It Is WrItten: The Bible’s Inspiration

It is impossible to over-estimate the importance of the doctrine of the Divine inspiration of Scripture. This is the strategic center of Christian theology, and must be defended at all costs. It is the point at which our satanic enemy is constantly hurling his hellish battalions. Here it was he made his first attack. In Eden he asked, ‘Yea, hath God said?’ and today he is pursuing the same tactics.

– A.W. Pink

What does it mean for Scripture to be divinely inspired? The word inspiration has been used by theologians to describe this, referring to the divine guidance of the writers of Scripture through the movement of God’s Spirit. The writers were conscious of it being the Word of God and the readers were certain of its divine origin. Paul describes all Scripture as breathed out by God, because every word was actually delivered as God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16). Understanding that the Bible’s author is God Himself, we can trust that all Scripture is God-breathed, because the Holy Spirit superintended the biblical authors as they composed their writings, the Word of God. The Scriptures were then and are today a cherished treasure (Psalm 19, 119). God spoke and continues to speak through the Bible.

“In modern language, we often use ‘inspired’ to refer to something far less. Today, we use the term to refer to any kind of poetic or elevated language or to any kind of felicitous expression. Unfortunately, some have used this diminished meaning of inspiration to define the concept of prophetic and biblical inspiration. Such a weakened notion of biblical inspiration inevitably reduces also the nature of biblical authority and of Scripture’s truth. But if we accept the Bible as an inspired text in the sense of 2 Timothy 3:16, we must infer that it is always truthful and has ultimate authority over all aspects of our lives.”

– John Frame

The essential point to be understood here is that the doctrine of inspiration of the Scriptures means that the human beings who wrote it were, in fact, directed by the Spirit, so that the end product was the Word of God. Jesus said: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The writers wrote the Word of God in the sense that they wrote words that came directly from God. Historically, Christians have held to the view that God is the ultimate author of the Scriptures. Today, when a person breathes out their speech, it is in audible form. When God breathed out in speech long ago, His Word was written down by the prophets and then the apostles.

Since God originated not just the thoughts, but also the very words of Scripture, the terms verbal or plenary (full) inspiration have been used. Verbal emphasizes that the actual words are God-breathed (Matt. 5:17-18). Plenary emphasizes the fact that Scripture is equally God-breathed in all of its parts (2 Tim. 3:16). Inspiration extends to the writings, not merely the ideas. This means the actual words were inspired, not just the overarching message as a whole.

Inspiration implies that God’s hand extends to the very tenses of the verbs, the letters of the words, and the smallest parts of the letters. Every single word of the Bible is equally inspired. No passage is more inspired or more authoritative than another which means the black letters printed in your KJV are no less inspired than the red. Christians also recognize profitability of all Scripture. All of Scripture is equal in inspiration. However, different passages do have different degrees of importance.

Doctrine of Inspiration does not imply that every sentence in the Bible is inspiring. Some are mundane, to be truthful. Inspiration does not mean the Word of God is like a piece of music beautifully played by a symphony. Inspiration does not have to do with the effect on us, but instead about its source. God is the origin, the source, of what the biblical writers wrote. He is active in bringing about His purposes.

The Old Testament writings are many times included within the New Testament as Scripture. Therefore, all Old and New Testament writings are viewed as Scripture, thus, both are considered “God-breathed.” In other words, the Old and New Testaments are equally inspired and equally authoritative. When we turn to the early church’s preaching, we find similar understanding of the Old Testament. There becomes a pattern of attributing the words of the Old Testament scripture to God himself.

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. - 2 Pet. 1:21

This fits well with the prophets’ own testimonies. Time and again they declared, “Thus says the Lord.” As a matter of biblical theology, we see the testaments interwoven – The Old Testament is the foundation of the New Testament. The testaments have a more full understanding because the New Testament tells of God’s promises kept, fulfilled in Christ whom the Old Testament prophesied. Paul himself describes the center of the New Testament as founded on the Old Testament (1 Cor. 15). And then, in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter is referencing all of Paul’s writing as a part of the Scriptures. Peter and the early church consider these writings to be in the same category as the Old Testament writings. Examples of inspiration in the Old Testament are seen in Exodus 34:27; Heb. 1:1; Matt. 1:22; Isaiah 7:14; Matt. 4:4. Scripture (specifically prophecy) does not originate through an act of human will. The human authors were moved by the Holy Spirit, and thus they “spoke from God.”

