Biblical Doctrine, Plainly Stated

By William S. Plumer, 1875


I. In the Bible are sixty-six books. Of these thirty-nine are in the Old Testament, and twenty-seven in the New. In the New Testament the books of the Old Testament are sometimes spoken of in three classes, as Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms, Luke 24:44; sometimes in two, as Moses and the Prophets, Luke 16:29, 31; oftener as simply the Scriptures. It cannot be certainly proven that there ever were any sacred books which we have not now; but if any had been lost, that should not weaken our confidence in those we have. The Old Testament is quoted more than two hundred and seventy times in the New. The New Testament is at least once quoted in itself. Compare 1 Tim. 5:18, and Luke 10:7.

II. In Scripture is a wonderful variety of composition. In both Testaments we have historical books. The oldest epic poem in the world is the book of Job. The oldest lyric poems are the Psalms. In the Scriptures we also have parables, precepts, promises, threatenings, reproofs, warnings, encouragements, invitations, sermons, prayers, and arguments. The four Gospels contain the Life of Christ. The book of Acts is a wonderful piece of church history. The Old Testament has much more poetry than the New; but the New has much more epistolary writing than the Old. Indeed, of its twenty-seven books, twenty-one are in the form of letters.

III. The Scriptures were written by God's command. "Write this for a memorial in a book." Exod. 17:14. "Take you a great roll, and write in it with a man's pen." Isaiah 8:1. "Write the things which you have seen, and the things which are, and the things which shall be hereafter." Rev. 1:19. In both Testaments God directs us to look at the words thus written: "To the law and to the testimony." Isaiah 8:20. "Search the Scriptures." John 5:39. Nor are we referred to them as of doubtful authority, but as of binding force. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." 2 Tim. 3:16.

IV. The Scriptures are, therefore, the word of God. He would not inspire men to utter falsehood. "The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Psalm. 12:6. The inspiration granted to the sacred writers was above nature, and was full, infallibly preserving them from error. The assertion that the writers of Scripture were not inspired to write the very words they gave us is not true. The Bible is the word of God. If God did not give us the very words of the Bible, then we may alter it as we please. The Scriptures claim verbal inspiration in such phrases as these: "Thus says the Lord;" "Hear the word of the Lord;" "I have put my words in your mouth;" "Words which the Holy Spirit teaches."

V. The Hebrew of the Old Testament and the Greek of the New Testament, are the very words of God, and must be taken as the final authority. But it is lawful to translate the Scriptures. Christ and his apostles freely quoted a translation of the Old Testament made into the Greek language nearly three hundred years before Christ was born. So we have in English an excellent translation. Take it all in all it is perhaps the best translation made. It is a wonderful fact that every translation yet made--except a very few given to the world by gross errorists, and held in general contempt--have pointed out the way of life, so that an honest and intelligent mind need not be misled.

VI. The Scriptures are a sufficient rule of faith and practice. So Christ himself taught, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus: "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. . . . If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Luke 16:29, 31. "All things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." John 15:15. The Bereans were commended as noble because "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily." Acts 17:11. The same doctrine is taught in the Old Testament: "These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." Deuteronomy 6:6-9.

VII. It should be remembered that the division of the Scriptures into chapters and verses is not of divine authority. They often aid us in finding a place; but they are sometimes awkward, and improperly break the sense. Neither is there anything binding in the order in which the books are bound up in the Bible. Because of its subject matter Genesis naturally comes first; and in the New Testament the Gospels fitly enough are placed first, because they are the beginning of all that Christ said and did. Mark 1:1; Acts 1:1.

VIII. Though the Scriptures were not intended to teach us physical science, yet they teach nothing contrary to any science truly so called. They speak of the sun rising and going down just as the common people do now; just as Sir Isaac Newton and learned men did. But no one is thus misled.

IX. The Scriptures are very deep and rich in meaning. How could it be otherwise? They treat of the deep things of God. And yet they are plain and intelligible. Therefore the good man's "delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law does he meditate day and night." Psalm. 1:2. By the word of God the Christian is called upon to prove himself, to prove his own work, yes, to prove all things, and to hold fast that which is good. 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 6:4; 1 Thess. 5:21. The Scriptures are very bold, and say: "But if, in fact, our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. Regarding them: the god of this age has blinded the minds of the unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. "We have a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto you do well that you take heed." 2 Peter 1:19. The early preachers of the gospel did not shun to declare all the counsel of God. Acts 20:27.

X. Over a revelation transmitted by oral tradition, a written revelation has these advantages: 1. It is more clear to those at a distance; 2. It is more permanent; 3. It enables us to correct errors; 4. We can carry it with us wherever we go, and refer to it as often as may be necessary. For a long time the brevity of human life has been such as to render oral tradition very vague. Then human depravity is so great that men are often tempted to change the truth of God into a lie.

XI. The great means of understanding the Scriptures are, 1. Earnest, fervent prayers for divine illumination. Psalm. 119:18. 2. Devout meditation on the great truths therein revealed. Psalm. 119:97. 3. Earnest and honest inquiry, with a readiness to do the will of God when known. Acts 8:31-38. 4. Comparing Scripture with Scripture. 1 Cor. 2:13. All documents are, as far as possible, to be explained by themselves—the dark by the more luminous parts. The Bible, to an unusual extent, is a self-interpreting book. It is delightful to witness the progress of a diligent student of God's word. "The hand of the diligent makes rich." Chalmers says: "Many a cottage patriarch, with no other medium than his mother-tongue, becomes a greater proficient in the wisdom and doctrines of the Bible, than the most accomplished linguist or grammarian."

XII. Some truths are fundamental and some are not. He who denies a God, subverts all religion. He who denies Christ, subverts the gospel. The Bible ought all to be believed. But the human mind is weak and erring. Let us hold fast all the truth we know. Let us love all truth. If no truth is fundamental, the gospel is but a fable. If all truth is essential, who can be saved? for no man on earth either knows or embraces all truth.