Part three in the Biblical Authority series provides answers — and raises questions.
In this series, we’re looking at the issues involved in the authority of Scripture. We first examined revelation, addressing the challenge of how we know the Bible is from God and reveals God. Now we turn to inspiration, which is the problem of communication. How did God get the message into the text?
Many Christians do not believe that God literally caused the words of the Bible to be written in the way that they were. Some hold the intuition theory of inspiration: The writers were people gifted with more than usual insight in much the same way as Buddha and Socrates were. In short, these writers had a talent for theology and expressing their ideas. Others hold to the illumination theory. This view says that inspiration was accomplished as God expanded the writers’ natural abilities. A third view, held by some conservative Christian scholars, is that God put the thoughts into the writers’ minds and that the writers expressed these thoughts in their own way. It’s known as the dynamic theory of inspiration.
These views are attractive to many, allowing them to deal with the difficult scriptures in an easier way because they are more human products than God’s.
Consider the problems arising from views like these. What good and how trustworthy would heightened intuition, general illumination, or even God’s thoughts be if just left to human writers to express in their own way? For starters, how would writers discern God’s thoughts from their own? Further, even if they could delineate a difference, how confident could they be in accurately explaining God’s intention? Our view of inspiration holds that it was not so much the writers who were inspired in some general way, but the result — the writings themselves — were inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
Let’s start with 2 Peter 1:20, 21. Some think this passage speaks only of inspired writers, but let’s look closer:
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.
Verse 20 assures us that the inspired writing we call Scripture did not arise from private interpretation. It’s not something that somebody thought God wanted them to say. The word Scripture itself refers to something written, and Peter seems to say that Scripture isn’t privately authored. This means that the writers were not writing from their own meanings. They were not allowed by God to resort to their own views.
Does that mean that God simply dictated the Bible to them? Yes, sometimes we see divine dictation. Think of the many times the Bible says, “Thus saith the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came to me and said. . . .” Much of the prophets’ messages came in this way, but there’s more to it than that.
Look at verse 21 again. God’s Word didn’t come by the “will of man” but “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (emphasis mine). The Greek word translated “moved” is used dozens of times in the New Testament for directing something by force. The word was based on the idea of a ship at sea moved by the wind. This moving doesn’t refer to somebody being inspired in the general, weak sense, but to being born along or propelled in a specific direction. This high view of inspiration finds the holy men of God in full submission to the overpowering guidance and superintendence of the Holy Spirit.
It makes sense that God would have moved the writers in this way. We don’t have to worry about the writers resorting to their own views, or getting mixed up, since the Holy Spirit wasn’t just inspiring writers, but the very writings themselves. The writers’ imperfections had nothing to do with the final result. Whether a writer was sleepy or sick the day he wrote it had no effect on the outcome. What was written is what God wanted. He made sure that every writer wrote exactly what he was supposed to. No wonder Psalm 119:89 tells us that “For ever, O Lord, thy word is established in heaven” (KJV).
It appears that not just the words were inspired. Even the very marks on the words were. Jesus says that not one jot will fail (Matthew 5:18). In the Hebrew, jot is yoth, the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet — like our apostrophe. Not even the smallest part of a word will pass away, He says, until it’s all complete.
Second Timothy 3:16 is the Bible’s clearest and strongest statement on inspiration: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God.” All of it! And the words themselves, not just the means. There are only three words in that clause in the original Greek: all, writings, and a compound word that literally means “God-breathed.” The New International Version captures the force of its literal sense: “All Scripture is God-breathed. . . .”
Of course, when 2 Peter and 2 Timothy were penned, Scripture referred primarily to the Old Testament. But there is good reason to believe that even at this early point, the New Testament writings were considered Scripture. We note that “the other Scriptures” in 2 Peter 3:16 (NIV) suggest that Paul’s epistles were already being read as Scripture. And 1 Timothy 5:18 quotes Luke 10:7, calling it Scripture.
Since all the Bible is God breathed, “Every word of God is pure” (Proverbs 30:5), even as God used all sorts of agents and methods of communicating these words to us. Each word is precious and each is trustworthy.
In the previous article in this series, we discussed that the Bible is God’s revelation. We see now how God used specific words through chosen writers to do that revealing. Next time we’ll look at how the books of the Bible were recognized as Scripture.
Gordon Feil writes from Victoria, British Columbia, where he resides with his wife, Linza.