few factors – our thinking processes are also very differently developed in some ways. A trained thinker knows already, at the time he takes in an item of information, in which "filing cabinet" of his mind he needs to deposit it so that he can retrieve it again when he needs it, speedily and in authentic form. He has an internal structure in his mind, an automated strategy for storage and access. A person whose brain has had no training will absorb the data and just "stuff" it somewhere or other in his memory. It is easy to imagine that difficulties will occur when he tries to recover the information.
And because it is the case that the Holy Spirit speaks to the human individual in his – the individual’s – spirit, and that the individual works with mental images and not in words, literal inspiration is quite impossible. With one exception: if I learn a poem by heart, for example, then certainly I do have words stored in my memory. But as we all know from our schooldays, a person only learns things by heart if the normal "supply of information", in the form of a direct reconstruction of the thought, is not properly functioning. It may be the case of a poem or theatrical part which has to be reproduced with literal accuracy, or of situations where one is unable, for whatever reason, to get a mental grasp of the logical connections because they are just not understood.
But from this we may conclude that a person only learns something by heart – in words, that is – and thinks of it in such terms, when he does not understand the content. Whether it is a case of mathematical or chemical formulae for schoolchildren, or for many ladies , of the functional specifications of your Ottoengine or for some believers, of the prayers they recite in church. This way of storing knowledge does however carry an important disadvantage. Whereas one can call up again all the logical connections that one has understood and properly grasped, things that we have learned by heart just once, and then forgotten again, cannot be reconstructed any longer, because the basic information, the knowledge of the "how" of the matter, is missing.
Now although there are clearly cases in Scripture of verbal inspiration like this, as for instance where the prophet has a message from God to deliver literally to the king or the people of Israel, as in this passage from Eze 36,22:
Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD’.
Eze 36,22 "Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says
the Lord GOD, "It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for
My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. Eze 36,22;
When it was a case of a vision (Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Micah, Peter, Paul, John
etc.), inspiration naturally took place in the form of mental images, which the prophet then
describes in words and which will then more often than not be recorded by a third person, as for
instance in Rev 20,1:
Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it.
Rev 20,11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it,
from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. Rev 20,11;
or equally in the two following passages, where we find both types of inspiration by
the Holy Spirit occurring in conjunction:
I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, and I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send?"
Isa 6,1 In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting
on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple.
6,2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 6,3 And one called out to another and said, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory." 6,4 And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. 6,5 Then I said, "Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts." 6,6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 6,7 He touched my mouth with it and said, "Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven."
6,8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me" 6,9 He said, "Go, and tell this people: ‘Keep on listening, but do not perceive; Keep on looking, but do not understand.’" Isa 6, 1- 9;
And in a trance I saw a vision, and I also heard a voice.
Acts 11,5 I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw
a vision, an object coming down like a great sheet lowered by four corners from the sky; and it
came right down to me, 11,6 and when I had fixed my gaze on it and was observing it I saw the
four-footed animals of the earth and the wild beasts and the crawling creatures and the birds of the
air. 11,7 I also heard a voice saying to me, ‘Get up, Peter; kill and eat.’ Acts 11, 5-
In whatever way one is inclined to look at these matters, it absolutely cannot be
the case that the Holy Spirit makes people into puppets by dictating to them a text word for word.
Rather, it seeks for their power of faith and makes use of their knowledge and abilities. Even if
this means that insignificant mistakes may crop up here and there. That is the way it was then, and
it is still the same today.
The following example shows that even prophets may make mistakes in describing their visions. Here the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel gives an account of two of his visions. The one takes place at the river Chebar, the other in Jerusalem, whither he had been transported by the Spirit of God.
(See also Excursus 11: "The throne of God.")
On both occasions Ezekiel has the same vision. He sees the glory of the God of
Israel on a throne that is in motion. This vehicle is propelled by four living creatures. And in the
second vision, that in Jerusalem, he remembers that he has already seen this same throne and these
four living creatures before, in his first vision at the river Chebar.
