The nature of biblical inspiration

What does it mean when we say that the Bible is inspired by God? And a question we don’t often ask is, in which way is it inspired? The “inspiration” for this post comes from lengthy discussions I’ve been having with atheists over the veracity of the Bible text. If you would like to read the 100-plus comments, you can go here.  I may cover the reliability of the New Testament text some other time, but I would like to talk about how the Bible is inspired here. First, we get this doctrine from this verse:

16 every Writing [is] God-breathed, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for setting aright, for instruction that [is] in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16 YLT )

You’ll probably recognize the verse more like this…

16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness (2 Tim.3:16 NKJV)

I used a literal translation first to show that the bracketed “is” is not in the original Greek (it may italicized in your Bible). The text simply says “all Scripture inspired” (Greek: πασα γραφη θεοπνευστος). The reason I bring this up is because some scholars say it may actually mean “all Scripture that is inspired” is profitable (implying that not all text is). While that’s not my subject here, it does bring up some assumptions we make about the nature of inspiration.

First, “inspired” doesn’t mean that God dictated the text verbatim from on high. It means that God “breathed” His life into the text.

The Bible may be inspired but am I inspired when I read it?

One assumption that’s popular in Evangelical Christianity is that inspiration comes by simply reading the text. It can be this way, but it would be a false assumption to say it’s a given. The New Testament clearly says otherwise. Jesus told the Pharisees that searching the Scripture would not lead them to the truth because their hearts weren’t open to Him:

39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 *)

And that the key to “knowing” is not in the reading but in being willing…

15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?”
Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me.
17 If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. (John 7:15-17 *)

Furthermore, the “Word of God” is not the text, it’s Jesus Christ Himself. And His words are spirit and life:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… 14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1, 14 *)

63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.  (John 6:63 *)

Paul reiterates this by telling us that the natural man cannot understand the things of God and it’s the Spirit who gives it life, not the text:

13 These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.  (1 Cor.2:13-14 NKJV *)

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2 Cor.3:6 NIV *)

Furthermore, Paul tells us why those with a closed heart cannot understand the things of God:

20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.(Rom.1:20-22 NKJV *)

How the Bible is inspired 

The Bible is inspired, not by reading the text like a novel, or studying it like a schoolbook. The living Word is a Person, and when we open our hearts to participate and interact with Him, letting Him go into the deepest part of who we are, He progressively changes us from glory to glory.

12 For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power [making it active, operative, energizing, and effective]; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [of the deepest parts of our nature], exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Heb. 4:12 AMP *)

18 And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit. (2 Cor.3:18 AMP *)

* Parentheses and brackets in original. All other emphasis added.
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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 36 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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41 Responses to The nature of biblical inspiration

  1. “the key to “knowing” is not in the reading but in being willing…” I am willing!

  2. “The living Word is a Person, and when we open our hearts to participate and interact with Him, letting Him go into the deepest part of who we are, ” Thank you for posting this!

  3. LOL! I see you have been subjected to the atheist inquisition. It is likely due to the fact that you hit on the truth of the matter and the Truth is a person, not a “religion.” We can argue and debate over biblical inerrancy, we can say we don’t like the rules, we can reject religion, we can revoke God’s authority, but we cannot look at the personhood of Jesus Christ, at the grace and mercy of His sacrifice on the cross, at His power to transform lives, and walk away untouched, unscandalized. As you have pointed out, the Word is a person. Grace reaches us on a level that transcends what can be intellectually processed.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ha…your comment reminds me of one of my favorite Monty Python lines…”No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.” 🙂

      And you’re right, when we finally see that the truth is found in a Person, Jesus Christ, not in just words but in how He touches our deepest longings, the debate is over for us. The rest is just trying to help others see it.

  4. Arkenaten says:

    Hey, Mel.
    Hope you managed to find time to read the link I provided explaining the notion about the anonymous authorship and eyewitness claims on the previous post.
    I’m interested in your critical response

    And I am more than willing to read something that posits the eyewitness/authorship claims if you have a decent link?

