Tag: What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired?

Answering Tough Questions About the Bible (Part Two)

Answering Tough Questions About the Bible (Part Two)

In part one of this article, we answered questions that have to do with the origin of the Bible, its nature, the authors, and how they got their message from God. As we continue with the tough questions about the Bible, we will be answering questions about the inspiration and authority of the Bible, its reliability and the reliability of the biblical witnesses.

The Inspiration of the Bible

What do we mean when we say that the Bible is inspired? 2 Timothy 3:16 (NIV) declares that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” In Matthew 4:4, Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Combine this truth with 2 Peter 1:20-21, which affirms that the Scriptures were given by men who “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit,” and we see that inspiration as a whole is the process by which Spirit-moved writers produced God-breathed writings.

Are the very words of the Bible inspired by God, or only the ideas?

Numerous Scriptures make it evident that the locus of revelation and inspiration is the written Word – the Scriptures (Greek gapha) – not simply the idea or even the writer, but his actual writing.

Notice the reference to revealed or divinely inspired “Scripture” (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21), “words taught by the Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:13), “the Book” (2 Chronicles 34:14), “His (God’s) word” (2 Samuel 23:2), “My (God’s) words” (Isaiah 59:21), and “the words that the Lord Almighty had sent” (Zechariah 7:12).

When referring to the Old Testament as the authoritative Word of God, the New Testament most often (more than ninety times) uses the phrase “it is written” (eg. Matthew 4:4, 7, 10). Jesus described this written word as that which “comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

So important were the exact words of God that Jeremiah was told, “Thus says the Lord: Stand in the court of the Lord’s house, and speak to all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the Lord’s house, all the words that I command you to speak to them. Do not diminish a word” (Jeremiah 26:2).

What does it mean when we say that the Bible is Inspired

So, it was not simply that men were free to state God’s word in their own words, the very choice of words was from God. Exodus 24:4 records, “And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord.”

In Deuteronomy 18:18, Moses writes, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him.”

Sometimes God chose to emphasize even the tenses of verbs.

Jesus said, “But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31-32). Paul based his argument on a singular versus a plural noun in Galatians 3:16, insisting, “Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘and to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.”

Even one letter (the letter s, for example) can make a big difference. Jesus went so far as to declare that even parts of letters are inspired. In English, if a t is not crossed, it looked like an i. Thus, Jesus said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18).

Does the Bible claim to be inspired on all topics or just spiritual ones?

Inspiration does guarantee the truth of everything the Bible teaches, implies, or entails (spiritually of factually). Paul affirmed that all Scripture, not just some, is God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). Peter declared that no prophecy of Scripture comes from man but it all comes from God (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Jesus told His disciples, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). In this same discourse He added, “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

The church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Jesus Christ Himself as the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). And the early church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts 2:42), recorded for us in the pages of the New Testament, which was considered to be sacred Scripture along with the Old Testament.

The inspiration of God, then, extends to every part of Scripture. It includes everything God affirmed (or denied) about any topic included in Scripture. It is inclusive of not only what the Bible teaches explicitly but also what it teaches implicitly. It covers not only spiritual matters but factual ones as well.

The all-knowing God cannot be wrong about anything He teaches or implies. Jesus verified historical and scientific matters, including the creation of Adam and Eve (Matthew 19:4-5), the flood during Noah’s time (Matthew 24:37-39), and even Jona being swallowed by a great fish (Matthew 12:40-42).

Indeed, Jesus said, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things” (John 3:12)?

Why do some people misunderstand what is meant by the inspiration of the Bible?

The Bible is inspired by God with regard to everything it teaches. There are, however, a number of common misunderstandings:

