The Authority of the Bible
J. Stafford Wright, M.A.




When we start to think about God, we soon come to a point where we say, "I can discover nothing more about God by myself. I must see whether He has revealed anything about Himself, about His character, and about the way to find Him and to please Him." If there is a God at all, it is likely that He has made some revelation of this kind. Otherwise we have to suppose that He has given us a desire to worship, and a sense of difference between right and wrong, without doing anything to satisfy our need. At any rate, it is reasonable to start with the idea that God has made us as we are because He wants us to know Him and to have fellowship with Him. But if we are left to our own devices, to work out some sort of religion as best we can, we shall not get very far. We may be able to draw up some moral rules for our lives, but a moral code by itself is a cold and cheerless thing, and does not satisfy our desire to have fellowship with the Creator of the universe. Quite obviously we are left stumbling in the dark unless God has somewhere shown us, from His side, the way to approach Him and to know Him.

Of course there are several great religions in the world that possess sacred writings, and, if this little book were longer, we might have a look at them all


and compare their claims to be the Revelation of God. The chief points to look for in any revelation would be the following:-

(i) Universality. It must be suitable for all mankind and not merely for the Eastern rather than for the Western mind, or for the clever and civilized rather than for the simple and primitive.

(ii) The knowledge of God that it conveys. Since we are assuming that our desire for God is valid, and that there is a God to be known, we look for a revelation that claims to introduce us to God.

(iii) Ability to deal with our sin and failure. If we are really in earnest, we want something more than general ideas about life. Sin is a real problem and must be dealt with.

Tested by these three requirements, the Bible emerges far ahead of any of its rivals. Although it is an Eastern book, it makes its appeal to East and West, educated and uneducated, in a way that, for example, Hindu sacred writings and the Mohammedan Koran have never done. Moreover, the Bible is the only one of the sacred books of the great religions that professes to give us a personal knowledge of a personal God. It deals seriously with sin and its remedy in a way that has commended itself to the consciences of all types and classes of men and women.

At first glance, then, it seems that the Bible has the best claim to be the Revelation of the one true God, and it is worth our while to look further into it to see whether it can substantiate its claim.




From the beginning the Christian church has believed that certain writings were the Word of God in a unique sense. Before the New Testament was compiled, Christians accepted the Old Testament as their sacred Book. Here they were following the example of Christ Himself. During His ministry Jesus Christ made great use of the Old Testament, and after His resurrection He spent some time in teaching His disciples that every section of the Old Testament had teachings in it concerning Himself. Luke xxiv. 27 refers to these teachings as being 'in all the scriptures,' while verses 44 and 45 refer to the threefold division of the Old Testament commonly used at the time, namely the Law, the Prophets and the Writings.

The Old Testament had gradually come into existence through the centuries. By the time of Christ it existed in the form in which we have it today, and was recognized by the Jews as the inspired Word of God. In addition there were some other books, a number of which appear in the Apocrypha, which were later accepted by some of the Jews in Alexandria, but which were not accepted by the Jews of Palestine as of equal authority with the Books of the Old Testament. But the Sacred Writings that Christ had in His Bible were those that we now have in our Old Testament, and, though He accused the orthodox Jews of many things, He did not accuse them of having too many or too few Books in their Bible.


The Christian church, then, started with the Sacred Writings of the Jews. But, in view of the new teaching that had come through Christ, it was necessary that there should be Christian Sacred Writings too. Teachings of Christ, and stories of His life and death and resurrection, were almost certainly written down soon after His ascension, though they were not at once collected into complete Gospels. Then there were Christian prophets, who under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, gave spiritual instruction that was specially suitable for the new Christian church. (1 Cor. xii. 28; xiv.; Eph. iii. 5). Leaders of the church wrote letters; and Paul, whose letters form a large part of the New Testament, is conscious that he teaches under the guidance of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. ii. 13), and, in fact, in 2 Peter iii. 16, Paul's letters are ranked with the 'other scriptures,' a phrase which denotes the inspired scriptures of the Old Testament. A little later the four Gospels were compiled, the Acts of the Apostles was written to give an outline history of some of the more important events in the early church, and, in the Book of the Revelation, there was the further addition of a set of prophetic visions of the future.

We see, then, that, very early in the history of the Christian church, there existed a collection of writings, dealing with the new teaching of Christ, which was used side by side with the older writings, or Old Testament, which our Lord Himself had taught His followers to revere. It soon becomes evident, when these writings are examined, that they claim for themselves a special authority which distinguishes them from other books.


In the Old Testament the claim of the Law is that it was given by God to Moses. The Prophets continually assert 'Thus saith the Lord.' Christ's use of the Old Testament shows that He accepted it as the Word of God. In the same way the New Testament writers use it as the final court of appeal, and make such statements as 'No prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost' (2 Peter i. 21, R.V.); and 'all Scripture is given by inspiration of God' (2 Tim. iii. i6, where the Authorized Version gives the natural translation of the Greek).

The New Testament writings are foreshadowed by Christ's promises, in John xiv. 26 and xvi. 13, that the Holy Spirit would remind the disciples of all that He said to them (the Gospels); and would teach them all things and guide them into all truth (the Epistles); and would declare to them things to come (the Revelation). There is also, as we have seen, the special reference to Paul's Epistles as scripture (2 Peter iii. 16).

As with the Old Testament, there were a few other writings that some early Christians wanted to count as Scripture. Also, there were one or two books that are now in our New Testament that some Christians did not want to admit for one reason or another. The majority of Christ's followers, under the influence of His teaching, had such a high regard for the Old Testament Scriptures, the sacred oracles of God, that they waited quite a long time before publicly recognizing the right of other books to stand side by side with them. But eventually our present books carried the day, and compelled recognition for themselves. This is the best way to express what actually


happened. It was not that Christian leaders met and voted on the matter, but that the church submitted to the position which the books had assumed.

Sometimes people say that 'the church gave us the Bible,' and by this statement they intend to convey the idea that, since it was leaders of the early Christian church who wrote the New Testament and recognized the Old, later Christian leaders have a similar right to interpret or modify the Bible teachings. This idea is found especially in the Roman church, where church teaching is officially put above Bible statements. Thus the Bible tells us that at the Institution of the Lord's Supper Christ specially said that all were to drink the wine; but the Church of Rome refuses to allow the ordinary communicant to drink it.

Instead of saying that the church gave us the Bible, it is more accurate to say that the Bible was given through individual writers specially commissioned by God to provide a permanent record of what He had revealed by His Son and by the Holy Spirit. The church in subsequent ages is "a witness and a keeper of holy Writ" as an Article of the Church of England says, and the life and teachings of the church in each age must be tested alongside this record.




We have seen that from the beginning the Christian church accepted the Old Testament as the inspired Word of God, and rapidly realized that the Holy Spirit was inspiring a new group of writings to stand alongside of the old. No official definition of Inspiration was ever issued by the church. It is not mentioned in the Creeds, because most of the clauses in the Creeds concern points of the Christian faith that had been disputed in the church, and the inspiration of the Bible never was disputed. Everyone believed it. Various explanations have been given of the way in which God inspired the Bible. Some have believed that every writer of the Bible was like a typewriter 'operated' by the Holy Spirit. Others have believed no more than that the writers had a general enlightenment from God.

What I will call the 'Typewriter View' has been widely held in the past and is still held today by some. The chief difficulty about it is that it fails to account for the difference between the style of one writer and that of another. If I type this book first on a Corona and then on a Remington, the result will be precisely the same so far as the style is concerned. But each writer of the Bible has his own definite style, which makes it rather unlikely that the Holy Spirit used the writers like machines.

On the other hand the 'General Enlightment View' is even more unsatisfactory, for it robs the Bible of much of its authority. The idea here is that, in the Bible, we have the record of man's search after God,


with some help from God Himself. In his search man makes many mistakes, and wrongly imagines things to be God's will when they are not God's will at all. Even the New Testament writers are in the same position, and some people would go so far as to say that Christ Himself made mistakes. The result is that, in effect, we have a very fragmentary revelation in the Bible. It is not itself the Word of God, though it may contain the Word of God. We must pick and choose what seems to us to be helpful, and discard things that do not appeal to us, even though they may have been helpful to other generations of Christians. In other words, my mind and my experience must be the supreme authority, and the teachings of the Bible fall into a secondary place.

Now many careful students of the Bible today believe that the truth lies in neither of these extremes, though it comes very much closer to the first than to the second. If the Bible is the Word of God, it is God's revelation to man, rather than man's thoughts about God. But the revelation is made through human agents, who show differences of style and outlook. This is what might naturally be expected of men living in different ages and under differing circumstances. But God chose His men. We can say either that He arranged, or that He knew, the circumstances and upbringing of each of those whom He chose to write a part of His Bible. Amongst the qualities that God would need in each case would be such things as accuracy of observation and a first class memory. When these two faculties were still further helped by the Holy Spirit, God had a man whom He could use for this special task.


