Article No. 64


Remarks on the Divine Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures

by J.C. Ryle, B.A.

"On one point of vast importance in the present day, the reader will see that I hold very decided opinions. That point is inspiration. I feel no hesitation in avowing that I believe in the plenary inspiration of every word of the original text of Holy Scripture. I hold not only that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that every jot of it was written, or brought together, by Divine inspiration, and is the Word of God.

"I entirely disagree with those who maintain that the writers of the Bible were partially inspired, or inspired to such a limited extent that discrepancies, inaccuracies, and contradictions to the facts of science and history, must be expected and do exist in their writings. I utterly repudiate such a theory. I consider that it practically destroys the whole value of God's Word, puts a sword in the hand of infidels and sceptics, and raises far more serious difficulties than it pretends to solve.

Plenary inspiration

"I grant freely that the theory of "plenary verbal inspiration" involves some difficulties. I do not pretend to answer all the objections brought against it, or to defend all that has been written by its supporters ... but I do maintain that all parts of the Bible are equally "given by inspiration of God", and that are to be regarded as God's Word. If we do not see the Divine character of any particular part, it is because we have at present no eyes to saee it. The humblest moss is as much the handiwork of God's creative power as the cedar of Lebanon ... The least verse in the Bible is just as truly "given by inspiration" as the greatest ...

"I am content to remember that all inspiration is a miraculous operation of the Holy Ghost, and, like every operation of the Holy Ghost, must needs be mysterious. It is an operation of which not forty men in the world have been made the subjects, and the manner of which not one of the forty has described. It stands to reason that the whole question of inspiration, like everything else supernatural, must necessarily contain much that is mysterious, and much that we cannot explain. - But the difficulties of the "plenary verbal" theory appear to me mere trifles, compared with those which surround the counter theory of "partial inspiration".

The perilous alternative

"Once admit the principle that the writers of the Bible could make mistakes, and were not in all things guided by the Spirit, and I know not where I am. I see nothing certain, nothing solid, nothing trust- worthy in the foundations of my faith. A fog has descended on the Book of God, and enveloped every chapter in uncertainty! Who shall decide when the writers of the Scriptures made mistakes, and when they did not? How am I to know where inspiration ends, and where it begins? What I think inspired, another may think uninspired! The texts that I rest upon may possibly have been put in by a slip of the pen! The words and phrases that I love to feed upon, may possibly be weak earthly expressions, in writing which the author was left to his own private uninspired mind! - The glory is departed from my Bible at this rate. A cold feeling of suspicion and doubt creeps over me as I read it, and I am almost tempted to lay it down in despair. A partially inspired Bible is little better than no Bible at all. Give me the "plenary verbal" theory, with all its difficulties, rather than this. I accept the difficulties of that theory, and humbly wait for their solution. but while I wait, I feel that I am standing on a rock ...

No defect in God's Word

"For my own part, I believe that the whole Bible, as it came originally from the hands of the inspired writers, was verbally perfect and without flaw. I believe that the inspired writers were infallibly guided by the Holy Ghost, both in their selection of matter and their choice of words. I believe that even now, when we cannot explain alleged difficulties in Holy Scripture, the wisest course is to blame the interpreter and not the text, to suspect our own ignorance to be in fault, and not any defect in God's Word. The theological system of modern days, which delights in magnifying the so-called mistakes of the Bible, in explaining away its miraculous narratives, and in making as little as possible of its Divine character and supernatural element, is a system that I cannot away with. It seems to me to take a rock from beneath our feet, and plant us on quicksand. It robs us of bread, and does not give us in its place so much as a stone.

"Nothing, to my mind, is so unutterably painful as the patronizing tone of compassion which the modern advocates of "partial inspiration" adopt in speaking of the writers of the Bible. They write and talk as if Paul and John and their companions were nothing better than well-meaning pious men, who on some points were greatly mistaken, and far below our enlightened age. They speak with pity and contempt of that system of divinity which satisfied the master builders and giants of the Church in by-gone days! They tell us complacently that a new theology is needed for our age, and that a "freer handling" of the Bible, with pens untrammeled by the fetters which cumbered former interpreters, will produce, and is producing, wonderful results. I thoroughly distrust these new theologians, however learned and plausible they may be, and I expect the Church will receive no new light from them. I see nothing solid in their arguments and am utterly unmoved by them.

