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The Importance of the Doctrine of the Verbal Inspiration of the Bible

C.M. Gullerud

1942 Synod Convention Essay

The importance of the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible has again and again been brought to the attention of our people at Synodical conventions. This bas been done in conformity with the Synod’s Constitution which states: “The Synod shall watch over the purity and unity of doctrine as well as over the development of Christian life, and shall, therefore, at its Synodical Conventions consider particularly such doctrinal questions as may appear to be in special need of discussion, criticise and warn against encroaching sects, errors and sins, as well as against the un-Christian trends of the day.” Because of the intrinsic importance of the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible and because this important doctrine has so often been the subject of violent and insidious attack, therefore the discussion of this doctrine has very appropriately come to the fore in our Synod meetings. It is very significant, indeed, that Dr. V. Koren in his presidential message to the Norwegian Synod held in Chicago in 1908 made the doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible the subject of his discourse and begged that this address be considered his last will and testament to the Synod. Because this honored father made this his testament to our Synod, and because his address is as timely today as though he had prepared it for our Synodical convention of 1942, it will be fitting to present his introductory remarks as the introduction to the matter contained in this essay.

Dr. Koren said: “Because of the circumstances prevailing in our times, I desire at the opening of this meeting to direct a few words to you as a reminder, for admonition and for comfort. In these times there has appeared one of the periodic apostasies from Christendom, and in connection with this apostasy many attacks have been made. Since this has also happened in our beloved fatherland, therefore we are to be reminded of the old Latin proverb, ‘Tunc tua res agitur, paries cum proximus ardet’ which may be translated: ‘It is time to look out when your neighbor’s house is on fire.’ We are also reminded of what dear old Claudius wrote in 1802 when rationalism was raging: ‘A person feels ashamed to have lived at a time when such a thing could come to pass.’

“The present falling away has been greater and the modern attacks have been more violent and coarser than has been the case with most of the earlier attacks. The attacks are, of course, directed against the Holy Scriptures. For as long as the Scriptures maintain their authority, the attackers will make no headway. Therefore adherence to the Scriptures must first be undermined. The spokesmen for the so-called Higher Criticism have for a long time been occupied with the accomplishment of this goal. As usual, besides these spokesmen there are also helpers and a large host of imitators numbered among the attackers of the Bible.

“We have no right to suppose that all of these attackers are dishonest and say what they do not mean. They may be just as honest as Paul was when, before our Lord Jesus had been revealed to him, he thought that he must hate and persecute the Christians.

“How does Satan move so many people to attack the, old Christian doctrine? By first causing them to doubt, then little by little to raise objections, and finally to follow their reason as their guide. But behind all this lies man’s natural pride and natural hatred to Christianity. Christ requires a complete subjection to His Word, but the natural man does not want to submit. When they wish to be independent of Him, then this Bible always stands in the way. This must first be removed. The first move is to instill doubt as to whether or not the Bible really is God’s Word. The writers were, of course, men and they could have erred, they say. ‘If God himself would speak to us, then we would believe.’

“If we tell them that God has spoken to them through His servants, then they object and say that the Bible itself, especially in the New Testament, shows that its writers, partly (like Luke) have taken the trouble to find out what they should write, and that they partly (like Paul) have had various occasions to write to individual congregations and private individuals. From this they proceed to show how unreasonable it is to believe that God dictated all these important and unimportant words, in such a defective language as one sometimes finds among some of the authors of the Bible. Besides these objections, there are many more which I cannot mention here.

“Under all these attacks some of those who, indeed, still want to believe in the Bible appear, therefore, to be forced to make, now smaller, then greater, concessions and to permit themselves at last to be satisfied with answering the attackers thus: You are right! Not all that is in the Bible is God’s Word — but you cannot deny that God’s Word is contained in the Bible. But if these people who wish to be friends of the Bible make this concession, then they have lost their cause and surrendered the Bible to the power of the enemy. For who shall decide what is and what is not God’s Word in the Bible? All will depend then on man’s own judgment. The one believes this and the other that and, as experience has amply shown, the end will be that they believe nothing.

“No — if we wish to be Christians and wish to have solid ground under our feet, then like the early Church, like Luther and our Lutheran fathers, we must hold unshakably fast to the conviction that the Bible is the Word of God.” [1]

We have quoted Dr. Koren thus at length because this testament of his to our Synod rings out to us down through the years with a message which emphasizes so clearly the importance of the doctrine of verbal inspiration of the Bible and stresses so earnestly the need for the members of the Norwegian Synod to stand on their guard against all those who crassly or in a more insidious and hidden manner attack our faith at its fountainhead and source the Holy Scripture. With due regard therefore to Dr. Koren’s last will and testament to the Synod we shall give heed to his earnest words and center our attention in these sessions on the subject:

The Importance of the Doctrine of the Verbal Inspiration of the Bible.


