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Inspiration and Inerrancy


       The Bible is not only a record of the divine revelations given to the human race and of the Providence exercised by God in behalf of man, but it is a true and trustworthy account of God's revelation to man written down under the impulse and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Bible is an inspired book. The word "inspiration" comes to us from the Vulgate which speaks of the Bible as "divinely inspired" and of the Sacred writers as "inspired by the Holy Ghost." St. Paul writes that "All scripture, inspired of God, is profitable to teach, to reprove, to correct to instruct in justice" (II Timothy 3:16). And St. Peter adds that "prophecy came not by the will of man at any time, but the holy men of God spoke, inspired by the Holy Ghost" (II Peter 1:21).

       Inspiration in its strict sense denotes the supernatural influence of the Holy Ghost under which the Bible was written. In his Encyclical on Sacred Scripture Leo XIII writes: "By supernatural power He (the Holy Spirit) so moved and impelled them (the sacred writers) to write - He was so present to them - that the things which He ordered, and those only, they first rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth."

I. Sacred Scripture yield the following data concerning the inspiration of the Biblical books:
       1). Certain books or sections were written at the express command of God: "And the Lord said to Moses: Write thee these words by which I have made a covenant both with thee and with Israel" (Exodus 34:27). "And the Lord said to Moses: Write you this canticle, and teach the children of Israel; that they may know it by heart, and sing by mouth, and this song may be unto me for a testimony among the children of Israel" (Deuteronomy 31:19). "And it came to pass in the fourth year of Joakim the Son of Josias king of Juda, that this word came to Jeremias by the Lord, saying: Take thee a roll of a book, and thou shalt write in it all the words that I have spoken to thee against Israel and Juda, and against all the nations from the day that I spoke to thee, from the days of Josias even to this day" (Jeremias 36:1-3); the prophet Daniel recalls this incident when he writes that "The word of the Lord came to Jeremias the prophet" (9:2). St. John was bidden to "write in a book what thou seest" (Apocalypse 1:11).
       2). In some instances the sacred character of a book is expressly affirmed. Thus God Himself in speaking to Josue teaches the sacred character of the Law written by Moses: "Let not the book of this law depart from thy mouth: but thou shalt meditate on it day and night, that thou mayest observe and do all things that are written in it" (Josue 1:5). The Psalmist tells us that the will of the just man is "in the law of the Lord, and on His law he shall meditate day and night (Psalm 1:2).
       3). The Holy Spirit is said to have spoken through the mouth of the prophets: "The scripture must needs be fulfilled which the Holy Ghost spoke before by the mouth of David" (Acts 1:16). God spoke "by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of Our father David" (Acts 4:25). "The Holy Ghost saith: Today if you shall hear his voice," etc. (Hebrews 3:7; Psalm 94).
       4). The prophets are identified with Holy Scripture: "Paul a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, which he had promised before, by his prophets, in the Holy Scriptures, concerning his Son" (Romans 1:1-3).
       5). Scripture and God speaking are used interchangeably: "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God justifieth the Gentiles by faith, told unto Abraham before: In thee shall all nations be blessed" (Galatians 3:8). "The Lord spoke by the prophet" (Isaias) (Matthew 1:22).
       6). Our Blessed Lord, the Apostle and other New Testament writers quoted the Old Testament as the word of God. Notice for example, the seventy quotations from the Old Testament in St. Matthew's Gospel, or the quotations used by Our Lord while he was being tempted by the devil (Luke 4).

II. Christian Tradition from the beginning believed in the divine origin of the Scriptures. St Augustine speaks of the Scriptures as "God's handwriting" and adds: "Letters have reached us from that city apart from which we are wandering; these letters are the Scriptures which exhort us to live well."

       The Second Council of Constantinople added to the Nicene Creed the clause that the Holy Ghost "spoke through the prophets," thereby defining the inspiration of the sacred writers. The Vatican Council (1) defined that all the books of Scripture are sacred and canonical for the reason that, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, they have God for their author.

       The Encyclical "Providentissimus Deus," issued by Leo XIII in 1893 affirms that "It is absolutely wrong and forbidden, either to narrow inspiration to certain parts only of Holy Scripture, or to admit that the sacred writer has erred. The system of those who restrict inspiration to things of faith and morals cannot be tolerated. AU the books which the Church receives as sacred and canonical are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Ghost."

Nature of Inspiration

The Holy Spirit as principal author of Sacred Scripture influenced the sacred writer in three ways:

       1. Illuminated the mind of the sacred writer. Under the enlightenment of the Holy Ghost the sacred writer formed a concept of what God wished him to write (history, prophecy, didactic literature) and of the single truths or facts which it was to contain. This illumination was not necessarily revelation since the sacred writer might have come to the knowledge of what was already revealed to others. But it enabled him to make correct use of his faculties, aided him in the gathering of materials, so that he correctly conceived in his mind all that God wished him to write.

       2. Moved the will of the sacred writer. After the sacred writer had under inspiration formed in his mind an idea of the book and of its contents, the Holy Spirit moved the sacred writer's will to write freely, though infallibly, what God wished.

