The phrase “verbal inspiration” refers to the process by which God the Holy Spirit guided the Bible writers as they wrote, by selecting from their vocabularies the exact words needed to convey God’s thoughts to mankind. God guided them verbally, that is he selected the words himself, not leaving it to chance or possibility that the writer would pick the correct words.
When you think about it, our salvation depends upon the verbal inspiration of the Bible. It is only by the fact that the words themselves are God-breathed that we can know for sure that we have the truth. We can know that we have the very mind of God, accurately and incorruptibly conveyed to this earth.
The Bible clearly teaches the concept of verbal inspiration in several places. Perhaps the most complete and clearest of these passages is 1 Cor. 2:6-13. Inserted in his discussion of the superiority of God’s wisdom over man’s, Paul incidentally explains the process of inspiration itself. He asserts that he and the other inspired writers actually speak God’s wisdom, (2:6-7). But they do so because God intentionally revealed his thoughts to them, (2:10). How did he do this? By means of the Holy Spirit himself, (2:11).
The only way that a person’s thoughts can be accurately and completely transmitted to the mind of others is by means of words. The thoughts of God were thus spoken by Paul and the other inspired writers. “Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; combining spiritual things with spiritual words,” (2:13).
Samuel Adams understood that, as John Locke said, words are “signs of ideas” or “vehicles of thought.” They are the means by which mental images or thoughts are conveyed to the minds of others. They are the tools by which the “things of God” (2:10-12) are transmitted to man. These “things” or thoughts of God were clearly communicated to men through inspiration. Inspired men like the apostle Paul recognized that the Spirit was speaking clearly, “expressly” (1 Tim. 4:1ff). And he understood that the fact that the Scriptures are “inspired” by God makes them “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work,” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If the Scriptures were not verbally inspired, we could be none of these things, because we would have to wonder in every instance whether the Bible writers selected the correct word.
Have you ever had difficulty finding the right word, or searched in vain to clearly express yourself? Or maybe you wrote something, and later, when you read over it, realized that you had completely misstated your thought, because you picked the wrong words. Thankfully, with the Bible we never have to worry about that. We never have to worry that the writer picked the wrong word, because God was the one making the verbal selections. He was the one “combining spiritual things (thoughts) with spiritual words,” (2:13).
Verbal inspiration means that every word of the Bible is important, God-breathed, specially selected by God. When we understand this concept, our respect for the Bible is enhanced significantly. We recognize that the inspired writers “spake from God, being moved by (literally “carried along by”) the Holy Spirit,” (2 Pet. 1:21). The result was as sure and dependable as the Holy Spirit himself.
By inspiration, David said, “The Spirit of Jehovah spake by me, and his word was upon my tongue,” (2 Sam. 23:2). The Holy Spirit was actually speaking by David. What was he saying? He was expressing in words the very “things” or thoughts of God. He was revealing the mind of God with words. Notice that these inspired writings of David may be truly said to be the word of God, not merely David’s own description. “His word was upon my tongue.”
Books and compositions of men may be inspiring. They may stir the soul, and move us to great appreciation. They may result in significant action. But no writing or work of man is inspired in the sense that the Bible is. The Bible is the verbally inspired word of God, and this fact sets it apart from every man-made book!
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.