Archive for the 'Inspiration' Category

Secular assaults on the Bible: The inerrant Bible battles

Sunday, August 30th, 2015

Image result for inerrancy clip art

By Spencer D Gear

Why would other religionists and secularists want to start this kind of topic: ‘Why do some believers of Christ feel the bible is without error?’[1] A Mormon got the topic rolling with this statement:

Since spending a few years in researching the origins of the bible and trying to make sense of the intent of the writers of the bible I have discovered to (sic) much evidence that the bible is far from perfect. Why do people believe it is perfect?[2]

Even though he used the language of ‘perfect’ to refer to the Bible, he did not provide a definition of what he meant by the title of his thread, ‘the bible is without error’. Did he mean it is without error in everything it says, including what the devil said, only spiritual matters, or to include some other limitations? Is it without error when it reports the lies of liars? Is every historical detail in the Bible inerrant? Any fair discussion needs a definition of the meaning of ‘the bible is without error’ and the ‘bible is far from perfect’.[3]

A. Samples of responses

It was nor surprising that this kind of topic had the lemmings[4] coming out of their forum’s ethereal Internet captivity. Here are a few grabs of comments:

clip_image002 ‘Because to see any error in it, to them, would mean it isn’t from a perfect deity’ (Judaism).[5]

clip_image002[1] ‘It was very liberating for me when I finally realized it wasn’t perfect. It allowed me the freedom to explore beyond the small box I had created for myself and truly seek God’ (Taoist).[6]

clip_image002[2] ‘These Christians hold that if one word or verse in the Bible cannot be accepted as true, than nothing in it can be depended on to be true, and that Christianity then becomes a total lie. They paint themselves into a theological corner of their own making’ (Christian).[7]

clip_image002[3] ‘Just as the Catholics must accept Papal infallibility, the Protestants must accept Biblical infallibility. As soon as people begin to question portions of the Bible like Noah’s flood, then it creates an avalanche’ (atheist).[8]

clip_image002[4] ‘It is a method of elevating one’s self to the level of divinity. If Bible is infallible and I can read it (and interpret it to my liking) I am on par with God!’ (Buddhist)[9]

clip_image002[5] ‘Since God is perfect, His written Word is perfect. It is also sufficient for every spiritual need’ (2 Tim 3:16,17) [non-denominational].[10]

clip_image002[6] ‘Please let us know which version, with which verses, with which words, is perfect. I am not sure how one can find perfection amongst hundreds of manuscripts (none of which are close to being originals) and with thousands of variations between them. Which combination is perfect? I am eager to learn’ (Christian).[11]

Are you getting the drift? Non-Christians dislike, even detest, the very idea of Scriptures being perfect, without error. Non-evangelical Christians dislike the very idea of perfection in regard to the Bible.

This last comment is getting a little closer. However, there is still no definition of the exact meaning of an errorless Bible. Does it extend right down to every alphabet letter in every word or only to spiritual matters? What about translations versus original manuscripts?

B. Definition needed

A Christian was seeing the need to define further so he wrote:

For the purposes of this discussion, Scripture is GOD-BREATHED (Gk theopneustos) (2 Tim 3:16). In practical terms it means that every word in the 66 canonical books of the Bible’s original manuscripts (Hebrew and Greek) is a word of God, and a word from God. That ensures perfection. God not only inspired His Word, but He also preserved it in the multitude (and majority) of manuscripts. The thousands of variations come from a handful of corrupted manuscripts.[12]

I responded:[13]

That’s not my understanding of inerrancy. Evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, gave this definition: ‘The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscritps does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact’ (Grudem 1994:90).

Grudem’s chapter 6 on ‘The Inerrancy of Scripture: Are there any errors in the Bible?’ (pp 90-104) is covered in 15pp. What is important is that the inerrancy of Scripture states that it is without error/contrary to fact in the autographa (original MSS). It does not refer to the accuracy of any translation such as the Latin Vulgate, Geneva Bible, KJV, NKJV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, ESV, NLT, etc.
My own view is summarised in this article, ‘The Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals‘.

This fellow’s reply was that:

A better definition is given by Stewart Custer in Does Inspiration Demand Inerrancy?[14] Inerrancy is that characteristic of Scripture which renders it without mistake AND THEREFORE INFALLIBLE, not just in religious matters, but also in matters of historic and scientific fact…. The fact of the matter is that a large number of so-called Evangelicals have rejected inerrancy, therefore infallibility. For proof study The Battle for the Bible and The Bible in the Balance, both written by evangelical writer Harold Lindsell many years ago[15]

He conceptualised it as INSPIRED clip_image004 INERRANTclip_image004[1]INFALLIBLE. My rejoinder was[16] that according to dictionary definitions, inerrancy means infallibility:

9780310392811(image courtesy Zondervan)

Harold Lindsell, one of my previous professors, raised the issue that was happening with the downgrade of inerrancy, particularly in Southern Baptist circles, in his 1976 book, The Battle for the Bible. Perhaps the most helpful exposition I have read is by Norman L Geisler’s edited book from 1979. Inerrancy. See also, ‘Does the Bible have errors?’ by Dr Norman Geisler.

My own understanding in affirming inerrancy is that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms in the original manuscripts (autographa). It naturally flows from an understanding of the Greek theopneustos (breathed out by God), 2 Tim 3:16 (ESV), and the perfection of God. How is it possible for a God-breathed book to include error when he is Perfect?

The only Bible books that are NOT God-breathed are the translations. They are imperfect because of the transcribing and translation processes.

People commonly say to me: But we don’t have the originals so it is pointless to talk about the inerrancy of original documents we do not have. Do you think so? I have found R. Laird Harris’s explanation helpful in explaining the need to have authoritative original documents behind the copies, even though we currently do not have access to the originals (autographa). He wrote:

‘Reflection will show that the doctrine of verbal inspiration is worthwhile even though the originals have perished. An illustration may be helpful. Suppose we wish to measure the length of a certain pencil. With a tape measure we measure it as 6 1/2 inches. A more carefully made office ruler indicates 6 9/16 inches. Checking with an engineer’s scale, we find it to be slightly more than 6.58 inches. Careful measurement with a steel scale under laboratory conditions reveals it to be 6.577 inches. Not satisfied still, we send the pencil to Washington, where master gauges indicate a length of 6.5774 inches. The master gauges themselves are checked against the standard United States yard marked on platinum bar preserved in Washington. Now, suppose that we should read in the newspapers that a clever criminal had run off with the platinum bar and melted it down for the precious metal. As a matter of fact, this once happened to Britain’s standard yard! What difference would this make to us? Very little. None of us has ever seen the platinum bar. Many of us perhaps never realized it existed. Yet we blithely use tape measures, rulers, scales, and similar measuring devices. These approximate measures derive their value from their being dependent on more accurate gauges. But even the approximate has tremendous value—if it has had a true standard behind it (Harris 1969:88-89).

C. Paul Feinberg defines inerrancy

Paul D. FeinbergPaul D Feinberg (image courtesy Crossway)

In an outstanding, provocative and comprehensive article on ‘the meaning of inerrancy’ (Feinberg 1979)[17], Feinberg provides this definition of inerrancy:


‘Inerrancy means that when all facts are known, the Scriptures in their original autographs and properly interpreted will be shown to be wholly true in everything that they affirm, whether that has to do with doctrine or morality or with the social, physical, or life sciences’ (Feinberg 1979:294, emphasis in original).

Feinberg added two observations (Feinberg 1979:295, emphases in original):

1. No doctrine of inerrancy can determine in advance the solution to individual or specific problem passages.

By this, he meant that this teaching on inerrancy can only give parameters or guidelines to dealing with various passages. It will not guarantee the proper treatment of every problem passage as that involves hermeneutical issues.

2. Inerrancy is a doctrine that must be asserted, but which may not be demonstrated with respect to all the phenomena of Scripture.

In this definition, Feinberg admitted to ‘the explicit recognition of both the fallibility and the finiteness of the present state of human knowledge’, leaving only two choices: (a) ‘Either the theologian will trust the word of an omnipotent, omniscient God, who says that He controlled human agents, making it necessary for the theologian to admit his fallibility as critic’, or (b) ‘in some sense he will declare that the aforementioned control is restricted and will affirm at least his own relative and finite omniscience as critic. Since Christ exhibited total trust in the Scriptures, can we do less? All that is claimed is that there is no final conflict with truth’ (Feinberg 1979:295).

Feinberg provided three qualifications (1979:296-298, emphasis in original):

1. Inerrancy applies equally to all parts of Scripture as originally written (autographa).

2. Inerrancy is intimately tied up with hermeneutics, i.e. the science of biblical interpretation.

3. Inerrancy is related to Scripture’s intention.

These misunderstandings were stated by Feinberg (1979:298-302, emphasis in original:

1. Inerrancy does not demand strict adherence to the rules of grammar.

2. Inerrancy does not exclude the use either of figures of speech or of a given literary genre.

3. Inerrancy does not demand historical or semantic precision.

4. Inerrancy does not demand the technical language of modern science.

5. Inerrancy does not require verbal exactness in the citation of the Old Testament by the New.

6. Inerrancy does not demand that the Logia Jesu (the sayings of Jesus) contain the ipsissima verba (the exact words) of Jesus, only the ipsissima vox (the exact voice).

7. Inerrancy does not guarantee the exhaustive comprehensiveness of any single account or of combined accounts where those are involved.

8. Inerrancy does not demand the infallibility or inerrancy of the noninspired sources used by biblical writers.

Feinberg reached this conclusion at the end of his chapter (1979:304):

Concerning the doctrine of inerrancy may be summarized as follows: (1) the term inerrancy, like other words, is subject to misunderstanding and must be clearly defined; (2) inerrancy should be defined in terms of truth, making a number of the usual problems mute; (3) while inerrancy is not the only word that could express the concept here associated with it, it is a good word; and (4) inerrancy is not the only quality of the Bible that needs to be affirmed…. One cannot do better than to close with the words of Isaiah:

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

Because the breath of the LORD blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

But the word of our God stands forever.

(Isa. 40:7, 8)

D. Pressing on: Still no definition

Now back to the Christian Forum. Posters continued their examination of each other’s views but without defining inerrancy. A neopagan wrote: ‘In my opinion the Bible is probably MORE valid if its perceived as inspired but not inerrant simply because focusing on the central message of the text seems to be more compelling than fighting over how old the Earth is and if that is an essential belief’.[18] My response was:[19] How can we focus on your emphasis, ‘the central message of the text’, if the text cannot be understood as being reliable?

‘Fighting over how old the earth is’ relates to interpretation (hermeneutics) and not to the quality of the original documents.
Don’t you also have another worldview[20] from which you are trying to judge the Bible? Which Scriptures have you used to teach and/or reject the infallibility of Scripture?

It was not surprising that he did not want to deal with the specifics I raised. He came back with (part of his reply),

I use the scientific knowledge and experience provided to me over the course of my life. I’ve been in a variety of churches who require an infallible, literal acceptance of the Bible and then others that are in more of an inspired, less literal camp. The less literal camp appeared to make more sense if one is evaluating the Bible as a description of everything in the world. The more literal interpretation loses me on it’s (sic) history and scientific aspects.[21]

Some concerning emphases come out of some Christian thinking on this topic. Here’s one example:

I believe them to be perfect in every way.

That said, I don’t believe it matters. Why? Subjection to opinion of the reader causes various errant interpretation (sic) of even that which is perfect.

Inerrancy of the scriptures then simply becomes a tool to divide rather than edify.

