Understanding The Bible
Part III - Inspiration


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Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

INSPIRATION (These notes are supplemented by Scroggie's Is the Bible the Word of God?)


1. The Problem

Simply to contend that the Bible is the Word of God is insufficient in this day of controversy. To claim that it is inspired by God adds significance but is still lacking. There is a definite need for the thorough Bible student to be able to state clearly and precisely his conviction in regard to the scope and meaning of inspiration as it relates to the Bible!

2. Its Importance

"The turning point of the battle between those who hold 'the faith once delivered to the saints, ' and their opponents, lies in the true and real inspiration of the Holy Scriptures. This is the Thermopylae of Christendom . If we have in the Word of God no infallible standard of truth, we are at sea without a compass, and no danger from rough weather without can be equal to the loss within. 'If the foundations be removed, what can the righteous do?' And this is a foundation loss of the worst kind." (Spurgeon)

3. Definitions

a.    Inspiration

  1. Webster - A supernatural influence which qualifies men to receive and communicate truth.
  2. Kuyper - Inspiration is that special and unique operation of the Holy Spirit whereby He directed the minds of the writers of the Scriptures in the act of writing.
  3. Warfield - Inspiration is a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness.

Note: The word always implies an influence from without producing effects beyond natural capacity. The word inspiration occurs only twice in the English Bible-Job 32:8 and 2 Tim. 3:16. The ASV cancels out the noun in both instances. The Latin word inspire is used in the Latin Bible in Gen. 2:7; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21, and inspiration in 2 Sam. 22:16; Job 32:8; Ps. 18:15; Acts 17:25.

b.    Revelation

  1. Webster - Revelation is the disclosing to others of what was before unknown to them.
  2. Strong - Revelation is direct communication from God of truth to which man could not attain by his unaided powers.
  3. Saphir - Revelation unveils to us a world which we never could have discovered by our own research.
  4. Evans - Revelation is that act of God by which He directly communicates truth not known before to the human mind. Revelation discovers new truth, while inspiration superintends the communication of that truth.

Note: The Hebrew and Greek words for revelation (occurring about 50 times in OT and NT) carry the meaning of uncovering, unveiling, or removal.

c.    Illumination

  1. Webster - Illumination is enlightenment, spiritual or mental.
    Strong - Illumination is the quickening of man's cognitive powers to understand truth already revealed.

Note: Greek word for illumination occurs once in NT--Heb. 10:32.

4. Distinctions
The three words inspiration, revelation, and illumination are not synonymous Dr. A. H. Strong has made the following analysis of the words which is very helpful in differentiating between them.

a.    Inspiration without revelation - Lk. 1:1-3
b.    Inspiration including revelation - Rev. 1:1,11
c.    Inspiration without illumination - 1 Pet. 1:11
d.    Inspiration including illumination - 1 Cor. 2:12
e.    Revelation without inspiration - Ex 20:1,22
f.    Illumination without inspiration - present day Bible preacher

Note: Read 1 Cor. 2:10-13 and find in these verses an illustration of each: inspiration, revelation, and illumination.



  1. Naturalistic Theory,
    The Bible is a human product, void of the supernatural element and so given to errors. This theory is advanced by rationalists, infidels, and atheists. Objection: This is no theory of inspiration. It is rather a denial. It does not lie within the purpose of this course to prove the supernatural character of the Christian faith and of the Bible. Our purpose rather is to define the Christian view of inspiration.
  2. Intuition Theory
    Inspiration is a higher development of that natural insight into the truth which all men possess to some degree. Morrell writes, "Inspiration is only a higher potency of what every man possesses in some degree." This view would classify the Scriptures with other great works such as Shakespeare, Tennyson, etc.

Objection: This view also falls short in that what it claims to be inspiration is in reality no inspiration at all. What one man may be "inspired" to say, another may be "inspired" to brand as false. The Vedas, Koran, and Bible cannot all be true. This involves a contradiction nullifying the validity of "inspiration. " Hence religion becomes merely a matter of opinion with no final basis of authority. In the final analysis such a view of inspiration either denies the personality of God or denies His real interest in man.

  1. Illumination or Gracious Theory
    Inspiration is the intensifying and elevation of the religious perceptions of the Christian, the same in kind, though greater in degree, with the illumination of every believer. Hence the Bible is the result of the meditations of godly men. Sabatier calls inspiration "piety raised to the second power." It differs from piety only in intensity and energy.