    • Mel Wild says:

      Ark, I will look at your link. But it won’t be anything I haven’t heard before. And I don’t care to go down this rabbit hole and engage in links wars. I honestly don’t have the time for that. What you need to answer is (and you haven’t), where is the documentation in the first three centuries that refutes their authorship? All the early church fathers like Polycarp, Ignatius, Clement of Rome, etc., some were probably direct disciples (e.g., Polycarp) attributed the gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There was no other opinion. You can’t just argue from silence and think you have conclusive proof. All you have is educated speculation by those who want to revise history. But, again, the simplest, most reasonable answer is that they were the authors.

      • Arkenaten says:

        Actually, the question you should ask … if you are honest … is why is there no mention of who wrote them until Ignatius in 180.
        If he knew then, so others would have known long before, surely?
        But all we have is silence for how many years?

        Please read the link. There seems little point in me trying to engage at the moment with one so steeped in the faith.
        And then I’d appreciate it if you were to supply a link that explains your version f the authorship from a scholarly point perspective.
        Before I go, I will ask you this, though:

        What is the point of being a Christian?

        • Mel Wild says:

          Now you are hand waving…provide documentation that ANYONE, skeptic or believer, who refuted their authorship in the first three centuries, Ark.

          And your last question is inane. What is the point is being a bag of chemicals destined to be worm food, Ark?

          • Arkenaten says:

            Hand wave?
            Don’t be ridiculous.
            How could anyone refute if they were no names attached or suggested until Ignatius began suggesting in 180?

            The question is not inane at all. I am not a Christian, and neither are Muslims or Jews.
            So what is the point of being a Christian?
            It is a simple straightforward question.

            • Mel Wild says:

              You are not answering MY question. Where is the refutation, Ark? Certainly, if this claim of authorship was a fraud, someone living during that time would’ve cried foul. Or, at least there would be other opinions. And, besides, Ignatius, Papias, and Polycarp were probably disciples of John, so it’s not like there’s some big gap here.

              • Arkenaten says:

                ”Certainly, if this claim of authorship was a fraud, someone living during that time would’ve cried foul. ”
                Would they?
                Billions of people believe that Jesus of Nazareth is a god who came back from the dead and there is no verifiable evidence whatsoever of this character or this event.
                And the church is well known for destroying dissenting views and people so anything that was written could well have been destroyed.
                And I am not a scholar so I have no way of knowing what documents were around at that time.
                But give me some time and maybe I can find a specialist who can answer the question?

                And you have no evidence for your last claim re disciples of John either.

                How you getting on with the link?

                And are you going to tell me what is the point of being a Christian, please?

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Ark, I will save you the time. There is NO evidence whatsoever refuting the gospel authorship. This, and the evidence we DO have for authorship from succeeding generations that you want to “hand wave” away. So, what’s the most reasonable unbiased answer? It’s that they were the authors! It’s not that hard, Ark. Only when you have ulterior motives is it complicated.

                  And please…now you’re seriously asking me the point of being a Christian? No, I’m not going to continue to answer your inane questions. You can read my 600+ posts on my blog, or my book, if you really want to know. You’re just being ridiculous. If I thought for a minute your questions were honest ones, I would spend more time with you. But I think I’ve answered more than enough for now. You’ve got to deal with your own issues on this.
                  Gotto go…

                • Arkenaten says:

                  I actually doubt it, as they were almost certainly illiterate.

                  Or at best, certainly not able to write Greek at the level we find in the gospels.

                  And they were most definitely not eyewitnesses. However, be that as it may for now, I will </em< search fr an answer from one who is not liable to have accepted the Christian version of vents. and will ask an expert as soon as I am able to find one.

                  My question is not in any way whatsoever inane.
                  If a Muslim were to ask would you treat him with the same level of disrespect?

                  Are you not supposed to ”make answer”?

