The Inspiration of Scripture
“…verbal inspiration of the Scriptures and the providentia1 preservation of the inspired words of Scripture are both subject to vicious attacks by many who, being wise in their own conceits, think to improve on God and His Word of Truth.”
THE INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE
Essay by Rev. J. E. Shufelto the Convention,Aug. 9, 1958
The word “inspiration” is recorded only twice in the King James version of the Scriptures, In the Old Testament we note it in Job 32, 8, which reads: But there is a spirit in man and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.” The word here translated “inspiration” is found more than twenty times in the Old Testament and is most often translated “breath”. In the very next chapter of Job (33:4) it is so used: “The Spirit of God hath made me, and the breath of the Almighty hath given me life.”
The other instance where we find the word “inspiration” in the King James version is in the New Testament, in II Tim. 3,16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Here the whole phrase “given by inspiration of God” is used to translate one compound word of the original Greek, adjective used only this once in the Bible. Thayer’s Lexicon translates it “inspired by God” and Berry’s Lexicon gives two possible translations'”God-breathed” and “inspired by God”. We may translate the passage then, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” or All Scripture is inspired by God “. Both are certainly correct. Looking at the form of the Greek original, the former seems to be a bit more literal, and that translation, “All Scripture is God-breathed”, emphasizes the thought that God breathed OUT all Scripture. Jeremiah emphasizes the same thought with the expression “out of the mouth of the Lord,” in Jer. 23, 16. “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own hearts, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” The other translations “All Scripture is inspired by God,” emphasizes the thought that God breathed all Scripture into the minds and hearts of the men who actually penned the Sacred Writings. This thought, set forth by hundreds of passages, such as those that read, “And God said,” or, “The Word of the Lord came to me, saying” followed by direct quotations, is also emphasized by II Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old times by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved (lit. “borne along”) by the Holy Ghost “Top
The word “Scripture” is found only once in the King James version of the Old Testament; that is in Dan.10, 21, where we read: “But I will show thee that which is noted in the Scripture of Truth.” The Hebrew word used here is usually translated “writing” Moreover, the context supports the comment of Dr. Kretzmann that this use of the word does not refer to our Bible, but to a heavenly writing, “the sacred document of God’s divine decrees.”
But in the New Testament the word “Scripture” is found some fifty times as a translation of the same Greek word, either in its singular or plural form. And this Greek word is never translated in the King James version by any other word. Only once is the adjective “holy” used with it (Rom. 1,2), It is always “Scripture” or “the Scriptures” once “the Holy Scriptures.” In only one instance in the New Testament are the word “the Holy Scriptures ” used to translate other, though synonymous, Greek words, namely in II Tim. 3,15, where Thayer suggests that; the words, “the sacred writings, ” be used to denote the distinction: “And that from a child thou hast known the Sacred writings “
This word “Scripture” is frequently used of the writings of the Old Testament, as for instance, Luke 4, 21: “This day is this Scripture fulfilled in your ears.” Also Rom. 15,4: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” It is used, too, of New Testament writings, as II Pet. 3, 15-36: Even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; as in all his epistles’ speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other Scriptures, unto their own destruction.“
Taken then in its simple meaning, as God would have all His children take all His words and statements, we learn that “all Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” is God-breathed, and therefore of necessity God’s inspired Word. For when God would communicate intelligently with men, He wisely used the means that men could understand, He used words He breathed into the minds and hearts of men the words they spoke and later wrote. Paul writes (I Cor.2, 12-13): “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of Sod. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (lit. “with spiritual words explaining spiritual things”). And John writes (I John1,3-4): “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye may have fellowship with us and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. And these things write we unto you, that your joy may be full.” Let us note that the apostle does not ascribe inspiration to the writers, but to what they wrote: “all Scripture”, all the written words are inspired by God, are God-breathed. This then is sufficient to establish VERBAL INSPIRATION (inspiration of the words) as a clearly proven doctrine of the Scriptures, not a mere theory or theological deduction.