I NEVER discuss inerrancy when ministering to someone in need.[22]

There are some loose ends here to which I responded.[23] Neither do I discuss inerrancy when ministering to a needy person. That’s not the environment for such theological discussion.

However, I do deal with inerrancy of the original documents when teaching or preaching on a core Christian doctrine, the authority or otherwise of Scripture.

I’m not of the view that inerrancy does not matter. I’m interested in what the Scriptures teach. That’s where I begin and finish, remembering that there are established principles for interpreting any document, whether that be Scripture or the local newspaper.

E. We don’t have the originals

When antagonists attack the Bible, it’s not uncommon to get this kind of response: ‘We don’t have the originals, only many copies of copies of copies. And, the vast majority of scholars agree, there are errors in the copies’.[24] The following is my reply:[25]

clip_image005Dr Bruce Metzger died in 2007 at the age of 93 (photo courtesy Wikipedia).

He was one of the world’s most eminent examiners/critics of the Greek text of the NT in the 20th century. His book, last revised in 1992, The Text of the New Testament, has a chapter and many other details on ‘The practice of New Testament textual criticism’ (Metzger 1992:207ff).
One of his conclusions was:

Let it be emphasized again that no single manuscript and no none group of manuscripts exists which the textual critic may follow mechanically. All known witnesses of the New Testament are to a greater or less extent mixed texts, and even the earliest manuscripts are not free from egregious errors. Although in very many cases the textual critic is able to ascertain without residual dou8bt which reading must have stood in the original, there are not a few other cases where he can come only to a tentative decision based on an equivocal balancing of probabilities. Occasionally none of the variant readings will commend itself as original, and he will be compelled either to choose the reading which he judges to be the least unsatisfactory or to indulge in conjectural emendation. In textual criticism, as in other areas of historical research, one must seek not only to learn what can be known, but also to become aware of what, because of conflicting witnesses, cannot be known (Metzger 1992:246). ?

However, there is another part of the story. One of the editors of the RSV of 1946, F C Grant, wrote,’It will be obvious to the careful reader that still in 1946 [when the RSV was published], as in 1881 [ASV publication] and 1901 [RV publication], no doctrine of the Christian faith has been affected by the revision, for the simple reason that, out of the thousands of variant readings in the manuscripts, none has turned up thus far that requires a revision of Christian doctrine’ (Grant 1946:42).

FF Bruce.jpg

(F F Bruce, photo courtesy Wikipedia)

F F Bruce’s comment on this statement was:

If the variant readings are so numerous, it is because the witnesses are so numerous. But all the witnesses, and all the types which they represent, agree on every article of Christian belief and practice. [The 20th century] has seen no greater authority in this field of New Testament textual criticism than Sir Frederick Kenyon, who died in August 1952, and we may take his words to heart in confidence: “It is reassuring at the end to find that the general result of all these discoveries and all this study is to strengthen the proof of the authenticity of the Scriptures, and our conviction that we have in our hands, in substantial integrity, the veritable word of God” [Kenyon 1936:144]. And again: “The interval then between the dates of original composition and the earliest extant evidence becomes so small as to be in fact negligible, and the last foundation for any doubt that the Scriptures have come down to us substantially as they were written has now been removed. Both the authenticity and the general integrity of the books of the New Testament may be regarded as finally established [Kenyon 1940:228ff] (Bruce 1963:189-190).

You have stated that we don’t have the originals and that is a true statement. If we don’t have the originals, is it pointless to talk about the inerrancy of documents we do not have? I do not think so. I have found R. Laird Harris’s explanation helpful in explaining the need to have authoritative original documents behind the copies, even though we currently do not have access to the originals (autographa). He wrote the statement given above (Harris 1969:88-89).

F. Limited intention of Bible

It was not long before another kind of emphasis would arise from a Christian:

The Bible is accurate for what it is. It is not accurate for what it is not.

It is (in my opinion) the set of spiritual instructions from God to mankind. Even within this narrow scope there is still many variations as to what the instructions say. We should not try to focus on the parts we disagree on but instead focus on the parts we agree on.[26]

So the Bible is only accurate in its ‘spiritual instructions from God’ to human beings, but even that allows for some variations. Don’t focus on disagreement but on things with which we agree. Wow! Who invented that one? He provided not one piece of supporting biblical evidence to arrive at such a view.

What an opportunity to rebut such a view.[27]

Wayne Grudem Photo 2014.jpg

(Wayne Grudem, photograph courtesy Wikipedia)

I’m pleased that you stated that this was your opinion because it does not match the facts. Here’s some evidence to confute what you stated:

Evangelical theologian, Dr Wayne Grudem, knows the Scriptures well and he refutes your perspective with this evidence:

In this section we examine the major objections that are commonly made against the concept of inerrancy.

1. The Bible Is Only Authoritative for “Faith and Practice.” One of the most frequent objections is raised by those who say that the purpose of Scripture is to teach us in areas that concern “faith and practice” only; that is, in areas that directly relate to our religious faith or to our ethical conduct. This position would allow for the possibility of false statements in Scripture, for example, in other areas such as in minor historical details or scientific facts—these areas, it is said, do not concern the purpose of the Bible, which is to instruct us in what we should believe and how we are to live. Its advocates often prefer to say that the Bible is “infallible” but they hesitate to use the word inerrant.

The response to this objection can be stated as follows: the Bible repeatedly affirms that all of Scripture is profitable for us (2 Tim. 3:16) and that all of it is “God- breathed.” Thus it is completely pure (Ps. 12:6), perfect (Ps. 119:96), and true (Prov. 30:5). The Bible itself does not make any restriction on the kinds of subjects to which it speaks truthfully.

The New Testament contains further affirmations of the reliability of all parts of Scripture: in Acts 24:14, Paul says that he worships God, “believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets.” In Luke 24:25, Jesus says that the disciples are “foolish men” because they are “slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken.” In Romans 15:4, Paul says that “whatever was written” in the Old Testament was “written for our instruction.” These texts give no indication that there is any part of Scripture that is not to be trusted or relied on completely. Similarly, in 1 Corinthians 10:11, Paul can refer even to minor historical details in the Old Testament (sitting down to eat and drink, rising up to dance) and can say both that they “happened” (thus implying historical reliability) and “were written down for our instruction.”

If we begin to examine the way in which the New Testament authors trust the smallest historical details of the Old Testament narrative, we see no intention to separate out matters of “faith and practice,” or to say that this is somehow a recognizable category of affirmations, or to imply that statements not in that category need not be trusted or thought to be inerrant. Rather, it seems that the New Testament authors are willing to cite and affirm as true every detail of the Old Testament (Grudem1994:93).?

Therefore, the Bible confirms that not only matters of Judeo-Christian faith and practice are affirmed as inerrant in Scripture, but this perfection in the original documents extends to all details in Scripture. Even the citing of error and unrighteousness is truthful in its accuracy.

G. False view: Teachings come through

It’s natural in this kind of public discussion that some far out views will arise. This one came from a Mormon:

This does not mean there are not errors. It means that many of the teachings came through. It does not mean that they came through unscathed. Every word translated is not “God breathed”. Believers can take what they want to believe and leave out what they don’t like or do not understand.[28]

How does one reply? Here is what I observed?[29] You have not demonstrated your premises. You have given us your presuppositions that need to be tested (and a short thread like this is hardly the place to do it). Your presuppositions emerge from this statement:

  • The Bible contains errors;
  • Many Bible teachings came through in spite of errors;
  • These teachings have been affected (i.e. not unscathed) by the errors in the text;
  • ‘God breathed’ does not apply to every word of the Bible;
  • Believers can pick and choose what they want to believe from the Bible.

These presuppositions need to be tested for verification or falsification from the biblical text because you are talking about ‘the Bible’.
However, your presuppositions do seem to have some dimensions of a doubting, skeptical worldview.

Here’s a perspective that is not so distorted, but it has problems:

Then you have thrown out a majority of the Christian churches. Because most don’t teach inerrant also many of the church fathers didn’t teach inerrancy. I’m not saying the Bible isn’t inerrant I’m saying that it doesn’t have to be inerrant to be true. Furthermore providing a quote/source of a theologians opinion doesn’t equate to facts. I could also go to my bookshelf and provide an example of the other opinion. Finally, it is presumptive to assume that the person you quoted knows the scripture better than someone of this site. People that publish books aren’t the only ones with degrees in Biblical/Theological studies.[30]

These problems include:[31] His statement affirms the ‘appeal to common practice‘ logical fallacy.

If the ‘majority of Christian churches’ do not agree with this position, it does not deny the accuracy of such a position. In addition, you presented not one example to support your case for the ‘majority’.

To say that ‘it doesn’t have to be inerrant to be true’ is asking me to affirm the accuracy of Scripture without its being prefect/inerrant.

I also can go to the 2,500 volumes in my personal library and choose books that do not affirm inerrancy. That proves nothing. Our issues are: (1) What’s the biblical evidence? (2) Can the God of perfection make available a document for everyday consumption that is not perfect?
So are you suggesting that Harold Lindsell, John W Montgomery, Wayne Grudem, Norman Geisler, and others who accumulate evidence in support of inerrancy, are presumptive and don’t know what they are talking about? You stated, ‘many of the church fathers didn’t teach inerrancy’, but you provided not a shred of evidence to support your claim. Derek J Brown (n d) in his article, ‘Inerrancy and church history: The early fathers’, demonstrated that ‘the early church fathers through explicit statements and in their theological practice affirmed the error-free nature of Scripture’.

H. Church fathers on inerrancy

1. Clement of Rome (ca. AD 30-100) wrote ‘Look carefully into the Scriptures, which are the true utterances of the Holy Spirit. Observe that nothing of an unjust or counterfeit character is written in them’ (Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, ch 24, emphasis in original).

2. Justin Martyr (100-165), an apologist with Platonic leanings, wrote in his Dialogue with Trypho:

But if [you have done so] because you imagined that you could throw doubt on the passage, in order that I might say the Scriptures contradicted each other, you have erred. But I shall not venture to suppose or to say such a thing; and if a Scripture which appears to be of such a kind be brought forward, and if there be a pretext [for saying] that it is contrary [to some other], since I am entirely convinced that no Scripture contradicts another, I shall admit rather that I do not understand what is recorded, and shall strive to persuade those who imagine that the Scriptures are contradictory, to be rather of the same opinion as myself (ch 65).

3. Clement of Alexandria (ca. 150-215), speaking of the Scripture, stated:For truly holy are those letters that sanctify and deify; and the writings or volumes that consist of those holy letters and syllables, the same apostle consequently calls “inspired of God, being profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to every good work” [ 2 Tim 3:16]’ (Exhortation to the heathen, ch 9).

4. Irenaeus (ca. 120/140-200/203),[32] in his seminal publication, Against Heresies, wrote: ‘We should leave things of that nature to God who created us, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit’ (Against Heresies 2.28.2).


(A Byzantine mosaic of John Chrysostom, image courtesy Wikipedia)

5. Chrysostom (ca. 347-407) discussed incidents in the Gospels to help people understand ‘the difference between statements that are diverse and contradictory’, an example being Christ carrying the cross and Simon, the Cyrene, carrying it. He showed how ‘there is no contradiction’ as both took place. His conclusion is that ‘it is possible to collect many other instances of this kind from the Gospels, which seem to have a suspicion of contradiction, where there is no real contradiction’ (Works of St. Chrysostom, The paralytic let down through the roof, p. 214)

It has been cited on the Internet that Chrysostom wrote that ‘there is divergence in the historical narratives of the Gospel – a fact which disarms the suggestion of collusion which might be made by the enemy, if the agreement between the Four Evangelists were too minute – but there is no contradiction’.[33]

In Homily 1 on Matthew, Chrysostom wrote concerning the four Gospels:

What then? Was not one evangelist sufficient to tell all? One indeed was sufficient; but if there be four that write, not at the same times, nor in the same places, neither after having met together, and conversed one with another, and then they speak all things as it were out of one mouth, this becomes a very great demonstration of the truth….

