The Word of God: Inspiration of Scripture

God communicating is integral to His self-revelation. Both creation and the written Word are the result of divine speech. “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host” (Psa 33:6, ESV) and Paul adds “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2Tim 3:16, KJV).

In his context, inspiration simply means God-breathed (theopneustos). Paul may have coined the word (there is no evidence of its use in language prior to Paul) to evoke the imagery of air passing across the divine voice box as the mind of God is communicated to us in words. The use of breath also brings to mind the activity of the Spirit (they are the same word in Greek). It is no surprise, then, that we see the Trinity active in its distinctive roles in the formation of the Word of God. God’s domain is the spoken Word (Heb 1:1), the Lord Jesus is the Incarnate Word (John 1:1) and the Spirit of God’s responsibility is the written Word (2Peter 1:21).

The historic teaching of inspiration has been described as verbal (meaning that God communicated words) and plenary (meaning God is the source of all Scripture). Since God is the sole Source of the Bible, it is both authoritative and inerrant (free of error or fault in its teaching). In his helpful book, God Has Spoken, J. I. Packer points out that calling the Bible “The Word of God” reminds us that 1) what is written, God says; 2) it is complete and, 3) it is a message addressed directly to me for my trust and obedience.

The broad usage of Old Testament texts (in the New Testament called the Scriptures) by New Testament writers and preachers, speaks to their inspiration. Jesus Himself references the major divisions of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets, and Psalms) as Scripture when He speaks in the upper room following His resurrection (Luke 24:44). The New Testament will sometimes even comment on, and add to, the information found in the Old Testament, further highlighting divine authorship. An example is Psalm 2. Anonymously written according to the Old Testament, Acts 4:25 indicates that David was the author. It is interesting that Peter, writing after most, if not all, of Paul’s epistles, refers to them as Scripture (2Peter 3:15-16).

Faithful believers appreciate that the universe was created by the Word of God (Heb 11:3) so that the material world we observe appeared out of nothing. But what about the Bible? How did inspiration work? God spoke and men wrote? God’s ways are inscrutable, but He has given indications as to how this occurred.

First, it is fair to draw parallels (Heb 1:1, Rev 19:13) between the Incarnate Word (Christ) and the Written Word (Bible). Remember that the Incarnate Word entered our world by human means (Mary) and this event was superintended by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35). The Incarnate Word was both fully deity (holy and eternal) and fully human (completely suited to the purpose He came to fulfill). The same can be said of the Written Word. The human vessel, under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit produces a work that is both human and divine. The eternal Word of God (Dan 10:21, Psa 119:89) was transcribed over hundreds of years to provide mankind with the entire revelation of God (John 15:15).

Second, Hebrews 1:1 tells us that it was done “at many times and in many ways” (ESV). The Spirit of God is not limited in how this could occur. At times a writer may have been conscious of what he was doing (in Revelation, John was told specifically what to write and what not to write) and other times he may not have known (David’s Psalms). The Chronicler had a different purpose in mind than those who recorded First and Second Kings, and the Spirit used and enabled both to accomplish different ends. Likewise, the various gospel writers, with different target audiences, different themes, and varied sources, produced by the Spirit, unique and complementary books on the life of Christ. Be it Job or John, conscious or unconscious, prose or poetry, narrative or psalm, the Spirit of God used human instruments to communicate God’s truth to us. There is no need to fear the reality that some Old Testament books had material added over time (Proverbs had some additions made by king Hezekiah), as the Divine Editor was overseeing it all. Peter describes the process as being “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Peter 1:21), a phrase used in Acts 27:15 to describe wind directing the movement of a ship.

Third, we must be careful to avoid using “inspiration” in a technical sense, as if it only refers to the written Word. A model of inspiration that is restricted to a writer, in a heightened spiritual state, hunched over his desk as he writes the Word of God, is out of touch with the reality of the time period. (This model is conceivable for some books, but is unlikely for large swathes of the Old Testament … and these are the Scriptures that Paul was referring to in 2 Timothy 3:16). For example, prior to the completion of the New Testament writings, when the sign gifts of revelation and prophecy were extant, what those prophets proclaimed was inspired – their words were Spirit-given/God breathed. Thus, those speaking were to speak as the “oracles of God” (1Peter 4:11, KJV).

In many of the epistles, reference is made to what had been spoken of or taught among the recipients. For this reason, the writings were accepted by the people – they corresponded to what believers already knew to be true from Spirit-enabled prophets and teachers. It is possible that believers living in that orally based culture initially appreciated the inspired spoken Word more than the developing corpus of the written Word. A concept of inspiration, therefore, which restricts it to the production of the autograph (i.e., the original document) is too narrow. The transmission of divine truth was a rich and dynamic process – the Holy Spirit’s activity ensured that what ended up in the text is the Word of God.

Robust confidence in the inspiration of Scripture is foundational to Christian life. God’s fingerprints (Exo 31:18) are all over its pages and His voice still speaks with authority, relevance, and clarity to us nearly 2000 years since its completion.