In this lesson, we’ll look at the Scripture’s Self-Witness. As Christians, our Bold Claim is this: The Bible is without error. This is the inerrancy of the Scriptures. Since it is without error, it cannot also err in all of its assertions and what it teaches, hence, it is infallible. It is the Word of God, so, it is incapable of having and committing any error.
Nevertheless, this is our burden: To support such a big statement with some evidence.
Now, where do we begin? We have to begin with the Bible itself! Since the Bible is never found to be a false witness, we have a right to listen to its own claim about itself. This is our DILEMNA: Are we right to appeal to the Bible’s own claim in settling this matter of its authority and inerrancy? How can we defend our trust in this “self-witness” of the Bible?
SELF-WITNESS & JESUS
If men were not sinners, witness to oneself would be enough. Our Lord first agreed with the principle that self-witness is normally not sufficient.
The next verses of John 8:12-14a make clear our Lord’s position that self-witness is reliable where sin does not interfere. Because Christ was never found to be a false witness and no one could prove him guilty of sin (John 8:46), His words could be trusted.
John 5:31-32 “If I testify about myself, my testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in my favor, and I know that His testimony about me is valid.”
John 8:12-14a 12 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 So the Pharisees said to him, “You are bearing witness about yourself; your testimony is not true.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I do bear witness about myself, my testimony is valid…”
IN THE SAME WAY, Since the Bible is never found to be a false witness, we have a right to listen to its own claim about itself. This is the self-attesting nature of the Scriptures.1 This is what Paul argues in 1 Cor 2:11, “For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God.
There are also cases when self-witness is inevitable. For example, a personal life story. When a man writes his own life story, much of it can never be checked because it would never be known unless the author revealed it. He may write about his childhood fears or memories and we must take his word for these things. We either believe what he says or call him a liar. Another is a personal narration of one’s dream. When I relate a dream I had recently; no one can possibly confirm or deny my account since I am the only witness. In this case, you rely entirely on self-authentication and you either trust me or you don’t – depending upon how trustworthy you have proved me to be.
This is also true about the beginning of the universe. There are scientific theories that are beyond the scope of this blog. But we can never be sure about such matters because no scientist was there when it happened. Unless God who was there, had revealed it, we would never have known it.
THE FINAL COURT OF APPEAL
Hilary of Poitiers, a 4th-century theologian, once said, “Only God is a fit witness to himself.” John Calvin also similarly states, “God alone is a fit witness of himself in his Word. . . . Scripture is indeed self-authenticated.” This is indeed true. Hebrews 6:13 says, For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear an oath by no one greater, He swore by Himself.
This is further affirmed by the following verses:
John 10:37-38 37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Deuteronomy 18:21-22 21 And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— 22 when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
From the verses above we can deduce that If the Bible can be proved true wherever we can test it, then we are right to accept its word in those areas where we cannot test it. It is therefore essential that the Bible is seen to be accurate in its history, geography and prophecy – areas that we often can test – in order for us to trust its doctrine, which is an area we cannot test. The accuracy of the Bible in its facts helps to prove its own claim to be a God-given book.
We can also go beyond and say that God’s revelation is our final authority. God has spoken in His Word, the Bible. The Bible itself has a divine imprint. Greg Bahnsen, in his foundational book in defending the faith, Presuppositional Apologetics: Stated and Defended, states: “Faith is humble submission to the self-attesting Word of God. Faith accounts God truthful, faithful, and powerful on the basis of His own Word, not requiring to see demonstrable proof or evidence outside of God’s Word that could confirm it as trustworthy” (64)
Francis Turretin, known as the standard-bearer of the reformation, also strongly affirmed this: “The authority of the Scriptures depends on the origin. Just because they are from God, they must be authentic and divine.” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, vol. 1, 62).
The Scripture is God’s speaking in written form. Because God is trustworthy and true, so is His revelation, the Bible. Because God omniscient and omnipotent, he will not fail in the way that human beings can fail through misinformation or lapse of attention.
THE INSPIRATION OF THE SCRIPTURE
The basis of the Scripture’s inerrancy and infallibility is its doctrine of inspiration.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 16 All Scripture is breathed out (theopneustos) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
2 Peter 1:20-21 20 knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. 21 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.
