Inspiration of the Scriptures and Question in Apologetics


(From Disputed Doctrines [Burlington, Iowa: Lutheran Literary Board, 1933], pp. 18-30, 117-19.)

Inspiration of the Scriptures

On the subject of the Inspiration of the Scriptures, we have no direct statement in our Confessions for the reason that it was not called in question in the times when our Confessions were formulated. Inspiration of the Scriptures, as belonging to the fundamentals, was taken for granted, just as was the existence of God, which no one deemed it necessary to attempt to prove. But on the question of the authority of Scripture, which depends upon inspiration, the testimony is strong and clear, as the following expression of the Formula of Concord shows: “We receive and embrace the Prophetic and Apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the pure, clear fountains of Israel, which are the only true standards whereby to judge all teachers and doctrine.” There was no doubt at that time as to the full and complete inspiration of the Scriptures as a whole and in all their parts.

But in modern times this stronghold and fortress of our Christian faith has been powerfully assaulted. All the talents, ingenuity and learning of men of mighty intellect have been arrayed against it. The result has been that many, even of the Church’s theologians, have been affected by the critical spirit of the age and have yielded somewhat to the clamour of the critics. The popular view now seems to be, that not the Scriptures themselves are inspired, but only their thoughts and concepts; that the sacred writers were inspired only in a general way in the supervision and direction of their work; and that there are different degrees of inspiration, to be determined by the subjective attitude of the reader. According to such views, it cannot be said that the Bible is the Word of God, but only that it contains it. The authority of the Scriptures is thus set aside, and the consequence is, that, faith in the inspiration of the Scriptures being lost, faith in Christ of whom the Scriptures testify will also be lost. It is necessary therefore for us to hold firmly to the Biblical teaching on the subject of the Inspiration of the Scriptures. The following definition is offered as meeting this requirement: Inspiration is the activity of the Holy Spirit by which He put into the hearts and minds of chosen men the impulse to write, and so controlled and directed them that they produced in a real and verbal sense a correct and inerrant record of God’s revelation to men.

To the objection frequently raised, that such a theory of inspiration is mechanical and is degrading to the sacred writers, it may be replied that this does not mean that the writers were depressed into amanuenses, or were mere instruments receiving dictation from the Holy Spirit, or that they were unconscious of what they wrote. It does not mean that their individuality was destroyed, or that their native style was in any way affected. The writers themselves were not degraded. Their inspiration was not external, but internal. It was dynamic. They were inspired men. But aside from this, it is of vastly more importance to have the absolute assurance of the divinity of the message than of the free agency of the comparatively few reporters who recorded it. If the inspiration of the writers was of such a nature that the Holy Spirit merely suggested to them vague thoughts, which they put into words as best they could, we would always be in doubt as to whether they were successful in finding the right words with which to clothe their inspired thought. The very suggestion of a thought or an idea implies some form or words -- not by dictation, which separates thoughts and words, but by verbal, dynamic inspiration, which unites them. Words are but the vehicles of thoughts, the means through which thoughts find expression. It was not degrading to the writers that the Holy Spirit powerfully inspiring them so filled their hearts and minds that they were enabled both to receive the contents of revelation and adequately to set them down in writing. Free agency pertains to the mind of man. It is absurd to say that a man whose thoughts are controlled is free, while he whose words are controlled is enslaved.

In reply to the objection that, if the Scriptures are verbally inspired, the whole Bible would exhibit one uniform style, the style of the Holy Spirit, it may be said that this is only an attempt to force the mechanical theory upon plenary inspiration. It is also a reflection upon the almighty power of God to suppose that He who created man and gave to him his mind, individuality, and style should find it necessary to alter a man’s mode of thought and expression in order to convey to him His revelation in words. Variety in unity and unity in variety is God’s method in nature, and it is not different in intelligent man. The Holy Spirit did not impart any new linguistic attainments to the writers, nor did He alter their style, but cooperated with them just as they were.

Another objection sometimes raised to verbal inspiration is that it destroys all idea of progressiveness in God’s revelation and puts everything upon a dead level. But this objection is without force. Progressiveness in revelation has nothing whatever to do with the mode of inspiration, but depends solely upon God’s will. And that God did choose to reveal Himself progressively to men is evident from many passages in His Word. We need to refer only to this one passage: “God, having of old time spoken to the fathers in the prophets by diverse persons and in diverse manners hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son.” (Heb. 1:1-2). Revelation could not be otherwise than God designed to make it.


1. Presumptive Evidence.

The first thing that calls for our attention here is the unity of the Scriptures. Although the Scriptures are composed of two Testaments, each of which contains a collection or library of books, they form an organic unit. Each Testament presents the same general scheme with its three parts, historic, didactic, and prophetic. In these writings there is the greatest diversity in matter and form, in character and style; and yet such is the unity that runs through them all, that there is not only no contradiction between any of the component books of the Bible; but part fits into part and each is as necessary to the whole as are the various members to the living organism of the human body.

