Thank God for an Inspired Bible

Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. 22 I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord. 23 Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the city treasurer, and our brother Quartus, greet you.

You may wonder why I chose the title “Thank God for an Inspired Bible” to go with this text in Romans 16:21-23. Here’s why. As I pondered what in this little group of greetings should get our attention, I thought the most unusual and the most provocative thing was that Paul’s secretary—scholars call him an amanuensis, the one who is taking his dictation—should insert his own greeting in verse 22. So in verse 21, you hear the voice of Paul himself saying, “Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen.” The my there is Paul. So we are hearing the voice of Paul as he dictates this letter to the Roman church through Tertius.

But in verse 22, we abruptly meet another voice: “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” Then we go back to the voice of Paul, “Gaius, who is host to me [that’s Paul] and to the whole church, greets you.” And so on. This is so unusual (nowhere else in Paul’s letter does the stenographer identify himself) that it caused me to stop and ponder. Here are some observations about this that moved me toward a message on thankfulness for an inspired Bible.

Five Observations About Tertius’ Words

  1. Paul regularly wrote using a secretary to take down the letter. We know this because at least four times he signs off at the end of a letter with a greeting which he says is in his own hand, implying that the rest is in the hand of his secretary (1 Corinthians 16:21; Galatians 6:11; Colossians 4:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:17).
  2. Nevertheless, the letter is his and the voice is his and the thought is his. That’s why he can begin every letter, including the ones where we know he uses a penman, with words like “Paul . . . to the church of God that is in Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:1, 2) or, “Paul . . . to the churches of Galatia” (Galatians 1:1, 2); “Paul . . . to the saints and faithful brothers . . . at Colossae” (Colossians 1:1, 2); “Paul . . . to all those in Rome who are loved by God” (Romans 1:1, 7). So, in Paul’s mind, using a secretary to write down what he said did not change the fact that they were his words.
  3. When Tertius wrote in Romans 16:22, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord,” that does not mean that we stopped hearing Paul. It may have gone like this. Paul is dictating, “Timothy, my fellow worker, greets you; so do Lucius and Jason and Sosipater, my kinsmen. Tertius who is writing this letter greets you. . .” Then Paul stops and smiles and says, “Why don’t you make that personally from you.” And so Tertius writes, “I Tertius, who wrote this letter, greet you in the Lord.” There is no reason for us to think Tertius did something against Paul’s will.
  4. In fact, I am not sure the translations are exactly right in the word order. Word order in Greek is usually not decisive in what modifies what. But if a modifier can go both ways, word order can be important. For example, in verse 22, the Greek word order goes like this: “I greet you, I Tertius, the one who wrote the letter in the Lord.” There is nothing in Greek that says “in the Lord” has to modify “I greet you,” as virtually all the translations have it: “I . . . greet you in the Lord.” It can just as easily modify “wrote”—“I Tertius, the one who wrote this letter in the Lord.” (Support for this would also come from the way “in the Lord” modifies in 16:2, 8, 13) and the way “in Christ” is used in 16:3, 9, 10).

    So it is just as likely that Tertius is explicitly saying that his writing—his taking dictation—is not a merely human effort, but is also “in the Lord,” or “by the Lord.” It is overseen by the Lord and done in dependence on the Lord and carried along by the Lord. When Paul gives him freedom to personalize his greeting, he may have used the words in the Lord to emphasize his awareness that this whole relationship of apostolic dictation and scribal writing is “in the Lord.” It is not merely human.
  5. All of this led me to ponder the thought that in our doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, Paul’s relationship to Tertius is like God’s relationship to Paul—not exactly but in a key way. Just as even though Tertius is doing the writing, the words and the thoughts are still Paul’s, so even though Paul is doing the dictating, the words and thoughts are still God’s. I don’t mean that precise word-for-word dictation is the only way God inspires the biblical writers, but I do mean that in whatever way he guides them, it is God’s words that get written. And that makes the Bible the most precious book and the most precious possession in the world—it is God’s inspired word.

The Origin of This Sermon

Then two thoughts occurred to me that brought this sermon to be what it is. One is that this is the Sunday before Thanksgiving, and the other is that it is has been a long time since I unfolded for the whole church the basis of our doctrine of inspiration. So I thought: Let’s step back and look at the larger foundations of our belief in biblical inspiration and then close with a great sense of gratitude at how precious this book is because it is God’s inspired word.

Start with Jesus

Let’s start with Jesus. His view was that the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament as we call it, had infallible authority as God’s inspired word. If you understood it rightly, it would never be wrong and would never lead you astray. When the Sadducees tried to entangle him about the resurrection of the dead, which they didn’t believe in, he responded, “You are wrong [you err, you make a mistake], because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). If you knew the Scriptures, you would not make this mistake.

