Understanding Inspiration

Even among those who believe that the Bible is from God there are often questions about the inspiration of the scriptures. People want to understand how they are inspired and what that means for our interpretation of them. While there are many ways one can approach the inspiration of the Bible: from outside sources, to internal evidence, to scriptural analysis; let us consider some of the things that are stated in the Bible about its inspiration that help the Bible believer to get a grasp on what God said he did in giving it to us.

The easiest place to begin in such an examination is with what the Bible says about the Old Testament, because it is here that oftentimes the greatest charges are brought against the scriptures. Whether it is the charge that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are nothing more than regurgitated myth, or that the writings of the prophets were somehow created by combining the writings of multiple sources over hundreds of years (thereby disputing prophecy), so-called scholars have been attacking the inspiration of the scriptures for centuries.

But what did God say about it? For the individual who is already convinced that the Bible is from God, his answer should be sufficient to explain what he did in giving us the Bible. Consider 3 passages from the New Testament that pertain to the inspiration of the Old Testament.

To the Romans, Paul wrote, “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). This statement is made on the heels of Paul quoting Psalm 69:9 in the previous verse. He then follows that up with this statement about the value of things written in times past. However, it is also clear that he is speaking, not of all writings of the past, but specifically the writings of the Old Testament. The word translated “scriptures” comes from the Greek word graphe meaning “writings, something written.” So the things written beforehand, the Old Testament, were written for our ability to learn from them.

But how were they communicated? That is the emphasis of Second Timothy 3:15-17, where Paul writes: “And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. 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, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Paul begins by reminding Timothy that he had been taught the holy scriptures from childhood (literally in the Greek: from infancy). These were the Old Testament scriptures that were taught to him by his Jewish mother and grandmother.

Nevertheless, notice how Paul continues his statement to Timothy. After reminding him of what he had been taught, he considers the giving and use of the scriptures when he states: “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” Though specifically speaking in context about the Old Testament, the same statement will equally apply to the New Testament as well because he says: “all scripture;” therefore, all of the holy writings are by the inspiration of God. The phrase “inspiration of God” is translated from the Greek word theopneustos, which comes from two Greek words: theos meaning “God,” and pneo meaning “to breathe.” Therefore, a literal translation would be “God-breathed,” or “by the breath of God.” In other words, every Scripture is as though God gave it with his own breath.

However, the next question becomes: If the Scriptures are “by the breath of God,” how did men write them? It is certain that there are varying styles between the writers of scripture, both Old and New Testaments. That being so, how did God utilize these men to fulfill his needs of giving his word?  The answer is found in Second Peter 1:20-21. There Peter writes: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” Peter says that the scriptures were not written by the whims and wishes of men. The phrase “private interpretations,” literally means in the Greek, “personal explanations;” in other words the things brought forth by the holy men of God were not their own thoughts or explanations, but were the things expressly given by God. This understanding removes the possibility of, what some call, “thought inspiration;” meaning that God simply gave a thought and let each man decide how they wanted to use it. Man’s personal ideas and explanations were left out of the giving of the Scriptures: though it is obvious God used each writer’s style, experience, and expertise to best express what he desired.

These same principles apply to the New Testament just as much as they did the Old. Look at the context of the statements considered from Second Peter 1. In speaking concerning the New Testament, Peter says: “For we have not followed cunningly devised fables… but were eyewitnesses of his majesty… We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed” (2 Pet. 1:16, 19). Peter is speaking of the New Covenant, that the things which have been written are made more stable and sure by the prophecies of the Old Covenant because both are given by the inspiration of God. Additionally, both Jesus (John 12:48-50) and Paul (Gal. 1:10-12) will speak of the things they said and wrote being the words of God, not their own ideas.

Therefore, when it comes to the Bible and its inspiration there are three things we need to comprehend: 1) The Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, were given by God directly through his holy servants. They are not myths, legends, or compilations of writings from myriad unnamed sources throughout the generations. 2) Though God used the lives, experiences, and expertise of men to communicate the scriptures to us, there is nothing in the word of God that is present without the knowledge and express intent of God. No writer was allowed to “put their own spin” on God’s proclamations. 3) While some men will claim contradictions and confusion throughout the scriptures; the continuity of the Bible is plainly seen and evident when one is willing to take into consideration the scriptural context, audience, definition, and purpose of the statements being given.

I pray that you will always see the Bible as it is: God’s revelation to man for the purposes of knowledge, understanding, doctrine, and instruction: “That the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work.”

7 Comments

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7 responses to “Understanding Inspiration

  1. Stephen Segrest

    Adam — thank you for a very well written blog post which I agree with on a macro “big picture” level. Its on the application of a “Hermeneutic Method” on so many (usually societal) issues that I struggle with. Today we see so many “culture wars” tearing the Church apart. But, this isn’t anything new. A question I have for you: “Why was there so much disagreement between the Apostles? How could this even occur? — They all read the same “Holy Scriptures” and had the Holy Spirit in them.” I see the “culture” of 2,000 years ago with a heavy footprint in much of the NT writings. A point that I just sincerely believe is that in applying the “Hermeneutic Method” today (especially within conservative churches arguing Biblical “Authority” per your blog post) that people sometimes miss the “big picture”. My take on Luke is that Christ didn’t come to give us a long list of do’s and do not’s, He came to save souls. In doing this, Christ broke a lot of “RULES” (the woman at the well comes to mind). The “Rules” of Church organization in Acts was broken in the non local Jerusalem Council — where people came together, respectfully talked, and looked for “big picture” commonality rather than cultural divisiveness. Isn’t this “doctrinal purity” using Biblical Authority exactly what was written by John in the Book of Revelations to the Church at Ephesus? Always implementing Christ’s 2nd most important commandment is what can make our Faith so “messy” in how Christians interact with each other and the outside world. Where am I incorrect in my thinking?

    • Stephen, Thanks for your continued comments. I will try to write some articles in the next few weeks that deal with some of these issues you are questioning. Let me ask you a question for my own clarification though: what disagreements between the apostles are you considering? Are there specific instances about which you are thinking?

      • Stephen Segrest

        At least from my end — the words “struggling with” is better than the word “questioning”. Maybe I’ll agree with you, maybe I won’t — but I do want to at least understand you as a teacher.

  2. Stephen Segrest

    In the context of my above comments — the disagreement over Jews and Gentiles (e.g., Paul and Peter).

    • Stephen,
      Please be assured I have not forgotten or ignored the topics you have brought up. It seems every time I have started to write over the last week something has come up, but I hope to have some more posts up in the next couple of weeks.

  3. Stephen Segrest

    Adam — Did you know Marty Pickup of Florida College and also a Church of Christ teacher here in Tampa? You remind me a lot of Marty’s teaching approach — explaining Biblically based WHY’s to your “students” as we try to better understand God’s Word.

    • Sorry for not answering this sooner, I got sidetracked and forgot about your question. I am not familiar with Mr. Pickup, but since I have spent very little time in that area of Florida it is not surprising.

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