Biblical inspiration

Biblical inspiration is the doctrine in Christian theology concerned with the divine origin of the Bible and what the Bible teaches about itself.


The word inspiration comes by way of the Latin and the King James
c.1303, "immediate influence of God or a god," especially that under which the holy books were written, from O.Fr. inspiration, from L.L. inspirationem (nom. inspiratio), from L. inspiratus, pp. of inspirare "inspire, inflame, blow into," from in-"in" + spirare "to breathe" (see spirit). Inspire in this sense is c.1340, from O.Fr. enspirer, from L. inspirare, a loan-transl. of Gk. pnein in the Bible. General sense of "influence or animate with an idea or purpose" is from 1390. Inspirational is 1839 as "influenced by inspiration;" 1884 as "tending to inspire."
found in 2 Tim 3.16-17: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God [theopneustos], and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."

Theopneustos is rendered in the Vulgate with the Latin divinitus inspirata ("divinely breathed into"), but some modern English translations opt for "God-breathed" (NIV) or "breathed out by God" (ESV) and avoid inspiration altogether, since its connotation, unlike its Latin root, leans toward breathing in instead of breathing out.

The Church Fathers often referred to writings other than the documents that formed or would form the biblical canon as "inspired.

Basis for the doctrine

The Bible contains many passages in which the authors claim divine inspiration for their message, or report the effects of such inspiration on others. Besides the direct accounts of written revelation, such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the Prophets of the Old Testament frequently claimed that their message was divine by the formula "Thus says the LORD" (for example, 1 Kgs 12:22–24;1 Chr 17:3–4; Jer 35:13; Ezek 2:4; Zech 7:9; etc.). The Second Epistle of Peter claims that "no prophecy of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:20–21).

In addition, theological conservatives sometimes argue that Biblical inspiration can be corroborated by examining the weight of the Bible's moral teaching and its prophecies about the future and their fulfillment. Others maintain that the authority of the Church and its counsels should carry more or less weight in formulating the doctrine of inspiration.

An exception common to all the different views of inspiration is that, although the New Testament Scriptures quote, paraphrase, and refer to other works including other New Testament documents, the Septuagint (the Jewish translation of the Old Testament into Greek), including the Apocrypha, and the Greek writers Aratus, Epimenides, Menander, and perhaps Philo, none of the various views of inspiration teach that these referenced works were also necessarily inspired, though each teaches that the use and application of these other materials is inspired, in some sense.

Views of the doctrine

Those Christians who receive the Bible as authoritative generally think that the Bible is "breathed out by God", because they think that the Bible itself explicitly states this. The text usually quoted to support this belief is the above quote from Timothy 2. However religious liberals dispute that this understanding of the meaning of this passage is correct. Theologian C. H. Dodd wrote that the passage should be rendered differently so that it reads, "Every inspired scripture is also useful..." This translation has been included in the New English Bible and Revised English Bible translations which are accepted by many mainstream Christian denominations. St Jerome's Vulgate translation, one of the best attested early translations of the Bible, uses a similar form of words, and this is a valid interpretation of the Greek. Different groups understand the meaning and details of inspiration in different ways.

Roman Catholic view

As summarized by Karl Keating, the Roman Catholic apologetic for the inspiration of scripture first considers the scriptures first as a merely historical source, and then it attempts to derive the divinity of Jesus from the information contained therein, illuminated by the tradition of the Catholic Church and by what they consider to be common knowledge about human nature. After offering evidence that Jesus is indeed God, they argue that his Biblical promise to establish a church that will never perish cannot be empty, and that promise, they believe, implies an infallible teaching authority vested in the church. They conclude that this authoritative Church teaches that the Bible's own doctrine of inspiration is in fact the correct one.

Protestant views

The Evangelical view

Evangelicals see the Bible as a truly human product whose creation was superintended by the Holy Spirit, preserving the authors' works from error without eliminating their specific concerns, situation, or style. This divine involvement, they say, allowed the biblical writer to reveal God's own message to the immediate recipients of the writings and to those who would come later, communicating God's message without corrupting it. Some Evangelicals have sought to characterize the conservative or traditional view as verbal, plenary inspiration in the original manuscripts, by which they mean that every word (not just the overarching ideas or concepts) is meaningfully chosen under the superintendence of God.

Evangelicals acknowledge that there is textual variation between accounts of apparently identical events and speeches, which would seem to have God saying different things. Some of these differences are accounted for as deviations from the autographa that were introduced by copyists, while other cases are considered intentional deviations that were inspired by God for particular purposes (for instance, the Gospel of Matthew was intended to communicate the Gospel to Jews, while the Gospel of Luke was intended to communicate it to non-Jews).

