Part II: INSPIRATION — Chapter Three: A Second EncounterRelated Media
Preparing the Way
For several years now I have considered doctrinal discipleship classes to be the most significant part of my ministry. With groups of four to seven men or women, I meet weekly for an hour of fellowship in prayer and study. In these small groups I have found a quality of fellowship that has met many deep personal needs. From these groups has emerged a handful of men and women who are marked for spiritual leadership. I wish I had known enough to launch this program twenty years earlier!
The pilot group of this program was one of the most exciting foursome of men I have ever had the privilege of knowing. One was a professional football player with the Cowboys, two were in real estate, and the fourth was a partner in a growing business. Two were married, two were single. All four were relatively young Christians, extremely sharp intellectually and aggressive witnesses for Jesus Christ. It was nothing short of miraculous how God brought the group together—and kept us together.
For more than a year we met on Friday mornings from seven A.M. to nine A.M. This became the highlight of the week for each of us. Although we were different in a dozen ways, we each had a consuming desire to know the Lord, learn the Bible and serve our God. It was a period of such growth in each of our lives that we have been marked for life. We will never recover.
Facing these men for the first month was like stepping before a firing squad. These four sessions were devoted to a study of the doctrine of the Bible. We began by establishing the Bible’s claim for itself—it is a revelation from God. This claim, as we now know, is well supported by the Bible’s prophecy, unity and accuracy.
Then the big guns came out! Rather than solving a problem, I had actually stirred a hornet’s nest. If I were to sort out their questions and simplify the issue, I think it would be stated this way: How can you be sure that what the authors recorded in their writings was an accurate record of what God had revealed to them?
That is a fair question. It also is an important one.
The answer is wrapped up in the doctrine of inspiration. This is what bridges the gap between the thoughts in the minds of the human authors and the writing of these thoughts in the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts.
To answer the questions of my “fierce foursome” an entire session was devoted to a study of inspiration. It is the substance of that class that makes up the content of this chapter. In grappling with this subject our goal is to gain a firm grasp on the meaning of inspiration, its supporting evidence and its extent.
In probing the doctrine of inspiration in this chapter we must first establish a definition, then support it and finally consider the extent to which the Scriptures are inspired.
Today we use the word inspiration in a variety of ways. We speak of a person being “inspired” by a dynamic sermon, a moving symphony or a soul-stirring book. A select number of hymns are considered “inspirational.” Certain personalities are “inspiring.” Handel is said to have been “inspired” when he composed The Messiah. Current usage suggests some outside influence arousing within us extraordinary thoughts, feelings or actions. This is not the biblical meaning of inspiration.
I. An Important Correction
In the New Testament the word occurs only once. “All Scripture is inspired by God ...” (2 Tim. 3:16) Our English phrase in the Authorized Version, “inspiration of God,” was inherited from Tyndale, whose 1525 edition was the first printed English New Testament. So excellent was his work that most English versions since that time are indebted to it. However, in this case the translation is misleading and does not reflect accurately the original Greek word in 2 Timothy 3:16.
The English word “inspiration” suggests “inbreathing” or “God breathing into.” The term Paul uses speaks nothing of inspiration, but only of aspiration. Literally, the Greek compound word means “God-breathed.” God did not “breathe into” the Scripture nor did He “breathe into” the authors. Our text says He “breathed” the Scripture. Warfield is accurate and helpful when he says,
In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that all the Scriptures are a divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them.1
First of all, it is obvious that it is the Scriptures that are inspired, not the authors. Have you ever heard someone speak of the “inspired apostle” or the “inspired writers”? Do you see the error here? It is not Paul but Paul’s writings that are inspired. God so controlled the writer that what he wrote was actually “God-breathed.” God breathed His Word through them.
Does this suppose that the authors were merely passive robots recording what God dictated? By no means. The individuality of each writer is seen in his peculiar style and vocabulary. In his Gospel, Luke the physician (Col. 4:14) uses a profusion of medical terms that are absent from the other three Gospels. There is a distinctive style in Paul’s epistles that sets his letters apart from Peter’s and Johns.
Can anything be inferred concerning the accuracy of the record from the fact that it is “God-breathed”? Certainly. If it is “God-breathed” it is surely accurate and without error. Because He is the “only true God” (John 17:3), the God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18), it is inconceivable that He should “breathe” something not true. This deduction must be examined more fully, but we shall reserve that for a later chapter. Yet it does raise a question that cannot be put off.