[Inspiration is] God’s continued work of superintendence, by which, his providential, gracious and supernatural contributions having been presupposed, he presided over the sacred writers in their entire work of writing, with the design and effect of rendering that writing an errorless record of the matters he designed them to communicate, and hence constituting the entire volume in all its parts the word of God to us. A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield
The implication of the verses above is that If “inspired” really means “God-breathed,” then we must accept that all Scripture, being God-breathed, is accurate, without error and can therefore be trusted completely. God would cease to be God if He breathed-out if He breathed out errors and contradictions, even the smallest part.
These are our NECESSARY DEDUCTION:
- Every word in the Bible originated with God.
- Not one word is in the Bible by the will of man.
- Every word is there by the will of God working through inspired men.
- God is the author of the Bible.
- This is how men were preserved from error in what they wrote.
the corruption of inspiration
Throughout the history of Christendom, there are some false views concerning the inspiration of the Scriptures.
- First is the NATURAL INSPIRATION THEORY. This says God selected certain gifted individuals who were born with exceptional insights into the Bible. Thus, Isaiah or Moses received no extra “divine aid” in their writings than did Shakespeare or Milton. This theory is totally refuted by the apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:20-21 where he says 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.
- The second corruption is GENERAL INSPIRATION THEORY. Here we are asked to believe that only the main thought of a paragraph or chapter is inspired. Stated another way, God gave a series of key statements to the Bible writer and then instructed him to flush it out in his own words. Both David and Jesus however spoke against this view in 2 Sam. 23:1-2 and Mt. 5:18. That is why we affirm t
- Third is THE PARTIAL THEORY. This says that only certain ‘parts’ of the Bible are inspired. The liberal theologian would of course hold this position, cheerfully accepting those portions of the scriptures which deal with love and brotherhood, but quickly reject the passages speaking of sin, hell, and future judgment! Paul denounces the partial theory in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 .
- Fourth is THE SPIRITUAL-RULE-ONLY THEORY. This says the Bible may be regarded as our infallible rule of faith and practice in all matters of religious, ethical, and spiritual value, but not in other matters such as some of the historical and scientific statements found in the Word of God. This is pious nonsense. This theory is soundly refuted by Jesus himself in John 3:12 since He also spoke of earthly things.
Against the false views above, we affirm the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. Plenary means full and complete. Therefore, the whole of the Scripture from beginning to end and inclusive of all its parts, is inspired. Jesus never said the scriptures contain the word of God. He said they were the word of God (Luke 24:44-45, John 10:35, Mark 7:13). Verbal inspiration refers to the inspiration of the Scripture that extends down to its very words, not only the thoughts, or whenever you feel, but each word of the autograph was given divine inspiration.
- The fifth error is THE MECHANICAL THEORY. This says that God coldly and woodenly dictated the Bible to his writers as an office manager would dictate an impersonal letter to his secretary. It should be noted here that the Bible is the story of divine love, and God is anything but mechanical or cold concerning this subject.
Against this theory, Charles Hodge unhesitatingly voiced out, “The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as his organs . . . The sacred writers impressed their peculiarities on their several productions as plainly as though they were the subjects of no extraordinary influence.” (Systematic Theology, vol. I, p. 157)
In all of these, we uphold Objective inspiration. It means that the Scripture does not only become the word of God to us when we read it, or God only made himself known to the writers and left them to their own, or God only supplied their thoughts or ideas but the authors are left to commit these to writings.
According to J.I. Packer, The revelation, the thoughts and the words are all from God. Thought implied words not inspired thoughts express in uninspired words. “If the words were not wholly God’s, then their teaching would not be wholly God’s.’
There is a harmony between the DIVINE and HUMAN authorship…not divine here and human there, but at once divine and human in every part, every word, and every particular. (B.B. Warfield, Concurcus)
The Scripture is enough for us since it is the very word of God written for His people that they may know Him. So, we agree with the two historic theologians when they said,
Vainly do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things. (Athanasius)
I have covenanted with my Lord that he should not send me visions or dreams or even angels. I am content with this gift of the Scriptures, which teaches and supplies all that is necessary, both for this life and that which is to come. (Martin Luther)
Jonathan Edwards also asked, “Why can’t we be contented with the divine oracles, that holy, pure Word of God, that we have in such abundance and such clearness now since the canon of Scripture is completed?”
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
*This blog post is based on our notes on Bibliology provided by our pastor.
1 The reader is encourage to read My Sheep Hear My Voice: Canon as Self-Authenticating by Michael Kruger, and The Self Attestation of Scripture and Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit by J.V. Fesko.