Survey Studies in Reformed Theology
Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
by Bob Burridge ©1996, 2006, 2010, 2016
The Inspiration of Scripture
In this study we look at the process of Inspiration. Words often have many meanings. They can represent many different ideas. Sometime we have to coin new words or add new meanings to old ones.
The English word “inspiration” actually means “breathing in”. It’s used here to express a special biblical idea.
Commonly “inspired” describes just a heightened sensitivity or awareness. Artists are inspired to use various media to craft expressions of profound human thoughts, feeings, and experiences. The American College Dictionary includes several entries for the verb, “to inspire:” Among them are these five: “to infuse an animating, quickening or exalting influence into” – “to produce or arouse a feeling, thought, etc.” – “to affect with a special feeling, thought etc.” – “to influence or impel” – “to animate as an influence”.
We say a poem is “inspired,” or that someone or something is “inspiring” to us. That is not what we mean when we say the Bible was inspired.
That dictionary continues with entries closer to how we use this term “inspiration” in Christian Theology: “to communicate or suggest by a divine or supernatural influence” – “to guide or control by divine influence.”
1. Literary Inspiration View: teaches that the inspiredness of the Bible is just a God-given sensitivity to spiritual things. This produces a Bible likely to include errors of fact and interpretation. Moses was inspired as was Shakespeare.
The two other main views describe a fully authoritative Bible, one that’s infallible and error-free ( inerrant).
2. Dictation View: teaches that the Bible was written by a mechanical control of the human writers. Each wrote the exact words given directly from God. It totally by-passes the human personalities of the writers. It makes them more machines than authors.
But the personal characteristics of the individual writers are obvious in the Bible. Luke, who was a physician, used technical medical terms. John used a vocabulary that reflects his background as a fisherman. The style of each writer greatly varies with his personality, background, the era in which he lived, the circumstances of his writings, and the political and cultural setting in which he wrote, etc.
3. Organic View: teaches that the Bible came into being by a superintendence of the human faculties. God rendered their writings inerrant yet retained the personalities of the individual writers. This the view of the Westminster Standards, and of reformed scholars such as A. A. Hodge, Charles Hodge, Louis Berkhof, Palmer, Shedd, B. B. Warfield, and Cornelius VanTil. Also the view of conservative non-reformed scholars such as Chafer and Thiessen.
Dr. Allen MacRae stated it this way in his lectures on prolegomena; “Inspiration is a special act of the Holy Spirit by which he guided the writers of the books of the Scriptures so that their words should convey the thought he wished conveyed, should bear a proper relationship to the thought of the other inspired books, and should be kept free from errors of fact, of doctrine or of judgment.”
The organic view does justice to the direct claims of Scripture, yet accounts for obvious differences of expression and style.
actually uses the term “Inspired”
The Bible describes the inscripturation (the writing down) of God’s truth as a direct supernatural act. It’s more than mere guidance. It works directly upon the human writer. It’s a special act of the Holy Spirit. And it involves prior special revelation.
Biblical inspiration suppresses the fallible element in the writers. God kept the writers from engaging in their own speculations and interpretations as they wrote. God guarded them from including the wrong teachings or beliefs of their day as if they were truth.
God moved the writers to quote at times from, or refer to, non-inspired sources to illustrate their teachings. But these are not endorsements that the work quoted from is in-itself authoritative. What is quoted merely helps the author communicate what God wanted him to convey to his readers. God kept each writer from recording anything as truth that was factually or interpretively in error.
Inspiration does not occur in degrees (no passage is more inspired than the others). All the inspired books of the Canon of Scripture are completely God’s infallible word. Either a given writing is, or isn’t, inspired. There can be no middle ground. All portions of the inspired books are infallible and error free.
Not one word was excluded from supernatural oversight. We say the inspiration of the Bible is plenary (complete), and verbal (extending to the choice of the words themselves).
Inspiration refers directly to only the autographa (the original manuscripts). The inspired Scriptures are God’s pure, perfect, complete, inerrant, and therefore fully authoritative word.
The Bible is our only reliabe source for data supporting this view. We need to guard against introducing elements that do not come from explicit or necessarily implied statements of the canonical books.
2 Timothy 3:15-16, “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”
The terms used here lay the foundation of biblical inspiration. “The Sacred Writings” (“the Holy Scriptures”) is “τὰ ἱερὰ γράμματα” (ta hiera grammata). The expression “all Scripture” is “πᾶσα γραφὴ” (pasa graphae). These expressions refer to the books of the Old Testament that were known by Timothy as a child. These terms were consistently and commonly used by the Jews to refer to the whole O.T. Canon. They were used the same way we use the word “Bible” today.
