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God's Word in Human Words

The Inspiration of Scripture

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We embrace Scripture as authoritative because it comes from none other than the Father, its content is the Son, and its perfecting agent is the Holy Spirit.

Like the gospel, a proper understanding of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is never something that we can take for granted. This is especially true when we live in a culture that is simultaneously naturalistic and mystical. As contradictory as these positions seem to be, they conspire against any ultimate claim to a revelation from God, given once and for all to a particular people in history and yet obliging universal acceptance. Naturalists don't believe God speaks anywhere, if there is a deity at all. Mystics identify the voice of God (whoever he/she/it might be) with their inner light or pious experience that bubbles up from within. In either case, the self is sovereign. Nothing can judge, disrupt, or rescue from outside the cocoon in which one hides from the approaching footsteps of God.


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1 [ Back ] Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 28.
2 [ Back ] Stephen H. Webb, The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), esp. chs. 4 and 5. See also Theo Hobson, The Rhetorical Word: Protestant Theology and the Rhetoric of Authority (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2002).
3 [ Back ] Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, eds. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 33.
4 [ Back ] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, trans. John Oman (New York: Harper, 1958), 89.
5 [ Back ] Meister Eckhart, "Sermon on the Eternal Rebirth," in Late Medieval Mysticism, ed. Ray C. Petry (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1942), 179.
6 [ Back ] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, ed. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 286. Tillich adds, "The subjective view of Pietism, or the doctrine of the 'inner light' in Quakerism and other ecstatic movements, has the character of immediacy or autonomy against the authority of the church. To put it more sharply, modern rational autonomy is a child of the mystical autonomy of the doctrine of the inner light."
7 [ Back ] Stanley Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 62.
8 [ Back ] Grenz, 76.
9 [ Back ] Grenz, 46.
10 [ Back ] Grenz, 77.
11 [ Back ] Grenz, 121.
12 [ Back ] Grenz, 91. In nineteenth-century christological debates, the Lutheran view that Christ's divine attributes were communicated to his humanity was reversed in what was called the "kenotic Christology." In this view, the Son emptied himself of his divine attributes in the incarnation. Something similar may be seen in recent debates over Scripture. On one hand, fundamentalism divinizes the human words, while on the other "kenotic" theories of Scripture empty Scripture of its divine character. As Donald Bloesch observes, referring especially to Ray Anderson, some evangelical theologians have also adopted this course. Aside from the dubious christological implications, Bloesch warns, "If the kenotic theory is carried too far, this means that the divine Word is transmuted into the human word of Scripture, and is thereby emptied of its divine content" (Donald G. Bloesch, "The Primacy of Scripture," in The Authoritative Word: Essays on the Nature of Scripture, ed. Donald McKim [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 150).
13 [ Back ] John Franke, The Character of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 142.
14 [ Back ] Franke, 142.
15 [ Back ] Stanley Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster, 2001), 65.
16 [ Back ] On the meaning of theopneustos, see the argument of A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 5.
17 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 74-75.
18 [ Back ] John Calvin, "Reply by Calvin to Cardinal Sadoleto's Letter," in Tracts and Treatises of the Reformation of the Church, ed. Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 1:36.
19 [ Back ] Calvin, 115.
20 [ Back ] Calvin, 116.
21 [ Back ] Calvin, 117.
22 [ Back ] John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 100.
23 [ Back ] Webster, 2, 19, 45.
24 [ Back ] Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and its Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 9-11.
25 [ Back ] Quoted in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 2:323.
26 [ Back ] Muller, 120. Against the charge that Protestant scholasticism separated the divine form of Scripture from its content (Christ), leading to an abstract theory of inspiration, Muller collects a host of citations affirming Christ as the scope of Scripture, which is intrinsic to its authority. Included are citations not only from Luther (preface to James and Jude in Luther's Works 35, 396; Schmalkald Articles II.i) and Calvin (Institutes 2.6.2 and commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:11), but from Reformed colleagues and successors, including Peter Martyr Vermigli, Theodore Beza, Edward Leigh, Zacharius Ursinus, and William Perkins (98, 198, 224, 227, 342, 367).
27 [ Back ] This doctrine holds that Scripture is "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) both in its words and its meaning. However, this in no way implies (much less requires) a "dictation theory" of inspiration. According to the common interpretation of this view, inspiration occurred organically--that is, through the distinct personalities and conceptualities of the human authors in their social-historical context.
28 [ Back ] W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman, 1969), 68.
29 [ Back ] Quoted in G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 27.
30 [ Back ] Johannes Wollebius, The Abridgement of Christian Divinitie, trans. Alexander Ross (London, 1656), 3.


Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "Inspiration and Inerrancy" March/April 2010 Vol. 19 No. 2 Page number(s): 10-16

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