John Beversluis, "The Gospel According to Whom? A Nonbeliever Looks at The New Testament and its Contemporary Defenders" 1:1

I'm posthumously posting six chapters from an unfinished book sent to me for comment in 2008 by the late John Beversluis (see Tag below). The first chapter is the largest one by far at 10,809 words! It was sent to me in two parts so I mistakenly thought I had seven chapters.

There are five parts to it: 1. New Testament Criticism; 2. The Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Bible; 3. Verbal and Plenary Inspiration: A Semantic Nightmare; 4. What Inspiration Guarantees and Does Not Guarantee; and 5. Back to Thomas Paine. In this installment I'm posting parts 1-3. The "contemporary defenders" he criticizes are Norman Geisler and Josh McDowell.


Before turning to the synoptic Gospels, several important preliminary topics need to be briefly discussed.

1. New Testament Criticism

The first is the topic of New Testament criticism. The nature and purposes of this widely misunderstood and unjustly maligned field need to be clarified and defended against false allegations that conservative-fundamentalists—including theologians who should have known better—often lodge against it. To begin with, two important points need to be grasped.

First, the word “criticism” does not mean finding fault—“picking the Bible apart,” “ripping it to shreds,” etc. These are misunderstandings—and even caricatures—perpetrated by the same conservative-fundamentalists whose influence depends on the fact that their hearers and readers are largely uninformed about these matters and uncritically swallow what they say. The word “criticism” means analysis—more specifically, analysis of manuscripts. In short, lower criticism is textual criticism. Second, there is a distinction between higher and lower criticism. These admittedly unhappy terms cause a lot of confusion and even invite it. This confusion can be partly dispelled by pointing out that “higher” and “lower” are not value terms. “Higher” does not mean better, superior, or more important; and “lower” does not mean worse, inferior, or less important. These fields are not in competition. They are equally important, but they have different purposes.

Lower criticism predates higher by about two and a half centuries. Its task is to construct a text of the Bible that is as close as possible to the original documents—known as the autographa. Since none of them have survived, the closest scholars can get to them is by studying copies that have. Lower critics examine these manuscripts and try to determine which are most accurate. In the case of the New Testament, they date back to the fourth century C.E. Nothing earlier has survived. This means that there is an unbridged and unbridgeable gap of more than three hundred years between these copies, which scholars can study, and the original documents, which they cannot.

It is sometimes necessary to remind people that the New Testament did not fall ready-made from heaven. Nor is it a book that some industrious first-century convert painstakingly compiled by ransacking the Mediterranean for the original manuscripts of the four Gospels and the letters Paul wrote to various churches throughout Asia Minor. The New Testament canon is the result of ecclesiastical decisions based on votes. The suggestion that the twenty-seven books now known as the New Testament and no others should constitute the canon was first made by Athanasius in 367. This means that for the better part of four centuries the question of which books were, and were not, canonical was undecided and very much up in the air. After centuries of controversy, the church finally decided on these twenty-seven. The canon was finally fixed by the Synod of Hippo in 393 and reaffirmed by the Councils of Carthage in 397 and 419. Since the original manuscripts longer exist, modern New Testament scholars must rely not only on copies but on copies of copies, which were transcribed over a period of hundreds of years by scribes (and other copyists) who were not scrupulously accurate, frequently omitted or altered passages, both accidentally and intentionally, and frequently added others that are not in the earliest existing manuscripts.

Contemporary conservative-fundamentalists try to dismiss this problem as a pseudo-problem fabricated by unbelieving “liberal” New Testament scholars. But the complaint has a long history. The third-century church father Origin wrote:
The differences among the manuscripts have become great, either through the negligence of some copyists or through the perverse audacity of others; they either neglect to check over what they have transcribed, or, in the process of checking, they make additions or deletions as they please. (Commentary on Matthew 15:14)
Not all intentional changes were traceable to malicious or otherwise devious intentions; the intention was sometimes benign, e.g., to correct errors made by previous scribes. (Professional scribes were not common until the early 4th century.) But changes there were. Even a cursory examination of these documents (or photo copies of them) reveals that they are not divinely-inspired, inerrant, and uniquely authoritative documents, but documents written by all-too-human authors who were decidedly uninspired, careless, and error-prone—sometimes alarmingly so—and must be read and evaluated like any other document. All in all, there are more than 5,700 such manuscripts (partial or complete) and they contain more than 30,000 textual variants, i.e., passages that differ grammatically as well as substantively, trivially as well as significantly. Reading them is hard and highly specialized work.

