THE MEANS OF INSPIRATION – Was Scripture Given by Mechanical Dictation?

Basics | by | September 12, 2010
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Google Bookmarks
  • Blogplay
  • Blogosphere News
  • MySpace
  • RSS
  • Twitter
52 views | No comments |
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars
Loading ... Loading ...


“. . . It would be irrational for us to cease to believe in the Spirit of God, who moved the mouths of the prophets like musical instruments.”Athenagoras (177 A.D. A Place for the Christians to Emperor Marcus Aurelius)

“The inspired word leaves us not; we need not go in search of it to the third heaven; it is still upon the earth, just as God himself  dictated it to us.”

. . . God’s phraseology is still before us with which to confront modem versions, as dictated by God himself, in Hebrew or in Greek.”—Dr. L. Gaussen, Theopneusta: The Plenary Inpiration of the Holy Scriptures

“The whole whole scripture is dictated by God’s spirit.”—King James I

“Irenaeus (around 200 A.D. Against Heresies) “One should trust God, being most properly assured that the Scriptures are perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God , and His Spirit;  … ”


I Samuel 10: 9-11 “And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him another heart: and all those signs came to pass that day.  And when they came thither to the hill, behold a company of prophets met him; and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them.  And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come unto the son of Kish?  Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Before this incident no one even knew that Saul was a prophet!  The phrase “Is Saul also among the prophets?”, became an expression of astonishment in Israel.  I don’t believe that even Saul knew that he was a prophet.  He came to this situation and the Holy Spirit took control of him.  The Holy Spirit began to speak through him and he began to prophesy.

I Samuel 19:23-24 “And he went thither to Naioth in Ramah: and the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on, and prophesied, until he came to Naioth in Ramah.  And he stripped off his clothes also, and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night.  Wherefore they say, Is Saul also among the prophets?”

This incident took place much later in Saul’s life.  Saul was as backslidden and out of fellowship with God as a man can get.  He is jealous of David and seeking to kill him.  He has turned his back on God’s instructions and gotten himself in deep trouble with God.  He has run as far away from God as a man can get, and yet at this moment the Holy Spirit came over him and he began to prophesy.  He was overwhelmed, he fell down and he prophesied all day long.  He did not prophesy because he was a godly man but because the Holy Spirit took him over.  He did not prophesy because he had planned or prepared to, but because the Holy Spirit took control of him.  Earlier, the same thing had happened to three teams of his soldiers.  I believe that if you understand what happened to Saul, some important things about the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture can become clear.

In our day and age the great battle among Christians is about the doctrine of the inspiration and preservation of Scripture.  It is sad to note, but the great debate about Scripture takes place even among our independent Baptist preachers and churches.  It is a dividing point among our independent Baptist colleges.  There are many aspects and issues involved in this debate.  I want to suggest that if we understand God’s method of inspiration, some parts of this debate will just fall into place.  I want to suggest that if we understand that God gave the Scriptures by mechanical dictation or verbatim reporting, many of the issues involved in the doctrine of inspiration will become clear to us.

I realize that this position is a minority position even among our fundamentalist, King James only Baptists.  I don’t have any fuss with anyone who has an inspired, inerrant, infallible Bible at the end of the day, even if they disagree with me about how we got such a Bible.

It is commonly taught that God inspired the Scriptures by working in the hearts of men so that their thoughts and words came out perfect.  This teaching says that God worked through men’s experiences so that when they wrote, they wrote perfectly.  This doctrine asserts that God superintended over the writers of Scripture so that their thoughts and their words came out perfect.  An example of this approach is Dr. Edward Young: “According to the Bible, inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.”

I want to suggest to you that there is more to the doctrine of inspiration than this.  I believe that God gave the prophets and the apostles the very words that they spoke and wrote.  They were not just words guaranteed by God but they were the words of God.  Even when God used the personal experiences, of the Scripture writers, He dictated through them exactly His words in describing these experiences.

Many Christian teachers feel that such a doctrine is unscholarly or uneducated.  They feel that the world will laugh at us when we take such a position.  I hope you can get used to being laughed at by the world. In fact, I hope you can get used to being laughed at by the brethren who are so impressed with their own scholarship.  Our standard cannot be the approval of the world or the current opinions of Christian “scholarship.”  It must be the Word of God.

Dr. Stewart Custer has said about the teaching of mechanical dictation “again and again conservatives repudiate the theory of mechanical dictation.”  Griffith Thomas wrote, “Verbal inspiration does not mean mechanical dictation or verbatim reporting.  Dictation is not inspiration.”

