“Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is sufficient for all we face in this life.”
Pastor Steve Sommerlot
The Bible is inspired by God, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. It is composed of the 66 books of the Old and New Testament, and was written without error in the original manuscripts. It is the highest authority over all other forms of revelation.
The inspiration of the Bible is ground zero for the Christian faith. In fact, it’s really the starting point to understand anything about the foundational ideas of the Christian faith. You might ask, “Well, why not start with God, or Jesus, or the creation of the world, or the plan of salvation?” And the answer to that is simply this: Everything we know about God, or Jesus, or the creation of the world, or the plan of salvation is all based on what the Bible says about it. So it follows that if the Bible is not inspired by God, if the Bible is not reliable truth, then everything it says about all of these things is also unreliable.
Todd Miles, the Director of the Master of Theology Program at Western Seminary in Oregon, captures the meaning of the Bible’s definition of inspiration: “Inspiration is that concurrent work between our holy God and a fallen human author, whereby the Holy Spirit so moved the human author that God gave exactly what he wanted, a perfect product, without destroying or overwhelming the personality, training, vocabulary, or experiences of the human author.”1
That’s an amazing statement! It means that the Bible, written over 1500 years with 40 human authors, really has only one Author! Each human author brings his own vocabulary, tone, and construction to the writing, but it remains God’s Word. Christians believe that the inspiration of the Bible teaches that the Bible is the very word of God. And there is a weightiness of authority to that. What that means is that to disobey or disbelieve the Bible is exactly equivalent to disobeying or disbelieving God. This is not how we read other books. When we open up the Bible, we are reading to understand God Himself. And this is an objective reality. Our motives or feelings cannot alter that fact.
Miles went on to say, “Inspiration brings with it an authority that is awesome. To interpret the Bible is to seek and hear the very personal and authoritative voice of God. Inspiration entails that the bible reader is to seek to discover the meaning of a biblical text to its original audience, not create his or her own meaning … or own desires. Inspiration entails that there is a cost to sloppy interpretation. Inspiration also entails that when I interpret rightly and I disagree with the text, I really only have one option: repent.”
The Bible claims to be the word of God; it claims to be truth – and therefore must be interpreted as such.
Paul, writing to Timothy, made the definitive propositional claim concerning the inspiration of the Bible:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Notice that Paul talks about what the Bible is before he proceeds to talk about its usefulness. First he says it “is breathed out by God.” Scripture is making a claim that it finds its source and origin in God, not man – and that is why it is useful. There’s a difference between saying “it’s useful, therefore it must be inspired” versus “because the Bible finds its source and origin in God, it is useful.” Do you see the difference? Because Scripture is from God, it has authority in and of itself! It carries weight.
To help understand this, let’s look at several things that inspiration does not mean.
Inspiration does not mean that the writers of the Bible had some moment of great human inspiration and insight when they wrote the Bible. We say things like, “Beethoven was inspired when he wrote the Fifth Symphony.” Or, “Shakespeare was inspired when he wrote Romeo and Juliet.” Those are both true statements, but that’s not what Biblical inspiration is. The Apostle Peter said it this way in 2 Peter 1:20: “Knowing 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.” Peter is confirming here that God caused the exact words He wanted to be written down in the Bible. It’s just that He used the hands of guys like Peter, Paul, Isaiah and Moses to do it!
Second of all, when we say the Bible is inspired, we don’t mean that God gave the writers of the Bible the general idea and then they sort of just fleshed it all out in their own words. In Exodus 24 it says that “Moses wrote down the words that the Lord spoke.” In Jeremiah 30 Jeremiah says “These are the words that the Lord spoke.” In Matthew 24 Jesus says, “My words,” (not my general ideas) “will never pass away.” The point is that inspiration goes way beyond the broad concepts of the Bible. Inspiration involves each and every word in the Bible. Thus, the reason the Bible is called the Word of God and not the Concept of God. God inspired every detail and the exact words that were flawlessly recorded in the original writing of the Scripture.
Finally, when we say the Bible is God-breathed or inspired, we do not mean that God inspires the Bible to me personally and individually, as I read it. You see, there are some who wrongly teach that the Bible is not God’s word – but only human words. And God must take words from this human book and inspire it to me personally and individually. He sort of zaps me. What is wrongly being taught here is that there is no universal authority. So people wrongly think that God somehow inspires that verse to me personally, separate from the intent that it was written to the original listeners. This sort of thinking allows the Bible to mean anything to anybody who claims to have a religious experience while considering things related to reading the Bible.
There are three other words that are important that help describe the Scripture as inspired by God.