Objection: The view is inconsistent with the claim of Scripture itself. All writers of Scripture did not claim to be illuminated. Compare 1 Pet. 1:10-12, where it is reported that the OT prophets did not clearly and fully understand that of which they wrote. Also, it is to be noted that this theory can in no wise secure the Scriptures from error. The writer is still the victim of a depraved nature. He may have perfect understanding and yet not be able to perfectly convey that truth to others. Compare the teacher who knows his subject well but is not able to get it across to others.

  1. Partial Theory
    This theory suggests that only certain parts of the Bible were inspired. The usual view is that its religious or spiritual truths are God-given but the historical, scientific, and geographic details are not. Park writes, "Inspiration is such an influence over the writers of the Bible that all their teachings which have a religious character are trustworthy. " J. Patterson Smythe writes, "The Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible knew that these little details of genealogies and battles, and such like, in the history of Israel, were not a whit more important to us than similar details in the history of England."

Note: To be included in this view are those who emphasize that the Bible contains the Word of God in contrast to being the Word of God. Also included are those who ascribe to the words of Christ an inspiration above the rest of Scripture.

Objection: If only parts of the Bible are inspired, who is to determine those parts? The position is not consistent. The Bible is so thoroughly bound together by testimonies of one portion to the accuracy of another that to deny the validity of one part is to deny all. It stands or falls together.

Further objections against the position that the historical portions are not inspired:

  1. It is the historical portion of the OT which is most quoted and used by the NT.
  2. History is not recorded only to transmit memorials of former ages. It is given to show the character of God and of man.
  3. History records the intervention of angels.
  4. History is full of types. Much teaching is found in the historical portions.
  5. Note the dramatic power and the brevity of the historical sections. Life of Christ given in 800 lines; creation summarized in 31 verses, etc
  6. Prophetical reserve. Note how the Scripture guards against the worship of humans, i.e., Mary, Paul, Peter.

The rejection of Neo-orthodoxy (alias Barthianism, Theology of Crisis, New Theology, New Modernism, Transcendental Theology, Dialectical Theology), although difficult to pin down due to its denial of the absoluteness of truth, belongs here under partial inspiration. Neo-orthodoxy teaches that the Bible is the Word of God in all places where it is word bearing. Because it accepts the results of destructive criticism, it views the Bible as containing errors. However, since these errors are details pertaining to geography, history, creation, chronology, and genealogy, the religious value of the text is not impaired. In this way, Neo-orthodoxy speaks of the Bible as being reliable but not infallible. Regardless of high sounding phrases, this is partial inspiration and must be condemned as such.

Concluding note: "It strikes us that there is no arrogance to be compared with that of a man owning the Bible to be a book from God, and then making bold to sift with his own hands the pure in it from the impure, the inspired from that which is uninspired, God from man." (Gaussen)

  1. Thought or Concept Theory
    The thoughts of Scripture are inspired but the actual words are not. God gave to the various authors the messages then left them to express themselves as best " they could. Human expression of Divinely-given concept.

Objection: For the most part it is to be agreed that the concepts were inspired (exception--the prophets who did not fully understand their own writings). To say that this is as far as inspiration actually went is against the voice of Scripture itself as it emphasizes the very letter.

The view that He stopped at the thoughts involves the difficulty that accurate thoughts are useless unless expressed in accurate language. James Orr, writing concerning verbal inspiration, says, "It opposes the theory that revelation and inspiration have regard only to the thought and ideas, while the language in which these ideas are clothed is left to the unaided faculties of the sacred penman.. .if there is inspiration at all, it must penetrate words as well as thoughts."

Add to these objections the thought that all nature testifies to the fact that God is interested in details. If inspiration does not dwell on the words, moods, and tenses, then all exegesis is at an end. The Thought or Concept Theory appears to be supported by some to allow for the supposed contradictions and errors in the Word. It permits a rather low view of Scripture. In reality it solves no difficulty. If God was able to give the thoughts. He certainly was able to cause the writers to transmit those thoughts accurately.

  1. Dictation of Mechanical 'Theory
    The writers of Scripture acted as mechanical secretaries copying each word as God dictated.

Objection: Although on occasion God did dictate, facts do not substantiate this theory. It cannot account for the individual differences between the writers so that their writings can be distinguished. The stern character of Moses, the poetic nature of David, the love of John, are clearly stamped on their writings.


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