Chapter 3 - The Inspiration of the Bible


have noted evidence that the Bible is a revelation from God. And we are told in the Bible that God gave the revelation by inspiration. If the Bible is God’s revelation, it is right to let it speak for itself concerning its own nature. It is our purpose, then, in this chapter to inquire into the meaning and nature of inspiration, according to the Bible’s own testimony.

In the course that we are here pursuing we are following reason in its highest sense. It has been shown that reason demands a belief in God’s existence. And it has been pointed out, moreover, that it is reasonable to expect a written revelation from God. It is the province of reason, then, in relation to revelation, first of all, to examine the credentials of communications that profess to be a revelation from God. If these credentials are satisfactory, then reason must accept the communications as coming from God; and hence must accept the things presented as being true. "Revelation is the viceroy who first presents his credentials to the provincial assembly, and then presides" (Liebnitz). In the foregoing manner, "reason itself prepares the way for a revelation above reason, and warrants an implicit trust in such revelation when once given" (Strong).

Above reason is not against reason. It is only bald rationalism that rejects all it cannot fathom or rationally demonstrate. "The most unreasonable people in the world are those who depend solely upon reason, in the narrow sense" (Strong). Mere reasoning or the exercise of the logical faculty is not all of reason. Reason, in its broad sense, comprehends the whole of the mind’s power to recognize truth. Reason can rightly reject only that which contradicts known facts. And then, to be safe, reason must be "conditioned in its activity by a holy affection and enlightened by the Spirit of God" (Strong). To such reason, the Scriptures present nothing contradictory, although they do make known much beyond the unaided power of man to discover or to comprehend fully.

I. THE MEANING OF INSPIRATION

When Paul said: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16), he used the Greek word "theopneustos" for the idea of inspiration. This Greek word is composed of "theos," meaning God, and "pneo," meaning to breathe. The compound word is an adjective meaning literally "breathed of God." Since it is the breath that produces speech, this word provided a very apt and impressive way of saying that the Scripture is the word of God.

II. THE HUMAN ELEMENT IN INSPIRATION

However it was only in special cases that the words to be written down were orally dictated to the Scripture writers. In most cases the minds of the writers became the laboratory in which God converted His breath, as it were, into human language. This was not done by a mechanical process. The personality and temperament of the writers were not suspended. These are manifest in the writings. Hence we read from Gaussen: "In maintaining that all Scripture is from God, we are far from thinking that man goes for nothing in it . . . In Scripture all the words are man’s, as there, too, all the words are God’s. In a certain sense, the Epistle to the Romans is altogether a letter of Paul’s and, in a still higher sense, the Epistle to the Romans is altogether a letter of God’s" (Theopneustia, a book indorsed highly by C. H. Spurgeon). And so we read also from Manly: "The divine origin and authority of the Word of God is not to be affirmed so as to exclude or impair the reality of the human authorship, and the peculiarities resulting there from. The Bible is God’s Word to man, throughout; yet at the same time it is really and thoroughly a man’s composition. No attempt should be made-and we shall certainly make none-to set aside or ignore the "human element" of the Scriptures, which is unmistakably apparent on their very face; no one should wish to so magnify the divine as to crowd this out, or almost out. This is one of the mistakes which good men have committed.[1] Let both be admitted, recognized, accepted thankfully and rejoicingly, each contributing to make the Bible more completely adapted to human needs as the instrument of divine grace, and the guide for weak and wandering human souls. The word is not of man, as to its source; nor depending on man, as to its authority. It is by and through man as its medium; yet not only simply as the channel along which it runs, like water through a lifeless pipe, but through and by man as the agent voluntarily active "and intelligent in its communication. Both sides of the truth are expressed in the Scriptural language: ‘Holy men of God spake as they were moved (borne along) by the Holy Spirit.’ (2 Pet. 1:21). The men spoke; the impulse and direction were from God" (The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration). "The Scriptures contain a human as well as a divine element, so that while they constitute a body of infallible truth, this truth is shaped in human moulds and adapted to ordinary human intelligence" (Strong).

