2 TIMOTHY 3
Enter subtitle here
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Surely, above all, these are days of covetousness, boasting, and pride in this world's goods, even among those naming the name of Christ. And being human we are all too easily drawn into this same vicious net unless we are consciously on guard.
Covetousness is something that we always regard as applying to others. In ourselves we see it as just an "intelligent appreciation of finer things and a commendable industriousness to acquire them." Let us turn the searching beam of the Spirit on this foolishness. It was someone far wiser than we who said --
"Having food and raiment, therewith be content ... Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also ... Verily they HAVE THEIR reward" (1 Tim. 6:8; Luke 12:34; Matt. 6:2). *
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
"Denying the power thereof." Saying it cannot be done -- it is not "reasonable" to expect the beauty of holiness in mortal flesh. What is "the power thereof"? Let us consider a few verses in which this power is referred to.
"The exceeding greatness of His power to usward, according to the working of His mighty power" (Eph. 1:19).
"Now unto Him Who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to THE POWER THAT WORKETH IN US" (Eph. 3:20).
"My brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10).
"Strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, unto ALL PATIENCE AND LONGSUFFERING WITH JOYFULNESS" (Col. 1:11).
Is there such a thing as being "strengthened with all might according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness?" Let us, at least, not be among those who "deny the power thereof." There is such a power, and making contact with it through the Word is vitally important in the way of life. It can and must be done. *
12 Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
"Persecution" does not necessarily mean bodily peril. But the Scriptures lay down the principles that if we live faithfully and consistently according to the commands of Christ, we shall be treated in an unfriendly manner by the world in general. It is not something we should invite, and quite often it is our fleshliness and incourtesy -- rather than our Christlikeness -- that creates unpleasantness which we may be inclined to interpret as persecution for righteousness' sake. There is much that is self-condoned (and even self-glorified!) as "righteous anger" which is really but an ugly giving vent to the evil of the flesh.
But still the fact remains that "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." If we openly advocate and try to live up to the principles of Christ, we shall annoy most people because they do not want to live that way and they resent the inference that they should. You are an "extremist," you are too "narrow-minded," you are "righteous overmuch."
Until we recognize and completely accept this state of affairs, we shall be unhappy and divided in our minds. We can have no friendship with the world or with worldly " brethren" if we are an out-and-out, unconcealed follower of Christ. They may tolerate us, but they cannot like us, for they will be uneasy in our presence, and we in theirs. Everything that is not of the Father is of the world. Therefore, the world can even be among our own selves.
There can be no true communion in the Spirit except between those few who are hungering and thirsting for righteousness -- anxious and striving to get closer and closer to God and the divine way of life. *
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
"SINCE the days of Dr. Thomas and brother Roberts, the work of the Truth has been in less able hands. Among the mediocres, dear readers, you and I, if we speak the truth, have to number ourselves. Shall we resent our inferiority, or seek to hide it by casting aspersions on the character of our worthy pioneers, or by magnifying unimportant blemishes or mistakes in their writings?
Let us not stoop to such meanness, whatever out-and-out enemies may do. Let us rather labour, though feeble be our attainments, to emulate the moral excellence of our two exemplary forerunners-their spiritual fervor and admirable disinterestedness. Let us also show similar enterprise in spreading the Truth (which God enabled them to uncover), and in fighting heresy, laxity and worldliness. And what scope there is for us in all these directions.
Evil men and seducers are on the increase-unworthy, superficial, make-believe shepherds. Petty-minded, pleasure seeking, and ease loving professors of Christadelphianism are multiplying everywhere. The secret of the success of our noble pioneers lay in their resolve to place, in all their considerations, God and His commandments first-never allowing mere sentiment, popularity, cowardice, or fleshly advantage to interfere with duty.
Let us copy them in this. The unfriendliness of some to Dr. Thomas and brother Roberts is a bad sign. In the past it has invariably been the precursor to something much worse. Evidence on this point is to be found in the state of apostasy in which detractors of our brethren have so often sunk. We speak with many years of Christadelphian history open before us." , A.T.J.
