Asked how he would defend the Bible, C. H. Spurgeon famously likened it to a caged lion. He declared: ‘Open the door and let the lion out; he will take care of himself … He no sooner goes forth in his strength than his assailants flee. The way to meet infidelity is to spread the Bible. The answer to every objection against the Bible is the Bible’ (at British and Foreign Bible Society meeting, 5 May 1875).
Let me say immediately that I agree totally with the great preacher, but his wisdom is misapplied if we respond with passive inaction when the Bible comes under attack. What we easily overlook is that Spurgeon gives us something important to do, namely, to open the cage door!
In these June-August ET guest column articles I shall argue that this is no trivial responsibility, and that (to extend the allegory) we must (1) find the key to the cage door; (2) lubricate its rust-prone hinges, and (3) open the door wide enough to let the lion out. The lion in the cage is the Bible, of course, but the ‘elephant in the room’ is the cage door. In this first article I’ll explain what I mean by finding the key.
Finding the key
The key to the cage door is the Bible’s own doctrine of Scripture. Unless we both understand and proclaim what the Bible is, it will remain confined to its cage. It is commonly called ‘the Word of God’, but all too often that is a pious label rather than the powerful enabling conviction it ought to be.
Many academic theologians join forces with the mass media and timid denominations to promote the idea that the Bible is an expression of sincere but outdated beliefs, prone to ancient errors, and corrupted by myths, fictions and the tide of time.
It should be viewed (they say) as man’s fumbling search for God rather than as God’s infallible search for man. Even some evangelicals get nervous when the Bible comes under scrutiny by the world. They wonder if it really is a lion, rather than a pussycat that needs protection from its critics. Let’s keep it safe in its cage, they think, lest it be torn apart by its enemies.
The early church had an altogether more robust view, praying, ‘Now Lord look on their threats, and grant to your servants that with all boldness they may speak your word’ (Acts 4:29). So where do we start?
We start with what the Bible claims for itself. This statement will horrify some Christian apologists. ‘Why’, they ask, ‘should anyone accept the Bible’s testimony to itself? Why would anyone believe a prisoner in the dock when he pleads his innocence? — we need extra-biblical evidence of the Bible’s truth before we can safely unlock the cage door’.
Now, I’m all in favour of using historical, circumstantial, scientific and other external evidence to support the authenticity of Scripture, but such evidence cannot take us very far. It can never establish the veracity and inerrancy of the essentially spiritual testimony of all Scripture.
We must begin with the Bible, as Paul does in 2 Timothy 3:16: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God’. It is unfortunate that virtually all earlier English translations render this as ‘all Scripture is given by inspiration of God’, which is ambiguous because it fails to make clear that the inspiration involved was verbal inspiration, leaving room for a wide spectrum of opinions as to what ‘inspiration’ really means.
What Paul actually wrote was; ‘all Scripture is God-breathed (theopneusta)’, to which we can add King David’s words, ‘The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me and his word was in my tongue’ (2 Samuel 23:1-3), and Peter’s assertion that, ‘The Spirit of Christ … was in [the Old Testament prophets] when they prophesied beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow’ (1 Peter 1:11).
Again, Peter claims that ‘prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit’ (2 Peter 1:21). These and many other verses testify to the fact that, although the Scriptures were written by fallible men, they were given infallibly under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ ‘who was in them’.
The thing to grasp is this: if the Bible’s original autographs were by nature revelation from God, as they claim to be, they could not by definition become known to man by any independent, extra-biblical means. If they could, they would no longer be revelation.
Self-referral is therefore a necessary consequence of revealed truth. Of course, where it intersects ascertainable history, circumstance and science, we shall find it agrees. But the Bible’s revelation of God and message of salvation must, and do, stand upon their own merits and fruit. Let us not be afraid to say so, for only then shall we unlock the cage door.
Professor Andrews is Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London. He is co-pastor of Campus Church, Welwyn Garden City, and was for 10 years senior editor of Evangelical Times. His new book What is Man? Adam, alien or ape? will be released later this month.