Paul, an apostle of Christ, wrote: Every scripture is inspired of God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Bible asserts its own inspirationof this there is no doubt. But to what extent does the sacred volume claim inspiration? This is a question that has perplexed many.
SOME POPULAR, BUT FALSE THEORIES
Some have suggested that the Bible is inspired only in the sense that other great literary productions are inspired. That is, they all are simply the results of natural genius, characteristic of men of unusual ability. Such a notion must be rejected immediately since: (a) it makes liars of the biblical writers who claimed the Holy Spirit as the ultimate source of their documents (2 Samuel 23:2; Acts 1:16); and (b) it leaves unexplained the mystery of why modern man, with his accumulated learning, has not been able to produce a comparable volume that has the capacity to make the Bible obsolete.
Others have claimed that only certain portions of the Scriptures are inspired of God. We often hear it said, for example, that those sections of the Bible that deal with faith and morals are inspired, but that other areas, particularly those accounts which contain certain miraculous elements, are merely the productions of goodbut superstitious and falliblemen. Again, though, such a concept is not consistent with the declarations of the divine writers. They extended inspiration to every area of the Scriptures, even emphasizing, in many instances, those very sections that modernists dub as non-historical, mythical, etc. See, for example: Matthew 12:39-40; 19:4ff.; Luke 4:27; John 3:14-15.
Too, the allegation has been made that the Bible is inspired in sense, but not in sentence. By that, it is meant that in some sense the Scriptures are of divine origin, but that the very words of the Holy Book are not to be construed as inspired. Such a view is nonsensical. If the words of the sacred narrative are not inspired, pray tell what is inspired? Is the binding? The paper? The ink? The truth is, if the words of the Bible are not inspired of God, then the Bible contains no inspiration at all!
What do we mean when we speak of the verbal inspiration of the Holy Scriptures? Frank E. Gaebelein has suggested that a sound view of inspiration holds that the original documents of the Bible were written by men, who, though permitted the exercise of their own personalities and literary talents, yet wrote under the control and guidance of the Spirit of God, the result being in every word of the original documents a perfect and errorless recording of the exact message which God desired to give to man (1950, p. 9). In his classic work, TheopneustiaThe Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, L. Glaussen, professor of systematic theology, Oratoire, Geneva, defined inspiration as that inexplicable power which the Divine Spirit put forth of old on the authors of holy Scripture, in order to their guidance even in the employment of the words they used, and to preserve them alike from all error and from all omission (n.d., p. 34).
Let us take a closer look at 2 Timothy 3:16. The Greek text says: pasa graphe theopneustosall scripture [is] God-breathed. Something within this context is said to be God-breathed. What is it? All Scripture. The term scripture [graphe] denotes that which is written. But it is the words of the biblical text that are written; hence, the very words of the Bible are God-breathed! No one can appeal to 2 Timothy 3:16 as an evidence of Bible inspiration without, at the same time, introducing the concept of verbal inspiration. The truth is, the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures is abundantly claimed throughout the sacred canon. Consider the following examples.
In a remarkable passage, Paul asked: For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? He means this: you cannot know what is in my mind until I, by my words, reveal to you what I am thinking. That is the apostles illustration. Here is his point. Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God...which things [i.e., the things of God] we also speak, not in words which mans wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words (1 Corinthians 2:11-13). There is not a more comprehensive statement of verbal inspiration to be found anywhere in the holy writings. The mind of God has been made known by means of the inspired words of those representatives whom He chose for that noble task.
MECHANICAL DICTATIONA STRAW MAN
Whenever you hear someone accusing advocates of verbal inspiration of believing in mechanical dictation, most likely you are dealing with a theological liberal! The notion of mechanical dictation [i.e., that the Bible writers were only dictaphones or typewriters, hence, their cultural and personality factors did not enter into their works] is not taught by many conservative Bible scholars. Certainly, Pauls writings differ in style from those of John, etc. But that does not negate the fact that after God used the individual writers of Scripture, in the final process, only the exact words that He wanted in the text appeared there!
