Dakotas Christian Believers Arena
Come on in and browse 
   Home      Revelation And The Bible


by Carl Henry



OUR LORD’S use of Scripture: what a magnificent subject for reflection and

what an example for a Christian! Let us study the way in which, with his

intelligence and knowledge, Christ quoted, interpreted, expounded, and

made use of the Scriptures of the Old Testament. Since he is our Master,

without question the most eminent “exegete” of all times, let us derive

from his teaching practical ideas and precepts concerning the manner in

which a Christian, whether a simple believer or a scholar of the Church,

can and should use Scripture in the fight of faith or in his witness before

others. In this brief study we shall take into consideration only Christ’s

explicit quotations, and we shall pass over those made by the evangelists

and those which are no more than allusions. Where there are parallel

passages we shall, in the interest of simplicity, ordinarily cite only from



The formulas with which Christ introduced his quotations are familiar:

Scripture, the Scriptures, the Law, the Prophets, the Law and the

Prophets, It is written, and so forth. These designations are very important,

for they refer always to the canonical Scriptures. Although they do not

describe the limits of the Canon, they suppose the existence of a complete

and sacred collection of Jewish writings, which as separate and fixed, is

distinct from all other literature. I leave to others the task of saying more

about this, and in particular of explaining why we believe that Christ, in his

own quotations, was referring to the same Canon as ours.

Whether taken from the Hebrew or from the Greek (LXX), the quotations

of Christ are very often free (<430817>John 8:17; <401905>Matthew 19:5; 22:37-39)

and sometimes interpretative (<401110>Matthew 11:10; <420727>Luke 7:27). On

other occasions Christ chooses from within the prophecy he is citing that

which emphasizes his meaning (<402631>Matthew 26:31; 15:7-9). He also

shows a great exegetical profundity, for example, in <401509>Matthew 15:9

(<232913>Isaiah 29:13), where he combines the Hebrew version and that of the

Septuagint by saying: “teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men,” or

in <401314>Matthew 13:14-16 (<230609>Isaiah 6:9-10), where he gives preference to

the Greek version because the historic aorists “is waxed gross,” “are dull of

hearing,” “their eyes they have closed,” express exactly that which he

wishes to emphasize, namely, that there remains but very little to add to

what this people have done up to the present in order to fill up the


In the Sermon on the Mount the formulas “it was said” (<400527>Matthew 5:27,

31, 38, 43) or “it was said to them of old time” (21, 33) are quite different

in form from those which introduce genuine citations of Scripture. Here

Christ makes no pretense of quoting Scripture in its proper sense (cf.

<400543>Matthew 5:43), but the precepts of tradition, supposedly founded on

Scripture, which restrict or even modify the scriptural teaching. He is

speaking quite simply as an expositor, to the end that we may know what

the Law is, what is its object, and what the extent of its application. But

the position of evangelical Christians on this point is well-known; and so

we shall not spend more time over it.

Elsewhere, in order to explain the sense and the force of the Law, Christ

really quotes Scripture. He does so in connection with the Sabbath, the

importance of vows, marriage, and the resurrection.

The Sabbath

The Pharisees regard as a violation of the Sabbath the fact that the disciples

had plucked some ears of corn for the purpose of eating the grains

(<401202>Matthew 12:2), or that Jesus used to heal the sick (<430722>John 7:22-24),

on that day of the week. But Jesus answers them with Scripture, putting

into practice the principle of the analogy of faith: You cannot accuse my

disciples without accusing David who, on the Sabbath day, ate the

shewbread (<092103>1 Samuel 21:3-6). That which is forbidden for a particular

purpose is therefore rendered lawful by reason of necessity. Do the priests

cease from their duties on the Sabbath day? Does not the Law command

them to serve in the temple, to offer up animals in sacrifice (<042809>Numbers

28:9), to circumcise infants (<031203>Leviticus 12:3), and to perform all that the

service of God demands? From your argument it follows that the Law

contravenes the Law. If the temple service sanctifies the manual tasks

required in the worship of God, it is the Law itself which shows that these

ceremonial demands are not absolute: whoever makes them so contradicts

the Law. The ceremonial law is subservient to a higher law: the satisfaction

of the spiritual needs of the people, the acts of worship by which God is

honored and glorified; and so it proclaims restrictions regarding the work

of the people at the same time as it commands a temple ceremonial which

necessitates work. Restrictions and prescriptions are by no means ends in


And what then is circumcision? It is not a work performed for God, but a

sacrament, and thus a blessing of God. It is the religious purification of the

procreative organ; it is the sign of a partial healing of the body. Can it be

said that on the Sabbath day he who is circumcised does not receive with

the sacrament the blessing of which it is the seal? Would not the

postponement of its administration because the eighth day falls on a

Sabbath be a violation of the Law of Moses? How is it that what is an

inviolable law in the case of Moses can, according to you, provide a

ground of accusation against me? It is therefore permitted also to heal a

man completely on the Sabbath day (<430723>John 7:23). For Moses, the

conferring of a blessing, even a small one (a partial healing), is so

important that he does not make the Sabbath an obstacle to it; for you, a

very great blessing (the complete healing of a man) is so small a thing that

you make the Sabbath an obstacle to it! How is it that you do not sanction

a great thing when Moses commands a small thing? “Go and learn what

this means, I desire mercy and not sacrifice” (<400913>Matthew 9:13; <280606>Hosea

6:6). For faith and spiritual service, with charity, are of themselves pleasing

to God; but sacrifices are nothing when they are despoiled of their truth

and reality, and are not related to their purpose.

Christ does not abolish the Sabbath by this exegesis in accordance with the

principle of the analogy of faith: the divine works do not violate the

Sabbath. He restores it to its true purpose. “The sabbath was made for

man, and not man for the sabbath” (<410227>Mark 2:27): it is therefore

improper and wicked to convert to the injury and ruin of man that which

God has ordained for his benefit.


In <401503>Matthew 15:3-7 Jesus attacks the theory of vows so dear to the

Jews and so contrary to Scripture. To establish a tradition without openly

abolishing the Law of God, but by means of an indirect transgression, is to

“make void the word of God.” Engrossed as they were in their own

service, the Jews no longer had leisure to give thought to the true Word of

God. If their exegesis is at fault, it is because they renew the hypocrisy of

the generation of Isaiah, who well prophesied concerning them in saying

that their heart is far from God (<232913>Isaiah 29:13). Now, the source of all

exegesis is in the heart.


The conflict over the subject of divorce, which set the rigorist school of

Shammai and the liberal school of Hillel in opposition to each other, is well

known. It is the view of Hillel that the Pharisees present to Jesus

(<401903>Matthew 19:3-9). They ask whether it is lawful, showing that they

considered marriage and its dissolution to be a matter of civil legislation.

For the purpose of “testing” Jesus (the Gospels emphasize this) the

question was indeed well chosen, for it was to be expected that he would

be unable to give an answer without placing himself at a disadvantage. If he

says Yes, the Pharisees, invoking Shammai, will tax him with laxity; while

if he adopts Shammai’s position, how will he justify his leniency towards

certain sinners? If he rejects both Hillel and Shammai, and declares himself

against all divorce, they will be able to accuse him of contradicting Moses.

But Jesus replies that marriage was instituted by God, that it is an

ordinance of creation and not a civil institution. Whoever separates those

whom God has united by his own creation opposes himself to God and his

will. He reproaches them for a reading of Scripture that is both partial and

partisan. Besides, Moses did not prescribe, but only permitted the

dissolving of marriage in a legal manner, and then only because of the

“hardness of their hearts.” In no way did the permission of Moses modify

the original intention concerning the permanence of marriage.

The reply of Jesus shows the unsuspected resources of Scripture for him

who knows it and uses it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and in

accordance with the analogy of faith. It points the Christian to the wisdom

and the profoundness with which he can escape from the dilemmas that

human casuistry and rationalism propound. Let us seek to follow the

example of the Master, and to do so in the same spirit!

The Resurrection

In <402223>Matthew 22:23-28 the Sadducees put forward a purely theoretical

and unrealistic question, which envisages an impossible situation, an

example of the kind which those invent who study Scripture with their own

logic, “because they know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”

Moreover, their reasoning is absurd because, according to them, there is no

third term; in the world to come the same conditions of existence would

prevail as here below.

