Inspiration is that act of God, whereby He moved holy men so that they infallibly, unerringly wrote the Word of God. This refers, of course, to the original manuscripts. We believe that these divine Scriptures, in their entirety, are the direct product of the living God and of the power of His grace. Although mention, then, can be made of the divine and human “factors” with respect to the composition of the Bible, these “human factors,” although referring to the holy men who wrote the Scriptures, must never be regarded as anything else than the divinely willed and prepared instruments whereby the living God revealed unto us and bestowed upon us His own Word.
We can distinguish between “plenary” and “verbal” inspiration, although they are very closely related. “Verbal” inspiration signifies, naturally, that the holy writers were verbally inspired. The very words and letters which they wrote were written with infallible accuracy, as directly under the influence of the Spirit of God. This is clearly proved by a passage such as. There we read: “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” In this text the apostle Paul bases an argument upon a single letter, distinguishing between the plural “seeds” and the singular “seed.”
Plenary inspiration is closely related to the above-mentioned idea of verbal inspiration. The word “plenary” signifies “full, complete.” When associated with inspiration it conveys the thought that every word, in its order, is infallible, that the entire Bible is completely the inspired Word of God. Verbal inspiration, when applied to the entire Bible, is necessarily plenary inspiration. It is possible, however, to divorce the two, to conceive of certain parts of Scripture as being verbally inspired without necessarily confessing that the entire Bible is divinely inspired. This error has been committed in the past. We believe, however, that inspiration is also plenary, that all of Holy Writ is directly the product of the living God. Verbal inspiration must therefore be applied to the entire Word of God. This truth is based upon a passage such as. There we read: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” It is true that this text is more difficult than may appear at the first glance. However, we may safely assert that the translation which we have quoted is a correct rendition of the text. Space hardly allows me to enter into a detailed discussion of this passage. We would, in this connection, refer the inquiring reader, if he can read the Holland, to page 540 of Volume 8, where the editor of our Standard Bearer explains this passage in detail. Suffice it at this time to say that all Scripture, the entire Bible is given us by inspiration of God. Plenary inspiration has the support of Holy Writ.
It is not the purpose of this article to dwell at length on the idea of inspiration. This has been done in our paper not so long ago. I would rather view the words “plenary’’ and “verbal” in their relation to one another and emphasize that they are inseparable, that verbal inspiration can be maintained only on the basis that all Scripture is inspired, and that, naturally, plenary inspiration rests on the supposition that the Bible is verbally God’s own book. The idea has been advanced that the Bible contains the Word of God, that the Word of God is in the Bible. All Scripture, then, was not divinely inspired. Certain parts may be God’s own Word, but this could not be said of the entire Word of God. We maintain, on the other hand, that God Himself is the author of the entire Bible and that He did not leave a solitary part of it to the imagination of man.
Plenary inspiration is necessary because the denial of it must lead the Church of God into a hopeless subjectivism. Presuppose that only parts of the Word of God are inspired, but that other parts of the same Scriptures are of man. What will be the result? Who, then, will determine what is and what is not the Word of God? Which parts of Holy Writ can then serve as a rule for our life and conduct? To which parts of the Scriptures can we submit as speaking to us with divine authority? We would therefore drift into a hopeless subjectivism. Moreover, if man must determine what is and what is not the Word of God, the result will be that the Bible will necessarily be unclothed of all divine authority. We cannot be certain that any particular passage of the Scriptures is God’s own Word. And man’s word carries no authority. We thereby lose the Scriptures as an infallible norm for our life and walk.
