The Inspiration of Scripture

The .pdf of these notes can be downloaded here: Inspiration

definition of inspiration

The inspiration of Scripture is the doctrine that teaches us that the words of the bible are the words of God. This is clearly seen in the way the prophets record scripture as the “word of the Lord”, in the way that the NT attributes OT quotes to God, and various other common ways that the bible refers to itself.

One of the clearest declarations of the inspired nature of the bible comes from 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,

Literally the bible has been “breathed out by God” (θεόπνευστος). In this way the term “inspired”, as it is used in modern parlance, does not properly convey the idea being expressed in this passage. God did not enhance what was coming from man already, but rather was the ultimate source of what man produced. 2 Peter 1:21 confirms this perspective:

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.

Thus, to say that the bible is inspired is to say that the Holy Spirit moved the human authors of scripture to produce an accurate record of God’s revealed truth. God, through the agency of Spirit enabled men, is the source of the bible.

the extent of inspiration

Every part of the bible, including the specific words chosen by the authors, comes from God. There is not one letter of one word that is not from God (Matt 5:18). This is frequently referred to in theological language as “plenary verbal inspiration.” In other words, the whole product of scripture–both the words and the meaning–are the result of God’s inspiration.

It is important to acknowledge the entire bible is the product of the Spirit’s inspiration. The bible does not contain the word of God, it is the word of God. If one were to only accept portions of the bible as inspired then the ultimate authority above the scriptures would rest in the person determining which parts are inspires and which parts are not. When 2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God” it confirms that God is the source of every part of the bible.

Even though the full NT had not yet been recorded Paul’s statement applies to the NT as well as the OT. The authors of the NT considered what was being produced as scripture. This is what Peter equated Paul’s writings to in 2 Peter 3:16-17:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Paul also quoted a passage from the Gospel of Luke as scripture in 1 Timothy 5:18:

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”

Paul even considered his own teaching, which did not reflect specific teaching that had been passed down from the mouth of Christ, to be equally authoritative to Christ’s teaching (cf. 1 Cor 7:10, 12). This was not because of Paul’s inherent authority. It was because Paul understood that the Spirit had co-authored what was written.

It is worth noting that inspiration applies specifically to the original copies of the scriptures (i.e the autographs). This does not mean that the bible we have now is not inspired, it simply means that the manuscripts we have are only inspired in that they accurately reflect the original.

the the mode of inspiration

There are occasions in the bible when God dictated to a human author the exact words that were to be written (i.e. Revelation 2-3). However, this is not the normal mode of inspiration. Hebrews 1:1 tells us that “long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” Thus there are many ways that God chooses to use human authors to record His revelation. Most frequently, the human authors are “carried along” in a manner that does not minimize their agency. In other words, God providentially uses factors like education (Acts 22:3), experience (Hosea), personality (1 Peter 3:16-17), research (1 Peter 1:10-11), and other aspects of the authors lives to produce the final written project. This is why the various sections of scripture posses diverse literally features and vocabulary. God uses ordinary means to accomplish the end result. This is similar to the way God sovereignly saves a sinner. He has ordained evangelism to be the means, but he is the ultimate cause. In a similar fashion, God is the ultimate source of scripture and Spirit enabled men are the means ordained by God to deliver the scripture.

The Bible is a fully divine and fully human book. While this seems like a paradox, if it was possible for the eternal Word to be fully divine and fully human then it is not s stretch to think that the bible could be described in similar terms. This is an important point because if the bible is only divine then studying the bible will become an endless labyrinth of types and allegories that cannot through ordinary interpretive means (i.e. mysticism). If, however, the bible is merely a human book then studying the bible will become an endless search for human errors, and God’s true intention (i.e. higher criticism).

the implication of inspiration

Because the Bible is the product of divine inspiration, to disbelieve or disobey the bible is to disbelieve and disobey God. The bible is inspired therefore it is authoritative. This is certainly how Jesus viewed the scriptures (John 10:35). The bible is the ultimate authority in all matters to which it speaks. This is only true because of the doctrine of inspiration. In fact, the doctrine of inspiration reminds us that the bible is not our judge or our lord. The bible is authoritative because it is the voice of our Judge and Lord. He has breathed out every word of it, and we must submit to every word of it.