Isn’t it impossible that an inerrant Scripture could come to us through sinful men? Not at all. As in the incarnation of the living Word, Jesus Christ, so in the inspiration of the written Word, the Bible, there is a unique blending of the human and divine. In the incarnation the Son of God came into the world through Mary, but was a “holy thing” (Luke 1:35) wholly untainted by the sinful nature of His mother. As He who is absolutely holy, pure and perfect came through one who was unholy, fallen and imperfect, so the Word of God, which is holy and true, came through fallen and sinful men.
Although in both cases the channels were imperfect, in the providence of God the products were unaffected.
It hardly needs to be mentioned that inspiration applies only to the recording of God’s revelation in the original manuscripts. This is obvious.
Now put these pieces together in your definition of inspiration. In substance it will conform to that of Dr. C. C. Ryrie who says,
Biblical inspiration may be defined as God’s superintending human authors so that, using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs.2
From B. B. Warfield came a similar definition when he said, “Inspiration is the supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness.”3
Project Number 1
- List the essential points that must be included in any definition of inspiration.
- What is the basis for such a doctrine? What does it rest on?
II. More Evidences
The evidences in support of the biblical doctrine of inspiration fall into two classifications: specific and general.
A. The Specific Evidences
Many direct and indirect statements in the Bible regarding its inspiration may be marshalled as specific supporting evidence. As an aid to memory it will be helpful to organize them into four classes.
1. The testimony of Paul
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16)
This is the primary and central text on inspiration. It makes three major contributions to our subject.
It specifies the value of Scripture. It is useful for teaching doctrine, for reproving false teachers, for correcting those misled by heresy and for instructing the people of God in a righteous walk. It is “all” useful. Have you ever wondered about the profit of those chapters of genealogies or those lists of kings?
Mr. Newman, an agnostic, once challenged J. N. Darby on this very point. He quoted, “When you come, bring the cloak which I left in Troas with Carpus, and the books, especially the parchments” (2 Tim. 4:13). Then he asked, “What relevance is there in this verse?” At the time Darby was living frugally in Ireland as a missionary and told Newman it was this very verse that had kept him from selling his small library when he went out to Ireland as a missionary. You can count on it. Everything God says in His Word is profitable!
More than that, it declares the ultimate origin of “all Scripture.” It is God-breathed! That which is the product of God is described here as “Scripture.” This phrase includes all the books of the Old Testament canon, which were by that time gathered into an authoritative corpus of literature. It is to this collection that Paul refers when he speaks in verse 15 of the “Holy Scriptures” that Timothy had been taught from childhood. The word “Scripture” is a technical term for authoritative divine writings. It also occurred “currently in Philo and Josephus to designate that body of authoritative books which constituted the Jewish ‘Law’.”4
The “Scripture” of verse 16 includes not only the books of the Old Testament, but also those of the New Testament, some of which were still unwritten! The word Paul uses for “Scripture” had become a technical word for the New Testament books too. Paul uses it in 1 Timothy 5:18, where he refers to an Old Testament quotation from Deuteronomy 25:4 and a New Testament quotation from Matthew 10:10 as “Scripture.” Peter refers to Paul’s letters as “Scripture” in 2 Peter 3:16. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul does not define the limits of “Scripture” but asserts that everything that is “Scripture” is God-breathed.
The third contribution of our text is by way of implication. When he says all Scripture is God-breathed, Paul implies something about the nature of Scripture. It is divine, true and authoritative.
2. The testimony of Peter
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 Pet. 1:20, 21)
This coincides exactly with the testimony of Paul. Peter is particularly occupied with one segment of Scripture—the prophetic Scriptures. However, what is true of them is true of all Scriptures. What is that? Peter gives it negatively, then positively.
