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"And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works." - 2 Timothy 3:15-17.
UR English word "inspiration" is derived from Latin and occurs just
twice in our English translation of the Scriptures. Firstly it is found
in the Old Testament, where we read in Job: "But there is a spirit in
man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding"
(Job 32:8). "Breath" is the meaning of the Hebrew word used here. The
speaker is Elihu. He is hesitant to contribute to the discussion
between Job and his three companions because of his youth. But he is
also conscious of the fact that wisdom is from God. His Spirit is in His people and this is the source of true knowledge pertaining to salvation.
The second use of the word is in the verses quoted from Timothy, which
form the key passage in the biblical conception of inspiration.
"...the holy scriptures,which are able to make thee wise unto salvation …."
Timothy is reminded by the apostle Paul of the place which the Word of
God had occupied in his life since his infancy. It was the instrument
graciously used to lead him to a saving trust in Jesus Christ.
The general revelation which God has given of Himself, in man's
spiritual constitution and in the works of creation and providence, is
not adequate to provide men with that knowledge which they require for
salvation. Since the fall sinners hold back in unrighteousness the
truth which constantly confronts them (Rom. 1:20). Natural revelation
now speaks to man's depraved state, revealing the wrath of God as well
as declaring His glory (Rom. 1:18-20).
Even in paradise special revelation was required, for we read of the
instruction our first parents received regarding their duties and
privileges and the particular command which had respect to one of the
trees of the garden (Gen. 1:28-30; 2:16,17). Subsequent to the fall God
provided further revelation, now making known the way of reconciliation
(Rom. 1:16,17). This revelation was 'special' in that it was not given
to mankind generally but to those from among whom the Lord would gather
His elect. The psalmist highlights this fact: "He sheweth his word to
Jacob, his statutes and his judgments to Israel. He hath not dealt so
with any nation: and as for his judgments, they have not known them.
Praise ye the LORD" (Psa. 147:19,20).
Special revelation always signifiesword
revelation, which in turn impliesinspiration.
Whether that revelation to His people was by theophany, vision or
dream, there was always made ready a man of God through whom the Lord
would also communicate verbally. "God, who at sundry times, and in divers manners,spake
in time past unto the fathers by the prophets" (Heb. 1:1). The long
ages of the patriarchs enabled the safe transmission of this immediate
revelation to their posterity. Latterly God was pleased, for the
benefit of His church, to commit the whole of His revealed will to a
Inspiration was essential to secure the faithful transcription of
that will. For us the Scriptures are "most necessary" (Westminster Confession of Faith, chap.
I.i). All the other modes of special revelation have ceased too,
contrary to the wilder claims of the charismatic movement. The Bible is
a marvel, not simply because it was inspired, but because it is
inspired by a perpetual "re-inspiration". The Old Testament, first
written centuries before, made Timothy truly wise. Moreover, although
his mother was Jewish his father was Greek (Acts 16:1) and it is likely
that the young boy was given his schooling from the Septuagint, the
of the Old Testament.
The process of translation does not at all destroy inspiration: a
faithful rendering of the original Hebrew or Greek text into a
different language carries with it this precious quality. Thus the
purpose declared by Paul is fulfilled, that believers under the New
Testament should receive a blessing for their souls from the Scriptures
of the Old Testament: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime
were written for our
learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might
have hope" (Rom. 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 10:11).
"...scriptureis given by inspiration of God...."
In these words the bare fact of inspiration is stated. The mechanics of
inspiration are nowhere revealed to us in the Bible but the reality
of it is. Even the term in
the Greek original,
does not present us with an indication of the exact method God employed
in bringing His Word to man. The best writers have been wisely cautious
when attempting to give a definition of the process of biblical
inspiration; they typically describe the power which the Holy Spirit
exercised upon the human authors as "mysterious".
Certainly it is the belief of true evangelicals that God has secured an
infallible transmission of His own special revelation to man; but does
this force us to fix upon a particular theory
of inspiration? Liberal
opponents of the historic position wish to box evangelicals into a
corner here by unfavourably characterising our belief as "divine
dictation" and comparing the process to the passive way in which the
stenographer or shorthand-writer functions.
We may go as far as to say that in the Holy Scriptures God has secured
the same result as would be obtained by a mechanical dictation, in that
the thoughts of His mind have been conveyed through selected human
instruments to writing; we may also say that the Scriptures themselves
contain the suggestion of a sort of dictation (e.g. 2 Sam. 23:2; Isa.
51:16, 1 Cor. 2:13; Rev. 2:1). How else are we to understand the
experience of the Lord's servants such as Jeremiah: "Then the Lord put
forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me,
Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth" (Jer. 1:9)? It is a
caricature though of our position to suggest that it reduces the role
of the apostles and prophets to something like that of a fax machine.
The liberal critics believe that they have the 'fundamentalist' on the
horns of a dilemma. They say that there are only two possibilities:
firstly, if the Bible text was entirely from God, it would have had to
be dictated mechanically (which idea is absurd); or secondly, if man
enters into it throughout, the Scriptures are inevitably fallible, full
of legend, exaggeration and other mistakes (which would make its
The problem for these critics is their refusal to believe in the
miraculous. We have a Bible which is fully divine, yet not to the
exclusion of the element of human personality. "For the prophecy came
not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they
by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet.
