« PreviousContinue »
THE INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURES.
It is of great importance to attain a clear and rational view of this subject. Many good but injudicious and unlearned persons, in the idea of doing honour to the Scriptures, adopt such views of their inspiration as tend practically to weaken instead of strengthening their authority. This is sure to be the result of any theory that is plainly inconsistent with the literary facts of the case, and which claims for the sacred writers a kind or degree of divine guidance neither professed by themselves nor manifested in their writings.
The notion is even yet sadly too prevalent among Christians, that every single word of the Bible was written by the immediate direction of the Holy Spirit. But such guidance was certainly not necessary in order to produce those books; nay, the literary qualities of the books themselves defy such a supposition. The authors never claim any such inspiration as having guided their pens; and to claim it on their behalf, encumbers the Scriptures with difficulty and exposes them to objection or contempt.
I shall mention first some of the mischiefs which arise from this extravagant notion of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.
It has given birth to the most absurd and superstitious modes of interpreting Scripture. When things are related which seem of too low or trivial a nature to have been written under the immediate interference of the Divine Spirit (as, for instance, when Paul, in a letter to Timothy (2 Tim. iv. 13), bids him bring with him the cloak which he had left at Troas), an internal and spiritual sense has been supposed to be contained in them; and thus the widest range has been given to the imagination, and the result has invariably been to perplex the writings and mystify the reader. The Song of Solomon, evidently a marriage poem, has on this principle been converted into a mystical representation of the love of Christ to his church; and the plain history of Jacob's courtship in the Book of Genesis, when “Jacob went on his journey,” has been imagined to signify “the Lord Jehovah about to come into the world as a Redeemer" ! We need not seriously argue against such a method of interpretation, but must solemnly protest against it as the surest way to impair the credibility and destroy the authority of the Scriptures.
Again : Every careful reader of the Bible must know that, in many cases in which the history of the same event is given in two different books, there are slight differences, and even contradictions, between the two accounts,—differences such as we are continually accustomed to meet with in other books on similar comparisons of authorities, and which, though usually slight and unimportant as regards the main facts, yet being really inconsistent in certain particulars, shew that one at least of the writers must have been to that extent mistaken. I will mention only one instance of this kind, out of a hundred, as decisive against verbal and literal inspiration. The four evangelists, respectively reciting the superscription or title which Pilate caused to be put over the cross of Jesus, give it in four different forms, all essentially the same in sense, but slightly varied in words.
In Matthew it is: “This is Jesus the King of the Jews.”
Here is an inscription, which, if the evangelists had each copied it at the time, must have been word for word the same in them all. Or if the Holy Spirit had presided over their pens in writing their histories afterwards, it must have been word for word the same in all. They have all remembered the substance of the inscription, and given it with sufficient agreement as to its terms; but it is evident that if any one of them has given the exact words as written by Pilate, all the others must have been verbally mistaken in their account of it. An unimportant difference this, on common-sense views of the Scriptures, but fatal to their credit if they are rashly held forth as written by inspiration. Unimportant differences like this, which are frequent in the Scriptures, disprove their plenary and verbal inspiration, while they shew the independent character of the testimonies. Such variations are the commonest things imaginable in the standard historians of all nations. They prevail just in the same way in the Scriptures; and while they are not at all inconsistent with that kind of inspiration which the Scriptures claim for themselves, they furnish us with so many illustrations of the simplicity and integrity of the works in question. But what must be thought of such variations by those who imagine every word of the Bible to have been immediately dictated by inspiration? They are utterly perplexed by such appearances when forced upon their attention, for they are sure that the Holy Spirit could not dictate contradictory accounts. They are tempted to resort to laborious conjectures and far-fetched suppositions, in order to reconcile what it would be well if they could be convinced it is of no importance to the cause of religion to reconcile. Or, more commonly, they stop short in the attempt to harmonize the narratives, check themselves in the pursuit of scriptural knowledge, and persuade themselves that it is sinful to doubt for one moment the perfect consistency of the whole. Having thus drawn back from a natural and intelligent inquiry, the calm prosecution of which might have issued in a solid and rational conviction in favour of the sacred volume, they think it their duty next to stifle the inquiries of others, to whom similar difficulties just as naturally present themselves. And in some instances they may succeed in making timid devotees or unthinking conformists like themselves, by whom, if religion is loved with all the heart, it is not with the mind and soul and strength. But in other instances, when the inquirer cannot or will not forego the exercise of an intelligent insight into the Scriptures, the effect of their dogma of verbal and plenary inspiration is more palpably mischievous to religion. If he take for granted that his religious friends are claiming for the Scriptures only what the Scriptures claim for themselves, he will in all probability soon renounce all further regard for those books, as beneath his notice, in putting forth claims so palpably inconsistent with fact. And the unbeliever will need no other arguments than are supplied by these zealous but ignorant advocates. His most pointed weapons are, indeed, and always have been, furnished from this source. He takes for granted the highest
notion of plenary inspiration, and then easily proves that the Scriptures, if tried by this standard, utterly fail of establishing their supposed pretensions.
