And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 22, Number
In this issue:
We believe and affirm the Bible is the verbally inspired word of God. But, not every concept of Bible inspiration is the same. B. B. Warfield rather sarcastically observed, “Wherever five ‘advanced thinkers’ assemble, at least six theories as to inspiration are likely to be ventilated” (Warfield, I:51). Indeed.
We would do well to begin a study of Bible inspiration by defining it as it is used in the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). Inspiration translates the Greek word theopneustos, “divinely breathed” (Strong, G2315). Vine notes inspiration is from God to man, it is “inspired by God” (Theos, “God,” pneo, “to breathe”)” (Vine). That is, inspiration originates with and from God, it does not originate inside man. Vincent notes this in his definition of theopneustos, “God-breathed. The word tells us nothing of the peculiar character or limits of inspiration beyond the fact that it proceeds from God” (Vincent, 317).
Peter elaborated on the process of inspiration, “for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). “Moved” means “to bear or carry” (Strong, G5342). To speak by inspiration was to be carried, moved, or borne along by the Holy Spirit.
The question before us is how did the Holy Spirit inspire “the prophetic word” spoken by the “holy men of God” (2 Pet. 1:19)?
How we view the process of inspiration informs our respect for and use of God’s word. And, importantly, it also shapes which kind of translation of God’s word (Bible version) we rely on to know His word of truth.
One commonly held view of Bible inspiration is conceptual inspiration, also known as thought inspiration. This view says, “The thoughts of scripture are inspired but the actual words used are not. Only the concepts or thoughts in the Bible were inspired. God gave ideas to the writers of scripture who did their best to convey those ideas in writing” (Linton). Thought inspiration views revelation being formed by the thoughts of men instead of by the words given to men by God. If thought inspiration is true, then the Scriptures are messages from men that inform, yet not authoritative directives from God.
The effect of accepting thought inspiration is not inconsequential. “This view weakens the concept of biblical inspiration, maintaining that God only inspired the concepts, and not the individual words written” (Linton). He concludes, “This view completely contradicts the Bible’s concept of divine inspiration in 2 Timothy 3:16, 1 Corinthians 2:13, 2 Peter 1:19-21, and Isaiah 59:21” (Ibid).
Another view of inspiration is verbal, plenary inspiration. “Verbal plenary inspiration means that every word found in the Bible is given to us by God (verbal), everything in the Bible is authoritative (plenary), and every word is also divinely directed (inspired)” (Slick). “Plenary inspiration means that inspiration extends to all of its parts. Thus the Bible is fully inspired” (Miller).
Verbal inspiration says the Bible did not originate in the mind of man, nor was it fashioned by the wisdom of man. Peter said, “prophecy never came by the will of man” (2 Pet. 1:21). Prophetic Scripture is not the result of men’s “private interpretation” (2 Pet. 1:20). God chose and gave the words to inspired men that reveal His mind and will (1 Cor. 2:13).
The effect of accepting verbal, plenary inspiration as the nature of “God-breathed” Scripture is not inconsequential. Holding the Scriptures to be God’s chosen words informs and shapes how we choose to handle them and the authority they possess.
The Bible repeatedly affirms the verbal inspiration of God’s message to humanity. The New King James English translation of the Bible uses “thus says the Lord” or its equivalent (“the Lord spoke,” “the Lord said,” etc.) thousands of times. For example, Jeremiah wrote, “Hear the word which the Lord speaks to you, O house of Israel. Thus says the Lord:” (Jer. 10:1-2). Were the words Jeremiah spoke the Lord’s words? Jeremiah claimed they were. Such statements are repeated over and over in the Old Testament. Either God did or did not give His prophets the words to speak and write. If He did not, then the 40 writers of the Bible were deceivers of the highest order. If He did, we must respect the Bible as divinely chosen words that reveal God’s will and purposes accurately.
The Old Testament prophets received verbal inspiration from God. David claimed verbal inspiration: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2). Luke agreed, explaining another of David’s writings as that “which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16).
Jeremiah explained how the word of the Lord came to him in Jeremiah 1:9-11: “Then the Lord put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the Lord said to me: “Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (v. 9). Like David, Jeremiah said he spoke the words God put in his mouth. It does not say God merely put thoughts into his mind. God put the words in his mouth. If not, then Jeremiah, David, and the rest of God’s prophets were liars and frauds.
When God inspired a person, he spoke the words God gave him to speak. Balaam is a prime example of verbal inspiration. The prophet who “loved the wages of unrighteousness” was brought to curse Israel by the king of Moab. Yet, time and again, Balaam blessed Israel because that was the word God gave him to speak (Num. 24-25). Balaam as much as said thought inspiration is false: “So Balaam said to Balak, 'Did I not also speak to your messengers whom you sent to me, saying,"‘If Balak were to give me his house full of silver and gold, I could not go beyond the word of the Lord, to do good or bad of my own will. What the Lord says, that I must speak"’?” (Num. 24:12-13)? Balaam spoke words given to him by God, not words that originated from his “own will” (mind).