God's precious Word

"I believe that the want of our age is not a more "free" handling of the Bible, but more "reverent" handling, more humility, more patient study, and more prayer. I repeat my own firm conviction, that no theory of inspiration involves so few difficulties as that of "plenary verbal inspiration." To that theory I entirely adhere ... . Translators are not inspired, and all are liable to err. The "plenary verbal inspiration" which I firmly maintain, is that of the original text of Scripture, and not of any translation.

"I have no sympathy, however, with those who wish to have a new authorised English version of the Bible. I concede the shortcomings of the old version, but judging by the specimens of "new and improved" versions which I have seen, I doubt much whether we should gain anything by attempting to mend it. Taking it for all in all, the authorised English version is an admirable translation. I am quite content to "let well alone".

"Ignorance of Scripture is the root of every error in religion, and the source of every heresy. To be allowed to remove a few grains of ignorance, and to throw a few rays of light on God's precious Word is, in my opinion, the greatest honour that can be put on a Christian."

Selected from the Preface to Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of John by J.C. Ryle, B.A., 1865, as printed in the Quarterly Record of the Trinitarian Bible Society, April, 1976.


A challenge to fashionable impiety

Learn to put away from your souls that vile indifferentism which is becoming the curse of this shallow and unlearned age. Be as forgiving as you please of indignities offered to yourselves; but do not be ashamed to be very jealous for the honour of the LORD of Hosts, and to resent any dishonour offered to Him with a fiery indignation unlike anything you could possibly feel for a personal wrong. Every form of fashionable impiety is one and the same vile thing in the essence of it - still Anti-Christ, disguise it how you will ... The same is true of the idolatry of human reason and of physical science, as well as of that misinformed "moral sense" which finds in the atonement of our Lord nothing but a stone of stumbling and a snare.

It is true of popish error also - for what else is this, but a setting up of the human above the Divine - tradition, the worship of the blessed Virgin, the casuistry of the confessional, and the like -and so once more substituting the creature for the Creator.

The antidote

The true antidote to all such forms of impiety, believe me, is not controversy of any sort, but the childlike study of the Bible, each one for himself, not without prayer ... Its aims and purpose, and real function is that the fiery hour of temptation may find the Christian soldier armed with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God and that the dark season of adversity may find his soul anchored on the Rock of Ages, which alone can prove his soul's sufficient strength and stay ...

Of a truth, as life goes on, men will find the blessedness of their hope. Under every form of trial, under every strange vicissitude; in sickness and in perplexity; in bereavement and in the hour of death; -"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou, Thou hast the Words of Eternal life".

The Key of Faith

Waste not thy precious time in cavil about the structure of the casket which contains thy treasure, but unlock it with the key of faith, and make thyself rich indeed. Already the Judge standeth at the door, and assuredly you and I, to whom God has entrusted so much, shall have to render a very strict account of the use we have made of the Bible when we shall stand face to face with its undoubted Author ... In that tremendous hour the veil will be withdrawn from our eyes, and the office of faith will be ended, and we shall be confronted with One Who hath "a vesture dipped in blood, and whose Name is called THE WORD OF GOD" ... "I have heard of Thee", we shall everyone of us exclaim, "I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear, but now mine eye seeth Thee!"

Selected from two sermons preached before the University of Oxford in 1860 by J.W. Burgon, M.A., as printed in the Quarterly Record of the Trinitarian Bible Society, April 1967

The Trinitarian Bible Society

UPON a Scriptural Trinitarian Basis which declares:
The Unity, Equality, Deity and Eternity of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost.
The full Deity and Perfect Humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
His Miraculous Virgin Birth, Physical Resurrection and Ascension into Heaven.
His sinlessness.
His Atoning Sacrifice.
The Deity and Personality of the Holy Spirit.

"Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls."


For more information write to:

Trinitarian Bible Society
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London, SW19 3NN, England
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