The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures
By Robert Haldane (1764 - 1842)
The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are not only genuine and authentic, but also inspired writings. The claim of inspiration which they advance is a claim of infallibility and of perfection. It is also a claim of absolute authority, which demands unlimited submission. It is a claim which, if set up for any other book, might, with the utmost ease, be shown to be unfounded.
The inspiration of the Scriptures is attested, both by the nature and value of their contents, and by the evidence of their truth. On these grounds, they stand without a rival in the world, and challenge from every man the highest possible regard.
Our knowledge of the inspiration of the Bible, like every other doctrine it contains, must be collected for itself. If the writers of this book appear with such credentials as entitle them to be received as commissioned of God, then it is from themselves only that we can learn those truths which they are authorized to make known. Among these, it is of primary importance to know what is the extent of that dependence which we are to place on their words. Is implicit credit to be given to everything they declare? and, if the writers are numerous, is this equally due to them all?
The question of inspiration has been viewed as one of the utmost difficulty; and, accordingly, various theories have been invented to explain it. To those who consider the subject merely in the light of the Bible itself, (the only source of legitimate information on any matter of revelation,) it may appear surprising that this doctrine should be supposed to present any difficulties at all. Nothing can be more clearly, more expressly, or more precisely taught in the Word of God. And while other important doctrines may be met with passages of seeming opposition, there is not in the language of the Scriptures one expression that even appears to contradict their plenary or verbal inspiration. Whence, then, it may be asked, has arisen the idea of difficulty so general among the learned, but utterly unknown to the great body of Christians. It has wholly arisen from the profane desire to penetrate into the manner of the Divine operation on the mind of man in the communication of revealed truth. Instead of coming to the Scriptures in a childlike manner, and humbly submitting to what they teach on this subject, many have occupied themselves in forming a scale for determining how far Divine assistance was afforded to the sacred penmen in the different parts of their writings; and according to almost all those who have discussed this subject, some parts of Scripture require only a very small degree of Divine assistance. But as the Scriptures assert the inspiration equally of all their parts, these writers are obliged to denominate even this slight assistance as a kind of inspiration. Some, accordingly, make three degrees or kinds of inspiration, while others add a fourth. To the Superintendence, Elevation, and Suggestion, of Doddridge, has been added Direction. And some, substantially agreeing in the doctrine of different degrees, quarrel with the terms by which these distinctions are designated, and for Suggestion have substituted Revelation, as more appropriately expressing the highest degree in the scale of inspiration.
To these speculations, though very generally adopted, the writers of the Scriptures give not the slightest countenance or support. Such being the fact, and as the question of inspiration can only be determined by the Scriptures themselves, all the distinctions that have been introduced are nothing better than vain and unsubstantial theories, unfounded and unsupported by any evidence. The Scriptures contain no intimation of their being written under an inspiration of any kind but one. “All Scripture,” says Paul, “is given by inspiration of God.” This declaration refers to the whole of the Old Testament, which Timothy had known from his childhood. But as the greater part of the New Testament was at that time published, and as the whole of it is uniformly classed by its writers with the Old Testament, this expression of Paul equally applies to the New Testament. The Apostle Peter classes all the Epistles of Paul, which he ascribes to the wisdom given to him, with “the other Scriptures,” thereby declaring them to be of the same authority, and showing that all the writings, both of the Old and New Testament, were designated the “Scriptures.”
Inspiration belongs to the original writings. No one contends for any degree of inspiration in the transcribers in different ages. Accuracy in the copies they have made is, under the providence of God, by which He always perfectly attains His purposes, secured by the fidelity of those to whom the Scriptures have been committed - by the opposition of parties watching each other, as of Jews and Christians, and of various sects - and by the great multiplication of copies and translations into different languages, which took place so early. The inspiration spoken of in the book of Job, 32:8, where it is said, “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding,” appears to refer to the communication of those intellectual powers with which man is endowed by his Creator. Every Christian has, besides this, an unction from the Holy Ghost, who dwelleth in him, through whom he was born again, and by whose influence his spiritual life is maintained. There have also been various miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit bestowed on the servants of God, and among these is that inspiration, by means of which God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
The word inspire signifies to breathe into, and literally corresponds to the original in II Timothy 3:16. All Scripture is inspired by God, or breathed into the writers by God. It is, therefore, of the writing that the inspiration is asserted. The Greek compound word, corresponding to our phrase inspired by God, was applied among the heathens to such dreams as were supposed to be breathed into men by any of the gods. This inspiration, which without any exception, variation or graduation, is claimed by the writers of the Scripture, and which entitles the whole of it to be denominated “the Word of God,” is of the highest kind by which they were “led into all truth.” It consists in that communication made to their minds by the Spirit of God, of the ideas and words which they have recorded in that sacred book. Paul expressly calls the Old Testament Scriptures “the ORACLES of God,” which were committed to the Jews (Romans 3:2). He afterwards gives the same denomination of “oracles” to all the revealed truth of God (Hebrews 5:12). The same expression was used by the Greeks to denote the responses given out in distinct words, which their priests made, in name of their deities, to those who consulted them. In the same sense, Stephen, speaking under the immediate influence of the Holy Ghost, designates the writings of Moses as “lively oracles.” In this expression their verbal inspiration is distinctly asserted.
