Scripture: God's Written Word -- Chapter
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
The 700 Club
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The Inspiration of Scripture
It is apparent, from what has been said, that inspiration extends
to the whole of Scripture. "All Scripture is inspired by God."
The word "plenary"or "plenary inspiration"is
the term frequently employed to affirm that the whole of the Bible is
Gods written word. All Scripture, not some, or part, or most of
Scripture, but the totality of Scripture is the word of God. The Bible
is the word of God throughout.
In this connection a number of questions are often raised. First, what
about statements of Paul wherein he claims to be speaking, not the Lord?
In writing the CorinthiansI Corinthians 7Paul says: "To
the married I give charge, not I but the Lord" (verse 10). But
thereafter he adds: "To the rest I say, not the Lord" (verse
12). If Paul in the last of these two statements disclaims that he is
speaking from the Lord, is it proper to view the words that follow as
inspired, i.e., the written word of God? Do not Pauls own words
contravene any idea of plenary inspiration, since at least in this chapter
a number of statements would seemingly have to be omitted (particularly
verses 12 to 40)? The answer to these questions, I believe, is to be
found primarily in recognizing that by the title "Lord" Paul
is referring to Jesus Christ; thus in the latter two of these instances
Paul claims to have no direct word from the Lord Jesus, whereas in the
first case the Lord had already spoken on this in His ministry (compare
I Corinthians 7:10-11 with Matthew 19:3-9, Mark 10:11, Luke 16:18).
So Paul is by no means disclaiming that he speaks Gods word in
the latter instances; indeed, the climax of the last verse (40) is Pauls
words: "and I think that I have the Spirit of God."42 Indeed, later on in the same letter Paul bluntly
says: "the things which I write to you are the Lords commandment"
(14:37 NASB). There is divine authority all throughhence, plenary
Second, what about the portions of the Bible that seem invalidated
or superseded by other Scriptures? For example, the Old Testament law
reads "eye for eye, tooth for tooth" (Deuteronomy 19:21);
however, Jesus, quoting these words, adds: "But I say to you, Do
not resist one who is evil" (Matthew 5:39). Ecclesiastes asserts:
"he who is joined with all the living has hope ... For the living
know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no
more reward" (Ecclesiastes 9:4-5); however, Paul declares: "If
for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to
be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first
fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (I Corinthians 15:19-20).
Jobs "comforters" make long and wordy speeches; however,
they are told by God: "you have not spoken of me what is right,
as my servant Job has" (Job 42:7). Does inspiration actually extend
to the words just quoted from Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, and many of
the speeches in Job?
The answer again is in the affirmative; however, at least two things
need to be recognized. First, there is the matter of progressive revelation43: the gradual unfolding of Gods truth in
the Bible. Hence, the words of Jesus do not invalidate the words of
Deuteronomy at the time they were given, nor their basic thrust which
is in the direction of justice to prevent overly harsh retaliation.
Jesus words are not therefore an abolition or contravention of
the old law but a fulfillment. So did He declare: "Think not that
I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to
abolish them but to fulfill them" (Matthew 5:17). This means, accordingly,
that the Old Testament is to be read in the light of the New. In the
next instance above, Ecclesiastes and Paul, this again is patently the
case, since life after death was not fully revealed until the New Testament
period. Second, the inspiration of Scripture does not mean that everything
stated therein is true, but that it is truly and accurately recorded.
Ecclesiastes says many other things as well that, rather than declaring
Gods truth, demonstrate the searching of one whose announced philosophy
is "Vanity of vanities ... All is vanity"44
(1:2). Ecclesiastes is Gods written word in that all this human
searchin its vagaries and vicissitudesis faithfully recorded
as well as the final climax where Gods truth is declared: "The
end of the matter
Fear God, and keep his commandments, for this
is the whole duty of man" (12:13). In the case of Job's comforters,
the words spoken are "not right" about God, hence not Gods
truth; but they do express, in marked fashion, the views of many who
are convinced that all human suffering must be due to human sin and
Gods punishment upon it. That such views, contrary to Gods
higher truth, are set forth in Scripture by no means invalidates them
as being a part of God's written word. Rather do they demonstrate that
God wants us to hear such reasonings and arguments so that we might
be better prepared to receive His own truth.