The vision at the river Chebar. (Eze 1,1-28)
Eze 1,10 As for the form of their faces, each had the face of a man;
all four had the face of a lion on the right and the face of a bull on
the left, and all four had the face of an eagle. Eze 1,10;
The vision in Jerusalem. (Eze 8,1-4; 10,1-22)
Eze 10,14 And each one had four faces. The first face was the face of a
cherub, the second face was the face of a man, the third the face of a lion,
and the fourth the face of an eagle. Eze 10,14;
Seeing that Ezekiel describes both visions very precisely, it is interesting to find
that there is one point in which the description of the four living creatures varies. Each of these
four forms had four faces, that is, on each side of their heads they had another face. This becomes
somewhat easier to understand when we learn that these four creatures could only go in a straight
line in the direction in which one of their faces was pointing. This means that they could not go in
curves: if they wanted to change direction, they simply progressed at a right angle to the right or
the left. This likewise resulted in the peculiar "zigzag" mode of progression of the vehicle, as
And now Ezekiel describes these four faces as he saw them in his vision at the river Chebar, where he saw them for the first time, in the following terms:
"The face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of a bull
and the face of an eagle."
But in his account of the second vision, when he was carried away by the Spirit to
Jerusalem, he writes:
"The face of a man, the face of a lion, the face of a cherub
and the face of an eagle."
We can see, then, that first time Ezekiel thought he recognized a bull in the third
face, but the second time it was a cherub – that is, an angel. And he gives confirmation of this
corrected account when he emphasizes, in his report of the second vision in Jerusalem:
So I knew that they were cherubim.
Eze 10,20 These are the living beings that I saw beneath the God
of Israel by the river Chebar; so I knew that they were cherubim. Eze 10,20;
Although Ezekiel was favored by the Holy Spirit with a vision of God at the river
Chebar, he was so terrified by the glory of God and the lightnings of the throne that his ability to
judge was clearly impaired. Of course that might have happened to any of us as well. But it does
show that the prophet, even in the presence of God, had not lost his human nature, so he did not by
any means become free of error or infallible.
But Ezekiel here finds himself in good company. John also tells us in Revelation that he saw the very same throne of God in a vision. This time in heaven. And he too was so overwhelmed by the glory of God and the radiancy of his surroundings that he likewise describes this fourth face of the living creatures in Rev 4,7 as a "calf":
The vision in heaven. (Rev 4,1-11; 6,1-8)
Rev 4,7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second
creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and
the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. Rev 4,7;
Now as we have Ezekiel’s statement that these creatures were definitely cherubim,
and both Ezekiel and John thought on their first encounter that they saw the face of a bull or calf,
it is a reasonable supposition that it was indeed the original face of a cherub, which might have a
distant resemblance to that of a bull or calf.
In this connection it is a matter not without interest that among some Semitic peoples the cult of the calf or bull was widely represented. Here the bull or calf was not reverenced as divine, but as a visible image of the power of a divinity. When, in the past, the people of Israel were given the task by God of making the ark of the covenant, they were told to make two cherubim of beaten gold on the cover of the ark. The very detailed instructions for this will be found in Ex 25,17-20:
You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat.
Ex 25,17 "You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half
cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 25,18 "You shall make two cherubim of gold, make
them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 25,19 "Make one cherub at one end
and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its
two ends. 25,20 "The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy
seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the
mercy seat. Ex 25,17-20;
So there were to be two cherubim made of beaten gold, of one piece with the covering
lid. If we can now suppose that at that time too the calf faces of the cherubim were known, it no
longer seems so inexplicable that the Israelites should have made and worshiped a golden calf, when
a little time after this they did not want to wait for Moses to come back down from the mountain of
Sinai. And just as in the vision of Ezekiel the throne of God was situated above the cherubim, God
himself remaining invisible, so too in various heathen representations we find the bull/calf as the
base for the image of God that does not appear.
