Inspiration of Scripture
2 Timothy 3:16-17
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
Several theories about the inspiration of the Bible have been formed over the years. I'd like to address the different views of inspiration including: natural inspiration, dynamic or mystical inspiration, degree inspiration, partial inspiration, concept inspiration, and Barthian inspiration.
Before explaining the multiple theories on inspiration, I need to give you guys a general idea of what inspiration is and means. It's described well by Charles Ryrie in his book Basic Theology.
God superintended the human authors of the Bible so that they composed and recorded without error His message to mankind in the words of their original writings. Notice carefully some key words in that definition. The word “superintended” allows for the spectrum of relationship God had with the writers and the variety of material. His superintendence was sometimes very direct and sometimes less so, but always it included guarding the writers so that they wrote accurately. The word “composed” shows that the writers were not passive stenographers to whom God dictated the material, but active writers. “Without error” expresses the Bible’s own claim to be truth. Inspiration can only be predicated of the original writings, not to copies or translations, however accurate they may be. -Charles Ryrie
Basically, the Bible was actively written by people whom God superintended. This means the authors weren’t puppets in God’s hands. They had their own minds and styles of writing, while God superintended the message. The best verse supporting this view is 1 Peter 1:21 which says, “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” God lovingly directed the authors while they wrote the Scriptures.
Natural inspiration, or the intuition theory, believes that all men naturally have insight and this was how the authors wrote the Scriptures. Basically, anyone could have written the Bible in view of this theory. Those who believe in natural inspiration believe the authors who wrote the Bible have no more “inspiration” than the authors of an ancient book of poetry or philosophy. Every person to ever live is inspired, only to different degrees. One may be more “inspired” than the other, however that does not change the fact that every person has some degree of inspiration. The writers of the Bible were just a group of people who were inspired more than others to write down what they believed. It should be regarded no higher than the works of Plato or Shakespeare.
I believe this to be an incorrect view of inspiration because, if correct, God is not a personal God and the Holy Spirit is non-existent. If every person already had degrees of inspiration and was able to write something like the Bible, then everything in it would arguably be imaginary. Somebody can say they are more inspired than another and write whatever they want. Pertaining to the Holy Spirit being nullified, a chief work of the Holy Spirit is guidance. If we needed no guidance, then we need no Holy Spirit. Since there is an existence of the Holy Spirit and His work is to guide people, then natural inspiration can be debunked quickly.
Another argument against natural inspiration is - if one holds this view, they have to doubt all knowledge in existence. It is very similar to post-modernism in its views. If everyone is inspired, then everyone holds truth. If everyone holds truth then there would be no contradiction, since truth + truth does not equal a contradiction. P is always P. The simple fact is what is “true for me” is true for everyone. Truth cannot be based upon one’s personal emotions, experiences, and beliefs. If everyone is inspired and holds truth then no one can possibly be wrong or contradict.
Dynamic inspiration is similar to natural inspiration, but takes it just a small amount deeper. Spiritually. Theorists in this area claim that not only were the people who wrote the books of the Bible more “inspired” than other people in their natural knowledge, but were also spirit-filled. All it means is that the people were geniuses, and they had the Holy Spirit living inside of them. Dynamic, or mystical, inspiration puts more emphasis on the human aspect than God, although it does put a small emphasis on God contrary to natural inspiration.
The reason why this is probably not correct is because that means anybody who is “spirit-filled” and has much intelligence can write a book in the Bible. Anyone who combines knowledge and the Holy Spirit meets all the requirements to be included in Scriptures. That means people like C.S. Lewis, Charles Hodge, Jonathan Edwards, and John Piper should all have their rights to a special section in the canon of Scripture. Alan Richardson, who holds this view, put it this way.
