Inspiration of the Bible

II Timothy 3:16-17

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
February 2009

I want to look at the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. What does it mean that the Bible is inspired? This topic is very, very important and there is a lot of confusion even among Christians on the doctrine of biblical inspiration. These are some of the questions, we will try to answer.

We will just focus on only one passage and some of the implications of that one very famous passage. We will look at what the apostle Paul said about inspiration in II Timothy 3:16-17. What do we learn about inspiration in this passage?

What Inspiration does NOT Mean

Scriptures is inspired. Scripture doesn’t become the Word of God or contain the Word of God. It IS the Word of God. Notice what Paul says is inspired and what is not inspired.

1. The writers of Scripture are NOT inspired just their writings.

Today, we talk about an inspired poet or an inspired writer but that is not how the Bible uses the term. There are no inspired Scripture writers, only inspired Scripture writings (γραφή).

2. The copies of Scripture are NOT inspired, just the original documents.

That causes a real problem. We don’t have any original manuscripts written by John or Paul or Moses or Isaiah in Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic. None of them exist. No archaeologist has ever found them. We only have copies of manuscripts and copies of copies. Is that a problem?

Not really, because we have over 5300 Greek manuscripts of the NT. Plus, there are over 10,000 in Latin and over 9,300 other early versions totaling over 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the New Testament in existence today. We have far more NT manuscripts than we have of any other ancient historical document. No other ancient book is even close.

It is the most reliable, best attested ancient writing known today. Homer’s Iliad has only 643 copies and its oldest copy was written five hundred years after the original. Homer wrote it in 900 BC and the earliest copy we have was written in 400 BC. We have a copy of John 18 that is date 125 A.D (P52), about twenty-five years after the book was written.

What about the OT text. Our Hebrew Bible is called the Masoretic Text (MT), because Jewish scribes who copied the OT text in the Middle Ages were called “masoretes”. It was written in 900 A.D but we did not know how accurate the copies were until 1947 when the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) were discovered.

When the two sets of manuscripts were compared, very few changes were found. The MT was found to be identical to the copies of the OT found in the DSS in over ninety five percent of the text. The remaining five percent consisted chiefly of obvious slips of the pen or variations in spelling.

3. The Translators of Scripture are NOT inspired, just the original autographs.

There are some bad translations. That is the fallacy of the modern infallible English Bible movement, which says the KJV translation is inspired (the view of the “KJV Only” people). This creates a problem. If the translators are not inspired, then how can anyone know the Word who does not know Greek and Hebrew?

Translations are inspired ONLY to the extent that they accurately reflect what the Greek and Hebrew says but no translation is perfect. We know that because when the NT was written, it contained some quotations of the OT in it.

All of the OT quotations were translated into Greek in the NT. The OT was quoted as Scripture in the NT and yet most of the time (about 80% of the time), it is quoted in the LXX, which is not even that great of a translation. There are three hundred quotations of the OT in the NT and two-third of them are in the LXX.

The Extent of Inspiration

Paul doesn’t say “some Scripture is inspired” or even “most Scripture is inspired by God”. He says, “All Scripture is inspired by God. Every book, every chapter, every verse, every word of the Bible is inspired. There is no such thing as partial inspiration, because all of it is inspired.

One of the problems with the red letter Bibles is that might give some the false notion that statements of Jesus in red have a greater authority than the statements in black but all Scripture is inspired. The red print is not any more inspired than the black print.

All Scripture is inspired, not just the parts that you like or that move you emotionally. Now this doesn’t mean that the entire Bible is equally important or equally moving. Jesus said that some parts of the law were weightier than others (Matthew 23:23) but all of it is inspired and all of it is profitable (Cf. John 3:16 with II Chronicles 3:16).

All of the Bible is equally true, equally inspired but not equally important. The NT is not more inspired than the OT. The Gospel of John is not any more inspired than I Chronicles.

The Source of Inspiration

The Scriptures were not inspired by man but by God. The Greek word Θεόπνευστος literately means “God breathed” (so NIV). Scripture is God breathed, not man breathed. What does that mean? It does not mean that God breathed into the Bible or breathed into man’s words.

That would be the active voice in Greek. It means that God breathed out the Bible. He breathed out His own words through man. In Greek the verb has a passive voice. What it means is that the Bible comes from God. He is the source of it. The Bible is God produced.

Now just because the Bible is God-breathed doesn’t mean God dictated it all word for word. That is a common myth about inspiration. Some of the Bible was dictated (The Ten Commandments) but most of it was not.

We know that the Bible was not the result of divine dictation because it does not have one divine literary style. Paul does not write like John and Isaiah does not write like Moses.

God produced the Bible but he did it through human authors who produced His very words in their own literary style and grammar (cf. I Thessalonians 2:13; Matthew 1:22-23; Acts 1:16; Mark 12:36). People wrote the Bible but they wrote exactly what God wanted them to write. What are the implications of this?

It makes the Bible unique. No other book in the world is inspired by God. The world is basically divided into people who believe that the Bible is a book given by God through man and other people who believe it is just a great book by man about God.

It makes the Bible extremely valuable (Psalm 119:72, 127).  It means that the Bible is something that we should spend the rest of our lives trying to read understand, obey and apply.

The Results of Inspiration

Paul says that there are four areas that the Bible is profitable – teaching, rebuking, correcting and training (two are negative and two are positive) .

Doctrinal Teaching

Many try to make all Bible study devotional or practical or just look for applications but there is a place in Bible study for teaching, dealing with what the Bible teaches about this or that topic (KJV – “doctrine”). The first thing that Paul said the Bible was profitable for was doctrine.

Refuting Error

A second purpose of the Bible is to refute false ideas that people have (false doctrine, false teachers, false religion, false thinking, worldly thinking). It tells us what is wrong with what the rest of the world thinks is right and does.

Correcting Error

A third purpose of the Bible is to show people what is wrong in their lives (Hebrews 4:12). God’s Word is like a mirror. It shows us our sins (James 1:22-25).

Holy Living

The Bible not only tells us how to not live, it tells us how we should live. It is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105) The Bible does not just show us our sins, it tells us how to change. It has a cleaning effect (John 15:3; Ephesians 5:25-26; Psalm 119:9, 11).

Just as soap gets the dirt out, the Bible helps us to get the sin out of our lives, so we can live right. God gave us the Bible not just to learn doctrine in our heads, so we can all be Bible fatheads, as James MacDonald says, but to change how we live and to live godly lives.

Is the Bible is profitable in other areas?

Liberals read this a different way. Paul said that the Bible is profitable in these four areas. They argue that it is NOT profitable or useful in science, history astronomy and biology. Only the moral and spiritual teachings of the Bible are inspired. How would you answer that?

1. The text says “ALL Scripture is inspired”, not just some of it (the moral and spiritual parts).

All means all and that includes Scripture that is historical or scientific. Scripture was not intended to be a history textbook or a science textbook. That is not why God wrote the Bible but that does not mean when the Bible talks about scientific or historical matters, it is wrong. All Scripture is inspired by God.

2. If all Scripture is inspired by God, it must be true because the Bible says that God cannot lie.

He is a God of truth (Isaiah 65:16) and it is impossible for God to lie (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18). That is why Scripture says that the Bible is true (Psalm 119:142, 160). Every word of God proves true (Proverbs 30:5 ESV, NLT). The Bible is God-breathed and God does not have bad breath.

Technically, there are some errors in the Bible. Satan told Adam and Eve in the garden if they ate from the tree that they would not die. It was a lie and it is found in the Bible but it is found on the lips of Satan, so we can say that the Bible contains errors but teaches none. Everything in the Bible is not true but everything the Bible teaches or affirms is true.

3. If the Bible cannot be trusted on earthly matters, how can it be trusted on heavenly matters, as Jesus said (John 3:12). If it is full of historical and scientific errors, what’s to say that it is also not full of spiritual and moral errors?

The Purpose of Inspiration

The purpose of the Bible is “so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (3:17). It is also able to equip the woman of God for every good work. It just so happens that Paul was writing to Timothy, so he focuses on the man of God.

The Sufficiency of the Scriptures

This verse is very important. What it teaches is something called the doctrine of the sufficiency of the Scriptures. The Bible is all you need. Now this doctrine has been greatly misunderstood. The Bible is not all you need to do a lot of things. It is not sufficient for car repairs or home repairs. It is not the only thing you need for medicine or cooking.

