The Inspiration of the New Testament
History or Revelation?
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Ask your pastor if we have the exact words of Jesus in the Gospels. If your pastor says we have the voice of Jesus, but not His exact words, then find a local assembly that believes we have the exact words of Jesus in the Gospels. Jesus said His words would never pass away, but everyone who says we do not have the exact words of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John really mean that the words of Jesus have already passed away. Many pastors today are false teachers because they believe and teach that the words of Jesus passed away shortly after He died on the cross. Never believe what false teachers tell you about Jesus and the Bible. They are the blind leading the blind and both of them will fall into a pit.
Many people today deny the New Testament consists of only revelation from God. Instead many people claim the writers of the New Testament wrote like the secular historians of their time. When anyone makes that claim to you, immediately mark that person as a false teacher who opposes God’s revelation. Those people work in bible colleges, seminaries and universities and call each other scholars. They also preach sermons in many church pulpits. God calls them false teachers who pervert the truth of inspiration. This short article will expose the truth about the entire New Testament consisting of only revelation from God. Never let anyone confuse you into thinking that the New Testament writers were merely human historians following human customs and producing human documents, with all the shortcomings of human efforts, human memories, and human minds.
The Writing of History or Revelation?
1.1 History and Revelation. Any human can write history. Only God provides inerrant revelation. When people confuse history and revelation, they have been deceived by the devil. Does the New Testament represent the work of only human authors writing human history? In the alternative, does the New Testament contain only revelation from God in verbal form? When I use the term New Testament, I refer to the original autographs of the New Testament, not translations. The Bible claims that God breathed out the Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16). As such, every word of the original autographs of the New Testament represents the exact word God breathed out. Those words represent precise, verbal revelations from God. The New Testament author was God, and only God, not humans. God moved humans to speak for Him who then wrote down the revelations from God (2 Peter 1:20; compare Jeremiah 26:2). The words recorded in the autographs of the New Testament represent revelations from God, not mere history written by humans. The New Testament claims to be breathed out by God, and stands apart from all histories written apart from the revelation of God. Impugning the veracity of any word in the original autograph of the New Testament impugns the honesty and integrity of God Who authored those words.
1.2 Human Errors. If you do not believe that the New Testament contains only revelations from God, then you will happily embrace the concept that the New Testament was authored by men, with all their human limitations and predisposition to errors. You will also have no objection to comparing human historians writing about the Roman Empire to the New Testament authors. Everyone knows that human historians were often biased and did not get all their facts straight. If you believe humans compiled their human sources, talked to witnesses, and then wrote their New Testament books, according to their own best judgment or personal bias, then they wrote history and not revelation. Lest I confuse the matter, please understand God wrote history by giving revelation of that history. The facts, words, and chronology presented by the New Testament authors are the truth, not lies or myths or truth mixed with error. At times, however, some of those authors made no claim that they were presenting their accounts in actual chronological order or quoting the exact words of Jesus and others.
1.3 Luke and Acts. Make no mistake here. Luke wrote an accurate Gospel of Jesus Christ and an accurate history of the Acts of the Apostles and of the Holy Spirit. Luke investigated everything carefully from the beginning, and then wrote his Gospel and the book of Acts. Every word Luke wrote in the New Testament consisted of revelation from God. He said he relied upon the material “handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word” (Luke 1:1-2). The words Luke wrote in the autographs of the Gospel of Luke and Acts were revelations from God. God superintended the process of writing, editing, and organizing the words so that they were accurate reflections of the actual events, in chronological order, and preserved the very words of the people Luke quoted. Please recall that when Luke did not quote people, he was under no obligation to use their very words. Luke claimed that we may know the exact truth about the things people have been taught (Luke 1:4). Luke told the truth and God guaranteed the absolute veracity of every word Luke wrote, because God breathed it out. Never underestimate the miracle of inspiration in bringing the very words of Jesus back to the memories of His disciples (John 14:26).