The importance of the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible is clearly set forth in that Scripture passage which we have all learned as a proof text for this doctrine: II Tim. 3:16,17, and which we have heard discussed at this Convention. From this text we learn that the Bible claims for itself exclusive right as the only source and norm of doctrine and rule of life. And it supports this claim by referring to the fact that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. In other words,Scripture derives its absolute authority from the fact that it is in all its parts and all its words the divinely inspired Word of God. That this is to be the guiding principle for the Church in all her utterances is emphasized by that Word of God which gives the following significant instruction: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” I Peter 4:11. Here the Holy Scriptures are designated as the oracles of God, and the Church has the command to speak according to these oracles of Cod whenever she speaks. That which is to be the only norm and source of doctrine is the Bible; and this it can be only because it is the oracle of God, the Word which has been written by divine inspiration. Another testimony to this truth is found in II Peter 1:19,21; “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man; but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Here we are admonished to take heed unto the Scripture as unto a light that shines in a dark place. The apostle can issue this admonition with all confidence because, as he says, the Scripture is not the word of man but the Word of God. It came not by the will of man, but by the Holy Ghost who inspired and moved the holy men of God to write so that the words they wrote were not their own but the very words of God. If the assurance of the verbal inspiration of the Bible were lacking, then the Holy Scriptures could not be looked upon as such a light which should guide us until the end of the world. We could not then declare, as we do, that the Bible is the one and only infallible source and norm of doctrine and rule of life. Adhering, however, to the doctrine of verbal inspiration, we can accept every statement of the Bible as conclusive and absolutely binding. Thus, too, when St. Paul impressed upon the Christian congregation at Corinth that the words written by himself and the apostles were words of authority and to be accepted without question or doubt, he said: “Which words also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” I Cor. 2:13. How the Holy Scriptures were regarded by the early Christians is shown in the example of the Bereans of whom we are told in Acts 17:11 that, after they had heard a sermon preached to them, they “searched the Scriptures daily whether those things were so.” The Berean congregation thus recognized and accepted the Bible as the inspired Word of God according to which all doctrine is to be judged and from which all true doctrine must flow. God the Holy Ghost approves of this attitude of the Bereans when He declares that for this very reason they were more noble than those at Thessalonica. Indeed, since we have the assurance that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, we can say with confidence when trying the spirits whether they be of God — “To the law and the testimony; if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them.” Is. 8:20. It was because of the assurance that the Bible is of God verbally inspired, that Paul could boldly state: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” Gal. 1:8. Because we have the inspired Word of God as the norm and rule according to which all doctrines may be judged, therefore we can be told: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them;” Rom. 16:17, and: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed. For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” 2 John 10:11.

In full accord with the Biblical position which has just been presented, our Lutheran Confessions declare that the Holy Scriptures are the only source and norm of doctrine, and they show that the reason for making such a declaration is that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Thus in Part One of the Formula of Concord, which is called the Epitome, we find this declaration: “We believe, teach, and confess that the sole rule and standard according to which all dogmas together with (all) teachers should be estimated and judged are the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament alone, as it is written, Ps. 119:105; Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. And St. Paul: Though an angel from Heaven preach any other Gospel unto you, let him be accursed. Gal. 1:8.” Trig. p. 777. It is to be noted in this declaration of our Confession that the prophetic and apostolic Scriptures of the Old and New Testament are identified with the very Word of God, which in Ps. 119:105 is designated as the guide for our footsteps and the light which is to shine upon our path. Faithful to the Scriptures, our Confessions in speaking of the Bible as the only infallible source and norm of doctrine and rule of life point to the fact that this must be our confession, since the Bible is the inspired Word of God.

In order to declare its firm and unalterable position in this matter, our Norwegian Synod declares in the most important paragraph of its constitution: “The only source and rule of the Synod’s faith and doctrine is the sacred Word of God, revealed in the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments.” [2] When a congregation is to be received as a member of our Synod, there must be a properly certified declaration that it has subscribed to the Synod’s constitution, of which this paragraph is a leading part. No congregations and no individuals can become members of our Synod until they have given proof that they jointly and individually confess that the Bible is the only source and rule of faith and doctrine and that the Bible is the Word of God, namely, that it is the Word given by inspiration of God and therefore infallible. That this is the position of our Synod was reaffirmed when at last year’s convention the Synod approved the revised constitution of the Synodical Conference which has this paragraph: “The Synodical Conference accepts without reservation the canonical Scriptures of the Old and the New Testament as the verbally inspired Word of God and the symbolical books of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, constituting the Book of Concord of 1580, as its confession of faith.”

How important it is that all those who profess to adhere to the Bible accept it without any reservation, implicit or expressed, as the verbally inspired Word of God may be seen also when we consider what happens if the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible is denied or made to seem uncertain or doubtful. This shall be the subject of the second part of our essay.