But does the doctrine of verbal inspiration apply to our Bible today? The Scriptures in use in Paul’s day were all God-breathed, all inspired; but do we have the same inspired words? Can we be sure that our Bible is truly the Word of God? It must be admitted that we do not have any of the original writings of the prophets, nor of the apostles and evangelists. They have long since worn out and disappeared or been destroyed. There are today more than 4000 known copies or manuscripts containing all or generally parts of the Scriptures. These were all copied by hand before the days of printing presses. Most of them at least are copies of copies, and this copying was done by fallible men. Furthermore, there are said to be many variations in the manuscript copies. Can we have any real assurance then that God has preserved for us His own inspired Word intact? Strange as it may seem, WE CAN. In spite of human mistakes, God has wonderfully protected and providentially preserved the integrity of His Word so that we can be fully assured that we today have the God-breathed original Scriptures for our study, and for our use in faithfully carrying out the Great Commission of our gracious God and Savior Jesus Christ.
We reach this assurance from the testimony of God the Holy Ghost in the Scriptures themselves. In John 17,20 we read words spoken by our Lord Jesus Christ, “Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on Me THROUGH THEIR WORD.” Here is assurance that men will be brought to saving faith through the Word that is given to apostles and evangelists; concerning which Peter writes (1st Ep. 1,25), “But the Word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the Word which by the Gospel is preached to you.” God our Savior doesn’t make promises, as men, do, to be broken. He is the Truth. He speaks the Truth. He always keeps His promises. He commissioned His Church, saying, (Matt. 28, 18-20) “All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth. Go ye, therefore, and teach (lit. make disciples of) all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world,” The things that Christ commanded and directed to be taught are in the written Word, the God-breathed Scriptures. And Christ’s promise always to be with His disciples in this work must carry the implication that He is with them in that Word, “even unto the end of the world.” We have another promise by Him in John 8, 31-32; “Then said Jesus to those Jews that believed on Him, If ye continue in My Word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the Truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Would Christ — could Christ make that promise, and not preserve His Word to the end of the world, in spite of the weaknesses of men, even Christian men? Jesus also said (John 10, 35), “The Scripture cannot be broken,'” that is, the Scripture cannot be annulled, cannot be done away with, cannot be deprived of authority. (Thayer, P.385). Again He said (Luke 16,29), “They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them.” By them and only them, that is, by the testimony of the Scriptures will man be saved. The testimony and promises thus give full assurance that the Church possesses today, in all its parts, the God-breathed, God-inspired Scriptures. To say less, or to dispute it, is to question the Word of Christ and His holy writers. The doctrine of the providential preservation of the original Scripture text is well established in the Scriptures themselves.
These two doctrines: the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures and the providentia1 preservation of the inspired words of Scripture are both subject to vicious attacks by many who, being wise in their own conceits, think to improve on God and His Word of Truth. It has always been so, since the fall of man. And yet the Holy Ghost has made the wrath of man to praise Him, as it is written, (Ps.76,10) “Surely the wrath of men shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” So far as the New Testament is concerned, the struggle between the true text and texts with human additions and subtractions is very well told in a little book with the subtitle, “A Christian View of the New Testament Manuscripts,” by Dr. Edward F. Hills, who has made a special study of New Testament Textual Criticism.
Permit me then to quote a few paragraphs and sentences from this book wherein he traces the probable history of the preservation of the true original text through the centuries.
“At the very beginning, while they were still gathered together at Jerusalem, the inspired Apostles proclaimed to the Jews their testimony concerning the life and teachings of their Lord. This testimony was the Gospel and in their proclamation of it the Apostles all agreed, not due to any artificial or forced effort toward that end, but by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. And later the Spirit sent out not only the Apostles, but also prophet, evangelists, teachers, and other inspired men to proclaim this same Gospel to the Gentiles.Top
”The dissemination, therefore, throughout the Church of a uniformoral tradition concerning; the life and teachings of Christ was the first phase of the blessed work of the Holy Spirit, by which He brought the Gospel of redemption to a lost and sinful world. The second phase was the recording of that story for the salvation of future generations through His penmen, the inspired Evangelists. Each Evangelist wrote His Gospel separately with(out) any dependence on the work of others. The agreement of these three Gospels is to be explained from the fact that each Evangelist was moved by the Holy Spirit to record in writing a portion of that uniform oral Gospel which had become familiar to the early Church everywhere through the preaching of inspired men.
