The Criteria of Truth-Part 3 of 3


A portion of a lecture given by Boyd before the Young Men's Christian Association in Exeter Hall, London. Published in Exeter Hall Lectures, 1861-2. Edited slightly for length and modern spellings.

In speaking of these different kinds of inspiration, the first we glance at is that which is called mechanical or organic. According to this theory, the Spirit, the author of all inspiration, used the sacred writers, not as intelligent agents, but as merely passive instruments. The power of inspiration fell upon them as the human breath on an instrument of music, producing or educing notes and sounds at pleasure. That this is, in a certain degree, true, seems clear, from such cases as those of Balaam and Jeremiah-the one declaring that "he had no power at all to say anything,"-"that the word that God put into his mouth, that he must speak;" the other reporting that the roll was written and re-written in the same terms, from dictation by the Lord. And from the very style and substance of several of the prophetic books, it seems evident that the men who gave utterance to the communications of God were frequently ignorant of the import of their own utterances.

But that this can be taken as a general law, covering the whole of Scripture, seems utterly irreconcilable with the facts, that " the prophets enquired and searched diligently of that salvation" which they predicted-that, as in the cases of Daniel, and Zechariah, and Ezekiel, they asked explanations of the mysteries submitted to their senses; and that the styles of the different writers of the Scriptures are so clearly peculiar, that the very question of genuineness of some of these writers is affected by the selection of the words used, and the grammatical form into which those words are thrown; The argumentative Paul is not the persuasive John, nor is the plaintive Jeremiah the stern and impetuous Hosea. True it is, that this admitted difference in style is not absolutely inconsistent with the theory which makes words and thoughts the outbreathing of the Spirit through mechanical agents; but it seems difficult to conceive that the disciple of Gamaliel and the accomplished classical scholar did not disclose himself in the erudition of the Hebrews and the syllogisms of the Romans.

The second theory differs by but a shade from this. It supposes verbal dictation, but allows for conscious and intelligent co-operation. The sacred writers were not mere machines, but amanuenses cognizant of the sense and signification of the sentences they wrote. By this theory, every word of the Scripture is the word of the Spirit of God. Of course, the argument drawn from the diversity of styles, already directed against the first theory, is legitimate against this. It is difficult to conceive a universal dictation of words in conjunction with a broad dissimilarity of style. Still more difficult is it to comprehend how verbal discrepancies in statements can consist with this verbal dictation-discrepancies not affecting the substantial truth of the fact recorded, but more likely to flow from the management of the same ideas by different minds, than from the dictation of the same infallible and exact mind.

If we take, as illustrative of this, the different records of the institution of the Lord's Supper, which we have in the Evangelists, and in the Epistle to the Corinthians, we shall find that they all bear to be harmonized into a consistent narrative, couched in words which are substantially in unison with each other, but which would have been, probably, syllabically identical, had they come from the dictation of the same mouth. And when we speak of dictation, let us bear in recollection, that we are more properly speaking of suggestion; for it will hardly be maintained, that when the Evangelists wrote their histories, and Apostles their epistles, they heard an actual voice uttering the words which they wrote down. In some instances, that was so; for the Prophets "heard a voice of one that spoke, and said;" but in others there were sights presented which had to be described, and thoughts communicated which were to be clothed-media these, belonging rather to the order of things suggested, than of things uttered.

Whether we look, then, to confessed discrepancies in statements (which we deny to be contradictions), or differences of styles, or the "perfect knowledge of facts," which was an avowed qualification for a historian, it seems impossible to adopt it as a general law, that the Scriptures came from dictation, even although that dictation did not supersede or suppress the existence of consciousness or the powers of intelligence.

There is a third theory, which consists of the removal from the second one of the feature of dictation. It supposes that Inspiration consisted of suggestions to the minds and memories of the sacred penmen, of the thoughts, the arguments, and facts, which were to form the substance of their compositions. That this is not to be taken as a complete solution of the case, is clear from the fact, that portions there are of the Scriptures which were positively dictated. The theory of suggestion, while it may be allowed to cover large portions of the word of God, cannot fairly be said to cover all; for sometimes there was more than suggestion.

But this exception, while it may be taken as supplementary to the theory under consideration, need not be held as contradictory of that theory. There is nothing to hinder portions of a communication being cast into the form of audible expressions. Thoughts, ideas, revelations, may be conveyed in dreams, "in the stillness of the night, when deep sleep falls upon men;" and other thoughts, in harmony with those which come soundless, may reach us through the medium of a human voice. There is no necessary opposition between the two operations. In this theory, the mind is left to choose its own current of expression, as a vehicle for the communication of the thoughts poured down into it from on High. "Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." The statement, the narrative, the argument, the illustration, the power of recollecting things seen, and words heard and the greater power of knowing things never seen, but summoned back, as it were, from the darkness of past ages; and the greater power still of penetrating the awful future, and seeing, by prophetic anticipation, things not yet existing-all these come into the inspired mind by suggestions from God Himself. His, to supply the materials; theirs, to weave them into forms and systems; His, to breathe on the harp strings; theirs, to touch the chords. His, to see that discord there is none; theirs, to yield themselves to the force which "guided them to all truth." His, even to command at times the clothing of the thought in technical and precise terms; theirs, "to speak not their own words," when the word suggested lay upon their minds. In this theory, the agent is no mere instrument; the cultivated and intellectual is not set aside for the mechanical; the discrepancies of the Scriptures (one of the strongest evidences of their genuineness and truth) lie at the door of man's inaccuracy, not of Divine production; and the idea of inbreathement (perfectly reconcilable with occasional dictation) is preserved as the great feature pervading the entire operation.

