The Inexhaustibility of the Bible as Evidence for its Inspiration
Shortly before his death in 2000, I heard Dr. Thomas B. Warren express that he had been reading the Bible for more than seventy years, and he never had done so without being amazed at some “enormously wonderful truth” in it. Professor Warren had a brilliant mind. When tested for the position of an aerial navigator in the United States military, which position he held during World War II, he achieved the highest score that had been earned on this test up to that time. He graduated magna cum laude from Abilene Christian University. He also earned the Ph.D. in Philosophy from Vanderbilt University. He corresponded with some of the most highly recognized philosophers of the twentieth century. He engaged in public debate, before thousands, with some of the most prominent philosophical thinkers of his day. Because of all of this, it would seem that it is not without great significance that a person of such great ability, training, and experience, after so many years, would acknowledge that he was still “amazed” and challenged by the depth of the information contained in the Bible.
With the above observation of Professor Warren comes the implication of the characteristic of the Bible that I will affirm and prove in this article is one of the many evidences of its divine origin. This characteristic I will call the inexhaustibility of the Bible. What I mean is that the information in the Bible has “a length, and breadth, and depth of meaning that far transcends the range and capacity of the most profound uninspired genius” (Milligan 27). It is to say that there is in the Bible “a depth of meaning which no finite or uninspired mind can ever comprehend” (29). The great reformer, Martin Luther, called attention to this characteristic of the Bible when he said, “We must ever remain scholars here; we cannot sound the depth of one single verse in Scripture; we get hold of the ABC and that imperfectly . . .” (qtd. in Smith, Study 84). Eighteenth century philosopher, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to whom such philosophers as Kant and Hegel acknowledged their debt, described this biblical characteristic when he said, “I will confess to you farther that the majesty of the Scriptures strikes me with admiration. . . . Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction, how mean, how contemptible are they, compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book, at once so simple and so sublime, should be merely the work of men?” (qtd. in Mitchell 425). The Bible is a one-of-a-kind book. From its “all absorbing themes . . . [rises] streams of exhaustless thought” (Parrish 25).
In light of the above, I will argue that the depth of the content of the Bible transcends the capabilities of mere human origin and invention. Such being the case, the Bible is divine in its origin (i.e. the Bible is the word of God). Stated in precise logical form, the argument herein developed can be formally stated in the following form:
If the content of the Bible manifests an inexhaustibility that transcends mere human origin and invention, then the Bible is of divine origin (i.e. the Bible is the word of God).
The content of the Bible manifests an inexhaustibility that transcends mere human origin and invention.
Therefore, the Bible is of divine origin (i.e. the Bible is the word of God).
The above is a valid syllogism “after the classic form repeated in logic books for generations (at least until the study of that subject was abandoned with the rest of the core curriculum in most places). . . . The premises being true in such a syllogism, the conclusion is inescapable” (Arnn 200-01). The first (major) premise (1) is obviously true. Thus, if the second (minor) premise (2) is true, the conclusion necessarily follows. My purpose in the remainder of this article is to prove the second premise (i.e. the content of the Bible manifests an inexhaustibility that transcends mere human origin and invention).
In making the case for the inexhaustibility (incomprehensibility) of the Bible’s message as evidence of its divine authorship, Milligan gave the following comparisons.
Have you ever attempted to study a work of mere human genius, that, after making the necessary preliminary preparations, you have really felt that you could not master? Take, for instance, the writings of Plato or Aristotle; or, if you please, take the philosophy of Lord Bacon, or the Principia of Sir Isaac Newton, or any other work of like character. Have you ever really, and with due preparation, tried to master such works of human genius? If so, are you not conscious of success, or, at least, of the ability to succeed? The effort may have cost you much labor, and, for a time, you may, perhaps, have given up the task as hopeless, for want of the necessary preliminary preparations. But, having made these, have you ever, after due and proper effort, really failed to understand any work of human genius? I presume that most of you can truthfully answer this question in the negative. You feel conscious that you perfectly understand your grammar, your rhetoric, your logic, your philosophy, your arithmetic, your geometry, and even your calculus.
But can you say the same of the Holy Bible? Have you ever fathomed its depths? Have you ever risen from the study of this wonderful volume feeling conscious that you fully comprehend the entire range of thought that underlies the very plain but expressive words of its Author? Or have you not, rather, discovered, by every such effort, that beneath what at first seemed to be the lowest depths, there are still others, opening wide and deep, that lie far beyond the grasp and compass of the human intellect?
