The Inspiration of the Scriptures: 4. the Human Element

 •  12 min. read  •  grade level: 10
Listen from:
Chapter 4—the Human Element
It is evident that a human element is in one form or another characteristic of inspiration, that it is even more “prophetic” in the New Testament than in the Old, and that it is only second in interest and importance to the divine which is there. But it is a phrase employed to insinuate liability to human error in some respect if not in all; just as men avail themselves of the Incarnation to overthrow or undermine the personal glory of Christ. Such unbelief is in both altogether unfounded and unworthy. Scripture is most explicit in guarding souls from thus dishonoring God's Son or His word; and all the more because appearances afford a handle to such as seek this occasion. For scripture, like the Lord Jesus, is a grand moral test; and those who desire not God's will can readily find reasons against both out of that will which is declared to be “enmity against God.” To impute human defect to scripture is to deny its inspiration of God.
1. As an important instance to test the unbelieving cavil, take the genealogy in the first chapter of Matthew's Gospel. This, pseudo-criticism will have to be a compilation of ignorance and mistake. It is often assumed that Matthew simply adopted the existing Jewish register. Gaps in such pedigrees were quite understood and made no difficulty where the line was sure, and give no real ground for the charge of discrepancy with other lists. Compare Ezra 7:1-51Now after these things, in the reign of Artaxerxes king of Persia, Ezra the son of Seraiah, the son of Azariah, the son of Hilkiah, 2The son of Shallum, the son of Zadok, the son of Ahitub, 3The son of Amariah, the son of Azariah, the son of Meraioth, 4The son of Zerahiah, the son of Uzzi, the son of Bukki, 5The son of Abishua, the son of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the chief priest: (Ezra 7:1‑5) with 1 Chron. 6:1-151The sons of Levi; Gershon, Kohath, and Merari. 2And the sons of Kohath; Amram, Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel. 3And the children of Amram; Aaron, and Moses, and Miriam. The sons also of Aaron; Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. 4Eleazar begat Phinehas, Phinehas begat Abishua, 5And Abishua begat Bukki, and Bukki begat Uzzi, 6And Uzzi begat Zerahiah, and Zerahiah begat Meraioth, 7Meraioth begat Amariah, and Amariah begat Ahitub, 8And Ahitub begat Zadok, and Zadok begat Ahimaaz, 9And Ahimaaz begat Azariah, and Azariah begat Johanan, 10And Johanan begat Azariah, (he it is that executed the priest's office in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem:) 11And Azariah begat Amariah, and Amariah begat Ahitub, 12And Ahitub begat Zadok, and Zadok begat Shallum, 13And Shallum begat Hilkiah, and Hilkiah begat Azariah, 14And Azariah begat Seraiah, and Seraiah begat Jehozadak, 15And Jehozadak went into captivity, when the Lord carried away Judah and Jerusalem by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. (1 Chronicles 6:1‑15) for the stem of Aaron. This was open to the inspiring Spirit here as elsewhere, if such were God's will. But the genealogy here has marks of design which we find only in scripture. It opens with marking out the Lord as “son of David, son of Abraham,” the beginnings of the kingdom as settled of God forever, and of the promises. Then it presents from Abraham to David fourteen generations, from David to the Babylonish migration as many, and the same from that migration to the birth of Christ.
It is universally known that three generations are omitted from the intermediate series. Nobody can with candor conceive that Matthew, whose Gospel displays pre-eminent and profound acquaintance with the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets, did not perfectly well know that Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah were here left out between Joram and Uzziah. An unenlightened Israelite could not be ignorant of a fact so patent. It was therefore due to purpose, in no reasonable way to oversight or confusion. It was intended to arrange the line with but twice seven in each of its three sections the beginning of the stock of promise down to the king of God's choice; the course of the kingdom till its utter evil and humiliation in Babylon; and the faithfulness of God notwithstanding in preserving the royal line to the virgin's Son according to prophecy. As therefore some links must be dropt to effect this aim, who could be so fittingly omitted as these three descendants of the foreign and murderous Athaliah? The Jews themselves may well have done this in some register of theirs, assuredly not ignorant of what they did, but with moral design. Whether this was so or not, we cannot say, as the registers were lost at the destruction of Jerusalem. But the omission is plain at this point and to the extent of leaving the intended links of fourteen generations. Whatever may have been the motive of the writer, the fact is before all; and the character of the Gospel altogether refutes the imputation that it was lack of care, intelligence, or honesty. If he was inspired to give the genealogy, it is impossible that God could either lie or err.
