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According to long-standing Christian usage, the word ‘inspiration’ refers to that direct activity of God’s Spirit upon the writers of the Bible that enabled them to write what God wanted them to write. In the present article the words ‘inspiration’ and ‘inspire’ are used only in this special sense. They do not refer to the sort of inspiration that an inspired musician, poet or painter may at times experience.

Although the Bible was written under the inspiration of God, there are many things recorded in the Bible of which God disapproves. The Bible sometimes records the words of people who were wrong in what they said (e.g. the false arguments of Job’s friends or the misleading teachings of the Pharisees), for God reveals his truth by correcting what is false as well as by teaching what is right (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11; 2 Timothy 3:16). It was not the speakers of those words who were inspired, but the writers who recorded them. God inspired the writers to record those things that would make his truth plain and expose human errors.

From God, through human writers

The Greek word translated ‘inspired’ means literally ‘God-breathed’ (2 Timothy 3:16). That is, God ‘breathed out’ his truth through human writers, so the words they wrote were the creation of God and bore his authority. The writers spoke from God. They were completely under the control of his Spirit and carried along by him to achieve his goals (2 Peter 1:19-20).

This does not mean that God used the writers without their personality or understanding playing any part. They were not impersonal instruments whom God used as a typist uses a typewriter. Rather they wrote intelligently out of circumstances that prompted them to write (e.g. Jeremiah 29:1-9; Micah 2:1-3; John 20:30-31; Galatians 1:6-9). They may have gathered their material from historical records, religious books, secular documents, conversations and other sources, but the whole work was under the direction of God. The final article was what God intended it to be (Luke 1:1-4).

The writers may not have been aware that their writing was inspired and would one day be part of the Bible. Yet what they wrote was God-directed. It was his message for ordinary people, written in human language, but not corrupted by the sin of the writers. The Bible is not partly divine and partly human; every part of it is divine, yet every part of it is also human. Each book says what God wanted to say, yet says also what its author wanted to say.

Jesus and his followers acknowledged the Old Testament writings as God’s Word written by people who were inspired by God’s Spirit. They considered the divine and human authorship inseparable (Matthew 22:43; Acts 1:16; Acts 4:25). Therefore, they could quote the spoken words of God as being the words of the Old Testament writer who recorded them (cf. Isaiah 29:13 with Matthew 15:7-9; cf. Isaiah 65:1-2 with Romans 10:20), or they could quote the words of the Old Testament writer himself as being the words of God (cf. Psalms 104:4 with Hebrews 1:7; cf. Psalms 95:7-8 with Hebrews 3:7-8).

Though the Spirit guided the Bible writers in the words they used, the writers wrote according to their own styles and vocabularies. John’s style is different from Peter’s. Amos’s vocabulary is different from Hosea’s. With each book of the Bible, God chose the particular person whose nature, training, background and temperament were most suited to his purpose at the time. He used a wisdom teacher such as Solomon to write proverbs for Israel’s guidance, and a university-trained person such as Paul to develop and apply Christ’s teaching for the benefit of the early church.

There were also many literary forms among the writings of the Bible, but God spoke through them all. Sometimes he used very simple forms such as stories and word-pictures, other times more complex forms that involved strange visions and symbolic figures. Whatever the form, it accurately communicated God’s message.

Choosing the right words

In spite of all the differences in the thinking and expression of the Bible writers, the actual words they wrote were those that God intended them to write. Words express thoughts, but they will express those thoughts correctly only if they are the right words. This is seen in some of the New Testament writers’ quotations from the Old Testament. They give such close attention to the words used that they may even base an explanation or teaching on a particular word in an Old Testament portion (cf. John 10:34-35 with Psalms 82:6; cf. Galatians 3:16 with Genesis 12:7).

At the same time it must be remembered that words are important only because of the truth they express. Therefore, the New Testament writers may at times quote Old Testament portions without a word-for-word exactness. They express the meaning without following the wording (cf. Romans 11:8 with Deuteronomy 29:4 and Isaiah 29:10; see also QUOTATIONS).

Authority of the Scriptures

Jesus acknowledged the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God. It was a law that could not be lessened or cancelled (John 10:34-35). He referred to the Scriptures (‘It is written . . .’; ‘Have you not read . . .’) as an absolute authority against which there could be no argument (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10; Matthew 21:13; Matthew 21:16; Matthew 22:29; Matthew 22:31; Luke 16:17). He claimed the same absolute authority for his own words, for he was the living Word of God (Matthew 24:35; Mark 8:38; John 1:14; John 1:18; John 6:63; John 7:16-17; John 12:48-50).

The New Testament writers likewise upheld the absolute authority of the Scriptures (Acts 17:2-3; Acts 17:11; Romans 1:17; Romans 12:19; Galatians 3:10; Galatians 3:13; 2 Timothy 3:15-16; 1 Peter 1:16). To them the Scriptures were the ‘oracles of God’, the living, authoritative voice of God (Romans 3:2; Hebrews 5:12). What the Scriptures said, God said (cf. Genesis 12:3 with Galatians 3:8; cf. Exodus 9:16 with Romans 9:17). Just as the preaching of the biblical prophets were spoken revelations from God, so the books of the biblical writers were written revelations from God. Of both it was true to say, ‘Thus says the Lord’ (Amos 1:1-3; Amos 3:8; Amos 3:13; Micah 1:1-2; Micah 3:8; Isaiah 30:8-9; Acts 11:28; Acts 13:1-2; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 1:19-21; Revelation 1:1-3).

During his earthly life, Jesus promised his apostles that after his return to the Father, the Holy Spirit would come to them to remind them of Jesus’ teaching and give them further teaching (John 14:25-26; John 16:13-15). They were to pass this teaching on to those who became Christians (Matthew 28:19-20). They did this not only through preaching but also through putting Jesus’ teachings, and developments from them, into written form. And they claimed for their preaching and their writings the same authority as the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 2:13; Galatians 1:8; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Thessalonians 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 4:15; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 3:2; Revelation 22:18-19).

Paul and Peter were the two writers who spoke specifically of the Old Testament writings as being God-given (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21). Yet both of them speak of New Testament writings as having the same authority as the Old Testament.

In 1 Timothy 5:18 Paul quoted as ‘Scripture’ a statement whose first part came from Deuteronomy 25:4 and whose second part came from Luke 10:7, showing that he considered Luke’s Gospel to have equal authority with the Old Testament. Likewise Peter, in 2 Peter 3:15-16, grouped the writings of Paul with ‘the other Scriptures’, showing that he considered Paul’s writings to have equal authority with the Old Testament.

Living and active Word

The early church as a whole readily recognized many of the early Christian writings as Scripture, particularly those that came from the apostles or had the apostles’ approval. But above all it was the truth within the books that impressed upon the readers that here indeed was God’s Word speaking to them. As a result a new collection of writings began to take shape, known to us as the New Testament (see CANON).

Believers throughout the history of the church have likewise had an awareness that, as they read the Bible, God speaks to them through it (Hebrews 4:12). The same Spirit who inspired the writers enlightens believers as they read, and they receive the words of the Bible as God’s final authority (1 Corinthians 2:12-15; 1 John 2:26-27; 1 John 5:7; 1 John 5:10; see INTERPRETATION).

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Inspiration'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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