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"If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me." (Luke 9:23)


by J. C. Wenger

The Bible does not present a philosophical exposition of the subject of inspiration [1] any more than it gives a theological doctrine of revelation, of the atonement, of eternity, etc. Nevertheless, the Scriptures do assume their full authority and reliability as viewed in reference to their central purpose, the presentation of divine redemption. The apostles of Christ presented as their final authority, gegraptai, "it is written," indicating that the fact that a statement can be backed up with the authority of the Old Testament settles the matter. The Greek word gegraptai is used seventy-three times in the New Testament exclusive of parallels. [2] The expression is used interchangeably with an appeal to what "the scriptures" state. The phrase, "it is written," is used of each section of the Old Testament: Law, Prophets, and Hagiographa. Paul, for example, describes the Gospel as that which "he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures. (Rom. 1:2). The basic items of Gospel history were all recorded by God in the Scriptures: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve (I Cor. 15:3-5).

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews begins by stating: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world" (Heb. 1:1, 2, Greek: worlds). In showing the superiority of Christ to all else the writer continues:

    For to what angel did God ever say,
      "Thou art my Son,
      today I have begotten thee"?
    Or again,
      I will be to him a father,
      and he shall be to me a son"?
    And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
      "Let all God's angels worship him" (Heb. 1:5, 6).
It should be noted how easily and naturally this writer assumes that God is the author of the words which he is quoting out of the Old Testament. He continues:
    And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says,
      "Let all God's angels worship him"
    Of his angels he says,
      "Who makes his angels winds,
      and his servants flames of fire."
    But of the Son he says,
      "Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever,
      the righteous scepter is the scepter of thy kingdom" (Heb. 1:6-8)
Because the writers of the New Testament regard the Scriptures as given by God and therefore authoritative, and because they recognize Christ as the central gift of God to the world and therefore the center of Biblical interest, the New Testament constantly regards the Old Testament as being fulfilled by Jesus Christ. This is true of every writer. Matthew records how Jesus indicated the necessity of His going to the cross; He would have been able to have called to His side sufficient angels to rescue Him: "But how then should the scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" (Matt. 26:54). Mark indicates that the Gospel began, "As it is written in Isaiah the prophet" (Mark 1:2). Luke includes in his Gospel the account of how Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth and said: "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21). The Apostle John also says frequently that various events transpired "that the scripture may be fulfilled" (John 13:18; 15:25; 17:12). The soldiers did not rend the tunic of Jesus and thus fulfilled the Scripture (John 19:24). Even the remark of Jesus, "I thirst," is a fulfillment of Scripture (John 19:28). One of the soldiers pierced the side of Jesus with a spear, "that the scripture might be fulfilled" (John 19:36). "And again another scripture says, 'They shall look on him whom they have pierced'" (John 19:37). According to the Acts Peter explained the fall of Judas with the expression: "The scripture had to be fulfilled" (Acts 1:16). The tragic events connected with the end of Judas had all been foreseen, "For it is written in the book of Psalms. . ." (Acts 1:20). After Paul and Silas had been released from prison at Philippi they came to Thessalonica. "And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ'" (Acts 17:2, 3). And in the writing of his epistles the Apostle Paul constantly appeals to the Old Testament: "For what does the scripture say?" (Rom. 4:3). "Do you not know what the scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?" (Rom 11:2). According to James, Abraham proved the validity of his faith by his obedience to God, "And the scripture was fulfilled" (Jas. 2:23).

In a recent tabulation it was found: (1) that the five books of the Law are called Scripture ten times in the New Testament; (2) the prophets, mostly Isaiah, are referred to as Scripture eleven times; and (3) the Hagiographa, the third section of the Hebrew Old Testament, is called Scripture eleven times, most of these quotations from the Hagiographa being taken from the Psalms. [3]

Perhaps even more impressive than the phrase, "it is written," or the appeal to Old Testament passages as "Scripture," is the way the writings of the Old Testament are ascribed to the Holy Spirit. According to The Acts Peter said, "The scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David" (Acts 1:16). On a later occasion the apostolic church prayed: "Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit. . ." (Acts 4:24, 25, RSV (cf. ASV). When the Apostle Paul observed the unbelief of many Israelites he remarked: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet . . ." (Acts 28:25). When the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wishes to quote an Old Testament passage he says: "Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says . . ." (Heb. 3:7). In referring to the priestly customs and the construction of the tabernacle the Hebrew Letter also states: "By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the sanctuary is not yet opened as long as the outer tent is still standing" (Heb. 9:8). And in discussing the blessings of the New Covenant Hebrews adds: "And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us . . . . Then he adds . . ." (Heb. 10:15, 17). And the Apostle Peter states, "The prophets who prophesied of the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired about this salvation; they inquired what person or time was indicated by the Spirit of Christ within them when predicting the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glory" (I Peter 1:10, 11). Furthermore, "no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Pet. 1:20, 21).

One of the strongest statements of the entire New Testament is that of the Apostle Paul: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 2:16, 17).

While it is true that the New Testament writers do not attempt to explain the method employed by the Holy Spirit in the giving of the Scriptures, it is evident that they were assured of their complete reliability by the sheer fact that they were given by the Holy Spirit. The critical attitude toward the Scriptures on the part of some modern theologians stands in sharp contrast to the high view of the Bible found in the Scriptures themselves. Christians of a simple faith will accept the Biblical doctrine of the Scriptures just as they accept the Biblical doctrine of prayer, or miracles, or the atonement, or heaven.

It is possible, however, to go to the other extreme and to regard the Bible only as a sort of divine oracle which came down from heaven through the activity of the Holy Spirit and as therefore having no marks of its human authors. This point of view would also be wrong. The Bible also gives abundant evidence of the fact that it has human authorship. The Bible contains what might be called the conscious exaggeration of common people. One can almost hear the excited comments of the children of Israel when the plague struck the cattle of Egypt but passed over those of the Israelites: "All the cattle of the Egyptians died, but of the cattle of the people of Israel not one died" (Ex. 9:6) -- and yet in the same chapter the servants of Pharaoh who feared the word of the Lord "made his slaves and his cattle flee into the houses" (Ex. 9:20). The Bible also contains the expression of human emotions such as disgust, discouragement, hope, aspiration, joy, and sorrow, and frequent accounts of the struggles and trials and temptations of various saints of God. Even the accounts of historical events such as are recorded in the Gospels are told in simple honesty as seen by various observers with details which modern readers find difficult to harmonize (Matt. 8:5-10; Luke 7:2-10, e.g.). The fact that style and vocabulary vary sharply from writer to writer in the Bible is adequate proof that inspiration does not mean mechanical dictation. [4] Furthermore, the background and experience of the writer is somewhat in evidence in various books of the Bible. Mark's account of the woman who had been healed of her hemorrhage indicates with Peter's bluntness [5] that the woman had not only spent all her wealth on various physicians but also that she was growing worse (Mark 5:26). Luke, himself a physician, records with discreet courtesy that the woman "could not be healed by any one" (Luke 8:43).

It is, indeed, fortunate that the Bible was not written in the form of an oracle from heaven, without any evidence of human emotion or experience. The fact is that the Bible employs the language of common people in everyday life as they experience their these truly human trails and difficulties and receive divine grace from God. It is just these truly human factors which make the Bible meaningful to millions of people in all ages of the world. Fortunate, indeed, it is that the Lord did not allow His Word to be written in the language of science, philosophy, and theology. The purpose of the inspiration of the Scriptures is to make the sacred writings able to instruct us for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus, "that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:15-17).

If there is any question about the inspiration of any portion of the Bible it would be in the Old Testament. There is universal agreement in Christendom that the relationship of the Old Testament to the New is that of fulfillment. Sixteen centuries ago Augustine said that: "The New is in the Old contained; the Old is by the New explained." [6] It is impossible to understand the true nature of the Bible without an appreciation of the principle of progressive revelation. The New Testament is obviously superior to the Old in every way: in its ethics, its theology, and in its uniform literary quality. This means that it is the inspiration of the Old Testament which is most in need of demonstration and of that inspiration the New Testament leaves no doubt whatsoever.

Just as God in days of old spoke to Israel through the prophets, so He has spoken to the church through Christ and the apostles of the New Testament. The Gospel of John is especially clear as to the divine authority with which Jesus spoke: "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life" (John 6:63). Again Jesus said: "I have not spoken on my own authority; the Father who sent me has himself given me commandment what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has bidden me" (John 12:49, 50). "My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me" (John 7:16). "And the word which you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:24). In His high priestly prayer Jesus told the Father: "I have given them the words which thou gavest me, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from thee" (John 17:8). "I have given them thy word" (John 17:14). For this reason the Letter to the Hebrews begins: "In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son" (Heb. 1:2).

In a general way Jesus told the apostles, "And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another Counselor, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him; nor knows him; you know him, for he dwells with you, and will be in you" (John 14:16, 17). And then in a more direct way Jesus added: "These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (John 14:25, 26; cf. 16:13). This is a most significant promise, for it indicates that the Holy Spirit would enable the apostles to teach and write the Word of Christ in a reliable manner. Just before He ascended our Lord again promised the apostles that He would confer upon them power to witness effectively: "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). In his very first letter the Apostle Paul indicates an awareness of this Holy Spirit enablement: "And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers" (I Thess. 2:13). And in a later letter Paul adds: "Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit" (I Cor. 2:12, 13). Because Paul was being used of the Holy Spirit as a teacher and writer in the apostolic church he was able to write: "Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus" (I Thess. 4:1, 2). After giving certain specific directions to the church the apostle continues: "Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you" (I Thess. 4:8). And when the apostle gave his teaching concerning the return of Jesus he did it "by the word of the Lord" (I Thess. 4:15). To a somewhat unspiritual church which stood in need of apostolic correction Paul gave a solemn warning that when he would come again he would not spare them, "since you desire proof that Christ is speaking in me" (II Cor. 13:3; cf. II Thess. 3:6, 12, 14). And concerning the preaching of the Gospel by the apostles, the Letter to the Hebrews states: "It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his own will" (Heb. 2:3, 4).

It is undoubtedly the Book of Revelation which most resembles certain of the Old Testament books, and it is precisely the Revelation which speaks most frequently of its being given by the Holy Spirit or by God or by Jesus Christ: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon take place; and he made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, to bear witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw" (Rev. 1:1, 2). And John adds: "I was in the Spirit on the Lord's day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, 'Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches'" (Rev. 1:10, 11). And a little later the apostle was called up into heaven. "At once I was in the Spirit, and lo, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne!" (Rev. 4:2). "And I heard a voice from heaven saying, 'Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord henceforth.' 'Blessed indeed,' says the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!'" (Rev. 14:13).

The inspiration of New Testament writings is explicitly asserted when Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke as Scripture (I Tim. 5:18), and when Peter refers to Paul's epistles as Scripture also (II Pet. 3:15, 16). In I Timothy Paul teaches the principles of ministerial support saying: "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching; for the scripture says, 'You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain' [Deuteronomy 25:4], and, 'The laborer deserves his wages' [Luke 10:7]" (I Tim. 5:17, 18).

In considering the data of divine revelation and observing how the New Testament builds squarely upon the Old, asserting time and again that the promises and prophecies of the Old Testament were given by God through the Holy Spirit, and in observing how the apostles and writers of the New Testament were given Holy Spirit enablement to write the truth, what name should be given to the view of inspiration which is taught in the Bible? It should be observed that this is a theological rather than a Biblical question, for the Bible nowhere assigns a name to the inspiration which is taught in it.

It has become a commonplace among evangelical Christians to apply the terms "plenary" and "verbal" to the theory of inspiration, by which is meant that all the Scripture is inspired of God (and this is indeed true) and that the very words of Scripture may be relied upon (and this is also true); however, it must be admitted that it is possible to describe inspiration in such a way as to freeze it into a hard and mechanical theory which cannot be completely harmonized with the facts. While it is true that New Testament writers may appeal even to the form of a word on occasion (Gal. 3:16 - Greek: seed, not seeds, e.g.), yet it is also true that they are oftentimes satisfied to give the sense of a passage rather than to quote it verbatim (Matt. 2:6, e.g.), and furthermore they often quote either verbatim or giving the sense of what is found in the Septuagint rather than the Hebrew original, even when the Septuagint deviates markedly from the Hebrew text as we have it (Heb. 10:5, e.g.). Dean Burgon stated the theory of verbal inspiration almost in mechanical terms when he wrote: "The Bible is none other than the voice of Him that sitteth upon the throne. Every book of it, every chapter of it, every verse of it, every word of it, every syllable of it . . . , every letter of it, is the direct utterance of the Most High. . . . The Bible is none other than the Word of God, not some part of it more, some part of it less, but all alike the utterance of Him who sitteth upon the throne, faultless, unerring, supreme."7 If one would read this statement of Dean Burgon before examining the Bible he would hardly be prepared for the human factors of individual style and vocabulary, the free way the Old Testament is quoted in the New, the expression of various human emotions and attitudes, etc., which one finds in the Bible.

As a matter of fact, the truth about the Bible is that the Scriptures are paradoxically both the Word of God and the word of man. All Scripture inspired of God and profitable for doctrine, and yet all the Scriptures were written by human beings and on every page contain evidences of human authorship. These evidences of human composition do not amount to misleading teaching or doctrinal error, to be sure. Nevertheless, it is possible to overemphasize the divine factor in the giving of the Scriptures in such a way that honest students are shaken in their faith when they discover what appear to be minor discrepancies in parallel passages, verses which express human emotion rather than a divine word, etc. Perhaps a good name for the view of inspiration which best expresses the high view of the Bible which the Scriptures themselves present, while at the same time recognizing the human factor, would be the term dynamical. [8]

An analogy will help to make clear the difficulty which the present discussion is seeking to avoid. It would be possible to collect from the Gospels and Epistles a great array of statements pertaining to the Lord Jesus which would indicate that He was the eternal Son of God, that He came down from heaven, that it was not necessary for Him to ask about anyone because He knew what was in man, that He was able to still the storm, to heal the sick, to raise the dead, etc. If one would consistently speak only of these evidences of the true deity of our Lord, it might come as somewhat of a shock to an immature Christian to learn that Jesus was also human, that He had to sleep, that He needed to eat, that He was tempted, and that He died. The solution, however, does not lie in a denial of the deity of Christ nor of His sinlessness. So it is with the Scriptures. One does not need to deny the high view of inspiration in order to acknowledge the evidences of human authorship in the Bible. The fact that Jesus was both human and divine may not be used to deny His sinlessness and His deity. In precisely the same way the fact that the Bible contains a human element should not be pressed to the point of asserting that it contains error or is not able to make people wise unto salvation. (II Tim. 3:15, ASV and AV.)


1 See Warfield's great books, Revelation and Inspiration; also the Westminster Theological Seminary Faculty symposium, The Infallible Word (Philadelphia: The Presbyterian Guardian Publishing Co., 1946): and Loraine Boettner, The Inspiration of the Scriptures (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1940).
2 H. S. Miller, General Biblical Introduction, p.46. This is a useful and reliable book.
3 Idid. p. 46. 4 Not to be confused with verbal inspiration as in Angus-Green, The Bible Hand-Book, p. 120. (Otherwise a most useful and fine book.)
5 Papias, A.D. 140, says that Mark had been "Peter's interpreter" and wrote down "such things as he remembered" of Peter's telling of the Gospel narratives. Eusebius, Hist. Eccles., iii, 19.)
6 "Novum Testamentum in Vetere latet. Vetus in Novo patet." Cited in AngusGreen. pp. cit., p. 226 n. The above is a loose paraphrase.
7 Ibid. p. 119 n.
8 Cf. H. Orton Wiley, Christian Theology, Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press, 1940, I, pp. 176. 177.

This is from a Biblical Viewpoints Publications reprint:

Part II, "God as Revealer," subtopic "The Inspiration of the Scriptures," of Introduction to Theology, by J. C. Wenger, © copyright 1954, renewed 1980, by Herald Press, copyright now owned by Leland M. Haines, Northville, MI.