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The Inspiration Of Scripture – Part VI: The Plenary Inspiration of the Bible by Loraine Boettner

By April 19, 2011April 12th, 2016The Word of God

The Plenary Inspiration of the Bible


We have already said that so-called Modernists or Liberals have no consistent stopping place. They must either go clear over to rationalism and barren negation, or they must turn back again to an authoritative Scripture. The history of Protestant Liberalism shows us very dearly that it has had extreme difficulty in maintaining itself even on the platform of theism, to say nothing of that of Christianity. Its tend ency has been constantly downgrade, a progressive repudiation of all the fundamentals of the Christian faith. The Modernist, if he proceeds logically in the direction which his premises carry him, denies, first, the inspiration of the Scriptures, then the miracles, then the deity of Christ, then the atonement, then the resurrection, and finally, if he goes to the end of his road, he ends up in absolute skepticism. New England Unitarianism affords an example of this very thing. Strange as the words may sound in our ears, it is not uncommon in some places in America today to hear the ‘atheistic shade’ of modern theology spoken of. There is, unfortunately for some, a happy consistency in the processes of reason which drives the various philosophical and religious systems to their logical conclusions.

Practically all evangelical churches require those who are ordained to the ministry to take a public vow that they accept the Bible as the Word of God. In the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., for instance, every minister and elder at his ordination solemnly vows before God and men that he ‘believes the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.’ (Italics ours.) (Form of Government, XIII:IV; XV:XII.) Since this confession is thoroughly evangelical it means that none but evangelicals can honestly and intelligently accept this ordination. A Modernist has not the slightest right to be a minister or elder in an evangelical church, and any Modernist who does become such lacks good morality as well as good theology. To declare one thing while believing the contrary is hardly consistent with the character of an honest man. And yet while our ordination vows are so thoroughly evangelical, how many there are even among the ministers of our churches who either deny or pass lightly over this basic Christian truth, the infallibility of the Scriptures!

Sometimes those who hold a low view of inspiration attempt to evade the issue by merely saying that the Bible contains the word of God. This loose formula, however, means practically nothing. A river in India, ‘rolling down its golden sands,’ certainly contains gold. But just what the relative proportion is between the sand and the gold may be very hard to determine. If the Bible only contains the Word of God, as even the Modernist is willing to admit, then certainly it may lack a great deal of being infallible, and we are then left to the mercies of ‘Higher Criticism,’ or to our own individual opinions, as to just which elements are the words of God and which are only the words of man.

As Dr. Clarence E. Macartney has recently said, ‘Those who have departed from faith in an infallible Bible have made desperate, but utterly vain efforts, to secure a suitable substitute and other standing ground. But as time goes by, the pathetic hopelessness of this effort is more and more manifest. Such catchwords as ‘progressive revelation,’ ‘personal experience,’ ‘devotion to the truth,’ etc., are one by one being cast into the discard. Modernism and Liberalism, by the confession of their own adherents, are terribly bankrupt, nothing but ‘cracked cisterns,’ into which men lower in vain their vessels for the water of life. There is no plausible substitute for an inspired Bible. No one can preach with the power and influence of him who draws a sword bathed in heaven, and who goes into the pulpit with a ‘Thus saith the Lord’ back of him… When man faces the overwhelming facts of sin, passion, pain, sorrow, death, and the beyond-death, the glib and easy phrases of current Modernism and flippant Liberalism are found to be nothing but a broken reed. Therefore, he who preaches historic Christianity and takes his stand upon a divine revelation has, amid the storms and confusions and darkness of our present day, an incomparable position…. There are not wanting signs today that men will return to the Holy Scripture, to drink again of the Water of Life and strengthen their souls with the Bread of Life, and that a prodigal Church, sick of the husks of the far country, will return to its Father’s house.’

Those who reject the Church doctrine of inspiration in favor of some lowered form have never been able to agree among themselves as to which parts of the Bible are inspired and which are not, or to what extent any part is inspired. If this high doctrine of verbal inspiration is rejected, there is no consistent stopping place short of saying that the Scripture writers were inspired only as was Shakespeare, or Milton, or Tennyson; and in fact some of the critics have consistently followed out their premises and have reached that conclusion. We submit, however, that if the other miracles recorded in Scripture be accepted there is no logical reason for rejecting the miracle of inspiration, for inspiration is simply a miracle in the realm of speaking or writing. Most of the objections which are brought against the doctrine today can be traced more or less clearly to the assumption that the supernatural is impossible.


The question naturally arises, How are we to know that the Bible is the Word of God? We reply: By the fitness of the Holy Spirit within our hearts as we read. As the Christian reads the Bible he instinctively feels that God is speaking to him. The Holy Spirit bears witness with his spirit that these things are so, the primary and decisive grounds for his conviction being not external but internal. To the spiritually illuminated the word is self-authenticating. He does, indeed, find much additional assurance to be had in noting the many incomparable excellencies of the writings, such as the lofty spiritual and moral truths set forth, the unity of all the parts, the majesty of the style, the uniformly uplifting influence of the Bible wherever it has gone, its appeal at one and the same time to the learned philosopher and to the poor black man of the jungle, its statement of truth in such simple language that even a child can grasp its meaning while even the mast learned man cannot exhaust its depths, the minute fulfillment of prophecies centuries after they were spoken, etc. These are, indeed, proofs which should compel acceptance, and they can be effectively used to stop the mouths of objectors; but in the final analysis they are of subordinate value only. Apart from the inner illumination of the Holy Spirit they will not convince the unbeliever, no matter how logically and skillfully they may be presented.

