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The Bible and Inspiration

If you were challenged to explain how the Bible is inspired and what makes it the word of God, would you be able to do so? Read on…

The first explainer post in this series noted how traditional Christianity considers the Bible to be inspired by God and is therefore the word of God. The purpose of this post is to explore further the issue of the inspiration of Scripture.

Variations Within Christendom

Over the past several centuries the word “Christianity” has become a somewhat vague term. Historic, traditional Christianity since Early Church times has been conservative, holding to a high view of the Bible and all it teaches, including belief in miracles, predictive prophecy, and so on.

Since the Enlightenment, however, more liberal expressions of Christianity have emerged. Consequently, some within Christendom reject historical and traditional views and many do not regard the Bible as divinely inspired. Others emphasise some of the Bible’s ethical teachings (eg the Beatitudes) while rejecting the supernatural element, such as miracles or the Resurrection.

The following discussion of inspiration (and this website as a whole) holds to a historical, traditional view of the Bible and focuses upon inspiration from that perspective.

Biblical Self-Claims of Inspiration

The Bible refers to its own inspiration in various places. In 2 Timothy the apostle Paul states that all Scripture is God-breathed (breathed out by God). At the very least he was referring to the entire Old Testament which by the the Jewish people regarded as divine Scripture. Elsewhere Paul refers to these writings as Scripture (Romans 9:17, 15:4, Galatians 3:8) while other passages in the New Testament likewise affirm the divine nature of the Old Testament (Acts 4:25, 28:25ff, Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus, too, affirmed the writings of Moses and the prophets.

What about the New Testament? The apostle Peter described the very writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Peter 3:15-16), while Paul himself indicates the divine origin of his writings (1 Corinthians 2:13, Ephesians 3:1-5). Elsewhere the New Testament further affirms the divine nature of Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-1), referred to as the word of God (Ephesians 6:17, Hebrew 4:12).

Thus, despite being written by human authors, the word of God is divinely inspired and supervised as men were led by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture.

Inspiration, Not Dictation

Despite this divine authorship it is important to recognise that in the penning of Scripture God permitted human input and expression. To be sure, there are times the Old Testament prophets are presented as the very mouthpiece of God, uttering His declarations word for word. 

Yet at other times the humanity of the writers is also evident. For example, Mark’s use of Greek is rough and ready compared with, say, Matthew’s or Luke’s more polished Greek. So unless one maintains that God dictated good Greek to one author and rough Greek to another, it is clear the human traits and words of the original authors have been received in the words of the Bible.

Elsewhere Paul differentiates on several occasions between his and the Lord’s words (see throughout 1 Corinthians 7).

This concept of human input—albeit divinely supervised—is an important one that nips some unnecessary disputes in the bud. If one accepts that it is the transmission of actual thoughts rather than individual words that is paramount, then one becomes less transfixed with the notion of one absolute, authoritative version and translation of the Bible. 

Indeed, any translation from the original Bible languages into English changes the actual original words to some extent, because very often words have slightly different meanings from one language to another. Thus, it is important to focus on thoughts expressed rather than individual words. We will explore the issue of Bible translations later in this series.

Written vs Incarnate Word

Several times we have referred to the Bible as the Word of God. This phrase recognises the divine nature of the Bible.

However, the term can also be abused so that the Bible becomes an object of veneration in itself, while its human element is dismissed or downplayed. Thus, the Bible becomes an end in itself rather than a means, that is, a divinely inspired means, or tool, to teach, correct and train.

Ultimately the Word of God is Jesus (John 1:1-2, 14), the means through which God intervenes in time and space to reveal Himself and His message to the human realm.

An important approach to reconciling these two different understandings of the Word of God—Incarnate and written—is to hold both their human and divine characteristics in balance. So, just as the written Word is both human and divine, so too is the Incarnate Word. It is essential to Christian theology that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine if He was to serve as our high priest and mediator between a God who is Spirit and humanity which is flesh (Hebrews 3:17: 4:14-15). Likewise the written word—both divine and human—bears witness to the Incaranate Word.

This concept of human input in the penning of Scripture leads inevitably to the question of inerrancy, which will be discussed in the next post in this series.

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