It was not “by an act of human will.” The Scriptures did not originate with humans! In the entire context Peter is speaking of authentication, not interpretation, and here states that the authors did not make up what they wrote. This is the truth conveyed in the Authorized Version’s troublesome phrase of verse 20, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” That is, it did not originate with the prophet himself, nor is it the product of his own investigation.5
Positively, it came as “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Here the human and divine elements in inspiration are again affirmed. “Men spoke.” These were the human authors. But they did not speak on their own initiative, of their own thoughts, for their own purposes. Calvin says, “They did not blab their inventions of their own accord or according to their own judgments.” They spoke as they were “moved by the Holy Spirit.” Peter uses an intriguing metaphor here. The Greek verb translated “moved” is used in Acts 27:15, 17 where a ship is “carried along” by the wind. Submissive to the Holy Spirit then, these holy men of old were “carried along,” “borne along,” in the direction He wished to take them.
In one sense this text coincides exactly with the testimony of Paul. It asserts the divine origin of the Scriptures. It emphatically denies any human origin. However, in another sense it actually goes further than Paul’s testimony.
Peter includes the human element. “Men spoke; God spoke. Any proper doctrine of Scripture will not neglect either part of this truth.”6 The major contribution of this text is in its explanation of how men recorded the truth of God’s revelation. They were moved, borne along, carried along. It is in this phrase that we see the superintending work of God in inspiration. It also identifies the specific, divine agent of inspiration to be the Holy Spirit.
3. The testimony of Christ
Our Lord believed the entire Old Testament was inspired. He said,
Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. (Matt. 5:17, 18)
That would be so only if all the books of the law were inspired of God. Also, He explicitly testified that David was speaking by the Holy Spirit when Christ said:
He said to them, “Then how does David in the Spirit call Him ‘Lord’ ...?” (Matt. 22:43)
In John 10:35 He bore testimony to the divine nature of the Old Testament when He said, “the Scripture cannot be broken.” Further witness from our Lord can be seen in Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4 and Mark 12:24.
4. The testimony of others
Scores of witnesses could be called to the stand here. Let me mention only a few. David claims it for himself in 2 Samuel 23:1 (cf. Mark 12:36). Nehemiah recognizes that the prophets spoke by the Holy Spirit (Neh. 9:3, 30) and that the law given by Moses was God’s law (Neh. 10:29). Luke says it was the Holy Spirit who was speaking through Isaiah (Acts 28:25). Paul virtually claims inspiration for himself when he says, “the things I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). Again, Paul considered Luke’s Gospel to be “Scripture” and places it on equal footing with the Old Testament Scripture (1 Tim. 5:18, Luke 10:7). Peter designates Paul’s epistles as “Scripture” also (2 Pet. 3:16).
Project Number 2
Complete the following chart on the specific evidence of inspiration.
This multitude of direct and indirect statements constitutes the specific supporting evidences for the inspiration of the Bible. But there is also an impressive array of general evidences.
B. The General Evidences
All indications apart from specific statements that the Bible is a supernatural book constitute the general supporting evidences of inspiration.
Of course, inspiration cannot be proved. As it is impossible to prove the existence of God, so it is impossible to prove the inspiration of Scripture. Obviously it claims to be inspired. The myriad direct and indirect statements establish that point. But anyone can make such claims. What evidence is there in support of this claim?
In the previous chapter we considered three evidences of revelation: fulfilled prophecy, the unity of the Bible, and its historical and scientific accuracy. These point to the supernatural original of the Bible and therefore indicate the superintending work of God and the Holy Spirit in inspiration as well.
But that is not all. There are indications from three other major areas that this is a supernatural book, inspired by God. These are the general evidences.
1. The testimony of history
From the pages of human history come statements of philosophers, scholars, students, theologians, politicians, artists and historians to the effect that this is a unique and supernatural book. From its unique and supernatural nature, we can infer its authority.
Josephus, the unbelieving Jewish historian of the first century, spoke of his people’s attitude toward the Bible when he said,
How firmly we have given credit to these books of our own nation is evident in what we do; for during so many ages as have already passed no one hath been so bold as either to add anything to them, to take anything from them, or to make any change; but it is become natural to all Jews, immediately and from their very birth, to esteem these books to contain divine doctrine, and to persist in them, and if occasion be, willing to the for them.7
Robert E. Lee, American soldier and educator said, “The Bible is a book in comparison with which all others in my eyes are of minor importance, and which in all my perplexities and distresses has never failed to give me light and strength.”
William E. Gladstone, prime minister of England, said, “The Bible is stamped with specialty of origin and an immeasurable distance separates it from all competitors.”
Mathematician and philosopher Sir Isaac Newton said, “We account the Scriptures of God to be the most sublime philosophy. There are more sure marks of authority in the Bible than in any secular history whatever.”
