Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Verbal Inspiration - Clark/Berkhof

And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2Peter 1:19-21

The idea that God gave his words to the prophets seems to many liberals a mechanical and artificial theory of revelation. God, they tell us, is not to be pictured as a boss dictating words to his stenographer. And further, the writings of the prophets show clearly the freedom and spontaneity of personal individuality. Jeremiah’s style is not that of Isaiah, nor does John write like Paul. The words are obviously the words of John and Jeremiah, not of a boss dictating to several stenographers. The stenographers of one boss will turn out letters of the same literary style; they do not correct his English.

. . .

How then are the differences of style to be accounted for, and what does verbal inspiration mean? The answer to these questions, involving the relation between God and the prophets, takes us quickly away from the picture of a boss and a stenographer.
When God wished to make a revelation, at the time of the exodus or of the captivity, he did not suddenly look around as if caught unprepared and wonder what man he could use for the purpose. We cannot suppose that he advertised for help, and when Moses and Jeremiah applied, God constrained them to speak his words. And yet this derogatory view underlies the objection to verbal inspiration. The relation between God and the prophets is totally unlike that between a boss and a stenographer.

If we consider the omnipotence and wisdom of God, a very different representation emerges. The boss must take what he can get; he depends on the highschool or business college to have taught the stenographer shorthand and typing. But God does not depend on any external agency. God is the creator. He made Moses. And when God wanted Moses to speak for him, he said, "Who has made man's mouth? . . . Have not I, the Lord?" Therefore verbal inspiration, like every other particular doctrine, must be understood in connection with the complete system of Christian doctrine. It may not be detached therefrom, and a fortiori it may not be framed in an alien view of God. In particular, verbal inspiration can be more clearly understood – and can only be properly understood – in its relation to the Presbyterian, the Reformed, the Calvinistic doctrines of the divine decree, providence, and predestination. When the liberals surreptitiously deny predestination in picturing God as dictating to stenographers, they so misrepresent verbal inspiration that their objections do not apply to the Calvinistic viewpoint. The trouble is not, as a liberals think, that the boss controls the stenographer too completely; on the contrary, the analogy misses the mark because the boss hardly controls the stenographer at all.

Put it this way: God from all eternity decreed to lead the Jews out of slavery by the hand of Moses. To this end he so controlled history that Moses was born at a given date, placed in the water to save him from an early death, found and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, given the best education possible, driven into the wilderness to learn patience, and in every event and circumstance so prepared that when the time came, Moses’ mentality and literary style were the instruments precisely fitted to speak God's words.

It is quite otherwise with dictation. A boss has little control over a stenographer except as to the words she types for him. He did not control her education. He cannot trust her literary style. She may be totally uninterested in his business. They may have extremely little in common. But between Moses and God there was an inner union, an identity of purpose, a cooperation of will such that the words Moses wrote were God's own words and Moses’ own words at the same time.

Thus, when we recognize that God does his will in the army of Heaven and among the inhabitants of the Earth, when we understand that God works all things after the counsel of his own will, when we see God's pervading presence and providence in history and in the life of his servants, then we can realize that business office dictation does not do justice to the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit dwelt within these men and taught them what to write. God determined what the personality and style of each author was to be, and he determined it for the purpose of expressing his message, his words. The words of Scripture, therefore, are the very words of God. 

Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation, in "The Works of Gordon Haddon Clark Vol. 4, Christian Philosophy" (Unicoi, TN: The Trinity Foundation, 2004), 185-187.

Concerning "organic" inspiration, Louis Berkhof says in his Manual of Christian Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1987), p. 42-43:

I agree with Dr. Berkhof when he says that God used the prophets just as they were, but I also agree with Dr. Clark when he says that God made the prophets just as they were.

For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother's womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Marvelous are Your works, And that my soul knows very well. My frame was not hidden from You, When I was made in secret, And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth. Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them. Psalm 139:13-16

Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." 

Then said I: "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I cannot speak, for I am a youth." 
But the LORD said to me: "Do not say,`I am a youth,' For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. 
Do not be afraid of their faces, For I am with you to deliver you," says the LORD. 
Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: "Behold, I have put My words in your mouth. 
See, I have this day set you over the nations and over the kingdoms, To root out and to pull down, To destroy and to throw down, To build and to plant."  
Jeremiah 1:4-10

"The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue. 2Samuel 23:2

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