The New Testament and “Plenary, Verbal” Inspiration

I believe that every Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

I read through the Gospels as a non-Christian, perhaps even an anti-Christian, in 1982. I was looking for contradictions to use against my shoutin’, Pentecostal boss. He engaged me about Jesus every day for four months, and I loved backing him into corners.

Between his prayers and the Jesus I saw in the Gospels, however, I was doomed. Most powerful praying man I ever knew. I fell in respect with that man in the Gospels, and somehow it became easy to believe that he, and only he, could convince 11 men who had lived with him for 3 years that he was the Son of God.

So I became convinced, too, and in frightful, yet somehow delightful, acknowledgment of the authority of the Son of God over my life, I was swept into the kingdom of God, as naive as a baby, in the summer of 1982. (July 21, to be exact. Yeah, I’m one of those stake-in-the-ground people.)

What a rush the last 31 and a half years have been. I have been some places, and done some things.

I have also read my Bible for 31 years. Lots of read-throughs, lots of studies, lots of intense hours and years trying to sort out Scriptural principles.

When you do that, there are things you don’t miss. I’m going to mention a couple, but first, here’s why I’m writing this …

Reading through the New Testament

Glenn Roseberry says that studies show you can read through the NT in 6.5 hours. I thought I’d try to get through the whole NT today, while I’m mostly lying on the couch recovering from pneumonia, and my family is off enjoying this sunshine-filled day.

I’m not going to make it if I keep stopping to write blogs, but I’m always trying to reshape the way we Christians think.

I didn’t like getting punched in the stomach over and over again as I found out that this and then that and then this that Christians told me were just not true. I want to warn you in advance, give you a different–and in my opinion, more Christian–mindset. We Protestants lean toward Bible worship, and I want to move us over to the worship of the Word himself, Jesus the Son of God and our King. I want us to stop referring to the Bible as the Word of God, for the Bible never does that, and go to referring to the Lord and his Gospel and to the seed of our spiritual life as the Word. That’s biblical terminology, and I like scriptural terminology because the Scriptures are inspired by God for teaching.

I didn’t get two chapters into this morning’s reading before running across two of those old punch-in-the-gut passages.

Verbal, Plenary Inspiration

Lots of Protestant denominations believe in “verbal, plenary inspiration.” To this they add the term “inerrancy.” Here is how it is put by the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, in “The Baptist Faith and Message”:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy.

No error. Really?

I have to say that I believe we are misunderstanding inspiration. You might as well find out now, rather than blow by painful blow, that the above statement is wrong. Simple as that, it is wrong.

Matthew 1:17

So all the generations from Abraham to David are fourteen generations: from David to the deportation to Babylon, fourteen generations; and from the deportation of Babylon to the Messiah, fourteen generations. (Matt. 1:17, NASB)

The fourteen generations from Abraham to David match the Hebrew Scriptures well. Matthew, however, must have gotten Ahaziah and Azariah confused because he skipped Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah in his second set of generations. Joram did not beget Uzziah, as Matthew says, but he is actually Uzziah’s great, great grandfather.

One more generation is missed when Matthew says that Josiah begat Jeconiah and his brothers. Actually, Josiah begat the brothers Jehoahaz and Jehoiakim. It was Jehoiakim who fathered Jeconiah and his brothers.

In 1 Chronicles 3:17, we see that Salathiel (Matthew: Shealtiel) is listed as a son of Jeconiah, but two verses later we find out that it is Pedaiah, the son of Jeconiah, who is the father of Zerubbabel.

Nonetheless, we can’t fault Matthew here. Zerubbabel is called the son of Shealtiel in Ezra 3:2,8; 5:2; Neh. 12:1; Hag. 1:1,2,4; and 2:2,23. Apparently, in this case, it is 1 Chronicles that is wrong.

So all the generations from David to the deportation to Babylon are actually 18, not 14.

Matthew 1:23

Learning about this passage was not really a punch in the gut. By the time I found out the source of this prophecy, I found it liberating.

We westerners love logic. We love for things to be precise and accurate. I used to be as guilty of that as anyone, but God has little tolerance for people  who worry about tiny details. They are distracting, and they build only arrogance.

We have a saying: “A text without a context is a pretext.”

Really? Then all the apostles should be rejected as comedians because they pulled verses out of context all the time.

Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” (Matt. 1:23, NASB)

Here’s reality. If you go read Isaiah 7, where this prophecy came from, it is obvious, in context, that this is a prophecy about a young lady, not a virgin, who would bear a child named Emmanuel as a sign to King Ahaz that his foes, Pekin of Samaria and Rezin of Damascus, would be defeated by God.

Fortunately, by the time Matthew wrote his Gospel, the Septuagint–the Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures–was in vogue among Hellenistic Jews. The Greek version of Isaiah 7:14 really does use the word virgin.

So, if you pull Isaiah 7:14 out of context and even rip it out of its own language, then you can use it as a prophecy of Jesus’ virgin birth, like Matthew did.

That’s the nature of inspiration. Inspiration has to do with breath, and the Holy Spirit, the pneuma hagios, is the source of both prophecy and the interpretation of prophecy. The issue is, we should believe the Logos of God was born of a virgin, with or without that prophecy, because of the testimony of the apostles. (That won’t work for atheists, but it ought to work for us believers.) The Holy Spirit favored us with a prophecy about his virgin birth after first using that same prophecy to prophesy a different event.