A.A. Hodge is just as emphatic, “The church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration.  The sacred writers were not machines.  Their self-consciousness was not suspended nor were their intellectual powers superceded.  Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.  It was men, not machines, not unconscious instruments; but living, thinking, willing minds whom the Spirit used as His organs.  Moreover, as inspiration did not involve the suspension or the suppression of the human faculties, neither did it interfere with the free exercise of the distinctive mental characteristics of individuals.”

I would like to suggest to you that the Scripture teaches just the opposite of the definitions of inspiration used by these learned, scholarly men. Inspiration is dictation.  The intellectual powers of the authors of Scripture were superceded.  It didn’t matter whether or not their minds were willing (ask King Saul about this).  Inspiration did suspend self-consciousness, suppress human faculties and interfere with the free exercise of the distinctive mental characteristics of individuals.

I believe that the Scripture teaches that the men that God used to write Scripture were not active but that they were passive. I believe that they were not just superintended, they were overwhelmed. I believe that their intellect was superceded and suppressed and that the Holy Spirit just spoke through them.


A. H. Strong teaches against the theory of mechanical dictation when he writes: “This theory holds that inspiration consisted in such a possession of the mind and bodies, of the Scripture writers by the Holy Spirit, that they become passive instruments or amanuenses—the pens, not the penman of God.”  The Scripture uses the same image that Dr. Strong does, the pen and the penman, but in quite a different way.

Psalm 45: 1 “My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.”

David is describing the process by which God is working out the Scriptures through him.  He did not think of himself as the penman of God but as the pen.  When someone writes with the pen is the pen active or passive?  Does it make any difference what experience the pen has already had?  Does it make any difference what subjects the pen has already written on?  Does it make any difference whether or not the pen is willing to be used?  Saul’s state of mind made no difference at all in inspiration and neither did David’s.  The pen is just the pen.  The only thing that counts is the author.

German Reformer Johannes Cocceius (1603-1669) wrote: “The men of God called prophets in general parlance, were God’s assistants and amanuenses, who wrote exactly as they spoke, not by their own will but driven by the Holy Spirit.”


II Timothy 3:16-17 “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.”

It is important to focus on that phrase “by inspiration of God.”  The word inspiration did not exist before God invented it for the New Testament.  God took two different Greek words, one describing God and one describing the process of breathing, and He put the two words together.  Later Greek writers took this word and gave it all different kinds of meanings.  Some of these definitions were deeply heretical, but when God wanted to describe the means of inspiration He chose to call it “God-breathed.”  When men wrote Scripture, God literally took them over and overwhelmed them.  He began to control them so that it was no longer their natural breathing that was taking place.  The Holy Spirit of God was literally breathing through them. Saul was not trying to prophesy.  God simply took him over and for a while the Holy Spirit simply breathed Saul’s breath for him.  Human speech is formed by the interaction between man’s breath, his lips, tongue, teeth, and vocal chords.  Saul’s words, when he was prophesying, were not formed by his breath but by the breath of the Holy Spirit.

As Gaussen writes about II Timothy 3: 16 in his classic book Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures:

“This statement admits of no exception and of no restriction … All Scripture is in such wise a work of God, that it is represented to us as uttered by the divine breathing, just as human speech is uttered by the breathing of a mans mouth.  The prophet is the mouth of the Lord.”

Over 2,200 times, (according to J. Vernon McGee) the Scripture refers to the “word of the Lord” corning to the human writers of Scripture.  I would challenge anyone to find a single Scripture referring to “God’s superintending of the thoughts of men.”

II Peter l: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.”

Do you remember the definition of inspiration by Dr. Hodge?  He said that it was important that men be willing instruments.  But II Peter 1:20-21 says that inspiration did not come by the will of man.  No one prayed and said, “Lord I’m ready!  Let me prophesy today.”  Nobody said, “Lord I’ve done my preparation and my homework.  I’ve done my research and my study.  I’m ready to write scripture today.” No one was qualified by their experience to write Scripture.  It didn’t happen that way.  It didn’t come by the will of man.  ”But holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”  The Holy Spirit took over and they became simply the passive organs and instruments that the Holy Spirit used to give Scripture.

Inspiration cannot exist apart from possession.

Acts 1:16 “Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus.”