III. INSPIRATION ACCOMPLISHED MIRACULOUSLY

The human element in the Bible does not affect its infallibility, just as the human nature of Christ did not affect His infallibility. Inspiration was accomplished miraculously just as the virgin birth of Christ was accomplished miraculously, and just as men are brought to repentance and faith miraculously. Repentance and faith are voluntary acts of the man, yet they are wrought in him by the Holy Spirit. God accomplished the miracle of inspiration by providentially preparing the writers for their work and by so revealing His truth to them and so enabling, guiding, and superintending them in the recording of it as to give to us through them an exact and complete transmission of all that He was pleased to reveal.

"Although the Holy Spirit did not select the words for the writers, it is evident that He did select them through the writers" (Bancroft, Elemental Theology).

IV. METHODS IN INSPIRATION

The miraculous element in inspiration, of course, cannot be explained. And we have no desire that man should be able to explain it. But to some extent, at least, we can discern from the Scripture the methods God used in inspiration. A study of the methods used should heighten our appreciation of inspiration.

1) Inspiration Through objective Revelation.

Sometimes there was given a direct and oral revelation to be written down, such as was the case in the giving of the Mosaic law (Ex. 20:1), and such as was the case, in some instances, with other writers (Dan. 9:21-23; Rev. 17:7).

2) Inspiration Through supernatural Vision.

In other cases a supernatural vision was given with or without an interpretation of it, as was the case with John on the Isle of Patmos.

3) Inspiration Through Passivity.

At other times, when we are given no evidence of an external revelation of any kind, the writers were so consciously and passively moved by the Holy Spirit as to be knowingly ignorant of the full import of what they wrote, as was the case with the prophets when they wrote of Christ (1 Pet. 1:10).

4) Inspiration Through Divine Illumination.

Sometimes there was given to the writers such divine illumination as to enable them to understand and apply truth contained in former revelations, but not made fully clear by them; as was the case with New Testament writers in interpreting and applying Old Testament Scripture (Acts 1:16,17,20; 2:16-21; Rom. 4:1-3; 10:5-11).

5) Inspiration Through God’s Direction.

In some cases the writers were merely so guided and guarded as to be enabled to record infallibly such historical facts as God was pleased to have them record, whether those facts were personally known to them, obtained from others, or supernaturally revealed. All historical books are examples in point here.

6) Inspiration Through Subjective Revelation.

At other times truth was revealed through the writers by such divine quickening and deepening of their own thinking as to enable them to perceive and infallibly record new truth, as seems to have been the case with Paul in much of his epistles.

Summing it all up, we may say that the process of inspiration consisted of such means and influences as it pleased God to employ, according to the circumstances, in order to give us a divine, complete, and infallible revelation of all religious truth we need during this life. Or with A. H. Strong we may say: "By the inspiration of the Scriptures, we mean that special divine influence upon the minds of the Scripture writers in virtue of which their productions, apart from errors of transcription, and when rightly interpreted, together constitute an infallible and sufficient rule of faith and practice."

V. THE EXTENT OF INSPIRATION

It will be seen that verbal inspiration is implied in what we have said already. But, as also already said, this does not destroy the human element in the Scripture. The Scripture is all the Word of God; yet most of it is also the word of man. The writers differ in temperament, language, and style; and these differences are clearly manifest in their writings; yet their productions are as truly and fully the Word of God as any utterance of Jesus.

VI. PROOFS OF VERBAL INSPIRATION

In proof of the fact that the Bible is inspired in word, and not merely in thought, we call attention to the following evidences:

1) Inspired Scripture necessarily involves Verbal Inspiration.

We are told that the Scripture is inspired. Scripture consists of written words. Thus we necessarily have verbal inspiration.

2) Paul Affirmed that he used Words taught him by the Holy Spirit.

In 1 Cor. 2:13, in referring to the things he knew through the Holy Spirit, he said: "Which things we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth." This is a positive affirmation on the part of Paul that he was not left to himself in the selection of words.[2]

3) Peter Affirmed the Verbal Inspiration of His Own and Other Apostle’s Writings.

In 2 Pet. 3:1,2,15,16, Peter puts his own and other apostles writings on a level with the Old Testament Scriptures. And, since Peter believed the Old Testament Scriptures to be verbally inspired (Acts 1:16), it follows, therefore, that he considered the writings of himself and those of other apostles as being verbally inspired.[3]

4) Quotations in the New Testament from the Old Testament prove the Verbal Inspiration of New Testament Writers.