In addition it is clear that the inspiration given to the prophets was of a special kind. The prophets themselves, both in the Old Testament and in the New, were conscious that their messages were not the carefully thought out reasonings of their own mind, but came directly from God, though they themselves had to set down in their own words what God revealed in the depths of their spirit. Those who were in contact with prophets knew that there was a difference between them and ordinary teachers. Compilers of history and of proverbs also needed a natural sense of discrimination, in addition to such divine guidance as God gave, to enable them to choose the true and reject the false.

In other words, it is held that God made use of a succession of writers and fitted them by natural gifts and training, as well as by direct spiritual influence, to set down accurately whatever He wished to record in His Bible. This means that, although the style of the Books may vary, there is nothing included in them which God did not will to be there, and nothing omitted which God did will to be there.

This is a sensible view of Inspiration, since it takes full account of the natural abilities of the writers, but at the same time makes it clear that the supernatural power of God was needed to guide their minds and, where necessary, to reveal what they could not otherwise have known.

Here let us dispose of a difficulty, which is not serious, but which some people find rather alarming. If we hold this view of inspiration, are we not saying that a genealogy is as inspired as St. John's Gospel? Undoubtedly we are. But when we say 'inspired,' we


do not necessarily mean 'inspiring,' for we certainly do not hold that a genealogy is as inspiring as St. John's Gospel. The Bible is not all inspired for the same purpose, and, although there are many helpful thoughts for Christian devotion to be drawn from Bible genealogies, the main purpose of including genealogies in the Bible is not for devotional use. They have an historical value, a value which the Bible student can often appreciate today, but which was even more important to the Jews in Old Testament times. After all, the Bible was not given only for Englishmen of the 20th century! At the same time there is probably not a verse in the Bible which God has not at some time used to bring a spiritual message to a Christian and through which He may not speak to you as you read it. But, if you find that reading through the first nine chapters of 1 Chronicles does not give you the same thrill as reading the first nine chapters of St. John's Gospel, there is no need to say that the former chapters are less 'inspired.' Later on you may come to do some special studies on Jewish history, and be very thankful for the genealogies that God has caused to be included. All that is recorded plays its part in the wonderful story of God's influence over human history so that, in spite of all man's failures and sins, world events may finally lead on to the coming of the Kingdom of God.

There are, however, two other difficulties which we probably feel to be rather more serious. One is practical, and the other intellectual. The practical difficulty is roughly this: If the whole Bible is inspired by God, does this mean that every part of the Bible is authoritative for me today? If not, how can I


decide how much is authoritative, and how much is obsolete? Am I not back again at the position which we rejected just now, where I set up my own mind and experience as the final authority?

In accepting the Bible as fully inspired and as our final authority, we do not mean that we can pick any text at random and apply it to our own situation automatically. If we could do this, there would be no need for serious Bible study, and the Bible would be a kind of pocket witch-doctor, that would give us the necessary answers whenever we chose to consult it. But of course the Bible does not work like that, although there have been instances where a single text has caught the eye as the Bible was opened, and this text has proved to be just the help that was needed. But for all practical purposes, it is the Christian who has studied the Bible deeply and continually who obtains the fullest help from it.

The reason for this is that passages in the Bible need to be interpreted in the light of other passages. This is what the Protestant means by 'the right of private judgement.' He does not claim the right to make any text mean what he judges it to mean by itself, but the right to search the Scriptures, seeking the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit, so that he can judge what Scripture teaches as a whole.

This may sound as though we are setting the newly converted Christian a hopeless task. Has he to start with an entirely blank mind, and build up his beliefs bit by bit as he reads his Bible year after year? Fortunately the position is not as difficult as that. We can treat our Christian beliefs in the same way as we treat our scientific beliefs. No scientist


today starts absolutely from scratch. As a student he accepts the instructions of an experienced scientist, and, though he learns to perform tests and experiments for himself, he works on the assumption that certain basic scientific theories are correct. Later on he may find that a few of the theories do not appear to be true to the facts as he observes them. Whereupon he proceeds to go over the whole ground carefully from the beginning, and may find that another group of scientists has stated the deductions from the facts in a more accurate way.