This passage makes reference back to Psalm 69 and Psalm 109.  It is clear that the words involved came from the mouth of David.  But it was the Holy Spirit who spoke those words through David’s mouth.  The words were God breathed.   Even though David’s mouth was being used these weren’t David’s words

II Samuel 23:2 “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue.” Mark 12:36 “For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool.”  This was true of all the prophets. Luke 1:70 “As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets, which have been since the world began:” Acts 4:25 “Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?” Acts 28:25 “And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers,”


I think the whole process of inspiration becomes clear when you look at the story of Balaam. Balaam was a prophet.  Some people have called him a false prophet, but I don’t think so.  The Holy Spirit of God comes over him.  He wasn’t a false prophet, but he was a backslidden prophet!  He was out of the will of God.  He wasn’t putting what God wanted first.

The children of Israel began to travel through Moab.  The king of Moab wanted to rally his people against the children of Israel.  He summoned Balaam, a prophet of the Creator God, because he wanted Balaam to curse the children of Israel.  This would create the image that the Creator God was against the children of Israel.  The king of Moab thought this would be good politics.  He would get the message across that God was opposed to these people.

Numbers 22:18  “And Balaam answered and said unto the servants of Balak, If Balak would give me his house full of silver and gold, I cannot go beyond the word of the Lord my God, to do less or more.”

Balaam answered the king of Moab that he could not control what he prophesied.  It wasn’t that Balaam was concerned about doing right. Later he helped the king of Moab to corrupt the children of Israel, (Jude 11).  Balaam was as backslidden as you can get, but he knew something about inspiration.  He knew he couldn’t control his words when the Lord came over him.  They were not his words.  They were God’s.

The King of Moab put Balaam on a mountain so that he could curse Israel.  The Holy Spirit of God came upon him.  He opened his mouth, and out of his mouth came a prophecy of blessing.  This was exactly the opposite of what Balak, the King of Moab, and Balaam wanted.  They were God’s words and not Balaam’s.  Balak was frustrated.  He moved Balaam to another mountain as if that would make the difference.

Balaam really wanted to earn the gold and silver that Balak had promised.  But when the Holy Ghost came over him, he was not in control of what he said. He was passive.  God was not just superintending him,  He was controlling him.  God began to breathe through him.  The Holy Spirit began to work his lungs, to breathe through his throat and nose, to position his tongue, and to make words with his breath. Again he blessed Israel.  The words weren’t his, they were God’s.  The Moabites moved him to another mountain and decided to try again.  Again the Holy Spirit carne over him, breathed through his lungs, and formed his words.  For a third time there comes out a blessing on the children of Israel.

When God gave Scripture to Balaam, Balaam was passive.  I think it would be really hard to dispute that. However, in the course of this story one event makes the truth of mechanical dictation even clearer.  At one point God takes over Balaam’s donkey and begins to speak through him.  Let me ask you, was the donkey active or passive?  Was God using the experiences, education, training, and willing heart of the donkey?  No!  God just took over the donkey, breathed through his lungs, held his tongue in just the right position, and spoke His words through that donkey’s lips.  God could speak through that animal just as easily as He could through a human being.  The issue never was the human mind.  The issue was and is God.  The issue was not the mind of the donkey.  The issue was the mind of God.

Have you ever wondered why all the words of the prophets and apostles weren’t written down as Scripture?  It is simply because God was not always breathing through them.  When the Holy Spirit took control of them they could tell it and so could those around them.  The crowd could tell that Saul was taken over by the Holy Spirit, and they cried out, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”

Just as Balaam and Saul prophesied without wanting to, Caiaphas prophesied without even knowing it. “And this spake he not of himself: but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;” John 11:51

This will of man was simply not the issue – the will of God was.


God used the man Moses to write the book of Numbers.  I want you to look at what He had Moses write in Numbers 12:3. “(Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.)”

Now think about that for a minute.  Who, humanly speaking, is writing that.  Moses is!  If I wrote you a letter and said, “By the way, I am the most humble preacher on the face of the earth.  I want you to know I’ve studied the issue and that is my opinion of myself.”  Tell me, would you be impressed with my humility? I t reminds me of the old joke we used to tell about the famous preacher who was going to write two books, Humility and How I Obtained It, and God’s Ten Most Humble Servants and How I Trained the Other Nine.  You wouldn’t pay any attention to someone who said things like that, but God used Moses to write about his own humility.

God wasn’t using Moses’ willing heart—God was controlling him.  I believe that Moses face turned red when he wrote that.  I think he was embarrassed at these words.  It is the last thing he would have said if he had any choice.  The Holy Spirit took over and began to move his hand and write out those words. The Holy Spirit chose to tell the people of the world that Moses was the meekest man on the face of the earth, and as embarrassed as Moses would have been, there was nothing Moses could do about it.

