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The Bible: The Inspired Revelation of God

The Necessity of Inspiration

As special revelation is God’s communication to man of the truth he must know in order to be properly related to God, so inspiration deals with the preservation of that revelation so that what was received from God was accurately transmitted to others beyond the original recipient. In revelation we have the vertical reception of God’s truth while in inspiration we have the horizontal communication of that revelation accurately to others. The question is how can we be sure the Bible is God’s revelation to man and not merely the product of human ingenuity or merely human opinion? If what God revealed has not been accurately recorded, then that record is subject to question. The doctrine of inspiration answers that question and guarantees the accuracy of the Bible as God’s special revelation.

The Meaning of Inspiration

The English word inspiration has a number of connotations, the most fundamental being the act of drawing in, especially of the inhalation of air into the lungs. The word is also used of the stimulation of the mind or emotions to a high level of feeling or activity. Sometimes it is used of a work of art, as a painting full of inspiration. None of these really fit with the biblical concept.

In its theological usage inspiration is derived from the Latin Vulgate Bible where the verb inspire is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21. The word inspiration is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 to translate qeopneustos, a word that occurs only here. Qeopneustos is derived from qeos, “God,” and pnew, “to breath.” Literally, it means “God-breathed” and expresses the concept of exhalation by God. More accurately, it emphasizes that Scripture is the product of the breath of God. The Scriptures are not something breathed into by God, rather, the Scriptures have been breathed out by God.

A Biblical Definition of Inspiration

Inspiration must be carefully defined because of the varied uses of this term and the wrong ideas about inspiration being promoted today, ideas that are inconsistent with what the Bible itself teaches regarding inspiration. Inspiration may be defined as “God’s superintendence of the human authors of Scripture so that using their own individual personalities, they composed and recorded without error His revelation to man in the words of the original autographs.”

If we break this definition down into its various parts, we note several elements, each of which is vital to understanding what the Bible teaches about inspiration.

(1) The word “superintendence” refers to the guiding relationships God had with the human authors of Scripture in the various material of the Bible. His superintendence varied in degree, but it was always included so that the Spirit of God guaranteed the accuracy of what was written.

(2) The word “composed” shows that the writers were not simply stenographers who wrote what God dictated to them. They were actively involved using their own personalities, backgrounds, and God’s working in their lives, but again, what was composed had the superintendence of God over the material written.

(3) “Without error” expresses what the Bible itself claims to be true regarding its record; it is God’s word and that word is truth (John 17:17; Ps. 119:160).

(4) Though our translations of the Bible are tremendously accurate, being based on thousands of manuscript witnesses, inspiration can only be ascribed to the original autographs, not to manuscript copies or the translations based on those copies.

The following represent a few of the definitions of prominent evangelical theologians:

Benjamin B. Warfield: “Inspiration is, therefore, usually defined as a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Spirit of God, by virtue of which their writings are given Divine trustworthiness.”36

Edward J. Young: “Inspiration is a superintendence of God the Holy Spirit over the writers of the Scriptures, as a result of which these Scriptures possess Divine authority and trustworthiness and, possessing such Divine authority and trustworthiness, are free from error.”37

Charles C. Ryrie: “God superintended the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded without error His message to mankind in the words of their original writings.”38

Millard J. Erickson: “By inspiration of the Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit upon the Scripture writers which rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.”39

To these definitions, Enns adds this important word:

There are several important elements that belong in a proper definition of inspiration: (1) the divine element—God the Holy Spirit superintended the writers, ensuring the accuracy of the writing; (2) the human element—human authors wrote according to their individual styles and personalities; (3) the result of the divine-human authorship is the recording of God’s truth without error; (4) inspiration extends to the selection of words by the writers; (5) inspiration relates to the original manuscripts.40

Biblical Data Supporting Inspiration

The concept that the Bible is inspired, breathed out of God, is not something man has forced on the Bible, but a concept fully in keeping with the claims of the Bible itself. Inspiration is the testimony of the Bible to itself. As in any just court of law, we need to allow the Bible to give testimony to itself.

      Key Facts About Inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16)

The NASB reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The KJV has, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.” The NIV has, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”

A number of important things are stated in this passage regarding the inspiration of Scripture.