The inspiration of the books of the Bible does not imply for us the view that they were produced or written in any manner generically different from that of the writing of other great Christian books…There is a wide range of Christian literature from the fifth to the twentieth century which can with propriety be described as inspired by the Holy Spirit in precisely the same formal sense as were the books of the Bible. -Alan RIchardson
Everyone who has the Holy Spirit and has a good amount of knowledge speaks with the same authority as the Bible according to this view. The problem is, there is no gauge on how much knowledge is needed. How knowledgeable is knowledgeable? Dynamic inspiration is not a likely explanation of inspiration simply because it is logically weak.
Degree inspiration gives credit to two authors, however stands for an imbalance in how inspired certain authors were. Words such as “suggestion, direction, elevation, superintendency, guidance, and direct revelation” are used often with theorists holding this view. There are four major levels in the degree inspiration theory: (lowest amount of inspiration to highest) superintendence, elevation, direction, and suggestion. Superintendence is God preventing the writer from embracing error. Elevation is God giving loftiness to the thought of the human writer. Direction is God instructing the writer what to include and what to omit. Lastly, Suggestion is God determining for the human writer both the thoughts and words to be utilized.
A practical problem with this view is that readers would not know what to believe whenever they read the Bible. It is too confusing to know the difference between what God wants us to precisely know and the things He wants us to basically know while holding this view. The reader can't quite know what God “superintended” or what He “suggested.” If one part of the Bible is more inspired than the other, then certain things in the Bible are ignorable (is that a word though?). I don't see this as being the case, however. Since it is all powerful and everything has authority from God, then everything must be taken into account.
Partial inspiration is closely related to degree inspiration in the fact that it claims different Scriptures have God’s emphasis and direct inspiration on them. The difference is that degree inspiration claims that all Scriptures are inspired, only some more inspired than others. Partial inspiration claims that some Scriptures are inspired by the Lord and others are not inspired at all. Things in the Bible are either totally from God, or not from God at all and just facts gathered from another source. Things such as salvation, prophecy, and everything unknowable by man is inspired in the Bible. Everything else found, such as history and the Proverbs, is just based off of man’s previous knowledge.
The contemporary expression of this view of inspiration teaches that the Bible is inspired in its purpose. That means we can trust the Bible when it tells us about salvation, but we may expect that errors have crept into other parts. In its parts that purpose to make us wise unto salvation the Bible is inspired, but in other parts that is not necessarily so. Here is an example, “I confess the infallibility and inerrancy of the Scriptures in accomplishing God’s purpose for them – to give man revelation of God in His redemptive love through Jesus Christ.” In other words, this view teaches that the Bible is inspired in its intent (to show men how to be saved) but not in its total content. -Charles Ryrie
A problem with this view of the Bible, is that it is imperative to trust the historicity of the Bible in order to trust the doctrine of the Bible. Can you believe that God perfectly teaches us about salvation in the Scriptures, but when it comes to historical or scientific facts, the Bible is fallible? There's not much confidence in the Scriptures at that point.
Concept inspiration is when one believes that the basic ideas of the Bible are inspired, and not each individual word written down. This helps comfort the theorist when it comes to different translations of the Bible. However, ideas cannot fully be brought forth without the use of words. Other forms of communication are in existence, such as sign language and facial expression, however nothing gets an idea across like words. If someone is describing how much they love their spouse, they will use words of passion and will want those specific words to be pondered on. In the same way, God gave His people specific words about His love for us, and He wants us to ponder those very words. It is so well described by Lewis Chafer.
This hypothesis attempts to conceive of thoughts apart from words, the theory being that God imparted ideas but left the human author free to express them in his own language. Quite apart from the fact that ideas are not transferable by any other medium than words, this scheme ignores the importance of words in any message. Even a legal document which men execute over trivial matters may depend wholly upon one word therein. Almost every covenant of the Bible depends for its force and value upon one of the words used. -Lewis Chafer
Oh the importance of words when it comes to expressing ideas. Is there in existence any better (or other) way to completely express and idea? This theory denies the fact that God desired every word in the Bible to be in the Bible. If it comes down to logical thinking, one cannot pull apart an idea from specific words. It is almost a self-defeating statement. The theorist who came up with concept inspiration wants people to perceive the actual words they used to understand the idea of their theological view. However, they are not enlightened to the fact that they are expressing their own ideas in words and do not want people to believe that is possible with the Bible. Concept inspiration, although comforting to the person who struggles with doubt in the historicity and science of the Bible, simply is illogical. One cannot have an idea without the words used to build that idea.
