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The Inspiration of Scripture and its Effects

The value of the Scriptures, as found in the Bible, in a Christian’s life cannot be overstated. From the times of the prophets of the Old Testament to the apostles of the New Testament; from the Middle Ages through the Reformation and on into the present day, the Word of God has sparked spiritual revolutions, calmed the greatest fears, saved the darkest soul, and produced the ultimate love.

Behind all of this is the God the Bible claims created the universe by his very word and also gave us the Scriptures by his very breath. Arguments have been made both for and against the inspiration of Scripture with a lot of the ink issues being made in the latter-part of the twentieth century and continuing into the twenty-first. This paper will not be an examination of that argument. The Scriptures being inspired of God will be a given. Instead, treatment will be made of the role of the Holy Spirit in the inspiration process and the religious experiences man had with God to bring about what we now have in print. There will also be a peering into the opening and closing of the biblical canon, a brief focus on the inspiration of the New Testament, and how inspiration affects today’s world.

The Bible itself testifies that the words on its pages have been given by God, through the person of the Holy Spirit (Matt. 22:43; Acts 1:16, 20; 2:25-28; 4:25-26; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). It is through the Scriptures that a person can make the necessary applications to a life of salvation (2 Tim. 3:15-17) and revelation was “intimately bound up with the written word of God” (Isa. 8:1; Jer. 18:5; 1 Thes. 2:13) (Harrison 463). There was no doubt in the Jewish mind, from the time of Moses, to the first-century church, that God had communicated his message through man. This belief carried on into the later centuries of the early church as the orthodox doctrine of inspiration was formulated from scriptural allusions to the work of the Holy Spirit “with the testimony of scriptural writings” (Harrison 467).

Such was the conviction that the Scriptures came from God that both “God” and “Scriptures” are used interchangeably in the New Testament with God or the Holy Spirit being credited with speaking, even though in the original context God may not have actually spoken (Matt. 19:4; Heb. 3:7; Acts 13:34). The Apostle Paul’s attitude was no different, personifying the sacred texts by saying, “The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith” (Gal. 3:8) and affirms on several occasions that the word he preached was the word of God (1 Cor. 2:13; 2 Cor. 2:17, Col 1:25-27; 1 Thes. 2:13). As we will see, Paul shares with his Jewish heritage that the sacred scriptures were given by divine in-“spiration”, that is, by the “breath” of God, the Holy Spirit (Fee 793).

The two most commonly cited texts concerning the inspiration of Scripture are 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:20-21: All Scripture is God-breathed [qeovpneusto~] and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. (2 Tim. 3:16) Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet. 1:20-21)

Although the former is about what was written and the latter about what was spoken, “the dilemma of whether inspiration pertains to either is seen to be a false issue” according to these verses (Erickson 244). More attention will be given to the 2 Timothy text because of the unique nature of Paul’s statement and the differing views on interpretation and their implications. Much debate surrounds the wording of the verse and whether it should be translated as is or the alternate “Every Scripture inspired of God…” The latter, more liberal, view would suggest, of course, that there are other scriptures outside of the biblical text that are inspired. Even the more conservative theologian Karl Barth held to such a view (Brown 38).

Although the Greek word pasa could better be translated “every” because of the singular nature of the word for “scripture” (graphe), there are a couple of items that throw a monkey wrench into the machine spitting out the alternate translation. First, the conjunction “and” (kai) comes after “God-breathed”, making the first part of the sentence able to stand as an independent clause, linking it up with the development of the concept of the Scriptures’ usefulness. While kai can be translated “also”, suggesting a more attributive meaning to “God-breathed”, this translation is unwarranted. Daniel Wallace argues that kai means “and” 12 times as often as it means “also” as well as the fact that it is unnatural to translate it adverbially as “also” between two adjectives in the same case (139). Kai would seem “to present the two adjectives (“God-breathed” and “beneficial”) as parallel. Consequently, the preferable rendering is “all Scripture is inspired…” (Hanna 394).

In spite of the importance of 2 Timothy 3:16, it is likely that Paul did not have the inspiration of Scripture in mind when he wrote. Timothy already would have known that Scripture came from God so Paul was emphasizing that because Scripture is God-breathed, it is useful to teach, rebuke, correct, and train. “Timothy is “reminded” that the basis of its profitableness lies in its inspired character” (Guthrie 176). Christians can be confident that this holds true today.