But the contrary,” it may be said, “has come to pass, for in many places they are convicted of discordance.” Nay, this very thing is a very great evidence of their truth. For if they had agreed in all things exactly even to time, and place, and to the very words, none of our enemies would have believed but that they had met together, and had written what they wrote by some human compact; because such entire agreement as this comes not of simplicity. But now even that discordance which seems to exist in little matters delivers them from all suspicion, and speaks clearly in behalf of the character of the writers.

But if there be anything touching times or places, which they have related differently, this nothing injures the truth of what they have said…. In the chief heads, those which constitute our life and furnish out our doctrine, nowhere is any of them found to have disagreed, no not ever so little….

The harmony between them [the four Gospels] we will establish, both by the whole world, which has received their statements, and by the very enemies of the truth…. With regard to the Scriptures, in each portion of what is there stated, one may see the connection with the whole clearly appearing…. But that they are not opposed to each other, this we will endeavor to prove, throughout the whole work. And thou, in accusing them of disagreement, art doing just the same as if you were to insist upon their using the same words and forms of speech (Matthew, Homily 1:5, 6, 8, emphasis in original.

He wrote that ‘the Scriptures were all written and sent, not by servants, but by God the Lord of all’ (Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, Gal 1:8, 9).

Speaking of the paralytic man in the Gospels who was let down to Jesus through the roof (see Mark 2:1-12; Matt 9:2-8; Lk 5:17-26), Chrysostom explained:

It is possible to collect many other instances of this kind from the Gospels, which seem to have a suspicion of contradiction, where there is no real contradiction, the truth being that some incidents have been related by this writer, others by that; or if not occurring at the same hour one author has related the earlier event, another the later; but in the present case there is nothing of this kind, but the multitude of the evidences which I have mentioned proves to those who pay any attention whatever to the matter, that the paralytic was not the same man in both instances. And this would be no slight proof to demonstrate that the evangelists were in harmony with each other and not at variance. For if it were the same man the discord is great between the two accounts: but if it be a different one all material for dispute has been destroyed (Homily on the Paralytic Let Down Through the Roof, section 4).

Elsewhere he wrote in his commentary on Galatians 1:7, ‘For the oneness of a work depends not on the number of its authors, but on the agreement or contradictoriness of its contents. Whence it is clear that the four Gospels are one Gospel; for, as the four say the same thing, its oneness is preserved by the harmony of the contents, and not impaired by the difference of persons’ (Homily 1 on Galatians).

6. St. Augustine (ca. 354-430) wrote to Jerome,

On such terms we might amuse ourselves without fear of offending each other in the field of Scripture, but I might well wonder if the amusement was not at my expense. For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the Ms. is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason (Letter 83.3, Nicene and Post-Nicene Church Fathers, First Series, vol 1, p. 350, emphasis added).

In Letter 28 to Jerome, Augustine presented his further understanding of the nature of Scripture:

It seems to me that most disastrous consequences must follow upon our believing that anything false is found in the sacred books: that is to say, that the men by whom the Scripture has been given to us, and committed to writing, did put down in these books anything false. It is one question whether it may be at any time the duty of a good man to deceive; but it is another question whether it can have been the duty of a writer of Holy Scripture to deceive: nay, it is not another question— it is no question at all….

To speak well of a falsehood uttered on behalf of God, was a crime not less, perhaps even greater, than to speak ill of the truth concerning Him? We must therefore be careful to secure, in order to our knowledge of the divine Scriptures, the guidance only of such a man as is imbued with a high reverence for the sacred books, and a profound persuasion of their truth (28.3.3, 4).

Augustine’s Reply to Faustus, the Manichaean (11.2) was:[34]

When these men are beset by clear testimonies of Scripture, and cannot escape from their grasp, they declare that the passage is spurious. The declaration only shows their aversion to the truth, and their obstinacy in error. Unable to answer these statements of Scripture, they deny their genuineness….

Should there be a question about the text of some passage, as there are a few passages with various readings well known to students of the sacred Scriptures, we should first consult the manuscripts of the country where the religion was first taught; and if these still varied, we should take the text of the greater number, or of the more ancient. And if any uncertainty remained, we should consult the original text. This is the method employed by those who, in any question about the Scriptures, do not lose sight of the regard due to their authority, and inquire with the view of gaining information, not of raising disputes.

I. Conclusion of church fathers on Scripture

From the above sample of evidence from the church fathers, we can conclude that they had a very high regard of the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture. Of Scripture it is stated:

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Trustworthy and from the Holy Spirit;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Inspired by God;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small No Scripture contradicts another;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Scriptures are perfect, spoken from God and His Spirit;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small A very great demonstration of truth; evidence of their truth;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Written and sent by God, the Lord;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small No real contradiction but harmony in the Gospels;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small The four Gospels are one Gospel;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Authors are completely free from error;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Apparent opposition to truth indicates the MSS is faulty, the translator has not translated correctly, or the reader has failed to understand.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small A writer of Scripture cannot deceive or promote falsehood on behalf of God;

blue-corrosion-arrow-small Those opposed to the clear testimonies of Scripture declare a passage is spurious and are being obstinate in error.

blue-corrosion-arrow-small The Scriptures have authority.

Robert Preus, after examining the evidence of the views on the inerrancy of Scripture in the early church, concluded that ‘whether the Fathers speak of the inspiration of the writers of Scripture or of the inspiration of the Bible itself, they are affirming one fundamental truth, that Scripture is really and truly God’s Word, all of it, even its minute details. Scripture is therefore divinely authoritative – and infallibly true’ (Preus 1979:364-365).

In my article, ‘the Bible’s support for inerrancy of the originals‘, I have provided scriptural evidence to demonstrate the Bible’s own support for its infallible authority.

J. Along comes a skeptical philologist[35]

This woman later identified herself as a philologist. She said:

In sharp contrast to the Qur’an (which claims to present the direct, verbatim words of Abraham’s deity, unadulterated by the fallible mortal who merely repeated these revelations), the Bible never masks its status as a vast anthology of heterogeneous texts written by human authors over an extended period of time. How fundamentalists could possibly end up believing that it’s all basically “GOD’S WORD” mystifies me. (And yes, I am familiar with the Pauline epistle that answers the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures in spite of having discarded Mosaic law. It does not pertain to the “New Testament”, and it does not claim infallibility, either.)[36]

That’s inviting me, a supporter of inerrancy, to offer a counter argument.[37] So I wrote: These are your assertions. You have provided no defence of your position. It’s expected that that short response would get her pulses increased:

Well, what exactly do you want me to refute and/or prove?

That the Bible is a heterogeneous anthology instead of a single text written (or dictated verbatim) by a single, divine author? A single glance at the table of contents suffices for that.

That the books of the Bible do not claim to represent God’s words (except for passages that explicitly state: “Thus says the LORD”)? Again, the text itself suffices.

Or maybe that the Pauline epistle in question does not make the claim that the whole anthology is inerrant? For that, you only need to do one thing: read the epistle in its historical context. For starters, the New Testament did not exist at that point. Zilch. Zip. Nada. Secondly, the letter addresses a specific question, as I pointed out before: should Christians read the Septuagint, or shouldn’t they? Paul’s answer: yes, read them, they’re all inspired and good for instruction. It doesn’t even claim inerrancy, let alone direct verbal inspiration.[38]

K. More fuel for the debate

(image courtesy Bible

How should I respond?[39] Would you have any difficulty with a Shakespearean anthology in determining that Shakespeare was the author. Simply because the Bible is – in your understanding – ‘a heterogeneous anthology’ should not deter you from determining the nature of inerrancy from WITHIN the contents of this ‘anthology’. That’s not such a difficult task. What’s the barrier to wanting to determine the nature of the authority of Scripture in relation to inerrancy?

You state: ‘That the books of the Bible do not claim to represent God’s words (except for passages that explicitly state: “Thus says the LORD”)? Again, the text itself suffices’. Do Shakespeare’s works have written through them, ‘thus says Shakespeare’, to affirm that Shakespeare is the author? I think not.

You state: ‘Or maybe that the Pauline epistle in question does not make the claim that the whole anthology is inerrant? For that, you only need to do one thing: read the epistle in its historical context. For starters, the New Testament did not exist at that point. Zilch. Zip. Nada’.[40] I presume you are referring to 2 Tim 3:16, ‘All Scripture’. If you did your homework on this text, you would discover that this verse is referring primarily, but not exclusively, to the OT Scriptures. Here are a couple examples:

  1. William Hendriksen: ‘All scripture, in distinction from “(the) sacred writings” (for which see on verse 15) means everything which, through the testimony of the Holy Spirit in the church, is recognized by the church as canonical, that is, authoritative. When Paul wrote these words, the direct reference was to a body of sacred literature which even then comprised more than the Old Testament (see 1 Tim 5:18)…. Later, at the close of the first century A. D., “all scripture” had been completed. Though the history of recognition, review, and ratification of the canon was somewhat complicated, and virtually universal acceptance of all the sixty-six books did not occur immediately in every region where the church was represented – one of the reasons being that for a long time certain of the smaller books had not even reached every corner of the church’ (Hendriksen & Kistemaker 1957:301).
  2. Edwin Blum: ‘These sacred writings are what we know as the Old Testament books and are so valuable because they have the ability to give the “wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus”‘ (Blum 1979:45)

There is teaching on inerrancy in this passage, based on the nature of God, but you don’t seem to want to acknowledge that.

The reply came with vengeance:

Well, I am a philologist, so the first task would be to analyze the separate texts for telltale signs of authorship: if they’ve all been written by the same person, it’ll show – and indeed, it does. There are some scholarly debates as to whether Bill Shakespeare wasn’t just a cover for somebody else (Philipp Marlowe, Edward de Vere, Francis Bacon, etc.), but one thing’s for certain: these texts *were* written by a single author.

The same cannot be said about the Bible – and the Bible never disguises that fact. Its separate books bear the names of those people who (in some cases only supposedly) wrote them – both in the New and in the Old Testament. It doesn’t claim that God wrote the psalms – David did. It doesn’t claim that God wrote the gospel of Luke – the greek physician of that name did, etc.

It does not collect the texts of a single author – it collects texts written by very different people with very different perspectives and theologies, composed over a period of a thousand years. And it shows. No philologist would ever conclude that, say, the Song of Songs was written by the same person as Ecclesiastes….