We need not press this analogy in all its details, but, in general outline, it is true of Christian doctrines. There is a statement of Christian belief, gathered from the Bible, that is common to practically all who call themselves Christians. This statement is found in the Creeds. The statements in the Creed about the Trinity of God, and the Person and Work of Jesus Christ can be accepted straight away as an accurate summary of what the Bible teaches, and Bible statements can be linked on to the basic summary in the Creeds. Thus there is no need to start from scratch with your belief in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

But naturally the Creeds are no more than the bare bones of belief. Your reading of the Bible will clothe the bones with living flesh, and here the writings of Bible theologians will be helpful. The results of the studies of careful Bible students are available for any Christian today, and the writers do not demand that you should submit blindly to their opinion, but that you should test each statement by the Bible itself. It is true to say that, amongst


Christians who accept the full authority of the Bible, there is a common agreement as to the teaching of the Bible on the foundation beliefs. It is usually those who refuse to accept the full authority of the Bible who hold different beliefs about the Persons of the Godhead and the work of Christ.[1]

But, to return to our scientist. He may later find that certain theories are not in accordance with the observed facts. Similarly the Christian may find himself introduced to teaching which is additional to the statements of the Creeds, and which does not seem to him consistent with what he observes in Scripture. Sometimes such teaching rests upon nothing more than a possible interpretation of a single text. Or perhaps those who propagate it are dogmatic about some point on which Scripture as a whole is silent. Then the Christian quite rightly feels that he must go into the whole matter for himself, and search the Scriptures carefully to see where the truth lies, as the Bereans did in Acts xvii. ii, when they were faced with teaching that seemed to them to be different from that in which they had been brought up.

Perhaps we have wandered a little from the question with which we began, namely, How can I tell how much of the Bible is binding on me today? But our digression has answered a part of the question, by showing that any statement that comes with the authority of God behind it, if it concerns the Being and Character of God, is binding on us, whether it comes in the Old Testament or in the New. However much man and man's circumstances may change, God


remains the same. But man's circumstances certainly do change, and we in Britain today are not in precisely the same situation as were the Israelites when the Law was given to them.

The fundamental difference between them and us is that, since the Law was given, our Lord Jesus Christ has come. This means that the blessings of God's revelation are no longer confined to one nation. Jew and Gentile have been brought together into a new Body in Christ (Eph. ii. 11-22). Moreover, there are now entirely new resources of power available for God's people.[2] The Old Testament itself foretold that this would be so. The question of why God waited so long before He sent His Son and the Holy Spirit does not concern us now[3]: but the fact that now His Son and the Holy Spirit have come does concern us vitally. Things which were commanded for Israelites living in Canaan under the Law may not be binding on us living in Britain under the New Covenant today. This is not because the Israelites had an inferior or mistaken idea of God, but solely because we are living in different spiritual circumstances.

The ceremonial Law is an obvious example. When Christ died, He abolished the need for sacrifices and for the other ritual of the Law. This truth comes out clearly in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The ceremonial Law was a parable picture of the death of Christ. Then what is the authority of the ceremonial Law? Why should we bother to keep it in our Christian


Bibles at all? The answer is that the regulations of the Law help us to understand more about Christ and, in particular, more about His atoning death. Each detail of the ritual stands symbolically for some aspect of what Christ is, and of what He did on the Cross, and indicates what should be our attitude towards Him and to His death. So that, although the regulations of the Law are not binding on us in a literal way, they have a spiritual authority for us today.

Another part of the Law consists of regulations for the national life of the children of Israel in Palestine. These regulations were to make the Israelites good citizens. In our different civilization we do not keep all these regulations. But the value of them for us is that they show the general principles of justice and righteousness that should underlie the laws of any nation. Even the law of 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' (Exodus xxi. 23-25) is the expression of the legal requirement that, if a man wrongs another, the court must make him pay full compensation for the injury.

The Law about clean and unclean food (Lev. xi.) may be mentioned here, though it involves rather more than purely national regulations. In general most of us would agree with the list, and would not be tempted to eat bats and owls! But most of us enjoy our bacon for breakfast, whereas the Law forbids people to eat pork in any form. That is all very well for us in England. But if you went out to live in a hot country under primitive conditions, it would be quite a good thing to go back to the Jewish Law again; because, under unhygienic conditions, pork is


one of the most dangerous meats that you can eat. So here is an example of where a change in circumstances warrants our treating the Law with a little freedom. None the less the Law was right for the conditions under which it was given, and the general lesson from the regulations .about clean and unclean meats is that God is concerned that we should be the best that we can be for Him in spirit, soul, and body: and that there is such a thing as controlling our appetites for His glory.

