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INSPIRATION. The word inspiration is used twice in the KJV—in Job.32.8 (niv “breath”), to translate the Hebrew word neshāmâh (“to breathe”), and in 2Tim.3.16, where it translates the Greek word theopneustos. The latter passage has given its meaning to the word inspiration as commonly applied to Scripture. Literally translated, theopneustos means “God-breathed”(so niv). The key to its meaning may be gleaned from the OT concept of the divine breathing as producing effects that God himself is immediately accomplishing by his own will and power (see Ps.33.6). By this word, therefore, Paul is asserting that the written documents, called Holy Scripture, are a divine product.

Precisely the same idea is set forth in 2Pet.1.19-2Pet.1.21. In this passage the prophetic Word (i.e., Scripture) is contrasted with mere fables devised by human cunning. Scripture is more sure and trustworthy than the testimony of any eyewitness. The explanation for its unique authority lies in its origin. It was produced not as a merely human private interpretation of the truth but by God’s Spirit through the prophets.

In both 2Tim.3.16 and 2Pet.1.19-2Pet.1.21 the fact of the divine productivity (spiration rather than inspiration) of the “Holy Writings” is thus explicitly asserted. This divine (in)spiration is further confirmed by a host of NT passages. The authors of Scripture wrote in or by the Spirit (Mark.12.36). What the Scripture states is really what God has said (Acts.4.25; Heb.3.7; and see especially Heb.1.5ff.). This is true whether or not in the particular passage cited the words are ascribed to God or are the statements of the human author. In the mind of the NT writers any passage of Scripture was really “spoken” by God. Jesus used the same type of reference, attributing directly to God the authorship of Scripture (Matt.19.4-Matt.19.5).

These passages teaching the authority of Scripture indicate also the extent of inspiration. If the authority and trustworthiness of Scripture are complete, inspiration itself must also extend to all of Scripture. This completeness of inspiration and consequent authority of all Scripture is made explicit in such passages as Luke.24.25: “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!” (see also Matt.5.17-Matt.5.19; Luke.16.17; John.10.34-John.10.35).

Inerrancy and infallibility as applied to the inspiration of Scripture, though not exactly synonymous terms, are nevertheless both correctly applied to Scripture in order to indicate that inspiration and authority are complete. The word inerrant suggests that the Scriptures do not wander from the truth. Infallible is stronger, suggesting an incapability of wandering from the truth. (“Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures?” Mark.12.24).

The completeness of inspiration is further established by the fact that Scripture lacks altogether any principle for distinguishing between (a) those parts of it that are inspired and thus possess binding authority and (b) supposedly uninspired parts that do not possess binding authority. The method of inspiration is never developed in the Scriptures, although the basic fact that Scripture is produced by the power of God working in and through such a writer as a prophet indicates the mutual interworking of the divine and human hand. By pointing to a human author of Scripture (e.g., “David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared”—Mark.12.36; “Moses wrote”—Mark.12.19; and “Isaiah says”—John.12.39), by stating his purpose in the writing of a book (e.g., Luke.1.1-Luke.1.4; John.20.30-John.20.31), and by acknowledging research in the preparation of the writing of Scripture (Luke.1.2-Luke.1.3), the biblical authors make completely plain that the divine method of inspiration was not always by a process of dictation.

At this point great caution should be taken not to read into the biblical idea of the origin of Scripture suggestions derived from the English word inspiration (or Latin inspiratio). The point of the biblical teaching is never a divine heightening of the human powers of the prophet (though the Bible does not deny that in certain instances such may have taken place). Rather, by all those inconceivable means at the disposal of a sovereign God, the Holy Spirit used the writers of Scripture to produce through them the message that he wished to communicate to us. God’s Spirit obviously did not need in every case to “inspire” (i.e., to raise to greater heights than ordinary) a Micah or a Luke; rather, God produced the writing he wished by his sovereign preparation and control of a man who could and freely would write just what God desired to be his divinely authoritative message to his people.

In summary, biblical inspiration (as distinguished from illumination) may be defined as the work of the Holy Spirit by which, through the instrumentality of the personality and literary talents of its human authors, he constituted the words of the Bible in all of its several parts as his written word to the human race and, therefore, of divine authority and without error.

Bibliography: J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration, 1927; N. B. Stonehouse and P. Woolley (eds.), The Infallible Word, 1946; R. L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible, 1957; C. F. H. Henry (ed.), Revelation and the Bible, 1958; M. C. Tenney (ed.), The Bible—The Living Word of Revelation, 1968; J. W. Wenham, Christ and the Bible, 1972; G. C. Berkouwer, Holy Scripture, 1975.——KSK

By the term “inspiration” Christian theology designates a particular activity of the Spirit of God whereby specially chosen prophets and apostles spoke and wrote the veritable Word of the Living God. God's spiration, or breath, is associated in biblical theology with the primal divine gift of human life, with the regeneration of sinners, and with the production of sacred scripture. In view of God's agency in inspiration, historic Christianity distinguished the Bible from all other literature as a unique canon of written revelation.

Inspiration as a spiritual phenomenon is not common to all believers, but is divinely reserved for specially authorized and authoritative bearers of God's message. This does not, however, imply that the message transmitted by chosen prophets and apostles is a product of mechanical divine dictation. Inspiration neither suppresses the personalities of the writers, nor puts an end to their human fallibility. Although prophets and apostles remained fallible men who shared the culture of their times, God nonetheless revealed to them information beyond their natural resources, and what they taught as doctrine has its basis in the Holy Spirit as ultimate author of their message.

Nor is inspiration understandable biblically in terms of mantic ecstaticism. The obscure and sporadic pronouncements of mantic seers contrast with prophetic-apostolic declaration which is emphatically moral and centers in the historic redemptive purpose of God. Nor is scriptural inspiration to be confused with internal psychic excitement. The biblical view declares, not simply the writers, but their very writings to be inspired. The Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16 uses the term theopneustia, which not only emphasizes that God is the original author, but also affirms Scripture itself to be God- breathed.

Inspiration is nonetheless consistent with, and does not violate, the human personality of the prophets and apostles through whom God communicates the truth about Himself and His purposes. The modernist notion that men could not have told the truth about divine things unless they transcended their humanity-that is, ceased to be human-is self-refuting. Neo- Protestant theologians have long endeavored, within the Bible itself, to distinguish inspired from supposedly uninspired strata. But such efforts turn serious biblical study into a shambles. Without the reliability of Bible history, scriptural theology cannot be credited, since the two are intertwined. And the Bible view of creation and miracle (centrally Christ's incarnation and resurrection) has clear implications for nature as well as history. Scripture implies that the sacred writings are plenarily inspired. No theologian has adduced objective criteria for discriminating that which he presumes to be errant in Scripture from that which he contends to be trustworthy. If one assumes that the biblical writers are to be trusted only where their assertions can be presently validated, he distrusts the writers, finding them credible on grounds other than their supposed divine inspiration.

Karl Barth acknowledged the futility of the modernist attempt to divide Scripture into trustworthy Word of God and fallible word of man. He affirmed that none of Scripture is objectively Word of God, yet held that any of it can become Word of God through a personal divine confrontation. But this alternative forfeits the inspiredness of Scripture on which Scripture itself insists, and it obscures both the authority and truth of the Bible in its propositional form.

B.B. Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible (1948); R. Preus, The Inspiration of Scripture (1955); C.F.H. Henry (ed.), Revelation and the Bible (1958); K. Runia, Karl Barth's Doctrine of Holy Scripture (1962).

INSPIRATION. Inspiration is the supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. He moves upon specially chosen individuals who receive divine truth from Him and communicate that truth in written form, the Bible.


Inspiration extends to all and every part of Scripture, even to the very words. The process, however, by which Scripture was given, or the “how” of inspiration, has been much debated among those who are agreed that the Bible in all of its parts is the Word of God written. Inspiration, however, does not stand alone. Along with it are such concepts as revelation, authority, illumination, infallibility, and inerrancy—all of which require precise definition to understand what is meant by the inspiration of the Scripture.

Theological definitions


Basic to the evangelical view of Scripture is the conviction that God has chosen to disclose Himself. Revelation is the term used to depict His self-disclosure. God has revealed Himself in nature, His creation. He has chosen also to reveal Himself supremely in the person of Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate. The revelation of Jesus Christ is known through the written Word of God, which is special revelation. The purpose of this written Word is to reveal the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ, and the purpose of the incarnate Word is to reveal the Father and bring salvation. Therefore, the Bible is the objective, propositionally revealed Word of God.

