Verbal Inspiration vs. Plenary Inspiration

As has been the case since man was first created and began to walk the earth, some today still seek to circumvent the clear-cut commandments of almighty God in order to introduce their own will and desires into their worship, which always proves both useless and fatal for those who do so (Deut. 7:6-11; Matt. 15:7-9; Col. 2:6-3:2). Nonetheless – and despite the dire warnings and extensive examples included throughout the Scriptures – many people today are still seeking to “make God in their image” as it were. One such area that immediately comes to mind for me today, is with the expedited expansion of women’s roles far beyond their biblical boundaries (1 Cor. 14:33-37; 1 Tim. 2:8-15), “… making the word of God of no effect through [their] tradition… and many such things [they] do” (Mk. 7:13).

But, how does one get around the incredibly obvious fact that in 1 Corinthians 14:33-37, Paul says so clearly, concisely, and compellingly, that “the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord?” Simple: by claiming that only some of the ideas and concepts behind the Scriptures are divinely inspired, and not the very individual words, commandments, or even some of the accounts of the miraculous elements contained therein.

In today’s article we will seek to understand two terms which should help us to better understand the fact that not only are the thoughts and concepts behind the words of Scripture divinely-inspired, but far more importantly and specifically, so are the very words themselves. Our two terms for today’s discussion are, “plenary inspiration,” and “verbal inspiration.”

“Plenary” is defined as, “full in all respects,” “complete, entire.” In other words, the term “plenary inspiration” indicates that the Bible is the full and complete, entire and final, “all we need to stand complete before God,” divinely-inspired revelation of God for all mankind and for all time (Psa. 119:89; 2 Tim. 3:14-17; Heb. 1:1-2; 2 Ptr. 1:2-4; Jude 3). This term also points to, and confirms the fact, that the Scriptures are fully and completely, divinely inspired, from beginning to end. Note Psalm 119:160 (NKJV): “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”  The English Standard Version states: “The sum of Your word is truth….” Notice: not “some of,” but “the sum of.”

The term “verbal inspiration” takes these biblical truths, about these biblical truths, to a whole new, yet far more fantastic and specific level. “Verbal Inspiration” is the term we use to define the fact that every single word, letter, and grammatical construction contained in the Scriptures, are specifically, perfectly and precisely, exactly what God divinely desired and directed them to be – without exception, exemption, or expiration (Psa. 119:89). Now, yes it is true that God used different men, from different backgrounds, with different perspectives and experiences, to write down His holy word. Perhaps one of the reasons for this was so that the vast variety of readers that would come along down through the centuries might feel a closer connection to, or identification with, the particular perspectives presented. But the fact that different writers wrote, utilizing and reflecting their own specific styles, perspectives and experiences, does not for a second nullify or negate the fact that God still specifically and divinely inspired every single word they wrote. This is referred to as “Verbal Inspiration.” This is both accurately and appropriately explained by Peter himself when he wrote, “…knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (II Ptr. 1:20-21; ESV; emph. mine – DED). The word herein translated “carried” [along] is actually translated as “driven,” in Acts 27:17, where the ship is “driven” along by the storm, sort of like a little leaf in a high wind, and both with absolutely no control over their actions, directions, or destinations. In similar fashion, said writers took no liberties or exercised any control whatsoever over the words they wrote. They dared not – either prior to, or even after the divinely-inspired dictation was delivered! Look at what the apostle Paul himself wrote at the Holy Spirit’s direction: “We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Cor. 4:2 ESV).

Please just simply consider the following biblical references regarding the fact that every single word of the Bible is the direct and divine dictation of almighty God – that it is indeed the “Verbally-Inspired” and infallible word of God in its every intimate respect and infinitely refined facet. (This was, after all, affirmed by Jesus Himself when He said that Scripture cannot be broken – see Jn. 10:35).