But, in fact, we shall find little in this revelation about God's will for man with which we shall want to disagree. After all, the Ten Commandments are still of supreme authority, though the seriously-minded Christian, like the seriously-minded Jew, will not be content to take the Ten Commandments purely superficially. Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. v. 17-48), showed that the moral commands of the Law went a great deal deeper than the surface, and both He and St. Paul took the Ten Commandments and comprehended them all in the command to love God and our neighbour to the fullest possible extent.[4]

With regard to special commands and isolated statements both in the Old and in the New Testaments, their authority for us today must always be deduced from their context, and from a careful comparison with the rest of Scripture. Notice whether the statement claims to have the authority of God behind it. For example, if Jephthah in Judges xi. offered his daughter as a sacrifice to God - and it is


not certain that he did - there is nothing in the chapter to say that God told him to do it, nor that God was pleased with his action. Again, not everything that is said about God in the Book of Job is correct; the Book gives a poetical version of the arguments used by Job and his friends, but only in chapters xxxviii-xli do we have the actual words of God.

Our practical difficulty then resolves itself into this conclusion. An isolated text, taken out of its context, may have no binding force upon my life. I must always think by whom the text was uttered, to whom it refers, and in what circumstances the writer or speaker was living. I must compare it with other passages in the Bible that bear on the same subject. If then I find that the text does not apply directly to me, I shall almost certainly find that there is some moral or spiritual principle involved in it that definitely does bind me.




Leaving, then, the practical problem, we come to the intellectual. No one pretends that the Bible is free from difficulties, but some are rather shocked to find that everything is not perfectly straightforward in a Book that professes to be the revelation of God. What effect do these difficulties have upon the authority of the Bible? Much depends upon whether we approach the Bible as reasonable or as unreasonable people. I should say that if we expect the Bible to be free from difficulty, we are being unreasonable-that is to say, we are arguing from fancy instead of from commonsense.

As Christians we believe that there are three great revelations of God, the universe, Jesus Christ and the Bible. The first two are difficult to understand: why should the third be an exception? If you have read only a small amount of modern Physics, Biology, or Psychology, you know that the universe and the creatures in it are not the apparently simple things that earlier scientists imagined. Man as yet hardly understands the hundredth part of what he sees; and what he does understand appears to be full of difficulties and even of contradictions. The interesting thing, however, is that there is not a single scientist who does not believe that the universe somehow makes sense. When he finds a difficulty, or a discrepancy, or a contradiction, he does not give the whole thing up in despair. He refuses to admit that the contradiction is real, even though for the moment


it appears to him to be a contradiction. He believes that fuller knowledge and further investigation will ultimately clear the matter up. As Christians we agree with him; we believe that the universe is the creation and revelation of God, and therefore that everything in it does make sense. We are puzzled about the difficulties as much as he is, but we do not call him narrowminded and bigoted for trying to harmonize the difficulties.

The same thing is true about God's revelation of Himself in the Incarnation, though here the argument does not have the same strength for those who do not believe in the Deity of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, assuming that you do believe in His Deity, you know that there are all sorts of difficulties in understanding how He could be both God and Man. It is instructive to read the story of how the Christians of the first five centuries struggled to find a formula that would harmonize the Bible statements into a form that would express the Christian belief. People are still writing books about Christ's Person and Nature. These books throw light upon different aspects of His Being, and help us to understand some of the Bible statements about Him, but they do not clear our minds of all the difficulties that we find when we try to comprehend how God could become Man.

Before we come to the difficulties of the third Revelation of God, it is worth noticing that, although there are these enormous difficulties in the first two, they do not affect the ordinary person's experience of the universe and of Jesus Christ. Both are incredibly difficult, and yet both are incredibly simple. You and


I may accept the universe and accept Jesus Christ, and live our lives perfectly happily. Scientists are not the only people who can live to be 70, nor theologians the only people to have eternal life.

The third revelation is the same. Many simple Christians take the Bible as the Word of God, and live by it. They do not find that the difficulties worry them. Others notice the difficulties, and, in the spirit of the scientist, set to work to try to solve them, feeling that this revelation of God also would be free from contradiction and discrepancy if we could only find the key.

As a matter of fact it is easy to exaggerate the difficulties in the Bible. Some books take a delight in collecting them together, so that the casual reader gets the impression that the whole Bible is a mass of problems and contradictions. Looking at the matter from a purely human point of view, it is a remarkable fact that there should be such unity and harmony in a book that was composed by so many men of all types during the course of so many centuries. Do not forget the striking unity by dwelling on the tiny percentage of difficulties.

The difficulties of the Bible fall into two main groups. There are first the scientific difficulties, where the Bible statements are difficult to reconcile with the findings of modern science. Then there are the apparent discrepancies, where one statement does not seem to agree with another statement in the Bible itself. In the second group we can include the places where the character of God in the Old Testament appears to be different from the character of God as He is revealed in Christ.



