Inspiration of Scripture

Holman Bible Dictionary

INSPIRATION OF SCRIPTURE The actions of God leading to the writing, preservation, and collection of His words to His people into the Bible. The English word inspiration comes from the Latin word in spiro which mean "to breath in." Inspiration, then, is the influence of the Holy Spirit upon individuals for the purpose of producing an authoritative record of persons, teaching and events.

Sometimes the inspiration is declared explicitly in biblical assertions. Jeremiah began his prophecy by writing, "The word of the Lord came" (Jer. 1:2); throughout his book the formula is used to emphasize his experience of inspiration. At other times, the inspiration is evident in the pervading mood of the scriptural record. The Bible summarizes this by saying, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God" (2 Tim. 3:16). Often the inspiration is a revelation of that which goes beyond normal human cognitive and experiential knowledge. When this is true, then it is most obvious that the information is divinely inspired. Concerning this, the Bible says, "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Pet. 1:21 NASB).

As indicated in the biblical explanation, inspiration is a divine-human encounter whereby God reveals truth. It is a message from God and of God, as well as through persons and for persons. The Bible is divine in its inception. It is a record of God’s self-disclosure as Truth and as the source of all truth. Its special revelation is a disclosure of truth that humans could not comprehend through ordinary thought process. Also the Bible is human in its mediation. God revealed Himself to persons He chose. They declared God’s attitude toward, His relations with, and His purposes for His people and His world. Inspiration came in the experiences of real men and women with real personalities and problems. A climax to that divine-human encounter is the fact that the Scripture is focused on the divine-human person of Jesus Christ.

The evidences of divine inspiration are found internally in the record of God’s revelation. Some biblical writers claimed they were verbally inspired. Repeatedly, the prophets have attested of this experience. Isaiah interjected into his report, "But I am the Lord thy God.... And I have put my words into thy mouth" (Isa. 51:15-16). Likewise, Jeremiah wrote, "and the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth" (Jer. 1:9).

In addition to the specific statements in the Scriptures, an abundance of internal evidences show divine inspiration from its content in general. Although the Bible is a collection of books written by at least 40 writers over a period of about 1400 years, it has a unity of subject, structure, and spirit. It contains a consistent system of doctrinal and moral utterances. Its unparalleled treatment of certain themes such as the holy, the true, the good, and the future, are mysterious, authoritative, and practical. This witness of its inspiration is attested by countless thousands of testimonies from individuals who have been transformed by the reading of this Book.

Likewise, many external evidences point to divine inspiration of the Bible. The fact that the Bible is the most widely translated and circulated Book in the world is a testimony of God’s providence. This is an amazing record because its early translators were killed, and many of its early readers were imprisoned. Although the Bible has been in existence for almost nineteen centuries, it is still relevant today. Both its quotations and its motifs are found in our literature, oratory, art, music, politics, law, and ethics.

The expressions of human inspiration are a part of the biblical record. Repeatedly, the biblical writers felt compelled to preface their remarks by identifying God as the sole source of their information. Ezekiel informs us that God had said to him, "You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious" (Ezekiel 2:7 NIV). Luke affirmed that his inspiration was tied to his experience of researching the facts about Christ. He explained, "Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus" (Luke 1:3 NIV). Even more surprising is the fact that Paul identified his inspiration as a strong inner impression. With honesty, he said, "Now concerning virgins, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy" (1 Cor. 7:25 NRSV). On other occasions, the inspiration came through dreams. Matthew wrote, "He had resolved on this, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home with you to be your wife’ " (Matt. 1:20 REB). At times the inspiration came through visions (Gen. 15:1; Num. 12:6; 1 Sam. 3:1, Isa. 1:1; Ezek. 1:1; Dan. 2:19; Obad. 1; Nah. 1:1; Hab. 2:2). Inspiration also came through historical situations. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is an example of this: "Now for the matters you wrote about" (1 Cor. 7:1 NIV).

These many different expressions of inspiration show that God is resourceful. His unlimited power has used a variety of techniques to reveal Himself and to communicate His message. Regardless of the method God used to inspire the individual writers, the result is the same. They wrote the Word of God. This is evident both in the content of each book and also in the preservation of all the books in the canon of the Bible.

The explanations of biblical inspiration are numerous. This is partly due to the fact that the Bible has no theory of inspiration. It simply affirms that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. Actually no theory of inspiration is necessary. For the Bible, like Jesus, must be accepted by faith as the inspired Word of God. When this is done, then the choice of a theory of inspiration is incidental.

According to the natural intuition theory, inspiration is but a higher development of that natural insight into truth which all persons possess to some degree. The biblical writers were inspired as other great geniuses are inspired. This view is very subjective, making all works equally inspired, in spite of the fact that they may be contradictory. It makes the Bible a human, or natural book, rather than a supernatural Book.

By contrast, the mechanical dictation theory claims that God literally dictated the words of the Bible to the biblical writers. They were used as secretaries or passive instruments. The primary objection to the view is that it is not consistent with God’s way of relating to persons. Also, it implies that all of the Bible should have the same literary style.

The general Christian theory of inspiration is simply that the illumination of the Holy Spirit is experienced by all believers. This is based on the truth that all believers experience the Spirit. Its weakness is that it overlooks the problem of opposing viewpoints among believers and that it reduces biblical writers to the level of all Christian interpretation and proclamation.

According to the partial inspiration theory, inspiration is limited to certain parts of the Bible. What the writers would have known naturally is not necessarily inspired. Likewise, incidental matters are not regarded as being inspired. This contradicts the statements of Scripture that all Scripture is inspired.

The levels of inspiration theory claims that God used different levels of control at different times in the process of inspiration. Sometimes God used superintendence. At other times, God used evaluation, direction, or suggestion. This view holds that particular passages of Scripture carry various degrees of inspiration. In such a theory, the level of inspiration may be rather arbitrary, based on human judgment not divine actions.

The infallible theory states that the Bible as a whole is without any errors because it is in its entirety the Word of God. Usually those who hold to this view are careful to distinguish between the original manuscripts and the present form of the Bible. However, some claim that this also applies to the current translations because the biblical writers never intended to mislead or deceive. Each of the differences that may be found in parallel passages are harmonized by some type of explanation.

The verbal inspiration theory states that the Holy Spirit inspired the biblical writers to choose the exact words to convey the message of God. As indicated previously, there are many passages of Scripture that support the idea of verbal inspiration. Nevertheless, some have discredited this view because it does not relate to the differences in the personalities of the biblical writers.

On the other hand, the dynamic inspiration theory suggests that the Holy Spirit had control over the process of inspiration, but He allowed the individuals to express their personalities in communicating God’s message. Those who criticize this view do so on the basis that the view does not guarantee inerrancy in nonreligious matters.

There are elements of truth in all of the views, and there are also weaknesses in each of the theories. Therefore, some have attempted to splice together ideas from two or more of the theories to develop an eclectic theory. Such an approach is feasible because there is only a slight difference in some of the theories. This might be indicative of the fact that the whole process of developing a theory of inspiration is quite difficult. Phrasing a theory is really secondary to the more important fact that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and to the calling of obeying that Word. The Bible, itself, takes this position because it has no theory of inspiration. Nevertheless, it emphatically declares itself to be the authoritative record of God’s revelation. See Bible; Revelation, Doctrine of.

Donald R. Potts


Taken from: Holman Bible Dictionary Copyright 1991 Holman Bible Publishers.