The second means by which God the Holy Ghost works among men is the Bible.
As we have seen (Chapter 35), the Bible is the record of God's revelation to men.
God the Holy Ghost gave that revelation and bestowed upon the writers of the Bible the special assistance that we call inspiration.
But we must not say that we accept the Christian doctrines
because they are taught in the Bible,
and that we believe the Bible to be inspired, and therefore true, because the inspiration of the Bible is one of the doctrines of Christianity.
For this is "arguing in a circle".
We use the Bible in two ways that are quite distinct from each other.
First, we use it as a historical record -
that is, we use certain parts of it as historical records,
particularly the Gospels, the Acts, and the Epistles of St. Paul,
with some of the books of the Old Testament.
As a collection that includes historical records,
the Bible must be criticized like any other book.
We believe that the account of the origin of the Christian religion given in the New Testament is on the whole true;
that the Gospels, Acts, and Epistles record what really happened,
though they may not be perfectly accurate in every detail.
If they were not good evidence, we should not cease to be Christians;
but we should have to be content with much weaker evidence than we now have.
Secondly, we use the Bible as the inspired record of God's revelation.
We prove the doctrines of our faith from it,
and we reject the claim of any doctrine to be necessary
unless it can be proved from Scripture.
But this use of Scripture is confined to those who already accept the Christian religion in general.
If we are asked why we believe a fundamental Christian truth
(for instance, that there is one God, or that Jesus Christ was crucified),
we must not say, "Because the Bible says so, and the Bible is inspired";
for we shall then be asked why we believe that the Bible is inspired,
and we shall not have any convincing answer.
We must reply to the first question by saying,
"For many reasons all leading us to the same conclusion,
one of which is that the revelation to the prophets and the story of Jesus Christ, judged by ordinary historical criticism, are true.
We believe that Jesus Christ was crucified, as we believe that Julius Caesar was murdered, on historical evidence, but not only on historical evidence.
Other kinds of evidence confirm that belief.
Our belief in the inspiration of Scripture is part of our belief in Christianity,
not the basis of it" (see p. 209).
But if we are discussing with fellow Christians some question which is in
dispute among Christians (such as the visibility of the Church, or the papal
then we are justified in appealing to Scripture as the inspired and unique record of revelation, for this is accepted by all genuine Christians.
The Bible is not a single book but a library of books differing widely from
The oldest part of it is more than a thousand years earlier than the latest part of it.
The writer of the Song of Deborah was not much less primitive than a Zulu warrior under Chaka.
St. Luke was a highly civilized, scientific man. Isaiah and Jeremiah were deeply pious.
The Preacher (who wrote Ecclesiastes) was a sceptic.
Ezekiel and the writers of Leviticus and Chronicles were ritualists.
Some of the prophets were very puritan.
Even in the New Testament we have already observed the great difference between St. Paul and St. James.
The authors of Hebrews and Revelation were not at all like either,
or like one another.
As we have already seen, there are many degrees of inspiration in the Bible.
We see it at its lowest, perhaps, in Esther
in which the name of God is not once mentioned;
at its highest in the Gospel according to St. John.
But in spite of all the differences between the different books,
there is a profound unity, which runs through them all.
The God of whom they tell us is everywhere the same.
We see this unity most clearly if we compare the Bible with other books;
with the works of the great classical authors, Aeschylus, Plato, Lucretius, or Virgil;
with the Apocryphal Gospels;
or with the Koran.
(The last books show that the difference is not racial.
Muhammad and St. Paul were both Semites,
but what a difference there is between them!)
As we have seen, the Canon,
or list of books reckoned as inspired,
was drawn up by the Church and is accepted by all Christians.
We have already laid down what Inspiration is.
Let us now observe what it is not.
It is not verbal.
The words of Scripture were not dictated by God to the writers.
There is a human as well as a Divine element in the books.
The authors were limited by their age and by their race (some more than others)
It is not intended to teach natural science,
nor is the history in the Bible always accurate.
The parts of it that really matter are true history,
such as the story of our Lord's birth, and life, and death,
and resurrection, and the events that followed.
Much of the Old Testament also is trustworthy history,
and some of it has been confirmed by archaeological research.
But some is legend, and some, though historical, is not related accurately
(to see this, compare the accounts of the same events in Kings and in Chronicles).
Defence of the accuracy of Old Testament history
is not necessarily defence of the Christian religion.
It would not matter to our faith
if the Books of Joshua and Judges were entirely legendary.
Actually they contain a great deal of true history,
but its importance is historical rather than religious.
In matters of science (astronomy, for instance, or ethnology)
the writers' ideas are those of their own age.
The blue sky above us is not a solid roof with stars attached to it, as they seem to have thought.