Our adversary, the Devil, is fully aware of how important it is for man to be absolutely certain what the Word of God really is. Therefore from the very beginning he has been at work seeking to cast the mantle of doubt and uncertainty over the utterances of God. Thus in the very first attack which he made upon mankind, the Devil sought to instill doubt regarding the exact words that God had spoken. With all subtlety he approached Eve in the garden of Eden and said: “Yea, hath God said, ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” The woman being thus led to question the Word which God has spoken fell into the trap and herself changed the Word of God, adding to it and saying that God had not only forbidden them to eat of the tree but had also forbidden them to touch it. Having succeeded in causing the woman to be uncertain regarding what God had really said, the Devil boldly proceeds to show the woman that God’s Word is not a reliable and safe norm and rule; for he says: “Ye shall not surely die; for God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall he as gods, knowing good and evil.” The woman now fully doubting the Word of God and its intention deserted it as the only source and norm of truth. She ate of the forbidden fruit and gave also of the fruit unto her husband and he did eat. The result of this was, as our Catechism states: “Man’s understanding became darkened, he became full of enmity against God, afraid of Him, and subject to sorrow, sickness and death, and by his fall the whole visible creation came under the bondage of corruption.” That was the final result of doubting God’s Word and leaving it as the only source and norm of faith and life.

Later, when God caused His Word to be written by inspiration, this written Word of God became the object of the Devil’s attack; and his aim is the same as it had been in Eden — namely, to alienate man from God. He knows that when this Word is accepted as the inspired Word of God and therefore followed as the only infallible norm and source of doctrine he is powerless; for he is fully aware that the central doctrine of the Bible is the doctrine of justification by grace, for Christ’s sake, through faith, and that this doctrine gives the sinner his only hope of salvation. In order to undermine this doctrine and all other doctrines, Satan directs his first attack upon that which is the foundation of all doctrines, namely, Scripture itself. Because he knows that the Christian church is built on the apostles and the prophets, that is upon their divinely inspired writings, therefore he directs his assault upon the Church by attacking the foundation: Holy Scripture. By undermining the doctrine of the verbal inspiration of the Bible, he hopes to bring about the result spoken of by Paul: “If any man teach otherwise and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strife of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness.” I Tim. 6:3–5.

In directing his assault upon the doctrine of verbal inspiration the Devil, even as in the garden of Eden, proceeds according to plans cunningly and craftily conceived. He does not begin by an open attack but he charges from a carefully concealed ambush. He often begins by creating doubts and uncertainty as to matters in Holy Scriptures which may seem to be of little Importance and of slight moment to a person’s salvation, or such doctrines as those which have been termed “Non-fundamental.” We might take as an example the uncertainty which the Devil has been promoting with regard to the meaning of the word “day” in Genesis, chapter 1.

Because of certain purported findings of men, and because of a desire to harmonize the Scriptures with the products “of human wisdom, it is held in many quarters that the simple word “Day” which appears in Gen. 1 does not mean “day,” but a longer period of time consisting perhaps of thousands, if not millions, of years. While there are some who regard this departure from the Bible as being an error of minor importance, yet hereby the opening wedge for ruining the doctrine of verbal inspiration has been driven in, and the entire content of the Bible is placed on trial as to its trustworthiness, even with regard to those things which a person must know in order to be saved. If we are led to believe that certain portions of the Scripture are to be amended according to science, or are only rightly understood when a scholar is at hand to explain the text, then we are led to one of two conclusions, both of which inevitably end in the denial of verbal inspiration. On the one hand, if it is held that Scripture must be amended or changed according to science, then it is admitted that not all the Bible is the Word of God. On the other hand, if it is held that such a simple word as “day” in Gen. 1 can only be rightly understood by a scholar with a background of modern scientific knowledge, then it must be admitted that the words of Scripture are in themselves unclear and uncertain. If they are unclear, uncertain, and ambiguous, then the Holy Ghost must be responsible for this, if so be that every Word of the Bible is given by inspiration of God. But since even the moderns are not ready to accuse the Holy Ghost of lack of clearness, therefore the doctrine of verbal inspiration must be surrendered.

In accordance with the above position which the moderns feel themselves forced to take, and into which they have maneuvered themselves, it has been held that not all the words of the Bible are given by inspiration of God. In the Bible, they say, there are portions which are given by God (particularly those dealing with Christ and His work of redemption) and other portions which the prophets and apostles wrote according to their own limited, and often mistaken, understanding of things (particularly with regard to secular matters.) Thus it is maintained that since these men had imperfect and mistaken ideas about the earth, its beginning, its functions, and its workings; that since they had but an imperfect knowledge of historical happenings, chronologies, etc., therefore they have made mistakes when they wrote about these things in the Bible. It is claimed that recent findings of learned men have proved this to be a fact, and that it is, therefore, foolish and completely out-of-date to cling to the old doctrine that every word in Scripture is given by inspiration of God, hence without error or mistake. Thus one modern writer says: “Verbal inspiration is now recognized by most educated people as a theory entirely unsupported by facts and is fast being thrown to the moles and bats with the rest of the world’s old, discarded mind-lumber.” [3] Alongside this denial that “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” it is, however, maintained by some that the portions of the Bible which treat directly of Christ and of the doctrines of faith and salvation were given by inspiration and are, therefore, to be accepted as true. This leaves the Modernist with a strange view of inspiration according to which it is held that at certain points the Holy Ghost gave the words by inspiration and at other points withdrew his inspiration and left the writers to draw on their own mistaken knowledge and understanding.

