Friday, August 04, 2006

Sola Scriptura: The extent of inspiration of Scripture

So far, Scripture has been proven to be necessary, sufficient and authoritative. All of these points are actually descriptive of the core doctrine commonly known as the inspiration of Scripture. In this and later sections, I would like to take a step back and look at the doctrine from another angle, where actually most of the attacks by the liberals are coming from — the extent of the inspiration of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture and the Canon of Scripture, before returning to the doctrine of the perspicuity of Scripture. In this section, I would discuss the extent of the inspiration of Scripture, which basically focuses on the extent to which the following attributes: neccessity, sufficiency and authority, could be applied to the different words and passages of Scripture.

Before I begin, I would like to state how the discussion of the extent of the inspiration of Scripture and the inerrancy of Scripture would be framed. Definitely, there is a considerable correlation and overlap between the two topics, as the degree to which Scripture is inerrant would impact the extent of the inspiration of Scripture, and also part of the discussion of the extent of the inspiration of Scripture would involve the inerrancy or errancy of certain parts or portions of Scripture. To make the discussion simpler, the discussion on the extent of the inspiration of Scripture would primarily focus on the "total inerrancy versus partial inerrancy" split within Evangelicalism and related issues, thus it would assume a priori that Scripture is infallible and is meant to function as the Word of God. Conversely, the discussion on the inerrancy of Scripture would make no such assumptions and would be geared towards the position of the Liberals who deny inerrancy altogether and treat the Bible as just another piece of literature to be deconstructed at will.

The historical backdrop upon which such a discussion about the extent of the inspiration of Scripture takes place is that of Evangelicalism in the 20th century. After the devasting attack on the Bible by the "higher critics" in the 19th century, followed by the Fundamentalist/ Liberal split in the early 20th century, Evangelicalism as a whole still haven't settled the issue of biblical inerrancy. However, all Evangelicals presuppose the authority of Scripture as the Word of God which is to be obeyed and thus do not go into the type of destructive criticism which destroy the liberals' faith. Due to the onslaught of naturalism in the form of old earth theories and the theory of evolution, as well as being shown alleged discrepencies and errors in the Bible, some Evangelicals have tried to keep the authority of Scripture while caving in to "proofs" of errors found in it, by inventing the theory of Scripture being "inerrant as in matters of faith and morals" or "infallible", while being not inerrant in all things[1].

Since such is the case, I would interact with the "partial inerrancy" position at the same foundational level as the Evangelical partial inerrantists. That is to say that I would operate under the presupposition of the authority of Scripture in the lives of believers in spiritual things. I would not be trying to refute every argument which the partial inerrantists throw forward, which many Bible scholars have done[2], just only to see whether their claims would hold consistently to their beliefs or undermine them, after I have made the case from Scripture regarding this issue, of course.

The case from Scripture

Let us now start off where we had stopped; at 2 Tim. 3:16-17. In the earlier section, I had used the phrase "All Scripture is breathed out by God" to show that Scripture had its origin in God and not Man, thus having within in the very authority of God Himself. Another thing which must be noted is that all of scripture is said to be inspired, not some. Thus, this passage seems to extend the inspiration of Scripture to every part of it.

Now, someone might rightly object to the universal application of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 to all of Scripture. Since this letter of Paul to Timothy was written before the New Testament Canon was completed, therefore does this verse only apply to Scripture which was written before Paul wrote 2 Timothy? Also, it does take time for the different Scriptures to be passed from each congregation to the next and then verified as Scripture by each and all of the Christian congregations, thus who knows how many books of the New Testament were known by Timothy then when he received this letter from the apostle Paul? Shouldn't the phrase "all Scripture" be interpreted in its historical context as stating only those books of Scripture which were known to Paul and Timothy at that time?

The short answer to that question is no. Although the argument sounds reasonable, the problem with the objection is that the verse does not lend itself to that type of interpretation. 2 Tim. 3:16-17 states that the extent of inspiration is to 'all Scripture' (Πασα γραφε, transliterated Pasa Graphē), thus the verse itself is saying that as long as something is Scripture, it is inspired. The verse does not concern itself with what is Scripture per se, and thus such an argument is invalid.

Another passage often used to prove the inspiration of Scripture is 2 Peter 1:20-21, which states thus:

... knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

From this passage, we can see that no 'prophecy of Scripture' comes from anyone's own personal interpretation, neither was it produced by Man's autonomous free will. Rather, Scripture says that the men who wrote the Scriptures spoke as if God himself was guiding them; being carried along by the Holy Spirit to produce the Scriptures themselves. Therefore, since no prophecy of Scripture came about just by chance or by someone deciding to write Scripture by his own autonomous free will, all of Scripture must have came about through the Holy Spirit's leading, and thus all of Scripture in its totality is inspired.