It is probable that the Sadducees refused to acknowledge any canonical

authority other than that of the Pentateuch. If this was the case, we see that

Christ refutes their false deduction from Deuteronomy by a valid

deduction from Exodus (<020306>Exodus 3:6), that he elucidates one passage of

Moses by another passage of Moses, and that at the same time he

authenticates the truth of the resurrection of the dead which that patriarch

has already made known (<402229>Matthew 22:29-32; <422027>Luke 20:27). At the

level of the texts or of the method he confutes his adversaries with their

own weapons and on their own ground, but he causes them to realize that,

on the spiritual level, a question of this sort arises from their blindness and

not from the Scriptures.


To each question and to each objection Christ replies with the Scriptures

and no one is able to prove him wrong (cf. <431032>John 10:32-36). His

exegesis — unknown to his interlocutors — reduces them to silence. By

the constant use of the principle of analogy — Scripture interprets

Scripture — he overrules his contradictors, and stands far above the parties

from which particular heresies emanate because they see only a single

aspect of the questions and of the Biblical teaching, devoid of any spirit of

synthesis and of any true spirituality. We see it again in the case of the two

questions: “Master, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal

life?” (<401916>Matthew 19:16) and “Master, which is the great commandment

in the law?” (<402236>Matthew 22:36).

In challenging the rich young man to sell his goods and to give to the poor,

Christ is requiring nothing beyond the commandments of the Law, to

which he draws attention. The young man has committed no fault outside

the observance of the Law, but in the observance of the Law. But as the

simple words of this Law convince insufficiently of his condemnation

Christ expresses its inner meaning in other words.

In order to understand the importance of the second question we must

remember that the rabbis had no less than 613 commandments:248 that

were positive and 365 that were negative. In case of conflict, the more

important took precedence over the less. But how was one to judge of

their importance? The Sadducees rejected all the commandments of the

Pharisees which were not literally written in the Law and did not follow the

tradition of the fathers. Was Jesus going to take his stand with them? By

his simple and direct reply Jesus avoids any objection that he is

overthrowing the Law in its capacity as the permanent standard of justice.

The Law, general and particular, negative and positive, material and

spiritual, is the perfect and complete expression of the eternal and constant

will of God.

The Jews desired to honor and magnify the Law: “Great is the Torah,” said

the sages, “more than truth, for it contains the Truth, more than justice, for

it contains Justice, more than love, more than forgiveness, for the Torah

contains Forgiveness, the Torah contains Love.” Nevertheless, it is Christ,

and Christ alone, who explains and reveals, by the Scriptures alone, the

Truth, the Justice, the Forgiveness, and the Love of the Law. That is why

when he speaks of “your Law” (<430817>John 8:17; 10:34) or “their Law”

(<431525>John 15:25), and not “mine,” far from discrediting the Law, Jesus

honors it. His relation to the Law is different from ours: the Law was never

given to him. No more can Jesus say of Abraham “our father”; he says

“your father” (<430856>John 8:56), for Abraham is not his father in the same

sense that he is the father of the Jews, and in this way Jesus indicates the

difference of his human descent.


As exegete, as prophet, and as teacher, Christ expounds the Scriptures. It

is equally by them that he proves himself to be the Son of David, the

Messiah, and the King. He affirms it at Nazareth by his reading of

<236101>Isaiah 61:1-2 (<420416>Luke 4:16-19, 21). This prophecy refers in the first

instance to the return from the captivity and has certainly been fulfilled in

this sense. Yet it is remarkable that in this place the prophet speaks in the

singular, as though assuming the character of the Christ, so that what he

says might be more effective in restoring confidence to the hearts of the

faithful. Christ interprets these words as directly concerning himself.


alone, in fact, has received the fullness of the Spirit in order to be the

witness and ambassador of our reconciliation with God; he alone, by virtue

of his Spirit, performs and fulfills all the blessings promised here. And this

word is fulfilled in Jesus, the Servant of the Lord and the Messiah, who, at

the time when he is speaking, is in the very midst of this fulfillment.

Apart from <390301>Malachi 3:1 (<420727>Luke 7:27; <401110>Matthew 11:10), where

Christ confirms the authority of John the Baptist and to his own advantage

distinguishes between God, the Messiah, and his messenger, undoubtedly

the most categorical assertion of his divinity, confirmed by Scripture, is

found in <402241>Matthew 22:41-44. According to the Pharisees the Messiah

ought to be solely a son of David, a messiah who is merely man, however

great his human glory and power may be. Because they read Scripture with

blinded eyes, his divinity remained hidden from them.

On the eve of Palm

Sunday Christ desires to reveal himself plainly as the Messiah, Son of

David and King of Israel, at the same time that he is seeking to constrain

the Pharisees to trust in him, since certain among them are not far from the

kingdom of God (cf. <411234>Mark 12:34). But, among the multitude of

David’s descendants, how is the true Messiah to be distinguished? If the

people are not to be left in uncertainty, what is the distinctive mark which

would place one of the sons of David above the rest and which would

point to him as being beyond doubt the promised Messiah? Scripture must

provide the answer to this question! Christ was able to establish his legal

descent on the one hand (Matthew 1) and his natural descent on the other

(<420323>Luke 3:23); but that was not sufficient.

The text to which Jesus appeals is very remarkable: “The Lord said… ”:

Ne’ um Yahweh; literally, “a declaration of the Lord,” a declaration, that is,

most secret, of a mystery. “To my Lord”: Adonai. Christ puts forward the

Davidic descent of the Messiah as an incontestable fact. He declares that it

is David who wrote Psalm 110, that Yahweh can call this son of David

nothing less than the Adon of David — a distinction which, even for Jewish

exegesis, is here a clear revelation of the persons of the Trinity — , and

that it is in the Holy Spirit (<411236>Mark 12:36) that David wrote this, not in

terms of contemporary realism, like many other prophecies, but on the

basis of an ideal, revealed and realized only in the coming of Christ. If that

were not the case, the present line of argument, instead of establishing his

deity, would discredit it. In this psalm David distinguishes clearly between

himself and the person of the Messiah, his descendant and at the same time

his all-powerful Lord; he even announces his glorification and his royalty.

To be sure, his divine essence is not expressed explicitly, but it is easy to

conclude that it is God himself who is exalted above all creatures.

The Pharisees and the chief priests thought that they were the sole

competent judges of the redemption to come, so much so that no one

ought to be accepted as the Messiah unless they themselves had accepted

him and declared him to be such. They arrogated to themselves the honor

of distinguishing, among the sons of David, the authentic Messiah. By the

parable of the husbandmen Christ demonstrates to them that the contrary is

the case, and cites in support <19B822>Psalm 118:22 (<402133>Matthew 21:33 ff.), a

prophecy which he in his turn treats in a prophetic manner: it is not at all by

the consent of men, but in spite of them, that the Christ will reign by the

power of God.

The Jews believed that when Christ came he would set up an earthly

kingdom over which he would reign for ever. In signifying the manner of

the death he would die (<431232>John 12:32) Jesus arouses the question of the

multitude, to which he replies, without any explanation, that he himself is

the true light. To Nicodemus Christ describes himself as the antitype of the

brazen serpent. The miracle of healing by a simple look at the brazen

serpent is so real for Jesus that it is the type of a yet greater miracle:

whoever believes in the Son, and in the Son crucified, shall have

everlasting life. By the verb “to lift up,” without the use of allegory, these

two liftings-up are compared in their saving significance.

In contradistinction to the Jewish concept of an exclusively glorious

Messiah, Jesus appeals to several passages from the prophets (<410912>Mark

9:12; <402631>Matthew 26:31; <422237>Luke 22:37; <402653>Matthew 26:53-54;

<411449>Mark 14:49). The two words which he uttered on the cross, crying

with a loud voice, are two quotations from the Psalms which the people

were able to hear and recognize as a fulfillment. Only the Spirit of

prophecy could have placed at the beginning of this psalm the supreme cry

of the agony on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken

me?” (<402746>Matthew 27:46). It is not because David, who is not here a type

of the Messiah, wrote this line that Christ utters such a cry, but it is

because Christ was to cry thus that David wrote as a prophet.

Contrariwise, in <422346>Luke 23:46 (<193105>Psalm 31:5) Jesus utters this cry like

David, but the latter is only the type. Jesus says “Father”; David was not

.dying and said, “I shall commit,” and God saved him. But the enemies of

Christ are already vanquished; his distress is past; he has gained the

victory: “It is finished!” It is with peace and joy that he himself commits

(note the force of the middle voice: paratithemai) his spirit, and it is thus

that the Father receives it.

