The Inspiration of the Bible
8.1 Is it true that the Bible is inspired by God?
Yes. To quote but one of the many scriptures confirming this (see more below): ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God’ (2. Tim 3:16).
8.2 Does inspiration really matter?
Absolutely. If the Bible were not inspired, then it would simply be one piece of literature among many others, without any moral, spiritual or particular practical authority - and without any revelation from God. Without inspiration you have no Word of God; you lose the foundation of all Biblical teaching. All the numerous Christian doctrines, whether about Christ’s person or work, whether about the church, the kingdom, or prophecy - all of these can only be defended if the Biblical text is reliable, i.e. only if it comes directly from God.
8.3 What exactly does inspiration mean?
Literally, to inspire means ‘to breathe into.’ The Scriptures are ‘Godbreathed,’ i.e. they come directly from Him. A very helpful description of this process is found in Acts 1:16: ‘... the Scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake.’ This is inspiration: God speaking through the mouth of a man chosen for that purpose.
The men God used to write the Bible were ‘under the power of the Holy Spirit’ (2. Pet 1:21, JND).
8.4 Did the writer's personality play no part at all in the end product?
It did - very much so. John’s style (simple but profound) is different from Paul’s (logical and reasoning), and Paul’s from Peter’s. Paul had been the student of the famous scholar Gamaliel. Peter was a simple fisherman from Galilee who had not undertaken formal studies. God used both to bring about the result He intended.
God also used, for instance, the competence of Luke, a doctor, who was well capable of bringing out the human side of events. In the Old Testament, God used David’s experiences to provide substance for the psalms he wrote and his poetic gift to make them more telling.
8.5 Is the end product therefore human and therefore imperfect?
Not at all. The outcome was exactly as God intended. Every word is given by Him (see below).
8.6 How can the word bear the marks of the writers and at the same time be the words of God?
Think of a sculptor. He may use different tools in the process of producing, say, a statue. You may even see the marks of the tools on the final product but they are there because the sculptor skilfully used the tools to bring about the desired effect. So God chose and used the personalities and circumstances of life of the various writers to bring about the intended result.
8.7 Did the Lord ever correct anything the Old Testament writers had written?
Not at all. The Lord frequently quoted from the Old Testament, but never said anything that suggested there was a possibility they had made a mistake. His use of the Scriptures shows that He regarded them as absolutely authoritative (see, for instance: Mt 4:4, 7, 10; 5:17; 21:16; 26:31, 54; Lk 4:17-21; Jn 17:12). In Matthew 5:17 He states: ‘Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil’.
It is true that many verses of the New Testament quoted from the Old Testament follow the text of the Greek translation (the Septuagint) that existed at the time of the Lord and His apostles, and that this translation differs sometimes from the original Hebrew text of the Old Testament. However, an in-depth study of the text will show that these variations stem from divine intention (compare, for instance, Ps 68:18 with Eph 4:8, or Ps 40:6 with Heb 10:5).
8.8 Did the writers understand what they were writing?
Not necessarily. The Old Testament prophets ‘… searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow’ (1. Pet 1:10, 11). The New Testament writers, in general, would have understood what they wrote. Exceptions may be parts of Revelation, where John may not have understood the full bearing of his visions.
8.9 Did God give the words, or merely the concepts?
God gave the words. Paul states that the apostles taught in words which the Holy Spirit taught (1. Cor 2:13). This has been a principle from the earliest days: God had said of the true prophet: ‘I shall put my words in his mouth’ (Deut 18:18-20). Moses says at the end of Deuteronomy, ‘These are the words of the covenant which the Lord commanded’ (Deut 29:1). David put it this way: ‘The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue’ (2. Sam 23:2). See also Ezra 7:11, Zechariah 7:12 and even the last book of the New Testament (Rev 22:18, 19). All refer to the words God had spoken.
The Lord said, ‘… till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled’ (Mt 5:18). His use of Old Testament scriptures demonstrated absolute reliance on their wording (see, for instance, Mt 22:31, 32, 43, 44).
In Galatians 3:16, the Apostle Paul points out that the text in Genesis 22:18 says ‘seed’ and not ‘seeds.’ He builds his argument on the fact that it is in the singular and not in the plural. This leaves no doubt that he relied on the verbal accuracy and inspiration of the Scriptures.
8.10 Why is verbal inspiration so essential?
Because the Bible (and language in general) consists of words. If you cannot rely on the words you cannot rely on anything. A judge has to base his judgements on the words of the law. An executor must rely on the exact wording of the will to carry out his responsibilities. If words are not definitive, then the sentences and statements are meaningless and lose all their value.
8.11 Does inspiration relate to the whole Bible? Or only to the doctrinal parts?
The whole Bible. Some have wrongly translated 2. Tim 3:16 as saying: ‘All scripture that is inspired of God is profitable.’ This is incorrect. The literal translation is: ‘All scripture is God-breathed, profitable for … ‘
In 1. Cor 2:13, Paul says, ‘Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth.’ By saying ‘we’ he includes the other apostles.
Further, in 1. Tim 5:18, we read: ‘for the scripture saith.’ This expression is followed by two quotations, one from Deuteronomy and one from Luke. This means both are referred to as part of ‘the scripture.’ Similarly, Peter refers to Paul’s writings ‘and the other scriptures’ together (2. Pet 3:16) implying the apostle’s writings were inspired.
8.12 Does the Bible claim to be God's Word?
Absolutely. The phrase ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ or similar, occurs nearly 700 times in the Pentateuch alone. You find it:
- 400 times in the historical books
- around 400 times in the prophets
- about 150 times in Isaiah alone!