In the passage above quoted, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,” the same thing is distinctly affirmed. Paul does not say the meaning of all Scripture, or the ideas contained in it, but all Scripture - all writing, or all that is written (taking writing in the appropriated sense in which he uses it) is given by inspiration of God. We have here a most unequivocal testimony to the inspiration of the words of Scriptures, for neither a meaning, nor an idea, can be expressed in writing, except by words. If any writing is inspired, the words of necessity must be inspired, because the words are the writing; for what is a writing, but words written? The thoughts and sentiments are the meaning of the words. To say that a writing is inspired, while the words are uninspired, is a contradiction in terms. The affirmation of Paul, then, respects the words as containing the meaning, and not the meaning as containing the words. To the same purpose, the Apostle Peter affirms, that “the prophecy came not of old time [at any time] by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” If they “spake as they were moved,” they did not choose the language they uttered, but the words which they spoke were given to them by the Holy Ghost. In the same manner the disciples, on the day of Pentecost, “were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.” Here utterance, or the words they spoke, is expressly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Nothing can more distinctly convey the meaning of inspiration than these words, “who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said” (Acts 4:25). And this inspiration, which without variation or exception is claimed for the Scriptures, by the sacred writers, entitles the whole of them to be called “the Word of God,” to which high designation they could not be entitled on any other ground.
The words of Scripture, as used by the writers, were indeed their own words. But this does not imply that the Bible is partly the word of God, and partly the word of man. It is not the effect of any such co-operation, as supposes that one part was produced by God, and the other part by man, to make out a whole. The passages above quoted preclude our entertaining any such notion. Because the words were written by the Prophets and Apostles, this does not prevent them from being the words of God. The following remarks of President Edwards, when he is combating the deeply erroneous sentiment of the Arminians, respecting a co-operation between God and man in the work of grace will explain this matter. “In efficacious grace, we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. For that is what he produces, viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and foundation: we only are the proper actors. We are, in different respects, wholly passive and wholly active. In the Scriptures the same things are represented as from God and from us. God is said to convert, and men are said to convert and turn. God makes a new heart, and we are commanded to make us a new heart. God circumcises the heart, and we are commanded to circumcise our own hearts; not merely because we must use the means in order to the effect, but the effect itself is our act and our duty. These things are agreeable to that text, ‘God worketh in you both to will and to do.’” Edwards’s Remarks, etc. 251.
“We grant,” says Dr. Owen, “that they” (the sacred writers) “used their own abilities of mind and understanding in the choice of words and expressions. So the preacher sought to find out acceptable words (Ecclesiastes. 12:10). But the Holy Spirit, who is more intimate into the minds and skill of men than they are themselves, did so guide and operate in them, as that the words they fixed upon were as directly and certainly from him, as if they had been spoken to them by an audible voice.” - Owen on the Spirit, Book ii. chap. I. sect. 20.
We are not however required to suppose, that while inspired, the ordinary exercise of the faculties of the penmen of the Scriptures was counteracted or suspended, or that their minds did not entirely go along with what was communicated to them. “They were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4). “They had the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16) and were themselves cast into the mold of that doctrine which they delivered to others. We are certain then, as appears from the whole of their writings, that as far as they comprehended the truths which they were employed to record, they both fully acquiesced in them, and powerfully felt their force. It forms no objection to their inspiration, that the words of Scripture are occasionally changed in parallel passages or quotations, by him who dictated them. The Holy Spirit is not confined to any one mode of expression, and in such places His mind is conveyed in words, which, though varied by Him, are yet perfectly adapted to communicate His will.
