Bible Class Curricula - First Principles - Lesson #2 - The Inspiration of the Bible
How did we get the Bible? Correctly answering this question will help us determine how we must understand, view, and apply the Bible to our lives. If it is solely a product of the mind of God, then all people everywhere should listen to it, learn it, and obey what it teaches. But, if it is solely a product of the mind of man, then all should regard it as nothing more than a valuable old piece of literature that contains some admirable principles, but has absolutely no eternal significance or objective value for living.
There are various views regarding the origin of the Bible. Those who approach it from a liberal mindset may say that it contains at least some of the word of God, but that it is really not possible for us to know which words are His and which words are those of the Bible writers. The purpose of this lesson is to show that the Bible in its entirety is the word of God. We can know it, and we can prove it.
Biblical Claims of Inspiration
The Bible is a single volume composed of 66 books/letters written by approximately 40 authors in 3 languages (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek), on 3 continents (Africa, Asia, Europe), in a time span of about 1,500 years. If these authors were writing the words of God, it would be reasonable to expect that they would claim to be writing them. A simple survey of both the Old and New Testament texts reveals just that: the writers of Holy Scripture both knew and claimed that they were writing the words of God (2 Timothy 3:16-17). In fact, over 2,700 times, the writers and speakers in the Bible claim inspiration.
A Few Examples of Old Testament Claims of Inspiration
- "The Spirit of the LORD spoke by me, And His word was on my tongue,"" (2 Samuel 23:2).
- "And I have put My words in your mouth," (Isaiah 51:16).
- "Then the LORD put forth His hand and touched my mouth, and the LORD said to me: Behold, I have put My words in your mouth," (Jeremiah 1:9).
- "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Thus speaks the LORD God of Israel, saying: Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you," (Jeremiah 30:1-2).
- "In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the LORD came to Zechariah," (Zechariah 1:1).
A Few Examples of New Testament Claims of Inspiration
- "For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (1 Corinthians 2:11-13).
- "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you," (1 Corinthians 11:23).
- "For this we say to you by the word of the Lord," (1 Thessalonians 4:15).
- "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit," (2 Peter 1:20-21).
Not only did the writers of the Bible claim to be inspired, they also openly acknowledged one another’s writings as scripture (inspired writings). Matthew 22:41-46 records an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where Jesus quoted Psalm 110:1 to prove that He was the Messiah, and a part of David’s lineage. Had Jesus not believed that David was writing inspired scripture in Psalm 110, He would have never used it as evidence of His deity. Another example is found in 1 Timothy 5:18 where Paul wrote, "For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain," and, "The laborer is worthy of his wages." In this passage, Paul combined an Old and a New Testament passage (Deuteronomy 25:4; Luke 10:7) and classified them both as scripture. In yet another example, the Apostle Peter referred to Paul’s writings as scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
There is no doubt that the Bible claims to be the inspired word of God. The human authors and those whom they chronicled all claimed to be writing and speaking words which were not theirs, but God’s (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Defining Inspiration: A Closer Look at 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Now that it has been established that the Bible claims inspiration, to what extent is it inspired? There are numerous thoughts and theories about how the Bible is inspired. Here are a few:
- The “General Inspiration” Theory – This refers to the type of inspiration that would be attributed to Shakespeare or Homer. The idea is that the writer displayed exceptional ability and produced a masterful work and that the words are all of human origin – not divine.
- The “Bible Contains the Word of God” Theory – This theory maintains that the Bible includes some of the word of God but that it is mixed in with myths and traditions of men.
- The “Theme and General Thoughts” Theory – This is the idea that God inspired the theme of the Bible but left the wording and explanation of the theme up to the writers. It is as if God said, "Here is the general theme which I would like for you to write about – Go!"
- The “Partial Inspiration” Theory – This theory suggests that only the moral teachings of the Bible are inspired while the statements and teachings about geography, history, etc. are not.
The true method of biblical inspiration is referred to as verbal plenary inspiration. Verbal refers to the words of the Bible; plenary means “full or complete.” So, the idea is that every word of the Bible has been fully and completely inspired by God Himself. This is taught very clearly in 2 Timothy 3:16-17 – "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work."
Paul says that "all scripture" (plenary) is "given by inspiration of God" (verbal) which literally means that it is “God-breathed.” God used the personalities of men to write under the divine control of the Holy Spirit to pen the words that God spoke or breathed forth (2 Peter 1:19-21). Frank E. Gaebelein put it this way:
The original documents of the Bible were written by men, who, though permitted the exercise of their own personalities and literary talents, yet wrote under the control and guidance of the Spirit of God, the result being in every word of the original documents a perfect and errorless recording of the exact message which God desired to give to man.1
Evidence of Inspiration
It is one thing to make a claim of something, but another thing altogether to sustain a claim with adequate evidence. How can we prove that what the Bible claims about its inspiration is true? In this short study, we will consider two simple lines of evidence: biblical and extra-biblical.
