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  • The Inspiration of the Bible

    By Norman L. Geisler

    While written by human beings in human languages, the Bible is not merely a human book. It is inspired of God. The writers were moved by God, and the words they wrote were directed by God. The inspiration of the Bible can be demonstrated in several ways.

    The Biblical Writers Claim to be Moved by the Spirit of God

    Throughout the sacred Scriptures, the authors claimed to be under the direction of the Holy Spirit. David said, "The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; his word was on my tongue" (2 Sam. 23:2, NIV). Peter, speaking of the whole Old Testament, added, "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. 1:21, NIV).

    Not all prophets were known by that name. Some were kings, like David. But he was a mouthpiece of God, nonetheless. Indeed, he is even called a "prophet" (Acts 2:29-39). Others were lawgivers, like Moses. But he too was a prophet or spokesman for God (Deut. 18:18). Some biblical writers even disclaimed the term "prophet" (Amos), meaning they were not a professional prophet, like Samuel and his "school of the prophets" (1 Sam. 19:20). Nonetheless, even if Amos was not a prophet by office he was certainly a prophet by gift (see Amos 7:14). That is, they were being used as a mouthpiece of God.

    Nor did all who were prophets always speak in the first person style of an explicit "Thus saith the Lord." Those who wrote historical books, as the prophet Jeremiah wrote Kings, spoke in an implied "Thus did the Lord." Theirs was a message more about the acts of God on His people than the words of God to His people. Nonetheless, all the biblical writers were channels through which God conveyed his message to mankind.

    The Scriptures Claim to be Breathed Out by God

    Further, the apostle Paul declared: "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17, NIV). Jesus described the Scriptures as the very "word that comes from of the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4, NIV). They were written by men who spoke from God. Paul said his writings were "words . . . which the Holy Spirit teaches" (1 Cor. 2:13, NKJV). As Jesus said to the Pharisees, "How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him 'Lord'" (Matt. 22:43, NIV)?

    The Bible Claims to be Written by Prophets of God

    The biblical authors were prophets and apostles of God. There are many designations of a prophet that are informative about his role in producing Scripture. They are called: 1) a man of God (see 1 Kings 12:22), meaning that he was chosen by God; 2) a servant of the Lord (see 1 Kings 14:18), indicating that he was faithful to God; 3) a messenger of the Lord (see Isa. 42:19), showing that he was sent by God; 4) a seer (Ro'eh), or beholder (Hozeh) (see Isa.30:9-10), revealing that his insight was from God; 5) a man of the Spirit (see Hos. 9:7 KJV; Mic. 3:8), telling that he spoke by the Spirit of God; 6) a watchman (see Ezek. 3:17), reflecting his alertness for God, and 7) a prophet (which he is most commonly called), marking him as a spokesman for God.

    The nature of a biblical prophet is described in these vivid terms: "The Lord has spoken! who can but prophesy" (Amos 3:8, NASB)? He is one who speaks "all the words which the Lord had spoken" (Ex. 4:30, NASB). God said to Moses of a prophet: "I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him" (Deut. 18:18, NASB). He added, "You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it" (Deut. 4:2, NASB). Jeremiah was commanded: "This is what the LORD says: Stand in the courtyard of the LORD's house and speak to all the people . . . Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word" (Jer. 26:2, NIV). In brief, a prophet was someone who said what God told him to say, no more and no less.

    "What the Bible Says, God Says"

    Another way the Bible claims to be the Word of God is expressed in the formula, "What the Bible Says, God Says." This is manifested in the fact that often an Old Testament passage will claim God said it, yet when this same text is cited in the New Testament it asserts that "the Scriptures" said it. And sometimes the reverse is true; namely, in the Old Testament it is the Bible which records it, but the New Testament declares that it was God who said it. Consider this comparison:

    What God says . . . the Bible says

     Gen. 12: 3 Gal. 3:8
     Ex. 9:16 Rom. 9:17

    What the Bible says . . . God says

     Gen. 2:24 Matt. 19:4, 5
     Ps. 2:1 Acts 4:24, 25
     Isa. 55:3 Acts 13:34
     Ps. 16:10 Acts 13:35
     Ps. 2:7 Heb. 1:5
     Ps. 97:7 Heb. 1:6
     Ps. 104:4 Heb. 1:7
     Ps. 95:7 Heb. 3:7

    Simply put, inspiration means that "whatever the Bible says, God says." Or, more precisely, "Whatever the Bible affirms is true, is true. And whatever the Bible affirms is false, is false."

