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 *)
6 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 *)