The attempt to prove the divine origin of the Bible from these external criteria is similar to that of proving the existence of God from the external world. We may cite the ontological, the teleological, the cosmological, and the moral arguments, and the evidence seems convincing enough to the believer. Yet none of these arguments are demonstrative and coercive, and they usually leave the skeptics unconvinced. When we consent to stake the authority of Scripture on external arguments we are consenting to fight the battle on the field of our opponents’ choosing, and we then simply have to make the best of a vulnerable position. These arguments in themselves are of such a nature as to invite doubt in the unregenerate mind, and they can never permanently settle the question. When we consent to fight the battle on these grounds we are making a concession to Rationalism, a system which assumes that the human reason is capable of sitting in judgment upon and evaluating all human experiences, and which denies the necessity of any divine revelation whatsoever.

In our deepest selves we are either regenerate or unregenerate. Paul tells us that ‘the natural (unregenerate) man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged’ (I Cor. 2:14); and again he says that the gospel of Christ crucified is ‘unto Jews a stumbling block, and unto Gentiles foolishness’; but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, it is ‘the power of God, and the wisdom of God’ unto salvation (I Cor. 1:23, 24). Consequently the unregenerate man assumes an antagonistic attitude, and will not be convinced by any amount of external testimony. Ultimately every person has to make a choice between the vox Dei and the vox mundi, the voice of God and the voice of the world; and the question as to which of these he acknowledges to be the more authoritative is deter ined by whether the soul is regenerate or unregenerate. It is as im possible for the unaided human reason to understand the deep things of the Spirit as it is for the ordinary psychologist to give an adequate explanation of the process of conversion. Every attempt to convince the unregenerate soul of the divine origin of the Bible by means of scholarly and historical proof can only result in failure, and must be given up as completely as when Jesus forebore to convince the members of the Sanhedrin that he was not guilty of blasphemy when they had made up their minds to the contrary. This was the principle for which the Protestant Church stood at the time of the Reformation. While the Roman Catholics acknowledged the Church as the source of authority, and the Humanists acknowledged the human reason, the Protestant principle, as it was given typical expression for instance in the Westminster Confession, was the voice of God speaking in the soul. ‘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… Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts’ (I:IV, V). We would doubtless make better progress in our present day discussions if we kept that principle in mind.

In the final analysis, then, the Christian’s faith does not depend upon external proofs, but upon an inner experience. He lives by the Scripture and enjoys its light. He has an inner conscious assurance — call it mysticism or whatever you will — that he is a child of God, and that the Scriptures are the word of God. The external proofs help to clarify and strengthen his faith, but his absolute and inescapable proof that the Christian system in general is the true system is found in the witness of the Holy Spirit in his heart as he reads and in his experience as a Christian. Although he may not be possessed of scholarly and scientific evidence which would enable him to meet the destructive critics on their own ground, he repels all their doubts in the same manner as did the blind man who was healed by the Savior, and who replied to every argument of the Pharisees with the im- movable conviction of certainty: ‘Whether he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.’ He no more asks permission of the critic to believe than he asks permission of the scientist to breathe, but finds both most natural and spontaneous. He does, indeed, find that truly scientific and scholarly study gives clearer direction to the word, and that it enables him to systematize and understand it better. But his authority for belief is from the heart rather than from the reasoning processes of the head.

This does not mean that we deprecate scholarship. Nowhere has the principle of sound scholarship and scientific investigation existed in a healthier state than in the loyal sons of the Evangelical churches. In fact, we are persuaded that except for the service which scholarship has rendered, the Christian faith would have been well-nigh helpless against the attacks of unbelief. We desire a solid historical foundation for our faith, and our investigation shows that we have such. We acknowledge that the external proofs, when presented to unbelievers in a reasonable way, point the way to God and often prepare the heart for the gracious work of the Holy Spirit. But we simply wish to point out that these proofs which are relied upon so heavily by some are ineffective unless supplemented by the work of the Holy Spirit in the heart.

Our opponents will probably complain that this method of procedure gives a strong dogmatic cast to the discussion. They forget, however, that they proceed in exactly the same way: they too proceed from premises which are as axiomatic, even though they profess to be particularly subject to reason. Their axiom is that the human reason is competent to judge all things, even the deep things of God. While we acknowledge that theirs is also a dogmatic procedure, we do not com plain about it, since they cannot do otherwise — the mind which has not been enlightened by the Spirit is not able to discern the things of the Spirit. As Thornwall has fittingly said, ‘the reality of evidence is one thing, the power to perceive it, is quite another. It is no objection to the brilliancy of the sun if it fails to illuminate the blind.’ We each have our fixed method of procedure. All we can ask is that these principles be put to a practical test, and that we be given opportunity to see which best squares with the experiences of life and reality.


In conclusion, then, we would say that it is of the utmost importance that the Lord’s people be thoroughly rooted and grounded in this great doctrine of the plenary inspiration of Holy Scripture, and that having examined the evidence they be convinced that the Bible is the very Word of God. Since all of the other Christian doctrines are derived from the Bible and rest upon it for their authority, this doctrine is, as it were, the mother and guardian of all the others. We believe that the foregoing statements are facts which will stand the test of scholarship and of historical investigation, and that they will not be denied by any informed and honest-minded person.

While in our day the Bible has been sadly neglected even in many of the churches, we believe that the time is coming when the Bible shall have its rightful and honored place in the Church and in the affairs of men. At any rate we look forward confident that when the tumult is over, when the present storm of unbelief has subsided, the sacred heights of Sinai and Calvary will again stand forth, and that amid the wreck of thrones, extinct nations, and shattered moral principles, mankind, tried by so many sorrows, purified by so much suffering, and wise with so much unprecedented experience, will again bow before an omnipotent and merciful God as He is revealed in an infallible Bible.