God’s self-revelation was given through two media. Parts of that revelation came directly and immediately from God in the form of oracular words, signs, visions, and dreams. This kind of data is known only because God chose to communicate it directly to men. A great part of the Biblical material, however, has come through God’s operations in history via His saving acts. This historical material has been made available either through oral tradition or written records, both of which were used when the books of the Bible were indited. Moses, in the Pentateuch, undoubtedly used oral tradition and extant written records in addition to recording what he had experienced personally and what was revealed to him directly by God. In the case of the historical books in the OT much of the material used in them was taken from extant court records.

The same procedure is true for the NT. Luke, the physician, was also a historian. He searched out his material, using written records and verifying oral traditions. In contrast, John penned the Revelation, not from oral tradition or written records, but from direct revelation by God.


Technically, revelation preceded inspiration, which has to do with the divine method of inscripturating the revelation, whether what was written came to the writer by direct communication from God, from his own research, from his own experience, or from extant records. Inspiration includes the superintending work of the Holy Spirit, but the human writers of Scripture were not automatons. Each writer had his own style. Each one used the Heb. or the Gr. language according to his unique gifts and educational background. At the same time that God used human authors in harmony with their gifts He also indited holy Scripture.

Some have argued falsely that Scripture was dictated by God and that the writers were mere secretaries who took down for inscripturation what God spoke, and thus were passive rather than active agents in the process. However, evangelicals generally have held that the Scriptures are both the words of men and the words of God. This dynamic view allows for the use of human faculties and at the same time assures that God secured His predetermined ends so that in the fullest sense the Bible is the Word of God written. The purpose of inspiration was to render the writers infallible in their teaching. Inspiration extends to the whole corpus of Scripture so that in its thoughts and words it is plenarily, or fully, and verbally inspired.


Inspiration carries with it the divine authority of God so that Scripture is binding upon the mind, heart, and conscience as the only rule of faith and practice for the believer. In its authority, Scripture stands above men, creeds, and the Church itself. All of them are subject to Scripture, and any authority that any one of them may exert is valid insofar as it can be supported from Scripture. Creeds are to be accepted only when they concur with Scripture, for Christian conscience cannot be bound by anything not taught explicitly in Scripture or logically derived from it. Nor can any church bind men to its teaching except as it reflects the truth of Scripture. Men, like creeds and churches, are likewise bound to Scripture so that they can neither release men from what it teaches nor bind them to what it does not teach. Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone) is the enduring principle.


This is the work of the Holy Spirit who enlightens the minds of men as they read the Scripture. Because of sin and its effects, men are incapable of understanding aright the Scripture apart from the enlightenment that comes only from the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 2:6-16). Illumination is not to be confused with inspiration. The latter refers to those who penned the Scripture. The former refers to those who read the Scripture. The writers of Scripture were inspired; the readers of Scripture are illuminated.

Infallibility and inerrancy.

Although inspiration is different from infallibility, or inerrancy, no discussion of inspiration can be continued without considering these terms. Infallibility and inerrancy are synonymous. The ordinary dictionary meaning of “infallible” is “inerrant” or “unerring.” In bygone years, the term “infallible” was used extensively with respect to Scripture, but the word was watered down and began to lose some of its force. In recent decades, evangelicals have substituted the word “inerrancy.” At stake is the question whether inspiration includes infallibility, or inerrancy, and whether the latter extends to all of Scripture or only to some of the teachings of Scripture.

Neither the term “inspiration” nor “infallibility” is found in the earliest creeds; yet both are there implicitly. That they are not mentioned specifically is no substantive reason to suppose that they were unimportant concepts. The creeds and confessions of the Reformation and post-Reformation period generally speak about inspiration and infallibility. The Westminster Confession of Faith says the Scriptures “are given by inspiration of God.” They are to be received as the Word of God, and are to be believed and obeyed. It also speaks of the Bible’s “incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof” as well as “our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth.” The Baptist New Hampshire Confession states:

We believe that the Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired, and is a perfect treasure of heavenly instruction; that it has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth without mixture of error for its matter; that it reveals the principles by which God will judge us, and therefore is, and shall remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and opinions should be tried.

Unquestionably, the evangelical creeds commonly stress inspiration and infallibility (or inerrancy). In recent decades, efforts have been made among those formally attached to evangelical theology to reexamine the concept of inerrancy and in some instances to qualify it. At the same time, they have sought to retain a doctrine of Biblical authority. These efforts have not produced any really new formulations. Some have said that the purpose and intent of the writers is important and that in some parts of Scripture it was not their intention to write inerrantly. Others have alleged that the writers were men of their times in respect to history, cosmology, physics, and astronomy. They penned what men then believed but what now is known to be untrue. Some say that the Biblical writers were infallible teachers, but that errors exist in those portions of the Bible that were not written for teaching purposes.

The effort to maintain the inspiration of Scripture while allowing for error is self-defeating. To retain an errant inerrancy dilutes the doctrine of inspiration and radically undermines its meaning and its usefulness. Few theologians would hold that adherence to orthodox notions of inspiration or inerrancy are necessary to salvation, but this should in no way obscure the importance of these concepts.

Inspiration is inextricably linked to authority and inerrancy. Charles Hodge (Systematic Theology, I, 170, 171) perceived this when he inquired whether the Bible contains historical and scientific untruths. He asserted that there is a vital difference between what the Biblical writers thought and believed on the personal level and what they wrote in Scripture. They may have believed that the sun revolves around the earth, but they did not teach this in Scripture. The language of the Bible is everyday language, and is based upon the apparent. Phenomenological language was used in that day as it is used today. Moreover, Hodge distinguished between fact and theory. Theories are man-made. Facts are of God. The Bible never contradicts facts but it does contradict men’s theories. When interpretation conflicts with established facts then interpretation must yield. The Bible has stood this test, and it will stand through all ages with its claims unshaken and its teaching unimpaired.

Those who reject inerrancy often argue that inspiration is a Biblically based doctrine but inerrancy is not. It can only be inferred and therefore should not be binding or made a test of faith. This question, which belongs not so much to the realm of theological definitions as it does to Biblical exegesis, leads logically to a discussion of the teaching of Scripture about itself, its inspiration, its infallibility, and its authority.

Biblical exegesis

The NT writers do the same. They assert that the OT prophets spoke the Word of God. “In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb 1:1). OT prophecies concerning Jesus Christ were “what the Lord had spoken of the prophet” (Matt 1:22; 2:15). The Holy Spirit spoke “by the mouth of David” (Acts 1:16), and “to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet” (28:25). The Jews of Jesus’ day believed the OT to be the infallible Word of God, accepting on every hand the testimony of the writers that what they said was what God said.

The testimony of Jesus.

Jesus claimed that the Word of God is inspired and infallible. In Matthew 5:18 He said: “till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” The Interpreter’s Bible says that Jesus in this instance was talking about the written OT. The use of “iota” and “dot,” referring to the smallest character of the Heb. alphabet and tiniest part of any Heb. letter, makes clear how highly Jesus regarded the OT (see The Interpreter’s Bible, VII, 292). Even so radical a critic as Rudolf Bultmann says that “Jesus agreed with the scribes of his time in accepting without question the authority of the (OT) Law” (Jesus and the Word, 61).

In many instances, Jesus reiterated His belief in the infallibility of OT Scripture as, for example, in Mark 7:13, “thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on”; in John 10:35, “scripture cannot be broken”; in Luke 16:31, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead”; and in Luke 24:27, “And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” It was Jesus who preauthenticated the NT in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”

So great was Jesus’ view of the Scripture that in two instances (Matt 22:43-45 and John 10:34, 35) His whole argument rested upon a single word. He viewed the Scripture as verbally inspired and wholly trustworthy. To deny His view is to deny His person and to accept His person is to accept His view of Scripture.

The testimony of the Apostle Paul.

Paul, in a key passage dealing with inspiration, said to Timothy, “All (every) scripture is inspired by God (theopneustos—God-breathed) 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 Tim 3:16f.). The Gr. word theopneustos is a compound of theos (God) and pneustos (breathed). The tos at the end of pneustos makes it passive in meaning. This indicates that theopneustos should be properly tr. “breathed of God,” i.e., “that which is breathed out by God.” Although some have argued that the verse should read “every scripture inspired of God,” it is plain that the KJV is quite accurate in stating that “all (‘every’ meaning ‘all’) scripture is breathed out by God.” Thus Scripture has its origin in God, not in man. The creative breath of God Himself gave us Scripture. Moreover, pasa graphe, “all Scripture,” refers to the written words, not simply to the divine meaning. The very words of Scripture are thus inspired, or breathed out, by God. Some conservative Bible scholars are not happy that theopneustos has been tr. “inspired,” as though to suggest that the Scriptures are human writings to which has been added the divine breath. Paul says that the Scriptures originated from God Himself, not simply from men upon whom a divine influence came. Once it has been established that the Scriptures are “breathed out by God,” it follows axiomatically that the books of the Bible are free from error and trustworthy in every regard.

