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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature

Inspiration

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This word is sometimes used to denote the excitement and action of a fervent imagination in the poet or orator. But even in this case there is generally a reference to some supposed divine influence, to which the excited action is owing. It is once used in Scripture to denote that Divine agency by which man is endued with the faculties of an intelligent being, when it is said, 'the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.' But the inspiration now to be considered is that which belonged to those who wrote the Scriptures, and which is particularly spoken of in , and in : 'All Scripture is given by inspiration of God;' 'Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' These passages relate specially to the Old Testament; but there is at least equal reason to predicate Divine inspiration of the New Testament.

The definition which Dr. Knapp gives of inspiration is the one we shall adopt. He says, 'It may be best defined, according to the representations of the Scriptures themselves, as an extraordinary Divine agency upon teachers while giving instruction, whether oral or written, by which they were taught what and how they should write or speak.' Or we may say more briefly that the sacred penmen were completely under the direction of the Holy Spirit, or that they wrote under a plenary inspiration. Dr. Calamy's definition agrees substantially with that of Dr. Knapp.

To prove that the Scriptures are divinely inspired we might with propriety refer to the excellence of the doctrines, precepts, and promises, and other instructions, which they contain; to the simplicity and majesty of their style; to the agreement of the different parts, and the scope of the whole; especially to the full discovery they make of man's fallen and ruined state, and the way of salvation through a Redeemer; together with their power to enlighten and sanctify the heart, and the accompanying witness of the Spirit in believers. These are circumstances of real importance, and the discerning advocates of inspiration have not overlooked them. But the more direct and conclusive evidence that the Scriptures were Divinely inspired is found in the testimony of the writers themselves. And as the writers did, by working miracles, and in other ways, sufficiently authenticate their Divine commission, and establish their authority and infallibility as teachers of Divine truth, their testimony, in regard to their own inspiration, is entitled to our full confidence. For who can doubt that they were as competent to judge of, and as much disposed to speak the truth on this subject as on any other? If then we admit their Divine commission and authority, why should we not rely upon the plain testimony which they give concerning the Divine assistance afforded them in their work? To reject their testimony in this case would be to impeach their veracity, and thus to take away the foundation of the Christian religion. And it is well known that those who deny the justice of the claim which they set up to Divine inspiration do in fact give up the infallible truth and authority of the Scriptures, and adopt the principles of deism.

It is, then, of the first importance to inquire what representations are made by the prophets, and by Christ and His Apostles, respecting the inspiration, and the consequent authority, of the sacred Scriptures.

The prophets generally professed to speak the word of God. What they taught was introduced and confirmed by a 'Thus saith the Lord;' or 'The Lord spake to me, saying.' And, in one way or another, they gave clear proof that they were Divinely commissioned, and spoke in the name of God, or as it is expressed in the New Testament, that God spake by them.

But the strongest and most satisfactory proof of the inspiration and Divine authority of the Old Testament writings, is found in the testimony of Christ and the Apostles.

The Lord Jesus Christ possessed the spirit of wisdom without measure, and came to bear witness to the truth. His works proved that He was what He declared Himself to be—the Messiah, the great Prophet, and the infallible Teacher. The faith which rests on Him rests on a rock. As soon then as we learn how He regarded the Scriptures, we have reached the end of our inquiries. His word is truth. Now everyone who carefully attends to the four Gospels will find that Christ everywhere spoke of that collection of writings called the Scripture as the word of God; that He regarded the whole in this light; that He treated the Scripture, and every part of it, as infallibly true, and as clothed with divine authority, thus distinguishing it from every mere human production. Nothing written by man can be entitled to the respect which Christ showed to the Scriptures. This, to all Christians, is direct and incontrovertible evidence of the Divine origin of the Scriptures, and is by itself perfectly conclusive.

But there is clear concurrent evidence, and evidence still more specific, in the writings of the Apostles. In two texts in particular Divine inspiration is positively asserted. In the first (), Paul lays it down as the characteristic of 'all Scripture,' that it 'issgiven by inspiration of God,' and from this results its profitableness.

