Clearing Away Some Misunderstandings

For some time now we have been dealing with the way in which the Biblical teaching concerning its own reliability and infallibility has been under attack. Many are the arguments used in this attack. At all costs, according to some of the most influential teachers and preachers of our day, the Bible must be reduced to an almost purely human level. Only then, so the argument runs, will it actually be understood and used by men aright.

Sadly enough, some of the many arguments employed seem to appeal to the average church member. Little does he realize that by adopting in part or entirely such arguments he is not only robbing himself of the sure word of the Lord; he is actually contradicting what the Scriptures plainly teach and dishonoring the God of the Scriptures.

Since these misunderstandings of precisely what the Bible means by its infallibility are many, it may be considered proper that we devote ourselves once again to a few in addition to the ones mentioned earlier in this series.


A distinction must be made between the accurate reporting of the citation and the truth of the citation. It is one thing for the Bible to quote accurately and another thing for it to approve the statement quoted. The Bible does not vouch for the truth of the devil’s speeches in the Garden of Eden or in the book of Job any more than for the statement of the fool who has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). Neither docs it guarantee the truth of Eliphaz’s speeches (in Job ) nor Abraham’s half-truth to Abimelech about his wife Sarah nor Claudius Lysias’ letter to Felix (Acts 23) nor the words of the town clerk at Ephesus (Acts 19). The Bible does guarantee, however, that it gives a truthful representation of what was said.


A more difficult problem arises when we consider the quoted speeches of the deacon Stephen (Acts 7) or the Apostle Paul on Mars’ Hill ( Acts 16) or Peter at Pentecost (Acts 2) or James’ speech at the Apostolic Council (Acts 15 ). It should be recognized that the office of deacon or apostle did not guarantee infallibility whenever they spoke. Thus Peter denied Christ and taught Judaizing theories (Gal. 2). Probably. however, Peter spoke under the inspiration of the Spirit at Pentecost, and probably Paul did likewise on Mars’ Hill. It is difficult to know. But a distinction should be made between the inspired, inerrant report of the words of the Apostles in the Bible and their words at other times.


Repeatedly, the critic brings up the fact of loose quotations as proof that the Bible is not inerrant. A. H. Strong summarized the continuing attacks in a succinct way when he wrote: “The theory of verbal inspiration is refuted by the two facts: 1. that the New Testament quotations from the Old Testament in 99 cases differ both from the Hebrew and from the Septuagint; 2. that Jesus’ own words are reported with variation by the different evangelists…”1 The argument is that these quotes are inaccurate and therefore fatal to the doctrine of verbal inspiration.

It is evident that the New Testament does not quote verbatim. Sometimes it expands an Old Testament quotation (d. Luke 4:18 with Is. 61:1); sometimes it contracts (cf. Matt. 4:15 with Is. 8:22 and 9:1 f.) ; sometimes it inverts the order (cf. Rom. 9:25 with Hosea 2:23); and sometimes it blends several passages together (cf. Matt. 27:9 with Jer. 32:6 ff. and Zech. 11:12–13). Francis Pieper judges that out of 47 quotes from the Old Testament that are found in Romans only 24 are literal.2

But such facts do not militate against infallibility. It is necessary to understand the intent of the author. If the authors intended that we should believe that they were quoting verbatim when, as a matter of fact, they were often paraphrasing, then there is error. But if it was their intent to do precisely what authors today often do—merely to summarize or to give the gist of someone’s remarks—then they were not erroneous when they failed to give a verbatim report. It is only because some impose on the Bible an artificial, self-made standard of quoting, which they themselves do not necessarily follow, that they can claim that loose quotations are erroneous quotations. Inerrancy of the Bible demands that the substance of the report is true; not that there is a word-far-word report. As a matter of fact, the Bible does not use quotation marks, or elipses, or commas before quotes, or brackets for editorial comments, or footnotes to point to different quotes in one sentence. It had not developed the grammatical sophistication of our age and should not be judged erroneous because it had no intention of using them and speaking so precisely. Inerrancy does not demand such pedantic precision.


Some reject the doctrine of verbal inspiration because they think that it is below the dignity of the Holy Spirit to deal with such trivial matters as Paul’s asking Timothy to bring his cloak and parchments that he left in Troas (II Tim. 4:13). Paul’s admonition to Timothy to use a little wine for the stomach’s sake (l Tim. 5:23), they reason, cannot be inspired in the same way as Paul’s lofty chapter on love (I Cor. 13). They ask: “Would you have us believe that when the Apostle wrote that tender, urbane letter to Philemon, tinged as it is with some humor, he recorded what the Holy Spirit dictated to him?”

Such objections reveal a misunderstanding as to the import of verbal inspiration and the infallibility of the Bible. Verbal inspiration does not imply that everything in the Bible is of equal importance. There is more spiritual value in reading John 3:16 than in reading a verse in Leviticus which treats disputes concerning boundary posts. Biblical infallibility means that every part of the Bible is true. It docs not mean impracticability—that the writers wrote in a spirit of ecstasy that took them out of the realities of this world. The Bible was written in a most natural way ill the most natural circumstances. Paul dealt in 1 Corinthians with the problems that the house of Chloe brought to his attention. Some were trivial. Some were weighty. But in them all he was moved by the Holy Spirit so that he was kept from error in each case.

1. Systematic Theology. I, 216. Cf. also R. Abba, The Authority of the Bible (London, 1958), p. 106.

2. Christian Dogmatics (St. Louis, 1953), 1,247.