The Gospels: Is It Inspired?

 •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 10
In 2 Tim. 3:1616All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: (2 Timothy 3:16) we read, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God." Now mark this passage. In the original there are but three words: "ALL" [or every] (not simply a part, leaving a doubt upon obscure passages or apparent discrepancies; it is all
- books, chapters, verses, words -all) "SCRIPTURE" (the whole canon—the gospels as well as the epistles—the New equally with the Old) [is] "GOD-INSPIRED" (through a human element, but yet of God, as we appropriately call it, the Word of God).
Then God is the author, and the gospels must be worthy of Him as an author; and He could not have allowed the human instrument to spoil His Book with imperfections. Men often employ others to write at their dictation, but what author would let his amanuensis mar his work by something of his own? And yet we Christians are called upon to believe that because God used man as an instrument (and God could as easily use the various minds of men as we vary our writing with a steel or a quill pen), He had to let man put in so much of his own that we only have it in the "imperfections of human speech," and in the "limitations of human thought." But, by God's help, we will not believe this. We will rest the comfort of our soul's salvation on the words God has used, and believe Christ when He said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away: but My words shall not pass away." Mark 13:3131Heaven and earth shall pass away: but my words shall not pass away. (Mark 13:31).
Of course it is not intended to assert by this that every individual word of our English translation (or of any translation) is inspired. What is here maintained is, that every word that God caused to be written is inspired; and where a translation is correct, the words of the translation are of equal authority. It is true there may be a few passages which those competent to judge of the text are not so sure about; but while it is believed that there are none which in any way throw a doubt upon any one of the fundamental truths of Christianity, these exceptions in no way affect the question of the verbal inspiration of that which God caused to be written. Christ said, "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day." John 12:4848He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. (John 12:48). In 1 Cor. 2:1313Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13) it is said, "The words which the Holy Ghost teacheth." And in Pro. 30:55Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. (Proverbs 30:5), "Every word of God is pure."
But here it will be again objected that the various manuscripts of the Greek vary so much, by the lapse of ages and by errors of the copyists, that the theory of verbal inspiration is of no use to any who maintain it. But this is not correct; for if it be once admitted that the writers only wrote imperfectly what God intended to convey to man, then all is uncertain; whereas if God caused the right words to be written, then we are certain we have those very words, except where the manuscripts disagree; and where they do differ, the weight of evidence is often so preponderating and decisive as to give a moral certainty as to which is right, thus leaving comparatively few places really doubtful. Verbal inspiration must be maintained.
But it is asserted that though we might believe this of some parts of Scripture, yet in the four gospels there are such real discrepancies that it is impossible that the very words of Scripture can be inspired; and an illustration is given in the inscription on the cross—not any two of the Evangelists, it is said, give it exactly the same, and therefore some must be incorrect.
In answer to this, let us take a familiar illustration. Suppose I go into a graveyard and, from a tombstone of some notable person,I take an extract, and I say, "On such a stone is written so-and-so." Another person does the same thing but, for a particular reason and to illustrate some particular fact, he takes a different extract, and he also says, "On such a stone is written so-and-so." A third takes a third extract, and in doing so he copies a part (but only a part) of what the first did, and a part (but only a part) of what the second did; he also says, "On such a stone is written A fourth person takes still a different extract and says, "It is thus written on the stone."
Now in such a case as this might not all these extracts be strictly and verbally true, and yet no two of them be exactly alike? They surely might, as no one of the writers undertook to quote every word that was on the tombstone, each having a particular reason for quoting what he did. And if we apply this to the case in point, all difficulty and apparent discrepancy at once disappears. Suppose the actual writing to have been:
This is Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews
Matthew quotes, This is Jesus the King of the Jews
Mark quotes, the King of the Jews
Luke quotes, This is the King of the Jews
John quotes, Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews
Is it not surprising that an apparent discrepancy, so simply solved as this is, should be put forth by eminent scholars as an unanswerable proof of the impossibility that the words of the gospels are inspired?
We are thus forced back to the Word of God itself, which declares that every scripture is God inspired; and the answer to the question, Who is the author of the four gospels? is God, and none but God. And we cannot for a moment admit that He allowed the writers in any way to spoil His work.
But if this is true, our other questions return with their true weight: "Why are there four gospels?" and "Why do they differ?" Now it must follow, if the gospels are God-inspired, and if the writers penned nothing but what He chose, that all the omissions and differences are designed, and designed too for some wise purpose worthy of God, the author. And if this is so, instead of laboring to form harmonies of the four gospels, our chief concern should be to try and discover what special object God had in giving them to us as He has.
An illustration may perhaps help us in the elucidation of this part of our subject. Think of such a man as the first Napoleon, and suppose there was someone who had been his constant companion from boyhood. At his death this friend is asked to write out the characteristics of Napoleon, illustrated by his life. But in such a man there were several distinct characters, and the writer would soon discover that it would be far better to write separate memoirs: first, say, as a soldier; then as a ruler; then the moral character of the man: and so on. And suppose we take the last named, would not the writer feel he could not be hampered with chronological order? For instance, in speaking of a particular trait of his character, he might best illustrate it by an incident in his school days, followed by something that happened in Italy, and then by something in his private life; whereas the last incident may have actually taken place between the other two, the writer taking a moral order rather than a chronological order. And if a stranger were to take these three supposed memoirs and attempt to make one, would he not find the greatest possible difficulty in doing so? But would it not be great rashness to conclude, when he failed in his plan, that the writer must have made grave mistakes?
Now if we bring this to bear on our subject, let me ask, Has not the Lord Jesus Christ many different characters? And may not the four gospels have been written each to set forth Christ in a different character? and in doing which, moral order may have been far better than chronological order? And if so, will not this at once account for the many apparent discrepancies, omissions, transpositions, etc., that are said to be discovered? and will it not show what a great mistake is made by attempts to force the four into one narrative?
But let us further illustrate this point, for it is of great importance to see it clearly. Suppose an artist were requested to paint a full length portrait of, say, the Duke of Wellington. Surely his first question would be, in what character shall I represent him? If he was wanted as a soldier, it would not do to paint it as he appeared in the House of Lords, nor as he appeared in the family circle. Surely all must see that the artist must have a definite character in the man he is to portray, and nothing could exceed the folly of insisting that the painter must give all the characters in one portrait!
Now may not the four gospels be so many divine portraits of the Lord Jesus Christ in different characters? And if so, to attempt to mingle the four into one portrait, would be as inconsistent as it would be to cut up four different portraits of the Duke of Wellington and put them together to make such a one as would give the whole man. The expression of the countenance, let alone the dress, would be very different in the politician from what it would be in the warrior; and the whole would be spoiled. So of the gospels: God being the author of them, if He designed to set forth Christ in different characters, He surely did the work perfectly; and we cannot alter a word or make a transposition without spoiling some of the fine touches in those exquisite portraits of our Lord as given by the Holy Ghost.