That must be the WORST rationalization I’ve ever seen, ignoring historical context, authorial intent and even the very text in question. The scripture Paul’s talking about here is the Septuagint – nothing more, nothing less. He’s simply addressing the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures or not. [41]

She thinks she has the high water mark. This was my reply:[42] You state:

  1. ‘It doesn’t claim that God wrote the psalms – David did’. That is not true. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David but many are not, e.g. Ps 1, 2, 10, 42 (sons of Korah), etc.
  2. ‘It doesn’t claim that God wrote the gospel of Luke – the greek physician of that name did’. No early MSS tells who wrote the Gospel of Luke. The inference is the Greek physician who was Paul’s accomplice.
  3. ‘No philologist would ever conclude that, say, the Song of Songs [SoS] was written by the same person as Ecclesiastes’. SoS is attributed to Solomon (SoS 1:1) and Eccl to ‘the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem’ (Eccl 1:1). Many scholars identify ‘the Preacher’ as the son of king David, Solomon, and that of an old man. Your philologist friends don’t like the same author, but the Hebrew scholars Keil & Delitzsch state of SoS, ‘we believe we have proved that it distinctly bears evidences of its Solomonic origin’ (n d:6.11). In the same volume, their commentary on Ecclesiastes concludes very differently from your position: ‘It is written as from the very soul of Solomon; it issues from the same fountain of wisdom’ and they give their reasons for that conclusion (ibid., The Book of Ecclesiastes, p. 188). I’m sticking with Hebrew scholars and their conclusions.
  4. You don’t like my explanation of 2 Tim 3:16 (ESV), but that’s OK with me. There is not a word in that verse that says it was referring to the ‘Scripture’ of the LXX (although it could have been by inference) but it was referring primarily to the OT Scripture. Your view is that in this verse, ‘he’s simply addressing the question of whether Christians ought to read Jewish scriptures or not’. No he’s not! He’s telling the nature of the authority of Scripture. It is theopneustos, God-breathed. I do note that you forgot to mention how this happens and 2 Peter 1:20-21 (ESV) articulates the particulars: ‘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’.

Your discipline of philology seems to want to deny how God can take many human authors, to whom God spoke by his Spirit, and carried them along in writing 66 books of OT + NT. I have a high regard for the meaning of theopneustos.

L. Exact word ‘inerrant’ not necessary

Scripture states:

Psalm 12:6 (NIV), ‘And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times’.
Psalm 18:30 (NIV), ‘As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD’s word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in him’
Proverbs 30:5 (NIV), ‘Every word of God is flawless; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him’.

What do these 3 verses teach about the nature of Scripture/the Word of God? It is as clear as crystal that the words of the Lord/God are ‘flawless’. That means without flaw, without error, having no fault. How else do you want me to put it? There is no need to state that the Scripture is inerrant when it states that it is ‘flawless’, which is a synonymous term. That should be the end of the story, but it is not for those who want to stir the theological pot as non-believers.

Now the discussion took another turn.

M. To avoid dealing with issues

Notice what people do to avoid dealing with matters with which they do not agree. Here’s but one example:

“Liberty University”? Ah, yes, a private Christian fundamentalist college that teaches creationism as “science”. Yyyyeah, that sure is a reliable academic source.[43]

What could provoke such a reactionary response? I was the culprit. I had quoted Brandon Carter’s (2007) thesis in support of the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles.[44] This was from Brandon’s bachelor’s degree honors’ programme at Liberty University. What was this promoter of Gaia doing with the above negative statements about Liberty University?

N. Genetic logical fallacy to divert attention

The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)(logical fallacies)

My reply to Jane was: ‘Why must you commit a genetic logical fallacy with this statement? It’s a typical tactic to avoid dealing with the subject at hand’.[45]

How do you think she might reply? She began with:

It’s a fundamentalist argument provided by a fundamentalist author from a fundamentalist university whose academic credentials can be summarily dismissed because they favour biblical literalism above the scientific method.[46]

I replied:[47] You give me another logical fallacy, a red herring fallacy this time. You did not address the issue I raised that you used a genetic logical fallacy when you denigrated the origin of the argument and did not deal with the issue itself.
We cannot have a logical conversation when you continue with these fallacies because you are using fallacious reasoning.

O. Eminent scholar supports Pauline authorship of Pastorals

I wrote that Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction (1971:584-624),[48] an eminent NT scholar, had no difficulty and complications in demonstrating the Pauline authorship of the pastoral epistles.[49]

A Bahai religionist was quick to jump on this one: ‘You are relying on one guy from 44 years ago, to latch onto? Clearly, you have been quite selective in reviewing the works of well credentialed NT scholars and historians’.[50]

P. Support for Pauline authorship of Pastoral Epistles


Papyrus 46, one of the oldest New Testament papyri, showing 2 Cor 11:33-12:9 (image courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

I replied:[51] Neither do I support just one researcher who defends Pauline authorship, but I gave one outstanding example of a scholar of international repute who demonstrated the Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles. Here I provide much more additional information in support of Pauline authorship, as well as some who oppose it.

Read this thread and you’ll see where I supplied support from the Church Fathers who also accepted Pauline authorship, including Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus and Tertullian.

It is false of you to state that I rely on only one opinion. Please quit your false accusations against me. Nevertheless, Donald Guthrie has summarised: ‘The unbroken tradition of the church until the nineteenth century was to regard the pastorals as the work of Paul and therefore authentic’.[52] [53]That changed with Schleiermacher (1807) and he became the leader of a school of modern criticism to reject them as the work of Paul, based on stylistic and linguistic grounds.

For an Internet accessible assessment of the objections to Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, see Donald Guthrie’s, ‘The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul’ (1956:3-44). Guthrie’s conclusion is: ‘It seems more reasonable to regard the Pastorals as true products of the mind of Paul’.

Those who have followed Schleiermacher in rejecting Pauline authorship have included Eichhorn (1812), F C Baur (1835), de Wette (1844), Holtzmann (1880), Moffatt (1901), Bultmann (1930), and Dibelius (1931). There have been a few deniers of Pauline authorship but they want to maintain there are fragments of Paul in the Pastorals. These include Von Soden (1893), Harrison (1921), Scott (1936), Falconer (1937) and Easton (1948).

HOWEVER, for the last couple of centuries there have been careful scholars who supported the Pastorals as authentically Pauline in authorship. These scholars have included: Ellicott (1864), Bertrand (1887), Plummer (1888), Godet (1893), Hort (1894), Bernard (1902), B. Weiss (1902), Zahn (1906), J. D. James (1906), Ramsay (1909-11), White (1910), Bartlet (1913), Parry (1920), Wohlenberg (1923), Lock (1924), Menertz (1931), Schlatter (1936), R C H Lenski (1937), Spicq (1947), Jeremias (1953), Simpson (1954), Hendriksen (1955), Guthrie (1957; 1971), J N D Kelly (1963), Earle (1978), and Fee (1988).
Eusebius (ca. AD 265-339) wrote:

Thus after he [Paul] had made his defense it is said that the apostle was sent again upon the ministry of preaching, and that upon coming to the same city a second time he suffered martyrdom. In this imprisonment he wrote his second epistle to Timothy, in which he mentions his first defense and his impending death. (Ecclesiastical History 2.22.2, emphasis added).

Guthrie noted: ‘The fact that so impressive a list of scholars can be cited in favour of Pauline authorship serves as a warning against the tacit assumption of some scholars that no scientific grounds remain for the traditional position, and that all who maintain it are obliged to resort to special pleading’.[54] However, he also acknowledged in an earlier publication that ‘No-one can seriously entertain a study of this problem without being acutely aware that the many differing opinions which have been advanced during the last century and a half make it difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at any solution which would convince every school of thought’.[55]

Church fathers support Pauline authorship of Pastorals

[56]Let’s keep on topic and why 2 Tim 3:16 is reliable and Pauline (and hence inerrant as God’s theopneustos). There is ample evidence to affirm the Pastoral Epistles as Pauline. Here is some further evidence:

Irenaeus (ca. AD 125-202) and one of Polycarp’s disciples stated this of the Pauline authorship of the pastorals in Against Heresies (3.3.3), ‘Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy…. Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sins, being condemned of himself [a citation from Titus 3:10]’ (emphasis added).

Tertullian (ca. AD 160-220) wrote, ‘It is the same Paul who, in his Epistle to the Galatians, counts “heresies” among the sins of the flesh [Galatians 5:20] who also intimates to Titus, that a man who is a heretic must be rejected after the first admonition, on the ground that he that is such is perverted, and commits sin, as a self-condemned man [Titus 3:10-11] (Tertullian, Prescription Against Heretics, ch 6).

Clement of Alexandria (b. ca. 150) wrote, ‘You, therefore, be strong, says Paul, in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which you have heard of me among many witnesses, commit to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also [2 Timothy 2:1-2, emphasis added]’. And again: Study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth [2 Tim 2:15]’ (The Stromata, Bk 1, Ch 1)
Brandon Carter’s (2007) thesis investigated the Pauline authorship or otherwise of the Pastoral Epistles and concluded:

Having investigated the arguments for and against Pauline authorship of the Pastoral Epistles, several conclusions can be made. First, theories of pseudonymity create more problems than they solve and are not viable solutions for the problem of authorship. A pseudonymous writing is inherently deceptive and cannot be considered authoritative. Second, in regard to the historical evidence, the information within the epistles does not have to be forced into the timeline of the book of Acts. Paul’s release from his first Roman imprisonment and then a second arrest is entirely plausible. Furthermore, the numerous internal references to various historical circumstances only strengthen the case for authenticity while the external witness of the church fathers is overwhelmingly in favor of Pauline authorship. Third, the conclusion that Paul wrote the letters is not undermined by their theological content. The ecclesiology found in the letters does not conflict with church structure evident in Acts and the other epistles of the New Testament. Also, the heresy addressed in the letters is Jewish in nature and contemporaneous to the time of Paul. Finally, the differing vocabulary and literary style of the Pastoral Epistles and the undisputed Pauline corpus can be accounted for by the various circumstances and purposes surrounding the Pastorals’ composition. The use of hapax legomena [i.e. a term occurring only once] is dictated by the content of the letters, and statistical studies have demonstrated that the percentage of hapax legomena in the Pastoral Epistles is comparable to that of other Pauline writings. Moreover, the literary style of the Pastorals exhibits many similarities to the undisputed writings of the apostle. Thus, while the view of Pauline authorship is not without difficulties, readers have every reason to believe that the epistles to Timothy and Titus are, in fact, genuine writings of the apostle Paul and authoritative for the church today (Carter 2007:34-35).

Marcion and Tatian, two heretics of the 2nd century, rejected the Pauline authorship of the pastoral apostles (see Carter 2007).
Thus, it is reasonable to conclude:

‘If such situations and contacts with people were fabricated by a pseudepigrapher pretending to be Paul, surely the fraud could have been easily exposed. However, none of the church fathers doubted the letters’ authenticity. Thus, Knight argues that the self-testimony of the Pastoral Epistles makes clear in each introduction that the author was in fact Paul the apostle, and the extensive personal allusions that permeate each letter substantiate that claim’ (Knight in Carter 2007:14).

For an excellent chapter in support of inerrancy of the original documents, see: ‘The Inerrancy of the Autographa’, by Greg L. Bahnsen.

Q. Conclusion

There is sound biblical evidence to support the inerrancy of Scripture in the original manuscripts. Inerrancy means that the Bible is without error in all that it affirms. Even though the exact word, inerrancy, is not found in Scripture, the teaching is. When the Word of God is affirmed as ‘flawless’ and all Scripture is breathed out by God, there is strong support for inerrancy as the biblical doctrine at the heart of inspiration of Scripture.

The Pauline authorship of the Pastorals was supported by the church fathers and church teachers until the early nineteenth century when Schleiermacher instigated skeptical criticism, promoting non-Pauline authorship. However, since that time there has been a strong representation until the present time of support for Pauline authorship of the Pastorals.

It has been demonstrated here that a person’s worldview determines his/her approach to the Bible. Only evangelical Christians with a solid understanding of the God-breathed nature of the Bible – from the perfect God – will ever arrive at an inerrant doctrine of biblical authority.

Works consulted

Barry, G D 1919/2013. The inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture. London: Forgotten Books.

Blum, E A 1979. The apostles’ view of Scripture, in N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 39-56. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Bruce, F F 1963. The books and the parchments: Some chapters on the transmission of the Bible, rev ed. Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company.

Cairns, E E 1981. Christianity through the Centuries. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Carter, B 2007. The Authorship of the Pastoral Epistles (online). A Senior Thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for graduation in the Honors Program, Liberty University, Fall. Available at: (Accessed 17 August 2015).

Feinberg P D 1979. The meaning of inerrancy, in N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 265-304. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Geisler, N L (ed) 1979. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Grant, F C 1946. The Greek text of the New Testament, in An introduction to the Revised Standard Version of the New Testament, 37-42. New York: International Council of Religious Education.

Grudem, W 1994. Systematic theology: An introduction to biblical doctrine. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Guthrie, D 1956. The Pastoral Epistles and the Mind of Paul (online). The Tyndale New Testament Lecture. London: The Tyndale Press. Available at: (Accessed 30 August 2015).[57]

Guthrie, D 1957. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The Pastoral Epistles. R V G Tasker gen ed. London: The Tyndale Press.

Harris, R. L. 1957, 1969. Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hendriksen, W & Kistemaker, S J 1955, 1957, 1984. New Testament Commentary: Exposition of Thessalonians, the Pastorals, and Hebrews. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic.

Keil, C F & Delitzsch, F n d. Commentary on the Old Testament: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, vol 6 (3 vols in 1). Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.
Knight, G W 1992. The Pastoral Epistles: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary). Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Metzger, B M 1992. The text of the New Testament: Its transmission, corruption, and restoration, 3rd ed. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oxford Dictionaries: English 2015. Oxford University Press. Available at: (Accessed 18 August 2015).

Preus, R D 1979. The view of the Bible held by the church: The early church through Luther. In N L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy, 357-384. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.


[1] Christian Forums, Christianity and World Religions, Why do some believers of Christ feel the bible is without error? (online) 6 August 2015. Available at: (Accessed 18 August 2015).

[2] Ibid., fatboys#1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The word is used here to refer to ‘a person who unthinkingly joins a mass movement’ (oxforddictionaries 2015. S v lemming, available at:

[5] Christian Forums, op cit, Loammi#2.

[6] Ibid., gordRedeemed#4.

[7] Ibid., Martinius#5.

[8] Ibid., Cloudyday2#6.

[9] Ibid., kit#7.

[10] Ibid., Job8#13.

[11] Ibid., Martinius#17.

[12] Ibid., Job8#18.

[13] Ibid., OzSpen#80.

[14] This book was published in 1968 in Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press.

[15] Christian Forums, op cit., Job8#81, emphasis in original.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen#82.

[17] Part of this article/chapter is available as a Google book HERE (this means that some pages are missing).

[18] Christian Forums, op cit, Zoness#79.

[19] Ibid., OzSpen#83.

[20] He had labelled himself as ‘Neopagan Cryptoanarchist’.

[21] Ibid., Zoness#85.

[22] Ibid., Gdemoss#90.

[23] Ibid., OzSpen#91.

[24] Ibid., bhsmte#98.

[25] Ibid., OzSpen#101.

[26] Ibid., Americanvet#102.

[27] Ibid., OzSpen#103.

[28] Ibid., fatboys#104.

[29] Ibid., OzSpen#108.

[30] Ibid., americanvet#111.

[31] Ibid., OzSpen#114.

[32] Lifespan details from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Irenaeus 2015. Available at: (Accessed 25 August 2015).

[33] This citation was located at Barry (2013:121). However, I have been unable to locate this quotation in Chrysostom’s works which can be located at: (Accessed 25 August 2015).

[34] ‘Manicheanism, which was somewhat similar to Gnosticism, was founded by a man named Mani or Manichaeus (216-76) of Mesopotamia, who developed his peculiar philosophical system about the middle of the third century. Mani worked a curious combination of Christian thought, Zoroastrianism, and other oriental religious ideas into a thoroughgoing dualistic philosophy’. In AD 373, Augustine pursued Manichean teaching ‘in his search for truth’ but found it to be insufficient for him and he turned to Cicero’s philosophy and Neoplatonic teachings before his crisis conversion to Christ in 386 (Cairns 1981:100, 146).

[35] Philology is ‘the branch of knowledge that deals with the structure, historical development, and relationships of a language or languages’ (oxforddictionaries 2015. S v philology).

[36] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#115.

[37] Ibid., OzSpen#116.

[38] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#119.

[39] Ibid., OzSpen#126.

[40] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#119.

[41] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#182.

[42] Ibid., OzSpen#183.

[43] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#194.

[44] Ibid., OzSpen#192.

[45] Ibid., OzSpen#197.

[46] Ibid., Jane_the_Bane#201.

[47] Ibid., OzSpen#230.

[48] It is now in its 4th ed (2009, IVP Academic).

[49] Op. cit., OzSpen#190.

[50] Ibid., bhsmte#200.

[51] Ibid., OzSpen#220.

[52] Guthrie 1957:15.

[53] The following information is from Guthrie (1957:15).

[54] Guthrie (1957:15-16). Here Guthrie referred to A M Hunter’s comment in Interpreting the New Testament (1951:64).

[55] Guthrie 1955:3.

[56] This was based on my post, Christian Forums, Christianity and World Religion, Why do some believers in Christ feel the Bible is without[t] error (online), OzSpen#192, available at: (Accessed 18 August 2015).

[57] This was the Tyndale New Testament Lecture, 1955, delivered in Cambridge onJuly 8th, 1955, at a meeting arranged by the Tyndale Fellowship for Biblical Research’ (Guthrie 1956).


Copyright © 2015 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 10 April 2016.

Fairy floss[1] Bible inspiration

Saturday, August 16th, 2014


(image courtesy clipartlord)

By Spencer D Gear

What is the biblical view of its own inspiration? Is that important for Christians in their growth in understanding of the Bible?

I’ve written previously – although briefly – about this in:

‘Inspiration’ is not a good word as it has too many contemporary connotations with other meanings. I readily say, ‘She’s an inspiration to me. I wish her well in her next skating competition’. That’s what I say about my 9-year-old grand-daughter about her roller skating. ‘That was an inspiring performance in that rugby league performance by Billy Slater that gave the Storm such a commanding victory’.[2]

Oxford dictionaries give these nuances of meaning for the noun, ‘Inspiration’: ‘The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative; the quality of being inspired; a person or thing that inspires; divine influence, especially that supposed to have led to the writing of the Bible; a sudden brilliant or timely idea; the drawing in of breath; inhalation’.[3] This demonstrates the problems we have in using ‘inspiration’ to describe the Bible’s authority.

The translation of ‘inspiration’ has been traditionally identified with a Scripture such as 2 Timothy 3:16 in the Authorised King James Version of the Bible:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

A couple recent translations have provided a more accurate translation of the first sentence in verse 16:

  • ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God’ (ESV);
  • ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ (NIV);

Most of the other prominent translations continue to use a version of ‘inspiration’. However, the word used for ‘inspiration’ or ‘God-breathed’ in NT Greek is theopneustos = theos (God) + pneuma = breath or spirit. Colin Brown pointed to the literal meaning of ‘God-breathed, inspired by God’ (Brown 1978:708) and referred to Mayer’s study on ‘Scripture’. In exegeting the noun, graph?, Mayer explained that the adjective, theopneustos, means lit. ‘God breathed’. It does not imply any particular mode of inspiration, such as some form of divine dictation. Nor does it imply the suspension of the normal cognitive faculties of the human authors. On the other hand, it does imply something quite different from poetic inspiration. It is wrong to omit the divine element from the term implied by theo-, as the NEB [New English Bible][4] does in rendering the phrase ‘every inspired scripture’. The expression clearly does not imply that some Scriptures are inspired, whilst others are not. The sacred scriptures are all expressive of the mind of God; but they are so with a view to their practical outworking in life (Mayer 1978:491).

My view of the authority of the God-breathed Scripture is in agreement with that of A A Hodge & B B Warfield when they wrote:

The New Testament writers continually assert of the Scriptures of the Old Testament, and of the several books which constitute it, that they ARE THE WORD OF GOD. What their writers said God said….

Every element of Scripture, whether doctrine or history, of which God has guaranteed the infallibility, must be infallible in its verbal expression. No matter how in other respects generated, the Scriptures are a product of human thought, and every process of human thought involves language….[5]

The Scriptures are a record of divine revelations, and, as such, consist of words, and as far as the record is inspired at all, and as far as it is in any element infallible, its inspiration must reach to its words. Infallible thought must be definite thought, and definite thought implies words….

Whatever discrepancies or other human limitations may attach to the sacred record, the line (of inspired or not inspired, of infallible or fallible) can never rationally be drawn between the thoughts and the words of Scripture (Hodge & Warfield 1881, emphasis in original).

A similar position is affirmed in the ‘Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy’ (1978). The ‘Short Statement’ of this position is near the beginning of this article and is followed by a more lengthy exposition.

Contemporary objections

It’s not unusual to encounter some unusual doctrine on various aspects of theology in people in person, and especially on Internet forums where there are often individualistic understandings of the Bible and its authority. I encountered one such person on a forum who wrote:

I believe if a person dwells too deeply on one word [of Scripture] they may miss the concept behind the words.

That is what we are dealing with in the bible: God’s concepts.

This is my opinion of the bible message: God, through His spirit, revealed His concepts to the writers of the bible. When we read the bible the Holy Spirit reveals God’s concepts through the words.

Getting het up about individual words is a waste of time. Whatever translation we read will always have God’s concepts behind it and if we are genuinely seeking to know what God wants us to know, He will inspire us to understand His concepts behind the words.

That said, if we do happen to have a problem with words in a particular translation, we should read it in the original Greek.

That isn’t easy if we have not studied Koine Greek so the next best thing is to look in a concordance.[6]

How should one respond to such a view that is at variance with positions taken by evangelical theologians on the doctrine of the Scripture down through the centuries? Would it pay me to shut up and say nothing or pursue a biblical understanding? I chose the latter as there could be many people in Internet land who may be open to a biblical response and don’t know how to respond to this person who is promoting a ‘concepts’ version of inspiration of Scripture.

Orthodoxy: Words are critical to understanding

I responded as follows:[7]

I disagree profoundly with this view of inspiration of Scripture where one does not have to think deeply about words but deal with ‘concepts’ (whatever that means).
It was said by this person that in the Bible we are dealing with ‘God’s concepts’. Not so! We are dealing with words that make up sentences that become propositions, questions, imperatives, etc. That’s why the Scriptures in numerous places speak of the ‘word’ of the Lord or God, etc.

God didn’t reveal concepts to the authors of Scripture, but he revealed words that became sentences. This is the orthodox doctrine of verbal-propositional[8] revelation of Scripture.

You stated: ‘Getting het up about individual words is a waste of time’. Try telling that to someone who wants to know the difference in meaning among the words agape, philia, and eros, the three Greek words for love.

This person stated: ‘If we do happen to have a problem with words in a particular translation, we should read it in the original Greek. That isn’t easy if we have not studied Koine Greek so the next best thing is to look in a concordance’.

