The Inspiration of the Bible, 1


“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).  This claims that the Bible is inspired.  The phrase “inspired of God” comes from a single word in the Greek language.  Literally, this word means “God-breathed.”  Very simply, the claim of this passage is that the Scriptures came from God.  In this study, consider the importance of this claim as well as a discussion of exactly what is meant when we say the Bible is inspired.

The Importance of the Topic

 First of all, why is this claim so important?  Does it really matter whether the Bible is inspired of God?  In truth, it matters a great deal.  For if the Bible is not of divine origin -- if it is simply a book written by men -- then certain things naturally follow.  If the Bible is the work of men, then it is no more reliable than any other book produced by man.  A Bible that originated with man might contain some useful information, there might be some encouraging passages, but it could also contain errors and misstatements.  Further, if the Bible is unreliable, it would be  no more authoritative than any other human book.  We would not be able to refer to the scriptures in order to establish authority for our religious practices.  Also, we could not forbid certain other practices simply because the Bible does not authorize them.  And finally, if the Bible is not of divine origin, and therefore, unreliable and not authoritative, then we could derive very little comfort from its pages regarding eternal salvation.

On the other hand, if it can be shown that the Bible is inspired and is of divine origin, then everything that the Bible teaches must be accepted as true.  The Bible’s claim that God is, the claim that He created all things, the claim that Christ was raised, the doctrine concerning the coming judgment -- all these, and everything else taught in the Bible, must be true if the Bible originated with God. Further, if the Bible is inspired, then it is authoritative in lives.  Indeed, the matter of the inspiration of the Bible is of utmost importance to the Christian.  The whole Christian system truly stands or falls with the subject of Biblical inspiration.

What Do We Mean By “Inspiration?”

Whenever a person uses the word “inspiration,” it is important to understand just what he means by it.   It is always important to know how a person defines the words that he uses.  Many people claim that they believe that the Bible is inspired, but at the same time would deny that the Bible is of divine origin.  Some, by their use of the word “inspiration,” simply mean that the writer was motivated to write, much like the writings of Shakespeare, Milton, etc.  This is really to deny inspiration altogether--that is the inspiration that the Bible claims for itself.  Others mean that parts of the Bible are inspired of God, but that other parts are not.  This view of inspiration was motivated by the attempt to explain alleged errors in the Bible.  But, if the Bible is unreliable in any part, how could we rely upon any of it?  Again, this view is equivalent with a denial of inspiration.  Others have suggested a view that is commonly called “thought inspiration.”  The idea is that God inspired the writers with certain concepts and thoughts and then left to their discretion the way in which that thought should be conveyed.  While this may be closer to what the Bible teaches than any of the others mentioned thus far, even this is not what the Bible claims for itself.

The view of inspiration that is taught in the Bible is generally referred to as “plenary inspiration” or “verbal inspiration.”  Plenary comes from the Latin word that means “full.”  Thus, plenary inspiration means that the Bible is fully inspired -- not any of it was simply the work of men and  none was left to the writers discretion.  Verbal means that the Bible was inspired word for word.  This is to be distinguished from the Dictation view of inspiration that suggests that the writers acted as no more than a secretary taking a letter.  Surely it is obvious that the writers’ character, style and vocabulary are evident in their books.  While the resultant books are fully inspired word for word, the Biblical writers themselves were not merely God’s writing instruments.

Plenary, Verbal Inspiration Set Forth in the Bible

The Scriptures clearly teach that inspiration is plenary and verbal.  For example, the passage that was quoted in the introductory remarks tells us that “all scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Already we have noted that the passage teaches that all scripture is “God-breathed.”  Just as your breath comes from your body, so the scriptures come from God.  Peter wrote that “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” (2 Peter 1:21).  The word translated “moved” carries the idea of being borne along, or being guided.  According to this passage, these men did not write by their own will, but were guided or carried along as they wrote by the Holy Spirit.

As he wrote to the Galatians, Paul made it clear that such was true with his knowledge of the gospel.  “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man.  For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:11, 12).  Paul’s gospel was not of human origin (“not after man”), he did not receive his gospel from man and no one taught it to him.  Paul’s gospel came to him by revelation.  The Thessalonian church understood this, for when Paul preached, they “received it not as the words of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God. . .” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).

Perhaps the clearest statement of plenary, verbal inspiration is found in Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth.  Discussing God’s plan for redemption,  Paul wrote, “which things also we speak; not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (1 Corinthians 2:13).  Note that Paul said that what they taught was not with words taught by the wisdom of man -- rather, the words came from the Holy Spirit.

These passages show that the Biblical writers did not have ultimate control over what they wrote, but the Holy Spirit determined the end product.  Even though each writer wrote according to his own knowledge and background, the ultimate choice even of the very words that were used were not their own but that of the Holy Spirit.  The Biblical writers were aware of this divine leadership and that their writings carried divine authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37).  Furthermore, since the Bible is the inspired word of God, it is both authoritative and reliable and therefore, we can derive comfort from its pages.