“Not By the Will of Man”
By Allen Ross
Peter wrote, “Above all you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20, 21 [NIV]).
Peter is clearly referring to the revealed word of God when he speaks about “prophecy.” The primary test for the authenticity of an Old Testament book of the Bible was whether or not it was written by a prophet. And then there were tests to see if that was a true prophet of the LORD. Those tests included whether or not their predictions came true, and whether or not what they preached harmonized with the Law of God. The prophetic books themselves are filled with sermons and oracles; every so often they include predictions that authenticated the prophetic message. From the very beginning this was a revealed religion. And every time the people tried to make innovations to change it and make it conform with their times, God’s response was the same—condemnation, judgment.
The battle has always been over the Bible, no matter what the issues happen to be in any particular age. It is clear to most serious participants in church activities that there are liberals and there a conservatives. And while these descriptions can be elusive, there is a line that clearly distinguishes the two positions. And that is Scripture. Conservatives have traditionally held that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, and therefore it is to be believed and obeyed. There may be serious divisions on how it is to be interpreted and applied, and there may be some vary shallow and superstitious views about the Bible. But the historic faith has always held that this book is the standard for faith and practice. And the reason for that is that it did not come by the will of man, but from God.
This is in contrast to the view that the Bible is a collection of the views of believers, a composite work of disparate writers, or “the word of God” in the sense of being “a word from God.” For example, one church leader said, “We (the early church) wrote the Bible, and so we (the modern church) can change it.” I suppose if every group wanted to do this, to re-write the Bible so it actually is the will of man, or the will of this generation or that, we would have hundreds of Bibles—and so no Bible. But that seems preferable to many liberal theologians and church leaders today, because it fits with their idea of what truth should be.
Today you will read or hear a lot of talk about reading the Bible “critically.” This sounds very pious, and very intelligent. Now “criticism” in itself is not a problem. “Literary criticism” is what we all do when we analyze the text and interpret it and draw proper conclusions about it. But in the modern world when people say that we should read the Bible critically, they usually mean we should learn how to decide what in it is true and authentic. And the conclusions they draw are pretty predictable. Anything the critic does not like or that does not fit the modern thinking about what religion should be is spurious, or not authentic. So we are constantly told that Jesus never said this or did that, that Paul’s ideas are not acceptable, or that there never was a Moses or a David. This is not reading the Bible critically; this is using the idea of criticism as a foil for liberal views. In other words, it is trying to say that the Bible came from the will of man, and so our will has the right to reshape it. And this has happened in every century since the beginning.
We must not accept the ignorant and shallow use of the Bible but be alert to the dishonest call for a modern and critical understanding of the Bible. In short, we must know the Bible very well and be able to evaluate the theories about it that come from every side.
The basic question about the Bible has always been this: Is this a message from God in human language or is it not? If it is not, then we are all wasting our time. If it is, then it calls for faith and obedience, not revision and rejection.