Verbal Inspiration

Jerry C. Brewer

Once upon a time religious people could discuss the Bible from a common perspective. While they may have twisted it to suit denominational theology, most of them believed it to be God’s inspired word. Even the great denominational debaters like Rice, Bogard, and Norris defended their doctrines from that perspective against such giant defenders of the faith as Alexander Campbell, N. B. Hardeman, and Foy E. Wallace, Jr. But the world has changed since then. Permeated with Secular Humanism, most of the denominational world—and many within the Lord’s church—deny not only the doctrine of Christ, but the verbal inspiration of the Book in which it is revealed.

A constant in an ever-changing world of human philosophy, the Bible remains as verbally inspired in the second millennium as it was when it resided in the “earthen vessels” of the first. Jesus said, “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away” (Matt. 24:35), and Peter affirmed that, “the word of the Lord endureth forever” (1 Pet. 1:25).

The term, Verbal Inspiration means that the very words of the Bible are those which the Holy Spirit directed the writers of the Sacred Volume to select in conveying God’s will to man’s mind. That does not mean that the writers were mere amanuenses in the writing of the Bible, styled by some, the Mechanical Theory of inspiration. God has never circumvented the natural faculties of man. But this theory renders the writers mere machines, and eliminates their own distinctive writing styles which are evident in the Bible. The eminent J. W. McGarvey rejected this theory for additional reasons:

The theory fails to account for the writer’s human feelings; and for the obvious fact that in recalling to their memory what Jesus had said the Spirit only recalled what they did not already remember; and in guiding them into all truth He did not guide them into that which they already possessed (Evidences Of Christianity, Part IV, Ch. 7, p. 212).

Neither does verbal inspiration allow for the selection of words by the writers themselves. The theory of Thought Inspiration holds that the writers were given God’s thoughts, and allowed to select the words by which His thoughts were expressed. But words are vehicles of thought, and it would have been impossible for finite men to select the words by which the mind of the Infinite God could be adequately conveyed. The theory of Thought Inspiration is espoused by so-called “translators” of modern perverted texts of the Bible, and couched in the term, Dynamic Equivalence. For that reason, their works are not word-for-word translations of the original languages.

Verbal inspiration consisted of the Holy Spirit exerting an influence upon the writers of the Bible without circumventing their natural writing styles, and giving them the very words in which God’s will is expressed to man.

But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: [emph. JB] but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost (Mark 13:10-11).

And when they bring you unto the synagogues, and unto magistrates, and powers, take ye no thought how or what thing ye shall answer, or what ye shall say, for the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what ye ought to say (Luke 12:11-12).

Expressly forbidden to “premeditate,” the apostles could not have selected the words they spoke. That they were given those words by the Holy Spirit is illustrated by Peter’s reply to the Sanhedrin in Acts 4:8-12:

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel, If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole; Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole. This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner. Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.

The phrase, “filled with the Holy Ghost,” means that Peter spoke by inspiration in answering those before whom he and the other apostles were arraigned. He took “no thought beforehand” nor did he “premeditate.” The words he spoke were not his, but the Holy Spirit’s.

In his first epistle to the church at Corinth, Paul contrasted the wisdom of men with the wisdom of God, proving that God’s wisdom is far superior to that of men (1 Cor. 1:18-2:8). Then he quoted Isaiah 6:4: “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” That verse referred to the gospel scheme of redemption which God had hidden beneath the types and shadows of the old covenant and had not been revealed to the Old Testament patriarchs and prophets. But in the next verse, Paul said those things had now been revealed. “But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10). In verse 11, he explained that no man can know another man’s mind, as no man can know what is in the mind of God, and followed that with this statement:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. 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 2:12-13).

As no man can know the thoughts of another without those thoughts being revealed in the man’s words, so no man could know God’s hidden plan without being told in God’s words. Thus, Paul wrote that inspired men had received, “the Spirit which is of God” in order to “know the things…of God” and spoke God’s will in words not their own, “but which the Holy Ghost teachest.” The “deep things of God” was the gospel plan of salvation that God had “prepared for them that love Him” (1 Cor. 2:9).

God’s word, expressed in the Bible, is as verbally inspired today as it when it reposed in the minds of inspired men in the first century. Upon that great foundation stone, our faith rests. If the very words of the Bible were not breathed out from God, then our faith is vain and our hope is lost.

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Author: Editor

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