(See also Table 15: "The throne of God and its
The assertion of the author quoted at the beginning of this discourse, that the
denial of verbal inspiration would amount to an insult to the Bible, must be countered, then, by the
following argument: if on the one hand the Bible is inspired word for word by the Holy Spirit, and
on the other hand includes the odd error here and there, this would mean that in such cases the Holy
Spirit had worked in an erratic manner. On that basis, the errors of human beings would be laid to
the charge of the Holy Spirit. That would then really be an insult – not just to the Bible, but
more particularly to the Holy Spirit who we would make out to be a liar! And precisely that, as we
know from what the Lord tells us in Mt 12,31-32, would be the biggest error we could ever commit.
Blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven.
Mt 12,31 "Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be
forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. 12,32 Whoever speaks
a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy
Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come". Mt 12,31-32;
The usual argument, which is again and again put forward in this connection, is the
statement of 2Pet 1,21:
For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will.
2Pet 1,19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which
you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the
morning star arises in your hearts. 1,20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of
Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 1,21 for no prophecy was ever
made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
What one fails to see here, however, is the fact, that Peter is not speaking from
the entire Bible, but only from the "prophecy", that is to say from the Prophetic Word, from the
Prophecy of Scripture. For this part of the Holy Scriptures the premise above, of 2Pet 1,21, is
valid without any reservation.
In particular the argument that was advanced earlier, "If a person believes in
Jesus Christ as the Son of God, he will have no problem with these insignificant differences between
such statements", leads us to a further criterion for the working of the Holy Spirit in the Bible
and for the proper understanding of Scripture.
In information technology there is a data encryption system which makes use of two keys. The first, known as a "public key", encrypts the data at the point of transmission, and is valid for all recipients. The other, the "private key", is under the control of each individual user. The data can only be deciphered if both keys are applied together.
And this, in a metaphorical sense, is just our situation when we try to understand the Bible. The Holy Spirit, who guided the authors of the Bible, is the "public key", so to speak. But every individual who reads the Bible with a pure heart and with the sincere desire to understand the Word of God receives the Holy Spirit from God for this purpose – the "private key". This is what the Lord also promises us in Lk 11,13:
How much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
Lk 11,13 If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your
children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?"
We find in Scripture a clearly comparable situation. When the disciples were filled
with the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they started to proclaim God’s message in different languages:
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues.
Acts 2,1 When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in
one place. 2,2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it
filled the whole house where they were sitting. 2,3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire
distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 2,4 And they were all filled with
the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.
2,5 Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men from every nation under heaven.
2,6 And when this sound occurred, the crowd came together, and were bewildered because each
one of them was hearing them speak in his own language. 2,7 They were amazed and astonished,
saying, "Why, are not all these who are speaking Galileans? 2,8 "And how is it that we
each hear them in our own language to which we were born? 2,9 "Parthians and Medes and
Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, 2,10 Phrygia and
Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and
proselytes, 2,11 Cretans and Arabs-we hear them in our own tongues speaking of the mighty deeds of
God." 2,12 And they all continued in amazement and great perplexity, saying to one another,
"What does this mean?"2,13 But others were mocking and saying, "They are full
of sweet wine." Acts 2, 1-13;
Acts 2,5 tells us that the audience here assembled, each of whom heard the disciples
speaking in his own language, were "Jews… devout men, from every nation under heaven". But
then we read in Acts 2,13 that there were also "others" among the audience - unbelievers, who
did not understand what the disciples were preaching. And they mocked them, saying they were drunk.
This makes it plain that the Holy Spirit did not just fill the disciples - he also had an effect on
the devout members of the audience, otherwise this auditory miracle would not have been possible at
all. And it is much the same with Holy Scripture. The authors were filled with the Holy Spirit, and
wrote down the Word of God. And among readers of the Bible there are to this day those on whom the
Holy Spirit whom we pray God to send us has an effect, and who therefore understand Scripture, and
those "others" on the other hand who do not have the Holy Spirit, and so understand nothing and
suppose that the Bible is a collection of fables.
And now many things become easier to comprehend. It is perfectly clear that to many people the Bible appears to be a "book with seven seals". They have just given it a cursory glance, and are not prepared to come to grips with all this old-fashioned "twaddle".
