In 1881 Archibald A. Hodge and Benjamin B. Warfield wrote, “We do not assert that the common text, but only that the original autographic text, was inspired.”[i] Their assertion, often reframed “only the originals were inspired” or something similar, has become a traditional mantra among many conservative and fundamentalist Christians in America.[ii] We suffer a dearth of unbelief because of it.
In their day, Hodge and Warfield contended against liberalism in favor of the authority and inerrancy of Scripture. I see no reason to assign any evil intent to their statements.[iii] Perhaps they were focused on the moment and did not foresee all the coming consequences of it. However, they did understand that they had “restricted the word ‘Inspiration’ to a narrower sphere than that in which it has been used by many in the past.”[iv] The subtleties of this narrower restriction seem lost on many today, they thinking Hodge’s and Warfield’s idea was the consistent view of the churches throughout history. I would contend that their restriction is narrower than that of the Scriptures themselves.
I agree with the idea that God has not acted on the copyists and translators in the same way as he did on the original authors. The inspired Scriptures are a divine product given by the Holy Spirit through the instrumentality of men. Being breathed-into by the Spirit, the Scriptures have living qualities. Hodge’s and Warfield’s idea, applied strictly, ultimately removes these living qualities – “all Scripture was inspired” rather than “all Scripture is inspired.” Inspiration becomes an historical act applying only to writings that no longer exist. In such a view, it does not apply to any writings we currently hold in our hands.
The Scriptures themselves do not restrict their presentation of inspiration so narrowly that a copy of the word of God cannot still be the word of God. God encouraged copying – nay, in the case of future kings of Israel, God commanded copying his word. In Deuteronomy 17:18-19 we read:
And it shall be, when he sitteth upon the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write him a copy of this law in a book out of that which is before the priests the Levites: and it shall be with him, and he shall read therein all the days of his life: that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them:
Nothing in this context suggests the copy of the
law as less the word of God, or less authoritative that the king would not have
to keep it.
Joshua made a copy of the law of Moses, whose “blessings and cursings” were not less the word of God, and no less authoritative than the originals.
And he wrote there upon the stones a copy of the law of Moses, which he wrote in the presence of the children of Israel. Joshua 8:32
The section of Proverbs, beginning at 25:1 and going through 29:27, were proverbs of Solomon, but they were “copied out” by the men of King Hezekiah.
These are also proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out. Proverbs 25:1These proverbs were given by inspiration. They were the word of God, and they were still just as much the word of God when and after the men of Hezekiah copied them. Are chapters 25-29 of the book of Proverbs, which we are told were a copy, the inspired word of God? Yes. Since Proverbs 25-29 is part of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17) which was given by inspiration, was known by Timothy when he was a child, and was still profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness at the time of Paul’s writing, the copying by the men of Hezekiah obviously did not mess it up. Under inspiration, Paul quoted Proverbs 25:21-22 approvingly in Romans 12:20. In 2 Peter 2:22, Peter quoted from Proverbs 26:11, calling it a true proverb.
The Scriptures themselves do not denigrate the copied and translated words of God. Surely few if any of the original documents actually touched by the pens of Moses, Joshua, Samuel, and David were actually being used in the times when the New Testament continually cited them as authoritative (e.g. Matthew 2:5; 4:4) and when Paul said they were completely profitable for all our faith and practice (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
To those who are “hung up” on the terminology of whether or not the copy or translation of the original autographs can be “inspired,” I ask the following question.
Do you believe that accurate copies of and accurate translations of the actual exact words that proceeded directly out of the mouth of God by inspiration are still just as much the word of God as when given they were given by inspiration?
[ii] For example, Article 1 of the Doctrinal Statement of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas says, “We believe in the plenary verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the whole Bible as originally written...”
[iii] For example, B. B. Warfield believed, “The Bible is the Word of God in such a way that when the Bible speaks, God speaks.”
[iv] Westminster Doctrine anent Holy Scripture, p. 34.