Just . . . as it is in the study of nature. When you begin to study the Book of Nature, the whole truth seems to lie on the surface, or, at least, very near the surface. In fact, the mere child can understand and enjoy whatever of nature is most useful and most practical. But the greatest philosopher on earth has never sounded the depths of the immense ocean of truth that lies beneath its surface.
Now, how is this wonderful combination of simplicity and incomprehensibility in the Bible to be accounted for?
. . . For  years, infidels of all schools have labored to explain this and other similar characteristics of the Holy Bible on the assumption that the whole Book is of human origin. But hitherto they have given us no solution of the problem that is even satisfactory to themselves. (29-30)
More recent to our time, the French author, Rene Pache, has affirmed and defended this same property of the Bible as evidence of its divine origin. Pache stated:
The inexhaustible character of the biblical text is another demonstration of the same fact. A given Scripture passage never has its last word for us. We have read it perhaps dozens and dozens of times, very often with evident profit. Still, under different circumstances, it touches us anew, revealing to us some aspect of the truth up to then unnoticed. Every attentive, believing reader of Scripture is “like unto . . . a householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old” (Matt. 13:52). . . . (295)
Some Examples: Old Testament
The Victorian intellectual, Thomas H. Huxley, coined the term agnosticism to describe his professed inability to know whether or not God exists (Smith, D. W. 64). Amazingly, Huxley paid homage to a text from the Old Testament prophet Micah that has been admired for centuries: Micah 6:6-8. Of this most noteworthy biblical text, Huxley wrote,
The antagonism between science and religion, about which we hear so much, appears to me to be purely fictitious—fabricated, on the one hand, by short-sighted religious people who confound a certain branch of science, theology, with religion; and, on the other, by equally short-sighted scientific people who forget that science takes for its province only that which is susceptible of clear intellectual comprehension; and that, outside the boundaries of that province, they must be content with imagination, with hope and with ignorance.
. . . In the eighth century B.C., in the heart of a world of idolatrous polytheists, the Hebrew prophets put forth a conception of religion which appears to me to be as wonderful an inspiration of genius as the art of Pheidias or the science of Aristotle.
“And what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”
If any so-called religion takes away from this great saying of Micah, I think it wantonly mutilates, while, if it adds thereto, I think it obscures, the perfect ideal of “religion.” (160-62)
At the request of the nation’s political leaders, President Eliot of Harvard University was to select a universal sentence of impact to be located in a conspicuous place in the Library of Congress. Honoring the request, Eliot said there was “nothing in the history of literature more worthy” than the above statement from Micah. “Accordingly, there they [the words] stand, as true in the [twenty-first] century as when they were first uttered” (Phelps 39).
It has often been customary for the Presidents of the United States to select a biblical passage which they would kiss in taking the oath as they assumed responsibilities for the High Office of the land. President Harding turned to this great Micah text—“What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Boreham 136).
William Lyon Phelps was the Lampson Professor of English Literature at Yale University for more than three decades. In his book, Reading the Bible, consisting of the L. P. Stone Lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary, February 3-5, 1919, Professor Phelps wrote,
The poetry of the Old Testament—especially in the books Solomon’s Song, Job, Psalms, Isaiah,—excels in every variety of poetical expression, ranging from pure lyrical singing to majestic epic harmonies. . . . If one reads the book of Psalms straight through, no matter how familiar many passages may be, the glory and splendour of the majestic poetry will come through like fresh revelation. . . .
The poetry of the Bible is not only the highest poetry to be found anywhere in literature, it contains the essence of all religion, so far as religion consists in aspiration. In this way Job, the Psalms, and Isaiah contain an eternal element of truth, that no advance in the world’s thought can make obsolete. . . .