Is that so? My knowledge of the Greek tells me that the place to understand biblical words is not to go to a concordance, but to go to a biblical word study or a Greek dictionary. The most extensive word study that transliterates Greek words (i.e. puts Greek letters into English characters), is the three volume, Colin Brown (ed) 1975, 1976, 1978. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology. Exeter: The Paternoster Press. If one reads Greek, the most highly recommended is the 10 vol series by Kittel & Friedrich (eds), Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Eerdmans, 1964ff).

In saying all that, the Holy Spirit takes these words and sentences (verbal-propositional revelation) and reveals himself to us with personal application. But the original documents are not ‘concepts’ but are made up of words and sentences where words are important and have meaning. If you don’t believe me, how are you going to deal with the understanding of what happens at death for unbelievers if you don’t understand the meaning of the Greek word for ‘destruction’ in a verse such as Matt 7:13,

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many (ESV).

For some further perspective on the view I have been espousing, see:
designRed-small  ‘Revelation was verbal;
designRed-small  ‘What the Bible is: Personal and propositional revelation;

designRed-small  ‘Verbal-plenary inspiration and translation.

A nod of rejection

How do you think this person would respond to the information I provided above? The person was quick to respond that I made ‘a good case’ but this person still thought ‘that what God imparts to us are His concepts. We must agree to differ’.[9]

This is simply a nod of acknowledgement but forget about the content of the information that I provided. Evidence means nothing to a person who is sold on a view that the Bible deals with ‘concepts’ and not verbal-plenary revelation where words make up sentences to give meaning. However, that person provided not one shred of biblical evidence to support the view about ‘concepts’ as a method of inspiration of Scripture.

My reply was:

There can be no concepts unless God communicates via words and sentences in Scripture. Words are important – every word in Scripture. Verbal-plenary inspiration has been the standard position advocated throughout Christian history. See, ‘In defense of … the Bible’s inspiration.[10]

The come back was that the agree to differ position continues because ‘I have had experience of God communicating with me in concepts’. This was not on a regular basis, but she did concede that God ‘also communicates in words’. She asked: ‘Would you confine God to only one method of communication?’ and said that she began to think on ‘God’s concepts when I delved into John 1. The whole of creation is God’s concept’.[11]

How should I respond?

Switching horses

(public domain)

Here goes:[12] Do you understand what you have done with this comment? You have switched horses and have moved from understanding the Bible to understanding how God speaks to you personally. This is dangerous when you meld the two.
In an earlier post you wrote: ‘I believe if a person dwells too deeply on one word they may miss the concept behind the words. That is what we are dealing with in the bible: God’s concepts’.[13]

So you were ‘dealing with in the Bible’ and now you want to apply that to ‘concepts’ in how you ‘have had experience of God communicating with me’. I find that to be dangerous because it is imposing on Scripture what is not there.

Some examples from the Old Testament

We know from Exodus 32:15-16 that God himself wrote the first “two tablets of the testimony” (the law). These tablets were the work of God, but in his anger, Moses destroyed these tablets (32:19). So what did God do?  God arranged for the rewriting of the original tablets (Ex. 34:1, 27-28) by whom?  “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write these words, for in accordance with these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel” (34:27). In Deut. 10:2, 4, the Scriptures emphasise that the copy of the law contained “the words that were on the first tablets that you broke” (10:2) and were “in the same writing as before” (10:4).

There are many other passages in the OT that give the same emphasis on words. See Deut 17:18; Jer 36:1-32; 2 Kings 22; and 2 Chron 34.

What about these warnings? The biblical writers knew how to distinguish between the original manuscripts and copies. Deut. 4:2 states: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it”.  In Deut. 12:32 it is clear: “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it”.  From Proverbs 30:6 we have this command: “Do not add to his [God’s] word, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar”.

Some examples from the New Testament

We are dealing with the words and sentences revealed in Scripture and not concepts. How do we know this?

These verses from Revelation 22:18-19 counsel, “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”.

These verses particularly apply to the Book of Revelation (and in the originals). Notice that God does not say, “I warn everyone who hears the concepts of the prophecy of this book” and “if anyone takes away from the concepts of the book of this prophecy”.

There are various other NT emphases that deal with the normative standard of the original documents:

a.   In passages such as Matt. 15:6 and Col. 2:8, the original documents were the principal standard when there was a conflict between tradition and the doctrines taught by Christ and his apostles.

b.   In passages such as Matt. 5:21ff, the tradition of the OT text was not allowed to hide the genuine word of God (see Mark 7:1-13). Take Matt 5:21 where Jesus said, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment”. They are specific words dealing with a specific topic (murder) and not some broad “concept“. And those words are in Scripture.

c.   What did Jesus do when the Pharisees altered the OT text? They altered the words. They were condemned in their teaching on hatred (Matt. 5:43) and divorce (Matt. 19:7).

d.   Paul told the believers not to tamper with the God’s word (2 Cor. 4:2), where he wrote, “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word“. There is no such statement of ‘tamper with God’s concepts’.

e.   Only accept teachings that do not contradict the original apostolic message or doctrine (see Rom. 16:17; Gal. 1:8; 1 John 4:1-6);

f.   2 Thess. 3:14 gives a warning to “anyone who does not obey what we say in this letter” (the apostolic message).

g.   Believers are warned not to be troubled (“quickly shaken”) by “a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter” that was purported to be from the apostles but was not (2 Thess. 2:2).

There are plenty of NT emphases on the word or words in Scripture and not concepts in Scripture.
Words are absolutely essential to the formation of sentences to provide propositions, questions, imperatives, etc. in Scripture. The theory of ‘concepts’ is that of human invention where a person has transferred from what happens in God speaking to her personally to the nature of inspiration in Scripture

Resemblances of John Shelby Spong’s heresy

How different is this person’s views about ‘concepts’ in the Bible than that of the Episcopalian heretical teacher, John Shelby Spong, who stated:

Behind the narrative [of Scripture] is an unnarrated proclamation. Behind the proclamation is an intense life-giving experience. The task of Bible study is to lead believers into truth, a truth that is never captured in mere words but a truth that is real, a truth that when experienced erupts within us in expanding ways, calling us simultaneously deeper and deeper into life, and not coincidentally, deeper and deeper into God. Our Christ has come, said the Fourth Gospel, that we ‘may have life, and have it abundantly’ (John 10:10).

Human life alone could not produce that which we have experienced in Jesus Christ. He is of God, so the Christmas story points to truth, but the words used to describe or capture that truth are not themselves true in any literal sense (Spong 1991:225).

Parallels with Emil Brunner

(public domain)


The online Christian forum presenter wanting to see the Bible as ‘concepts’ has parallels with the theological neo-orthodoxy of Emil Brunner who wrote:

The doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture … cannot be regarded as an adequate formulation of the authority of the Bible. It is a product of … late Judaism, not of Christianity. The Apostolic writings never claim for themselves a verbal inspiration of this kind, with the infallibility that it implies (Brunner 1946:127-128).

Domenic Marbaniang’s brief assessment of Brunner’s view of revelation was: ‘Emil Brunner sees revelation as not contained in some objective and controllable text or system. To him revelation is the event of divine-human encounter’ (Marbaniang 2011).

Brunner’s view of the Bible went even further:

Once the fatal step is taken of regarding Scripture as true in itself, it is obvious that this quality applies equally to every single part of Scripture down to the smallest detail…. The dogma of verbal inspiration is involved not as the cause but as the consequence of the new unspiritual conception. The identity of the word of Scripture with the word of God has now changed from indirect to direct (Brunner 1964:34).

Brunner was a Swiss, Reformed, neo-orthodox theologian who critiqued liberal theology. ‘The Christian faith, he maintained, arises from the encounter between individuals and God as He is revealed in the Bible. Brunner, in attempting later to leave a place for natural theology in his system, came into conflict with Barth over the question of natural revelation’ (The Columbia electronic encyclopedia 2012).

Roger Olson has two assessments of Brunner (in reviewing Alister McGrath’s book on Brunner) that you might like to consider:

Biblical support for verbal-plenary inspiration.

I was about to prepare a comprehensive overview of the biblical support for the nature of ‘inspiration’ of Scripture when I realised that other evangelical scholars have already done this. I refer you to this material.

Further support also is found in:

  • The summary by Prof Andrew Snider in his ‘TH605 Theology I’ class notes under the heading ‘The Biblical Theme of Inspiration’, pp. 22-26.
  • Edwin A Blum 1979, ‘The apostles’ view of Scripture’, in Geisler (1979:37-53). A fairly large portion of this article is available online HERE.
  • John W Wenham 1979, ‘Christ’s view of Scripture’, pp 1-36. Again, a largish section of this article is available free online HERE.
  • Greg L Bahnsen 1979, ‘The inerrancy of the autographa’, pp 149-193. You should get a fair understanding of this teaching in the large chunk available online HERE. This is the finest article I have read on this topic.
  • I highly recommend this entire book that includes the above three articles: Norman L Geisler (ed), Inerrancy (1979).

I suggest a careful reading of the information in these articles to equip you with information to be able to work through the important issues of God’s view of biblical authority – especially of inspiration or the God-breathed Scripture.

‘Concept’ is abstract

Another poster chimed in with a brief, but excellent, example of how the ‘concept’ principle leads to shipwreck in discussions. He wrote that concept is an abstract idea that means ‘existing in thought or as an idea but not having a physical or concrete existence’. He explained that ‘if the creation was a concept then it would only exist in thought’.[14]

This is an excellent example of how there is need for revelation of concrete situations in Scripture and that can only be expressed in words and sentences, not in concepts.

How do you think this ‘concept’ thinking person would respond to this information about creation? She had her bit to say about my view, addressing me as Oz, but the fair floss view of the Bible continued:

That is true of man but not of God. I believe what it says in John 1. God’s thoughts became reality:

What I get from John 1 is, ‘In the beginning was the word’.

But the Greek word here is Logos and that carries a meaning beyond a single word. It also speaks of the Logic or Thought process of God and that ‘logos’ turns out to be the second person of the trinity: God the son.

God the son is the Logos of God and through this Logos everything came into being. God ‘thought’ creation into existence. Through the ‘thought/Logos/Son, everything was made.

That’s just how I see it – at this phase in my Christian walk, growth and understanding. If you consider it wrong, Oz,  that’s OK.

You have more book learning than I have and good for you.

As I have said before, if God wants me to understand it differently, If He feels that my understanding is wrong, He will enlighten me. He has done so before in many areas all through my life..

We are all learning all the time and I am open to His teaching – as I am sure are you OZ.[15]

My response did not take a lot of mulling over as it stood out like a sore thumb:[16]

From where did you get your understanding of the Greek word logos. You didn’t tell us.

You stated: ‘If you consider it wrong, Oz,  that’s OK’. To this point you have not refuted the biblical evidence I have provided to demonstrate that in both OT and NT God revealed ‘words’ that were in sentences and he did not reveal ‘concepts’. Why are you refusing to deal with the evidence I provided to refute your claim?

We are not dealing with whether it is OK or not OK, we are dealing with what God revealed in Scripture. They were words and not concepts. I provided evidence to counter your claim, but you came back with nothing other than ‘that’s OK’. That’s far from providing biblical evidence as a defense of the position you are advocating.
Yes, I also am on the learning curve, but we are dealing here with providing evidence or leaving me with no evidence for your position.

