Is the Bible just a library of faith? Is it a place to engage with the journaled experiences of the flawed men of faith in the Scriptures? Or is the Bible something more than the mere words of men? In The Genesis of Scriptures (Part 1) we asked whether Christians can approach the Bible as first and foremost the words of men about God. Below, I am going to argue that the Bible itself insists that it is the Word of God given through men. God’s role in the revelation of His Word is superior and preeminent in every way.
Allow me to explain.
Back to the Genesis in Exodus.
That’s confusing. I’m talking about the origin, the genesis, of written Scripture. When was the first time man wrote down any of the words contained in our 66 books of the Bible? Well, it happened after the Exodus from Egypt out in the middle of the wilderness when a man named Moses went up on a mountain.
Here the Israelites were in the middle of nowhere led by a God they didn’t know and a man who had been off the reservation for 40 years. They needed some answers. God Himself began to speak to the people as they stood at the base of Mt. Sinai, but the sound His voice and the specter of His presence accompanied with thunder and lightning frightened them near to death (Ex. 20:18-21). The people pleaded that Moses become an intercessor, a go-between, who would listen to God and report to the people the words of God.
This establishes a pattern that recurs throughout Exodus. Chapter 24 explains plainly: “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord” (Ex. 24:4). God then summons Moses (and Joshua) to the summit of Mt. Sinai, where he slowly ascends into the enveloping fire-cloud of glory that dwells at the top of the mountain. He spends forty days and forty nights up there speaking face to face with God. Then we read, “And [God] gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31:18).
After Moses shatters the two tablets of stone in a fury at the Israelite unfaithfulness (symbolizing how the Israelites broke the covenant before it was even finished being written), he goes back up for a re-write. After another 40 days with God, “Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand…the tablets were the work of God, and the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets.”
This is the first time the people of God receive a written word, and multiple times the author of Exodus points out that these words were written by God, even saying they were written by the finger of God. At beginning of Scripture, we are distinctly told that God Himself wrote these first words.
Am I advocating the position that the writers of Scripture became passive conduits of Holy Writ? Did they pass into a semi-hypnotic state through the subtle wooing of God whereby their pen mystically moved upon the page like the cursor of a Ouija board? Of course not. Even in the instances when men like Ezekiel and John passed into a dream-like state, their cognition was fully engaged in interaction with God.
The point I’m making is that at the beginning, when the Bible was first being recorded, God was the first to put his pen to paper (or more accurately, to tablet!). The pattern that God establishes on Mt. Sinai is a pattern of sending forth his Word through the mediation of men. Sometimes that mediation means taking down the dictation of the LORD and repeating it verbatim to his people as with Moses and the prophets. Sometimes that mediation happens in concert with the writers’ personality, expression, and creativity.
We see this throughout Scripture in the poignant narratives of Judges, the poetic beauty of the Psalms, and the interwoven motifs of the gospel of John. Writers have different styles, personalities, and emphases that shine through in their works.
In Ezekiel 3, we see this mediation. God instructs Ezekiel: “‘Son of man, eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me this scroll to eat…And he said to me, ‘Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them.'” God put his words into the mouth of Ezekiel. When he went to the people, he did not speak with angelic dialect, he spoke with the same accent, pattern of speech, and cadence that was natural to him, and yet Ezekiel was speaking the words of God.
Why All This Fuss.
I could have just jumped straight to 2 Peter 1, but people are so quick to write off anything that sounds like “proof-texting” these days, and I believe that for every good “proof text”, there should be an excellent biblical theology to back it up. However, 2 Peter 1 brings into clarity what I have been trying to demonstrate:
Knowing first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture come from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. -2 Peter 1:20-21
Carried along by the Holy Spirit. Ahh, I forgot all about Him. The Holy Spirit has a strange way of taking God’s will and conforming men and women perfectly to that will: “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). The Bible is a demonstration of the Holy Spirit creating the perfect balance of God’s sovereignty and man’s personal freedom.
Because Jesus, of course.
Ultimately, this pattern, the Word of God mediated by men, is an illustration of who Jesus is. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1-ff). He is the Word of God mediated in humanity. He is 100% God displayed visibly to mankind in human flesh. All of Scripture points to Jesus, and so it is appropriate that it should come into existence in such a way that points to Jesus’ role as the mediator between God and man.
God is the initiator in Scripture. He pursues his wayward people. He sends forth his Word (Isaiah 55; John 1). He foreordains his Son to be the Lamb slain before the foundation of the world (1 Peter 1:19-20). But he chooses to do these things for us through men. This is a glorious part of the grace of God, that his plan is not to eliminate mankind and begin creation all over again. No, through a man, the God-man Jesus, he is reconciling men and women through whom he has begun the renewal of the heavens and the earth. God is a merciful God who chooses to work through men, and so it is even with the writing of Scripture.