It is of great momentum that God speaks. Let that sink into our minds and hearts: God is a God who speaks. He spoke this world into being. The apostle writes: “Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear” (Hebrews 11:3). And ever since then, he speaks through creation and providence: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament sheweth his handiwork. Day unto day uttereth speech, and night unto night sheweth knowledge” (Psalm 19:1–2).
More significantly, God speaks through His written Word. Psalm 19 goes on to say: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (vv. 7–8). In fact, David says: “Thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name,” meaning that God has given greater magnificence and glory to His Word than He has to any other revelation of His character, such as creation and providence.
The doctrine of inspiration is specifically taught in two great passages. The first is found in 2 Peter 1:21: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” This passage emphasizes and explains the divine origin of prophecy, and by extension Scripture. Peter attributes the uniqueness and perfection of prophecy to the fact that God moved men to speak.
1. It’s Inspired
Here is the biblical concept of inspiration: Men spoke … moved by God. They spoke words, and they did so in a way that God was in control over them. He moved them. He overshadowed them. They opened their mouth because of Him. They spoke what He wanted them to speak and the process made sure it was God’s Word.
The second main proof for the doctrine of inspiration is 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 perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Here we learn that Scripture was not dictated by God, but inspired by God. He moved upon the Scriptural writers so that what they wrote down conveyed His breath. The Word of God is the Word of the Spirit. That is why the Scriptures say, “as the Holy Spirit saith” (Hebrews 3:7; cf. Revelation 2:29; 3:22, etc.).
Inspiration does not simply mean that these men, through the help of God and His Spirit, achieved something beyond the ordinary, as talented men, and that we now look at it and say, “that is inspired,” like we do of some piece of art or poetry that are sublime and extraordinary. Inspiration is not simply that God gave them some thoughts, ideas, or concepts, and they spun them together according to their own abilities, in the way that philosophers or poets might land on an idea, and then take pen to paper and write something beautiful or influential.
Neither is inspiration the thought that when we read the Bible the Lord gives us certain insights whereby we see that the things the Bible says are special. That is a different doctrine, the doctrine of illumination, which we also hold to and believe. It is an absolute requirement for anyone who will truly believe the Scriptures savingly—he or she must be illumined by the Spirit. However, this is not inspiration. The text says that “All Scripture is given by inspiration,” not all Scripture is received by inspiration.
Finally, inspiration is not that God dictated all the words to the Scripture authors. In certain cases, it did happen that God dictated his word to prophets. However, when Moses wrote the history of the world and the patriarchs and Israel, God moved Him to write it. In the same way, Luke, when he wrote the history of Christ on earth, researched it, and God moved him to write it.
Inspiration is best conceived of as an instrument of music, which someone takes hold of and plays—an organ, piano, or harp—with this qualification: instruments might be faulty and hinder the player, but though every man is faulty, God moved upon them in such a way that the words were flawless. As B. B. Warfield writes:
“The Biblical books are called inspired as the Divinely determined products of inspired men; the Biblical writers are called inspired as breathed into by the Holy Spirit, so that the product of their activities transcends human powers and becomes Divinely authoritative. Inspiration is, therefore, usually defined as a supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of which their writings are given divine truthfulness, and constitute an infallible and sufficient rule of faith and practice.”
2. It’s Infallible
A second biblical concept that safeguards the authority of the Word of God is infallibility or inerrancy. Because it is God who inspires the Scriptures, the historic Christian doctrine regarding the Bible is that it constitutes an infallible or inerrant book. Both terms mean essentially the same thing. Infallibility is a more historic term, inerrancy more recent.
Scripture itself makes clear that it is infallible or inerrant and absolutely without error down to its very words. See for example the following texts: Numbers 23:19; 2 Samuel 7:28; Psalm 12:6; Psalm 19:7; Psalm 119:140; Psalm 119:160; Proverbs 30:5. Significantly, Christ himself said to the religious leaders of his time: “Ye do err, not knowing the Scriptures,” which implies that the Scriptures are a standard that do not err (Matthew 22:27).
That means that the very words that we have on the page of Scripture are the words that the Spirit teaches. Every word is His Word. He says of them: They are mine. This is what is taught in 1 Corinthians 2:12–13, where Paul writes: “Now we have received not the Spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God, which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
The infallibility of the Bible means that it can be thoroughly trusted. It does not first need the approval of priests or popes, or the verification of science or archaeology to be trusted. No, it is trustworthy from the outset, and thoroughly trustworthy, down to the details and right to the very end. Therefore, there can be no whittling away at this doctrine of the inspiration and infallibility of Scripture, but we must bow under it and submit to the authority of the God who speaks in His Word, in every word.
3. It’s Authoritative
So what we must we do then? The only proper approach is to take God at His Word. That means to hear what the Bible says about itself. That will put the issue to us, from the outset, not in a man-centered way, but in a God-centered way. We ought to follow the example of the Psalmist in Psalm 119:34 and pray: “Give me understanding, that I may keep thy law; yea, I shall observe it with my whole heart.”
This is the only place to start as we desire to understand the doctrine of Scripture. This prayer is an admission that of ourselves we lack the understanding we need rightly to follow Scripture. We need an understanding greater than we ourselves can muster in order suitably to embrace this Book, and submit to its claims. As J. I. Packer notes in his excellent book, Under God’s Word: “This is the path of true reverence, true discipleship, and true enrichment … for only so can we keep open the path of consistent submission to biblical authority, and consistently concentrate on the true problem, that of gaining understanding, without being entangled in the false question, how much of what Scripture asserts as true should we disbelieve.”
Bow & Believe
What then are we to do with an inspired and infallible Scripture? The simple truth is this: bow under it and believe it, for it has more authority in all the word than all princes, rulers, presidents, and kings put together from all ages. It has more authority than principalities and powers, angels and archangels, devils and demons, all put together. It has such perfection and authority that we do well to treat it like the angels do every word that comes forth from the mouth of God: don’t question it, but obey it, quickly, reverently, and fervently.
I ask you, then: do you, by gracious faith, hold unwaveringly to what Scripture says about itself? It is the authoritative word of God, inspired, infallible, inerrant, down to its very words. May you receive it as such and build upon it with an unshakeable certainty in life and death.
This post was originally published as an article in the Youth Messenger, Fall 2005, under the title, ”God’s Communication With Us: His Word.”