                  My question is perfectly serious and absolutely honest.
                  One thing I do not do is lie.
                  There are billions who are not Christian and who would never contemplate becoming one either. And there are tens of thousands , including bucketloads of pastors priests and other professional theologians who leave the faith every year.
                  So I ask you in all sincerity …
                  what is the point of being a Christian?

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Ark, if you were a Muslim and were asking honest questions about my faith, I would answer you. And I have answered you, over and over, again. And I have not attacked you personally, although you have attacked me personally. I have allowed you 38 comments in two posts! (most of them totally irrelevant to my post!) This, after I had to moderate you. I think I’ve been more than fair. But you won’t stop, and I have a life and other people to talk to. You obviously don’t want to know the truth, so why should I waste my time further?

                  You may not lie but you are not honest. You just troll Christian sites to try and find gullible Christians to plant seeds of doubt in with your Fundamentalist atheism (or hoping that some reader may doubt if the blog owner doesn’t buy it). You dismiss whatever you don’t agree with and act like you know everything. Then, if that doesn’t work, you resort to belittling them. Well, thank you for showing this to me because I will make sure people NEVER fall for your propaganda on this site. And I’m not one of the gullible priests and pastors whose relationship with Jesus is so frail that they would fall for this stuff. Sorry, I’m not drinking the Kool aide, Ark. I actually have thought it through and have found your argument wanting, not to mention, irrational.

                  Obviously, you have nothing to do but sit on your computer all day and comment on blogs. I don’t. I actually have others things to do. I think we’ve heard enough from the Ark for awhile.

                • Arkenaten says:

                  Oh, I have plenty to do, count on it.
                  But I am fortunate that I work from home and on the laptop.

                  And, I have worked long and hard to be in this position.
                  And you seem to have enough time that you feel compelled to endlessly return to your blog to try to smugly dismiss my questions believing you can rely on my ignorance to belittle me.
                  Don’t you have a flock to fleece to minister to?

                  I am going to assume you have not as yet read the link I provided as this would have demonstrated why your claims about not refuting/ challenging the authorship of the gospels for three centuries are fallacious.
                  Furthermore, as I doubt you won’t allow this comment through I won’t bother writing why your claims are fallacious , here on this comment.
                  And for the record, you ventured onto Nan’s blog if I recall, (Why, she’s an atheist. Were you looking for something? ) and you also ventured onto Insanitybytes blog and engaged John z so please, don’t behave like a damn hypocrite with your bleeding heart attitude.
                  Religion poisons pretty much everything.
                  Simply read the stories of abuse on the ”About” pages of some the deconverts you read.
                  Nan, Carmen , victoria neuronotes,Nate Owens(?) etc.
                  And I am sure I could give you many more.

                  And you are a ”gullible priest” as all priests are. Yoy beleive in nonsense and try to indoctrinate others with it too.
                  Propaganda is what religion is. Ask a damn deconvert how they feel about the shit they endured for years and years!
                  Have a nice day.
                  Ark.

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Ah…see, you beautifully made my point, Ark. You just lose it and revert to name calling when you don’t get your way.

                  Btw, I was invited on Nan’s blog. She has been very gracious to me. And John Z is the one who attacked me on IB’s blog. I will answer people as long as they don’t get obnoxious.
                  And now I’ve given you the opportunity to make 39 comments in two days, and have spent more time answering you than all the other commenters combined.
                  I sincerely do wish you the best.
                  Mel

                • Arkenaten says:

                  Ah…see, you beautifully made my point, Ark.

                  Lose it?
                  Tell me, Mel, do you think Torquemada was justified in burning people because they got pissed at him and lost it?
                  How about the Native American Genocide carried out in the US largely by Christians?
                  Do the deconverts who suffered years of abuse from the church have a right to a little name calling and getting a tad upset also, Mel?
                  How about the little kids raped by Catholic Priests, Mel?
                  Are they also not within their rights to indulge in a little fucking name calling Mel?

                  And what about those in Syria currently involved in a civil war that largely has religion at it roots.
                  Can they resort to name calling when the bombers arrive and the drones and kids are blown to smithereens and refugees are spread out all over Europe?

