The Apostles and Prophets: Secretaries of the Holy Ghost

the apostles and prophets secretaries of the holy ghost

“The Scripture is the Word of God written in a language fit for the Church by men immediately called to be the Clerkes, or Secretaries of the Holy Ghost, 2 Peter 1:21: ‘For prophecie came not in old time by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake as they were carried and mooved by the holy Ghost.‘”

William Perkins, Works, 2:647.

Orthodox Christians all affirm that every word of Scripture has been completely inspired by God (i.e. Verbal Plenary Inspiration). However, there are divergent views on the mode of its inspiration and the role that the human authors played in the writing of Scripture. The organic view of inspiration is arguably the most popular today and was taught by theologians such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Bavinck. “Organic Inspiration is the notion that the words of Scripture are not merely the Word of God, through His chosen secretaries or clerks, but that it is an original production, consisting of three confluent sources: God, human personality, and historical development” (The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration).

The position defended here is the dictation view, sometimes pejoratively and inaccurately called mechanical inspiration. Some are uncomfortable with certain terminology such as “dictation,” “secretaries of the Holy Spirit,” “passive,” etc., perhaps confusing it for the Muslim notion of inspiration, but they don’t necessarily disagree with the concept. On the one hand they see it in Scripture, but on the other find it difficult to maintain in the face of liberal criticism. We must not be embarrassed to affirm with Calvin that the Apostles “were sure and authentic amanuenses of the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, their writings are to be regarded as the oracles of God” (Institutes of the Christian Religion, 4.8.9), and that “…the Spirit of Christ went before, and in a manner dictated words to them.” (ibid., 4.8.8). Or with Turretin that “…in the sources not only the matter and sentences, but even the very words were directly dictated by the Holy Spirit” (Institutes of Elenctic Theology, 1.13.13, pg. 125), and that God “dictated and inspired each and every word to these inspired men…” (ibid., 1.5.7); Edward Leigh, “…the Holy Ghost, who did dictate both the matter and the words…” (Body of Divinity, I.viii); Petrus van Mastricht, “God not only inspires the substance but also dictates the words” (translation by Muller, PRRD, vol. 2, pg. 255); Leonard van Rijssen, “the Holy Spirit, who dictated to them not only the substance (res) but also the very words (verba) (Summa Theologiae Elencticae, II.xix, controversy I), etc.1

The goal in this essay is to briefly demonstrate the Reformed doctrine of the mode of inspiration and to take an unapologetically firm stance on the perfection, majesty, and heavenliness of God’s divine revelation to us. This will not be a critique of the organic view, rather, it will be a positive affirmation of the human authors being instruments, or secretaries of the Holy Spirit. We will make some metaphysical distinctions necessary for precisely discussing the role of the human authors and of the Holy Spirit. We will start by establishing a pattern of dictation in Scripture and then move on to assessing blanket statements that Scripture makes about itself. Then, before ending with a word of caution and answering objections, we will address the human personality and style that can be observed in different books of the Bible.

Efficient Cause vs. Instrumental Cause

“God alone is to be accounted the Author [of Scripture], who inspired the Hearts of those Holy Men, whom he chose to be his Secretaries; who are to be held only the Instrumental Causes thereof. (2 Peter 1:20-21.)”

James Ussher, Body of Divinity, p. 5.

Efficient cause (causa efficiens): the “productive, effective cause, which is the agent productive of the motion or mutation in any sequence of causes and effects” (Muller, 61).

Instrumental cause (causa instrumentalis): “the instrumentality through which an end, or goal, is accomplished” (Muller, 187); “in the realm of second causes, the means used to bring about a desired effect, distinct from the material and formal causes as a tool is distinct from both the material upon which it is used and from the form that determines what the material is or will be” (Muller, 62). “It is characteristic of means that they are passive in the order of causes and are utilized by the efficient cause. The value, positive or negative, of means derives, therefore, from the end achieved, the means in themselves being neutral.” (Muller, 187).

Instrumental causes are neutral and passive while efficient causes are what actively achieve the thing being done. The human authors were instruments of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit actively achieved the writing of the Word of God by means of human authors. Every word of Scripture was chosen by the Holy Spirit, independently from the human authors. The human authors weren’t in a trance or unaware of what they were writing and it wasn’t against their will. Causally or metaphysically they were neutral and passive, but instrumentally or physically they were active. They were the means being used for the writing of Scripture, not the ultimate impetus behind the writing itself.

