E. W. Bullinger
Part IIThe Words
The Limits of Inspiration
Though there is not much to be said on this subject, yet the importance of this Canon is very great. Not only is the Spirit of God often held responsible for the mistakes and errors of translators and commentators, but other things are put down to Him when they are really the statements of others, for which the speakers alone are responsible. The Scriptures contain records of conversations, and statements made by Satan, by demons, by the human enemies of God, and by His mistaken and erring servants. We have an inspired record of all that was said and done; but it does not follow that all that was said and done was inspired!
To Job and his friends, God categorically said, "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right" (Job 42:7,8. Compare 33:12). "Job hath spoken without knowledge, and his words without wisdom" (34:35), and he "multiplieth words without knowledge" (35:16). "Who is this [God asked Job] that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge" (38:2). Are we then to quote such words as inspired? Surely not, unless we are distinctly told that God "put them into the mouths" of the speakers as He did into Balaam's mouth (Num 23:5,16).
Surely we have to be careful in all our quotations of God's Word, to see that they are the words of God, and that we are not making Him responsible for the words of fallen, erring, and ignorant human beings. It is a question whether the song of Deborah (Judg 5) was inspired: though we have an inspired record of the words of her song. We do not say it is not; but, if any do think so, they need not be at too great pains to reconcile her statements or her ethics with the attributes of Jehovah: though, as we have shown, they are perfectly in accord with the Dispensation in which we find them.
In many cases grave difficulties are created by not observing this Canon of interpretation; and hopeless efforts are made to get out of the entanglements of our own assumptions. If exceptions prove the rule, then the truth of the Inspired record is enhanced by the one or two exceptions which are distinctly stated to be such by the Apostle Paul himself. He thereby sets his seal to the fact that all his other statements have divine authority.
The same principle must be applied to actions of God's servants. David was "a man after God's own heart," as to his being chosen as God's king: but it does not follow, nor does it say, that all David's acts were according to God's choice or even approval; for we know how he was judged by God for his sins and infirmities. The word "heart" in the above quotation has to do with God's call and not with David's walk.
The same is the case with Paul's last journey to Jerusalem. It was commenced in disobedience; characterized by dissembling; and concluded in disaster (personally). Peter also at Antioch manifested the same weakness of human nature. God's servants were men of like passions with ourselves, neither more nor less. And we have an inspired record of their actions and their words, which have to be distinguished and rightly divided from the "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth"; and those acts which were done by direct Inspiration.
See what mischief has been made of the words of Mary in Luke 2:48, "Thy father and I have sought thee sorrowing." These words have been quoted and used as supporting the denial of the Virgin birth of the Lord Jesus. Various arguments have been used to explain Mary's words. In The Record of February 1, 1907, a correspondent labours to upset the Received Text, which, here, is unquestioned, by setting above it some old Latin Versions. But there is no need for all this if we remember that this is not the only occasion when Mary "erred with her lips." That she did so err is shown by the next verse, where the Lord's correction is very pointed and emphatic. She said "Thy father and I have sought thee" (v 48). He replies, "Wist ye not that I must be about MY Father's business?" (v 49). "They understood not the saying which He spake unto them" (v 50). But those who do not observe this Canon of interpretation do not "understand the saying"; and not only misunderstand it, but misuse it for the support of error. (See pp 318 and 385.)
The need of observing it is clear enough in such cases as the words Satan, and evil spirits, and the enemies of God, such as Pharaoh, Rabshakeh, Herod, the Scribes and Pharisees who opposed the Lord Jesus. When we consider the havoc wrought by the first two lies of the Old Serpent, we may see the importance of this Canon. Not only is the Old Theology permeated with these two lies, but they are the two pillars on which the "New Theology" is based:
These two lies led to the Fall of man; and they are still the two great signs of his fallen condition, for fallen man prefers them to the truth of God.
When it comes to the words of others there is danger lest we put them on the same level with the "words which the Holy Ghost teacheth." The words and utterances of men have all to be judged by the words of God; hence the need of careful attention to this Canon of interpretation.