Here is a unique phenomenon: Some thirty to forty different persons, scattered over wide intervals of space and at least fifteen centuries of time, these individuals being of the greatest diversity in culture, environment, and talents, and writing with no collusion and without knowledge of the productions that should follow, each other, write sixty-six books, which in spite of all differences constitute a single volume so harmonious in its teachings that the most thoroughgoing criticism of three thousand years has failed to find any inconsistency in their testimony. This can be accounted for on no other theory than that the Divine Mind has planned and executed the whole.

Another point of presumptive evidence is the authority which the Scriptures claim for themselves and which they assume to exercise over all men. The Written Word, like the Incarnate Word Himself, speaks “as one having authority.” It addresses its commands to men with an imperious authority that brooks no resistance. And, like God Himself, it is no respecter of persons. It imposes its laws upon the high and mighty as well as upon the weak and lowly. All conditions of men come under the sway of its mighty sceptre. No other book asserts such authority. The Bible does, because it is God Himself speaking in and through it.

Another potent presumptive proof lies in the effects that it produces in the lives of men. It imparts spiritual life, such life as man cannot have by nature. Witness the following: “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the Word of God.” (1 Pet. 1:23). “Of His own will begat He us by the Word of His truth” [James 1:18]. It also nourishes, sustains and promotes the growth of spiritual life. This is confirmed by such passages as these: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4). “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the Word that ye may grow thereby.” (1 Pet. 2:4). It has also cleansing and sanctifying power. “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy Word?” (Psalm 119:9). “Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you.” (John 15:3). “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy Word is truth.” (John 17:17).

It saves the soul. “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” (Rom. 1:16). “Receive with meekness the implanted Word which is able to save your souls.” (Jas. 1:21).

These and similar passages show that God identifies Himself with His Word, imparts to it His saving power, and differentiates it from any other word.

Presumptive evidence is afforded also in the attributes which the Word claims for itself. It has the property of life, of a spiritual, inextinguishable and inexhaustible divine life. Like the living God it has life in itself. Accordingly we read in Heb. 4:12, “The Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword”; and in Phil. 2:16, “Holding forth the Word of life.” And again in 1 Peter 1:23, “The Word of God which liveth and abideth forever.”

Because of this fulness of divine life, the Scriptures are inexhaustible. They never lose their freshness or become stale or obsolete. Other books, after a first or second reading are soon exhausted, and have no more to teach us. But the Bible is a perennial fountain of living water. We may again and again draw even from its most familiar passages, spiritual water, ever fresh and ever refreshing, as from the wells of salvation. It adapts itself readily to all changes, circumstances and situations. Because it is living with the life of God, it never becomes useless or out of date.

The Scriptures are also indestructible. No book in the world has been so consistently and so thoroughly hated as the Bible. Christ’s words spoken with reference to Himself apply to it also: “They hated me without a cause” [John 15:25]. It has aroused bitter, malignant and persistent hatred against itself from generation to generation and from one century to another down to the present day. No other book in human history has ever stirred up such resentment against itself. If men do not like other books, they simply let them alone. Why has the Bible been singled out for such relentless hatred? And why have its embittered enemies failed to accomplish its destruction? The only adequate reason whereby this can be explained is, that it is God’s book and by its inspiration partakes of the indestructibility of God Himself. These attributes afford high presumptive proof of the full and complete inspiration of the Holy Scriptures.

2. Evidence from the Scriptures.

Whatever view of the mode of inspiration Christians may take, they are a unit in regarding the Scriptures as divine truth. The declarations of the Bible with reference to itself become therefore the strongest proofs of its inspiration. Let us accordingly note them and give due weight to them.

First of all, the Bible styles itself the Word of God. This claim it puts forth not once only, or merely in an incidental way, but frequently and emphatically. Examples of this may be cited, as follows: “The Word of God,” (Isa. 40:8); “My Word, saith the Lord,” (Jer. 23:29); “The Word of God,” (St. Luke 8: 11); “The Word of the Lord,” (Acts 13:48); “The oracles of God,” (Rom. 3:2); “The word of faith,” (Rom. 10:8); “The Word of truth,” (Eph. 1:13); “The Word of life,” (Phil. 2:16); “The Word of Christ,” (Col. 2:16). In addition to these and similar expressions the words, “Thus saith the Lord,” or their equivalent occur in the Old Testament around two thousand times -- a very impressive fact.

But let us note a concrete Old Testament incident which seems to place the matter of verbal inspiration beyond all question. When Moses sought to excuse himself from the Lord’s service on the ground that he was not eloquent, but slow of speech and of a slow tongue, “the Lord said unto him, who made man’s mouth? or who maketh the dumb, or deaf, or the seeing, or the blind? Have not I, the Lord? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” (Ex. 4:11-12).