Again, it is by the Scriptures that Christ witnesses to his kingship. Replying

to the indignant priests, by the prophecy of <190803>Psalm 8:3 (<402116>Matthew

21:16), he affirms that it is indeed as the Son of David, the Messiah-King,

that he has come, and all those who acclaim him do exactly as he desires.

In <402664>Matthew 26:64 (<19B001>Psalm 110:1; <270713>Daniel 7:13), before the

supreme tribunal of his nation, it is under the testimony of an oath that

Christ affirms the true reality of his office and person, and foretells his

glory and his future coming. They will see him henceforth no more until

they say: “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord!”

(<402339>Matthew 23:39; <19B826>Psalm 118:26). Enlightened by the Holy Spirit,

some will see him in this world with the eyes of the spirit, and in heaven

with direct vision; but in the case of those who have hardened themselves,

that which took place in the days of Noah or of Lot will likewise take place

at the coming of the Son of Man (<402437>Matthew 24:37-39; <421728>Luke 17:28-

30). Here Jesus is stigmatizing that blindness which is wicked, culpable,

and damnable. All the preliminary signs of judgment will be explained

“naturally,” “reasonably,” even “scientifically,” if it is necessary, until the

fatal day dawns. Nonetheless, the writings of the prophets will be fulfilled.

It is by the witness of Scripture again that Christ refuses miracles and calls

to repentance. At Nazareth he justifies his attitude by the example of Elijah

and the widow of Sarepta (<111709>1 Kings 17:9) and of Elisha and Naaman

(<120514>2 Kings 5:14). On several occasions the Jews request him to confirm

his vocation by a miracle (<430630>John 6:30-33; <401238>Matthew 12:38-42;

<421129>Luke 11:29-32). This is symptomatic of the Judaism of that time! It no

longer knows the blessing of hearing and keeping the Word of God; it

turns its back on the signs of grace and forgiveness brought by Christ, and,

like so many in our own day, desires only a sign “from heaven,” nothing

more than a prodigy!

Christ replies, in the first place, that he himself is the miracle they seek: the

living bread which comes down from heaven, in order that he who eats of

it may live forever. As his questioners have cited Scripture, Christ

expounds Scripture and explains what was the bread of Moses and what is

the bread of God. Since the Jews reject this miracle of grace which is the

Christ, Christ refuses them any other miracle, for another miracle would be

impossible to God or to himself except by discrediting all the other signs

which Jesus gave or was, or by abandoning the plan of grace. The sign of

Jonah is both appropriate and sufficient for them: not his preaching, but his

disappearing into the belly of the great fish, where he was thought to be

dead, but where he was preserved safe and sound, and whence he came out

alive, as from a sepulchre, to go and preach to the Ninevites, according to

the will of God. As a miracle of God’s omnipotence, Jonah is the type of

the resurrection of Christ. When Jesus is in the tomb the Jews will think

that his career is at an end, but it will not be so at all: he will come back

and his powerful work will continue according to the divine will. They will

hear the voice of the risen Prophet, though they refuse to receive him now.

The Ninevites and the Queen of Sheba will rise up in the day of judgment,

together with this generation, and will condemn it: “For here is a greater

than Jonah, and a greater than Solomon.” “Except ye repent, ye shall all

likewise perish!” (<421305>Luke 13:5). Like every calamity, the collapse of the

tower of Siloam (<421304>Luke 13:4; <160315>Nehemiah 3:15) is a warning from

God to escape from everlasting destruction, a divine appeal to repent in

time. Anticipate the scourges of God, therefore, by a voluntary repentance!

If, like the Samaritans in the time of Hosea (<281008>Hosea 10:8), you fail to do

this, you will prefer sudden death to the horrors of a long siege (<422330>Luke


“The Father which sent me, he hath borne witness of me” (<430537>John 5:37).

In the Scriptures the Father has borne a complete witness, provided long

since and which abides for ever. Abraham himself saw the day of Christ

and rejoiced at it (<430856>John 8:56). Why then do the Jews not receive this

witness? Because, says Christ, “you have never heard his voice, you have

never seen his face, and his word does not dwell in you at all, since you do

not believe in him whom he has sent” (<430537>John 5:37-38). The Scriptures

praise and magnify Christ throughout their length; for without .Christ the

Law is empty. Now the Jews were sure that they had eternal life in the

Scriptures, but they thought they could have it without the Christ. How

could the Law confer life without Christ when it is he alone who gives it

life? That is why Jesus cries: “Search the scriptures, because ye think that

in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me;

and ye will not come to me, that ye may have life!” (<430539>John 5:39-40).

Jesus is trying to overcome their unbelief. He confronts them with the

Scriptures in which they put their trust. To turn away from this

confrontation is to acquiesce in the judgment of Jesus. But to reject the

Christ is to reject Abraham and to reject Moses: “There is one that

accuseth you, even Moses, on whom ye have set your hope. For if ye

believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe

not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (<430545>John 5:45-47). The

true Moses — not the image which they had made of him — is the one

who will condemn them! These verses are weighted with terrible


But just as the Jews hardened themselves against the preaching of Moses,

they harden themselves against the preaching of Christ. Thus the prophecy

of Isaiah is fulfilled unto them (<401314>Matthew 13:14-15; <230608>Isaiah 6:8-10),

susceptible as it is of repeated applications, in the time of the prophet, in

the time of Jesus, and in every age, because of the general principle which

it contains. Certain events of the New Testament are, in fact, of the same

nature as those of the Old: they are parallels. Thus Jesus applies to himself

what David spoke of himself (<431524>John 15:24-25; <193519>Psalm 35:19; 69:5).

For the Jews who have hardened their hearts against the word and the

works of Moses and the prophets, harden them equally against the works

of Christ, though they be such as “none other has done.” They are

therefore in no sense better than their fathers who had hated David. That is

why all the murders which have been committed, from that of Abel unto

that of Zachariah, will be judged in the persons of them all (<421150>Luke

11:50-51), for in their wickedness they are the authentic posterity of Gain.


The use which Christ makes of the Scriptures against temptations and

occasions of stumbling is very interesting. When he first quotes Scripture it

is in order to overcome temptation: “It is written” (<400404>Matthew 4:4, 7,

10). In defending himself Christ wields the shield of Scripture, “a shield,

not of straw, but truly of brass,” says Calvin. This is the one and only way

of waging battle if we wish to win the victory. When Satan misuses

Scripture by mutilating a quotation from <199111>Psalm 91:11-12, with a view

to making the life-giving Word of God become mortal to Christ and to

changing good food into poison, it is once again with Scripture that Christ

repulses such insinuations. As always, it is the principle of the analogy of


When Jesus quotes <330706>Micah 7:6 (<401035>Matthew 10:35-36) it is for a

pastoral purpose. He warns his disciples of the hostility which they may

encounter, because of their faith, in their own families or in the world,

because of the corruption which is revealed wherever the gospel is present.

Let no Christian be troubled when he finds that his faith and his person are

the object of disparagement or of hatred, and sometimes the cause of

distressing separations.

In a whole series of texts Jesus seeks also to protect those who are his

against every offense resulting from the scorn of which he will be the

object, and particularly his sufferings and crucifixion (<410912>Mark 9:12;

14:19; <431319>John 13:19; <402142>Matthew 21:42; 26:31, 53-54, 55-56; <422237>Luke

22:37-38; 24:26). It is also “even as it is written of him” that John the

Baptist, the last Elijah, was treated (<410913>Mark 9:13), where Christ

undoubtedly refers to I Kings 19, Elijah being the type of John the Baptist,

as Jezebel is that of Herodias. In this way Christ instructs his own

concerning the necessities required for our redemption, concerning his

perfect knowledge of events, and concerning the freedom with which he

goes of his own accord to death — things which we ought to know in

order to be able to glorify God.

Since, however terrible and offensive the spectacle of his humiliation may

be, these things are written in Scripture, believers ought not in any way to

be troubled at them, so much the more as they are not distant nor separated

from Christ. The disciples must accept the Redeemer such as God had

already promised him to be: the Christ of Isaiah 53. A necessity is

enclosed in every prophecy, however ancient it may be, a necessity which

follows its course across the centuries until the present. No prophecy can

fail of fulfillment. But, in fact, this necessity is found in God alone: the

necessity of his love, his eternal and free will to save the world by Christ,

not at all an abstract necessity which we can discuss in a philosophical

manner, as though God could not have done otherwise.

