July 18, 2023

The Inspiration of Scripture

Barry Cooper
The Inspiration of Scripture

When we open the Bible, we can be sure that what we're reading has been breathed out by God. Today, Barry Cooper delves into the marvelous doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture.


When we talk about the inspiration of Scripture, we’re not using the word in quite the same way that you and I usually speak of inspiration.

I might say (for example) that I felt “inspired” as I wrote a book or composed a piece of music. And all I would be saying is simply that I felt particularly animated or motivated or fired up as I worked.

But when we say that the writers of Scripture were “inspired,” we’re saying much more than that. The King James Bible translates 2 Timothy 3:16 like this:

 All scripture is given by inspiration of God.
This is what theologians are referring to when they talk about the “inspiration” of Scripture: the idea that God “breathed into” the biblical writers. He did this by His Spirit: “Spirit” being the Greek word pneuma, meaning “breath.” So when God “breathed into” the writers of Scripture in this way, God was ensuring that what they wrote was what He wanted to say—and nothing else.

In other words, if we really wanted to hear God speaking, we should open our Bibles. The English Standard Version gets even closer to the original Greek when it says that:

All Scripture is breathed out by God.
That translation nicely captures the reality that what we have on the page has come directly from God, and therefore each word carries the weight of His authority.

That phrase “all Scripture” is also significant. Because all Scripture is breathed out by God, it means that all of it is completely trustworthy. This is what theologians mean when they talk about the “plenary” inspiration of Scripture—plenary meaning “full” or “complete.” There are no particular bits of Scripture that are more or less God-breathed than other bits. Red-letter Bibles, when they put Jesus’ words in red, can imply that Christ’s words are more authoritative than the surrounding ones, that they carry particular weight—but that is not the case at all. All Scripture is God-breathed. All of it has the authority of God and of His Christ.

That’s because every word was inspired by the Spirit. Second Peter chapter 1, verse 21, puts it like this:

No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
And this is true for the New Testament as well as the Old.

By the way, the inspiration of Scripture needn’t imply some kind of mechanical “dictation” from God, as if the minds and personalities of the biblical authors were somehow hijacked and overridden by God. On the contrary, the varying personalities and writing styles of the biblical authors do come through in Scripture.

At the same time, the concept of the inspiration of Scripture extends to what theologians call “verbal” inspiration. It’s not that God gave the biblical writers a general impression of the kind of concepts He wanted them to include and then told them to run with it. God’s inspiration actually extends to the very words they chose.

The teaching of Jesus shows this principle in action. Think about the way He debated His opponents. Often, Jesus’ argument depends on a single word—or even on the tense of a particular word—in Scripture. If God’s inspiration of Scripture did not extend to the specifics of individual words and tenses, then Jesus’ appeal to them would have been meaningless.

You see the principle of verbal inspiration again when the Apostle Paul argues in Galatians:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
Again, if the Holy Spirit had not inspired the biblical writers to the extent of ensuring the use of a singular word rather than a plural, then Paul’s argument in Galatians would be meaningless.

So that is the inspiration of Scripture. When we open God’s Word, we can be sure that what we’re reading was breathed out by God. Not just in general, but right down to the specifics.