Others again describe the Bible as a "book of fairytales", or at best as "trip to heaven literature" (J. Nelson Kraybill, president of the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana, in "Apocalypse Now" / Christianity Today). They fail to understand it, because they are interested in the Bible for insincere reasons, wanting to discover contradictions in it or to deny the existence of God.
And then there are those who reinterpret the statements of Scripture for their own ends. Here we generally have to do with sects which do not draw on Scripture as a whole in order to interpret specific passages, but pull out "sectors" or limited passages of the Bible and use these as the basis for false and unbiblical systems of belief.
Let us finally mention here as well those who earn a living by writing books about God and the Bible. For the most part they have an eye to a class of potential purchasers, and align themselves to topics that are currently "in", and to what the publishing house has recently commissioned. In their books there may be found, in bibliographies extending for pages, a vast quantity of what I refer to as "second hand literature". One looks in vain for a catalog of biblical references, because in the entire book not a single specific biblical passage is referred to.
None of these classes of person has any understanding of Scripture. They are lacking the "private key" – for the simple reason, that they do not want to understand. They do not want to change their opinions. They do not enjoy in-depth study. And as for truth – what is truth?
For this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false.
2The 2,7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who
now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. 2,8 Then that lawless one will be
revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance
of His coming; 2,9 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all
power and signs and false wonders, 2,10 and with all the deception of wickedness for those who
perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. 2,11 For
this reason God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false,
2,12 in order that they all may be judged who did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in
wickedness. 2The 2, 7-12;
Seeing that every interpreter of Scripture is of necessity a reader of Scripture,
the statements that have been made above naturally apply here as well. An interpretation of
scripture which engages with the statements made by scripture as a whole, so as to elucidate
specific passages, may be recognized from the number of biblical passages cited. Not just in the
form of references, though, but in the form of a full quotation, so that the reader can convince
himself of the soundness of the arguments. There are reports that authors have been known to cite as
a reference just any scriptural passages that bear no relation whatever to the problem at issue,
counting on the fact that no one is going to open his Bible to look them up.
But even those commentators who go about their work with commitment and an abundance of goodwill often labor under a fundamental problem. To present this problem in a way that will make it easier to understand, we will here give an example.
It has to do with the seventh and last trumpet in the Revelation of John:
Then the seventh angel sounded: The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.
Rev 11,15 Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud
voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and
of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." 11,16 And the twenty-four elders, who
sit on their thrones before God, fell on their faces and worshiped God, 11,17 saying, "We give
You thanks, O Lord God, the Almighty, who are and who were, because You have taken Your great power
and have begun to reign. Rev 11,15-17;
Paul also writes of the last trumpet in the Epistle to the Corinthians:
At the last trumpet the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
1Cor 15,51 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we
will all be changed, 15,52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet;
for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
15,53 For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.
In Revelation, then, it is proclaimed that now, at the moment of this seventh
trumpet, "the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ", that
the Lord consequently has taken up his dominion. Paul prophesies that at the time of the last
trumpet the Lord will raise the dead in Christ and take them up into heaven.
The conclusion that both prophecies refer to the last of the seven trumpets of God in Revelation, and thus that one and the same event is here being alluded to – in one case from a heavenly, in the other from an earthly point of view – is disputed by Fritz Hubmer in his book "Der Heilsplan Gottes" ["God’s Saving Plan"] (p. 150), on the basis of the following argument:
"This last trumpet of which Paul here writes in the first epistle to
the Corinthians is not to be confused with the seventh trumpet in the Revelation of John. The
Johannine prophecy of the seventh trumpet was not made until decades after the composition of the
first epistle to the Corinthians. Whereas Paul wrote his epistle in the year 55 or 56, John received
his revelation around the year 90."
There are, then, 44 or 45 years between these two prophecies, and this gives the
author the assurance that the two predictions have nothing to do with one another.
If we now examine the context of these two scriptural passages, we discover the following logical connections:
In Paul’s epistle to the Thessalonians, in which he likewise writes of this event, he mentions the fact that he has been apprised of it through a vision of the Lord.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive will be caught up.
1The 4,15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that
we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen
asleep. 4,16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the
archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 4,17 Then we
who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 4,18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.