3.1 Epistemology Defined. Many people hate big words and new concepts. Even so, learning a new word “epistemology” helps explain the problems of the critics attacking the New Testament and the Old Testament. People have demonstrated time and time again that people following the critical methods taught in schools of higher education today find themselves thinking and teaching the Bible does not contain a reliable, inerrant guide to truth. Their methods shred the Bible, torn to pieces in their minds by conflicting methods practiced from conflicted hearts. They do not know what words Jesus actually used in the Gospels. They do not know what Paul actually wrote in the epistles of the New Testament. In fact, consistently applying their own methods would leave them with nothing certain. For example, many people studying the New Testament claim that the long gap between the death of Jesus and the writing of the Gospels shows that so much time had passed that the exact words of Jesus have been lost forever. They have been replaced by people writing according to oral traditions and conflicting written material. All of these things point to the epistemological problem behind modern criticism of the Bible. I am using the term “epistemology” to describe the study of how we know things are true. I am focusing upon how we know the truth. I am not focusing directly upon how we know all things, but rather how we can know the truth. Criticism of the Bible rests upon a bankrupt epistemology that produces a bankrupt faith and hopeless practitioners of their methods.
3.2 Bible Shredding. New Testament critics come in many sour flavors, but they all employ the same means to shred the Bible. They employ human reason, corrupted by sin, to understand God and His revelation. They have an absolute belief in their critical methods, which vary dramatically from person to person employing the same critical method. The result of their critical methods shreds the Bible into different parts only they can identify. Of course, once they shred the Bible by authors, dates, audiences, themes, form, redactors, etc., they are left with nothing reliable or original. Their method, if consistently applied, removes all certainty about the history underlying the accounts in the Bible. Once shredded by their critical methods, they see different shreds written by different authors with different agendas they seek to promote. They claim that human bias in many forms controlled the words written in the Bible. In fact, the critics cannot even agree upon which books are inspired by God, but they deny we have the very words spoken by Jesus and other people in the Bible. Poor epistemology produces a shredded Bible.
3.3 Epistemology and Bible Shredding. While many critics claim they do not know and cannot know what actually happened during the time Jesus lived in the flesh on earth, they place absolute faith in their critical methods without a second thought. Let me parse that out a bit. When the critics seek to remove the myths from the truth, they employ their own reasoning. They claim the human mind has the power to distinguish truth from myth. They then employ the methods taught by critics at school to shred the Bible. The end result of their shredding leaves them in an ugly ditch. In their minds, they cannot get to the actual truth because they can only approximate the truth through careful review and comparison of the original sources, which, in their minds, represent only the works of men with bias and poor copying skills. The decision to employ critical methods reflects their epistemology. They search for the truth without consideration of the difference between history and revelation. While some may argue that teleological ends should never influence epistemological methods, they tend to forget that medical doctors try to diagnose human conditions with their medical training, and leave the diagnosis of animals to veterinarians. Critics of the Bible often forget that God left a revelation of Himself and His love for all generations and we should believe the God of truth revealed the truth and preserved the truth for later generations. I appreciate that some people would call that statement circular reasoning, but the truth remains the truth and to keep this article fairly short, I leave the differences between ontology and epistemology to another day. I am stressing that human reason must submit itself to God’s revelation and never sit in judgment upon that revelation. Critical methods today guarantee you end up with varying degrees of probability, but no certainty about the results finding the absolute truth. Human probabilities have replaced God’s revelation of truth in the mind of critics.
3.4 The Internal Inconsistency Problem with Shredding. Critics look a lot like ore processors. They crush the rock, sift the rock, pour chemicals on the rock, electrify the rock, and then try to extract the precious metal hidden all along in the rock. Today, critics look for precious metal, but cannot even agree upon what the precious metal looks like. They actually produce fool’s gold, but call it probability. No one should confuse human consensus with the truth. The truth stands ontologically alone. The truth, among other things, produces accurate descriptions of God’s revelation. Epistemology rooted in receiving spiritually the revelation of God while honoring God will not leave you without a reliable historical witness. By God’s very nature, He loves people and wants them to know the truth He revealed. He did not leave Himself without reliable witnesses by His very nature. Many critics today claim to be agnostics, meaning they cannot know what God revealed in the Bible. When all the dust settles that they swirled around themselves, their own critical methods consistently applied leave the Bible in shreds, without even the possibility of knowing with certainty what God actually said because they no longer trust as truthful the words of the Bible. At best, the critics think they have the gist of the words of Jesus and others, but they know with certainty they do not have the actual words themselves. In fact, their own methods assure they will be forever separated from the actual revelation of God, because they trust their human critical methods without any concern for the revelation of God. They become the new prophets who can tell you what God really meant and what God really said using their critical methods. Of course, many different people using the same critical methods come to wildly different conclusions. In the world of the critics, a cacophony of prophets all proclaim they have found the true revelation from God, except they admit first that their methods only produce a probability of finding the truth. Their methods and evil hearts cause them to continue learning, but never to come to a knowledge of the truth with ontological or epistemological certainty.