Specific Examples of Dictation

While more precise statistics could be gathered, a simple keyword search returns the phrase “thus saith the Lord” appearing 815 times, “the Word of the Lord came unto” appearing 63 times, and “the Word of God” appearing 54 times in the KJV. The human authors relayed “thus saith the Lord,” they did not write their own words. These examples illustrate the overall attitude of Scripture about itself. Several additional instances demonstrate that God gave His prophets the exact words to say.

Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say” (Exodus 4:12).

“And the Lord said unto Moses, Write thou these words: …” (Exodus 34:27).

Must I not take heed to speak that which the Lord hath put in my mouth?” (Numbers 23:12).

Told not I thee, saying, All that the Lord speaketh, that I must do?” (Numbers 23:26).

The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).

But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak…Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth” (Jeremiah 1:7&9).

Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay” (Jeremiah 20:9). “Literally, ‘I struggled to contain it but I was not able.’ God gave him an inner compulsion to speak what he could not deny” (Reformation Heritage study Bible note). “…necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Cor. 9:16). “Is not my word like as a fire? saith the Lord; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces?” (Jeremiah 23:29).

Thus saith the Lord; Stand in the court of the Lord‘s house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord‘s house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word:” (Jeremiah 26:2).

Thus speaketh the Lord God of Israel, saying, Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book” (Jeremiah 30:2).

the Lord said unto me, Go, prophesy unto my people Israel. Now therefore hear thou the word of the Lord: …” (Amos 7:15-16).

The book of Revelation contains many of these explicit examples of dictation. For each of the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 John is told the exact words to write, e.g. “Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write…” In Rev. 14:13, 19:9, 21:5, etc. God tells John the exact words to write, and several times the words of “he that sat upon the throne” are recorded verbatim. At one point, as John was copying down his Revelation, God told him not to record some of what God showed him: “Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not.” (Rev. 10:4).

“It is manifest, that all the books of the old and new Testaments were written not merely by the will and command, but under the very dictation of Christ; nor yet merely occasionally, or under the suggestion of some slight circumstance, but with the deliberate purpose of serving the church in all ages.”

William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, pg. 528.

For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you” (Matthew 10:20).

“That upon all occasions they should have God’s special presence with them, and the immediate assistance of his Holy Spirit, particularly when they should be called out to bear their testimony before governors and kings; it shall be given you (said Christ) in that same hour what ye shall speak. Christ’s disciples were chosen from among the foolish of the world, unlearned and ignorant men, and, therefore, might justly distrust their own abilities, especially when they were called before great men. When Moses was sent to Pharaoh, he complained, I am not eloquent, Ex. 4:10 . When Jeremiah was set over the kingdoms, he objected, I am but a child, Jer. 1:6, Jer. 1:10 . Now, in answer to this suggestion, First, they are here promised that it should be given them, nor some time before, but in that same hour, what they should speak. They shall speak extempore,and yet shall speak as much to the purpose, as if it had been never so well studied… Secondly, They are here assured, that the blessed Spirit should draw up their plea for them. It is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father, which speaketh in you, v. 20. They were not left to themselves upon such an occasion, but God undertook for them; his Spirit of wisdom spoke in them, as sometimes his providence wonderfully spoke for them [e.g. Acts 28:5], and by both together they were manifested in the consciences even of their persecutors. God gave them an ability, not only to speak to the purpose, but what they did say, to say it with holy zeal. The same Spirit that assisted them in the pulpit, assisted them at the bar. They cannot but come off well, who have such an advocate; to whom God says, as he did to Moses (Ex. 4:12 ), Go, and I will be with thy mouth, and with thy heart.”

Matthew Henry, Commentary on Matthew 10:20

Reasoning from the lesser to the greater, if God was the efficient cause of their speeches before magistrates (which are not referred to as canonical Scripture), how much more their writings, which are canonical Scripture?

