This is God’s Word: An Affirmation of the Verbal-Plenary Inspiration of the Bible

“This is God’s Word.” Although the precise words may vary, these words are heard by millions each week as they attend an assembly of a local church. The question is, however: What do they mean? Among American Christians, the claim that the Bible is God’s Word is largely accepted. But to what extent is it God’s Word? Are only parts of the Bible God’s Word, the remaining portions being merely the words of men? Or is the whole Bible God’s Word, spanning from Genesis to Revelation and including every chapter in between? Asked more technically, is the Bible itself God’s Word or does the Bible merely contain God’s Word? What a church means by the claim, “This is God’s Word,” has incredible implications upon its life together. It is a question a church cannot afford to ignore. In this paper, I will argue for the verbal-plenary view of biblical inspiration. I will begin by exploring the nature of inspiration, taking note of what the Bible says about itself and of what theologians throughout history have thought about it. I will conclude with a brief examination of the implications of verbal-plenary inspiration, namely inerrancy and authority, and of how these implications ought to affect the corporate life of the church and the personal life of the believer.

When one speaks of the nature of biblical inspiration, he is dealing with the subject of the Bible’s origin. In getting to know someone, it is common to ask, “Where are you from?” Similarly, it is natural to ask this question of the Bible: “Where is this book from? Is it from God, from man, or from both?” The nature of biblical inspiration, then, is a question of origination: From where and from whom does the Bible come? Is it a book with God for its author and heaven for its home or with men for its authors and earth for its home? To answer this question, one must look to what Scripture says concerning itself.

What Scripture Says

A survey of the biblical material leads one to make three observations about what the Bible says concerning itself.[1] First, the writers of the Old Testament claimed to be speaking the word of God.[2] The words they spoke and wrote were God’s words. From early on, the Old Testament was viewed in two parts: the Law, consisting of the first five books, and the Prophets, containing the rest of the Old Testament books.[3] Both parts contain claims to their divine inspiration. Leviticus and Numbers, for example, begin by noting that God spoken through Moses (Lev. 1:1; Num. 1:1). The writer of the book of Judges wrote that the commandments of God were made known through Moses (Judg. 3:4). Similarly, the chronicler observes that “the Book of the Law of the LORD [was] given through Moses” (2 Chr. 34:14). The frequent declaration of the prophets, “Thus says the Lord,” is also a clear indication that the Old Testament was inspired by God.[4] Both the Law and the Prophets make reference to their divine inspiration.[5]

Second, Christ himself claimed the Old Testament was the word of God.[6]  In every aspect of his life, Jesus exemplified what it meant to treat the Old Testament as the word of God. Jesus believed and taught that the Old Testament was “historically true, completely authoritative, and divinely inspired… To Him, what Scripture said, God said.”[7] In terms of its historicity, Jesus consistently treated the historical narratives of the Old Testament as “straightforward records of fact.”[8] He surveyed “the whole course of history from ‘the creation of the world’ to ‘this generation’” and concluded that it was historically true.[9] Jesus’ used the historicity of past events and people to ground his messianic claims (John 8:56-58; Luke 4:25-27). Speaking to its authority, Jesus often appealed to the Old Testament in matters of controversy (Matt. 5:17-20; 15:1-9; 22:29-32; 23:2-3, 23; Mark 7:1-13; 12:24-27; Luke 20:37-38; John 5:39-47).[10] It was also Jesus’ definitive guide for ethics. He summarized the Old Testament law in two commands: “love the Lord your God” (Matt. 22:37; cf. Mark 12:30) and “love your neighbor” (Matt. 22:39; cf. Mark 12:31). According to Jesus, these two commands were “the heart of the Old Testament.”[11] In his wilderness temptation, Jesus appealed to its authority in his confrontations with Satan (Matt. 4:1-11).[12] In Jesus’ view, the entire Old Testament corpus was a single, authoritative, and “unitary whole.”[13] Jesus also regarded the Old Testament as inspired.[14] At times, Jesus made it clear that the Old Testament writers were speaking under divine inspiration.[15] Wenham notes: “To our Lord the Old Testament was true as history; it was of divine authority, and its very words were inspired by God Himself.”[16] However, Jesus also claimed that all authority had been given to him (Matt. 28:18) and therefore his teachings, as well as the Old Testament, were inspired.[17]