Verbal inspiration without the originals

I have used this illustration in a number of my articles because I have found it to be extremely helpful in explaining biblical teaching on the inerrancy of the original biblical documents, even though we don’t have the originals (the autographa). R. Laird wrote:

Reflection will show that the doctrine of verbal inspiration is worthwhile even though the originals have perished. An illustration may be helpful. Suppose we wish to measure the length of a certain pencil. With a tape measure we measure it as 6 1/2 inches. A more carefully made office ruler indicates 6 9/16 inches. Checking with an engineer’s scale, we find it to be slightly more than 6.58 inches. Careful measurement with a steel scale under laboratory conditions reveals it to be 6.577 inches. Not satisfied still, we send the pencil to Washington, where master gauges indicate a length of 6.5774 inches. The master gauges themselves are checked against the standard United States yard marked on platinum bar preserved in Washington. Now, suppose that we should read in the newspapers that a clever criminal had run off with the platinum bar and melted it down for the precious metal. As a matter of fact, this once happened to Britain’s standard yard! What difference would this make to us? Very little. None of us has ever seen the platinum bar. Many of us perhaps never realized it existed. Yet we blithely use tape measures, rulers, scales, and similar measuring devices. These approximate measures derive their value from their being dependent on more accurate gauges. But even the approximate has tremendous value—if it has had a true standard behind it (Harris 1969:88-89).


My discussions with people in evangelical churches that do not have a strong expository preaching and theological foundation (that seems to apply to many contemporary churches in my country) indicates that the people don’t have a basic understanding of the nature of Scripture. A well articulated position of biblical inspiration or infallibility is hard to find.

The quagmire is even more clearly exposed when you visit Internet Christian forums. If you don’t believe me, take a visit to these and see the various views on Scripture and other topics that are promoted.[17]

If people believe that God revealed concepts, words, or impressions, they could all be accepted by them as satisfactory theology of the nature of the biblical revelation. They could become suckers for this ‘concepts’ view of biblical authority by the person on the forum.

As we have seen, the Scriptures affirm their verbal, plenary, propositional inspiration or God-breathed nature. In his chapter on ‘the divine nature of the Bible’, Norm Geisler concludes:

The internal evidence that the Bible is of divine origin is very strong. Unlike any other book in the world, the Bible bears the fingerprints of God. It has sanctity, divine authority, infallibility, indestructibility, indefatigability, indefeasibility, and inerrancy…. The denial of the inerrancy of the Bible is an attack on the authenticity of God the Father, the authority of God the Son, and the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. The infallibility of the Bible is as firm as the character of God, who cannot lie (Geisler 2002:252).

But please remember that this applies to the original documents of the Bible (the autographa) and not to your favourite translation.

Works consulted

Brown, C (ed) 1978. The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Brunner, E 1946. Revelation and reason. Philadelphia: Westminster.

Brunner, E 1964. The word of God and modern man. Tr by D Cairns. Richmond, Va: John Knox.

Geisler N 2002. Systematic theology: Introduction, Bible, vol 1. Minneapolis, Minnesota: BethanyHouse.

Geisler, N L (ed) 1979. Inerrancy. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Harris, R. L. 1957, 1969. Inspiration and canonicity of the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Hodge, A A & Warfield, B B 1881. Inspiration. The Presbyterian review (online), April, 225-260. Available at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).[18]

Marbaniang, D 2011. Emil Brunner (1889-1966): Theology of Revelation, January 31. Domenic Marbaniang (online). Available at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).

Mayer, R 1978. Scripture, Writing, in Brown, C (ed), The new international dictionary of New Testament theology, vol 3, 482-497. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House.

Spong, J S 1991. Rescuing the Bible from fundamentalism: A bishop rethinks the meaning of Scripture. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.

The Columbia electronic encyclopedia 2012. Emil Brunner (online). Columbia University Press, 6th ed. Available at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).

Westcott, B F n d. Introduction to study of the Gospels, 5th edition (in Hodge & Warfield 1881).


[1] The people of the USA call it cotton candy. ‘Fairy floss’ is an Australian term for the sweet. See ‘I love fairy floss’.

[2] Billy is a leading Australian rugby league player for the Melbourne Storm. See his profile at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[3] Oxford dictionaries (online). Inspiration. Available at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[4] Access to the NEB NT is available at: its revised edition, the Revised English Bible.

[5] Here Hodge & Warfield cited Canon Westcott, ‘The slightest consideration will show that words are as essential to intellectual processes as they are to mutual intercourse … Thoughts are wedded to words as necessarily as soul to body. Without it the mysteries unveiled before the eyes of the seer would be confused shadows; with it they are made clear lessons for human life’ (Westcott n d:Introduction.14-15).

[6] Charis, reply #9, ‘NIV or NIP’, UK Christian Web, 7 August 2014, available at: (Accessed 8 August 2014).

[7] Ibid., OzSpen, post #11.

[8] I should have used the language of ‘verbal-plenary revelation’.

[9] Ibid., Charis, reply #12.

[10] Ibid., OzSpen, reply #13.

[11] Ibid., Charis, reply #15.

[12] Ibid., OzSpen, reply #17.

[13] Ibid., Charis, reply #9.

[14] Ibid., Truster reply #20.

[15] Ibid., Charis reply #20.

[16] Ibid., OzSpen reply #23.

[17] These are some of the Christian forums to which I have contributed: Christian Fellowship Forum; Christian; Christian; and UK Christian Web.

[18] There is no pagination in this online edition of the article.


Copyright © 2014 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 14 September 2016.

What is the meaning of the literal interpretation of the Bible?

Wednesday, September 25th, 2013


(image courtesy Wikipedia: A Bible handwritten in Latin, on display in Malmesbury Abbey, Wiltshire, England)

By Spencer D Gear

When I affirm that I support the literal interpretation of any document, whether that is the reading  of my local newspaper, the Brisbane Times, Shakespeare’s King Henry the Fourth (which I studied in high school), or the Bible, it is not uncommon to get the following kind of reaction. It normally comes when I support a literal understanding of my reading of the Bible. Here goes with an example from an online forum where I contribute:

So you take EVERYTHING in the Bible literally? Balaam’s donkey really talked? Really? Really? REALLY??

Why Does Nearly Every Culture Have a Tradition of a Global Flood?clip_image001[1]

[2]With this kind of statement, she has told me a great deal of what she thinks ‘literal’ means but she has created a straw man fallacy in respect to my views. Her understanding is a far cry from my view.

What is a literal meaning of a text?

When I was an MA student in Ashland Theological Seminary, I used A Berkeley Mickelsen’s (1963) text in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). Mickelsen provided this definition:

‘Literal’ … means the customarily acknowledged meaning of an expression in its particular context. For example, when Christ declared that he was the door, the metaphorical meaning of ‘door’ in that context would be obvious. Although metaphorical, this obvious meaning is included in the literal meaning (Mickelsen 1963:33).

This is the method of interpretation that I use to read her post (and all posts on that Christian forum) and the Bible.

Bernard Ramm, another promoter of orthodox, historical, cultural and literal biblical hermeneutics,  wrote:

We use the word “literal” in its dictionary sense: “. . . the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical” (Webster’s New International Dictionary). We also use it in its historical sense, specifically, the priority that Luther and Calvin gave to literal, grammatical, or philological exegesis of Scripture in contrast to the Four Fold Theory of the Roman Catholic scholars (historical meaning, moral meaning, allegorical meaning, eschatological meaning) developed during the Middle Ages and historically derived from Augustine’s Three Fold Theory. It was particularly the allegorical use of the Old Testament that the Reformers objected to, and the manner in which Roman Catholic dogma was re-enforced by allegorical interpretation. Hence the “literal” directly opposes the “allegorical”….

The accusation so frequent in current theological literature that Fundamentalism is a literalism is not at all what we have in mind when we use the word “literal.” The word is ambiguous. To some scholars the word “literal” means “letterism” and this is really what they mean when they say Fundamentalists are literalists. Ordinarily we think that the word “bear” means an animal in its literal sense; and that a speculator in the stock market who is called a “bear” is a bear by metaphor. But if the population uses the word “bear” three times more frequently for the stock speculator than for the animal then the literal meaning of “bear” is the stock speculator….

When we assert that the literal meaning of a word or a sentence is the basic, customary, socially designated meaning we do not underestimate the complexity of language…. The spiritual, mystical, allegorical, or metaphorical usages of language reflect layers of meaning built on top of the literal meanings of a language. To interpret Scripture literally is not to be committed to a “wooden literalism,” nor to a “letterism,” nor to a neglect of the nuances that defy any “mechanical” understanding of language. Rather, it is to commit oneself to a starting point and that starting point is to understand a document the best one can in the context of the normal, usual, customary, tradition range of designation which includes “tacit” understanding (Ramm 1970:119-121)

Bernard Ramm cited Thomas Hartwell Horne (AD 1780–1862),[3] British theologian and researcher, who wrote what Ramm described as ‘a very excellent definition of what is meant by literal in literal interpretation’ (Ramm 1970:121, emphasis in original). Horne’s words about literal interpretation were:

Although in every language, there are very many words which admit of several meanings, yet in common parlance, there is only one true sense attached to any word; which sense is indicated by the connection and series of the discourse, by its subject-matter, by the design of the speaker or writer, or by some other adjuncts, unless any ambiguity be purposely intended. That the same usage obtains in the Sacred Writings there is no doubt whatever. In fact, the perspicuity of the Scriptures requires this unity and simplicity of sense in order to render intelligible to man the design of their Great Author, which could never be comprehended if a multiplicity of senses were permitted. In all other writings, indeed, besides the Scriptures, before we sit down to study them, we expect to find one single determinate sense and meaning attached to the words; from which we may be satisfied that we have attained their true meaning, and what the authors intended to say. Further, in common life, no prudent and conscientious person, who commits his sentiments to writing or utters anything, intends that a diversity of meanings should be attached to what he writes or says; and, consequently, neither his readers, nor those who hear him, affix to it any other than the true and obvious sense. Now, if such be the practice in all fair and upright intercourse between man and man, is it for a moment to be supposed that God, who has graciously vouchsafed to employ the ministry of men in order to make known his will to mankind, should have departed from this way of simplicity and truth? Few persons, we apprehend, will be found in this enlightened age, sufficiently hardy to maintain the affirmative (Horne 1841:322; emphasis in original).

Then Horne defined the literal sense as it applied to Scripture:

The Literal Sense of any place of Scripture is that which the words signify, or require, in their natural and proper acceptation, without any trope [a figure of speech], metaphor, or figure, and abstracted from mystic meaning…. The literal sense has been called the Historical Sense, as conveying the meaning of the words and phrases used by the writer at a certain time….

Interpreters now speak of the true sense of a passage, by calling it the Grammatico-Historical Sense…. The object in using this compound name is, to show that both grammatical and historical considerations are employed in making out the sense of a word or passage (Horne 1841:323; emphasis in original).

We have similar meanings for understanding a literal meaning of Scripture from Thomas Horne in the early nineteenth century, Mickelsen in 1963, Ramm in 1970 and with a contemporary promoter of a literal interpretation of Scriptures in Mal Couch who wrote:

A normal reading of Scripture is synonymous with a consistent literal, grammatico-historical hermeneutic.  When a literal hermeneutic is applied to the interpretation of Scripture, every word written in Scripture is given the normal meaning it would have in its normal usage.  Proponents of a consistent, literal reading of Scripture prefer the phrase a normal reading of Scripture to establish the difference between literalism and letterism (Crouch 2000:33, emphasis in original). 

J I Packer related hermeneutics and theological perspective:

J. I. Packer

J I Packer (photo courtesy InterVarsity Press)

The truth is that ever since Karl Barth linked his version of Reformation teaching on biblical authority with a method of interpretation that at key points led away from Reformation beliefs, hermeneutics has been the real heart of the ongoing debate about Scripture. Barth was always clear that every theology stands or falls as a hermeneutic and every hermeneutic stands or falls as a theology (Packer 1992:325).