A lot of fundamentalists seem embarrassed about giving God recognition for exercising the kind of power involved in mechanical dictation, but it is clear that Satan and his demons exercise that kind of power.  Satan spoke through a serpent.  Many false religions and cults are based on materials produced by spirit writing.  According to Mohammed, the Koran was dictated to him by “angels.” According to Richard Bach, the book Jonathan Livingston Seagull was dictated to him by spirits.

I once had a debate with a man who was teaching what he called the new Bible, a book called Oahsbe. Oahsbe is a strange book of several thousand pages.  According to the human writer of Oahsbe, it was dictated to him by spirits.  According to John Newborough, he set down at his typewriter and the spirits used his fingers to type the words.  No doubt, someone will soon come up with a book that they claim was dictated to them by spirits through their computer.  In the occult world it is commonly believed that spirits dictate messages through human beings.

Back when I was a youth pastor, I visited a home from which two teenagers were visiting our church.  One of the men of the church was with me, and we visited with the mother of the teenagers.  She claimed that a spirit, which she called Felicia, lived in the home with the three of them.  The teenagers confirmed that this was true.  The mother claimed that the spirit would take her over and write out messages through her.  She let me read some of them.  They were full of blasphemy, obscenities, and attacks on the Lord Jesus.  My visitation partner and I both became convinced that a spirit was really writing through her.

My point is simple, Satan and demon spirits have the power to dictate their messages.  The Lord has more power than they do.


I Corinthians 2:9-13 “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love Him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.  For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God.  Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God: that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.  Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth. but which the Holy Ghost teacheth: comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”

This passage is very clear.  The words of Scripture were not produced by man’s wisdom.  The words of Scripture are the very words of the Holy Ghost.

I Peter 1:10-12 “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.  Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven: which things the angels desire to look unto.”

Have you ever read the Old Testament and had trouble figuring out how to put all the pieces together. Go through the books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel and see how often the subject changes.  Read the minor prophets and see how many different things are discussed.

When I pastored, I taught through all 66 chapters of the book of Isaiah.  It took about a year and a half. Teaching Isaiah was quite an experience.  It jumps from passages about the corning of the Messiah, to passages about the death of Christ, to passages about the Second Corning, to passages about the Millennium.  Yet many passages are about the events of Isaiah’s own time.  It wasn’t always easy to understand which passages were about which subjects.  That is the challenge of rightly dividing the Word of Truth.

It bothered me for a while that it was so easy for me to get confused.  Then I realized that even the prophets got confused about their message.  The message wasn’t revealed unto them.  It was the message of the Spirit of Christ.  The message wasn’t the words of the prophets—it was the words of the Holy Spirit.

Daniel was concerned that he could not understand what the Lord was writing through him. Daniel 12:8-9 “And I heard, but I understood not: then said I, O my Lord, what shall be the end of these things?  And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end.”

God told Daniel not to be concerned that he couldn’t understand. After all, Daniel was just the pen.



There are great promises in the Scripture concerning the eternal nature of the Word of God.  Psalm 119:52 “I remembered thy judgments of old, O Lord; and have comforted myself.”  Psalm 119:89 “For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.”

In David’s time the word of God was already settled forever in Heaven.  But all the Scriptures hadn’t been given to man yet.  John and Daniel and Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Matthew hadn’t been born yet.  But the Scripture was settled already.

Long before God ever gave man the instructions for a tabernacle on Earth there was a tabernacle in Heaven.  The earthly objects were simply a copy of that which existed already in Heaven.

I want to suggest to you that before John was ever born, the book of John was written in Heaven.  Before David was ever born, the Psalms were written in Heaven.  When Jeremiah and Paul and Matthew were born, God brought certain experiences into their life so that God could use them to reveal His Word to us.  The issue was never those men, their intelligence, their willing heart or their understanding.  The wording of the Scripture was simply settled in Heaven.

God used Solomon in the book of Proverbs to write warnings about wicked women.  Yet, in his own personal life Solomon collected wicked women in his harem.  His personal example was not the issue in the book of Proverbs.  The words of Proverbs are simply the words that the Holy Ghost wrote through Solomon.


Evangelical opponents of the doctrine of inspiration by dictation are often quick to label those who teach the doctrine of inspiration by dictation as unscholarly!

