Willmington's Guide to the Bible

II. Inspiration. We have discussed various possibilities and ways God may have employed in the giving of his revelation to the human authors. Now let us consider the next major step, that of inspiration. The ears have heard the message, but how will the fingers react? What is involved in transferring the voice of God into the vocabulary of man? We shall now examine five areas along this particular line. But before we do this, let us define the word itself. The term "inspiration" is found but once in the New Testament. This occurs in 2 Timothy 3:16. Here Paul says, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God…" The Greek word is theopneustos, and literally means, "God-breathed."

A. Various theories of inspiration.

1. The natural theory. This says the Bible writers were inspired in the same sense that William Shakespeare was inspired. In other words, that spark of divine inspiration that supposedly is in all men simply burned a little brighter in the hearts of the Bible writers. This theory is totally rejected by the Apostle Peter.

"Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Pet. 1:20).

2. The mechanical theory—that God coldly and woodenly dictated the Bible to his writers as an office manager would dictate an impersonal letter to his secretary. It should be noted here that the Bible is the story of divine love, and God is anything but mechanical or cold concerning this subject. The Holy Spirit therefore never transgressed the limits of the writer’s vocabulary. Thus, the educated Paul uses many of the "85¢" words, while the less educated John employs more of the "28¢" words. But both writings are equally inspired by God. (See 2 Tim. 3:16.) Here Dr. Charles Hodge has well written:

"The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as His organs…The sacred writers impressed their peculiarities on their several productions as plainly as though they were the subjects of no extraordinary influence." (Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 157)

3. The content (or concept) theory—that only the main thought of a paragraph or chapter is inspired. This theory is immediately refuted by many biblical passages.

"For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Mt. 5:18).

"Now these be the last words of David. David the son of Jesse said, and the man who was raised up on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, and the sweet psalmist of Israel said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue" (2 Sam. 23:1, 2).

4. The partial theory—that only certain parts of the Bible are inspired. This of course is the position of the liberal theologian who would cheerfully accept those portions of the Bible which deal with love and brotherhood, but quickly reject the passages dealing with sin, righteousness, and future judgment. But let it be said that heaven and hell are like up and down—you can’t have one without the other. Paul refutes the partial theory in 2 Timothy 3:16.

In his textbook, A Dispensational Theology, Dr. Charles F. Baker writes:

"A certain bishop is purported to have said that he believed the Bible to have been inspired in spots. When asked for his authority for such a statement, he quoted Hebrews 1:1, stating that this meant that God spoke at various times in varying degrees. Thus, some spots were fully inspired, others were only partially inspired, and still others were not inspired at all. The bishop was embarrassed when a layman asked: ‘How do you know that Hebrews 1:1, the one scripture upon which you base your argument, is one of those fully inspired spots?’" (p. 38)

5. The spiritual-rule-only theory. This says the Bible may be regarded as our infallible rule of faith and practice in all matters of religious, ethical, and spiritual value, but not in other matters such as historical and scientific statements. This is pious nonsense. Consider the following: Here is a pastor greatly beloved by his congregation. How would this man of God feel if only his "moral" and "spiritual" statements made in the pulpit were accepted by his members? How would he react when the members would smile and take lightly any scientific or historical statements he might make? The fallacy of the spiritual-rule-only theory is that any book or man whose scientific or historical statements are open to question can certainly not be trusted in matters of moral and spiritual pronouncements! This theory is soundly refuted by Jesus himself in John 3:12.

"If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?"

6. The plenary-verbal theory—that all (plenary) the very words (verbal) of the Bible are inspired by God. This view alone is the correct one.

"But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God" (Mt. 4:4).

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works" (2 Tim. 3:16, 17).

"Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual" (1 Cor. 2:13).

"For I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came out from thee and they have believed that thou didst send me" (Jn. 17:8).

"It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life" (Jn. 6:63).