“The third phase of’ the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of the New Testament Scriptures was the supplying of an interpretation of the Gospel story. This He did in the inspired epistles of Paul and the other Apostles, in the Book of Acts, and last of all in John’s Gospel and Apocalypse.
“The fourth and final phase of the Spirit’s blessed task of giving the New Testament to the Church was to secure from the Church an acceptance of these Scriptures as the Word of God. This phase began as soon as the New Testament was written. The first New Testament book to be produced was I Thessalonians, and in this book the Apostle Paul made the highest possible claims to divine inspiration, telling the Thessalonian converts that his word to them was not the word of men but the Word of God (2,13), asserting that, whosoever despised his commandment despised not man but God (4,8),and charging them by the Lord that his epistle be read to the holy brethren (5,27). In his other epistles also Paul made similar claims. Thus he writes to the Corinthians, “If any man think himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord” (I Cor.14,37). And the other New Testament writers breathe this same sublime confidence in their divine inspiration and authority. Thus the apostle John clearly implies that it was the Holy Spirit that enabled him to remember and record his Savior’s words (John 14,26). These lofty claims of the New Testament writers the Holy Spirit took as soon as they were made and pressed home to the hearts of the faithful. Thus everywhere in the apostolic Church the New Testament books were revered as his divine writings by all true believers, and soon this reverence grew under the leading of the Holy Spirit to a conscious recognition of these books as the New Testament canon of Holy Scripture. (pages 48- 50)
“Conditions during the second and third centuries were not favorable to the accurate transmission of the New Testament text. During this early period there were in the Christian Church many unspiritual persons who did not recognize the books of the New Testament as holy Scripture, or at least did not accord such recognition to all the New Testament books. This inability on the part of many to perceive that the New Testament books were divine Scripture undoubtedly made for carelessness in the handling of the New Testament text, and this tendency toward inaccurate copying would be aggravated by the fact that few of the early Christians were professional scribes with training in the art of transcribing manuscripts. In addition to the variant readings which crept into the New Testament text through careless blunders, there were many others which were purposely introduced by editors and revisers (many of whom were heretics). (page 50)
“Thus during the second and third centuries a situation arose in the Christian Church which may fittingly be ascribed to the machinations of the evil one, who as soon as the Holy Spirit had delivered the New Testament Scriptures to the Church, immediately endeavored to snatch them away. At Rome and Alexandria, the two cultural centers of the ancient world two corrupt text types arose which were used increasingly by substantial segments of the Church and threatened to drive the true New Testament text out of existence. The infant Church, weak and theologically immature, reeled under this two-pronged attack of Satan upon her holy apostolic Scriptures. But God in His providence did not allow the true New Testament text to perish. Down into the 4th century there were still many individual Christians, and even churches, that numbered among their choicest possessions certain ancient manuscripts — and cherished the genuine apostolic text which they, contained. No doubt such persons were to be found most frequently in areas which were somewhat remote from the influence of Rome and Alexandria and so most likely to escape corrupting contacts with the Western and Alexandrian texts.
