First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
On June 27, 1819, Adoniram Judson baptized his first convert in Burma. His wife, Ann Hasseltine, described how Moung Nau had responded to the Scripture: "A few days ago I was reading with him Christ's Sermon on the Mount. He was deeply impressed and unusually solemn. 'These words,' said he, 'take hold on my liver; they make me tremble.'" God spoke through Isaiah the prophet 2,700 years ago and said, "This is the man to whom I will look, he that is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word . . . Hear the word of the Lord, you who tremble at his word" (Isaiah 66:2, 5).
The Bible's Impact in History
For two thousand years the Bible has been taking hold of people's lives and making them tremble—first with fear because it reveals our sin, then with faith because it reveals God's grace. A single verse, Romans 13:13, convicted and converted the immoral Augustine. For Martin Luther, a miserable monk, the light broke in through Romans 1:17. He said,
Night and day I pondered until I saw the connection between the justice of God and the statement that "the just shall live by his faith." Then I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. (Here I Stand, p. 49)
For Jonathan Edwards it was 1 Timothy 1:17. He says,
The first instance, that I remember, of that sort of inward, sweet delight in God and divine things, that I have lived much in since, was on reading these words, 1 Tim. 1:17, "Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen." As I read the words, there came into my soul . . . a sense of the glory of the Divine Being; a new sense quite different from anything I ever experienced before. Never any words of Scripture seemed to me as these words did. (Works, vol. 1, p. xii)
From century to century, from Egypt to Germany to New England, the Bible has been drawing people to Christ and making them new.
The Bible as the Word of Man and the Word of God
Why? Why has the Bible had this abiding relevance and power? I believe the answer is found in our text. 2 Peter 1:20–21, "First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." This passage teaches that when you read Scripture, what you are reading does not merely come from a man but also from God. The Bible is the writing of many different men. But it is also far more than that. Yes, men spoke. They spoke with their own language and style. But Peter mentions two other dimensions of their speaking.
Speaking from God, Moved by the Holy Spirit
First, they spoke from God. What they have to say is not merely from their own limited perspective. They are not the origin of the truth they speak; they are the channel. The truth is God's truth. Their meaning is God's meaning.
Second, not only is what they spoke from God, but how they spoke it is controlled by the Holy Spirit. "Men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God." God did not simply reveal truth to the writers of Scripture and then depart in hopes that they might communicate it accurately. Peter says that in the very communicating of it they were carried by the Holy Spirit. The making of the Bible was not left to merely human skills of communication; the Holy Spirit himself carried the process to completion.
One recent book by three former teachers of mine (LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, Old Testament Survey, p. 15) puts it like this,
To assure verbal precision God, in communicating his revelation, must be verbally precise, and inspiration must extend to the very words. This does not mean that God dictated every word. Rather his Spirit so pervaded the mind of the human writer that he chose out of his own vocabulary and experience precisely those words, thoughts and expressions that conveyed God's message with precision. In this sense the words of the human authors of Scripture can be viewed as the word of God.
Not Just Prophecy, but All Scripture
Someone might say that 2 Peter 1:20–21 only has to do with prophecy not with all Old Testament Scripture. But look carefully how he argues. In verse 19 Peter says that a prophetic word has been made more sure to him by his experience with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. Then in verses 20–21 he undergirds the authority of this prophetic word by saying it is part of Scripture. Verse 20: "No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation." Peter is not saying that only prophetic parts of Scripture are inspired by God. He is saying, We know the prophetic word is inspired precisely because it is a "prophecy of Scripture." Peter's assumption is that whatever stands in Scripture is from God, written by men who were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
His teaching is the same as Paul's in 2 Timothy 3:16, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." None of the Old Testament Scriptures came by the impulse of man. All of it is truth from God as men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
What About the New Testament Writings?
But what about the New Testament? Did the apostles and their close associates (Mark, Luke, James, Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews) experience divine inspiration as they wrote? Were they "carried" by the Holy Spirit to speak from God? The Christian church has always answered yes. Jesus said to his apostles in John 16:12–13, "I have yet many things to say to you but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you things that are to come."
Then the apostle Paul confirms this when he says of his own apostolic teaching in 1 Corinthians 2:12–13, "We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit." In 2 Corinthians 13:3 he said that Christ speaks in him. And in Galatians 1:12 he said, "I did not receive [my gospel] from man nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation of Jesus Christ." If we take Paul as our model for what it meant to be an apostle of Christ, then it would be fair to say that the New Testament as well as the Old is not merely from man but also from God. The writers of the Old Testament and New Testament spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit Is the Divine Author of Scripture
The doctrine that emerges is this: The Holy Spirit is the divine author of all Scripture. If this doctrine is true, then the implications are so profound and far-reaching that every part of our lives should be affected. I want to talk about those implications this morning. But for our own strengthening and for those still wavering on the outskirts of commitment let me first sketch out the basis of our persuasion.
