Is the popular idea of “inspiration” of Scripture being limited to the original manuscripts correct? A video examining:
- The modern definition of “inspiration,”
- The Bible’s own use of the term,
- The origin of the “original autographs only” theory, and
- The adoption of this theory into modern Christian scholarship.
Is it true that only the original autographs of the Biblical manuscripts are given by inspiration of God?
Did you know that modern Christian scholars hold to a useless idea of the inspired Bible?
When they talk about the Inspired word of God, they actually don’t mean any Bible you have access to?
Book by John R Rice, Our God-Breathed Bible.
“Inspiration is claimed only for original autographs not for translation or copying… inspiration refers to the original autographs”
That is the standard position adopted in thousands of statements of faith. God’s word is perfect and inspired… in the original autographs.
There is only one verse in the Bible that claims Scripture is given by inspiration. 2Ti 3:16
The claim is that God only inspired the originals. Well that’s what men say. What about the context? What does God say?
Whatever this “scripture given by inspiration” is, Timothy had it.
What if inspiration only applies to the original autographs (none of which exist)?
scripture is given by inspiration of God
is profitable for doctrine
for instruction in righteousness
These are intrinsic attributes of the word of God. We don’t get to pick and choose. If it’s profitable for doctrine, it’s also got to be given by inspiration of God.
We could stop here. If you believe the Bible knows what it is talking about, you don’t need anything else to know that modern scholarship is totally off the reservation when it comes to the “doctrine of inspiration.”
But where did the idea of “originals onlyism” come from? As we see, it is impossible to derive such a doctrine from what the Bible has to say. So where did the idea that only the originals autographs are inerrant and inspired come from?
Church historian Philip Shaff’s book A General Introduction to the Study of Theology states (page 393)
“The distinction between ‘inerrant autographs’ and errant copies seems to have been first made by Richard Simon (1638-1712), the father of biblical isagogic, to prove the necessity of textual criticism.”
Richard Simon was a French Catholic Priest who argued against the authority of the Bible in his book A Critical History of the Old Testament (1682).
Simon argues against basic truths such as the Mosaic authorship of the first five books of the Bible and presents a theology of Scripture that was designed to empower the Catholic Church and minimize the role of Scripture.
Now the interesting thing about Simon’s doctrine is not just that he was the first to limit inspiration to a historical singularity, but why he did it. Shaff says he does this to prove the necessity of Textual Criticism, but that is only part of it.
Simon argued that there was “original” Scripture by God and later amendments and reductions provided by men which were perfectly valid, and also errors introduced over time and transcription. He was teaching that inspiration is not intrinsic in God’s word, and that the Bible therefore is not in authority over the learned men of the Catholic church.
Was this novel idea of “originals only” inspiration accepted by Protestants? Of course not! They weren’t about to let some French Priest rope them into papal superstition on the basis that God’s word was inspired only in the originals!
This papist doctrine of inspiration was essentially ignored for a couple of centuries. It’s hard to find many who took these ideas seriously in following 200 years. While commentators talked about what inspiration means, offered theories on how it works, and the like, the understanding was still that inspiration is intrinsic in the word of God; that it is the continual force of a living God.
Here’s what John Wesley wrote in 1754 in his commentary on 2nd Timothy:
“The Spirit of God not only once inspired those who wrote it, but continually inspires, supernaturally assists, those that read it with earnest prayer.”
Wesley understood inspiration the way it was described in the book of Job:
Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.
Enter German Rationalism in the 19th century.
Christians were beset on all sides by Satanic attacks on the verity of Scriptural authority. The claims of modern geologists, archaeologists, darwinists, and secular historians grew ever louder with supposed proofs of the errors of the Bible.
Let’s look back at Shaff’s note which we examined earlier:
Drs. A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, the successors of Charles Hodge in the theological chair at Princeton, confine inerrancy to these non-existing original autographs. See “Princeton Review” for 1881, p. 238.
Shaff here says they confine “inerrancy” to the originals, but as we’ll see in a second, they actually confine inspiration and inerrancy to the originals.
Indeed, Rice in this book I showed you earlier several times cites Warfield as an authority on inspiration.
What are they talking about?
The idea that only the originals carry final divine authority, infallibility, and inerrancy was coopted from the tomes of Catholic superstition and re-framed as a feeble response to charges of errors in the Bible from “higher criticism.”
In 1881, B. B. Warfield and A. A. Hodge championed and popularized the idea of “inspired originals” in an article they published in the Presbyterian Review. In responding to charges of errors in the Bible, Warfield and Hodge crafted a statement of the doctrine of Inspiration which included the ultimate cop-out:
(Page 245) “We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text was inspired. No ‘error’ can be asserted, therefore, which cannot be proved to have been aboriginal in the text.”
Very convenient, isn’t it? Ultimately the originals, which nobody has and nobody can review, did not contain any error, so the doctrine of Inspiration, and along with it inerrancy, is safe and sound.
That is what makes the modern idea of inspiration so appealing: there is no final authority to examine.
Note here that they say the original text “was” inspired. That’s a very different position from the present tense “is inspired.”
Warfield and Hodge make a reference to the Westminster Confession of Faith (page 240). What does it say? Shaff creeds:
(list of 66 books of the canon) “All which are given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Present tense. Written in 1647.
So Hodge and Warfield drop the present and continual fact of inspiration in favor of a historical singularity.
Instead of accepting the Biblical usage of inspiration in the Bible as the Westminster Confession did, Warfield and Hodge re-defined it:
(Page 225-226) “…the mere fact of Inspiration on the other hand, or the superintendence by God of the writers in the entire process of their writing, which accounts for nothing whatever but the absolute infallibility of the record in which the revelation, once generated, appears in the original autograph.”
The problem is, this entire concept is nowhere to be found in Scripture. It’s also the zenith of unbelief and intellectual cowardice. While it may seem like a matter of faith to say that God’s original copies were infallible, it’s a “faith” that can never be tested. It’s a faith that never withstands scrutiny because it is impossible to scrutinize something that doesn’t exist.
Warfield’s new definition, which is hardly any different from Richard Simon’s, caused quite a stir when he proposed it. But in the end, the unrelenting attacks from rationalists proved too much for intellectual minds to bear, and so now this non-Scriptural definition of the inspiration of Scripture gained a foothold and now prevails.
So there you have it: the origin and adoption of “orginal authograph onlyism.“
Side note: B. B. Warfield later went on to teach that nothing in Darwin’s theory of Evolution was in opposition to the Scriptures.