Inspiration and the Bible

Inspiration is “the Holy Spirit’s superintending [i.e. direction] 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.”1  Inspiration is necessary to guarantee that what God chose to reveal to man was accurately recorded by man.  There are five key aspects to inspiration: 1) the divine author, 2) the human author, 3) the result of the divine/human authorship, 4) the extent of inspiration to the selection of words, and 5) the relationship to the original manuscripts.

Inspiration involves divine authorship.  The term inspiration (theopneustos) literally means God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).   It comes from two Greek terms theos and pneuma.  The term pneuma is the same term translated as Spirit.  God did not breathe on the text to make it inspired, but rather, breathed, the Scriptures, out of His mouth.

Inspiration involves human authorship.  However, inspiration applies only to the words, not the persons. In other words, God communicated His words to human authors, who in turn wrote down what was spoken.  These men were not supernatural or inspired.  Scripture was not the by-product of their logic or reasoning (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:21).

Rather than producing the Scriptures on their own, the human authors were moved (phérō) by the Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:21).  This means that they were lead, directed, or carried along by the Holy Spirit.  This is what is known as the superintending  of the Holy Spirit.  Though God communicated His Word to man, it was not merely dictation.  These holy men were not passive instruments or secretaries.  While God spoke to them, He allowed their personalities and vocabularies to express His Words.  This can be seen in the various writing styles of the sixty-six books of the Bible.  For example: John’s writings reflect the style of a fisherman — simple and straightforward; Luke’s writings reflect the style of a doctor — sophisticated and detailed;  Paul’s writings reflect the style of a lawyer — philosophical and difficult.

Since the Holy Sprit superintended the human authorship, God’s Word was recorded without error in the original autographs.  Autographs refer to the original writings.  While there are no known original documents in existence, we do have apographs or copies of the originals.  It is important to understand that inspiration only applies to the original writings or autographs.

The inspiration of Scripture is best understood as verbal-plenary inspiration.  By verbal, it is meant that each and every word of Scripture is breathed out by God.  In other words, God communicated not by thought or ideas but accurately and precisely through words.  Jesus alluded to the importance of inspired words when He stated that the very letters of the words were inspired (Matthew 5:18).

The jot is the smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet.  The tittle is the smallest stroke of a Hebrew letter which distinguishes between two similar letters (i.e. the stroke that differentiates between an O and a Q).  Verbal inspiration applies not only to the words themselves, but to the letters and parts of letters.  As well, many of Jesus’ debates or arguments with the religious establishment hinged on the particular use of certain words (Matthew 22:43-44; John 8:58; 10:34).

If God only breathed out ideas or thoughts, then Jesus’ arguments on the basis of words would be rendered void.

By plenary, it is meant that all Scripture, in all its parts, are equally from God.  There is no part of Scripture that is more inspired than another part.  The Law is just as inspired as the Gospels, the Psalms are just as inspired as the Epistles.   By teaching of Himself from the three parts of the Old Testament (i.e. Law, Prophets, and Psalms) Jesus affirmed that they were equally inspired (Luke 24:44-45).

As well, the term ‘all’ (pás) refers to the whole as well as each and every part.  Thus, Paul’s use of the term all (pás) in the statement “all Scripture…” (2 Timothy 3:16) demonstrates the fact that Scripture in its whole and in its parts is equally inspired.   If only certain parts of Scripture are inspired, which parts are?  If some portions of Scripture are more inspired than others, are the more inspired, more trustworthy?


  1.  Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), p. 160.

© Rev. Gregory G. Capel, Jr. – 2016