Is it wrong to say God inspired the writers of the Bible?

In recent years I have noticed an increasing trend in Fundamentalism objecting to statements to the effect that the writers of Scripture were inspired. It often comes across in clichés such as “God inspired the words, not the writers.” At least one Fundamentalist has written repeatedly that it is heresy to refer to inspired writers. The following are two examples of what is being taught along these lines by different authors:

… NOR THE ORIGINAL PENMEN OF THE BIBLE were inspired. It is the WORDS of Scripture which are inspired. It is the words of Scripture which are inspired, not the writers … (Streeter, Lloyd. Seventy-Five Problems, 2001, p. 49)

The autographa are inspired, not the writers of the autographa. (Strouse, Thomas. The Lord God Hath Spoken: A Guide to Bibliology. 1992, p. 47)

The above examples put it mildly compared to another writer we will look at shortly. The above writers mentioned their statements in passing, and to my knowledge, do not bring it up continually in their writings nor use it to accuse others of false doctrine.

A common practice

No theological conservative of whom I am aware that refers to inspired writers denies that the result was inspired words. The issue is that it is a common practice to say that God inspired the words by the process of inspiring or “moving” the holy men by the Holy Ghost. In other words, many take the word “moved” in “moved by the Holy Ghost” in 2 Peter 1:21 as describing the process of the Biblical writers being inspired, hence the term “inspired writers”. Therefore, that the words of the Bible ending up being inspired and that the Holy Spirit was the active agent is not in dispute.

Accusing Fundamentalists of teaching heresy

There is another writer who brings up the matter of objecting to the term “inspired writers” frequently, going to great lengths in his recent writings to berate those with whom he disagrees who dare use such terminology. This writer is Dr. D.A. Waite, who has dedicated his life to the noble cause of defending the King James Version. The fact that I agree with him that the KJV is the best and most accurate translation in English has caused me not to rush to judge him, as I have debated in my mind for about a year before proceeding to write this article. In case there was some element of his position that I was not understanding or inadvertently misrepresenting, I e-mailed Dr. Waite an advance copy of a rough draft of this article so he could have an opportunity to respond privately. This article is being posted after a month had gone by with no answer from Dr. Waite.

My concern with Dr. Waite is that in recent years he has increasingly been labeling the term “inspired writers” as heresy in response to Fundamental writers with whom he disagrees. Granted, some of the disagreement stems from writers he critiques who often promote the Critical Text. However, it is quite common for those who promote the Textus Receptus and the KJV to also refer to Biblical writers as “inspired.” I do not agree with the textual views of writers Dr. Waite critiques who believe the Critical Text is superior to the Textus Receptus, but that does not justify labeling their statements as heresy upon referring to “inspired writers,” especially when Textus Receptus/KJV defenders use the term about as often.

What Dr. Waite is saying

In his 2006 book Fundamentalist Deception on Bible Preservation, on p. 61 Dr. Waite objected to the term “inspired penmen” by calling it a “heretical statement.” On p. 65 of the same book Dr. Waite referred to the term “inspired authors” as a “deceptive heresy.” (Waite, D.A. Fundamentalist Deception on Bible Preservation. 2005, p. 61)

Notice how Dr. Waite calls the use of the term “inspired writers” as heresy in another book:

Inspired writers! This is mis-information. Where did Dr. Shaylor get the false notion that there were “inspired writers”? Can Dr. Shaylor, or anyone else show me one Scripture passage that teaches this. This is heresy! (Waite, D.A. Fundamentalist Mis-Information on Bible Versions. p. 55)

As if the label of heresy was not enough, Dr. Waite continues castigating the writer, and refers to his statement of “inspired writers” as “serious theological error” and “false doctrine” on the next page. Observe the next quote from another book:

This is false. God did NOT “inspire” or God-breathe men. He “led” holy men, but he “inspired” or God-breathed His Words, the writings, not the writers. This is a serious distortion. (Waite, D.A. Fundamentalist Distortions on Bible Versions. 1999, p. 39)

One possible weakness with insisting on saying that God did not inspire writers, but rather “led” the writers in their writings as in the above quote is that many foolish actions of men have been preceded by assuring others that they were being “led” of the Lord. Using the term “inspired” makes it clear that it was a supernatural action. Notice the next quote from another book regarding this very matter:

This is a gigantic error. I do not know what theology book these men were reading to have committed such gross theological error. (Waite, D.A. Bob Jones University’s Errors on Bible Preservation. 2006, p. 20)

Dr. Waite seems to take the view based on the above statement that the concept of “inspired writers” is almost unheard of in theology books. A quick look at the writings of a couple recognized conservative Bible commentators revealed this is not the case:

Matthew Henry, commenting on 2 Peter 1:21 concluded as follows:

Mix faith therefore with what you find in the scriptures; esteem and reverence your Bible as a book written by holy men, inspired, influenced, and assisted by the Holy Ghost.

Albert Barnes, also commenting on 2 Peter 1:21 stated the following:

There could not be, therefore, a more decided declaration than this in proof that the prophets were inspired.

In yet another book, Dr. Waite seems to take the view that almost everyone agrees with him in objecting to the term “inspired writers.” Notice what he wrote on p. 108 of his 2009 book A Critical Answer to James Price…:

Here again is Price’s enunciation of heresy regarding Biblical inspiration. Where did he go to school to learn this heresy? Who taught him this? Or did he teach himself?

On page 47 of Dr. Waite’s 2008 book A Critical Answer to Michael Sproul… he put it even stronger:

Likewise I believe it is rank heresy for Sproul to imply that “God inspired … the original authors. According to the Bible in 2 Timothy 3:16, God never “inspired” or “breathed out” any person in the whole world, including every Old Testament and New Testament writer. God breathed out His Words, He did not breathe out people.

On page 5 of the above-mentioned book Dr. Waite used a quote from James M. Gray (one of our Fundamentalist forefathers who was a contributing author to The Fundamentals), to try to prove there was precedent for his view. In his chapter “The Inspiration of the Bible” James Gray had written:

When we speak of the Holy Spirit coming upon the men in order to complete the composition of the books, it should be further understood that the object is not the inspiration of the men but the books—not the writers but the writings. It terminates upon the record, in other words, and not upon the human instrument who made it.

In the above quote, Gray was emphasizing the object or product of inspiration. I totally agree with his quote, and I believe all conservative theologians who use the term “inspired writers/authors/apostles” would agree that inspired words were the object or result of inspiration. However, on page 21 of my edition of The Fundamentals (Volume II, 1996 reprint by Baker) Gray rejects the statement: “Not one of the evangelists tells us that he is inspired” with the following words: “We shall be prepared to dispute this statement.” Also on p. 27 Gray quotes a paragraph approvingly in which the phrase “inspired writers” appears. This reveals that Gray did not hold to Dr. Waite’s view to a full extent.

In the same series of books The Fundamentals (Volume II, 1996 reprint by Baker) A. C. Dixon wrote: “The writings as well as the writers were inspired, because ‘all Scripture is God-breathed.’”

Dr. Waite has even said that referring to “inspired authors” is to commit the unpardonable sin

They start right off on page 9 of the introduction and commit the unpardonable sin, in my judgement. First sentence is, “The New Testament was originally written by its inspired authors in the Greek language.”

Waite, D.A. Bible Texts and Translations Seminar, 1984, Tape 4, side 2

Forcing Greek grammar on the English

One of the arguments Dr. Waite uses which on the surface may seem valid is taking the Greek meaning of the word “inspired” and applying it to phrases such as “God inspired the writers” to turn it into a ridiculous sounding phrase as in “God breathed out the writers.” Then he responds logically with “God breathed out words, not writers.” To illustrate this, Dr. Waite took the phrase of an author he was critiquing: “God inspired the apostles and prophets to write” and replaced inspired with “God-breathed” with no grammatical consideration in order to make it sound ridiculous:

“This would not make sense to say, ‘God God-breathed (inspired) the apostles and prophets to write.” (A Critical Answer to James Price…, p. 44)

I agree that “God-breathed” is one of the more common ways of defining the Greek word for “inspiration” underlying 2 Timothy 3:16, but one cannot take the meaning of a word of foreign origin and force it into English without making the necessary grammatical adjustments according to context. If you applied the same logic to what Dr. Waite did in the above quote to 2 Timothy 3:16 in the KJV without adjusting for English grammar, we would have the following result (using Dr. Waite’s terminology in the example in which he used God twice): “All Scripture is given by God-breathed of God.”

Now let’s take the original sentence and adjust it properly for English grammar. The original statement said: “God inspired the apostles and prophets to write.” It is agreed that “God-breathed” is one of the ways of defining the Greek word theopneustos. Strong’s Concordance suggests “divinely breathed in.” Since we already have “God” in the sentence it would be less stilted to use the latter definition. If we substitute “divinely breathed in” for inspired, and we change “in” to “into” for the sake of English grammar, we would have the following: “God divinely breathed into the apostles and prophets to write,” which sounds much more reasonable.

When did the objection to inspired writers begin?

The oldest reference I could locate clearly objecting to the concept of “inspired writers” was a booklet published by Dr. D. A. Waite in 1979 by the title Heresies of Westcott & Hort. After having read about 50 books on the King James issue, I suspect he is the one who began to teach this. Therefore I have paid special attention to what he has had to say about this. On p. 5 of Dr. Waite’s booklet he quotes Westcott as follows:

1. Westcott Wrongly Claimed The “MESSENGERS” Were “INSPIRED” Rather Than Only Their Words. Westcott wrote:

(Hebrews 1:2) in the prophets … In whatever way God made Himself known to them, they were His messengers, INSPIRED by His Spirit, not in their words only but as men; … (W-Hebrews, op. cit., p. 6)

Dr. Waite responded to Westcott’s statement in the following fashion:

This is a HERESY which many have accepted even in our own day. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, however, is very clear to refer that which is “God-breathed” or “INSPIRED OF GOD” only to the “ALL SCRIPTURE,” or that which has been written down in words! The MEN were NOT “INSPIRED” according to the Bible’s clear statement here—only their WORDS were “INSPIRED OF GOD” or “GOD-BREATHED.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us that the “holy men of God” spoke as they were “MOVED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT.” This “MOVING” or being “BORNE ALONG” by the Holy Spirit is the correct way of speaking of God’s use of His MEN in the writing of Scripture. If indeed the MEN were “INSPIRED,” they would have been so throughout all their lives and in every situation, and hence would be INFALLIBLE in all their utterances, written or spoken. Such was NOT the case, and this is nowhere taught in Scripture. INSPIRATION must refer only to the WORDS of the Scripture as 2 Timothy 3:16-17 clearly teaches. To go beyond the Bible at this point is laden with grave theological dangers!

Could it be that Dr. Waite has gone on a crusade all these years against saying the translators were inspired simply because Westcott had stated something to that effect? I do not know Dr. Waite’s motives, but I believe that is a fair question to explore.

Because of the sensitive nature of Westcott and Hort and their theology, a disclaimer is in order. I have not read Westcott and Hort’s writings on my own (except for selected quotes provided by others), but what I know leads me to affirm that I cannot endorse their writings nor label them overall as theological conservatives.

What did John Burgon believe?

It is interesting to note that John Burgon, in whose name Dr. Waite founded a society, also believed in “inspired writers.” The phrase “inspired writers” or similar equivalents appear in Burgon’s book Inspiration and Interpretation dozens of times. In the Dean Burgon Society’s reprint of Burgon’s book, Dr. Waite added an appendix in which he summarized the book with select quotes from John Burgon. On page 21 of the appendix Waite quoted Burgon as follows without any indication that he disapproved:

This I gather infallibly from the plain fact, that the inspired Writers themselves habitually interpret it as no other book either is, or can be interpreted. [Emphasis added]

Why would Dr. Waite want to be president of a society named after a man who believes something that in recent years Dr. Waite has characterized as rank heresy?

Dr. Waite’s foreword to a book referring to inspired Biblical authors

I could give many more quotes from conservative theologians who use the term “inspired author/writer/apostle,” but I will stop with a quote from a book printed by none other than the Dean Burgon Society (hereafter DBS), still presided by Dr. Waite. The first book by the DBS I pulled off of my library shelf (Forever Settled) stated the following on the very first page: “…the original text written by Moses and the other inspired authors.” This book was written in 1985 by Jack Moorman, whom I understand is still on the Executive Committee of the DBS. This is not all. The publisher’s foreword endorsing this very book that uses the term “inspired authors” was written by none other than Dr. D.A. Waite himself!

What did the KJV translators believe?

The preface to the KJV 1611 (The Translators to the Reader) hints at a belief in inspired prophets, via a reference to a church father quoted with approval: “…save only out of the Prophets, who teach us by divine inspiration.” If that was not clear enough, several KJV translators in their own writings leave no ambiguity behind in relating their views on the matter.

The book The Perpetual Government of Christ’s Church by KJV reviser Thomas Bilson used the term “inspired apostles” on p. 87. Lancelot Andrewes, another KJV translator, in his book 96 Sermons, Vol. V p. 85 wrote: “He doth breathe upon them, and withal inspired them with the Holy Ghost;” John Overall, one of the KJV translators, in his book The Convocation Book of MDCVI, commonly called Bishop Overall’s Convocation Book, concerning the Government of God’s Catholic Church, and the Kingdoms of the Whole World wrote the following:

For we hold it resolutely, that whatsoever the Apostles did either write, teach, or command, they writ, taught, and commanded it as they were inspired and directed by the Holy Ghost; (p. 120)

(4.) that they were directed in the performance of their office by the especial inspiration of the Holy Ghost; and lastly, that their doctrine, which they delivered in writing, was to be a canon and rule to all churches forever. (p. 134)

…they did for their further aid choose unto themselves, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, certain other new disciples and scholars, such as they found meet or that work… (pp. 134-135)

Again, the said primitive churches and ancient Fathers, finding how the Apostles by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost had ordained bishops, Timothy, Titus, and such like… (p. 151)

I do not have the practice of referring to the Lord’s direct leading in the prophets and apostles lives as “inspiration” when the receiving of canonical writings was not involved. The quotes we have seen so far from Fundamentalists to which Dr. Waite has objected did not either. But as we have documented, some KJV translators did refer to direct guidance of God upon certain individuals as “inspiration” when the Scriptures were not being recorded. In a couple of cases we just quoted, they could have been clearer that what they called inspiration in their lives was restricted to when they were being directly led by God, but with that in mind I do not object to the statements from these KJV translators. There could have been little difference been God breathing out canonical writings to men and how God directly guided apostles and prophets at certain moments with messages or instructions that did not always become part of the canon. Notice God’s promise to Moses and Aaron:

And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do. (Exodus 4:15)

Aaron did not write any book of the Bible, and yet God promised to be “with his mouth” in this particular instance. Is there not a parallel here between what God did with Aaron here and how the Holy Spirit moved upon holy men of God in 2 Peter 1:21? I would not be in favor of saying that the prophets and Biblical writers were inspired in a theological sense at times when they were not being directly led of God, but as one can see the KJV translators we just quoted were not implying that either.

In his 1992 book Defending the King James Bible, Dr. Waite wrote the following on p. 17 about the KJV translators: “The men who translated the KING JAMES were superior in every way to any men who ever lived before or who live today.” If we took Dr. Waite’s position that to refer to inspired writers is rank heresy, then carrying that out to its logical extent would make the KJV translators themselves into heretics. This alone should cause us to question whether it is right to call a belief in inspired writers “heresy.” It is unlikely that Dr. Waite would have referred to the term “inspired writers” as heresy if he was aware that some KJV translators themselves used similar terminology.

Another failed attempt at discrediting inspired writers

In his book Fundamentalist Mis-information on Bible Versions written in 2000, Waite presented his objection to the term “inspired writers” as follows on p. 56:

The pope claims that he speaks ex cathedra (“from the chair, or throne”) that he is inspired, God-breathed, and infallible. If the Bible writers were inspired (God-breathed)—which is impossible—they would have been infallible in everything. That would mean that Peter and Paul (and all the other Bible writers) could never have made mistakes in anything they spoke or wrote. On the contrary, the Bible is clear that it is the writings that God gave through these men that were inspired, not the men themselves.