It is in this way

that it is found expressed in the Scriptures. A spirit, a will, a plan are at

work in history, where God is accomplishing his purposes, even before

they take shape as occurrences. Nothing comes to pass apart from his

providence and his free determination. It is for this reason that the

Scriptures must be fulfilled. “When some absurdity astonishes us,” says

Calvin, “there is no more suitable remedy for removing the offence than the

recognition that so it was pleasing to God, and that whatever happens as a

result of His ordinance does not come about rashly or without a good and

just reason, especially when the event which we see taking place has been

predicted of old.” When the will of God is manifest to us we have no other

duty than to keep silence and to maintain our obedience to his decrees.

It was needful also that the disciples should be warned of their own

feebleness: when the shepherd has been struck down the flock will be

dispersed. As this dispersion is made known to them in advance, it will not

dishearten them to such an extent that they imagine themselves to be shut

out from all faith. They will learn, besides, to rely on their Shepherd, for

Zechariah adds the promise that God will stretch out his hand in order to

lead his dispersed flock back to himself.

In the prophecy relating to Judas (<431318>John 13:18; <194109>Psalm 41:9), Christ

reveals his perfect knowledge. What offense the treachery of Judas, an

apostle chosen by Christ, could arouse in the hearts not only of his

companions but of believers in every age! They must not believe that Jesus

has been commonly betrayed and that he is the powerless victim of a man;

from the apparent “success” of the traitor they must not draw conclusions

capable of calling into question his deity or his divine power and

knowledge. That is why Jesus not only declares that he knows all about

Judas, but that he had chosen him in order that he might betray him. It had

to be so, because it had been foretold. Jesus knew that Judas was only a

son or a product of eternal damnation, a son of perdition (<431712>John 17:12),

a title which was given him not because of the treachery which he

committed (ex eventu), but because he was actually going to perdition, “to

his own place,” according to <440125>Acts 1:25. Indeed, if in Psalm 41 David is

the type of Christ, Ahithophel is that of Judas. It is not possible that Judas

was unaware of this allusion or that he failed to remember the tragic

manner in which Ahithophel ended his life by hanging himself (cf. <101723>2

Samuel 17:23). Oh the kindness of Christ who by this quotation as well as

by the dramatic end which it suggests seeks, if possible and before it is too

late, to touch the heart of Judas and to call him to repentance! We see the

perfect knowledge of Christ who, once again, prophesies by making use of

a prophecy of Scripture.

Knowing all this, Jesus shows, finally, the perfect freedom with which he

goes to the cross. It is Jesus himself who authorizes the success of Judas,

for he knows his intentions and is able, if he wishes, at any moment to

frustrate his plans. It is Christ himself who ought not at any moment to do

anything to escape the death to which he knows the Father is calling him.

In the Garden of Gethsemane he had only to speak for his opponents to be

thrown back to the ground: he therefore commits himself voluntarily into

their hands. Thus the Scriptures are fulfilled in order that the disciples may

believe. Christ is not at the mercy of Judas: on the contrary, Judas is in fact

at the mercy of Christ. ‘Christ was not captured by the guards: that was

something they could not do. Let them not have, then, even this

opportunity of pride and this personal satisfaction of boasting of victory

gained! The schemings of wicked men, however, will not succeed in

robbing Christ of his dignity: he will maintain the place which the Father

has ordained. “It is marvellous in our eyes!” the wonder of the love and

omnipotence of God.

Acting in this way, Christ reveals the existence of a continuous process

throughout the whole of history. The use which he makes of <381307>Zechariah

13:7 and of the prophecies relating to his sufferings and death introduces a

new conception of the meaning of history. Undoubtedly, these passages

are prediction, and the life of Christ is their fulfillment which cannot be

found elsewhere. Undoubtedly, the prophecies of the smitten Shepherd and

of the Servant of the Lord are also a summary of the history of Israel. The

connection, however, between a prophecy and its fulfillment is deeper than

the simple foreknowledge of an isolated event and its fulfillment. In a

certain sense we are able to say that the event is foreseen because it is

already in reality a [act. God calls things which are not as though they

were, for it is sufficient that he should call them for them to be.


relationship of God with Israel, moreover, had been established in all its

essential factors since the most remote times. It is in an authentic and true

sense that “the Lamb has been slain from the foundation of the world”

(<661308>Revelation 13:8). That is why in this, the profoundest penetration of

the meaning of history that we can conceive, Christ is able to say: “All

things concerning me have been fulfilled” (<422444>Luke 24:44), These

prophecies do not depict the portrait of Christ such as he ought to be, but

such as he was. An original prophecy and its quotation by Christ are not

found to be remote from each other: they prove, both of them, to be at the

very heart of the same course of events; they reveal the visible action of

forces operating long since in human history and, at their point of

culmination, leading to the drama of the cross. This is the sole satisfactory

interpretation both of these passages and of the drama of the cross. “The

things which God foreshewed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his

Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled” (<440318>Acts 3:18). “All this is come to

pass, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (<402656>Matthew


By the sequence of his admonitions by means of Holy Scripture, by their

growing precision and frequency until the fatal moment, by his vision of

history, we see to what point Christ carried — and still carries — the

concern for strengthening those who are his, his warnings full of instructive

meaning, the delicacy of his love, the care which he takes to prepare the

hearts of his disciples of all times for an authentic glorification of God and

his work throughout the world’s history. Here, again, is an example for us

to follow.

This revelation of the prophetic meaning of the Scriptures and of the

purposes of God — a cause of joy, of assurance, and of victory — is fully

granted by Christ to the disciples of Emmaus and to the Eleven (<422425>Luke

24:25-27, 44-47). “Beginning from Moses and all the prophets, he

interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”

Jesus himself is found in all the prophets. The whole economy of the Old

Testament is centered in Christ. The gospel therefore is found also

throughout the Old Testament where nothing can be understood without

Christ. In the Law one can, one must, discover Christ, his covenant, his

mediation, his kingship, the universality of his reign. We would give a great

deal to have a list of the passages which he cited, and much more to know

his exegesis. But we must search for them ourselves, ceaselessly claiming

the enlightenment of his Spirit. Indeed, “He opened their mind, that they

might understand the Scriptures.”

Lord, open our mind also, so that we may understand the mysteries of God

and of thy salvation, and may search them out as they are contained in the

Scriptures alone, since thou dost not give us thy Spirit to do away with the

use of thy Word, but so that it may be useful and salutary to us!


From the manner in which Christ quotes Scripture we find that he

recognizes and accepts the Old Testament in its entirety as possessing a

normative authority, as the true Word of God, valid for all time. He

believes in inspiration by the Holy Spirit since the time of Adam

(<401905>Matthew 19:5), in the infallibility of the oracles which he utters to the

instruments which he has chosen (<401314>Matthew 13:14-15; 15:7-9), in the

Davidic authorship of Psalm 110, for example, and in David’s full


He seals with his authority numerous facts which are related in Scripture,

and the historicity of numerous events: we are therefore instructed to

believe them all. He believes in the creation by God, in the existence of the

first couple (<401904>Matthew 19:4), of Cain and Abel (<421151>Luke 11:51), of

Noah, in the reality of the flood and its results, and of the ark and its saving

function (<402437>Matthew 24:37-39); he attests the destruction of Sodom and

the tragic death of Lot’s wife (<421728>Luke 17:28-30, 32).

Moses, to whom he accords divine inspiration (<401503>Matthew 15:3-4), is his

prophet (<430546>John 5:46). Ever since the creation and all down the ages, in

the laws and institutions, the ceremonies and rites, the prophecies and

promises, Christ is continually present in the mind of Moses who, in his

person and in his office, is a type of the coming Mediator. Thus Christ

emphasizes the continuity and the consistency of revelation in its entirety,

the unity of the old and the new dispensations of the Covenant. He believes

in the miracle of the manna (<430631>John 6:31-33, 48-51), in the healing of

those who, trusting in the promise of God, simply fixed their eyes on the

serpent of brass (<430314>John 3:14). He believes in the miracle whereby the

widow of Sarepta was sustained in the time of famine, and in the healing of

Naaman. He believes in the miracle of Jonah who spent three days and

three nights in the belly of a great fish, in the repentance of the Ninevites,

and in the salvation of a large number of them (<401239>Matthew 12:39-41;

16:4; <421132>Luke 11:32).