                  Let me know when you think Jesus is coming back then maybe we can both ask him, Mel, what do you say?

                  Hah! Get behind me ”Satan”,… you damn hypocrite!

          • Scottie says:

            Uhm, Mel, I thought the last question rather interesting. Is it a duty? I understand what god gets out of the deal, worship and being praised. I won’t say more because I don’t want to prejudice your answer. Hugs

            • Mel Wild says:

              Scottie, what you asking? Are you talking about my relationship with God?

              • Scottie says:

                No Mel. Unless that is the point for you to be a christian. But the question as I understand is what do you get by being a christian that you can’t get by not being a christian. Hugs

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Okay. As I told Ark, you can probably find it in the 600+ posts! But I will tell you because I think you honestly want to know.

                  I follow Christ because I found a love that’s overwhelming and life-changing. There’s no one who more brilliantly has His finger on the pulse of humanity than Jesus; His truth is so deep and multi-faceted. I’ve been transformed by His empowering grace. I have found a ridiculously loving Father who loves me unconditionally and affirms me as a son. It’s not based on theories or arguments but on a real relationship that I live out every day. I have joy on my worst days because of His life in me as an anchor of hope. I rejected religion (conformity to outward ritual) and have found what the early Christians were willing to die for. I have found the meaning to life and that I have value and purpose (you do, too, btw).

                  If you are interested in more, I would suggest two of my blog posts:
                  Why I Write
                  Everything you need to know in ten minutes
                  Blessings to you.

                • Scottie says:

                  I will think on this, but I guess I don’t see it as you do. I won’t and can’t dispute what you get out of your religion and your relationship with your deity. That is totally subjective and if it makes you happy it is a grand thing. But from my POV I can get all those things from my daily life and interactions with other people. The entire love thing I get from my husband and the acceptance thing I get from friends for example. For me every day and everything I encounter is some how life changing.

                  So I have been thinking on this since I seen the question on Ark’s blog. I read all the responses and thought of it. For me the only thing I can get our of being christian is the christian heaven. I can’t get anything in my life changed as god is all knowing and has a perfect plan according to the bible. SO if I ask for changes via prayer I am basically asking god to alter / trash / mess up his perfect plan for something I want. IF I was going to get it it would be part of the plan, if I wasn’t that was part of the plan. So I don’t gain that way. So I get a ticket to heaven. But I don’t think I want to go there even if it exists. SO I asked you to see if you felt it was a ticket to the afterlife?

                  I still have the questions from the other day but to ask them I have to ask a question and I know you are busy right now. So thanks and be well. Hugs

                • Mel Wild says:

                  You think on it. As Paul said, Jesus is as close as our breath. All we have to do is ask with an open heart (to “get it”). And love I’ve received from God has allowed me to love my wife more selflessly than I ever could on my own. I was a very different person before. And God loves you the same! But I understand that it’s subjective. I will leave it up to you. I would be happy to answer any more questions when I can.
                  Blessings to you.

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Oh, and there is forever, too. This short life is just a blip on the radar screen.

                • Scottie says:

                  See again I can get that without your deity. Other religions offer it. My pagan friends have it. That was sort of my point in asking the question . You answered it and thank you. But see I don’t need to change anything about me, I like me. I have become the persona I want to be and did it without a deity. I have love, give love, and all the things you talked about. Having said this, I am NOT trying to take your feelings or experience from you, nor am I belittling it. If to get that you need your relationship with your god then OK. Be well. I also have a ton of things to get to. Be well. Hugs

                • Mel Wild says:

                  I don’t think you understand if you’re comparing what I’m trying to say to world religions or pagans. But I can’t explain it adequately either, or make you understand, so be well. 🙂

                • Scottie says:

