People frequently want to know what I believe about the Bible. But even more important than knowing what I believe is understanding what the Bible says about itself. So, more than any one person’s opinion, it’s vital that we examine what the Scriptures say about their own inspiration.
A key verse about inspiration is found in 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” The phrase: “All Scripture is inspired by God” highlights three important principles.
First, the Scriptures themselves are inspired, not the authors of the Bible. Although the authors of the Scriptures were said to be moved by God’s Spirit (2 Peter 1:21), Paul writes to Timothy that it is the Bible itself that is inspired, which means literally, God-breathed. This single word indicates that the Bible comes from God, that God exhaled the Scriptures into being. When you read the word inspired, you may think it means breathing into something. Rather, this verse is saying that God breathed out the Scriptures. The very words we read in the biblical text are “breathed out” by God. They don’t become inspired when we read them and find something of value for our lives. The text of Scripture stands as God’s Word even if we don’t read it (but of course we should).
Second, the entire Bible is inspired. The Scriptures are God’s Word in their entirety. Some people say that when Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16, he was only referring to the Old Testament and not the New Testament. But in his previous letter to Timothy, Paul said, “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing,’ and ‘The laborer is worthy of his wages’ ” (1 Tim. 5:18). Paul is quoting two verses of Scripture here, one from Deuteronomy 25:4 in the Old Testament and the other from Luke 10:7 in the New Testament. Notice that he calls them both “Scripture.” It’s likely that the Gospel of Luke was only written about five years earlier than Paul’s quotation of it as Scripture. At about the same time, Peter, the acknowledged leader of the apostles, wrote in 2 Peter 3:16 that Paul wrote about salvation “in all his letters, in which there are some matters that are hard to understand. The untaught and unstable twist them to their own destruction, as they also do with the rest of the Scriptures” (hcsb). This shows Peter considered Paul’s letters to be Scripture. Here’s the point: By the time Paul wrote 2 Timothy 3:16 and said, “All Scripture is inspired,” he meant that the whole Bible was inspired, including both Testaments.
“Just as the same wind can bear differing ships with different kinds of sails along in different ways, so the Holy Spirit can move writers with unique personalities and different styles to write down God’s words.”
Third, God’s Holy Spirit moved human beings to produce the Bible. The Bible verse describing how God used human authors to write the books of the Bible is 2 Peter 1:21: “For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” The Holy Spirit empowered people to write Scripture by “moving” or “bearing along” human authors to speak, and by inference, to write their words down. The word translated moved (phero in the Greek) is used in Acts 27:15 about a ship being driven by the wind. In the same way the wind bears a sailboat along, so the Holy Spirit moved the human authors to write the Bible. This explains the varying writing styles and perspectives of biblical authors. Just as the same wind can bear differing ships with different kinds of sails along in different ways, so the Holy Spirit can move writers with unique personalities and different styles to write down God’s words.
Since the whole Bible is inspired, it is completely true or inerrant. In the Torah (also known as the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible), Moses wrote, “God is not a man who lies, or a son of man who changes His mind. Does He speak and not act, or promise and not fulfill?” (Num 23:19 hcsb). Paul made a similar statement in Romans 3:4: “God must be true, even if everyone is a liar” (hcsb). Furthermore, the Lord Jesus, God incarnate, said of Himself, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Jesus calls Himself the truth, and He is the divine author of Scripture. Since God is true and He breathed out the Scriptures, the Lord Jesus said in His High Priestly prayer for His followers, “Your Word is truth” (John 17:17). This line of reasoning is where we get the teaching that the Scriptures are inerrant. The point is that the Bible is as true as God Himself and completely trustworthy.
To help you better understand the concept of inerrancy, here are some specific points to remember. First, the inerrancy of Scripture is limited to the original autographs. This means that the original scroll of Isaiah or the actual letter Paul wrote to the Romans are inerrant. It doesn’t mean that every copy we have today will be a perfect replica of the original. The good news is that textual criticism, the study of comparing the surviving ancient manuscripts with one another, is highly accurate. That’s why we can be confident that what we have today reflects more than 99 percent of the original documents. And for those parts that remain in question, none of them affect biblical doctrine or prescribed behavior. That’s why I can hold my Bible with the unwavering certainty that it is inerrant. I know it is based on texts copied years after the original manuscripts and then translated into English, and I can still claim it is completely true.
Second, inerrancy only refers to what the Bible affirms. Some statements in the Scriptures are accurately recorded but not actually what the Bible teaches. For example, when the serpent tempted Eve, he misquoted God, claiming that God prohibited eating from any tree (Gen. 3:1). The Bible records what the serpent truly said but his words remain untrue.
Third, inerrancy assumes that the Bible uses ordinary, normal language. The Bible mentions the four corners of the earth (Isa. 11:12) and the sunrise (Ps. 113:3). This doesn’t mean that the Bible teaches the earth is a square or that God’s Word denies a heliocentric view of the universe. The Scriptures are not using scientific precision any more than a meteorologist on local news is when he tells what the times are for sunrise and sundown.
When my kids were little, I enjoyed playing a game called Jenga with them. We’d build a tower, adding wooden piece upon piece, until it fell down. My younger boy was a little mischievous and sometimes he would deliberately pull out the bottom piece in order to make the whole tower collapse. This example reminds me of the inspiration of Scripture. It is foundational to every other teaching. If we pull that one teaching out, then all the others will fall apart. It’s why our affirmation of the inspiration and truth of God’s Word is so vital. If we take it away, it puts our entire faith in jeopardy.
by Michael A. Rydelnik
You’ve got Bible questions. We’ve got answers. The Bible is full of great truths for our lives . . . and also, if we’re being...
Sign up for learning delivered to your inbox weekly