(1) The fact of Inspiration. This verse unequivocally states that Scripture is God-breathed. The Apostle Paul, a man authenticated by signs and wonders (2 Cor. 12:12) and recognized as a writer of Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16), declares Scripture to be the product of the out-breathing of God. The question is, what of Scripture is inspired? “Our English word “inspire” carries the idea of breathing into something. But this word tells us that God breathed out something, namely, the Scripture. To be sure, human authors wrote the texts, but the Bible originated as an action of God who breathed it out.”41

(2) The extent of Inspiration. This is stated in the words, “All Scripture is inspired.” The term “Scripture,” the Greek grafh, is used exclusively in the New Testament of the sacred writings, of some portion of the Bible—sometimes of the whole Old Testament (Matt. 22:29; Mark 14:49; Luke 24:45; John 10:35), and sometimes of a specific passage (Matt. 12:10; Luke 4:21; John 13:8).

In addition, “Scripture” is even used of a specific New Testament passage and sometimes to a larger portion of the New Testament. In 1 Timothy 5:18, in support of paying elders for their work, Paul quoted Deuteronomy 25:4, but the words of Christ recorded in Matthew 10:10 and Luke 10:7 are also connected with Paul’s statement, “For the Scripture says.” This is probably the earliest instance of our Lord’s words being quoted as Scripture. While this support for a workman is also found in other Old Testament passages like Leviticus 19:13, the wording clearly is that of Christ recorded in Luke 10:7. Then in 2 Peter 3:16, Peter specifically refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture.

Some versions as the ASV and the NEB translate 3:16 as, “Every Scripture inspired of God is also profitable …” implying some books are not inspired and do not belong in the canon of Scripture. Regarding this issue, Ryrie writes:

Most do not deny that 2 Timothy 3:16 includes all of the canonical books. Those who wish to try to reduce the amount of Scripture included in the verse do so by translating it this way: “All Scripture inspired by God is also profitable” (instead of “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”). In other words, whatever parts of Scripture that are inspired are profitable, but other uninspired parts are not profitable. That translation indicates that only part of the Bible is inspired.

Such a translation is possible, but not required. Actually either translation can claim to be accurate. Both translations have to supply the word is since it does not appear in the original. The matter becomes a question of whether to supply “is” only one time or two times (“Every Scripture inspired by God is also profitable” or “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable”). The preference goes to the latter translation for three reasons. First, by supplying “is” two times, both adjectives (“inspired” and “profitable”) are understood the same way, as predicate adjectives, which is more natural. Second, the connective word, though it may be translated “also,” much more frequently means “and.” Third, a similar construction occurs in 1 Timothy 4:4 where both adjectives are clearly predicate adjectives. Thus the preferred translation makes it quite clear that all the Bible is inspired.42

(3) The value or purposes of Inspiration: This is seen in the second statement of 3:16, “and is profitable for teaching, …” along with verse 17, “that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Obviously, since all Scripture is God breathed, being the product of an all-wise, all-knowing, all-powerful and loving God, the Apostle Paul goes on to state that the entire Bible is profitable for four things:

(a) Teaching— “Teaching” is the Greek didaskalia and means “doctrine” or “teaching.” It is used in both the active sense (i.e., the act of teaching), and in the passive sense (what is taught, doctrine). In the pastoral epistles, Paul uses it of the act of teaching (1 Tim. 4:13, 17; 2 Tim. 3:10), and of what is taught as in sound doctrine (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 4:6, 16; 6:1, 3; 2 Tim. 4:3; Tit. 1:9; 2:1; 2:7, 10). As many of these passages show, especially Titus 2:1, theological teaching, if it is to be truly profitable, must be in accord with sound doctrine, truth from the inspired word. Ultimately, teaching or doctrine, which looks at the content, refers to God’s fundamental principles for man’s life both eternal and abundant. It gives us the basics, the fundamental truths upon which life is to be built.

(b) Reproof—“Reproof” is the Greek elegmos which means “proof, conviction, reproof.” The mos ending shows this is a passive noun which looks at the result of the process of the convicting ministry of the Spirit through the Word—personal conviction through exposure to truth. One might compare elegmos to another Greek word, elenxis, an active noun which looks at the process of reproving or exposing. Both need to go on in the life of a believer. The goal, however, is not simply the process. It’s the result—personal conviction. Like the light it is, the Bible reproves and exposes us to the various ways we violate the plan and principles of God in all the relationships of life, with God and with people as in one’s family, in the church, and in society. Once we have been reproved and experience conviction (reproof) to the violations, we each face a very important decision. We can move toward God and respond to His correction and training, or we can rebel and resist. If we resist, then, as a Father, He disciplines us to draw us back to Him.