Third, what about passages in the Bible that touch upon scientific
mattersastronomy, geology, biology, and the like? If some of these
seem contrary to modern scientific understanding, does this not invalidate
the claim that Scriptures are plenarily inspired? A number of replies,
briefly, may be given: (1) The Bible is not a scientific textbook; hence
while it does touch upon scientific areas, the concern is not to teach
science but the "things" of God.45 That such "things"
do often relate to the realm of science is apparent (no realm is
excluded from God), but the focus is primarily on God and His
ways. Thus one should not expect from the Bible detailed scientific
understanding. (2) The Bible, while not being a scientific manual, is
not unscientific. Hence, while not explicitly or in detail scientific,
the Bible being throughout Gods written word does not go counter
to genuine scientific fact. God, after all, is the God of the universe
which the scientist explores. The truth of the scientist is Gods
truth: it cannot contradict whatever truth God has disclosed in His
written word. (3) Modern scientific understanding is not invariably
the truth. No one can rightly question the immense steps forward in
scientific knowledgeof the universe, earth, man, nature, and much
elsebut such progress does not guarantee that scientific understanding
itself will always prove adequate or correct. Some things in the Bible
may be contrary to contemporary scientific understanding; if
so the fault could very well rest with that understanding. Gods
truth in the Scriptures cannot contradict His truth in the observable
operation of the universe.
The word "verbal"or "verbal inspiration"is
the term frequently employed to affirm that each individual part of
the Bible is Gods written word. Verbal is opposed to general.
The Holy Spirit superintended the writing of Scripture not just in general
but also in the choice and expression of words. Paul speaks of imparting
truth "in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit"
(I Corinthians 2:13). Consequently, each word is given by the Holy Spirit.
The Bible is the written word of God even in the minutiae.
By adding the word "verbal" to "plenary" it is
emphasized that inspiration includes the details of Scripture. It is
not enough to say that the Bible is broadly inspired; it is also the
written word of God in every linguistic expression.
One of the most telling examples of this detailed inspiration is the
passage where Paul declares a highly important theological truth based
not only on a given word but also on a grammatical form of the word:
"The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture
does not say and to seeds,46 meaning
many people, but and to your seed,47 meaning
one person, who is Christ" (Galatians 3:16 NIV). Another striking
example is to be found in the use by Jesus Himself of an Old Testament
verb and tense to make a crucial point about the resurrection to the
Sadducees. He first tells these disbelievers in the resurrection that
"you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God." Then
Jesus adds: "And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you
not read what was said to you by God, I am the God of Abraham,
and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not God of the
dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:31-32). The present tense,
"I am,"48 is the assurance that the dead are resurrected.
Now, again, questions are often raised. First, does not verbal inspiration
imply dictation? Plenary inspiration, to some persons, seems a more
adequate expression since it could suggest that whereas the totality
of Scripture is inspired, the individual expressions, words, and details
are left to the freedom of the writer. However, to reply, verbal inspiration
by no means invariably connotes dictation, or the reduction of the writer
to acting simply as a scribe. Indeed, quite the contrary, it only means
that in the free choice by the writer of every word and construct the
Holy Spirit totally superintends. As we have observed, Paul speaks of
his words as "taught by the Holy Spirit"therefore, not
dictated. To Pauls statement we might also quote again the words
of Peter that "men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God"
(II Peter 1:20). The "moving" of the Holy Spirit always includes
and this applies to the free exercise of human faculties in every word
set down as Scripture.50 Hence whereas some portions of Scripture may
have been dictated by God,51 verbal inspiration itself
in no sense means dictation.
Second, are the words of Satan inspired? This questionsometimes
assumed to lay to rest any idea of verbal inspirationmay be answered
quite simply: Yes, in that he truly spoke them, not that they were spoken
truly. Hence, when Satan is recorded as saying to Jesus: "If you
are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread" (Luke 4:3),
we may be sure, despite the words being totally contrary to Gods
intention, that Satan actually spoke the words. This is the meaning
of verbal inspiration: not that everything written is divine truth or
positive direction for a godly walk,52 but that
the words are there by Gods purpose and the Spirits superintendence.
Furthermore, they belong to the totality of what God would have us know.53 Thuswe may concludethe
words of Satan are verbally inspired.
Third, how can one speak of verbal inspiration when words given in
quotations and accounts often show variance? In the matter of quotations
from the Old Testament in the New there is often a difference in wording.
For example, Romans 9:33 begins: "As it is written, Behold,
I am laying in Zion a stone that will make men stumble."
