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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God?

Don Stewart :: In What Sense Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?

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In What Sense Is the Bible the Inspired Word of God?

Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God – Question 2

Today, when we use the word inspire or inspiration, it has the idea of something challenging to the human heart. We speak of a person giving an “inspiring performance,” or someone looking for “inspiration” to begin a new project.

Yet when we talk of the Bible being inspired, we are speaking of an entirely different matter. Though millions of books have been written through the ages, and many of them have inspired the human heart, there was only one Book that has been written by divine inspiration, or with divine authority; the Bible. In this sense of the term, “inspiration” means divinely given, or divinely guided.

A number of points need to be made about the subject of inspiration.

1. The Bible Is a God-Breathed Work

To begin with, it is important that we understand why we use the English word inspiration to describe the nature of the Bible. We use the word inspiration in the sense of “divinely given” because of a verse found in Second Timothy. The King James Version translates this verse as follows:

All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3:16 KJV)

“Inspiration” is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos. Theopneustos literally means “God-breathed.” This translation found in the King James Version was derived from the Latin Vulgate Bible where the word inspiro is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 to translate the word theopneustos. The emphasis, however, is that Scripture has been breathed-out by God.

The Bible has been produced by God and hence it should be respected and valued for exactly what it is—God’s Word to humanity. As the prophetic messages of God’s designated spokesmen were spoken revelation, the Bible is God’s written revelation. It is God revealing Himself to us.

2. Inspiration Is Not the Best Term for Describing the Scripture

However, the term inspiration is an unfortunate term to use when talking about the Bible’s authority. The modern meaning of the word does not convey the idea of God’s divine authority. Today, when people use the word inspiration they are usually not referring to the divine nature of the Bible.

The problem is that the term inspiration has taken upon itself a specific meaning in Christian circles based upon its continued usage for hundreds of years. It has become part of the vocabulary of Christians.

As we have noted, the proper English term to translate the Greek word is “God-breathed,” not inspiration. Because the word “inspiration” has been used for a long time to refer to the authority of Scripture, we will still employ it when necessary. However, we will put the word “divine” in front of it to emphasize that we are not speaking about inspiration in the usual sense of the term. At the same time, we acknowledge that it is not the best term to use. It is much more proper to speak of the Bible’s “divine authority,” the Bible is the “authoritative Word of God,” the Bible being “God-breathed,” or the Bible being, “God’s Words.”

3. How God Divinely Guided the Writing of Scripture

We now want to consider how the process of divine inspiration occurred. How did God guide these writers to compose the exact words which He wanted written? The Bible says that God guided the writing of Scripture through the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people whom He chose to infallibly write the books of the Bible. This guaranteed that the final result would be exactly what God intended. Thus, the Bible is the written Word of God to humanity, and, when originally written, was without error. It speaks with God’s authority.

There are several elements in this definition that need to be expounded upon.

Divine Inspiration Started with God

The divine inspiration of Scripture starts with the God of the Bible. The words of the Bible were not self-initiated by the writers. Peter wrote:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. (1 Peter 1:10-11 NET)

According to this passage, the writers of Scripture, at times, did not understand all of the things that God told them to write. However, they were obedient and wrote what He told them even though they may not have understood it.

God Guided the Entire Process of the Writing of Scripture

God guided the human authors of Scripture in the various things that they wrote or the sources that they used. The author was guided to go where God wanted him to go, not where he wanted to go.

Thus the Spirit of God guaranteed the accuracy of every thing that was written. This process extended until the time the document was written in its final form. The divine author of Scripture is God the Holy Spirit. Exactly how this process worked is a mystery. Scripture asserts that this did happen without explaining exactly how it happened.

In addition, the Lord divinely selected the writers of Scripture—there was no volunteering for the job. He selected the writers and guided their writing.

The Writers Composed the Text

While all Scripture is God-breathed, it is proper to say that the Bible is a book that is both human and divine. Its ultimate source is God the Holy Spirit, yet God used human instruments to compose the books. When one reads the Scriptures, it immediately becomes apparent that the various authors employed different writing styles and different vocabularies. This gives evidence of the human side of Scripture.