Most of us would feel that the really serious scientific difficulties come in the early chapters of Genesis. But it is easy to get hold of quite a wrong idea about what these difficulties are. Probably you have been told that the Bible says that the world was created in six days of 24 hours each in the year 4004 B.C. Of course, if this is what the Bible says, the discoveries of science flatly contradict it. But this is not the real difficulty. The main problem is that, so far, the evidence supplied by science and Biblical interpretation is insufficient to show how the two are related. No one knows just how far the Bible account is true in an absolutely literal sense, and how far it is the truth clothed in picture language. Picture language may be just as 'true' as the literal truth. For instance, if I speak of the sun rising or of a kettle boiling, I am not speaking the literal truth, but I am conveying a picture that is absolutely true. The fact is that, although the Bible is not intended to be a scientific text book, and does not use the technical terms of science, this does not mean that it is inaccurate when it mentions matters that normally fall within the scope of science.

The story of the Creation in Genesis i. is pictorial truth. If it had been written in the scientific terminology of Moses' day or of any other day, it would soon have been out of date. If it had been written in the language of modern physics, it would have been incomprehensible to most people, and again would become out-of-date when the language of physics changed. Hence God told the story of Creation in a picture form, showing that it took place in six


great periods, and that, when these six periods were over, God ceased to bring any fresh things into being, though He still upholds all things in life. It has often been pointed out that the order of creation in Genesis i. corresponds to the order agreed upon by modern Science. Was this a lucky shot on the part of the author, or did the account come through the direct revelation of God? The second seems the more reasonable.

I said on page 25 that the real difficulty lies in knowing just how the Bible account is to be interpreted. I have given the interpretation of Genesis i. that is accepted by most Bible students. But it is quite possible to find another interpretation by translating verse 2, 'And the earth became waste and void.' In that case we have an original creation which perished, and a new creation over a period of six literal days. All the fossil remains can then be put in the original period of the earth's existence. This seems less likely, but it is a possible view.

Another difficulty concerns Adam and Eve and their connection with Primitive Man. Here again the real difficulty is lack of evidence. We can push the date of Adam and Eve back into the remote past, and make the ape-like men a degenerate branch of their descendants. Or we can see in Adam and Eve the first pair of 'modern' men, to whom God gave, at their creation, spiritual and mental capacities that the ape-like creatures lacked, and whom He taught the art of cultivation of crops and food. Cultivation is the subject of Genesis ii. Anthropology and archaeology have shown that civilization began in the Mesopotamian area not much before 6ooo B.C.,


and that the cultivation of food crops was probably unknown to the Hominids or ape-like men. We cannot follow this up here, but an interesting book along these lines is "The Origin of Mankind" by the late Sir Ambrose Fleming. Sir Ambrose Fleming may or may not be right, but his book illustrates the point that much more work will have to be done by scientifically minded Bible students before we can say just how and where the Bible account links on to the scientific.[5] But, in the meantime, no scientific discovery (I do not say theory) contradicts the Bible accounts. The gradual fitting of the earth to be suitable for life; the order of the emergence of plant life and living creatures, with man as the last to come into being; the descent of modern civilized man from a single pair in the Mesopotamian district; all this is in the Bible, and modern science has no quarrel with it. If you are interested in mathematics, you might work out the odds against anyone in the time of Moses guessing these things correctly. I imagine that most of us would find it less strain on our credulity to believe that Moses has the facts of Genesis correct because he, or some earlier writer, was shown the truth by God the Creator, while the facts of Genesis ii. and iii. were probably handed down orally, or in written form, from the beginning.

Apart from the early chapters of Genesis, the only scientific difficulties of any importance are some of the miracles. Not many miracles involve the upsetting of what we call the 'Laws of Nature.' Suppose, for example, that you had been present with your


scientific instruments and notebook at the time of the entry into Canaan. You would have recorded an earthquake on a certain date, and noted that it caused a landslide which blocked the flow of water in the Jordan for a time. Actually the same thing has happened at least twice since, the latest occurrence being in July, 1927. There is nothing unscientific in an earthquake, but it was a strange coincidence that it happened just as the Israelites needed to cross the river. As a scientist you would look for associated earthquake shocks soon afterwards, and in your notebook you would record that another violent earthquake did take place. This time it threw down the walls of Jericho. There is nothing unscientific in this. But it was a strange coincidence that the walls fell just as the Israelites, who had no siege engines, needed to go into the city. These coincidences are rightly called Miracles. Incidentally, the recent excavations by Professor Garstang, checked by other archaeologists, have shown that the walls of Jericho did fall down at the date when the Bible says that they did, and the probability is that an earthquake was the cause.

