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

Don Stewart :: How Did the Process of Divine Inspiration Occur? (How Did the Eternal God Speak Through Human Beings?)

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Question 7

How Did the Process of Divine Inspiration Occur? (How Did the Eternal God Speak Through Human Beings?)

The Bible teaches that the written Word of God is divinely inspired. How did this process of divine inspiration occur? How did God convey His Word to humanity through the writers of the Scripture? What exactly happened to the writers to cause them to compose the Scripture? A number of points should be considered on this most important of subjects.

  1. We Are Not Told the Exact Details of How It Occurred

    To begin with, many of the questions that we have about the process of divine inspiration are not answered in Scripture. The fact that this is the case should not surprise us. Scripture does not tell us how God answers prayer or how He has providentially provided for those who love Him. The Bible merely states these as divine truths. It is not necessary that we know exactly how they occur; merely that they do occur. Consequently, the fact that we are not told more about the exact way in which the Holy Spirit divinely inspired the authors of Scripture to write precisely what God wanted them to write should not be that surprising. Thus, our lack of ability to understand divine inspiration is not a reason to deny it.

    While Scripture does not tell us exactly how the process worked, it does, however, tell us certain things about the communication of God’s truth to humanity. We can make the following observations from the text:

  2. Divine Inspiration Originates with God

    The origin of the written Word of God began in the mind and in the will of God. The authority to write Scripture was given under His direct control. God decided to reveal certain truths about Himself through the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul wrote of this. He said:

    Instead we speak the wisdom of God, hidden in a mystery, that God determined before the ages for our glory. (1 Corinthians 2:7 NET)

    The New Living Translation translates the verse as follows:

    No, the wisdom we speak of is the secret wisdom of God, which was hidden in former times, though he made it for our benefit before the world began. (1 Corinthians 2:7 NLT)

    Thus, the process of divine revelation begins with God. His plan was formulated before He created the world. This point must be understood and appreciated.

  3. God Supernaturally Guided the Writers of Scripture to Inscribe His Truth

    The next point considers how God guided these writers to compose exactly what He wanted. The Bible provides insight as to how mere human beings could relate the words of God.

    We read about this in Second Samuel. It says:

    These are the last words of David: “Here is the declaration by David, son of Jesse—the declaration by the man whom God raised up, whom the God of Jacob anointed, the singer of Israel’s psalms: The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me. His words were on my tongue The God of Israel spoke to them.” (2 Samuel 23:1-3 God’s Word)

    This is the testimony of King David which he made at the end of his life. From his statement, we find that God did not dictate His Words to him, neither did He put him into some trance or state that he would automatically write down His truths. David said that the Spirit of God miraculously spoke through him.

    Thus, in an unexplained way, the Spirit of God guided the thoughts and words of the biblical characters so that they would preach, teach and write God’s truth.

    The Apostle Paul wrote something similar to the church in Corinth. He said:

    And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Corinthians 2:13 ESV)

    Paul was taught by the Holy Spirit. The words of Scripture did not come about as a result of human wisdom, but rather through the guidance and teaching of the Holy Spirit of God.

    In the Book of Proverbs, we read that it is the Lord who gives wisdom to people:

    The LORD gives wisdom. From his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Proverbs 2:6 God’s Word)

    Divine truth originates with God, but comes to us in human words. These human words, which were both spoken and written by the various authors of the books of Scripture, were guided by the Holy Spirit of God in some unexplained way.

  4. The Writers Were Chosen by God

    There is something else which needs to be emphasized. The writers of the sacred text were chosen by God and prepared by Him for their task. They knew Him personally and learned from Him. Paul, for example, was God’s chosen vessel. The Lord made this clear to a believer named Ananias. The Bible says:

    But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he [Paul] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV)

    The same is true with the prophet Jeremiah. The Bible says that he was chosen by God:

    Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5 ESV)

    This special ability to speak the truth of God and to write Holy Scripture was given to only a few select individuals. It was not something that was widespread.

    In addition, it was not given to anyone that lived after the time of the apostles. The writing of Scripture ceased with their death. Therefore, the writing of Holy Scripture was limited to a small number of individuals who lived during a limited time period in history.

It Was the Writings, Not the Writers, That Were Divinely Inspired

This brings us to another important point. According to Scripture, it is the writings, the finished product, that is authoritative, not the writers themselves. The Bible testifies that the words of God were given in human words which were guided by God. We read the following passage in the Book of Numbers which gives us some insight into this truth:

And he took up his discourse and said, “The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor, the oracle of the man whose eye is opened, the oracle of him who hears the words of God, and knows the knowledge of the Most High, who sees the vision of the Almighty, falling down with his eyes uncovered: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel; it shall crush the forehead of Moab and break down all the sons of Sheth.” (Numbers 24:15-17 ESV)

In this passage it is stated that what we have is an oracle of a man—the prophet Balaam. At the same time, it was the words of the Most High God. Thus, we find that the prophets realized and admitted they were mere mortals but they were relating the words of the immortal God.

Consequently, those individuals who composed the various books of Scripture wrote God’s Word in our human language. The emphasis is always on the words God gave them to speak or write; it is never on the person who delivered these words.