In Ezekiel you find expressions such as ‘the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,’ and similar, around 350 times.
Finally, in the New Testament, the expression ‘it is written’ occurs around 80 times. No other book has a remotely similar claim to be the Word of God.
8.13 What exactly is inspired, the original writings, the manuscript copies, or our translations?
The original writings, i.e. the texts as they were written by Moses, David, Paul and the other writers.
8.14 But aren't the copied manuscripts full of mistakes?
The original writings of the Old Testament were copied on manuscripts, with painstaking accuracy. This was assured through various techniques, such as counting the number of occurrences of each letter. If a letter did not occur the same number of times in the copy as in the original, the process of verification would start again.
Evidence for the accuracy of transmission abounds. Until 1947, the oldest known Old Testament manuscripts were from around 1,000 AD. Bible critics claimed that these had to be very inaccurate because so many centuries had elapsed. The famous Qumran (Dead Sea) scrolls discovery, in 1947, proved the critics wrong. The caves in Qumran contained
copies dating from 100-200 years BC of all the books of the Old Testament (except Esther). A careful comparison showed that these manuscripts were virtually identical to those dating from 1,000 AD.
It is true that there are differences between New Testament manuscripts, but none of these touch on issues essential to the Christian doctrine. And no other book of similar age has a similar amount of manuscript evidence available (nine for Caesar’s Wars and one for Tacitus, but 5,500 for the Bible) and none so early: some fragments of the New Testament date from about 150 AD.
8.15 But aren't the translations very imprecise?
Some of them, yes. Do not use modern paraphrase-type translations, nor those which try to rectify the Bible because the translators regard certain statements as not conforming to their prejudices and human ideas.
Try to use as precise a rendering of the original texts as possible.
8.16 So an English Bible is not the inspired Word of God, then?
We should note that the Lord and the New Testament writers used the Septuagint (see 8.7) and they quoted from it, saying, ‘it is written.’ Therefore, we can comfortably rely on a good translation and take it as God’s Word.
8.17 Did the Lord comment on whether or not the Old Testament was inspired?
Yes, He did. Many times. He used the Old Testament as absolutely authoritative (see Q 8.7). He put the words of the Old Testament on the same level as His own words (compare Mt 5:18 with Mt 24:35).
He referred to Adam and Eve, Cain, Noah, Moses, David, etc., each time presenting the Old Testament narratives as absolutely true and authoritative. This writings were, for Christ, the basis for an authoritative and final answer to all the questions of life (the resurrection, marriage, divorce and many other subjects).
Finally, He presented Himself as the subject of ‘all the scriptures’ (Lk 24:27).
8.18 How do we know the New Testament is inspired as well?
Various New Testament writers acknowledge each other’s writings (1. Tim 5:18; 2. Pet 3:15-16). They place them on the same level as the Old Testament scriptures. See Q 8.11.
8.19 How do we know that the right books were chosen to compose the Bible?
The inspired writings had such spiritual power that they commended themselves to spiritual men. They knew that they were handling holy inspired writings, many of which, after all, stated explicitly they were God’s Word.
Interestingly, the Lord referred to ‘the prophets’, ‘the psalms’ and the ‘the scriptures’ as known and recognised collections (e.g. Mt 26:56), as did the New Testament writers (e.g. Lk 24:27).
8.20 But aren't there contradictions in the Bible?
The Bible puts man in the light of God. This is why his natural tendency is to hate this book and to try to find contradictions in it. However, 90% of supposed contradictions are due to either ignorance or bad intentions, or both.
Then there are real difficulties, such as differences between the gospels, or between accounts of the same events in Kings and Chronicles. Here it is a matter of asking God to help us understand the divine design of the Scriptures. If we do, the difficulties disappear and the beauty of inspiration is seen, and it becomes clear that the differences arise from a clear intention on God’s side to show us different aspects of the life of His Son, or that of His people.
In some extremely rare cases, an error may have occurred: for example, in 2. Kings 8:26 an age of 22 years is given, while in 2. Chronicles 22:2 it is 42 years - possibly the result of a copying error. But our faith does not depend on this detail.
8.21 What about the words spoken by evil people and recorded in the Bible?
The Bible contains words such as, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die’ (1. Cor 15:32). Such verses are not the expression of the mind or truth of God, but they are true and inspired: they tell us that there are people who think and speak like this.
You also find the utterances of Satan in the Bible (the Book of Job and the Gospels), but God makes use of this to enlighten us about Satan’s role, what he is capable of and not capable of, what God does with him and the Lord’s victory over him. The way in which God relates the words of Satan is absolutely inspired.
The lies of the sons of Jacob towards their father concerning what they did with Joseph are also reported by inspiration. They show us the heart of man, the reason for God’s discipline and the divine providence that brings about the purpose of grace despite the evil of man.
The book of Ecclesiastes contains declarations that are difficult to accept. A large part of this book is not the revelation of divine truth, but the unveiling of man’s reasoning ‘under the sun.’ All of this is inspired, and true in the sense that God tells us what man’s condition is.
8.22 So, in summary then, what does the Bible say about itself?
The Bible states clearly that it is the Word of God. It assumes complete verbal inspiration and therefore infallibility. Let us thank God that He has been pleased to reveal Himself to man in such a reliable way. The Bible is the safest point in the universe: ‘Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away’ (Lk 21:33).
8.23 But can we rely on the Bible's own testimony about itself?
Yes. Any third party’s testimony would be rather weak. If God has revealed Himself in His Word, as every Christian believes He has, then His Word will speak about and for itself. Extra-biblical evidence only tends to detract from its inherent authority. The only place where we can learn whether the Bible is inspired, and what exactly this means, is in the Bible! God’s book speaks for itself.