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Inspiration of the Bible

Clarence H. Benson

The inspiration of the Bible is of great importance, for all Christian doctrines are developed from the Bible and rest upon it for authority. The conviction that the eternal God has revealed Himself to man has always been central in the Christian faith. Since man could never have discovered God by himself, Christians have always held that God makes Himself known to man supernaturally. The books that form the canon of the Old and New Testaments as originally written are fully inspired and entirely free from error. These books constitute the written Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice.

To accept the inspiration of the Bible does not mean that every passage can be explained or understood. There are depths in God’s Book that the mind of man cannot fathom, but far from being indications of weakness or failure, they serve to prove the Bible’s divine origin. If the intelligence of man could master the Bible from beginning to end, it might be justifiable to question its divine origin. God has revealed a sufficient knowledge of His love and grace for believers to have both faith and hope in Him and to be assured that “if any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine(John 7:17). If Christians study the Bible, not with prejudice and criticism, but with faith in and love for its Author, they will understand its message.

There is a distinction between revelation and inspiration. Revelation is the record of God’s communication through men. Inspiration is God’s power enabling man to record correctly the truth revealed. The word inspiration, used only twice in the English Bible (Job 32:8; 2 Tim. 3:16), means the“inbreathing” of God into man, so that man spoke or wrote God’s revelation of truth with authority and accuracy (2 Pet. 1:21).

Not everything in the Bible has been directly revealed to men. The Bible contains history in the language of men, even of wicked men, but there is no part that is not inspired. The Spirit so directed and influenced the writers that they were kept from any error of fact or doctrine.

However, inspiration does not mean God has given His approval to every recorded statement. The Bible records the lies of Satan (for example, “Ye shall not surely die”) and the misdeeds of many wicked people, some of whom God used to communicate His message. For example, the book of Job contains the truths of Jehovah, the words of Satan, the speech of Elihu, and the arguments of Job and the three friends. Satan, Job, and his three friends did not speak by inspiration of God. They spoke their own opinions. Inspiration means that no one of them is misrepresented, but that each one spoke the words attributed to him in Scripture. The fact that misdeeds like Saul’s slaughter of the priests, David’s numbering of the people, and Herod’s massacre of the innocents are recorded in the Bible does not imply that God approved of them, but the divine record vouches for the accuracy of these facts.

The Extent of Inspiration

While the fact of inspiration is recognized by most churches, all do not agree on the extent of inspiration. There are various theories of inspiration.

Natural Inspiration

This theory identifies inspiration with a high order of human ability. It denies anything supernatural in the preparation of the Scriptures. It claims that the biblical writers were no more inspired than Milton, Shakespeare, or Mohammed.

However, when David said, “The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue” (2 Sam. 23:2), he meant something more than human skill. When Isaiah announced, “thus saith the Lord” (e.g., Isa. 43:1), he claimed something higher than a great poet’s eloquence. When Paul said to the Corinthians, “Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth”

(1 Cor. 2:13), he used language for which no parallel can be found in mere human ability.

When one compares the literature of the great secular authors with that of the Bible, the difference between the two is not one simply of degree, but of kind. The Bible is not only a higher plane of literature, but an environment that is altogether different. If the qualifications of Bible writers were the same as those of great secular writers, there would be nothing to assure the readers that Moses, David, and Paul did not make human errors or teach human views of life. The theory of natural inspiration discredits rather than supports the Word of God.

Mechanical Inspiration

This view ignores human instrumentality in the preparation of the Scriptures and claims that the writers were like robots, as insensible to what they were doing as are piano keys to a musician’s touch. But consider the stern Moses, the poetic David, the lovable John, and the scholarly Paul. Careful study of the Scriptures reveals that God used these writers’ individualities to reach all kinds of people.


Partial Inspiration

The theory of partial inspiration is held by some who have a superficial knowledge of the Bible and who accept scientists’ theories as facts. In the face of apparent discrepancies between scientific theories and Scripture, they conclude that the Bible contains the Word of God, but that much of it is not the Word of God and therefore not necessarily accurate. They can thus accept the theory of evolution and reject as not inspired those portions of Scripture that refute it. If Jonah’s experiences seem incompatible with scientific findings, or statements about the total depravity of human nature and the eternal punishment of the wicked are unacceptable, this theory of partial inspiration provides a convenient escape. But who is to decide what is and what is not inspired? The theory of partial inspiration leaves people in great uncertainty.

Plenary Inspiration

This is the belief of the Christian church. Plenary, or complete, inspiration is the opposite of partial inspiration. It claims all Scripture to be equally inspired, basing its claim upon 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.”

Much has been said and written in answer to the question, does inspiration include the very words of the Bible? Were the words dictated by the Spirit, or were the writers left to choose their own words? If the entire content of the Bible is completely accurate, it can be seen at once that the words as well as the thoughts must be inspired. Some statements of Scripture are the identical words written or spoken by God Himself. The Ten Commandments were written with “the finger of God” (Exod. 31:18; cf. 32:16). The handwriting on the wall of Belshazzar’s palace was written with “fingers of a man’s hand” (Dan. 5:5). In the New Testament, the voice that was heard at the baptism and the transfiguration of the Lord spoke words that could not be mistaken.

