Covenant Reformed News
September 2018 • Volume XVII, Issue 5
Does the Bible Merely Contain Men’s Opinions?
Question: “In I Corinthians 7:6, where Paul speaks of the due benevolence that spouses owe each other sexually, he explicitly says that it is not a direct commandment from the Lord, but rather something he states ‘by permission’: ‘But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.’ What do we make of this?”
There has been, over the years, a great deal of discussion over such a text as this. The problem includes verse 12 of this same chapter, as well as II Corinthians 8:8. These texts have been used by the enemies of divine inspiration to attempt to prove that the Bible frequently contains merely men’s personal opinions.
However, we believe in the Bible’s verbal inspiration. Every word in Scripture is directly inspired by God and is not to be considered merely as an opinion or word which the writer inserted in addition to what the Holy Spirit breathed forth.
The battle with the critics is not to be construed as an argument or debate in which each party attempts to come up with superior proof that is totally convincing. We believe without any question at all that Scripture is verbally inspired by God by means of the Holy Spirit: every word is His word. The basis for our firm belief is the testimony of Scripture itself; it is not merely our private conviction. While I dare say that the proof for the infallible inspiration of the Bible is to be found in every page of Holy Writ, the two main texts are II Timothy 3:16 and II Peter 1:20-21.
This means that we are to explain the text to which the questioner refers (as well as similar texts) as part of the infallibly inspired Word. Let me be clear on this point. When I say that this text is part of the infallibly inspired Scripture, I do not mean that God infallibly inspired Paul to tell those to whom he wrote that God inspired Paul to say that these words were Paul’s words and not God’s words, that is, that these words were formally inspired but not materially, i.e., inspired in what they say. I mean that they were inspired materially as well as formally. What Paul writes is also the truth of God.
Prof. Engelsma states, “Single life is good inasmuch as marriage is not an absolute requirement for Christians. This is the apostle’s point in verse 6: ‘But I speak this by permission, and not by commandment.’ He has just exhorted men and women in the church to marry and to live together sexually (vv. 2-5). Someone might suppose that this was a command to all without exception. Not so, says Paul in verse 6. To marry is permitted, not commanded. Therefore, single life is an option for the Christian. Singleness is an earthly way of life in which the believer may serve the Lord as much as is marriage” (Better to Marry
, pp. 43-44; available from the CPRC Bookstore for £8.80, inc. P&P).
With this question, I am prompted to mention an element of inspiration that requires further explanation. Often the appeal is made, as I said, to this and similar passages to prove that there is a “human side” to inspiration in which the “secondary authors” were permitted to express their own opinions. They claim that the opinions of men that are not inspired by God are to be found throughout Scripture. God is said to be the primary Author and men the “secondary authors.”
Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), made this distinction between “secondary authors” and a primary Author. But let it be underscored: Bavinck did not mean that the so-called “secondary authors” were permitted to express their own opinions. He believed firmly in the infallible inspiration of the whole of Scripture. He believed that God was the Author of the Bible but that He used men to write the Scripture, men with their own personalities, abilities, places in history and knowledge of God’s creation. Their personalities give the Bible a human flavour, for the identity of the penmen God used to write different parts is impressed on their writings. But God breathed forth every word by His Spirit (II Tim. 3:16). That was Bavinck’s position.
While I do not disagree with what Bavinck said, I prefer not to use the distinction he used. God is the Author of Scripture, the sole Author. There were no “secondary authors.” God used men but they did not function as mere secretaries who were taking down dictation. Gordon Clark, in his book God’s Hammer, calls attention to the fact that Jehovah is in sovereign control of all things as He works out His eternal plan (Eph. 1:11). God eternally ordained that He would prepare a book, inspired by Himself, in which He would tell His beloved church of all His mighty works, especially salvation by grace alone through the cross of Christ.
God ordained all the men He would use over some 1,500 years: Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, etc. He eternally determined their gifts and abilities so that they were perfectly qualified to write the parts of Scripture He assigned to them. In God’s mighty providence, all that He determined was carried out: the times of the births of the Bible’s penmen; the circumstances of their upbringing; and their roles in their homes, their societies and their nations (e.g., Paul was born a Roman according to God’s decree).
Thus God is the Author. The writing of Scripture was a miracle so that all the qualities and experiences of those whom He used to write the Bible lie on the surface of their writings, but they were “moved the Holy Ghost” (II Pet. 1:21). The word “moved” in this verse is the same word as is used to describe how a ship at sea is borne along by the wind, as it goes from its point of departure to its point of arrival.
Fallen man finds God’s Word distasteful for it proclaims that he is a hell-worthy sinner. Scripture declares the glorious “good news” that God saves His elect through the wonder of the cross of Jesus Christ and His resurrection from the dead.
It tells of what God requires of His regenerate children. These demands are contrary to the sinful nature that we carry with us to the grave. We are comforted by our victory in Christ, the forgiveness of our sins in His blood and the hope of glory when we join the church of all ages in heaven.
To mess around with the Word in order to justify one’s own desires and longings is to slap God in the face, deny the infallible Scriptures and continue to revel in sin. This is what much of the church does today with its approval of homosexuality, women in church office, transgenderism, feminism, abortion and other abominable practices.
Thank God for the gospel found in the pages of His infallible Word that is our strength and guide through all of life.
Prof. Herman Hanko, emeritus PRC Seminary