THE BASF - ITS IMPORTANCE AND TEACHING
TRUTH TO BE RECEIVED – THE FOUNDATION
“That the book currently known as the Bible, consisting of the Scriptures of Moses, the prophets, and the apostles, is the only source of knowledge concerning God and His purposes at present extant or available in the earth, and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers, and are consequently without error in all parts of them, except such as may be due to errors of transcription or translation.- 2Timothy 3:16; 1Corinthians 2:13; Hebrews 1:1; 2Peter 1:21; Corinthians 14:37; Nehemiah 9:30; John 10:35”.
In our introductory article, we demonstrated the importance of the Birmingham Amended Statement of Faith, and it’s vital role in defining, and maintaining the true faith amongst believers today. But as we noted, there are those who argue that our faith ought not rest upon documents of men’s devising, and therefore the BASF should not be regarded as being either authoritative, or a basis for fellowship. But it is strictly not true to regard the Statement of Faith as being simply the product of man – by definition, it is a statement of doctrines revealed by God in Scripture. The principles and concepts it describes originate not from man, but God, in His Inspired Word. It does therefore speak with authority, the authority of the Scriptures which contain the doctrines it teaches, which are listed after each clause.
In fact, from the very beginning, the BASF itself directs our attention to the Word of the Most High God as being the only authority in things Divine. The very first clause, headed, “The Foundation” states that the Bible “is the only source of knowledge concerning God and his purposes … and that the same were wholly given by inspiration of God in the writers…”. The fact of Inspiration then, is “the foundation” of all that follows, all the other doctrines and principles the BASF describes. The Bible itself is the foundation, being the “only” source of knowledge, and therefore the only authority for us to look to (Is 8:20).
This “foundation clause” was added to the Statement of Faith in 1886, following the claims of “partial inspiration”, when some sought to discredit certain parts of Scripture as being uninspired, the product of the thoughts of Man. The addition of this clause then, recognises the vital importance of accepting that every word of Scripture is that which proceeded from the mouth of God (Mat 4:4). To deny this is to deny the foundation of our faith. If we doubt this, we can progress no further in our knowledge of the Truth, for the whole reliability of Scripture is called into question – if it is only partly God’s Word, we are not bound to submit to it’s authority, and may even be at liberty to disagree with some of it’s teachings (as some, in fact do). But even in our day, there are those who, whilst professing to accept Inspiration, yet in words deny it, by presenting it in terms which are both unscriptural, and contrary to the believers Statement of Faith.
MODERN DAY “PARTIAL INSPIRATION” THEORY
For example, from time to time there is talk of a so called “human element”. That is to say, the individuals involved in penning the words themselves needed to consider the circumstances which needed to be addressed, and give thought to the composition of what they were to produce. According to the logical outworking of this idea, Inspiration then comes in at the end, a mysterious influence finishing off the work, so to speak, ensuring that the final product contained no serious mistakes. This can be illustrated in a common misconception of the four Gospel records. To explain why four similar accounts appear, it is said that each author wrote from their own perspective, each wishing to emphasise their own particular viewpoint – the person influencing the writings of Mark being “impetuous Peter”. So it is, that alleged “discrepancies” are dispensed with in this way – when a number of witnesses give account of particular events, there will always be differences, as they each recall different aspects of things. And when those who propound this theory are asked how it can be reconciled with the Bible’s claim of Inspiration, the usual answer given is that whilst the writers collated their information, and composed their accounts, God was overseeing it all, ensuring it be free from errors.
Yet this surely misses the point that each writer was Divinely “moved” to write God’s Words, from whatever “perspective” God, not man, chose. Luke informs us that, he testified not through personal observation through fallible eyes and ears, but “having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first (Greek = from above)” (Luke 1:3). This is a point missed in the AV, that Luke, as with all Gospel writers obtained their understanding of “all things” which they wrote “from above” that is, from God. Any differences in the records then, are not discrepancies due to the inaccuracy of human witnesses, but were placed there by the Almighty Himself for our learning.
This notion of the writers themselves composing the words of Scripture, from their own observations and research (even if being “guided” to do so correctly) has greater implications than is realised at first sight. It has the effect of demoting the Almighty God from being the Great Author of the Eternal Wisdom of Scripture, to being merely an editor, tidying up the words of men. Truly, we might say that this is the modern equivalent of “partial inspiration” – a belief that, as one highly respected contemporary editor of a Christadelphian Magazine put it: “what appears on the pages of our Bibles is both the Word of God and the words of the human penmen – with many idiosyncrasies appropriate to his conditions and circumstances”. Unfortunately, he declined any further correspondence on the subject, or to provide examples of what were merely the “words of the human penmen”. But that need not curtail any examination of the matter as it is commonly presented – what saith the Word itself? Is it composed both by God and man, or is it wholly the Word of God? We follow then, our Statement of Faith’s direction, and appeal to Scripture itself to settle the matter:
THE BIBLE – WHOLLY WRITTEN BY GOD
“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2Tim 3:16)
“No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation, for the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1:21).