For one thing, they are written on papyrus—an early form of paper made from the pith of papyrus plants—or vellum—which is specially treated calfskin—or parchment—which is specially treated skin from goats, sheep, and other animals. Many are remarkably well preserved, but others are pretty much what one would expect after thousands of years of deterioration. Some are little more than fragments with torn or missing edges, holes, stains, faded sections, and other blemishes. To make matters worse, the text itself is written in uncials, i.e., upper-case letters with no punctuation or spaces between letters, or miniscules, i.e. lower-case letters with no punctuation or spaces between letters. Nor was it divided into chapters and verses. The first time the text was divided into chapters and verses was in the fourth edition of Stephanus’s (Robert Estienne’s) Greek New Testament which was published in 1551. Thus, passages in today’s printed translations that pose no problems for readers often present formidable challenges to scholars fluent in Greek and familiar with uncials.

For example, here is a well known passage from the Gospel of Luke:
And it came to pass in those days that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. (Luke 2:1)
I trust that nobody has any trouble reading that. But now imagine it printed like this:


Or in Greek like this:


Now imagine this passage as just a small part of a leaf of papyrus (or vellum) with torn and missing edges, holes, stains, faded sections, and in such illegible handwriting that experts not only have difficulty figuring out what it says, but even what language it is written in. You then begin to grasp something of the dimensions of the problem.

The person credited with being the first to reconstruct an accurate text is the Dutch scholar Desidirius Erasmus (1466/69-1536). He also produced the first published Greek New Testament—known as the Textus Receptus—a seminal critical edition which appeared in 1516. A second edition appeared in 1519 which Martin Luther used for his translation of the Bible into German.

Once a reliable text has been established, the work of lower criticism is finished and the work of higher criticism begins. Its father (and coiner of the term) was German theologian Johann Gottfried Eichhorn (1752-1827). Using the methods, tools, and techniques of other disciplines, such as philology, stylometry, archeology, and linguistics, higher critics try to answer a different set of questions about the texts about their authenticity, authorship, date(s) written, source(s), alterations, deletions, the point of view of the author, etc. They are particularly interested in discovering interpolations by later writers, e.g., those involving ascriptions of deity to Jesus present in the Gospel of John and in later manuscripts of the synoptic Gospels but absent from the earliest surviving ones. Some of these interpolations are based on doctrines that emerged later as Christian theology gradually evolved while others are motivated by their own theological and political agendas.

All New Testament scholars agree that lower criticism is enormously important, but they disagree about higher criticism. Liberal theologians respect it as a sophisticated discipline (or combination of disciplines) that enables its practitioners to study the Bible scientifically and empirically, as one would study any other ancient document. Conservative-fundamentalist theologians are of two minds about it. Hard core fundamentalists berate it as a flawed, destructive, and even intellectually dishonest discipline developed by critics like Schleiermacher, Renan, Strauss, Bultmann, and the Tübingen School, who started from naturalistic assumptions, rejected the miraculous and the supernatural generally, and were determined to discredit the Bible by depriving it of its rightful status as the inspired Word of God. More sophisticated fundamentalists accept (to varying degrees) one or more of the various kinds of higher criticism—Form Criticism, Source Criticism, Redactive Criticism, etc.—and acknowledge that they have legitimate uses and yield valuable insights into the New Testament. Most of them are prepared to admit that there are apparent errors, contradictions, and inconsistencies in the manuscripts of the synoptic Gospels; however, they think these are minor, that no central Christian doctrine is in dispute, and that they are all reconcilable.

2. The Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Bible

Conservative-fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the divinely-inspired and inerrant Word of God. The second claim follows from the first since, as they are fond of saying, “God cannot lie.” What evidence do they offer in support of this claim?

In view of the importance they attach to this doctrine, it is surprising that they produce so few passages in support of it. In fact, “few” is an exaggeration. Typically, they cite just two. The first is 2 Timothy 3:16: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." The second is 2 Peter 1:20-21: "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." What exactly is being claimed here? Precisely what is inspired and inerrant? Again, the problem is more complicated than it seems.

