Also See The New Testament Use Of The Old Testament (below)
During the course of the history of Israel, the authors of the Old Testament made constant references to the portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that had already been written. From these citations, it is easy to demonstrate that the Old Testament treats itself as "the written record of the words of God as they were given by God, and as they were recorded by men who were specially designated and commanded by God to this work; and that this written record was preserved by the Jewish people and accepted by them as authoritative."1
The underlying unity of this body of literature is evident not only in its internal harmony and consistency of theme, but in the references to it as a whole by both Biblical and ancient extrabiblical authors.
According to the Old Testament, the inspiration of its several authors extended not only to the spoken words of Moses and the prophets, but to their writings. In many cases, God specifically commanded His Word to be written. In Exodus 17:14, the Lord said to Moses, "write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua," and according to Deuteronomy 31:24-26, Moses wrote all of the words of the Pentateuch in a book. God also commanded his Word to be written in Exodus 34:27, Numbers 33:2, Isaiah 8:1, Isaiah 30:8, Jeremiah 25:13, Jeremiah 30:1,2, Jeremiah 36:21,28, Ezekiel 24:1,2, Daniel 12:4, and Habakkuk 2:2.
The historical portions of the Scriptures were included among the things written in accordance with the express command of the Lord (Numbers 33:2). In many cases, the prophetic nature of what was being written at the Lord's command was such that the words would stand as a testimony against unbelievers at the time of their fulfillment. In such places as Jeremiah 36:21-32, it becomes clear that it was not only the essential content that was important, but also the very words in which it was expressed.
Precise indications are given as to the time and place at which the word of God is given. For example, in Ezekiel 24:1,2, it says, "in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me . . . ." Moreover, evidence is provided in order to demonstrate that the words are from God. The passage continues: "Son of man, write down the name of this day, this very day. The king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day." Ezekiel was in Babylon when he wrote this, so he would have had no way of knowing what was happening in Jerusalem apart from prophetic revelation. What he wrote was open to public examination, and the claim for its divine origin could be either confirmed or disconfirmed when the news from Jerusalem reached Babylon.
The suppression of the human factor in many of the passages of the Old Testament provides a graphic illustration of the extent to which the prophets were carried, or borne along, by the Spirit of God, as they spoke. In such cases, the prophet begins by speaking of God in the third person, but then changes to the first person. This is evident, for example, in Isaiah 10:12, Isaiah 19:1,2, Hosea 6:1-4, Micah 1:3-6, and Zechariah 9:4-6.
The Old Testament also claims for itself that it was given through certain specially designated people, known as prophets. The prophet was God's mouthpiece, or instrument of communication. Each prophet was carefully prepared for this purpose. It is stated of Jeremiah that he was prepared for this important work from the time he was in his mother's womb (Jeremiah 1:5).
It is not claimed that these people always spoke infallibly. They only spoke infallibly when the Lord was putting a word in their mouth. This would always happen at a specific time. For example, Ezekiel wrote, "In the sixth year, in the ninth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord God fell there upon me . . ." (Ezekiel 8:1). The prophets were able to distinguish clearly between what was revealed to them and what was from themselves.
The true prophets accused the false prophets of speaking without being sent from God. This is particularly evident in Jeremiah 14:14,15, Jeremiah 23:26, Jeremiah 29:9, and Ezekiel 13:2,3,6, where God says to Ezekiel, "Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy out of their own hearts."
One striking indication that the Old Testament was given by God to these particular individual writers is that at times they did not understand what they had written. God told Daniel to go on his way because the words He had given him were closed up and sealed until the time of the end (Daniel 12:8,9). If we are to treat the Old Testament with any integrity, then we must realize that the words of the prophets were not the expression of religious genius, but that they were given directly by God.
There are many prophetic formulae used in the Old Testament to indicate that the text is God-given. For example, it says in Psalm 68:11 that "the Lord gave the word." Other similar expressions include "the Lord said," "the word of the Lord came upon me," "thus saith the Lord," "the Spirit came upon me," "the power of God was upon him," " the Lord spoke," and "the mouth of the Lord has spoken it." Variations of such phrases occur over 3800 times in the Old Testament.