In fact, the Bible says the writers were sometimes unaware of the meaning of what they wrote. Peter stated it this way:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. (1 Peter 1:10-11 TNIV)

Daniel the prophet did not understand some of the prophecies he recorded. He wrote:

I heard, but I did not understand. So I said, “Sir, what will happen after all these things?” He said, “Go, Daniel. For these matters are closed and sealed until the time of the end.” (Daniel 12:8-9 NET)

It is clear that the Holy Spirit controlled the authors of Scripture in a special way so that the final product was what God intended them to say. We know that the writing of Scripture was a supernatural process. Sinful human beings could not, on their own, express God’s authoritative Word to humanity. The biblical writers were carried along by the Holy Spirit in an unexplained way.

The Entire Process Was Supervised by the Holy Spirit

The Bible emphasizes that the writing of Scripture was divinely supervised by the Holy Spirit. Peter wrote:

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:20-21 ESV)

From this statement, we discover that whatever the Scripture says was not the product of any human opinion, ingenuity, interpretation or explanation. It was, rather, the very Word of God. Furthermore, as we have already seen, Scripture had its origin in God and in Him alone. It was not with human beings.

This verse, therefore, teaches us two things with respect as to how the Bible was divinely inspired:

  1. It was never a decision of the human authors that determined what was written in Scripture.
  2. The ultimate source of writing was God the Holy Spirit; He made the decision of what should be written.

Peter said the writers were “moved” or “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. The Greek word translated “moved” in 2 Peter 1:21 has the idea of “to be carried,” or “to be borne along.” This word was used of a ship being carried along by the wind in its sail. The Book of Acts gives an illustration of the process:

The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. (Acts 27:15 TNIV)

The word translated “driven along” is the same one as found in 2 Peter 1:21, where it is translated, “carried along.”

This indicates that the Holy Spirit “carried” the human authors when they wrote the Scripture. It was God who moved them. The Holy Spirit was the active agent. The writers were passive in receiving the message, but active in the writing of the message. Ultimately, they were writing what the Holy Spirit prompted them to write. While the process was a mystery, the final result was God’s authoritative Word.

In contrast, the Bible says that the message of false prophets came from their own wicked imagination. The Lord said:

I have heard what the prophets say who prophesy lies in my name. They say, ‘I had a dream! I had a dream!’ How long will this continue in the hearts of these lying prophets, who prophesy the delusions of their own minds? (Jeremiah 23:25-26 NIV)

We read of something similar in the Book of Ezekiel. We find the Lord saying the following to the prophet:

Son of man, speak against the false prophets of Israel who are inventing their own prophecies. Tell them to listen to the word of the LORD. (Ezekiel 13:2 NLT)

Therefore, we have the contrast between the true prophets and the false ones. The false prophets invented their message, while the genuine prophets miraculously spoke the Word of God.

There Are Illustrations of God’s Spirit Coming upon People

Although the Bible does not give an explanation as to how this process worked, it does provide examples of God’s Spirit actually coming upon people. We read in the Old Testament:

And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah the son of Oded... (2 Chronicles 15:1 KJV)

Jesus spoke of David speaking by means of the Holy Spirit. Matthew records the following:

He [Jesus] said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord?’” (Matthew 22:43 TNIV)

In these two passages, we find Scripture informing us that God’s Spirit actually came upon individuals. Thus, we have historical examples of the Spirit of God coming upon people to deliver God’s truth or to do a certain task.

Conclusion: God Spoke His Word Through Humans in a Mysterious Way

Therefore, we can sum up the biblical teaching as follows: the Spirit of God came upon certain individuals in such a way that allowed God to speak through them and, on some occasions, have them write down exactly what God wanted to say. In doing so, God the Holy Spirit overruled human imperfections, so that the end result was God’s Word.

Something else should be noted. The composition of the books of the Bible is a complex process. It is possible that the biblical authors wrote drafts of their works or revised what they first wrote. We simply do not know. All we have is their final product.

In conclusion, there are two extremes to avoid when answering this question as to how God worked through the human writers. The first is to assume that the Bible is the result of some sort of dictation of God to the writer; the second is to assume the writer was absolutely free to do whatever he wished. Neither of these is true. The Scripture contains the fully human words of the writers.

However, they wrote exactly what God wanted them to say. There was God’s providential oversight, or supervision, of the whole process. Exactly how God did this is not explained to us. It is a mystery that we accept as true by faith.

Summary - Question 7
How Did the Process of Divine Inspiration Occur? (How Did the Eternal God Speak Through Human Beings)

While the Bible does not give us exact details of how God spoke authoritatively through the human authors of Scripture, it does tell us that the words of Scripture originated with Him and were communicated to humankind in order to produce the resultant Word of God. From Scripture, we can make a number of conclusions: first, God originated the message. He then communicated it to those whom He wanted it proclaimed.

All of this was eventually committed to writing. However, it is the writings, not the writers, upon which the Bible puts the emphasis. Exactly how all this occurred is not stated. Scripture says that the ultimate source was God the Holy Spirit who moved the writers in such a way to say what was needed to be said.

Although the writers were in control of their senses, God spoke His Word through them in such a way as to bring about His authoritative Word. In a number of places, Scripture records the Spirit of God as coming upon people. This demonstrates that God’s Spirit has come upon people in the past to accomplish His purpose. The final result was that the Holy Spirit supervised the process in such a way that the written Word would remain authoritative after the original writer had died.

Don’t Some Translations of 2 Timothy 3:16 Seem to Limit the Bible’s Authority? ← Prior Section
What Are the Parallels Between the Writing of Scripture and the First Coming of Jesus Christ? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

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.

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