Inspiration guarantees the truth-claim of Scripture, but this has to do with the originals (the autographs), not the copies, for few would deny that there are some copyists’ errors. The human authors of Scripture accepted the common scientific and other notions of their day, but when they wrote about factual, historical, and scientific matters they were preserved from error by the Holy Spirit and never wrote or taught what is not true. Paul’s claim is one that extends to all Scripture, not just parts of it. He does not say that all Scripture is of equal value, however, for the didactic books are of greater significance than books like Ruth and Esther.

Paul’s teaching about Biblical inspiration does not mean that everything in the Bible is true per se. Scripture assures us that what Satan said to Jesus in the wilderness temptation and what Job’s friends said to him in conversation are what they really said. Whether what they said is true or false is determined by the context. The Biblical writers used figures of speech, and Jesus Himself spoke in parables and employed allegory. These are not to be taken literally. Rather, their meanings are to be ferreted out in accordance with the principles of hermeneutics.

Elsewhere Paul asserts clearly that what he has written is the revelation of God. In 1 Corinthians 2:12, 13 he says:

We have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit.

A. T. Robertson in his Word Pictures in the New Testament writes:

So then Paul claims the help of the Holy Spirit in the utterance (laloumen) of the words...Clearly Paul means that the help of the Holy Spirit in the utterance of the revelation extends to the words. No theory of inspiration is here stated, but it is not mere human wisdom. Paul’s own Epistles bear eloquent witness to the lofty claim here made. They remain today after nearly nineteen centuries throbbing with the power of the Spirit of God, dynamic with life for the problems of today as when Paul wrote them for the needs of the believers in his time, the greatest epistles of all time, surcharged with the energy of God (Vol. IV, 88).

In 1 Corinthians 14:37 Paul wrote: “If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord.” Here he claims inspiration for his position.

As if this were not enough, Paul tells the Thessalonians, “We also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God” (1 Thess 2:13). Paul says that what he has written is really the word of God. It is not the words of men, although penned by men. It does not contain the word of God; it is the word of God. The Thessalonians accepted Paul’s claim and received what he preached and wrote as that which came from God. Nothing could have been more plain. Paul asserts that his words are Spirit-taught and do not spring from human reason (cf. 1 Cor 2:13).

The testimony of the Apostle Peter.

Peter writes: “You must understand this, that...no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Pet 1:20, 21). He was seeking to persuade his readers of the divine origin of Scripture. In doing this he said negatively that it did not come from the will of man. Rather, as Matthew Henry says, the authors of Scripture were holy men moved by the Holy Spirit who

powerfully excited and effectually engaged them to speak (and write) what he had put in their mouths. He so wisely and carefully assisted and directed them in the delivery of what they had received from him that they were effectually secured from any mistake in expressing what they revealed; so that the very words of scripture are to be accounted the words of the Holy Ghost...(Commentary, VI, 1044).


The teaching of Christ, the prophets, and the apostles should settle the matter of Biblical authority and inspiration once for all. But for those who desire further confirmation, in additon to the teaching of Scripture concerning itself, there are other evidences. Predictive prophecy testifies to Biblical inspiration and trustworthiness. Archeology continues to confirm the historical accuracy of the Bible. The pragmatic test of personal experience shows that when men taste and see they discover that the Bible works in their lives (see, e.g. Pss 34:8; 119:103). The Holy Spirit witnesses to the spirits of men that the Bible is the very Word of God (see 1 John 5:7 RSV; v. 6 in KJV).

Any view of inspiration produces problems, some of which yield easily to solutions and others do not. But this is true of other Biblical doctrines as well. No one surrenders his belief in the love of God because of unresolved problems. No one dismisses the doctrine of the Trinity because the concept of one God eternally subsistent in three persons is most difficult to understand. So it is with inspiration. Many of the difficult problems have been resolved; some problems remain; but it is unnecessary to surrender the Bible’s own teaching with respect to its inspiration because of some unresolved problems.

The Bible teaches that it is the Word of God and the only infallible rule of faith and practice. But this teaching of the Bible concerning itself would be relatively useless if no one accepted its claims and propagated them. Thus no discussion of inspiration is complete without a historical overview in which the attitude of the Christian church and its theologians toward the Scripture is delineated.

Historical summary

The foundation of the Church is Jesus Christ. Scripture reveals Him, and therefore it has been regarded by the Church as the written Word of God and held in highest esteem. The testimony of the Church to Scripture is one in which its inspiration, authority, and infallibility have been taught, and its truth-claim accepted. In recent times, however, a sustained interest in comparative religion and Biblical higher criticism has challenged the truth-claim of Scripture and called into question the normative orthodox view of revelation, inspiration, authority, and infallibility. Therefore, some word must be said about the canon of Scripture and attitude of the Church toward it over the centuries.

The canon of Scripture.

Historically, which books belonged in the Old Testament and the New Testament were determined differently. In Jesus’ day, the Greek Septuigent (Old Testament) already existed and included not only the Old Testament books that Protestants generally acknowledge to be canonical, but also the apocryphal books, which they do not accept. The latter were written in Greek. The Old Testament Scripture was divided into three categories: the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. The books of the Law and the Prophets were firmly fixed by New Testament times, but there were differences of opinion about certain of the books included in the Writings. By a.d. 90, Josephus could write that the canon of the Old Testament was fixed and unalterable and did not include the apocryphal books. It has even been asserted by some that the rabbis at the Council of Jamnia (c. a.d. 100) excluded the Apocrypha from the Old Testament canon. The Apocrypha, which the Jews did not regard as canonical, was included in Jerome’s Vulgate, although he did so reluctantly. These were generally accepted by the Church as part of Scripture until the 4th century. The Reformers, however, refused to regard the Apocrypha as Scripture since these books were not included in the Hebrew canon, although they were in the Greek Septuigent. The Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563) continued to include the Apocrypha as part of the canon of Old Testament Scripture.

The canon of the New Testament was fixed after a long battle accompanied by much dissent. By the end of the seconnd century, the four gospels and the thirteen letters of Paul were universally regarded as Scripture, and by the end of the 4th century, the New Testament as now known was fixed, although doubts persisted about the books of Hebrews, Jude, 2 Peter, 2 and 3 John and the Revelation.

Jesus and Josephus and the OT.

It is certain that Jesus was familiar with the Heb. OT canon and unequivocally affirmed that its books are inspired, infallible, and authoritative. Liberal and conservative scholars alike generally agree that Jesus believed as the Jews of his day did, that the OT was inerrant and everywhere binding on men. So did the apostles of Jesus. Moreover, nothing in the gospels suggests that Jesus ever raised any questions about the truth-claims of the OT.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, in his treatise Contra Apionem insisted on the inviolability of the OT and did so in words that called for complete historical reliability and freedom from error. Eusebius, the Rom. historian, quoted Josephus as believing that the OT books had unique authority and sanctity, that they were to be regarded as “oracles of God,” and that they contain no discrepancies of fact.

The Early Church Fathers.

Once the question of the canon was settled it was almost universally believed that the books of the Bible were the infallible Word of God written. It is true that inspiration and infallibility were not pivotal issues as the Christological controversies were. Some of the early churchmen held to a mechanical dictation view of the process of inscripturation, and all of them spoke of Scripture in the highest terms and agreed that it was the ultimate source of authority.

In the Appeal to the Greeks (8, 38), the unknown author clearly accepted verbal inspiration, although he seemed to limit inspiration to that which had for its purpose the impartation of religious truths. Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho, 65) held to full inspiration and authority, declaring that there are no contradictions in Scripture. Athenagoras (A Plea for the Christians, 9) believed that the writers were passive human instruments played upon by God as men play on harps. Irenaeus (Iren. Her., I. 10; III. 16; IV. 20, 34) said God came upon the writers of Scripture so that they had perfect knowledge on every subject. He called the Scriptures “perfect.” Tertullian (On Prescription Against Heretics, 22) averred that the Holy Spirit so aided the writers of Scripture “that there was nothing of which they were ignorant.”

Augustine was undoubtedly the greatest of the church Fathers. Of the Scriptures he wrote (Letters of St. Augustine, LXXXII, 3):

For I confess to your Charity that I have learned to yield this respect and honour only to the canonical books of Scripture: of these alone do I most firmly believe that the authors were completely free from error. And if in these writings I am perplexed by anything which appears to me opposed to truth, I do not hesitate to suppose that either the MS is faulty, or the translator has not caught the meaning of what was said, or I myself have failed to understand it. As to all other writings, in reading them, however great the superiority of the authors to myself in sanctity and learning, I do not accept their teaching as true on the mere ground of the opinion being held by them; but only because they have succeeded in convincing my judgment of its truth either by means of these canonical writings themselves, or by arguments addressed to my reason. I believe, my brother, that this is your opinion as well as mine. I do not need to say that I do not suppose you to wish your books to be read like those of the prophets or of the apostles, concerning which it would be wrong to doubt that they are free from error.