Third, the New Testament writers believed the Old Testament, Jesus’ teaching, and their own writings were the word of God.[18] That the Old Testament was considered by New Testament writers to be the word of God is evidenced by their frequent citation of it or allusion to it.[19] Like their Lord, the writers of the New Testament understood that true prophecy only came from God and that these prophets “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 20-21). It was their relation to Jesus that qualified the New Testament writers to compose Scripture.[20] Having been persuaded that Jesus was both their Savior and Lord, the writers of the New Testament composed records of his life and teachings.[21] Recognizing that the Holy Spirit was teaching them and bringing to remembrance all that Jesus had said to them (John 14:26), the New Testament writers understood their responsibility to continue their Lord’s revelation by composing Scripture. Peter recognized this and yet referred to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16). And it was Paul who wrote that “all Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16).[22] For the New Testament writers, they understood the Old Testament, the teachings of Jesus, and their own to be the word of God.

What Theologians Have Said

Having explored Scripture’s teaching about its own inspiration, attention is now turned to what theologians throughout history have said concerning it.[23] During the time of the early church, the Jewish and Gentile views of inspiration emphasized the divine element of Scripture, viewing the human writer as nothing more than a puppet animated by the divine.[24] This is contrasted with the Bible’s teaching on both divine and human authorship. Biblical inspiration was affirmed in the patristic period, but there was a tendency to overemphasize the divine aspect.[25] Augustine viewed inspiration as the process by which God used the human authors as if they were his own hands, a view that would later pave the way for some type of dictation theory.[26] In the medieval period there was an affirmation of inspiration, but there was a reaction against the patristic period’s emphasis on divine activity.[27] With the dawn of the Reformation, there arose a rediscovery and reaffirmation of the biblical inspiration.[28] In the teachings of the Reformers, one can see a balance between divine and human authorship being struck.[29] Not long after the Reformation, however, there was a return to the patristic view of inspiration.[30] During the eighteenth century, inspiration was affirmed but radically redefined. Inspiration no longer meant that God was the source of Scripture; rather, inspiration was a heightened state of human experience. A composition could only be considered inspired insofar as it was in agreement with Enlightenment reason.[31]

The contemporary view today is that the Bible is inspired but that its inspiration does not extend to all its constituent parts. Both Neo-Orthodoxy and Neo-Liberalism teach that revelation is primarily experiential rather than propositional.[32] In so doing, they substitute “an inspired experience for an inspired Scripture.”[33] Divinely inspired Scripture then becomes nothing more than an inspiring human composition.[34] Whereas the Bible was the “paper Pope” of the Post-Reformation period, it has become little more than a “paper peasant” today.[35] Many contemporary writers go to great length to retain some form of biblical inspiration, but redefine it in such a way so as to strip it of its historic meaning. Unfortunately, many mistakenly view the idea of verbal-plenary inspiration as necessitating some kind of mechanical dictation theory, one in which God overpowers the human writers and removes all semblance of their individual personalities.[36]

What Exactly Is Verbal-Plenary Inspiration?