Nor does the difference of style which we find among these writers at all conclude against their having the words they were to write imparted to them. On the same ground that the term ”Scripture” includes the thoughts and words, so also does it necessarily comprehend the style in which it is written; which is in fact nothing more than the choice and arrangement of the words; for what is style, abstracted from the words that express it? The style that God was pleased to employ was used, and the instruments were such as that style was natural to, flowing, like the words, with their full consent, and according to the particular tone of their minds. The style of the Scriptures is the characteristic style of the different writers; but God is the author of it. The style is as truly God’s as the matter; for if He has employed the style of different writers, He has likewise employed their expressions, thoughts, reasonings, and arguments. God did not leave them to the operation of their own mind, but has employed the operations of their own mind in His Word. The Holy Spirit could dictate to them His own words in such a way that they would also be their own words, uttered with the understanding. He could express the same thought by the mouth of a thousand persons, each in his own style. Is it then because we cannot comprehend the mode of such an operation, that arrogant and weak mortals dare to deny the obvious import of Scripture declarations?
The objection to verbal inspiration, taken from the variety of style among the sacred writers, or from the circumstance that the same fact is often variously related by them, though at first sight it may seem plausible, is, in reality, both unfounded and absurd. It is taking it for granted that two or more accounts of the same thing, differing in phraseology, though substantially agreeing, cannot all be the words of inspiration; which has not the smallest foundation in truth. In variety of expression in relating the same things in the Gospel, would not affect the truth of the narrative, on the supposition that the writers were uninspired men, why is it presumed that it would affect it on the supposition of their being inspired? and why should it be thought improper for the Holy Ghost to make use of that variety? Or, because one peculiar cast of style distinguished every man’s writings, it is thought impossible that the Spirit of God can employ a variety of styles; or is it supposed that He must be confined to one single mode of expression? The simple statement of such an idea contains its refutation. It is evident, too, that variety of style militates no more against verbal inspiration, than against the supposed inspiration of superintendence; for if the Holy Spirit sanctioned variety, it was equally consistent to dictate variety. And it might be shown that such variety is of essential importance in the Gospel narratives in bringing out very interesting views, that could not be so well exhibited in a single narrative.
Of the fact, however, that the variety of style which is found among the writers of the Scriptures does not in the smallest degree militate against that verbal inspiration by which they affirm that they wrote, we have conclusive proof. For while it is evident to all, that there is a certain characteristic distinction of style, that pervades the whole of the Scriptures, and sufficiently attests that they are the work of the same author, it is equally certain that each one of the writers is distinguished from the rest by a style peculiar to himself. Now the difference of style is as great among the prophets, when predicting future events which they did not understand, where, as is admitted by all, the words they employed must necessarily have been communicated to them, as it is found to be among them when relating events with which they were previously acquainted. Here, then, we have positive proof on this subject, which it is impossible to set aside. The objection, too, that is founded on variety of style, to the communication of words, would equally militate against the communication of ideas. There is as great diversity of MODES OF THOUGHT, and of viewing their subjects, as of EXPRESSION AND STYLE, among the writers of Scripture. And can it for a moment be supposed, that either as to the one or the other, the Spirit of God is limited? “He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?” “Who hath made man’s mouth, or who maketh the dumb, or the deaf, or the seeing, or the blind, did not I the Lord?” He who conferred upon men all the varied powers and faculties which they possess, is He not able to communicate to their minds whatever to Him seems good, in every possible variety of expression, and in every conceivable shape?
It has been objected, that if the verbal inspiration of the whole of the Scriptures could be proved, it would follow, that the words of all the speakers who are introduced in them, such as those of Job’s friends, although their opinions were erroneous, nay even the words of the devil himself, were inspired. This objection is so absurd, that, unless it had been sometimes gravely urged, it would be too trifling to be noticed. Is it not sufficiently plain, that while God dictated to the sacred penman the words of those referred to, He dictated them to be inserted, not as His words, but as their words? Even the sayings of wicked men and of devils in the Scriptures are recorded by inspiration as truly as the sayings of Christ Himself, and, as recorded by the Holy Ghost, suggest inspired instruction. Every thing contained in the Bible, whether the words of the penman, that contain the mind of God, or the words of others, that are inserted for the purpose of giving such information as He is pleased to impart, is equally, according to the express declarations of Scripture, dictated by God. It should, however, be observed, that it is not at all implied in the assertion of plenary verbal inspiration, that every example recorded in Scripture, without any judgment expressed with regard to the conduct of good, or even inspired men, should be for imitation. When the Word of God records human conduct, without pronouncing on its morality, whether it is sin or duty, must be ascertained by an appeal to the general principles of Scripture.