The Roman Catholic Church.

This church has consistently taught that the Bible is inspired and also that it is inerrant. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1910 edition, p. 48) says:

For the last three centuries there have been authors—theologians, exegetes, and especially apologists, such as Holden, Rohling, Lenormont, di Bartoli, and others—who maintained, with more or less confidence, that inspiration was limited to moral and dogmatic teaching, excluding everything in the Bible relating to history and the natural sciences. They think that, in this way, a whole mass of difficulties against the inerrancy of the Bible would be removed. But the Church has never ceased to protest against this attempt to restrict the inspiration of the sacred books. This is what took place when Mgr. d’Hulst, Rector of the Institut Catholique of Paris, gave a sympathetic account of this opinion in “Le Correspondent” of 25 Jan. 1893. The reply was quickly forthcoming in the Encyclical “Providentissimus Deus” of the same year. In that Encyclical Leo XIII said: “It will never be lawful to restrict inspiration to certain parts of the Holy Scriptures, or to grant that the sacred writer could have made a mistake. Nor may the opinion of those be tolerated, who, in order to get out of these difficulties, do not hesitate to suppose that Divine inspiration extends only to what touches faith and morals, on the false plea that the true meaning is sought less in what God has said than in the motive for which He has said it.” In fact, a limited inspiration contradicts Christian tradition and theological teaching.

As for the inerrancy of the inspired text it is to the Inspirer that it must finally be attributed, and it matters little if God has insured the truth of His scripture by the grace of inspiration itself, as the adherents of verbal inspiration teach, rather than by a providential assistance.

The Roman Catholic Church did not stop with Biblical infallibility. It added tradition as an additional source of revelation and the magisterium (teaching authority) of the church was used to determine the meaning of Scripture. Thus the church built upon the doctrine of the Church Fathers and exceeded anything they could have imagined.

The Reformers.

The Reformation represented a return to the teachings of the apostles and prophets. The Reformers vigorously opposed tradition as a source of revelation. They had no patience with the magisterium of the Church. The sola scriptura to the Reformers meant the Bible alone, minus tradition. It left no room whatever for the Church as the final teaching authority. The universal priesthood of all believers brought interpretation of Scripture back to the individual under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Churches, creeds, and men were all subject to the Scripture and nothing else.

Warfield and liberalism.

At no time during the first nineteen centuries of the Christian era did the question of inspiration and authority rack the Church as did the Christological and anthropological controversies of the early centuries when the nature of the preincarnate and the incarnate Christ, and the Augustinian-Pelagian differences were being decided. Only from the 19th cent. on, when Ger. higher criticism and the study of comparative religion dominated the scene, did inspiration, infallibilty, and authority become a watershed. During the last one hundred years there have been radical departures both from Reformation and Roman Catholic views of Scripture. In Protestantism, it was highlighted at the turn of the cent. by the struggle between the Princeton divines (the Hodges and Warfield) and their opponents, a key leader of whom was Charles Augustus Briggs of Union Theological Seminary in New York City. In the ensuing battle, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. affirmed the views of Warfield, and Briggs was defrocked. The 1920s became a battlefield over Biblical inspiration for Presbyterians and many other denominations. Liberalism triumphed over Orthodoxy by the 1930s in America even while Europe was embracing the Neo-orthodoxy of Karl Barth, whose work on Romans appeared in 1919. By the mid-1930s, Liberalism’s advance appeared to have been halted decisively by Neo-orthodoxy, and Orthodoxy itself seemed to have gained a new lease on life. In the 1940s, Neo-evangelicalism became a live option, but its impetus was hampered quickly when, having been established as a counterbalance to Fundamentalism on the right and Neo-orthodoxy and Liberalism on the left, it was itself fractured by the inroads of higher criticism. It appears that the inspiration of the Scripture will continue to be a pivotal problem for the Church at large, and there is little doubt that any marked departure from the historic view of the Church on this matter always leads to further heresies and finally to apostasy. See Spiritual Gifts.


F. Gaussen, Theopneustia (1852); J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration (1927); Th. Engelder, Scripture Cannot Be Broken (1944); N. B. Stonehouse, and P. Wooley, eds., The Infallible Word (1946); R. L. Harris, Inspiration and Canonicity of the Bible (1957); J. E. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (1957); C. F. H. Henry, ed., Revelation and the Bible (1958); M. C. Tenney, ed., The Bible—The Living Word of Revelation (1968).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Meaning of Terms

2. Occurrences in the Bible

3. Consideration of Important Passages

(1) 2 Timothy 3:16

(2) 2 Peter 1:19-21

(3) John 10:34 f

4. Christ’s Declaration That Scripture Must Be Fulfilled

5. His Testimony That God Is Author of Scripture

6. Similar Testimony of His Immediate Followers

7. Their Identification of God and Scripture

8. The "Oracles of God"

9. The Human Element in Scripture

10. Activities of God in Giving Scripture

11. General Problem of Origin: God’s Part

12. How Human Qualities Affected Scripture. Providential Preparation

13. "Inspiration" More than Mere "Providence"

14. Witness of New Testament Writers to Divine Operation

15. "Inspiration" and "Revelation"

16. Scriptures a Divine-Human Book?

17. Scripture of the New Testament Writers Was the Old Testament

18. Inclusion of the New Testament


1. Meaning of Terms:

2. Occurrences in the Bible:

For the Greek word in this passage--theopneustos--very distinctly does not mean "inspired of God." This phrase is rather the rendering of the Latin, divinitus inspirata, restored from the Wycliff ("Al Scripture of God ynspyrid is ....") and Rhemish ("All Scripture inspired of God is ....") versions of the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) The Greek word does not even mean, as the King James Version translates it, "given by inspiration of God," although that rendering (inherited from, Tyndale: "All Scripture given by inspiration of God is ...." and its successors; compare Geneva: "The whole Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is ....") has at least to say for itself that it is a somewhat clumsy, perhaps, but not misleading, paraphrase of the Greek term in theological language of the day. The Greek term has, however, nothing to say of inspiring or of inspiration: it speaks only of a "spiring" or "spiration." What it says of Scripture is, not that it is "breathed into by God" or is the product of the Divine "inbreathing" into its human authors, but that it is breathed out by God, "God-breathed," the product of the creative breath of God. In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them. No term could have been chosen, however, which would have more emphatically asserted the Divine production of Scripture than that which is here employed. The "breath of God" is in Scripture just the symbol of His almighty power, the bearer of His creative word. "By the word of Yahweh," we read in the significant parallel of Ps 33:6 "were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth." And it is particularly where the operations of God are energetic that this term (whether ruach, or neshamah) is employed to designate them--God’s breath is the irresistible outflow of His power. When Paul declares, then, that "every scripture" or "all scripture" is the product of the Divine breath, "is God-breathed," he asserts with as much energy as he could employ that Scripture is the product of a specifically Divine operation.

3. Consideration of Important Passages:

(1) 2 Timothy 3:16:

In the passage in which Paul makes this energetic assertion of the Divine origin of Scripture he is engaged in explaining the greatness of the advantages which Timothy had enjoyed for learning the saving truth of God. He had had good teachers; and from his very infancy he had been, by his knowledge of the Scriptures, made wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The expression, "sacred writings," here employed (1Ti 3:15), is a technical one, not found elsewhere in the New Testament, it is true, but occurring currently in Philo and Josephus to designate that body of authoritative books which constituted the Jewish "Law." It appears here anarthrously because it is set in contrast with the oral teaching which Timothy had enjoyed, as something still better: he had not only had good instructors, but also always "an open Bible," as we should say, in his hand. To enhance yet further the great advantage of the possession of these Sacred Scriptures the apostle adds now a sentence throwing their nature strongly up to view. They are of Divine origin and therefore of the highest value for all holy purposes.

There is room for some difference of opinion as to the exact construction of this declaration. Shall we render "Every Scripture" or "All Scripture"? Shall we render "Every (or all) Scripture is God-breathed and (therefore) profitable," or "Every (or all) Scripture, being God-breathed, is as well profitable"? No doubt both questions are interesting, but for the main matter now engaging our attention they are both indifferent. Whether Paul, looking back at the Sacred Scriptures he had just mentioned, makes the assertion he is about to add, of them distributively, of all their parts, or collectively, of their entire mass, is of no moment: to say that every part of these Sacred Scriptures is God-breathed and to say that the whole of these Sacred Scriptures is God-breathed, is, for the main matter, all one. Nor is the difference great between saying that they are in all their parts, or in their whole extent, God-breathed and therefore profitable, and saying that they are in all their parts, or in their whole extent, because God-breathed as well profitable. In both cases these Sacred Scriptures are declared to owe their value to their Divine origin; and in both cases this their Divine origin is energetically asserted of their entire fabric. On the whole, the preferable construction would seem to be, "Every Scripture, seeing that it is God-breathed, is as well profitable." In that case, what the apostle asserts is that the Sacred Scriptures, in their every several passage--for it is just "passage of Scripture" which "Scripture" in this distributive use of it signifies--is the product of the creative breath of God, and, because of this its Divine origination, is of supreme value for all holy purposes.

