We live in an age where the predominant philosophy in society is a man-made relativism. This dictates that truth is defined by the individual and therefore what is true for one man is not necessarily true for another. The concept of objective truth has been eroded and it seems that nothing is absolute. However, Christianity makes the bold assertion that what is revealed in the Bible is absolute and uncompromising truth. This claim is based on the fact that the Bible is the perfect revelation of the God who cannot lie.
Such a claim is immediately rejected by the atheist and materialist because their worldview excludes the possibility of such a revelation. But this worldview is contrary to human consciousness. Try as he may to suppress it, man knows that God exists. He has the idea of an infinite personal and intelligent being, who not only exists but acts in the world. In short, man must believe in the supernatural and therefore the possibility of a supernatural revelation is a most reasonable assertion.
The Westminster Confession of Faith in Chapter 1:1,2 teaches that due to the insufficiency of natural revelation to give the knowledge of God necessary for our salvation, God supernaturally revealed his will in various ways (Heb. 1:1). This revelation was later committed to writing and is found only in the scriptures of the Old and New Testament which were given by inspiration of God. So having previously established the possibility of supernatural revelation, we now learn why and how it was given.
The doctrine of the inspiration of the scriptures is clearly taught in the Bible itself, which declares “All scripture is given by inspiration of God…” (2 Tim. 3:16). The idea here is that scripture is breathed out (theopneustos), or donated by God. Inspiration is then the act of communicating the content of scripture and in particular the words of scripture (John 17:8).
Three Categories of Error
Louis Gaussen, writing in 1840, highlighted three categories of error on the doctrine of inspiration which are still common today. “Some have disowned the very existence of the action of the Holy Ghost; others have denied its universality; others again its plenitude.”(1) The first category rejects all miraculous inspiration and reduces the concept to a “divine action of nature” resembling other such natural and vital forces.(2) This view loses all semblance of logic on a cursory examination of the nature of the inspiration that the Bible claims for itself. In fact, the real contention is with the possibility of supernatural revelation, an objection which we have shown cannot stand.
The second category allows that divine inspiration exists but confines it to some parts of scripture to the exclusion of others. In other words, the Bible contains the inspired Word of God but man must determine which parts are inspired and which are not. Who, we might ask, is qualified to determine such a thing, and upon what criteria would he base his judgement? The result could only be, as it is found in practice, an acceptance of those truths judged palatable by the individual critic.
The third category allows that all parts of scripture are inspired but not equally: some parts are more inspired than others.(3) Four degrees of inspiration have been suggested. Superintendence, by which the writers were preserved from serious errors; Elevation of the natural faculties by God into the purest regions of truth which indirectly characterised the writings; Direction, when the writers were more powerfully under God’s guidance in what they wrote; and finally Suggestion, when by a more direct operation of the Spirit, God suggested new truths to the minds of the writers. Gaussen quite correctly views these as fantastic distinctions, unauthorized by scripture and deplorable in their results.(4)
The proposed degrees of inspiration have arisen from the inability of some to harmonise the evident variety of scriptural genre with the orthodox doctrine of inspiration. Scripture is composed of historical narrative, prophetical utterances, genealogies, poetry and autobiographical sketches among other genres. It is claimed that prophetical utterance requires a more direct inspiration than the recounting of a historical event or the documentation of a genealogy. In the first the actual words were given, while the latter two genres required that the author was merely helped to recall the historical details accurately. We state now, and will see in more detail later, that no such distinction is known in scripture, and that in every case God gave the words.
The Plenary, Verbal Inspiration of Scripture
The orthodox view of the doctrine of inspiration is defined as ‘The Plenary, Verbal Inspiration of Scripture.’ We have noted already that inspiration is an act of God by which he breathed out the words of scripture. The idea is not that the prophets themselves were inspired. They were temporarily borne along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21) when writing scripture, but the Bible relates the doctrine of inspiration to the words written rather than to the authors of them. So “all scripture” is emphasised in 2 Timothy 3:16 while the writers are not mentioned at all. Furthermore, the verbal utterances of the prophets do not fall under the definition of inspiration in the strictest sense of the term. What they spoke was certainly the Word of God, it was certainly infallible and authoritative but “the doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration attaches first of all to the written word.”(5)
(i) Plenary Inspiration
Inspiration must also be viewed as plenary. This means that all the parts of scripture are inspired equally. “All scripture,” says the Apostle, “is given by inspiration of God.” For this reason the whole Bible is called “the word of God” (Isa. 40:8; 1 Pet. 1:23,25) and “the oracles of God” (Rom. 3:2). The Law was written by Moses to whom God frequently spoke (Ex. 13:1; Lev. 16:1; Num. 4:1; Deut. 29:1). The prophets were those whom Peter declared “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Pet. 1:21) The authors of the psalms were prophets, epitomised in David, by whom the Spirit of God spoke (2 Sam. 23:2).