For it is not ye that speak
Not but that they were to speak the words, and did; but then both the things they spoke, and the very words in which they spoke them, were not of themselves, but were suggested and dictated by the Spirit of God; for as “the preparation of the heart” in them, so “the answer of the tongue” by them, were both “from the Lord”: the Spirit, he was the efficient cause, they were only instruments; for not they of themselves spoke; or not so much they,

but the Spirit of your father, which speaketh in you,
or “by you”: what they should say was not to be dictated by their own spirit or natural understanding, nor by an angel, but by the Spirit of God; called the “Spirit of” their “father”, because he proceeds from him, is of the same nature with him, and is the reason of his being given to them: and this character of him might serve to strengthen their faith in the expectation of him, and in the assistance promised, and to be had by him; since he was the spirit of him, who stood in the relation of a father to them, and bore a paternal affection for them.

John Gill, Commentary on Matthew 10:20

At this point the reader may be convinced that at least some portions of Scripture were indeed dictated by the Holy Spirit; dictation may only explain certain portions of Scripture, but not all of it. Therefore, having seen a clear pattern of dictation throughout Scripture we will take a look at a few key passages which speak to the inspiration of Scripture in general.

Every Word that Proceeds out of the Mouth of God

Not only are there multiple examples in Scripture which demonstrate a pattern of how Scripture was written, there are numerous blanket statements Scripture gives about itself.

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

“We believe that they were induced and moved to write by the special authority of Christ and the Holy Spirit: for the scripture is called θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), that is, delivered by the impulse and suggestion of the Holy Ghost. And 2 Peter 1:21, Peter testifies that holy men of God spake “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Which makes it plain that they followed the impulse and authority of the Holy Spirit, not their own will and choice. The men were merely the instruments; it was the Holy Ghost who dictated to them.”

William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, pg. 526.

It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4; c.f. Deuteronomy 8:3). Every jot and tittle of Scripture originates with God. Scripture is not a synergistic work of God and man, or Ancient Near East tradition, etc. Every word of Scripture is God breathed, proceeded out of the mouth of God.

As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets…” (Luke 1:70). “Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures…” (Romans 1:2). “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets…” (Hebrews 1:1). Scripture refers to God as having promised by means of the prophets (“διὰ τῶν προφητῶν” Rom. 1:2), as well as that God spoke unto the fathers by the instrumentality or means of the prophets (“ἐν τοῖς προφήταις” Heb. 1:1).

“…We define this Scripture to be a divine Instrument, by which the saving doctrine is delivered from God by means of Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists, God’s secretaries so to speak, in the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.”

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, pg. 8.

I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come. He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall shew it unto you. All things that the Father hath are mine: therefore said I, that he shall take of mine, and shall shew it unto you” (John 16:12-15).

John 16:12-15 points out the function of the Spirit in giving the apostles what precisely they should say after Jesus ascends into Heaven, “they would soon afterwards obtain loftier and more abundant instruction” (Calvin, commentary). “The Holy spirit gave the apostles the full revelation of God’s will for His church (all truth), which is now recorded in the New Testament (14:26; 1 Cor. 2:9-13; Eph. 3:3, 5, 8)” (Reformation Heritage study Bible note). “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26).

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

This passage plainly states that the Holy Spirit is the agency moving the holy men of God to write. He is the efficient cause of the written Word of God and the men were the instrumental cause. “The verb for “carried along” is used to speak of a sail being filled with wind and carrying a boat along the water” (gotquestions). In this analogy, the sail (human writer) is passive and instrumental, it does not propel itself, but the wind (Holy Spirit) effects the movement of the boat (content of Scripture).

“All the penmen of the scriptures were holy men of God. (2.) These holy men were moved by the Holy Ghost in what they delivered as the mind and will of God. The Holy Ghost is the supreme agent, the holy men are but instruments. [1.] The Holy Ghost inspired and dictated to them what they were to deliver of the mind of God. [2.] He powerfully excited and effectually engaged them to speak (and write) what he had put into their mouths. [3.] He so wisely and carefully assisted and directed them in the delivery of what they had received from him that they were effectually secured from any the least mistake in expressing what they revealed; so that the very words of scripture are to be accounted the words of the Holy Ghost, and all the plainness and simplicity, all the power and virtue, all the elegance and propriety, of the very words and expressions are to be regarded by us as proceeding from God.”

Matthew Henry, Commentary on 2 Peter 1:19-21

Despite B.B. Warfield’s disappointing departure from Reformed Orthodoxy with regard to the apographa and infallibility2, his comments on this passage are very good:

“It was through the instrumentality of men who ‘spake from him.‘ More specifically, it was through an operation of the Holy Ghost on these men which is described as ‘bearing‘ them. The term here used is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even leading in the full sense of that word. It goes beyond all such terms, in assigning the effect produced specifically to the active agent. What is ‘borne‘ is taken up by the ‘bearer,‘ and conveyed by the ‘bearer’s‘ power, not its own, to the ‘bearer’s‘ goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs. And that is the reason which is assigned why ‘the prophetic word‘ is so sure. Though spoken through the instrumentality of men, it is, by virtue of the fact that these men spoke ‘as borne by the Holy Spirit,‘ an immediately Divine word.”

B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, pg. 137 (138.6 / 916).

Human Personality and Style

We must pause here and acknowledge that there is a sense in which the human writers were not entirely passive. To address this we must consider another scholastic distinction; that of the isolated or divided sense (sensus divisus), and the composite sense (sensus compositus). The divided sense is “the meaning of a word or idea in itself apart from its general relation to other words of a text,” and the composite sense is “the constructed or compounded literal sense, which is inferred from the Scripture as a whole or from individual clear, and therefore normative, passages of Scripture” (Muller, 279). In the composite sense, the human writers were entirely passive with regard to the efficiency of the words, thoughts, and concepts being written, yet in the divided sense their physical and mental acts were concurrent with God’s “carrying them along.” Therefore, human personality and style can be observed in Scripture, but it should not be understood as characteristic of the essence of Scripture, it is merely accidental to it. As Scottish divine John Wemyss distinguished, “The Scriptures of God, are considered essentially…as they proceed from God; accidentally again, as they were written by such and such men” (Exercitations Divine, pg. 63).

While every word of Scripture originates in God alone and is therefore infallible, the human writers had a concurrent reason for writing and the Holy Spirit chose to use their personal memory and style rather than causing them to transcribe entirely new information. The Holy Spirit is still the efficient cause and the holy men still the instrumental, but sometimes they were more engaged than at others. Sometimes it appears that those external circumstances are the causal basis, but even in those circumstances those are merely the means whereby God brings His thoughts to the mind of His instrument.

“The mode of the writing of Scripture was this: by the method of God inspiring and dictating a certain set form of words, the Writers, however, as secretaries, Ex. 34:27-28, Rev. 2:1, etc., or by the method of attending and directing, as Matt. 22:43, Heb. 1:1, the authors sketching out the reason they had, Luke 1:1 and 3. That is to say, not always merely pathetika, passively, but also energetikae, having managed themselves as part of the productive process, such that they have employed whatever of natural disposition, and of mental activity and discursive logic, and memory, orderly arrangement of words, and the order of their own style (whence the various writers differ from each other in these matters) Amos 7:14-15, 2 Cor. 10:10 and 11:6, nevertheless the Holy Spirit perpetually controlling whereby He thus conducted and ruled over them, that they were everywhere preserved from every error of mind, memory, speech, and pen (2 Sam 23:1-2, 1 Cor. 7:25 and 40).”

Synopsis Purioris Theologiae, pg. 22.

Mastricht makes the same point, but more forcefully states in the composite sense that “the Holy Spirit influenced them in an appropriate and suitable manner in order that each writer might be able to use the manner of speaking most agreeable to his character (persona) and condition” (Theologia Theoretico-Practica, I.ii.12; quoted from Muller, PRRD, vol. 2, pg. 260).

Yet, sometimes the prophets didn’t fully understand all that they wrote about:

Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:10-12).

How could the thoughts be of their own private genius if they didn’t even understand what they wrote? As Owen comments:

“The laws they made known, the doctrines they delivered, the instructions they gave, the stories they recorded, the promises of Christ, the promises of gospel times they gave out and revealed, were not their own, not conceived in their minds, not formed by their reasonings, not retained in their memories from what they heard, not by any means beforehand comprehended by them (1 Pet. 1:10, 11), but were all of them immediately from God; there being only a passive concurrence of their rational faculties in their reception.”

Of the Divine Original, Authority, Self-Evidencing Light and Power of the Scriptures, in Works, vol. 16, pg. 298.