“The Scripture cannot be broken” (<431035>John 10:35). It is unalterable,

indestructible in its truth, indifferent to every denial, to human ignorance

and criticism, to charges of error, and to subjective attacks. Let us then be

instructed and convinced! The Holy Spirit prevents us from accepting the

opinion of those who say that Christ was governed by the intellectual

outlook of his time and country, and who oppose his testimony in the name

of “modern scientific methods.” For us, the thought of the Master is

canonical. It is an external authority superior to all the most venerable

rabbinical, ecclesiastical, and scientific authorities. The witness of the Holy

Spirit in our heart disposes us to prefer the affirmations of Jesus. For us,

the authority of Christ is a mystical fact of the first order, for we know the

power with which his Word is impressed on our faith. In humility we

receive his witness which guarantees to us the formal authority of the Old

Testament and its divine inspiration, which is the principle of this authority.



Today many Protestants refuse to make this identification. One of the

contributing factors in this change of attitude is the unwillingness to

consider a record divine which is marred by inaccuracies. The Bible may

contain the Word of God, or be the vehicle for the Word, it is said, but can

no longer be equated with that Word itself.

It is maintained that the view of verbal inspiration could hold the field only

so long as the divine factor in its composition was magnified to the neglect

of the human. Obviously, if God be admitted as the Author of Scripture,

error in the original text becomes unthinkable, lest the very character of

God be impugned. The demand for more recognition of the human element

in the Bible is sometimes fortified by an appeal to the theanthropic person

of our Lord. In him the divine consented to be yoked to the human with all

its limitations. So, it is contended, the divine factor in the making of

Scripture was pleased to yoke itself to the human despite the frailties of the

latter. The comparison is interesting, but if it is made from the standpoint

of seeking to justify the ways of God in producing his Word through men

who stained the record with errors, the comparison is quite inept, for it

logically involves the imputation of shortcoming in one way or another to

the person of Christ. It would be more appropriate to point to the

phenomenon of the Christian worker, who may be labelled a man of God,

despite his sinfulness, because of the operation of God upon him and

through him, but in that case the analogy with a unique activity of divine

inspiration breaks down.

The advocate of verbal inspiration quite naturally seeks on his own part to

make use of the prestige of our Lord in order to buttress his position. This

is done principally by appealing to Christ’s blanket endorsement of the Old

Testament as unbreakable Scripture, the very Word of God. Since many of

the problems lie in the Old Testament field, this appeal takes on all the

greater significance. The citing of Christ’s attitude toward the Old

Testament, however, involves a problem of its own. Criticism in the

modern sense had not begun. We can hardly say that Jesus’

pronouncements on the Old Testament were framed in anticipation of the

attacks which would be made on it many hundreds of years later.

Consequently, his affirmations on Scripture cannot be invoked with the

same force as though the modern issues were in his mind. On the other

hand, in view of the perfection of his humanity and the fullness of his

wisdom, we rightfully expect that his comments on the Old Testament are

fully reliable and like all his words shall never pass away and shall never be

outmoded by advancing knowledge.

We turn from our Lord’s own testimony to the modern debate over


Most writers seem agreed that the modern formulation of the doctrine of

verbal inspiration belongs not to the Reformers but to the dogmaticians

who succeeded them. But certain statements in Luther are quite

harmonious with the rigid position of his successors. More recent

evangelicals have outlined the requirements of the doctrine of verbal

inspiration in somewhat diverse ways. A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, in

a joint article, affirmed that, “A proved error in Scripture contradicts not

only our doctrine, but the Scripture claims, and therefore its inspiration, in

making those claims” (Presbyterian Review, Vol. II, p. 245). Francis L.

Patton, on the other hand, declared, “It is a hazardous thing to say that

being inspired the Bible must be free from error; for then the discovery of a

single error would destroy its inspiration. Nor have we any right to

substitute the word ‘inerrancy’ for ‘inspiration’ in our discussion of the

Bible unless we are prepared to show from the teaching of the Bible that

inspiration means inerrancy — and that, I think, would be a difficult thing

to do” (Fundamental Christianity, pp. 163f.).

One must grant that the

Bible itself, in advancing its own claim of inspiration, says nothing precise

about its inerrancy. This remains a conclusion to which devout minds have

come because of the divine character of Scripture. If a person has become

convinced by the study of the Word that its majesty and perfection can only

be accounted for on the basis that the text was free from error as originally

given, such a person ought not to be charged with intellectual dishonesty if

he refuses to let perplexing problems in the sacred record move him from

this solid conviction. He may feel bound to seek explanation for the

problems, and perhaps be dissatisfied with the explanations he receives, yet

he continues to rest in his conviction, lest the abandonment of his position

mean the forsaking of Scripture as the Word of God.

It is quite possible that one who stands firm in the belief that the Bible,

being God’s Word, must be free from error, may count it presumptuous to

investigate the tension points very closely. He fears being drawn into the

role of a critic of the Word of God instead of being submissive to its

pronouncements. He does not deny the function of criticism in a theoretical

sense, but practically he is hesitant to employ critical methods in the effort

to determine whether or not mistakes do occur. One who follows Dr.

Patron’s lead is liable to admit the legitimacy of critical investigation but

may not care to permit himself to go very far lest the vindication of his own

principle of liberty of investigation should turn up difficulties which might

embarrass him in continuing to hold a high view of Scripture.

Consequently, it has been left largely to so-called liberals to expose and

press the problems. It would seem that the only healthy attitude for

conservatives is to welcome criticism and be willing to join in it. No view

of Scripture can indefinitely be sustained if it runs counter to the facts.

That the Bible claims inspiration is patent. The problem is to define the

nature of that inspiration in the light of the phenomena contained therein.

Let no one imagine it is an easy task. Can we expect agreement, for

example, on what constitutes error? The scientific age in which we live has

put a premium upon precise accuracy. Must we impose our standard on an

ancient Book? We think we know what truth is. The chances are we are

thinking in Hellenistic terms, identifying truth with what corresponds to

reality. But the writers of Scripture were not as greatly influenced by this

conception of truth as by the Hebrew conception which identifies as truth

what corresponds to the nature and purpose of God. Sin is truth if the one

standard is applied, for sin is certainly real. But it cannot be truth in the

higher sense of being in accord with the nature and purpose of God. The

annalistic accounts of the kings of Judah found in the books of Kings take

us into the realm of history as ordinarily understood. Here the customary

standard of truth may fairly be applied. But in Chronicles the same period

is presented from quite a different standpoint. The concept of God’s

covenant mercy mediated through David and his house dominates the

treatment of the history. It is more internal than external. How can we say

that one is more true than the other?


Are we justified in appealing from our present text to supposedly infallible

originals? Such a procedure is sometimes ridiculed on the ground that no

one living has ever seen such infallible originals. True enough. But as Dr.

Carl Henry once observed, no one has seen the fallible originals either. The

one is as much a presupposition as the other.

But is inspiration not jeopardized by uncertainties about the proper reading

to be followed in some passages? When it is alleged that there are

thousands of variant readings, this situation can be made to sound wellnigh

hopeless. Differences in the several English versions which have

succeeded one another during the last 350 years reflect changes made in

the Greek text by modern editors on the basis of manuscript discovery. But

an elementary fact remains. There is a text of Scripture. The Bible is not an

undefined literature which has attained its form by some hit-or-miss

process, and which ought now to be completely remade by admitting a

flood of variant readings. The vast bulk of the Word of God is not affected

by variations of text at all. Many of the variants concern differences in

spelling only. Others can be readily accounted for as scribal embellishment.

It is true that as the wealth of materials increases, the task of certifying the

proper reading in a given instance may be made more difficult. Yet, despite

all this, comparatively little alteration in the text may be looked for in days

to come.

The real problem for textual criticism lies in the difficulty of working back

to the autographs. The pre-Massoretic period in the transmission of the

text of the Old Testament and the first hundred years of the history of the

New Testament text are the sore spots. The Dead Sea Scrolls of Old

Testament books present examples of proto-Massoretic text, proto-

Septuagint, and others which do not conform to either type. Perhaps still

more ancient texts will some day come to light to aid the process of

certifying the wording of Scripture. Meanwhile, we must rest in the fact

that whereas copying has created some uncertainties, the great bulk of the

Bible remains unchallenged and its spiritual message shines through to the

reader undimmed.