       3. Aided the sacred writer in the work of composition. Finally, the Holy Spirit assisted the sacred author in carrying out his project, by watching over him and when necessary by positively directing him, lest he add or omit something and lest he fall into error. If certain writers made use of secretaries, and if these secretaries were instrumental in choosing the language and determining the mode of expression, they were inspired collaborators.

Principal and Instrumental Causes

       Although God is the Author of the Bible, He did not write it with His own hand, neither did He create it out of nothing by His almighty word. He employed sacred writers and inspired them to write what he wished. Hence while God is the author of the Bible, the sacred writers, too, were authors in a sense of what they wrote.

       This human authorship of Sacred Scripture has been recognized at all times, as is evident from the following three considerations: first, Our Lord and the Bible itself speak of the sacred writers as authors: "Moses spoke of Me," "Isaias said," etc.; second, Tradition from the very beginning spoke, for example, of St. Matthew's Gospel and of St. Paul's Epistles - expressions which recognize the human authorship of the Bible; third, each book is characterized by the language and style of the human author whose it is - facts which show that the sacred writer was not a passive tool of the Holy Ghost but really the author of his book.


       Inerrancy is freedom from error. The inerrancy of Scripture is a consequence of its divine inspiration. Whatever the Bible teaches, God teaches, because God is the principal author of Scripture and His teaching is necessarily true.

       We attribute this quality of inerrancy in the first place to the original Biblical books written by the pen of the sacred writers themselves, and, secondly to reproductions of the Bible, but only in so far as these agree with the original sacred books. Though all the original copies of the books of the Bible have long disappeared and though certain copies of the Bible may contain errors due to copyists, translators, editors, and printers, yet in most cases the true reading can be established with the aid of the old copies and versions.

       This absolute inerrancy and authority of the Bible is taught by Sacred Scripture itself. Our Lord, the Apostles and Evangelists regarded any passage from Scripture as the word of God, as necessarily true, as final and supreme authority. They affirm that "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35), that "one jot, or one title shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 5:18) and that the "Scriptures shall be fulfilled" (Matthew 26 :54).

       The Christian Church has from the very beginning associated inerrancy with the divine inspiration of Scripture. There are few doctrines on which the agreement of the early Fathers and Christian writers was so unanimous and emphatic as the inerrancy of the Bible. The conviction of the Fathers on this point was not something which was apparent to them from a reading or study of the Scriptures, since the difficulties of the Bible present themselves even to a casual reader. Rather, it was a traditional teaching which they inherited from the Church with the Bible.

       In recent years the principle of Biblical inerrancy was emphatically reaffirmed by Leo XIII: "So far is it from being the case that error can be compatible with inspiration, that, on the contrary, it not only of its very nature precludes the presence of error, but as necessarily excludes it and forbids it as God, the Supreme Truth, necessarily cannot be the Author of error." A believing Christian then may never question whether the teaching of the Bible is true. Should doubts arise in his mind as to the meaning of certain statements in the Scriptures, he must be guided by the well-known rule of St. Augustine: "If in these books I meet anything which seems contrary to truth, I shall not hesitate to conclude either that the text is faulty, or that the translator has not expressed the meaning of the passage, or that I myself do not understand it."

       The Bible, it must be remembered, is a large and ancient book, the product of a civilization and of conditions quite different from ours. It was written mostly by Orientals, whose ways of thinking and speaking were unlike ours, and in languages that we at times do not well understand.

       Since at times our data are only what we find in the Bible, we lack the necessary information to reconstruct a given incident with all its details. Occasionally the Bible embodies hyperboles, allegories, parables, etc. To determine what the sacred writer meant to teach in a particular instance, we must first determine the literary form into which he cast his teaching. Again, we must make some allowances for poetic license in those books of the Old Testament which are poetry.

       Finally, much of the Bible deals with supernatural truths which of their very nature do not admit of direct proof.

Discussion Aids

1. How did the term "inspiration" arise? What is the meaning of the word?
2. In how many ways does the Bible itself teach the inspiration of the Scriptures?
3. What is the teaching of Christian Tradition concerning the origin and character of the Scriptures?
4. In what three different ways did the Holy Spirit influence the sacred writers? Explain.
5. Who is the author of the Bible? Make the proper distinction.
6. What is inerrancy? How is it attributed to the Bible?
7. Show how the Scriptures teach the inerrancy of the Bible.
8. Did the ancient Christian Church believe in inerrancy?
9. State briefly the teachings of Leo XIII on this point.
10. In upholding the inerrancy of the Bible what facts must be kept in mind?

Religious Practices

       1. I will frequently read Sacred Scripture which, unlike human books, is written by the finger of the Holy Spirit.
       2. I accept the word of men who are fallible and often make a mistake; with much greater and absolute readiness will I accept the word of God Who can neither deceive nor be deceived.
       3. I will recite with great fervor the words of the Nicene Creed: "I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of Life, Who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, Who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified; Who spoke by the Prophets."