When people speak about the inspiration of the Scriptures, there are generally two ideas in mind. First, there is the idea that the Scriptures inspire one to think or to do something that is inspirational. In other words, it might be that a person is inspired to write a poem, a book that is devotional and encouraging in nature, etc. In such cases, a seed of thought had been sown, and the development of that thought is produced. The second idea is not along this line at all; it has in view something that originates in the mind of God and is communicated to God’s chosen servants. They, in turn, communicate this to man. For instance, the Lord told Jeremiah to speak to the people of Judah the very mind of God. “Thus says the LORD: ‘Go down to the house of the king of Judah, and there speak this word’…” (Jeremiah 22:1, NKJV). Jeremiah then begins to speak the very words of God to the people. Thus, the difference between the two ideas is of significance.
Christians speak of the inspiration of the Scriptures with the latter idea in mind. This idea is set forth in the term the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. To understand what is meant with the use of this term we must begin with definitions. The word “verbal” pertains to the words used; the word “plenary” pertains to that which is complete. Thus, the entirety of the words used by the writer (or writers) is completely those the Lord wanted used. One man said it this way: “…plenary inspiration involves the whole [biblical] text, whether we have in mind the thought expressed or the vehicles (words) in which it is expressed” (Wallace W. Wartick, New Testament Evidences, College Press, p. 111).
Consequently, when Christians speak of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible, what is in view is God originating his word and communicating that word to man. The chosen ones (by the Lord) then expressed themselves in both oral and written form (but it is particularly the written form that we are considering). Peter said it this way: “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue” (2 Peter 1:3, emphasis added, RT).
Compare this with what Paul said: “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:9-13, NKJV).
In the paragraphs above are the words of two men; two very different men. Yet, these two men thought alike on things that pertained to God (1 Corinthians 4:17; 15:11); their writings, however, were of a different style. This is just like two people who think alike today, but who may very well have different styles of writing. Peter was a fisherman, and received his “formal” education in things religious from Jesus himself while the Lord walked on earth. Paul was formally educated in the religious affairs of his countryman (Acts 22:3; 26:4-6), but received his special education from Jesus in a different way (Galatians 1:12). Inspiration does not mitigate individuality.
The classic biblical passage that speaks to inspiration is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. It reads, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (NKJV). Let us not the following points: first, “all Scripture” pertains to that which we know to be the 66 books of the Bible (39 in the Old Testament, 27 in the New Testament). Second, the Scripture is given by inspiration, that is, it is God-breathed. This term may not convey a clear idea to some. Here is what is conveyed with the use of the concept: “…the Scripture itself is breathed out from God. God is its origin…A similar terminology is that used when God made Adam ‘and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’” (John R. Rice, Our God Breathed Book: The Bible, Sword of the Lord Publishers, pp. 49-50). Third, the Scriptures are given to man for his benefit. Since God does not want any to perish (1 Timothy 2:4), he made it his aim to communicate to man exactly what he wants in order that man would be properly educated and saved (John 1:1-3, 14; 3:16; cf. Luke 19:10). Basil Overton made an observation worth remembering: “I certainly am not capable of explaining how God Almighty worked on men to enable them to write the Bible…” but that he did is apparent to any fair-minded person (A Book About The Book, Quality Publishing, p. 125).
Let us make a brief application to these words. If that which God spoke has been given to man, what does it matter to me? A couple of point to help us not lose sight of why it is important: first, God sent his Son into this world to save those who live on this earth. That means that he came to save the lost (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Second, those who refuse to respond to his love will face a consequence to their refusal. This is identified as judgment day. God’s word, therefore, is given to us to prepare for that day. “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day” (John 12:48, NKJV).
Ron Thomas is the minister for the Highway Church of Christ in Sullivan, Illinois