The other text () teaches that 'Prophecy came not by the will of man, but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' This passage, which the Apostle Peter applied particularly to the subject of which he was speaking, may be considered as explanatory of what is intended by inspiration. For to say that all Scripture is Divinely inspired, and that men of God wrote it as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, is one and the same thing.

The various texts in which Christ and the Apostles speak of Scripture as the word of God, and as invested with authority to decide all questions of truth and duty, fully correspond with the texts above considered.

From this view of the subject it follows that the attempt which has been made by a certain class of writers to account for the production of the whole or any part of the Scriptures by the will or agency, the ingenuity, diligence, or fidelity of men, in the use of the means within their reach, without the supernatural influence of the Spirit, is utterly at variance with the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as to the origin of the Sacred Writings.

As the Christian dispensation surpasses the former in all spiritual privileges and gifts, it is reasonable to presume that the New Testament was written under at least an equal degree of Divine influence with the Old, and that it comes recommended to us by equal characteristics of infallible truth. But of this there is clear positive evidence from the New Testament itself. In the first place, Jesus Christ, whose works proved Him to be the great unerring Teacher, and to be possessed of all power in Heaven and earth, gave commission to His Apostles to act in His stead, and to carry out the work of instruction which He had begun, confirming their authority by investing them with power to perform miracles. But how could such a commission have answered the end proposed, had not the Divine Spirit so guided the Apostles as to render them infallible and perfect teachers of Divine truth?

But, secondly, in addition to this, Jesus expressly promised to give them the Holy Spirit, to abide with them continually, and to guide theminto all the truth. He said to them, 'When they shall deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak for it shall be given you in the same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you,' . Storr and Flatt think this is the idea intended: 'The instructions which ye in general give are derived not so much from yourselves as from the Holy Spirit. Hence, when ye are called on to defend your doctrines, ye need feel no anxiety, but may confidently rely on the Holy Spirit to vindicate His own doctrines, by suggesting to you the very words of your defense.' If these promises were not fulfilled, then Jesus was not a true prophet. If they were fulfilled, as they certainly were, then the Apostles had the constant assistance of the Holy Spirit, and, whether engaged in speaking or writing, were under Divine guidance, and, of course, were liable to no mistakes either as to the matter or manner of their instructions.

In the third place, the writers of the New Testament manifestly considered themselves to be under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and their instructions, whether oral or written, to be clothed with Divine authority, as the word of God.

'We speak,' they say, 'as of God,' . Again, 'Which things we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but in words which the Holy Ghost teacheth,' . They declared what they taught to be the word of God, and the things they wrote to be the commandments of God, . Now the Apostles, being honest, unassuming, humble men, would never have spoken of themselves and their writings in such a manner, had they not known themselves to be under the unerring guidance of the Holy Spirit, and their instructions perfectly in accordance with the mind of God.

It is perfectly consistent with the plenary inspiration here maintained, that God operated on the minds of inspired men in a variety of ways, sometimes by audible words, sometimes by direct inward suggestions, sometimes by outward visible signs, sometimes by the Urim and Thummim, and sometimes by dreams and visions. This variety in the mode of Divine influence detracted nothing from its certainty. God made known His will equally in different ways; and, whatever the mode of His operation, He made it manifest to His servants that the things revealed were from Him.

But inspiration was concerned not only in making known the will of God to prophets and Apostles, but also in giving them direction in writing the Sacred Books. They wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. And in this, also, there was a diversity in the mode of Divine influence. Sometimes the Spirit of God moved and guided His servants to write things which they could not know by natural means, such as new doctrines or precepts, or predictions of future events. Sometimes He moved and guided them to write the history of events which were wholly or partly known to them by tradition, or by the testimony of their contemporaries, or by their own observation or experience. In all these cases the Divine Spirit effectually preserved them from all error, and influenced them to write just so much and in such a manner as God saw to be best. Sometimes He moved and guided them to write a summary record of larger histories, containing what His infinite wisdom saw to be adapted to the end in view, that is, the benefit of His people in all ages. Sometimes He influenced them to make a record of important maxims in common use, or to write new ones, derived either from their own reason or experience, or from special Divine teaching. Sometimes He influenced them to write parables or allegories, particularly suited to make a salutary impression of Divine things on the minds of men; and sometimes to record supernatural visions. In these and all other kinds of writing the sacred penmen manifestly needed special Divine guidance, as no man could of himself attain to infallibility, and no wisdom, except that of God, was sufficient to determine what things ought to be written for permanent use in the church, and what manner of writing would be best fitted to promote the great ends of revelation.

Some writers speak of different modes and different kinds, and even different degrees of inspiration. And if their meaning is that God influenced the minds of inspired men in different ways; that He adopted a variety of modes in revealing Divine things to their minds; that He guided them to give instruction in prose and in poetry, and in all the different forms of composition; that He moved and guided them to write history, prophecy, doctrines, commands, promises, reproofs, and exhortations, and that He adapted His mode of operation to each of these cases—against this no objection can be made. It is a fact, that the Scriptures exhibit specimens of all these different kinds of writing and these different modes of Divine instruction. Still each and every part of what was written was Divinely inspired, and equally so. It is all the word of God, and clothed with Divine authority, as much as if it had all been made known and written in one way.

Dr. Henderson, who labors perhaps with too much zeal against carrying inspiration to extreme lengths, still says that if those who hold to different modifications of inspiration intend that there are different modifications and degrees of authority given to Scripture, their opinion must meet with unqualified reprobation from every sincere believer. He insists that a diversity in the modes and degrees of Divine operation did exist in the work of inspiration, and that this diversity was the result of infinite wisdom adapting itself to different circumstances. He thinks that, unless we admit such a diversity, we cannot form correct ideas of the subject. But he is confident that the distinction which he endeavors to establish is not in the slightest degree hostile to the Divine authority of Scripture. He affirms that no part of that holy book was written without miraculous influence; that all parts were equally inspired; that in regard to the whole volume the great end was infallibly attained, namely, the commitment to writing of precisely such matters as God designed for the religious instruction of mankind; that the sacred penmen wrote what had for its object not merely the immediate benefit of individual persons or churches, but what would be useful to Christians in all future times; and that in regard to the most minute and inconsiderable things which the Scripture contains we are compelled to say, This also cometh from the Lord.

The controversy among orthodox divines respecting what is called verbal inspiration, appears to arise, in a great measure, from the different senses affixed to the phrase.

The real question, and the whole question at issue, may be stated thus: did the work of the Divine Spirit in the sacred penmen relate to the language they used, or their manner of expressing their ideas; and if so, how far, and in what way?

All those with whom we are concerned in the discussion of this question, hold that Divine inspiration had some respect to the language employed by the inspired writers, at least in the way of general supervision. And Dr. Henderson shows, in various passages of his excellent lectures, that there is no material difference between him and those who profess to maintain higher ground. He allows that, to a certain extent, what is called verbal inspiration, or the inspiration of words, took place. 'In recording what was immediately spoken with an audible voice by Jehovah, or by an angel interpreter; in giving expression to points of revelation which entirely surpassed the comprehension of the writers; in recording prophecies, the minute bearings of which they did not perceive; in short, in committing to writing any of the dictates of the Spirit, which they could not have otherwise accurately expressed, the writers,' he alleges, 'were supplied with the words as well as the matter.' He says, that even when Biblical writers made use of their own faculties, and wrote each one in his own manner, without having their mental constitution at all disturbed, they were yet 'always secured by celestial influence against the adoption of any forms of speech, or collocation of words, that would have injured the exhibition of Divine truth, or that did not adequately give it expression;' that the characteristic differences of style, so apparent among the sacred writers, were employed by the Holy Spirit for the purposes of inspiration, and 'were called forth in a rational way;' that the writers, 'being acted upon by the Divine Spirit, expressed themselves naturally; that while the Divine influence adapted itself to whatever was peculiar in the minds of inspired men, it constantly guided them in writing the Sacred Volume.' He declares his belief that the Scriptures were written not under a partial or imperfect, but under a plenary and infallible, inspiration; that they were entirely the result of Divine intervention, and are to be regarded as the oracles of Jehovah.

The doctrine of a plenary inspiration of all Scripture in regard to the language employed, as well as the thoughts communicated, ought not to be rejected without valid reasons. The doctrine is so obviously important, and so consonant to the feelings of sincere piety, that those evangelical Christians who are pressed with speculative objections against it, frequently, in the honesty of their hearts, advance opinions which fairly imply it. This is the case, as we have seen, with Dr. Henderson, who says that the Divine Spirit guided the sacred penmen in writing the Scriptures; that their mode of expression was such as they were instructed by the Spirit to employ; that Paul ascribes not only the doctrines which the Apostles taught, but the entire character of their style, to the influence of the Spirit. He indeed says that this does not always imply the immediate communication of the words of Scripture; and he says it with good reason. For immediate properly signifies acting without a medium, or without the intervention of another cause or means, not acting by second causes. Now those who hold the highest views of inspiration do not suppose that the Divine Spirit, except in a few instances, so influenced the writers of Scripture as to interfere with the use of their rational faculties or their peculiar mental habits and tastes, or in any way to supersede secondary causes as the medium through which His agency produced the desired effect.

In regard to this point, therefore, there appears to be little or no ground for controversy. For, if God so influenced the sacred writers that, either with or without the use of secondary causes, they wrote just what He intended, and in the manner He intended, the end is secured; and what they wrote is as truly His word, as though He had written it with His own hand on tables of stone, without any human instrumentality. The very words of the Decalogue were all such as God chose. And they would have been equally so if Moses had been moved by the Divine Spirit to write them with his hand. The expression, that God immediately imparted, or communicated to the writers the very words which they wrote, is evidently not well chosen. The exact truth is that the writers themselves were the subjects of the Divine influence. The Spirit employed them as active instruments, and directed them in writing, both as to matter and manner. They wrote 'as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.' The matter, in many cases, was what they before knew, and the manner was entirely conformed to their habits; it was their own. But what was written was none the less inspired on that account. God may have influenced and guided an Apostle as infallibly in writing what he had before known, and that guidance may have been as really necessary, as in writing a new revelation. And God may have influenced Paul or John to write a book in his own peculiar style, and that influence may have been as real and as necessary as if the style had been what some would call a Divine style. It was a Divine style, if the writer used it under Divine direction. It was a Divine style, and it was, at the same time, a human style, and the writer's own style, all in one. Just as the believer's exercises, faith and love, are his own acts, and at the same time are the effects of Divine influence. The mental exercises of Paul and of John had their own characteristic peculiarities, as much as their style. God was the author of John's mind and all that was peculiar to his mental faculties and habits, as really as of Paul's mind and what was peculiar to him. And in the work of inspiration He used and directed, for His own purposes, what was peculiar to each. When God inspired different men He did not make their minds and tastes all alike, nor did He make their language alike. Nor had He any occasion for this; for while they had different mental faculties and habits, they were as capable of being infallibly directed by the Divine Spirit, and infallibly speaking and writing Divine truth, as though their mental faculties and habits had been all exactly alike. And it is manifest that the Scriptures, written by such a variety of inspired men, and each part agreeably to the peculiar talents and style of the writer, are not only equally from God, but, taken together, are far better adapted to the purposes of general instruction, and all the objects to be accomplished by revelation, than if they had been written by one man, and in one and the same manner.

This view of plenary inspiration is fitted to relieve the difficulties and objections which have arisen in the minds of men from the variety of talent and taste which the writers exhibited, and the variety of style which they used. See, it is said, how each writer expresses himself naturally, in his own way, just as he was accustomed to do when not inspired. And see too, we might say in reply, how each Apostle, Peter, Paul, or John, when speaking before rulers, with the promised aid of the Holy Spirit, spoke naturally, with his own voice, and in his own way, as he had been accustomed to do on other occasions when not inspired. There is no more objection to plenary inspiration in the one case than in the other. The mental faculties and habits of the Apostles, their style, their voice, their mode of speech, all remained as they were. What, then, had the divine Spirit to do? What was the work which appertained to Him? We reply, His work was so to direct the Apostles in the use of their own talents and habits, their style, their voice, and all their peculiar endowments, that they should speak or write, each in his own way, just what God would have them speak or write, for the good of the Church in all ages.

The fact that the individual peculiarities of the sacred penmen are everywhere so plainly impressed on their writings, is often mentioned as an objection to the doctrine, that inspiration extended to their language as well as their thoughts. This is indeed, one of the most common objections, and one which has obtained a very deep lodgment in the minds of some intelligent Christians. It may, therefore, be necessary to take some further pains completely to remove it. And in our additional remarks relative to this and other objections, it will come in our way to show that such a writer as Gaussen, who contends with great earnestness and ability for the highest views of inspiration, does still, on all important points, agree with those who advocate lower views of the subject.

Gaussen says, 'Although the title of each book should not indicate to us that we are passing from one author to another; yet we could quickly discover, by the change of their characters, that a new hand has taken the pen. It is perfectly easy to recognize each one of them, although they speak of the same master, teach the same doctrines, and relate the same incidents.' But how does this prove that Scripture is not, in all respects, inspired? 'So far are we,' says this author, 'from overlooking human individuality everywhere impressed on our Sacred Books, that, on the contrary, it is with profound gratitude, and with an ever-increasing admiration, that we regard this living, real, human character infused so charmingly into every part of the Word of God. We admit the fact, and we see in it clear proof of the Divine wisdom which dictated the Scriptures.'

Those who urge the objection above mentioned are plainly inconsistent with themselves. For while they deny the plenary inspiration of some parts of Scripture, because they have these marks of individuality, they acknowledge inspiration in the fullest sense in other parts, particularly in the prophecies, where this individuality of the writers is equally apparent.

In truth, what can be more consonant with our best views of the wisdom of God, or with the general analogy of his works, than that He should make use of the thoughts, the memories, the peculiar talents, tastes, and feelings of His servants in recording His Word for the instruction of men? Why should He not associate the peculiarities of their personal character with what they write under His personal guidance? But, independently of our reasoning, this matter is decided by the Bible itself. 'All Scripture is Divinely inspired,' and it is all the Word of God. And it is none the less the Word of God, and none the less inspired, because it comes to us in the language of Moses, and David, and Paul, and the other sacred writers. 'It is God who speaks to us, but it is also man; it is man, but it is also God.' The word of God, in order to be intelligible and profitable to us, 'must be uttered by mortal tongues, and be written by mortal hands, and must put on the features of human thoughts. This blending of humanity and Divinity in the Scriptures reminds us of the majesty and the condescension of God. Viewed in this light, the Word of God has unequalled beauties, and exerts an unequalled power over our hearts.'

There are some who maintain that all which was necessary to secure the desired results was an infallible guidance of the thoughts of the sacred writers; that with such a guidance they might be safely left to express their thoughts in their own way, without any special influence from above.

Now, if those who take this view of the subject mean that God not only gives the sacred penmen the very ideas which they are to write, but, in some way, secures an infallible connection between those ideas and a just expression of them in words; then, indeed, we have the desired result—an infallible revelation from God, made in the proper language of the writers. But if any one supposes that there is naturally such an infallible connection between right thoughts and a just expression of them in language, without an effective Divine superintendence, he contradicts the lessons of daily experience. But those to whom we refer evidently do not themselves believe in such an infallible connection. For when they assign their reason for denying that inspiration related to the language of the Scriptures, they speak of the different, and, as they regard them, the contradictory statements of facts by different writers. But it is easy to see that the difficulty presses with all its force upon those who assert the inspiration of the thoughts. For surely they will not say that the sacred writers had true thoughts in their minds, and yet uttered them in the language of falsehood. This would contradict their own idea of a sure connection between the conceptions of the mind and the utterance of them in suitable words, and would clearly show that they themselves feel it to be necessary that the Divine guidance should extend to the words of inspired men as well as their thoughts. But if the inspired writer through inadvertence committed a real mistake as to a matter of fact, it must have been a mistake in his thoughts as well as in his words. If, then, there was a mistake, it lay in his thoughts. But if there was no mistake, then there is nothing to prove that inspiration did not extend to the language. If, however, there was a real mistake, then the question is not, what becomes of verbal inspiration, but what becomes of inspiration in any sense.