The Bible contains not only the finest historical prose, and the finest lyric and epic poetry; in philosophy, practical wisdom, and political economy it is also supreme. . . . (33, 35, 37, emp. added)
The Book of Job fulfills the three criteria of literary greatness as set forth by Reichert (Strauss xxiv). It has the dimension of height—reaching into the sublime that brings one nearer to the eternal. It possesses breadth—leaping barriers of creed, color, rank and race. It knows the dimension of depth—driving into the soul of man. Martin Luther as theologian, Tennyson as a poet, and Dostoevsky as a novelist proclaimed Job as a literary work of sublime order. Strauss wrote, “Job is indeed every man’s contemporary. . . . Job has sent both messages of hope and despair into the human orbit” (xxix). Jackson has written the following:
The Book of Job has been heralded as a masterpiece of literature for centuries. Professor Richard G. Moulton suggests that a majority of literary people would pronounce the book the greatest poem in the world’s great literature. Victor Hugo declared: “Tomorrow, if all literature was to be destroyed and it was left to me to retain one work only, I should save Job.” Tennyson characterized it “the greatest poem, whether of ancient [or] modern literature.” “The Book of Job,” said Daniel Webster, “taken as a mere work of literary genius, is one of the most wonderful productions of any age or of any language.” Thomas Carlyle exclaimed that it is “one of the grandest things ever written,” and the historian Philip Schaff says, “The Book of Job rises like a pyramid in the history of literature, without a predecessor and without a rival.” (9)
The six brief, but profound, verses that comprise the twenty-third Psalm are inexhaustible. Learned by little children at their mother’s knees, this Psalm becomes even more precious for older saints as they pass through the valley of the shadow.
For a story of filial affection and devotion the book of Ruth has an inexhaustible message—one that it has been reported the skeptic Voltaire said was beyond anything found in Homer or any other writer of the classics (cf. Sweeney 359). What beauty and inexhaustible fidelity is found in the widow Ruth’s words to her widowed mother-in-law, Naomi:
Entreat me not to leave, or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go; And wherever you lodge, I will lodge; Your people shall be my people, And your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, And there I will be buried. The Lord do so to me, and more also, if anything but death parts you and me. (Ruth 1:16-17, NKJV)
Wilbur Smith wrote an extremely interesting chapter concerning the illustrious Professor Phelps whom I have cited above. Phelps received his B.A. from Yale in 1887, and in 1891 “had the unique experience of receiving two higher degrees from the two most famous universities in the East, an M.A. from Harvard, and a Ph.D. from Yale. The next year he began teaching at Yale, and, as we have said before, continued to be its most distinguished Professor of English literature down to 1933” (Chats 201). Professor Phelps received fifteen honorary degrees; five times he was awarded the Doctor of Literature, once from Columbia (1933); twice the Litterarian Humaniorum Doctorate; six times the Doctor of Laws, once from Yale; once a doctor of Divinity and once awarded the degree of Doctor of Systematic Theology. Smith says that Phelps’ observations on the opening chapter of Genesis are among “the best things . . . written on this wonderfully rich and ancient account of Creation. . .” (207). The famous Yale Professor wrote concerning the Genesis cosmogony:
The early chapters of Genesis are a kind of Outline of History, like that by H. G. Wells, only better written. They are even more condensed than his, and like his book, they attempt to account for the things we see: light, the sun, moon, stars, land, water, animals, and man. No one knows how any of these came into existence, but the Bible account is sublime in its simple dignity, and begins in a reasonable and orderly manner by putting the First Cause first. I have read accounts of the origin of the world in the bibles of other religions, and they all, while containing some fine and interesting remarks, seem to have much that is trivial and silly. There is nothing childish or silly in our Bible. The narrative opens like a great symphony:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light.
Lotze said that the Mosaic cosmogony was more sublime than any other, and he was right. It represents physical changes coming from the Divine Will, coming easily and immediately. The control of mind over matter seems to me more natural and reasonable than the other way round, in spite of the fact that some reasonable men are materialists. In the last analysis the idea that the human mind developed out of matter seems to me as curious as the idea that an automobile should make a man, rather than a man make an automobile. I wonder if those who believe that thought, imagination, poetry and music were made by matter do not fall into a vicious circle by somehow thinking that the creative matter had mind in it. . . .
As a representation of continuous masterpieces in art, such as an artist throws off in his happiest moods, the first chapter in the Bible has a magnificence all its own; from the point of view of science it marks the procession from the inorganic to the organic; the waters were divided, the lower waters receded, and the dry land appeared; then came vegetation, luxurious abundant—the third day. Fish and fowl appeared on the fifth day; on the sixth came the beasts of the earth, running and creeping flat, followed by the upright figure of man. (207-09)
Some Examples: New Testament
One of the great tributes to the superiority of the New Testament is from the pen of the eminent novelist, Charles Dickens, who, in 1868, wrote the following words to his youngest son, Edward, as the boy left home to travel to Australia: “I put a New Testament among your books for the very same reason, and with the same hopes, that made me write an easy account of it for you when you were a little child. Because it is the best book that ever was or will be known in the world” (vi-vii). Dickens once wrote a letter to a minister, to whom he acknowledged his deep respect for the New Testament, saying, “There cannot be many men, I believe, who have a more humble veneration for the New Testament, or a more profound conviction of its all-sufficiency than I have . . .” (vii).
