“Inspiration” is one of those theological words often thrown around in a church context without pausing for a definition. It is a theologically profound term with real consequences, though it is sometimes said with flippancy. When we understand what inspiration is and what the Bible says about it, we can better understand how our grasp on inspiration can impact our Bible study and evangelism. Inspiration has been defined as the “extraordinary or supernatural divine influence vouchsafed to those who wrote the Holy Scriptures, rendering their writings infallible” (Easton). As used in the New Testament, the concept of inspiration refers to “the Spirit as speaking through the words or provisions of scripture” (Powell 408).
This concept of inspiration is not to be confused with its modern usage. We often refer to something as inspired when we mean that there is a hint of genius or special influence within a work. The inspiration meant in regards to Scripture is much more profound. The best portrait of this concept is found in Second Timothy 3:16-17 where it is stated, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (NAS). The Greek word translated “inspired” is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), a compound word combining the words for God (θεός) and breath/wind/spirit (πνεῦμα). Thus, the literal rendering of what we often refer to as Biblical inspiration is “God-breathed” (Cf. 2 Tim. 3:16 ESV). In this rendering we get to the core of what it means to claim that the Bible is inspired: God breathed his very own words and thoughts through the biblical writers onto the pages which would later be transmitted to us today.
The Bible has much to say about the concept of inspiration. From Genesis to Revelation, the concept of biblical literature being the breath of the Lord is consistent. The English phrase “word of the Lord” occurs in the Old Testament of ESV 245 times. From the recording of God’s words to Abram (Gen. 15:1-4) to the prophetic word of the Lord through the Seers (Isa. 1:10 ff; Jer. 1:2ff; Ezek. 1:3ff; Hosea 1:1ff; Joel 1:1ff; Amos 7:16ff; Jon. 1:1ff; Mic. 1:1ff; Zeph. 1:1ff; Hag. 1:1ff; Zech. 1:1ff; Mal. 1:1ff), the pages of the Old Testament claim to be the very words of God as breathed through his servants. In the New Testament, the claim is made that all scripture is inspired, or breathed out by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The apostle Peter gives more insight to this process: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:20-21 ESV). Scripture therefore is portrayed in the Bible not as the invention of man, but as the mind of God as it was portrayed through men (Cf. 1 Cor. 2:9-13; 14:37-38).
How we view the world around us certainly depends upon our presuppositions. When one believes that the Bible is indeed inspired, their view of the book changes. It becomes much more than some dead words on lifeless paper. When inspiration is faithfully maintained, the Bible comes alive and it becomes apparent that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12 ESV). No view can have a larger impact upon one’s study of the New Testament than that of inspiration. When a reading of the New Testament is filtered through a belief that it is indeed the word of God, the literature becomes life-changing. An affirmation of inspiration in the New Testament turns God’s story into our story. It takes things that were once only descriptive and turns them prescriptive. The thigs described in the New Testament become necessary for live, godliness, and eternity. It ought to motivate us to give our diligence to digging into the text, to studying it, and sharing its contents with others. If its inspiration is denied, the New Testament is another book among many, however extraordinary it may be, it holds no eternal consequence.
Thus, the view of inspiration shouldn’t be held only for the sake of pragmatism. Such would be intellectually dishonest. The doctrine of inspiration ought to be maintained for initially rational reasons. As someone who has lived most of their life without a belief in God and without a belief in the inspiration if Scripture, I believe that there are really profound reasons to believe that the Bible is inspired. When these reasons are presented to an open, seeking heart, one can go from a denier of inspiration to a proclaimer of inspiration.
That being said, we shouldn’t merely assume that everyone believes in the inspiration of Scripture. Nor should we assume that only the ignorant disbelieve in inspiration. We, like our Lord, must be patient and loving with those who do not view Scripture as inspired. We should understand the inspiration is a point to work towards in the public square. We shouldn’t be afraid to admit that acceptance of inspiration requires faith (otherwise, who/what “inspired” the book we say is inspired?).
When discussing this topic with non-believers, teachers of God’s word should avoid a foundation of presuppositions and circular reasoning. Unfortunately, it often seems that some teachers of God’s word would rather trick someone into believing that the Bible is inspired than answer hard questions. We live in a time when hard questions abound, and we should be equipped to answer them. Teachers of God’s word shouldn’t view those who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures as a lost cause. I know several preachers who are great men and noble servants of Christ’s cause. But for them, if a non-believer denies inspiration, then they are lost beyond help (at least, help from them). Bible teachers should rather ask the tough questions themselves, to dig into the evidence and reasoning for themselves. Shying away from the tough questions helps nobody.
Overall, the doctrine of inspiration has a vital impact on how we view the New Testament. Though the Bible has much to say about inspiration (and in order to prove its inspiration), the doctrine of inspiration is taken for granted in our postmodern culture. Many in and out of Christendom doubt, if not reject, that the Bible is inspired. We should face this fact not with scared hearts and angry minds. Rather, we should approach this reality with a willingness to learn and share. Truth does not fear inspection, and we should be willing to face the doubts of our culture with the claims of our God.
Easton, M. G. Easton’s Bible dictionary. Logos Bible Software, 1893.
Powell, Mark Allan, ed. The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated). HarperOne, 2011.
New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update. The Lockman Foundation, 1995.
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Standard Bible Society, 2016.