300SOT#4: What Is Inspiration?

by | Feb 23, 2021 | 300SOT

Does God breathe?

The Scriptures are God-breathed according to 2 Tim. 3:16. It says exactly this: “All Scripture is breathed out by God” Scripture is produced by God. This is called the doctrine of inspiration. Here’s a definition.

Inspiration may be defined as the Holy Spirit’s superintending over the writers so that while writing according to their own styles and personalities, the result was God’s Word written—authoritative, trustworthy, and free from error in the original autographs (161). 

Scripture originates with God. It’s the Word of God. Infallible and authoritative in everything it says. It’s also the product of men. Real human authors who wrote the books of the Bible. As someone put it: The whole Bible is truly God’s word written by men” (1:76). And the Bible explains how God did this in 2 Peter. 

…men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). 

Scripture was produced by God and men. This verse specifically has the prophets of the Old Testament in mind, but we are pretty safe to conclude God worked the same way in producing all Scripture—Old Testament and New. Peter even refers to Paul’s writings as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:16. Paul quotes the Gospel of Luke as Scripture in 1 Tim. 5:18. Those human authors did not author Scripture independently. They were moved along by God. 

Now, it shouldn’t surprise us that there are a bunch of wrong or weak views of inspiration. A whole bunch of them!

  • The view of natural inspiration says there was so supernatural inspiration. Some gifted men just wrote some religious books. 
  • Another view called spiritual illumination says the writers of Scripture were illuminated by the Holy Spirit to write what any godly Christian could write. 
  • Others holding to partial inspiration say some parts of Scripture are inspired—like the parts on faith and practice. But the other parts—like parts related to history and science—are not. Those parts can even be erroneous. 
  • There’s the view of conceptual inspiration that says the thoughts of the biblical authors were inspired but they chose their own words. 
  • And, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s dictation theory which holds the authors mechanically wrote what God dictated. 

None of these cut the mustard. Every word of Scripture is God breathed. This is called “verbal plenary” inspiration. “Verbal” means the very words are God-breathed. “Plenary” means all of those words are God-breathed (162–164; 1:77–87).

Read the book of Exodus and notice how many times it says: “The Lord said.” Read the prophets and notice how many times they said: “Thus says the Lord.” The Bible’s own testimony is that it’s God breathed. In the Old Testament and the New. Jesus clearly affirmed the inspiration of the Old Testament in Matt. 5:18 by recognizing that all its claims will be fulfilled. 

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Jesus knew that because Scripture is the Word of God when it says something is going to happen, it’s going to happen. He said: 

everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). 

And He also said: 

…Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). 

Because Scripture is God breathed it can’t be annulled. It can’t be set aside. It can’t be proven false (399). 

Inspiration matters. Because if God has revealed Himself and that revelation from God isn’t accurately recorded, then what certainty can we have—what trust can we place in that revelation? The doctrine of inspiration guarantees the accuracy of God’s revelation (161). It was “God’s way of seeing to it that his special revelation in words was preserved from all error and omission” (12). The original documents the Holy Spirit bore men along to pen Scripture were God breathed. 

Now we take a look at our featured theologian: Geerhardus Vos. He was born in the Netherlands but moved to Michigan when his dad took a pastorate in Michigan. Known more for his biblical theology, he also wrote a book of the systematic variety. He taught at Princeton with heavy hitters like J. Gresham Machen and B. B. Warfield. And what I like about Vos is that didn’t make any bones about the whole Bible being the Word of God. It’s God’s Word because it’s inspired. It’s God breathed. He said:

It makes no difference what is communicated in it, whether the words of men, of angels, of Satan, or of God Himself. God vouches for each of those words as if it were His own account to us (927).  

We have the Word of God. 

And what does having the Word of God mean for you? It means a lot. What other book can compare with the Bible? God breathed it. We possess it (82). And like it says in 2 Timothy 3:16–17—it’s all profitable. It can teach you. Rebuke you. Correct you. Train you in righteousness. All this to equip you to be a man or woman of God—to serve God. What other book apart from a God-breathed book can do that?



Brent Niedergall

Pastor, Grammarian, Runner

Brent Niedergall, MDiv, is Chief Editor at Positive Action for Christ in Whitakers, North Carolina. He’s gone to war in Afghanistan, felled towering trees, and parsed Greek verbs.


Brent Niedergall