The Family Journal, July 1930.
13 But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
In the days of the first seal [AD 96-183], the New Man of the spirit was healthy, vigorous, and formidable to the Old Man of the Flesh; who ruled in the Pagan Church and State, as he does now in all the Churches and States of what he ignorantly calls "Christendom." The conflict between the two was very earnest and bloody. Many lives or souls were ruthlessly precipitated under the altar, while many of the Old Serpent-Man's adherents fell from their allegiance, and became incorporated in the New Man.
But, in this sanguinary strife all the desertions were not from the party of the Serpent; many relaxed their hold upon the Lamb, fell into the ranks of the enemy, and became, either implacable adversaries, or perverters of the truth, who pretended to have found a common ground, on which Jew, philosopher, vulgar Pagan, and christian might meet in the fellowship of the same essential opinions.
Sects, formed of the factions who had become impatient of the restraints of the truth, had greatly multiplied. The seed sown in the first century by the seducers, evil men, and false prophets, of whom we read so much in the New Testament, was now in vigorous growth; multiplied, varied, complicated, and refined by endless subtleties and fancies, in which the poverty of taste and genius discovered itself abundantly.
There were at the time of the closing of the period of the first seal and the opening of the second, two classes among the professed adherents of the New Man, whose opposite characteristics were becoming daily more distinct. The one may be regarded as the vital and wholesome element of the man himself -- Christadelphians; those who held fast the Spirit's Name, and had not denied His faith; and those of the Balaam class, who held the teaching of the Nikolaitans, or Gnostics, and were multiplying considerably.
Instead of holding fast the Spirit's Name, they were developing what in history is called the Arnestitheos apostasia, or Deity-denying apostasy, which affirmed that "Christ was no more than a man."
The Spirit's Name was the Father by his spirit manifested in Sin's Flesh begotten and born, not of the will of man, but by his own creative energy, as was Adam the first: but, to say, that he was no more than a man, was to affirm, that he was begotten of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man; which was to lay the basis of a name which the spirit not only will not recognize, but one which he hates.
These Gnostics also, while they claimed the name of christian, denied the Spirit's faith, as do "the names and denominations" of modern times. These Nikolaitan sects amused and stultified themselves with the discussion of the merest trifles; such as, the proper time of the observance of Easter; the pretended prophetical illuminations of fanatics, and the questions agitated by the Eclectics of Egypt.
These sects were "the Mystery of Iniquity" working under the name of christians; the Synagogue of the Satan that aggravated greatly the difficulties of the genuine elements of the New Man in that department of his work, the "taking out from among the Gentiles a people for the Spirit's Name." Still, out of the evil of these sects some good was extracted. They became a numerous and powerful political party, which eventually acquired sufficient strength to contend with the pagan party sword in hand and to expel it from "the heaven" of the Roman world.
While they had denied the Spirit's name and faith by their traditions, they still contended against the idolatry of the Gentiles; and in this contention they were, doubtless, very successful. The Christadelphians or true believers, and the heretics called Christians combined were too much for the heathen in their argument against their gods, and the worship with which they honored them; so that the New Man, notwithstanding all the discouragements which afflicted him on the right hand and on the left, still went on "conquering" under this second seal "that he might conquer" under the sixth, when his brethren and fellow servants who were to be slain should be filled up.
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
The study of the word of God must be incessant.
Ignorance of the history of the Jews as comprehensively delineated in the sacred writings involves inability to appreciate the arguments arising from prophetic announcement. On this principle, the man anxious to be "wise unto salvation" will strive to master the historical part of the word of God, and in doing this, he will not confine himself to the nominally historical books of the Bible, but will extend his researches to the prophetic records in which is to be found the inner history of Israel, the unveiling of God's mind in reference to the transactions of the nation, and their position as affected thereby.
