"Ancient Word, Changing Worlds" (2)

The opening words of the introduction of Ancient Word, Changing Worlds is a quote by Mark Twain that, sadly, would be voiced (perhaps more diplomatically) by many so-called evangelicals in our own day.
"It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it; and some clever fables; and some blood-drenched history; and some good morals; and a wealth of obscenity; and upward of a thousand lies."
Twain was of course speaking of the Bible. The debate over the truthfulness and reliability of God's Word is once again heating up in evangelical circles. Nichols' and Brandt's book is therefore timely.

The book is structured around three key words that form a doctrine of Scripture: Inspiration, Inerrancy, and Interpretation. The first two chapters deal with the inspiration of Scripture. In chapter one the authors give what may be the clearest and most concise history of the development of the doctrine of inspiriation that I have ever read.

Appropriately Nichols and Brandt pay careful attention to the role that old Princeton, particularly A.A. Hodge, B.B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen played in the development of a biblical doctrine of inspiration. In the process they address the importance of two words that help explain the nature of the Bible's inspiration: "verbal" and "plenary."

To say that the Bible's inspiration is verbal and plenary is to say that both the words and the ideas of Scripture are given by God. This is in contrast to the idea that only the ideas of Scripture are inspired while the words are fallable. Of course this makes one wonder how an idea can properly be communicated and then relied upon if the words communicating the idea err. In other words, how can we be sure of God's holiness and love, salvation in Christ, and the efficacy of atonement if the words used to describe those truths may and often times are in error?

Errantists object to verbal plenary inspiration because, they reason, words are human products and as such will necessarily err. Interestingly, one area of agreement between errantists and inerrantists is that the biblical writers were not mindless robots possessed by the Holy Spirit as mere means of dictation. Inerrantists however believe that the Holy Spirit was able to carry along fallable human beings in such a way that they were enabled to record accurately the very words God without supressing their own unique personality, gifts, and perspective. Indeed, those attributes were used by God purposefully to produce the Scriptures He intended.

Nichols and Brandt point to an important article by Hodge and Warfield that calls this guiding and guarding in the process of inspiration "superintendence."
"This superintendence attended the entire process of the genesis of Scripture, and particularly the process of the final composition of the record." This superintendence also includes "historic processes and the concurrence of natural and supernatural forces." They conclude that this superintendence results in "the absolute infallibility of the record...in the original autograph." (p. 31)