What the Bible Says about Inspiration
by Farrell Till
Re-posted here by permission from Farrell Till.
Thank you Mr. Till!
In Part One of this series, I discussed the old school of fundamentalism, which taught that the Bible was the verbally inspired word of God, and the logic in their position as opposed to the illogical views of those who advocate a “high view of inspiration,” which holds that “God” inspired only the ideas in the Bible. In this second article, I will show that the Bible itself supports those who teach the verbal view of inspiration.
The Old Testament prophets often claimed that they were speaking the “words of Yahweh.” In Isaiah 51:16, the prophet had Yahweh saying to him, “I have put my words in your mouth.” The same claim was made in Jeremiah 1:9, “Then Yahweh put forth his hand, and touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me, Behold I have put my words into your mouth.” Jeremiah had opened his book with the claim that the “word of Yahweh came to [him], saying…” (1:4), and thereafter he frequently claimed that what he was saying were the “words of Yahweh.”
“The word of Yahweh came to me, saying, Go and cry in the ears of Jerusalem…” (2:1).
“The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, Stand in the gate of Yahweh’s house and proclaim there this word, and say, Hear the word of Yahweh all you of Judah who enter in at these gates to worship Yahweh” (7:1-2).
“Hear you the word that Yahweh speaks to you, O house of Israel” (10:1).
“The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh, saying, Hear the words of this covenant…” (11:1).
“The word of Yahweh that came to Jeremiah concerning the drought…” (14:1).
There are many other passages in Jeremiah that I could cite where he prefaced a change of subject with the claim that this was the “word of Yahweh” that had come to him. In 25:3, he even said that for 23 years the word of Yahweh had come to him and that he had spoken them to the people. Scattered throughout his book are dozens of statements that he began with, “Thus says Yahweh,” so obviously he was not claiming that Yahweh had given him just the “ideas” that he was preaching but that Yahweh had given him the very words that he spoke. In this respect, Jeremiah was no different from the other prophets, because they repeatedly claimed that what they were preaching was the “word of Yahweh” that had come to them (Ezek. 6:1; 7:1; 12:1; 13:1; 15:1; 16:1; 17:1; 18:1; etc., etc., etc.). Hosea claimed that the “word of Yahweh” had come to him (1:1), and so did Joel (1:1), and so did Jonah (1:1), and so did Micah (1:1), etc., etc., etc. Like Jeremiah and Isaiah, their writings were filled with the expression “thus says Yahweh,” followed by statements of what Yahweh had said. It seems absurd to me to think that these prophets thought that they were only expressing “ideas” that Yahweh had given to them rather than the very words that they thought their god had told them to speak.
In addition to hundreds of passages in the Old Testament that refer to the “word of Yahweh” coming to so and so and claims of “thus says Yahweh,” there are also claims that the words that they wrote were the words of Yahweh.
Exodus 24:3 Moses came and told the people all the words of Yahweh and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words that Yahweh has spoken we will do.”
Moses told the people what he called the “words of Yahweh,” and the people accepted them as “all the words Yahweh has spoken.” Then the text claims that Moses wrote down the words of Yahweh.
4 And Moses wrote down all the words of Yahweh. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. 5 He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to Yahweh. 6 Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. 7 Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, “All that Yahweh has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” 8 Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, “See the blood of the covenant that Yahweh has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Moses wrote down what the Exodus writer claimed were the “words of Yahweh,” so that later when he read what he had written, the people understood that they had heard him read not the “ideas” of Yahweh but the WORDS of Yahweh. Jeremiah, whose claim that Yahweh touched his mouth and put his words into the prophet’s mouth we have already noticed, later claimed that he wrote down the words that Yahweh had spoken to him: “The word that came to Jeremiah from Yahweh: Thus says Yahweh, the God of Israel: ‘Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you’ (30:1-2). Later, Jeremiah spoke more specifically about the words of Yahweh that he wrote down.
