The Witness of Scripture Concerning Its Inspiration: Part Two
Human and divine factors were involved in the writing of the inspired Scriptures. Our previous article presented the Bible’s witness concerning some aspects of its human nature. This article will begin to present the Bible’s witness concerning its divine nature.
The Apostles’ Witness Concerning The Divine Nature of the Old Testament
The Apostle Paul: In 2 Timothy 3:16 Paul wrote, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” This statement is certainly true of the Old and New Testaments, but in this context Paul was applying it primarily to the Old Testament. We know this from his comment to Timothy in the immediately preceding verse: “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” (v. 15). Gottlob Schrenk wrote that in this passage the expression “the holy Scriptures” “refers to the OT as a whole.”* Very little if any of the New Testament had been written and distributed when Timothy was a child.
Several significant things should be noted concerning Paul’s statements. First, He ascribed divine inspiration to “all” of the Old Testament. Schrenk declared that Paul’s expression “all scripture” “obviously means every passage of Scripture.”*
Earlier in this study, it was noted that one of the seven principles that together constitute the biblical view of inspiration was plenary inspiration. The word plenary means entire or complete. Thus, plenary inspiration means that every part of the Bible is inspired and is inspired equally. Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16 is one of several from which the concept of plenary inspiration is derived.
Second, the word translated “given by inspiration of God” is comprised of two parts. The first part, theo, comes from the Greek word for God. The second part, pneustos, comes from the Greek word for breath, wind, or spirit. Thus, the entire word means God-breathed. Paul was saying that the entire Old Testament in all of its parts was God-breathed.
When Paul declared that all of the Old Testament was God-breathed, he did not mean that God breathed something supernatural into it after it had been written by its human writers. For example, after Moses had finished writing Deuteronomy, it did not become divinely inspired as the result of God’s reading it and becoming so impressed that He decided to breathe a supernatural quality into it.
Paul meant that God was breathing out the Scriptures while they were being written by the human writers. In other words, God, not the human writers, was the ultimate source or author of the Old Testament Scriptures. He was the primary person responsible for bringing the Scriptures into existence.
One of the seven principles of biblical inspiration presented earlier in this study stated that 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.
Third, according to Paul, it was the Scriptures, not human writers, that were inspired by God. In other words, through inspiration, it was the written Scriptures, not the human writers, that God was breathing out or bringing into existence. For example, God was not breathing out Moses or bringing him into existence when Moses was writing Deuteronomy. Moses had already been in existence for many years before he wrote that book. The Holy Spirit definitely worked supernaturally with the human writers while they were writing the Scriptures, but, in light of Paul’s statement, it is not accurate to say that the writers were inspired while writing. Later we shall see that the Bible uses a different term for the supernatural working of the Spirit with the human writers.
Fourth, the fact that the second part of the word translated “given by inspiration of God” comes from the Greek word for breath, wind, or spirit indicates that the Holy Spirit was the divine agent involved in the inspiration of the Old Testament Scriptures.
Fifth, in his 2 Timothy 3:15 statement to Timothy, Paul called the Old Testament Scriptures “holy.” In the Bible the word holy is applied to items that, because of their relationship with God, are different, distinct, or unique in contrast with common, ordinary things. Paul was saying that the Old Testament Scriptures are different, distinct, or unique in contrast with all nonscriptural writings. They are so because they were inspired (breathed out) by God. By contrast, all nonscriptural writings are common or ordinary because they were not inspired by God. Human writers were their only source. Concerning Paul’s application of the term holy to the Old Testament Scriptures, Eduard Schweizer wrote, “It is thus evident that the author is differentiating the writings ordained by God’s authority from other, secular works.”*
On the basis of these five observations, we conclude that in 2 Timothy 3:15–16 Paul gave significant apostolic witness concerning the divine nature of the Old Testament. Indeed, Gottlob Schrenk wrote, “The true doctrinal formulation of inspiration is most comprehensively given in 2 Tim. 3:16.”*
The Apostle Peter: After referring to the subject of salvation in the preceding verse, Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:10–11:
Of which salvation the prophets have inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come to you, Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ who was in them did signify, when he testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.