What, then, does verbal-plenary inspiration actually mean?[37] First, it means the Bible is God-breathed revelation.[38] In this way, the Bible is the Word of God. It originates from God’s divine self-disclosure. “Inspiration,” however, is a misleading term. The Greek word theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16 is sometimes translated into English with this word. The term “inspiration” carries with it the idea of breathing something in, rather than breathing something out. Theopneustos refers to the activity of God by which he breathed out, or expired, Scripture rather than breathed in, or inspired, Scripture.[39] In this sense, “expired” is a better term to use than “inspired.” However, because of its popularity, it is better to retain the word “inspiration” and carefully define it than it is to replace it with the word “expiration,” though the latter term far more accurately captures what is actually being said. Biblical inspiration, properly understood, has to do with breathing out Scripture. In this way, humanity does not discover God; rather, God reveals himself. Because all Scripture is breathed out by God, any view of inspiration that entails some sort of human discovery is ruled out. Inspiration is not about heightened states of human consciousness or man thinking his way up to God, but of God making himself known to man.[40] The purpose for God’s self-disclosure is relational: God makes himself known to humanity so that humanity can enter into a relationship with him.[41] To affirm biblical inspiration is to recognize that God is the primary author of Scripture.[42]

Second, it means the actual words of the Bible are God-breathed.[43] In this way, the Bible is the Word of God. But it is also the words of men. There is a twofold authorship to Scripture, both divine and human.[44] Anyone who has read the Bible has taken note of the various genres used throughout it. Shifts in style and vocabulary illustrate the human element of Scripture. If God dictated the entirety of the Bible, one would expect a single uniform style. Clearly, though, this is not what one gets in the Bible.[45] The Bible was not written in an indecipherable heavenly tongue, but in the actual words of men. While God is the primary author of Scripture, humans are its secondary authors. The exact process by which God inspired the words, however, remains a mystery.[46] However, a mechanical dictation view does not account for the human element of Scripture and is not required by the verbal-plenary view.[47] Any person that understands verbal-plenary inspiration to teach mechanical dictation is simply mistaken. Verbal inspiration means that the words, rather than the human writer himself or the unexpressed thoughts in his mind, are what God inspired.[48] Technically speaking, verbal inspiration refers only to the original words of the autographs.[49] It does not extend to the words found in later copies or translations. However, insofar as the copies and translations accurately reflect the original, they can be considered reliable witnesses and therefore trusted by all who read them.

Third, it means all the words of the Bible are God-breathed.[50] In this way, the Bible is the Word of God. The Bible does not merely contain God’s Word; it is God’s Word.[51] It is the whole Bible spanning from the first chapter of Genesis to the final chapter of Revelation that is inspired by God. There are not some parts more inspired than others; it all bears the stamp, “inspired by God.” There is not, then, a “Bible inside the Bible.” All of it is God’s Word. Because the Bible is the word of God, it bears his truth-telling and authoritative character. Those who, like Thomas Jefferson, choose to exercise their autonomy and ignore those parts of the Bible they do not like are therefore in error. The Bible, then, is the verbally inspired Word of God in its entirety. It is this view of the Bible that has been the predominant view of the church throughout history.[52] It also ought to be the view of the church until its Lord, the man Christ Jesus, returns.

Two Implications of Inspiration

An affirmation of verbal-plenary inspiration leads to two particular implications. First, it means the Bible is inerrant.[53] Throughout the history of the church, it has been recognized that inspiration implies inerrancy.[54] Because the Bible is the product of God’s divine out-breathing, it reflects his truth-telling character. An attack on the truthfulness of Scripture, then, is an attack on the truthfulness of its primary author, God himself. Practically speaking, because the Bible is inerrant, it ought to be trusted.[55] This means that when Scripture speaks to things difficult for its readers to accept, it is given the benefit of the doubt.[56] The Bible has been right for much longer than any other source. One ought, then, to approach Scripture in an attitude of trust, not skepticism. Additionally, because the Bible is inerrant, it ought to be read. Like Jesus, Christians find their life in its words. They read it often because “man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; cf. Deut. 8:3). It is their divine nourishment. Christians follow the example of their Lord, who always had Scripture on his mind. A second implication of verbal-plenary inspiration is that the Bible is authoritative.[57] It is the final court of appeal.[58] What it says is more important than what anyone or anything else says. Practically speaking, because the Bible is authoritative, it ought to be preached.[59] In the Scripture, God preaches.[60] In the pulpit, men preach God’s sermons. A substandard view of biblical inspiration has undermined preaching. It has resulted in a “famine of hearing the words of the Lord.”[61] When stripped of its divine authority, there is no point to preaching the Bible.[62] Robust expositions are a rare commodity in churches that fail to teach the Bible’s authority. Led astray by contemporary ideas of inspiration, many preachers have “petered out,” losing all confidence in the Bible they are supposed to be declaring.[63] Additionally, because the Bible is authoritative, it ought to be obeyed.[64] Authority requires obedience. To claim that the Bible is authoritative and yet to disobey it is tantamount to rebellion and treason. As Lord, God is our highest authority. As his word, the Bible is our highest written authority. To disobey the Bible is to disobey the Lord who inspired it.