(c) Correction—This is the Greek epanorqwsis which means “setting up straight, setting right.” It stresses the restorative nature and capacity of Scripture and points to the more immediate work of the Word to set our feet back on course. The Psalmist wrote, “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psa. 19:7a).

(d) Training in righteousness— “Training” is paidia which basically means “training, instruction, discipline,” not in the sense of punishment, but in the sense of the disciplines that train and develop character, strength, skill, etc. This is undoubtedly more long range and refers to those truths that develop godly character and spiritual strength—growth truths and procedures like Bible study, meditation, and prayer.

But these four objectives have a greater goal or purpose. The purpose is that “the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:17). The Bible offers us God’s comfort and His peace as it reveals His love, care, and mercy, but this is always in the context of conforming us into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:28-29) and equipping us for a life of good works (Eph. 2:10). Equipping us is designed to produce righteousness and ministry rather than self-indulgence.

The word “adequate” is the Greek artios which means “fit, complete, capable, sufficient: i.e., able to meet whatever is needed.” Being “fit” looks at the result or the intended result of a process, the aim in view. I think the process itself is seen in the word “equipped.” Note these three points about this word:

First, “Equipped” is the Greek ezartizw which means “to outfit, fully furnish, fully supply” as in fitting out a wagon or a ship for a long journey. It was actually used of outfitting a rescue boat.43 We might compare our Coast Guard vessels and their crews that are so well equipped to go out and rescue ships in trouble.

Second, “Equipped” is an adverbial participle which points us to the mode or the means of becoming “adequate” “capable,” or “competent.” We might translate the verse as, “that the man of God may be capable, by having been thoroughly equipped.” In the context, the equipping comes from knowing this God-breathed book.

Third, the verb “equipped” is in the perfect tense which, in Greek, often looks at the results of preceding action or a process. In the context, the process is that of studying, knowing, and applying God’s inspired Word while the result is ability for ministry through spiritual growth.

God’s goal in giving us His Word and our goal in studying and knowing God’s Word is to thoroughly fit us out that we might become fully competent servants of God for every kind of good work in the midst of a dark and needy world, like thoroughly equipped rescue vessels on missions of mercy.

      The How of Inspiration (2 Pet. 1:20-21)

20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. 21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:20-21 NIV).

The NIV translation above of verse 20 is much closer to the original Greek, more in accord with the preceding and following context, and clearly expresses the truth we need to grasp here. The statement, “Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation,” simply declares that whatever the prophets wrote or whatever we find in the Word, it was not the product of the author’s own ideas or human opinion. In verses 16-19, the issue being discussed is the source of the apostolic message. Was it human fable or was it from God? Verse 20 answers the first part of this question. It was not from man.

The second part of this question or issue is found in verse 21. Note the connecting and explanatory “For” of verse 21. This teaches us that both God and man were involved in the production of the Bible, but in such a way that God was the ultimate source (though man’s will was involved, Scripture was never the product of human will). God both directed the writing and guaranteed the accuracy of the product. The human authors actively spoke God’s Word and they were more than dictation machines, but to ensure the accuracy of what was spoken, the human authors were moved and carried along by the Holy Spirit. “Moved” is feromenoi, a Greek passive participle meaning, “to be carried, be borne along.” This word was used of a ship being carried along by the wind in its sail in Acts 27:15, 17.

Catching the import of this, Ryrie writes:

Though experienced men, the sailors could not guide it so they finally had to let the wind take the ship wherever it blew. In the same manner as that ship was driven, directed, or carried about by the wind, God directed and moved the human writers He used to produce the books of the Bible. Though the wind was the strong force that moved the ship along, the sailors were not asleep and inactive. Similarly, the Holy Spirit was the guiding force that directed the writers who, nevertheless, played their own active roles in writing the Scriptures.44

This verse, then, teaches us two things regarding the “How” of inspiration: (a) The will of the human authors never directed the writings of the Bible, and (b) the Holy Spirit as the ultimate source ensured the accuracy of what they wrote in every way.