36:1 In the fourth year of King Jehoiakim son of Josiah of Judah, this word came to Jeremiah from Yahweh: 2 Take a scroll and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel and Judah and all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah until today. 3 It may be that when the house of Judah hears of all the disasters that I intend to do to them, all of them may turn from their evil ways, so that I may forgive their iniquity and their sin. 4 Then Jeremiah called Baruch son of Neriah, and Baruch wrote on a scroll at Jeremiah’s dictation all the words of Yahweh that he had spoken to him. 5 And Jeremiah ordered Baruch, saying, “I am prevented from entering the house of Yahweh; 6 so you go yourself, and on a fast day in the hearing of the people in the Lord’s house you shall read the words of Yahweh from the scroll that you have written at my dictation. You shall read them also in the hearing of all the people of Judah who come up from their towns. 7 It may be that their plea will come before Yahweh, and that all of them will turn from their evil ways, for great is the anger and wrath that Yahweh has pronounced against this people.” 8 And Baruch son of Neriah did all that the prophet Jeremiah ordered him about reading from the scroll the words of Yahweh in the Lord’s house.
So Jeremiah claimed that “the word of Yahweh” came to him and commanded him to write the words of Yahweh on a scroll. In response, Jeremiah called for the scribe Baruch and dictated to him the words that Yahweh had spoken to him. In the Hebrew text, the word translated “dictation” was actually an expression that meant “from the mouth of.” Hence, when Baruch was writing the scroll, he was writing words as they came from the mouth of Jeremiah. He wasn’t writing only general ideas that Jeremiah had given him, so why should we think that when Jeremiah claimed that he was speaking or writing “the words of Yahweh,” he was writing about only ideas that Yahweh had revealed to him?
The new fundamentalists, who take the “high view” of biblical inspiration love to ridicule the traditionalists by accusing them of maintaining a “wooden” or “mechanical” view of inspiration by which God “dictated” the Bible to those who wrote the books in it, but just look at the passage above. Yahweh allegedly spoke words to Jeremiah, who was then commanded to write those words on a scroll. In obedience to this command, Jeremiah summoned Baruch and dictated to him the words of Yahweh, so it is evident that the Bible does teach that at least in the case of this scroll, dictation was involved in writing it, so if the new fundamentalists want to ridicule the old by accusing them of having a “wooden, mechanical” view of inspiration, they should begin their ridicule by targeting Jeremiah.
Jeremiah then made it clear that when Baruch took the scroll into the temple and read it, he would be reading to the people the words of Yahweh. To write any more about the way that Old Testament prophets perceived themselves as messengers who were speaking the very words of Yahweh would labor the point to tedium and impose on the patience of readers. Clearly the Old Testament writers thought that they were speaking and writing the very words of Yahweh, but what about New Testament writers? What did they think? Did they see themselves as only channels through whom their god was revealing ideas, or did they think that they were writing the very words of God?
The New Testament is rather clear in teaching that the kind of inspiration through whom New Testament characters spoke and wrote could best be described by the term “verbal inspiration.”
In Luke 12:11, Jesus told his disciples, “When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.” The Holy Spirit will teach you what to say? Well, couldn’t that mean that the Holy Spirit would just inspire the ideas and then leave it to the disciples to state those ideas however they chose to do so? Other New Testament passages claim that the “teaching” was far more specific than this.
Luke 21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15 for I will give you WORDS and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.
The Greek word for words in this passage was stoma, which literally meant “mouth,” but this word was often used metonymically to mean language.
Matthew 18:16 But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth [stoma] of two or three witnesses every word may be established.
2 Corinthians 13:1 This is the third time I am coming to you. In the mouth [stoma] of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.
Romans 15:5 Now the God of patience and consolation grant you to be likeminded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: 6 That ye may with one mind and one mouth [stoma] glorify God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
So in Luke 21:15, Jesus was saying that when his disciples were brought before kings and governors, they should not even give any preparation to what they would say, because they would be given the words and wisdom that no one could withstand. That sounds very much like verbal inspiration to me, as does the following passage:
Matthew 10:16 “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testimony to them and the Gentiles. 19 When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; 20 for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
That’s clear enough, isn’t it? The disciples were not to be concerned about how they should speak or what they should say, because what they should say would be given to them at that time. Furthermore, it would not be them speaking, but the “spirit of [their] Father” who would be speaking through them. Who can read this and think that Jesus was simply saying to his disciples that they would be given the “thoughts” or “ideas” about what they should say, and they could then put these thoughts or ideas into their own words? Obviously, that was not what Jesus was saying. He was saying that when they spoke, it would be the spirit of God speaking through them. In that case, if they said something that was historically or scientifically inaccurate, the error would not have been theirs but God’s.