[1] The objection is often raised that to appeal to what the Bible says about its own inspiration is circular reasoning. However, Scripture, like any witness, ought to be able to bear testimony concerning itself (Alan M. Stibbs, “The Witness of Scripture to its Inspiration” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958], 108-109; See also Henry Clarence Thiessen, Lectures in Systematic Theology, revised [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1979], 68). In terms of its logic, Norman Geisler and William Nix observe, “the claim [of the Bible to its own inspiration] is not being used to support itself, but as a point of departure to study itself” (Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, revised [Chicago, IL: Moody, 1986], 49). As the highest written authority, the Bible must be given the opportunity to speak to itself. If something else was placed above the Bible and allowed to critique it, the Bible would no longer be the highest written authority (See Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994], 78-79). James Draper writes: “We cannot correct something [such as the Bible] unless we have something which is more accurate, more nearly true, more authoritative, than the thing which we are correcting” (James T. Draper, Jr., Authority: The Critical Issue for Southern Baptists [Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1984], 18).

[2] I am indebted to the work of Geisler, Nix, and Stibbs for much of the content in this section. See Geisler and Nix, 65-75; Stibbs, 105-118.

[3] The New Testament refers to this twofold division of the Old Testament in Matt. 5:17 and 7:12. In Luke’s Gospel, the Old Testament is viewed as a trifold division of Law, Prophets, and Writings (Luke 24:44).

[4] See Stibbs, 112-114; Geisler and Nix, 71-75. J. I. Packer observes: “Commonly the prophets spoke in God’s own person: the ‘I’ of their oracles is more often than not Jehovah Himself” (J. I. Packer, God Has Spoken [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979], 67).

[5] Geisler and Nix, 70-72. By nature of their inclusion in one of these two parts, even individual books that make no clear reference to their inspiration can be viewed as inspired (Ibid., 69). Geisler and Nix write: “Each individual book does not need to state its own case; the claim has already been made for it by the claim made for the section as a whole and confirmed by the fact that later biblical books refer to the authority of that particular section as a whole” (Ibid.). Inspiration is taught either explicitly or implicitly in every book of the Old Testament (Ibid., 65-69).

[6] I am indebted to the work of John Wenham for much of the content in this section. See John W. Wenham, “Christ’s View of Scripture” in Inerrancy, ed. Norman L. Geisler (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1980), 1-36.

[7] Wenham, 6.

[8] Ibid. Wenham observes: “He refers to Abel (Luke 11:51), Noah (Matt. 24:37-39; Luke 17:26, 27), Abraham (John 8:56), the institution of circumcision (John 7:22; cf. Gen. 17:10-12; Lev. 12:3), Sodom and Gomorrah (Matt. 10:15; 11:23, 24; Luke 10:12), Lot (Luke 17:28-32), Isaac and Jacob (Matt. 8:11; Luke 13:28), manna (John 6:31, 49, 58), the snake in the desert (John 3:14), David eating the consecrated bread (Matt. 12:3, 4; Mark 2:25, 26; Luke 6:3, 4), David as a psalm writer (Matt. 22:43; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42), Solomon (Matt. 6:29; 12:42; Luke 11:31; 12:27), Elijah (Luke 4:25, 26), Elisha (Luke 4:27), Jonah (Matt. 12:39-41; Luke 11:29, 30, 32), and Zechariah (Luke 11:51)” (Ibid., 6-7). He treated all parts of the Old Testament equally as history (Ibid., 7). See also Geisler and Nix, 60.