All fundamentalists make a distinction between the original manuscripts and surviving copies and translations. Having done so, they qualify their initial claim by explaining that when they say the Bible is inspired and inerrant, they do not mean these copies or translations, but only the original manuscripts. If we could go back to them, we would find the inspired and inerrant Word of God. That sounds reassuring, but the assurance is empty. The originals no longer exist, so there is nothing to go back to. In short, the claim is completely unverifiable.

Fundamentalists try to get around this awkward fact in two ways. Some, like F. F. Bruce (cited in Evidence, 51-52) and Norman Geisler (ST, 240), acknowledge that the surviving copies are inaccurate and contain inconsistencies; but they insist that the inaccuracies are minor and that the inconsistencies can be reconciled. Since there are thousands of surviving copies, we can study them and thus arrive at a “close approximation” to the originals. However, this seemingly authoritative explanation leaves the most important question unanswered. Since the autographa have not survived and nobody has laid eyes on them for 2,000 years, how could anybody possibly know what was in them—much less, which copies approximate most closely to them? Since there is nothing to which existing manuscripts can be compared, the very ideas of the original manuscripts and which manuscripts approximate most closely to them are useless ideas and should be abandoned. I can judge that a photo is a good likeness of you if and only if I have seen you and know what you look like. If I have not, then I am the last person on earth to ask. The situation is not improved by assuring me that there are thousands of photos of you. The fact is that I have never seen you, so ten million photos would not help.

McDowell goes further than most. Like the others, he starts by admitting (or seeming to admit) that surviving copies and translations are not inspired, only the original documents:
It is of monumental importance to identify the extent of inspiration to include every book of Scripture, each part of every book and every word in each book as given in the original. This does not include any manuscript or any translation which is a reproduction. . . No one manuscript or translation is inspired, only the original. (RD, 177, my italics)
Puzzlingly, having made this admission, he immediately qualifies it in such a way that nothing remains of his original distinction:
However, for all intents and purposes, they are virtually inspired since, with today’s great number of manuscripts available for scrutiny, the science of textual criticism can render us an adequate representation. There, we can be assured that when we read the Bible we are reading the inspired Word of God. (RD, 177)
In short, modern translations are inspired even though they are not.

Like other fundamentalists, McDowell fails to explain how anybody could know that a copy “approximates” to an original if they have not seen the original. Like Geisler, he confidently asserts that of the 200,000 variants in existing manuscripts of the New Testament, only 50 are of “great significance” (Evidence, 44). He adds that no “fundamental” doctrine of the Christian faith depends on a disputed reading (45). Unfortunately, he does not discuss (or even identify) a single one of these 50 “significant” passages; he does not offer any reasons for thinking there are no more than 50; he does not explain what he means by a “fundamental” Christian doctrine or reveal his criteria for distinguishing them from apparently non-fundamental ones; and he offers no reason for believing that no “fundamental” one depends on a disputed passage. All this is mere assertion.

He also fails to answer the following crucial question: If no copied manuscripts or translation are inspired, then when we read the Bible, how we can be sure that we are, in fact, reading “the inspired Word of God”? His appeal to “adequate representations” and “virtual” inspiration and will not do. They are just ad hoc desperation moves.

“Virtual” and “virtually” are weasel words. “Cascade leaves your glasses virtually spotless” does not mean “Cascade leaves your glasses spotless.” If it did, “virtually” would be superfluous. No matter how good Cascade may be, your glasses are still going to have some spots. Similarly, “Modern translations of the Bible are virtually inspired” does not mean “Modern translations of the Bible are inspired.” If it did, “virtually” would again be superfluous. No matter how good modern translations may be, you are still going to have some uninspired material. McDowell’s use of “virtual” does not accomplish what he thinks it accomplishes; in fact, it accomplishes the very opposite. Either modern translations are inspired in the same sense as the original documents or they are not inspired at all. “Virtual” inspiration is not a helpful third alternative; on the contrary, it is a feeble half-way house and a transparent attempt to have it both ways. This is not the only time that these theologians are guilty of equivocation and double-talk. Their whole discussion of inspiration is riddled with it.