Revelation refers to information that God revealed to mankind in the Bible. It’s information we could never have discovered on our own and it’s written down in human language. Examples of this would be things we learn studying the book of Genesis. We learn that the world and universe are created things. We learn the fact of how mankind was created. We learn how Adam and Eve fell into sin in the Garden of Eden. The Bible reveals truth in many other areas, such as what should we expect in the afterlife. This is revelation – which is information that we cannot learn apart from God revealing it.
This word refers to the Holy Spirit opening our understanding, so that as we are reading the written word of God we can grasp what is written. For instance, when a person comes to Christ, Paul writes in the book of Romans 10:9 “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead – you will be saved.” God must illuminate the mind to grasp the truth of the person and work of Jesus. A person must understand that their sins are deserving of death, that Jesus’ death on the cross can be their substitute death, and that they can be saved (rescued) from their own death simply by believing in what Jesus did for them. Jesus’ resurrection2 showed that He was more than just a man, in fact it showed that He was God in human flesh. Salvation3 is a result of the Holy Spirit illuminating this truth by using the written word of God.
This word means “without error” and that’s why we have those words in our Riverview statement of belief concerning the Word of God. Millard Erickson defines inerrancy like this: “The Bible, when correctly interpreted in light of the level to which culture and the means of communication had developed at the time it was written, and in view of the purposes for which it was given, is fully truthful in all that it affirms.”4 Therefore, in the original manuscripts, the Bible is fully truthful and infallible – it doesn’t err.
The Bible is not a science book. It’s not a geography book or a geology book or an anthropology book. But, inerrancy means that the Bible is truthful when it speaks to areas relating to geography, astronomy, and history. The Bible was not written to have exhaustive knowledge in these areas, but it does truthfully point to historical people who lived in real geographical locations and understood things about the physical earth like the stars, the sun, and the moon.
Erickson said, “If the Bible is not inerrant, then our knowledge of God may be inaccurate and unreliable.”5
Jesus Himself believed that the Bible was inspired, inerrant, and truthful. He based His argument to the Sadducees (who did not believe in a resurrection) that there is a resurrection from the dead, on the basis of what was written from Exodus 3, where God spoke to Moses in the burning bush. This argument is recorded in Matthew 22. Jesus states to the Sadducees that Exodus 3 uses the present tense to explain that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (who had been physically deceased for some 400 years when Exodus 3 was written). So Jesus, using the Scripture, explains that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive when Exodus 3 was written by Moses! Therefore, the resurrection is reliable, inerrant truth. Jesus not only believed every word of the Bible, He also believed that God breathed every tense of every sentence in the Bible.
Jesus held that controversial parts of the Bible happened just the way the Bible explained. In Matthew 19 it’s clear that Jesus believed in the account of Adam and Eve. In Matthew 12 Jesus believed the Bible’s account of Jonah and the fish. Also, in Matthew 24 Jesus held to the Bible’s account of Noah and the world-wide flood as accurate, reliable truth. In fact, Jesus staked His entire credibility as the Messiah and Savior of the world on the fact that all these things happened just exactly the way the Word of God claims.
Jesus lived His life on the basis that God’s Word was inspired and sufficient for all He would face in His earthly life. Therefore God’s Word is sufficient for all we face in our earthly lives. We must treat the Bible with the same gravity, respect, and authority that Jesus did. Because the Bible is God’s Word, it is sufficient for all we face in this life.
David Wells, in his book, The Courage to be Protestant, states: “Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostles gave the church the definitive statement of what the Christian faith is. They delivered it to us in the form of doctrine; therefore, Christians are those people who know this doctrine. They believe it. They have it. They hold fast to it. They guard it, and they contend earnestly for it. Today, however, the doctrines of the New Testament are terra incognita in many churches, and then we are dumbfounded when commitment evaporates and ignorance reigns.”6
2 For further reading, see Pastor James’ article: Resurrection.
3 For further reading, see Pastor Noel’s article: Salvation.
4 “Christian Theology” second edition,copyright 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998 Millard J. Erickson, published by Baker Academic. Twelfth printing, Mark 2009. www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/32/32-4/32-4-pp519-532_JETS.pdf
5 “Christian Theology” second edition,copyright 1983, 1984, 1985, 1998 Millard J. Erickson, published by Baker Academic. Twelfth printing, Mark 2009. www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/32/32-4/32-4-pp519-532_JETS.pdf
6 The Courage to be Protestant: truth-lovers, marketers, and emergents in the postmodern world, copyright 2008, David J. Wells, published by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.