[9] Wenham, 7. Even on the most historically-suspect of passages (such as Gen. 1 and 2), Jesus set his stamp of approval (Matt. 19:4-5; Mark 10:6-8) (Ibid.; See also Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Every Christian Should Believe [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010], 61). Jesus often made reference to historical events of the past in order to illustrate how events of the future would take place (Matt. 11:21-24; 12:39-42; 24:37-39; Luke 17:26-32). Jesus grounds the certainty of the future events in the historicity of the past events. If the events of the past did not take place, Jesus’ reference to them actually undermines the point he was attempting to make (Wenham, 2). Geisler and Nix argue that “if one denies that the literal space-time event occurred, then there is no basis for believing the scriptural doctrine built upon it” (Geisler and Nix, 59).

[10] Wenham, 10; Geisler and Nix, 52.

[11] Wenham, 12-13. See also Geisler and Nix, 52. On another occasion, Jesus taught that both “the Law and the Prophets” were summarized by the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12).

[12] Wenham observes: “The Holy Scriptures penetrated the warp and woof of Christ’s mind” (Ibid., 22). Additionally: “The mind of Christ was saturated with the Old Testament. As He spoke, there flowed out perfectly [and] naturally a complete range of uses varying from direct quotation to unconscious reflections of Old Testament phraseology. There is no trace of artificial quotation of Scripture as a matter of pious habit. Jesus’ mind was so steeped in both the words and principles of Scripture that quotation and allusion came to His lips naturally and appositively in all sorts of circumstances” (Ibid., 23).

[13] Ibid., 13. Jesus never contradicted or taught contrary to the commands of the Old Testament, but rather “showed their full scope and stripped them of prevalent misinterpretations” (Ibid., 26). In his own teaching, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the Old Testament law, but rather to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).

[14] Ibid., 16. Unlike contemporary views of inspiration, Jesus limited inspiration to the writings rather than their writers (Ibid., 17). Jesus often introduced his quotations of Old Testament passages by noting the human authors (Matt. 13:14; 24:15; Mark 7:6, 10). However, for him the authority of these passages resided not in their human authors, but in their divine author. That Jesus regarded the Old Testament as inspired is evidenced by his appeal to them as authoritative (Ibid.).

[15] In Mark 12:36, Jesus referred to a psalm that was written by David “in the Holy Spirit” (cf. Matt. 22:43). Interestingly, in the actual psalm, David nowhere claims to be writing under divine inspiration. According to Jesus, an Old Testament passage did not even need to claim divine inspiration in order to be recognized as such.

[16] Ibid., 22. In this way, Jesus affirmed verbal inspiration.

[17] This is seen, for example, in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), where he proceeds to cite passages from the Old Testament (“You have heard that it was said;” 5:21, 27, 33, 38, 43; cf. 5:33) and then uses his authority to correct the religious leaders’ misinterpretation of them (“but I say to you;” 5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44).

[18] Roger Nicole, “New Testament Use of the Old Testament” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 137.

[19] According to Roger Nicole, 4.4 percent of the New Testament is a citation of the Old Testament (Ibid.). If allusions are also taken into consideration, more than 10 percent of the New Testament consists of Old Testament citations or direct allusions (Ibid., 138). These percentages are reflected in Jesus’ own teachings. Old Testament citations or allusions are concentrated in three primary New Testament books: Revelation, Hebrews, and Romans (Ibid.). According to Nicole, “278 different Old Testament verses are cited in the New Testament: 94 from the Pentateuch, 99 from the Prophets, and 85 from the Writings” (Ibid.).

[20] The vast majority of New Testament books begin with a reference to the relationship of its author to Jesus. For example, see the opening verses of Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1-2 Timothy, Titus, 1-2 Peter, and Jude.

[21] This is why the gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were both written and preserved.

[22] Second Timothy 3:16-17 is the definitive passage that demonstrates the verbal-plenary inspiration of the Bible.

[23] I am indebted to the work of Geoffrey Bromiley for much of the content in this section. See Geoffrey W. Bromiley, “The Church Doctrine of Inspiration” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 203-217.

[24] Bromiley, 206-207.

[25] Ibid., 207-209. Notable supporters of biblical inspiration during this period include Clement of Alexandria, Gregory Nazianzus, Irenaeus, Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Polycarp, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Augustine.

[26] Ibid., 208. Others, like Hyppolytus, viewed inspiration as God playing upon the human writers as if they were nothing more than a musical instrument (Ibid.).

[27] Ibid., 209-210. Notable supporters of biblical inspiration during this period include Abelard and Aquinas. Although he believed in biblical inspiration, Abelard expressed doubt concerning biblical inerrancy.

[28] Ibid., 210-212. Luther, Zwingli, and Calvin were all staunch proponents of inspiration. According to Harold Brown, “Luther and Calvin neither assumed nor admitted errors in Scripture – that is, they took inerrancy for granted” (Harold O. J. Brown, “The Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible” in The Origin of the Bible, ed. Philip Wesley Comfort [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992], 40).

[29] Bromiley notes that even Karl Barth, who was by no means a supporter of verbal-plenary inspiration, admitted that the Reformers held this view (Bromiley, 210). Emil Brunner and William Sanday made similar observations (R. Laird Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1957], 75-77).

[30] Bromiley, 213. During the Post-Reformation period, some proponents of inspiration argued that even the Hebrew vowel pointings were inspired (Ibid.). Some began to see Scripture’s inerrancy as the foundation for its inspiration, as opposed to its inspiration as the foundation for its inerrancy.

[31] Ibid., 214-216.

[32] R. A. Finlayson, “Contemporary Ideas of Inspiration” in Revelation and the Bible, ed. Carl F. H. Henry (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1958), 225-230.

[33] Ibid., 228.

[34] By denying the propositional aspect of Scripture and overemphasizing the experiential aspect, Neo-Orthodoxy and Neo-Liberalism have robbed the church of the very thing they sought to give it. To be meaningful, experiences must be grounded in objective reality and absolute truth. By rejecting the trustworthiness of Scripture, these ideologies have rendered any experience with the Bible as meaningless. Packer notes: “Here lies the paradox of the critical movement: that is has given the Church the Bible in a way that has deprived the Church of the Bible… by insisting that the Scriptures are not a fully trustworthy word from God, biblical criticism has taken from the Church the Bible that once it had” (Packer, God Has Spoken, 22-23).

[35] I borrow the term “paper Pope” from Finlayson (Finlayson, 231) and contrast it with my own term “paper peasant” to illustrate the difference between Post-Reformation views of inspiration with contemporary ones. In the former era, the Bible was revered; in the latter, it is reviled.

[36] Ibid., 223. Finlayson notes that the “Reformed opinion has never promulgated a doctrine of merely mechanical or automatic inspiration in which the Holy Spirit is the exclusive agent and the human writer a mere machine recording the communication” (Ibid.). The view that verbal-plenary inspiration teaches mechanical dictation is mistaken.

[37] Driscoll and Breshears explain: “The belief that God wrote Scripture in concert with human authors whom he inspired to perfectly record his words is called verbal (the very words of the Bible) plenary (every part of the Bible) inspiration (are God-breathed revelation). Very simply, this means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but also the very details and exact words that were perfectly recorded for us in Scripture” (Driscoll and Breshears, 48, italics in original).

[38] This is what is meant by “inspiration” in verbal-plenary inspiration. Packer writes: Theopneustos, understood literally, means “‘breathed out from God’. The thought here is that, just as God made the host of heaven ‘by the breath of his mouth’ (Ps. 33:6), through His own creative fiat, so we should regard the Scriptures as the product of a similar creative fiat – ‘let there be Law, Prophets, Writings’” (Packer, God Has Spoken, 98).

[39] J. I. Packer, “The Inspiration of the Bible” in The Origin of the Bible, ed. Philip Wesley Comfort (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992), 29.

[40] Packer writes: “Revelation is a divine activity: not, therefore, a human achievement. Revelation is not the same thing as discovery, or the dawning of insight, or the emerging of a bright idea. Revelation does not mean man finding God, but God finding man, God sharing His secrets with us, God showing us Himself. In revelation, God is the agent as well as the object” (Packer, God Has Spoken, 46).

[41] Or, as Packer phrases it: “God’s purpose in revelation is to make friends with us… He speaks to us simply to fulfill the purpose for which we were made; that is, to bring into being a relationship in which He is a friend to us, and we to Him, He finding His joy in giving us gifts and we finding ours in giving Him thanks” (Ibid., 50). See also Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1998), 202; Ronald H. Nash, The Word of God and the Mind of Man: The Crisis of Revealed Truth in Contemporary Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1982), 46.

[42] Although God is the primary author of Scripture, he is not the only author. There is a human element to Scripture and, therefore, a human authorship to it as well.

[43] This is what is meant by “verbal” in verbal-plenary inspiration. Ronald Nash writes: “The doctrine of verbal inspiration has to do with the extent to which God’s revelation is conveyed in words, notably the written words of the Bible. It has to do with the role of the Holy Spirit in guiding the human authors of Scripture in their selection of words to convey the inspired ideas” (Ibid., 50). According to Harris, verbal inspiration was the view of Jesus, the apostles, and the majority of theologians throughout church history (Harris, 84; See also Brown, 37-38).

[44] Packer notes: “Scripture has a double authorship, and man is only the secondary author; the primary author, though whose initiative, prompting, and enlightenment, and under whose superintendence each human writer did his work, is God the Holy Spirit” (Packer, “Inspiration,” 31). See also Driscoll and Breshears, 48; Erickson, 213; Wenham, 20.

[45] Driscoll and Breshears observe: “The books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents” (Driscoll and Breshears, 47-48).

[46] Stibbs notes the tension between divine and human authorship, observing that “the difficulty for the human mind is to reconcile the perfection of the divine determination of the finished product with the true freedom and inevitable imperfections of the human writers” (Stibbs, 111). However, Grudem writes: “God’s providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such that their personalities, their backgrounds and training, their abilities to evaluate events in the world around them, their access to historical data, their judgment with regard to the accuracy of information, and their individual circumstances when they wrote, were all exactly what God wanted them to be, so that when they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own” (Grudem, 81).

[47] Nash, 50n; Grudem, 80; Harris, 82-83; Driscoll and Breshears, 48; Stanley J. Grenz, Theology for the Community of God (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 519. According to I. Howard Marshall, a dictation view of inspiration presents God “as a workman using a tool. The Bible is no longer regarded as in any real sense a human book; it is simply a heavenly telegram” (I. Howard Marshall, Biblical Revelation [Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1982], 33). Packer argues that God’s involvement in the process of inspiration actually heightened the level of human creativity. He writes: “The divine direction and control under which the biblical authors wrote was not a physical or psychological force, and it did not detract from but rather heightened the freedom, spontaneity, and creativeness of their writing” (Packer, “Inspiration,” 35).

[48] Stibbs, 107; Driscoll and Breshears, 48. Wenham, 17, 20. Packer writes: “Inspiration is a work of God terminating, not in the men who were to write Scripture… but in the actual written product. It is Scripture – graphe, the written text – that is God-breathed” (Packer, “Inspiration,” 30).