There are other problems. Geisler and McDowell introduce 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 as “what the Bible says about itself”—which is rhetorically impressive but substantively false. The Bible is not a book, but a collection of books that were written over a period of hundreds of years by many authors. It has no single voice that could proclaim a single thesis applicable to them all.

The Bible says nothing about “itself.” 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21 were written by Paul and (allegedly but dubiously) Peter, not by some Super Author surveying the whole collection and pronouncing it inspired. Moreover, Geisler and McDowell do their readers the grave disservice of concealing a difficulty which, when brought to light, undermines every claim they have advanced so far. The difficulty concerns the very passages they cite in support of their theory of the inspiration of the Bible: 2 Timothy 3:16 and 1 Peter 1:20-21, so it worth quoting them again. According to the first:
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.
According to the second:
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 KJV italicizes “is” twice in the first passage and “as they were” in the second—not, as one uncommonly benighted pastor of my youth authoritatively confided to his hushed congregation, because they are very important and were even italicized in the original Greek. In fact, the words are in italics because they are absent from the original Greek. This is highly problematic.

Both passages are well known to churchgoers, members of Bible “study” groups, and Sunday school pupils. These people are encouraged (and often required) to memorize them so they can defend their belief in the inspired and inerrant Word of God against all comers. However, few of these trusting souls realize that neither passage proves what it is said to prove.

The first does not unambiguously say that all Scripture, i.e., the whole Bible from cover to cover, is inspired by God. As we have seen, 2 Timothy 3:16 contains two italicized words which indicate that the English word “is” has no Greek equivalent. The Greek has no verb at all. It just says: "All Scripture inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for instruction in righteousness."

Linguistically, that is a clumsy and, in fact, ungrammatical sentence. To make the English translation read more smoothly, translators have to insert an “is” somewhere. (It is implied in the Greek too.) The question is: Where? Should it be inserted after “Scripture”—so the verse reads “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, etc.”? Or after “God”—so it reads “All Scripture inspired by God is profitable for teaching, etc.”? These are very different claims. The first is universal and unrestrictive. It includes all Scripture. The second is general and restrictive. It excludes some Scripture as non-inspired. The crucial point is that anybody who consults the Greek text will see that there is no way of knowing where the “is” should go. Grammatically, both are equally permissible. So it is guesswork either way. You may like one doctrine better than the other, but when interpreting a text personal preference is neither here nor there. This single grammatical observation completely undermines one of the two chief texts offered in support of the doctrine of the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible.

The translators of the KJV opted for the first reading. But the translators of the ASV, the NEB, and the Living Bible opted for the second, thereby implying that some Scriptures are inspired and others not. Why make a distinction if there is nothing to be distinguished?

This importance of this distinction was recognized by a Christian apologist as orthodox as C. S. Lewis, whose intellectual integrity required him to insist that one’s view of the divine inspiration of Scripture must make provision for passages like the following: (1) Paul’s explicit distinction (in 1 Corinthians 7) between commands issued by God—“I command, yet not I, but the Lord” (v. 19)—and by himself—“I, but not the Lord” (v. 12); (2) apparent inconsistencies between the genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3; apparent inconsistencies about the death of Judas Iscariot in Matthew 27:5 and Acts 1:18-19; (4) Luke’s account of where (and from whom) he got his material (in Luke 1); etc. (Reflections on the Psalms, 109). To his eternal credit, Lewis refused to indulge in (or to approve of) exegetical shenanigans like those I have been discussing, thereby revealing his intellectual integrity—a virtue for which he is faulted by Geisler (ST, 397-404) who finds Lewis’s views about the Bible a “great disappointment” (403).

But let us say for the sake of argument that the translators of the KJV got it right and that 2 Timothy 3:16 does say that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. How much weight should be given to that verse? The answer is, None whatsoever. This is true are four reasons.

