Hebrews 6:18 mentions two unchangeable things (God's oath and his promise) "in which it is impossible for God to lie (author's translation)." Here the author says not merely that God does not lie, but that it is not possible for him to lie. Although the immediate reference is only to oaths and promises, if it is impossible for God to lie in these utterances, then certainly it is impossible for him ever to lie (for Jesus harshly rebukes those who tell the truth only when under oath: Matt. 5:33-37; 23:16-22). Similarly, David says to God, "You are God, and your words are true" (2 Sam. 7:28).
2. Therefore All the Words in Scripture Are Completely True and Without Error in Any Part. Since the words of the Bible are God's words, and since God cannot lie or speak falsely, it is correct to conclude that there is no untruthfulness or error in any part of the words of Scripture. We find this affirmed several places in the Bible. "The words of the Lord are words that are pure silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times" (Ps. 12:6, author's translation). Here the psalmist uses vivid imagery to speak of the undiluted purity of God's words: there is no imperfection in them. Also in Proverbs 30:5, we read, "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him." It is not just some of the words of Scripture that are true, but every word. In fact, God's Word is fixed in heaven for all eternity: "For ever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Ps. 119:89). Jesus can speak of the eternal nature of his own words: "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away" (Matt. 24:35). God's speech is placed in marked contrast to all human speech, for "God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should repent" (Num. 23:19). These verses affirm explicitly what was implicit in the requirement that we believe all of the words of Scripture, namely, that there is no untruthfulness or falsehood affirmed in any of the statements of the Bible.
3. God's Words Are the Ultimate Standard of Truth. In John 17 Jesus prays to the Father, "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). This verse is interesting because Jesus does not use the adjectives ¿XnQivoq (G240) or
(G239, "true"), which we might have expected, to say, "Your word is true." Rather, he uses a noun, aX^Beia (G237, "truth"), to say that God's Word is not simply "true," but it is truth itself.
The difference is significant, for this statement encourages us to think of the Bible not simply as being "true" in the sense that it conforms to some higher standard of truth, but rather to think of the Bible as being itself the final standard of truth. The
13 13. Some scholars object that it is "too simplistic" to argue as follows: "The Bible is God's words. God never lies. Therefore the Bible never lies." Yet it is precisely that kind of argument that Paul uses in Titus 1:2. He refers to the promises of eternal life made "ages ago" in Scripture and says the promises were made by God "who never lies." He thus calls on the truthfulness of God's own speech to prove the truthfulness of the words of Scripture. A "simple" argument this may be, but it is scriptural, and it is true. We should therefore not hesitate to accept it and use it.
Bible is God's Word, and God's Word is the ultimate definition of what is true and what is not true: God's Word is itself truth. Thus we are to think of the Bible as the ultimate standard of truth, the reference point by which every other claim to truthfulness is to be measured. Those assertions that conform with Scripture are "true" while those that do not conform with Scripture are not true.
What then is truth? Truth is what God says, and we have what God says (accurately but not exhaustively) in the Bible.
4. Might Some New Fact Ever Contradict the Bible? Will any new scientific or historical fact ever be discovered that will contradict the Bible? Here we can say with confidence that this will never happen—it is in fact impossible. If any supposed "fact" is ever discovered that is said to contradict Scripture, then (if we have understood Scripture rightly) that "fact" must be false, because God, the author of Scripture, knows all true facts (past, present, and future). No fact will ever turn up that God did not know about ages ago and take into account when he caused Scripture to be written. Every true fact is something that God has known already from all eternity and is something that therefore cannot contradict God's speech in Scripture.
Nevertheless, it must be remembered that scientific or historical study (as well as other kinds of study of creation) can cause us to reexamine Scripture to see if it really teaches what we thought it taught. The Bible certainly does not teach that the earth was created in the year 4004 b.c., as some once thought (for the genealogical lists in Scripture have gaps in them).14 Yet it was in part historical, archaeological, astronomical, and geological study that caused Christians to reexamine Scripture to see if it really taught such a recent origin for the earth. Careful analysis of the biblical text showed that it did not teach this.
Similarly, the Bible does not teach that the sun goes around the earth, for it only uses descriptions of phenomena as we see them from our vantage point and does not purport to be describing the workings of the universe from some arbitrary "fixed" point somewhere out in space. Yet until the study of astronomy advanced enough to demonstrate the rotation of the earth on its axis, people assumed that the Bible taught that the sun goes around the earth. Then the study of scientific data prompted a reexamination of the appropriate biblical texts. Thus, whenever confronted with some "fact" that is said to contradict Scripture, we must not only examine the data adduced to demonstrate the fact in question; we must also reexamine the appropriate biblical texts to see if the Bible really teaches what we thought it to teach.
We should never fear but always welcome any new facts that may be discovered in any legitimate area of human research or study. For example, discoveries by archaeologists working in Syria have brought to light the Ebla Tablets. These extensive written records from the period around 2000 b.c. will eventually throw great light on our understanding of the world of the patriarchs and the events connected with the lives of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Should Christians entertain any lingering apprehension that the publication of such data will prove some fact in Genesis to be incorrect? Certainly not! We should eagerly anticipate the publication of all such data with the absolute confidence that if it is correctly understood it will all be consistent with Scripture and will all confirm the accuracy of Scripture. No true fact will ever contradict the words of the God who knows all facts and who never lies. D. Written Scripture Is Our Final Authority
14 14. See chapter 15, pp. 289-309, for discussion of the age of the earth, and pp. 29091 for discussion of gaps in the genealogies.
It is important to realize that the final form in which Scripture remains authoritative is its written form. It was the words of God written on the tablets of stone that Moses deposited in the ark of the covenant. Later, God commanded Moses and subsequent prophets to write their words in a book. And it was written Scripture (Ypa^, G1210) that Paul said was "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16). Similarly, it is Paul's writings that are "a command of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37) and that could be classified with "the other scriptures" (2 Peter 3:16).
This is important because people sometimes (intentionally or unintentionally) attempt to substitute some other final standard than the written words of Scripture. For example, people will sometimes refer to "what Jesus really said" and claim that when we translate the Greek words of the Gospels back into the Aramaic language Jesus spoke, we can gain a better understanding of Jesus' words than was given by the writers of the Gospels. In fact, it is sometimes said that this work of reconstructing Jesus' words in Aramaic enables us to correct the erroneous translations made by the gospel authors.
In other cases, people have claimed to know "what Paul really thought" even when that is different from the meaning of the words he wrote. Or they have spoken of "what Paul should have said if he had been consistent with the rest of his theology." Similarly, others have spoken of "the church situation to which Matthew was writing" and have attempted to give normative force either to that situation or to the solution they think Matthew was attempting to bring about in that situation.
In all of these instances we must admit that asking about the words or situations that lie "behind" the text of Scripture may at times be helpful to us in understanding what the text means. Nevertheless, our hypothetical reconstructions of these words or situations can never replace or compete with Scripture itself as the final authority, nor should we ever allow them to contradict or call into question the accuracy of any of the words of Scripture. We must continually remember that we have in the Bible God's very words, and we must not try to "improve" on them in some way, for this cannot be done. Rather, we should seek to understand them and then trust them and obey them with our whole heart.
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