However, Packer does see an interaction taking place between the interpreter and the text. It is not that of postmodern deconstruction, but he acknowledged that for both evangelicals and liberals, the text and interpreter have mutual impact on each other. He wrote:

A major insight is focused by what Gadamer, following Heidegger, says of horizons[4] . The insight is that at the heart of the hermeneutical process there is between the text and the interpreter a kind of interaction in which their respective panoramic views of things, angled and limited as these are, ‘engage’ or ‘intersect’ – in other words, appear as challenging each other in some way. What this means is that as the student questions the text he becomes aware that the text is also questioning him, showing him an alternative to what he took for granted, forcing him to rethink at fundamental level and make fresh decisions as to how he will act henceforth, not that he has realized that some do, and he himself could, approach things differently. Every interpreter needs to realize that he himself stands in a given historical context and tradition, just as his text does, and that only as he becomes aware of this can he avoid reading into the text assumptions from his own background that would deafen him to what the text itself has to say to him (Packer 1992:338-339; emphasis in original).

Melissa has imposed on my understanding of a post that I made to the Forum, a wooden literalism that really is a false view of my view of hermeneutics of the Bible. Thus she has used a straw man logical fallacy in presenting a false perspective of my approach to biblical interpretation. I suggest that it would have been better to pursue my view of hermeneutics, asking questions of me regarding definition and exposition of hermeneutics, rather than imposing what she thought I meant.

J I Packer has a realistic explanation of my view inThe Interpretation of Scripture‘. The plain, normal meaning of the text, whether it be reading Shakespeare, the Brisbane Times, or the Bible is what I use and Melissa’s words want to attribute a wooden literalism to my understanding. This is a false view.

What about the talking donkey? Isn’t that an ass of an idea?

(photo courtesy Wikipedia)

What about Balaam’s donkey talking? Isn’t that a stupid, ridiculous, nincompoop idea that Christians support and promote? That’s what some have said to me and in even more blasphemous, profane, anti-God sentiments!

But doesn’t this get down to one’s view of God?

Since the Lord God who created the universe out of nothing and raised Jesus from the dead, is the God of absolute omnipotence perfectly capable of doing what he chooses to do that is consistent with his nature? Therefore, we need to seriously consider what the Scriptures state. If one has an anti-supernaturalist perspective (presupposition), there is no way that you will want to consider the speaking donkey as one of God’s supernatural miracles.

This is what the Scripture says concerning Balaam and the speaking donkey – for a detailed description of the incident with Balaam’s donkey talking, see Numbers 22:22-41 (ESV). The specifics of the speaking donkey are:

26 Then the angel of the Lord went ahead and stood in a narrow place, where there was no way to turn either to the right or to the left. 27 When the donkey saw the angel of the Lord, she lay down under Balaam. And Balaam’s anger was kindled, and he struck the donkey with his staff. 28 Then the Lord opened the mouth of the donkey, and she said to Balaam, “What have I done to you, that you have struck me these three times?” 29 And Balaam said to the donkey, “Because you have made a fool of me. I wish I had a sword in my hand, for then I would kill you.” 30 And the donkey said to Balaam, “Am I not your donkey, on which you have ridden all your life long to this day? Is it my habit to treat you this way?” And he said, “No.”

31 Then the Lord opened the eyes of Balaam, and he saw the angel of the Lord standing in the way, with his drawn sword in his hand. And he bowed down and fell on his face. 32 And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why have you struck your donkey these three times? Behold, I have come out to oppose you because your way is perverse[a] before me. 33 The donkey saw me and turned aside before me these three times. If she had not turned aside from me, surely just now I would have killed you and let her live.” 34 Then Balaam said to the angel of the Lord, “I have sinned, for I did not know that you stood in the road against me. Now therefore, if it is evil in your sight, I will turn back.” 35 And the angel of the Lord said to Balaam, “Go with the men, but speak only the word that I tell you.” So Balaam went on with the princes of Balak (Numbers 22:26-35 ESV).

Ronald Allen has noted in his commentary on Numbers 22:21-28,

We see the prophet Balaam as a blind seer, seeing less than the dumb animal. In this graphic representation of Balaam pitted against the donkey, we also see a more important contrast, as Goldberg avers, the contrast of Balaam and Moses. The long shadow of Moses falls across the pages of the Balaam story even though Moses is never named once. Moses spoke face to face with God [see Numbers chapter 12]. Balaam does not even know that God is near—but his donkey does!

This section is the ultimate in polemics against paganism. It is well known that the ass has been depicted from the earliest times as a subject of stupidity and contrariness. Yet here the “stupid” ass sees the angel of the Lord and attempts to protect her rider from God’s drawn sword. Three times the hapless Balaam beat his donkey.

Then the donkey spoke (v.28). Some have imagined too much here. The donkey did not give a prophetic oracle; she merely said what a mistreated animal might say to an abusive master if given the chance. There was no preaching from the donkey! Others have stumbled at the improbability of an animal speaking, for such is the stuff of fairy tales. What keeps this story from the genre of legend or fairy tale is the clear factor that the animal did not speak of its own accord but as it was given the power to do so by the Lord. Only an exceedingly limited view of God would deny him the ability to open the mouth of a dumb animal; such an objection should lead one to a rereading of Job 40 – 41.

Noth observes that the speaking of the ass is not particularly stressed but is an integral part of the story and is attributed to a miracle on the part of the Lord, “which indicates how directly and unusually Yahweh acted in this affair of blessing or curse for Israel” (p. 179). The speaking of the donkey is affirmed by the NT (2 Peter 2:16), a genuine element in the righteous acts of the Lord. It is not that this miracle is the focus of the text; it is not. It is just an amazingly humorous way to humiliate the prophet Balaam. Before the Lord revealed himself to Balaam, he first “got his attention” in this dramatic fashion. Balaam had to learn from a donkey before he could learn from God. This is one of the most amusing stories in the Bible (Allen 1990:891-892, emphasis added).

Therefore, the answer to the doubting Melissa and all others who doubt the credibility and authenticity of God’s using a speaking donkey to get through to Balaam, is: It is your extraordinarily low view of God that causes you to deny God, the Omnipotent One’s, ability to speak through a dumb animal – and an ass at that.

I invite you to read carefully Job 40-41.

Melissa is imposing on Scripture her anaemic understanding of God who cannot perform supernatural events – including speaking through an ass!

Works consulted

Allen, R B 1990. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 2, 655-1008. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).

Couch, M 2000 (gen ed). An introduction to classical evangelical hermeneutics: A guide to the history and practice of biblical interpretation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Farrar, A S & Lardner, N 2009-2010. Horne, Thomas Hartwell (online), Library of historical apologetics. Available at: (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Horne, T H 1841.[5] An introduction to the critical study and knowledge of the Holy Scriptures (online), 8th edn, vol 1. Philadelphia: J Whetham & Son. Part of it is available as a Google Book HERE  (Accessed 23 September 2013).

Mickelsen, A B 1963. Interpreting the Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Packer, J I 1992. Infallible Scripture and the role of hermeneutics, in Carson, D A & Woodbridge, J D (eds) Scripture and truth, 321-356, 412-419. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books / Carlisle, Cumbria, United Kingdom: Paternoster Press.

Ramm, B 1970. Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics, 3rd rev ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House.


[1] Melissa #71, Christian Fellowship Forum, The Fellowship Hall, ‘Dumb Dr. Lyn’, available at: (Accessed 19 September 2013). I had supplied Melissa with this link to an article by creationist, John Morris, on flood stories.

[2] This is my response as ozspen #72, ibid.

[3] Thomas Horne’s lifespan dates and other biographical details are from Farrar & Lardner (2009-2010).

[4] Packer footnotes his edition of Gadamer as pp. 217ff (Packer 1992:415, n. 44). However, a discussion of Gadamer’s understanding of the concept of ‘horizon’ is in my edition of Gadamer (2004:301-305).

[5] Volume 1 of this writing was first published in 1818 and the last and eighth edition was published in 1840-1841 (Farrar & Lardner 2009-2010).


Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 21 May 2016.

‘All Scripture’ in 2 Timothy 3:16

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Bible Globe


By Spencer D Gear

I used to understand that 2 Tim. 3:16 and the reference to “all Scripture” was referring back to the OT. Gleason Archer wrote in his consideration of 2 Tim 3:16:

‘It would never have occurred to the Greek-speaking recipients of 2 Timothy to suppose that Paul could be referring to any other writings but the inspired and authoritative books of the Hebrew canon. Nor is there the slightest suggestion in any of the recorded utterances of Jesus Christ or His apostles – or indeed in any of the writings of the New Testament authors – that there were any portions of the Hebrew Scriptures that were not authoritative and inspire’ (Archer 1982:417, emphasis in original).

In recent times I’ve been asking some further questions of 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Peter 1:20-21. The following is some tentative thinking (I have not reached a conclusion yet).

1. Let’s look at 2 Tim. 3:15-17[1], including the verse before the two that are mentioned, (vv. 16-17):

Second Tim. 3:15-17 (ESV),

“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. [16] All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, [17] that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”

Here we have two groups of writings distinguished: “the sacred writings” of v. 15 and “all Scripture” of v. 16.

“All Scripture” (v. 16) seems to indicate everything that the Holy Spirit gave to the church as canonical and authoritative, OT and NT. When Paul wrote these words, was he referring to a body of literature that was more than the OT. We know this from:

1 Tim. 5:18 (ESV), “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The laborer deserves his wages.’”

These two sayings are clearly co-ordinated. If the first is Scripture, than so is the second. Here we have a word spoken by Jesus that is on the same level of authority as a saying from the OT canon.

1. “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain” comes from Deut. 25:4 (You’ll find a similar use by Paul in I Cor. 9:8-12).

2. Where do we find the saying, “The laborer deserves his wages”? Its precise wording is in Luke 10:7 (ESV), “And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.” There is a slightly different form in Matthew 10:10 (ESV), “No bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”

It is not an impossibility that Luke’s Gospel had been completed at the time of Paul’s writing to Timothy. My ESV Bible gives the date for 2 Timothy as “the final letter written by Paul (A.D. 64-68). The ESV states that ‘Luke, a physician and colleague of Paul, probably wrote this account in the early 60s A.D.”. If that is true, then the apostle Paul could have been quoting from Luke’s Gospel. But there is another possibility that Paul was quoting from a collection of sayings or oral tradition that was in circulation and used as a source for Luke (see Luke 1:1-4).

3. So, when we combine these two quotes in I Tim. 5:18 we are beginning to see that “Scripture” may refer to both OT and NT. So “all Scripture” (2 Tim. 3:16) also could refer to all that is breathed out by God — OT and NT.

We should not find this surprising, based on John 14:26 (ESV), “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

There’s further information in 2 Peter 3:15-16 (ESV),

“And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, [16] as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”

Peter, the apostle, confirms that Paul’s writings are of the SAME class as “the other Scriptures” (OT and NT).

I have not come to firm conclusions, but the above considerations do cause me to think again on the meaning of “all Scripture” in 2 Tim. 3:16.

These are just some thoughts from a fellow traveller.


[1] I received the basic information for the following content, from William Hendriksen, I & II Timothy & Titus (New Testament Commentary). Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1957, pp. 182, 301.

Works consulted

Archer, Gleason L 1982. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Regency Reference Library (Zondervan Publishing House).


Copyright © 2012 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 16 October 2015.