First, by “all Scripture” (pasa graphe), Paul could not possibly have meant to include the letter he was in the process of writing to Timothy (or any other letter he had written in the past or would write in the future). As a Christian living in the first century, he had no idea that a few hundred years later this letter (as well as others he had written to various churches and individuals) would be part of something called the New Testament canon and regarded as holy writ. That this is so is also borne out by the previous verse (v. 15) in which he reminds Timothy that he has known the Scriptures from childhood on. Clearly, Timothy could not have known from childhood on the contents of a letter from Paul that he would not receive for many years. Second, from the fact that one verse in the Bible says that every other verse is inspired, it does not follow that every other verse is inspired. Asserting that “p” is true does not make “p” true. I might as well claim that from the fact that I say in the preface to this book that every statement in it is true, it follows that every statement in it is true. The point is this: If 2 Timothy 3:16 is your reason for believing that everything else in the Bible is inspired, then what is your reason for believing 2 Timothy 3:16? You cannot very well argue that you believe that every verse in the Bible is inspired because 2 Timothy 3:16 says so and then add that you believe 2 Timothy 3:16 is inspired because it is in the Bible. That is a patently circular. Finally, if you approach the Bible believing that everything in it is inspired, including this verse, then you believed that the Bible was inspired before you ever read this verse. So, contrary to your original claim, it is not your reason for believing that the Bible inspired. Either way, your case collapses.

Having disposed of Timothy 3:16, we are left with 2 Peter 1:20-21—a passage which can also be disposed of very quickly on purely textual grounds. Before doing that, however, it is worth pointing out that this letter is full of problems. To begin with, it is highly doubtful that it was written by Simon Peter and is in all likelihood a pseudonymous work. Its authorship has been questioned from the first century on. It was not accepted as genuine by Eusebius. It was not included in the Marcion canon—the first attempt by a Christian to assemble a canon. It was the last book to be admitted into the final New Testament canon. And its authorship is still questioned by most mainstream New Testament theologians and scholars today.

This remains true in spite of the fact that the author claims to have been an eyewitness of the Transfiguration of Jesus and of his life generally (1:16-18). However, if Peter was not the author of this letter, whoever the author was lied about being an eyewitness; and if he lied about that, he might have lied about other things as well, e.g., when he said that holy men of old were inspired by the Holy Ghost to write the Old Testament Scriptures. If he was prepared to pretend that he was Peter to invest his letter with more authority, he might also have been prepared to pretend that the books of the Old Testament were inspired by the Holy Ghost to give them more authority.

The author of 2 Peter is devious in yet another way. To put a stop to grumbling about the fact that “the day of the Lord” (v. 10)—i.e., the promised second coming of Jesus—had still not taken place, he resorts to a piece of verbal trickery:
[B]e not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance (3:8-9).
In other words, even if Jesus does not return for a thousand years (or more), his promise to return “soon” has not been broken. What is a long time for us is as one day for God. This ridiculous explanation reveals how far Christians were already prepared to go in the first century to evade embarrassing facts. It also reveals that the author of this letter was not an eyewitness. If he had been, he would have known that Jesus did not promise to return some day-—possibly not for one or two thousand years—but before the present generation has passed (Matthew 10:23, Mark 13:30, Luke 21:32). Clearly, the author of this letter was not present. As if that were not enough, he also borrowed most of the book of Jude—some of it word for word—and passed it off as his own in chapter two. So in addition to being a liar, he was a plagiarist—an ironic tidbit in view of his vehement denunciation of the many “false prophets” who had sprung up and an excellent reason for not relying on 2 Peter 1:20-21 to prove the inspiration of the Bible.

The fundamental textual mistake in using this passage as a proof of that is the fact that the author is talking about Old Testament prophets and them alone. His point is that these prophets did not speak their own words— express a “private interpretation” (idias epiluseos)—but were “moved” (pheromenoi)—a word that means were “carried along,” as the waves carry a ship—by the Holy Ghost. Like Paul, the author of 2 Peter had no idea that his letter would one day be part of something called the New Testament canon and regarded as holy writ.

3. Verbal and Plenary Inspiration: A Semantic Nightmare

Having shown that the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible cannot be derived from the two chief passages traditionally offered in support of it, I turn next to an examination of the doctrine itself. Conservative-fundamentalists claim that the Bible is inspired and inerrant because it is in some sense written by God. But in what sense? Theological libraries are filled with books on this subject, but no fundamentalist has ever managed to formulate a coherent view. They start out promisingly, but then things quickly deteriorate.

They all agree that the Bible does not just contain the Word of God, i.e., divinely-inspired truth embedded in fallible human narratives-—which German theologian Karl Barth called “the Word of Man” and from which the Word of God needs to be extracted. They categorically reject this view and insist that the Bible is the inspired Word of God—fully and completely, from cover to cover.