The Bible is not sufficient for a lot of things but it is sufficient for faith and practice. It is all we need for “life and godliness” (II Peter 1:3). Following the Bible is all you need to be equipped to do every good work. What does the sufficiency of Scripture mean?

1) The Bible contains all that we need to believe about God.

We do not need the Bible and additional revelation (the Bible and The Book of Mormon). We do not need the Bible and tradition. Some churches believe in doctrines not taught in the Bible (purgatory, Immaculate Conception, infant baptism, praying to saints). The Bible is all we need.

We do not need the Bible AND tradition. The Pharisees added all kinds of traditions to Scripture. We should believe only the doctrines that are directly taught in Scripture or indirectly taught. The doctrine of the Trinity, for example, is not taught directly in Scripture but is based on an inference of Scripture.

2) There is no good work that God wants you to do, other than what is taught in Scripture.

As Paul says, the Bible can equip for every good work. If you do everything the Bible says you will live a blameless life (cf. Psalm 119:1-3). You don’t need the Bible and something else to live a godly life.

3) It also means that there is that nothing is sin that is not forbidden in Scripture either directly or indirectly.

There are many things which people have said are sin that the Bible does not say is sin. We have to beware that we do not become like the Pharisees and “teach as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7).  The Roman Catholic Church, for example, teaches that birth control (contraception) is a sin but there is no verse in the Bible that it would be wrong for a husband and wife.

Now if it is used by two unmarried people, that it another question. Then it is a case of people who want to disobey the Bible and try to avoid the negative consequences associated with disobedience (STD, pregnancy). In that case, it would be wrong because it encourages disobedience to a clear command of Scripture. “I’m going to disobey the Bible but that’s okay because I’m using protection”. Roman Catholics also say that eating meat on Friday is a sin . Again, this is not based on Scripture.

Some have said that interracial marriage is a sin or that it is a sin for women to wear pants or that it is a sin for a Christian to go to a movie. Yet you will not find any verse in Scripture that says. In fact, there are some examples in the Bible of interracial marriages.

There are other things which are not directly forbidden in Scripture but are indirectly forbidden. The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not smoke crack cocaine” or “Thou shalt not speed” but it does tell us to obey the laws of the land. Speeding is illegal, unless you live in Germany.

The Bible does not say, “Thou shalt not smoke cigarettes”. The Bible doesn’t make any mention of tobacco. It is native to North and Central America, and the people who wrote the Bible lived in the Middle East, but the Bible does talk about not being addicted or come under the control of anything and that would include an addiction to Nicotine.

Cigarette smoke is also harmful to yourself and others around you. There are verses about stewardship. We are to be good stewards of the body God has given us. It is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Smoking causes is bad for the body. It causes cancer.

The Bible does not say it is a sin to look at a pornographic magazine or computer screen but it does say that it is a sin to lust after another woman and that it is the very purpose of pornography. While the Bible does not mention pornography, it does have a lot to say about purity.

In fact, purity is a command in Scripture (I Timothy 5:22). It talks about having a pure heart (Matthew 5:9; Psalm 51:10), pure thoughts (II Corinthians 7:1; Philippians 4:8), a pure speech (Isaiah 6:5; Ephesians 5:4), pure eyes (II Peter 2:14; Matthew 5:28-29) and a pure body (Jude 8; Romans 1:24; I Corinthians 6:18-20).

The Bible also does not say, “Thou shalt not gamble or play the lotto” But there are principles which would rule out gambling. It is addictive and habit forming. We are to be good stewards of the money God has given us (throwing your money away). It encourages laziness. It also encourages covetousness. Gambling is motivated by greed. Why do people gamble? They want to get rich, very rich and without working for it.

Nowhere does the Bible say, “Thou shalt not spend all day watching television and playing video games”. There was no television or video games in biblical times but there are verses that talk about not wasting your time. Paul tells us to redeem the time (Ephesians 5:16; cf. Psalm 39:4-5). There are also tons of verses that talk about not being lazy (Proverbs 12:24, 27; 13:4; 20:4; 21:25; 26:13-16).

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