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The inspiration of the Bible

What is meant by the 'inspiration' of the Bible?
First an attempt at a definition of the term, and then discussion of the following:
2 the method of inspiration
3 the extent of inspiration
4 the blending of human and divine
5 the sufficiency of the Scriptures
6 the interpretation of the Scriptures

1. Definition of 'inspiration'

Paul's second letter to Timothy, chapter 3, verse 16 has been translated as "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God" (A.V.) or "inspired of God" (R.S.V.) or "God-breathed" (N.I.V.). The Greek word in question is thopneustos, from Theos, God, and pneō, to breathe.[1] The thought is of God as having breathed out Scripture, i.e. that Scripture is of divine origin and quality.

The 'breath' or 'Spirit' of God in the Old Testament expresses the active movement of divine power. The New Testament reveals this divine 'breath' to be a Person of the Godhead. The Holy Spirit thus produced Scripture, as a means to teach spiritual understanding.

Sometimes inspiration is confused with illumination. Illumination refers to the influence of the Holy Spirit, common to all born-again Christians, which enlightens the understanding. Sometimes the prophets received truths by inspiration but were denied illumination for the comprehension of those truths. [2] Two specific differences between the concepts: i) Illumination can be permanent whereas inspiration is intermittent, eg. the prophets could only prophesy according to the will of the Spirit. ii) There may be degrees of illumination, but inspiration is either absolute or non-existent.


Scripture itself does not explain the 'modus operandi' of its inspiration, and thus it is as much of a divine mystery as the simultaneous divinity and humanity of Jesus Christ. Until the second half of the 19th century the church was united in its acceptance of the inspiration of Scripture, but some modern scholars have questioned the implications of inspiration.

2. The method of inspiration

"Prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." [3] The Greek word here translated as "moved by" is pherō, to bear, to carry, i.e. to be impelled by the Holy Spirit to express the mind of God in words provided by Him. [4] This does not mean that inspiration can be equated with dictation in the sense that the writer's mind was inactive. The divine direction and control under which the Biblical authors wrote did not detract from, but rather enhanced the creativeness of their writing. While the human author could have made use of documents, the Spirit of God so controlled him that he was prevented from making mistakes.

Just as inspiration does not bypass the author's intellect but makes use of it through divine control, so the author's personality can also be of importance to the message. That God, before He moved men to write exactly what He wanted written, specially chose and prepared them, can be seen in Scripture. For example:
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you (and approved of you as My chosen instrument - Ampl.), before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." [5]
God chose a number of men and trained them by varied experiences, so that His Spirit could use their faculties in producing a perfectly Divine message which bore the marks of their individuality.

3. The extent of inspiration

Inspiration is a work of God terminating not in the men who wrote the Scriptures, but in the actual written text. Scripture is not merely human testimony to revelation, but is itself revelation. Thus Scripture is written revelation, just as the prophets' sermons were spoken revelation. Therefore, "Thus saith the Lord" could be prefixed to each book of Scripture, and all that the Bible asserts is guaranteed as Truth.


Nevertheless, there are differences in the purpose of inspiration. The sayings of misguided men are recorded in the Old Testament for the purpose of warning and instruction, but not for the purpose of deriving doctrine from them. Such parts of the Bible are not less inspired than other parts, they are merely to be applied for a different purpose.

Although the human authors' personality and intellect were used by the Holy Spirit in recording Scripture, they were guided and controlled to such an extent that every word of Scripture was chosen by the Holy Spirit. This has been proven by the work of Panin, who studied numeric design in the languages of the original text of Scripture. He found, for example, in the first seven Hebrew words of Genesis 1:1 ("In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth") over 30 different numeric features. Some of the world's foremost mathematicians, after studying Panin's work,, concluded that not even the cleverest and most able mathematician that ever lived could have divised such "Sublime mathematical problems" and have hidden them in what appear to be simple words. [6]

4. The blending of human and divine

The nature and extent of inspiration is difficult to understand, because we are dealing with a blending of the human and the divine. Just as "the Word became flesh" [7] resulting in the living Revelation through the agency of the Holy Spirit, so the written revelation of the Word of God also came into being through the Holy Spirit. In both cases the human and the divine form such a unity that they cannot be divided by analysis into the purely divine or the purely human aspects.

Bearing in mind that inspiration cannot be equated with dictation, the concept of inspiration comprises two convictions:
i) The words of Scripture are God's own words. Old Testament statements made by eg. Moses or Isaiah are quoted in the New by Christ and His apostles as utterances of God. [8]
ii) Man's part in the production of Scripture was merely to transmit what he had received. Whereas psychologically speaking the human writers contributed much to Scripture, theologically speaking the Bible regards Scripture as being entirely the creation of God. The prophets and the apostles claimed to utter the words of God Himself. Even Jesus Christ professed that He spoke the words given Him by His Father. [9] Thus, through the blending of the human and the divine God was able to reveal Himself to man.

5. The sufficiency of the Scriptures

The evangelical Protestant position is that nothing must be imposed on Christians without direct scriptural authority. Article VI of the Church of England states: "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proven thereby is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the faith." [10]

The closing of the Canon of Scripture implies its completeness and sufficiency. Furthermore, that the Scriptures claim sufficiency and finality for themselves, can be seen in the following: "The Holy Scriptures ... are able to make you wise for salvation ... and (are) useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." [11]

Christ and His apostles continually appealed to the authority and sufficiency of the Old Testament. Christ said that what was written "cannot be broken," [12] and that the law stands forever because it is God's Word. [13] The apostles used the O.T. as designed by God specially for the instruction of Christian believers. [14] In referring to Paul's letters as forming part of Scripture, [15] Peter also confirmed the authority and sufficiency of the New Testament.

6. The interpretation of the Scriptures

The authority of the Bible is sometimes minimized by people claiming that its meaning is not clear, but the obscurities that we find today are different to those that the church experienced in previous centuries. It may well be, therefore, that increasing knowledge may dispel the obscurities that trouble us today.

We must remember that the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures, also interprets them. The Lord Jesus taught His disciples that the Holy Spirit would be their interpreter, teacher and guide. [16] The Jews at that time thought they were extremely zealous for God's Word, but actually all their zeal was for their human interpretation of it. They never saw that the Scriptures testified of Christ, and so they would not come to Him.[17] From this we can learn "a very solemn lesson: We must refuse to deal with the written Word without the quickening Spirit." [18]

In the New Testament we have an inspired commentary on the Old, in that the apostles often interpreted O.T. verses or pointed to their fulfillment in the Gospels. They therefore supplied us with principles for further interpretation. As the New Testament interprets and completes the Old and thereby makes it more helpful to us now than to the Jewish people then, so the Old Testament confirms and illustrates the New and shows us Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever.


The idea of canonical Scripture started with Moses' writing of God's law in the wilderness. The truth of all statements in Scripture, whether historical or theological, as well as their authority as words of God, are assumed without question or discussion in both Testaments.Whereas N.T. writers view the O.T. as "the oracles of God," [19] they claimed the authority of Christ for their commands [20] and maintained that God's spirit had taught them their words. [21]

In the light of these claims to inspiration, it became part of the biblical faith to accept both the prophetic and the apostolic writings, i.e. the O.T. and the N.T., as wholly God's Word.


1. Vine, p.603
2. 1 Peter 1:10-12
3. 2 Peter 1:21
4. Vine, p.771
5. Jeremiah 1:5
6. Payne, p.102-104
7. John 1 :14
8. Matthew 7:10; Romans 10:5
9. John 7:16
10. Hammond, p.36
11. 2 Timothy 3:15-16
12. John 10:35
13. Matthew 5:18
14. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11
15. 2 Peter 3:16
16. John 14; 16
17. John 5:39-40
18. Murray, The Spirit of Christ, p.78
19. Romans 16:26
20. 1 Corinthians 14:37
21. 1 Corinthians 2:9-13


1. Douglas, J.D. (ed.) New Bible Dictionary, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1982.

2. Hammond, T.C. In Understanding be Men, Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1968.

3. Henry, M. Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible, U.S.A.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991.

4. Murray, A. The Spirit of Christ, U.S.A.: Whitaker House, 1984.

5. Murray, A. Covenants and Blessings, U.S.A.: Whitaker House, 1984.

6. Payne, F.C. The Seal of God, Australia: Evangelistic Lit. Enterprise, 1987

7. Pearlman, M. Knowing the Doctrines of the Bible, S.A.: Gospel Publishing House, 1937.

8. Prince, D. Foundation Series, U.S.A.: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1986.

9. Vine, N.E. Vine's Expository Dictionary of N.T. Words, U.S.A.:Hendrickson Publishers, ?


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Posted in: Bible by on November 29, 2010 @ 12:59 pm

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