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What is Biblical Inspiration?
God Speaking to Man
The Bible is clearly a special book. One of the major things that make it so special is that it is given by the inspiration of the God of the universe. And it clearly makes these claims about itself. II Timothy 3:16, 17 says this:
"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 perfect, (i.e. complete or mature), thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
But just what does it mean when we say that the Bible is inspired of God? Let us begin by defining the word.
I. Defining Biblical Inspiration
The actual Greek word used in the passage above is the compound word "theopneustos." This term literally means that the Bible is "God-breathed." This rules out some inadequate views of Scripture, such as saying that it is inspirational on the level of the writings of Shakespeare. That is simply the sense that it imparts some emotional or spiritual influence on its reader. The Bible does do these things. However, that is not what biblical inspiration is.
Paul is clearly telling us here something about the origin of Scripture. The Bible came into being by the very breath of God. The form of the word for God-breathed is passive, meaning that the Bible doesn't merely speak of God. It is actually God that is breathing it out. The human authors did have something to do with it. They wrote it. But Scripture originated as an actual action by almighty God.
We get a clearer picture of this phenomenon by looking at II Peter 1:20,21. Peter tells us that:
"No prophecy of the Scripture is of any private interpretation. For prophecy came not in old time by the will of man. But holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit."
In looking at the Scriptural view of inspiration, there is no doubt that, though God used human writers, He was clearly in charge and was clearly speaking.
II. What the Definition Really Means
With the exception of a few sections of Scripture, such as the ten commandments, written with the finger of God, the Lord did not simply dictate to the writers like they were secretaries. For instance, if you read the original language, it becomes clear that each writer had his own style of writing. And it is apparent that some were less educated than others, and wrote more simply. Even in the English a lot of this comes through.
Also, when speaking of inspiration we aren't saying that God simply put concepts in the minds of the writers and expected them to fill those concepts out. And it certainly doesn't mean, as we alluded to earlier, that God inspired the Bible in the way He gave abilities to the great writers in history such as Herman Melville, author of Moby-Dick.
Some have even taught that some parts of the Bible are inspired and some aren't. But the Bible teaches that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God."
So if it doesn't mean any of these things, just what does biblical inspiration mean? One of the best definitions of inspiration that I've read comes from Charles F. Baker in his book, A Dispensational Theology. He says that inspiration means that God:
"so guided men to write in their own language, with their own words, and in their own style, that when they had written they had said exactly what God wanted said."
When speaking of the Bible and inspiration, theologians often define it as verbal, plenary inspiration. By the word verbal they mean that inspiration extends to the very words which the writers used in the original manuscripts. Every word is the Word of God. By plenary inspiration, they mean full, in the sense that it extends to every single part of the Bible. In other words, there aren't certain parts that are inspired and certain that aren't.
III. Further Clarification of the Definition
After giving the definition above, we may need to further clarify what inspiration doesn't mean. The definition doesn't mean that everything in Scripture is a record of what God said. For instance, men spoke in the Bible, as well as angels, demons, and Satan himself. But inspiration guarantees that all that is recorded is accurate.
Obviously, it also doesn't mean that everything in the Bible is true. Satan's lies, for instance, are in there.
Finally, the inspiration of Scripture doesn't tell us that the biblical writers were special in that they were somehow infallible, or that they had complete knowledge themselves. The biblical writers were extremely fallible. Some, like David, committed murder and adultery, for instance. And they weren't all-knowing themselves. Many times they weren't sure about all of the implications of the words they were writing. (I Peter 1:10-12). The amazing thing is that God used fallible, imperfect men to write the infallible word of God.
Over and over again, the Bible has proven itself to be unique and inspired. And it has been shown to be true through archaeological findings and historical records that have been discovered. Further, there have been so many prophecies fulfilled with complete accuracy that it is hard to deny the inspiration of Scripture.
But for us who have been changed by the Word of God, these things are merely supporting material for what we already know to be true. The dynamic power of the Bible which has changed hearts and lives for centuries, and has transformed whole civilizations through the work of the Holy Spirit who uses it, is hard to be denied. And I know it to be true because it has changed me as well.
It is my hope and prayer that all who read these words will come to know the God who inspired this blessed book, by coming to know His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Then you too will experience the power of the wonderful Word of God.
A Dispensational Theology by Charles F. Baker. Copyright 1971 by Grace Bible College Publications.