In 2 Timothy 3:16 we find the clear teaching that all Scripture is given by God, or is “God-breathed.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 again explains that no passage of Scripture came from man’s own private musings or meditations, but was written as men were moved by the Holy Spirit. These two passages tell us in effect that the Bible is God’s Word, written in men’s language.
For this reason, the Bible is our only authority, our only test, for God’s will and spiritual truth; it is everything that God wants us to know. We are to test everything by God’s Word and hold fast only to those things that God says are good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Proverbs 30:5-6 says that every Word of God is perfect and warns us against adding to God’s flawless Word (Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; Galatians 1:6-9; Revelation 22:18).
The Bible is God revealing himself and his salvation to all mankind. The Bible is the inerrant, comprehensive, authoritative, sufficient communication of God to humanity, telling us who he is, what he has done to accomplish salvation, and what we are therefore to do ourselves. The Scriptures contain the good news of salvation by grace, that whoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:15).
There are many common, erroneous theories concerning Biblical inspiration, which are important for us know and be able to differentiate from the true. To name a few, there is 1) the intuition theory: the Bible is inspired because of the superior insight of the Biblical writers themselves. They were simply wise men.
2) The partial theory: the Bible is infallible in matters of faith and practice/morals, yet it could have errors in history or science (e.g. evolution could be true and the Bible wrong).
3) The main ideas theory: the general thoughts, but not the individual words themselves, are inspired by God. But Paul would quote the singular, not plural, form of a word from Scripture, trusting it implicitly (Galatians 3:16). 4)
The Bible-contains-God’s-Word theory: the Bible is not itself God’s Word. God is said to make it God’s Word to us when we meditate, encounter, interact with the Bible. This is an existential approach that focuses on subjective feelings rather than objective truth.
5) The dictation theory: God dictated his Word to human authors and the men were simply instruments. However, we see individual personalities, experiences, and educational levels reflected in each author’s writings.
In contrast, the orthodox, historical view of Biblical inspiration is often called plenary, verbal inspiration. “Plenary” means the entire Bible is inspired by God; “verbal” means that every word is inspired by God. By “inspiration” we mean that God guided (not dictated to) human authors to record his Word without error.
God used men to write his Word. He did not do it by himself, and neither did they. By God’s leading and guidance, a human author — influenced by his own personality, emotions, intellect, and experiences — recorded the Word of God. God even guided Luke’s historical research so that his gospel and the Acts would appear exactly as they are.
What Does the Bible Contain?
The Bible covers about 4,000 years of history, from creation to the early church; it takes us from eternity past (Genesis 1:1- “in the beginning God”) to eternity future (Revelation 11:15- “the kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever”). There are 66 books in the Bible, written by about 40 different authors over a period of about 1,500 years. Many of these authors claim explicitly to have received their knowledge from the one true God.
The internal evidence for the reliability of the Bible is abundant. In Matthew 4:4, Jesus was tempted by Satan; Jesus’ consistent reply was from Scripture. Even more notably, he confirmed with his own mouth that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. We live by the spiritual nourishment the Bible gives us.
How Did We Get the Bible?
It has well been pointed out that there are three key concepts to consider here: revelation (God to man), inspiration (man to paper), and illumination (paper to man’s heart).
Revelation is the making known of something previously unknown, the unveiling or revealing of something. The only thing that finite man can know about the infinite God is what the infinite God reveals to him. However, the Bible teaches that there is general (or natural) revelation to all men, and then there is special (supernatural) revelation through the Bible and the teaching of the Spirit.
Romans 2:14, 15 and Romans 1:18-24 tell us that creation itself is unmistakable proof of God’s existence to all of mankind. As someone has observed, there is no such thing as a true atheist; everyone knows God exists, but unbelievers suppress this knowledge as best they can.
Inspiration is God guiding the human authors to record his revealed Word without error, as we have already noted. Throughout history, God has revealed his Word to men through angels, nature, a still small voice, dreams, a donkey, visions, Christophanies (pre-incarnate appearances of Christ), and most fully in the Lord Jesus Christ himself. God now speaks to us infallibly only through his Word (Romans 16:25-27).
The Old Testament was chiefly written in Hebrew, with a few sections such as Daniel being also written in Aramaic. The New Testament was written in Koine Greek (or “common” Greek, not that of the philosophers but of the people).
Concerning the illumination we receive from Scripture, 1 Corinthians 2:14, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 and Ephesians 4:18 tell us plainly that, by nature, our sinfulness blocks us from the benefit and blessing of God’s Word. While we may believe parts of it, or recognize the wisdom or truth of it, we will not submit to it. Therefore, we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit; he must enlighten our minds so that we can understand and appreciate God’s Word.
The Reliability of Bible Manuscripts
This is chiefly a topic for apologetics, but should at least be touched on while studying the inspiration of Scripture. Suffice it to say that the manuscript evidence is overwhelming. The New Testament is by far the most accurate of any ancient manuscripts. When we compare copies of manuscripts, even when separated by 500 years or more, there is an unprecedented agreement in the texts.
In addition, there are over 5,300 copies of the New Testament manuscripts extant today, compared with only 7 copies of the ancient manuscripts of Plato’s writings. This gives us a degree of certainty that is not even closely approximated by any other book in history.
Many of these manuscripts date back to within 50 to 100 years of the original, as opposed to 1200 years that separate the copies of Plato’s works from their originals. Scholars were amazed when the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered, proving the reliability and ancient origins of the already extant Biblical manuscripts.
What Is the Bible For?
This is where the rubber of intellectual accuracy meets the road of daily practicality. We may have a perfectly orthodox and detailed understanding of the inspiration of Scripture, but if we do not live it out then it is all to no avail for us.
The Bible was written and has been preserved, in order to reveal the truth regarding Jesus Christ to humanity, condemn the unrepentant, and comfort and nourish the faithful. God’s Word is the only sufficient and reliable source of correction, instruction, and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).
Therefore, the most important consideration of all is this: are you submitting to the words that God himself has spoken to you in his Word? Are you living by them, as Jesus said we must? This, more than anything else, is the point of the doctrine of biblical inspiration.