Sometimes Scripture itself disregards the human author, getting directly to the composite sense that the Holy Spirit is the author. “Scripture is often attributed to the Holy Spirit as the author with no mention of the writers. “Whereof the Holy Spirit also is a witness to us” (Heb. 10:15)” (William Ames, The Marrow of Theology, pg. 186). And sometimes we may not know who the human author of a book of Scripture is, but God being the chief author is the essential matter. Matthew Poole is also exemplary of the Reformed orthodox writers who “comment somewhat dogmatically that the absence of ascription to a human author ought to be understood as an indication of the authorship of the Holy Spirit and the instrumentality of the human writer (whoever it was)” (Muller, PRRD, vol. 2):

“It is not certainly known who was the penman of this Book [1st Samuel], or whether it was written by one or more hands; nor is it of any great importance; for since there are sufficient evidences that God was the chief author of it, it matters not who was the instrument. As when it appears that such a thing was really an act of parliament, or of the council-table, it is not considerable who was the clerk or which was the pen that wrote it.”

Matthew Poole, Preface to his commentary on 1&2 Samuel.

In sum, there needs to be a balance. We don’t need to shy away from affirming that the holy men were, on the one hand instruments or secretaries, and on the other, that they were in some sense active, as long as we don’t mean that they were the efficient cause. Human style is accidental to Scripture, which is in its very essence, God’s Word, not man’s.  We need to make precise distinctions and guard against oversimplification that can lead to errors.

Objections Answered

In this section we will examine some of the main arguments against dictation and some passages which seem to teach a more organic view.

Paul’s Personal Opinion?

1 Corinthians 7 presents a few challenges because the Apostle Paul seems to give his personal opinion and differentiate his commands from the Lord’s. A closer look at the meaning of these verses reveals, however, that Paul is not giving his personal, unauthoritative opinion. Rather, he is distinguishing between previous divinely inspired law and his new divinely inspired instruction to the specific circumstances of the Corinthian church.

And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord… But to the rest speak I, not the Lord…” (1 Cor. 7:10-12).

“This ‘I command,’ says the apostle; ‘yet not I, but the Lord.’ Not that he commanded any thing of his own head, or upon his own authority. Whatever he commanded was the Lord’s command, dictated by his Spirit and enjoined by his authority. But his meaning is that the Lord himself, with his own mouth, had forbidden such separations (Matt. 5:32 Matt. 19:9; Mark. 10:11; Luke 16:18).
. . .
“‘But to the rest speak I, not the Lord;’ that is, the Lord had not so expressly spoken to this case as to the former divorce. It does not mean that the apostle spoke without authority from the Lord, or decided this case by his own wisdom, without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost. He closes this subject with a declaration to the contrary (v. 40), ‘I think also that I have the Spirit of God.'” 

Matthew Henry, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:10-12

Calvin, likewise explains:

“He does not mean that they are from himself in such a way as not to be derived from the Spirit of God; but, as there was nowhere in the law or in the Prophets any definite or explicit statement on this subject, he anticipates in this way the calumnies of the wicked, in claiming as his own what he was about to state. At the same time, lest all this should be despised as the offspring of man’s brain, we shall find him afterwards declaring, that his statement are not the contrivances of his own understanding [1 Cor. 7:40].”

John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:12.

…I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment…” (1 Cor. 7:25).

“He says that he gives advice, not as if there were anything doubtful in it, and had little or no stability, but as being certain, and deserving to be maintained without any controversy. The word, too, that he employs, gnome, signifies not merely advice, but a decisive judgment.”

John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:25.

The point is that Paul is giving a divinely inspired decision and application to the situation, not that Paul is determining the words of Scripture for himself.

…after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40).

“As to what he adds — ‘according to my judgment,’ he does not mean by this expression that his opinion was doubtful; but it is as if he had said that such was his decision as to this question; for he immediately adds that he has the Spirit of God, which is sufficient to give full and perfect authority. There appears, at the same time, to be somewhat of irony when he says ‘I think.’ For as the false apostles were ever and anon boasting in high-sounding terms of their having the Spirit of God, for the purpose of arrogating to themselves authority, and in the meantime endeavored to derogate from that of Paul, he says that he thinks that he is not less a partaker of the Spirit than they.”

John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:40.

References to Human Authors

How do we explain when Scripture refers to the human writer as the author of Scripture? Why are some books of the Bible named after the human authors?

To answer this we must remember the distinction between the isolated or divided sense (sensus divisus) and the composite sense (sensus compositus). The Apostles and prophets can be said to be the authors of Scripture in the isolated or divided sense because they were physically and mentally engaged in the writing of the books attributed to them, but in the proper composite sense, God is the efficient cause and author of the Word of God.

