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What does it mean that the Bible is 'inspired'?

There are many things in this world that are said to be ‘inspired’ or that people find inspiring. There are inspirational artworks, poems, songs, movies, documentaries, speeches, performances, etc. Is this what we mean when we say the Bible is inspired? Is the Bible just another book in this world that many find inspiring? While it’s true that the Bible is inspirational and has the power to inspire us, when we say the Bible is ‘inspired’ we mean something more.

In 2 Timothy 3:16 when the apostle Paul writes that “All Scripture is inspired by God,” he used a specific Greek word - theopneustos - which literally means “God-breathed”. The very words of Scripture are from God, and that’s why we refer to the Bible as the ‘Word of God.’ When you read the Bible you’re not simply reading another inspirational book, you’re reading words from God.

While the Bible is God’s Word, He didn’t directly write the words of Scripture himself. Every book of the Bible was penned by human authors under the inspiration of God’s Holy Spirit. Christian apologist Norman Geisler notes that, “God is the ultimate source of the Bible, but men of God called prophets were the instruments God used to record his words.” This is not to say God possessed the bodies of the Biblical authors, or that the words of Scripture were written by God while the Biblical authors were in a trance-like state. Rather, God carefully selected specific individuals who had a love and sensitivity to the leading of his Holy Spirit to be his spokesmen. God then spoke through these authors; leading and inspiring them to write down his words and message to the world.

In 1 Corinthians 2:13 the apostle Paul states that, “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak the words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” In 2 Peter 1:20-21, the apostle Peter makes the same point. He writes that, “no prophecy in Scripture ever came from the prophet’s own understanding, or from human initiative. No, those prophets were moved by the Holy Spirit and they spoke from God.” In Galatians 1:11-12 the apostle Paul again writes, “I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.” In 2 Samuel 23:2, King David states, “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.”

God inspired the Biblical authors to write down the words of Scripture in order to reveal his existence, nature, plans, purposes, and promises to the world, and to ensure his message would be preserved throughout history from one generation to the next. The Bible is held to be a special revelation of God, and because the sovereign, creator God of the universe stands behind the words of Scripture the Bible is said to be authoritative. It carries power and weight. Greater value and importance is to be placed on the Bible than other writings based on mere human ideas and reasoning.

When it comes to the inspiration of the Bible, Christian apologists Josh and Sean McDowell note that, “God took special care over thousands of years to reveal his Word to select individuals who would carefully write down his thoughts and message. And he superintended that process so that what he wanted to have written was in fact written. And we have that permanent record in Scripture.”

Now that we have a better understanding of what is meant when people say the Bible is inspired by God. The question now becomes, does it really come from him? Are the claims Christians make about the Bible being a special revelation from God actually true? Let’s briefly consider three pieces of evidence.

Firstly, it’s extremely important to consider Jesus’ view of the Bible. In Mark 7:13, Jesus refers to the Old Testament as the ‘word of God’ when rebuking a group of Pharisees and teachers of the law. Throughout the gospels, there are many instances where Jesus referenced Old Testament passages with the introduction ‘It is written’ (Matt. 4:4, 7,10) This phrase was the standard Jewish introduction to quoting Scripture (held by the Jews as the word of God). In Matthew 22:43, Jesus referred to the words spoken by King David in Psalm 110:1 as spoken by the Holy Spirit. As you read through the gospel accounts of the life, words, and deeds of Jesus Christ, it’s impossible to avoid the implication that Jesus held the Old Testament to be from God. Furthermore, Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would bring more truth, referring to the New Testament (John 14: 25-26; 16:13).

Secondly, the Bible’s unity. The Bible is one large book comprised of sixty-six separate historical writings. This collection of books was written by approximately forty different authors, in various places, times, and cultures. Various personalities and experiences resulted in a diversity of writing styles and literary forms. The Bible contains poetry, parables, history, prophecy, personal letters, and direct theological instruction. But a single overarching theme, God’s salvation-plan for mankind, runs through every page. Such unchanging focus from such a diverse make up could only result from a divine source.

Thirdly, the human author’s self-perception and ultimate sacrifice. Jesus Christ was not the only authoritative person who believed in the Bible’s divine origin. The Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles were convinced that they were speaking and writing God’s Word. In Zechariah 7:12, Old Testament prophet Zechariah mentions, “the law and the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by His Spirit through the earlier prophets.” In 2 Peter 1:21, the apostle Peter notes that, “prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Many of the prophets and apostles suffered severe persecution for their belief that they were speaking God’s Word. Many were arrested, tortured, and killed. Only they knew whether their claims were true. It’s interesting to note that they accepted torture and death rather than recant. Liars and frauds don’t willingly submit to torture and death, especially when their death doesn’t even secure some benefit for loved ones they leave behind.

The Bible is not simply another inspirational book. The Bible is God’s Word, a special revelation from God to mankind, penned by human authors but inspired by the Holy Spirit.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to check out the accompanying eBooklet.

Further reading recommendations

'Has God spoken?' by Hank Hanegraaff

'The inspiration and authority of the Bible' by B. B. Warfield

'The origin of the Bible' by F. F. Bruce, J. I. Packer, Philip Comfort, & Carl Henry


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