Steve in Nashville writes in with today’s question. “Pastor John, thank you for your ministry! To your knowledge, were any writers of the Bible self-consciously aware that they were being inspired by the Holy Spirit as they wrote?”
Let me answer by pointing to three authors of Scripture — or, at least, three kinds of writing in Scripture. Even though we are not given a window into the very moment when the Old Testament prophets put their oral prophecies into writing, I think it is fair to infer that, since they knew God was giving them words of his very own to speak orally, he would also take care to help them preserve those words when they or others came to write them down.
If you look up in a concordance how many times in the Old Testament the phrase “Thus says the Lord” occurs, you will find in the ESV that it occurs 417 times. That is incredible. By the way, that is only for, “Thus says the Lord.” There might also be “says the Lord” or “says God” — I only looked up the one phrase. There may be hundreds and hundreds of others with various wording. Three hundred and fifty-one of those occur in the books of the Prophets.
“God intended for his authoritative spokesmen to know that they were speaking authoritatively for him.”
In some of these cases, God himself says to the prophet that they should say, “Thus says the Lord,” like Jeremiah 11:3, “You shall say to them, Thus says the Lord.” Or Zechariah 6:12, “And say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord.’” Or Isaiah 38:5, “Go and say to Hezekiah, Thus says the Lord, the God of David.” And the point is that God intended for his authoritative spokesmen to know that they were speaking authoritatively for him.
Now, we should remind ourselves that the reason we embrace the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s word is not mainly because every author makes explicit that he was inspired by God — they don’t — but that the Lord Jesus himself put his seal on the authority and the inerrancy of the Old Testament in several places in the New Testament like John 10:35, “Scripture cannot be broken,” and that the Scriptures themselves reveal a self-authenticating glory as the very word of God.
My second example of an author is Paul. He said to the Corinthians, “We impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. . . . These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. . . . We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:7, 10, 12–13). And we can get a glimpse into how Paul saw the way this played out in his writings. So, we go from human words taught by the Spirit down to the writings in 1 Corinthians 14:37–38 where he says, “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that the things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized.” In other words, Paul saw his writings as carrying an authority referred to back in 1 Corinthians 2, which every other claim to prophecy should submit to.
And the last illustration I will give is the apostle John writing the book of Revelation. He says,
The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw. Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near. (Revelation 1:1–3)
So, it seems pretty clear to me that John knew he was receiving special revelation from the Lord and that it was being written down.
But again, let me stress in conclusion that our final, unshaken confidence rises not decisively or finally from the personal claims of each biblical author to have been inspired, but rather from the peculiar marks of God’s glory that shines through God’s word when the Holy Spirit enables us to discern what it means. I wrote a whole book about this last year. It was just published this year. It is called A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness. Since that is what Steve is wrestling with, I hope he will look at it.