The Biblical Doctrine of Inspiration.1

By Prof. Charles Rufus Brown,

Newton Centre, Mass.


The purpose of this volume, as gathered from several statements in it, is to offer to those of all Christian denominations who believe that the Bible is inspired, though they may differ in theories of inspiration, a view of inspiration drawn from a candid examination of the facts of Sacred Scripture. The very title suggests this. The same ring is heard again and again throughout the book. " It is easy," says Dr. Manly, "to present theories. But the question is one of fact and not of theory. The Bible statements and the Bible phenomena are the decisive phenomena in the case." " I have been desirous to examine all sides of the question, and to seek for truth whether old or new; resolved neither to cling slavishly to confessional or traditional statements, nor to search for original and startling ideas. . . . . . . . But there may be, after all, honest independence of inquiry, a careful sifting of opinions, a fair recasting of views in the mould of one's own thinking, and a subordination of the whole simply to the controlling authority of God's Word " (Preface). Speaking on p. 110 of the direct evidence to be expected, he says, "The testimony is also foulld in the phenomena apparent on the very face of Scripture; and accordingly the true doctrine of inspiration is to be gathered by legitimate induction from these, as well as from express assertions. This is the only truly scientific, as well as the scriptural, method of arriving at the genuine doctrine of inspiration. All the evidence should be admitted, all the classes of phenomena should be examined." Referring to those who make their own preconceived notions the gauge by which inspired and uninspired Scripture are to be measured, he quotes from Mr. McConaughy (in S. S. Times, 1880, p. 551) as follows: " There are those to-day who know just what God ought to do, and their judgment, rather than what he pleases, is their criterion. They measure their God with a yardstick. . . . . . They regulate him according to right reason,—that is, their own. They prescribe the exact limits within which he may work; and then. . . . they fall down and worship the God of their own hands" (p. 256).

These sentiments, so just and searching, are exactly what we should expect from the distinguished author. They imply that he began his inquiry with the determination to set himself free both from the Rationalism of Conservatism and that of Radicalism, and to receive with meekness that view of the Bible which the phenomena of the Bible itself, when carefully examined, might present. The uniform gentlemanliness and generosity toward opponents, so difficult to maintain in a controversial work, unless one be " to the manor born," and so apparent in this book, are worthy of cultivation by writers on such themes. He does not once say, "You can not be true to the Bible unless you accept my doctrine of the Bible." Far from it. What he does say is more like this: "I honor you as Christian brethren true to your convictions, and so I make an honest effort to convince you that you are wrong by presenting considerations which may not have occurred to you." Such an attitude is worthy of all praise and makes this book an " epoch-making " one. We who are younger than Dr. Manly may well learn from him this lesson, that no amount of painstaking scholarship will compensate us for an absence of courtesy and brotherly love in the discussion of lofty topics.

In part first, the idea of inspiration is carefully distinguished from other more or less closely related ideas which sometimes have been confounded with it; as, for example, that of correct transcription of the inspired word, and the misconception that inspired men should be perfect in character, or have perfect knowledge of any subject. Very little exception can be taken to this part of the work. The inspiration of the Bible is here twice defined; once, as " that divine influence that secures the accurate transference of truth into human language by a speaker or writer, so as to be communicated to other men " (p. 37); and again, the Bible, while truly the product of men, is declared to be " truly the word of God, having both infallible truth and divine authority in all it affirms or enjoins " (p. 90). It will be observed that these statements are laid down at the beginning; but, if the reader should feel, after an examination of the evidence farther on, that they express a fair induction from the facts, no complaint need be made that they precede rather than follow the inductive examination.

Part second is devoted to the direct proofs of inspiration. Here there are some very strong arguments for the fact of inspiration, admirable, unanswerable arguments; but the very men whom Dr. Manly seeks to convince are already convinced of the fact of inspiration and of the value of just these arguments, and are only in doubt in regard to the unerring accuracy of the Scriptures in every particular. It seems to the writer that our author rather assumes that the inspiration involved in what he says is identical with infallibility than proves that they are the same. To pass beyond the presumptive argument, which is purely a priori and must stand or fall as subsequent facts may determine, the treatment of a single passage may make this clear. Take the familiar one in 2 Tim. 3:16: " All Scripture is given by inspiration of God," etc., or "every Scripture, inspired of God, is also profitable;" etc. The conclusion is evident; all the sacred writings are inspired, and Dr. Manly insists that it is so. But the question naturally arises, Have we conservatives had a misconception of what was necessarily involved in inspiration, or not? Those who differ with Dr. Manly think we have. In his treatment of the passage, he tacitly assumes, without attempt at proof, that we have not. To satisfy an opponent he would have to prove from the passage not only that all of Scripture is inspired, but also that it is absolutely free from error.

His reasoning seems to be this:

Men divinely inspired can affirm only infallible truth.

The Scripture writers were divinely inspired.

Therefore the Scripture writers could affirm only truth without mixture of error.

There are men who claim that the major premise is rationalistic. It is at least not proved in this part of Dr. Manly's book.

Part third considers many classes of objections which have been made to the doctrine here stated. The limits which Dr. Manly set to himself did not permit him to give a full answer to these objections; and therefore, though he does not seek to shun a discussion of them, his treatment is so brief as to be somewhat unsatisfactory. It is to be hoped that some time he will make his work more complete by an exhaustive examination of the difficulties in the way of a hearty acceptance of the doctrine he has here presented to us.



1) THE BIBLICAL DOCTRINE OF INSPIRATION EXPLAINED AND VINDICATED. By Rev. Basil Manly, D. D., LL. D., Professor in the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Ky. with complete indexes. New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son. $1.25.