Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 9, 1950
NUMBER 43, PAGE 2,4b

"Men Spake From God"


That the Scriptures are inspired of God is a fact admitted by all shades and degrees of those who are loosely lumped together under the general title of "christians." A modernist like Harry Emerson Fosdick will declare his unshakeable belief in the inspiration of the Bible—and never bat an eye while doing it. Premillennialists, Catholics, Adventists, and Mormons (the latter hardly counted in the fold of "Christendom") all avow their belief that the book was inspired of God. Even men who believe there are innumerable errors, contradictions, moral monstrosities, unethical teachings, and weird superstitions, set forth on its pages, still say it is inspired of God.

Obviously some definition is needed of "inspiration." When we say the Bible is inspired, what do we mean by it? To one man, or group of men, inspiration may mean one thing; to another man or group, it will mean something far different. We can hardly suppose that an avowed modernist who declares his belief in "inspiration" is giving to the word the same meaning and significance as an avowed conservative would give.

The "Very Words" Inspired

Faithful Christians are united in believing that the very words of the texts are the words of God. Otherwise it would be foolish to spend years in careful and painstaking research into the most minute and trivial question of textual criticism. Why spend a lifetime studying the exact and precise meaning of one single word in the Bible unless we believe that very word is the one God used, and that the idea conveyed by the word is the idea God wanted to reach our hearts. The lamented and scholarly M. C. Kurfees wrote a whole book on the single Greek verb "psallo". He did it because he believed that "psallo" was the very word God had used in setting forth the particular and specific kind of music he desired from those who would praise him. Who can count the number of tracts, articles, and books that have been written on the Greek word "baptidzo"? And the study has been well worthwhile. For that is the word God used in describing a certain action of obedience he requires from his creatures. It is not only worthy, it is absolutely essential, that we know what that action is. We cannot, without a clear and accurate understanding of the word, know that we have obeyed God.

Various Theories

Once we are agreed on the extent and scope of inspiration (i.e. that every single word in the original text is precisely the word God wanted there; every grammatical construction or arrangement is the one God specifically wanted in that place), we need not concern ourselves too much about the method of inspiration. Men have argued for centuries over the "how" of inspiration; whether it was merely an inspiration of thoughts and ideas, or a revelation of the exact words, or a governing and guiding superintendence, etc. etc. So far as we can tell their arguments have not been productive of very much that is worthwhile. It has all finally resolved itself into an argument about the degree of revelation; did God reveal only the ideas, or did he also reveal the very words, sentence structure, and grammatical constructions?

Those who hold that only the ideas were inspired usually accept either the (1) intuition theory, or (2) the illumination theory. The first-named theory is that inspiration is but a "higher development" of that insight into truth which all of us possess to a degree. As Brahms, Beethoven, and Mozart had a keen insight into and understanding of music, so the writers of the Scriptures had a keen insight into and an understanding of morals, ethics, and religion. That is all.

The second named theory (illumination) goes a bit further. Not only did the writers have a highly developed natural insight into truth, but that insight was sharpened and increased by a special "illumination" of the Holy Spirit. This theory holds that the writers; but not the writings, were inspired; that the Bible contains, not that it is, the word of God.

On the other extreme from these two theories is a third one, the dictation theory. According to this view, the writers were God's pens, not his penmen. They were stenographers—no, not quite that; for a stenographer may make an error, and may punctuate according to his or her own judgment. Rather the inspired writers were like a dictograph. Every single word was taken down as God uttered it; the writers were completely passive. Some careless modern students have tried to describe this as "verbal inspiration"; but the term verbal inspiration is not accurately given to this dictation theory.

The Fact, Not The Method

We take it that Christians would reject each of these theories as being the whole truth. There is an element of truth in each of them; and a combination of all three might approximate what happened. We will surely never understand the "modus operandi" of inspiration. It is probably beyond our comprehension even if it were explained to us. We believe the inspired writers themselves did not fully understand it. We know they did not always understand everything they wrote (1 Pet. 1:11.)

What we are interested in is the fact, not the method, of inspiration. And concerning that fact there can be no uncertainty, no doubt, when an inspired writer laid down his pen, every single word on that page, every grammatical construction, every sentence arrangement every expression of thought was exactly what the Holy Spirit wanted there. This must be obvious. Will anyone dare to say that there was some word there that was contrary to the will of the Holy Spirit? Would the Holy Spirit have preferred that some other word be used in the place of the one that was used? We cannot conceive it. Certainly the Spirit used the natural abilities and capacities of the writers. He made use of Luke's medical vocabulary, of Peter's blunt and often crude grammatical syntaxes, of Paul's highly emotional and fervent outbursts of praise to God right in the midst of his most deeply analytical arguments. Let the critic point out, if he will, every peculiarity of style and eccentricity of phrasing and individuality of manner in each of the writings. We not only admit them; we declare them. They are clearly there. And the Spirit of God has manifestly used these men as instruments in his hands, just as he used and directed the strength of Samson, the political insight of Isaiah, and the wisdom of Solomon.

Let us be content with the words of Peter, "men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit."