Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Review of Louis Gaussen's "Theopneusty."

This volume is, hands-down, the best I have ever read on the subject of Plenary Inspiration. Gaussen has done the Church an inestimable service with this book. It should be required reading for seminary students at any and every level. Much of the theological tomfoolery rampant in American evangelicalism would lose traction if ministers were conversant in the arguments of this book.

Highlights of the book are his handling of the standard objections to Inspiration, his discussion of the relation between the Bible and science, and the treatment of textual criticism.

With regard to the first, he makes mincemeat out of the objection that Inspiration is diminished because we have translations. His response, put simply, is that anyone who knows the original languages proficiently can critique a translation. The translations we have today have been edited and revised many times by language scholars who are all competent in the original languages and can easily spot errors in each others' work. Inspiration, on the other hand, gets one shot. Either the book in inspired by God when the prophet or apostle pens it, or it is not. There is no committee or panel of experts on inspiration who can pool their collective knowledge and assess the quality of the prophet/apostle's work and revise it to attain inerrant status.

In an unusual departure from a normal presentation of a case, Gaussen tackles all of the objections to Plenary Inspiration before he presents a positive case for it. This is actually quite effective, because the reader is not constantly thinking, “What about ______?” One is free to concentrate on the positive case without the distraction of questions in the back of one's mind.

Gaussen also does a great job dealing with the question of science and Scripture. His position is quite simple: Science changes and develops with advances in technology and new discoveries. Scripture does not change because it is the infallible, inerrant Word of the unchanging God. Therefore, Gaussen always places Scripture above science. He warns about the danger of modifying one's view of Scripture based on the latest scientific discoveries and theories, by showing the follies of otherwise reputable scholars of the past whose work is easy to discount for this very reason. Greek and Roman natural histories treat mythological creatures such as the phoenix and the Antipodes as if they were real. What do we say about theologians who appealed to the accounts of such creatures in the interest of the Christian faith? It is embarrassing, of course, and we'd much rather pretend that this never happened. Every such instance in the past is due to the author placing too much confidence in the science of his day and re-interpreting Scripture in the light of such “consensus” knowledge. We are equally foolish to do the same. By taking this tack, Gaussen has protected his volume from aging. His arguments are as valid today as they were in the 1850's.

The treatment of textual criticism is worth the price of admission. Gaussen warns, that while the textual critic does the Church a great service when he works within proper bounds. He admonishes that the textual critic is a “historian, not a conjurer.”

Although Gaussen cites many important Patristic sources in defense of Plenary Inspiration, he refuses to place much weight there, choosing rather to rely on the testimony of Scripture. In fact, he goes so far as to say that this is the ONLY way in which Plenary Inspiration is to be proven. If one were inclined to object that this is begging the question, Gaussen is quick to respond, “There would be a begging of the question, if, to prove that that the Scriptures are inspired, we should invoke their own testimony, as if they were inspired.” But, he notes that this is not what he is doing. He is considering Scripture, firstly, as a historical document worthy of respect by reason of its authenticity. By recourse to its pages, we find out what Jesus believed and taught, just like we search for what Socrates taught by reading Plato. Now, throughout the Bible we find declarations that the whole system of it religion is based upon a miraculous intervention of God in revealing its history and doctrines. This leaves no third option. We either relegate all Scripture to the realm of the mythological, or acknowledge that if what it narrates is true, it is inspired. There is nothing in this line of reasoning that can be called begging the question.

He concludes by asserting that there are only two religions in the world: One that places the Bible above everything, and one which places something else above the Bible. One position believes that all the written word is inspired of God, even to a single iota or tittle; the Scriptures cannot be broken. The other position employs human judges of the word of God. Whether it be science, tradition, human reason, or some new ostensible 'revelation,' it places something above the Bible. At bottom, this is the source of all false religion. Whether it be Judaism with its Targums and Talmud, Islam with its Quran, Romanism with its tradition and 'infallible Pope, Mormonism with its golden tablets and magic glasses, liberal theology with its denial of the miraculous elements of Scripture, or Pentecostalism with its never-ending series of dreams, visions, words of prophecy, and tongues, - in every case, we find a human judge feeling himself competent to sit in judgment of that which claims to be the inspired Word of God.


  1. Good stuff, but I have one objection: Gaussen concedes that using the testimony of Scripture to prove its own authenticity is circular. I, however, do not concede that argument. Rather, that evidence must be assumed, because the Bible is (or is not) the highest standard of truth that we have. To subject it to any lesser test is to concede that something else is of higher authority that the Bible. It would be as if the captain of a ship had to justify his commands to a deckhand. Who can call God to give an account of Himself (Job 38:4, Romans 9:20)?

    External information serves to CONFIRM Scripture, such as archeology, but cannot prove it. As the Westminster Confession (I:4) says, "The authority of the holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God (Who is Truth itself), the author thereof; and, therefore, it is to be received because it is the Word of God." Consider the evangelistic sermons in the book of Acts, especially Paul before the Athenians in chapter 17, in none of those accounts do the Apostles seek to prove the authority or authenticity of Scripture, even when speaking to pagans. In each case, they take those things as given.

    As the Confession (section 5), proceeds to say, while various proofs "are arguments whereby it doth abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God, yet, notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word, in our hearts."

    Arguments and proofs are good for the encouragement of believers and the silencing of unbelievers, but no one can be argued into a proper understanding of the nature of Scripture.

    1. Honestly, I'm not quite sure what to do with this particular line of reasoning Gaussen employs. He says it is not begging the question, and provides an explanation why he believes so. I am not sure I follow his argument, but I presented what he says. I do not concede the argument either. The Plenary Inspiration of Scripture, and hence, its authority, are matters of faith. If this is deemed circular, so be it. There are no apologetic methods that don't begin with presuppositions. If we presume the inspiration and authority of Sacred Scripture, much better to acknowledge such up front and proceed on the grounds of such presupposition. The denier of this doctrine works on presuppositions, too.


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