[49] Ibid., 36. Inerrancy is also limited to the autographs (Brown, 41).

[50] This is what is meant by “plenary” in verbal-plenary inspiration. See Grudem, 75n6; Grenz, 518; Driscoll and Breshears, 49. According to Driscoll and Breshears, “when we say plenary, we mean there are no parts of the Bible we don’t believe, don’t like, or won’t teach or preach or obey” (Ibid., 49). Because all Scripture is God-breathed, all of it is profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).

[51] There is, then, no “Bible within a Bible,” some parts being the true words of God while others are not.

[52] Harris writes: “It is safe to say that there is no doctrine, except those of the Trinity and the deity of Christ, which has been so widely held through the ages of Church history as that of verbal inspiration” (Harris, 72). By “verbal inspiration,” Harris means that “God superintended the process of writing so that the whole is true” (Ibid., 83); in effect, Harris refers to verbal-plenary inspiration.

[53] An affirmation of inspiration naturally leads to the implication of inerrancy (Henry, “The Authority of the BIble” in The Origin of the Bible [Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1992], 20; Brown, 40, 42). Packer observes that inspiration “guarantees the truth of all that the Bible asserts” (Packer, “Inspiration,” 32). Driscoll and Breshears explain: “Inerrant means that the Scriptures are perfect, without any error. The doctrine of inerrancy posits that because God does not lie or speak falsely in any way, and because the Scriptures are God’s Word, they are perfect. As a result, the entire Bible is without any error” (Driscoll and Breshears, 58). According to Grudem: “The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact” (Grudem, 91, italics in original). See also Thiessen, 63. For more on the meaning of biblical inerrancy, see “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978),” printed in Packer, God Has Spoken, 139-155; Norman L. Geisler, ed., Inerrancy, 493-502; Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Volume IV, God Who Speaks and Shows, Fifteen Theses, Part Three (Waco, TX: Word, 1979), 211-219. “Infallibility” is a related term, but unlike inerrancy, which refers to the lack of errors in Scripture, infallibility refers to the inability of Scripture to deceive or lead one astray into falsehood (Packer, God Has Spoken, 111). For practical purposes, though, these terms are interchangeable (Ibid.; See also Wenham, 22).

[54] Brown, 46-47.

[55] Thiessen, 48-49.

[56] One must be careful to recognize the difference between what Scripture actually teaches and what an interpreter perceives it to be teaching (Driscoll and Breshears, 59). A proper hermeneutical method, then, is essential. For more on hermeneutics, see “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics (1982),” printed in Packer, God Has Spoken, 157-172.

[57] Henry, “Authority,” 19; Wenham, 17.

[58] Driscoll and Breshears, 67.

[59] Grudem writes: “Throughout the history of the church the greatest preachers have been those who have recognized that they have no authority in themselves and have seen their task as being to explain the words of Scripture and apply them clearly to the lives of their hearers. Their preaching has drawn its power not from the proclamation of their own Christian experiences or their experience of others, nor from their own opinions, creative ideas, or rhetorical skills, but from God’s powerful words. Essentially they stood in the pulpit, pointed to the biblical text, and said in effect to the congregation, ‘This is what this verse means. Do you see that meaning here as well? Then you must believe it and obey it with all your heart, for God himself, your Creator and your Lord, is saying this to you today!’ Only the written words of Scripture can give this kind of authority to preaching” (Grudem, 82).

[60] Packer observes: “Holy Scripture should be thought of as God preaching – God preaching to me every time I read or hear any part of it – God the Father preaching God the Son in the power of God the Holy Ghost” (Packer, God Has Spoken, 20).

[61] Ibid.

[62] Ibid., 28.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Carl Henry argues that the rejection of the Bible’s authority is based less on the belief that biblical theism is false and more on the fact that people want to live however they please (Henry, “Authority,” 16).

Author: John Alexander