When Scripture speaks

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The Apostle Paul is fond of quoting from the Old Testament — particularly in the book of Romans.  In that theological treatise, the apostle quotes the Old Testament directly over 60 times.  And over half those quotations appear in three chapters — Romans 9-11.

As Paul lays the foundation for God’s sovereignty in salvation in Romans 9-11, those many quotations affirm that his teaching is not new or novel.  His teaching on the doctrines of election, predestination, and sovereignty are standing in the tradition of what has always been taught in Scripture.  His theology is trustworthy because it is consistent with and faithful to what God has always revealed about Himself and His salvific work.

In at least one instance in Romans 9, however, Paul uses his quotation of the Old Testament to affirm another truth about God and His Word.  In verse 17, Paul sets up his quotation from Exodus 9 this way:  “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I raised you up…’” (my emphasis).  That is, “Scripture” has spoken to Pharaoh something about his position and function in Egypt.

In Exodus, though, Moses makes clear that God has spoken to him and commanded him to speak to Pharaoh — “Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Rise up early in the morning and stand before Pharaoh and say to him, “Thus says the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, ‘Let My people go, that they may serve Me.…But, indeed, for this reason I have allowed you to remain, in order to show you My power and in order to proclaim My name through all the earth’”’” (my emphasis).

Has Paul misread Moses in the book of Exodus?  Has He misunderstood that it was God speaking to Moses and that Moses spoke to Pharaoh?

Not at all.  Paul is teaching an important theological truth.  He is intentionally equating the voice of God with the voice of Scripture.  The speech of God is no different in authority than the speech of Scripture.  And the authority of Scripture is such that it is as if God Himself is speaking directly to the reader.

This is a reference to what theologians call the inspiration of Scripture.  That term does not mean that Scripture is “motivating” or “exciting,” but that God is the source of Scripture.  God is the One who is the author of Scripture, even though men wrote the words on parchments.  So Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” (2 Tim. 3:16).  Every word and passage of Scripture finds its origin in the mind of God and not the minds of men.  Peter also says this when he writes, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pt. 1:20-21; my emphasis).  Scripture does not originate with man’s words or man’s desire or man’s intention, but every word written is a product of the Spirit of God directing and superintending the writing of men.  Scripture is God’s Word.  All Scripture is God’s revelation and proclamation.

Similarly, Paul’s point in Romans 9:17 is that when Scripture speaks, God speaks.  The direct speech of God is no more powerful or commanding than the instruction of Scripture.  We often speak about things written in the Bible with phrases like, “Paul writes in Romans…” or “Moses says in Exodus…” (as I have done in this article).  If we are not careful, we might infer from those statements that what is written in those books is merely the product of men’s ideas — as if Paul’s theology in any of his biblical letters are less compelling than what God or Jesus might say.  No.  If it is in Scripture, it is as authoritative as God’s own speech.  Paul — and the other writers of Scripture — would have us read and listen to Scripture in that way, as the very words of God.

In fact, the apostle commends the Thessalonians for responding to Scripture in just that way:  “For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Here, then, is the question for us (a question that is worthy of asking every day):  “as I read my Bible do I treat it as if some man has penned his ideas and suggestions that might be interesting and worth considering, or do I treat it as if God is in my very presence audibly speaking these words to me, compelling and commanding me to obey those words?”  God — through Paul’s pen — would have us to read every word in this book we hold in our hands every day as His imperative, sustaining, hope-giving word to us.

When you hear Scripture speak, do you hear it as God speaking?