How has God revealed himself to us – in word or deed? Is the Bible God’s revelation to us or is it a record of his revelation to us?
This isn’t just a semantic argument. It’s incredibly important. Some have argued that God has revealed himself in mighty acts throughout history. God has revealed himself by baring his arm and showing himself to be the redeemer and deliverer of his people. What we have in the Bible is a record of God’s revelation. The Bible is man’s record and interpretation of these events. The words are not what’s important – they merely point to the deeds.
On the flip side, others have emphasized that it’s the words that are inspired revelation. It’s the words that are important, not the mighty deeds of God to which they refer. In fact, many argue that whether or not the deeds actually happened is largely irrelevant. The exodus, whether it happened or not, is a wonderful story of God’s determination to liberate and save people. The resurrection, whether it happened or not, is a story of newness of life that we can find in God.
I hope it’s clear from what’s above that we need a robust understanding of revelation that includes word and deed. What the Bible says God has done, he has actually done. The deeds of God recorded in Scripture are not simply metaphors (though they often serve as such, i.e. typology). They are also historical facts. Just because the exodus serves as a type (metaphor) of salvation does not mean we are to treat it as unhistorical or ahistorical. Moreover, when the writers recorded God’s mighty deeds, they were not just offering their interpretation. They were carried along by the Holy Spirit to write what they wrote (not in a mechanical way, but in a way that respected their indiviuality, experiences and personality) . The words they wrote are inspired. They are part of the revelation, not just testimony to the revelation. Though John offers a perspective on Jesus’ life and ministry that is different from Mark’s, Matthew’s and Luke’s, it is a complimentary perspective inspired by the Spirit. It isn’t just his interpetation.
If we surrender either of these poles of revelation we do so at great peril to ourselves and the church. The Chicago Statement of Biblical Innerancy protects both poles well:
WE AFFIRM that the written Word in its entirety is revelation given by God.
WE DENY that the Bible is merely a witness to revelation, or only becomes revelation in encounter, or depends on the responses of men for its validity.
WE AFFIRM that God who made mankind in His image has used language as a means of revelation.
WE DENY that human language is so limited by our creatureliness that it is rendered inadequate as a vehicle for divine revelation. We further deny that the corruption of human culture and language through sin has thwarted God’s work of inspiration.
WE AFFIRM that inspiration was the work in which God by His Spirit, through human writers, gave us His Word. The origin of Scripture is divine. The mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.
WE DENY that inspiration can be reduced to human insight, or to heightened states of consciousness of any kind.
WE AFFIRM that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
WE DENY that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.
WE AFFIRM that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
WE DENY that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.