There are also cases like those of Balaam, Jonah and others, who spoke the inspired Word even against their own wishes and desires. And St. Peter states concerning the Old Testament prophets in general: “Concerning which salvation the prophets searched and sought diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did point unto, when He testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow them.” (1 Pet. 1:10-11). This statement in effect declares that these inspired prophets did not themselves understand the full significance of the words they recorded, but pondered upon them to fathom out their meaning.

Another strong point of evidence for the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures is the manner in which the Old Testament is quoted in the New Testament. Citations are often introduced by the impersonal verb, “It saith”; sometimes by “the Scripture saith”; and occasionally by “He saith,” referring to God. At times, as in Gal. 3:18, there appears to be an identification of God with the Scriptures, showing that what the Scripture says is God’s own Word. Matt. 3:15, “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet,” is a good illustration as to who the real author is. This is also said in other words of all the prophets by Zacharias in the Benedictus, “As He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began.” (St. Luke 1:70). As things spoken by the mouth are words, this amounts to a declaration of the verbal inspiration of all the prophets from the beginning of the world to Zacharias’ day.

But there are two passages in the New Testament that have a direct bearing upon this subject and call for our special consideration. These are 2 Pet. 1:21 and 2 Tim. 3:16. The first passage reads: “For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Ghost.” The clear statement of this verse is that no prophecy whatever, no prophetic word, ever came by the will of man, but that men spake from God as they were moved, literally borne along, by the Holy Ghost. This means that the entire Old Testament Scriptures were fully and completely inspired by God. And, as Peter refers in this same Epistle to the Epistles of Paul and puts them on the same plane with the other Scriptures, these may also be included in the reference which Peter here makes.

But the Pauline passage is still stronger in its teaching of plenary inspiration. It reads: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” Since it is said here without qualification that all Scripture is inspired of God, literally “God-breathed,” we are justified in drawing the conclusion that the words must be inspired, since Scripture would not be Scripture without words, and it is the Scripture that is inspired. It is contended by some that Paul here makes no reference to the Scriptures, but is only making a general statement that any Scripture coming from God is profitable. They hold further that any statement that the Scriptures are inspired of God would be out of place here. But it surely would not be any more in place for him to say that any Scripture inspired of God is profitable, which would naturally follow and would require no such statement. And as to its being out of place here, a cursory reading of the immediate context will show that such is not the case. What is more natural than that Paul, who in the preceding verse has reminded Timothy of the “Sacred Writings,” which he had known from infancy, should remind him that these same writings distributively are each and all inspired of God, and consequently profitable for all the things which he mentions. Such a statement is perfectly natural and in thorough keeping with Paul’s style, as we can readily see from the purely incidental way in which he introduces the great doctrinal statement in Phil. 2:5 flg. concerning the two states of Christ.

In another passage, 1 Thess. 2:13, Paul makes a most striking contrast between man’s word on the one hand, and God’s Word on the other, saying, “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because when ye received the Word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth the Word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.” And in 1 Cor. 2:13, Paul shows unmistakably that divine inspiration pertains also to the form and not merely to the thought, saying, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.”

Again the importance and necessity of verbal inspiration appear when, as is sometimes the case, the whole argument of a passage turns upon a single word or phrase. Note, for example, the argument of the Saviour for the resurrection of the dead in St. Matt. 22:31-32, where everything depends upon the present tense of the verb, “to be”; and again His argument in the same chapter, vv. 41-45, for His divinity, which turns upon the word “Lord.” Another striking example is Gal. 3:16, where the whole force of the argument hangs upon the difference between the singular and the plural of the word “seed.”

Other instances might be cited, as Heb. 2:8-11 and 12:26-27. We should also remember that the precious doctrine of the Real Presence of the Body and Blood of our Lord in the Holy Supper depends upon the little word “is” found in the Words of Institution.

3. Testimony of Christ.

Before we enter upon a consideration of Christ’s own testimony, let us note that there is a close analogy between Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, and the Scriptures, the Written Word. Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word, was absolutely without sin. The Holy Scriptures, the Written Word, must likewise be absolutely without error; for sin and error are closely allied. This we see from the Lord’s own words, for when He encountered the Jews with the challenge, “Which of you convinceth me of sin?” He immediately added, “And if I speak the truth, why do ye not believe me?” [John 8:46]

In the exercise of His prophetic office during the days of His humiliation, He Himself spoke by direct, verbal inspiration. Witness His testimony, St. John 12:49-50: “For I spake not from myself; but the Father which sent me, He hath given me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that His commandment is life eternal: the things therefore which I speak, even as the Father hath said unto me, so I speak.”

