by Matthew C. Harrison
Jesus made outlandish claims about Himself, none more outrageous than that He is God in the flesh: “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
The religious leaders repeatedly charged Jesus with blasphemy because of this. Jesus invited divine worship of Himself (John 9:35–38). Thomas, praising Jesus from his knees, called Him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). While He walked the earth, Jesus did divine things: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Luke 5:21). “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41). He shed divine/ human blood to pay for the sins of the world: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). “The blood of Jesus his Son, cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). Yet He looked like an average Palestinian Jew and did everything a person does; He grew and learned, demonstrated emotions including anger and frustration, suffered pain, endured sickness (Isaiah 53:2–4), said and did inexplicable things, which sometimes appeared contradictory and confusing.
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’ … Many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him” (John 6:60, 66).
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus is the sinless Son of God, God in human flesh, yet during His earthly life, many found Him confusing, contradictory and at times even thought He was not only in error, but crazy or demonic. Some of His recorded statements continue to puzzle even the most pious, orthodox Christians. But no orthodox Christian will ever accuse Jesus of error, much less sin.
The incarnation of Christ provides us a guide or lens to look at Holy Scripture. The Scriptures are both divine, inspired by God and without error, while also being thoroughly human. They were written by sinful human authors who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. They wrote in different styles, including a more common Greek (John) and a more academic style (Hebrews). They wrote in Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew, and in poetic, narrative and other types of writing. Much of their writing is easy to understand, although some statements are difficult to understand or even confusing (like some of Jesus’ own statements). The Scriptures themselves tell us about the theological errors of St. Peter that St. Paul corrected (Gal. 2:11–21). Peter himself is an author of Holy Scripture. But it’s also Peter who wrote of Holy Scripture. “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter1:21).
In fact, St. Peter includes the prophetic witness of the apostles about Jesus and the Old Testament when he writes:
For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.2 Peter 1:16–21
In fact, Peter simply repeated Jesus’ own view of the Scriptures, which the Savior Himself said “bear witness about me” and thus save (John 5:39), are without error (John 10:35) and come directly from God (Mark 7:13; Matt. 4:4; Matt. 21:13; Mark 11:17; Luke 19:46).
We absolutely do not begin our witness to someone by attempting to prove the Scriptures are true, Genesis 1 to Revelation 22, and without error or contradiction, as though only then could a person trust in Christ as Savior. We proclaim Christ and His precious Gospel, the full forgiveness of sins acquired on the cross, and the world-acquitting act of His resurrection (Rom. 4:24–25). “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). Once a person is brought by the Word of Christ’s Gospel to believe in the Savior, that person recognizes the voice of his Savior in Holy Scripture. The great president of both the LCMS and Concordia Seminary Franz Pieper (1852–1931) put it beautifully:
In dealing with an unbeliever we cannot begin with an attempt to convince him of the divine authority of Scripture. We must first bring him to the knowledge of his sins and to faith in Christ, the Redeemer from sin. We should preach to him on the basis of Scripture — without discussing the authority of Scripture — repentance and remission of sin. If a man has in this way — and there is no other way — become a Christian … then he will know that the Word of Scripture is God’s Word, just as the children of God among the Jews knew and received the word Christ spoke as God’s Word.Christian Dogmatics 1:137
Holy Scripture is God’s own divine/human Word. Just like Luther, who spent a lifetime studying the Scriptures and scratching his head over challenging texts, we will find apparent mistakes and contradictions in the Bible, but these are a result of our limited human understanding, not of errors in the Word. It’s great comfort to know Jesus’ view of the Bible, and also to know that Christians from the beginning have wrestled with the very same texts. Most difficulties melt away with good instruction: the assistance of a pastor, the guidance of The Lutheran Study Bible or insight from a reliable commentary. Some will cause us to scratch our heads, perhaps until the resurrection. And in such cases, with Luther, we’ll doff our hat to the Holy Spirit, knowing He’s a better theologian than we are. Like the divinity/humanity of Christ, so also the divine/human nature of the inerrant and infallible Scriptures will remain an article of faith, not sight.