It is to be observed that the apostle does not stop here to tell us either what particular books enter into the collection which he calls Sacred Scriptures, or by what precise operations God has produced them. Neither of these subjects entered into the matter he had at the moment in hand. It was the value of the Scriptures, and the source of that value in their Divine origin, which he required at the moment to assert; and these things he asserts, leaving to other occasions any further facts concerning them which it might be well to emphasize. It is also to be observed that the apostle does not tell us here everything for which the Scriptures are made valuable by their Divine origination. He speaks simply to the point immediately in hand, and reminds Timothy of the value which these Scriptures, by virtue of their Divine origin, have for the "man of God." Their spiritual power, as God-breathed, is all that he had occasion here to advert to. Whatever other qualities may accrue to them from their Divine origin, he leaves to other occasions to speak of.

(2) 2 Peter 1:19-21:

What Paul tells us here about the Divine origin of the Scriptures is enforced and extended by a striking passage in 2Pe (1:19-21). Peter is assuring his readers that what had been made known to them of "the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ" did not rest on "cunningly devised fables." He offers them the testimony of eyewitnesses of Christ’s glory. And then he intimates that they have better testimony than even that of eyewitnesses. "We have," says he, "the prophetic word" (English Versions of the Bible, unhappily, "the word of prophecy"): and this, he says, is "more sure," and therefore should certainly be heeded. He refers, of course, to the Scriptures. Of what other "prophetic word" could he, over against the testimony of the eyewitnesses of Christ’s "excellent glory" (the King James Version) say that "we have" it, that is, it is in our hands? And he proceeds at once to speak of it plainly as "Scriptural prophecy." You do well, he says, to pay heed to the prophetic word, because we know this first, that "every prophecy of scripture ...." It admits of more question, however, whether by this phrase he means the whole of Scripture, designated according to its character, as prophetic, that is, of Divine origin; or only that portion of Scripture which we discriminate as particularly prophetic, the immediate revelations contained in Scripture. The former is the more likely view, inasmuch as the entirety of Scripture is elsewhere conceived and spoken of as prophetic. In that case, what Peter has to say of this "every prophecy of scripture"--the exact equivalent, it will be observed, in this case of Paul’s "every scripture" (2Ti 3:16)--applies to the whole of Scripture in all its parts. What he says of it is that it does not come "of private interpretation"; that is, it is not the result of human investigation into the nature of things, the product of its writers’ own thinking. This is as much as to say it is of Divine gift. Accordingly, he proceeds at once to make this plain in a supporting clause which contains both the negative and the positive declaration: "For no prophecy ever came (margin: "was brought") by the will of man, but it was as borne by the Holy Spirit that men spoke from God." In this singularly precise and pregnant statement there are several things which require to be carefully observed. There is, first of all, the emphatic denial that prophecy--that is to say, on the hypothesis upon which we are working, Scripture--owes its origin to human initiative: "No prophecy ever was brought--`came’ is the word used in the English Versions of the Bible text, with `was brought’ in the Revised Version margin--by the will of man." Then, there is the equally emphatic assertion that its source lies in God: it was spoken by men, indeed, but the men who spoke it "spake from God." And a remarkable clause is here inserted, and thrown forward in the sentence that stress may fall on it, which tells us how it could be that men, in speaking, should speak not from themselves, but from God: it was "as borne"--it is the same word which was rendered "was brought" above, and might possibly be rendered "brought" here--"by the Holy Spirit" that they spoke. Speaking thus under the determining influence of the Holy Spirit, the things they spoke were not from themselves, but from God.

Here is as direct an assertion of the Divine origin of Scripture as that of 2Ti 3:16. But there is more here than a simple assertion of the Divine origin of Scripture. We are advanced somewhat in our understanding of how God has produced the Scriptures. It was through the instrumentality of men who "spake from him." More specifically, it was through an operation of the Holy Ghost on these men which is described as "bearing" them. The term here used is a very specific one. It is not to be confounded with guiding, or directing, or controlling, or even-leading in the full sense of that word. It goes beyond all such terms, in assigning the effect produced specifically to the active agent. What is "borne" is taken up by the "bearer," and conveyed by the "bearer’s" power, not its own, to the "bearer’s" goal, not its own. The men who spoke from God are here declared, therefore, to have been taken up by the Holy Spirit and brought by His power to the goal of His choosing. The things which they spoke under this operation of the Spirit were therefore His things, not theirs. And that is the reason which is assigned why "the prophetic word" is so sure. Though spoken through the instrumentality of men, it is, by virtue of the fact that these men spoke "as borne by the Holy Spirit," an immediately Divine word. It will be observed that the proximate stress is laid here, not on the spiritual value of Scripture (though that, too, is seen in the background), but on the Divine trustworthiness of Scripture. Because this is the way every prophecy of Scripture "has been brought," it affords a more sure basis of confidence than even the testimony of human eyewitnesses. Of course, if we do not understand by "the prophetic word" here the entirety of Scripture described, according to its character, as revelation, but only that element in Scripture which we call specifically prophecy, then it is directly only of that element in Scripture that these great declarations are made. In any event, however, they are made of the prophetic element in Scripture as written, which was the only form in which the readers of this Epistle possessed it, and which is the thing specifically intimated in the phrase "every prophecy of scripture." These great declarations are made, therefore, at least of large tracts of Scripture; and if the entirety of Scripture is intended by the phrase "the prophetic word," they are made of the whole of Scripture.

(3) John 10:34 f:

4. Christ’s Declaration That Scripture Must Be Fulfilled:

5. His Testimony That God Is Author of Scripture:

6. Similar Testimony of His Immediate Followers

7. Their Identification of God and Scripture:

8. The "Oracles of God":

9. The Human Element in Scripture:

That the Scriptures are throughout a Divine book, created by the Divine energy and speaking in their every part with Divine authority directly to the heart of the readers, is the fundamental fact concerning Scripture them which is witnessed by Christ and the sacred writers to whom we owe the New Testament. But the strength and constancy with which they bear witness to this primary fact do not prevent their recognizing by the side of it that the Scriptures have come into being by the agency of men. It would be inexact to say that they recognize a human element in Scripture: they do not parcel Scripture out, assigning portions of it, or elements in it, respectively to God and man. In their view the whole of Scripture in all its parts and in all its elements, down to the least minutiae, in form of expression as well as in substance of teaching, is from God; but the whole of it has been given by God through the instrumentality of men. There is, therefore, in their view, not, indeed, a human element or ingredient in Scripture, and much less human divisions or sections of Scripture, but a human side or aspect to Scripture; and they do not fail to give full recognition to this human side or aspect. In one of the primary passages which has already been before us, their conception is given, if somewhat broad and very succinct, yet clear expression. No `prophecy,’ Peter tells us (2Pe 1:21), `ever came by the will of man; but as borne by the Holy Ghost, men spake from God.’ Here the whole initiative is assigned to God, and such complete control of the human agents that the product is truly God’s work. The men who speak in this "prophecy of scripture" speak not of themselves or out of themselves, but from "God": they speak only as they are "borne by the Holy Ghost." But it is they, after all, who speak. Scripture is the product of man, but only of man speaking from God and under such a control of the Holy Spirit as that in their speaking they are "borne" by Him. The conception obviously is that the Scriptures have been given by the instrumentality of men; and this conception finds repeated incidental expression throughout the New Testament.

10. Activities of God in Giving Scripture:

If we attempt to get behind this broad statement and to obtain a more detailed conception of the activities by which God has given the Scriptures, we are thrown back upon somewhat general representations, supported by the analogy of the modes Scripture of God’s working in other spheres of His operation. It is very desirable that we should free ourselves at the outset from influences arising from the current employment of the term "inspiration" to designate this process. This term is not a Biblical term and its etymological implications are not perfectly accordant with the Biblical conception of the modes of the Divine operation in giving the Scriptures. The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men. They do not conceive of these men, by whose instrumentality Scripture is produced, as working upon their own initiative, though energized by God to greater effort and higher achievement, but as moved by the Divine initiative and borne by the irresistible power of the Spirit of God along ways of His choosing to ends of His appointment. The difference between the two conceptions may not appear great when the mind is fixed exclusively upon the nature of the resulting product. But they are differing conceptions, and look at the production of Scripture from distinct points of view--the human and the Divine; and the involved mental attitudes toward the origin of Scripture are very diverse. The term "inspiration" is too firmly fixed, in both theological and popular usage, as the technical designation of the action of God in giving the Scriptures, to be replaced; and we may be thankful that its native implications lie as close as they do to the Biblical conceptions. Meanwhile, however, it may be justly insisted that it shall receive its definition from the representations of Scripture, and not be permitted to impose upon our thought ideas of the origin of Scripture derived from an analysis of its own implications, etymological or historical. The Scriptural conception of the relation of the Divine Spirit to the human authors in the production of Scripture is better expressed by the figure of "bearing" than by the figure of "inbreathing"; and when our Biblical writers speak of the action of the Spirit of God in this relation as a breathing, they represent it as a "breathing out" of the Scriptures by the Spirit, and not a "breathing into" the Scriptures by Him.