Here, to read what God thought of them, and intends with them, is to ascend as it were from the arena of human strife to the cool and elevated pinnacle of God's Almighty scan: to step in fact out of the finite and the fallible, and lay hold of God's unerring and all-compassing discernment. This altitude is so much above the natural grasp of the human mind that we have to go often there to become accustomed to it. At first the height makes a man mentally dizzy, but in time he feels at home and enjoys the extended survey.
Away from that height, we see not with God's eyes, but regard things from a carnal point of view-that is, with the views formed by the unassisted mind of the flesh on subjects which, apart from dogmatic revelation, i. e. divine instruction, it is unable to apprehend. An occasional visit to the exalted summit of which we speak is not adequate to our spiritual wants. The natural tendency of the mind is so entirely contrary to that which is divine, that the corrective must be constantly applied.
The knowledge of God must be constantly kept streaming through the mind. The study of the word of God must be incessant.
An acquaintance with the history of God's doings in the past is not to be acquired like profane history, as a mere educational accomplishment, to be once mastered, and then neglected and allowed to decay under secular engrossments. It is too important and too easily forgotten to be thus lightly dealt with. It must be constantly renewed like our daily bread. Only thus is the mind so thoroughly brought into affinity to the divine purpose as to be able instinctively to apprehend it accurately in all its remote and immediate bearings, and eschew those quagmires of error which the sincere are constantly falling into from partial information.
Ambassador of the Coming Age, P81 - 1864
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
"The doctrine of Christ's reign upon the earth was at first treated as a divine allegory, was considered by degrees as a doubtful and useless opinion, and was at length rejected as the absurd invention of heresy and fanaticism."
How pregnant is this extract with instruction! It exhibits the unchanging character of human nature in relation to divine revelation. Observe the stealthy encroachments of error. The truth is first reduced to allegory, then considered doubtful and useless, and finally cast aside as an "absurd invention."
Let us be on the alert against this insidious and ever-prevailing tendency of the flesh! Bible history has shared the same fate as Bible doctrine. In apostolic days, all Bible record was received as history, the early fathers changed it into allegory, and the time has come when men hesitate not to pronounce it fiction.
Brethren, take heed! The Bible is true! That it is partly true, and partly false, is the pernicious teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees of the nineteenth century. If Christ were now among us, we may be quite sure that he would say as he said in the past-Beware of their leaven!
The Christadelphian, Jan 1887. p17.
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Do we realize the tremendous, vital power that lies between the covers of this Book? If we come to it hungering and thirsting after righteousness, we shall find it. It is a promise. It is a divine guarantee. It may be in a far different way than we expect, and there may be long waiting and darkness, but it will come -- a marvellous, divine, transforming power of godliness.
Our part is to hold fast, keep at it. On one occasion Daniel, the greatly beloved, mourned and fasted and prayed for three weeks continuously before receiving any recognition. Moses had to afflict himself forty days before being received up to the mount of God. And these are but symbolic periods of waiting. Anna, the prophetess, waited eighty-four years as a widow in the Temple, serving God night and day with fasting and prayer -- waiting to see the salvation of the Lord. *
* Bro Growcott - No Man Stood With Me
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
THE WORDS OF THE APOSTOLIC WRITINGS IN RELATION TO INSPIRATION
The Christadelphian, March 1887
The contention that the Bible is only partly the work of inspiration has been succeeded in some cases by the idea that while the Bible is all the work of inspiration, inspiration has only partly done its work - imparting ideas to the writers, but leaving them at liberty to use any words they chose, with the result expressed in the foregoing, that the words of the Bible partake not only of the peculiarities but of the weaknesses and fallibilities of the several writers employed.
This may seem a very harmless version of partial inspiration. It is, of course, less objectionable than the view that it may be man's ideas as well as man's words that we get in our Bible readings. Still, in degree, it brings the same evil with it in that it detracts from the sense of absolute reliability which is essential to the binding authority of Bible teaching.
Words are the medium through which we receive ideas, and if the words are defective and possibly mistaken, we have no guarantee that the ideas conveyed are correct. To the person who is the subject of inspiration it might be immaterial that ideas were imparted without any guidance as to the words in which they are appropriately expressed; but to those to whom it is designed those ideas should be conveyed by words, it is a matter of serious moment whether the selection of those words is a divine and unerring selection (whether by superintendence or dictation) or whether it is left to erring and fallible man.
