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Inspiration of the Bible: Defined

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Does Inspiration Imply Dictation?

by  Eric Lyons, M.Min.

Sometimes honest and sincere people apparently believe that God dictated every jot, every tittle, and ever word in the Scriptures, thus making the Bible writers little more than mechanical robots that dutifully copied down the Scriptures—verse by verse, as it were. If God had dictated the Bible, however, the style and vocabulary of each book of the Bible would be the same throughout. Yet, a simple reading of the Scriptures proves that the mechanical dictation viewpoint is incorrect. The fact is, the personality and style of each author are evident in every book of the Bible. Paul’s writings are different from Peter’s, and John’s are different from Luke’s. At times, Bible writers even used different words to teach the same story or to give the same commands.

Take, for example, one of the differences between Mark’s gospel and Luke’s gospel. When writing about how difficult it is for a rich man to enter heaven, Mark said it is “easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye” (Mark 10:25). Mark uses the Greek word rhaphis (needle), which means a sewing needle. On the other hand, when Luke used the same analogy (Luke 18:25), he employed the Greek word belone, which frequently was used when speaking of a surgeon’s needle. The same principle is taught in both texts, yet different words are used. Luke was a doctor (Colossians 4:14), and so he used the kind of needle with which he was most familiar. Likewise, Mark used the term for a seamstress’s needle, most likely because that was the kind of needle he was most accustomed to seeing. Is this a contradiction? No. Two different personalities are reflected in the words, but the idea is the same. Although the concept may be somewhat difficult to understand, inspiration involves the selection of the exact words, yet allows room for the personality of the individual to be reflected in the writing. And while inspiration extends to every word of Scripture, it does not rule out either human personality or human personal interest. Simply put, when the Bible writers claimed inspiration (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17), they did not have mechanical dictation in mind.

The correct view is to understand that the Bible’s inspiration is verbal and plenary. This means that the Bible writers penned exactly what God wanted them to write, without errors or mistakes, yet with their own personalities evident in their writings. By “verbal,” we mean that every word in the Bible exists because God permitted it (via the direction of the Holy Spirit). King David clearly recognized the validity of this kind of inspiration when he said: “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2, emp. added). By “plenary,” we mean that each and every part of the Bible is inspired, without anything being omitted. (“Plenary” means full).

By employing the verbal and plenary view of inspiration, God ensured that the independent Bible writers penned only that which was correct and consistent with His will.




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