But what is the result of the denial of the verbal inspiration of the Bible? The result is that a veil of uncertainty and doubt is drawn over the whole Bible — yes, over every word of that sacred book. For if the holy men of God wrote certain portions of the Bible without the inspiration of God, how can we be sure that this was not the case also when they wrote about the matters which directly concern the soul’s salvation? Those who assume errors in the Bible in some things will be forced to admit the possibility of error in all things written in the Bible. The result has been that men, instead of saying that the Bible is the verbally inspired Word of God, speak of it merely as a record of divine revelation, as a history of divine revelation, as a book inspired inasfar as it deals of Christ and the things which are necessary to know in order to be saved. And what becomes of the confession that the Bible is the only norm and source of doctrine when the verbal inspiration of the Bible is surrendered? The result is clearly discerned by those who discredit the whole Bible and eagerly snatch at every opportunity to disprove its divine authority. Thus H.L. Mencken who scoffs at the verbal inspiration of the Bible and its divine authority says: “The instant they (the Modernists) admit that any part of the Bible may be rejected, if it be only the most trifling fly speck in the Pauline epistles, they admit that any other part may be rejected. Thus the divine authority of the whole disappears.” [4] This, indeed, is the inevitable conclusion. Having surrendered the verbal inspiration of the Bible and its inerrancy and infallibility, the moderns have, in fact, surrendered the divine authority of the Bible and the confession that it is the only norm and source of doctrine. However, in a vain attempt to maintain a semblance of adhering to the Bible, they have grasped at a straw, constructing for themselves a norm according to which they claim to be able to determine what is acceptable and binding in the Bible and what is unacceptable and to be rejected. Whatever direction this search for a norm for the Scripture takes, it in the final analysis resolves itself into this that man himself must judge the Scripture and must according to human reason determine what is right and wrong in the Bible. Thus Scripture is no longer the norm of doctrine, but human reason becomes the master, the norm, and the rule. Human reason is enthroned as the judge of the Bible. The fatal result of this is well described in the following words: — “Yes, even in presence of the passages which you have most admired you will have neither the attitude nor the heart of a believer! How can that be, after you have summoned these along with the rest of the Scriptures before the tribunal of your judgment, there to be pronounced by you divine, or not divine, or semi-divine? What authority for your soul can there be in an utterance which for you 1s infallible only in virtue of yourself? Had it not to present itself at your bar, along with other sayings of the same book, which you have pronounced to be wholly or partly human? Will your mind, in that case, put itself into the humble and submissive posture of a disciple, after having held the place of a judge? This is impossible.” [5]

The terrible end of a denial of verbal inspiration if carried to its logical conclusion will be complete unbelief, a total loss of faith in the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. No one should think that he can question the divine authority of any part of the Bible and leave the central doctrine of the Bible, the doctrine of justification by faith, untouched and unmarred. He who has lost respect for parts of the Bible will approach with doubt and scepticism even those parts which he still claims to honor as the Word of God. The logical end of the denial of verbal inspiration is a rejection of the whole Bible, the doctrine of Christ and redemption with all the rest. This is the great danger of a denial of verbal inspiration and this shows us how important it is to adhere unflinchingly and uncompromisingly to the verbal inspiration of the whole Bible.


Because of circumstances prevailing in our times, it is particularly necessary for us to strengthen one another in our adherence to the verbal inspiration of the whole Bible and to remind one another of the importance of this doctrine. Particularly is 1t necessary to examine the position which other Lutheran bodies take toward the doctrine of verbal inspiration. This is necessary, not only because of current union movements, but also because there is a general tendency to minimize the doctrinal differences which separate us from other Lutheran bodies. It is, therefore, time that we frankly and openly examine their position on the verbal inspiration of the Bible which we have shown to be so important. The Lutheran bodies which we shall take into consideration are: The United Lutheran Church of America, and the Synods of the American Lutheran Conference (The Augustana Synod, the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Free Church, and the United Danish Church.)

The United Lutheran Church and the Doctrine of Verbal Inspiration.

The United Lutheran Church has this paragraph in its constitution: “The United Lutheran Church in America receives and holds the canonical Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and as the only infallible rule and standard of faith and practise, according to which all doctrines and teachers are to be judged.” The first reaction of one who reads this paragraph will be to judge that the U.L.C. adheres to the doctrine of verbal inspiration. However, when we consider further pronouncements and declarations of the U.L.C. on this matter, one will quickly be disillusioned of this belief. For certainly a paragraph in a church body’s constitution does not by itself establish its orthodoxy, but the doctrine which is actually taught and publicly confessed.

In its Baltimore Convention held in 1938, the U.L.C. made a declaration which has this heading, “The Word of God and The Scriptures.” It is quite evident that in this declaration any statement to the effect that the Bible is without any errors in all its parts was carefully avoided. Such a statement would have called forth the determined opposition of large sectors of the U.L.C. which, as shall be shown later, deny the verbal inspiration of the Bible and the complete inerrancy of Scripture. The infallibility of the Scriptures and, therefore, its inspiration is limited in the Baltimore Declaration as follows: “We accept the Scriptures as the infallible truth of God in all matters that pertain to His revelation and our salvation.” [6] It should well be noted that this is not the same as saying that the Scriptures are the infallible truth of God in all their parts, which, indeed, must be our confession, if we believe in the verbal inspiration of the whole Bible. In explaining the Baltimore Declaration on this point, Dr. A.J. Traver says in the church paper of the U.L.C. (The Lutheran, of Feb. 22, 1939), that this infallibility of the Scriptures does not extend to secular matters treated in the Bible; for “Bible writers wrote with the background of their age and its scientific beliefs.” The same writer says: “Inspiration includes only the knowledge essential for knowing God and His plan for man.” [7] In reporting on the Convention at Baltimore, “The Lutheran” of November 2, 1938, states, “The doctrine known technically as ‘the verbal inspiration of the Bible’ was deemed out of accord with the Lutheran Confession.” At the same Convention, the U.L.C. Union Committee declared that they were “unable to accept the statement that the Scriptures are ‘the infallible truth also in those parts which treat of history, geographical and other secular matters.’” [8] Lest it be contended that the U.L.C., by adopting the Pittsburgh Agreement on Inspiration at Omaha, reversed itself on this matter, let us take note of what a correspondent of “The Lutheran” says regarding this Convention: “There was one thing on which both the majority and minority agreed; they both were certain that they were not voting for any changes in the positions or practices of the U.L.C.A.” [9]

Leaders within the U.L.C. have made statements which further demonstrate the erroneous position of this body on the important doctrine of verbal inspiration. J. Huebner in the Lutheran Church Quarterly of 1931 writes: “This view, which makes the sacred writers mere amannuenses, is still adhered to by some, even within the Lutheran Church, who stress the literal inerrancy of the Bible in all particulars. Not without justification Bowne calls it a heathen theory.” J.A.W. Haas, a man honored in the U.L.C. as an outstanding educator, writes: “There must be a clear distinction kept in mind between the Word of God and the Bible. … The Bible is the Word of God because it contains the Word of God.” [10] Men in the U.L.C. even regard the doctrine of verbal inspiration as dangerous and destructive, as appears from the following: “The idea of verbal inspiration and the practise of literal interpretation may destroy the reality of the Bible’s message.” [11] Dr. T.A. Kantonen of Hamma Divinity School says: “But let it also be said in all seriousness that Lutheran exegesis will be seriously handicapped unless it abandons once and for all the unpsychological and mechanical theories of inspiration and unhistorical views of verbal inerrancy which the application of scientific and historical methods to the study of the Bible has rendered obsolete.” [12]

From what has been set forth before in this essay it may well be seen that the U.L.C., having denied the verbal inspiration of the Bible, has also deserted the principle that the Bible is the only source and norm of doctrine. And this is one of the reasons why we cannot have fellowship with the U.L.C.A. There can be no thought of union with those who have deserted the very foundation. There is, in fact, no basis on which to carry on negotiations with them, for there is no commonly accepted norm by which all doctrines must be judged.

The American Lutheran Conference and the Doctrine of Verbal Inspiration.

But what of that body of Synods which claims to occupy the middle ground between the U.L.C. and the Synodical Conference, namely the American Lutheran Conference? Since the Lutheran bodies united in the American Lutheran Conference have joined together as brethren in faith, therefore we have every right to hold each body responsible for the public utterances and public doctrine which proceed from any of its constituent Synods.

The American Lutheran Conference was organized in 1930 with this paragraph in its constitution: “The American Lutheran Conference accepts the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God and the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life. …” [13] The Minneapolis Theses which formed the doctrinal basis for the American Lutheran Conference has this paragraph on Scripture: “The Synods signatory to these articles of agreement accept without exception all the canonical books of the Old and New Testament as a whole and in all their parts, as the divinely inspired, revealed and inerrant Word of God and submit to this as the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life.” [14] From these paragraphs it may appear to the casual observer that the A.L. Conference must without further ado be recognized as holding the same position on Inspiration as we do. However, we know that “the orthodox character of a church is established not by its mere name nor by its outward acceptance of, and subscription to, an orthodox creed, but by the doctrine which is actually taught in its pulpits, in its theological seminaries, and in its publications.” [15] Therefore, to determine whether or not the A. L. Conference occupies an orthodox position with regard to inspiration we must examine not only its constitution and doctrinal agreement, but also the doctrine which is taught by the pastors, professors, and the church papers of its constituent bodies.

From the Augustana Synod we have public statements such as the following: “The human element appears also with sad realism in the imprecatory Psalms. In these passages (Ps. 109:8, 9, 10) this human, or shall I say, inhuman element is sadly evident.” [16]

C.A. Wendell states: “A stilted veneration for the Word betrays an inward weakness rather than a virile faith, and out of it proceeds a nervous anxiety to prove the ‘complete inerrancy’ of the Bible ‘from cover to cover.’ This may be good fundamentalism but hardly good Lutheranism.” [17]

Virgilius Fenn, the compiler of the book “What Is Lutheranism?” which was published in the same year as the A.L. Conference was formed, writes as follows: “A literally infallible Bible, an assumption implied throughout the Lutheran symbols, verbally inspired, is a view that has passed by the board for good. The authority of the Sacred Writings is no found in ‘the letter’ and sustained by some artificial theory of divine inspiration, but in the appeal of its spiritual content. … The doctrine of the complete inerrancy of the Bible upon which historic Lutheranism has built up a system of orthodoxy can hardly, without a loss of intellectual integrity and vitality, be today maintained in the light of the historical method of understanding the Scriptures. It must be ready even to part company with Luther himself and with the great Reformers and remain true to that principle which insists upon conformity with the truth. To treat the Biblical books as somehow immune from this approach is to be untrue to them. On the other hand, to follow the lead of modern Biblical scholarship is also to part company with certain dogmatic views which have long been considered by some as basic. This does not mean to say that there is no norm by which to measure judgments; rather it means that the norm is to be found no in the letter, but shall we say in the spiritual content. Just what, the task of modern Lutheran Theology to say. … The term ‘Word of God’ should be used with discrimination. It is no longer tenable to use it as a synonym for the entire Bible, in spite of the Reformers.” [18]

We have no evidence to show that these denials of the doctrine of verbal inspiration have ever been retracted or removed. On the other hand, we find that Virgilius Perm when criticized for his statements defended them in the Lutheran Companion of 1931. These men in spite of these public statements remained as members of good standing in the Augustana Synod, and, therefore, we hold the Augustana Synod responsible for these statements; and since there is no record that sister Synods of the A.L. Conference have reproved the Augustana Synod for this lenient attitude at any official meeting of the A.L. Conference, we hold all its constituent Synods co-responsible. That means that we hold the Norwegian Lutheran Church, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Free Church, the United Danish Church, all co-responsible.

The same is true of the bold denial of verbal inspiration by the Lutheran Free Church as we find it in its official organ “Folkebladet”, where we read in its Nov. 23 issue of 1939: “That Scripture actually is revelation is believed by all who wish to be called Christians; but not all Christians agree about that which is called the verbal inspiration. And they never will be agreed about that, because that is a matter in which it is impossible to reach bottom. Students of Scripture are more and more getting away from the theory of verbal inspiration, a theory which has brought more confusion among Christians than, perhaps, anything else.”

Surely with regret we must say that former Norwegian Synod people who now form a part of the Norwegian Lutheran Church and of the American Lutheran Conference find themselves in a strange fellowship and are committed to statements which were repudiated and opposed in the old Synod without reservation or compromise. But what of the Norwegian Lutheran Church itself? Has it taken a firm stand against these errors expressed in its sister synods? Is there any record to show that they have made any demands at any meeting of the American Lutheran Conference that these denials of verbal inspiration be removed by doctrinal discipline? We have found no evidence to this effect. What, in fact, is the situation in the N.L.C. itself? Dr. Theo. Graebner in his book “The Problem of Lutheran Union” writes on pages 71, 72: “The infiltration of modernistic views in the conception of Biblical inspiration is clearly perceived in Dr. Edward Hegland’s booklet ‘The Uniqueness of the Bible’ (Augsburg Publishing House, 1934). The chapter on inspiration does not deny that the Bible is uniquely inspired. But in the further discussion the author not only uses phrases that are characteristic of Modernism (the writer of the Biblical books were not ‘God’s secretaries to whom God dictated,’ ‘the greater part of the Bible is not given as a dictation from God;’ ‘in the Bible there is something divine and there is also something human’); he identifies the theory of verbal inspiration with such deductions as: ‘that all the Scriptures are of equal importance and contain the divine truth in full; that God is the direct Author of the Scriptures; that the writers are God’s secretaries, and even when they recorded historical accounts or narrated what they had heard or seen, their thoughts and words were directly given by the Holy Spirit, so that what they wrote was absolutely faultless and reliable.’ Hegland comes to the conclusion: ‘It seems more proper to speak of inspired Writers than to speak of inspired books of the Bible.’ In all this we find so many ambiguities, misrepresentations, false deductions and denials that we can, not recognize in this treatment of inspiration the doctrine which we hold as one with which the Church will stand or fall, the doctrine of verbal inspiration. …” Dr. Graebner states: “We believe that the minsters of the N.LC. as a whole do not share these uncertainties regarding inspiration;” yet no record of an attempt to remove the offense of these public statements by Dr. Hegland is brought into evidence.