The view advocated in the foregoing extracts (that the words are of human and fallible selection) is founded on an argument which might be briefly stated thus: "Here are two or more differing accounts of the same matter. They cannot all be right. Therefore the Spirit of God cannot be the author of them in the strict sense. It may be the author of them in the sense of having imparted or given form to the ideas, but it has evidently left fallible men to their own fallible modes of expressing them; and hence we have discrepancy and variation.
And not only so, but there are instances of a limited knowledge and a confessed ignorance in parts of these writings, and of manifest literary idiosyncrasies, which are inconsistent with the idea of the Spirit of God having had to do with their literary composition."
It will not be difficult to show that this argument is founded on a misconception of the nature of the work which the Holy Spirit has performed by the instrumentality of the apostles, and that all the facts when logically construed, while leaving the fullest place for the part performed by the apostles as men, not only admit but necessitate the wholesome belief that the words of their testimony are as much the reliable utterance of the Spirit of God as if no human instrumentality had been employed.
The dangerous idea that in the writings of the apostles, we are dealing with writings in which the element of fallible words is largely present has only a seeming countenance in the facts alleged in justification of it, and this seemingness is due to the wrong idea with which
the subject is approached, as to what the action of inspiration was in the case, and to a gratuitous assumption as to what its effects ought to be.
We will best see this by an analysis of the elements of the case.
1. What is a writing?-It is a combination of words reduced to a written form. The authorship of such a writing is due to the selection and arrangement of the words. The man who selects and arranges the words is the author. No one is considered or spoken of as the author of a writing, if he did not select and arrange the words, or revise and sanction the selection and arrangement in a particular manner.
If the Spirit of God has had nothing to do with the selection or sanction of the words of the apostolic writings, then those writings cannot be considered as divine writings, but as human only. They may or may not in that case correctly represent divine ideas: this would be due to the degree of accuracy or otherwise with which a merely human and confessedly and maintainedly fallible operation was performed.
Such a view goes in a certain way farther than partial inspiration in the direction of undermining the Word of God. It says, there is no inspiration at all in the selection of the words: that this was merely the work of erring men, and that though their individual understanding was secured by direct inspiration, the correct transmission of that understanding to us has not been secured, because they were left to do their natural best in the choice of words, and did as a matter of fact make mistakes (for this is the contention on which the argument is founded). If the element of mistake is present at all, we are without the guarantee of truth which faith requires.
2. What are inspired writings?-But the element of mistake cannot be present in writings that are inspired, unless the spirit of God can make mistakes. Logic requires that a man say either that the apostolic writings are inspired, and therefore free from error; or 2, that they are not inspired because they contain error (if he think they do so); or 3, that inspiration can err.
To say the writers were inspired but not the writings is to say that God sent men to write but did not qualify them to write perfectly, and the effect is to insulate us from the benefit of their inspiration, for the link of connection between us and their inspiration is their words: if their words are not to be implicitly trusted, their inspiration is practically inaccessible to us. If it is admitted that the writings are inspired as well as the writers, then we have writings in which the Spirit of God co-operated in the selection of the words composing them; and hence the idea of error is excluded.
3 Are the apostolic writings inspired?-As this, in words at least, is conceded by the view represented by the letter-extracts above, there is no need for arguing it expressly. There is no more conclusive evidence of their divine inspiration than the writings themselves. This, which carries no force with minds lacking discernment, carries more force than any other consideration whatever with those whose experience and judgment of men and matters enable them to distinguish in the higher ranges between things that differ.
Both as regards the topics selected for treatment and the mode and method of narrative and comment, the apostolic writings are as different from the turgid and puny efforts of man as the calm blue of heaven is different from the grimy walls of a human workshop. The stamp of divine wisdom is upon them to the eye that can recognise it. It is not every eye that can. The fact may be offensive to the unfortunate egotisms that run amuck among divine sublimities in their polemical blindness, but the fact remains as the explanation of the intellectual insensibility that can handle the apostolic writings without seeing and feeling that they are in the presence of gift that is neither of man nor by man.
