The Biblical Doctrine of The Verbal, Plenary Inspiration of God’s Word

Jack Sin


The Holy Bible is the most important possession of the redeemed community. Christians are often called the people of a book. The Bible is the providentially preserved, inerrant, inspired, authoritative and sufficient 66 books of canonical Scripture that is the rule of faith for life and practice for the church. The Christian religion stands on the inspiration and authority of these 66 books of Holy Scripture, which have also been the target of attack by the evil one all these years. The first four centuries saw the attack of the devil on the nature of Christ – but in the 20th century during the early debate between the fundamentalists and the liberals (the former was led by Dr. J. Gresham Machen), one of the keenly contested issues was on the inspiration and inerrancy of the Holy Scripture among others. The former stood for the plenary, verbal inspiration of the Holy Scripture but the latter denied that and argued for a limited inspiration and hence, limited inerrancy. Today, the battle still rages centring on the different aspects of Bibliology including its preservation and sufficiency (i.e., some quarters of Christianity still claiming special direct revelation from God today) of which the verbal inspiration of the Scripture is still central to the issue.


Inspiration may be defined as the direct act of God whereby He “breathes out” the very words through the prepared human authors so that their record of His revelation is complete and without error. God’s specific revelation was given in words either mentally or verbally directly to specially prepared men through the Holy Spirit who guided those men as they wrote it or uttered it, (while employing their individual personalities, vocabularies and writing styles) to produce in the original languages, an errorless revelation of God's truth.

2 Timothy 3:16, 17 say, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The word “inspiration,” which is theopnuestos in 2 Timothy 3:16, is used in a way to mean that God breathed into His Word the exact words that He wanted the inspired writer to write. It was the work of the Holy Spirit that so influenced and guided the holy authors that they wrote down exactly what He would have them to write. The position maintained by orthodox theologians is the verbal and plenary inspiration of the Bible. Each and every word of the Scripture is inspired and therefore there is no error in them at all.

The apostle Peter in 2 Peter 1:20, 21 says, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” The consequence is that the chosen sacred writers were so influenced by the Holy Spirit that their writings are, as a whole and in every part, God's Word to us – is an authoritative and absolutely trustworthy revelation to us from God, endorsed by Him, and given to us as an infallible rule of faith and practice, clothed with absolute divine authority from above that we can trust wholeheartedly.

Hence, the 66 books of the canonical Bible are given by the inspiration of God, that is, they are not the contrivance of any man's imagination but a revelation of the mind and will of God. Those who wrote them were supernaturally assisted in it, by the Spirit of God; and that every part of Scripture is divinely inspired or breathed by God. Every word was written without any error at all.

The doctrine of the verbal inspiration of Scripture held by historic Christianity views the Bible differently from any other literature written by man (e.g., Caesar’s Wars), that it is a unique canon of literature authored by God Himself. Inspiration is consistent and does not go against the human personality of prophets and apostles through whom God communicated the truth about Himself and the message He wants them to write.

Reasons for Believing in Verbal Inspiration

There are at least 4 convincing arguments among others for the doctrine of the verbal, plenary inspiration of the Bible. They are the following:

1. The Support of the Early Church Fathers

The early church fathers, untainted by modern liberalism, had a high view and believed in the doctrine of inspiration of the Bible. The early church fathers like Origen, Clement of Alexandria, Cyprian, Tertullian, Ignatius and Justin Martyr and others spoke in favour of the Bible as the very words inspired of God and not just by mere men. For example, Polycarp, the disciple of John, said, “The scriptures are perfect, inasmuch as they are uttered by the Word of God and His Spirit.”

If these celebrated patristic witnesses are anything to go by, we have a cloud of united venerable witnesses that stood for the inspiration of the Bible during the first 400 years of the New Testament church, which is highly significant.

2. The Reference to Reformation Creeds and Confessions

Confessions and creeds are summary statements of the beliefs and doctrinal stand of the church during a particular period in history. It would be instructive to consider some historic confessions and creeds of the various denominations in their stand on the Bible. "The Belgic Confession of 1561" (representing some Reformed churches in Europe generally) has in its Article 3 this statement, "We confess that this word of God was not sent nor delivered by the will of man, but that holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, as the apostle Peter saith. And that afterwards God, from a special care which he has for us and our salvation, commanded His servants, the prophets and apostles, to commit His revealed word to writing, and He Himself wrote with His own finger the two tables of the law. Therefore we call such writings holy and divine Scriptures."

The Westminster Confession of Faith (1643–48) which is the established historic creed for Presbyterian and Reformed churches has it as follows: "Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times and in divers manners, to reveal himself and to declare His will unto His church; and afterwards, for the better preserving and propagating of the truth, and for the more sure establishment and comfort of the church against the corruption of the flesh and the malice of Satan and of the world, to commit the same wholly unto writing." "The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the Author thereof; and therefore it is to be received because it is the Word of God."