11. General Problem of Origin: God’s Part:

So soon, however, as we seriously endeavor to form for ourselves a clear conception of the precise nature of the Divine action in this "breathing out" of the Scriptures--this "bearing" of the writers of the Scriptures to their appointed goal of the production of a book of Divine trustworthiness and indefectible authority--we become acutely aware of a more deeply lying and much wider problem, apart from which this one of inspiration, technically so called, cannot be profitably considered. This is the general problem of the origin of the Scriptures and the part of God in all that complex of processes by the interaction of which these books, which we call the sacred Scriptures, with all their peculiarities, and all their qualities of whatever sort, have been brought into being. For, of course, these books were not produced suddenly, by some miraculous act--handed down complete out of heaven, as the phrase goes; but, like all other products of time, are the ultimate effect of many processes cooperating through long periods. There is to be considered, for instance, the preparation of the material which forms the subject-matter of these books: in a sacred history, say, for example, to be narrated; or in a religious experience which may serve as a norm for record; or in a logical elaboration of the contents of revelation which may be placed at the service of God’s people; or in the progressive revelation of Divine truth itself, supplying their culminating contents. And there is the preparation of the men to write these books to be considered, a preparation physical, intellectual, spiritual, which must have attended them throughout their whole lives, and, indeed, must have had its beginning in their remote ancestors, and the effect of which was to bring the right men to the right places at the right times, with the right endowments, impulses, acquirements, to write just the books which were designed for them. When "inspiration," technically so called, is superinduced on lines of preparation like these, it takes on quite a different aspect from that which it bears when it is thought of as an isolated action of the Divine Spirit operating out of all relation to historical processes. Representations are sometimes made as if, when God wished to produce sacred books which would incorporate His will--a series of letters like those of Paul, for example--He was reduced to the necessity of going down to earth and painfully scrutinizing the men He found there, seeking anxiously for the one who, on the whole, promised best for His purpose; and then violently forcing the material He wished expressed through him, against his natural bent, and with as little loss from his recalcitrant characteristics as possible. Of course, nothing of the sort took place. If God wished to give His people a series of letters like Paul’s, He prepared a Paul to write them, and the Paul He brought to the task was a Paul who spontaneously would write just such letters.

12. How Human Qualities Affected Scripture. Providential Preparation:

If we bear this in mind, we shall know what estimate to place upon the common representation to the effect that the human characteristics of the writers must, and in point of fact do, condition and qualify the writings produced by them, the implication being that, therefore, we cannot get from mark a pure word of God. As light that passes through the colored glass of a cathedral window, we are told, is light from heaven, but is stained by the tints of the glass through which it passes; so any word of God which is passed through the mind and soul of a man must come out discolored by the personality through which it is given, and just to that degree ceases to be the pure word of God. But what if this personality has itself been formed by God into precisely the personality it is, for the express purpose of communicating to the word given through it just the coloring which it gives it? What if the colors of the stained-glass window have been designed by the architect for the express purpose of giving to the light that floods the cathedral precisely the tone and quality it receives from them? What if the word of God that comes to His people is framed by God into the word of God it is, precisely by means of the qualities of the men formed by Him for the purpose, through which it is given? When we think of God the Lord giving by His Spirit a body of authoritative Scriptures to His people, we must remember that He is the God of providence and of grace as well as of revelation and inspiration, and that He holds all the lines of preparation as fully under His direction as He does the specific operation which we call technically, in the narrow sense, by the name of "inspiration." The production of the Scriptures is, in point of fact, a long process, in the course of which numerous and very varied Divine activities are involved, providential, gracious, miraculous, all of which must be taken into account in any attempt to explain the relation of God to the production of Scripture. When they are all taken into account we can no longer wonder that the resultant Scriptures are constantly spoken of as the pure word of God. We wonder, rather, that an additional operation of God--what we call specifically "inspiration," in its technical sense--was thought necessary. Consider, for example, how a piece of sacred history--say the Book of Chronicles, or the great historical work, Gospel and Acts, of Luke--is brought to the writing. There is first of all the preparation of the history to be written: God the Lord leads the sequence of occurrences through the development He has designed for them that they may convey their lessons to His people: a "teleological" or "etiological" character is inherent in the very course of events. Then He prepares a man, by birth, training, experience, gifts of grace, and, if need be, of revelation, capable of appreciating this historical development and eager to search it out, thrilling in all his being with its lessons and bent upon making them clear and effective to others. When, then, by His providence, God sets this man to work on the writing of this history, will there not be spontaneously written by him the history which it was Divinely intended should be written? Or consider how a psalmist would be prepared to put into moving verse a piece of normative religious experience: how he would be born with just the right quality of religious sensibility, of parents through whom he should receive just the right hereditary bent, and from whom he should get precisely the right religious example and training, in circumstances of life in which his religious tendencies should be developed precisely on right lines; how he would be brought through just the right experiences to quicken in him the precise emotions he would be called upon to express, and finally would be placed in precisely the exigencies which would call out their expression. Or consider the providential preparation of a writer of a didactic epistle--by means of which he should be given the intellectual breadth and acuteness, and be trained in habitudes of reasoning, and placed in the situations which would call out precisely the argumentative presentation of Christian truth which was required of him. When we give due place in our thoughts to the universality of the providential government of God, to the minuteness and completeness of its sway, and to its invariable efficacy, we may be inclined to ask what is needed beyond this mere providential government to secure the production of sacred books which should be in every detail absolutely accordant with the Divine will.

13. "Inspiration" More than Mere "Providence":

The answer is, Nothing is needed beyond mere providence to secure such books--provided only that it does not lie in the Divine purpose that these books should possess qualities which rise above the powers of men to produce, even under the most complete Divine guidance. For providence is guidance; and guidance can bring one only so far as his own power can carry him. If heights are to be scaled above man’s native power to achieve, then something more than guidance, however effective, is necessary. This is the reason for the superinduction, at the end of the long process of the production of Scripture, of the additional Divine operation which we call technically "inspiration." By it, the Spirit of God, flowing confluently in with the providentially and graciously determined work of men, spontaneously producing under the Divine directions the writings appointed to them, gives the product a Divine quality unattainable by human powers alone. Thus, these books become not merely the word of godly men, but the immediate word of God Himself, speaking directly as such to the minds and hearts of every reader. The value of "inspiration" emerges, thus, as twofold. It gives to the books written under its "bearing" a quality which is truly superhuman; a trustworthiness, an authority, a searchingness, a profundity, a profitableness which is altogether Divine. And it speaks this Divine word immediately to each reader’s heart and conscience; so that he does not require to make his way to God, painfully, perhaps even uncertainly, through the words of His servants, the human instruments in writing the Scriptures, but can listen directly to the Divine voice itself speaking immediately in the Scriptural word to him.

14. Witness of New Testament Writers to Divine Operation:

15. "Inspiration" and "Revelation":

It will not escape observation that thus "inspiration" is made a mode of "revelation." We are often exhorted, to be sure, to distinguish sharply between "inspiration" and "revelation"; and the exhortation is just when "revelation" is taken in one of its narrower senses, of, say, an external manifestation of God, or of an immediate communication from God in words. But "inspiration" does not differ from "revelation" in these narrowed senses as genus from genus, but as a species of one genus differs from another. That operation of God which we call "inspiration," that is to say, that operation of the Spirit of God by which He "bears" men in the process of composing Scripture, so that they write, not of themselves, but "from God," is one of the modes in which God makes known to men His being, His will, His operations, His purposes. It is as distinctly a mode of revelation as any mode of revelation can be, and therefore it performs the same office which all revelation performs, that is to say, in the express words of Paul, it makes men wise, and makes them wise unto salvation. All "special" or "supernatural" revelation (which is redemptive in its very idea, and occupies a place as a substantial element in God’s redemptive processes) has precisely this for its end; and Scripture, as a mode of the redemptive revelation of God, finds its fundamental purpose just in this: if the "inspiration" by which Scripture is produced renders it trustworthy and authoritative, it renders it trustworthy and authoritative only that it may the better serve to make men wise unto salvation. Scripture is conceived, from the point of view of the writers of the New Testament, not merely as the record of revelations, but as itself a part of the redemptive revelation of God; not merely as the record of the redemptive acts by which God is saving the world, but as itself one of these redemptive acts, having its own part to play in the great work of establishing and building up the kingdom of God. What gives it a place among the redemptive acts of God is its Divine origination, taken in its widest sense, as inclusive of all the Divine operations, providential, gracious and expressly supernatural, by which it has been made just what it is--a body of writings able to make wise unto salvation, and profitable for making the man of God perfect. What gives it its place among the modes of revelation is, however, specifically the culminating one of these Divine operations, which we call "inspiration"; that is to say, the action of the Spirit of God in so "bearing" its human authors in their work of producing Scripture, as that in these Scriptures they speak, not out of themselves, but "from God." It is this act by virtue of which the Scriptures may properly be called "God-breathed."