But this is not all. There are yet more urgent reasons why the rational reader of the Scriptures must rescue them from the oppression of these untenable claims.
In many parts of the Old Testament, actions are recorded without reprobation, and sometimes even in the tone of approval, by the writer, and sentiments are deliberately expressed, which
and Christian mind cannot possibly approve, nor justify. The crimes of mankind, if viewed as matters of historical fact, though detailed amid the records of a revelation given by God, —the imprecations of David upon his enemies, regarded as the sentiments of a fallible man, though contained in the same book of Psalms with the most exquisite treasures of sacred Hebrew poetry,-we are not bound, as believers and defenders of revelation, to justify. But if it be maintained that every word of such Scriptures was immediately dictated by the Spirit of God, the argument of the unbeliever and the scoff of the profane remain triumphant. To such results the Scriptures have been abandoned through the blind adoration of their friends, who have gratuitously encumbered them with pretensions to a kind of inspiration which they never themselves claim. Hence the importance of rational views on this subject.
The inspiration which the Scriptures themselves really do claim and truly do exhibit, is of a very different kind. It is not an inspiration of the writers, nor of their style in writing, but of some of the things written; of some of the things written, but not of all, nor of the chief part. Natural, ordinary, common events occupy the chief part of the historical books of Scripture; and simply human thoughts and feelings the chief part of the other books. But amid these common, ordinary, natural events, the Scriptures also tell us that God revealed His will in supernatural ways; and those human thoughts and feelings are employed often in meditating upon and recording the facts and doctrines of divine revelation. If the Scriptures, then, are the records of divine revelation, their inspiration surely resides wherever that revelation beams forth. They tell us of declarations which the Almighty made of His will to the earliest race of mankind. They tell us of successive manifestations of His perfections and His designs to the patriarchs of the Jewish race. They tell us that Moses was authorized by supernatural communications to establish a peculiar system of religion. They tell us how prophets in succession shewed of things to come, and from special communion with the Almighty brought down to His people the messages of His will. They tell us (and here begins the department of the Christian Scriptures) of the mission of One who came in the fulness of time to consummate the scheme of revelation, endowed with the prophet's foreknowledge and the lawgiver's wisdom and authority in a most eminent degree, in whom (as they express it) “dwelt the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” And they further record that the work in which he was engaged devolved at his death upon
persons signally endowed, though in a far inferior degree to his, with the same spirit and power of the Most High God. What, then, is all this but a history of inspiration? Here are the various records of inspired men; but not necessarily, nor in point of fact, inspired writings respecting those inspired men.
When Abraham believed that God would make of the offspring of Isaac a mighty nation, his faith so severely tried was founded the record declares) on an inspired promise. The inspiration was in that promise cherished by the patriarch's heart, but not in the unknown pen that recorded his faith some
When Moses undertook the deliverance of his people from slavery, the Scripture tells us he was moved to it by the inspiration of a direct injunction from God. Whenever he performed a miracle in testimony of his divine mission, he must have acted by inspiration. When he conversed with God upon
the Mount, he received the communications of that spirit which was necessary for his general guidance; and while many of his institutions were plainly the dictate of human wisdom, all that was higher than human was the province of inspiration. When Sinai trembled at the awful sounds which attended the delivery of the Law of the Ten Commandments, the voice of inspiration was confessed by the whole awe-struck multitude, who declared it “the voice of God.” But in recording these things, the writer needed no other than human knowledge, memory and