Similarly He says, John 17:8: “I have given unto them the words thou gavest me, and they have received them.” And of His own words He says, “The words I have spoken unto you are Spirit and are life.” (John 6:63).

These words of the Lord certainly point to verbal inspiration.

Another striking passage is John 10:34-36, in which in defense against the charge of blasphemy, He says: “Is it not written in your law, I said ye are gods? If He called them gods, unto whom the Word of God came, and the Scriptures cannot be broken, say ye of Him whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?”

How great store Christ set upon the written Word of God appears also in the threefold repetition of the words, “It is written,” with which He introduced quotations from the Old Testament Scriptures, by which He put the tempter to flight. Commenting on this a noted theologian has said: “How shall we explain it if Jesus were not fully aware that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost?”

Christ consistently indicates that He receives the Scriptures as the very oracles of God, as God’s own Word to man. He also teaches their verbal inspiration, as is clearly seen from St. Matt. 5:17-18, where He says: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” Christ here solemnly confirms with an oath the plenary or verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. Hence He could say to the hostile unbelieving Jews: “If ye believed Moses, ye would believe me; for he wrote of me” [John 5:46].

The Scriptures are wholly inspired and are God’s Word. Let us heed the apostolic injunction and “hold fast the form of sound words” [2 Timothy 1:13]; and let us ever bear in mind the caution addressed to us in the last chapter of the last book of the Bible, “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book. If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.” (Rev. 22:18).

Question in Apologetics

The question here is, What should be our attitude toward certain miracles recorded in the Old Testament which border upon the grotesque? Most prominent among these are the speaking of Balaam’s ass and the swallowing of Jonah by the whale.

Many of our young men, with a highly developed sense of their own intellectual penetration and culture, declare that they cannot receive these accounts as actual occurrences. They are young and for them there is hope that with advancing years there will come sure and settled convictions on these as well as on many other things.

But there are also some theologians in the Church who look upon these narratives as the product of a highly sensitivized poetic imagination, and as by no means to be taken as actual occurrences. What should be our attitude toward them?

If we hold to the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures, there seems to be only one way of regarding these narratives. They are in the Old Testament record and are stated there, as anyone who will read the 22nd chapter of Numbers and the book of Jonah can see, not as myths, fables, allegories, or imaginative occurrences, but as historical facts, as the record of events that actually took place.

Such is the impression that they make upon every unbiased reader. And, since they have their place in the Old Testament record through inspiration of the Holy Ghost, how does it help matters to conceive of the Holy Ghost as using illustrations of so absurd a nature and apparently palming them off as true? Would this add to the convincing nature of the truth which it was sought to impress? Would it not rather detract from it and tend to throw it into discredit? And, if these miracles never occurred, what assurance do we have that other strange things recorded in the Bible ever took place?

Besides, it is not the Old Testament writers alone who are concerned in this matter. Both these miracles are referred to in the New Testament and are set down as facts without the slightest intimation or hint that they are only imaginary occurrences. St. Peter, in chapter 2:15-16 of his Second Epistle, speaks of those who “are gone astray following the way of Balaam the son of Bosor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness; but was rebuked for his iniquity; the dumb ass speaking with man’s voice forbade the madness of the prophet.” Evidently St. Peter was not wise above what was written, but accepted the Mosaic record of this event as an historical fact. And, let it not be forgotten, St. Peter was an inspired man!

And with reference to the matter of Jonah, we have a still higher authority than that of Peter. We have the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who accepted the account without any hesitation as an actual historical fact and makes it a type of Himself and His rest in the grave, saying in the most solemn and impressive manner: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” [Matthew 12:40].

From this it would follow that the type and the thing typified both stand or fall together; and if the one did not occur, neither would the other. No, we cannot throw doubt upon one passage of Scripture without discrediting the rest; and parts of Scripture which seem in themselves unimportant for our faith, obtain importance through their connection with that which is fundamental.

We know that an ass cannot ordinarily speak and that a man cannot ordinarily be swallowed by a fish and remain alive in the body of that fish for three days. But God is almighty and is able to accomplish this result in each of these cases, and we should not doubt His readiness to do so when the situation is sufficiently serious to warrant it, as it undoubtedly was in the two cases mentioned above.

Carroll Herman Little (1872-1958) was the son of a Tennessee Synod minister and a native of Hickory, North Carolina. He graduated from the General Council’s Mount Airy (Philadelphia) Seminary in 1901, received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from Lenoire-Rhyne College in 1914, and in 1928 received his Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Chicago Lutheran Seminary. Little served pastorates in Nova Scotia and Ontario, and from 1917 to 1947 was professor of theology in the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary of Canada in Waterloo, Ontario, an institution of the United Lutheran Church in America.

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