When we hold a Bible, we often fail to appreciate its significance. We possess a treasure of ancient documents, miraculously preserved, accurately transcribed, painstakingly translated (at great peril along the way), and laboriously explained – all in order to bring us face to face with the Supreme Person of the Universe.
How can we know anything about God? We must in the last analysis simply believe what God has told us. We believe in the inspired, inerrant Word of God.
“All Scripture is given by inspiration [theo-pneustos] of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,” 2 Timothy 3:16, NKJV.
Benjamin Warfield observes:
Theo-pneustos —very distinctly does not mean “inspired by God.” This phrase is rather the rendering of the Latin divinitus inspirata… The Greek term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of “spiring” or “spiration.” What it says of Scripture is not that it is “breathed into by God” or is the product of divine “inbreathing” into the human authors, but that it “breathed out by God” or “God-breathed.”
In a word, what is being declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them.
No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the divine production of Scripture that that which is here employed. The “breath of God” in Scripture is the symbol of His almighty power, the bearer of His creative word. “By the word of Jehovah,” we read in a significant parallel of Ps 33:6, “were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth.” . . . God’s breath is the irresistible outflow of His power. When Paul declares, then, that “every scripture” is a product of the divine breath, “is God-breathed,” he asserts with as much energy as he could employ that Scripture is a product of a specifically divine operation. (Warfield, ISBE 3:1474 s.v. “Inspiration”)
One Bible scholar defines inspiration as “that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon Scripture writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.” (Millard Erickson, Christian Theology).
What Inspiration Isn’t
- Inspiration is not mechanical. God did not use the writers as dictaphones. They were intellectually and emotionally involved in writing what they wrote.
- Inspiration did not destroy the individuality of the authors. Matthew, Moses, Peter, and Paul each had their individual styles. They brought their experiences, viewpoints, and beliefs to their writings. God worked through them, not in spite of them.
- Inspiration does not mean every word of the Bible expresses the will of God. The Bible contains the words and deeds of ungodly, evil, and confused beings (men, women, demons, Satan, etc.) In some cases Satan misquotes the Bible. His words are recorded accurately, but they are not the will of God. Job’s wife advised Job to “curse God and die.” The recording of the event is inspired, but the words are not the will of God. Similarly, a lot of the counsel in Ecclesiastes and Job come from messed up counselors. A divinely inspired record of confused humans!
- Inspiration does not rule out the likelihood of differing accounts. Although there are differing accounts of the same event (e.g. in the life of Jesus), they are not contradictory. They merely give different viewpoints on the same incidents. But most importantly, the description of events is specifically crafted to contribute to the author’s particular argument, while still being a faithful account of the event.
- Inspiration doesn’t mean that all modern translations are ideal. Inspiration applies to the original autographs of Scripture, not, technically to translations. Most translations are highly accurate and extremely fair, but our theology must be based upon Hebrew and Greek studies, or upon resources that unfold what was written in the original tongues.
How Far Inspiration Extends
- Extent – inspiration extends to all 66 books of the Bible. Liberal theological systems hold that only parts of the Bible are inspired. But Scripture clearly affirms that “All Scripture is inspired by God.” This is called “plenary (full) inspiration.” If only parts of the Bible are inspired, will somebody tell me which ones aren’t, because I’m basing my life on this book! Thomas Jefferson created his own gospel account by literally clipping out verses that contained no supernatural or judgmental or miraculous elements, and pasting them to fresh sheets. The Jefferson Bible was 48 pages long.
- Intensiveness – inspiration is applied intensively to the very words of Scripture. This is called “verbal inspiration.” (We believe in verbal, plenary inspiration.) Jesus taught that Scripture would be fulfilled down to the last “jot and tittle” (Mt 5:17,ff), a reference to two very small letters of the Heb. alphabet. Furthermore, verbal inspiration is demonstrated by the fact that NT authors argue from precise wording and even letters as they make their case from the OT. (See Jn 10:35, Mt 22;32 where tense is conclusive, Mt 22:44, Gal 3:16 where number is conclusive.)
Jesus and Inspiration
Here’s a preview of some material from my current work-in-progress, called Four Letter Words (touchy ideas in an ultra tolerant world, a conversational apologetics [sign up for the newsletter so I can notify you when it's out.]
Jesus, the Living Word put his personal seal of approval on the Bible, the Written Word. Don’t forget that two-thirds of the Bible was complete by Jesus’ day. Growing up Jewish meant growing up Bible-smart. Picture barefoot little Jesus trotting off to synagogue holding Mary and Joseph’s hands. He grew up with a written Word from God.
As an adult, he put his stamp of approval that Word. Here are some of his teachings:
- “The Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
- The Bible is indestructible until “all has been fulfilled,” down to the letter (Matthew 5:18).
- The Bible is “that which was spoken to you by God” (Matthew 22:31).
- Every part of the Old Testament unfolds truth about Jesus—about who he would be and what we would do when he came (Luke 24:27,44).
This doesn’t mean he was right, of course. It’s logically conceivable Jesus was wrong. But what isn’t conceivable is that Jesus was both a Great Teacher, worthy of our devotion, and that he staked his life on a book of mistakes. In the mind of Jesus, everything he was and did and believed resonated perfectly with every syllable of the Scriptures.
It doesn’t make sense to honor Jesus and disrespect the Bible he based his life on. The Living Word and the written Word shared the same harmonic frequency.
Maybe that’s because they were both tuned to the same Heart of Love.
One last thought: it’s one thing to endorse the inspiration of Scripture. It’s another thing to wear out your Bible, through it seeking to know your God. I hope you do both.
[To be continued...]