Why is that? Because, as he says in John 10:34, “The Scripture cannot be broken.” He said near the beginning of his ministry, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18). And he said at the end of his ministry, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The reason these words must (dei) be fulfilled is because they are God’s words and God’s words cannot fall.

Jesus’ Reverence for the Old Testament

One small but powerful example that Jesus thought all of the Old Testament Scriptures were God’s words is the way he responded to the Pharisees when they tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce ones wife for any cause?” He answered by referring back to Genesis 2:24 where Moses wrote—Moses wrote this; it’s not a quotation from God—“a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”

So Jesus answers the Pharisees’ question like this: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female and said . . .” Now who is doing the ‘saying’ here? The one who made them male and female—God. So let’s start over and listen to the implication of Jesus’ saying God said this: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said [then he quotes what Moses said, Genesis 2:24] ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’?” In other words, Jesus can take any seemingly random Scripture—like Genesis 2:24, written by Moses—and say, “God said it.”

That’s why “the Scripture cannot be broken.” And there are many other places we could look at to show Jesus’ reverence for the divine inspiration and authority of the Old Testament.

Jesus Speaks with the Same Authority

And, of course, Jesus himself speaks with that same authority. He honors the Old Testament as inspired, and he claims that same authority for his own words. In John 14:10, he says, “Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.” Or John 8:28, “[I] speak as the Father has taught me.” Or John 12:49, “The Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” So repeatedly when he corrected the authoritative tradition of his day, he said, “You have heard that it was said, but I say to you . . . .” (Matthew 5:21-48).

Jesus Sanctions the Apostles’ Authority

Then not only did he look back and acknowledge the inspiration and authority of the Old Testament and then affirm his own authority, but he also looked forward to the days of the apostles who would write the Gospels and epistles which would be the foundation of the church, and he promised to provide the divine inspiration they would need to give the church this foundation.

For example, in John 14:26, he said, “The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” And in John 16:13, he said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

Paul’s Authority

And if we just take the apostle Paul as one example from the apostles, since we are concerned here especially with the book of Romans, this is exactly what he says is true about himself and what Peter says is true about him.

Consider first what Peter says and then finally what Paul says about himself. Peter first describes inspired Old Testament Scripture in 2 Peter 1:21 like this: “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In other words, divine inspiration means that as men wrote Scripture, they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This made their prophetic word sure and reliable (2 Peter 1:19). That is his view of Scripture inspiration and authority.

Then when you get to 2 Peter 3:15-16, he puts Paul’s writings in that same category. “Our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” Peter considers Paul’s writings as part of the “other Scriptures.” So he too is “carried along by the Holy Spirit” as he writes Scripture.

Which is, in fact, what Paul describes as his experience. Not only does he say in 2 Timothy 3:16, like Peter, that all Scripture is “inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,” but he also describes his own experience of it like this from 1 Corinthians 2:12-13, “Now 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, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.”

This inspiration gave him authority. It wasn’t personal arrogance that made Paul say things like this in 1 Corinthians 14:37-38, “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.”

So when Paul thinks out the train of thought in the book of Romans and then gives those thoughts in words that Tertius writes down, the thoughts are the wisdom of God that is not of this world, and the words are taught by the Spirit. The book is being written, to use the phrase of Tertius, in the Lord. Like the rest of Scripture, it is inspired by God—the very word of God, and therefore inerrant and authoritative.

No Book Like the Bible

There is no book like the Christian Bible—divinely inspired, infallible, and authoritative. So when you gather this Thanksgiving with your family and friends, let this be near the top of the list. You have in your Bible the very word of the Creator and Redeemer of the universe.

The Price Paid by William Tyndale

Last Thursday I gave a lecture on William Tyndale to a group in Washington, D. C. Tyndale translated the New Testament for the first time from the original languages into English in 1526. He paid for this with his life. He was strangled and then burned at the stake at age forty-two. There was one point where I did not expect to be moved as deeply as I was. I was listing passages in the English Standard Version that we use here at Bethlehem which trace their origin back through the Revised Standard Version to the American Revised Version to the King James Version to the Geneva Bible to the Coverdale Bible to William Tyndale.

And when I got to the blessing of Numbers 6:24-26, I realized that I use these words almost every weekend to close our services. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.” And it hit me, I am using the very words that William Tyndale chose five hundred years ago to translate these verses (with two tiny changes, thee to you, and merciful to gracious), and he paid for this translation with his life. He died to put these words in English.

Thanksgiving for an Inspired Bible

So I will say to you what I said to those folks: Let’s not play with these precious words. These are the words of God. Christ died to confirm them and make it possible for sinners to understand them and embrace them. And thousands have died to preserve them for us to this day. Thank God this Thanksgiving for the inspired Bible.