Friday, August 04, 2006

Sola Scriptura: The extent of inspiration of Scripture (part 2)

[This is a continuation of a blog series on the topic of Sola Scriptura]

In the last post, I have proved from Scripture that Scripture itself teaches the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration (VPI), which is to say that every word of Scripture in its totality is inspired of God, and thus necessary, sufficient, and authoritative for us. I would now go on to look at some of the arguments commonly used to disprove VPI, and to see whether the stand of the partial inerrantists are internally consistent.

When one surveys the arguments by the partial inerrantists, one is hard-pressed to find any biblical argument for partial inerrancy. Obviously, the Scriptures do not explicitly proclaim itself inerrant, but they implicitly do so. The main arguments used by partial inerrantists are mainly by pointing to alleged discrepencies and contradictions in the Bible, or to point that this doctrine of total inerrancy is not believed by others within church history. With respect to Scripture, none of them could validly refute the claims of Scripture regarding its inerrancy, since they hold to the inerrancy of the Scriptures as with regards to spiritual matters. As the inspiration of Scripture is a spiritual issue, none of them could claim that the verses used to prove the inspiration of Scripture are errant. The only thing they could do is to try to give examples of errors in the Bible so as to limit the extent of the application of these verses.

Now, it must first be said that proving errors in the Bible does not by itself disprove the theory of verbal plenary inspiration. By careful exegesis of these verses in context, these verses do not lend themselves to any other interpretation. Therefore, proving errors in the Bible could only undermine the inerrancy of Scripture in all things, including spiritual things, as the verses used to support the inspiration of Scripture are proven false. This is shown in the logical diagram below:

p = The verses used to support VPI are inerrant
q = VPI of the Scriptures is true

If p, then q
~ q
Therefore, ~ p (Modus tollens)

Therefore, we can see from this valid argument that the only conclusion that could be gotten from the proving of errors in the Bible is to disgard the theory of inerancy in all things to begin with. Therefore, these partial inerrantists are inconsistent in their view of Scripture. Unless they can prove that the verses used can not support VPI, they should either abandon their unbiblical theory or just follow the path of the liberals before them and throw out the Scriptures. Charges of circular reasoning in this case would not be applicable as the partial inerrantists do state that they believe in the inerrancy of Scripture in spiritual things.

With regards to this doctrine being a new doctrine and not held by the saints in former times, this is certaintly not the case. Granted, the term 'verbal plenary inspiration' may not be used, but the concept is still believed[1]. Even if few people in the early church believe in it, the fact of the matter is that Scripture is the ultimate authority, not what other Christians believe.

We now come down to the major reason people embrace the partial inerrantist position — alleged discrepancies in Scripture and the contradiction the Bible has with certain theories of naturalistic science like evolution. We will deal with the alleged discrepancies in Scripture in the next section under the inerrancy of Scripture and only discuss the contradictions the Bible has with certain theories of science or history. Now, if Scripture is the ultimate authority as in a Christian's life, then Christians should uphold the Bible by faith and reject these naturalistic theories, having faith that these naturalistic theories are actually false. In fact, if one knows how science actually works, one will also know that science has no way of proving Scripture false, since in order for science to know and prove anything, a correct formula is not enough - one must also make a few assumptions regarding the object under investigation and whether there was any interference with the system. For example, science can never prove anything about the age of the earth. Using radiometric dating and rock samples, the scientist must assume uniformitarianism (that the decay rate of the radioactive elements are always constant), and more importantly, the scientist must make certain assumptions about the initial radioisotope ratio and/or amount in the rock. Both of these assumptions cannot be proven or tested, so therefore science cannot know or prove the exact age of that rock. This is the case with all scientific disciplines, so for believers the results from this type of "historical science" inquiry should be ignored. Far better by far to believe in the words of our God who created history than to believe the fallible interpretations of men who are fallible and themselves subjected to the depravity of our human nature.

For history as well as for science, the problem of replying on them is that all of us are daily faced with our own sinful desires, including those people doing the research. The idea that any discipline can ever be neutral (i.e. the myth of the objective scientist following where the evidence leads him) is a lie. As someone who is studying in the life sciences, I can personally say that there are no objective scientists. If we find data which is not consistent with our hypothesis, we would either discard the data by writing it off as contaminated data, or we come out with a hypothesis or other reasons to explain this anamoly. This is so especially when we are doing experiments where the end results are more or less known. And I think most people would be astonished by how many reasons we can use to explain why an experiment was unsuccessful (i.e. contamination due to unwashed test tubes). Of course, this is not to say that scientists are out to deceive people, but the fact of the matter is that scientists are not quite the objective enquirers of truth that they are made out to be. This is the same for historians too, who use fallible scientific methods sometimes to date artefacts, and who will sometimes make mistakes also.

Since this is so, people who embrace partial inerrancy due to such factors as the Bible being contradictory to naturalistic science are actually very much in error. Whether Scripture is totally inerrant or not must be established through Scripture itself, not by appeal to fallible human disciplines.

One objection which has been raised to the theory of verbal plenary inspiration is that the New Testament writers did not seem to treat the Old Testament as being verbally inspired, since they did not exactly quote the OT writings word for word, not even the Septuagint[2]. However, this is an invalid argument. It could very well be the case that as the NT writers quoted OT scripture, their quotes were themselves inspired to be different from the Septuagint and other Greek translations of the OT, and thus we have two different inspired wordings for certain OT texts. Another possibility is the fact that the Septuagint was never verbally inspired in the first place. Just as translations of the Bible into other languages seek to reflect the original meaning of Scripture but will never quite do justice to it, the Septuagint could be similar to our English translations of the Bible like the KJV and not primarily verbally inspired, only secondarily inspired. Since that is the case, the NT writers when quoting the OT scripture in their books would have create a 'primary verbally inspired OT scripture' in the Greek. Whatever the reason, this could not disprove the doctrine of verbal plenary inspiration, since there are ways of explaining how this could be so.

We would now go to the Achilles' heel of the theory of partial inerrancy — epistemology. Why do the partial inerrantists' claim that the spiritual content of Scripture is inerrant, whereas the 'natural' contents found in Scripture are errant? Upon what basis is such a division created? If the 'natural' contents of Scripture are errant, upon what basis could a person defend the inerrant nature of Scripture? Isn't such a division just arbitrary? As I have stated above, if Scripture is errant in its 'natural' facts, then the entire Scripture is suspect to be errant too. Therefore, the partial inerrantists' position is undefendable. Either they return to the biblical view of verbal plenary inspiration, or they should consistently follow the path of the liberals, and throw out the entire Scriptures as being errant.

In conclusion, we have shown that the doctrine of the verbal plenary inspiration (VPI) of Scripture is sound, and that the partial inerrantists' position is untenable. Those who do insist that there are errors in the Bible should reject the inerrancy of Scripture as a whole, and it is to those people that we would now turn to.

[to be continued]


[1] Norman L. Geisler (1980), ed. , Inerrancy, pp. 357-410, published by Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Michigan

[2] Another look at Plenary Verbal Inspiration (


Evangelical books said...
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Daniel C said...


1) A person who truly does not believe in Sola Scriptura? Not saved. A person who says he does not believe in Sola Scriptura due to misunderstanding and actually does believe in it? Saved if Christian.

2) Sorry, but by text, are you talking about the manuscript traditions, the manuscripts themselves, the words on the manuscripts or something else?

Evangelical books said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel C said...


actually, the BP church's stand is termed VPP (Verbal Plenary Preservation), as opposed to VPI. VPI per se says that the Bible is inerrant in the original autographs, and this inerrancy is not limited to nor found in any one particular manuscript or translation. VPP adds the doctrine of preservation of Scripture to VPI, fixed it on one particular translation, KJV, and thus you end up with the teaching of KJV-Onlyism.

Evangelical books said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel C said...

Ermm.... no, I do not think I would be dealing with VPP nor dwell much on the subject of preservation. Definitely, as Christians, we must believe in the preservation of Scriptures as God's inerrant Word to us. Further than that, I confess I do not have a comprehensive doctrine of biblical preservation at the moment. Textual criticism, variants readings and stuff are not exactly easy. In fact, at the moment, just this series on Sola Scriptura requires me to really study the Scriptures concerning this subject once again to fortify the arguments that I am making.

I would as such not be writing about the issue in the next post on inerrancy proper. I would be doing something different for that, which is something that I can do much easier and which definitely proves the point, without going through all the convoluted arguments scholars like to make. For those convoluated proofs, I would think that the books written by peple such as Dr. Norman Geisler would suffice.

Anyway, for a striaghtfoward answer to your question:
"Does inspiration extend to the manuscripts, like Textus Receptus?"

The Word of God in the autographs are inspired. Inasmuch as the manuscripts aligned themselves with the autographs, they are verbally & plenary inspired to that degree. (Guess that you can see I am not pro-VPP.) Thus, for the TR, if they conform to the autographs, then they are verbally, plenary inspired. Whether this is so I have no idea.