But the proof of divine design appears in other features also. Think of any one on human grounds selecting such women as are here named in the earlier chain! Think of a Jew on his own motion inserting these only in his pedigree of the Messiah! Not a word about Sarah or Rebecca, of Leah or Rachel; but “Judah begot Pharez and Zarah of Thamar!” Certainly it was no accident to drag out a history so scandalous into the light of the N.T. risking the dishonor of the Messiah. And is it “after the manner of men” to blazon the fact that “Salmon begot Boaz of Rahab?” or even that “Boaz begot Obed of Ruth?” And when we come down to “David the king,” what can one say of recalling the chief shame that stained his life? “David begot Solomon of her [that had been wife] of Uriah?” An incestuous woman! a harlot! a Moabitess! an adulteress! Never was there such a choice, and in the face of so many admirable and saintly wives passed by!
No; it is incredible that any priest or scribe or lawyer ever drew up as a legal document such a genealogical roll. Further, it is not conceivable that Matthew himself would ever have thought or dared to do it without the power of the inspiring Spirit working in him to this end. It is at first sight as opposed as can be to every natural instinct. Nothing can account for it but the direct and deep purpose of God, Who was pleased to disclose to us the depths of sin abounding in Messiah's ancestry, calmly but expressly singled out, that we may see in His redemption, where sin abounded, grace surpassing yet more through Christ to God's glory. And if the Holy Spirit be the true author, and the result God's word, who and what are they who venture on their petty and unhallowed criticisms?
Again, the same spirit of unbelief objects to the genealogy that it is Joseph's line; whereas what they want is Mary's! There extreme ignorance is betrayed; for the genealogy needed to satisfy an inquiring Jew was and must be descent from Solomon. This was solely through Joseph. If our Lord had not inherited legally his title, He could not have been David's Son in the direct royal line. And this was given to Matthew, who proves Him to be beyond doubt the Heir through Solomon whose succession Jehovah confirmed with an oath: the true and expected David's Son Who was David's Lord, yet born of the virgin and so marked off from all others, Emmanuel, yet Jehovah, Who should save His people from their sins.
On the other hand, Luke's genealogy (which is quite mistakenly counted Joseph's, but can be shown demonstrably to be Mary's1) was essential for the due proof that our Lord was her Son, not legally merely but really, Son of God and Son of man in one Person, and thus “Light for revelation of Gentiles, as well as glory of God's people Israel “: so all this Gospel illustrates. He was truly man: how else had He reached all mankind, or even Israel, as the Savior? He was as truly God: else He had never revealed Him adequately in His life, nor availed efficaciously in His atoning blood and death, as all the Gospels testify and above all John's. Christ was thus according to the law Joseph's heir, both naturally and supernaturally Mary's Son; above all He was the Only-begotten Son of God through eternity. This last is given by John, who furnishes no earthly genealogy any more than Mark, though for a wholly different reason: John, because He is presented as being God, and therefore far above it; Mark, as becoming Servant of God for every need of man, wherein nobody looks for a genealogy.
2. The next case we may here review is the inextricable difficulty some critics have found in comparing the Synoptic Gospels, and in particular on the supposition that the writers which succeeded each other had before them the Gospel or Gospels that preceded. The conclusion is that they had a common oral tradition or teaching, while each was left to tell his own story with all the modification incident to human weakness where there was also veracity. Let me cite the late Dean Alford on the example in question, which seemed to him not only typical but peculiarly plain and sure from his frequent allusion to it. “The real discrepancies between our Evangelistic histories are very few, and those nearly all of one kind. They are simply the results of the entire independence of the accounts. They consist mainly in different chronological arrangements, expressed or implied. Such for instance is the transposition, before noticed, of the history of the passage into the country of the Gadarenes, which in Matt. 8:2828And when he was come to the other side into the country of the Gergesenes, there met him two possessed with devils, coming out of the tombs, exceeding fierce, so that no man might pass by that way. (Matthew 8:28) ff. precedes a whole course of events which in Mark 5:11And they came over unto the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gadarenes. (Mark 5:1) ff. and Luke 8:2626And they arrived at the country of the Gadarenes, which is over against Galilee. (Luke 8:26) ff. it follows. Such again is the difference in position between the pair of incidents related Matt. 8:19-2219And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 20And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 21And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 22But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. (Matthew 8:19‑22), and the same pair of incidents found in Luke 9:57-6057And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. 58And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. 59And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. 60Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:57‑60)” (Gr. Testament, Prolegg. I. 12, fifth edition). He gives these up as “real discrepancies,” complaining on the one side of enemies who would thereby overthrow the truth, and on the other of the orthodox who would harmonize at the expense of common fairness and candor.
