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Speaking about Scripture

Speaking about Scripture

by Andrew Lansdown

Over the centuries Christians have used various terms to express their conviction that the Bible is the word of God and is therefore the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Below are some of the key terms that sound scholars and pastors use when speaking about Scripture. These terms express what all Christians should know and endorse concerning the veracity and authority of the Bible.


“‘Inspiration’ is the word which has traditionally been used to describe God’s activity in the composition of the Bible.” John R.W. Stott, The Authority and Relevance of the Bible in the Modern World (Bible Society in Australia, 1979), p.1.

“Inspiration may be defined as the inward work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts and minds of chosen men who then wrote the Scriptures so that God got written what He wanted. The Bible in all of its parts constitutes the written Word of God to man.” Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Zondervan, 1977), p.30.

Verbal Inspiration

“‘Verbal inspiration’ means that what the Holy Spirit has spoken and still speaks through the human authors, understood according to the plain, natural meaning of the words used, is true and without error. There is no need at all to be embarrassed by this Christian belief, or to be ashamed or afraid of it. On the contrary, it is eminently reasonable, because words are the units of which sentences are made up. Words are the building-blocks of speech. It is therefore impossible to frame a precise message without constructing precise sentences composed of precise words. …

“This then is the apostolic claim, that the same Holy Spirit of God, who searches the depths of God and revealed his researches to the apostles, went on to communicate them through the apostles in words with which he himself supplied them. He spoke his words through their words, so that they were equally the words of God and the words of men. This is the double authorship of Scripture … It is also the meaning of ‘inspiration’. The inspiration of Scripture was not a mechanical process. It was intensely personal, for it involved a Person (the Holy Spirit) speaking through persons (prophets and apostles) in such a way that his words were theirs, and their words were his, simultaneously.” John R.W. Stott, The Bible: book for today (Inter-Varsity Press, 1982), pp.44-45

“[‘Verbal inspiration’ means that] in the composition of the original manuscripts, the Holy Spirit guided the authors even in their choice of expressions—and this throughout all the pages of the Scriptures—still without effacing [wiping out] the personalities of the different men.” Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture (Moody Press, 1971), p.71.

“We contend for every word of the Bible and believe in the verbal, literal inspiration of Holy Scripture. Indeed, we believe there can be no other kind of inspiration. If the words are taken from us, the exact meaning is of itself lost.” C.H. Spurgeon, quoted by Pache op cit, p.75

Plenary Inspiration

“By plenary inspiration is meant that the accuracy which verbal inspiration secures is extended to every portion of the Bible so that it is in all its parts both infallible [incapable error] as to truth and final as to divine authority.” Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1 (Dallas Seminary Press, 1947; rpt.1978), p.71.

“[‘Plenary inspiration’ signifies that] all the books of Scripture are equally inspired and inspiration extends to all the contents of [all the] books.” Charles Hodge, quoted by Richard J. Coleman in Issues of Theological Warfare: Evangelicals and Liberals (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), p.128.


“Webster’s Unabridged Twentieth Century Dictionary (1952) defines ‘infallible’ as ‘not capable of erring; entirely exempt from liability to mistake’. The word has communicated essentially the same meaning for at least five centuries, from the fifteenth through the twentieth. ‘Infallible’ … communicates a theoretical impossibility of committing error.” L. Russ Bush & Tom J. Nettles, Baptists and the Bible (Moody Press, 1980), p.71.

Commenting on The Second London Confession (1689) of the Particular Baptists, which states in part, “The Holy Scripture is the only sufficient, certain, and infallible rule of all saving Knowledge, Faith, and Obedience”, Bush and Nettles state: “There is no indication in this confession of faith that the Baptists harbored any reservations about the completely errorless nature of Scripture. It was infallible truth to them—it was incapable of committing an error or being deceitful. The reason for this is that they considered it to be the Word of God.” Bush & Nettles, op cit.


Inerrancy means “freedom from error”.

“[Inerrancy] implies that in drawing up the original manuscripts, the sacred authors were guided in such a way that they transmitted perfectly, without error, the exact message which God desired to communicate to men. / “The terms ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’ seem to us practically interchangeable.” Rene Pache, op cit, p.120.

“[Inerrancy means that the Bible] communicates religious truth, not religious error. But there is more. Whatever it communicates is to be trusted and can be relied upon as being true. The Bible is not a textbook on chemistry, astronomy, philosophy, or medicine. But when it speaks on matters having to do with these or any other subjects, the Bible does not lie to us. It does not contain error of any kind.” Harold Lindsell, op cit, p.18.

“[T]he idea of inerrancy can be traced back through the English evangelical leaders of the last century in men like C.H. Spurgeon, J.C. Ryle, H.C.C. Moule, through those of the eighteenth century, and ultimately back through the Reformers to Augustine. For example, on Wednesday 24 July 1776, John Wesley wrote in his Journal, ‘if there be any mistake in the Bible, there may well be a thousand. If there be one falsehood in that book, it did not come from a God of truth’.” Ian Barclay, He Gives His Word (Hodder and Stoughton, 1986), pp.29-30.

“In the last analysis, then, every man must settle for one of two alternatives: the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, or the inerrancy of his own personal judgment. If the Bible contains errors in the autographa [original documents], then it requires an infallible human judgment to distinguish validly between the false and the true in Scripture; it is necessary for every affirmation in the sacred text to receive endorsement from the human critic himself before it may be accepted as true.” Gleason L. Archer. Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction (Moody Press, 1974), p.28.

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