Some people think that all miracles can be explained rationally. This is a matter of opinion, and the case can be argued either way. Even with the crowning miracle of the Bible, the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is possible, if you like, to argue that if ever there were another perfect Man, and if He died, then He would inevitably rise again on the third day. The fact is that we have no way of reproducing the conditions even in the smallest degree, so that we cannot tell whether the Resurrection is an example of 'natural laws' or not.


But in any case the Christian cannot believe that God is completely bound by the laws of nature that He has created. Certainly He is not a glorified conjuror, doing freakish things to make us gasp with surprise. But there are times when, for some wise purpose, He may bring a natural law suddenly and unexpectedly into operation in some striking fashion, or else may modify some natural law in order to produce a desired result.


These difficulties arise when God appears to sanction something that is inconsistent with His character in the New Testament. Here again it is possible to exaggerate the apparent difficulty. In interpreting the Old Testament it is necessary to try to understand the circumstances of the time. God's character is eternally the same. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the Jehovah of the Old Testament. But man's sin, and his slowness of spiritual growth, make it necessary for God to emphasize different aspects of His character at different times. When the Israelites marched out of Egypt and entered Palestine, they had to encounter the religious influence of the natives. They were confronted with beliefs and practices which were calculated to produce a low and degraded idea of God and a religion that was morally bad. In this situation God could not emphasize the love-character of His Being. The people needed to be overwhelmed with the Sense of His majesty and glory. But, at the time when Christ was born, God had become something of a remote and unknown Deity: so the Lord Jesus spoke continually of Him as


Father, and thus restored the balance. But the severity of God is fully in evidence in the New Testament, just as His love is fully in evidence in the Old.

As an example of the severity of God, we might look at the command to destroy all the Canaanites (e.g. Deut. xx. 16-18). Sometimes people think that, because we cannot imagine God giving such a command today, He cannot have given this command to the Israelites; it must have been that they mistook their own inclinations for the voice of God. Earlier in this booklet we saw that the coming of Christ has meant the release of far greater power for God's people. The Holy Spirit applies the power of Christ crucified and risen to our hearts in such a way that we have the power to do things that the Israelites could not do. Christ's command to us as Christians is to go and preach the gospel. But we may doubt whether it was possible for the Israelites, going into the land of Canaan, to evangelize the Canaanites. Careful study of the Old Testament, combined with the findings of Archaeology, has shown that the Canaanites were in the lowest state of moral and religious degradation. Knowing, as we do, how very easily the Israelites fell away from God, we can see that the destruction of the Canaanites may well have been necessary, not only for the sake of the land itself, but also for the spiritual and moral survival of the Israelites, and hence for the survival of true religion. As a matter of fact the Israelites did not obey the command to destroy the Canaanites, and the Old Testament is the story of how they kept sinking into the degraded practices that they found in Canaan.


An analogy may be helpful. Sometimes a part of the human body is so seriously affected that the only way to save the whole body is to amputate the limb. The surgeon who does the operation is not a cruel man, though if a savage were to see the operation he might go back to his friends and tell them that British doctors were as blood-thirsty as any headhunter, because they deliberately mutilated their fellow men. Similarly some people, without understanding all the circumstances, put God's command to destroy the Canaanites on a level with the barbaric actions of heathen nations, done to please their gods. But we should notice that there are to be no tortures or atrocities in the judicial execution of the Canaanites, and the command did not apply to other peoples whom the Israelites might conquer (Deut. xx. 10, 11). In these two respects alone the command of God to the Israelites differs greatly from the practices of the barbarous nations of the ancient East.

The surgeon analogy may be carried a further step. Although in the present state of medical knowledge an amputation may be the only way of saving the whole body, the probability is that, in years to come, doctors will find ways of curing the diseased organ without an operation. When these new ways of healing are discovered, we should certainly feel that a surgeon was doing wrong if he removed the diseased organ or limb when he had well-tried methods at hand to save it. But before those methods were known, he acted rightly in performing the operation. Thus we can see that God's character is perfectly consistent when, at a certain stage in the revelation of Himself and His power, He tells men to act in a


certain way, while, when He makes a far fuller revelation of Himself and His power, He tells men to act in quite a different way.