The Jews had a superstitious regard for the very letter of Scripture. Certainly, then, devout Jews, if left to themselves, would be exceedingly careful to quote Scripture as it is written. But we find in the New Testament about two hundred and sixty-three direct quotations from the Old Testament, and of these, according to Horne, eighty-eight are verbal quotations from the Septuagint; sixty-four are borrowed from it; thirty-seven have the same meaning, but different words; sixteen agree more nearly with the Hebrew; and twenty differ from both the Hebrew and the Septuagint. All the New Testament writers, except Luke, were Jews, yet they did not write as Jews. What can account for this if they were not conscious of divine sanction of every word they wrote? Some good examples of quotations from the Old Testament by New Testament writers where new meaning is put into the quotations are found in Rom. 4:6,7, which is a quotation from Psa. 32:1, and Rom. 10:6-8, which is a quotation from Deut. 30:11-14.

5) Matthew Affirmed that the Lord spake through the Prophets of the Old Testament.

See Revised Version of Matt. 1:22 and 2:15.

6) Luke Affirmed that the Lord spake by the Mouth of the Holy Prophets (Luke 1:70).

7) The Writer to the Hebrews affirms the Same Thing. (Heb. 1:1).

8) Peter Affirmed that the Holy Spirit spake by the Mouth of David (Acts 1:16).

9) Paul’s Argument in Gal. 3:16 implies Verbal Inspiration.

In this place Paul bases an argument on the singular number of the word "seed" in God’s promise to Abraham.

10) Old Testament Writers constantly implied and taught the Divine Authority of their Very Words.

Passages in proof of this are too numerous to need mentioning.

11) Fulfilled Prophecy is Proof of Verbal Inspiration.

A study of fulfilled prophecy will convince any open-minded person that the prophets were necessarily inspired in the very words they uttered. Otherwise they could not have foretold something of which they knew very little.

12) Jesus Affirmed the Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures.

Jesus said: "The Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), by which He meant that its meaning cannot be loosed nor its truthfulness destroyed. Meaning and truth are dependent upon words for expression. Infallible meaning is impossible without infallible words.


ENDNOTES:

[1] The following quotation is very much to the point here: “Sometimes, it may be frankly conceded, zeal for the divine authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures may have led to untenable theories and modes of expression, that have rather obscured the truth. To say, e. g., that the writers were mere passive instruments in the hand of the Spirit, or at best amanuenses writing to dictation-to adopt, in other words, the mechanical theory, is unwarranted and mischievous. It is no part of the doctrine, and has never been generally held” (New Biblical Guide, Urquhart, Vol. 8, Page 175).

[2] It is charged by some that in Acts 23:5 and 1 Cor. 7:10,12, Paul admits non-inspiration. In Acts 23:5 Paul says concerning the High Priest, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the High Priest.” This “may be explained either as the language of indignant irony: ‘I would not recognize such a man as High Priest’; or, more naturally, as an actual confession of personal ignorance and fallibility, which does not affect the inspiration of any of Paul’s final teachings or writings” (Strong). Inspiration does not mean that Bible writers were always infallible in judgment or impeccable in life, but that in their capacity of official teachers and spokesmen for God they were preserved from error.

In the passages from the first Corinthian epistle, Paul says in the case of one command: “I command, yet not I, but the Lord;” while in the case of other commands he says: “The rest speak I, not the Lord.” But notice that at the end of the latter series of exhortations he says: “I think ... I have the Spirit of God” (1 Cor. 7:40). “Paul distinguishes, therefore, here ... not between his own and inspired commands, but between those which proceeded from his own (God-inspired) subjectivity, and those which Christ Himself supplied by his objective word” (Meyer, in Loco).

[3] A question may be raised as to Peter’s dissimulation at Antioch, where we have a “practical disavowal of his convictions by separating and withdrawing himself from the Gentile Christians (Gal. 2:11-13)” (Strong). “Here was no public teaching, but the influence of private example. But neither in this case, nor in that mentioned above (Acts 23:5), did God suffer the error to be a final one. Through the agency of Paul the Holy Spirit set the matter right” (Strong).