                  Hi Mel, I missed this one. I may not understand your personal feelings, but everyone one in a religion says they get the same things, same feelings you got. Why are they not correct about the feeling from their deity and you are? My pagan friends talk of the love and acceptance and power they get from their interactions. Seems sort of arbitrary and one sided in my view. You want people to accept your important feelings but you don’t want to accept others feelings? But you mentioned the afterlife and I was saying that other religions and pagan beliefs offer an after life also. And the pagan one does not involve an eternity of praising a deity, which sounds better to me. OK, I will try to respond faster next time. Hugs

                • Mel Wild says:

                  There’s a lot of truth in all faiths. God puts these things in every person. And I’m not trying to put down other’s beliefs. But I do believe that everything points to the cosmic Christ (not just the earthly Jesus). And it is important to understand why we’re here, what does this all mean, and I would add…is this all there is? I believe that there is an after life, and believe me, praising God is not a duty! Heaven is not at all like it’s portrayed. We will enjoy life and relationship with one another forever. But now I’m getting into theology! We can talk further some other time if you’re interested.

                • Scottie says:

                  Is your Cosmic Christ the same deity for all religions? One god just different names? Otherwise I get the feeling you are saying your supernatural feelings from your god are real but the supernatural feelings others get from their god are not real. That would bother me if that is what you are saying. You say your not putting down other people’s faiths ( I agree that those hurting others are exempted from this ) and I want to take you at your word that is why I am double checking. Hugs

                • Mel Wild says:

                  Yes and no. This is not a simple answer and deserves a more thought out reply than I can give right now. I’m in the middle of a project that I’m trying to get done. But I would be glad to talk about it another time, or maybe I will post an article on my thoughts about it.

                • Scottie says:

                  OK, have a good night. You can get back to me whenever you like. Hugs

              • Scottie says:

                Oh and I know you are busy so if you want to put off answering now I understand. Hugs

  5. Cindy Powell says:

    So good Mel! “Furthermore, the “Word of God” is not the text, it’s Jesus Christ Himself. And His words are spirit and life.” Amen! Like you said nothing inspired about picking up a Bible and reading it like a novel or a school book, but when you read it with your heart open to the One who IS the Word, it changes everything. Always love your thought provoking perspectives… and your patience to engage those with other perspectives. 😉
    Blessings! Oh, and Happy Father’s Day!

  6. Citizen Tom says:

    Interesting. I assume you mean that the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible, and that to understand the Bible we have to be inspired too. I can understand your emphasis on the latter after you have had a debate with an atheist like Arkenaten. BTW, he can be something of a troll. When they got rude or simply ridiculous with the truth, I banned both from my blog. They both know the Bible well enough to believe if they are willing. Some atheists are more interested in depriving you of the right to believe.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Yes, inspiration both ways. And, as it says in 1 Cor. 2:13-14, the natural man does not understand the words, nor can he understand them because they are spiritually discerned. In the case of hardened atheists, he or she would rather strain at gnats and try to discredit it rather than understand it. This is certainly evident in people like Ark’s response to Scripture. They know the words in the Bible but have no understanding. And I agree, if they opened their heart to it they could believe if they wanted to.

      I will engage with atheists as long as they’re respectful and to the point. But when they resort to childish belittling and parroting the stereotypical prejudice, lumping me in with the worst examples of religion in human history, I will moderate them.

      • Citizen Tom says:

        Not much else to do. I have enjoyed dialoguing with one fellow, Keith DeHavelle. He seems to be quite ill, unfortunately. You may find his blog interesting => http://www.dehavelle.com/.
        For some reason, he duplicated it => http://level-head.livejournal.com/. Not sure why, but he got most of his comments at the second blog.

        Keith was obviously brilliant, but he did not seem to be arrogant or disrespectful of Christianity. As far as I know he practiced Christian virtues and loved his lady. I have have no idea how Jesus judges such people.

        • Mel Wild says:

          Thanks Tom. I don’t generally go looking for arguments, but I will do my best to articulate what I believe when asked (or attacked). And oftentimes it’s people’s brilliance that gets in the way of the simple beauty of the whole point of why we’re here. I will check out his site when I get a chance.

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