- inspiration of the Bible
- Most Protestants affirm that the Bible is authoritative in religious matters and not a book like any other, but they differ as to its nature and the manner in which it was inspired. The most popular traditional Protestant approach is to describe the Bible as the inspired Word of God; in other words, the human authors or editors of the biblical books were influenced by God as they went about their work. Modern-day Protestants offer an array of different explanations as to how the authors were inspired and in exactly what sense the Bible is properly labeled the Word of God.The Reformation raised the authority of Scripture over that of the church and the clergy; Martin Luther's belief in Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone) is representative of the movement. In reaction, the Roman Catholic Church eventually clarified its own ideas about the exalted nature of Scripture as having been dictated by God. The First Vatican Council (1871) modified the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation to say that "the books of the Old and New Testaments in their entirety, with all their parts, are sacred and canonical because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and have been handed to the Church herself."The early Protestants did little to spell out the nature of biblical inspiration, though affirmations about Scripture were often the first item in confessions of faith. The Second Helvetic Confession states that "God himself spoke to the fathers, prophets, apostles, and still speaks to us through the Holy Scriptures."In the 19th century, as geology, biology, archaeology, and biblical criticism began to undermine the traditional view of the truth of the Bible, modernist theologians tried to find ways to remain confident in the Bible while accepting the challenges to the traditional view. Some theologians suggested that the Bible was the product of inspired individuals and suggested that their inspiration was similar in kind to that of an artist or poet. It was religious genius, not God's action, that produced the Bible. Those who adopted such a view could still speak of the Bible as containing the Word of God as well as other material. Such a view also allowed the proponent to dismiss questionable stories in which biblical heroes behaved unethically - killed, committed adultery, acted dishonestly, and so forth.In the face of both skeptical and modernist voices, traditional believers began to reassert the theory of biblical inspiration and authority and to define the nature of such authority in much greater detail. Conservative Evangelicals adopted a theory of divine influence: God did not dictate the Bible but oversaw the writing process, so that while the individuality, peculiar vocabulary, and historical situation of each author comes through, the message is what God intended to convey. The truth and trustworthiness of Scripture are thus ensured.The Princeton Theology, developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by writers such as Charles Hodge, Benjamin B. Warfield, and A. A. Hodge, used a terminology to define the nature of Scripture that became widely popular: infallibility, inerrancy, and plenary verbal inspiration. Plenary verbal inspiration suggests that the very words chosen by the writers were inspired, not just the basic concepts and teachings.In response to discoveries of early biblical texts that differ in many small details with the standard versions, the Princeton theologians introduced the idea that full inerrancy belonged only to the original written versions, and not to later copies or to translations by the average believer. It is important to arrive at the most accurate Hebrew and Greek texts possible, and to translate them into different languages as accurately as possible.The views and the language of the Princeton theologians are widely reflected in contemporary statements by Evangelical churches. For example, the New Testament Association of Independent Baptists affirms that the Bible's "author was God using Spirit-Guided men, being thereby verbally and plenarily inspired."In the midst of the arguments between modernists and conservatives over biblical authority, the movement called Neo-Orthodoxy emerged, its primary spokesperson being Swiss Reformed theologian Karl Barth. Neo-Orthodoxy sees the Bible as the witness to the Word of God. Scripture becomes the authoritative written Word of God when it is read and becomes the instrument of the believers' encounter with God. Neo-Orthodoxy became quite popular in the mainline Protestant churches in the last half of the 20th century.While agreement about the inspiration and authority of Scripture provides a common basis for biblical study and reflection, it has not served the cause of unity of belief. That is, the assertion of the inspiration of the Bible does not solve the problem of interpretation, Hermeneutics.See also Bible.Further reading:■ William J. Abraham, The Divine Inspiration of Holy Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981)■ David S. Dockery, Christian Scripture: An Evangelical Perspective on Inspiration, Authority, and Interpretation (Nashville, Tenn.: Broad-man & Holman, 1995)■ Carl F H. Henry, God, Revelation and Authority, vol. 4, The God Who Speaks and Shows (Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1979)■ Bruce Vawter, Biblical Inspiration (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972)■ Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 1948).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.