The question is how did God get the message to man in order to have it written down in the first place? According to Scripture, despite man being sinful and fallible, there was no corruption of God’s word as it was spoken through the prophets (2 Pet. 1:21) and the apostles (2 Pet 3:16). It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that this could be accomplished. The prophets of the Old Testament were well aware they were being used of God and that their utterances had their origins in the close spiritual fellowship with YHWH to deliver his message to his people (Harrison 757). They were “called and compelled to share (their messages), even if counter to their own goals and lifestyle” (Sandy, et al 21). The receivers of God’s word had religious experiences of God well beyond that of the average Jew. The variations in these psychological dimensions and phenomena range from psychologically dualistic (prophets), didactic (historians), and responsive-creative (psalmists and poets). The same goes for the New Testament in the genres of Revelation (dualistic), Gospels, Acts, Epistles (didactic), and hymns and doxologies (lyrical) (Packer 54).

The prophets give the impression that God’s message came to them in verbal form (Marshall 31) and the biblical record indicates that God did indeed take the liberty of speaking audibly (cf. Exod. 3:4-4:17; 1 Sam. 3; Jer. 1; Matt. 3:17, 17:5; John 12:29). There is also the possibility that the prophets inwardly heard God’s message, much like the subvocal process that slow readers engage in as they “hear” in their heads the words they are reading (Erickson 213). Whether the prophets entered into some sort of altered state of consciousness is debatable, but probable. God has the ability to overrule a speaker to say what he wants said, despite the speaker’s moral character (i.e. Balaam in Numbers 23 & 24) or even when the speaker is unaware he is prophesying (i.e. Caiaphas in John 11:49-52).

Milliard Erickson suggests that “God created thoughts in the mind of the writer as he wrote”, a form he calls “concursive” inspiration—revelation and inspiration having merged into one (213). The prophets, in their relationship with YHWH would have sought personal fellowship through prayer and meditation and it is in this “movement toward ecstasy or deep meditation that the separateness of cortical from subcortical activity disappears, the self does not distinguish between subject and object” (Byrnes 51) that the Holy Spirit could have best given his message to his servants. This could bring the charge of straight dictation—the writers writing down word for word what God wanted them to write. However, even in this sort of “ecstatic moment” (Byrnes 22), there is intellectual control on the part of the person in terms of concentration and insight. Concentration is “the careful attention toward a single object or point of focus” and insight results “from the maintenance of a specific perceptual cognitive attitude toward objects rising to consciousness” (Byrnes 51). This would appear to fit nicely with the mind of a prophet whose object or point of focus would be God himself and would gain an appropriate cognitive attitude by maintaining that focus; a focus that included many years of obedience in walking with God and learning from him. There is more here, however, than mere intuition or even, on a higher level, illumination. Hegel, in his definition of Spirit, says that “Spirit has attained the pure element of its existence, the notion…Seeing, then, that Spirit has attained the notion, it unfolds its existence and develops its processes in this ether of its life and is Philosophical Science,” also known as absolute or completely coherent Knowledge (805), or “Spirit knowing itself as Spirit” (808). If this were applied to the Holy Spirit, it could be stating the Holy Spirit as a self-aware being (more so than we can imagine, I believe!), fully capable of communicating with men to write down God’s revelation. We have to deal with the fact that “the biblical writers make some 4,000 claims to be writing God’s word” (MacArthur 147).

We know the Holy Spirit was involved in a very intimate way in the inspiration process. Jesus himself said the Spirit would help the apostles to remember his teachings (John 14:25-26) and reveal things after Jesus’ exaltation (John 16:13). These verses, as well as Peter making reference to Paul’s writings as Scripture (2 Pet. 3:16), are frequently viewed as supporting the inspiration of the New Testament. Even though much of Jesus’ words were imperfectly understood, John was “convinced that by inspiration of the Spirit he has himself been taught what Jesus truly meant, in accordance with his promise” in John 14:26 (Dodd 407). This may be the reason why Jesus did not write out his own teachings (Geisler 42).

The two theories that are favored in the mainline evangelical world are the dynamic theory and verbal theory: the Dynamic emphasizing the combination of divine and human elements in the process of inspiration and the writing of the Bible and the Verbal insisting that the Holy Spirit’s influence extends beyond the direction of thoughts to the selection of words used to convey the message (Erickson 232). Scripture itself seems to favor the latter theory because of the many indications that the New Testament writers regarded every word, syllable, and punctuation mark as significant (Erickson 238). The meaning in John 10:35 rests on the plural number for ‘gods’ in Psalm 82; Matthew 22:32 depends on the tense of a verb in quoting Exodus 3:6 (I am the God of Abraham…); further along in verse 44, Jesus’ argument centers on a possessive suffix in David talking about “my Lord” in Psalm 110, with Jesus stating that David was “speaking by the Spirit.” All of this leads Erickson to conclude, again, that “the inspiration of Scripture was so intense that it extended even to the choice of particular words”, even though the writers wrote in varying styles and genres (238-244). Nonetheless, it is good to err on the side of caution and not go beyond what the Bible itself says. Until more is known about the psychology of the Hebrew prophetic consciousness, “it appears unwise to add to the statement that the kind of inspiration…did not detract from the exercise of the human personality” (Harrison 471).

