The Inspired Word of God

Two thousand years ago, the Apostle Paul assured his young friend Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out [i.e., inspired] by God,” and Christians ever since have held to the doctrine of the “inspiration of Scripture.”

It’s important to note that when Christians talk about inspiration, they are referring to the product (i.e., the Scriptures) and not the people (i.e., the human authors or the readers). We might say, “George Frideric Handel was inspired when he wrote Messiah,” but we’d be using the word in quite a different way from how it’s used in Christian theology. To say the Bible is inspired is to say the book itself is God’s own word; it is not to say the authors were deeply moved when they wrote it.

“Inspiration” is a term we use to describe both the process (in the past) and the result (which endures into the present). Process: the Bible was inspired in that God breathed out His word through human authors in such a way that they wrote exactly what He wanted them to say, yet He somehow kept their own personalities and intellects intact. Result: the Bible is inspired in that the book we have today is and always will be the very word of God, possessing His full authority.

No doubt, Paul derived this idea that his Bible was breathed out by God from the cumulative weight of the hundreds of occurrences of phrases like “Thus says the Lord” or “The word of the Lord came” or “The Lord spoke through the prophet.” In fact, it was a common understanding in the New Testament age that the Hebrew Bible was God’s own word. For example, Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 and attributes the saying to the Lord (Mt 1:22). Jesus quotes the 5th Commandment and calls it “the commandment of God” (Mk 7:9-10). He attributes Psalm 110 to the Holy Spirit (Mk 12:36) and leads into a quotation of Genesis 2:25 with “He who created them said” (Mt 19:4-5). Peter attributes Psalms 69 and 109 to the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16-20) and introduces a quote from Joel by saying, “God declares” (Acts 2:16-17).

But now we have a problem, don’t we? Isn’t this a circular argument, to try to establish that the Bible is God’s own word by quoting from the Bible? Why should we trust the Bible’s witness about itself? And besides, aren’t circular arguments invalid? The answers, next week.