What Is Biblical Inspiration?

All Scripture is breathed out by God…
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV

Before we address what Paul means by Scripture being breathed out by God, we must first identify what we mean by the word Scripture. At its simplest, the word scripture means a writing, some form of written document. The Apostle Paul is using it as a title for what many of us today call the Bible (which means book). The Word of God is also an appropriate title, and the Old Testament is fond of calling it the Law. So the Bible, Scripture, Word of God, and the Law are all titles for the same collection of ancient literature that we Christians value greatly.

You may also note that Paul refers to the Bible as Scripture (singular), but they are also called the Scriptures (plural) just as often. In fact, Jesus Himself tended to use the singular and plural pretty interchangeably. I think this is because the Bible is both a collection of books and one single book.

With sixty-six books, the Bible is a library, divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Containing thirty-nine books, the Old Testament is significantly larger than the New, and many considered to be much more difficult to read. However, the Old Testament’s story can be easily read in the following books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Those eleven books form the overall narrative, from creation to the restoration of Jerusalem. Beyond that, the Old Testament can be divided into three categories: the Torah (Hebrew for Law), the Writings, and the Prophets. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, authored by Moses. Psalms, Proverbs, and the other poetic books compose the Writings. The oracles of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Jonah, and others fill the largest section, the Prophets.

There is a four-hundred-year gap between the Old and New Testament. The New Testament opens with the four Gospels. These are each accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The presence of four books that tell the same story should point to the importance and centrality of their message.

Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible.

The Old Testament looked forward to Him, the Gospels proclaim Him, and the rest of the New Testament is a reflection upon what He did and will do.

But why do we need four Gospels?

We can think of the Gospels as being different portraits of Jesus. They all tell the same narrative but from a slightly different angle. Matthew paints Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, coming to establish the eternal kingdom of heaven on earth. Mark depicts Jesus as the suffering servant, coming in authority to lay down His life for others. Luke pictures Jesus as the Son of Man, who reaches out to the poor, sick, and outcast with healing, grace, and mercy. John portrays Jesus as the Son of God, the divine Word of God who eternally existed with God, as God, and has now come into humanity on a mission to redeem us.

Acts is the only other narrative work in the New Testament. It describes the growth of the church and how they, through the Holy Spirit, continue the ministry of Jesus as His body. Romans through Philemon are letters written by the apostle Paul to churches or individuals. Hebrews is a letter/sermon of unknown authorship that explains the Old Testament’s completion in Christ. James through Jude are letters named after their respective authors. Finally, Revelation is a book of prophesy concerning the end of everything. It contains many allusions to Genesis because it the completion and closing of all the Scriptures.

What Is Inspiration?

The most recent books of the Bible were written nearly two thousand years ago, while many Old Testament books were even written thousands of years before those. But even though the Scriptures were written by various authors over thousands of years in a plethora of genres, there is unifying thread that weaves them all into one book: their Source.

While men like Moses, Ezra, Paul, or John are considered biblical authors, Peter tells us that no “Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) Notice the phrase carried along by the Holy Spirit. Moses may have physically written Genesis, but the Holy Spirit guided him to write what was needed.

This process of the Holy Spirit carrying along the biblical authors is called the inspiration of the Bible. The Scriptures were written by men but inspired by God, or as Paul says to Timothy, they are breathed out by God. A literal translation would be that all Scripture is God-breathed. The LORD breathed the Scriptures into existence, using the human authors as instruments.

This does not mean that God overrode the authors individual writing styles. Paul writes different than Moses, Peter, or John. But it does mean that there is unity to the whole because ultimately each book is written by God, which makes each book of the Bible feel similar to one another. Exodus and Romans could not be more different, and yet they have a similar gravitas, a paralleling significance. If we consider Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, the familiarity becomes more identifiable.

Clement was a pastor in Rome, who was born in 35 AD, placing him roughly in the generation below the apostles. Living in the time of Jesus’ disciples, Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that may have been finished before the book of Revelation. Thus, you would expect this letter to have much the same feel as the New Testament letters, and yet though Clement’s letter is beneficial and worth reading, one can feel that the Old Testament books are more similar to the New Testament letters than Clement’s letter does. This is because for all of its value, Clement’s letter is not Scripture. God did not breathe it out, and it noticeably does not contain the same weight as the books of Scripture do.

The Bible is ultimately God’s book, His Word breathed out to humanity about Himself. The Scriptures reveal His will, character, and commands for us, and they teach us who He is. They are for our benefit. This means that they are very much the actual Word of God; thus, as we read the Bible, we are hearing God speak to us.

Our value for the Scriptures is enormous; however, they do not themselves grant us eternal life. Instead, the Bible reveals to us the God who holds eternal life. The Bible’s infinite value comes because it is our means of knowing God.

Before concluding this post, we need to pause and consider one more thing.

If Paul truly does mean that ALL Scripture is inspired by God, then we have the duty to submit ourselves to them regardless of whether we like what they say or not. By believing that every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, we can no longer ignore unpleasant parts of God’s Word. We must face all of it, together as a whole, letting God speak to us. If we do not give the Scriptures the right to contradict and correct us, we will never know the God that authored them. You simply cannot know God without all of Scripture.

I urge you, therefore, to trust the words of the One who also spoke galaxies into existence. Give His Word permission to alter your thinking. You will never regret it.

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