They were pretty while they lasted, I suppose. For Valentine’s Day, I had given Pamela an arrangement of flowers. The florist had included some red roses, a few pink carnations, and, since it’s one of her favorite colors, a selection of lavender flowers. She liked them. Onto her desk at the office they went, and eventually, they made their way home, where she displayed them for a few more days, fussing over their care.
But it wasn’t long before I found myself one evening washing my hands at the kitchen sink. I looked over to where she had placed the flowers. For a moment, water dripping from my fingers, I grieved. They were gone. They had not been able to sustain their beauty. Once, we savored their perfume; but not that night. The space they had brightened was now dark. Gloom replaced the color they had once brought to our home. Their promise of cheer had been rescinded.
“He was right,” I said, too quietly for Pamela to hear. “Flowers do fade.” And as my heart once again ached with the memory of a loved one’s death, I added, “Yeah, and so do we.”
“He,” of course, is God, speaking through his prophet, Isaiah:
A voice says, “Call out.” Then he answered, “What shall I call out?” All flesh is grass, and all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows upon it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever. (Isaiah 40:6-8)
Here, the prophet, like Job and the psalmist before him (Job 14:2; Psalm 102:11; 103:15-16) and James and Peter after him (James 1:10; 1 Peter 1:24), compares the bitterness of human mortality to the frailty of the fields. The beauty of both flesh and flower decomposes. This was Paul’s point as well when he writes of all creation groaning until it is released from its “bondage to decay” and God’s children experience the resurrection of their bodies that had returned to the dust that they always had been (Romans 8:21-23; Genesis 3:19). This is the sad, desperate, withering condition of the fallen creation.
But one line in verse 8 of Isaiah 40 stands in heartening contrast to this hopeless condition: “but the word of our God stands forever.” Although the destiny of all fields and flesh is decay, for they have no ability to restrain time’s onslaught of decomposition, one thing laughs at time and remains unthreatened, unmoved, unchanged: God’s Word.
The immutable Word of the God of Israel and Isaiah does not whither; it does not fade, decompose or decay. It is not transitory. It stands forever. Or, in the words of our Lord, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Matthew 24:35). In contrast to those things that God created in the beginning, the words of Jesus endure; they do not perish.
We should not be surprised by any of this. The contrast that is drawn, by both the prophet and the Lord, is one between the creation, the creature, and the words of the Creator. This contrast is foundational to the record of creation given in the first chapter of Genesis. As Moses describes how God created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them, he repeats the key refrain, “God said…” 10 times. In other words, God creates by the power of His Word; by speaking. The universe is made, comes into being, and exists by His Word. The Word of God is the foundation, the cause of all creation. Repeatedly, the Bible gives witness to the creative activity of God’s Word.
We can now return to Isaiah 40:8 and Matthew 24:35 with deeper understanding. God’s Word eternally stands and does not perish—that is, it is imperishable because it is not part of those things that were created, that are temporal, and that have a beginning and an end. The Word of the Lord created; it is not a frail creature. It does not share the creature’s disappointing destiny of decay. It comes forth from the one who is eternal and, therefore, it is eternally steady. Also, as uncreated, God’s Word does not share other creaturely attributes, such as fallibility or capacity for error. Unlike human beings, who are constantly in flux, repeatedly wavering between accuracy and inaccuracy, and once born, already dwindling, God’s Word is not untrustworthy or transitory.
When Bible critics, then, deny the Bible’s credibility in matters of history or science, or insist that its perspective is inconsistent, contradictory or obsolete, they attribute creaturely traits to that which has not been created. Creatures (human beings) have been used of God to speak and write down His Word in different human languages and in diverse human cultures, so the Bible certainly has a human dimension. However, the Bible testifies of itself that even though its human authors unquestionably composed it within time and space and it remains a collection of ancient and culturally bound human words, the Creator so acted as to ensure that, miraculously, it remained, dependably, God’s Word. (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-13).
So, when reviews like that of Jim Hinch’s 2016 essay “Evangelicals are Losing the Battle for the Bible. And They’re Just Fine with It” appear, we might take note of the disappointing trajectory, but we need not reconsider the Bible’s inspiration or inerrancy. And when, for example, Hinch relates as emblematic the opinion of a 25-year-old “evangelical” director of a pastoral training center who rejects inerrancy, we should not assume a creaturely weakness in Scripture’s nature, but recognize the disappointing fallacy in this young man’s faith. The inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture are corollaries of its nature as the Creator’s Word.
Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 22, 24, 26, 28.
Psalm 33:6, 9; 148:5; Hebrews 11:3; 2 Peter 3:5.
Los Angeles Review of Books, 15 February 2016.
• History of the Reception of the Bible
• Biblical Interpretation
• Patristic Theology
• Second-Century Christianity
• Irenaeus' Use of Matthew's Gospel in Adversus Haereses
• Pocket History of the Church
• The Routledge Companion to Early Christian Thought