“There are a number of reasons which encourage us to believe that during the second and third centuries (the dark ages of the New Testament text) the original apostolic text of the New Testament was preserved in purer form in Asia Minor and Antioch than in other localities. In the first place, the Christians of Asia Minor and Antioch possessed the Apostolic autographs of more of the New Testament books than did their fellow Christians in other regions.Top
“Since the Christians of Asia Minor and Antioch were the original of the great majority of the New Testament books, it is very likely they who first began to assemble them into a single New Testament canon, — And because the New Testament books were first gathered together and accorded full recognition as Scripture in Asia Minor and Antioch, the copying of these books would be done more carefully in this region than in other places. Thus it is reasonable to believe that during the late first and early second century an unusually pure type of New Testament text was in circulation in Asia Minor and Antioch. (p.53-55)
“Throughout the second and third centuries and down into the middle: of the fourth century the rank and file of Christians of Asia Minor, and probably also of Antioch, remained loyal to the true New Testament text — and resolute in their rejection of the Western and Alexandrian texts. It was in this way, no doubt, that the true text was preserved by the providence of God during these early troubled years. Toward the end of the fourth century the true New Testament text emerged from the relative obscurity into which it had been thrust. The great fourth century conflict with the Arian heresy had brought orthodox Christians to a theological maturity which enabled them to perceive the superior doctrinal richness of the true text. In ever increasing numbers they abandoned the corrupt Western and Alexandrian text types and turned with eagerness to those ancient manuscripts which contained the true text. They read these old manuscripts with such enthusiasm and copied them so frequently that finally they wore them to tatters. Thus these venerable documents perished, used up, as it were, in active service, but not before they had left behind them a host of fresh manuscripts copied from them and bearing witness to the true text. It was thus that ; the true: text became the Byzantine text;. that is, the standard text of the medieval Greek Church. (pages 55-56)
“The special providence of God, operating within the sphere of the Greek Church, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit, provided for three things: first, that trustworthy copies should be produced; second, that these trustworthy copies should be read and re-copied, and third, that untrustworthy copies should not be read and re-copied but after a comparatively brief period should sink back into oblivion. re-copied thus the providential preservation of the New Testament involved God’s special supervision and control not only over the scribes who copied the New Testament manuscripts, but also over the rank and file of Greek speaking Christians who read these copies and preserved them. The errors of the scribes, therefore, were corrected by the God-guided preference of the Greek- speaking Church. Faulty copies which seriously misrepresented the original text may have obtained considerable popularity for a relatively brief period, but soon they were laid aside and forgotten, and a return was made by the whole Greek church to trustworthy copies, which meanwhile had been kept in existence by the watchful providence of God. These trust worthy copies were then greatly multiplied during the progress of the ages so that now we can be sure that the text found in the vast majority of the extant copies is a faithful reproduction of the original text.
“The New Testament text, therefore, which is found in the vast majority of the extant manuscripts is the providentially preserved and approved text, the text upon which almighty God, expressing Himself providentially in the usage of the Greek Church, has placed His divine sanction. This text is usually called the Byzantine text, because it was the text of the whole Greek Church during most of the Byzantine period (312-1453).:It is found not only in the vast majority of the extant New Testament manuscripts, but is also very familiar to the vast majority of Bible readers all over the world, for it is the text of the King James Version and of the other early Protestant translations. (pages 34-35)
“God used the Greek Catholic Church as His special agent in preserving the Greek New Testament text during the thousand year Byzantine period (321- 1453), not because its doctrine was purer or its authority greater than the other sections of Christendom, but simply because throughout most of this long duration the Greek language was preserved only within its confines. Later, when the knowledge of Greek became more general, the guardianship of the New Testament text passed from the Greek Church to the Protestant Church. (page 117)Top
The great revival of Greek learning — commonly called the Renaissance — was followed in the 16th century by an even greater Spiritual movement, namely, the Protestant Reformation, one of the leading principles of which was the sole and absolute authority of the holy Scriptures. The New Testament text in which early Protestants placed such implicit confidence was the Textus Receptus, that is, the first printed edition of the Greek New Testament, which was published in 1516 under the editorship of Erasmus and only slightly modified in subsequent editions in the 16th and early 17th centuries. All these editions of the Textus Receptus, however, agree with one another very closely. (page 120)
“The Reformation Text (Textus Receptus) was used almost universally by Protestants for more than three hundred years after its first publication. Finally in 1831 Lachmann rejected it altogether and published one of his own devising taken from non-Byzantine manuscripts. : Lachmann’s example was soon followed by Tischendorf and Tregelles and by Westcott and Hort in 1881. Subsequent to this latter date the Reformation text rapidly declined in influence, especially after the British and Foreign Bible Society stopped printing it in 1904.(page 133) These men whose influence has been extensive among New Testament critics for the past one hundred years all ignored the Bible doctrine of Verbal Inspiration and that of Providentia1 Preservation, too. And they have devised recessions of the New Testament text based upon the copies of the old discarded Western and especially the Alexandrian texts, which turned up in more recent archaelogical discoveries, in a few rare copies that are considered older than any extant copies of the Byzantine text. They discounted consistently Christian New Testament Textual Criticism which holds to the Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures and their Providentia1 preservation to the end of time; and they adopted a new naturalistic textual criticism in accord with their own announced principle that the New Testament should be treated just as nothing more than a human book.”