16. Scriptures a Divine-Human Book?:

It has been customary among a certain school of writers to speak of the Scriptures, because thus "inspired," as a Divine-human book, and to appeal to the analogy of Our Lord’s Divine-human personality to explain their peculiar qualities as such. The expression calls attention to an important fact, and the analogy holds good a certain distance. There are human and Divine sides to Scripture, and, as we cursorily examine it, we may perceive in it, alternately, traits which suggest now the one, now the other factor in its origin. But the analogy with our Lord’ s Divine-human personality may easily be pressed beyond reason. There is no hypostatic union between the Divine and the human in Scripture; we cannot parallel the "inscripturation" of the Holy Spirit and the incarnation of the Son of God. The Scriptures are merely the product of Divine and human forces working together to produce a product in the production of which the human forces work under the initiation and prevalent direction of the Divine: the person of our Lord unites in itself Divine and human natures, each of which retains its distinctness while operating only in relation to the other. Between such diverse things there can exist only a remote analogy; and, in point of fact, the analogy in the present instance amounts to no more than that in both cases Divine and human factors are involved, though very differently. In the one they unite to constitute a Divine-human person, in the other they cooperate to perform a Divine-human work. Even so distant an analogy may enable us, however, to recognize that as, in the case of our Lord’s person, the human nature remains truly human while yet it can never fall into sin or error because it can never act out of relation with the Divine nature into conjunction with which it has been brought; so in the case of the production of Scripture by the conjoint action of human and Divine factors, the human factors have acted as human factors and have left their mark on the product as such, and yet cannot have fallen into that error which we say it is human to fall into, because they have not acted apart from the Divine factors, by themselves, but only under their unerring guidance.

17. Scripture of New Testament Writers Was the Old Testament:

18. Inclusion of New Testament:

And all doubt is dispelled when we observe the New Testament writers placing the writings of one another in the same category of "Scripture" with the books of the Old Testament. The same Paul who, in 2Ti 3:16, declared that `every’ or `all scripture is God-breathed’ had already written in 1Ti 5:18: "For the scripture saith, Thou shall not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn (grain). And, The laborer is worthy of his hire." The first clause here is derived from Deuteronomy and the second from the Gospel of Luke, though both are cited as together constituting, or better, forming part of the "Scripture" which Paul adduces as so authoritative as by its mere citation to end all strife. Who shall say that, in the declaration of the later epistle that "all" or "every" Scripture is God-breathed, Paul did not have Luke, and, along with Luke, whatever other new books he classed with the old under the name of Scripture, in the back of his mind, along with those old books which Timothy had had in his hands from infancy? And the same Peter who declared that every "prophecy of scripture" was the product of men who spoke "from God," being `borne’ by the Holy Spirit (2Pe 1:21), in this same epistle (2Pe 3:16), places Paul’s Epistles in the category of Scripture along with whatever other books deserve that name. For Paul, says he, wrote these epistles, not out of his own wisdom, but "according to the wisdom given to him," and though there are some things in them hard to be understood, yet it is only the ignorant and unsteadfast" who wrest these difficult passages--as what else could be expected of men who wrest "also the other Scriptures" (obviously the Old Testament is meant)--"unto their own destruction"? Is it possible to say that Peter could not have had these epistles of Paul also lurking somewhere in the back of his mind, along with "the other scriptures," when he told his readers that every "prophecy of scripture" owes its origin to the prevailing operation of the Holy Ghost? What must be understood in estimating the testimony of the New Testament writers to the inspiration of Scripture is that "Scripture" stood in their minds as the title of a unitary body of books, throughout the gift of God through His Spirit to His people; but that this body of writings was at the same time understood to be a growing aggregate, so that what is said of it applies to the new books which were being added to it as the Spirit gave them, as fully as to the old books which had come down to them from their hoary past. It is a mere matter of detail to determine precisely what new books were thus included by them in the category "Scripture." They tell us some of them themselves. Those who received them from their hands tell us of others. And when we put the two bodies of testimony together we find that they constitute just our New Testament. It is no pressure of the witness of the writers of the New Testament to the inspiration of the Scripture, therefore, to look upon it as covering the entire body of "Scriptures," the new books which they were themselves adding to this aggregate, as well as the old books which they had received as Scripture from the fathers. Whatever can lay claim by just right to the appellation of "Scripture," as employed in its eminent sense by those writers, can by the same just right lay claim to the "inspiration" which they ascribe to this "Scripture."


J. Gerhard, Loci Theolog., Locus I; F. Turretin, Instit. Theol., Locus II; B. de Moor, Commentary in J. Marckii Comp., cap. ii; C. Hodge, Syst. Theol., New York, 1871, I, 151-86; Henry B. Smith, The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, New York, 1855, new edition, Cincinnati, 1891; A. Kuyper, Encyclopedia der heilige Godgeleerdheid, 1888-89, II, 347 ff, English translation; Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology, New York, 1898, 341-563; also De Schrift her woord Gods, Tiel, 1870; H. Bavinck, Gereformeerde Dogmatiek2, Kampen, 1906, I, 406-527; R. Haldane, The Verbal Inspiration of the Scriptures Established, Edinburgh, 1830; J. T. Beck, Einleitung in das System der christlichen Lehre, Stuttgart, 1838, 2nd edition, 1870; A. G. Rudelbach, "Die Lehre yon der Inspiration der heil. Schrift," Zeitschrift fur die gesammte Lutherische Theologie und Kirche, 1840, 1, 1841, 1, 1842, 1; S. R. L. Gaussen, Theopneustie ou inspiration pleniere des saintes ecritures2, Paris, 1842, English translation by E. N. Kirk, New York, 1842; also Theopneustia; the Plenary Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, David Scott’s translation, reedited and revised by B. W. Carr, with a preface by C. H. Spurgeon, London, 1888; William Lee, The Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, Donellan Lecture, 1852, New York, 1857; James Bannerman, Inspiration: the Infallible Truth and Divine Authority of the Holy Scriptures, Edinburgh, 1865; F. L. Patton, The Inspiration of the Scriptures, Philadelphia, 1869 (reviewing Lee and Bannerman); Charles Elliott, A Treatise on the Inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, Edinburgh, 1877; A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, "Inspiration," Presbyterian Review, April, 1881, also tract, Philadelphia, 1881; R. Watts, The Rule of Faith and the Doctrine of Inspiration, Edinburgh, 1885; A. Cave, The Inspiration of the O T Inductively Considered, London, 1888; B. Manly, The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration, New York, 1888; W. Rohnert, Die Inspiration der heiligen Schrift und ihre Bestreiter, Leipzig, 1889; A. W. Dieckhoff, Die Inspiration und Irrthumlosigkeit der heiligen Schrift, Leipzig, 1891; J. Wichelhaus, Die Lehre der heiligen Schrift, Stuttgart, 1892; J. Macgregor, The Revelation and the Record, Edinburgh, 1893; J. Urquhart, The Inspiration and Accuracy of the Holy Scriptures, London, 1895; C. Pesch, De Inspiratione Sacrae Scripturae, Freiburg, 1906; James Orr, Revelation and Inspiration, London, 1910.

Bible, Inspiration

1. Scripture a Unity:

Holy Scripture is not simply a collection of religious books: still less does it consist of mere fragments of Jewish and Christian literature. It belongs to the conception of Scripture that, though originating "by divers portions and in divers manners" (Heb 1:1), it should yet, in its completeness, constitute a unity, evincing, in the spirit and purpose that bind its parts together, the Divine source from which its revelation comes. The Bible is the record of God’s revelations of Himself to men in successive ages and dispensations (Eph 1:8-10; 3:5-9; Col 1:25,26), till the revelation culminates in the advent and work of the Son, and the mission of the Spirit. It is this aspect of the Bible which constitutes its grand distinction from all collections of sacred writings--the so-called "Bibles" of heathen religions--in the world. These, as the slightest inspection of them shows, have no unity. They are accumulations of heterogeneous materials, presenting, in their collocation, no order, progress, or plan. The reason is, that they embody no historical revelation working out a purpose in consecutive stages from germinal beginnings to perfect close. The Bible, by contrast, is a single book because it embodies such a revelation, and exhibits such a purpose. The unity of the book, made up of so many parts, is the attestation of the reality of the revelation it contains.