“We confess that God hath not spoken by himself, but by others. Yet this does not diminish the authority of scripture. For God inspired the prophets with what they said, and made use of their mouths, tongues, and hands: the scripture, therefore, is even immediately the voice of God. The prophets and apostles were only the organs of God. It was God who spake to the fathers in the prophets and through the prophets (Hebrews 1:1; 2 Peter 1:21).”

William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, pg. 296.

For example, Peter references Paul as an author of Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16:

even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood…

Paul wrote “according to the wisdom given unto him,” not according to his own wisdom. Peter is not ascribing Paul as the determiner of the Words of God, but he is affirming Paul as the instrumental cause of the letters attributed to him, and speaking of Paul as the author in the divided sense. Humanly speaking, Paul wrote of his own accord, but he was fully moved by the Holy Spirit in all that he wrote and thought. God is the author of Paul’s epistles in the full, composite sense (as stated earlier 2 Peter 1:21). John Gill comments on this verse:

“Whatever he wrote was “according to wisdom“; not fleshly wisdom, the wisdom of this world, nor with enticing words of men’s wisdom, but according to the divine wisdom, under the influence of the spirit of wisdom and revelation; for he had not this of himself naturally, nor did he learn it at Gamaliel’s feet, but it was what was “given to him“; it came from above, from God, who gives it liberally; and as he himself always owned it to be a free grace gift of God bestowed on him, and that all his light and knowledge were by the revelation of Christ, so Peter ascribes it to the same, that God might have all the glory, and all boasting in man be stopped.”

Commentary on 2 Peter 3:15

Personal Histories and Expressions

OBJECTION: “Many places in Scripture where the writers include personal histories and expressions of their own personalities (e.g., Galatians 1:6; 3:1; Philippians 1:3-4, 8). Writing style and vocabulary are different from one author to another. Matthew, for example, used the phrase ‘kingdom of heaven’ 32 times in his Gospel—but the phrase never appears in the rest of the New Testament.” (gotquestions.org).

The personality of the human author coming through is not a problem. The Holy Spirit is speaking with the person as the instrument. The person is a pen, different types of pens look slightly different, but the divine Author of the Word of God can use multiple pens to write one grand Book. The essence of Scripture is God’s Word yet with accidents of human style.

“The men indeed were various, whose service the Holy Spirit used in writing these pieces, and the hands which wrote them were many: but it was one Spirit which governed their hands and tongues. We should not regard the various men who wrote, but the one Spirit under whose direction and dictation they wrote. Thus there is one continuous body of doctrine in these books, various as they are.”

William Whitaker, Disputations on Holy Scripture, pg. 661.

Human Research and Compiling

Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to set forth in order a declaration of those things which are most surely believed among us, Even as they delivered them unto us, which from the beginning were eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word; It seemed good to me also, having had perfect understanding of all things from the very first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus, That thou mightest know the certainty of those things, wherein thou hast been instructed” (Luke 1:1-4).

OBJECTION: “If Luke is taking dictation, then it is not relevant whether he has investigated the matter or not. If you are dictating to your secretary, do you make mention of your secretary’s expertise in the subject you are discoursing on? No, because his expertise is irrelevant, because he has no influence on the contents of the document.

The Holy Spirit chose to use Luke’s personal research gathered from “eyewitnesses, and ministers of the word rather than causing him to transcribe entirely new information. Luke’s research was a means being used by the Spirit for the writing of Scripture, not the impetus behind the writing itself. Luke wrote the words that came out of his mind, although it was the Spirit that brought them to his mind. Luke had a concurrent reason for writing, but every word he wrote originated in God alone and is therefore the infallible Word of God. Scripture is not a mixture of human and divine.