Words of Jesus
Many false teachers today claim that the autographs of the New Testament do not contain the very words of Jesus, but the voice of Jesus, meaning that we have the thoughts of Jesus as interpreted by human authors. False teachers love to use Latin phrases like Ipsissima Verba (the very words) and Ipsissima Vox (the very voice). They claim the New Testament does not present the very words of Jesus, because they know with certainty those words have been lost forever in the oral history underlying the New Testament (see The Harmony of the Gospels). Instead, the false teachers claim that we have only the voice of Jesus, not His words. They believe that the New Testament writers relied upon oral traditions and primitive documents no longer extant. No matter what terms they use, the false teachers adamantly maintain that the exact words of Jesus cannot be found in the autographs of the New Testament. They make confident assertions about matters they claim cannot be known. Before anyone accepts that false teaching, we should examine several problems with their false teaching.
First, the text of the New Testament itself claims to present the very words of Jesus. At other times, the text of the New Testament only presents a narration of events and conversations. Both the direct quotes of Jesus, with word for word accuracy, and the narration of events and conversations were breathed out by God, without errors of any kind. False teachers often argue among themselves about whether Jesus spoke Aramaic, Greek, or Hebrew. They claim then that because the New Testament was written in Greek, we cannot possibly have the very words of Jesus if He spoke Hebrew or Aramaic. Their claim overlooks the remarkable translations of the Old Testament in the New Testament. We can often understand the exact Hebrew words being quoted from the Hebrew portions of the Old Testament. The translation argument amounts to a head fake because the false teachers do not believe it is even possible for the New Testament autographs to contain the very words of Jesus. They find so many errors in chronology, facts, and substance presented in the New Testament that they must rule out revelation and embrace critical theories of the text to have any hope of finding the actual voice of anyone. They gave up on the concepts of inspiration and revelation at the moment they embraced human critical theories about the Bible and the God Who wrote it. They cannot agree among themselves about what words or concepts were actually presented by Jesus. Different schools of criticism employ different methods to try to separate what they see as fact and fiction in the New Testament. They dress up their criticisms in fancy language, but at bottom they all believe they can separate out the truth by using their human intellects and methods. They no longer believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, unless they need to sign a paper at a school to keep their jobs. In that case, mental reservations undermine their basic character and expose them as liars. You may think that such false teachers only teach at liberal universities and seminaries. Those false teachers now hold very senior positions in many universities, Bible colleges, and seminaries which once would have excluded them as heretics; many serve as pastors in local churches and church hierarchies. American students studied abroad and came home with critical theories woven into their entire view of the Bible and its inspiration. They no longer believe that the New Testament was written by eyewitnesses who knew the truth and told the truth, but by people propagating cleverly devised myths. They no longer look upon Jesus as the truth and the way and the life, but as a mere man lost in the pages of other men writing about their own conceptions of their gods.
Second, when someone claims that the New Testament author mixed up who said what, or they got the numbers wrong, or the dates wrong, or the words wrong, then we know that person is a false teacher and should be silenced. When the false teachers claim that the writers of the Gospels contradicted one another frequently, and so their claims to telling the truth cannot stand, we know that the false teachers no longer believe in revelation and inspiration. God does not lie and cannot tell lies to communicate the truth.
We have many manuscripts and fragments of the New Testament that disagree with one another as to content. We must study those different texts to find God’s revelation. Some critical methods may be very helpful in finding the truth. We look for gold, but we understand God left the gold where we could find it and appreciate the gold for what it is, the exact words God left as His revelation of eternal truth. Verbal, plenary inspiration still matters. Jesus promised that His words would not pass away. We must look for gold while remembering that God revealed Himself in the Bible, which must be spiritually received by grace through faith in God to preserve His truth for all generations. Jesus said we can know the truth and it will set us free. Jesus is the truth, and the way, and the life. No one comes to the Father but through Him. He left a wonderful, truthful record of solid gold. We can still be certain we have reliable copies of His autographed revelation and they accurately reveal the truth with perfect fidelity to historical events.