  • In II Timothy 3:16-17, Paul stated that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God…” The Greek term translated “scripture” is from the Greek verb “grapho,” which means “to write.” Hence, each and every single one of the words that were written, were given by inspiration of God – “right down to the letter,” so to speak.
  • This is also confirmed further by the fact that Jeremiah 1:9 states: “Then the LORD put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the LORD said unto me, behold, I have put my words in your mouth.” And additionally, in infallible fact and fashion, the phrase “the word of the Lord” occurs some 51 times in just the book of Jeremiah itself; the Scriptures are further exalted as the Word of God about 175 times in one single Psalm (119); and even far more impressively yet, in the Old Testament alone the claim is made that the Scriptures are the very word (or words) of the Lord, in excess of some 3,800 times! (See Exodus 17:14; 2 Sam. 23:2; and Jer. Chapters 26 and 36 for just a few examples thereof).
  • In the N.T, Jesus confirmed that “every word” of the Scripture (not just the thought or concept behind such) was from the mouth of God in Matthew 4:4 (which see). Further, our Lord’s argument against the false teachings of the Sadducees, at one point actually turned upon just the tense – not just the ‘pretense’ – of an Old Testament verb (See Matt. 22:23-33). He likewise then further confounded and silenced the Pharisees while basing His argument on one, single, solitary, Old Testament word, “Lord,” in Matthew 22:41-46. Similarly, in John 10:33-36, Jesus’ water-tight and inarguable argument was based and built upon just one Old Testament word – “gods.”
  • Jesus taught that the very words He spoke were spirit and life (Jn. 6:63); that those words are exactly what we will be judged by on the last day (Jn. 12:47-50); that His words are what He gave to His apostles (Jn. 17:6-19); and that those words are the very words of truth that they must then pass along to us who would believe on Him through their word – i.e., His word which they were to then pass along to us as He directed – (vss. 20-26), which they did (Jn. 20:30-31).
  • In the “Sermon on the mount,” Jesus made it clear that not one “jot” or “tittle” would pass away until all was fulfilled. A “jot” was the smallest letter of their Hebrew alphabet, and a “tittle” was the tiniest stroke sometimes added to a certain letter (not word, but letter!). According to Charles Pfeiffer (Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, Peabody, MA, Hendrickson, 1999, p. 962; editors Howard Vos, John Rea), the use of these two terms in this context can be explained “…only by recognizing that Christ regarded the individual words of Scripture as inspired and authoritative, for the change of a letter might well change the whole word and its meaning.”
  • The divinely-inspired apostle Paul, while writing to the congregation of the church of Christ that met in first century Corinth would confirm clearly, “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 [in the words – DED] which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Cor. 2:12-13 KJV). He would additionally affirm to the congregation of the Lord’s church that met in first-century Thessalonica, “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” (1 Thess. 2:13 KJV). And in chapter 4, verse 15, he writes, “This we say unto you by the word of the Lord…” There is just no way on this planet or in this universe that He could have any more resoundingly or clearly confirmed the very word for word, direct and divine, verbal inspiration of the entire word of almighty God (all emphasis mine – DED).

Now while every word of the Bible is in there because God wanted it to be, just as it is, not every word in there is the word of God in the following sense: We know that Jesus’ antagonists would often claim that He was either demon possessed or a demon Himself. While their statements were not inspired of God and therefore not true, the fact that they said them was true; hence, because they did truly say what they did, their false statements are recorded – just exactly as God wanted, yea, demanded and directed them to be – in the sacred text.

In closing, let us ever understand the true and specific, verbal and singular, exact and spectacular inspiration of every single word of the sacred text and treat them as such… “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:11-13; NKJV)

Let us be diligent to remember always, that it if anyone is ashamed of Him and His words here, He will be ashamed of them when He comes again and comes before the Father (Lk. 9:26); that one cannot separate Christ from His words – that is to say, one cannot legitimately claim one while rejecting the other (Jn. 12:48); that the “litmus test” of our love for Christ, is in whether or not we keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15, 23-24); and that those directly and divinely inspired commandments were delivered to us word for word by His handpicked messengers in the New Testament (as seen in I Cor. 14:37 and etc). Tamper with the word… or any one of them contained therein? Not on your life!

~Douglas E. Dingley; evangelist for the Cleveland, Oklahoma church of Christ (see us at

Note: A very special ‘thank-you’ goes out to brother Wayne Jackson of the Christian Courier for his incredibly in-depth information on this most important of topics, much of which is reflected in this article. See more at  

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