In opposition to the three positions mentioned in Barth, Rome, and Liberals on Inspiration, I will argue in favor of the fourth position, Plenary Verbal inspiration. I will seek to explain the tenets of the position and argue from both a textual and historical standpoint that the position is verifiably the most reasonable among the four and therefore the most accurate position.
First, it is necessary to begin by defining our terms. The word “inspiration” refers to the act of God by which he speaks through the instrument of a human. This definition will be further unpacked as Scripture references are considered. However, of consideration first is the word “plenary.” The word “plenary” may simply be defined as “all” or “complete.” “All” refers to the entire Bible including its constituent parts: the individual words and letters.
Similarly, what is meant by ‘Verbal’ is the content of the Scriptures in their original manuscripts. While “plenary” refers to the capacity of inspiration, “verbal” describes the object of inspiration: the original autographs of the Greek and Hebrew, i.e. the parchment on which Paul wrote Romans.
Now that we have defined our terms, we will find that the Scriptures teach just that. First, the Apostle Paul attests to a Plenary Verbal position. In his second letter to Timothy, he writes, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16). The word γραφὴ is here used as a technical term for the Scripture1. Warfield notes that it is used by Philo and Josephus and other first century writers to refer to the Hebrew canon. Further, the New Testament writers themselves use the word some 50 times, either in the plural or the singular, in reference to Old Testament2. All (πᾶσα) of the Old Testament writings are θεόπνευστος, or breathed out by God, says Paul. The Scriptures, (with the Old Testament in mind here) are described as being fully inspired without exception. Everything that is therefore called γραφὴ is θεόπνευστος, or has its origin from God. Being that it originated in God it is inerrant, for God cannot lie and cannot err. Noting our definitions above, this is in accordance with the Plenary Verbal position because every part of the writings of the Old Testament are considered to be from God. But given that the position posits that the biblical canon is inspired, further examination must be made to see whether or not inspiration extends to the New testament.
Paul in his letters to Timothy does not limit his scope of Scripture to the Old Testament, however, but also quotes another part of the biblical canon, namely the book of Luke: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:18). The first quotation is from the book of Deuteronomy, a book which is from the Old Testament. Paul calls this quotation Scripture in accordance with the doctrine he set forth in his second letter to Timothy. However, right next to the quotation from Deuteronomy is a quotation from Luke 10:7. This, too, Paul calls Scripture. By way of reason, it is understood from our definition of Scripture that Paul is explicitly calling a New Testament book inspired. He quotes the New Testament as part of the technical category of the God-breathed Scripture. On what basis is Paul’s claim valid? It is valid based upon his own writings being inspired (see below).
Beyond the Old Testament and the book of Luke, Paul’s own writings are described as being inspired. The Apostle Peter writes explicitly, “just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). Notice that Peter attributes the technical term γραφὰς (here used in its plural form) to refer to Paul’s writings. Reasoning from the definition of Scripture from 2 Tim. 3:16, Paul’s writings must be inspired as well. It is clear from Peter’s testimony that Paul’s original writings are considered inspired.
Peter’s own writings may be considered inspired on the basis of John 14:26 wherein the Apostles (of which Peter was the chief) are promised the teaching of the Holy Spirit after Jesus’s death. Jesus later tells the disciples that the coming Spirit will guide them into all truth and disclose things to come (John 16:13). Tradition tells us that Mark wrote under the guidance of Peter and his audience immediately received his work as Scripture. The writings of John, being also an Apostle and recipient of the promise of John 14:26, must also be considered inspired. Because Luke wrote both his Gospel and Acts at the same point, and we have shown that the gospel of Luke is inspired, we have every reason to assume that Acts was inspired as well. And so on the argument goes (which space does not permit us to venture into) until the biblical canon is proven to be inspired. In other words, the self-attestation of Scripture is proof of its own inspiration. But what of the extent of inspiration? How do we know that inspiration occurs down to the very verbal relationships? This we will turn our attention to next.
Inspiration, as noted in our definition in the Plenary Verbal sense, occurs down to the verbal relationships. This may be proved from several examples. First, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, his argument from Scripture is based upon a certain form of a word: “He does not say, ‘And to seeds,’ as referring to many, but rather to one, ‘And to your seed,’ that is, Christ” (Galatians 3:16). Paul, quoting from the Old Testament, explains that the usage of the singular seed (σπέρματί) is evidence of there being one seed in mind, namely Christ. Paul, the very man who explained that all of Scripture is breathed out by God, quotes from Scripture in such a way that reveals its inspired authority residing in the words themselves. If this were not true, then Paul would not have made the argument based on the singular form of a word. The same kind of argument is used by Jesus in Matthew 22:43 wherein the tense of the word κυρίῳ is evidence of the Christ’s lordship over David. Further, Revelation 22:19 proclaims a warning for anyone who adds or takes away a word from the book. Clearly, the extent of inspiration is down to the very words and verbal relationships, precisely in accordance with the Plenary Verbal position.
Historically, this position can be supported and verified by the church. Warfield ventures to say, “The earliest writers know no other doctrine.”3 He goes on in the same chapter to consider Polycarp, Irenaeus, Origen, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the Puritans and many of the Reformed confessions of faith, arguing that Plenary Verbal inspiration was the de facto position of the church. Indeed, when one examines the writings of the early church, one finds that the Scriptures undeniably held supreme authority as the inspired word of God. We shall look to some examples.
First, note the wording of the Westminster Confession of Faith: “The Old Testament in Hebrew (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament in Greek (which, at the time of the writing of it, was most generally known to the nations), being immediately inspired by God.”4 The Westminster Confession sees inspiration occurring down to the very words of the original texts of Hebrew and Greek, i.e. verbal inspiration. Furthermore, in the same chapter, the confession holds that the biblical canon in its entirety is inspired, i.e. plenary inspiration. This is one significant confession which the church has produced which clearly adopts the Plenary Verbal.
Going even further, Norman Geisler, in an article about inspiration and inerrancy, is confident enough to state that, “The divinely authoritative basis for the teaching of the Christian church is evident both implicitly and explicitly in the earliest general creeds of the church.”5 In other words, plenary verbal inspiration, the necessary grounds for the authority of the Scriptures and the teaching of the Christian church, is assumed throughout much of church history.
1Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and Ethelbert Dudley Warfield, Revelation and Inspiration (New York: Oxford University Press, 1927), 79
4Anonymous, Westminster Confession of Faith
5Norman L. Geisler, “An Evaluation of McGowen’s View on the Inspiration of Scripture.” Bibliotheca Sacra 167, no. 665 (January 1, 2010), 79