“He appears to make faith rest on a weak foundation, its relation to men, while it ought to rest on the Word of God only; and certainly the full assurance (plerophoria) of faith is ascribed to the sealing of the Spirit, (1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 10:22.) I reply, if the Word of God does not hold the first rank, faith will not be satisfied with any human testimonies, but, where the inward confirmation of the Spirit has already taken place, it allows them some weight in the historical knowledge of facts. By historical knowledge I mean that knowledge which we obtain respecting events, either by our own observation or by the statement of others. For, with respect to the visible works of God, it is equally proper to listen to eye-witnesses as to rely on experience. Besides, those whom Luke follows were not private authors, but were also ministers of the Word. By this commendation he exalts them above the rank of human authority; for he intimates that the persons from whom he received his information had been divinely authorized to preach the Gospel. Hence, too, that security which he shortly afterwards mentions, and which, if it does not rest upon God, may soon be disturbed. There is great weight in his denominating those from whom he received his Gospel ministers of the Word; for on that ground believers conclude that the witnesses are beyond all exception, as the Lawyers express it, and cannot lawfully be set aside… It is a great matter that he affirms them to have been eye-witnesses, but, by calling them ministers, he takes them out of the common order of men, that our faith may have its support in heaven and not in earth.

John Calvin, Commentary on Luke 1:1-4

Conclusion

A tenuous observation about the various styles in Scripture is much different than the many direct statements Scripture makes about itself and the inferences we draw from it by the analogy of faith. The essence of Scripture is God’s Word yet with accidents of human style, therefore we must not put too much emphasis on the personality and style of the human authors. Scripture is unlike any other book. It is God’s one cohesive, consistent, and complete revelation of Himself and His will to the Church of all ages. The instrumentality by which He chose to do that is of little importance. We must be diligent to understand Scripture in the way that it presents itself. We must guard against overemphasizing its accidents, elevating human instrumental causation while lowering the Spirit’s efficient causation, or viewing Scripture as a synergistic mixture of human and divine.

“The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God (1 Thes. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:19, 21; 1 John 5:9).”

Westminster Confession of Faith 1:4



Many of the above quotes were taken from chapter 4 of Born Under an Evil Star by Adam Brink. Quotes from Synopsis Purioris Theologiae were translated by Adam Brink.

Muller, Richard A., Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological Terms.

[1] For additional similar quotes from Francis Turretin, John Owen, Petrus van Mastricht, Johannes a Marck, and others, see Haldane, Robert, The Authenticity and Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, pgs. 76-7.

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[2] “By ‘original and authentic‘ text, the Protestant orthodox do not mean the autographa which no one can possess but the apographa in the original tongue which are the source of all versions. The Jews throughout history and the church in the time of Christ regarded the Hebrew of the Old Testament as authentic and for nearly six centuries after Christ, the Greek of the New Testament was viewed as authentic without dispute (Leigh, Treatise, I.vi; c.f. Owen, Divine Original, in Works vol. 16, pg. 300-301). It is important to note that the Reformed orthodox insistence on the identification of the Hebrew and Greek texts as alone authentic does not demand direct reference to autographa in those languages; the ‘original and authentic text‘ of Scripture means, beyond the autograph copies, the legitimate tradition of Hebrew and Greek apographa. The case for Scripture as an infallible rule of faith and practice and the separate arguments for a received text free from major (i.e., non-scribal) errors rests on an examination of apographa and does not seek the infinite regress of the lost autographa as a prop for textual infallibility.

“A rather sharp contrast must be drawn, therefore, between the Protestant orthodox arguments concerning the autographa and the views of Archibald Alexander Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield. This issue must be raised because of the tendency in many recent essays to confuse the two views. Like virtually all exegetes and theologians before and after them, they recognized that the text of Scripture as we now have it contains contradictory and historically problematic statements. They also recognized the futility of harmonizations of the text—but they insisted that all such difficult or erroneous passages ought to be understood as the result of scribal errors. Those who claim an errant text, against the orthodox consensus to the contrary, must prove their case. To claim errors in the scribal copies, the apographa, is hardly a proof: the claim must be proven true of the autographa. The point made by Hodge and Warfield is a logical trap, a rhetorical flourish, a conundrum designed to confound the critics—who can only prove their case for genuine errancy by recourse to a text they do not (and surely cannot) have.”

‘We … receive the Scripture in these languages only [i.e., Hebrew and Greek] as canonical and authentic. And what is more, not only the Autographa, which for many reasons belonging to the most wise counsel of divine providence, were allowed to perish: but in the Apographa as well‘ (Mastricht, Theologia Theoretico-Practica I.ii.10).

– Muller, Richard A., Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, vol. 2, pg. 414.

See also Letis, Theodore P., The Protestant Dogmaticians and the Late Princeton School on the Status of the Sacred Apographa.

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