Now why is it that one who sincerely loved the Lord and His word felt driven to so helpless a dilemma? Because he failed to hold unflinchingly that “every scripture is inspired of God,” and allowed under that standard that the writers were “left, in common with others, to the guidance of their natural faculties!” But this is not divine inspiration. It does not rise above the gracious guidance of the Spirit every Christian looks or ought to look for day by day. If the Dean would confine it to “much variety,” i.e. discrepancy in points of minor consequence, he could not resist the demands of others who apply it to any or every statement, be it of the highest moment. He thus surrenders the unwavering standard which faith finds in God's inspiring “every scripture.”
Is there then any insuperable obstacle in the way of believing that the differing arrangements, being equally inspired, are to be received implicitly as God's word and absolutely true? Why impute the difference to man's weakness? Why not to God's wisdom? One can heartily sympathize with a believer who says, Here is a difficulty beyond my solution; and so I wait and search with prayer to Him Who gave it by His Spirit for my comfort and instruction. Therefore, as I am sure it is all and equally true, I hope yet if it please Him to see the apparent discrepancy cleared, perhaps in my own reading, or yet more probably through another believer. For we are members one of another; and thus the Spirit loves to help. Far be it from me to lay on God's word the blame which belongs to my own spiritual dullness. In the present case, without in the least claiming power of the Spirit to meet every hard question or to answer all possible objections, let me say that the special design of each Gospel (ascertainable by grace from its own contents) is the main key.
Matthew was led of God frequently to depart from the mere order of the facts with the deeper end of the Spirit in setting out the dispensational change from Jehovah-Messiah's presence, and His rejection by the Jews. Luke was led to act similarly in presenting the moral principles which shone in Christ's words and ways as the Holy Thing born of woman, the Son of God, Man on earth among men. Chronology was on these occasions subordinate and vanished before the weightier aim of the Holy Spirit. In ordinary cases it was preserved; and so we may observe it to be all but invariably in the Gospels of Mark and John, the divine design in them not interfering with it.
Matt. 8 opens first with the Jewish leper cured; then follows the Gentile centurion's servant healed. Yet the fact of the leper occurred before the Lord went up the mountain in chaps. v., vi., vii., as is certain from comparing Mark! The centurion's servant was not healed till He came down. Again, Peter's mother-in-law was restored to strength from fever, and of course the crowd of sick and possessed after sunset of the same sabbath, before even the leper, as the same chapter of Mark proves beyond cavil. For in his Gospel we have the day specified and the order of events kept; whereas it is not so in the part of Matthew we are examining, where we have only “and,” “and,” “and,” leaving the time open, save in the connecting vers. 16, 17 with vers. 14, 15. Further, it is quite clear from Mark 4:3535And the same day, when the even was come, he saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. (Mark 4:35)—5 that the passage across the lake and the storm that obeyed the Lord's rebuke were on the evening of the day when the Lord gave utterance to the great parables of Matt. 13, and that the two demoniacs were delivered on the other side after that, Mark and Luke being inspired to dwell on the more desperate case of Legion. There is not even the semblance of discrepancy; because Matthew states the facts without any note of time, and states them in the order suited to give a display of the Lord's power in detailed testimony on earth to show the dispensational change that was imminent. Mark gives them as they happened in his ministry; which enables us to see how hasty are all who set one account against another. The design explains each and all.
It may be added that Luke 9 appears to indicate that “the pair of incidents” which illustrate Christ's position in Mark 8 occurred historically after the transfiguration given in Matthew's chap. xvii. Hence we have there no note of time in the First Gospel. This cuts off all ground for the charge of “real discrepancy.” It is unworthy of a believer that anything of the kind should issue in a wanton insult to scripture, due to one's own haste and ignorance.