Apart from the exact words, there could be no precision, particularly such precision as is demanded in the Scriptures. The declaration of the writers who were chosen of God to record the Scriptures confirms the fact that they were responsible for words rather than mere concepts.

The result of plenary inspiration is inerrancy.

The Nature of Inspiration

Careful study will reveal several different ways God transmitted His Word to people.

Divine Utterances

In both the Old and New Testaments the exact words of God were reproduced in writing (Exod. 32:16; 1 Chron. 28:19; Dan. 5:5). The children of Israel were highly favored in being permitted to hear God’s voice, about which Moses said, “Did ever people hear the voice of God speaking out of the midst of the fire, as thou hast heard, and live?” (Deut. 4:33). These divine utterances were later recorded on tables of stone by “the finger of God” (Exod. 31:18; Deut. 9:10) and carried in the ark of the covenant. In the New Testament God honored His Son by speaking from heaven at His baptism (Matt. 3:17), His transfiguration (Matt. 17:5), and before His crucifixion (John 12:28). These divine utterances were carefully and correctly recorded by human writers.

Divine Dictation

God put into the mouths of certain men the very words they should speak and write (Exod. 4:10-15; 34:27; Isa. 8:1, 11-12; Jer. 1:7; 7:27; 13:12; 30:1-2; Ezek. 3:10-11; 24:2; Hab. 2:2). Peter says that when the prophets wrote about Christ, they actually had to study the predictions that they themselves wrote, and even then did not fully understand them (1 Pet. 1:10-12).

Even more significantly, Daniel speaks of God’s dictation to him: “I heard, but I understood not.” In reply to an inquiry for further explanation, God directed, “Go thy way, Daniel; for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” (Dan. 12:9). Daniel was given power to record with infallible accuracy what he heard, although he did not understand it. Yet Daniel was the wise man who interpreted Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and deciphered the handwriting upon the wall. His recording of God’s dictation without understanding it is no inspiration of mere ideas, nor elevation of mind, nor increase of intellectual power. It is a direct and special revelation of truth from God.

Human Expression

A Scripture writer’s individuality and literary style in relating divine truth was not destroyed by divine inspiration. For instance, the four Gospel narrators differed in recording what Pilate wrote upon the cross; yet, by a careful comparison of their accounts (Matt. 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38; John 19:19-20), the exact wording, and what part of it God wished recorded, can be determined. The complete inscription evidently was, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” but the all-important fact recorded by all four writers was that Jesus was “the King of the Jews.” This was the statement that displeased the Jews, for they asked Pilate not to write it. The fact was, the Jews quoted accurately the words that applied to the argument and omitted the rest. That is just what the Gospel writers did under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit employed the attention, investigation, memory, personality, logic—in fact, all the faculties of all the writers—and worked through them.

The Claims For Inspiration

The writers themselves claimed to write the Scriptures under the direct influence of the Holy Spirit.

Old Testament Writers

One cannot read the Old Testament without being impressed with the repetition of such phrases as “Thus saith the Lord,” which occurs 1,900 times. While this occurs mostly in the prophets, even in the historical books God is shown to be in close touch with His people.

It is claimed that such expressions as “the Lord said,” “the Lord spoke,” “the word of the Lord came” are found 3,808 times in the Old Testament. These writers claiming to have had revelations of the will of God almost always began their messages with the words, “Thus saith the Lord.” Their claims are confirmed by the minuteness and detail of names, times, and places that characterize their messages, and the literal fulfillment of their predictions.

When Moses explained creation, he did not make a single reference to the theories of the origin of the universe believed in ancient Egypt or Babylon, with which no doubt he was familiar. This can only be understood by the fact that he was controlled by the Holy Spirit. In the brief chapter on creation (Gen. 1), he claims to transcribe the words of God no less than fourteen times. Elsewhere it is written again and again, “The Lord spake unto Moses,” “The Lord commanded Moses.”

In the historical books the Lord speaks to Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David, Elijah, Elisha, Ezra, Nehemiah, and many others. The New Testament writers not only confirmed statements in the Old Testament, but expressly stated that they were God’s utterances (e.g., Matt. 1:22-23; 2:15; Mark 12:36; Luke 1:70; Acts 1:16).

New Testament Writers

The New Testament contains more than 280 quotations from thirty of the thirty-nine Old Testament books, spread over eighteen of its twenty-seven books (e.g., Matt. 10:19; Mark 13:14). Paul, a scholarly Jew and a member of the Sanhedrin, in becoming a Christian, did not modify his absolute confidence in the inspiration of the Old Testament. It always remained the Holy Scriptures with the same divine authority in establishing Christian truth as his own writings, which he knew were inspired (1 Cor. 2:13; 14:37; 1 Thess. 2:13). Paul quotes Scripture from Luke in the same breath as from Deuteronomy (1 Tim. 5:18; cf. Deut. 25:4; Luke 10:7). Peter classes Paul’s writings with “the other Scriptures” (2 Pet. 3:15-16). The discourses of Peter, Stephen, and Paul in Acts are composed almost entirely of Old Testament quotations.