As you read their writings you would think that no one has ever held the position of inspiration by dictation before this century.  They are quick to assert that only a handful of half-baked radicals from the twentieth century have ever held such a view.  However their own scholarship is shallow.

Throughout history there have been prominent teachers who taught the doctrine of inspiration by dictation. Many famous and influential figures have been very comfortable with this doctrine and with using the term dictation to apply to the Scriptures.


It is clear that a strong doctrine of mechanical dictation was taught among the Jews concerning the Old Testament Scriptures.  Famous Jewish teacher Philo, First Century A.D., wrote, “The mind is evicted at the arrival of the divine spirit … the prophet, even when he seems to be speaking holds his peace, and his organs of speech, mouth, and tongue are wholly in the employ of another, to show forth what He wills.”  Philo also refers to the Old Testament Scriptures as “oracles given under the agency and dictation of God.”

Josephus, First Century A.D., demonstrates that he understands the dictation nature of inspiration when he comments on Balaam, “Thus did Balaam speak by inspiration, as not being in his own power, but moved to say what he did in the Holy Spirit” (Antiquities of the Jews IV, VI, 5).


It is clear that many of the early Christian apologists (those who explained and defended Christianity to a hostile world) taught the dictation of Scripture.  They commonly used the illustration of the musical instrument and the musician.

Justin Martyr, Second Century A.D., wrote about the Scriptures: “… by the gift which then descended from above upon the holy men …  In order that the divine plectrum itself, descending from heaven, and using righteous men as an instrument like a harp or lyre, might reveal to the knowledge of things divine and heavenly.”

Athenagoras, Second Century A.D., used similar terminology in writing about the Scriptures, “… while entranced and deprived of their natural powers of reason by the influence of the divine spirit, they uttered that which was wrought in them, the Spirit using them as its instrument, as a flute player might a flute.”  He also wrote about the writers of Scripture saying they were “lifted in ecstasy above the natural operations of their minds by the impulses of the Divine Spirit, uttered the things with which they were inspired, the Spirit making use of them as a flute player breathes into a flute.”

Other early writers (including Tatian, Militades, and Theodore of Mopsuestia). took similar positions on dictation

An early pope, Gregory the Great, Sixth Century A.D., said that it was fruitless to argue over the human authorship of the books of Scripture, “since we hold the Holy Spirit to be the author we do nothing else if we inquire the authorship than to inquire, when we read a letter, about the pen with which it was written.”

Ambrose, Fourth Century A.D., wrote that “the words of Scripture were those of God and not men.”

Augustine, Fourth Century A.D., spoke of the apostles, “… as hands which noted down what Christ dictated.”

Not all of the early Christian writers accepted the concept that the Scriptures were dictated by the Holy Spirit. Origen, Third Century A.D., opposed this teaching and refuted it at length in his commentary on the gospel of John.  As proof for his doctrine of inspiration he pointed out that in his opinion the Bible contained many contradictions which would not be the case if it had been dictated by the Holy Spirit.

This is the same Origen that taught against the literal interpretation of the Scripture and who substituted a corrupt text for the common text of Scripture.  This same teaching against dictation was taught by Clement of Alexandria, Second Century A.D., and by Jerome, Fourth Century A.D.


Not long after the death of Martin Luther, Lutheran theologians began a great debate over the doctrine of inspiration by dictation. Interestingly enough both sides realized that they were really debating about verbal inspiration.  Both sides recognized that verbal inspiration could come about only by dictation from the Holy Spirit.

Some Lutheran teachers taught that God had superintended the inspiration of the Scripture in a general way and that it was the doctrines and teachings of the Scripture that were inspired.  Others taught that God had dictated the Scriptures word for word and thus every word was inspired.  This debate has continued throughout the history of the Lutheran movement.  The Lutherans who refer to scripture as being dictated by the Holy Spirit are called Orthodox Lutherans.  This debate is important to Twenty-first Century Baptists because they are engaged in the same debate.

Seventeenth Century Lutheran theologian IA. Quenstadt wrote, “The Holy Spirit not only inspired in the prophets and apostles the content and sense contained in scripture, or the meaning of the words, so that they might of their own free will clothe and furnish these thoughts with their own style and words, but the Holy Spirit actually supplied, inspired and dictated the very words and each and every term individually.”

J. K. S. Reid describes the position of Leonard Huetter, Sixteenth Century Lutheran theologian, “Huetter held the Holy Scripture is verbally dictated by the Holy Spirit, in such a way that no iota set down by the prophets and apostles in their books is not God-given.”