The word “inspiration” is “θεόπνευστος” (theopneustos) literally means “God-Breathed”. Scripture originated as if it was breathed out of God’s mouth. Scripture is to be viewed as if it was breathed out of the mouth of God as to its authority. The word means “to expire”, to breathe out. Speech is the result of the expiration of air through the larynx. It would confused the issue if we said that all Scripture is “expired.” That’s the closest English word. But people would think it had become outdated, expired (like outdated food or driver’s license).
2 Timothy 3:16 has been translated in two different ways. Either, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable …”, or “Every Scripture which is God inspired is profitable …” The difference is whether the term is a predicate or attributive adjective. Both are grammatically possible. It does not matter. It cannot mean there might be some “scripture” that’s not God inspired and profitable. The context and terms clearly refer to the entire Old Testament canon. The debate over the two grammatical possibilities is overrated. The second is just confusing.
2 Peter 1:19-21, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter was among the eye-witnesses of the Gospel, and of the glory of Christ. He heard the words of the Father confirming that Jesus is the Son of God, the promised Messiah. Yet his personal witness of these events would be subject to fallible human interpretation. So he gives us a more solid foundation on which to base our acceptance of Christ as God’s Messiah. We have a confirmed prophetic word, one made firm and sure. It’s preserved in infallible, inerrant Scripture.
Our Bible is not a result of human speculation or interpretation. 2 Peter 1:20 says, “no prophesy of Scripture is of any private interpretation.” Literally, “that all prophesy of Scripture did not come to be by its own interpretation.” The verb used is “ginetai” (γίνεται). It primarily means “to come into being”, “to become.”
The Roman Catholic view is different: They claim that the church alone must interpret Scripture. They take this verse to mean that no Scripture is to be interpreted privately by individuals. A Roman Catholic booklet “The Bible is Not our Sole Guide” published by the Knights of Columbus (pg. 26) says, “St. Peter gives the reason for ruling out private interpretation and recognizes only the official interpretation as the safe guide.” The “official interpretation” is the one endorsed by the “church.” It changes this verse from “how the Scriptures came to be” into “what to do with Scripture”. That’s obviously not what the apostle is talking about.
Scripture originated by a special act of God at work upon the human writers. This made the interpretations recorded in Scripture correct and error free. The resulting Bible is a more sure prophetic word than even the testimony of human eye-witnesses. The Bible did not come into being by humans interpreting events. God gave the interpretation himself.
2 Peter 1:16 Peter says, “we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known unto you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Instead it came from God, not by human interpretations. God kept the writers free from incorporating inaccurate human interpretations as they wrote.
In 1:21 Peter wrote, “For prophesy never came by the will of man.” It came by men “moved” or “carried” by the Holy Spirit. The word “moved” is “phero” (φέρω) which means “to bear up (as one would a burden)” or “to carry along.” The same word was used of a bird “carried” along and supported by the wind, of a ship “borne” along by the waves, and of a ship “borne” along as the wind fills its sails. These chosen writers were carried along by the Holy Spirit as they authored their inspired books. They “spoke from God.” In the inspired Scriptures, God speaks as certainly as if we hear his own voice.
Some get confused by 1 Corinthians 7:12 where Paul wrote, “I, not the Lord, say,…” But Paul was not inserting a non-inspired comment. He had just made reference directly to the Lord’s teaching about marriage (verses10-11). Then he adds an implication of the same principle, but not directly quoting Jesus. He was expanding upon it by the inspiration of God.
Having an inspired word of God presents us with many advantages. The Bible is infallible, inerrant, and fully authoritative as a source of absolute truth. It conveys to us all God wants us to know about himself, his works,
and his redemptive plan. The Bible is also self-consistent, understandable, sufficient, and effective.
This includes what it says concerning: creation, providence, resurrection, the miracles, death, marriage, love, law, and all other revealed ideas. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 Paul wrote about the profitableness of the inspired Scriptures. All Scripture must stand as God’s authoritative word. Nothing in it should be ignored, nullified, added to, or eliminated.
Paul says in 1 Corinthians 14:37 that the things he wrote were commandments of the Lord, not ideas of the Apostle himself.
Therefore, since the inspired Bible is the only authoritative standard we have, Scripture alone must interpret Scripture. Seeming problems in understanding the Bible need to be resolved internally by the use of other inspired texts. This topic will be examined more closely in future lessons in this study.
(Bible quotations are from the New American Standard Bible (1988 edition) unless otherwise noted.)