      The Breadth of Inspiration

(1) 1 Corinthians 2:12-13

12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

The subject in this passage is God’s revelation by which we know of the things of God, things which man cannot know by human wisdom. But the point we must not miss is that this revelation comes to us, not just in thoughts or concepts, but in specific words. This shows the fallacy of concept inspiration, that inspiration extends to the concepts, but not to the words. In its scope or breadth, by the Bible’s own explanation, inspiration extends to the very words of the Bible.

(2) 2 Peter 1:3-4

3 Seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

It is clear from verse 4 and the reference to “His precious and magnificent promises” that Peter has the Word of God in view in these two verses. First, there is the declaration that God “has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness.” Second, life and godliness come through the knowledge of God and the Lord Jesus, but such knowledge comes through the Word, the precious promises. In essence then, this points us to the breadth of what God’s Word covers, “everything pertaining to life and godliness.”

While God does not reveal everything that He could reveal, many things He has chosen to keep to Himself (Deut. 29:29), the Bible, in progressive fashion, does cover all that man needs for life and godliness through its revelation of God and of Jesus our Lord. We have everything we need, nothing is missing.

False Views of Inspiration

      Natural Inspiration

This view denies the supernatural element in biblical inspiration; the writers of Scripture were simply men of special genius who possessed unusual religious insight into moral and spiritual truth. Through their special abilities, they wrote the books of the Bible in much the same way as any individual might write any book. Through their religious insight, they wrote on religious subjects in the same way Shakespeare wrote literature. Writing by their own will, the writers conceived what they wrote.

      Spiritual or Mystical Illumination

Regarding this view, Ryrie writes:

This viewpoint goes a step farther than natural inspiration, for it conceives of the writers as more than natural geniuses in that they were also Spirit-filled and guided. “The inspiration of the books of the Bible does not imply for us the view that they were produced or written in any manner generically different from that of the writing of other great Christian books.… There is a wide range of Christian literature from the fifth to the twentieth century which can with propriety be described as inspired by the Holy Spirit in precisely the same formal sense as were the books of the Bible” (Alan Richardson, Christian Apologetics [New York: Harper, 1948], p.207). Thus, (a) other Christian writings are as inspired as the Bible; (b) the Bible books are not infallible even though (c) they represent great religious literature that may even contain messages from God.45

In this view any Christian, if illuminated by the Holy Spirit, could be the author of inspired Scripture. Those who hold to this view teach that it is the writers who are inspired, not the writings themselves. Schleiermacher taught this view on the Continent while Coleridge propounded it in England.46

      Degree Inspiration

This view holds to the inspiration of Scripture, but it holds that some parts are more inspired than others. It is true that some parts of Scripture are more relevant than others, but all of Scripture is equally inspired and accurate, and it all has an important place in the overall revelation of God.

      Partial Inspiration

The partial inspiration theory teaches that some parts of the Bible are inspired and some parts are not. Those parts related to matters of salvation and faith are inspired, but those parts that deal with history, science, chronology, or other non-faith matters may be in error. This view maintains that though some material may be in error, God still preserves the message of salvation. We can trust the Bible in spiritual matters, but in some areas, there may be error.

The partial theory rejects both verbal inspiration (that inspiration extends to the words of Scripture) and plenary inspiration (that inspiration extends to the entirety of Scripture). Despite the presence of errors in Scripture, partial theorists teach that an imperfect medium is a sufficient guide to salvation.47

But this creates real problems regarding the trustworthiness of Scripture. Ryrie writes:

But is not the biblical teaching about salvation based on historical facts? Suppose those facts are inaccurate? Then our understanding about salvation might also be erroneous. You cannot separate history and doctrine and allow for errors (however few) in the historical records and at the same time be certain that the doctrinal parts are true.48

The basic question then is what parts of the Bible can we trust and what parts are in error? Furthermore, who decides these questions?