B. Scripture texts on inspiration.

The Bible, of course, strongly claims its writings are from God. Compiling a few choice texts, we discover that:

1. No Old Testament Scripture was thought up by the prophet himself (2 Pet. 1:20).

2. All Old Testament Scriptures were given by the Holy Spirit as he moved upon men (2 Pet. 1:21).

3. This Spirit-breathed inspiration was given in many ways (Heb. 1:1).

4. Once it was given, this inspired writing:

a. Could not be broken or shaken down (Jn. 10:35).

b. Is exact in all details, down to the smallest stroke and letter (Mt. 5:18).

c. Would abide forever (Mt. 5:18; 1 Pet. 1:25).

5. The Old Testament writers did not always understand the nature of everything they wrote about (Lk. 10:23, 24; 1 Pet. 1:10-12).

a. They did not completely understand the details of Christ’s suffering.

b. They did understand that the mysteries would be clearer to a generation other than theirs.

6. The four Gospels were given by inspiration of God (Heb. 1:1; 2 Pet. 3:2).

7. Paul believed his writings were inspired by God (1 Cor. 2:4; 15:3; 1 Thess. 2:13; 4:15).

Note: Some have felt that Paul claimed no inspiration when he wrote certain passages in 1 Corinthians 7. Consider the following:

"But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment" (v. 6).

"But to the rest speak I, not the Lord"…(v. 12).

"Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment…" (v. 25).

"But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (v. 40).

Let us now briefly examine each of these passages:

a. In verse 6 the word "permission" is literally "a joint opinion," and may refer to the inspired "considered opinion" of both Paul and Sosthenes. At any rate, Paul was simply saying this opinion was not a command but rather a divine suggestion. For a comparable passage, see Romans 12:1.

b. Verse 12 can be explained by comparing it with verse 10. There, Paul quotes a command uttered by the Lord Jesus himself while he was upon the earth (Mt. 19:6). But here is a group situation (one partner saved, one unsaved) to which Jesus issued no command while on earth, but now does so in heaven through Paul’s inspired pen.

c. The same answer given for verse 12 also applies here in verse 25.

d. The word "think" in verse 40 could also be translated "persuaded." See Matthew 22:42; 1 Corinthians 8:2 where the same Greek word is used.

8. Paul used the Holy Spirit’s words to explain the Holy Spirit’s facts (1 Cor. 2:13).

9. Paul’s writings were received through a special revelation from Christ (Gal. 1:11, 12).

10. Paul’s writings were to be read by all (Col. 4:6; 1 Thess. 5:27).

11. Peter believed his writings were inspired by God (2 Pet. 3:2).

12. Peter believed Paul’s writings were inspired (2 Pet. 3:15, 16).

13. John believed his writings were inspired (Rev. 22:18, 19). John warned:

a. That if anyone added to his words, God would add horrible plagues to him.

b. That if anyone subtracted from his words, God would remove his name from the Holy City.

C. Implications of inspiration.

As one carefully considers the subject of inspiration, he is led to the following nine conclusions:

1. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not teach that all parts of the Bible are equally important, but only that they are equally inspired. For example, Judges 3:16 is obviously not as important as John 3:16, but both these verses were inspired by God.

"But Ehud made him a dagger which had two edges, of a cubit length; and he did gird it under his raiment upon his right thigh" (Jdg. 3:16).

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life" (Jn. 3:16).

2. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not guarantee the inspiration of any modern or ancient translation of the Bible, but deals only with the original Hebrew and Greek languages.

3. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not allow for any false teaching, but it does on occasion record the lie of someone. For example, Satan distorts the truth and lies to Eve (Gen. 3:4). Therefore we have an accurate record of the devil’s words. As one reads the Bible, he must carefully distinguish between what God records and what he sanctions. Thus, while lying, murder, adultery, and polygamy are to be found in the Word of God, they are never approved by the God of the Word.

4. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not permit any historical, scientific, or prophetical error whatsoever. While it is admitted that the Bible is not a textbook on science, it is nevertheless held that every scientific statement in the Scriptures is absolutely true.

5. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not prohibit personal research. The New Testament writer Luke begins his Gospel account with the following words:

"Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out…" (Lk. 1:1-3, nasb).

6. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not deny the use of extra-biblical sources. Here several examples come to mind.

a. On at least two occasions, Paul quotes from heathen authors (Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12).

b. Jude quotes from an ancient Hebrew book, one not included in the Bible (Jude 14, 15).

7. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not overwhelm the personality of the human author. The Bible writers experienced no coma-like trances as do some mediums during a séance, but on the contrary, always retained their physical, mental, and emotional powers. Various passages testify to this. See Isaiah 6:1-11; Daniel 12.

8. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not exclude the usage of pictorial and symbolic language. This is to say the Holy Spirit does not demand we accept every word in the Bible in a wooden and legalistic way. For example, a case could not be made that God has feathers like a bird, by referring to Psalm 91:4. Here the thought is simply that the persecuted believer can flee to his heavenly Father for protection and warmth.

9. Plenary-verbal inspiration does not mean uniformity in all details given in describing the same event. Here an Old Testament and a New Testament example come to mind.

a. Old Testament example: The wicked reign of King Manasseh is vividly described for us in two separate chapters. These are 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20. In 2 Kings we read only of his sinful ways, but in 2 Chronicles we are told of his eventual prayers of forgiveness and subsequent salvation. The reason for this may be that God allowed the author of 2 Kings to describe the reign of Manasseh from an earthly standpoint (even though he inspired the pen of the author), while he guided the pen of the author of 2 Chronicles to record Manasseh’s reign from a heavenly viewpoint. God alone, of course, knows true repentance when he sees it coming from the human heart.

b. New Testament example: There are four different accounts concerning the superscription on the cross at Calvary.

(1) Matthew says—"This is Jesus the King of the Jews" (Mt. 27:37).

(2) Mark says—"The King of the Jews" (Mk. 15:26).

(3) Luke says—"This is the King of the Jews" (Lk. 23:38).

(4) John says—"Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews" (Jn. 19:19).

The entire title probably read, "This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews."

10. Plenary-verbal inspiration assures us that God included all the necessary things he wanted us to know, and excluded everything else (2 Tim. 3:15-17).

D. Importance of inspiration.

Of the three tools involved in the making of our Bible, inspiration is the most important. This is true because:

1. One may have inspiration without revelation. We have already seen how Luke carefully checked out certain facts concerning the life of Christ and was then led to write them on paper (Lk. 1:1-4; 1 Jn. 1:1-4).

2. One may have inspiration without illumination. Peter tells us the Old Testament prophets did not always understand everything they wrote about (1 Pet. 1:11). But without inspiration, the Bible falls.

E. Completion of inspiration.

Is inspiration still going on today? Has God inspired the writing (or will he someday) of a sixty-seventh book of the Bible? For nearly twenty centuries now, evangelical Christians everywhere have held to the belief that when John the apostle wrote Revelation 22:21 and wiped his pen, inspiration stopped. Furthermore, it is generally believed his warning not to add to or subtract from his book included not only the book of Revelation, but the entire Bible. (See Rev. 22:18, 19.) It is of utmost importance that this is clearly understood, else the following tragic conclusions take place. If inspiration is still going on today, then one is forced to admit that:

1. God could have inspired the weird and wicked writings of a Joseph Smith, or a Mary Baker Eddy, or a Charles Russell, or a Herbert W. Armstrong.

2. Perhaps we still do not possess all the details concerning the plan of salvation, details vital to escape hell and enter heaven.

3. God has allowed millions of devoted and faithful Christians to believe a horrible lie for some 2000 years.

Taken from: Willmington's Guide to the Bible  © 1981, 1984 by H. L. Willmington.