These are the conclusions of Dr. Edward F. Hills regarding the true original text of the New Testament Scriptures. He differs very much from the thinking that has prevailed in theologica1 circles during the past two or three generations, but his book is well written, shows the result of much careful research and offers strong evidence for the correctness of his position. He convinces your essayist that the Reformation Text, the Textus Receptus, from which Luther’s New testament, the King James Version of the New Testament as well as many in other languages were translated, is indeed the text that the Holy Ghost inspired the holy men of God to write, and has preserved through the centuries for the building and preservation of the Church.
There remains then the question of translation in the discussion of the inspiration of Scripture. Is God pleased with translations? Does He speak to men through them? Are they, too, inspired by God? The fact that He urges His Word be read, searched, learned, and talked about, is evidence that He wants it to be put into the vernacular of people; so that He can speak directly to the understanding and to the hearts of all classes and conditions of men. Men have been saved without being able to read the Scriptures even in their mother-tongue but it was absolutely necessary for them to hear God’s Word in their own tongue, in the language they could understand. And after they became Christians, it was indeed God’s will that they read, search, and judge by the Scriptures.
Now as to the translations, it is self-evident that the original text wields canonical authority over all translations. The vernacular versions have authority only insofar as they correctly render the original text. On the one hand, it must be recognized that even the best translators were not inspired as were the men who wrote the original text, and for that reason their translations must remain under the control of the original text On the other hand, it must be admitted that God can speak English, or German, or Spanish, or Hungarian, or any other language of men, just as fluently and correctly as He spoke in Hebrew and Greek. So whatever is God’s Word in the original languages, is God’s Word, too whenever correctly rendered in any other language Moreover, the language used in all the clear passages which are properly considered as “seats of doctrine” are so plain and simply stated in the original that every translation that deserves to be called a translation must reproduce the original teaching. As Luther says, “There is no clearer book written on earth than Holy Scripture.” And the greatest theologians of all ages have pointed out that the whole Christian doctrine is revealed in Scripture passages that need no exegesis and are an open book alike to the learned and the unlearned
God’s Word is His message to all men. That it be translated into the every day speech of all classes and conditions of men everywhere in the world is a part of the Great Commission. Much of this work has undoubtedly been done and more will undoubtedly follow in the days that are ahead. But in bringing this paper to a close your essayist wishes to raise one question: Are we justified in considering our beloved King James Version which was indeed the everyday speech of old England at the time of King James I to be the translation best suited to bring its message to our people in these United States of America today? Is its message put in the everyday language of our citizens today? Of course, if one studies the matter carefully with dictionary in hand or a true teacher at his side, he will come to understand and believe, just as we who have studied the Scripture long and hard through many years. But is not God also expecting us to bring its message to those who have not had the blessing of parents who studied and taught them the Word of the Gospel and its personal gifts of the Spirit to them? Should it not be our earnest endeavor to put the testimony of the Holy Ghost in such simple words for the children of today that He may apply it to their hearts with power? The Savior died for all. Let it not be that He died in vain because they could not understand the unusual words that are foreign to their education!