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Verbal Inspiration

By H. A. (Buster) Dobbs

religion, articles, christianity

What difference does it make if the Bible is "fully" inspired or "verbally" inspired?

Who cares?

Why make such a big fuss over so minor a problem?

The question of "verbal" versus "full" inspiration is a dispute over the integrity of the text of the Bible. If Bible writers claim "verbal" inspiration, when in truth the very words were not given to them, they lied. That may sound harsh, but they lied. If they lied about the nature of inspiration, they may have lied about many other things. We cannot trust them. Their integrity - and the integrity of what they wrote - is at stake.

If Bible writers wrongly claim "verbal" inspiration, we can have no confidence in anything they wrote.

The discussion is over what the writers of the Bible claimed for themselves. That is the only issue. Whatever kind of inspiration Bible writers claimed for themselves is the only kind of inspiration worth defending.

A verbally inspired Bible is right and cannot be wrong. It is error free. If God selected the words to convey the message, the revelation must be perfect - for God cannot be the author of imperfection. If God gave the very words in which the Bible was originally written, the original manuscripts must be true and can contain no mistakes.

I emphasize that we are talking about "original" manuscripts and not about copies and versions of those manuscripts. The copies and versions may contain errors, but what the inspired writer put down on paper, animal skin, or stone is right and cannot be wrong, if God picked the words in which the message was conveyed.

If God did not choose the words - if the writer expressed the thought in words of his own choosing - the communication may be riddled with error. If God selected the words, there can be no blunder. The contest is over whether the Bible is inerrant or errant. If the Bible is capable of being wrong, we have no dependable revelation; if the Bible is incapable of erring, we have a dependable record. It is a question of faith or unfaith.

This does not mean there are no problems, or even that every question can be fully answered to the entire satisfaction of every questioner. It does mean the superior weight of evidence supports the conclusion that the original manuscripts were inspired in their words. One highly regarded writer said:

The objections under consideration, namely, that the Bible contradicts itself divides itself into two. The first that the sacred writers contradict themselves, or one another. The second, that the Bible teaches what is inconsistent with the facts of history or science.... (1.) These apparent discrepancies ... are for the most part trivial; relating in most cases to numbers or dates. (2.) The great majority of them are only apparent and yield to careful examination. (3.) Many of them are fairly ascribed to errors of transcribes. (4.) The marvel and the miracle is that there are so few of any real importance. Considering that the different books of the Bible were written not only by different authors, but by men of all degrees of culture, living in the course of fifteen hundred years, it is altogether unaccountable that they should agree perfectly, on any other hypothesis than that the writers were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God. In this respect, as in all others, the Bible stands alone. It is enough to impress any mind with awe, when it contemplates the sacred scriptures filed with the highest truths, speaking with authority in the name of God, and so miraculously free from the soiling touch of human fingers. The errors in matters of fact which skeptics search out bear no proportion to the whole. No sane man would deny that the Parthenon was built of marble, even if here and there a speck of sandstone should be detected in its structure (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (1872), Vol. 1, pp. 169-170).

We quote this learned man because his argument is sound and unanswerable, and he states the case so eloquently. Liberals belittle Hodge, but they cannot answer him. The logical force of his statement defies contradiction.

Jesus taught verbal inspiration. He said that neither jot nor tittle would pass from the law until all is fulfilled (Matt. 5: 17­18). The Lord obviously taught that every jot and tittle is inspired of God. His reference is to the law and the prophets, and he insists the Old Testament is perfect to the smallest letter. He taught the inspiration of the letters-not just the words.

Old Testament writers claimed verbal inspiration. Joshua 1:8 demands strict obedience to all things written in the law. David claimed inspiration for his words (2 Sam. 23: 1-2). Daniel mentions his "study of the books," including the prophecy of Jeremiah, which he calls the "word of the Lord" (Dan. 9:2). Nehemiah had a high regard for the law of Moses and the prophets, who spoke by God's Spirit (Neh. 9:3, 30; 10:29).

Here is a sampling of what the Bible claims for itself:

"Thou shalt speak all that I command thee" (Ex. 7:2).

"And God spake all these words" (Ex. 20:1).

"Thus saith the Lord" ([Ex. 4:22], this statement is made more than 400 times in the Bible).

