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 Vol. 6, No. 1 

January 2004


~ Page 2 ~

The Verbal Inspiration of the Bible

By Louis Rushmore

Image The Bible is the inspired Word of God. Christians throughout the world have no doubts that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Further, Christians have a higher esteem for the Bible's inspiration than the so-call inspiration attributed to literary classics that have withstood the passing of ages. The Bible, too, has withstood the passing of centuries, even millennia, but by inspiration that they attribute to the Bible, Christians do not mean the mere inspiration of human genius attributed to literary classics. The Bible is the product of divine inspiration. Whereas the inspiration attributable to literary classics outstrips the insight behind the production of ordinary and mundane writings that are commonplace daily, divine inspiration dwarfs the genius of human inspiration attributable to literary classics. Divine inspiration is in an esteemed category that has no rivals.

The nature of the Bible's inspiration is clearly indicated in the Bible. The Old Testament was not the product of human subjectivity, but the human writers were guided by the Holy Spirit. "[K]nowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, or prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21 NKJV). This means that the very words were selected from the various writers' vocabularies by God and not mere mortals. This fact becomes clearer from the instructions that Jesus Christ gave his disciples respecting the limited commission on which he sent them. "You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you" (Matthew 10:18-21).

Some misguided preachers and teachers have imagined erroneously that God gave the human, Spirit-guided prophets, teachers and writers of the Bible so-called thought inspiration. The theory is that God caused the Holy Spirit to give thoughts to the inspired preachers and writers, who then with their human fallibility personally selected from their respective vocabularies what each thought were the best words to convey to their fellows those inspired thoughts. Hebrews 4:12 reads that the Word of God is "powerful" and exacting. However, so-called thought inspiration would neuter the Word of God and reduce it to mere human subjectivity. The Word of God (the Bible) cannot be the final, absolute standard of authority in religion if it is the product of fallible human genius to convey to mankind the mind of God.

It is apparent that the inescapable conclusion of subjectivity built into the theory of thought inspiration is precisely why this nonbiblical, unscriptural concept of divine inspiration was developed. Mankind has never been fond of doing things God's way; the whole Bible is evidence of this axiom. Through unjustified rationalization, modern man has concluded that the subjectivity of this imagined thought inspiration releases him from amenability to the high standards of God respecting a number of troubling divine doctrines. Proponents of the theory of thought inspiration, therefore, view the Bible as a love letter from God instead of as an authoritative document in which are definitive codes for human conduct. This defective viewpoint disallows the Bible the right to regulate our lives as the final, absolute standard of authority in religion. Therefore, the Bible is precluded as containing patterns for Christian worship, salvation and Christian living (especially marriage-divorce-and-remarriage). Thought inspiration, though, is a self-serving, manmade attempt to circumvent the clearly taught verbal inspiration of the Bible.

In addition to references above to 2 Peter 1:20-21 and Matthew 10:18-21, especially the scenario unfolded in Acts 2 incontrovertibly proves that biblical inspiration is attributable to verbal inspiration rather than some imagined thought inspiration. The Acts 1:26-2:4 passage chronicles the baptism of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles of Christ. One of the three external evidences of the baptism of the Holy Spirit was the ability of the apostles to speak in languages that they had not learned (Acts 2:4-11).

The apostles, all Galileans, had not enjoyed the opportunities of higher education and cultural refinement that was attainable in Jerusalem. We would say that they were blue-collar workers, who had experienced more on-the-job-training (both in their trades and in their preparation by Jesus Christ for service as his apostles) than classroom instruction. They possessed neither academic diplomas nor scholastic credentials; they were viewed as "ignorant and unlearned" (KJV) or "Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13 NKJV). Like this country boy, they were awed, for instance, by the grandeur of the Temple compound (Matthew 24:1) as I would be in the midst of the tall buildings of New York City. They were out of their element, both regarding the metropolitan setting of Jerusalem versus the rural surroundings with which they were more familiar and their religious oratory before the people and their religious leaders.

Especially, they were not accustomed to speaking in foreign languages! Though we may not know how many different languages were represented in the Acts 2 audience, we can discern that there were 15 different nationalities of Jews present on that occasion. Through persecution as well as pursuit of commercial interests, the Jewish people had become scattered throughout the world. They respectively adopted the languages of the nations in which they had settled. Though all the Jews in the audience of Acts 2 may have known the Hebrew language, they likewise knew the respective native languages of the countries in which they resided. What astounded the Jews visiting from these 15 nations was that the poorly educated, unrefined country hicks (we might colloquially say, rednecks or hayseeds) were speaking to them in foreign languages that they obviously had not learned. "And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language. Then they were all amazed and marveled, saying to one another, 'Look, are not all these who speak Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each in our own language in which we were born?'" (Acts 2:6-8).

What does all of this have to do with verbal inspiration versus so-called thought inspiration? Thought inspiration would have required those country boys from rural Galilee to select, according to their own human frailty and fallibility, from their vocabularies what they personally thought were the best words to express the mind of God; yet, how could they have done that since they were speaking in languages with which they were not familiar? They could not select from their vocabularies foreign words that were not in their vocabularies! Hence, as Jesus told them formerly (Matthew 10:18-21) and as Peter wrote respecting the source of the Old Testament (2 Peter 1:20-21), the Holy Spirit, through verbal inspiration, selected the very words that the apostles spoke on that Pentecost in Acts 2.

Consequently, because of verbal inspiration, the Bible is the final, absolute standard of authority in religion. The Bible, preserved by God through his providence, is the definitive mind of God for man. In it is the divine pattern for God-approved worship, divine redemption, Christian living and Christian service. Through verbal inspiration, the Bible is a valid code of conduct that will serve those who comply with it in this life as well as prepare them for eternity to come. Without verbal inspiration, man could not know: (1) how to worship God acceptably, (2) how to participate appropriately in his own salvation, (3) how he ought to live, (4) how to serve God, (5) what to expect from God, or (6) how to prepare to meet God in final judgment. Happily, a gracious God has provided his human creation with verbal inspiration!Image

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