The Inspiration of Scripture

The Inspiration of Scripture

If you’ve been in church for very long, you’ve probably heard the word “inspired” applied to the Bible, and yet, unless someone’s taken the time to explain this to you at some point in your Christian experience, you’re probably a bit confused as to what “inspired” really means in relation to the Bible. Understandably so.
That’s why I’d like to clear things up for you.

The Bible’s Inspiration – Divine, Verbal, and Plenary

Saying that the Bible is “inspired” is incomplete. First of all, that word has a different meaning in general than it does in the arena of Bible study. For example, if I say that a piece of music or a book was “inspired,” I’m using that word to emphasize the quality of the work produced by the author, a human. Now, it’s interesting to note that, in this usage, there’s a subtle implication that points us back to the biblically-centered focus of this word. The New Oxford American Dictionary defines inspired as:

of extraordinary quality, as if arising from some external creative impulse

Most people thing of that first part, “of extraordinary quality,” but it’s that second part that hints at the meaning we’re concerned with, “as if arising form some external creative impulse.”
When we say that the Bible is “inspired,” we’re saying that it’s quality derives from the fact that God was that “eternal creative impulse.” Now, the word “inspired” is still incomplete because it doesn’t give the full picture of the process God played in being that external creative impulse. That’s why, when we want to be doctrinally clear, we say that the Bible’s inspiration is divine, verbal, and plenary.
Don’t worry! We’ll look at each of those words individual.

Divine – Breathed by God

“Divine inspiration” means that the Bible was inspired by God. Now, interestingly enough, the word “inspired” is related to another key English word “breathed.” The word picture we’re getting at here is that God breathed out the words of Scripture. Of course, we also know that God “breathed” life into Adam, so the symbolic picture here is that God breathed the words, thus giving life to the Scripture. “Divine inspiration” is telling us that God is the ultimate source of the Scripture and the life therein.

Verbal

The idea behind “verbal inspiration” is that God “breathed” not just the ideas but the very words of Scripture. That means, when we’re reading Scripture, we’re left with not room to doubt what’s being said. We believe that the words used are the words God meant to be used. Now, it’s important to note one thing: we believe that the original writings of the Bible are inspired, which means that unless you read ancient Hebrew/Aramaic or Greek, you’re probably reading a modern translation which is not technically inspired. The original writings are inspired and scores of qualified scholars have poured over them to provide us with the most accurate translations possible. Even still, it’s important to make this point so that we don’t corrupt our knowledge of Scripture by building a doctrinal point upon the foundation of a single word used in an English translation. If you think you’ve discovered something unique or interesting in Scripture that hinges upon the use of a particular word in a particular translation, do some research—perhaps we can discuss how later—and verify that what you think you’ve discovered lines up with the author’s original, inspired intention.

Plenary

Finally, the Bible’s inspiration is “plenary,” which simply means that it’s inspiration is “complete,” i.e. the Bible is completely inspired. There is not a single section of the original text that is not inspired. To this end, we should note that the chapter numbers, verses numbers, and section headings were all added well after the original texts were written and so were not inspired, which isn’t to say that they aren’t helpful. They’re just not divinely inspired.

Conclusion

The Bible is completely, divinely inspired by God in its very words. When questions arise about tricky doctoral issues, it’s best to do research that involves returning to the original ancient writings because it’s these writings that are inspired, not the modern translations. However, we can still trust our English translations to guide us toward Jesus. In fact, we’ll discuss the Bible’s role in our discipleship in a future post.
If you have questions or comments, please leave them below!