On Inspiration, Preservation and The King James Bible
“πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος”
(Compiled & edited by Dr. David L. Brown from materials by Drs. David Sorenson, Phil Stringer, H. D. Williams, Larry Bednar, Edward F. Hills and myself)
There are many definitions of inspiration when it is used in the context of the Bible. In fact, Charles Ryrie lists eight in his book, A Survey of Biblical Doctrine - Natural Inspiration, Mystical Inspiration, Concept Inspiration, Partial Inspiration, the Neo-orthodox view of Inspiration, the Inspired Purpose view, etc. Then, Dr. Phil Stringer notes in his article The King James Only Baptist Civil War Over Inspiration - “there seem to be three prominent positions among those who use the term ‘inspired’ to describe the King James Bible.” The first is the re-inspiration of the 1611 KJB. The second I will call the modified re-inspiration view in which God re-inspired the 1611 KJB in English and continues to re-inspire other languages today. Thirdly, there is the derivative inspiration view. A great deal of confusion and misunderstanding continues to be generated because people define inspiration differently, and then do not clarify what definition they are using when they speak of the inspiration of the Bible. With this thought in mind, let me clarify what I mean when I refer to inspiration as it relates to the Bible.
I will begin with the definition given in Dr. H. D. William’s book The Miracle of Inspiration –
Inspiration is the miracle whereby the Words of Scripture in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek were God-breathed and “once delivered” using “holy men of God” and their vocabulary, who perfectly recorded them ‘once’ as they were “moved” along by the Holy Spirit in such a way that “all” the Words written are infallible and inerrant in the sixty-six books of the canon of Scripture. (See 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Jude 1:3).
Next, Dr. David Sorenson wrote –
II Timothy 3:16 says, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” The word translated as inspiration is theoneustos. Any student of Scripture knows that word literally means “God breathed.” But what does God-breathed mean? I submit that God-breathed is a reference to being God spoken. Every time we speak, we breathe out words. So did God when He gave His Word to holy men of old.
Scripture is very good at interpreting itself. God said to Jeremiah, “Write thee all the words that I have spoken unto thee in a book” (Jeremiah 30:2). Hundreds of times in the Bible, we read “Thus saith the Lord.” The Bible is therefore a God-spoken book. Inspiration in its simplest sense is a figure of speech referring to how the Bible has come from the mouth of God. It is a God-spoken book. Jesus said, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4). Jesus referred to God's Word as having come out of the mouth of God. And so, when we read about inspiration in II Timothy 3:16, the foundational thought is that of a God-spoken Book.
There certainly have been several methods by which God has spoken His words. In some cases, He dictated directly such as to Moses or Jeremiah. Atop Mount Sinai, the Ten Commandments and portions of the Law were written with the finger of God. However, in the greater portion of Scripture, holy men of old spake as they were moved by the Spirit of God (II Peter 1:21). God so superintended their minds that what flowed from the tips of their pens were in fact the words of God. But in the greater context, all Scripture was God breathed. It was God spoken. That is the essence of inspiration.”
Dr. Phil Stringer’s explanation adds a helpful dimension in understanding biblical inspiration.
The Bible tells us what “inspiration” is! It defines itself. Many of my brethren use the term “inspiration” as a synonym for inerrant. But it means much more than that! Many of my brethren use the secular definition of the term “inspiration”— to motivate or cause by supernatural influence” (Webster’s Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary). But this definition falls far short of what the Bible says about its own “inspiration.” If “inspiration” is really “divine influence” then many sermons, songs and books are ‘inspired.’ However, ‘Biblical inspiration” is much more than that. “Inspiration” took place when God took control of a person and spoke His words through them or caused them to write down His words.
I do not believe that the King James Bible is “inspired.” Inspiration happened only once; that is when God took control of a person and spoke His words through them or caused them to write down His words. That is not because I believe that there is any weakness or any inferiority in the King James Bible. I believe the King James Bible is pure, perfect and inerrant! There is nothing about the King James Bible that needs to be corrected or improved. But, God inspired His words only once, when they flowed from the tip of the pens of the various Scriptural authors. He has NOT done it again! The Words of God have been settled in heaven. God gave some of them to Moses to record on earth. He gave some to Jeremiah, some to Paul, some to Peter and so on. They recorded the exact words that God gave them. God finished delivering His words to men as John finished the Book of Revelation. That is how inspiration works.
However, there is something else to consider and that is the preservation of God’s words. God has preserved those words! Those words are preserved in the traditional texts of the Bible. God’s preservation maintains all the authority and Holy Spirit power that God originally placed on and in His words. Inerrancy and infallibility are brought forward to this day through the process of preservation.
Dr. Edward F. Hills stated that the Scriptures have been preserved by God in His providence so that the Church would always have the Words as a lamp to her feet and a light to her path. Dean John Burgon wrote in his work The Traditional Text, “There exists no reason for supposing that the Divine Agent, who in the first instance thus gave to mankind the Scriptures of Truth, straightway abdicated His office; took no further care of His work; abandoned those precious writings to their fate.”