The character of writings depending upon the arrangement of their words, we have in the inspired writings of the apostles' writings in which the Spirit of God co-operated with the apostles in the arrangement of the words composing them. This would seem to be an inevitable conclusion even if we lacked illustration of this work of the Spirit in guiding the apostles in the selection of words. The conclusion is made absolute when supported by such illustration.
Such illustration we have in the remark of Christ concerning the attitude to be observed by the apostles in the presence of persecuting tribunals: "Take no thought beforehand, how or what ye shall answer, for i shall be given you in that same hour what ye ought to say: for it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of the Father that speaketh in you." Such illustration also we have in Paul's definition of the verbal modes of apostolic tuition:
"Which things we teach, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth"; with this practical result which he enforces: "The things which we write are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. xiv. 37).
It follows as a result that the wording of the apostolic testimony is not the sole selection of the apostles, but is the joint work of the apostles and the Spirit, and is therefore not open to the imputation of fallibility and error.
4. What part did the apostles perform in the production of their writings?
The apostles did perform a part. If we realise this part in its true relation to the controlling influence of the Spirit that employed them, we shall get a key to the things that prevent some from recognising the work of the Spirit in the work of the apostles. We shall apprehend this in a general view of the work to which they were called. The Spirit of God employed the apostles as witnesses to testify conjointly with itself the things pertaining to Christ, as saith Jesus:
"The Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, He shall testify of me, and ye also shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning" (Jno. xv. 26-27).
The apostles were to be witnesses (that is, testifiers) of the "things they had seen and heard" (Acts xxvi. 16; i. 8; ii. 32; iv. 20; v. 32, &c.). Hence the qualification of an apostle was that he should have been a companion of Christ from his baptism in the Jordan till his crucifixion and resurrection (Acts i. 21-22), or at the least that he should have seen Christ after his resurrection (1 Cor. ix. 1). A witness is one who speaks from personal knowledge.
The apostles, as witnesses, spoke from personal knowledge, and to this extent their personal characteristics would affect their personal testimony, not only as to the sound of their voice, but as to their literary peculiarities, as evidenced by the authorities perceiving that the inspired and boldly-speaking Peter and John were "unlearned and ignorant men".
But then, we must not judge of their work by this view alone. The spirit of God was upon them to guide them in the what to say and how to say it. Their natural endowments were employed in the work, but they were employed by the Spirit of God, and in strict subordination to the purposes aimed at by the Spirit. Even their actions were checked and guided in harmony with these, as when Paul and Silas "essayed to go unto Bithynia, but the Spirit suffered them not" (Acts xvi. 7), or as when John was about to write certain things that he heard, and a voice from heaven said "Write them not" (Rev. x. 4).
When, therefore, we read an apostolic writing, we read a writing which, though humanly written, has been shaped by the Spirit for its own ends. When we peruse the apostolic testimony to the sayings and doings of Christ, we peruse testimony which, though theirs, is only so much theirs in the characteristic sense, as the Spirit permits.
This is a duality in the production which accounts for every feature in the case. The apostles and the Spirit both had to do with the production, but the apostles were under the strict control of the Spirit.
This accounts for so much of the human peculiarity of the writer, as may be visible in the productions, which is a very faint element in the case. The Spirit permitted it for its own end. At the same time it accounts for the superhuman tone and attitude that are their most
conspicuous and striking features. In this view, it is impossible to discriminate between words permitted and words dictated. They are all equally authoritative, and therefore practically the same.
Being all either endorsed or prescribed by the Spirit, they come to us as the Spirit's words by apostolic instrumentality, and therefore free from error. It is as if Bismark, desiring for his own ends to have four separate accounts of a political transaction-say a debate in the Reichstag-were to ask four men who had been present to each write his own account and submit it to him, with a view to his revision and use.
