Inspiration, part 1
If we were to say something is inspired, I think that a few different ideas would come to mind. The one that first comes to my mind is the picture of an athlete performing in a manner that looks inspired. There is something more to their performance than just their ability or execution. It is almost as if a larger force is at work to move them to greater heights. Their play is inspired.
Some might go towards more of an artistic idea. Often great artists say they have a muse that inspires them to write, paint, or sing in an inspired way. A classic example is Andy Warhol’s muse Edie Sedgwick. A more modern one would be pop singer Sia and dancer Maddie Ziegler. Both of these popular artists saw inspiration in their muses, and it pushed them to artistry they otherwise might not have found.
Looking at a basic definition of inspired, it means to have an extraordinary quality that seems to come from an outside or external impulse. So, when we say that the Bible is inspired, what are we actually saying? Is it inspired like an athlete, and these are just human words outperforming their limitations? Is it like an artist, and it is finding creative ways to present the story of God? I think that the inspiration of Scripture can only be fully fleshed out by looking at the Scripture itself.
That is my hope for this post. I want dig into the text, dig into some writing around the text, and try and present an introductory theology of the inspiration of the Bible. This concept is no doubt foundational theology, because it helps to answer the question of how we came to have the Bible. Without understanding the inspiration of Scripture, one is left with an incomplete understanding of the Bible as a whole.
This series on the Theology of the Bible is looking at key concepts that are essential to formulating a full understanding of the Word of God. Inerrancy was discussed in parts one and two, while this will focus on inspiration. That being said, do not make the mistake of separating out these concepts and failing to see how they are connected. Inerrancy is only possible because we believe the Bible is inspired. R.C. Sproul wrote how inspiration of the text overcomes any tendency for error by the Biblical authors. Other theological concepts of the Bible, such as authority and sufficiency, are also connected and reliant upon one another.
Back to inspiration, one theological author summed it up this way, “By inspiration of Scripture we mean that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers that rendered their writings an accurate record of the revelation or that resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God.” Inspiration is why we can confidently call the Bible holy, true, and God’s word. If the Bible were not inspired, it would just be another book written by human hands. One can see how important this concept is to not only understanding, but defending the Bible as a holy and sacred text.
This apologetic implication is huge. I think it’d be best for Justin to touch on this more, but allow me to briefly comment on it. The entirety of the Christian faith is rooted in what we know, believe, and understand from the Bible. In this day and age, the Bible is what we must rely on to help us form our faith. Other things have been put in place by God to help, such as the church and the Holy Spirit, but we need the Bible as our primary source to understanding who God is and what God means for our life to be. If the Bible is not a divinely inspired and holy text, then everything we believe is meaningless. We must believe in the inspiration of the Bible and know how that informs our relationship to God and His word.
As with any theological concept or doctrine, one must begin with the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NRSV) states:
16 All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
From a purely linguistic/grammatical approach, the inspiration of Scripture is clearly seen in this passage. The very first thing to notice is the scope in which Paul is writing here. He states that it is “all Scripture.” Not “some” or “most of”, but “all” of Scripture. Sproul writes that “…inspiration extends not simply to a broad outline of the information communicated by the earthly authors but to the very words of the Scripture themselves.” When we read the text, we have to consider that each and every word to be divinely inspired in form and function.
The next grammatical insight is the word for “inspired”, which is the Greek word “theoneustos” which literally translates to “inspired by God” or “God-breathed”. Thinking of the text as “God-breathed” can be helpful, as it calls back to when the LORD breathed life into Adam after forming him from the dust. Within the breath of God, is the essence of God, is life itself. That is the type of mindset we should have towards the Bible. It contains the essence of God and is living, breathing words which are also timeless.
The rest of the passage could be discussed and dissected for hours, but I only want to point out that the focus of what Paul writes after he touches on inspiration is the usefulness of Scripture. Scripture can accomplish all these things in our lives that he lists out, but only if it is inspired. Apart from inspiration, the Bible would no longer be effective. Again, knowing that Scripture is inspired informs so much of our Biblical doctrine.
A second passage of interest in the inspiration of Scripture is found in 1 Peter 1:20-21 (NRSV). Peter writes:
20 First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 because no prophecy ever came by human will, but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
This passage takes a direct look at one of the difficulties that some have with the doctrine of inspiration. That is, that the Bible was ultimately written by human authors. This is certainly a true statement and when one begins to study the Bible more deeply, one will even notice that certain authors have specific styles in how they write. Because of this, many often reject the inspiration of Scripture.
Two things on this before we look more closely at this passage:
- The inspiration of Scripture always refers to the original manuscripts in the original languages. Any doctrinal statement about Scripture, inerrancy, infallibility or authority are all in reference to the Bible in the Hebrew and Greek. We believe that the copies we have today, contain the same message and power, but this would help account for the slight differences we see in translations and formatting. This is not an indictment against inspiration in what we have today, but more a call for Biblical study to always utilize original languages, good commentaries, and other reference tools.
- Just as with inerrancy, there are many different theories of inspiration. Some believe in literal dictation by God to the authors, whereas others believe God only inspired the message but not the actual words. These will be covered fully in the next post covering the theology of inspiration.
Back to our passage, Peter is reminding readers that the Word of God was one hundred percent a work of God. Even though human hands have recorded the message, it was God (specifically the Holy Spirit) who initiated and inspired the Bible to be written. This provides the believer with confidence that the Bible is written as the LORD intended and willed it to be. It is only because of the inspiring work of the Spirit, of God, that we can claim these things to be true.
The doctrine of inspiration is simply put as this: God is the source of the Bible. Man is not the source, he is the instrument. God put His words, His message, and His essence into the Scriptures to give us a glimpse into His character and reveal to us His work. To believe in inspiration is to submit that the Bible holds power and truth within it. The Bible is unlike any other piece of writing in the history of mankind. No other text can claim to be the very breath of the God of the universe.
Next week, we’ll look at different theories of inspiration and where most churches fall. These theories of inspiration are meant to be guides in helping us better understand the Bible. They are NOT the Bible themselves, but the work of men who are attempting to help us grasp a supernatural concept. I hope it is informative and encouraging to you.
Written by Zach Stallings
 R.C. Sproul, Scripture Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine, (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2013), 135.
 Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2013), 169.
 R.C. Sproul, Everyone is a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, (Sanford: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2014), 28.
 Andreas J. Köstenberger and Richard D. Patterson, An Invitation to Biblical Interpretation: Exploring the Hermeneutical Triad of History, Literature, and Theology, (Grand Rapids: Kregal Publications, 2011), 579.
 R.C. Sproul, Everyone is a Theologian: An Introduction to Systematic Theology, 27.