Coming to a Reasonable Faith in Scripture
Most people come to a reasonable trust in the Bible as God's word something like this. It happens in three stages.
1. We Are Guilty Before God
First, the testimony of our own conscience, the reality of God behind nature, and the message of Scripture come together in our hearts to give us the inescapable conviction that we are guilty before our Creator. This is a reasonable conviction because the persuasion that there is a Creator above this world and the persuasion that we are guilty for not honoring and thanking him as we ought are not irrational leaps in the dark; they are forced upon us by our experience and our honest thinking about the world.
2. Jesus Wins Our Confidence
The second step on the way to a reasonable persuasion that the Bible is God's word is that Jesus Christ is shown to us. Someone reads or tells us the story of this incomparable man who talked and acted like so much more than a man. We see the authority he claimed to forgive sin and command demons and control nature, we see the purity of his moral teaching, his utter surrender to the will of God, his brilliant calm under cross-examination, his righteous fury against hypocrites, his tenderness toward little children, his patience with the humble seekers, his innocent submission to torture, and we hear from his lips the sweetest, most-needed words ever spoken: "I have come to give my life as a ransom for many."
And so by the self-authenticating force of his incomparable character and power Jesus wins our confidence and our trust and we take him as Savior from our sin and Lord of our life. And this is not an irrational persuasion. It's the way all of you go about making reasonable decisions about whom you will trust in life. Will you trust this babysitter with your children, or this lawyer to give you good counsel, or this friend to keep your secret? You look, you listen, and eventually you are persuaded (or not) that here in this person is solid ground for your confidence.
3. We Follow the Teaching and Spirit of Jesus
Once the character and power of Jesus have captured our trust, then he becomes the guide and authority for all our future decisions and persuasions. So the third step on the way to a reasonable persuasion that the Bible is God's word is to let the teaching and the spirit of Jesus control how we assess the Bible. This happens in at least two ways. One is that we accept what Jesus teaches about the Old and New Testaments. When he says that Scripture can't be broken (John 10:35) and that not an iota or dot will pass from the law till all is accomplished (Matthew 5:18), we agree with him and base our confidence in the Old Testament on his reliability. And when he chose twelve apostles to found his church, gives them his authority to teach, and promises to send his Spirit to guide them into truth, we agree with him and credit the writings of these men with the authority of Christ.
The other way the teaching and spirit of Jesus control our assessment of the Bible is that we recognize in the teachings of the Bible the many-colored rays of light refracted out from the prism of Christ whom we have come to trust. And just as Christ enabled us to make sense out of our relation to God and bring harmony to it, so also the many rays of his truth in every part of the Bible enable us to make sense out of hundreds of our experiences in life and see the way to harmony. Our confidence in Scripture grows as we realize that Jesus affirmed it and as we realize that its teachings are as incomparable as Jesus himself. Time after time they help us make sense out of life's puzzles: failing marriages, rebellious children, drug addiction, warring nations, the return of leaves in spring, the insatiable longings of our hearts, the fear of death, the coming into being of children, the universality of praise and blame, the prevalence of pride, and the admiration of self-denial. The Bible confirms its divine origin again and again as it makes sense out of our experience in the real world and points the way to harmony.
I hope, therefore, that one of the doctrines which we cherish at Bethlehem enough to die for it (and live for it!) is that the Holy Spirit is the divine author of all Scripture. The Bible is God's word, not merely man's word.
Implications for All of Life
O, that we had all day to talk about the wonderful implications of this doctrine! The Holy Spirit is the author of Scripture. Therefore, it is true (Psalm 119:142) and altogether reliable (Hebrews 6:18). It is powerful, working its purpose in our hearts (1 Thessalonians 2:13) and not returning empty to the One who sent it (Isaiah 55:10–11). It is pure, like silver refined in a furnace seven times (Psalm 12:6). It is sanctifying (John 17:17). It gives life (Psalm 119:37, 50, 93, 107; John 6:63; Matthew 4:4). It makes wise (Psalm 19:7; 119:99–100). It gives joy (Psalm 19:8; 119:16, 92, 111, 143, 174) and promises great reward (Psalm 19:11). It gives strength to the weak (Psalm 119:28) and comfort to the distraught (Psalm 119:76) and guidance to the perplexed (Psalm 119:105) and salvation to the lost (Psalm 119:155; 2 Timothy 3:15). The wisdom of God in Scripture is inexhaustible.
How precious to me are thy thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.