Plenary inspiration is necessary, in the second place, because the denial of it would imply that the Scriptures are characterized by all the shortcomings and corruptions of man. If the Bible is not the Word of God it is, of course, the work of man. There is no other alternative. If only parts of Scripture are verbally inspired the other parts of Holy Writ must necessarily be the product of the mind of man. The implications of this reasoning are far-reaching indeed. Presuppose that the living God had left the writing of His Word of truth to man. What guarantee have we then, that men would not write those Scriptures, that will of God in harmony with their own tastes and dislikes? First of all, man is by nature a liar and the truth is not in him. He loves the darkness and hates the light. He loves iniquity and unrighteousness and hates all goodness and righteousness. What assurance have we that man would not write the Word of God according to his own inclinations and desires? It is surely hardly conceivable that man, as the author of the norm for our life and conduct, would ascribe all the glory and honor unto the living God. How, then, could the living Lord entrust the writing of His Word to carnal and sinful man? Moreover, in the second place and in close connection with this, man, although renewed in principle by the grace of the living God, is but in principle holy. He has but a small beginning of obedience. He is and remains, as long as he is in this earthly tabernacle, a child of God only in principle. And the Scriptures clearly emphasize that the heart is subtle, more subtle than any other thing. The flesh is in conflict with the Spirit, also in the child of God. This is certainly a fact to be reckoned with. And although it is true that he in principle understands the things which are of the Spirit of God and also rejoices in those things, yet he does the things he would not and does not the things which he would perform. And this is true especially as far as his attitude toward the Word of God is concerned. The history of the Church of God throughout the ages testifies loudly to this effect. Is it not an undeniable fact that, in the course of the history of the Church, the attempt has repeatedly been made to distort the Word of God so as to be able to maintain one’s own evil and sinful inclinations. Is it not true that man, to maintain his own worldly-mindedness, has deliberately distorted the Word of God? Are not our Reformed confessions also a testimony against the winds of heresy which have never failed to blow upon the ocean of time? Did not vain man continually attack the divine sonship of our Lord, God’s absolute sovereignty and man’s utter depravity, the particular character of the passion of the Christ, and the efficacy of divine grace? Is it not true, also of ourselves, whereby we persistently would seek ourselves, and that this struggle demands much prayer and faith to uphold the testimony of Holy Writ? Yea, do we not have the testimony within our hearts that the inspiration of the Scriptures is also plenary? Let us, when analyzing the question whether the Scriptures are wholly the Word of the Lord, examine our own hearts. Who, then, would dare deny that there is continuous conflict within us against the Scriptures? Our own heart therefore loudly testifies that the Word of God is not as we would have it be, and that consequently the Scriptures could not have been written by man. How differently the Bible would have been written if the Lord had left it in our hands! Surely, plenary inspiration is necessary because of our own evil passions and desires—otherwise we would never have had a Word of God.
Thirdly, plenary inspiration is necessary because the Word of God is a revelation of the things which never could have entered into the hearts and minds of man. Not only does the Word of God speak of things which are spiritually repulsive to our own heart and flesh, but it also reveals things to us which could impossibly arise in the imagination of man. Scripture speaks of heavenly things, directs us to the culmination of God’s eternal counsel in the new heavens and upon the new earth. Even as the natural man does not understand the spiritual things of the Spirit, so also the earthy man, with his earthy knowledge and wisdom, cannot reach unto the things which are heavenly and eternal. We can only conceive of earthy things. This accounts for the fact that Scripture’s description of the heavenly Jerusalem is clothed in an earthy language adapted to our earthy existence. If we, therefore, are to have revelation, if we are to be have knowledge of the heavenly things, if we are to be comforted in the midst of this earthy vale of tears with respect to the heavenly glories which await us, only He, who is in heaven and descended from heaven, can reveal these things unto us. This, too, is an undeniable tact. How could God leave the writing of heavenly matters, then, to men who could impossibly conceive of them?
For these reasons we must maintain the plenary as well as verbal character of Divine inspiration. Every word of the Scriptures, also in its order, is the direct product of divine inspiration. Only thus can the authority of Holy Writ be established. And this is indispensable as far as our comfort and spiritual life are concerned. A word of man is meaningless and without authority. The Bible, however, is the Word of God. And this does not merely imply that it is an authoritative rule for our life so that we must be subject to it. It also means that God will maintain His own Word, that the Bible is faithful and true, that its promises are Yea and Amen, and that it is a sure guide which leads us unerringly into the glory which the Lord holds before us in the Scriptures and which He shall bestow upon all those who love His appearing.