"I will give the tables of stone and a law, and commandments which I have written; that thou mayest teach them" (Ex. 24:12).

"I have put my words in thy mouth" (Jer. 1:9; 15:16; 19:2­3).

"But neither he nor his servants, nor the people of the land, did hearken unto the words of the Lord, which he spake by the prophet Jeremiah" (Jer. 37:2; 36:6, 8, 10, 18; 29:1­4).

"When ye received the word of God, which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God" (1 Thess. 2:13).

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you" (1 Cor. 11:23).

"Which words also we speak, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth" (1 Cor. 2:13).

"The things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord" (1 Cor. 14:37).

"Unto them were committed the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2).

"For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh" (Rom. 9:17).

"All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16).

"Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21).

"How was it that David by the Spirit called him Lord" (Matt. 22:43).

"The scriptures cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

This is only a brief example of what Bible writers said about the Bible being the very Word of God. It is plain to even a careless reader that those who gave us the Bible emphatically declared that they wrote verbatim the exact words they received from God the Holy Spirit: "But the Spirit saith expressly" - "Whatsoever things he shall hear, that shall he speak."

In modern times a war of words is waged over the nature of the Bible. It is not a battle between believers and unbelievers, but among professed believers. Religious leaders at highest levels argue among themselves about the meaning of inspiration. Is the Bible the real Word of God? Does the Bible merely contain the Word of God? Or, does the Bible become the Word of God for me as its message penetrates my heart? Is the Bible a God­given revelation or just a record, witness, and medium of revelation? Are there errors of fact and contradictions in the Bible? Is there, as a noted unbelieving religious leader put it, "A sky­high heaven and a red­hot hell?"

Direct revelation and the very idea of truth and doctrine are being rejected by many religious denominations. Liberals reject the idea that God revealed himself in propositions recorded in the Bible. There was an attempt in the '50s and '60s to move the churches of Christ into the limbo of unbelieving believers, but it failed. It was spearheaded by Mission Magazine and directed by college professors. The attempt is revived and the Bible and its doctrines are under attack by people posing as Christian soldiers. It is a most uncivil Civil War.

Christianity Today in an editorial titled, "Are the Churches Coddling Atheists?" reported a survey revealing that 32 percent of the Congregationalists, 24 percent of the Methodists, and 16 percent of the Episcopalians, do not believe that Jesus is the divine Son of God; that 43 percent of the Protestants do not believe in the virgin birth; that 72 percent of the Congregationalists, 63 percent of the Methodists, 59 percent of the Episcopalians, 42 percent of the Presbyterians, 38 percent of the Disciples of Christ and of the American Baptists, and 31 percent of the American Lutherans do not believe that the biblical miracles actually happened; and that 35 percent of the Protestants either believe that Christ's promise of eternal life is only "probably true" or have "no hope" for a future life at all.

If you think that inexperienced, impressionable young men sent for training to unbelieving professors in denominational seminaries and now teaching in schools operated by brethren are uninfluenced and unaffected by their unbelieving mentors, then you are, well, naive.

Doubting and denying the verbal inspiration of the Bible results in claiming the Bible has mistakes in geography, science, and history, which leads to disrespect for and disobedience to the commands of the Bible. Dr. Carroll Osburn, Bible department faculty, Abilene Christian University, follows this sequence. He first denies and ridicules the idea of verbal inspiration, then agrees with rank liberals that the Bible is errant, and finally denies basic Bible doctrine (Peaceable Kingdom, Carroll D. Osburn, pp. 57­56, 90­91). By the way, Doctor Osburn is not specific as to the claimed errors in the Bible and has declined an invitation to name the supposed mistakes and put them on the table for examination. He appears to deny the building is made of marble because he thinks he can find specks of sandstone here and there.

This is not make­believe. The battle is real. The attack is from within. The citadels of the church are under assault and the bulwarks of faith are assailed. The sleeping giant had better get his armor on, and make these religious atheists take out for the hills. Your salvation and that of your children and their children after them is at stake.

I am flesh and must return
Unto dust, whence I am taken;
But by faith I now discern
That from death I shall awaken
With my Savior to abide
In His glory, at His side.

Published March 1996