Does the Bible teach that it is a divinely inspired book? Those who say they believe in so-called "verbal-plenary" inspiration say "yes." Those who study the Bible in the most scholarly institutions of America are not so sure. Who is right?
Points of Agreement
Nearly all involved in the controversy are agreed that the Bible is inspired in some sense. Nearly all are agreed as well that Scripture teaches divine inspiration, somewhere and in some form, every one of the words of Scripture He inspired.
It is also agreed that the Bible depicts human beings as both finite and fallen and prone to error in what they do, but that God overcame human fallibility in some sense when He inspired “holy men of God” to record some form of Scripture. This is where we come to a major fork in the road. Though we do not have equally direct and clear statements to the effect that God also ensures that there are sixty six divinely inspired books, many believe a compelling case for this kind of inspiration can be derived from passages in certain sixty-six books that many refer to as Scripture or the Bible.
This article aims to examine all of the relevant biblical arguments to see whether we have sufficient grounds for believing God has continuously overcome the limitations of men so that they produce a divinely inspired, word-perfect text of sixty-six books. The goal here is not to argue outside of scripture, but to make myself a kind of blank slate and only judge my view of inspiration from the passages that are referred to by those who believe in a divinely inspired, word-perfect sixty-six book Bible in the original writings, essentially to hold myself to the standard that the word-perfect, sixty-book divine inspirationists say that they hold themselves to.
"All Scripture Is Given by Inspiration of God"
This phrase from 2 Timothy 3:16 has become the proof text for those who believe in word-perfect and divine inspiration of every and all the Words of a sixty-six book Bible. However, upon closer examination, I believe we can show quite clearly how that this is a position that the men who hold to this view are reading into the text based upon their ill-conceived presuppositions. For instance, 2 Timothy 3:16 itself doesn't teach what the word-perfect divine inspiration men say that it does. They take from this one phrase far more than it says. Here's how.
The verse starts with "all Scripture." These are two words in the original Greek, pas graphe. "All writing" or "every writing." The understanding of graphe is "writing." The next word is an adjective, translated in the King James Version with several words, "is given by inspiration of God." It is only one word in the Greek, an adjective, theopneustos, God-breathed. One could understand this terminology several ways---"every God-breathed writing" or "every writing is God-breathed." It is grammatically correct and many scholars believe that the translation should be: "Every inspired scripture is also profitable." Seeing that as a possibility does bring some ambiguity to the meaning of this verse from the start. It's not best to base some doctrine of divine, verbal-plenary inspiration of a sixty-six book Bible on such questionable writing.
The phrase is saying that certain writings are God breathed. Question: Which ones? Nowhere does the Bible in which this phrase appears tell anyone what the writings were that God inspired, that He breathed. And the verse says "writings," not "words" or "letters." Especially when we look at the quotations of the Old Testament in the New Testament and see that they don't match up "word for word," we really have a basis for seeing this as at the most a conceptual type of writing. "Writing" is in a general sense and not in any way specific.
Certainly the verse points a case toward God breathing out writings, but we don't have a basis for knowing what those writings are. And what certain men say are God-breathed, sixty-six books, they have no basis for knowing that those sixty-six were the ones that God breathed, or that he breathed two chapters or one chapter or five. And then we also know that the men to whom God breathed these writings were affected by the ruination of sin. Nothing in what men call the Bible, these so-called sixty-six books, says anything about whether the men wrote the books down correctly.
Do we know what was inspired and what was not? Nothing in these sixty-six books says anything about that, and all I'm trying to do is determine this based upon what the Bible itself says. And it says nothing about what are the writings and what are not. The sixty-six book Bible has verses in it that refer to books that are not among the sixty-six books. Why are they not included? It would seem that there is a biblical basis for including them, at least if the books in which they are mentioned are considered to be divinely inspired in such a way. When I base my position merely on what the so-called Bible says, I can't argue for what is inspired and what is not. There is no list included therein.
And then what exactly does this one adjective, found only here in the entire twenty-seven books men refer to as the New Testament, mean? We can't very well go to other verses to determine it's meaning. Is it a kind of divine inspiration at the level of William Shakespeare? Everyone has within him a spark of divinity, found in the image of God, that interacts with him in a way for his natural gifts to be used to their greatest extent. We can't say from this verse what exactly this "inspiration" is all about. Should we not build such a large case on a singular usage of a word? Wouldn't this word have appeared many more times if it really was so important?
"Holy Men of God Spake As They Were Moved by the Holy Ghost"
In addition to 2 Timothy 3:16-17, here from 2 Peter 1:20-21 is the only other proof text for the apparent doctrine of divine, verbal-plenary inspiration. Just to start, who are the "holy men" and what did they speak? It seems that we start with a lack of information right from the start by which we can make a decision. What came from holy men and what did not? And why were not all the books written by these holy men also part of the Bible? It smacks of subjectivity through and through.
And notice that it says that they "spake." Was everything that holy men spake, their oral words, actually moved upon by the Holy Spirit. And what was this movement? Many believe that "moved" means "to convey some burden" or "to be carried along." How does this relate to individual words and written ones at that? It seems that this passage does more harm than good for the cause of something written. It says "spake." Those are words from someone's mouth, not something in ink on some physical material, like parchment.
So far, a case for a biblical doctrine of word-perfect, divine inspiration of sixty-six books proves nothing beyond what is generally agreed: that God has given us to a certain degree a message. We don't know that it is in exact words, we don't know how many words, which words, or even books, and we don't know exactly how God went about accomplishing that. At the least, we've got to head outside of the Bible to determine how many books should be included in the whole. The Bible itself, as agreed upon the most conservative believers in inspiration, does not tell us how many books should be included. We have no Scriptural basis for determining what is God's Word and what is not and how exactly God made sure, despite the fallibility of sinful men, that we could even receive it in an untainted condition.
I recognize that many who read the above essay might be experiencing disgust and extreme revulsion. I understand. However, I wanted to argue against verbal-plenary, perfect, divine inspiration in the same manner as those who argue against perfect preservation of Scripture, so that they could get an understanding of what they sound like to us. I think my arguments above are just as good, even better, than what I hear against perfect preservation.
Aaron Blumer, the one whom I answered in my previous post, says he's taking his teaching only from Scripture. He says he's only letting Scripture have its say. I would ask him to show me where the Bible says there are sixty-six books and then within those books, and why within those books, why those paragraphs. Scripture might be inspired, but how do we know what is Scripture and what is not? He's got to make his argument just from Scripture.
As others read my general summary of positions, they may not want to think of what I've represented as being inspiration. But shouldn't they if they are going to be "open minded"? Haven't I been clear? Anyone who disagrees---should we just admit right now that they are closed minded and attempting to just obfuscate the issue? I think you get the point.
Aaron might think that he has a biblical basis for inspiration, one that we don't have for preservation. But that's only based on how you argue the issue. Aaron really does start with a predisposition toward the inspiration of the Bible when he comes to the two inspiration passages. Two. He is able to see them differently than the preservation passages, because he believes in the perfect inspiration of sixty-six books. I contend that the way he argues (and others just like him), what he writes, shows that he starts with a disposition not to believe in perfect preservation. Then he goes about looking at the passages. He's bound to be looking for arguments to eliminate the doctrine of perfect preservation.