When we talk about the Bible, we’re talking about God’s Word. While it may be to the unbeliever a mere collection of historical accounts, poetry, and directions – in reality, it is so much more than that. Biblical inspiration comes down to one question – does the text of the Holy Bible contain the message of God, the message of God’s followers or something else entirely?
As we begin to consider this idea, I ask you to see what Scripture says about itself in Second Timothy 3:16-17:
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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In all of Scripture, this is the only time the Greek word theopneustos is found. It is actually a compound word (theos which means “God” and pneo which means “to blow”) which literally means “God-breathed.” Trying to define what it meant to be inspired is not the easiest thing. Since Scripture is complete and there are no more latter-day messages (and no one in our lifetime has been inspired as the ancient authors were) we can’t ask anyone today how it happened and what it was like. The only thing we can do is look for a scriptural explanation. Peter (an inspired writer himself) helps us in his Second Epistle when he says (1:21):
Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
That word “moved” is the Greek word phero which means “to be under a moving influence.” God literally gave them the message He wanted and let them deliver it in unique ways (i.e., letters, historical surveys, prophecies). All kinds of people have tried to explain what the term inspired means, but the best explanations I’ve heard are these:
Inspired men were not omniscient (all-knowing) or personally infallible (without sin). But what they wrote was from the mind of God.¹
Inspiration is the unexplained power of the Holy Spirit exerted on the writers in order to guide and preserve error and omission.²
When we say Scripture is inspired we mean it comes from God because it belongs to God.
It’s His message and His thoughts and it came from His mind. Knowing that the words of Scripture come from the heart of God should give them a sense of importance beyond compare. They aren’t just the thoughts, ideas, or opinions of people like you and me – they are so much more. They come from the mind of God who “alone is wise” (First Timothy 1:17).
Of course, there are different views of inspiration. The four views listed below represent the range of thought the Christian world seems to have in regards to Scripture:
Natural Inspiration – the authors are inspired just like anyone else such as Beethoven or Shakespeare. There is no divine involvement.
Dynamic Inspiration – God plants the thought into the author’s mind and then lets the author go with it. This idea allows for the possibility of mistakes because it’s just the idea God plants, not the actual text.
Dictation Inspiration – God mechanically controls the authors of Scripture by the Holy Spirit. There is absolutely no human personality or context within the text.
Verbal Plenary Inspiration – All Scripture is inspired by God, the entire process (even the selection of certain words) is fully inspired. The author is given God’s Message to distribute in His language, through His circumstances, and alongside His personal relationships. God serves as the editor and compiler while giving the inspired writers liberty to write under His guidance. Every single word found in Scripture is there because God wanted it there. Both man and God are involved but their contribution is not equal. Man only writes what God provides and authorizes. This view of Scripture has the highest regard for God’s role and man’s inclusion.
What we must also remember is that none of Scripture was written in a modern-day language which means every part of the Bible is inspired in so far as it is correctly translated and preserved. Leaving something out or changing the meaning of a word changes our understanding of God’s Word and the truth of what we understand. It also changes the truth of what is taught and learned. What it doesn’t change is the original meaning of what God delivered. That means we must “be diligent to present (ourselves) approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (Second Timothy 4:15).
To properly interpret the Bible we must know what the Bible says as well as what the Bible means. To accomplish this we must do two things:
Gather the relevant evidence on any Biblical passage, chapter, or book.
We must understand the content (the meaning of the very words; i.e. baptize, the Greek word baptitzo means “to immerse”) and the context (both literary and historical – when? where? why?).
Handle the evidence correctly.
To do that we ask a couple of questions – what did it mean when it was originally written and then what does it mean today? The key to understanding Scripture and applying it to our lives fits right here in this step. We must know what it meant then and there (exegesis) before we ask what it means here and now (i.e. hermeneutics). It is in this step that the greatest amount of mistakes are made interpreting the Bible.
If we fail to properly interpret the Bible it can be twisted to mean anything we want. That reality is the problem with many Christians today. They don’t work hard enough to know what Scripture really says. They don’t try to understand what it meant to the ancient world and they don’t ask what words really mean, they just presume it meant yesterday what it means today. Unfortunately, that just isn’t true.
One author has said to truly accept the Bible’s claim that the “sum of Your Word is truth” (Psalm 119:160) then we face a challenging task. This means we cannot casually discard or overlook anything. Nothing is expendable, and everything in the book is somehow relevant.³ I can’t agree more. Remember what the author of Hebrews said, “the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart,” (4:12). Appreciate it as something no one on this world could produce. It comes from God because it is His message to us. Respect it and you’ll find the truth.
¹ Wayne Jackson, “What is Bible Inspiration?” An online article from Christiancourier.com. Found by following this link.
² Class Notes from Topical Bible Studies, Freed-Haldeman University, Fall 2000, Dr. David Lipe.
³ Bret Carter, God’s Words: Perfect, Reliable and True, (Nashville, TN: Gospel Advocate, 2013), 25.