So it was the Lord Jesus Christ who granted Paul this revelation through the Holy
In the Revelation of John, on the other hand, the very first verse reads:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ.
Rev 1,1 The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave Him to show
to His bond-servants, the things which must soon take place; and He sent and communicated it by
His angel to His bond-servant John. Rev 1, 1;
This, then, is also a revelation, also coming from the Lord Jesus. Both revelations,
then, come from Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Consequently we may also assume that the Lord, as a
matter of course, knows the content of the revelations he grants to his two apostles – even at a
distance in time of 45 years.
Even if the view of Fritz Hubmer is right and the texts of Rev 11,15 and 1The 15,52 deal in fact with two different "trumpets" it is the actual problem that the author has not checked the background, and clearly has not recognized that these two bits of information do not come from two separate sources – from Paul and John, that is – that lie 45 years apart, but from the mouth of the Lord.
(See also discourse 05: "Is
the Rapture at the 7th trumpet fixed to late? ")
Here now a final criterion also comes into view, which is of the utmost importance for the
understanding and interpretation of scripture, and to which many commentators nonetheless pay no
regard. I mean the fact that these prophecies are not thought out and dreamed up by all the prophets
of the Old and New Testaments in person, but that there is just one author – God. And this makes
it completely irrelevant whether these revelations are made at distances of 40, 400 or 4000 years
from one another. It is always the same source, and it is always the same message. Sometimes in
different perspectives, sometimes too in a form that is affected by the varying capacity for
expression of the authors. But always coming from the same Spirit of God.
Herein lies the true, the authentic authority of the Bible. And this guarantees to us that the Holy Scripture is true, and that it has been handed down to us as a "data medium" from which we may obtain the information we need for our faith, and for the insight we require into the path that God has marked out for us as a congregation.
The Bible, then, contains the Word of God. For reasons of human weakness, not necessarily in a form wholly free of error, and yet in a form such that we can actually - with the help of the Holy Spirit - discover in it what we are meant to discover – provided that we really want to!
The inspiration and the authority of the Bible is confirmed to us by the Holy Scriptures itself, but not its freedom from error.
My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.
Isa 46,9 "Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and
there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, 46,10 Declaring the end from the
beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be
established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure’. Isa 46,9-10;
Isa 34,16 Seek from the book of the LORD, and read. Isa 34,16;
I am surprised, not to say shocked, that you, as a believing Christian, can
assert that the Holy Scripture contain errors. The freedom of Scripture from error is one of the
highest goods of the Christian faith, and to cast doubt on it is to cast doubt on the Christian
Just think, for example, of 2 Peter 1,21: "Never has a single prophecy been put about by the will of man – rather it is the case that human beings have spoken in the name of God, under the impulsion of the Holy Spirit."
Or consider too 2 Timothy 3,16: "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness."
Surely you cannot just ignore this! Even if the examples you adduce may be perfectly correct, that does not by any means imply that these statements are instances where the Holy Spirit has spoken falsely. The text may, after all, have been handed down in incorrect form, or inaccurately translated.
THE CHICAGO STATEMENT ON BIBLICAL INERRANCY
We affirm the propriety of using inerrancy as a theological term with reference to the complete truthfulness of Scripture.
We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.
Josef Karpisek Josef.Karpisek@chello.at
Let us first of all take a look at the scriptural passages referred to:
For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will.
2Ptr 1,19 So we have the prophetic word made more sure,
to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and
the morning star arises in your hearts.1,20 But know this first of all, that no prophecy of
Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,
1,21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2Pet 1,19-21;
All Scripture inspired by God is profitable for teaching.
2Tim 3,16 All Scripture inspired by God is profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 3,17 so that the man of God may be
adequate, equipped for every good work. 2Tim 3,16-17;
As we can see here, 2Pet 1,19-21 speaks of "prophecies". This is one of these
parts of Holy Scripture which indeed must be described as infallible, and which is not being called
in question here at all.