Quenstadt and Huetter wrote some of the most influential doctrinal books in the Lutheran movement.

Prominent Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard, Sixteenth Century, also wrote important Lutheran doctrinal books.  He wrote “… The Biblical writers are mere amanuenses or secretaries.” Aegidius Hunnius, Seventeenth Century Lutheran theologian, referred to the Scripture as, “Holy Scripture dictated by God.”

Those who questioned the doctrine of inspiration by dictation eventually became dominant in the Lutheran denomination.  The doctrine of verbal inspiration was replaced by a vague doctrine of inspiration.  Many Orthodox Lutherans attribute the rise of modernism in the Lutheran movement to the door opened by this change.

Lutheran theologian Martin Chemnitz Sixteenth Century, is said by Harold O. J. Brown, to have believed “even those things Jesus said orally in the presence of his disciples were not simply recalled, but instead, were subsequently verbally dictated to them by the Holy Spirit.”


Under pressure to clarify their doctrine of Scriptures, the Roman Catholic denomination, at the Council of Trent (1563) took a position on the heavenly dictation of Scripture.  The Council of Trent stated that “the Scripture had come from the prophets and apostles the Holy Spirit dictating ….”

The Council of Trent also stated concerning the New Testament Scriptures,” … as having been dictated either by Christ’s own word of mouth or by the Holy Ghost.”  This position was repeated at the Vatican Council in 1870 A.D.


Many Baptists who pride themselves on their scholarship are fond of quoting John Calvin as a great authority on doctrine.  However, Calvin frequently used the term dictation to describe how the Scriptures were given by God.  Examples include, “Whosoever then wishes to profit in the Scriptures let him first of all lay this down as a settled point, that the Law and the Prophets are not a doctrine delivered of men, but dictated by the Holy Spirit.”  Another representative statement is “the ancient prophecies were dictated by Christ.”  There are many other examples.  In fact Calvin used the illustration of an echo to explain Scripture.  The Holy Spirit uttered the words.  The human writers just echoed them.

Teachers who delight in calling themselves Calvinists should not so easily scoff at those who believe that the Holy Spirit dictated the Scriptures.  Calvin’s commentaries are full of references to the “dictation” of Scripture by the Holy Spirit.

Another example is Calvin’s statement: “The prophets did not speak at their own suggestion but … being organs of the Holy Spirit they only uttered what they had been commissioned from heaven to declare.


Dr. Louis Gaussen, in his classic book Theopneustia: The Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures refers to dictation over 200 times: “… and we see in it, as we shall have occasion more than once to repeat, one additional proof of the divine wisdom which has dictated the Scriptures.”

He also writes: “The Bible is not a book to make under His protection, it is a book which God dictated to them.”  He uses the term dictation in many other places to describe inspiration.

Baptist theologian B. H. Carroll wrote: “The second observation is that the propelling power in the speaking or writing was impulse from the Holy Spirit.  They, the inspired men, became instruments by which the Holy spirit spoke or wrote.  Take, for instance, that declaration in II Samuel 23 :2, where David said:

The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and his word was upon my tongue.”

In Acts 1: 16 we find that the utterances of David were being studied.  We have a declaration that the Holy Spirit spake by the mouth of David concerning Judas: and in the third chapter of Acts we have another declaration of the same kind.  Always the speaker or writer was an instrument of the Holy Spirit.

Richard Hooker, famous English theologian (Laws of Ecclesiastical Policy) wrote. “They neither spoke nor wrote one word of their own: but uttered syllable by syllable as the Spirit put it into their mouths; no otherwise than the harp or the lute doth give a sound according to the discretion of his hands that holdeth and striketh it with skill.”

The learned Dean John Burgon compared the writers of Scripture with a pipe organ.  The Holy Spirit is the one who plays the organ.

Dr. John R. Rice was famous for teaching the verbal dictation of Scripture.  His book, Our God Breathed Book the Bible, contains several chapters on the subject.

He writes: “Is the word dictation hateful?  Then liberals and infidels made it hateful.  Men, too anxious to please unbelievers and too anxious to disavow the straw man of mechanical dictation, have avoided and feared the term.  But that is not straight thinking, and it is not quite intellectually honest, it seems to me. Griffith Thomas’ book is labeled, God Spake All These Words. And that quotation from Exodus 20:1, referring to the words of the Ten Commandments, is really a proper name for a book about the inspiration of the Bible.  Well, if God gave all the words in the Bible, then is not that dictation?