1:21). Men spoke but the Spirit of God controlled their utterances. He
"moved" them. They were carried along, as Paul and his companions were
by the mighty wind Euroclydon when on a ship sailing to Italy (Acts
Moreover we are not to think that the Lord seized upon men who were
unprepared and untrained for the purpose. It was "holy
men of God" who spoke. There had been a work of providence and of grace
to produce men fit for the task. The preparatory work had been going on
culturally, intellectually and even emotionally throughout their former
lives and even in their ancestors. The Lord said to Jeremiah: "Before I
formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out
of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the
nations" (Jer. 1:5). Paul could recount: "But when it pleased God, who
separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, To
reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen" (Gal.
1:16,17). If the Incarnate Word could be so prepared ("a body hast thou
prepared me" - Heb. 10:5) then so could the humble penmen of the
The method of inspiration used by God in the production of Holy
Scripture is such that the divine and human cannot be identified or
distinguished. The same words of Holy Scripture may be attributed
alternately to God Himself and to the human penman. This is clear from
the way in which Psalm 110 is cited in the New Testament:
"AndDavid himself saith
in the book of Psalms, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right
hand, Till I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Luke 20:42).
"He saith unto them, How then dothDavid in spirit
call him Lord, saying, The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right
hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool?" (Matt. 22:43-44).
ForDavid himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool" (Mark 12:36).
"But to which of the angelssaid he
(i.e. God - v.1) at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine
enemies thy footstool? (Heb. 1:13).
Do we maintain the inspiration of the human penmen themselves or of
their writings? These authors were fallible men: their sinful failings
are exhibited in Scripture for us. Indeed it is not the least of the
arguments in favour of biblical inspiration that the penmen record so
frankly their own faults (e.g.David in Psa. 73:22). Some seem not to
have been conscious of inspiration at all times (Luke 1:3; cf. John
11:49-52). Others certainly were aware of being under inspiration (2
Pet. 3:2; 1 John 4:6; 1 Thess. 2:13). Yet it is to their words as
preserved by God in the Bible that we now look, not to the men
"...All scripture is given by inspiration of God...."
On theological grounds some have sought to evade the force of the word
"all" in our text. Gaussen describes three ways in which the orthodox
doctrine is challenged:
Divine inspiration is nonexistent.
This view attributes to Holy Scripture nothing more than the
'inspiration' of the poet or novelist, a purely natural power.
Therefore the Bible is no more inspired than the writings of Cicero or
Shakespeare. Such a view is at a complete loss to explain the content
of the Bible, which includes many things that men could not have known
apart from supernatural revelation. Messianic prophecy is a case at
point. Scripture itself affirms that its human authors were not always
aware of the significance or meaning of what they were writing (1 Pet.
Divine inspiration is not universal.
The existence of divine inspiration is allowed, but only in a portion
of the canon, not the whole. This is the realm of the so-called "Higher
Critic", who by some uncanny skill is able to determine for us which
parts of the Scripture are authentic, and which are the mere
compositions of men. Rarely do such critics agree with one another!
That the prejudice of such men blinds them to the wonderful truth of
the divine inspiration of the Word of God is seen in the following
dogmatic assertions of C.H. Dodd, who incredibly was for many years a
Vice-President of the British and Foreign Bible Society:
"Moses...was a magician, a medicine man, whose magic wand wrought wonders of deliverance and destruction. That was how the people regarded him. To separate history from legend in the stories of his career is impossible and not very profitable."
"There are sayings (of Jesus), not many indeed, which either simply are not true, in their plain meaning, or are unacceptable to the conscience or reason of Christian people."
Divine inspiration is not plenary.
This view approaches nearest to the orthodox one. The whole Bible is
indeed inspired, it is said, but not to an equal degree, i.e. it is not
all fully or plenarily
inspired. On this
view, Scripture is only fully inspired, in the sense of the individual
words, when certain aspects of revelation are involved - prophecy
rather than history, doctrine rather than narrative.
It has to be said that nowhere does the Bible itself warrant such a
distinction. History and narrative are inextricably linked to prophecy
and doctrine: all are involved for instance in that great theme of the
Bible, the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. We stress that all
the writings of the Bible are equally inspired of God - whether it is
the speech of a man cursing God's servant (2 Sam. 16:6,7) or the
sublimest statement on the love of God (John 3:16). True, the former
was not inspired by the Holy Spirit in its original utterance, but
equally with the statement of the beloved disciple it is inspired in
its recording in Scripture.
We believe that inspiration extends to the very words and toall
the words of the Bible (1 Cor. 2:13). Some of these words the human
authors "sought to find out" (Ecc. 12:10). We may go further and state
that inspiration must extend to the very letters
of Scripture. In
Galatians 3:16 the apostle builds his argument on the distinction
between the singular and the plural of the word "seed" - a difference
indicated at the level of individual letters. To settle the argument,
the Living Word Himself speaks of the "jot" and the "tittle" - the
smallest letter and the smallest part of a letter in the Hebrew
language - as being of significance in the Old Testament Scriptures
"...and isprofitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may beperfect, throughly furnished unto all good works."
Because the Bible is inspired Jesus could pray for His own, "Sanctify
them through thy truth: thy word is truth" (John 17:17). The Bible must
be the supreme authority therefore in the Christian's life, our only
rule to direct us. Only in feeding upon the Holy Scriptures and heeding
the voice of the Good Shepherd speaking in them will the believer know
fellowship with God.
The power of the inspired Word is seen as Paul speaks in universals: "perfect", "throughly furnished", "every good work". There is no situation in which we as believers are placed, no demand that arises, for which the Scriptures as the deposit of the manifold wisdom of God are not adequate and amply sufficient. This is so because they are nothing less than the lively oracles of God.