It is sometimes said that the sacred writers were of themselves generally competent to express their ideas in proper language, and in this respect had no need of supernatural assistance. But there is just as much reason for saying that they were of themselves generally competent to form their own conceptions, and so had no need of supernatural aid in this respect. It is just as reasonable to say that Moses could recollect what took place at the Red Sea, and that Paul could recollect that he was once a persecutor, and Peter what took place on the mount of transfiguration, without supernatural aid, as to say that they could, without such aid, make a proper record of these recollections. We believe a real and infallible guidance of the Spirit in both respects, because this is taught in the Scriptures. And it is obvious that the Bible could not be what Christ and the Apostles considered it to be, unless they were Divinely inspired.

The diversity in the narratives of the Evangelists is sometimes urged as an objection against the position we maintain in regard to inspiration, but evidently without reason, and contrary to reason. For what is more reasonable than to expect that a work of Divine origin will have marks of consummate wisdom, and will be suited to accomplish the end in view. Now it will not be denied that God determined that there should be four narratives of the life and death of Jesus from four historians. If the narratives were all alike, three of them would be useless. Indeed such a circumstance would create suspicion, and would bring discredit upon the whole concern. The narratives must then be different. And if, besides this useful diversity, it is found that the seeming contradictions can be satisfactorily reconciled, and if each of the narratives is given in the peculiar style and manner of the writers, then all is natural and unexceptionable, and we have the highest evidence of the credibility and truth of the narratives.

We shall advert to one more objection. It is alleged that writers who were constantly under a plenary Divine inspiration would not descend to the unimportant details, the trifling incidents, which are found in the Scriptures. To this it may be replied that the details alluded to must be admitted to be according to truth, and that those things which, at first view, seem to be trifles may, when taken in their connections, prove to be of serious moment. And it is moreover manifest that, considering what human beings and human affairs really are, if all those things which are called trifling and unimportant were excluded, the Scriptures would fail of being conformed to fact; they would not be faithful histories of human life: so that the very circumstance which is demanded as proof of inspiration would become an argument against it. And herein we cannot but admire the perfect wisdom which guided the sacred writers, while we mark the weakness and shallowness of the objections which are urged against their inspiration.

On the whole, after carefully investigating the subject of inspiration, we are conducted to the important conclusion that 'all Scripture is Divinely inspired;' that the sacred penmen wrote 'as they were moved by the Holy Ghost;' and that these representations are to be understood as implying that the writers had, in all respects, the effectual guidance of the Divine Spirit. And we are still more confirmed in this conclusion because we find that it begets in those who seriously adopt it an acknowledgment of the Divine origin of Scripture, a reverence for its teachings, and a practical regard to its requirements, like what appeared in Christ and his Apostles. Being convinced that the Bible has, in all parts and in all respects, the seal of the Almighty, and that it is truly and entirely from God, we are led by reason, conscience, and piety to bow submissively to its high authority, implicitly to believe its doctrines, however incomprehensible, and cordially to obey its precepts, however contrary to our natural inclinations. We come to it from day to day, not as judges, but as learners, never questioning the propriety or utility of any of its contents. This precious Word of God is the perfect standard of our faith, and the rule of our life, our comfort in affliction, and our sure guide to heaven.

 

 

 

 

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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Inspiration'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature". https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/kbe/i/inspiration.html.

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