We believe as our Baptist forefathers believed that God has promised in both the Old and New Testaments to preserve His Words as given to us in the original Hebrew/Aramaic and Greek texts, and by His Providential care, God has kept His Word pure down through the ages as He promised! These Baptist wrote in their London Baptist Confession of 1677 and 1689, “The Old Testament in Hebrew, (which was the native language of the people of God of old), and the New Testament Greek (which at the time of the writing of it was most generally known to the nations) being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages and are therefore authentical…”
Our Lord assured us that His Words would not pass away (Matthew 24:35). We know that God’s righteous judgments endure forever (Psalm 119:160). The Lord told Isaiah to write His Words on a tablet and a scroll and He would preserve them. The verse says, “Now go, write it before them in a table, and note it in a book, that it may be for the time to come for ever and ever:” (Isaiah 30:8).
In Christ’s day there were NO original manuscripts of the Old Testament, but He quoted the copies as authoritative and exhorted the people to live by every word that God had spoken (Matthew 4:4 quote from Deuteronomy 8:3). Clearly Jesus believed God had preserved His Words.
We believe that God Inspired His Words once and that God has preserved His Words in the Hebrew, Aramaic Masoretic Text of the Old Testament and the Traditional Text of the New Testament.
That brings me to these questions, “Did God again speak to the King James' translators in like fashion as He spoke through Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, or John?” Or, “Did God re-inspire the King James' translators?” Again, Dr. David Sorenson gives us a clear answer –
The answer to that question should be apparent. There is absolutely no record or claim that the King James' translators, erudite and godly as they were, received any such second inspiration. A careful study of their work and the subsequent publishing process absolutely militates against any such notion. The King James Version as a translation is not inspired!”
As stated earlier, God inspired His words only when they flowed from the tip of the pens of the various Scriptural authors. He has not done so again. We do NOT believe in double inspiration of any type, no matter who promotes it.
That brings up another question. Is the King James Bible the Providentially Preserved Word(s) of God? Clearly God has providentially, if not miraculously preserved the Scriptures in the Greek Received Text and the Hebrew/Aramaic Masoretic text of the Bible. But, has God preserved the English King James Bible in the same way? No, I do not believe that is true. However, let me ask you this -- Was God aware of the project authorized by King James I of England to produce an official translation of the Bible in English? Of course. Was God aware in advance that the KJV would become the most influential and most widely published translation of the Bible in human history? Of course He was. Is it therefore incredulous to assume that He therefore gave providential care and direction to the greater process of preparation, translation, and publishing of that translation? To assume that God had nothing to do with the greatest translation of His Word in human history is naive to say the least. Is it not also more than plausible that He gave providential direction and guidance in the preparation, translation, and publishing of the most influential Bible translation in history? Let the reader be the judge.
The fact is, the King James Version of the Bible is the most widely known and distributed translation of the Bible from the traditional texts of the Old and New testaments. It also is the most accurate English translation of the Traditional Texts. Though critics allege the KJV has problems and errors, I am not aware of any error in the King James Bible. I have seen the various allegations of errors or problems therein. But all of these allegations or errors evaporate upon close examination.
The 47 working King James' translators were in all likelihood, the greatest assemblage of scholars of the biblical languages into the English in church history. Moreover, they worked in six committees checking and cross checking each other's work over a period of seven years. Thereafter, the King James Bible went through a number of editions which in each case purified either editorial or printer errors. Their work was based upon six preceding generations of English translations going back to Tyndale. They consulted other major translations of the Traditional Text such as Luther's translation, the Reina Valera, the Diodati, the Olivetan, and others. There has never been before or since a more thorough and exhaustive translation project of the Bible than the King James Version. The translators were more linguistically qualified than any other group of translators before or since. They were godly men. Some were pastors, some missionaries, some evangelists, others professors in Bible colleges. All were in the gospel ministry. All had repudiated Rome. All were Bible scholars in their own right, even apart from their linguistic skills. Some knew the biblical languages since childhood.
The translational expertise, the intensive editorial cross checking, and the careful revisions over a period of 150 years have produced the greatest Bible translation in the history of the world. British Bible historian Adam Nicolson has estimated that more than 5 billion copies of the King James Bible have been published and distributed over the past 400 years. That is more than any other translation of the Bible in any other language. That also is likely more than all the rest put together. Having explained the intricacies of how the King James Bible came together, this is NOT double inspiration. What we believe is this - the King James Version preserves, by accurate translation the Greek Received Text and the Hebrew/Aramaic Masoretic text for English speaking people and by that accurate translation of these texts our King James Bible maintains all the authority and power that God placed on and in His Words. As Dr. H. D. Williams explains in his book, “We do not call the words chosen to translate the original Words of God inspired, although God grants acquired authority or power to them if they are accurate and faithful translations of His Words.” Our King James Bible has NO translational errors and therefore I repeat, Our King James Bible maintains all the authority and power that God placed on and in His Words.