The Canaanites were Semites, not Hamites (Gen.9.18), though it pleased the Israelites to think otherwise.
Dates and figures of all kinds in the Old Testament are particularly untrustworthy.
The question, what is historically true and what is not,
is the province of Biblical criticism.
No doubt a very radical Biblical criticism,
especially of the New Testament,
would make the historical basis of Christianity very weak.
But such criticism is not supported by reason, especially as the authors of it have in most if not all cases been men who were not believing or orthodox Christians,
and therefore had a prejudice against the evidence for revelation and miracles.
Biblical criticism is not the business of this book,
which takes for granted that the New Testament is on the whole sound history,
and that the historical basis of Christianity is true.
It is not intended for those who think otherwise.
Assuming that the evidence for the historical basis of Christianity is good,
and is supported by other kinds of evidence,
we accept the Christian religion as being what it claims to be -
the truth about God and man.
The inspiration of Scripture in the sense already laid down is a necessary part of the Christian religion and is accepted by all kinds of Christians.
If we can show that a particular doctrine is taught in Scripture and has always been held by the Church to be necessary as well as true and scriptural (for not all that is scriptural or even true is necessary), we accept it as being so;
and if not, we do not accept it as being so.
The defence of Holy Scripture itself is the function of apologetics, not of dogmatics.
Inspiration does not give us a rigid set of rules of worship and conduct.
The Hebrew system of laws is not binding on Christians.
Its moral principles, which have indeed been extended by the Sermon on the Mount (Matt.5-7), are maintained, but not its civil or ritual provisions (Article 7).
Casuistry is necessary,
[Casuistry is the application of moral principles to particular cases.],
but no system of casuistry can be universal or permanent;
and the devisers of casuistic rules must be continually subject to free criticism,
for they are always in danger of the abuses condemned by our Lord (Mark 7.9 ff.; Matt.23.16).
On the other hand, the Puritans held
that nothing was lawful, whether in conduct or in worship,
that was not expressly mentioned in Scripture.
It was for this reason that they objected to the use of the surplice, the ring in marriage, and the sign of the cross in baptism.
Hooker's Ecclesiastical Polity was in part written to refute this absurd notion.
All Christians have the right and the duty of reading the Bible for themselves.
The rule forbidding the unrestricted use of Scripture by the laity, which was so strongly resisted at the time of the Reformation, was really one of the methods of despotism, and is applied by all despotic governments to books that they do not want their subjects to read.
The assertion that the laity ought to read the Bible and ought not to be prevented from doing so because of its obscurity was, however, one of the 101 propositions condemned by the famous Bull Unigenitus (1713) which nearly brought about a schism in the French Church (see p. 164).
But the privilege of reading the Bible,
like every other religious privilege,
carries responsibility with it.
Whoever reads the Bible must read it with devotion, reverence, and humility,
and must do his best to learn the meaning of it
with the aid of all that the Church can give him.
No Scripture is of private interpretation (II Peter 1.20).
No one has the right to interpret the Bible in a manner peculiar to himself
unless he has at least studied what the best commentators have written.
It is the function of the Church to interpret the Bible.
The Church hath authority in controversies of faith (Article 20).
Modern research has thrown an immense amount of light on the Bible.
We know a great deal which was not known to the Fathers or the divines of the Reformation period, but in matters of doctrine the interpretation of the Fathers must never be neglected because they bear witness to the living tradition of the Church before the Church was divided and before the invasion of the barbarians.
The great increase of knowledge, which all students of the Bible have now at their disposal, makes more absurd than ever the theory that ignorant people are justified in making their own religion out of their own ideas of the meaning of the Bible.
The old maxim is even more true than formerly:
The Church to teach, the Bible to prove.
How do we know that the Bible is inspired?
First, by the formal authority of the Church,
which is supported by the experience of so many millions of Christians
in all ages and lands.
Second, because the Bible differs from the sacred books of other religions
as Christianity differs from those religions themselves.
Christianity is founded on historical facts,
and part of the function of the Bible is to record those historical facts.
A man might worship Heracles or Krishna without believing that he ever existed;
but if Jesus Christ had never existed,
or had not been what Christians believe Him to be,
Christianity could not exist.
Third, because the Bible satisfies the spiritual needs of all men, Asiatics
and Africans as well as Europeans, and at the same time allows room for progress.
It does not bind us to the ideas and standards of one age or one country.
We now see many principles in the Bible which were not seen by our medieval ancestors slavery, religious persecution, aggressive war, are not consistent with the principles of the New Testament.
As time goes on,
future generations will probably see other things in the Bible
that are now hidden from us.
The Holy Ghost will only be able to make full use of the Bible in His work for mankind when all races of men shall have made it the foundation of their outlook on the world.