This is undoubtedly a quotation from Isaiah 28:16 that begins: "Therefore
thus says the LORD God, Behold I am laying in Zion for a foundation
a stone, a tested stone." It is obvious that Paul does not
quote exactly from the Old Testament. We may also note similar words
in I Peter 2:6 that likewise vary: "For it stands in scripture:
Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and
precious." Neither Paul nor Peter quotes verbally from Isaiah;
does this not discount any idea of verbal inspiration? We may reply
in twofold manner. First, the Holy Spirit is not bound to express Himself
the same way on every occasion. Even as "as it is written"
(referring to Old Testament) may come off differently in the New Testament,
depending on God's intention. Second, again the diversity of human instruments
(Isaiah, Paul, Peter) and the rather free way New Testament writers
often quote the Old54
can make for some variation. In sum, variation and diversity in quotations
by no means is contrary to verbal inspiration; it only demonstrates
an important point, namely, the non-rigid, dynamic character of biblical
There is also frequently a variation in accounts that refer to the
same situation or event. In the Old Testament, parallel accounts in
Kings and Chronicles often differ considerably; in the New Testament,
the same is frequently true in the Gospels. One illustration, among
a great many that could be mentioned, is that the words of Simon Peter
in reply to Jesus question about His own identity. They are recorded
in Mark 8:29 as "you are the Christ," in Luke 9:20 as "The
Christ of God," in Matthew 16:16 as "You are the Christ, the
Son of the living God." It is apparent that Peter could not have
said all these. Possibly it was the Matthean version, reduced in Mark
and Luke, or it may have been the Markan account expanded in Luke and
Matthew, or something else. In any event, can one still affirm verbal
inspiration when the words differ considerably? The answer is not too
dissimilar to what has just been said about biblical quotations, namely,
that there is both the freedom of the Spirit and that of the individual
writers: variation is to be expected. However, in this instance the
matter may seem more difficult than that of a variation in quotation
because these are reports of what Peter said to Jesus; he could not
have said all three. We reply thus: Exactly what Peter said is not the
issue in relation to verbal inspiration,56 but that all the accounts,
in their diversity, are Gods written word. Each conveys the truth
of God, and even gives additional insight into the mystery of Jesus
identity; e.g., to be "the Christ" is to be Gods Messiah,
hence "the Christ of God," and to be Gods Son, hence
"the Son of the living God."57
We conclude this section on the inspiration of Scripture by once more
affirming that Scripture both in the whole and in each part is the written
word of God: hence the plenary and verbal inspiration
of Scripture. It should be added that this affirmation about Scripture
makes of biblical study an exciting challenge. The study of every word,
the consideration of variant readings, the most minute exegesis, all
become a thrilling pursuit, for we know that every gain draws us that
much closer to the very mind of God. And as we increasingly plant our
feet upon the written word of God in all its breadth and depth, the
Holy Spirit will lead us into greater and greater knowledge of the truth.
42 Pauls words, "I think," should not be viewed as expressing
uncertainty. According to the Expositors Greek Testament
(New York: Doran, n.d.), the "I think" is "the language
of modesty, not of misgiving. The Apostle commends his advice in all
these matters, conscious that it proceeds from the highest source and
is not the outcome of mere human prudence or personal inclination"
(Vol. II, p. 838). Notice also Pauls use of "I think"
in I Cor. 4:9, where there can be no question of Pauls being uncertain,
or having misgiving, about what he is saying.
43 "Progressive revelation" does not mean a movement from error
to truth but from lesser to fuller disclosure of truth.
44 Or Futility of futilities
.All is futile" (as in the NASB).
45 Recall the Purpose of Scriptures as previously discussed.
46 Greek: spermasin.
47 Greek: spermati.
48 Greek: ego eimi.
49 "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (II Cor.
50 William Shedd, in speaking of verbal inspiration, puts it well: "This
is wholly different from dictation. Dictation separates thought and
language; verbal inspiration unites them" (Dogmatic Theology
[Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1980 reprint], Vol. I, p. 90.).
51 As earlier noted.
52 We have already noted illustrations from Ecclesiastes and Job that portray
inadequate, even faulty, understandings of Gods way and truth.
53 Satans words, however misleading they are (one might also recall
Genesis 3:1"Did God say
?"), by being included
in Scripture are a continuing warning against his wiles. Hence, they
belong in Gods written word for our ultimate good.
54 This is true in many other places in the New Testament.
55 It also shows how inadequate is any view of verbal dictation.
56 Perhaps this statement seems to contradict what was earlier said about
Satans words to Jesus. The comment was made that verbal inspiration
refers to the fact that Satan truly spoke the words, not that they were
Gods truth. But here I am stating that exactly what Peter said
is not the issue. There is no contradiction, however, for it is the
case that exactly what Satan said was, and is not, the issue.
Indeed, in the parallel account in Matthew the recorded words of Satan
are, "If you are the Son of God, command these stones
to become loaves of bread" (4:3). In Lukes account, as before
quoted, it is "this stone" rather than "these
stones." So the fact that Satan spoke the words (in whichever
slight variation) continues to be the important fact.
57 There are many other accounts in the Gospels where Jesus own words
in the same situation differ from Gospel to Gospel. By no means can
it be said, as above, that they necessarily express additional important
insights. In many cases it may be simply that the Holy Spirit utilizes
whatever expression the writer chooses (especially in quite minor variations
or terminology). However, the variation, even seemingly minor, may serve
some important purpose, such as to give some additional understanding.
Thusin terms of exegesisit is important to handle the text
as given in each case with extreme care and consideration.
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Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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