The Inspiration of Scripture (Bible Study)
The Inspiration of Scripture
INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE “All Scripture is inspired by God” (2 Tim. 3:16 HCSB). B. B. Warfield argued that the compound word (theopneustos), translated “inspired by God,” misleadingly borrows from the Vulgate (Lat., divinitus inspirata). Instead of an inspiration (i.e., a breathing into by God), Paul’s Greek suggests that Scripture is a divine “spiration” (that which God has breathed out, the product of His creative breath). Paul’s point, then, is not that Scripture is inspiring to read (it is that), or that the authors were inspired (they were), but that Scripture’s origin means it is the very Word of God.
Moreover, the verse is sometimes incorrectly translated as “every Scripture which is inspired,” perhaps implying that Paul did not believe all Scripture is inspired. But in the preceding verse, he alludes not to just a portion but to the entire OT as the “sacred Scriptures.”
For Paul and the writers of the Bible, the Scriptures are “the spoken words of God” (Rom. 3:2 HCSB). When Scripture speaks, God speaks (1 Cor. 6:16; Heb. 3:7; 10:15).
Theories of Inspiration Historically, biblical inspiration has been reckoned in four ways. (1) The Bible is only inspired like other good books with human authors. This is neither what Scripture says nor what the church has believed. (2) The Bible is only partially inspired by God. Proponents hold that only the theological (not the scientific or historical) portions of Scripture are inspired, or that Scripture is just a record of God’s saving historical acts, or that the Bible contains the word of God rather than being that word. But inspiration ensures that Scripture itself is the revealed word of God, not only testifying of God’s redemptive work but also interpreting it. (3) The Bible is divinely inspired without use of human authors. Mechanical dictation theory renders Scripture analogous to myths regarding the origins of the Koran or Book of Mormon, and runs contrary to what the Bible says of its origins. (4) The Bible is divinely inspired because God concurrently worked with human authors to produce the very written message He desired. This classical view teaches the Holy Spirit superintended more than 40 authors from widely divergent backgrounds (shepherds, kings, prophets, fishermen, etc.), spanning a period of approximately a millennium and a half, to produce with supernatural congruity not just the thoughts but the very words of God to mankind.
Mode of Inspiration The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (1978) confesses that the “mode of divine inspiration remains largely a mystery to us.” But certain inferences can be drawn. For instance, the authors were divinely prepared to write God’s word in much the same way as the prophets were made ready to speak His word. “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 … all that I command you, you shall speak.… Behold, I have put My words in your mouth” (Jer. 1:4–9 NASB; cp. Exod. 4:11–16; 1 Sam. 3; Isa. 6:1–9; Ezek. 2:3–3:11; Amos 7:14–15; Gal. 1:15; Rev. 1:10–11, 19). New Testament apostles were received as authoritative by the early church in the same way as OT prophets under inspiration (1 Cor. 2:9–13; 14:37; Col. 4:16; 1 Thess. 2:13; 5:27; 2 Thess. 3:6; 2 Pet. 3:2). Peter referred to the writings of Paul as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:15–16; inferred also in Jude 17–18).
God Himself wrote the Decalogue (Exod. 24:12; 31:18; 32:16), and the writers of Scripture occasionally wrote what God dictated (Exod. 34:27–28; Rev. 1:10–11). But normally God used His chosen writers’ personalities, theological meditations, and literary styles. Inspiration was not always continuous in the writers’ minds (Jer. 1:2; 14:1; 25:1; 26:1). The divine inscripturated message often surpassed the author’s understanding (Dan. 12:8–9; Luke 10:23–24; 1 Pet. 1:10–12). Biblical authors were not always aware that divine inspiration was at work in them (Luke 1:3, Luke’s historical research). The apostles could write divinely inspired letters in responding to questions and by stating their opinions (1 Cor. 7:1, 25). The Holy Spirit saw to it that each biblical book actually has two authors, one human and one divine. Thus the divine superintendence of Scripture guarantees its inerrancy.
Inerrancy P. D. Feinberg defined inerrancy as “the view that when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original manuscripts and correctly interpreted is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (Evangelical Dictionary of Theology).
Inerrancy extends only to the original biblical writings, the autographa (Chicago Statement: “Copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original”). Though this stress by conservatives upon the autographa is often ridiculed, the emphasis is critical and sensible. Compared to a later copyist or translator, the author of the original text had a supernatural task for which the total superintendence of the Holy Spirit was needed. Only once for all time the text was written. Should the autograph be corrupted by errors, the following copies and translations of it would never be able to arrive at God’s revealed truth. Therefore, the evangelical who emphasizes the inerrancy of the original manuscript does not undermine copies or translations, rather the undermining is done by those who deny the inerrancy of the autographa. The obvious order of transmission is from the original to copy to translation. Biblical faith, then, must not admit of error in the autographa but must be diligently aware of the possibility for error in copy or translation. This awareness has led to careful study of the textual transmission process and the original languages.
Thankfully, divine providence has overseen the transmission of scriptural copies for 3,000 years. The remarkable conserving work of the OT accomplished by Masoretic scribes is well documented, and NT copies abound more than any other work of antiquity, lending great confidence that we have what the apostles wrote. (It is simply not true that use of modern critical texts as opposed to the Textus Receptus will obscure or corrupt biblical doctrine. The widespread consensus among conservative textual scholars is that variants in the copies are insignificant regarding doctrine.) English readers are especially well served by an abundance of translations that faithfully make available the Word of God in the vernacular.
Inerrancy is a matter of faith and is not demonstrable by scholarship. But many attacks upon the veracity of Scripture are wrongheaded from the outset by those who insist upon arbitrary criteria for inerrancy. As the Chicago Statement notes, inerrancy is not undermined “by Biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, the reporting of falsehoods, the use of hyperbole and round numbers, the topical arrangement of material, variant selections of material in parallel accounts, or the use of free citations.” Claims regarding other types of alleged errors are often greatly exaggerated. Indeed most Bible difficulties have yielded to the patient work of scholars that can be accessed in quality conservative commentaries.
So attempted harmonization of apparently discrepant texts is the appropriate first response, not the assumption of error. Some difficulties may not yield to investigation unless more archaeological or historical facts come to light. And if problems regarding some texts are not solved, evangelical confidence assumes that were all the pertinent facts known, no error would be found in the Bible. In the final analysis, the follower of Jesus exercises this kind of trust in the Word of God because it is mandated by the example of the Lord Himself.
Jesus’ Attitude Toward Scripture Some today attempt to pit Christ as God’s supreme revelation against scriptural revelation. Jesus reproved those in His day who searched the Scriptures but did not recognize that they bear witness to Him (John 5:39). But He did not reprove them for searching the Scriptures; after all, the Scriptures alone testify of Christ. There is no other way to know Him. Christ is the center of the Christian faith, and the way to Him is by that which the Spirit of God employs for this purpose, the God-breathed Bible.
The disciple’s attitude should not be other than his Master’s toward Scripture: Scripture is final and authoritative (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; John 10:35) because it is the inspired Word of God. His reverence for and confidence in the OT was stunning (Matt. 5:17–19; 26:54; Luke 16:17; 18:31). See Revelation of God.