It is hardly necessary even to allude to the last form which inspiration, in the minds of some, assumes. Unwilling to admit a direct supernatural suggestion-unprepared to regard the sacred writers, either as mere amanuenses or mere machines, there are some who satisfy themselves with an inspiration of superintendence-an inspiration which leaves the respective authors of the Holy Volume to their own resources, their own powers their own recollection, their own industry; only exercising such a supervision of their productions as guards them from material error. Whatever this may be, it is hardly justifiable to call it inspiration; for it communicates no gifts; it inbreathes no power; it supplies no materials. If inspiration at all, it is merely that higher class of genius in the writers, which brings Milton and Shakespeare, and Paul and Solomon, into the same category. It is almost superfluous to point out, that this theory of truth, produced by a process, negative rather than positive, is entirely inconsistent with those assertions of supernatural impulses, and that possession of prophetic gifts which the sacred writers confess and use.

We say not, that sections there are not of the Scriptures, of a merely narrative or historic description, for the production of which, more was required than natural capacity, jealously guarded by Divine vigilance; but we do say, that to affirm that the Scriptures at large were thus produced, or to designate this as inspiration, is to assert the existence of results without adequate causes, and entirely to confound the meaning of terms. Upon a review of all these theories, it will probably be found to be the fact, that not one of them, in itself, satisfies the requirements of the case; and that to not one of them, solely, is the production of the Bible to be attributed; that it were partial, to affirm that "God no otherwise employed the writers in this heavenly work, than the harp or lute doth give a sound according to the discretion of his hands that holds it;" that it were below the fact, to maintain that God, taking with Him the intelligent consciousness of the writers, employed them as mere recorders of His words; that it were equally below fact, that the inspiration of mere suggestion covers those passages which were clearly dictated and required to be written down with syllabic accuracy, or the Divine superintendence raises the scriptural composition to the rank and level of works inspired.

There may be an employment of all these processes, without a restriction of the act to any. As "God at sundry times, and in divers manners spoke to the fathers by the prophets;" so there is nothing at variance with truth in the theory, that the impulse on the mind of Luke in the compilation of his Gospel, might have been different from that which moved Paul to the composition of his Epistles; and that the method which made Moses conversant with the history of Creation and the transactions in Paradise, was diverse from that which carried the soul of Daniel forward to the days of Redemption, and placed the spirit of John in view of the awful things that are, "coming on the earth."

But whatever view of the extent and character of inspiration be taken, one point must never be surrendered, that the Bible, in all its parts, is the book of God's truth; not simply that it contains truth, but that it is truth. That truth may be literal, or it may be substantial; may be expressed popularly, or in the language of technical precision; may be clothed in the garb of metaphor, or in the severer mess of unadorned diction; but to be man's guide in faith and practice, it must be Truth. We cannot concede, consistently with any view of inspiration we may adopt, that the writers may "err in facts, be weak in memory, be feeble in inferences, confound illustration with argument, be varying in judgment and opinion." No such concession as this can square with the declaration, that "holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Once confess that "the Bible is," in the language of one of the Essayists, "the voice of the congregation," and there is no more reason why it should be our criterion, than the Book of Mormon, or the Koran of Mohammed.

To prove that the Bible is entitled to occupy the position of being the only certain exponent of truth which man possesses, we take our stand on the miracles by which it is accredited, the prophecies which breathe through it, the harmony subsisting between its two great sections, and the endorsement which the New Testament bestows on the Old. If Christ and His Apostles spoke not truth, there is an end to Christianity, to religion, to hope, to truth altogether. If they spoke not truth, their admitted miracles were granted for the purpose of sustaining imposition and fraud. If they spoke not truth, then the ancient prophecies uttered their marvelous anticipations for the purpose of misleading the world, and helping us "to believe a lie." But if they spoke truth, then are the New Testament and the Old Testament true-the one, because truthful men spoke it; the other because truthful men, whose words were accredited by miracles, ever referred to it as inspired, final, conclusive, decisive. And the conclusion from all this is inevitable, that where a Revelation from God exists, then neither human Consciousness, nor the concurrence of human Opinions, nor the decision of human Reason, but that God-Inspired Revelation, must be the criterion of truth.

Archibald Boyd (1803-1883), was an Irish Anglican clergyman who served many parishes in Ireland and England throughout his ministry, most notably as Dean of Exeter. He was known in his day as a firm but gracious evangelical who preached well and wrote widely on pressing issues of his time.

Comments Click to Comment
© 2017 Disciple Magazine. All rights reserved.
6815 Shallowford Rd | Chattanooga, TN 37421 | 800.251.7206 | 423.894.6060 | fax 423.894.1055
Terms of Use | Disclaimer | Privacy Policy

Sponsors: