Most of us have read or heard the Bible referred to as divinely inspired, yet few Christians outside pastors and academia can actually define what this means. It is important for Christians to understand this concept, so let’s briefly examine divine inspiration.
How Is the Bible Inspired?
First, we will examine each of the theological opinions regarding inspiration.
1. Verbal Dictation. Most people upon hearing the phrase “divine inspiration” likely think of God dictating word for word the entirety of Scripture, much like a lawyer might dictate a letter to a client through his secretary.
This is, in fact, the Verbal Dictation position. Proponents of this theory believe that God dictated every single word of Scripture, and the writers were mere tools in that process, contributing nothing of their own background, experiences, etc.
2. Dynamic Inspiration. Proponents of this theory believe that the language and words of Scripture, how ideas were expressed, were left up to the individual authors, with only the overall message of the Bible being divinely inspired.
3. Partial Inspiration. This theory holds that Scripture is only divinely inspired when it deals with issues of faith. When issues arise related to science and history in Scripture, they are not divinely inspired.
Thus, such historical claims as a literal six-day creation, creation ex nihilo, and a literal Adam and Eve are all to be viewed as pious myth containing symbols, and not scientific or historically accurate narratives.
4. Human Intuitive. This position is perhaps one that has a minority of proponents, yet is still worth mentioning, since some mistakenly parrot it without a substantive understanding of the subject at hand.
The Human Intuitive position essentially states that Scripture is merely the product of human intellect, intuition, and experience as it seeks to comprehend life and God. Nothing in it is divinely inspired, nor is it in any way inerrant.
As you can see, there are substantial differences in each of these positions, with those differences impacting whether one has a high view of Scripture or a low view. Now let’s examine the position of Verbal Plenary.
What Is Verbal Plenary Inspiration?
One thing that is very obvious in reading Scripture is the various “tones” that are evidenced in the individual books and epistles. The Apostle Paul’s writings have a distinctive tone, language, focus, and tend to dwell on certain themes more than other biblical authors.
For example, Paul frequently writes of the Law and our freedom in Christ from the curse of the Law. We could also point to the writings of the Apostle John, who focused on the love of Christ, and the more mysterious events of His life.
Matthew’s gospel is very Jewish-centered, with emphasis on demonstrating how Jesus fulfilled the Messianic prophecies. Each author has their own voice that is evident in their writings. God used their backgrounds, experiences, personalities, culture, education, language, and talents to say exactly what He wanted to say and reveal exactly what He wanted to reveal.
It isn’t that God dictated to them every single word, or only inspired some words, or that Scripture was merely the product of all of their personal traits, but that God simply superintended their writings such that they said what He wanted them to say, and did so under the influence of Divine Providence, ensuring the inerrancy of their original autographs.
This doctrine of divine Verbal Plenary Inspiration and inerrancy is evidenced by Scripture and in the writings of the early Church Fathers.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20-21).
I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book (Revelation 22:18-19).
The Holy Scripture is mightier than all councils...The Bible is a book wholly inspired by God from beginning to end... (Athanasius).
...I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error....I have learned to hold the Scriptures alone inerrant (Augustine).
The Bible presents to us true history and unless this principle be honestly recognized, it is useless to teach doctrinal and spiritual lessons contained in the words... (John Chrysostom).
We should be most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit (Irenaeus).
When you hear the words of the prophets spoken as though in their own persons, you are not to think that they are uttered by the inspired men themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them (Justin Martyr).
What Does This Mean?
The Reformers echo this apostolic teaching as well.
This is a principle which distinguishes our religion from all others, that we know that God has spoken to us, and are fully convinced that the prophets did not speak at their own suggestion, but that, being organs of the Holy Spirit, they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare. Whoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures, let him, first of all, lay down this as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered according to the will and pleasure of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit. . . We owe to the Scripture the same reverence which we owe to God: because it has proceeded from him alone, and has nothing belonging to man mixed with it (John Calvin).
The Scriptures are divine; in them God speaks, and they are His Word. To hear or to read the scriptures is nothing else than to hear God (Martin Luther).
The Bible must be the invention either of good men or angels, bad men or devils, or of God. Thus: It could not be the invention of good men or angels; for they neither would or could make a book, and tell lies all the time they were writing it, saying ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ when it was their own invention. It could not be the invention of bad men or devils; for they would not make a book which commands all duty, forbids all sin, and condemns their souls to hell to all eternity. Therefore, I draw this conclusion: that the Bible must be given by divine inspiration (John Wesley).
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J. Davila-Ashcraft is an Anglican priest, Theologian, and Apologist, and holds a B.A. in Biblical Studies and Theology from God’s Bible College in Cincinnati, Ohio. He is a recognized authority on the topic of exorcism, and in that capacity has contributed to and/or appeared on programming for The National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, and CNN. He is the host of Expedition Truth, a one-hour apologetics radio talk show.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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