For all of the understanding we have of the Bible’s “God-breathed” nature, the entire inspiration process remains a mystery, requiring a faith that an omniscient and omnipotent God adequately accomplished the task. Nevertheless, it is good to know that the increasing amount of literature addressing the problem of the Bible’s importance in regards to its inspiration shows that evangelicals are not satisfied with past or worn answers, but are continually searching for better definitions (Osborne 299). The implications for today is that we have a book that we can trust to guide us in our lives on earth and shape us into the people God wants us to be. Some have thought and continue to think that the majority of bibles do not contain all of God’s revelation. Augustine, a common source for Protestants, included several Apocryphal books in his canon. The Catholic Church does as well, even attributing the transmission of Tradition to the Holy Spirit, accepting and honoring it “with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (31). It also holds to the beliefs that the Church authorized the Bible and that revelation is continuing (Wegner 109).

Pertaining to inspired books, Protestants reject the Apocrypha and other works known as pseudepigrapha. Jesus seems to affirm the Old Testament canon in Matthew 23:34-35 as he describes the murder of Abel and the murder of Zechariah. “The implication is that biblical history spans from Genesis to Chronicles” (Wegner 109). During the 400 silent years there was in place a scribal religion and apocalyptists who embodied hopes for the future (Ladd 31). These apocalyptists did not move among the people of Israel heralding deliverance, judgment, or salvation announcing “Thus says the Lord” and in rabbinic literature “it is expressly stated that the Holy Spirit departed from Israel after the last prophets” (Ladd 380). The pseudepigraphal writings (at least 280 books known to have existed by the ninth century) are not referred to in any way with formulas such as “it is written” or “the Scriptures say” (Geisler 87). Some disputed books such as Hebrews, James, 2 Peter, 2 John, 3 John, Jude, and Revelation were so, mainly because of a lack of communication, misinterpretations, or misuses by cults (Geisler 120). There is very good evidence that revelation ceased prior to the destruction of the Jewish temple in A.D. 70 by Rome, an event not recorded in the New Testament, despite its significance (Gentry 336).

Augustine said that the Scriptures are “holy, they are truthful, they are blameless” (Bright 179). If finite authors desire to communicate with prospective readers and in a sense, meet them, as their words are read, we should not be surprised that the infinite God desires to meet with people over his words (Carson 153). God has wonderfully blessed us with a message direct from heaven and it is a privilege to be able to read his word on a daily basis as “a light unto my feet and a light unto my path.” History, as we know it, has meaning because God gives it meaning by dealing with human beings in space and time (House 173). The inspiration of the Bible is just one among the countless other dealings that man was fortunate enough to partake in.

© Copyright 2002 Kedric Webster
All Rights Reserved

Works Cited

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Brown, Colin. Karl Barth and the Christian Message. Chicago: Intervarsity Press, 1967.

Byrnes, Joseph. The Psychology of Religion. New York: Free Press; London: Collier Macmillan, 1984.

Carson, D.A. The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.

Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. New York: Doubleday, 1995.

Dodd, C.H. The Interpretation of the Fourth Gospel. Cambridge, Eng.: University Press, 1953.

Erickson, Milliard J. Christian Theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1998.

Fee, Gordon D. God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Geisler, Norman L. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.

Gentry, Kenneth L. Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the book of Revelation. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989.

Guthrie, Donald. The Pastoral Epistles: An Introduction and Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Hanna, Robert. A Grammatical Aid to the Greek New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1983.

Harrison, Roland Kenneth. Introduction to the Old Testament: With a Comprehensive Review of Old Testament Studies and a Special Supplement on the Apocrypha. Peabody, MA: Prince Press, 1999.

Hegel, George Wilhelm Friedrich. The Phenomenology of Mind. New York: Harper & Row 1967.

House, Paul R. Old Testament Theology. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans 1993.

MacArthur, John. 2 Timothy. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1995.

Marshall, I. Howard. Biblical Inspiration. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1983.

Osborne, Grant R. The Hermeneutical Spiral: A Comprehensive Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1991.

Packer, J.I. Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Sandy, D. Brent and Ronald L. Giese, Jr., eds. Cracking Old Testament Codes. Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995.

Wallace, Daniel B. The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000

Wegner, Paul D. The Journey from Texts to Translations: The Origin and Development of the Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999.