In his marvelous chapter concerning Professor Phelps, Wilbur Smith speaks of how “Phelps saw [the New Testament’s] true glory and magnificence” manifested in the following glorious tribute:
In the presence of the light of the world all other lights are dim, and it is impossible to consider the New Testament merely as a literary work. It is assuredly the literary masterpiece of all time as superior to Shakespeare, Homer, Gothe, Dante, Tolstoi as they are superior to the common place; but it is essentially a spiritual book and cannot be understood at all unless there is some spiritual capacity in the reader’s heart and mind. (Chats 211)
Smith recorded the Yale Professor’s claim that the Gospel of John is “the spiritual masterpiece of the world’s literature” and were he “allowed to retain only one book, it would be this” (212).
The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7) is “the sublimest code of morals ever proclaimed on earth” (Sweeney 361). Out of more than fifty years of extensive experience in private practice as a psychiatrist dealing with emotional, mental, and physical problems, Dr. James C. Fisher wrote the following statement concerning the inexhaustible and measureless nature of the Sermon on the Mount:
I dreamed of writing a handbook that would be simple, practical, easy to understand, easy to follow. It would tell people how to live—what thoughts and attitudes and philosophies to cultivate, and what pitfalls to avoid in seeking mental health. I attended every symposium it was possible for me to attend and took notes on the wise words of my teachers and of my colleagues who were leaders in their field. And quite by accident I discovered that such a work had already been completed!
If you were to take the sum total of all authoritative articles ever written by the most qualified of psychologists and psychiatrists on the subject of mental hygiene—if you were to combine them and refine them and cleave out the excess verbiage—if you were to take the whole of the meat and none of the parsley, and if you were to have these unadulterated bits of pure scientific knowledge concisely expressed by the most capable of living poets, you would have an awkward and incomplete summation of the Sermon on the Mount. And it would suffer immeasurably through comparison.
For nearly two thousand years the Christian world has been holding in its hands the complete answer to its restless and fruitless yearnings. Here . . . rests the blueprint for successful human life with optimum mental health and contentment. (qtd. in Cramer 15-16)
I once heard Mack Lyon, prominent speaker on an international television program (SEARCH), share an experience he had as a young student at Oklahoma University. The class was World Literature, and the agnostic Professor made the observation that the three greatest speeches in the history of world literature are (1) The Sermon on the Mount by Jesus of Nazareth, (2) The sermon (Acts 17) by Paul the apostle of Jesus Christ delivered in Athens, Greece, and (3) The Gettysburg Address. The Professor then observed, “And, in that order!” Concerning the sermon by Paul in Acts 17, Lyon affirmed, “This sermon . . . has influenced Western Civilization . . . more than any other single document, unless it would be the Ten Commandments and Christ’s sermon on the mount” (2-3). Concerning the depth of beauty in both the Sermon on the Mount and Paul’s discourse at Athens, we borrow the descriptive words of Sweeney to sum up their greatness: “There is matchless beauty in these words. They are unlike anything that can be found in all previous literature. . . . The refined intellects of cultured Athens never dreamed of this” (362-63).
New Testament epistles also provide evidence of the inexhaustibility of the Bible. “Epistolary literature in the New Testament reached its climax. There are no letters in the history of the pen like the letters of John, and James, and Peter, and Paul” (Phelps 31-32). Phelps includes the examples of the thirteenth and fifteenth chapters of First Corinthians as “pages of such lofty grandeur, that they tower above everything else in the world’s literature except the actual words of Jesus in the Gospels” (62-63). Henry Drummond, in his classic, The Greatest Thing in the World, an exposition of the thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians, calls this chapter a “noble eulogy . . . the most wonderful and original account extant of the summum bonum” (13).
The fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians “has been read as an antidote to the pain of death at millions of funerals” (McGarvey and Pendleton 145). Countless have been the individuals who have, through the centuries, dried the tears on their pillow with the words of comfort and hope contained in this chapter. Dynamic in its defense of the resurrection, powerful in its presentation of the resurrection, and logical in its lessons on the resurrection, the chapter takes the gloom out of the grave providing a hope that is sure and steadfast. The following appraisal of this chapter implies why it is another source of evidence that can be marshaled in proof of the logical argument set for in this essay.