      Conceptual Inspiration

This view says that the concepts or ideas of the writers are inspired but not the words. God communicated the concepts to the human author, but not the words. It is true that a correct doctrine of inspiration does not include dictation, but God did superintend the authors so that the words they used from their own vocabularies were guided by the Holy Spirit. In response, how are concepts expressed, if they are to be expressed accurately? Through carefully chosen words. Further, both Jesus and Paul affirmed the concept of verbal inspiration (See Matt. 5:18 and Gal. 3:16).

      Divine Dictation

The mechanical or dictation view teaches that the whole Bible was dictated word for word by God; the writers were passive, much like secretaries or stenographers who sat and wrote down what was given to them. Concerning this view, Enns remarks:

This claim would render the Bible similar to the Koran which supposedly was dictated in Arabic from heaven. Although some parts of the Bible were given by dictation (cf. Ex. 20:1, “Then God spoke all these words”), the books of the Bible reveal a distinct contrast in style and vocabulary, suggesting the authors were not mere automatons. The beginning student in Greek will quickly discover the difference in style between the gospel of John and the gospel of Luke. John wrote in a simple style with a limited vocabulary, whereas Luke wrote with an expanded vocabulary and a more sophisticated style. If the dictation theory were true, the style of the books of the Bible should be uniform.49

      Neo-orthodox or Barthian View

This final view is a very dangerous view because those who hold it often sound evangelical, but they are actually often very liberal in their theology. This view teaches the Bible is not the Word of God, but only becomes the Word of God through a special encounter when God speaks to a person in some kind of subjective experience. In other words, the Bible only witnesses to the Word of God, but it is not the Word of God.

Moreover, the Bible is enshrouded in myth necessitating a demythologizing of the Bible to discover what actually took place. The historicity of the events is unimportant. For example, whether or not Christ actually rose from the dead in time and space is unimportant to the neo-orthodox adherent. The important thing is the experiential encounter that is possible even though the Bible is tainted with factual errors. In this view the authority is the subjective experience of the individual rather than the Scriptures themselves.50

Ryrie concludes his comments on Barthianism with these words:

Can such a Bible have any kind of authority? Yes, declares the Barthian. Its authority is in the encounter of faith with the Christ of Scripture. The Bible, because it points to Christ, has instrumental authority, not inherent authority. And those parts which do point to Christ have more authority than those which do not. Yet all the parts contain errors.

To sum up: Barthianism teaches that the Bible (B) points to Christ the Word (C). But in reality we do not know anything about C apart from B. It is not that we already have a clear concept of C by which we can test the accuracy of B, the pointer. Actually the Bible is the painter of C; that is, what we know about Christ comes from the Bible. So if the Bible has errors in it, the portrait of Christ is erroneous. And make no mistake about it, the Barthian Bible does have errors in it.51

Regardless of whether a person responds or has an encounter with God through the Bible, it is the objective and authoritative Word of God. The Thessalonian Christians accepted it as the Word of God, but Paul’s comment regarding their response was not that they had an encounter so that their message became the word of God, but rather “when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13). They did come to know God through the Word, but Paul emphatically affirms it was the Word of God regardless.

In conclusion, the strongest defense for the verbal plenary inspiration of the Scriptures is the testimony of Jesus Christ. He testified to the inspiration of the entire Scriptures, the various books of the Old Testament and the actual words of Scripture as they were originally recorded. The fact that He based His arguments on the precise wording of Scripture testifies to His exalted view of Scripture. We will demonstrate Christ’s view of Scripture under the concept of inerrancy. In addition, Paul declared all Scripture to be God-breathed; man was God’s instrument, being guided by God in the writing of Scripture. Peter confirmed the truth by emphasizing that the authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit in the writing of Scripture. The testimony of each of these witnesses draws attention to the verbal plenary inspiration of Scripture.


36 B. B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, Presbyterian and Reformed, Philadelphia, 1948, p. 131.

37 Edward J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1957, p. 27.

38 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.

39 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, 1983, p. 199.

40 Enns, p. 160.

41 Ryrie, electronic media.

42 Ryrie, electronic media.

43 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, edited by Cleon L. Rogers, Jr., Regency, Grand Rapids, 1976, p. 647.

44 Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology, Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1987, electronic media.

45 Ryrie.

46 Enns, p. 161.

47 Enns, p. 161.

48 Ryrie.

49 Enns, p. 161-162.

50 Enns, p. 162.

51 Ryrie.

Related Topics: Inspiration, Revelation