“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching,
for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,
that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
(2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)
Our struggle today is to sift through the noise we hear. What if God is telling me something and I’m not listening? Or, what if God is trying to tell me something through someone else and I disregard them? What if I’m missing out on knowing God’s will and purpose for my life? What if parts of the Bible aren’t true because man wrote them? Is there a better way to hear from God than through what He has already revealed? Left unanswered, these questions can throw us off track, and we can lose confidence in God and His plan for us. It can lead to feelings of hopelessness and insecurity.
In our continuing journey to know God and hear from Him, we look now to the Bible. We know that God reveals information about Himself through the creation, providence, and the human conscience. Further, He communicates deliberate and specific truth to us through His written word, also known as special revelation. The Bible is not just a helpful book to have around, it is the specially revealed and inspired Word of God.
Two Major Errors of Inspiration
There have been many ideas about how God gave us the Bible. The church has always had a clear understanding of how God has done this, but over the years, several false theories of inspiration have crept into the church. While the range is broad, let’s address two major errors.
First, the error of human inspiration. This is the view of liberal scholars who believe that there’s nothing divine about the Scriptures at all, rather, the writers were just very religious people who wrote down some nice thoughts about God. This belief creates a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that makes it easy for people to disregard the parts of the Bible that they don’t like, and cherry-pick only the parts they want. However, the Bible never claims to be of human origin; it claims to be the very word of God.
The second error swings in the complete opposite direction. It is the false view of inspiration known as divine dictation. This view states that God dictated His words to passive writers who functioned as robots, copying down what God demanded them to write. While there certainly are some places where God commands someone to “write these words”, that is not the majority of the Bible’s content.
Other religious books like the Koran claim divine dictation; a man named Mohammed receiving words from heaven. But the Bible never claims this for itself. In fact, this is one of the problems with the supposed divine origins of Jesus Calling, where the author, Sarah Young, describes her process, noting, “I decided to listen to God with pen in hand, writing down whatever I believed He was saying.”1 The process she describes using to receive messages from God is very similar to that of divine dictation, and does not match the practices of even the Bible writers.
So, how did God give us His word?
God’s Verbal Inspiration
The process by which God brought about His written revelation is known as divine inspiration. There are two main passages that help formulate our understanding of the process of inspiration. In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes that “All Scripture is breathed out by God”. The Greek word theopneutstos used here is a compound word derived from theos (God) and pneu (breath).2 It’s as if God took a deep breath in, and when He exhaled, Scripture came wooshing out! It’s important for us to note that Paul says that it is the “Scripture” that is breathed out, not just the audible words.
The second text that helps our understanding of inspiration is found in 2 Peter 1:21, where we read, “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.” Immediately, this verse smashes the notion of human inspiration, as well as divine dictation. Instead, we see the Bible writers speaking in their own voice yet being “carried along” or superintended by the Holy Spirit. So, a simple definition of inspiration might be, “God superintended (or carried along) 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.”3
More specifically, Bible scholars refer to the term verbal plenary inspiration. While the term might seem like added theological headache, the concept is really very simple. “Verbal” refers to the words, “plenary” means ‘full’ or ‘all’, and as we saw, “inspiration” means God-breathed. So, we believe that all the words of Scripture are God-breathed. One of the strongest statements made about the completeness of the Bible’s inspiration comes from the mouth of Jesus, where in Matthew 5:17-18, He says, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets [a term for the whole Old Testament]; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished.” Certainly, Jesus believed and taught verbal plenary inspiration!
How to Apply This
Understanding inspiration does much for us. First, it helps us have confidence in God’s complete written Word. We don’t have to worry about “holes” or “problems” with the Bible. We can rest assured that every word of Scripture is inspired, breathed out of the mouth of God.
Second, it helps us learn to trust God through trusting His revealed Word. We can take God at His word, and we can trust His promises in Christ Jesus.
Third, it helps us to obey God’s commands in Scripture. When we know all Scripture is God-breathed it forces us to change our lives according to the Bible, and not attempt to cherry-pick the Bible to suit our temporal philosophies and desires.
Fourth, understanding inspiration helps us wade through the muck of what so many people are claiming as “words from God”. It clarifies what is otherwise fuzzy. It helps us reject what is false and cling to what is divine, perfect, and true. Robert Saucy writes, “His Word is not simply His inner speech to human hearts that could easily be confused with our own thoughts. Of course, God by His Spirit does speak His word to our hearts, for only then can we really receive it. But His Word is given to us in the Scriptures.”4 When we behold God’s inspired Word, we know we are standing on solid rock.
Verses for Meditation:
- 2 Timothy 3:16-17
- 2 Peter 1:16-21
- Matthew 5:17-18
- John 16:12-15
- Psalm 33:6
- Genesis 2:7
Creator God (Elohim),
In the same way You breathed life into Adam’s lungs, You breathed out Your inspired and living Word. I praise You as the intelligent creator and life-giver of all things! Lord, I confess the times that I have doubted the truth and divine inspiration of the Bible. I confess the times I have rejected Your Word to suit my own worldy philosophies and desires; and the times I have looked to a host of other places for direction and neglected Scripture. I thank You for giving us the Bible, the God-breathed Word. Thank you that I can simply open up its pages and receive truth from You. Lord, thank You that, through understanding how You inspired the Bible, I can have confidence, peace, and assurance. Please soften my heart to the truth that unfolds in its pages. Help me to commit to learning from and living life by the God-breathed Book that gives me everything I need for life and godliness. Amen
Miss an installment of Devotional Theology? Find the rest of the series here.
- Sarah Young, Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), xii. ↩
- John MacArthur, Why Believe the Bible? (Ventura: Regal, 1980), 45. ↩
- Charles C. Ryrie, Basic Theology: A Popular Systematic Guide to Understanding Biblical Truth. (Chicago: Moody, 1999), 627. ↩
- Robert Saucy, Scripture: Its Power, Authority, and Relevance. (Nashville: Word Publishing, 2001), 103. ↩