Many Evangelicals consider biblical inerrancy and/or biblical infallibility to be the necessary consequence of the Bible's doctrine of inspiration (see, for example, the Westminster Confession of Faith or the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy), though not all do.

At times this view has been criticized as tending toward a dictation theory of inspiration, where God speaks and a human records his words. C. H. Dodd wrote:
The theory which is commonly described as that of "verbal inspiration" is fairly precise. It maintains that the entire corpus of Scripture consists of writings every word of which (presumably in the original autographs, forever inaccessible to us) was directly "dictated" by the Deity...They consequently convey absolute truth with no trace of error or relativity... No attempt will be made here to formulate an alternative definition of inspiration..That I believe to be a false method. There is indeed no question about the original implications of the term: for primitive religious thought the "inspired" person was under the control of a supernatural influence which inhibited the use of his normal faculties.
The conservative view has been distinguished from the dictation theory, which none of the parties regard as orthodox.

The Evangelical position has been criticized as being circular by non-Christians and as well as Christians such as Catholic and Orthodox authors, who accept the doctrine but reject the Protestant arguments in favor of it. These critics claim that the Bible can only be used to prove doctrines of biblical inspiration if the doctrine is assumed to begin with. Some defenders of the evangelical doctrine such as B. B. Warfield and Charles Hodge, however, moved away from such circular arguments and "committed themselves to the legitimacy of external verification" to inductively prove the doctrine, though they placed some restrictions on the evidences that could be considered Others such as Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, and John Frame have accepted circularity as inevitable in the ultimate presuppositions of any system and seek instead to prove the validity of their position by trancendental arguments related to consistency.

The Modernist view

The Modernist (or liberal) view typically rejects the idea that the Bible is divinely inspired in a unique way. Some advocates of higher criticism who espouse this view even go so far as to regard the Bible as purely a product of human invention. However, most form critics, such as Rudolf Bultmann and Walter Brueggemann, still regard the Bible as a sacred text, just not a text that communicates the unaltered word of God. They see it instead as true, divinely inspired theology mixed with foreign elements that can sometimes be inconsistent with the overarching messages found in Scripture and that have discernible roots in history, mythology, or ancient cultural/cultic practices. As such, form critics attempt to separate the kernel of inspired truth from the husk that contains it, doing so through various exegetical methods.

The Neo-orthodox doctrine

The Neo-orthodox doctrine of inspiration is summarized by saying that the Bible is "the word of God" but not "the words of God". It is only when one reads the text that it becomes the word of God to him or her. This view is a reaction to the Modernist doctrine, which, Neo-orthodox proponents argue, eroded the value and significance of the Christian faith, and simultaneously a rejection of the idea of textual inerrancy. Karl Barth and Emil Brunner were primary advocates of this approach.

Other views

Another view is thought inspiration, which some say co-founder of the Seventh-day Adventist Church Ellen G. White advocated.

She wrote many times regarding the Bible that "the words are inspired".

"Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man." Shall we be obedient to these inspired words that come sounding down the line to our time?

I take the Bible just as it is, as the Inspired Word. I believe its utterances in an entire Bible. Men arise who think they find something to criticize in God's Word. They lay it bare before others as evidence of superior wisdom. These men are, many of them, smart men, learned men, they have eloquence and talent, the whole lifework [of whom] is to unsettle minds in regard to the inspiration of the Scriptures. They influence many to see as they do. And the same work is passed on from one to another, just as Satan designed it should be, until we may see the full meaning of the words of Christ, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).

She also wrote that the Bible was "dictated", but not in the sense of a verbal voice. It is more like a special indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that only a select few in history have ever had. And even they are not continually under the control of the Holy Spirit, but only when they are speaking or writing under the Spirit's control can they be said to be "inspired", and the words produced by them coming directly from God. These words can be rightly called: "The Words of God".

Verbal inspiration

Verbal inspiration is the idea that the words and language of scriptural texts are inspired by God. Certain sorts of texts, such as the forms of Hebrew and Aramaic sayings, parables, and poetry were handed on and memorized orally long before they were first written down, and were framed and taught with this technique in mind, perhaps by Jesus himself. . So these texts themselves were in existence before the biblical books that now contain them, and the locus of inspiration is found in their original design. The idea of verbal inspiration recognises that the linguistic form of a text cannot be separated from its meaning. It lends additional credence to the Scriptures as authoritative.

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