It is evident from this and many other passages that the writers of the New Testament were conscious that those who were instrumental in producing the Old Testament, as well as themselves, received revelations from God and considered themselves inspired of God to complete the Scriptures. They felt while writing that they were giving expression to the infallible truth of God through the operation of the Holy Spirit. This explains the absence of contradiction that would be natural, especially with writers so far removed from each other in point of time and circumstance.

Jesus Christ

To “bear witness unto the truth” was one object of Christ’s coming into the world (John 18:37). But He did not speak from Himself; rather, His Father who sent Him gave Him a commandment regarding what He should say and what He should speak (John 12:49). In His farewell prayer Christ said, “I have given unto them the words which thou gavest me” (John 17:8). The following sections explain Christ’s attitude toward the Scriptures

He regarded them as authentic in their entirety. He showed this by quoting from the Pentateuch, Prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:27).

He applied the whole Scripture to Himself. He used Isaiah 61:1 in the synagogue at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-21). He also reproached the Jews because, though they searched the Scriptures, they did not find Him, for, said He, “they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).

He quoted from all the Scriptures as of equal authority. One word of the Bible, to Christ and to His opponents also, was sufficient to end any disagreement. His quotations from Deuteronomy silenced Satan (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). “What is written in the law?” He asked His critics. With that clear, no further arguments were needed. When some complained about the children singing His praises (Matt. 21:16), He merely replied, “Have ye never read, Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise?” (cf. Ps. 8:2).

He upheld the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. The Lord maintained strongly the inspiration of every word of the Scriptures: “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18). The jot was the smallest Hebrew letter, while the tittle was a little projection distinguishing some letters. Not merely the words, but, according to the Lord, the very letters of the Bible were inspired. He accepted the miracles of the Bible. Christ spoke of the Flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Luke 17:26-32) as people today might speak of the feats of the astronauts—as unquestioned facts. He alluded to the miraculous death of Lot’s wife as a well-known catastrophe. He accepted Jonah’s marvelous experiences (Matt. 12:40), as well as the book of Daniel with its miraculous happenings (Matt. 24:15).


The doctrine of the inspiration of the Bible is of tremendous importance, for all Christian doctrines are developed from the Bible and rest upon it for authority. The term inspiration is defined as “God’s power enabling man to accurately record the truth revealed.”

Several theories of inspiration have been advocated.

The theory of natural inspiration identifies inspiration with a high order of human ability. Proponents of this view say that Bible writers were no more inspired than were secular writers. Holding this view discredits the Word of God.

Another view is mechanical inspiration. This view ignores human instrumentality in the preparation of the Scriptures and claims that the writers were like robots whom God used to write what He dictated. This view does not recognize the varied styles found in the Bible.

A third view is partial inspiration, which concludes that the Bible contains God’s Word but that much of it is not God’s Word, especially when it disagrees with current ideas of scientists. The obvious problem is, who determines what is and what is not inspired? This view leaves one with great uncertainty.

The fourth view is that held by the Christian church—plenary inspiration. Using 2 Timothy 3:16 this view claims that all Scripture is inspired by God. God so directed the biblical writers that even the words they used were inspired and accurate, making the entire record inerrant.

When God transmitted His Word to the biblical writers He used several methods. Some parts of the Bible were given as divine utterances. These sections are the exact reproductions of God’s spoken words. Other sections are divine dictation. In these sections God put the very words into the Bible writers’ mouths. A third method of recording the Bible could be termed human expression. This means that inspiration did not destroy the Scripture writers’ individualities and literary styles. This accounts for the differences found in the Gospels. The Holy Spirit employed all the faculties of the biblical writers and worked through them.

The writers of both the Old and New Testaments claimed to be writing under direct guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ also affirmed the inspiration of the Scriptures and even expressed that the object of His coming was to “bear witness unto the truth.”

Christ’s attitude toward the Scriptures is shown by the fact that He regarded them as entirely authentic, He applied them to Himself, He quoted from all as of equal authority, He upheld their verbal inspiration, and He accepted the miracles recorded in the Bible.

Discussion Questions

Why is the authority of the Bible so essential?

Define and compare the terms revelation, inspiration, and illumination.

Define and refute the theories of natural inspiration, mechanical inspiration, and partial inspiration.

What is meant by plenary inspiration?

Why cannot inspiration be limited to the thoughtsor conceptsof the Scriptures?

Name or give examples of three important characteristics that express the nature of inspiration.

What are some of the claims for inspiration by Old and New Testament writers and the testimony of Christ?

How would you justify belief in the inspiration of the Bible to one who denies it?


Hannah, John (ed). Inerrancy and the Church. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.

Pache, Rene. The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture. Chicago: Moody Press, 1979.

Saucy, Robert L. Is the Bible Reliable? Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1983.

Taken from The Dark Side of Islam by R.C. Sproul and Abdul Saleeb , copyright © 2003. Permission kindly granted to Faith and Reason Forum by Crossway Books, a division of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 60187. This material is not to be electronically transferred. Down-load for personal use only.