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The Blue Letter Bible

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

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Don Stewart

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The doctrine of the authority of the Bible is often described with the phrase, "Verbal Plenary Inspiration." What does this phrase mean?

Verbal Means Every Word

Verbal 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.

Plenary Means Fully Authoritative

Plenary means that all parts of the Bible are equally authoritative. This includes such things as the genealogies of the Old Testament. All parts of the Bible are of divine origin. Jesus said.

But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail (Luke 16:17).

Paul wrote.

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).

Inspiration Means 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.

Improvements Can Be Made On This Expression

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 them.

Having said that we want to emphasize that Scripture contains the exact words, forms of words, and 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.

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 moved them in a mysterious way to bring about exactly what God wanted to say.

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 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.


Many textbooks on theology speak of the verbal plenary inspiration of the Bible. The idea is that the 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.

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.
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