We are told in 1 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God…” There is much debate amongst believers exactly how God inspires scripture. Whenever we formulate our doctrine of inspiration, we need to begin in scripture and let the Lord show us how He inspires scripture. Before I show what scripture teaches on the subject, let me first talk about a couple of the erroneous misconceptions about inspiration.
WHAT INSPIRATION IS NOT
- What it doesn’t mean is that the Spirit motivated them or gave them insight, such as in the example of Looking at a sunset “inspires me” to write a poem. There are times in scripture (many of the psalms) where David is "inspired" to write a psalm of praise to God because of something God did in his life, but this is not what the Bible means when it uses the word "inspiration." As we will see shortly, inspiration is not the best translation of the word, and using the word unfortunately brings along with it misunderstandings such as this one.
- Inspiration also doesn’t mean that the Spirit gave them general truths or ideas that they, after receiving, interpreted and wrote down in their own words based on the common beliefs of the day. I have recently studied with a brother who taught something close to this idea to show that God used evolution to create the universe. His argument was that God gave them the general truth that God is the Creator, but ‘how’ God created is not really taught in scripture. What we really see in Genesis 1-2 is the Spirit "inspiring" the writers to give "truth" that God is Creator based on the popular beliefs of the time when they wrote. But this is not what God teaches about inspiration. God did not give them a general truth (He is Creator) and then give them the freedom to write down that truth based on the beliefs of their times:
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation…” (2 Peter 1:20).
Peter teaches against this idea. The prophets, when they wrote, did NOT take what the Spirit gave them, then interpret it to fit the times. Peter says NO PROPHECY OF SCRIPTURE was given this way!
WHAT INSPIRATION IS
Peter then goes on in this text to define how the Spirit does work in revealing scripture:
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” -2 Peter 1:20-21
From this text in 2 Peter, we learn a couple things about what it means when we are told that scripture is from God:
- They spoke from God. What they have to say is not merely from their own limited perspective. They are not the origin of the truth they speak; they are the channel. The truth is God’s truth. Their meaning is God’s meaning.
- Not only is what they spoke from God, but how they spoke it is controlled by the Holy Spirit. "Men, moved by the Holy Spirit, spoke from God." God did not simply reveal truth to the writers of Scripture and then depart in hopes that they might communicate it accurately. Peter says that in the very communicating of it they were carried by the Holy Spirit. The making of the Bible was not left to merely human skills of communication; the Holy Spirit himself carried the process to completion. The Spirit, using the personality, vocabulary, experiences, and hand of the writer, gave His word as He wanted it.
We see this also in 1 Corinthians 2:13:
“which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit…”
The words they (the Apostles) taught were the words of the Holy Spirit, not the ideas or general truths of the Holy Spirit, but the very words of God.
"When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:11).
When the Holy Spirit "inspires" one to speak, it is actually the Holy Spirit doing the speaking. God is speaking or teaching us through these men. They are the channel through which he reveals the very words that He wants us to have.
Let’s go back to 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Here is how the ESV translates this verse:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness -2 Tim 3:16 (ESV)
This translation, which is the literal translation of the Greek word, shows more clearly what scripture shows us about the Spirit’s work in giving scripture. This is what we have seen up to this point in how the Spirit of God give God’s word to us. This text shows us that even though He may use the vocal chords or hand of a man to give His word, the words themselves are His. Men are only the channels that God uses to deliver His word. In a sense, they are the "mail carriers," delivering His word in the state how and when He wants it given.
We need to make sure that when we are developing our "doctrine of inspiration" that we are going to the verses that God gives us about this topic and allowing Him to define to us how He does it! When we do this, we see that God is the source of each word of scripture. He doesn’t just give general truths that men interpreted based on the beliefs of their day. The men that God used were His "pens" that He used to give His word. Don’t allow the "intellectuals" who are bringing all of these new ideas about inspiration get in the way of what God says about inspiration. May God be true, and every man a liar if they teach differently from Him, even on this subject.
THE FIRST WRITTEN REVELATION
The first example we see in the Bible of God writing down His word is in Exodus 31:18, where He gave His Ten Commandments. In this account, I believe we see a good example of how God gives scripture.
"When He (YHWH) had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God."
In this example, we see this revelation was written by the finger of God. Elsewhere in scripture, we are told what (better: who) this phrase, the ‘finger of God’, is talking about:
"But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.” (Matt 12:28)
"But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)
The Holy Spirit gave this law on the tablets, word for word, how He wanted it. It was given exactly as God gave it orally:
The Lord gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the Lord had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly” (Deuteronomy 9:10).
When Moses wrote these commandments in Exodus and Deuteronomy, he wrote them word for word how the Lord wanted them; exactly how the Lord spoke (breathed) them. There is no evidence that God gave Moses liberty to write anything different, or that he wrote what he did based on common beliefs of his time. Word for word, they were from God. Many times within Moses’ writings we are told that Moses gave the Israelites the commands of the Lord. The giving of the Ten Commandments is a good illustration of how God gives scripture. He first spoke it to the people from Mt Sinai, the Spirit Himself wrote it down onto the tablets, and Moses gave these commandments (among many others) word for word as God spoke them and wrote them, himself being inspired by the Holy Spirit as a prophet of God.
Many theories of how God inspires scripture today do not take into account what God actually says about how He inspires scripture. This happens because many begin outside of scripture and form their doctrine of scripture to fit around the teachings of the “intellectually elite.” They want to make scripture “man-breathed” and not God-breathed. But God is clear. Each word of scripture is from Him, exactly as He wants it. God does use men to give scripture, but we need to be careful not to say they had more freedom in the process than God says they have. They are His “pens” whom He used to write His word. Scripture is “God-breathed,” not “man-breathed.” It is His word given through men; his message given through His messengers.
“For this reason we also constantly thank God that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe” (1 Thess 2:13).
Do you believe scripture is the word of God and accept it as the word of God? Or do you try to “write off” certain passages as being “from man” instead of God to fit in with the so-called “intellectuals” of the day? If it is the latter; if you are allowing the teachings of “scientists” to trump what God says in His word, then you are accepting their words as though they are “the words of God” and “not as the word of men.”