  • That every part of a parable has to convey a fact rather than help the parable illustrate its point (see Luke 18:2).
  • That everything it records is true rather than something merely taught or implied (Genesis 3:4).
  • That no exaggerations (hyperboles) are used (Psalm 6:6; Luke 14:26).
  • That all statements about God and creation are purely literal (Job 38:7; Hebrews 4:13).
  • That all factual assertions are technically precise by modern standards as opposed to a common observational standpoint (Joshua 10:12).
  • That all citations of Scripture must be verbatim as opposed to faithful to the meaning (Psalm 2:1 and Acts 4:25).
  • That all citations of Scripture must have the same application as the original (Hosea 11:1 and Matthew 2:15) rather than the same interpretation (meaning).
  • That the same truth can be said in only one way as opposed to many ways, as it is in the Gospels.
  • That whatever a writer personally believed, as opposed to merely what he actually affirmed in Scripture, is true (Matthew 15:26).
  • That truth is exhaustively revealed or treated as opposed to adequately presented in the Bible (1 Corinthians 13:12).
  • That quotations imply the truth of everything in the source it is citing rather than just the part cited (Titus 1:12).
  • That a particular grammatical construction will always be the customary one rather than an adequate one to convey the truth.

How do we know these misunderstandings aren’t part of what inspiration covers?

What the Bible says must be understood in view of what the Bible shows. What it preaches must be read in view of what it practices. The doctrine of Scripture is to be understood in light of the data of Scripture.

For instance, the Bible uses round numbers. Thus, when the Bible claims to be true, it does not mean to exclude the use of round numbers (2 Chronicles 4:1-22). The same is true of hyperboles, figures of speech, observational language, and literary genre (as poetry, parable, and the like).

In short, everything the Bible affirms is true, but what is meant by truth must be understood in the light of the phenomena or data of Scripture.

The Authority of the Bible

Does the Bible claim to have divine authority? The Bible uses many other words or phrases to describe itself in ways that validate its divine authority. Jesus said that the Bible is indestructible (Matthew 5:18); it is infallible (or completely reliable and authoritative) or “unbreakable” (see John 10:35); it has final and decisive authority (Matthew 4:4, 7, 10), and it is sufficient for faith and practice.

Jesus spoke of the sufficiency of the Jewish Scriptures, “‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Paul added this: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

How far does this divine authority extend?

The extent of divine authority in Scripture includes all that is written, even the very words – including even the smallest parts of words and the tenses of verbs. Even though the Bible was not verbally dictated by God to humans, nonetheless, the result is just as perfect as if it had been.

For the biblical authors claimed that God is the source of the very words of Scripture, since He supernaturally superintended the process by which they wrote, using their own vocabulary and style to record God’s message (2 Peter 1:20-21).

The Reliability of the Bible

Evangelicals affirm the reliability of the biblical text from God to us. Can we trust the Bible historically? Is it really a reliable record?

Since the historical reliability of the Bible is a crucial link in knowing that the Bible is the Word of God, it is important to address these questions.

Answering Tough Questions About the Bible

Does the Bible have errors in it?

The original text of the Bible does not teach any error. The logic of the Bible’s errorlessness is straightforward:

1) God cannot err (Titus 1:2; Hebrews 6:18).

2) The Bible is God’s Word (John 10:34-35).

3) Therefore, the Bible cannot contain errors.

Since the Scriptures are breathed out by God and God cannot breathe out falsehood, it follows that the Bible cannot contain any falsehood.

Are there errors in Bible Manuscripts and translations?

There are some minor copyist errors in the Bible manuscripts. A couple of examples will suffice. The Masoretic Text of 2 Chronicles 22:2 says Ahaziah was forty-two, yet 2 Kings 8:26 asserts that Ahaziah was twenty-two. He could not have been forty-two (a copyist error), or he would have been older than his father.

Also, 2 Chronicles 9:25 affirms that Solomon had four thousand horse stalls, but the Masoretic Text of 1 Kings 4:26 says he had forty thousand horse stalls, which would have been way more than needed for the twelve thousand horsemen he had.

It is important to keep these things in mind with regard to these copyist errors:

  • No original manuscript has ever been found with an error in it.
  • They are relatively rare.
  • In most cased we know which one is wrong from the context or the material found in parallel passages.
  • In no case is the doctrine of Scripture affected.
  • They vouch for the accuracy of the copying process since the scribes who copied them knew there were errors in the manuscripts but they were duty-bound to copy what the text said.
  • They don’t affect the central message of the Bible.

Someone, may, in fact, receive a message with errors in it, yet have 100 percent of the message come through clearly. For example, suppose you received a message from Western Union that read as follows: “Y#u have won 20 million dollars.”