It is clear from statements made by the Old Testament prophets that the word of God came to them from without. In Ezekiel 2:2, for example, God picked up Ezekiel and set him upon his feet before speaking to him.
That the prophets were set apart by God for their work is evident in the Lord's commission to each of them. For example, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Moses at the burning bush were all told that they were specifically designated by God as spokesmen for Him.
The claim of the Old Testament for its divine inspiration extends to its very words. In Jeremiah 1:9 the Lord says, "Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth." In Exodus 4:10-15 it is also the very words that are to be put in the mouth of God's spokesman. In Exodus 34:27, God commands that specific words be written. Similar statements are made in Exodus 35:1, Isaiah 59:21, Jeremiah 7:27, Jeremiah 13:12, Jeremiah 30:1,2, Ezekiel 24:2, and Ezekiel 37:16. In Jeremiah 36, Jeremiah dictates the words of God to the scribe Baruch. In Zechariah 7:4-7, the people are denounced because they have not listened to the words brought to them by previous prophets.
The Old Testament also claims for itself that it was carefully preserved by the Jewish people, and that it was completely authoritative for them. The tablets containing the ten commandments that Moses took down with him from Mt. Sinai, in accordance with the command of the Lord, were placed in the ark of the covenant, which was at the very center of Jewish worship (Exodus 25:16, 40:20, Deuteronomy 10:5). Five hundred years later these tablets of the law were still in the ark (I Kings 8:9). Alongside the ark was kept the entire book of the law, the Pentateuch (Deut. 31:24-26). Both the tables of the law and the book of the law were kept with care. The book of the law was to be read to the people every seven years (Deut. 31:9-13). Every future king was to make a copy of the law in book form so that he could read it all of his life (Deut. 17:18,19).
The Scriptures were authoritative in the strictest sense of the word, and totally normative for all matters. This is clear, for example, in Joshua 1:8, where God says to Joshua, "this book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein. For then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success." Indeed, the book of Joshua does demonstrate an intimate familiarity with the Pentateuch, and we know that Joshua did keep the law carefully, and encouraged the people of Israel to do so. For example, in Joshua 8:34,35, it states that Joshua read to them the entire book of the law.
As soon as the book of Joshua was written, it, also, became incorporated into the "book of the law of God" (Joshua 24:26), and the Hebrew Canon began to grow. Each succeeding book of the Old Testament demonstrates an intimate familiarity with the Scriptures that had preceded it, and recognizes them as totally normative. There is, in fact, a heavy dependence throughout the Old Testament, not only upon the law of Moses, but upon the other prophets who upheld that law.
The Bible insists that the exile of Israel into Assyria and of Judah into Babylon were directly caused by infractions of the law of Moses. This is stated by prophets before, during, and after the exile, and indicates that God does not take lightly the breaking of His law.
The Hebrew Scriptures are considered normative not only for the curses, but also for the blessings that are promised if the law is not broken (Nehemiah 1:7-9).
According to II Kings 17:13, the authority of the law of Moses is on an equal footing with the words of the prophets. This equivalence is reiterated in Zechariah 7:12, Nehemiah 9:29, 30, and Daniel 9:6, where it is stated that the exile was a result of the fact that the Jews did not keep the word of the prophets, nor did they obey the law.
In Daniel 9:2, Daniel takes for granted that the book of Jeremiah is of absolute authority. This is the case even though less than 70 years had passed since Jeremiah had been written. This situation was very similar to that of Joshua and Moses. As soon as Moses had finished the Pentateuch, it was the word of God to Joshua.
It becomes obvious, as one considers factors of this kind, that the Old Testament claims for itself, not only that the words of the prophets were preserved and considered to be equal in authority with the law of Moses, but that both were considered to be the words of Jehovah Himself.
1 Francis A. Schaeffer, L'Abri tape #17, "What the Bible Claims for Itself," (Huemoz, Switzerland: L'Abri Fellowship Foundation, n.d.).
© 1996 Richard M. Riss