God has Spoken
Hebrews 1:1, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,”
With this opening sentence we have the most important statement that could be made in our time. This is one of the most vital things people today need to know. Ours is a relativistic age; as many as 70 percent of Americans insist that there are no absolutes whether in matters of truth or morality. Secular society having removed God, there no longer is a heavenly voice to speak with clarity and authority. The price we have paid is the loss of truth, and with it true hope. Even when it comes to those things we think we know, we now consider them mere constructs of thought amidst the constant flux of uncertain knowledge and belief. Really, we are told, we don’t know anything for sure, nor can we.
All this is especially the case when it comes to our knowledge of God himself. Can we know our Creator, if there is one? Is there a Savior to help us? Unless God has spoken we cannot even be sure He is there; unless God is there, there is no ultimate hope for us as individuals, and no answer for the ultimate problem of death. Job asks, “Can you find out the deep things of God?” (11:7) and answers “No.” By definition God is beyond the reality of our senses from which all our self-gained knowledge has to come. Therefore, if God is there and wants us to know Him—if He has an answer, a plan, or a salvation—He is going to have to speak to us. And He must speak in a way we can understand. Therefore, there is nothing more important, nothing more essential than what Hebrews says in its very first verse, “God has spoken.”
This is the uniform testimony of the Bible about itself that is God’s very Word. The Bible’s books were written by human authors, who spoke and wrote in human language. But the Bible insists that through them God himself spoke and speaks to us still. Peter explained, “Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” in 2nd Peter 1:21. This is what we refer to as the Bible’s inspiration. God has communicated to us through the Holy Spirit’s leading of its human authors. The point is not that these books contain the inspired insights of men; the point is exactly the opposite. Indeed, we might better speak of the Bible not as being inspired but as being expired. It is God’s Word as from His very mouth, given through the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of human hearts. This is what Paul emphasizes in 2nd Timothy 3:16, where he says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
The divine authorship of Holy Scripture needs to be emphasized today, especially since contemporary authorship tends to focus on the human authors. It is right, of course, to realize the human contours God used to give shape to different Bible books. Moses had his own experience and calling and personality and gifts, and God used them to craft a particular message in the books that Moses wrote. The same is true of Paul and John and all the other biblical writers. But while the Bible itself affirms this, its own emphasis is on divine authorship. Hebrews 1:1 says that God spoke “at many times and in many ways,” and that God employed “the prophets” to do this. But in all of this it was still God who spoke. It is not Moses who spoke in Genesis, nor David who spoke in Psalms, nor Paul who spoke in Romans. God spoke in the Bible, and we must regard all Scripture as His holy Word.
The Book of Hebrews gives the Bible’s own slant on the process of revelation. Whenever the writer cites Scripture, it is never the human author whom he credits but the divine Author. In Hebrews 2:12 he cites Psalm 22:22 and ascribes it to Jesus Christ speaking in the Old Testament. Hebrews 3:7-11 cites Psalm 5, but prefaces it not by saying “as David said,” but “as the Holy Spirit says.” So it goes all through Hebrews. The point is not to deny the significance of the Bible’s human authors, but to show that our emphasis, following the Bible’s own emphasis, must always be on God speaking in His Word.
This has several important implications. First, if God speaks in the Bible, then the Bible carries divine authority. Today, many want to set aside the Bible’s teachings when they collide with current cultural standards. But just as God commands our obedience, so He also demands that we humbly obey His Word. There is nothing so important for Christians to recover today as the awe and respect that Scripture deserves as God’s own revelation to us.
Second, if God wrote the Bible, then it is enduringly relevant. After all if God does not change- and by nature He cannot—then His Word does not change either. It is true that some things said in the Bible were intended only for its original recipients. God told Moses, not us, to “Go down to Egypt.” But the teaching given all through the Bible—on God’s character, on sin and on His moral standards, on the good news of salvation and how it comes to us—abides forever for the simple reason that God abides forever. The writer of Hebrews in chapter 13 states that Christian standards of conduct remains the same because “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” in Hebrews 13:8.