But the claim to the "infallibility of the Bible" refers to Holy Scripture as a whole. Under this heading also belong, of course, the historical books of the Old Testament, such as Judges and Chronicles for instance, as well as those parts of the New Testament and the Epistles which are not directly concerned with prediction and prophecy. And for those parts of Scripture a claim to absolute infallibility cannot be derived from 2Pet 1,21.
But now 2Tim 3,16 is quoted above, "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching" (literally: theopneustos = breathed in by God). But in the Greek original text there is written:
"All scripture inspired by God is profitable for teaching".
And this is a fundamental difference. What is translated here with "Scripture"
is the Greek word "graphe". And this means not only the texts in the Bible but also every other
ordinary writing. Therefore "All Scripture" means clearly that this statement does not refer to
the whole Bible, not even exclusively to the Bible, but likewise only to those texts which are in
fact inspired from the Holy Spirit (how to identify these sections of the Bible has already been
explained in the above part of this discourse). With this we have a clear proof for this parts of
the Bible both for their inspiration and for their authority as Word of God.
Concerning the verbal inspiration of the whole Bible we have to distinguish: According to 2Pet 1,21 the prophetic passages in Scripture were always inspired by the Holy Spirit, but not necessarily in the form of verbal inspiration. Verbal inspiration (word for word inspiration) is only clearly in evidence for parts of the prophecies, as for instance in the prophetic books of the Old Testament where we find "Say to the sons of Israel…, ‘Thus says the LORD’ …", or in the New Testament the letters to the churches of Revelation and statements of angels or other heavenly persons to John in Revelation and so on.
Those parts of this or other prophecies which exclusively were of optical nature, of course, have not been received by the prophets of the Old and New Testament word by word but were inspired by the Holy Spirit in a vision. Afterwards the prophets spoke of these spiritual experiences and – often by a third person – it was written down.
One can see this very well from those parts of the Scriptures mentioned below.
Eze 8,2 Then I looked, and behold, a likeness as the appearance
of a man; from His loins and downward there was the appearance of fire, and from His loins and
upward the appearance of brightness, like the appearance of glowing metal. Eze 8, 2;
Eze 10,1 Then I looked, and behold, in the expanse that was over the heads of the
cherubim something like a sapphire stone, in appearance resembling a throne, appeared above them.
Eze 10, 1;
Dan 4,5 "I saw a dream and it made me
fearful; and these fantasies as I lay on my bed and the visions in my mind kept
alarming me. Dan 4, 2;
Dan 10,5 I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in
linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. Dan 10, 5;
Zech 5,1 Then I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, there was a flying
scroll. Zech 5, 1;
Zech 6,1 Now I lifted up my eyes again and looked, and behold, four chariots were
coming forth from between the two mountains; and the mountains were bronze mountains. Zech 6, 1;
2Cor 12,2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago – whether in the body I do
not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows – such a man was caught up to the third
heaven. 2Cor 12, 2;
Rev 1,12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking with me. And having turned I
saw seven golden lampstands; Rev 1,12;
Rev 4,4 Around the throne were twenty-four thrones; and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four
elders sitting, clothed in white garments, and golden crowns on their heads. Rev 4, 4;
Rev 5,1 I saw in the right hand of Him who sat on the throne a book written inside and
on the back, sealed up with seven seals. Rev 5, 1;
Rev 8,2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given
to them. Rev 8, 2;
Rev 22,8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw,
I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed me these things. Rev 22, 8;
The purely documentary parts of the Bible, on the other hand, such as the books of
Chronicles and Judges and those parts of individual books of the New Testament which do not
contain prophecies, may be inspired by the Holy Spirit, but do not have to be. Otherwise we would be
unable to account for the divergent statements indicated earlier in this Discourse.
The argument above that we might here have to do with mistakes in the handing down or translation of the text is not a counter-argument, but rather confirms precisely this point of view – namely, that the Bible, in the form in which we have it today, is not wholly infallible (with the exception of the prophetic texts).
In addition, let me here point once again to a consequence which is very frequently passed over in this connection. As has been demonstrated earlier, and as anyone can check for himself by consulting his Bible, we have in Holy Scripture a small number of different statements referring to one and the same event. Although the significance of these differences is marginal and there are not all that many of them, all the same they are enough to make it impossible to uphold the theory of the general infallibility of the Bible.
