We have seen that God has revealed Himself to us in two ways, and yet these two ways are really one whole.
- General Revelation proclaims the existence of the Creator even in a sin-scarred, even though we reject the revelation that is in us and all around us in nature, yet this revelation is clear and authoritative. The testimony of the natural world, though perspicuous in itself, is obscured by our sin and the curse.
- Special Revelation both interprets General Revelation and tells us about God and reality through the medium of the written Word, especially today. The Bible is God’s Word to man, and that being so it must speak authoritatively. In fact, it’s authority must be the authority of its Author. The God-givenness of Scripture is what we generally call ‘inspiration’.
A Starting Definition
Inspiration is the determining influence exercised by the Holy Spirit on the writers of the Old and New Testament in order that they might proclaim and set down in an exact and authentic way the message as received from God. – Rene Pache, The Inspiration and Authority of Scripture, 45
This definition well describes the teaching of the Church through the centuries. The Almighty has communicated His Word to mankind in the Bible, employing the instrumentality of chosen men to write and preserve their works. Since God is true and cannot lie or err (Tit. 1:2), it stands to reason that His written Word will be infallible and inerrant. We are not left with a book that is an admixture of God’s words plus the well-intentioned, but flawed musings, of human beings about God.
Although Scripture does refer to mistakes and faults, it does so as a faithful witness to those failings. It does not fail itself, but as the production of God is completely trustworthy upon whatever the subject it touches. Indeed, this cannot be otherwise or else the entire revelation is put in jeopardy; the whole Scripture is the unalloyed truth.
According to Pache the first thing to state about inspiration is that it is ‘Spirit directed’; the whole enterprise from the choosing and guiding of the individuals, to the finished canon, was under the minute direction of the Third Person of the Trinity.
This is a very important point for at least two reasons:
- because it shows that God Himself is in control of the entire production, through the history of its production, and its preservation.
2. it shows that the divine side of the Scripture is more preeminent than the human side. Yes the human side is there…it can be detected in the style, the language, and the personalities of the writers, but these are superintended by the divine power, and it is the divine will that they are bringing about. Therefore, the relation between the divine aspects of Scripture and the human aspects of Scripture are unequal – because God is in final control, the human beings are not.
Also, Pache says that inspiration is “the Spirit’s exercise of His authority on the writers of the Old and New Testaments in order that they might proclaim and set down”. That is, inspiration involved both the proclamation of God’s message and the setting of it down in permanent written form.
Pache continues that this proclamation and setting down of the message of God was in an exact and authentic way – the message as received from God. In other words, what God wanted written got written! What Scripture says is what God says!
An Examination of this Doctrine
The key text is from Paul:
And how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. – 2 Timothy 3: 15-17
Pache does not put a lot of emphasis on this passage and its teaching in his definition. I think that is where we will need to amend his work. In this famous verse we have – provided we accept the usual translation – a straightforward declaration of the Bible’s connection with the supreme God. Men of God may have set down their writings while being ‘born along’ by the action of the Holy Spirit (as in 2 Pet. 1:21), but in this verse the attention is all on the production itself.
The Meaning of Theopneustos
All Scripture is theopneustos; literally ‘God breathed’, a term unique to Paul and to this passage. Theopneustos is a compound verb constructed out of the welding together of two familiar words – theos: Greek word for God, and pneuma: the Greek term for ‘breath, wind, or spirit’. So, as many interpreters have pointed out, Paul describes Scripture as being ‘God breathed out’.
The next thing to discover is what exactly the Apostle wanted Timothy to understand by this term; that is, what relationship does the breath of God bear to the written Word?
B.B. Warfield demonstrated a century ago that theopneustos, “very definitely does not mean inspired.” Our word ‘inspired’ connotes in-breathing, whereas Paul’s word conveys the notion of ‘breathing out’ or spiration. To attempt to get closer to the meaning we could turn to the term ‘expired’. But of course that term has already been rendered inappropriate for our use by the fact that it usually connotes the last breath of something, therefore indicating that something is dead. That gives us exactly the opposite meaning we are after, because the Word of God is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12).
So perhaps we’re better off with the term “spirated.” Or maybe it is just better to retain the word “inspired” while giving it this special meaning? This means that in the Spirit’s superintendence, the Bible (in this context it would be the Old Testament, but also by extension the New), is as much a word spoken by God as the words which called for a universe to be created at the very beginning. The Bible is, in truth, the voice of the Lord in inscripturated form.
Because the Bible is “God breathed” it is truly the Word of God before it is the word of man. It is truly “the Sword of the Spirit” before it is the sword of the saint (Eph. 6:17). It “cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). It’s profitability for doctrine, for reproof, for correction and instruction in righteousness, is linked inextricably with its divine provenance. It’s power, authority, integrity, and permanence are byproducts of its theopneustic or inspired character.
Belief in Inspiration
This is why Paul can praise the Thessalonians believers for receiving the spoken Word of God. He writes,
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe. – 1 Thess. 2:13
Here again, Paul tells this young church that it is most important that we see the imbalance between the humanity of Scripture and the divinity of Scripture. It is not that the emphasis falls on men’s work in producing the Bible, but upon the work of God in producing the Bible.
I like this quotation from Geisler and Nix:
So in biblical terminology, ‘inspiration’ is the process by which Spirit-moved writers recorded God-breathed writings. Hence when inspiration is extended to the total process, it includes both the writer and the writings, but when it is limited to its biblical usage, as in II Timothy 3:16, it relates only to the written product, the graphe. – Norman Geisler and William Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, 36-37
Or as Carl Henry put it:
Inspiration is primarily a statement about God’s relationship to Scripture and only secondarily about the relationship of God to the writers. – Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority, Vol. 4, 143
This is most important for us to understand as conservative evangelicals.