“The Bible is the best book in the world,” said John Adams, second president of the United States.
The American orator and statesman Daniel Webster once prophesied, “If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering; but if we in our prosperity neglect its instruction and authority, no man can tell how sudden a catastrophe may overwhelm us and bury all our glory in profound obscurity.”
Sir Walter Scott, when he was dying, asked his friend Lockhart to read to him. Looking over the 20,000 books in his costly library, Lockhart asked, “Which book would you like?” “Need you ask,” said Scott, “There is but One.”
The testimony of history from every age and every field is that this is a supernatural book.
2. The testimony of its influence
John Richard Green begins his second volume of A Short History of the English People with these words:
No greater moral change ever passed over a nation than passed over England during the years which parted the middle of the reign of Elizabeth from the meeting of the Long Parliament. England became the people of the book, and that Book was the Bible.
Under the influence of the Bible, women have been liberated from their status of inferiority, hospitals have been erected for the care of the sick, a reverence for human life has developed, the significance of marriage and the role of the partners has been revolutionized, and the institution of slavery has collapsed.
J. B. Phillips, well-known translator of the Bible, shares this thrilling story:
Some years before the publication of the New English Bible, I was invited by the BBC to discuss the problems of translation with Dr. E. V. Rieu, who had himself recently produced a translation of the four Gospels for Penguin Classics. Towards the end of the discussion Dr. Rieu was asked about his general approach to the task, and his reply was this: “My personal reason for doing this was my own intense desire to satisfy myself as to the authenticity and the spiritual content of the Gospels. And, if I received any new light by an intensive study of the Greek originals, to pass it on to others. I approached them in the same spirit as I would have approached them had they been presented to me as recently discovered Greek manuscripts.”
A few minutes later I asked him, “Did you get the feeling that the whole material is extraordinarily alive? ... I got the feeling that the whole thing was alive even while one was translating. Even though one did a dozen versions of a particular passage, it was still living. Did you get that feeling?”
Dr. Rieu replied, “I got the deepest feeling that I possibly could have expected. It changed me; my work changed me. And I came to the conclusion that these words bear the seal of the Son of Man and God. And they’re the Magna Carta of the human spirit.”
I found it particularly thrilling to hear a man who is a scholar of the first rank as well as a man of wisdom and experience openly admitting that these words written long ago were alive with power. They bore to him, as to me, the ring of truth.8
When an atheist challenged H. A. Ironside to debate the existence of God, he accepted on one condition. The atheist was to bring ten men with him who would testify as to how their lives had been enriched by the teaching of atheism and Ironside would bring one hundred. The atheist never did show up.
Dr. A. T. Pierson wrote in the nineteenth century:
The Bible is the greatest traveller in the world. It penetrates to every country in the world, civilized and uncivilized. It is seen in the royal palace and in the humble cottage. It is the friend of emperors and beggars. It is read by the light of the dim candle and amid Arctic snows. It is read in the glare of the equatorial sun. It is read in city and country, amid the crowds and in solitude. Wherever its message is received it frees the mind from bondage and fills the heart with gladness.9
The influence of the Scriptures supports the claim that it is God-breathed.
3. The testimony of its preservation
In tribute to the indestructibleness of the Bible, A. Z. Conrad has written:
Century follows century—there it stands.
Empires rise and fall and are forgotten—there it stands.
Dynasty succeeds dynasty—there it stands.
Kings are crowned and uncrowned—there it stands.
Despised and torn to pieces—there it stands.
Storms of hate swirl about it—there it stands.
Atheists rail against it—there it stands.
Profane, prayerless punsters caricature it—there it stands.
Unbelief abandons it—there it stands.
Thunderbolts of wrath smite it—there it stands.
The flames are kindled about it—there it stands.
The arrows of hate are discharged against it—there it stands.
Fogs of sophistry conceal it temporarily—there it stands.
Infidels predict its abandonment—there it stands.
The tooth of time gnaws but makes no dent—there it stands.
An anvil that has broken a million hammers—there it stands. 10
In spite of the passing of time, the Bible still stands. We used to say that one out of every twenty books will last seven years. Now it is probably less than that. School textbooks are quickly outdated. What book 500 years old is read by masses of common people?
