Volume 7, Issue 3: Doctrine 101
The Inspriation of Scriptures
We have learned in previous columns that: a) God's authority is supreme, so the
student of theology may approach his study only in the way God directs him; b)
we are dependent upon God for all that we know, including all that we know about
Him; and c) God gives us knowledge through nature, but more perfectly in Scripture.
Now confronted by the centrality of Scripture, it is imperative that we understand
Many writings are said to be inspired, and in different senses. Indeed, we
would all admit to "inspiration" of some sort in the faculties of a truly great
writer. Tradition holds all such inspiration to be supernatural. A trademark
of epic poems is the invocation of a Muse to inspire the bard in his recitation
of the poem. Hence, in the introduction to Paradise Lost Milton appeals to
the "Heav'nly Muse," and Homer opens his Iliad famously, "Sing, Goddess, the anger
of Peleus' son Achilleus." But Muses or no, we attribute the greatness of a great
author primarily to his own God-given genius.
When we speak of the inspiration of Scripture, we mean something entirely different.
While considering the greatness of Romans, we don't stress the genius of Paul,
its author, but rather the genius of God who inspired him. The notion of inspiration
that is applied to the Bible sets it apart from all other literature; the Bible
is uniquely the word of God . For the writers of Scripture were moved by God's
initiative, and irresistibly carried along by the Holy Spirit to produce exactly,
in written form, the product that God intended. Scripture itself teaches this.
(1) Prophets are inspired: Prophets are people through whom God speaks in
such a way that the words they utter under inspiration are in fact the very words
of God. When Moses sought to understand the nature of his role as a prophet
before Pharaoh, God answered, "See, I have made you [as] God to Pharaoh" (Ex. 7:1).
Paul recognized this of his own words in 1 Thessalonians 2:13. More evidence
of such inspiration is found in the numerous places where prophets shift to the
first person when the Lord has been identified as the speaker (e.g., Is. 3:4,
5:3ff.; Jer. 5:7, 16:21; Hos. 6:4ff; Joel 2:25). It would be terribly presumptuous
of one to speak in this manner unless the very word of God was flowing from his
These scriptural evidences establish the idea that the prophets were inspired.
But we haven't gone far enough. Those who heard the prophets firsthand were
hearing the very words of God. But we aren't hearing these prophets firsthand;
we only have access to written records of some of their prophecies. How can
we be sure that our written records of prophecy are reliable?
(2) The written word is inspired: Not only were prophets' oral messages inspired
by the Holy Spirit, but God safeguarded their writings as well. There is interesting
testimony to this fact in some of the places in the New Testament where the Old
Testament is quoted. For example, seven Old Testament passages are cited in
Hebrews 1, and each one is said to be stated by God. But in turning back to
these texts, we find in some cases that a human, not God, is the speaker. Thus,
while Psalm 2 was David's composition (Ps. 2:1), its content is expressly attributed
to God in Hebrews 1:13.
The plainest proof for the inspiration of the written word is found in 2 Timothy
3:16: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God." Literally, this verse says
that Scripture is something that God exhaled or breathed out . The point
is clear: Scripture originated with God and was directed to the page by God.
2 Peter 1:20-21 adds that Scripture did not originate in the will of man and
that Scripture is inspired in the same way as oral prophecy.
Our discussion is still incomplete. Given what has been shown above, one may
still wonder whether every last word of Scripture is inspired. Perhaps it is
the main themes of Scripture that are inspired, even though some of the details
or exact wordings may not be. When Paul speaks of all Scripture as being inspired,
could he simply be referring to the general sense of what Scripture says?
(3) The very words of Scripture are inspired: The ministry of Christ is obviously
central in Scripture. Note that Christ himself identified His ministry as the
fulfillment of the Old Testament law: specifically, to the law right down to
its slightest penstrokes (Matt. 5:17-18). Clearly, Christ's view of inspiration
extends to the very words of Scripture and not merely to its general sense.
Paul assumes the same idea when he argues a significant theological point by
appealing to the number of a certain word in Genesissingular, seed , versus
plural, seeds in Galatians 3:15ff.
The discussion under the three headings above sets forth the Bible's teaching
about its own inspiration. Now we must guard against a misunderstanding that
may creep in. Does our analysis suggest that the capacities, personal idiosyncrasies,
and freedom of the biblical writers were completely overridden in the process
of inspiration? It does not. Consider that Luke, John, and the authors of Kings
and Chronicles freely cite the sources they consulted in preparing their writings.
Note the contrast between the logical, and sometimes scathing, style of Paul
and the simplicity of John. The writing of many portions of Scripture was prompted
by the author's personal circumstances.The writers of Scripture were not puppets.
Yet God so used their abilities and circumstances that the written result is
completely of His design.
The Bible teaches that it is indeed the Word of God. This being the case, it
is the final arbiter in questions of truth, reality, and morality. It is incumbent
upon us to heed it well.