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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God?

Don Stewart :: What Is Meant by the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture?

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Question 3

What Is Meant by the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture?

The doctrine of the authority of the Bible is often described with the phrase, “verbal plenary inspiration.” What does this phrase mean? What are Christians talking about when they speak of the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture?

  1. Verbal Means Every Word

    Verbal inspiration means that every word of Scripture is God-given. The idea is that every single word in the Bible is there because God wanted it there. There are no exceptions.

  2. Plenary Means Fully Authoritative

    Plenary means that “all parts” of the Bible are divinely authoritative. This includes such things as the genealogies of the Old Testament. All parts of the Bible are of divine origin.

    Jesus said the following of the Old Testament:

    But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out. (Luke 16:17 HCSB)

    The New International Version translates this verse as follows:

    It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. (Luke 16:17 NIV)

    Paul testified to the church at Rome that the entire Old Testament was written for our instruction. He put it in the following way:

    For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4 ESV)

    The Old Testament, in its entirety, can teach us valuable lessons; it should not be ignored.

    The same holds true for all parts of the New Testament. All parts of the New Testament are divinely authoritative.

  3. Inspiration Means That God Guided the Process

    The idea behind the word inspiration is that God supernaturally guided the biblical authors to write the exact things that He wanted expressed. The result is Holy Scripture.

    Therefore, the phrase “verbal plenary inspiration” means that all parts of the Bible, as well as every Word of the Bible, says exactly what God wanted said. He guided the entire process so that the end result would be His Words.

Improvements Can Be Made on This Expression

While the phrase “verbal plenary inspiration” has been a popular way to describe what the Bible says about itself, there are a number of improvements that can be made on this expression and its definition. They are as follows:

  • The Wording Is What Is Divine

    When someone makes the statement that “every word” in Scripture is divinely authoritative, it gives the wrong idea. There is nothing special about the individual words that are used in Scripture. The various words found in the Bible are also found in many other writings. What is divine is not the individual words, but the wording. By themselves, the words are meaningless. They only derive their meaning by the way they are used in relationship to each other. Each word of Scripture is important, but only as it relates to the words around it.

    Having said that, we also want to emphasize that Scripture contains the exact words, forms of words and the wording that God desired. The fact that a certain word in Scripture is found in the singular rather than the plural is all part of the divine work. Everything in Scripture is there because God wanted it to be.

    Thus, it is important to emphasize that the Bible contains the exact wording that God wanted. When the Holy Spirit worked with the various writers of Scripture, He supervised them in a mysterious way to bring about exactly what God wanted to say. Yet, in doing so, they wrote in their own words.

  • All Parts of Scripture Are Fully God’s Word

    The word “plenary” is not very clear to most people. It is not a common word. While it expresses something that is true ? all parts of the Bible are Holy Scripture—it could be better said.

  • The Term Inspiration Needs to Be Updated

    The term inspiration also needs to be updated. It is not generally used for something that is God-breathed. Unless explained to them, most people would not have any idea that this term means “God-breathed,” or divinely authoritative Scripture.

Conclusion: the Phrase Verbal Plenary Inspiration, While True, Needs to Be Better Stated

We conclude with the observation that the phrase “verbal plenary inspiration” needs to be more clearly stated in order for people to have a correct understanding of what the Bible says about itself. While the concept may basically be correct, it certainly could be stated much better.

Summary - Question 3
What Is Meant by the “Verbal Plenary Inspiration” of Scripture?

Many textbooks on theology speak of the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible. The idea is that every word (verbal) in the entire Bible (plenary) is Holy Scripture (inspiration). This definition needs to be refined somewhat. For one thing, the words, verbal plenary inspiration, are all ambiguous.

First, people do not really mean that every single word of the Bible is divine—what they mean is that the wording of Scripture is what is divine. The individual words are meaningless unless used in a sentence with other words. The same words that are found in the Bible are not divine when used in other writings. They are only divine in the way they are used in Scripture.

Second, plenary is not a very familiar term to most people. While the concept is true, that all parts of the Bible should be considered as Holy Scripture, a better way should be found to say this.

Finally, the word inspiration is a term that needs replacing. It does not have the same meaning to people as it is often used in Christian circles. A more contemporary description needs to be used to make the concept more understandable.

In What Sense Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God? ← Prior Section
To What Extent Is the Bible Authoritative? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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