What does inspiration mean?
In current usage, inspiration means a sudden idea that solves a problem or is especially creative or brilliant in some way.
What does inspiration mean in theology?
This is a technical term used to describe God’s influence on the authors of Scripture such that their writing is both human and divine.
What are the different ways this is understood?
One view is that the men who wrote the Bible were inspired men, i.e. gifted and talented in different ways. Theologians of the liberal or rationalist school would hold to this theory. Harry Emerson Fosdick wrote:
This is the finest consequence of the new approach to the Bible: it gives us the whole Book back again. If some one protests that it spoils the idea of inspiration, I ask why. We used to think that God created the world by fiat on the instant, and then, learning that the world evolves, many were tempted to cry out that God did not create it at all. We now know that changing one’s idea of a process does not in itself alter one’s philosophy of origins. So we used to think of inspiration as a procedure which produced a book guaranteed in all its parts against error, and containing from beginning to end a unanimous system of truth. No well-instructed mind, I think, can hold that now. Our idea of the nature of the process has changed. What has actually happened is the production of a Book which from lowly beginnings to great conclusions records the development of truth about God and his will, beyond all comparison the richest in spiritual issue that the world has known. Personally, I think that the Spirit of God was behind that process and in it. I do not believe that man ever found God when God was not seeking to be found. The under side of the process is man’s discovery; the upper side is God’s revelation. Our ideas of the method of inspiration have changed; verbal dictation, inerrant manuscripts, uniformity of doctrine between 1000bc and 70ad, all such ideas have become incredible in the face of the facts. source
What can be said in favor of this theory?
The first thing is to raise the theological issue. This theory teaches us that the Spirit was “behind and in” the writing process of the Bible but that the final product still contains errors. What was, then, the result of the Spirit’s work here? What good end was obtained by His influence on the biblical authors?
Second, it will be shown that this theory is not the theory which the Bible itself teaches.
What does the word “plenary” mean?
Plenary is just another word for “all” or “entire”. William Newton Clarke asks:
Is it an equal book, to be received as teaching us truth in all its parts? In Protestant theology it has been common to regard the Bible as a single source. That the Bible is a library, a collection, has indeed been always known, but the working theory has rather been that the Bible is a book, available in all its parts for the service of theology. A statement by a biblical writer in any part of the book has been considered valid for theological use, and material has been gathered with equal hand from the entire range of the Scriptures. Of course it has been understood that passages must be interpreted, and the historical setting has not been wholly overlooked, but neither has it been sufficiently regarded. It has been assumed that anything in the Bible may be wrought into theology; nay, more, — that everything in the Bible must be wrought into theology. Since the whole Bible is the equal text-book, a satisfactory theology must work in all biblical statements. A system that left some biblical utterances outside, not accounted for in its scheme of thought, would be regarded as unsound and in need of revision. Theology must be scriptural, and to that end must ignore no thought expressed in the Scriptures. …
Upon the question itself we shall probably have little difficulty, for today every intelligent student knows that the ancient method is wrong. For the purposes of theology the Scriptures are not of equal value throughout. Some parts of the Bible contribute to theology as others do not. source