Christ quoted from each of these Old Testament divisions as having equal authority, and as revealing himself (Luke 24:44). In John 5:39 he proclaimed “search the scriptures,” the same scriptures that Paul tells us were given by inspiration of God, “for they are they which testify of me.” Moreover, it is apparent that the New Testament writers were conscious that their writings were inspired. Paul wrote of this both to the Corinthians and to the Thessalonians (1 Cor. 2:13; 1 Thess. 2:13), and Peter placed the writings of Paul on a par with the inspired scriptures of the Old Testament (2 Pet. 3:16).
There is abundant evidence that all scripture is inspired of God, that there is no difference in degree of inspiration of the parts. It is all alike “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction….” It is all of equal authority, so that even the words of Jesus in scripture carry no more authority than those of Moses or Paul.
(ii) Verbal Inspiration
Scripture is also verbally inspired. This claims inspiration for the individual words employed. It is clear that the Lord told his servants on occasions exactly what words to write (Lev. 6:1,24; 7:22; Josh. 1:1, 6:2). The prophets in particular speak of the words of God coming to them and his putting them into their mouths (Jer. 11:1; Hos. 1:1-2; Hag. 1:1; Luke 3:2; Jer. 1:9), which they in turn were to speak unto the people (Ezra 3:4,10,11). Christ also spoke words that were given to him by the Father (John 17:8). Furthermore, he gave his divine imprimatur to the verbal inspiration of scripture by basing an argument upon one word (Matt. 22:43-45), and stating that not even one letter of the scripture should pass away until all be fulfilled (Matt. 5:18).
(iii) The Authors of Scripture
An objection to the orthodox doctrine of inspiration has arisen from the diversity of style manifested in the scripture due to the multiplicity of human authors. It has been asked, How can such diversity be reconciled with the fact that the Holy Spirit is the primary author of all the books? This objection is founded upon a wrong perception of the process of inspiration. It imagines that the orthodox view of inspiration requires a mechanical process of dictation where the human author was entirely passive, their minds not contributing in any way to the form or content of their writings.
Contrary to this, the human authors were real authors who at times related their own spiritual experiences and feelings (Psa. 51; Jer. 9:1; Rom. 9:1-3). We should remember that God made man’s mouth (Ex. 4:11) and decreed to use particular individuals with their own personal experiences and styles to communicate his word unto men. The Holy Spirit acted upon the human writers in harmony with their inner being, so that “every verse without exception is man’s; and every verse without exception is God’s.”(6) This is known as organic inspiration.
We have consciously confined our argumentation in establishing the doctrine of the plenary, verbal inspiration of scripture, to that which is revealed in scripture. There are many other testimonies by which the Bible reveals itself to be the Word of God which are useful means of argumentation, but ultimately “the full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the Word.”(7)
Whether it is received as such or not, it remains immutably true that the Bible is the Word of God. Every word in the original autographs of the Old and New Testament is donated by God. It is therefore inerrant and authoritative and must be received. We have our unchangeable standard of absolute truth in “the scripture of truth” (Dan. 10:21). Oh that men would return to it!
1. Gaussen, L., Theopneustia – The Plenary Inspiration of Scripture. Johnstone & Hunter, 1850, p26.
2. ibid., p27.
4. ibid., p28.
5. Clark, G. H., God’s Hammer. Trinity Foundation, 1987, p11.
6. Gaussen, L., op. cit., p31.
7. Westminster Confession of Faith, ch.1:5.
The Holy Bible
By Kevin Probst [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons