Page images

of inspiration is supported—viz., 2 Tim. iii. 16, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for correction, for reproof," &c. This also is a mistranslation. You know, of course, that the word scripture merely means writing, just as the word bible means book. In course of time these terms have come to be restricted to the writings and to the book, which we regard as the writings and the book par excellence. But it is constantly assumed that the restriction existed from the beginning, and that it is implied in this particular passage in Timothy. Now manifestly the assumption is absurd; for the writings which we call Scripture had not then been collected into a single whole; many of them had not even been written; the very epistle in which this text occurs, an epistle which now forms part of our Scriptures, was at the time in process of composition. It will save confusion if we translate the word, not scripture, but writing. But the important mistranslation is in what follows. The apostle does not say "every writing is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable;" but every writing given by inspiration of God is profitable. Whether it be given by inspiration must be critically determined in each particular case; but if it be inspired, then the apostle asserts it is profitable, whenever, wherever, by whomsoever it was written. This is in harmony with, whereas the mistranslation contradicts, the teaching of St James, that "every good and perfect gift cometh from the Father of lights."

There is only one other passage in the Bible which bears directly upon the question of inspiration—viz., 2 Peter i. 21, "Holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Of course they did; and so they will to the end of time!

Why, then, is it that we regard the Bible as preeminently inspired, more inspired than other books? Are we right in so regarding it? I think we are. But the reasons by which this view is justified are generally wrong.

Let us consider some of the grounds on which the common view might be often vindicated. And the first and most obvious is that of style. If the Bible be altogether unique in its origin, if it literally had God for its author, we should naturally expect the style to be different from that of other books, and not only different but superior. Now, when we examine the Bible, what do we find? Why, we find among its writers the same literary excellences and defects that exist among profane authors; we find all possible varieties of style, from the most primitive portions of the Pentateuch up to the perfect art of Job. No one can honestly say that the books of Kings or of Chronicles are better written, or indeed as well, as the histories of Thucydides or of Freeman. And even supposing we discovered in all the books of the Bible the same proofs of genius as we do in the Book of Job, still we have works in profane literature which in point of ability fall little, if at all, short of that great poem. The difference in artistic merit between Job and Faust, e.g., is not such as to warrant the supposition that while Goethe wrote the one, God alone could have been author of the other.

Secondly, it may be said that, though the style and idiosyncrasies of the Scriptural writers were not interfered with, they were nevertheless divinely and miraculously compelled, one and all of them, to give a full, perfect, infallible representation of Deity. But when we come to examine the Bible carefully for ourselves, we see that the representation of the Deity differs from writer to writer, and from age to age. We find, what we find everywhere else, an evolution of the idea of God. Just look at 1 Sam. xv. 1-3. Samuel said unto Saul, "Hearken thou unto the voice of the voice of the Lord. Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass." If a modern general were to give such an order, he would be considered a monster of iniquity. But the early Jewish writers imagined that the cruelty and fierceness of their own savage natures were actually characteristics of the Deity. Or look at Numbers xv. 32-36: "While the children of Israel were in the wilderness, they found a man that gathered sticks upon the Sabbath-day. And they brought him to Moses and Aaron, and unto all the congregation. And they put him in ward, because it was not declared what should be done unto him. And the Lord said unto Moses, The man shall surely be put to death: all the congregation shall stone him with stones without the camp. And all the congregation brought him without the camp, and stoned him with stones, and he died; as the Lord commanded Moses." What do you suppose Christ would have thought of such proceedings?

Here, perhaps, I ought to say a word in extenuation of these early writers. At first sight it may appear as if they were dishonest, not to say blasphemous, in so boldly announcing that their own crude opinions were the opinions of the Lord, in justifying their own cruelty by the assertion that they were fulfilling the divine behests. But I must point out to you that by all such expressions as "Thus saith the Lord," they merely meant to assert the strength of their own conscientious convictions. We ourselves speak of conscience as the voice of God, and yet we know that we have sometimes done conscientiously what we afterwards discovered to be wrong. Many of the greatest crimes in history, such as the tortures of the Inquisition, have been perpetrated by those who felt perfectly certain that they were acting in harmony with the will of God. I do not want you to condemn these Old Testament writers; I only want you to see that their views of God were sometimes very low.

Further, let me ask you to notice, not only do we find in the Bible different theological views obtaining in different ages, but we also find them coexisting in the same age. The controversies between the priests and the prophets of Judaism, both of whom professed to believe in inspiration, were very much the same as between the Eitualists and Broad Churchmen of to-day. The priests observed to the very last the ceremonialism of early times; and they were perfectly satisfied when they had offered up the proper number of doves and oxen, when they had duly changed the shewbread, and lighted the proper number of lamps. The prophets looked upon all this with more or less of contempt. The sacrifices of God they taught, the only sacrifices worth offering, were a broken and contrite heart.

« PreviousContinue »