In spite of the persecution of its enemies, the Bible still stands.
Voltaire said that in a hundred years the Bible would not be read. One hundred years later a press was printing Bibles in his very home in France. Thomas Paine once said, “In five years from now there will not be a Bible in America. I have gone through the Bible with an axe and cut down all the trees.” Today it still stands. Dr. Torrey writes:
This book has always been hated. No sooner was it given to the world than it met the hatred of men, and they tried to stamp it out. Celsus tried it by the brilliancy of his genius; Porphyry by the depth of his philosophy, but they failed. Lucian directed against it the shafts of his ridicule; Diocletian the power of the Roman Empire, but they failed. Edicts backed by all the power of the empire were issued that every Bible should be burned, and that everyone who had a Bible should be put to death. For eighteen centuries every engine of destruction that human science, philosophy, wit, reasoning or brutality could bring to bear against that book to stamp it out of the world has been used, but it has a mightier hold on the world today than ever before.11
Someone has said the Bible is like the Englishman’s wall that was built three feet high and four feet wide. When asked why, he said, “I built it that way so that if the storms should come and blow it over, it will be higher afterwards than before.” The Bible stands higher today than ever!
“After forty-five years of scholarly research in biblical textual studies and language study,” said the late Robert Dick Wilson, Ph.D., professor of Semitic Philology at Princeton Theological Seminary, “I have come now to the conviction that no man knows enough to assail the truthfulness of the Old Testament. Wherever there is sufficient documentary evidence to make an investigation, the statements of the Bible, in the original text, have stood the test.”12
Project Number 3
1. Complete the following chart on the general evidences in support of the inspiration of the Bible.
2. Discuss the assertion that “Many books influence life. Only the Bible transforms life.”
In a survey reported in Christianity Today (Sept. 11, 1970), the question was asked, “Do you believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?” This question received a negative answer from 87 percent of Methodists who responded, 88 percent of Presbyterians, 95 percent of Episcopalians, 67 percent of American Baptists and 77 percent of American Lutherans. Karl Barth is clear and precise in rejecting the orthodox doctrine of inspiration, which he calls “the lame hypothesis of the 17th Century doctrine of inspiration.”13
And yet there are six major evidences that have been brought forward in defence of its claims that the Bible is a supernatural book. They are:
- fulfilled prophecy
- the unity of the Scriptures
- the historical and scientific accuracy
- the testimony of history
- the astounding influence of the Bible
- its amazing preservation
Every Christian should memorize these six evidences and be prepared to illustrate each one. Although they are not conclusive, they cannot be ignored! There is extensive evidence to support the claim of inspiration.
Yet, it is one thing to acknowledge that the Bible is a book inspired by God, but quite another thing to say all the Bible, every part of the Bible, is God-breathed.
We may be prepared to admit the first, but the second—that causes many to choke just a little. Here is a fair question, To what extent are the Scriptures actually inspired of God?
III. A Matter of Controversy
There are several schools of thought even among evangelicals on the extent of inspiration.
A. The Varying Degree View of Inspiration
Some, for example, believe there are varying degrees of inspiration in the Bible. Who better to represent this school than C. S. Lewis, who wrote: “All Holy Scripture is in some sense—though not all parts of it in the same sense—the word of God.14
He explained what he meant when he said:
Something originally merely natural—the kind of myth that is found among most nations—will have been raised by God above itself, qualified by Him and compelled by Him to serve purposes which of itself it would not have served.15
Obviously, then, although he has a high view of the text, Lewis sees varying degrees of inspiration, especially in the Old Testament Scriptures.
It is this view that may say the story of the flood was originally of Mesopotamia, but was elevated by God above itself and incorporated into the Bible to teach a lesson.
B. The Conceptual View of Inspiration
Others maintain that only the concepts of the Bible are inspired. J. B. Phillips speaks for this school when he says: “Any man who has sense as well as faith is bound to conclude that it is the truths which are inspired and not the words, which are merely the vehicles of truth.16
He rejects any idea that the actual words of Scripture are inspired. Only the ideas or concepts transmitted to the minds of the authors are considered as God-breathed.
However there is a fatal weakness here. Concepts must be communicated through words. There is no other way. For God’s concepts to be communicated to the authors and for these men to communicate those thoughts to us, words had to be used. For that concept to be conveyed accurately the words must be inspired. Otherwise there is no guarantee that the thought has been precisely expressed.
