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Verbal Inspiration

When you read the words of the Bible, what do you believe you are reading?  Is it the word of God?  Is it the word of men?  Is it something in between, such as the message of God interpreted through the minds of men?  The way you approach the Bible has a tremendous effect upon your faith, for your approach determines whether you accept the Bible as “the gospel truth” or as merely a good idea.  If the Bible is indeed the word of God, then its words are immutable and binding, but if it is only an interpretation of men, then its words are nothing more than suggestions that we may take or leave.

The Bible does not leave this matter open to our interpretation, for it definitively declares itself to be the word of God.  When the apostle Paul preached and wrote the gospel message, he declared that it was not the word of men but the word of God (1Thess. 2:13).  These same words both he and others wrote by the Holy Spirit, and those words now comprise the New Testament (Eph. 3:3-5; 1Pet. 1:12).  Regarding the Old Testament writings, Paul wrote the following to Timothy: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2Tim. 3:16-17).  The phrase “inspired by God” is translated from a single Greek word, theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.”  Thus, we understand that the words of Scripture issued forth from God Himself.

The passages above would appear to settle any dispute regarding the origin of the Bible, but the subject of the inspiration of the Bible is itself a matter of some controversy.  Some accept the inspiration of the Bible only in the way that any other great literary work might be considered to be inspired.  Some accept the Bible as inspired by God, but they claim that it is inspired “in sense but not in sentence.”  By this, they mean that the ideas, principles, and morals of the Bible originated from God, but the words themselves are merely the expressions of men.  This approach to the subject of the Bible’s inspiration is used to justify certain interpretations of the Bible.  For example, if the Bible’s words are not inspired, then we can consider the Genesis account of creation to be just an allegory created in the mind of man.  The same could be said of the account of the worldwide flood or of any of the miracles recorded in the Bible.  By the same approach, we could also diminish the authority of the Scriptures by regarding them as the biased writings of flawed men.

To resolve this matter, we need an answer to this question: Are the very words of the Bible inspired by God, or is the Bible inspired in sense only?  To answer, let us go back to the claim made in 2Timothy 3:16, which is that all Scripture is God-breathed.  We know that the Scriptures were written by the hands of men, so we need to understand how the product of God’s breath reached the pages of our Bibles.  The answer is given in 1Corinthians 2:6-13.  In particular, notice verses 12-13 – “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual [thoughts] with spiritual [words].”  In this passage, Paul makes the claim that the words he and the other inspired men spoke (and wrote) were the very words taught by the Holy Spirit who was sent from God .  This is the concept of verbal inspiration, and it means that the words of the Bible are indeed inspired.  This concept nullifies the theory that the Bible is inspired in sense only.

Before we leave this subject, let us consider a common objection to the idea of the Bible’s verbal inspiration.  This objection is that if the words of the Bible are inspired by God, then there should be no variation in the accounts of events or in the writing styles from the various writers.  The answer to this objection is found in 1Corinthians 14:32 – “…and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets.”  This means that even though men were under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they still had control of themselves.  Their personalities and perspectives were not erased.  Therefore, these variations still come through in their writings.  This fact does not conflict with the idea of verbal inspiration.  Notice 2Peter 1:20-21 – “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”  By this we understand that Bible writers were impelled by the breath of God via Holy Spirit to write the Scripture like winds that fill the sails of a ship and impel it through the water.  Just as different ships move at different speeds by the same wind in the same water, so also different Bible writers wrote different words by the same Holy Spirit on the same subject matters.

These issues may be difficult for some to understand, but they are often more difficult for some to accept.  This is because men are constantly looking for an excuse for their failure to comply with the inspired word of God.  If they can find that excuse by challenging the validity of the Bible, then they will.  However, let not the unfaithfulness of others shake your confidence in the message of God’s word.  If you have a good translation of the original Scriptures that you can understand, then be assured that those God-breathed words have been preserved for you.  Follow those words faithfully, and know the peace of God that surpasses all comprehension (Phil. 4:7).

Stacey E. Durham



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