The Basic Meaning of Biblical Inspiration

J. Oliver Jones

            2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) states, “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 complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The term “Scripture” can be understood to refer to the writings found in either or both the Old Testament (OT) or the New Testament (NT). As it is used here, since at the time of the writing of this letter to Timothy, all of the writings of the NT were not complete, it most likely refers to the Hebrew Scriptures, or what we call the Old Testament. This would fit the context of the passage as Paul refers to Timothy having known “the Scriptures” since childhood, likely taught to him by his grandmother, Lois, and his mother, Eunice (2 Tim 1:5). Since the NT writings were not available during Timothy’s childhood, it is without much debate that the OT scriptures are implied.

Then Paul makes a profound statement about this Scripture known by Timothy when he states that the Scripture “is given by the inspiration of God.” We are all familiar with the word “inspiration.” We speak of the inspiration of a sunset when we look out over the ocean as the sun slowly disappears below the watery horizon. Perhaps as we sing the old hymns of the Faith we feel inspired to worship God with more zeal and vitality. We might even speak of how a poem written about heaven by an aging grandmother has inspired us over the years to make the right choices in life. All of these properly use inspiration in the sense of having our emotions stimulated, our feelings aroused, or even our very lives challenged to do what is right.

But the word Paul uses here in this letter to Timothy, the word that the scholars have translated inspiration, is a word used nowhere else in the Bible. This word carries much more meaning than simply that God uses the Scriptures to stimulate our emotions, to arouse our devotion, or to even challenge us to holy living, as true as these things might be. The Greek word used by Paul is in English pronounced “theopneustos.” This word consists of two separate words, theos, meaning God, and pneustos, from the word meaning breath. Most simply, what Paul is here declaring is that the Scripture is God-breathed, or if you prefer, it is the very Breath of God!  How this truth should move the believer to hold precious the revelation God has given to man about His own nature, character, and will. How it should make us pause to consider the depth of knowledge and truth that lies therein. How it should prevent anyone from questioning the purity of the words which the writers of the Scriptures recorded as “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (2 Peter 1:21).

To consider the Bible as just a good book written by men about God is to totally miss what a miracle we hold in our hands each time we pick up our Bible. To question if the Scripture in its original writings contains errors, falsehoods, or myths is to deny that God is holy and incapable of speaking any mistruth. To intentionally misrepresent or deny what is taught in its pages is an attack upon its true author, God Himself. To consider that when we hold these Divine writings in our hands, God has entrusted us with His very breath!   It is God who has chosen to reveal Himself to man by breathing His Spirit upon those “men of old” to write the very truths He desires for us to know.  From “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1) to “Surely I am coming quickly” (Rev 22:20), these words, and all that come in between, are the very breath of God.

But God Himself said that it is “by the mouth of two or three witnesses that every word shall be established” (Deut 19:15, Matt 18:16, 2 Cor 13:1). So are there other passages that help to establish this doctrine of inspiration?  The answer is yes. In fact, expressions such as “thus says the Lord” are used more than 3800 times in the Old Testament alone.  In addition, consider that in the Psalms and Proverbs we find such statements as these:

Psalms 12:6:  “the words of the LORD are pure words…” NKJV

Psalms 119:89:  “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” KJV

Proverbs 30:5-6:  “Every word of God is flawless…” NIV

Then we can find the words of Jesus and the Apostles in the New Testament that attest:

Matthew 5:18: “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” KJV

John 16:13:  “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” NKJV

2 Peter 1:21-22:  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.” NKJV

2 Peter 3:15-16:  “and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” NKJV

These verses can be used to show that God’s words are true, pure, and flawless. Jesus said that not even the smallest letter (jot) or the smallest part of a letter (tittle) would pass away or fail until everything the Father has declared comes to pass. He also promised His disciples that when the Holy Spirit comes, He will guide them into all truth and bring to memory all that Jesus had spoken. Peter declares that the “prophecies” did not come from human imagination, but came as the Holy Spirit moved upon them. And not only is this true of the writings of the OT, but also of the NT. Peter announces that the writings of Paul contain wisdom that was given to him and that allowed him to impart truth that some who are “untaught and unstable” would twist, or misrepresent, even as they do the “rest of the Scriptures.” This is a clear indication that what God had done in the writings of the OT, He was doing also in the writings of the NT. As Sovereign God He was directing the NT Scriptures to insure that each and every one that would become a part of the finalized canon of the New Covenant would be His own “breath.”

So what is the practical implication of such a truth?  Without doubt there are many applications. But consider first that our faith in God should be sufficient to believe that He so guided the writing and the preservation of His own Word throughout the centuries that today we have exactly what He has willed us to have! The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. He desired our forefathers to know and understand who He is and what He is like. That has not changed!  God still wants us to know Him and to understand His will, His plan, and His purpose for mankind. Again, it comes down to our faith. Do we believe that an all powerful, sovereign, and loving God has desired to give us His infallible truth? We have seen that the Bible speaks to its own inspiration. Let us close with the words of the Presbyterian preacher Donald Grey Barnhouse as he explained inspiration in this way:

Just as the Holy Spirit came upon the womb of Mary, so He came upon the brain of a Moses, a David, an Isaiah, a Paul, a John and the rest of the writers of the divine library. The power of the Highest overshadowed them; therefore that holy thing which was born of their minds is called the Holy Bible, the word of God. The writing of Luke will, of course, have the vocabulary of Luke, and the work of Paul will bear the stamp of Paul’s mind. However, this is only in the same manner that the Lord Jesus might have had eyes like his mother’s or hair that was the same color and texture as hers.  He did not inherit her sins because the Holy Spirit had come upon her. If we ask “how could this be?” the answer is “God says so.” And the writings of the men of the Book did not inherit the errors of their carnal minds because their writings were conceived by the Holy Spirit and born out of their personalities without partaking of their fallen nature. If we ask, how this could be, again the answer is, God says so.

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