Both these historic confessions and others like the second Helvetic Confession (1566), the Heidelberg Catechism (1563) and the Baptist Confession of 1789 espoused a view of verbal, plenary inspiration that is adhered to by most of the churches during and after the Reformation times and some even today.

3. The Claim of the Bible to be Inspired

It is not an insignificant thing that the Bible claims for itself that it is inspired of God. 2 Peter 1:20, 21 relate of specially prepared men who were moved by the Holy Ghost to perform the awesome task of writing Scripture as the very words of the Almighty God. In Matthew 5:18, Jesus said that not one jot or tittle of the Word of God shall pass away although the heaven and earth would. The Psalmist speaks of the Word that is purified seven times and shall be preserved forever (Psalm 12:6, 7).

The Bible claims to be inspired and the familiar refrain, “thus saith the Lord” (Isaiah 7:7) fills the pages of Scripture. The apostolic writings were boldly described in the same authoritative terms that denoted the Old Testament (2 Peter 3:15, 16). The inspiration of the Bible is the basis for inerrancy of the autographs (the originals) and the apographs (extant copies that we have today) and hence, the authority and trustworthiness of what we have today (in the English language; it is best represented by the KJV) providentially preserved by God. The life transforming ability of the Bible bears living and convincing testimony of its inspiration and the number of fulfilled prophecies (which is not a statistical probability) as well as an invincible argument for its inspiration.

The Bible is the result of the inspired writing of about 40 inspired penmen whose lives were specially prepared by God, spanning nearly 1,500 years in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek) over three continents. From Moses to the apostle John, the Bible contains historical, poetic, geographic and doctrinal themes from the pens of these writers supernaturally inspired by God Himself. With so many contributors, we might expect that there would be a total diversity, perhaps even contrary opinions within the writings. However, we find a consistency of theme, a thread of continuity and unity from Genesis to Revelation. It is as though there was collusion among the members of the group to produce something flawless and inspiring. The conclusion must be that there was a single mind and therefore the author behind the book is the Almighty God.

4. The View of the Scripture by our Lord Jesus Christ

The most convincing of all the proofs and arguments for the verbal inspiration of the Scripture is the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ regarded them and treated them as such. He Himself submitted to their authority. When assaulted by Satan, three times He replied, "It is written," and it is particularly to be noted that the point of each of His quotations and the force of each reply lie in every single word of the Scripture – "Man shall not live by bread alone;" "Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God;" "Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." When tempted by the Pharisees, who asked Him, "Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?" He answered, "Have ye not read?" (Matthew 19:4–5). To the Sadducees He said, "Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures" (Matthew 22:29). On another occasion, He accused the Pharisees of "Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition" (Mark 7:13). When speaking of the Word of God, He declared, "The scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Sufficient has been adduced to show that the Lord Jesus regarded the Scripture as the Word of God in the most absolute sense. Let us not detract in the smallest degree from the perfect and full inspiration of the Holy Scripture by the Almighty God.

The apostles and the prophets wrote both the Old Testament and New Testament books under divine superintendence. These inspired writers recorded the everlasting words and teachings in the inerrant and preserved Word of God in their distinctive own styles under the supernatural inspiration of the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:20, 21). Inspiration did not involve the suspension or suppression of the human faculties, neither did it interfere with the free exercise of the mental characteristic of the individuals, but that God supernaturally used prepared men to write His Word without error. The biblical doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible is the very bedrock of the providential preservation of the Word of God today.


The Word of God is self-authenticating and self-vindicating and is indestructible after about 2,000 years in existence though many monarchs (e.g., Emperor Diolcetian) and other critics have tried unsuccessfully to destroy or undermine it. The liberal Christian community attempted to discredit the veracity of the Word of God by firstly undermining its inspiration but failed. The doctrine of inspiration is the cornerstone of the Bible for the other doctrines of revelation, inerrancy and infallibility and preservation of the Bible. The absolute unity of the Bible and its numerous fulfilled prophecies silenced the unbelieving critics and confirmed in the hearts of the believing Christians of its inspiration, authenticity and reliability. The Bible is the very Word of God and not just “contain the words of God” (liberal view) nor it “becomes the Word of God” (neo-orthodox view). The means or process of inspiration is a mystery of the providence of God, but the result of the process is a verbal (the words), plenary (extending to all parts equally), inerrant (errorless) Bible that is an authoritative and preserved record still available to us today.

Rev. Jack Sin is the pastor of Maranatha Bible-Presbyterian Church.

– Published in Bible Witness, Vol 2 Issue 4 (October – December 2002)