Suppose I dictate a letter to a secretary.  That means I tell her word-for-word what to write.  Well. did not God tell the men who wrote the Bible word-for- word what to write?”

Of course doctrine is established by the clear teaching of the Scriptures, not by men.  But it is very shallow scholarship to declare that no scholarly people have ever held to the doctrine of dictation of the Scripture or that it is some kind of new doctrine.

Famed Baptist leader William Kiffin (1681) also taught inspiration by dictation.

“Now these are some of the properties of a General Rule to try controversies by … Recorded in the Scriptures, which were given for our instruction, II Timothy 3: 16 written by the immediate dictates of the Spirit preserved by the gracious providence of God in the church from the injuries of time, ignorance, and fraud through all ages:”


James Barr, who does not believe in verbal inspiration, comments on the difficulty of those who wish to claim to believe in verbal inspiration without believing in verbal dictation.  ”A dictation theory would make much better sense than the sort of position that conservative apologists ask us to accept ..  A dictation theory about the mode of inspiration may be wrong but it does make some kind of sense. What modern conservative apologists put before us does not make sense!”

In further explaining why the dictation theory of inspiration makes sense and the superintendence theory does not he makes these telling comments: (Fundamentatism p.291-2)

“Thirdly, fundamentalist have probably moved quite a long distance towards the modern way of looking at historical figures like prophets and apostles.  They do not, most of the time, think of them as persons who merely received an inspired message which was passed on to us as the Bible.  They think of them to some extent as people with diverse consciousness and experiences, who worked out judgments and ideas out of their own experience in the life of their time. In this they are far removed from sixteenth-or seventeenth-century orthodoxy, to which this would have been entirely strange.  The modern conservative tries to allow for all this in his doctrine of scriptural inspiration.  Allegations of a dictation theory infuriate him because in this respect he belongs to the modern world.  But the modern world suddenly cuts off the moment any critical implications might be suggested.  What if the writer of the fourth gospel, a man of lively individual consciousness, had thought up out of that consciousness solely of the terms and images in which he describes Jesus?  What if the story of the virgin birth is a legend worked out by the early church?  What if St. John shifted the cleansing of the temple from one end of the gospel story to the other because it seemed to him to give a better literary satisfaction that way?  Any suggestions of this kind, and fundamentalists are back in a moment with an inspiration that excludes these ideas.  They don’t know how it works, but they know enough to know that it can’t work in that way.  The message comes from God to the biblical writers.  Rigid conservative writers stress the passivity or receptivity of the biblical writers before the inspired message.  Modern thought dislikes the proposition that the minds of the writers of the Bible were necessarily receptive “passive” before the divine control and it questions knowledge which is said to have been imparted solely on the divine initiative.  Against this modem thinking we must insist, along with Warfield, that ‘the organs of revelation occupy a receptive attitude.’   The contents of their messages are not something thought out, inferred, hoped for, or feared by them, but the irresistible might of the revealing Spirit.  Here once again, then, we find that the position of the fundamentalist is a vacillating one.  He can look on the gospel of St. Mark quite happily as the product of the conscious initiative of Mark, or on Romans as the result of personal human initiative of Paul; but whenever critical questions emerge he turns to doctrine, and his doctrinal refuge is in a position quite different in character: it belongs to an older world, where the Bible is a message sent from God to men.

Fourthly, many of the views on detailed questions which fundamentalists require us to take make no sense except on the assumption of dictation, or something as near dictation as no matter.  According to fundamentalist opinion, Isaiah 40-66 was spoken or written by the original Isaiah himself.  Living in the later eighth century B.C., he foresaw the return of the exiles from Babylon after that city had been destroyed by the Persians about 538 B.C. Critical scholars have thought that these chapters were actually written by a later prophet, who was in fact a contemporary of these events.  Conservatives turn deep scorn upon this critical judgment. Surely this is denying the supernatural, denying that prediction of the future can take place under the inspiration of God!  Let us accept then that it was a prediction. Isaiah foretold the whole thing.  It was, no doubt, the existence of these very phenomena, among others, that led older theologians, and within their terms of reference, quite reasonably, to the dictation idea.”

Liberal theologians frequently equate the doctrine of the verbal dictation of the Scripture with the doctrines of verbal, plenary inspiration and the doctrines “of inerrancy and infallibility.”  They applaud when Bible believers give up the doctrine of verbal dictation. Rod Evans and Irwin Berent write, “the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, as it is adopted by most fundamentalists, essentially maintains that the entire Bible was dictated word-for-word, directly from God to the Biblical writers, and that because it was all dictated by God, it must all be true, completely free from error (inerrant).”  They commend those fundamentalists who move away from a doctrine of dictation because it makes them “increasingly flexible” in their “interpretation of inerrancy.”  Liberals appreciate any doctrine that opens a door for them to flee from the authority of God’s Word.


