What Is Verbal Plenary Inspiration?

Plenary and verbal inspiration means the Bible is God-given (and therefore without error) in every part (doctrine, history, geography, dates, names) and in every single word.

Dave Jenkins
What Is Verbal Plenary Inspiration?

Inspiration is an attempt to translate a Greek word theopneustos that occurs only in 2 Timothy 3:16. Theopneustos is made from two words, one being the word for God (Theos, as in theology) and the other referring to breath or wind (pneustos, as in pneumonia and pneumatic). It is significant that the Greek word used in 2 Timothy 3:16 is passive. In other words, God did not “breathe into” (inspire) all Scripture, but it was “breathed out” by God (expired). Thus, 2 Timothy 3:16 is not about how the Bible came to us but where it came from. The Scriptures are “God-breathed.”

The Meaning of Theopneustos and Verbal Plenary Inspiration

Two words are sometimes used to explain the extent of biblical inerrancy: plenary and verbal. Plenary comes from the Latin plenus, which means “full” and refers to the whole of Scripture in every part as God-given. “Verbal” comes from the Latin verbum, which means “word” and emphasizes that even the words of Scripture are God-given. Plenary and verbal inspiration means the Bible is God-given (and therefore without error) in every part (doctrine, history, geography, dates, names) and in every single word.

The Old Testament and Inspiration 

The Old Testament writers saw their message as God-breathed and utterly reliable. God promises Moses He would eventually send another prophet (Jesus Christ) who would also speak God’s words as Moses had done (Deuteronomy 18:18). Jeremiah was told at the beginning of his ministry, he would speak for God (Jeremiah 1:9).

The New Testament and Inspiration

Peter and John saw the words of David in Psalm 2 not merely as the opinion of the King of Israel, but as the voice of God. They introduced a quotation from that Psalm in a prayer to God in Acts 4:25.

Similarly, Paul accepted Isaiah’s words as God Himself speaking to men: “And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet” (Acts 28:25). So convinced were the writers of the New Testament that all the words of the Old Testament Scripture were the actual words of God that they even claimed “Scripture says” when the words quoted came directly from God. Two examples are Romans 9:17 and Galatians 3:8, where Paul, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand. In Hebrews 1, many of the Old Testament passages quoted were actually addressed to God by the Psalmist, yet the writer to the Hebrews refers to them as the words of God.

In John 10:34, Jesus quoted from Psalm 82:6 and based His teaching upon a single phrase. In other words, Jesus proclaimed that the words of this Psalm were the words of God. Similarly, in Matthew 22:31-32 He claimed the words of Exodus 3:6 were given to them by God. In Matthew 22:43-44, our Lord quoted from Psalm 110:1 and pointed out that David wrote these words “in the Spirit,” meaning he was actually writing the words of God.

The Bible and Inspiration

As we look to Scripture, it’s crystal clear that Jesus recognized the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. In fact, the way He uses it explicitly affirms their inspiration. Jesus made a constant appeal to it when tempted by Satan (Matthew 4:1-11) and often used the Word in His ministry to defend His actions (Matt. 11:15-17, 26:54-56). These examples demonstrate the authority Jesus placed in the Scriptures. Even so, we are not left to make assumptions based on Jesus’ actions alone. He, on multiple occasions, taught the Scriptures in such a way as to make clear His position on inerrancy.

Jesus and Inspiration 

In a confrontation with the Sadducees over the doctrine of the resurrection, which they denied, Jesus silenced His opposition, arguing the entire resurrection belief on the tense of a simple verb, “to be” (Matthew 22:32).

Jehovah had told Moses at the burning bush, “I am the God of Abraham,” but as Jesus taught, Abraham had been dead 480 years when the statement was made. Arguing that God was the God of the living, not the dead, Jesus claimed life after death to be true. Jesus used the tense of a verb to prove Abraham was not merely physically dead but was living in the presence of God. The fact that Jesus used a word and its tense demonstrates His deep confidence in the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.

Christians Today and Inspiration

The Word of God is sharper than any two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12) and is the means by which He uses to convict sinners and grows the people of God. Throughout the history of the Church, the Lord has used men like Augustine, Calvin, and Spurgeon to call the Church to stand on the Word. The Prince of Preachers Charles Spurgeon (An All-Around Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students, 230) is right “believers must never adjust the Bible to the age, but the age to the Bible.” Christians are to commit themselves to an entire life lived under the Lordship of God in every phase of life and to the daily reading and study and proclamation of the Word to the nations.

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Dave Jenkins is the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the Host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He received his MAR and M.Div. through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOGInstagram, read more of his writing at Servants of Grace, or sign to receive his newsletter. When Dave isn’t busy with ministry, he loves spending time with his wife, Sarah, reading the latest from Christian publishers, the Reformers, and the Puritans, playing golf, watching movies, sports, and spending time with his family.

Originally published December 04, 2019.