Inspiration of the Bible

Inspiration establishes that the Bible is a divine product. In other words, Scripture is divinely inspired in that God actively worked through the process and had his hand in the outcome of what Scripture would say. Inspired Scripture is simply written revelation. "Scripture is not only man's word, but also, and equally God's word, spoken through man's lips or written with man's pen" (J.I. Packer, The Origin of the Bible, p. 31).

The term comes from Latin and English translations of the Greek word theopneustos in 2 Timothy 3:16. The KJV renders it "inspiration", while the RSV uses "inspired of God". However, the word literally means "God-breathed".

Relevant passages

  • Matthew 5:18
  • John 10:34-36
  • Acts 1:16
  • Galatians 3:16
  • 2 Peter 1:19-21 (ESV)

And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, 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 Timothy 3:16 (ESV)

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Views on the extent of inspiration

There are tyipcally four main views that are associated with the doctrine of Inspiration.


A common belief of neo-orthodoxy is its view of the utter transcendence of God. That is, God is so completely different and set apart from us that we cannot comprehend him apart from his revelation to us (this entails a rejection of natural theology). The issue appears when neo-orthodoxy is compared to Evangelicalism regarding what the title "Word of God" means. Proponents of neo-orthodoxy claimed the Word of God was God himself, and thus the Bible is a witness to the Word of God. As a witness, the Bible cannot be the Word of God (i.e. God is not the Bible), but the Bible still remains a mediator of the Word of God in some manner. Because the writers were finite and sinful, they were capable of error in their writings. Thus, while the writers of the Old and New Testament recorded their experiences and witness to revelation, their writings may contain errors. Problems with this account are raised when one understands that Scripture is God's Word (2 Tim 3:16) and that people were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:20-21). They were not merely accounts of each person's experience with God.


Although not popular, the dictation theory is prevelant within some conservative Christian circles. This view expresses the belief that God simply dictated what he wanted to be written down. Therefore, all the author did was write down as he was told from God and the end product is the Word of God. Although Scripture does portray this idea (Jer 26:2; Rev 2:1,8), this is not the way all of it was written. At other times authors expressed their own personalities (Gal 1:6, 3:1; Phil 1:3, 4, 8) and the Holy Spirit still insured that the writings reflected God's desired outcome.

Limited inspiration

This view proposes that Scripture is inspired, yet it is limited to certain aspects. It affirms that God guided the writers, yet also allowed them the freedom to express their own thoughts regarding history and experiences they had. This allows the Bible to contain historical errors, yet, it is claimed that the Holy Spirit protected writers against any doctrinal error. Thus, the Bible may contain historical errors but it remains a reliable source of doctrine. Problems with this view appear in its rejection of the historical trustworthiness of Scripture. Archaeology has proven many biblical accounts (and even removed earlier difficulties) correct, and although the Bible is divinely inspired it also remains a historical document that contains accurate details. This view appears to easily conclude that errors may be possible within difficult passages whereas this is not the case.

_See main pages: Historicity of the Old and New Testament_

Plenary verbal inspiration

The word plenary means "full" or "complete". Therefore, plenary verbal inspiration asserts that God inspired the complete text(s) of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, including both historical and doctrinal details. The word verbal affirms the idea that inspiration extends to the very words the writers chose. For example, in Acts 1:16 the Apostle Peter says "the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake" (KJV). Paul calls all scripture "God-breathed" in 2 Timothy 3:16 (referring to the Old Testament). Thus, the Holy Spirit guided the writers along (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21) while allowing their own personalities and freedom to produce the Bible we have today. This view recognizes and asserts both the human and divine element within Scripture. This understanding has sometimes been compared and contrasted to the understanding of the two natures of Jesus.

Four things inspiration is not

In order to insure the clarity of what inspiration is and is not, the following four points should be helpful:

\1) The idea is not of mechanical dictation, or automatic writing, or any process which involved the suspending of the action of the human writer's mind. Such concepts of inspiration are found in the Talmud, Philo, and the Fathers, but not in the Bible. The divine direction and control under which the biblical authors wrote was not a physical or psychological force, and it did not detract from but rather heightened the freedom, spontaneity, and creativeness of their writing.

\2) The fact that in inspiration God did not obliterate the personality, style, outlook, and cultural conditioning of his penmen does not mean that his control of them was imperfect, or that they inevitably distorted the truth they had been given to convey in the process of writing it down. B.B. Warfield gently mocks the notion that, when God wanted Paul's letters written,

He was reduced to the necessity of going down to earth and painfully scrutinizing the men He found there, seeking anxiously for the one who, on the whole, promised best for His purpose; and then violently forcing the material He wished expressed through him, against his natural bent, and with as little loss from his recalcitrant characteristics as possible. Of course, nothing of the sort took place. If God wished to give His people a series of letters like Paul's, He prepared a Paul to write them, and the Paul He brought to the task was a Paul who spontaneously would write just such letters (The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible). \3) Inspiredness is not a quality attaching to corruptions that intrude in the course of the transmission of the text, but only to the text as originally produced by the inspired writers. The acknowledgement of biblical inspiration thus makes more urgent the task of meticulous textual criticism, in order to eliminate such corruptions and ascertain what the original text was.

\4) The inspiredness of the biblical writing is not to be equated with the inspiredness of great literature, not even when (as is often true) the biblical writing is in fact great literature. The biblical idea of inspiration relates not to the literary quality of what is written, but to its character as divine revelation in writing.

_The above four points are taken verabtim from J. I. Packer's "The Origin of the Bible", p. 35-36_


See also