Since the Biblical faith is rooted in the conviction of the activity of God in

human history, events gain significance both in themselves and in relation

to one another. Therefore the Bible is concerned with chronology. This is a

difficult field, even for the specialist, so that agreement has not been

attained on all points. But a good example of progress is the work of

Edwin R. Thiele on the period of the divided kingdom (The Mysterious

Numbers of the Hebrew Kings, 1951). He summarizes his findings as


When we once accept the premise of an original reckoning of reigns in Israel

according to the nonaccession-year system with a later shift to the accessionyear

method; of the early use in Judah of accession-year reckoning, a shift to

the nonaccession-year system, and then a return to the original accession-year

method; when we begin the regnal year in Israel with Nisan and with Tishri in

Judah; when we take into consideration the existence of a number of

coregencies; and when we recognize that at some late date — long after the

original records of the kings had been set in order and when the true

arrangement of the reigns had been forgotten — certain synchronisms in 2

Kings 17 and 18 were introduced by some late hand strangely out of harmony

with the original pattern of reigns — when all this is understood, we have

shown that it becomes possible, to set forth an arrangement of reigns for the

Hebrew kings in which we find both internal harmony and agreement with the

facts of contemporary history (p. 268).

The findings of this scholar have been widely accepted, and should give

encouragement for further progress in other areas of chronological



Are the figures given in the Biblical narrative trustworthy? To begin with,

it should readily be granted that some numbers are not intended to be

exact. For example, a clan in Israel was called a thousand. This is an

arbitrary figure, and it is highly unlikely that it was anything more than an

ideal figure — like a regiment which is often not up to full strength.

One of the complaints lodged against the Biblical narrative is that numbers

are often exaggerated. For example, it is doubted that the children of Israel

could have increased in Egypt to the point that they were a nation to be

reckoned with, 600,000 men, besides women and children (<021237>Exodus

12:37). It is pointed out that the repressive measures of the Egyptians

would have prevented any such increase. But the Scripture attests the

futility of the effort to check the growth of the male population

(<020118>Exodus 1:18) and expressly informs us that the more the children of

Israel were oppressed the more they multiplied (<020112>Exodus 1:12). It was

the enormous growth of the people which caused alarm among the

Egyptians and led to harsh treatment (<020107>Exodus 1:7-11). If it be insisted

that such a large number of people could not have survived the rigors of

life in the wilderness, one can agree. The Bible does not assert that Israel

maintained itself in the wilderness. Apart from God’s supernatural care the

sojourn there would have been impossible. If one cannot accept the

miraculous he will naturally quibble at the numbers.

Another tension point is the population figures given for the towns

captured by Israel at the conquest. The tels of these places, as they are

examined today by archaeologists, are small and apparently quite incapable

of containing such large numbers as the records assign to them. The

problem is real. One factor in a possible solution is the fact that such

population figures as 12,000 for Ai must surely have included the people

who ordinarily dwelt outside the city and carried on agriculture in the

surrounding country. They would rally to the city in time of siege.

More perplexing is the conflict in figures found in parallel passages of the

same event. Professor H. P. Smith prepared a list of these (Inspiration and

Inerrancy, pp. 250f.). For example, it is stated in <101018>2 Samuel 10:18 that

David destroyed of the Syrians 700 chariots. In <131918>1 Chronicles 19:18 the

number is put at 7,000. Dr. Smith proposes that the Chronicler was

desirous of enhancing the glory of Israel’s golden age, which now lay in the

past, and he did this by altering the figures. If so, it is strange that <140925>2

Chronicles 9:25 should state that Solomon had 4,000 stalls for horses and

chariots, whereas the earlier annalistic record of I Kings 4:26 states that he

had 40,000 stalls. The pattern is not consistent. Some have thought that

abbreviations were used for figures and that these were sometimes

misconstrued by those who used the texts at a later time. No explanation

that has been given is entirely satisfactory. Here one must simply confess to

having insufficient data for a judgment. It is amusing to note that Dr.

Smith’s figures do not jibe with the text in the case of <101006>2 Samuel 10:6,

for he lists the men of Tob as 1,200, whereas the text has 12,000 — an

unwitting lesson to all of us about the difficulty of transcribing numbers



All will agree that the records of our Lord’s life and ministry are central to

the whole gamut of Scripture. But not all agree that they are trustworthy

accounts, in which case they cannot have been inspired of God. One of the

most devastating lines of criticism used to question the record is the

contention that the tradition has been so thoroughly shaped by the

viewpoint and needs of the early Church that we are practically without

any reliable means for forming a truly historical picture of what transpired

in the life and labors of Christ. This is one of the fruits of an extreme

application of the form-criticism method. Granting that the interest of the

Church may have been greater in some things that pertained to the tradition

than others, because of the bearing on its own situation, this does not mean

that the Church altered the tradition. Selection does not mean perversion.

The tradition was grounded on the testimony of witnesses, men who had

companied with Christ. It would be utterly inconsistent with such witness

to alter the tradition, especially when many of these witnesses were still

alive and active in the leadership of the Church. The tradition in written

form, preserved in the Gospel records, cannot successfully be opposed to

the oral tradition which preceded it, as though the tradition had lost its

reliability by the time it was inscripturated. The only reason for putting the

tradition into written form was to preserve that which had been the oral

teaching of the Church from the time of its inception.

The first three Gospels possess certain marked similarities, having

considerable material in common and looking at our Lord’s ministry from

essentially the same perspective. They are therefore called Synoptic

Gospels. It is widely agreed today that these accounts make use of sources,

whether written or oral or both. Mark is viewed as the basic account, for

Matthew and Luke appear to have made liberal use of his narrative.f19


addition, they utilized other sources. Attempts have been made to show

that even Mark is composed from previously existing sources. All this

sounds unbecoming to the notion of inspiration. What room is left for

divine action? A moment’s reflection, however, will shed a different light

on the situation. The Old Testament which was so heartily endorsed by

Christ and so reverently held by the early Church to be the Word of God

had already been constructed in part along similar lines, for the use of

sources is often indicated throughout the historical books. We have no

reason, therefore, to raise any a priori objection to this methodology in the

composition of the Gospels.

If the Gospel writers imply their dependence upon one another’s work by

the similarity of the wording in many places, yes, even identity of wording,

they also reveal something of their own reason for writing by the variations

of their narrative when touching the same material. They have a special

aspect of Christ which they wish to magnify. Or they have in mind a certain

type of reader. So, for example, we may instance Luke’s words in

reporting the cries of the crowd at the triumphal entry of Christ — “Glory

in the highest,” instead of “Hosanna in the highest” as in the other Gospels.

Luke knew that his Gentile readers would be unfamiliar with the word

Hosanna, so he did his best to express its meaning in a way which would be


Verbal alteration is not an isolated feature, for it occurs also in the parallel

accounts of the Old Testament. It is present too in many of the quotations

made by New Testament writers from the Old Testament. The more one

emphasizes the alterations in the wording of the quotations, the more

impossible it becomes to explain these deviations on the basis of

carelessness or errancy. Schoolboys could do a better job of mere

transcribing than the New Testament writers have sometimes done. It

becomes necessary to suppose that a divine power was present in them,

leading them in the interest of fulfillment and application to use language

which differed at times from that of their Old Testament exemplars.

If the Gospel writers had been interested in presenting records which

would meet the test of verbal agreement, they would certainly have labored

to harmonize their accounts. There is nothing superficial or flippant about

these accounts. Clearly they were written with all soberness and in the

consciousness of handling truth. But that truth was capable of multiform

expression which gained its unity from its great Subject and from its

Author, the Spirit of Truth.

Verbal contradictions do occur in the Gospels. One of the most famous is

the “staff” passage which recounts Jesus’ directions to the disciples

governing their preparation for the preaching tour they were about to

undertake. According to <410608>Mark 6:8 a staff was permissible, whereas

bread, pouch, and copper coins for the girdle were ruled out. The parallel

passages in <401009>Matthew 10:9 and <420903>Luke 9:3 differ in that they include a

prohibition of staff as well. Are we to take the common sense approach

and say that staff and sandals (which the Markan account also allows) were

necessary items, whereas bread and pouch and copper coin contained

occasions of temptation to provide for oneself and even store up a supply

in advance? If so, then the other accounts may represent what Swete calls

“an early exaggeration of the sternness of the command.” Or are we

entitled to think that the more sweeping demands of Jesus in the Matthew

and Luke accounts better suit the spirit of the narrative, with its note of

urgency and complete dependence on God? It is odd that these two should

agree together against Mark. Perhaps the text of Mark originally read as

they do and it was altered at a very early date. Speculation cannot do much

to resolve the riddle. Whatever be the explanation, this sort of thing is rare

in the Gospels, for ordinarily they flow along together with only minor

changes in terminology which do not materially affect the meaning.