It is no valid objection to verbal inspiration, that the sacred writers were often acquainted beforehand with those facts which they recorded, and that they were directed to refer to this knowledge to establish their credibility. This no more proves that their relating these facts originated with themselves, than the previous knowledge of a messenger of the contents of the message he bears, proves that it originated with himself, or detracts from its truth or authority. Nor does it form any objection that the penmen of Scripture often appeal, in support of what they advance, to its own evidence, or that they reason from principles granted by those whom they addressed. This was practiced by the Lord Himself, as to whose words no Christian will affirm that they are not the words of God.
There is a simplicity, harmony, and consistency, in that plan which represents the Scriptures as, in one point of view, the production of man, and in another wholly the book of God. This is precisely consistent with the language of the Apostle Paul, when he sometimes designates the Gospel, “my Gospel,” and sometimes, “the Gospel of God,” it being, in fact, both the one and the other. Though the deepest wisdom of man could never have anticipated such a scheme of inspiration, yet when it is submitted to the mind, it manifests itself to be Divine. And nothing but this view will harmonize all the assertions of the Scriptures.
The subject of the inspiration of the Bible has been too much disregarded among Christians; many have not attended to it at all, while others have ventured to indulge in vain speculations respecting it. But like every other doctrine, the nature of Divine inspiration ought to be carefully inquired into, and the truth respecting it received with the most unreserved submission. It will be proper, then, to consider it solely in the light which the Word of God affords; and for this purpose, after attending to the objections that have been derived from erroneous views of the meaning of certain passages of Scripture, to exhibit the ample proofs contained in the sacred record, which unequivocally substantiate its own plenary inspiration in every part, without a single exception
The inspiration of certain parts of the Scriptures is frequently denied, on the supposition that the Apostles themselves sages in question.
In answer to the question about marriage, Paul says, I Corinthians 7:6, “I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” Does this mean that the Spirit permitted him, but did not command him, to give the answer he had done? Even upon this supposition, the Apostle’s declaration must be according to the mind of the Spirit: for Paul could not, on such an occasion, have been permitted to say what was contrary to it. But this would have been a very extraordinary and unusual mode of communicating that mind, and evidently is not what is here intended. The obvious meaning is, that what the Apostle here said was in the way of permission, not of commandment. “I speak this,” says he, “as a permission, and not as a commandment;” and without this, the Apostle might have been understood as enjoining marriage as an indispensable duty. In the second Epistle to the same church [Corinth], chapter 8:8, the Apostle expresses himself to the same purpose, in a passage which no one misunderstands. Again, at the 10th verse, - “Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord.” This commandment had been delivered by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Apostle, therefore, had no new commandment to deliver to them, or no commandment from himself only, but one which the Lord had given. “To the rest, speak I, not the Lord.” There was no former commandment given by the Lord, to which he might here refer them; on this point, therefore, he now delivers to them the will of God. So far, indeed, was this commandment from having been given before, that it was the repeal of an old one, by which, under the Jewish dispensation, the people were commanded to put away their wives, if heathens. Can it, then, be supposed, that the Apostle is speaking from himself, and not under the dictation of the Holy Ghost, when he is declaring the abrogation of a part of the law of God?
“Now, concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” Here again no commandment had formerly been given, to which Paul could refer those to whom he wrote. But now, he gave his judgment as one that had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful in the discharge of that ministry which he had received, to deliver the whole counsel of God to man. “I think also that I have the Spirit of God.” In this, as in many other passages, the word translated, “I think,” does not mean doubting, but the most positive certainty. If Paul meant it to be understood, that he was not certain whether he was inspired or not, it would contradict all that he has positively affirmed in the same Epistle, on the subject of his inspiration, both before the expression in question, and afterwards, when he says, chapter 14:37, “If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord.” And it would stand directly opposed to what he affirms, I Thessalonians 4:8, “He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit.” But so far is this from being the case, that in order more deeply to impress the minds of those to whom he wrote, with the importance of what he had said, Paul concludes by assuring them that he was certain that he wrote by the Spirit of God.
The only other passage in which this Apostle is supposed to disclaim inspiration, occurs in II Corinthians 11:17: “That which I speak, I speak it not after the Lord, but as it were foolishly, in this confidence of boasting.” In this passage Paul does not refer to the authority, but to the example of the Lord. “I speak not according to the example or manner of the Lord, but after the manner of fools;” a manner which, as he tells the Corinthians in the next chapter, they had compelled him to adopt. Such is the true sense of the above passages; but even if the mistaken meaning so often attributed to them were the just one, they would not at all militate against the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, because in that case Paul was inspired to write precisely as he has done, since they form a part of Scripture, all of which “is given by inspiration of God.” If he has told us that he was not inspired on these points, he was inspired to make the denial.
[From Milburn Cockrell, Editor, The Berea Baptist Banner, December, 1998. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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