We find then, that the Scriptures are emphatically clear. “All Scripture” is “of God”, coming “not … by the will of man”, but “by inspiration”, by being “moved by the Holy Spirit” to pen the words we have before us. The “will” of no man was responsible for it’s -27- contents, but rather the will of Almighty God, something which is demonstrated many times in Scripture. Consider for instance, the last words of David: “David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel said, the Spirit of Yahweh spake by me, and his word was in my tongue …” (2Sam 23:1,2). Here then, is a wonderful example of Inspiration, as uttered by the “sweet psalmist” himself. The words he spoke were not penned of his own volition, not by his own “will”, but that of God, whose Spirit spoke by him, or “moved” him, as Peter has it. In simple terms, the Words of Yahweh were placed in his tongue, that he might utter them. This simple teaching is again strongly emphasised in the New Testament:
“David himself said by the Holy Spirit, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Mark 12:36).
“Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas …” (Acts 1:16).
“Lord, thou art God … who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?” (Acts 4:24,25)
“Again, he limiteth a certain day, saying in David, Today, after so long a time; as it is said, Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts (Heb 4:7)
The Psalms of David then, are unquestionably and literally the Words of the Spirit of God, speaking by David’s mouth, the words being placed in his tongue. He did not compose the words: he did not choose to express them in a particular way, he did not add to or take away from them. The whole process was an operation of God.
THE TERM “INSPIRATION OF GOD”
This illustrates what it means for words to be given by “inspiration of God” (2Tim 3:16). The phrase in the Greek is one word: yeopneustov or theopneustos, made up from yeov usually rendered, “God”, and pnew meaning, “to breathe, to blow”. For a man to be “inspired” then, is to have the Words of God “breathed”, or “blown” through him by God’s Spirit. It is something the individual had no control over; “all Scripture” is wholly “God breathed”, the only “human element” being that the individuals whom God used as His instruments were the means by which those words were to be sounded.
Against this, the fact that the Bible records many conversations from men who were uninspired is sometimes presented as evidence that men also have had a hand in the composition of Scripture. For example, take the book of Job, which is essentially a dialogue between Job and his associates. Here, quite long chapters record the words of Job’s friends, words which the last chapter tells us were actually wrong in certain respects: “Ye have not spoken of me the thing which is right, like my servant Job” (Job 42:8). So then, in the conversations recorded in Job, Yahweh himself tells us that Job spoke correctly concerning Him, whereas the others (except Elihu, who is unmentioned), did not.
But there is an elementary distinction to recognise in all literature, whether it be fact or -28- fiction, the Inspired Word, or the product of man. With the exception of certain forms of expression, we must be careful to put a distinction between the narrator, and the characters in the story/account being narrated. The narrator chooses to present the story in a particular form, yet in the case of a factual account, the words of the characters involved are an accurate representation of what was said. So it is, that when we consider the case of Inspiration, the Great Narrator is the Lord God himself, who chooses to express facts and accounts according to His Eternal Wisdom, in the styles and methods He Chooses. It may well be that the account He has composed is a record of unfaithful men speaking foolish words – but their uninspired, foolish words do not invalidate the Divine Authorship. Rather, the account is an accurate representation of what took place – from a Divine point of view, with particular facts being emphasised for our learning.
THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST IN THE PROPHETS
The inspired recounting of uninspired conversations then, ought not lead us into assuming that the “human penmen” recording those words did not speak God’s words – they did so perfectly. Indeed, these scribes would very often pen words which they themselves could not understand, the meaning of which even they would need to search out. Thus, Peter spoke of salvation in Christ “of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (1Pet 1:10,11). Many of the prophets testified of the sufferings of Christ, but the Spirit through Peter informs us that they initially spoke their words without understanding them. It was the Spirit which breathed through them that spoke of the sufferings of our Lord (hence, it is described as “the Spirit of Christ”). And once those words had been given to them, the prophets themselves needed to “enquire”, and “search” what it was that the spirit was actually teaching – proof that they had no part in the composition thereof.
As evidence of the “human element”, the psalms of David are sometimes cited. He was a shepherd, and many of the Psalms which came from his pen are written in terms reflective of a shepherd’s experiences – thus it is argued, they are the product of his observations, he drew upon his experiences to produce the Psalms. But this misses the point, for as we have seen, the Spirit placed the words in his mouth. True it is, that many of these Psalms certainly are based upon the life of David – and many of them are expressive of the depths of emotion he felt at certain significant events. Yet, rather than to lessen the case for absolute Divine Authorship, it is evidence of the Hand of God at work in both his life, and his words, to provide both examples and teachings for the benefit of others. It is a truth to be recognised that when the Lord chooses to express certain truths in certain terms, he does so by appropriate means. So, when He speaks in a shepherd’s terms, the providentially guided life of a shepherd is used as a basis for those words – and that shepherd himself becomes the means by which they are spoken (how strange it would be to have a miner, or stonemason, for instance, to utter the words of Psalm 23)! And as David himself had to “search diligently” the meaning of what he wrote concerning the sufferings of Christ, the fact that they were expressed in terms common to his understanding would enable him perceive the meaning of his Psalms more readily, as he would himself recognise events in his life, and the feelings he experienced during them.
