What is the Inspiration of Scripture?


The English language recognizes two primary definitions of the verb inspire. The first definition denotes creating a feeling in people that both urges them and gives them the ability to do something. The second definition denotes the act of blowing out, or the exhalation of breath. Both of these definitions aptly describe the dual nature of authorship of the written Word of God. These authors did not write only from their minds or personal interpretations but wrote and spoke “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:20). With their own words and hands these authors of Scripture wrote down God’s breathed out Word, which is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Because the Bible has the Holy Spirit as its author, a Christian can be certain that it is both divinely inspired–therefore authoritative–and wholly true.

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit means that a Christian can have total confidence in the truthfulness of the words written and events recorded by the authors of Scripture. Because the words of the Bible are inspired, the words of the authors are the very words of God. The question naturally arises, How can fallible men author an infallible document? While the logic of this argument is substantial, it does not account for the superintendence of the Holy Spirit on the authors as they recorded the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit safeguarded the authors and made certain they would not err.

This guidance did not, however, come in the form of an ethereal, ambiguous prodding. The inspiration of the Spirit extended to even the preciseness of the words chosen. For example, in Matthew, when Jesus quotes from Exodus 3:6 and Psalm 110:1, He makes an argument for His deity by nuancing the present tense of “I AM,” (Matthew 22:32, cf. Exodus 3:6) and by emphasizing the possessive suffix of Psalm 110:1 (Matthew 22:43-45). Jesus teaches His audience and the later reader that every word of Scripture is significant when He reveals His deity simply by stressing the precision of a verb and a suffix. From this one can surmise that the inspiration of the Holy Spirit on the authors was not limited to assisting them in stating propositional truth claims but pervaded their writing, even to the point of the nuances of their verbs.

One can accept God’s Word as inspired only after experiencing regeneration by the Holy Spirit. Even though a Christian apologetic can fend off the flaming arrows of the evil one, human reason can never convince someone of the inspiration of the Word of God. On this Calvin wrote, “The testimony of the Spirit is superior to reason. For as God alone can properly bear witness to his own words, so these words will not obtain full credit in the hearts of men, until they are sealed by the inward testimony of the Spirit.”[1] If the Spirit alone illuminates the mind of the unregenerate to see the truth of the gospel, how then can human reason convince them to accept the testimony about Him? Explaining the divine inspiration of the Word to a person whose heart is hostile to the things of God is as futile as describing color to a blind man. This, however, does not mean that the arguments for divine inspiration are moot. Through the Scriptures, God commands His people to be prepared to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15; Colossians 4:6; 2 Timothy 2:25). To assume that defending the faith does not equate to defending the Scriptures is to betray one’s true sentiments, as the distinction then is wrongly drawn between God and His Word. Furthermore, one cannot defend God but not His Word since all salvific knowledge of Christ is found only in the Scriptures.

By God’s testimony, Christians believe the Word of God to be fully and absolutely inspired (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In the Old Testament, God spoke to His people through the mouths of the prophets (Luke 1:70). Their words and writings, however, were not wholly their own, for they spoke by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:16). The psalmist, David, declared, “The Spirit of the Lord speaks by me; his word is on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2). But in these last days, God no longer communicates through the mouths of the prophets, for He has spoken by His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2). It was this Son who taught that all of the Scriptures bear one over-arching meta-message: the entirety of Scripture testifies about Him (John 5:39). Hence, “the highest proof of Scripture is uniformly taken from the character of him whose Word it is.”[2]

[1]John Calvin, Calvin: Institutes of the Christian Religion, ed. John T. Mcneill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, paperback (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 1:79.

[2]Ibid., 78.