Bismark would go over each account, and knowing the object he was aiming at in their publication, he would strike out parts, and modify parts, and give the whole a Bismarkian shape and authority; though the groundwork of the reports would retain something of the character of the original reporters, the Bismarkian treatment would stamp the four accounts as official. The difference would be that the Spirit of God does not require to strike out and alter in the MS. It performs the operation in the brain of the writer, so that the writing possesses at its first production all the characteristics it designs.
How are we to estimate the variations in the apostolic writings?-It is impossible to impute them to error if we allow the participation of the Spirit of God in the work. Any theory that brings the suggestion of error is to be strenuously resisted on every ground. Under the apparently innocuous word "theory," it brings a practical evil of the most serious kind, which is the most sensibly felt by those who most appreciate the scriptures as the only accessible expression of the mind of God in our age.
It either denies practically that the apostolic writings are the work of the Spirit of God; or it imputes error to God; or it tells us that the Spirit of God has allowed error without any indication of where it has been so allowed; in either of which supposition, it undermines the reliability and consequent value of the Scriptures as a whole. For it becomes impossible to rely upon any part if there is an unreliable element which cannot be distinguished.
Jesus said the Spirit would guide the apostles into all truth (Jno. xvi. 13), and we must therefore recognise as a cardinal postulate in the consideration of the question, that whatever appearance of discrepancy may exist, is not to be accounted for on the principle that there is an element of error in their writings. There are variations in the apostolic narratives, but variation is not error.
Four men necessarily relate the same thing in different ways. Even the same person relating the same matter four times would narrate it differently each time. Mental operation is too subtle a thing to be held in stereotyped grooves. The apostolic variations are due to the diversity of the men employed by the Spirit of God to give testimony to Christ: but their diversities are held in strict subordination to truth.
Their narrative was controlled by the spirit. The spirit knowing all meanings can secure the exact meaning in a diversity of forms. The diversity of form does not interfere with the presence and guidance of the Spirit in the diversity. Nay, it is rather an attribute of the Spirit, whether in creation or revelation to delight in diversity in unity:-Diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit . . . Diversities of operations, but the same God which worketh all in all . . . all these worketh the one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as He will" (1 Cor. xii. 4, 6, 11)
Hence the variations which stumble some, are not inconsistent with the Spirit's guidance. First, as to the order of events in the four narratives: it is not the same. This would be a difficulty if there was a profession in each case to observe the exact order of the events as they occurred. There is no such profession except in Matthew.
In this, each scene is linked with what goes before in a way that involves historical sequence. But in Mark and Luke, there is no such exact placing of events. They have an order but do not profess to give the order. Therefore diversity of order is not conflict. The order was immaterial, and was evidently not aimed at by Mark and Luke, except in a rough way, as a basis of what Jesus did and said: hence the frequency of such general introductions as "It came to pass on a certain day," "And it came to pass as he went to Jerusalem," "And it came to pass as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees," &c., &c.
But the order of events has a certain importance. Therefore in Matthew we have a chronological basis on which the accounts of the others can be arranged. As for John, his effort was a supplemental one, with the specific object of giving the conversations and discourses of Christ that had a bearing on his relation to the Father. Here also the exact order of events is immaterial to the object and is not professed to be given.
Then as to the words attributed to the actors in the scenes selected for narrative, there is no profession that a verbatim report is given. The substance of what passed is related and often in the identical words, though frequently with variations. In this there cannot be any difficulty when we realize that many words besides those reported must have been spoken in connection with each transaction. Each writer reports words spoken but does not profess to give all the words; therefore each may select different words while reporting the same matter, and the difference in the words does not mean that in either case there is a wrong report, but that a different selection is made from the words actually spoken, and that in their several places, each report is right.
The difficulty only arises when a false assumption is introduced as to what an inspired account ought to be. Those who oppose the inspiration of the Gospels tacitly contend that four inspired accounts ought to be exactly the same. In this they leave out of account the dual nature of the authorship. They forget that the apostles are used as witnesses, and that, therefore, their narratives, though shaped and guided by the Spirit, reflect to the extent permitted, the diversities of natural spectatorship. Or, on the other hand, they wrongfully insist that if the Spirit has had anything to do with the selection of the words, the human aspect of the testimony ought not to be visible at all.
