The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration

Very many modern doctrines of inspiration (particularly those among the more conservative) arose in the 19th century, through the influences of German Higher Criticism, Hegelian Romanticism, and other irrational dogmas.

 

Organic Inspiration is the notion that the words of Scripture are not merely the Word of God, through His chosen secretaries or clerks, but that it is an original production, consisting of three confluent sources: God, human personality, and historical development.

 

Philip Schaff demonstrates that the modern doctrine of “organic inspiration” is not the confessional and historic view:

The great biblical scholars among the Fathers were chiefly concerned in drawing from the sacred records the catholic doctrines of salvation, and the precepts for a holy life; the Reformers and older Protestant divines studied them afresh with special zeal for the evangelical tenets which separated them from the Roman church; but all stood on the common ground of a reverential belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures. The present age is preeminently historical and critical. The Scriptures are subjected to the same process of investigation and analysis as any other literary production of antiquity, with no other purpose than to ascertain the real facts of the case. We want to know the precise origin, gradual growth, and final completion of Christianity as an historical phenomenon in organic connection with contemporary events and currents of thought… It is a noteworthy fact that the greatest textual critics of the nineteenth century are believers, not indeed in a mechanical or magical inspiration, which is untenable and not worth defending, but in the divine origin and authority of the canonical writings, which rest on a far stronger grounds than any particular human theory of inspiration.

History of the Christian Church, 1:206-7.

The historic view is “reverential belief in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures.”  The present view is “historical and critical.” Historical being the Hegelian Romantic side, and critical being the German Rationalist side. Both sides are contrary to Reformed Orthodoxy, as Schaff points out.

Elsewhere in the same volume (p. 857) Schaff notes:

[Negative criticism] forms thus the antipode of the older orthodoxy, which so overstrained the theory of inspiration as to reduce the human agency to the mechanism of the pen. We must look at both aspects. The Bible is the Word of God and the word of holy men of old. It is a revelation of man, as well as of God.

One such instances of the “older orthodoxy” that “reverentially believed in the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures,” and “overstrained the theory of inspiration,” according to Schaff, is the Westminster Confession of Faith. The Confession claims that God is the Author of Scripture, that Scripture is a revelation of God Himself, and of His will:

Therefore it pleased the Lord, at sundry times, and in divers manners, to reveal Himself, and to declare that 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: which maketh the Holy Scripture to be most necessary; those former ways of God’s revealing His will unto His people being now ceased.

Westminster Confession of Faith, 1:1.

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.

Ibid., 1:4.

Instances abound to demonstrate that this was the position of the Orthodox:

add to these reasons texts which emphatically establish the Word of God itself to be judge, ‘…the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day’ (John 12:48); ‘There is one that accuseth you, even Moses’ (John 5:45); ‘All scripture …is profitable for doctrine, for reproof’ (2 Tim 3:16); ‘The Word of God …is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart’ (Heb 4:12).

Thus the Word itself is arbiter in the disputes which arise concerning the Word of God, for it is the sovereign, living God who speaks in it, has spoken in it, and speaks by means of it until this very moment. Thus, the Word must be viewed as if God were continually narrating it to us with an audible voice from heaven.

 Wilhelmus a Brakel, Reasonable Service, 1:57.

The Scripture is the word of God written in a language fit for the Church by men immediately called to be the Clerkes, or Secretaries of the holy Ghost. 2. Pet. 1. 21. For prophecie came not in old time by the will of man, but the holy men of God spake as they were carried and mooved by the holy Ghost.

William Perkins, Works, 2:647.

Because the word is to be received by us, not as the word of man, but as the word of God. 1 Thes. 2.13. 2d, Because the doctrine of Christ, to be received by believers, dependeth not on man’s testimony, John 5.34. 3d, Because God only is true and infallible, and all men are liars, Rom. 3.4. Heb. 6.18. He is of incomprehensible wisdom, Psalm 147.5. Of great goodness, Exod. 18.7. Rom. 11.12. Psalm 34.8. Of absolute power and dominion, Gen. 17.1. Psalm 50.1,2. Of infallible truth, who can neither deceive or be deceived, Rom. 3.4. Titus 1.2. Heb. 6.18. Therefore he ought to be credited in all his narrations, promises, threatenings, and prophesies, and obeyed in all his commands allenarly, because he himself hath said so.

David Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error, p. 36.

God alone to be accounted the Author [of Scripture], who inspired the Hearts of those Holy Men, whom he chose to be his Secretaries; who are to be held only the Instrumental Causes thereof. (2 Pet. 1.20, 21.)

James Ussher, Body of Divinity, p. 5.

Thus, the Hegelian-influenced “organic inspiration” views, including the milder versions, or the more radical and consistent “incarnational inspiration” ideas, or the critical views, are contrary to Reformed Othodoxy, which faithfully reflects the teaching of Scripture.

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2 thoughts on “The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration

  1. […] Orthodox Christians all affirm that every word of Scripture has been completely inspired by God (i.e. Verbal Plenary Inspiration). However, there are divergent views on the mode of its inspiration and the role that the human authors played in the writing of Scripture. The organic view of inspiration is arguably the most popular today and was taught by theologians such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Bavinck. “Organic Inspiration is the notion that the words of Scripture are not merely the Word of God, through His chosen secretaries or clerks, but that it is an original production, consisting of three confluent sources: God, human personality, and historical development” (The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration). […]

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  2. […] Orthodox Christians all affirm that every word of Scripture has been completely inspired by God (i.e. Verbal Plenary Inspiration). However, there are divergent views on the mode of its inspiration and the role that the human authors played in the writing of Scripture. The organic view of inspiration is arguably the most popular today and was taught by theologians such as Geerhardus Vos and Herman Bavinck. “Organic Inspiration is the notion that the words of Scripture are not merely the Word of God, through His chosen secretaries or clerks, but that it is an original production, consisting of three confluent sources: God, human personality, and historical development” (The Reformed Doctrine of Inspiration). […]

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