HAS TRANSMISSION DESTROYED INSPIRATION?
But suppose, someone wonders, the Bible was verbally inspired initially. Hasnt the transmission of the text across the centuries caused a corruption of the original documents, so that verbal inspiration has been virtually destroyed? No, not at all. The text of the Bibleboth Old and New Testamentshas been preserved in a remarkable fashion. For example, after years of scientific research in connection with the text of the Old Testament, professor Robert Dick Wilson, who was thoroughly acquainted with forty-five languages, stated that we are scientifically certain that we have substantially the same text that was in the possession of Christ and the apostles... (1929, p. 8, emp. added). Evidence for the textual reliability of the New Testament is no less impressive. Scholars are now in possession of some 5,378 Greek manuscripts (in part or in whole) of the New Testament, and some of these date to the early part of the second century A.D. It has been estimated that textual variations concern only about 1/1000th part of the entire text (see Gregory, 1907, p. 528). Transmission, therefore, has not destroyed verbal inspiration.
DOES TRANSLATION AFFECT INSPIRATION?
Since the Holy Scriptures originally were penned in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, and since then have been translated into many languages, some are concerned that the translation process has destroyed the Bibles initial inspiration. But there is no need for concern over this matter so long as accurate translation is effected. When a word is translated precisely from one language into another, the same thought or idea is conveyed; thus, the same message is received.
That translation need not affect inspiration is evinced by an appeal to the New Testament itself. In the 3rd-2nd centuries B.C., the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek. This version, which was begun in Alexandria, Egypt, is known as the Septuagint. Note this interesting fact: Jesus Christ Himself, and His inspired New Testament writers, frequently quoted from the Septuagint translation of the Old Testament Scriptures! For example, in Matthew 22:32, Christ quoted from the Septuagint (Exodus 3:6), and of that passage said: Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God? (22:31). The translation from Hebrew to Greek did not alter the fact that the message was the Word of God!
It also might be observed in this connection that scholars generally agree that the Septuagint is not as reliable a translation as is the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Yet in spite of this, the New Testament frequently quotes it. However, as one author observed: The writers of the New Testament appear to have been so careful to give the true sense of the Old Testament, that they forsook the Septuagint version whenever it did not give that sense... (Horne, 1841, 1:312). The fact is, when a New Testament writer was quoting from the Greek Old Testament, the Holy Spirit sometimes led him to slightly alter the phraseology to give a more accurate sense. Thus, inspiration was still preserved though a less-than-perfect translation was being used.
The Scriptures are the verbally inspired Word of God. This view has been entertained by reverent students of the Holy Writings for multiplied centuries. Fritz Rienecker noted that the Jewish rabbinical teaching was that the Spirit of God rested on and in the prophets and spoke through them so that their words did not come from themselves, but from the mouth of God and they spoke and wrote in the Holy Spirit. The early church was in entire agreement with this view (1980, 2:301).
Let us therefore exalt the Holy Scriptures as the living Word of God (Hebrews 4:12), and acknowledge them as the only authoritative source of religious guidance.
Bruce, A.B. (1956), Expositors New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans).
Gaebelein, Frank E. (1950), The Meaning of Inspiration (Chicago, IL: Inter-Varsity).
Glaussen, L. (no date), TheopneustiaThe Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures (Chicago, IL: Moody).
Gregory, C.R. (1907), Canon and Text of the New Testament (New York: Scribners).
Horne, Thomas H. (1842), An Introduction to the Critical Study and Knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (Philadelplhia, PA: Whetham & Son).
Rienecker, Fritz (1980), A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan).
Wilson, Robert Dick (1929), A Scientific Investigation of the Old Testament (New York: Harper & Brothers).
Originally published in Reason & Revelation, December 1982, 2:49-51.
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