The Biblical View of Inspiration
Thus far in our study of bibliology (the doctrine of the Bible) we have examined the subject of divine revelation, which involves God’s uncovering of knowledge to mankind.
The next area of bibliology that we will begin to examine is the subject of divine inspiration, which involves the accurate presentation or recording of knowledge.
When God revealed knowledge to prophets and apostles in Bible times, it was their responsibility to present that knowledge to other people. Sometimes they presented that revealed knowledge through oral speech. At other times they presented it in written form. On still other occasions they did it both orally and in written form.
God was concerned that the prophets and apostles present His revealed knowledge accurately. An inaccurate presentation of God’s revealed knowledge would defeat the whole purpose of God’s revealing that knowledge.
There was a problem, however. Left to themselves, the prophets and apostles, like all other human beings, were fallible. If all they had to work with, when it came time for them to present God’s revealed knowledge to other people, were their natural abilities, then they were bound to be inaccurate in their presentations on occasion.
How could God prevent the prophets and apostles from inaccurately presenting the knowledge that He revealed to them? He did it by the Holy Spirit working with them, giving them supernatural enablement when it was time for them to make their presentations. This guaranteed that what they spoke or wrote was accurate and inspired.
The Bible claims to be the divinely inspired, accurate, written record of knowledge that God wanted mankind to have. In making this claim, the Scriptures present seven principles that together constitute the biblical view of what is involved in inspiration. All seven of these principles are vitally important. Any view that does not include all seven is a misrepresentation and a perversion of the biblical view.
This article states and explains the seven principles. Later articles will present the biblical evidence for these principles.
The Seven Principles of Inspiration
The First Principle
Inspiration involves divine authorship of the Scriptures. The Bible is the result of divine activity. God, not mankind, is its ultimate source; therefore, the Bible is God’s Word to mankind.
The key term for this first principle is divine authorship.
The Second Principle
Inspiration guarantees the divine authority of the Scriptures. Because the Bible is the Word of God to mankind, it is the declaration of the will and purpose of the creator, sovereign Lord, and judge of the whole universe for mankind. Thus, the Bible is fully and divinely authoritative over all that mankind believes and does. Because of this, every human being should pay careful attention to the content of the Bible and bring his or her philosophy of life, value system, and conduct into conformity with its teaching. Those who do not do so will suffer serious consequences.
The key term for this second principle is divine authority. Some theologians have adopted the term infallibility to express this concept of the divine authority of the Scriptures.
The Third Principle
Inspiration resides in what was written, even in the very words written. Every word of the original Scriptures was inspired by God.
Inspiration must go further than just the mental or written thoughts of the human writer. The fact that a person has an accurate thought in mind does not guarantee that he or she will present that thought accurately to other people. People who have done public speaking or writing know that there are times when they do not say or record what they intended to speak or write. In spite of the fact that they had in mind the exact words that they wanted to use to express their thoughts, for some unexplainable reason they left out some of those words or used words that they never intended. There is many a slip between the mind and the mouth or pen.
Accurate thoughts require accurate words for accurate expression. For Scripture to be an accurate record of accurate thoughts, every written word had to be inspired by God.
The key term for this third principle, the concept that every word of the Bible was inspired, is verbal inspiration.
The Fourth Principle
Inspiration affects all of the Scriptures. Every part of the Bible is inspired, and every part is inspired equally.
This principle rules out the false views that state that only those parts of the Bible that deal with matters of faith and practice were inspired and therefore are free from error; that those parts of the Bible related to historical events and scientific matters were not inspired and therefore are subject to error; and that there are different degrees of biblical inspiration. Some parts are more inspired than others. Freedom from error depends on the degree of inspiration. Those parts that are more inspired are less susceptible to error. Those parts that are less inspired are more susceptible to error.
All three of these views violate the biblical view of what is involved in inspiration.
Because this fourth principle emphasizes the fact that the whole Bible is inspired and is inspired equally, and because the word plenary means entire or complete, the key term for the fourth principle is plenary inspiration.
The Fifth Principle
Inspiration guarantees the inerrancy of the Scriptures. This means that the Bible was written without any error. Everything in it was recorded accurately.
The key term for this fifth principle is inerrancy.
The Sixth Principle
Inspiration involved the use of human factors in the writing of the Bible. Each human writer employed human activity and used such things as his own personality, intellect, training, abilities, personal interests, literary style, and cultural background. For example, Isaiah, who was highly educated, used the fullest and richest Hebrew vocabulary of any of the Old Testament writers. In addition, books of the Bible definitely exhibit various literary styles.
Combining this principle with the earlier ones prompts the conclusion that both human and divine factors were involved in writing the inspired Scriptures. The Bible is the result of divine revelation and enablement working together with the human factors noted above. Some theologians have called this combined activity concursive operation. As a result of this operation, the Scriptures ended up being God’s Word in human language that human beings could understand.
A few small portions of the Bible were produced by the human writers recording what God dictated to them. The fact, however, that the human factors noted above were involved in writing the Bible indicates that the overwhelming majority of the Scriptures was not the result of divine dictation to the human writers. Only God, with His infinite intelligence and wisdom, could work with human writers in such a way that, while using their own human abilities, they would write exactly what He wanted written, apart from dictation.
The key term for this sixth principle is human factors.
The Seventh Principle
God inspired the original autographs of the Scriptures. It was absolutely crucial that the original Scriptures be divinely inspired. Just as streams of water cannot be pure if their original source is impure, so copies and translations of the Scriptures cannot have God’s full divine authority if their original autographs were not divinely inspired.
None of the original autographs of the Bible is available today. This fact troubles some people. Because God is sovereign over what happens in the world, they reason, He could have prevented the original autographs from disappearing. The fact that God did not prevent this indicates that He had a purpose for permitting them to disappear. Perhaps He did so to prevent human beings from regarding the original autographs as sacred relics to be worshiped. Such worship would be idolatrous. Only deity is to be worshiped.
People should not be troubled because none of the original autographs is available today. Over the centuries the Scriptures have been carefully copied and translated into many different languages. The history of this meticulous preservation of the content of the original Bible is fascinating. As a result of this careful work, the Scriptures that are available today are still the authoritative Word of God to mankind.
It should be noted that the original autographs of the Old Testament were not available in the first century A.D., while Jesus Christ, the apostles, and the New Testament prophets were present on earth. In spite of this, they regarded the Old Testament Scriptures as the authoritative Word of God. This indicates that it is not necessary to have the original autographs available in order to have the authoritative Word of God.
The key term for the seventh principle is original autographs.
A Definition of Divine Inspiration
Several scholars have developed definitions of divine inspiration as it relates to the Bible. One of the best that I have seen was devised by Dr. Kenneth Kantzer (presented in his course on revelation and inspiration taught at Wheaton Graduate School during the school year of 1958–59). The strong feature of this definition is that it incorporates all seven principles that together constitute the biblical view of what is involved in inspiration.
Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit by which, through the instrumentality of the whole personality and literary talents of its human authors, He constitutes the words of the Bible in its entirety as His written word to men, and therefore of divine authority and without error in the original manuscripts.