But if we were now to assert that Scripture in its entirety is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore is free of all error and mistake, then this assertion of ours would have the logical consequence that those errors which can, after all, be plainly seen and recognized as such by any reader, would have to be laid at the door of the Holy Spirit. And here we now clearly run the risk of presenting the Holy Spirit as a liar, and ignoring the warning of the Lord at Mt 12,32, with its consequences:
"But whoever shall speak against the Holy Spirit, it shall
not be forgiven him."
And that is something which we really cannot afford to ignore as faithful
Although this consequence hardly is realized in theological circles. To illustrate how theoretically and without any logic theological leaders of our days are acting shows the quoted "Chikago Declaration of biblical infallibility" from 1978 (German speaking member of the International Council of Scriptural Infallibility: Prof. Samuel Külling).
The above mentioned article XIII of this document declares:
"We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to
standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose."
This says that the Scripture should not be evaluated according truth or error
because this is unknown to its use and purpose! The Bible herewith is declared a fairy-tale book
much more real than an atheist could do. It is a question whether the undersigned of this
declaration were aware of that?
And when on the other hand article VI of the same document explains:
"We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the
very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration."
does it mean that the whole Scripture inspired by the Holy Spirit can’t be
evaluated according to the truth because the Holy Spirit is unfamiliar with the use of the truth!
It is therefore quite logical that also the rendering of untruth – consequently lies – being the reason for a restriction of infallibility, is excluded.
"We further deny that inerrancy (of the Bible) is negated by
Biblical phenomena such as (…) the reporting of falsehoods. " (article XIII)
This statement that untruth in the Scripture cannot annul their infallibility leads
to the conclusion, in connection with the confession mentioned above (article VI) that the Holy
Spirit entirely inspired the Scripture, that the Holy Spirit preaches untruth, the disclose of which
these good people now must prevent.
Exactly herewith it is explicitly outspoken by these representatives of an absolute infallibility of the Bible what above mentioned only was a conclusion: everybody who on the one hand declares the whole Bible a verbal inspiration of the Holy Spirit and then on the other hand still proceeds from the assumption that there is untruth in it automatically declares the Holy Spirit a liar.
And besides the consequence already mentioned that the commandment of the Lord, Mt 12,32 – namely not to speak against the Holy Spirit – is disregarded, these people add to their great guilt another sin: they force the faithful to do likewise and switch off their intelligence to maintain an absolute infallibility of the Bible in all its parts where it obviously does not exist – see above. That of course, all those thinking people being on their way to Christian faith, find an almost insurmountable hindrance on their way is only one more dramatic result.
With regard to "the highest blessing of the Christian faith" as mentioned in the above commentary of the reader it must be stated with all necessary seriousness that the highest good of Christian faith is not the absolute infallibility of the Bible but our belief in our Lord Jesus Christ and his ransom sacrifice on the cross for our sins. This is what the Scripture continually urges us to do and what should be preserved.
For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
1Cor 3,11 For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which
is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1Cor 3,11;
He who believes in Me will live even if he dies.
Jn 11,25 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life; he
who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 11,26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me
will never die. Do you believe this?" Jn 11,25-26;
But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive.
Jn 7,37 Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood
and cried out, saying, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. 7,38 "He who
believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’" 7,39 But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. Jn 7,38-39;
The Bible so undoubtedly is the word of God as the creation is his work. Who calls
in question the one or the other has to come to terms with the respective contents – as in all other
spheres of human life. When this is done in sincere and objective spirit one can’t but reach this
result. Is however this sincere and objective spirit not the foundation, the Bible is called by one
a fairy-tale book or the others look at it as in its entirety verbally inspired and totally
This attempt to setup a sort of "dogma of infallibility" is disgraceful and unnecessary for faithful Christians. For those having no faith in the Bible being the Word of God this attempt will not change their attitude – in the contrary. With those brothers an sisters who not at all think of putting this question, this procedure will create a lack of understanding and consternation.