Today’s word of the week is inspiration. This is the doctrine relating how God inspired the human authors to write Scripture. Today’s post will explore inspiration from several biblical texts and highlight five different theories of inspiration. Next week, we will explore a related topic: inspiration as it relates to the manuscripts of the Bible. We are still under the doctrine of special revelation, and our next several posts will unpack various elements of special revelation.
Inspiration means “God-breathed.” We get that word specifically from 2 Timothy 3:15.
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 complete, equipped for every good work.2 Timothy 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)
Paul made the argument to Timothy that God inspired all Scripture. At first glance, we would note that Paul was likely referring to the Old Testament Scriptures specifically. So what about the New Testament?
In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted both Old and New Testaments.
For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”1 Timothy 5:18 (emphasis mine)
In this verse, Paul quotes both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7.
“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.Deuteronomy 25:4
And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.Luke 10:7
Paul identifies both the Old and New Testament texts as Scripture. Peter does something similar with Paul’s writings in 2 Peter.
And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.2 Peter 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)
The bottom line is that Scripture (both New and Old Testament) claim to be inspired by God. This means that while the human author (around 40 in the 66 books of the Bible) penned the words of the Bible, each author was inspired by God to write the book. Ultimately then, God is the author of Scripture.
The assertion that God inspired the Scriptures brings us to the question of how the Scriptures are inspired. There are several theories of the doctrine of inspiration that have been suggested.
Here are five theories of inspiration:
- Intuition—Authors had a a high degree of insight. In this theory, inspiration is essentially based on the natural abilities or genius of the Bible writer.
- Illumination—The Holy Spirit heightened the authors experiences/insights. In this theory, the illumination of the Holy Spirit different only in degree and not in kind from the Holy Spirit’s work in all believers.
- Dynamic—Combined the divine and human elements in the writing of Scripture. In this theory, the writers personal characteristics came through in cooperation with the Spirit’s guidance.
- Verbal—The Holy Spirit guided the thoughts of the writers to pen specific words. This theory has also been called the plenary verbal inspiration theory reflecting the idea that every word of the original autographs was inspired by God.
- Dictation—God dictated the passages of Scripture. This theory suggests the Holy Spirit speaking the words (dictating them) into the minds of the authors as they wrote them down.
It appears to me that the Intuition, Illumination, and Dictation theories are either insufficient or inconsistent. The first two theories leave too much room for the human authors, and open the door for questioning the inerrancy of Scripture or adding to Scripture (continued revelations that equate to the Bible). The Dictation theory makes the doctrine of inspiration too mechanical and doesn’t really comport with the reality of authorial involvement in the writing of Scripture.
The Dynamic and Verbal theories are closely related. The primary difference is the verbal theory goes so far as to state clearly that every word has been inspired by God. I hold to the Plenary Verbal Inspiration of Scripture. This view has several implications for the follower of Jesus.
If God inspired all the Scriptures, we are accountable to them. If the One True God inspired the Bible, then we cannot ignore the truth found in them.
If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we cannot pick and choose which Scriptures to believe and apply. Part of the problem with the insufficient inspiration theories is that they tend to leave too much room for accepting or rejecting parts of Scripture based on what we like or don’t like.
If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we must allow God’s Word to convict, change, and transform us. God’s Word is not merely for our information, but for “teaching, correction, reproof and training in righteousness.” We are to apply God’s Word to our lives.