THE PROPHECIES OF BALAAM
In the book of Numbers, we are presented with the prophecies of Balaam, of which it could truly be said, they “came not by the will of man”, but against the will of man – thus giving an clear and simple illustration of the process of Inspiration. Numbers 22 describes how Balaam was hired by Balak to speak cursings against Israel (in the vain supposition that the Almighty would hearken to the cursings of men!): “He sent messengers therefore to Balaam … saying … Come now, therefore, I pray thee, curse me this people; for they are too mighty for me” (Num 22:8). So it was, that Balaam accompanied the messengers with the sole intention of cursing, to obtain the promised reward. He was commanded by the Angel of Yahweh “Go with the men: but only the word that I shall speak to thee, that thou shalt speak (v 35). But, being greedy of the wages of unrighteousness (Jude 11, 2Pet 2:15), the “will” of this “man” was to speak other words – his own words of cursing. Here then, is an example of a man about to be inspired, yet who set himself to change those inspired words.
But we are told that just as the Spirit placed Divine Words upon David’s tongue, “Yahweh put a word in Balaam’s mouth” (23:5,12), and it became physically impossible for Balaam to speak his own words – rather he was compelled to speak the word which Yahweh had put in his mouth. By this means, so man’s cursing was changed into God’s blessing, as the prophet himself spake: “How shall I curse, whom God hath not cursed? Or how shall I defy, whom Yahweh hath not defied? … Must I not take heed to speak that which Yahweh hath put in my mouth?” (23:8,12). Balaam made repeated attempts to speak curses against God’s people, yet each time the Spirit overruled his natural desires, that the Blessings of God be uttered instead – as in Chapter 25, where one of the most beautiful prophecies of all Scripture was given. Thus it was, that his prophecy came “not by the will of man”, but against man’s natural will, and despite his utmost efforts to resist, Inspiration took place. God breathed His words through Balaam, who was powerless to influence them – for good or bad: “I cannot go beyond the commandment of Yahweh, to do either good or bad of mine own mind; but what Yahweh saith, that will I speak” (24:13). The only “human element” involved, was that Balaam was used as a tool to speak words which were composed solely by God.
“The heart of man is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer 17:9), but the Word of Yahweh is very pure (Ps 119:140, 12:6). The reason that there can be no human element in the composition of Scripture, is that the pure things of God cannot be tainted by the uncleanness of man. And so, Inspiration is simple to explain. Inspiration is the process by which Yahweh causes the words which proceed from His mouth to be made known upon earth. Holy men were used as tools in God’s hands, as a pen in the hand of the writer to either speak, or write those words verbatim. They themselves had no influence over what was written either in its composition, or it’s style, being but the “mechanical means” by which the Almighty’s words were conveyed to man (thus experiencing a fellowship of a most intimate manner with their Lord, when willing). Inspiration, and the so called “human element” are therefore, mutually exclusive.
A FINAL POINT
There is another aspect to our “Foundation Clause”, which we ought to notice. It states that “the Bible … is the only source of knowledge concerning God and his purposes presently extant or available in the earth”. Man cannot find out about God by searching (Cp. Job 11:7), only by Revelation (1Cor 2:10-16). And it has so pleased the Almighty to reveal Himself, His Ways and His Purposes to our age by a single medium – the written word. There are those who claim to have guidance by the Holy Spirit, who suppose that the Spirit will help us to understand the things of God – but the Bible’s claim is different. The only source of understanding is the Word of God. If we wish to learn of God’s Ways and become part of His Purposes, we must appeal to Scripture, digesting it’s contents, thus being mentally strengthened to walk in it’s light, so giving pleasure to it’s Author.
Bible study therefore, is not optional, something for the academics, as one correspondent seems to suppose – it is compulsory for those who wish to learn to please God. “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed” is the apostolic injunction – the strong implication being, that if we do not study, we will not be “approved unto God”, and will need to be “ashamed”. Whatever form that study may take, whether it be through guidance by others in tapes/books etc., personal reflections, or examining deeper meanings with a concordance – the fact of inspiration gives us the reason why it is essential. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and it profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (2Tim 3:17). The Fact of Inspiration means that the Bible is able to impart profitable doctrine, reprove, correct, instruct, to perfect the man of God. No book of human composition, by the very nature of things can fulfil this function, for the natural product of the heart of man is sin in the sight of God. But the Inspired Word, when inwardly consumed is powerful, it is able to transform even the most unenlightened barbarian into a perfected man of God. We must, therefore stand in awe of it’s greatness, and exalted status, set even above the Name of God itself (Ps 138:2), and following the example of the prophets through whom it came, “search diligently” in the spirit of a humble, reverential enquiry, that it might have it’s effect upon us, being the power of God unto our Salvation.