God not only spoke in the Bible to those who first received it but He speaks as well to those who receive it today. This is emphasized in Hebrews. In Hebrews 3:7, for instance the writer cites Psalm 95 written a thousand years before and writes, “as the Holy Spirit says.” He uses the present tense. It is not merely what the Holy Spirit said back when David wrote it, but what the Holy Spirit says now as God speaks to those who read it. This is why the Bible is fully relevant to all our needs today.
Third since God has spoken in the Bible, even though He did so with greater diversity—“at many times and in many ways”- we also hold to the unity of the Bible. The Bible consists of sixty-six books written over at least thirteen hundred years by over forty different people. And yet is one book with one unified message.
James Boice explains, “These people were not alike. Some were kings. Others were statesmen, priests, prophets, a tax collector, a physician, a tentmaker, a fishermen. Yet together they produced a volume that is a marvelous unity in its doctrine, historical viewpoints, ethics and expectations. It is, in short a single story of divine redemption begun in Israel, centered in Jesus Christ and culminating at the end of history. Behind the efforts of the more than forty human authors is the one perfect, sovereign, and guiding mind of God.”[i]
This provides us with an important interpretative principle namely that Scripture is best interpreted by itself. Since the Bible is one message spoken by God, we should understand the teaching in one passage in light of the way that teaching is given elsewhere in Scripture. To be sure, the Bible’s message is progressively revealed so that the gospel appears in bud in the Old Testament and in bloom only in the New Testament. Many doctrines are therefore progressively revealed. Nonetheless, the clear teaching God gives in one place constrains our interpretation of the same subject elsewhere in the Bible. This is most relevant to our study of Hebrews, where the author not only finds numerous Old Testament passages to be relevant to his readers but under the Holy Spirit’s control also gives us an authoritative guide as to how we should understand them (as well as the whole Old Testament).
Whenever we think of Jesus as the ultimate final truth, we may remember the confrontation at His trial before Pontius Pilate. The Roman governor had demanded to know if Jesus really though himself a king. Jesus replied that His kingdom was not of this world. When Pilate responded doubtfully, Jesus related his kingship of god’s truth in the world. He said, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37). Christ reigns through God’s Word, because in Christ God has fully and ultimately revealed Himself.
What a confrontation that was! Pilate represented the philosophy and wisdom of the world, with its relativism and cruel utilitarianism. Pilate was not able to accept that there could be truth at all. Looking into the very face of God’s Son, through whom God has revealed the ultimate truth, Pilate replied, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). This not only shows what we call postmodernity, with its denial of truth, is really nothing new, but it also dramatizes the tragedy of our unbelieving world. Jesus put it this way “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19). There before Pilate stood the very Truth of God, and there was Pilate denying even the possibility of truth.
Pilate thought he was judging Jesus, but with the Truth before him it was the governor who was really on trial. The same is true today. When you read or hear God’s message through His Son Jesus Christ, you stand before the Truth. If you reject Him, God’s final Word, you consign yourself to darkness—the darkness of spiritual blindness now and the eternal darkness that comes in God’s final judgment.
But if you look to Jesus Christ, and if in Him you see and believe the very truth of God, then God’s redemptive work of the ages will be fulfilled in you. “At many times and in many ways,” God began preparing the world through the prophets for the coming of His Son. Why? So that in these last days—these days of God’s redemptive fulfillment in Jesus Christ—we might enter into the fullness of salvation. This is what Jesus said to the disciples as they struggled to know the truth on the night of His arrest. “I am the way and the truth, and the life,” he told them (John 14:6). And so He is for us. When we receive Jesus as the Truth, then He becomes the way for us to enter into Life everlasting. This is why Jesus is God’s final Word, and why even if all else in the world is lost we must hold fast to Him in faith.
[i] James Montgomery Boice, Foundations of the Christian Faith (downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1986), 68-59