B.H. Carroll on the Verbal Inspiration of Scripture
Though both of these books are historically important, I have to give a special place of honor to Baptists and the Bible [and I think that Jerry Sutton would agree with this assessment], which provides a great wealth of primary-source documentation in regards to the beliefs concerning Scripture that Baptists have held throughout history. That Baptists have historically held the highest view of Scripture is obvious, for if they had believed anything other than Scripture as the Word of God having specific and final authority over the conscience, then they certainly wouldn't have been willing to be persecuted for the recovery of immersion of believers as definitional to "baptism" in the first place.
Throughout Church history, controversy over specific doctrines central to the Christian faith have provoked Christians to study the Bible with more diligence and to exercise greater precision in articulating points of doctrine. So in the second century, the Marcionite heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the canon of Scripture; in the fourth century, the Arian heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of the Trinity; in the early fifth century the Pelagian heresy caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of Grace; and in the mid fifth century the Eutychian and Nestorian heresies caused the Church to be more precise in recognizing the doctrine of the person of Christ.
Beginning in the post-Reformation era [late sixteenth to early seventeenth century], the Church had to exercise greater precision in speaking of the doctrines concerning the nature of Scripture in order to refute Roman Catholic errors and the growing skepticism of certain philosophers. The English Baptist movement, beginning in the seventeenth century, was embroiled in controversy over the nature of Scripture from very early on, in disputes against the errors of the Quaker sect. The doctrines concerning the nature of Scripture began to take center-stage for Baptists [and for all of the Church] in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries with the growing popularity of "higher criticism." In response to such criticism, Baptists and others began to speak of doctrines such as the "plenary-verbal" inspiration of Scripture and the "inerrancy" of Scripture- words and phrases that were new, but that expressed truths historically affirmed by the Church [both Reformer Martin Luther and Baptist John Smyth wrote of the Bible being "without error"].
Those holding to higher criticism were [and still are] especially allergic to the doctrine of verbal inspiration- that every single word of Scripture [in its original writing] is "God-breathed." Some critics who still claim Christianity attempt to assert that every thought of Scripture is inspired, but that the words of Scripture are the product of Man alone. Taking this critical view, some assert that whereas the Scripture is inspired and therefore true as a whole [which is the doctrine of plenary inspiration], any certain word of phrase might be faulty.
Yet Baptists who have embraced higher criticism's questioning of verbal inspiration have stepped outside the bounds of historic Baptist belief, historic Christian belief, and, indeed, outside the bounds of a reasonable view of Scripture altogether. As B.H. Carroll (1843-1914), founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary pointed out:
It has always been a matter of profound surprise to me that anybody should ever question the verbal inspiration of the Bible. The whole thing had to be written in words. Words are signs of ideas, and if the words are not inspired, then there is no way of getting at anything in connection with inspiration... What is the object of inspirations? It is to put accurately, in human words, ideas from God... When you hear the silly talk that the Bible "contains" the word of God and is not the word of God, you hear a fool's talk. I don't care if he is a Doctor of Divinity, a President of a University covered with medals from the universities of Europe and the United States, it is fool talk. There can be no inspiration of the book without the words of the book. [Quoted in Baptists and the Bible, 281.]So, studying Baptist history these past few days has helped me to appreciate the legacy of biblical fidelity that we have as Baptists and has better equipped me to give a reasonable [and, following Texan B.H. Carroll, forceful!] defense of my trust in God's Word. I commend similar study [though not, perhaps, at such a pace] to readers of this blog as well.
Labels: Bible study