How are the variations to be reconciled? The general principles indicated in the foregoing will supply the answer. The variations are due to the plurality of minds concerned in the production of the narratives, but because all these minds were under the control of one mind, which was using them for its own purposes exclusively, the variations were so regulated as all to be consistent with truth. Even in such an apparently extreme case as the variations in the wording of the inscription over the head of Christ on the cross, it is not difficult to apply these principles.
There is first the fact that the writing was in three languages, and it is impossible to tell from which of the three the several writers made their selection. Matthew wrote in Hebrew and may have selected the Hebrew. Luke wrote with the educated world in view, and though he wrote in Greek, he may have selected his rendering of the inscription from the language of the ruling power-the Roman (Latin).
John, writing for the brethren, after the dispersion, may have selected the Greek-the currently spoken language of the East-all making their respective selection under the guidance of the Spirit, of course. Here would be a source of verbal variation, without the least literal inaccuracy. The idioms of the languages differ; whence a variation of language might arise, in addition to which there may have been an intentional difference in one inscription from another.
Pilate's draughtsman may have varied them with a view to the spectators. He might introduce "of Nazareth" into the title for the strangers who might be in the crowd, and who might need a piece of local information unnecessary in the Hebrew and Roman versions, which could be read by the Jews. Who knows? There are these uncertainties in the case and we are bound to exhaust the possibilities they yield rather than give in to the suggestion of error in the apostolic writings which so many considerations exclude.
And even if there were not these alternatives, there would be an easy escape in another way. The several gospel narrators do not profess to give us the exact wording, though John does. They simply tell us that his accusation was written over his head, and they tell us what the accusation was. They do not say: "And this was the exact wording in which the accusation was expressed."
Matthew says-"He set up over his head his accusation, written: 'This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.'"
Mark:-"And the superscription of his accusation was written over him: 'The King of the Jews.'"
Luke:-"And the superscription was written over him in letters of Greek and Latin and Hebrew: 'This is the King of the Jews.'"
John:-"Pilate wrote a title and put it on the cross, and the writing was: 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.'"
There is not the least ingredient of inconsistency in these four accounts. Only one of them professes to copy the writing. The others give the sense, and that, too, in nearly the very words. There is here only the variation of truth. There is scarcely even variation it is only degrees of selection. There is in fact complete agreement.
Mark says: "The King of the Jews." These words were in the inscription: he does not say they were the only words. Luke says "This is the King of the Jews"-two words more: these were in the inscription. Luke does not say they were the only words. Matthew says, "This is Jesus, the King of the Jews"-three words more. These were in the inscription; he does not say there were no others. They all fit into one another like different sized dishes. John adds "of Nazareth" to the words of the others, and omits the demonstrative pronoun-probably copying the exact phraseology of Pilate's Latin.
It must be obvious that these variations are but forms of truth, whose place in narratives self evidently divine compels us to include them in that supervision and sanction of the Holy Spirit from which an unskilful criticism would exclude them.
The same remark applies to the other cases relied upon by those who contend for a fallible composition. Their explanation is found in the Spirit's union with the apostles in the authorship which imparted a liberty of variation not permissible to a merely human reporter.
The Spirit was the author of all the sayings and doings recorded, and could therefore paraphrase or vary the description of His own acts or utterances, with the liberty that any author exercises. It is the failure to recognise the all-prevailing presence of the Spirit of God in the production of these writings that creates the difficulties of criticism.
Rules applicable to merely human productions are applied to a class of composition which is outside the ordinary literary category altogether. There is no parallel between a human writer who puts down his own thoughts and impressions merely, and one whose mentality is fused for the time being with a guiding mind outside of his own, whose servant he is, and under whose influence he may even write things he does not understand.