Since one of our sister synods is carrying on union negotiations with the American Lutheran Church, it is especially important at this time that we consider the position of this body with reference to inspiration. Since the American Lutheran Church is a member of the American Lutheran Conference, we, in the first place, hold her co-responsible for the denials of verbal inspiration which have appeared among her sister synods. This we do because there is no record of any adequate protest raised by the American Lutheran Church regarding this matter at any meeting of the American Lutheran Conference. This is not strange in view of the fact that the Iowa Synod, one of the bodies merged in the American Lutheran Church, held that a difference on the point of the complete inerrancy of the Bible need not be divisive of church fellowship. It was held by that body that the complete inerrancy of the Bible is a mere theological deduction and an exegetical question. (See Synodical Report of Iowa Synod, 1928, p. 183.) Describing their position, Dr. Reu in 1926 wrote: “With someone else who evidently acknowledges God’s infallible Word in each and every statement of Scripture, direct or indirect, concerning faith and life and in a self-evident manner bows to such statements, they do not desire to sever fellowship because he reckons with the errancy. of the Scripture in an individual case in the domain of things which beyond question do not belong to salvation.” [19] Just how the assumption of any errors in the Bible destroys the doctrine of verbal inspiration we have previously shown.

Now when it came to the framing of a constitution for the proposed merger of the Ohio, Iowa, and Buffalo Synods (who in 1930 merged to form the American Lutheran Church), the Ohio Synod very commendably urged the acceptance of the following paragraph: “The Synod accepts all the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired and inerrant Word of God and the inerrant and only source, norm and guide of faith and life.” However, the Iowa Synod, true to its traditional position, demanded that the word “inerrant” be dropped from the first part of the statement so that the reading would be simply “The inspired Word of God” instead of “the inspired and inerrant Word of God.” (See Synodical Report of Ohio Synod, 1926, p. 26ff.) Under these circumstances it certainly became the duty of the Ohio Synod as a matter of confession to insist on the retention of the word “inerrant” in its original place in the body of the proposed constitution. But what happened? In the final draft of the constitution as it was adopted, the omission was made and the paragraph reads: “The church accepts the canonical books of the Old and New Testaments as the inspired Word of God, the only infallible authority in all matters of faith and life.” [20] In an appendix to the constitution an interpretation of this paragraph is offered as follows: “The church believes that the canonical books of the Old and New Testament in their original texts are as a whole, and in all their parts, the inspired and inerrant Word of God and accepts these books in the now generally recognized texts as substantially identical with the original texts and as the only inspired and inerrant authority, source, guide, and norm in all matters of faith and life.” [21] This strange way of handling the difficulty naturally caused questions to arise concerning the position of the American Lutheran Church on Inspiration. Thus Dr. Theo. Graebner in 1935 queries: “Was it only poor statesmanship, or is there a tendency away from verbal inspiration that had to be satisfied? At any rate the future will tell whether the A.L.C. will refuse fellowship to those who deny the inerrancy of the Bible on any point.” [22] Likewise Dr. P.E. Kretzmann, having reviewed the events which led up to the acceptance of the A.L.C. constitution, is left with these questions: “Is the inerrancy of the Bible really understood to be a clear doctrine of Scripture and not simply a theological or dogmatic deduction? … And will the new church body also consistently remain separate from all those who do not confess that it is a Scriptural doctrine?” [23] The answers to these questions are now at hand; for as we have noted, the A.L.C. is even now in fellowship with those who deny verbal inspiration. The very silence of the A.L.C. with regard to the laxities in the American Lutheran Conference caused the Missouri Synod Union Committee to report to the Missouri Synod at its last convention: “In view of the reported silence of the A.L.C. representatives at Minneapolis, the question arises whether there is not a fundamental difference between the A.L.C. and our Synod on the meaning of confessional loyalty.” [21] Furthermore, the A.L.C. has endorsed a document of agreement (The Pittsburgh Agreement) with the liberal U.L.C. as a satisfactory settlement of the questions involving the inspiration of the Scriptures. But this document is entirely unsatisfactory and does not at all represent a clear-cut confession of the verbal inspiration and complete inerrancy of the whole Bible, which, indeed, is one of the major points at issue. This fact caused the Missouri Synod Union Committee to report to the Fort Wayne Convention: “In response to an invitation two members of the A.L.C. commission came to St. Louis for a conference. They declared: In their view the U.L.C.A. Commission had receded from its opposition to verbal inspiration as taught in the Brief Statement and had accepted the Biblical doctrine. We on our part found the Pittsburgh agreement not adequate because it contains loopholes for a denial of the verbal inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures.” [25]