It may surprise you to know that we can actually use the Bible to prove that the Bible is the inspired word of God. One method of doing this is referred to as scientific foreknowledge. There are scientific truths that the Bible pointed out years before man ever confirmed them. The obvious question is if the Bible writers were not inspired, how could they have known a scientific fact hundreds and even in some cases thousands of years before it was scientifically confirmed to be accurate? Here are just a few examples.
- Isaiah 40:22 states, "It is He who sits above the circle of the earth," The Hebrew word translated circle literally means “a sphere.” But the people of Isaiah’s day taught that the earth was flat. How did Isaiah know that the earth was a sphere years before science confirmed it?
- Solomon said, "All the rivers run into the sea, Yet the sea is not full; To the place from which the rivers come, There they return again" and "If the clouds are full of rain, They empty themselves upon the earth," (Ecclesiastes 1:7; 11:3). Amos said, "He … calls for the waters of the sea, And pours them out on the face of the earth – The LORD is His name" (Amos 9:6). Both Solomon and Amos are obviously referring to what we know as the water cycle. But, the idea of the water cycle was not fully understood until the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. How did Solomon and Amos know about the water cycle some 2,000 years before science confirmed it?
- In Leviticus 17:11, Moses said, "the life of the flesh is in the blood." He was correct. Red blood cells carry oxygen which makes life possible. But, how did Moses know that life is in the blood so many years before medical science did? Remember how George Washington died? He was bled to death!
These are just a few of the many examples of accurate, scientific foreknowledge found in the Bible. The fact is that there is no way Moses, Solomon, Amos, or any of the other Bible writers could have penned such scientifically accurate statements had they not been inspired by God to do so. Mankind was years away from acquiring that knowledge himself. God is the only possible explanation.
Another method of proving the inspiration of the Bible is to refer to extra-biblical sources (that is, sources outside the Bible). The field of archaeology has proven to be an invaluable resource in confirming the reliability of the scriptures. There are literally hundreds of archaeological finds that have confirmed what the Bible says to be true. Here are just a few:
- King David’s Jerusalem: Between 1978 and 1985, archaeologists uncovered the buried remains of David’s city of Jerusalem. 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles explain that David captured Jerusalem and made it the capital of Israel. Until the discovery of this city, virtually nothing was known about it outside of the Bible.
- The Moabite Stone: In 1868, a German missionary found a stone just east of the Dead Sea which was inscribed with the accomplishments of Mesha, King of Moab, around 850 B.C. The stone is one of the earliest finds that mentions Biblical people outside of the Bible. It makes reference to Omri, Ahab, and even the house of David.
- The Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser: This six-and-a-half-foot-tall pillar describes in pictures and words the conquests of Assyrian King Shalmaneser III. In one area, it depicts the Biblical King Jehu kneeling and bringing tribute to Shalmaneser. The Bible mentions Jehu in 2 Kings 9-10.
- The Pontius Pilate Inscription: For years, critics insisted that Pontius Pilate never existed. In 1961, archaeologists working in Caesarea Maritima uncovered a small stone slab bearing his name.
- The Gallio Inscription: In Delphi, Greece, a stone inscription was found that mentions a Roman governor named Gallio. This is the same governor to which Acts 18:12 refers.
- The Dead Sea Scrolls: The Dead Sea Scrolls are hundreds of scrolls and fragments found in various caves in the Qumran near the Dead Sea. Dating between 300 B.C. to A.D. 70, these scrolls contain hand-written copies of the books of the Old Testament and even commentaries and other extra-biblical evidence.
"All scripture is given by the inspiration of God," (2 Timothy 3:16). There can be no doubt that the Bible we hold in our hands today is the inspired word of God. About forty "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" to carefully preserve God’s word for generations with the aid of the providence of God, so that we may know His will and His precious plan of salvation which leads to our ultimate, eternal life (2 Peter 1:20-21; 1 John 5:13)!
- Why is it important to know if the Bible really is inspired of God?
- Does the Bible claim to be inspired?
- What is inspiration?
- What kind of inspiration do we find in the Bible?
- What are the two types of evidence that we can use to prove that the Bible is the inspired word of God?
- Discuss some of the internal evidence of inspiration.
- Discuss some of the external evidence of inspiration.
- 1Gaebelein, F.E. (1950), The Meaning of Inspiration (Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press), p. 9.
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