John’s Jesus promised the disciples that after he left, he would send them a “Comforter” (14:16-17), who when he was come would guide them into “all truth” (16:3). This “Comforter” was identified as the “spirit of truth,” which “proceeds from the father” (15:26). When the apostles went out preaching, they and the ones who wrote of their activities claimed that they were “filled with the spirit” when they spoke: “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, you rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole, be it known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, in him does this man stand here before you whole” (Acts 4:8-9). If the context of this statement is examined, it will be seen that Peter and the apostles had been brought before the rulers, elders, and scribes to give an account of their actions in having healed a crippled man, so if what Jesus said was true when he told his apostles that when they were brought before rulers, it would not be them speaking but the spirit of their “Father” speaking through them, and if Jesus was right in saying that when the apostles were brought before rulers, they would be given the words that they should speak, we would have to conclude that what Peter said on this occasion, when he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” was not just his “thoughts” or “ideas” about the situation he was being questioned about but the WORDS that the “spirit of the Father” had given to him especially for this occasion.
Luke claimed that the apostle Paul was also “filled with the Holy Spirit” when he spoke (Acts 13:9), and Paul himself claimed that the words that he taught were the words that the Holy Spirit had taught him: “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:12-13). To the Galatians, Paul also claimed that he had not been taught by men the gospel that he preached, for he did not receive it from men but “through revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:11-12). There are some believers in biblical inspiration who would say that what Paul, Peter, and the other apostles taught were the “ideas” that God had inspired in them but that the words were their own words, which they had acquired through “oral traditions” or their own experiences, but this is not what Paul said here, or what was taught elsewhere in the New Testament. Paul said that what he spoke was not words that had been taught by human wisdom but by the [Holy] Spirit and “through revelation of Jesus christ.” Luke said that the apostle Paul claimed that what was written in Isaiah 6:9-10 had been spoken through the prophet by the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25)
What was said in these passages is not the kind of “inspiration” that is being taught by the new fundamentalists. It is a very clear description of verbal inspiration, so if the apostles were verbally inspired whenever they were preaching or defending the gospel before rulers, when what they said would be heard by their audiences and then gone forever, how likely is it that when they wrote epistles that were allegedly intended to be the “word of God” all through the Christian era, God would simply have given them the “thoughts” and “ideas” they were to write but leave the selection of the words up to them?
Such a premise seems preposterous. It would mean, for example, that the sermon Peter preached on the day of Pentecost was verbally inspired but the account of it that Luke recorded wasn’t, that Luke had been given only the “ideas” of what to record or perhaps had learned about it by “oral tradition,” whereas Peter had been given the very words that he spoke. Such a view doesn’t agree with what the New Testament teaches. “Peter,” in fact, stated very clearly that “prophecies” did not come by the will of man but by a verbal direction given to them by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:16 For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we had been eyewitnesses of his majesty. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” 18 We ourselves heard this voice come from heaven, while we were with him on the holy mountain.
“Peter” was obviously alluding here to the transfiguration of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 17:1-13 (Mark 9:2-8; Luke 9:28-36), and he claimed that his eyewitness to this event was confirmation of what he called “the prophetic message.”
19 So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
The new fundamentalists will say that God inspired only the thoughts or ideas of the biblical writers, but “Peter” disagreed. He said that “no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,” but if a writer were given only the “thoughts” or “ideas” of a prophecy and then left to his own devices to choose the words to state that prophecy, then it would not be true that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation. He went on to say that “no prophecy ever came by human will,” but if God gave only the “ideas” to prophets, rather than putting his words into their mouths as Isaiah and Jeremiah claimed, then the prophecy would be very much something that had come “by human will.” He concluded by saying that men and women “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” Can anyone imagine how it would be at all possible that someone who was “moved by the Holy Spirit” to “speak from God” could say something that wasn’t true? If that should happen, then it would necessarily follow that the Holy Spirit had “moved” this person to say something that was inaccurate.
It is very evident that both the Old Testament and New Testament taught that those whom God or the Holy Spirit inspired were guided on a verbal basis in what they said and wrote. In other words, their very words were the words of God and not their own. In my next article, I will discuss the logical consequences of the verbal inspiration taught in the Bible and show exactly why men like Falwell, DeHoff, Torrey, Moody, Spurgeon, Rice, etc. believed that the Bible was totally and completely inerrant in everything it said, including secular matters like history, geography, science, chronology, etc. They were simply accepting what would have to be the logical result of verbal inspiration. They had it right, as far as logic is concerned, and the new fundamentalists have it wrong as they try to bungle their way into convincing people that the Bible may have errors in it, but it is still the “word of God.”