The New Testament apostles and prophets received verbal inspiration from God. Paul claimed he and the other apostles and prophets of Jesus were verbally inspired. God revealed His mind to the apostles so they would “know the things that have been freely given to us by God” (1 Cor. 2:12; Eph. 3:3). They spoke this revelation from God, “not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:13). The words they used were the Spirit’s words, not their own.
This declaration of verbal inspiration agrees with Christ’s assurance to the twelve, “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” (Matt. 10:19-20).
Once we recognize the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures, we will respect them as God’s authoritative word. Paul wrote, “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37). The New Testament is also God-breathed Scripture (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 3:16; 1 Tim. 5:18; Lk. 10:7).
Our view of inspiration and the Bible’s authority will influence which Bible translation we use. Reading the Scriptures from a variety of versions can be helpful. Yet, we should realize that not all Bible versions are the same. The spectrum of English translations of the Bible runs from word-for-word to thought-for-thought. Some versions are good, and some are not.
The Scriptures are the verbally inspired word of God, not the conceptually inspired words of men. Therefore, we ought to rely on Bible versions that translate the words as accurately as possible, not translators who decide what the writers meant and then put that into words they think express the writers’ intent. (That’s commentary, not translation.) For example, when I preach in India, my English is translated into the Telugu language. I want my words accurately translated by my interpreter. I do not want him to try to decide what I am saying and then translate that as what I said—that sort of inaccuracy breeds misunderstanding and miscommunication.
We must be careful which Bible translation to use and rely on for God’s word since we are to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). On the spectrum of English Bible versions, word-for-word translations include the ASV, NASB, KJV, NKJV, and ESV. On the spectrum of English Bible versions, thought-for-thought translations include the NIV, NLT, NCV, and CEV.
Words matter, if we want to communicate accurately (1 Cor. 14:9; Col. 4:6). Words also matter to God as He speaks to us in His Son (Heb. 1:2). Let us carefully respect and receive inspired Scripture, “not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). Divine truth sets us free from sin. But, without an accurate translation of the truth, we cannot be confident we are abiding in the word of Christ (Jno. 8:31-32).
Linton, Gary. “Theories of Inspiration of Scripture,” https://tinyurl.com/yddl8bty
Slick, Matt. “What is verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible?,” Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry, https://tinyurl.com/y8egvhoz
Vincent, M. R. (1887). Word Studies in the New Testament (Vol. 4, p. 317). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Vine, W. E., Unger, M. F., & White, W., Jr. (1996). Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words. Nashville, TN: T. Nelson.
Warfield, B. B. (2008). The Works of Benjamin B. Warfield: Revelation and Inspiration. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software
(Current events in the light of Scripture)
Who's Behind the Wheel?
From Reuters’ Oddly Enough page comes this: Last Monday, a 5-year-old boy was stopped on Interstate 15 in Utah. He was driving his family SUV. He told the state trooper who pulled him over that he was headed to California to buy a Lamborghini. He had argued with his mother after she told him she would not buy him the sports car. (“Five-year-old stopped on U.S. highway wanted to buy Lamborghini, police say,” reuters.com) Later this week, a Lamborghini owner took the boy, Adrian Zamarripa, for a ride. And, a California company has offered to fly him there so he can drive a real Lambo (“5-year-old Utah car ‘thief’ gets ride in Lamborghini, Gary Gastelu, foxnews.com).
Children need discipline. Of course, the parents did not approve of their 5-year-old driving the car. Wrong behavior should not be rewarded but corrected for the good of the child (Heb. 12:9). Unknowingly, he endangered himself and others. So, “chasten your son while there is hope, and do not set your heart on his destruction” (Prov. 19:18). Parents who do not correct their children after teaching them are not helping them become better (Prov. 22:15).
Well-intended people can become stumbling blocks to disciplining our children. Lamborghini owner Jeremy Nevis (who gave Adrian a ride) said, “I don’t want to condone kids taking cars and getting in trouble and breaking the law, but the success principles that he displayed were magnificent to me” (Ibid). Should Adrian be taught to succeed even by getting into trouble and breaking the law? No. “Success principles” that break the law and endanger others are not “magnificent.” We should support proper education and correction, not redeem or reward a child’s bad behavior. (Mixed signals do not help the child.) We can do that by interfering with needed punishment (Prov. 13:24).
Our “want tos” often get ahead of our “can dos.” Just because we want something does not mean we need it or should have it. Hopefully, Adrian will learn that lesson as he grows up. And hopefully, we will, too (Heb. 13:5).
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 05/11/2020
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA