by Andy Diestelkamp
The Bible exists. Many people dismiss the Bible as just another old book, but an informed examination of the Bible does not permit such a conclusion.
In the introduction of his book about the Bible as a literary artifact, Christopher De Hamel writes, “It is generally and credibly asserted that more copies of the Bible have been published…than any other text, and that even now it continues to be the best-selling text across the globe. It is more widely disseminated than any other written text, and there is probably hardly a person in the world now without achievable access to a copy, usually even in their own language. That cannot be said of any other written text” (De Hamel, vi). There is every reason to believe that the Bible continues its publication domination in digital media as well. What makes the Bible worth copying?
De Hamel makes it clear that his work “is not a theological book,” and in it he “offers no position on whether or not the Bible was actually dictated or endorsed by God.” Yet, he also says that his book “acknowledges, for it must, that many people who have used the Bible throughout its long history have regarded its text as having been divinely inspired, and that this very unusual status has been one reason why the Bible has been so widely promoted and read. It would be a mistake to underestimate this” (De Hamel, vi).
The Bible is a collection of writings believed by many to be the special revelation of God to mankind. The concept of words communicated by God to humans obviously goes beyond the realm of nature. From the beginning it is the assertion of Scripture that it was by the power of God’s Word that the natural world came into existence (Genesis 1:1; John 1:1-3). Thus the Word of God is superior to the creation. The physical creation is a product of the supernatural Word. Similarly, Scripture is a supernatural product from the same source. It is not a product of nature. It is the product of God. It is the purpose of this chapter to consider what Scripture says about how God has revealed Himself to mankind specifically through what has come to be called “inspiration.”
It must be acknowledged at the outset that it is not the purpose of Scripture to reveal all (or even most) of God’s ways. We may wonder why the events of life happen as they do. When we personally face the inevitable trials of this life, we are prone to question why they have happened. We have all heard of Job. James cites him as an example in the context of admonishing patient endurance while waiting on God’s ultimate blessing. When Job was going through his trials, he struggled to understand what God was doing. Looking back “we have seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11). God has revealed this to us so that when we can’t see the purpose of our trials, we will endure and remain faithful.
Interestingly, one of the points of agreement between Job and his friends was that God’s ways were past finding out (Job 5:8,9; 9:10-12; 11:7-9; 37:5). Paul makes the same observation when declaring the depth of God’s wisdom and knowledge (Romans 11:33-36). Therein Paul quotes from the prophet Isaiah who rhetorically asked, “Who has known the mind of the Lord?” (cf. Isaiah 40:13ff). Moses succinctly stated, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). It is certain that God has only revealed a fraction of what He could have; what is “secret” is past our finding out.
Therefore, it is presumptuous for anyone to assert what God knows, desires, expects, has done, is doing, or will do for us apart from His revelation. As Paul summarized from Isaiah, “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him” (I Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4; 65:17). Paul further observes that “no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God” (vs. 11). All that we know about God is limited to what He has revealed, and this begs the question of how God has revealed Himself.
God has not left man to flounder in ignorance. Paul writes, “for what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them” (Romans 1:19). The most basic way God has revealed Himself is in “the creation of the world” (vs. 20). Just “by the things that are made” there is sufficient evidence to enable one to see and understand things that are otherwise “invisible” to those who ignore the evidence. Specifically, “His eternal power and Godhead [Deity]” are “clearly seen.” This general revelation leaves man without excuse for not believing in God.
Consider how Paul addressed the idolatrous. Paul preached about “the living God, who made the heaven and earth” as opposed to the lifeless idols that were impotent to do anything, let alone create the universe (Acts 14:15). Paul also notes that God gave witness of His goodness in the supply of fruitful seasons (vs. 17). The design and overall good function of earth as a habitable and hospitable place reveals God to be not only powerful but good. To those in Athens, Paul observed that “God, who made the world and everything in it” does not need us or our temples. Instead, we need Him even to exist. The purpose of our existence is that we “should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:24-27). This general revelation of God to mankind was from the beginning and has been observed by the ancients (vs. 28; see also Psalm 19:1-6; 104:5-31; Isaiah 40:26-28).
However, these remarks about God’s general revelation through His creation are written in the context of more specific revelation. While the creation reveals enough to prompt us to seek God, it does not reveal God’s eternal purpose. Psalm 19 begins by eloquently observing that “The heavens declare the glory of God” (vs. 1). The psalm’s latter half praises God’s law, testimony, statutes, and commandments as revealing much more about Him. We should desire these words more than anything the created world has to offer. It is by God’s specific words that we are warned and offered hope. Therefore, we commit the remainder of this chapter to a consideration of this special revelation of God.
At various times throughout history and in various ways God specially revealed Himself to mankind (Hebrews 1:1). We think of men like Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elijah, and the rest of the prophets. These revelations were not natural or normal but special. However, God’s ultimate revelation of Himself to mankind was by His Son (vss. 2,3). It was to Him that all the various prophets of old pointed. He is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His person and the One through whom the world was made; the One through whom God revealed Himself generally in creation and specially in person. Thus it is important to note that while Paul began His reasoning with the Athenian philosophers by appealing to God’s general revelation, He concluded by preaching Jesus and the resurrection with a call to repentance and a warning of judgment (Acts 17:30,31). Indeed, Jesus is the most special revelation of God to mankind.
John’s gospel begins with the powerful affirmation about the Word (a designation that implies revelation) not only being with God but being God and Creator (John 1:1-3). The Word did not only create; He became flesh and dwelt among His creation to reveal God’s grace and truth (vss. 14-18). Nevertheless, the world did not know Him or receive His revelation (vs. 10,11). This was no deficiency in the revelation but in those who would not see or hear.
Jesus’ invitation was, “come to Me…and learn from Me,” but only certain kinds of people would be receptive to this educational opportunity. It would not be the wise-in-their-own-eyes but the babes. It would not be the comfortable and self-satisfied but those who labor and are heavy laden. Jesus was meek and humble, and we who come to Him must learn those qualities from Him if we wish to see the God He came to reveal (Matthew 11:25-30).
Ultimately, it was the love of God that was revealed in Jesus (1 John 4:9-11). Divine love was revealed not in response to our love but in response to our plight. Our plight is sin, and God’s response in sending His Son reveals both the severity of sin and the depth of His love (cf. Romans 5:8). However, without God’s special revelation we know nothing of our plight or the depth of His love.
It is important that we recognize and appreciate God’s personal revelation to man through Jesus Christ. However, the reality is that none of us were witnesses of that incarnate revelation. What do we know about Jesus of Nazareth or His teaching apart from what is written in the New Testament? Nothing.
All we know about God and His will has come to us through Scripture. Scripture is God’s primary means of revelation. Scripture is invaluable to us.
“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” (2 Timothy 3:16,17 – NKJV).
Inspiration – Most literally, the English word means, “the act of inhaling or drawing in; specifically the drawing of air into the lungs” (Webster’s). However, when people use the word inspiration and its various forms, they most often refer to “that act or power of moving the intellect or emotions” (Webster’s) or the “excitement of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity” (American Heritage Dictionary).
Because the word inspiration is most often used in this way, some assume that the Scriptures are the product of the same kind of experience only with God being the One doing the inspiring. Therefore, some believers in God attribute just about any such “high” they have to literally being divinely inspired. The result of this is a diminished view of the mode by which God actually revealed His will and/or the dangerous acceptance of personal experiences as being the revealed truth of God. This common usage of the word inspiration is not the meaning of the word in 2 Timothy 3:16.
The Greek word (theopneustos, used only once) is a compound word that literally means “God-breathed” as translated by the NIV. Benjamin Warfield observes that the Greek term “very distinctly does not mean ‘inspired of God’,” (Warfield, 132) and “has…nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of a ‘spiring’ or ‘spiration’.” (Warfield, 133). Others concur and suggest the words “expired” (Moyer, 85) or “exhaled” (Wegner, 29) more accurately describe the action of the second half of this Greek word as translated by the ESV, “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”
Interestingly, this text says nothing about God inspiring men. The translations of the KJV and NKJV seem to emphasize mode (“Scripture is given by inspiration…”) whereas the product (its source and therefore quality) is the primary point. What God’s mode was must be revealed by other texts and will be considered later.
Scripture – The basic meaning of the Greek word translated Scripture (graphē) simply means writing. However, the consistent use of the word in the New Testament is, as defined by Paul in this text, God-breathed words. The point Paul makes is that the reason Scripture is so profitable is because it is God-breathed.
Paul’s point is certainly not that Scripture was written by men and then breathed into by God. Paul is stressing that all Scripture is breathed out by God. Therefore, what was originally written were not the words of men but of God. This high view of Scripture as being the product of God, the result of the very breathing of God, is what gives Scripture its authority. When we view God as the author of Scripture, we will have greater respect for it than we would were it just the words of men. This was Jesus’ view of Scripture.
Jesus’ View of Scripture
In Jesus’ day (as in our day), there were many approaches to the Scriptures. What should be of interest to disciples of Jesus is what our Lord’s attitude was toward Scripture. That should serve as the pattern for our own approach to Scripture.
Jesus considered Scripture to be accurate and authoritative. Repeatedly He pointed to His fulfillment of the words of the prophets. He affirmed that “the Spirit of the Lord” was upon Isaiah (Luke 4:16-21). Indeed, He told His disciples that “all things that are written in the prophets concerning [Him would] be accomplished” (18:31). After His resurrection, He explicitly pointed to the fulfillment of “all things…which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets, and the Psalms concerning [Him]” (24:44). The earliest disciples of Jesus referred to these as “the Scriptures” (24:27,32,45).
In Jesus’ confrontation with the Jews over His identity, He referred them to Moses (in whom they claimed to trust) who wrote about Him (John 5:45-47). Just prior to those remarks, Jesus equated the testimony of God with the testimony of the Scriptures. It was these same Scriptures in which the Jews searched for eternal life that testified of Jesus (vss. 37-39). God’s word, Scripture, and Moses’ writing are used interchangeably in this context. Similarly, in confronting the scribes and Pharisees about their traditions, Jesus equated what “Moses said” in the Ten Commandments with “the word of God” and “the commandment of God” (Mark 7:8-13). Likewise, when Jesus quoted from the Psalms He referred to them as Scripture (12:10,11) and confirmed that David spoke by the Holy Spirit (vss. 35-37).
Jesus used the word Scripture as that which came from God and therefore “cannot be broken” (John 10:35). It is, therefore, the word of God and carries with it divine authority. Thus Jesus often prefaced His teaching with “Have you not read?” or “It is written.” When Jesus schooled the Pharisees on the matter of divorce, He said, “He who made them at the beginning…said…” (Matthew 19:4,5) and quoted from Genesis 2:24 which is a statement of Scripture rather than a direct quote of God. Clearly, Jesus viewed Scripture as God-breathed.
Jesus’ Teaching about Future Inspiration
It is also important to understand what Jesus said about future revelation by inspiration. When Jesus first sent out “the Twelve” apostles, He warned them that they would be persecuted (Matthew 10:5-42). However, Jesus told them not to worry about what to speak on those occasions, “For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you” (vss. 19, 20). More specifically Jesus said, “the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:12). Similarly, Jesus later told them about “occasions of testimony” that would arise before Jerusalem’s destruction wherein He would give them “a mouth and wisdom” (21:12-15).
Jesus’ terminology is reminiscent of how God worked with the OT prophets. When Moses worried about his inability to speak effectively to Pharaoh, God assured him “I will be with your mouth and teach what you shall say” (Exodus 4:10-12). Likewise, David affirmed, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2).
As Jesus anticipated His departure from this world, He gave further assurance to His apostles of the “the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father” would send. “He will teach you all things, and bring to remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). Jesus told His apostles that He still had “many things” to teach them that they were not able to comprehend at that time. Yet He promised them that “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:12-15). After His resurrection, Jesus reminded them of these promises (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:4, 5, 8).
These promises by Jesus make it unreasonable for anyone to elevate “the words in red” in their Bibles over the other words. The only way we know anything Jesus said is because those He promised to guide into all truth wrote them down as the Holy Spirit taught and guided them to write the other words as well. All Scripture is God-breathed.
Apostolic Confirmation About Inspiration
From the beginning of their work, Peter confirmed that what the apostles were able to do was a result of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:4, 14-18). When they were on trial, they were filled with the Holy Spirit just as Jesus foretold (4:8, 31). In later years Peter wrote that, in fulfillment of the OT prophets who spoke through “the Spirit of Christ who was in them,” he and others like him “preached the gospel…by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven” (1 Peter 1:10-12). In yet another letter, Peter confirmed that God’s “divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:2-4).
It is in this second letter that Peter gives us a glimpse into how God “inspired” men. Yes, what Peter and the other apostles revealed about Jesus Christ was what they personally witnessed. However, even better than their eye-witness testimony was the prophetic word they had received. This he clarifies as being nothing that originated with them as men. Rather, like all prophets, they spoke from God as they were “moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:16-21).
This word moved (phérein) means more than a prodding motivation. It means to be “borne” or “carried along.” Thus, again, the NIV and ESV are most clear when they translate it “they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Certainly these men were guided and led by the Holy Spirit. However, we must not imagine this as some vague power of suggestion but as an intimate movement to the very place that the Holy Spirit wanted them to go. It is for this reason that we would “do well to heed [the prophetic word] as a light that shines in a dark place” (vs. 16). This is why Peter was not negligent to “remind [them] always of these things” (vs. 12) and was “careful to ensure that [we] always have a reminder of these things after [his] decease” (vs. 15).
Later in this same letter, Peter also refers to things that Paul had written in his epistles as being in harmony with the things Peter wrote. While acknowledging “some things hard to understand,” that the “untaught and unstable twist,” Peter adds “as . . . also the rest of the Scriptures” (3:14-18). By aligning his words with Paul’s and Paul’s with the “rest of the Scriptures,” Peter implies their words to be Scripture. Thus, if we are to speak of a mode of “inspiration,” it must be defined as being when men spoke and wrote as carried along by the Holy Spirit. What was produced was not their thoughts and words but the words of God—God-breathed words—Scripture.
Paul affirms that what was specially revealed to him and the other apostles and prophets by the Holy Spirit would enable those who read what was written to understand what had been a mystery in other ages (Ephesians 3:1-7). What was revealed to them was the fulfillment of all that had been written before, and it would serve as the foundation of those who would be in fellowship with God (Ephesians 2:19-22). It was the wisdom of God, and what they spoke were not men’s words but that which the Holy Spirit taught them from the mind of God (1 Corinthians 2:6-13). Therefore, Paul reasons that the truly spiritual will “acknowledge that the things which [he wrote]… are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).
These affirmations about inspiration are consistent with what Jesus promised His apostles. If we understand inspiration to be God speaking through the instrumentality of these men, then we should also understand that whatever these men wrote as “carried along by the Holy Spirit” are “the prophetic Scriptures that have been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith” (Romans 16:26). What they wrote was and is the authoritative Word of God breathed out by Him.
Among those who believe that God has inspired men, there are substantial differences of opinion on how God accomplished it. Numerous inspiration theories abound. However, other than the mode of somehow being “carried along by the Holy Spirit,” there really is no other explanation of how.
Doy Moyer writes, “So how did God do it exactly? Within the context of believing that the Bible is the word of God, the answer is simply this: we don’t really know. This is not a cop out. The basic reason for saying this is that the Bible nowhere tells us how God did it. The Bible does not give a ‘systematic theology of inspiration.’ So anything we say about the ‘how’ will end up being speculative” (Moyer, 88).
Some speculations about inspiration are motivated by a desire to harmonize alleged discrepancies or to explain the differences in the various writing styles and vocabularies employed in Scripture. This is because others have speculated that such variations are evidence that Scripture is wholly the product of men or, at best, an imprecise method of inspiration. It is right that we identify the unwarranted assumptions and speculations of those who would undermine the authority of Scripture. However, the response to these speculations should not be a dogmatic “systematic theology of inspiration” but a careful reiteration of that which the Scriptures do say and contentment with that.
Just as explanations for the how of God’s natural revelation have been influenced more by naturalistic assumptions than by a careful examination of Scripture, so it has been with some explanations for the how of God’s special revelation. God’s special revelation gives us more specific information about God’s ways than does His general revelation. Yes, God’s general and special revelation will harmonize, but we must beware of interpreting God’s special revelation based on what unbelievers allege that nature teaches. When our sources for ideas about how God created or inspired are based on the assumptions of atheists and agnostics, we find ourselves building on the shifting sand of current “science” rather than the rock of God’s Word.
For nearly 2000 years the Bible has been a banned and persecuted book more often than not, but it has endured, and no other book has influenced so many for so long. There is much debate about its origin and formation, but I believe that God accomplished it all by the power of His Word. He spoke the world into existence and breathed out Scripture. The best explanation of all the evidence is that made by Scripture—God is, and God has spoken.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, (Fifth Edition). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2013. http://ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=inspiration&submit.x=45&submit.y=29 accessed on March 14, 2014.
De Hamel, Christopher. The Book. A History of the Bible. New York: Phaidon Press, 2001.
Geisler, Norman L. & William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1968.
Moyer, Doy. Mind Your Faith: Essays in Apologetics. Temple Terrace, Fla.: Florida College Press, 2010.
Warfield, Benjamin B. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Philadelphia: The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948.
Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam Company, 1971.
Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1999.