In this (15th) chapter of First Corinthians we have the most comprehensive statement on the resurrection . . . contained in all the Scriptures. It is a masterpiece of exposition, surely the result not only of long thought and meditation on the subject, with a deep conviction regarding the reality of Christ’s resurrection, but of a revelation of divine truth, through the Holy Spirit, beyond anything the human mind alone could ever attain to. . . . (Smith, Peloubet’s Notes 354)
There is the sense in which the most obvious manifestation of the inexhaustibility of the Bible is in the person and work of Jesus Christ. The final and complete revelation of God to man is in Christ (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2; Colossians 2:9). Grace was given to Paul, the apostle of Christ, to preach “the unsearchable riches” (Ephesians 3:8). Unsearchable (Gk. anexichniastos) means “not able to track out, untraceable” (Rogers and Rogers 439). The word is found nowhere else in the New Testament except in Romans 11:33. In this latter passage Paul also wrote, “Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments . . .!” (emp. added). Unsearchable (Gk. anexerauneta) means unfathomable (338). Robertson says, Paul “pauses on the edge of the precipice as he contemplates God’s wisdom and knowledge, fully conscious of his inability to sound the bottom with the plummet of human reason and words” (400). Biblical revelation is a bottomless and unfathomable well of truth. The Psalmist affirmed, “Your righteousness is like the great mountains; Your judgments [i.e. the Scriptures, cf. Psalm 19:7-9] are a great deep” (Psalm 36:6). He also declared, “I have seen a limit to all perfection, but [Y]our commandment is exceedingly broad” (Psalm 119:96, ESV).
In the person and work of Jesus Christ one can find this most obvious evidence of inexhaustibility. Smith states, “The most inexhaustible, inspiring, and important subject that can ever occupy the minds of men is the person and work of Jesus Christ” (Study 52). In his classic study on the life of Christ, Fairbairn observed, “He [Christ] is . . . [the] world’s imperishable wonder . . . a pre-eminent subject of human thought” (2). In a more recent work, Stott called Him, “The incomparable Christ. There is nobody like him; there never has been, and there never will be” (17).
The existence of the personality of Jesus Christ is beyond human invention. Citing the work of John Stuart Mill, C. A. Row argued it is inconceivable that Jesus could have been an invention, because His character is “absolutely above the conceptions of His followers, of the primitive Christians . . . even of the Apostle Paul” (85-86). D’Souza says, “The Christ we encounter in the New Testament is so extraordinary that it’s hard to imagine the Gospel writers inventing such a person” (295). Such was the affirmation of the Blaiklocks (father and son) in their work in defense of the existence of God. Calling Christ “the supreme theistic argument” (55), they say,
It is utterly impossible that the Christ of these [New Testament Gospels] pages could have been either the child of His age or the literary invention of His contemporaries. . . . He grew and grows more sacred by familiarity. . . . We trace a growing sense of awe and wonderment. . . . It is still the same. A lifetime of study of four small books is a lifetime of discovery. Day by day reveals new graces, new beauties. Day by day can but deepen the conviction that here was man indeed, but more—sinless deity in mortal raiment. Such has been the experience of numberless men and women, simple and sophisticated, ancient and modern in East and West. It is a phenomenon which knows no parallel. (58, 61-63)hh
I have argued in this essay that the content of the Bible manifests an inexhaustibility that transcends mere human origin and invention. The evidence presented as proof of this proposition has included examples from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Additionally, evidence of the inexhaustible nature of the biblical presentation of the person and work of Jesus Christ has been considered. With the cumulative nature of these examples, I conclude that this inexhaustibility of the biblical content transcends human origin.
The Bible is like the mighty ocean whose immediate shores man has explored, but whose inexhaustible depth no mere human has fully penetrated. The inexhaustible depth of the Bible is proof of the existence and everlasting power of God, the divine origin of the Bible, and the deity of Jesus of Nazareth. As a concluding thought, I cite as an eloquent summation of my argument, the final paragraph written by Professor Phelps of Yale, included in his monumental L. P. Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1919:
As the Bible day by day exerts its regeneration and unifying spiritual influence on the souls of men, so its sublime and homely poetry and prose recreate new masterpieces in literature, which rise from the inexhaustible spring of living water in the Word of Life. (131, emp. added)
Charles C. Pugh III
Charles C. Pugh III is Director of Warren Christian Apologetics Center. He received his training in Philosophy of Religion and Apologetics studying under Thomas B. Warren at Harding Graduate School of Religion. He has studied, taught and written in the field of Apologetics for more than 35 years. Mr. Pugh may be contacted at email@example.com.
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