2. The Purpose of Grace:

This feature of spiritual purpose in the Bible is one of the most obvious things about it (compare POT, 30 ff). It gives to the Bible what is sometimes termed its "organic unity." The Bible has a beginning, middle and end. The opening chapters of Ge have their counterpart in the "new heaven and new earth" and paradise restored of the closing chapters of Revelation (21; 22). Man’s sin is made the starting-point for disclosures of God’s grace. The patriarchal history, with its covenants and promises, is continued in the story of the Exodus and the events that follow, in fulfillment of these promises. De recapitulates the lawgiving at Sinai. Jos sees the people put in possession of the promised land. Backsliding, rebellion, failure, do not defeat God’s purpose, but are overruled to carry it on to a surer completion. The monarchy is made the occasion of new promises to the house of David (2Sa 7). The prophets root themselves in the past, but, at the very hour when the nation seems sinking in ruin; hold out bright hopes of a greater future in the extension of God’s kingdom to the Gentiles, under Messiah’s rule. A critical writer, Kautzsch, has justly said: "The abiding value of the Old Testament lies above all in this, that it guarantees to us with absolute certainty the fact and the process of a Divine plan and way of salvation, which found its conclusion and fulfillment in the new covenant, in the person and work of Jesus Christ" (Bleibende Bedeutung des Altes Testament, 22, 24, 28-29, 30-31).

Fulfilment in Christ.

3. Inspiration:

"Inspiration" is a word round which many debates have gathered. If, however, what has been said is true of the Bible as the record of a progressive revelation, of its contents as the discovery of the will of God for man’s salvation, of the prophetic and apostolic standing of its writers, of the unity of spirit and purpose that pervades it, it will be difficult to deny that a quite peculiar presence, operation, and guidance of the Spirit of God are manifest in its production. The belief in inspiration, it has been seen, is implied in the formation of these books into a sacred canon. The full discussion of the subject belongs to a special article. (see Inspiration). Biblical Claim.

Marks of Inspiration.

It might be shown that these claims made by New Testament writers for the Old Testament and for themselves are borne out by what the Old Testament itself teaches of prophetic inspiration, of wisdom as the gift of God’s spirit, and of the light, holiness, saving virtue and sanctifying power continually ascribed to God’s "law," "words," "statutes," "commandments," "judgments" (see above). This is the ultimate test of "inspiration"--that to which Paul likewise appeals--its power to "make wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2Ti 3:15)--its profitableness "for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness" (2Ti 3:16)--all to the end "that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2Ti 3:17). Nothing is here determined as to "inerrancy" in minor historical, geographical, chronological details, in which some would wrongly put the essence of inspiration; but it seems implied that at least there is no error which can interfere with or nullify the utility of Scripture for the ends specified. Who that brings Scripture to its own tests of inspiration, will deny that, judged as a whole, it fulfils them?

4. Historical Influence of the Bible:

The claim of the Bible to a Divine origin is justified by its historical influence. Regarded even as literature, the Bible has an unexampled place in history. Ten or fifteen manuscripts are thought a goodly number for an ancient classic; the manuscripts of whole or parts of the New Testament are reckoned by thousands, the oldest going back to the 4th or 5th century. Another test is translation. The books of the New Testament had hardly begun to be put together before we find translations being made of them in Latin, Syriac, Egyptian, later into Gothic and other barbarous tongues (see Versions). In the Middle Ages, before the invention of printing, translations were made into the vernacular of most of the countries of Europe. Today there is not a language in the civilized world, hardly a language among uncivilized tribes, wherever missions have gone, into which this word of God has not been rendered. Thanks to the labors of Bible Societies, the circulation of the Bible in the different countries of the world in recent years outstrips all previous records. No book has ever been so minutely studied, has had so many books written on it, has founded so vast a literature of hymns, liturgies, devotional writings, sermons, has been so keenly assailed, has evoked such splendid defenses, as the Bible. Its spiritual influence cannot be estimated. To tell all the Bible has been and done for the world would be to rewrite in large part the history of modern civilization. Without it, in heathen lands, the arm and tongue of the missionary would be paralyzed. With it, even in the absence of the missionary, wondrous results are often effected. In national life the Bible is the source of our highest social and national aspirations. Professor Huxley, though an agnostic, argued for the reading of the Bible in the schools on this very ground. "By the study of what other book," he asked, "could children be so much humanized, and made to feel that each figure in that vast historical procession fills, like themselves, but a momentary space in the interval between two eternities, and earns the blessings or the curses of all times, according to its effort to do good and to hate evil, even as they are also earning their payment for their work?" (Critiques and Addresses, 61).

VI. Addenda.

A few notes may be added, in closing, on special points not touched in the preceding sections.

1. Chapters and Verses:

Already in pre-Talmudic times, for purposes of reading in the synagogues, the Jews had larger divisions of the law into sections called Para-shahs, and of the prophets into similar sections called HaphTarahs. They had also smaller divisions into Pecuqim, corresponding nearly with our verses. The division into chapters is much later (13th century). It is ascribed to Cardinal Hugo de St Caro (died 1248); by others to Stephen Langton, archbishop of Canterbury (died 1227). It was adopted into the Vulgate, and from this was transferred by R. Nathan (circa 1440) to the Hebrew Bible (Bleek, Keil). Verses are marked in the Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A. D.) as early as 1558. They first appear in the New Testament in Robert Stephens’ edition of the Greek Testament in 1551. Henry Stephens, Robert’s son, reports that they were devised by his father during a journey on horseback from Paris to Lyons.

2. The King James Version and Revised Version:

The King James Version of 1611, based in part on earlier English Versions, especially Tyndale’s, justly holds rank as one of the noblest monuments of the English language of its own, or any, age. Necessarily, however, the Greek text used by the translators ("Textus Receptus"), resting on a few late manuscripts, was very imperfect. With the discovery of more ancient manuscripts, and multiplication of appliances for criticism, the need and call for a revised text and translation became urgent. Finally, at the instance of the Convocation of the Province of Canterbury, the task of revision was undertaken by Committees representing the best English and American scholarship. Their labors resulted in the publication, in 1881, of the Revised New Testament, and in 1885, of the Revised Old Testament (a revised edition of the Apocrypha was published in 1896). The preferencest of the American Revisers were printed in an appendix, a pledge being given that no further changes should be made for 14 years. The English Companies were disbanded shortly after 1885, but the American Committee, adhering to its own renderings, and believing that further improvements on the English the Revised Version (British and American) were possible, continued its organization and work. This issued, in 1901, in the production of the American Standard Revised Version, which aims at greater consistency and accuracy in a number of important respects, and is supplied, also, with carefully selected marginal references (see American Revised Version). Little could be done, in either the English Revised V ersion or the American Standard Revised Version, in the absence of reliable data for comparison, with the text of the Old Testament, but certain obvious corrections have been made, or noted in the margin.

3. Helps to Study:

In recent years abundant helps have been furnished, apart from Commentaries and Dictionaries, for the intelligent study of the English Bible. Among such works may be mentioned the Oxford Helps to the Study of the Bible; the valuable Aids to Bible Students (Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1898); Dr. Angus’ Bible Handbook (revised by Green); A. S. Peake’s Guide to Biblical Study (1897); W. F. Adeney’s How to Read the Bible (1896); R. C. Moulton’s The Modern Reader’s Bible (1907); The Sunday School Teachers’ Bible (1875); The Variorum Reference Bible and Variorum Teachers’ Bible (1880); Weymouth’s New Testament in Modern Speech (1909); The Twentieth Century New Testament (Westcott and Hort’s text, 1904); S. Lloyd’s The Corrected English New Testament (Bagster, 1905).


Compare articles in the Bible Dicts., specially Sanday on "Bible," and Dobschutz on "The Bible in the Church," in Hastings’ Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics, II; Westcott, The Bible in the Church (1875); W. H. Bennett, A Primer of the Bible (1897); A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Divine Library of the Old Testament (1896); J. Eadie, The English Bible; works on Introduction (Driver, etc.); books mentioned above under "Helps"; B. B. Warfield in Princeton Theological Review (October, 1910); C. A. Briggs, General Introduction to the Study of Holy Scripture (Scribners, 1899); W. H. Green, General Introduction to the Old Testament (Scribners, 1899); E. C. Bissell, The Pentateuch: Its Origin and Structure (Scribners, 1885); Zahn, Introduction to the New Testament.