Barthian inspiration is a theory that says the Scripture about Christ and spoken by Christ is the only Scripture that is inspired. This is concluded from the verse in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This passage is taken by Karl Barth and fellow believers to say that only Christ and Scriptures about Him are inspired by God. That includes prophecies pointing to Christ, quotes from Christ, and future restoration of Christ in the Scriptures. All other text in the Bible, according to this view, is not inspired of God. This includes much of the Old Testament. Barthians conclude that the whole Bible points to Christ. Although true, it doesn’t mean that every single verse written in the Bible points to Christ, which is admitted by the followers of this ideology. That means only a select amount of verses are inspired by God and all the rest are simply human knowledge or fact.
The reason why Barthian theory is lacking is because we would have no idea who Christ was, without the Bible existing in the first place. Knowledge about the Bible and what it says will come before knowledge about Christ, because you need the Bible to paint the picture of Christ and what He did.
To sum up: Barthianism teaches that the Bible (B) points to Christ the Word (C). But in reality we do not know anything about C apart from B. It is not that we already have a clear concept of C by which we can test the accuracy of B, the pointer. Actually the Bible is the painter of C; that is, what we know about Christ comes from the Bible. So if the Bible has errors in it, the portrait of Christ is erroneous. And make no mistake about it, the Barthian Bible does have errors in it. -Charles Ryrie
The Bible paints for us the picture of Jesus. If other parts of the Bible are erroneous, how is it possible for the parts about Jesus to be inerrant? It is not possible, and that boils down to the task of deciding verse by individual verse, which Scriptures are pointing to and are about Jesus as opposed to Scriptures about another topic. You cannot have the portrait without the painter painting it.
Verbal, Plenary Inspiration
My personal view (and I believe the Biblical teaching) of inspiration is the verbal, plenary view of inspiration. Verbal inspiration means the very words of the Bible were given by God to the writers. Plenary inspiration means the Bible is equal. No parts of the Bible are more inspired than the other.
The Bible could not have been written by “inspired men”, based on the very verses in the Bible. It states in 1 Corinthians 2:13, “And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” This verse shows us that man could not have written the Bible, only the Holy Spirit could have written the Bible. That disqualifies the claims of certain parts being inspired, or certain men being inspired more than the other. The authors of the Bible were aware that it was God speaking through them, and not their own ideas.
But while writers may have been mistaken in their thought, the only consistent theory of inspiration is that they were never so as to their words written in the Holy Scripture. The writings were always inspired, though the writers were not always inspired men. The teaching of the Bible concerning the inspiration of the Scripture is clear and simple and uniform throughout. Its writers were conscious that their utterances were a message from God in the highest meaning of the word. This accords with the statement of 2 Tim. 3:16 that all Scripture is theopneustic, that is to say, all is given by the Spirit or by the breath of God. It admits of no exception; it is the whole Scripture, all that is written, that is, the thoughts that have already put on the clothing of language. It admits of no restriction; all Scripture is so far a work of God that it is represented to us as given by the breath of God, in the same manner as the word of a man is given by the breath of his mouth. -Emery Bancroft
Just like a human speaks to another person, so God speaks to a person through His mouth with words. He contextualizes His ideas into the things us humans can understand. I believe this view is rooted in Scripture and is not rooted in man's own understanding.
Bancroft, Emery Herbert. Christian theology: systematic and Biblical. 2nd ed. Bible School Park, N.Y.: Echoes Pub. Co., 1930.
Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic theology . Volumes 1 & 2 ed. Dallas: Dallas Seminary Press, 1947.
Garrett, James Leo. Systematic theology: biblical, historical, and evangelical. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1990.
Richardson, Alan. Christian Apologetics . London: Scm Press, 1947.
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. Basic theology . Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1986.