C. The Partial View of Inspiration
It is increasingly popular today to say that the trustworthiness of the Scriptures applies only to matters of faith and doctrine, not history—in matters of salvation, Scripture is inspired; in matters of history or science, it is not. That is, inspiration is restricted to those parts of Scripture that are doctrinal.
But 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” Not part of it, but all of it. Furthermore, the line between doctrine and history can be very subjective and arbitrary. Who can draw such a line? Where is it to be drawn in Genesis 3?
D. The Verbal Plenary View of Inspiration
It seems difficult to avoid the fact of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture. Verbal inspiration is the inspiration of the words themselves (not the ideas or truths) in the original. Paul rests his argument of Galatians 3:16 upon a doctrine of verbal inspiration. Here the difference between a singular (“seed”) and plural (“seeds”) in Genesis 12:7; 13:15; and 17:7 is the basis of Paul’s argument. The very letters of a word are reliable, therefore inspired.
Does not Matthew 5:18 imply that our Lord believed in verbal inspiration? In speaking of the sacred writings of the Jews, the Old Testament, He says:
For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.
The “jot” of the Authorized Version is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet—yodh (י). It is similar to our apostrophe. Probably the “tittle” is the very small horn on the Hebrew letter daleth (ד) which distinguishes it from the letter resh (ר). Speaking on this verse, R. Laird Harris observes: “He says very positively that this Book is perfect to smallest detail. It is not merely verbal inspiration that teaches here, but inspiration of the very letter!”17
In the parallel passage, Luke 16:17, our Lord says, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.”
Note also the Lord’s comment about His own words in Luke 21:33: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away.
In Matthew 22:43, the Lords entire argument revolves around the single word “My.” David spoke of Messiah as “My Lord” (emphasis added). That was a confession to His deity. Observe especially that the “my” in the original Hebrew text was one letter only—a yodh. This is an amazing corroboration of Matthew 5:18. His entire defence of His deity rests upon the reliability of one letter, the smallest of all Hebrew letters.
The main objection to verbal inspiration is that it leads to a very wooden view of the Bible. Some say it destroys the humanity of the authors if they passively recorded, as secretaries, what God dictated. Obviously a dictation view of inspiration is untenable. The styles and vocabularies of the writers differ greatly according to their background and training. They certainly were not passively recording what was being dictated to them.
But verbal inspiration does not require a dictation view. It was achieved by the Holy Spirit who superintended the human authors as they chose words from their vocabulary.
Philosophically, verbal inspiration is a logical necessity because the only way to accurately communicate concepts or truths is by words. As this is God’s purpose in revelation and inspiration, it demands His direct personal involvement in the words used. Our Lord testifies to this. The apostles assume it.
The correct view of inspiration includes not only verbal but also plenary inspiration. Plenary inspiration speaks of the inspiration of the entire Bible, of every word in the Bible, not just certain parts. There are no degrees of inspiration. “All Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Tim. 3:16).
Clark Pinnock expresses it well when he says,
Inspiration guarantees all that Scripture teaches. It is a seamless garment, an indivisible body. Jesus Christ accepted no dichotomy or dualism in Scripture between true and false, revealed and unrevealed matters. His attitude was one of total trust. For example, He obviously regarded the entire Old Testament history as factually correct; the Gospels record at least twenty allusions to incidents from the creation of Adam to Daniel’s prophecies and Jonah’s preaching. He regarded the entire Scripture as trustworthy, the commonplace as well as the extraordinary.18
The same author quotes from a sermon delivered in 1858, by J. C. Ryle on 2 Corinthians 2:17. Ryle said,
We corrupt the Word of God most dangerously, when we throw any doubt on the plenary inspiration of any part of Holy Scripture. This is not merely corrupting the bucket of living water, which we profess to be presenting to our people, but poisoning the whole well. Once wrong on this point, the whole substance of our religion is in danger. It is a flaw in the foundation. It is a worm at the root of our theology. Once allow the worm to gnaw the root, and we must not be surprised if the branches, the leaves, and the fruit, little by little, decay.