But the words “inspired” and “inspiration” are tricky. According to the theory before us, God did not inspire human beings to write the books of the Bible in the sense that a scenic landscape might inspire a painter to capture it on canvas or a beautiful woman might inspire a poet to write a sonnet. In ordinary language the word “inspired” does not necessarily imply true or good. In fact, the inspired painting or sonnet might be appallingly bad, rendering the scenic landscape unrecognizable or causing the immortalized incarnation of femininity to burst into tears. However, in Christian theology “inspired” does necessarily imply true and even inerrant. The Greek word for inspiration is theopneustos-—a compound verb meaning “God-breathed.” The idea seems to be that just as God originally infused “the breath of life” into Adam in the Garden of Eden, so also He infused words and sentences into the Biblical authors.

Theologians claim that the Bible is inspired in two senses: verbal and plenary. It is easy to state these claims. It is also easy to explain them in a way that seems crystal clear and even self-evident. But this apparent clarity and self-evidence is illusory. The harder one tries to understand it, the more one suspects that the doctrine under discussion is unintelligible. Allow me to explain.

“Verbal” inspiration means that the inspiration of the Bible extends to its very words (verba)—and even to such matters as word-order, vocabulary, grammar, and tenses of verbs (Geisler, ST, 235-36). That is to say, God did not just inspire the authors in the sense of providing them with main ideas, broad topics, general summaries of events and conversations, and then instruct them to develop this material in their own ways and in their own words. If He had, the result would not have been the inerrant Word of God, but the word of fallible and error-prone human beings.

“Plenary” inspiration takes this process one step further. Here is Geisler on the subject:
Biblical inspiration is not only verbal (located in the words), but it is also plenary, meaning that it extends to every part of the words and all they teach or imply . . . The inspiration of God . . . extends to every part of Scripture, including everything God affirmed (or denied) about any topic. It is inclusive of not only what the Bible teaches but what it touches; that is to say, it includes not only what the Bible teaches explicitly but also what it teaches implicitly, covering not only spiritual matters but factual ones as well. (ST, 1, 236-37)
Although delivered with an air of magisterial authority, these remarks are highly obscure and singularly unhelpful. That this is so may be seen by asking a few simple questions.

First, what exactly does it mean to say that plenary inspiration extends to “every part of the words”? Does it mean that it extends to the individual letters that the words are made up of? In short, does it mean that every word is correctly spelled? That would not seem to require divine inspiration, just a competent speller who reread what he had rewritten once or twice. But perhaps it does not mean the individual letters. But then what does it mean? Indeed, what could it mean? What other “parts” are words made up of? Second, what about the claim that inspiration extends to “all” that these words teach and imply? This suggests that these teachings are easily discoverable or, at least, discoverable by anybody willing to make a serious effort. That, of course, is also an illusion. The phenomenon known as Protestantism is living proof. Here is an assortment of people who have been able to agree about next to nothing about these teachings and have been squabbling about them since the sixteenth century. And not only squabbling but fragmenting into hundreds of denominations and splinter-groups, each disagreeing with all the others, each claiming to be in sole possession of the truth, and each prepared to excommunicate (and, sometimes, even to execute) dissenters. (Surely I am not the only person who has wondered what ever possessed somebody to compose a hymn that describes these querulous and potentially violent constituencies as “one in hope and doctrine, one in charity”!) How on earth can we determine which, if any, of these contentious factions is right about the “teachings” found in the Bible? Third, how can we determine what these “teachings” imply? What Denomination A thinks they imply will be disputed by Denomination B, and that by Denominations C, D, E, and so on ad infinitum. Theologians like Geisler and McDowell are of no help. If they conclude that one (or all) of these denominations are wrong, that does not show that they themselves are right. It shows only that they are members of yet another denomination whose teachings all the others dispute.