If I Don’t Tell You …

Let me make you aware of how easy it is to get punched in the gut, caught unawares, if you are confused by modern Protestants into thinking that the Bible is “inerrant in every matter.”

I have a computer version of the Bible called “The Online Bible.” Anyone can get it. Works pretty well, better on a Windows computer than on a Mac, but it works well enough on both. It’s free. I like it because it’s very easy to look up the Greek or Hebrew word behind an English translation.

I did that in Isaiah 7:14, clicking on the word “virgin,” which is almah, Strong’s # 05958. Definition 1(b) is “maid or newly married.”

To help “apologize” for the Christian prophecy, the definition adds, “There is no instance where it can be proved that this word designates a young woman who is not a virgin.”

Yeah, except that creates a new problem. How many virgin births have their been? If almah always means a virgin, then there was a virgin birth in Ahaz’ time as well, and no one found that amazing enough to comment on.

Inspiration

I found out about the King of heaven and earth by reading the Gospels. This was aided along by events I am convinced were inspired by the prayers of Roger Thomas, my first boss in the Air Force.

I know the power of the Scriptures. What they say will come to pass, down to every jot and tittle.

We are not in danger from honesty. Jesus is the Truth. Our honesty will lead to Jesus, not to the abandonment of Jesus. Our honesty will increase our awe of nature and our awe of God. We will find intricacies of his plan we’ve never known, and we will experience inspiration, rather than just talk about it.

The Cave of Secrets

Remember the old “Planet of the Apes” with Charlton Heston? The orangutan priests had a whole religion of origins that they had to maintain. Out in the forbidden land was a cave that no one was ever supposed to find. There, they knew there was irrefutible evidence of a civilization before theirs, and the the original Simian was not the first race to rule this planet.

A great case can be made from the Bible for things like inerrancy and scientific and historical accuracy of the Bible on every page and in every word. But if you go in that cave, you’re going to find out it’s all a story.

I hear “stay out” from the orangutans a lot. I’m just not one of those apes that can do that. I have to know. I’ve seen the human baby doll and the fallen head of the Statue of Liberty.

Yet, because I am a follower of Jesus, who has never let me down, I press on. Jesus said the Scriptures cannot be broken. They cannot be broken. I don’t worry about breaking them by being honest with them. Jesus told us, “Keep seeking and you will find,” not “Be careful about observing, thinking, and seeing because you’ll fall off the path.”

 

 

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4 Responses to The New Testament and “Plenary, Verbal” Inspiration

  1. I keep meaning to write a proper response on both of the two issues raised, but I’m really short of time at the moment. The short version is that I think both of these can be resolved.

    Matthew’s genealogy was a purposeful construction to demonstrate that Jesus is the true son of David (14, 14, 14).

    I would also defend the translation of “virgin”. I would say that this is a multiple fulfillment of prophecy, where the final fulfillment is a the greater fulfillment, in that the woman is not simply a virgin, but conceives with no involvement of man.

    Hopefully I’ll get some more time at some point and provide a longer explanation.

    • paulfpavao says:

      RP, I can’t go there on Matthew’s genealogy. Your solution, in my opinion, is much worse than mine. There were no three 14’s, so he just changed it so it was? How does that “demonstrate” anything but dishonesty?

      At least my way, it’s explicable. Mixing Ahaziah and Azariah skips three generations, and the three generations after Josiah are a confused mess of a sons and brothers inheriting the throne. To skip the three month reign of Jehoiakim is forgivable.

      Of course, it’s not forgivable if inspiration means inerrancy and inerrancy means no historical or scientific errors. Personally, I find that once one has had time to be delivered from such thinking, the very thought is somewhat bizarre. We don’t expect such inspiration now, why would we expect it of Moses or Matthew?

      Most Christians, though there are a lot who don’t, believe that God continues to inspire. There are inspired sermons, prophets, prophecies, inspired messages, and inspired guidance to go as a missionary. We don’t expect any inspired sermons, prophecies, or messages to prove the speaker to be inspired in biochemistry or ancient Egyptian history. Why expect that of Moses or Isaiah?

  2. Ruth says:

    so if the bible is not inerrant how do we understand it? if “the Word of God” is not referring to the collection of writings that we consider foundational to the faith what we have is the witness and testimony of (what we consider authentic copies) what the early church held to be true?

    • paulfpavao says:

      Correction of misconceptions must happen one step at a time. People tend to think, “If that’s true, then …” They run a thousand steps down the road, unthinking and afraid.

      Step 1 – The Scriptures do not use the term Word of God to refer to themselves.

      Step 2 is not to remove all authority from them. 2 Tim 3:16-17 is still true. Step 2 maybe is to verify that this claim of mine is accurate. Step 3 might be to correct our speech so we speak more Scripturally.

      Same with inerrancy. Step 2 seems pretty easy to me. Inspiration does not generally include scientific accuracy or little details if history. Mark says Jesus said he needed to euangelizo the surrounding citied and Luke says Jesus said he needed to kerusso the surrounding citied. Kerussu & euangelizo are synonyms, so no contradiction there, but the inspiration was more concerned about the message than the exact word used.

      Just as I would not reject the inspiration of a modern speaker who used lemmings runnin off a cliff, a falsehood Disney Productions spread, so I don’r reject the book of Jib just because it says the sky is as hard as brass and was hammered out by God like a blacksmith (37:18).

      One step at a time. I want us to be a scriptural people. Let’s scrape off a bit of misunderstanding herr, and a bit if false tradition there. Little cuts and brushing, not big hacks that tend to reach living flesh.

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