The whole subject of inspiration, I am aware, is surrounded with difficulty. All I would say is, notwithstanding some difficulties which we may not be able now to solve, the only safe and tenable ground to maintain is this—that every chapter, and every verse, and every word in the Bible has been given by inspiration of God. We should never desert a great principle in theology any more than in science, because of apparent difficulties which we are not able at present to remove.19
As “verbal” stands against the conceptual view of inspiration, so “plenary” stands against the partial and varying degree views of inspiration. What is the extent of inspiration? It extends to the very words and to all the words.
Project Number 4
1. Why is the doctrine of inspiration important?
2. What, then, is your answer for my four friends who want to know how we can be sure the Bible contains an accurate record of God’s revelation to man?
A notable New Testament scholar was once approached by an ardent admirer pouring forth his praise. To the scholar he said, “I’ve always wanted to meet a theologian who stands on the Word of God.”
Quietly the reply came back, “Thank you sir, but I do not stand on the Word of God, I stand under it.”
Where else is there to stand if, indeed, it is the revealed inspired Word of God? Do you stand under it in your creed and conduct, your faith and practice?
R. Laird Harris sounds a solemn warning when he says,
In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we read that at one point in his journey Pilgrim slept awhile and lost his scroll. Bunyan grippingly pictures the anxiety and trouble that ensued until Pilgrim retraced his steps and found his book. America has lost its belief in and emphasis upon the Bible. There was a time when it was read and taught in our schools. Now more than the most perfunctory reading of it is said to be illegal. It used to be preached, memorized, quoted, studied and believed. Now this is true only in restricted circles. America must return to the Bible. But we shall not return to the Bible as long as it is regarded merely as great literature. It is only when we receive it as Gods holy and infallible Word that it will bring the promised blessing.20
We have now bridged two gigantic gaps in the historical process. The gap from God’s mind to the authors’ minds is spanned by revelation, and the gap from the authors’ minds to the original writings is spanned by inspiration.
These two tremendous truths carry with them two implications of the greatest possible magnitude. One implication set off a very heated controversy (battle!) a few years ago. The other is calculated to shatter many a dream and revolutionize every life. It is to these very implications that we turn in the following two chapters.
Before you move on to chapter four take time to review. It is never time wasted. It will yield rich dividends as you proceed. Turn back to those ten questions that stumped you at the beginning of the chapter. How many can you answer now?
When you have control of the answers for all ten, you are ready for chapter four.
For Further Study
- Trace the history of verbal inspiration through the history of the church.
- Critique fully the opposing views of inspiration: varying degrees, partial, conceptual and dictation.
- In what sense can you say a part of the Scriptures is inspired which was copied by the author from some literature outside the Bible (e.g., Titus 1:12)?
Harris, R. Laird. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1957.
Pinnock, Clark. Biblical Revelation. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. The Holy Spirit. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1965.
Warfield, Benjamin Breckinridge. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970.
Young, Edward J. Thy Word Is Truth. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1967.
1 B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Philadelphia, PA: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1970), p. 133.
2 C. C. Ryrie, The Holy Spirit (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1967), p. 33.
3 B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 133.
4 Ibid., p. 133.
5 M. Green, The Second Epistle of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1968), p. 90.
6 Ibid., p. 91.
7 Flavius Josephus, “Against Apion” 1, 8. The Works of Flavius Josephus, Trans, by Wm. Whiston (London, Wm. P. Nimm), p. 609.
8 J. B Phillips, The Ring of Truth (New York, NY: The MacMillan Company, 1967), pp. 74, 75.
9 Quoted by A. Naismith, The Veracity and Infallibility of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Gospel Folio Press, n.d.), p. 5.
10 Quoted by Walter B. Knight, Knight’s Illustrations for Today (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1970), p. 22.
11 R. A. Torrey, “Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible Is the Word of God,” Our Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, n.d.), p. 123.
12 Quoted by Walter B. Knight, Knight’s Illustrations for Today (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1970), p. 22.
13 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, G.W. Bromiley and T.F. Torrance (eds.), (Edinburgh, 1936-62), III, Part 1, p. 24.
14 C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms (New York, NY: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1958), p. 19.
15 Ibid., p. 111.
16 J. B. Phillips, The Ring of Truth, pp. 21, 22.
17 R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1969), p. 46.
18 Clark Pinnock, Biblical Revelation (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1971), p. 87.
19 Ibid., p. 88.
20 R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, pp. 70, 71.