All these facts show that the fears expressed by our Synod with regard to the A.L.C. Declaration [26] on the matter of Scripture were not unfounded. The A.L.C. itself has shown us how it has regarded its declaration on this point when it said at Detroit: “We accept the Pittsburgh Agreement with a definite conviction that this agreement is in complete harmony with the Declaration and the Brief Statement.” This is an official A.L.C. commentary on its understanding of its agreement with the Missouri Synod on the matter of inspiration. It shows us just how it has understood its subscription to the Brief Statement of the Missouri Synod. Consequently, if the Pittsburgh Agreement is unsatisfactory, then, too, the A.L.C. subscription to the Brief Statement and Declaration is unsatisfactory, since we now see how they understand it. And anyone who will take the trouble to compare the A.L.C. Declaration on Scripture and the statement in the Pittsburgh Agreement on Scripture will find that, except for a few additions in the Pittsburgh Agreement, it is a verbatim reproduction of the Declaration, which shows that the Pittsburgh Agreement is just about completely the work of the A.L.C. Committee. This should give cause for careful reflection especially among those who have been so sure that the A.L.C. occupies the same ground as the Synodical Conference on Inspiration. If the A.L.C. could regard the Pittsburgh Agreement which was largely, if not entirely, of their own composition as a satisfactory settlement with a church body riddled through with denials of verbal inspiration, then she must have considered her own Declaration as an adequate and perfectly satisfactory statement on Inspiration without the Brief Statement which it is said merely to supplement. Without going into detail with regard to the statement of the Declaration on this point, it can, therefore, safely be said that the union documents as they stand today do not represent a satisfactory settlement of the inspiration and inerrancy question with the A.L. Church.

That there is, in fact, a very frivolous attitude on verbal inspiration extant within the A.L. Church today is also seen from the fact that its church paper, the “Lutheran Standard” of March 1941, comes with a statement such as this: “For any of us, in such times as these, to quibble over theories of Inspiration … is not less a disaster than was the session of the synod of the Russian Orthodox Church which met in Petrograd in 1917 to discuss the color of vestments at the very time when, six blocks away, the Kerensky revolution set the stage for atheistic communism.” [27] This is a far different attitude than that shown, for instance, by Dr. Walther who said: “It is absolutely necessary that we maintain the doc, trine of inspiration as taught by our orthodox dogmaticians. … The least deviation from the old inspiration doctrine introduces a rationalistic germ into theology and infects the whole body of doctrine.” [28] We can well imagine what a Dr. Walther or a Dr. Koren would have said to the comment of C. Umhau Wolf of the A.L.C. who, in referring to Rom. 11:25–26, wrote, “Paul in his attempt to dispel ignorance has added confusion.” [29]

When we, then, finally review the situation which prevails among so many Lutheran bodies of our country with regard to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Bible, we can well see that we must be on our guard and that we must be certain in our conviction that the Bible is in very truth the verbally inspired and therefore inerrant Word of God and the only source and norm of faith and life, and that there can be no fellowship with those who either deny this or make it appear uncertain. We must say with Isaiah: “To the law and to the testimony,” and with David we must declare: “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Ps. 19:7). May we individually and collectively as a Synod receive the grace to say: “I have chosen the way of truth; thy judgments have I laid before me. I have stuck unto thy testimonies; O Lord, put me not to shame.” Ps. 119:30, 31. Then, indeed, we can with all confidence and assurance say with Paul: “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” I Tim. 1:15.

[1] Korens Samlede Skrifter. II. p. 288ff. The translation is the essayist’s.

[2] Constitution of the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church. Chapter 1. Paragraph 2.

[3] J.P. Smythe, quoted in Concordia Theological Monthly, Vol. XIII. p. 421.

[4] Quoted in C.T.M., Vol. XIII, p. 419.

[5] “Theopneustia” by L. Gaussen, pp. 8, 9.

[6] Minutes of the 1938 Convention of the U.L.C.A., p. 471.

[7] Quoted in C.T.M., Vol. XII, p. 575.

[8] Minutes of the 1938 Convention of the U.L.C.A., p. 468.

[9] “The Lutheran”, Mar. 5, 1941. Quoted in C.T.M., XII, p. 563.

[10] “What is Lutheranism” by Virgilius Ferm, p. 176.

[11] “The Lutheran”, 1935, p. 355.

[12] Quotation in “The Foundation Must Stand” by Dr. P.E. Kretzmann, p. 16, 17.

[13] Journal of Theology of the American Lutheran Conference. Vol. VI, p. 25.

[14] Ibid. page 13.

[15] Brief Statement of Missouri Synod. Para!(raph 29.

[16] Prof. Hjalmar Johnson in Journal of Theology. May 1939.

[17] “What is Lutheranism?” p. 235.

[18] Ibid. pp. 279, 293–294.

[19] Kirchliche Zeitschrift. Aug. 1926, p. 705.

[20] Doctrinal Declarations, p. 3.

[21] Ibid. p. 4.

[22] “The Problem of Lutheran Union”, by Theo. Graebner, p. 81.

[23] C.T.M., Vol. III, p. 848.

[24] Proceedings of the 38th Reg. Convention of the Mo. Synod, p. 285.

[25] Ibid. p. 279.

[26] The A.L.C. Declaration is a document drawn up by the A.L.C. and accepted by them as a declaration setting forth certain exceptions they make to the Brief Statement, and things they wish to emphasize and supplement with regard to it.

[27] Quoted in C.T.M., Vol. XIII, p. 425.

[28] Walther and the Church, p. 14.

[29] Journal of Theology, Vol. V, p. 883.

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