I do not understand how Dr. Waite concludes that if the Bible writers were inspired, they would have been that way their whole lives. I’m not aware of anyone who uses the term “inspired writers” who teaches that the writers were inspired at every moment or in everything, which would include the majority of the times in their lives when they were not being led directly by God. 2 Peter 1:21 states that holy men of God were moved by the Holy Spirit. Does this mean they were moved by the Holy Spirit during their whole life? Certainly not.

An example of the historic balanced view

B.H. Carroll, a famous Baptist leader in his generation, used the term “inspired  writers” but put the emphasis where it should be in his book Inspiration of the Bible originally published in 1930:

The need of the inspiration of the Book is to transmit to all mankind exactly what the inspired men said. Therefore, the principle of the inspiration with which we are concerned has to do, not with the inspiration of men, but to make certain the writing God inspired, and so far as you and I are concerned it does not make any difference whether the number of inspired men back yonder was many or few. The inspiration that interests us and comes home to us is the inspiration of the record that we have. (Thomas Nelson 1980 edition, p. 77)

Process and product

One issue that needs to be established to avoid misunderstanding is that inspiration involved (1) a process and (2) a product. When a conservative writer refers to “inspired writers,” unless the context indicates otherwise, he is referring to the process of inspiration, not the product. We would all agree that the product of inspiration was inspired words, not inspired writers. The inspiration of writers was only the means to an end.

We know that Dr. Waite agrees that 2 Peter 1:21 describes the process of inspiration, because he wrote the following in reference to said verse: “Notice how the Holy Spirit, this time by the pen of the Apostle Peter, describes the process of inspiration.” (Waite, D.A. Fundamentalist Mis-Information on Bible Versions. p. 56). If “holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” describes the process of inspiration as Dr. Waite affirms, how could using the word inspiration for this process as in inspired writers therefore be wrong? So if Dr. Waite acknowledges that the moving of the holy men describes “inspiration,” what is heretical about referring to those men as inspired as long as it refers to the process they went through which resulted in inspired words? Notice also what Dr. Waite wrote in a 1980 article:

By the term “inspiration” we must understand primarily the process by which God caused His original words to be penned down by the “Holy Men of God” (2 Peter 1:20-21) whom He assigned to that task. (Waite, D.A. An Answer to “What is the ‘Inspired’ Word of God?” The Dean Burgon News. June 1980, p. 3)

What is the difference between the above statement by Dr. Waite and those who refer to “inspired apostles/writers/authors?” I see no practical difference.

My conclusion is that when Dr. Waite attempts to refute the idea of inspired writers, he unfairly tries to characterize those who use such a term as believing in inspired writers as a product, instead of a process. If Dr. Waite wants to continue using terms such as “moved” instead of “inspired” to describe the writer’s involvement, that is his privilege, but accusing others who use slightly different terminology in describing the same thing of “heresy,” false doctrine,” “rank heresy” and “serious theological error” is uncalled for.

A challenge

Though I am thankful for Waite’s defense of the KJV, I have not always agreed with all of his opinions and attitudes, especially in recent years. I plead with Dr. Waite to return to his more balanced 1979 disposition in which he referred to “minor differences” he had with a “great school” even though it promoted the critical text. (Waite, D.A. “An Answer to What is the Inspired Word of God?” The Dean Burgon News. April 1979, p. 3). I know that some on the other side have not always been conciliatory towards those of us that are for the KJV so the entire blame is not on us, but we must set the example. Those of us who want to identify ourselves with the KJV sometimes find ourselves stigmatized by the actions of a few (not only Peter Ruckman) who want to be “King James ugly.” It does not have to be this way. Although perhaps sincere, some who try to defend the KJV go too far, and it is time for us to take a stand when this happens so that the movement to defend the KJV does not lose credibility. May the Lord help us to approach this matter in a way that sets forth the truth, honors him, and upholds his Word.

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