The Spirit of God aimed in the apostolic narratives to present the essence of the facts recorded, and not the particular form in which those facts were presented or expressed at the time of their occurrence. The New Testament is not a newspaper, but a storehouse of spiritual power,-the power lying not in transient forms of expression, but in the things expressed.
Hence, when it tells us that on a certain occasion, Jesus was publicly proclaimed the Son of God, it secures the record of the fact in a form beyond all question, but it does not give us all the details belonging to the occasion, nor tell us everything that was said. It is evident from John's narrative, that much more passed, both as regard what John said, and as regards what the Spirit said, than what would appear in the other narratives. And if two forms of the Spirit's words are given, "This is my beloved Son," and, "Thou art my beloved Son,"-it is just possible that both forms were employed during the transaction-one addressed to the spectators, and the other to Jesus himself.
The narratives are too meagre as narratives (though full of substance) to afford ground for a definite contention one way or other on a point like this. Any view is legitimate rather than the view that the Spirit of God helped the apostles and allowed them to blunder. The variations are all variations of truth; and if they were much greater than they are, they would be perfectly legitimate in the Spirit's rendering of its own intentions in the record of its own work, though inadmissible in a mere witness's record.
These remarks meet every case. The words recorded as those employed by the Lord at the institution of the Lord's Supper, do not profess to be all the words he spoke. Many more words were spoken than are recorded. Those recorded are but a selection: and in different accounts a different selection is made, though the difference is not great. There is nothing in this inconsistent with perfect truth. It is a very narrow and unskilful treatment of the subject that uses the variation as a ground for denying that the Spirit had to do with the selection of the words. Variation of narrative was one of the objects aimed at by the Spirit in selecting various witnesses-not because the testimony was to be a fallible one, but in order that a foundation of faith might be furnished to men who are so slow to believe one witness.
The only case not apparently covered by these explanations is Stephen's quotation from Amos. God says by Amos in the Hebrew original of the Scriptures, "I will cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus.' Stephen quoting this, quotes from the Greek version "I will carry you away beyond Babylon." The question is asked, "Why was Stephen inspired to quote
from the Septuagint?" No man can answer for the Holy Spirit: but if we might suggest an answer, we would say the reason the quotation was allowed was because the Septuagint Scriptures were best known by the people, and because substantially, it was a correct translation-the Spirit being certainly a perfect judge in the particular quotation made.
"Beyond Babylon" was certainly beyond Damascus, reckoning from the geographical standpoint of Jerusalem, and beyond Babylon, the ten tribes were taken. If either name equally represented the Spirit's idea, it was in the prerogative of the Spirit, in the quotation of its own words, to adopt the one or the other according to circumstances-the Spirit's aim being very different from a man's, who, unlike the Spirit of God, is fettered by the necessity of technical accuracy in quoting from a book he did not write.
Paul's Cloak, &c.-As to such details as Paul asking for his cloak, and not knowing how many he baptized at Corinth, it is intellectual poverty alone that cannot conceive the Spirit having an object in moving Paul to record these true things concerning himself. Had Paul referred to an imaginary cloak, or professed a knowledge about Corinth he did not possess, there might have been some excuse for attempting to found an argument against inspiration on such things.
We could suggest a reason why such personal details should be assigned a place in writings intended to be in the hands of the friends of Christ during his absence. There is not an item or a peculiarity in the whole Epistles (down even to the impulse that led Paul's amanuensis (Tertius), to interject his love during a pause in Paul's dictation), but what comes within the scope of the spiritual objects which the Spirit was with the Apostles to promote. But we have said enough. Some of the objections are too puerile to call for particular notice.
Let the two features of the case be distinctly apprehended: the Spirit's presence and control, and the part assigned to the apostles as witnesses, and all difficulty will vanish. The application of one or other of these to the exclusion of the other is the cause of the confusion-in the orthodox school on the one hand, and the critical school of merely human learning on the other. It is far from being the unimportant matter of "theory" that some would make it out to be. It is a matter affecting the character and reliability of the Scriptures in every part, and therefore concerns the stability of the whole foundation of faith.