English Bible Translations (1)

The Inspiration of the Bible

The “inspiration” of the Bible refers to the truth that the Holy Spirit superintended the human writers of Scripture so that they recorded God’s revelation with perfect accuracy. Through the Spirit’s operation, their words are actually God’s own words. Peter describes how God guided the writers along, providing them with truth and keeping them from error: “Because no prophecy ever originated through a human decision. Instead, men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21 English Standard Version). While allowing the human authors’ personalities and viewpoints and literary talents to shine through, the divine Author nevertheless exerted an overarching control that extended to the choice of individual words.

The term “inspiration” comes from Paul’s words to Timothy in the King James Version: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Borrowing from this verse, Bible students have traditionally used “inspiration” to describe the perfect recording of God’s Word. Technically, however, inspiration describes breath moving in. The term expiration (literally, “breathing out”) more accurately describes what happened, as the ESV rendering makes clear: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” “Breathed out by God” corresponds exactly to the Greek word theopneustos—”God-breathed.” The words of Scripture, although penned by men, came “out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

It helps to distinguish inspiration from revelation. Revelation describes the origin and giving of truth, while inspiration describes the receiving and recording of truth. Because God has spoken perfect truth (revelation), and because He controlled the perfect recording of this truth (inspiration), two logical consequences follow. First, the Bible must be inerrant—without error of any kind (Psalm 19:7-8; John 10:35). Second, the Bible must be infallible—it cannot fail, mislead, or disappoint (Isaiah 55:11; 2 Timothy 3:17).

The Lord Jesus taught that inspiration extends to every letter of every word in Scripture: “For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18 KJV). A “jot” is the smallest letter of the alphabet—yod in Hebrew, iota in Greek. A “tittle” is a small penstroke that distinguishes similar Hebrew letters from each other. Thus, according to Christ, inspiration extends even to parts of letters.

From this, we can conclude that inspiration must apply to every single nuance in the text, and not just to broad concepts and general impressions. The Lord Jesus taught this also. In Matthew 22:31-32, for instance, Christ’s argument rests on the tense of the verb “am”—God used a present tense in Exodus 3:6 when speaking to Moses about men long dead, proving that they still existed. Similarly, Paul’s argument in Galatians 3:16 hinges on the singular number of the noun “seed” in Genesis 12:7. Thus the Holy Spirit built significance into even the finest points of Biblical grammar.

The Preservation of the Bible

The original “autographs”—the actual original documents—no longer exist for any book of the Bible. God, however, has preserved His Word in currently existing original-language manuscripts. The Greek New Testament is attested by 5,300 Greek manuscripts, the oldest dating within 25 years of the death of the apostle John (John Rylands Manuscript, A.D. 125, at the University of Manchester). In addition, there are over 19,000 early manuscript versions in translation, such as the Latin Vulgate, making the New Testament by far the most copied and circulated book of antiquity. In contrast, Homer’s Iliad, holding second place in the number of surviving manuscripts, only has 643. The works of the Greek historian Thucydides (ca. 460-400 B.C.) survive in only eight manuscripts, the oldest dating to about 900 A.D.—over 1300 years after they were written!

There are minor differences between the Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek manuscripts that survive. The correct text of the Bible in these original languages, however, has been verified by textual criticism. Please note that textual criticism is not “critical” of the text in a pejorative sense, but rather—true to the meaning of Greek krites, a discerner, judge, or arbiter—textual criticism judges between the different options after analyzing all of the available grammatical and historical evidence as rigorously as possible.

By God’s providence, only minor differences exist between the original-language manuscripts. In fact, after removing easily-solved variants, we can affirm 99.9% of the words of the Bible without question. Further, no Bible doctrine depends on the solution to any one variant, and the gospel truths remain as clear as crystal.

Most conservative scholars, including the well-known brethren John Darby, Thomas Newberry, and Samuel Tregelles have taken a “balanced eclectic” approach to textual criticism. It is balancedbecause it weighs both internal evidence (clues in the linguistic features of the document itself) and external evidence (historical data about the manuscript, such as who wrote it or promoted it). The approach is eclectic because it uses the best evidence to select the proper reading, and holds no premeditated bias toward or against any particular text type. Each textual variant is investigated thoroughly and considered on its own merits.