What a given statement implies is often very hard to determine and the possibility of error is ever present. That is even true in discussions between friends who have known each other for years. The question, “In saying what you just said, were you implying such-and-such?” is often answered with a firm, “No, not at all.” If people are susceptible to error when drawing implications from the remarks of intimates, they are much more susceptible when drawing implications from statements written by authors who lived thousands of years ago and which have been transmitted to them by copies. Unless the word “implies” is restricted to what is logically or contextually entailed or implied by a statement, the process of “drawing implications” will quickly degenerate into a hopelessly subjective and arbitrary activity based on criteria that vary from denomination to denomination and even from person to person, as the history of Protestantism illustrates with a vengeance.

In any event, if verbal inspiration extends to the very words of the Bible right down to the last detail—and not only to words, but word-order, vocabulary, grammar, etc., then it would seem to follow that the Biblical authors contributed no ideas of their own. And if plenary inspiration extends to everything taught and implied, both explicitly and implicitly, such that the inspired authors were “mouthpieces of God” who said “exactly what God wanted to say to humankind” (Giesler, ST, 232), then it would also seem to follow that these authors not only contributed no ideas of their own but nothing of their own; if they had, the result again would not have been the inerrant Word of God, but the word of fallible and error-prone human beings. The purpose of verbal and plenary inspiration was to prevent precisely that. Just as Adam inhaled the “breath of life” and contributed nothing to the process of become “a living soul,” so the authors of the Bible inhaled the God-breathed words and contributed nothing to the process of writing an inerrant book. How could it be otherwise? If the very words, word-order, vocabulary, and grammar are verbally infused, what is left for the authors to contribute? The only rational conclusion is that, in writing the Bible, the authors were simply the divine medium and functioned like stenographers taking dictation. Or so it would seem.

Puzzlingly, conservative-fundamentalists deny this. Having emphatically asserted that inspiration is both verbal and plenary, Geisler proceeds to deny just as emphatically that it is a “mechanical” process, that the books of the inspired authors were “verbally dictated,” and that the authors were “automatons.” On the contrary, “[w]hat they wrote is what they desired to write in the style that they were accustomed to using” (ST, 1, 239). Again, “[e]ven though the Bible was not mechanically dictated by God to men, nevertheless, the result is just as perfect as if it had been” (ST, 235). Although the inspired authors were “supernaturally superintended” to the point that “God is the source of the very words of Scripture” (ST, 235), he still “employed their own literary styles and idiosyncrasies” (I DON’T, 372). McDowell concurs (NE, 339). The operative word here is “superintended”—a solemn word that seems to settle things once-and-for-all. We are apparently expected to gratefully exclaim that we have at last seen the nature and magnitude of our error: the words these authors wrote down were not “mechanically dictated” but “supernaturally superintended.”

I find this baffling in the extreme and yet another attempt to have it both ways. How can authors possibly write exactly what they “desired” to write and “in the style that they were accustomed to using” if every word they commit to the page is verbally (and plenarily) inspired, i.e., God-breathed and infused into them? Neither Geisler nor McDowell makes the slightest attempt to explain this apparent contradiction. It is not hard to see why. It cannot be explained. Geisler tacitly admits as much. Having marveled at how God managed to verbally (and plenarily) inspire the Bible without destroying the freedom and personality of the authors, he finally gives up and calls it a “mystery” (ST, 1, 239). For once I agree with him. I only wish he had candidly acknowledged that at the outset instead of pretending to solve it. This author, who does not have enough faith to be an atheist, apparently does have enough faith to swallow this contradiction and calls upon his readers to do the same. Regrettably, millions have.

But the worst is yet to come. Geisler concludes his discussion of inspiration by asserting that since God did not disregard the vocabulary, grammar, literary style, and other “unique characteristics” of these authors—the very ingredients previously said to be infused by verbal and plenary inspiration—it follows that the Bible did not come from God directly but indirectly. In short, it is a “thoroughly human book, except that it is without error” (ST, 1, 239). So the fully formulated view goes like this: God is the sole author of the thoroughly human Bible, albeit the indirect rather than the direct author because He used human authors who both were and were not verbally and plenarily inspired and hence both did and did not use their own vocabularies, literary styles, and other “unique characteristics.” I find this schizophrenic doctrine incoherent to the point of being self-contradictory.

Thank you for reading and for your support! We think you'll find a perspective here that you don't usually find elsewhere. Never miss out on future posts by following us. To make a donation please click here. If you buy anything on Amazon [US] through this link we receive a kickback at no cost to you. Thanks again!