Peter’s statement concerns future prophecies that the Old Testament prophets wrote about the Messiah. In spite of the fact that they wrote these prophecies, they did not understand them. This lack of understanding indicates that the prophets were not the ultimate source of what they wrote. Peter asserted that the Holy Spirit was the ultimate source. He worked supernaturally in the writers to produce those prophecies. Peter thereby gave apostolic witness concerning the divine nature of Old Testament Scriptures.
In another passage, 2 Peter 1:20–21, after telling his readers that they had better pay attention to the Scriptures written by Old Testament prophets (v. 19), Peter wrote, “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not at any time by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
Through these statements, Peter was telling his readers that they had better pay attention to the Scriptures written by the Old Testament prophets because the ultimate source of those Scriptures was God, not the human prophets who wrote them. Peter asserted that the foremost thing to know about these Scriptures was their source.
When the apostle stated that “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation,” he was not talking about the explanation or understanding of Scripture. Instead, he was referring to the ultimate source of the Scriptures written by the Old Testament prophets. Two things tell us this.
First, the root of the word translated “interpretation” means “set free, release.”* A more literal translation of Peter’s statement is as follows: Every prophecy of scripture became [came into being] not of one’s own releasing. Peter was indicating that the Old Testament prophets were not the ultimate ones releasing or bringing into existence the Scriptures that they wrote.
Second, Peter began his next statement (v. 21) with the word “For.” This indicates that verse 21 explains what he meant by the statement translated “no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” A more literal translation of verse 21 is as follows: For no prophecy was ever made by will of man, but men spoke from God while being moved by the Holy Spirit.
This explanation clearly indicates that Peter was emphasizing the ultimate source of the Scriptures written by Old Testament prophets. God was that source. The prophets were the vehicles through whom God produced the Old Testament Scriptures. God accomplished this by means of the Holy Spirit working supernaturally with the prophets while they wrote.
Instead of saying that the prophets were inspired, Peter declared that they were “moved” by the Holy Spirit while they wrote. The word Peter used meant “be moved, be driven.”* In light of this, Konrad Weiss wrote that the prophets “spoke as they were ‘impelled’ by the Holy Ghost.”*
The word translated “moved” was used in biblical times for the activity of the wind moving or driving a sailing ship through the water (Acts 27:15, 17).* This is interesting in light of the facts that the Greek word for the Spirit also means wind, and that Jesus used the activity of the wind as a simile for the activity of the Spirit when He talked with Nicodemus (Jn. 3:8).
A comparison of the activity of the wind moving a ship through the water with the activity of the Holy Spirit moving the Old Testament prophets to write divinely inspired Scripture prompts an interesting analogy. Just as a sailing ship had its own man-made equipment—such as a hull, masts, crossbars, rigging, and sails—so the prophets had their own human factors—such as personality, intellect, vocabulary, training, abilities, personal interests, literary style, and cultural background.
In the same manner that a sailing ship—in spite of all its man-made equipment—could never move itself through the water, so the prophets—in spite of all their own human factors—could never produce divinely inspired Scripture by themselves.
Just as a sailing ship was totally dependent upon the wind to provide the power to move it through the water, so the prophets were totally dependent upon the Holy Spirit to provide the supernatural influence needed to write the divinely inspired Scripture. This indicates that deity was the ultimate source of the Scriptures written by the Old Testament prophets.
In the same manner as the wind blew into the ship’s sails and thereby made use of its man-made equipment to move it through the water, so the Holy Spirit made use of the prophets’ human factors to produce divinely inspired Scripture in human language that human beings could understand. Thus, both divine and human factors were involved in the writing of inspired Scripture. The Bible is the result of divine revelation and enablement working together with human factors.
Peter’s explanation in 2 Peter 1:21 is the closest that the Bible comes to describing the means or how of the inspiration of the Scriptures.
This article has examined significant apostolic witness concerning the divine nature of the Old Testament Scriptures. The next article will present witness to the same effect by the Old Testament itself and by Jesus Christ.