Sometimes one Gospel appears to add to another something which alters

the sense. In the report of the Sermon on the Mount, Luke has “Blessed

are ye poor,” whereas Matthew has “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We

need not suppose that Matthew had Luke’s text before him and

consciously added to it. The saying, as it circulated in the tradition,

probably had the form Luke gives it. Matthew’s terminology is something

of an interpretation which is also in the nature of a safeguard against a

misunderstanding of the purport of Jesus’ saying. Poverty is not in itself a

blessing nor does it by itself convey a spiritual benefit. But redemption

history reveals the truth that the poor are apt to be those who, though

oppressed by their fellows, commit their case to the Lord and trust in him

to vindicate them. They may even have become poor because their piety

made them a target of ungodly and unscrupulous men who knew they

would not use worldly methods to defend themselves. We should ask

ourselves whether it would have been better for Matthew to leave the

words of Jesus in the bald form found in the tradition, or whether the

addition is not justified both in the mind of Christ and in the verdict of

history. There does not appear to be any antecedent reason why

interpretation, which is so prominent a part of the epistles of the New

Testament where they touch the person and work of Christ, should not

also find a place in the records of his life and work which the Gospels

afford us. Particularly is this so when it is recalled that the epistles, in

greater part at least, preceded the Gospels in order of composition. Their

influence on the Gospels in this respect must not be ignored.

No further attention need be given to the factor of verbal differences in

parallel accounts, since reason and experience teach us that the same thing

can be stated in more than one way without loss of accuracy. Were the

accounts slavishly similar, suspicion would be engendered that they had

been made to agree out of an ulterior motive to furnish an appearance of

harmony which the facts did not warrant.

A question may properly be raised about passages which stand in only one

Gospel. This problem does not concern Mark, for practically all of his

record reappears in some fashion in Matthew or Luke. But in the latter two

Gospels we find not only individual sayings but whole blocks of material

which are peculiar to the Gospel concerned. A very radical approach to the

problem might conclude that because these items are not found in the basic

Gospel of Mark, they are therefore to be suspected as alien to the original

tradition. But on what basis can we judge that Mark is the sum total of

legitimate early tradition? The words and deeds of Jesus were far bulkier

than any of our Gospels or all of them put together. So, for example, the

saying of Jesus in Matthew 16 about the Church has no counterpart in the

other Gospels, but it can easily be defended as an authentic saying of Jesus

rather than something read back into the tradition from a later time to

justify the Church’s existence and Peter’s prominence in relation to it. As

R. Newton Flew observes, “The Semitic colouring of these verses is

unmistakable. The opening beatitude, the designation of Simon by his

father’s name, the Rabbinic expression of ‘binding and loosing,’ the

eschatological struggle with the powers of the underworld — all these are

indications of a primitive origin for the whole paragraph” (Jesus and His

Church, p. 90).

In an inspired record we might expect to find events recounted in exactly

the same order in parallel accounts. This is not the case, although the

Synoptic Gospels do preserve a broad pattern of agreement in regard to

the movements of Jesus as well as his utterances. But there are exceptions,

such as the order of events in the Temptation and Jesus’ rejection at

Nazareth. This latter item is placed almost at the beginning of the Galilean

ministry by Luke. Matthew and Mark have it much later. Generally

speaking, there is no such thing as an inspired order of narration. As noted

above, one may detect a broad chronological pattern unfolding in the

Gospels, but it is obvious that within that framework the writers exercised

considerable liberty in the placing of individual elements of the story. They

can only be held blameworthy in so doing if they have committed

themselves to a strict chronological sequence, and this they have not done.

Are the Gospel writers guilty of accretion? Have they added to the basic

tradition imaginative or legendary elements, or have they been influenced

to color their accounts by intruding material which derives from early

Church usage but which is anachronistic for the period of the Gospels?

This problem is another aspect of the comparative study of the Synoptics.

To begin with we can rule out any suggestion that the tendency to

accretion is such an organic thing that we can trace it through the various

stages of the tradition. On the contrary, it is a well-known fact that in

repeated instances the accounts which Matthew and Luke present are

briefer than the account given in Mark, the basic Gospel. Examples are the

story of the woman with an issue of blood, the Gerasene demoniac, John

the Baptist’s imprisonment, the cure of the epileptic boy. The Gospel

writers were not afflicted with a mania to enlarge upon what was

commonly received.

Matthew is the one chiefly accused of taking liberties with his material. In

certain incidents he introduces two men where the parallel accounts have

only one, as in the case of the Gerasene demoniac (<400828>Matthew 8:28) and

the blind man at Jericho (<402030>Matthew 20:30). The animal used at the

triumphal entry has a foal, which is not mentioned in the other accounts

(<402102>Matthew 21:2-7). But curiously enough, in the story of the

resurrection, Matthew, like Mark, notes only one angel at the tomb,

whereas Luke refers to two (the same is true in John’s account). It would

seem impossible, therefore, to find a pattern of accretion that is consistent.

One could properly speak of error here if the texts which specify a single

participant made it definite that there was one and only one. This is not the

case. The possibility of a plurality can then be granted on principle.

An ecclesiastical interest has been detected by many writers in the case of

Matthew’s Gospel. It is said that the baptismal formula in connection with

the Great Commission, to cite one example, is a reflection of the developed

usage of the Church at a later time and cannot be attributed to Jesus

himself. This sort of criticism is arbitrary. What is the background for such

a trinitarian statement as is contained in the apostolic benediction (<471314>2

Corinthians 13:14) unless it be the very utterance of Jesus referred to by


Luke also is characterized by elements not found in the other Synoptic

records. We are not thinking of blocks of material peculiar to his Gospel,

but of additions where the narrative is held in common by the Synoptists.

One example will suffice, the case of the two malefactors crucified with

Jesus. Mark and Matthew are content to narrate the fact of the cocrucifixion.

Luke alone tells of their conversation with Christ and with one

another, climaxed in the repentance and faith of one of them. As a historian

who made inquiry about the events of the life of Christ before setting his

hand to writing, Luke must have learned of this development and so

included it. We can hardly charge a man of his historical judgment with

embroidering a story in order to give it greater human interest.


John’s account of our Lord’s ministry follows a path so completely

different from the Synoptics that it overlaps in only about ten percent of

the material. It makes the ministry longer than the express statements of

the other Gospels require, and it locates the scene of Christ’s labors

preponderantly in Judea rather than in Galilee. Is this historically justified?

Since the Gospel materials combined give us only about 30 days of activity,

it is evident that the Synoptic tradition is by no means a complete account

of our Lord’s active ministry. An extensive Judaean ministry is not out of

the question. In fact, it is demanded by the Synoptics themselves, for they

present the visit to Jerusalem as involving a verdict of death for Jesus as a

fact assured in advance. Only John’s Gospel gives us the true explanation

for this state of affairs, for it indicates that Jerusalem has had its

opportunity to evaluate Jesus and that the decision has been negative.

Incidentally, the Synoptics in their own way testify to the presence of Jesus

in Judea before the final journey. The story of Martha and Mary is only one

example of several which tend to establish his presence in the vicinity of

Jerusalem on more than one occasion prior to the closing days.

A striking feature of John’s Gospel is the discourse material. Here Jesus

makes no use of the typical parabolic medium of the Synoptics. The

addresses are mainly occupied with his own person and credentials.

Sometimes they become dialogues between himself and his auditors. In

many ways they reveal contrast to the discourses in the other Gospels. It is

significant that Jewish scholars have experienced less difficulty in receiving

these discourses as authentic than many critics of Christian persuasion, for

they recognize how closely they parallel Rabbinic examples. Verbatim

reporting was not expected on the part of a faithful disciple as he made

available the sayings of his esteemed master. This freedom of expression

did not necessarily involve unfaithfulness in the fulfillment of his task.

The basic question which keeps emerging even in the Synoptic report of

Jesus’ Galilean utterances is the person of Jesus in the sense that the very

nature of the teaching involved an assumption of authority which was

inseparable from the mystery of his being. In John’s Gospel this question is

more overtly discussed. The very openness of the discussion may be

explained, at least in part, by the identity of those who heard our Lord. In

the main, those who listened to the Johannine discourses were not the

simple folk of Galilee but the custodians of Israel’s traditions and hopes,

the leaders of Jewry. Their position would require them to scrutinize his

claims. This can be only a broad generalization, to be sure, for John 6

reports a discourse in which the common people were the auditors, and it

is heavily Christocentric in its emphasis.