    The Biblical Writers Claim: "Thus Saith the Lord"

    Another way the Bible describes its own inspiration is by phrases like "thus says the Lord" (see Isa. 1:11, 18; Jer. 2:3, 5), "God said" (see Gen. 1:3, 6), "the Word of the Lord came to me" (see Jer. 34:1; Eze. 30:1), or the like are found hundreds of times in Scripture. These reveal beyond question that the writer is claiming to give the very Word of God. Indeed, by their very nature as a prophet they were not to add to or subtract from the words God spoke through them.

    The Bible Claims to be the "Word of God"

    Many times the Bible claims to be "the Word of God" in these very words. Jesus told the Jews of His day: "Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matt. 15:6, NIV). Paul speaks of the Scriptures as "the oracles of God" (Rom. 3:2, NASB). And Peter declares: "For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God" (1 Peter 1:23, NIV). And the writer of Hebrews affirms, "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12, NIV, emphasis added in all quotes).

    The Bible Claims to Have Divine Authority

    There are many other words or phrases used in the Bible to describe itself which entail the claim to have divine authority. Jesus said the Bible is indestructible in that it will never pass away (see Matt. 5:17, 18); it is infallible or "unbreakable" (see John 10:35); it has final authority (see Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 5), and it is sufficient for faith and practice (see Luke 16:31; 2 Tim. 3:16-17).

    The extent of divine authority in Scripture includes: all that is written (see 2 Tim. 3:16); even the very words (see Matt. 22:43; 1 Cor. 2:13); and tenses of verbs (see Matt. 22:32; Gal. 3:16); including even the smallest parts of words (see Matt. 5:17, 18). That is, even though the Bible was not verbally dictated by God to man, nonetheless, the result is just as perfect as if it had been. For the biblical authors claimed that God is the source of the very words of Scripture, since He supernaturally superintended the very process by which the human, using their own vocabulary and style, recorded God's message (2 Peter 1:20-21).

    The Bible Was Written in Human Terms

    Although the Bible claims to be the Word of God it is also the words of men. It claims to be God's communication to human beings in human words. Even though it claims to have a divine source, the Bible is also a thoroughly human book.

    First of all, every book in the Bible was the composition of a human writer, more than thirty of them in all, including: Moses, Joshua, Samuel, Ezra, Nehemiah, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Nehemiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude.

    Second, the Bible manifests different human literary styles, from the mournful meter of Lamentations to the exalted poetry of Isaiah, from the simple grammar of John to the complex Greek of Hebrews.

    Third, the Bible manifests human perspectives: David spoke in Ps. 23 from a shepherd's perspective; Kings is written from a prophetic vantage point; Chronicles from a priestly point of view; Acts manifests a historical interest; and 2 Timothy a pastor's heart. Writers speak from an observer's perspective when they write of the sun rising or setting (see Josh. 1:15).

    Fourth, the Bible reveals human thought patterns and processes, including human reasoning (as in Romans) and human memory (see 1 Cor. 1:14-16).

    Fifth, the Bible reveals human emotions, such sorrow expressed over the Israelites (see Rom. 9:2) or anger over the Galatians (see Gal 3:1).

    Sixth, the Bible reveals specific human interests. Indicated by their choice of images: Hosea had a rural interest, Luke a medical interest, and James an interest in nature.

    Finally, it sometimes uses human sources for its material: Luke may have used written sources for his gospel (Luke 1:1-4); the Old Testament often used non-canonical writings as sources (cf. Josh. 10:13); Paul quoted non-Christian poets three times (Acts 17:28, 1 Cor. 15:33: Titus 1:12); Jude cited material from non-canonical books (Jude 9, 14). Of course, all truth comes from God ultimately, whatever the immediate source may be.

    Critics sometimes object to the humanness of the Bible, arguing that: 1) If the Bible is a human book, then it must error. For "to err is human"; Therefore, the Bible must have errors. However, the fallacy of this reasoning is that it wrongly assumes that "humans always err." A perfect phone book is without error. Anyone can write a book without error. Here is one: Page one: "2+2=4." Page two: "2+3=5." If mere humans can write errorless books, then how much more can humans write who are under the special providential care of God to preserve them from all error (as the writers of Holy Scripture claimed to be). Indeed, just as Jesus was both divine and human, yet without sin (see Heb. 4:15; 2 Cor. 5:21), even so the Bible has both a divine and human dimension, yet without error (see Matt. 22:29; John 17:17).

    How can God produce a perfect book through imperfect human instruments? The same way a straight line can be drawn by a crooked stick! Jesus said to His disciples, "When He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth" (Jn. 16:13, NASB). Hence, the Scriptures produced by men of God under the guidance of the Spirit of God are the very Word of God.