Church Education Trust

Christian Belief



The extent of Inspiration.

In seeking to explain the working of this theory we must first consider the extent to which inspiration reaches.  Does it extend to the whole Bible? Does it extend even to the actual words used in the Bible? In answering this we shall deal with the following matters;

  1. Verbal and plenary inspiration.
  2. The limits of inspiration. 
  3. The Authority of the Scriptures.   

1.Verbal and Plenary Inspiration.

Verbal and Plenary are the older terms of which "dynamical" has taken place.  The older terms were liable to be misunderstood, especially "verbal". On the one hand they contained a great amount of truth. The main difficulties lies in the fact that they tend to give the impression of the mechanical point of view.

"Plenary" is from Latin word "Plenus" meeting "full". The word implies that inspiration is of the fullest kind. In other words it extends to the whole Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, in all its history and in all its statements. The inspiration is the same in quality throughout; it does not vary.

Therefore the Scriptures are reliable and accurate in every statement of fact whether relating to things human and cosmic or things divine.  The rather special hypothesis must be guarded against that the Bible is  unreliable in things human but infallible in things divine.

"Verbal" While there is no thought of a mechanical putting of the words in the minds of the writers or that every word in the Bible is an inspired message from god, yet it is obvious that if the inspiration is full and complete, it must extend to the very thoughts and words of the sacred text.  We need to guard against the opposite error to the mechanical one, that of accepting the thoughts as inspired but not the words.

"The theory that the conceptions were of god, the language of man, but the subject matter was provided by the Holy Spirit, while the language was left to the unaided selection of the writers, is as fallacious as the theory that the words were dictated by the Spirit apart from the mental abilities of the writers."(Vine).

"If there is inspiration at all, it must penetrate words as well as thought, must mold the expression and make the language employed the living medium off the idea to be conveyed. Thoughts are wedded to words as necessary as the soul is to the body." (Westcott)

2.  The limits of Inspiration.

The above statements need to be further qualified and explained in this can't be best done by outlinning what may be called the limits of inspiration. Inspiration only applies to the original documents. There is no proof and it is not claimed that all the copies and translations of the originals are inspired, though we do claim that the superintending province of god has maintained a wonderful degree of accuracy in the copies and translations in existence.

There is, of course, not one autograph copy extant at all we have are copies of copies, often going through a number of copyings between them and the original. The remarkable thing is that in spite of all the possibilities of mistake it copying, there is very little real importance in the variations in MSS readings.

According to Westcott "the portion of words virtually accepted on all hands as raised above doubt is very great and not less, on a rough computation, that seven eights of the whole." Most of the remaining variations are trivialities and unimportant changes of word order.  The amount of what can't in any sense be called substantial variation...... can hardly form more than a thousandth part of the entire text.

Inspiration applies only to the writer when writing the Scriptures.

David, call and Peter were not always inspired and were liable to mistakes as other men.  They were inspired only in writing that which forms the Scriptures.  Shoot anything else be found from their own pen, it would not necessarily be the inspired word of God.

The inspired writer did not necessarily understand his own message.

The words of Peter in his first epistle seemed to show that Peter did not consider that the Old Testament writers always fully understood what they were writting. (Chapter 1:11-12). Inspiration does not mean that it's right or necessarily told the whole story in any particular case.  Many of the so-called discrepancies in the Bible are cleared up when we realize that really possessed part of the story or only part of it from its writer.

An illustration in point is the inscription placed on the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. The complete inscription was probably call, "this is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews", of which inscription each evangelist records part.  Or it is quite possible, seeing the inscription was written in three different languages, that the wording in each case may not have exactly agreed.  Each evangelist would then most probably give according to his own reading in the language best known to him.  Quite likely mark merely gave the central word commom to all.

The authority of Scripture. 

As we noted the distinction between inspiration and revelation, so we must also note carefully another distinction, that between inspiration which results in accuracy and divine endorsement which results in authority.  In other words, while all Scripture is inspired an thus accurate in its statements, all the statements of Scripture do not necessarily carry the divine endorsement and thus all Scripture has not the same authority. 

Many of the narratives concern godless men and obviously those do not carry divine authority in this sense of words spoke my god himself.  The same argument applies to the actions and sayings of mere men as men and not necessarily doing the will of God.

Dr. Pierson sums up the position as follows;

We must therefore discriminate and distinguish three degrees of authority in the inspired record.

1.  An authoritative narrative where sentiments and acts are not sanctioned and maybe disowned as disapproved of God.

2. An authoritative narrative where sentiments and acts are not expressly approved or disapproved and must be judged by the generous standards of Scripture itself.

3. An authoritative narrative where the sentiments and acts are inspired and controlled by the spirit of God and therefore represent his mind on his Will. 2 Samuel 7:3-4.

5. The method of Inspiration.

The actual method of the Holy Spirit in revealing truth is beyond the ability of human knowledge to understand and explain, anymore than man can explain the working of miracles or the new birth. We see the results while we do not understand the working. This is not an objection to the doctrine of inspiration. Psychology cannot satisfactorily explain the interaction between the mind and the body in human personality, nor the manner in which ideas are impressed on the mind, but we cannot deny the existence of such interaction and impressions. 

That inspiration is essential it is clear, firstly, from the fact that there are truths and also historical facts(i.e.creation) which cannot be known without it; secondly because no writer could write as " thus saith the Lord" without it; and thirdly come because an infallible standard of religious truth is impossible without it.

While we cannot understand and explain the great method off the Holy Spirit in revealing truth, three general principles can be laid down:

a.Superintendence of the writers. 

By this is meant that they were so guided as to ensure that the writings were kept from error.

b.Elevation of the minds of the writers. 

This would grant them an enlargement of understanding and on elevation of conception beyond the natural measure of man.

c.Suggestion to the minds of writers. 

By this is meant that a direct and immediate suggestion was made from god to man by the Holy Spirit, so that the writers thoughts and even the very words he employed might be true agencies in conveying god's will to others. This principle is the highest and most important of all.

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