Yet another key passage which is used to defend total inerrancy is found in the words of Jesus Himself in Mt. 5:18

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

In this verse found within the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus was telling his Jewish hearers that not even "an iota, nor a dot" would disappear from the Law until all is accomplished, which will occur at the second judgment when heaven and earth will pass away. An iota (ι) is the smallest letter in the Greek alphabet and thus could be easily lost, especially when words are squeezed together in a document and another person has to decipher them. A dot obviously is very small and thus easily lost. In the immediate context, Jesus was telling his Jewish hearers that he did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it (Mt. 5:17), which was appropriate for the scenario since Jesus would seem to contradict some of the laws found in the Law later when he contrasted the normal surface interpretation of some of the laws, which the Pharisees abided by and added their own traditions to help them keep the Law, with their true spiritual meanings and application (Mt. 5:21- 6: 18). Therefore, we can see that Jesus is telling us in this verse that the very words of Scripture themselves are preserved from error, since even an iota and a dot would not disappear from the Law. Since that is the case, this verse tells us that the very words of Scripture are themselves inspired and preserved throughout history, until Christ comes back.

An objection might be raise at this point that this verse only applies to the Law, which comprises the Torah; the first five books of the Old Testament written by Moses containing the Mosaic law. Someone might say that Jesus is saying here that not one word would be altered or removed from the Torah and therefore the Mosaic law would be preserved, and not altered or abrogated or lost. When we look at the verse, definitely, we can see that the verse does speak of the Torah. Also, from the context we can see that the Mosaic law would not be altered, abrogated or lost, but would be fulfilled in Christ (Mt. 5:17). However, it is my contention that the verse can be applied to Scripture as a whole. This is because in the preceding verse the phrase "the Law and the Prophets" were mentioned which is a phrase used in the New Testament to signify the Old Testament Scriptures[3] (the Tanakh)[4]. Since verse 18 flows out of verse 17, Jesus was actually also implying that the other books of the Old Testament were similarly inspired. Of course, at that time, none of the New Testament books were written yet so there wasn't a way for Jesus to talk explicitly about them. However, since Jesus mentioned all the Scriptures which were present at that time as equally verbally inspired, it would seem to be the case that what Jesus had in mind was not just the Old Testament Scriptures, but also the entirety of Scripture, even of those who had not been written yet. This could be seen in the case whereby Jesus mentioned that "heaven and earth will pass away, but my (Jesus') words would not pass away" (Mt. 24:35), and where Jesus says that his words are spirit and bring life (Jn. 6:63), thus showing that Jesus treated His words with the same authority as Scripture. Since it has been proven that Scripture is the only supreme authority, at least according to Scripture, then Jesus' words must be Scripture also.

Therefore, Mt. 5:18 does teach the verbal inspiration and preservation of Scripture. We would cover the preservation of Scripture later in the section of the inerrancy of Scripture

Two more prooftexts for the verbal inspiration of Scripture (the doctrine that every word in Scripture is inspired) are Prov. 30:5-6 and Rev. 22:18-19. Prov. 30:5-6 states that

Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar (Prov. 30:5-6 -ESV)

From this verse, we can see that every word of God is true and that we should not add to the words of Scripture, thus showing forth the inspiration of every word found therein.

In Rev. 22:18-19, it is stated:

I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.

Thus, we can see in the last book of the Scriptural Canon that the words of this book of prophecy in particular are important and not to be added to or removed at will, therefore showing that each individual word in the book of Revelation is inspired. Since this is the last book of the Bible, and this phrase occurs at the end of the book, the phrase is often applied to the entire Bible. Unless one wants to assume different types of inspirations of Scripture, which Scripture does not support, this application is sound. In fact, given 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 3:15-16 which prove the plenary inspiration of Scripture (the doctrine whereby the totality of Scripture is inspired), there is only one single type of inspiration in all of Scripture, and thus the passage of Rev. 2:18-19 does teach the verbal inspiration of Scripture, after supporting evidences from other Scriptural passages.

In conclusion, from the Bible alone, it can be seen that the Bible do teach what is known as full inerrancy, known as the theory of verbal plenary inspiration (VPI) rather than the theory of partial inerrancy. Thus, every single word and every single concept, history and fact found in the Bible is equally inspired. This would definitely include the Creation account of Gen. 1-2, the chronologies found in Scripture in for example Gen. 5 and Mt. 1:1-17, the book of the Songs of Songs etc.

In the next post, I would continue on with this subject looking at the extent of inspiration of Scripture, this time analysing the viewpoints and touch some of the arguments put forward by the partial inerrantists.

References and endnotes:

[1] For more information, look at Stephan L. Andrew, Biblical Inerrancy, pp 4-5, from CTS (Chafer Theological Seminary) Journal 8 (January - March 2002), as accessed from

[2] Norman L. Geisler (1980), ed., Inerrancy, published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapid, Michigan.

[3] See Mt. 7:12, Mt. 22:40, Lk. 16:16, Acts 13:15 and Rom. 3:21 for places in the Bible where the Law and the Prophets do refer to Old Testament Scripture.

[4] Judaism 101 -Tanakh (

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