While there was no volunteering for the job of composing Scripture, those who wrote did write voluntarily; they were not taken over by some spirit who forced on them what to write. The writers of the Old and New Testament were not merely stenographers who mindlessly wrote what God dictated to them. Their own experiences and personalities were involved when the various books were being composed. Ultimately, however, the final result was supernaturally guided by God.

Indeed, the Bible has all the features of a book written by human beings. However, it also has features like no other book. Therefore, it is proper to say that the divine inspiration of the Bible has its source in God, but that human instruments were used in writing and recording God’s Word. This is the biblical teaching on the subject.

The Results of Divine Inspiration

The results of divine inspiration can be summarized as follows:

1. The Text of Scripture Is Without Error

One result of the divine inspiration of Scripture is that the text is without error. The Bible itself claims to be true regarding everything that it records. Jesus prayed the following to His Father on the night of His betrayal:

Set them apart in the truth; your word is truth. (John 17:17 NET)

The psalmist wrote about the reliability or trustworthiness of God’s Word. He said:

Your instructions are totally reliable; all your just regulations endure. (Psalm 119:160 NET)

The New Living Translation says:

All your words are true; all your just laws will stand forever. (Psalm 119:160 NLT)

The result of divine inspiration is that the Bible is the very Word of God. This includes the words, the ideas and the specific vocabulary of Scripture. Therefore, everything written in Scripture is correct—there are no errors of any kind, since the ultimate source is God Himself.

2. Only the Original Manuscripts Are Error-Free

The authority of Scripture only extends to the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments—it does not extend to any translations or any manuscript copies. Having said that, we must emphasize that good translations of Scripture are for all intents and purposes the authoritative Word of God. These translations faithfully represent what the text says and means. The point here is that if an error is found in the copying of the text or in some mistranslation in a particular version, it does not mean that the original was in error. Copies are not the same as the original.

However, this statement about the inerrancy of the originals needs to be qualified somewhat. We should add the statement “in the final edition of the work.” Why do we say this? There seems to be some evidence that certain of the books of Scripture, particularly in the Old Testament, were edited by later writers. This editing would have been the work of divinely inspired prophets of God. Since the ultimate author of the books of Scripture is God Himself, it does not matter if certain parts were later edited, as long as the editors were divinely guided by God. This seems to be what has happened in a few instances.

3. Divine Inspiration Is Now Limited to Written Scripture

While divine Inspiration was both written and unwritten in the past, today we only have the written part available to us. Scripture is that portion of divine revelation that God intended to be permanent and authoritative. We have no access to the spoken words of the biblical characters except through what was written down.

4. Scripture Has Divinely Defined Limits

Not only were the biblical writers kept from every error, they were also kept from making any omission. Their writings are complete; accurate in everything they wrote. They did not write anything more, or anything less, than what God intended them to write. Consequently, the Scripture has divinely determined limits. Not only are the exact number of books presently contained in the Bible, each Book has the exact content that God desired. This is what is meant when we say that the Bible is the divinely inspired Word of God.

Summary – Question 2
In What Sense Is the Bible the “Inspired” Word of God?

When the word inspiration is used in reference to the Scripture, it means more than that the Bible is inspiring literature. It has the idea of God-breathed Scripture. This is the claim of Scripture itself—it is not something that humans have invented.

When we speak of the Bible being authoritative, it means that it is God’s accurate revelation of Himself to humanity. Though humans composed the various books of Scripture, the result was an error-free work. This is because all Scripture was God-breathed.

God had His hand on the production in such a way that we can accept the entire Scripture as being trustworthy. Consequently, the Bible cannot be categorized with other literature that causes the human heart to be challenged or inspired. It is much more than that—it is God’s divine Word to humanity and it should be treated as such.

What Does the Bible Have to Say about Its Own Authority? ← Prior Section
What Is Meant by the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of Scripture? Next Section →
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The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.