False prophets from Muhammad to Joseph Smith have claimed that they received God’s word as mere secretaries taking down dictation. However, Scripture itself teaches an organic rather than mechanical view of revelation. That is to say, God revealed himself in the natural circumstances, environment, culture, language, and gifts of the human writers. The revelation did not come all at once, but ‘in many times and in many ways’ (Heb 1:1). Sometimes it was a direct word, something close to dictation (e.g., ‘Thus says the Lord,’ or ‘Write this’). More frequently, though, it was an edited summary of what God had said and done, drawn from previous oral or written sources. Far from suppressing human involvement, God wrapped his gospel in the swaddling cloths of human speech.

– Michael Horton

Divine inspiration demands a high view of Scripture, acknowledging it is both infallible and inerrant. In 2 Peter 1:21, Peter uses the word theopneustos, meaning “God-breathed.” It comes from God as the speaker, the author, of a divine product: inerrant, and with divine authority. It is in this verse, Peter denies that the Scriptures were written by an act of human will. In 2 Peter 1:7-18, the word phero is translated as “borne.” What was the Holy Spirit’s role in producing the Word? B.B. Warfield explains, “The term here used [for carried/borne] is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even leading in the full sense of that word. It goes beyond all such terms, in assigning the effect produced specifically to the active agent. What is ‘borne’ is taken up by the ‘bearer’ and conveyed by the ‘bearer’s’ power, not its own, to the ‘bearer’s goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs. And that is the reason which is assigned why ‘the prophetic word’ is so sure. Though spoken through the instrumentality of men, it is by virtue of the fact that these men spoke ‘as borne by the Holy Spirit,’ an immediately Divine word.”

...and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. - 2 Timothy 3:15-17

The Bible itself affirms that all Scripture is God-breathed. Notice that in 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul is acknowledging that “all” scripture is inspired. It’s not up to us to critique God’s Word by picking and choosing which passages best fit our standards. Remember, divine inspiration is of not just some, but all the words of the Bible. How did Jesus use the Old Testament writings, and why does that matter? Theologian Wayne Grudem writes, “In the context of Jesus’ repeated citations from Deuteronomy to answer every temptation, the words that proceed ‘from the mouth of God’ are the written Scriptures of the Old Testament.”

It is through concursive activity that the books of the Bible were composed: Under God’s superintendence, the authors were given words by which to express every aspect of human experience. The mechanics of inspiration can be seen in 2 Pet. 1:20-21. Scripture is not a matter of the human author’s interpretation or explanation. Neither are the authors passive, mechanically recording what God dictated, but the Spirit used their unique personalities in the process of writing Scripture. The words they put down were an extension of their skills, backgrounds, and training. This is why books of the Bible which are written by different authors have different tones, vocabularies, and sentence structure. They were the exact words God wanted and the Holy Spirit was the divine author behind the human authors.

If God wished to give His people a series of letters like Paul’s, he prepared a Paul to write them, and the Paul He brought to the task was a Paul who spontaneously would write just such letters.

– B.B. Warfield

If you really believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God, you believe that God perfectly planned and acted in the formation of the very words he knew would be essential for us to understand. When reading or proclaiming the Word, the people of God are to approach the Scriptures as truly God’s breath. This is critical for understanding sound doctrine of Scripture: includes both a divine speaker and a community of hearers. The church gladly receives the Word. As Christians, we believe, submit, and proclaim the Bible. In turn, we are to invest in that very Word.

It is important that we give thanks to God for divinely directing the inspired writing and subsequent preservation of his Word. The Bible describes itself as more desirable than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb (Psalm 19:10). The words of God are relational – The doctrine of inspiration is the cornerstone and foundational to the Scriptures’ application to all of life. Our daily decisions and actions as followers of Jesus depend on the meaning and application of individual words of Scripture. Therefore, it is necessary to know that the words themselves are also inspired.

God’s Spirit is the divine author of all of Scripture, the only true and sure way to hear His voice. How does God’s inspired Word make a difference in your life? After all, the Bible is God speaking to us, revealing Himself with words and calling us into relationship with Him. If this doctrine is true (and it is), then the implications are so profound that every part of our lives should be affected. 

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.
- Matthew 5:17-18 

Where is this Truth Found in the Bible?

Matthew 19:4–5; John 10:35; Acts 4:24–26; 1 Corinthians 2:10–12; 2 Timothy 3:16–17; 2 Peter 1:16–21

In addition, here are some examples of the inspiration in the Old Testament:

  • “The Lord said…”
  • “The word of the Lord came to the prophet…saying…”
  • “Write down these words…” (Exodus 34:27)
  • “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways…” (Heb.1:1)

Jesus’ use of the Old Testament: Matt. 1:11 citing 7:14, Matt. 4.

When you get the word of God, you also get the God of the word, and that is a beautiful thing.

Paul Tripp

For further study, I recommend reading from my sources for this series that are found in the intro post, It is Written: An Eight Part Theological Series.

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