Some would claim that Paul’s statements in I Corinthians 7 would disapprove the dictation of Scripture.

“But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” (Verse 6)

“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord,” (Verse 10)

“But to rest speak I, not the Lord:” (Verse 12)

However if you acknowledge that the material in I Corinthians 7 was not dictated by the Lord it becomes the exception that proves the rule.  It is marked in such a fashion as to distinguish it from all the rest of Scripture.  If God did only superintend Paul’s teaching in I Corinthians, He clearly did something else with all the rest of Scripture.


This is more than just a doctrinal exercise.  Even when men hold to a good doctrinal position on the Scriptures, they sometimes make it sound like man had an important part in producing the Bible. The great challenge of our day is getting men to bow their hearts to the authority of Scripture.  The great challenge is to get men and women to live as if they believed the Bible was really the Word of God.  Maybe this problem is made worse when we repeatedly describe the Scriptures as the work of men, when we make issues of their intellect or of their will.

It is important that we learn not to treat the Bible as any other book.  The Scripture is binding on us. It is totally and absolutely to be obeyed.  It should be interpreted literally.

People talk about the Bible as if it were any other book. They debate the preservation of the Bible as if they were debating the preservation of any other book.  They debate the translation of the Bible as if they were debating the translation of any other book.  But the Scripture is not just any book.  The Scripture has the power of God and the promises of God upon it.  It is the very Word of God.

The Bible is the only authority for faith, doctrine, and practice.  Please understand that one of the Baptist distinctives is that the Bible is more than the final authority; it is the sole authority.  It was given supernaturally.  It is preserved supernaturally.

Because I believe that the King James Bible is the preserved Word of God in the English language, I am sometimes asked if I believe in double inspiration.  I don’t believe in double inspiration, but I do believe in divine preservation: Psalm 12:6-7 “The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.  Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” Isaiah 59:21 “As for me, this is my covenant with them, saith the Lord; My spirit that is upon thee, and my words which I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, nor out of the mouth of thy seed, nor out of the mouth of thy seed’s seed, saith the Lord, from henceforth and for ever.”  Matthew 24:35 “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.”  Isaiah 40:6-8 “The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field:  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of the Lord, bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass.  The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.”

I believe that the Scriptures were given in supernatural fashion.  The writers were passive.  The words of God were dictated through them.  But something supernatural also has to take place for God’s promise concerning preservation to be kept.

It is in the matter of translation and copying the Scripture that I believe God’s superintendence takes place.  The translators are active and God does superintend the work of certain translators.  God uses their intellect, training, and preparation.  All translations of the Scripture are not superintended but God must work in this way at times if His promises about preservation are to be kept.

I believe that God has superintended among some copyists and some translators so that the Word of God is preserved.

The Lord Jesus frequently quoted the Old Testament Scriptures from the Aramaic.  He did not have the originals in front of Him, yet He referred to faithful copies as the Scripture.  He had a faithful translation in front of Him and He referred to it as the Scripture.  Luke 4:14-21 “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee: and there went out a fame of him through all the region round about.  And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified of all.  And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up: and, as his custom was, he went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and stood up for to read.  And there was delivered unto him the book of the prophet Esaias. And when he had opened the book, he found the place where it was written, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me To preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.  And he closed the book, and he gave it again to the minister, and sat down. And the eyes of all them that were in the synagogue were fastened on him.  And he began to say unto them, This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”

It was the goal of the King James translators to produce “one more exact translation” in the English language.  I believe that God took their incredible academic accomplishments, their willing and devoted hearts, and their prayers and superintended their work.  Since there are so many translations the question naturally arises, “How can I recognize a translation that has God’s hand on it?”  Then God’s Word is faithfully translated into a language, the power of God is seen through that translation in the lives of people and great works are done for God. Great works of God have been sparked by the Old Italic Bible, the Waldensian Bibles and the King James Bible for example.

When we become clear about how God’s Word is originally given, perhaps it will become easier to become clear about how it is preserved.  The Scripture was supernaturally given as God breathed out His words through men.  The Scripture is supernaturally preserved as God superintends the activities of faithful copyists and translators I Thessalonians 2:13 “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”

This entry was posted in Basics and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.