But even in the command to destroy the Canaanites there is a principle that is binding for the Christian. It is the principle that God is prepared to go to all lengths to eliminate evil, and in the spiritual warfare in which we engage there must be no compromise on our part. Christ said that we must be prepared to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand if they were leading us into sin. Of course He was using the vivid picture language of the East, but what He meant is also pictured by the treatment of the Canaanites.[6]


There are some passages in the Bible which are difficult to harmonize with other passages. But the cheering thing is that, if you are in earnest about harmonizing them, you can. By this I mean that every single one has been tackled by careful Bible students, and some solution has been found for them. Sometimes there are several suggested solutions. Obviously these cannot all be right, but where we have very little evidence to go on, we have to be content with several tentative solutions. A detective who finds several apparently contradictory pieces of evidence in a crime, may work out several theories to explain them. One will ultimately prove to be right, but several may be possible.

Or suppose we approach the matter from the point of view of the writer. If you keep a diary and


also try to write interesting letters home, you will know how easy it is to make a perfectly true statement which someone else could interpret wrongly if they did not know all the circumstances. You might, for example, in describing something that ran on over several days, such as some trouble that you have been in, compress the essential parts of the story together so that the person who reads your letter might assume that everything happened on the same day, although your diary would have shown them that events were separated. This is the sort of thing that happens in the Gospels. There is a great deal of compression.

Here is an example. In Mark v. 21-42 and Luke viii. 40-56 we read of the ruler of the synagogue coming to Jesus to ask Him to heal his daughter. While Jesus is on His way to the house a message comes to say that the girl has died. Matthew, however, in ix. 18-26, compresses the story, and says that the ruler came and said that his daughter was dead, but asked Jesus to come and restore her to life. This is a justifiable compression, and not a contradiction, because we are to suppose that, even after he had received the message of the girl's death, the ruler still urged Jesus to come.

Another very interesting example is found in a comparison of the end of Luke's Gospel with the opening of Acts. From Luke's Gospel we might gather that the Ascension took place on the same day as the Resurrection. But in Acts we find that it was 40 days afterwards. Now the interesting point is that Luke was the author of the Acts as well as of the Gospel. If the two Books had been by different


authors, people would have told us that these were two contradictory accounts, and that it was a waste of time to try to harmonize them: but, all the same, those who did try to harmonize them would be right.

The full discussion of supposed disagreements in the Bible could run into many more pages than we have room for here. In the meantime, if you are interested in this subject, keep your eyes open for apparent disagreements in the things you write and in books and papers that you read. Before long you will have quite a good collection, and you will find that some of them are the same sorts of thing as occur in the Bible, and have similar explanations.



Now that we have come to the end of this book, we can review the whole position. We have not proved the authority and the accuracy of the Bible, because these are things that cannot be proved. But we saw at the beginning that the Bible impresses itself upon us as the authoritative Word of God. If this impression be true, we have a feeling that it ought to be accurate and reliable as well, especially since it appears to claim this for itself. In other words, we come prepared to find it true, and, since God can guide and overrule a man's mind, we expect Him to have done so with the men who wrote the Bible. Otherwise there is a suspicion that even the directly spiritual parts may not be reliable. Now the Bible, when it has been fairly interpreted, has not been proved to be inaccurate. Those who have studied the Bible most deeply have at one time or another given an explanation of every difficulty.

But, in any case, the Bible is not a puzzle book of difficulties. It is the Book that teaches us what God is, what we are, and how we may live a life in close touch with God. It is, in fact, a treasure chest with treasures just inside the lid waiting to be lifted out. And even more than that, it is a gold mine, with the finest gold down below the surface. Day by day we must dig, and become familiar with every vein in the mine. If we dig all our lives, we shall never exhaust it; but our lives will be transformed, and we shall certainly find great riches.


[1] There are a few exceptions, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Christadelphians.

[2] e.g. Jer. xxxi. 31-34. cf. Heb. viii. 7-13; Ezek. xxxvi. 25-27. cf. John iii. 5; Joel ii. 28-32. cf. Acts ii. 16-21. See also John vii. 38, 39.

[3] For a discussion of this difficulty see Christianity and Reason by Dr. B. F. C. Atkinson (I.V.F. University Booklets, 2d.).

[4] Matthew xxii. 36-40, quoting Deuteronomy vi. 4, 5 and Leviticus xix. 28; Romans xiii. 8-10.

[5] See also Modern Discovery and The Bible, Professor A. Rendle Short, pp. 80-83.

[6] For further treatment of this subject see The Goodness and Severity of God, G. N. M. Collins (I.V.F., is.).