The cleansing of the temple is given an entirely different location in John

than in the Synoptics. Instead of placing it at the close of the ministry, as

they do, where it proves to be the event which crystallizes official Jewish

opposition and triggers the developments which lead to Jesus’ death, John

puts it early. And since he has no cleansing of the temple at the close, he

substitutes, as some think, the story of the resurrection of Lazarus as the

occasion for the action of the Sanhedrin against Jesus. There is no

necessity whatsoever for supposing that John invented the story of

Lazarus’ resurrection in order to provide a basis for official Jewish action

against Jesus. The deepening opposition to him, attested both in John and

the Synoptics, and the several attempts to capture him or put him to death

during the course of his ministry, make it possible for events to have run

their course even without a cleansing of the temple during the Passion

week. But a proper understanding of the course of events is facilitated

when we retain both cleansings. The former one helps to explain the

exasperation of the Jewish hierarchy which is noted in connection with

every subsequent visit to Jerusalem. It explains, too, why Jesus felt it

expedient to leave Judea and pass through Samaria into Galilee, as stated

in John 3 and 4. The second cleansing, on the other hand, comes in

naturally as the sequel to the triumphal entry and the prelude to the seizure

and trial. Commercial traffic in the temple courts could easily have been

revived by the time our Lord came up to Jerusalem for the final visit.

Into the much discussed question of the nature and the time of the Supper

mentioned in John 13 in relation to that mentioned in the Synoptics, we do

not propose to enter here, except to say that the key may still be missing

for the solution of the difficulty. John’s references to the Feast as still

future from the standpoint of the meal eaten with his disciples (<431329>John

13:29; 18:28) may possibly be explained as pointing to the Feast of

Unleavened Bread, which was sometimes designated by the term Passover

(<422201>Luke 22:1). Some have conjectured that John was operating on a

different calendar than the Synoptists, perhaps reflecting the calendar

dispute which the Qumran community had with official Judaism. More light

on this whole problem is urgently needed.

It is our conviction that John wrote with full knowledge of the Synoptic

tradition, not to dispute it or displace it, but to build upon it and give it a

more definitely theological interpretation than his predecessors had



Opportunity for criticism in this area arises from the fact the same general

period is covered by the latter half of Acts and by the epistles of Paul. Acts

reports the movements of Paul and the founding of his churches. The

epistles reflect Paul’s movements to some extent and reveal his principles

and methods. These writings are nearly all accepted as authentic in our

time. But a less favorable verdict has often been passed on the book of

Acts. A favorite testing point is the council of Jerusalem (Acts 15). Paul

reports on his contacts with the Jerusalem church in his epistle to the

Galatians, and includes an account of a visit to the holy city over the issue

of circumcision as it affected Gentile converts (<480201>Galatians 2:1-10).


many ways his account differs from the report of Luke in Acts 15. Among

other things, Luke makes much of the decree which was sent to the Gentile

churches as a result of the conference. Paul is silent about this. Instead of

jumping to radical conclusions about the unreliability of Luke, it is well to

reflect how widely two men may differ in their interest even when they are

ideologically attuned. Since Luke makes no mention of something very

close to Paul’s heart, the fund raised by him in his churches for the poor

saints at Jerusalem, though he (Luke) gives a rather full report of the

journey, including the listing of Paul’s traveling companions, and since he

has nothing to say about Paul’s hope to visit Spain, though this was

strongly in the apostle’s mind and Luke must have known of it because of

his close association with the apostle, it is then quite possible for him to

emphasize a feature of the Jerusalem council, namely the decree, which did

not bulk nearly as large in the thinking of Paul and therefore found no place

in his letter to the Galatians.


We venture to embark on a delicate question which is involved in our

general discussion. Does inspiration require that a Biblical writer should be

preserved from error in the use of sources? Presumably when Stephen

asserted that Abraham left Haran for Canaan after his father’s death

(<440704>Acts 7:4), he was following a type of Septuagintal text such as Philo

used, for the latter has the same statement (Migration of Abraham, 177).

The Hebrew text of Genesis will not permit this, since the figures given in

<011126>Genesis 11:26, 32 and 12:4 demand that Terah continued to live for 60

years after Abraham left Haran. A similar approach may be made to the

problem of Matthew’s citation of <381112>Zechariah 11:12, 13 as though it

were from Jeremiah (<402709>Matthew 27:9). No doubt other explanations are

possible here, but we can understand that if this passage in Zechariah had

already been associated with the name of Jeremiah in Jewish tradition,

Matthew might readily fall into line with this practice. We are not affirming

that this is a dogmatic requirement, but if the inductive study of the Bible

reveals enough examples of this sort of thing to make the conclusion

probable, then we shall have to hold the doctrine of inspiration in this light.

We may have our own ideas as to how God should have inspired the

Word, but it is more profitable to learn, if we can, how he has actually

inspired it.


To some minds the historical problems which tend to plague the defenders

of inspiration are less important than the conflict in theological position

which they find here and there in the Scriptures. A prime case is the

contrary statement of <102401>2 Samuel 24:1 and that of <132101>1 Chronicles 21:1.

The former passage states that the anger of the Lord was kindled against

Israel and he incited David to number the people. This act brought divine

retribution which the chapter describes. In Chronicles, on the other hand, it

is stated that Satan rose up against Israel, inciting David to number Israel.

Are we to think that the writer of Chronicles revolted against the idea that

God would incite David to do something which would bring death to

thousands of his subjects, so he changed his source to read Satan instead of

God? This does not get us very far. Surely the Chronicler held a sufficiently

high view of God that he would grant the divine awareness that Satan was

inciting David. In that case, should not judgment have fallen on Satan

rather than on the people? It seems clear that underlying both accounts is

the recognition of the sinfulness of the nation. This is definitely implied in

<102401>2 Samuel 24:1. A nation that would repudiate its king for the usurper

Absalom, to mention only one of its blemishes, was not pleasing to God. It

is difficult to see any basis here for the thought that God is made to appear

a capriciously angry deity, and that the Chronicler tries to get God off the

hook by ascribing the trouble to Satan. God often used Satan and evil

influences to bring judgment upon those who had disobeyed him or turned

against him (see <112219>1 Kings 22:19-23).

Another tension point is the divergent treatment of faith and works in Paul

and James. Can these be harmonized? <590224>James 2:24 contains the crux of

the discussion. It sounds anti-Pauline if it is allowed to stand in isolation.

But the preceding verse demonstrates that for James, as for Paul, there is a

justification based on faith alone (cf. <450403>Romans 4:3-5). The point James is

making is that true faith involves a manifestation in works. Only as these

are present can faith be adjudged genuine. In this Paul concurs

(<480506>Galatians 5:6). It is not at all clear that James is attacking teaching

known to emanate from Paul. Certainly in the James passage there is no

reference to works of the law such as Paul rules out in connection with

justification. To teach that Paul and James are irreconcilable is not only to

fail from the standpoint of penetrating exegesis but also to question the

integrity of the honored expositors of the Word who have wrestled with

this problem throughout the long history of interpretation and have

concluded that the two representations are not fundamentally opposed.


Unquestionably the Bible teaches its own inspiration. It is the Book of

God. It does not require us to hold inerrancy, though this is a natural

corollary of full inspiration. The phenomena which present difficulties are

not to be dismissed or underrated. They have driven many sincere believers

in the trustworthiness of the Bible as a spiritual guide to hold a modified

position on the non-revelation material. Every man must be persuaded in

his own mind. James Orr once wrote, “It remains the fact that the Bible,

impartially interpreted and judged, is free from demonstrable error in its

statements, and harmonious in its teachings, to a degree that of itself

creates an irresistible impression of a supernatural factor in its origin”

(Revelation and Inspiration, p. 216). In this statement all believers should

be able to concur. It is possible that if our knowledge were greater, all

seeming difficulties could be swept away.

On an occasion when he was interrogated with respect to a theological

problem, Jesus replied, “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures”

(<402229>Matthew 22:29). How striking it is that the one allusion to error by

our Lord in the days of his flesh was not to something in the Scriptures but

to failure to know them and interpret them aright.