No doubt you would gladly pick up your money. And if the telegram read in any of the ways that follow, you would have no doubt at all:

  • “Yo# have won 20 million dollars.”
  • “You #ave won 20 million dollars.”
  • You h#ve won 20 million dollars.”

Why would we be surer if there are more errors? Because each error is in a different place, and with it, we get another confirmation of every other letter in the original message.

Three things are important to note. First, even with one line, error and all, 100 percent of the message comes through. Second, the more lines, the more errors – but the more errors, the surer we are of what the intended message really was.

Finally, there are hundreds of times more Bible manuscripts than there are lines in the above example. And there is a greater percentage of error in this telegram than in all the collated biblical manuscripts.

Are the copies of the Bible reliable?

The biblical scribes were meticulous in how they copied Scripture. The overall reliability has been measured in several ways.

First, with regard to any major doctrine in the Bible, there has been no loss whatsoever. Every important truth of Scripture from the original text has been preserved intact in the Old Testament Hebrew and the New Testament Greek manuscripts.

Second, errors that exist in the copies are in minor matters, such as numbers that affect no major or minor doctrinal matter in the Bible. In fact, in most of these, we know either from the common sense of the text, the context, or other passages which ones are correct.

Third, not only is 100 percent of all the major truths and the vast majority of minor truth of Scripture preserved in the manuscripts we have (and in the translations based on them), but more than 99 percent of the original text can be reconstructed from the manuscripts we possess.

The reason is twofold: (1) we have thousands of manuscripts, and (2) we have early manuscripts. The proximity to the original text and the multiplicity of the manuscripts enable textual scholars to accurately reconstruct the original text with more than 99 percent accuracy.

Renowned Greek scholar Sir Frederic Kenyon affirmed that all manuscripts agree on the essential correctness of 99 percent of the verses in the New Testament. Another noted Greek scholar, A. T. Robertson, said the real concerns of textual criticism are on “a thousand part of the entire text” (making the New Testament 99.9 percent pure).

The Reliability of the Biblical Witnesses

Were the biblical witnesses reliable? Yes, they were very reliable for many reasons.

First, the writers of Scripture were by and large contemporaries of the events. Moses was a witness of the events in Exodus through Deuteronomy (see Exodus 24:4; Deuteronomy 31:24). Joshua was a witness of the happenings reported in his book (Joshua 24:26), as were Samuel (1 Samuel 10:25, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah after him.

The same is true in the New Testament. Matthew was a disciple of Jesus. Mark was a contemporary and associate of the apostle Peter (1 Peter 5:13). Luke was a contemporary who knew the eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-4). And John was a disciple of Jesus and eyewitness of the events (1 John 1:1-2).

Second, in the case of the New Testament writers, all eight (or nine?) of them were either apostles or associated with the apostles as eyewitnesses and/or contemporaries: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude. These were all men who held the highest standards of ethics and were willing to die for their beliefs, as most of them did.

Third, these writers were credible as indicated by:

1. Their tendency to doubt whether Jesus rose from the dead (Matthew 28:17; Mark 16:3; Luke 24:11; John 20:24-29).

2. The inclusion of material that reflected badly on themselves (see Matthew 16:23; Mark 14:47).

3. The multiple accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc.) that establish their words by two or three witnesses as the court required (Deuteronomy 17:6).

4. The divergence in accounts that reveals they were not in collusion (see Matthew 28:5; John 20:12).

5. Confirmation of the accounts through hundreds of archaeological finds.

6. The evidence for early dates for the basic material about Jesus’ death and resurrection by A.D. 55-60.

Noted historian Colin Hemer confirmed that Luke wrote Acts by A.D. 62. But Luke wrote the gospel of Luke, which says the same basic things about Jesus that Matthew and Mark say before he wrote Acts (say, by A.D. 60)

Further, Bible critics admit that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians 15:1-9, which tells of the death and resurrection of Jesus, by about A.D. 55. This was only twenty-two years after Jesus’ death, while more than 250 witnesses of His resurrection were still alive (see 1 Corinthians 15:6).

Would the New Testament witnesses have stood up in a court of law?

Simon Greenleaf, one of history’s greatest legal minds, former Harvard law professor, and author of a book on legal evidence, carefully applied the rules of legal evidence to the Gospel accounts in his book The Testimony of the Evangelists.

Greenleaf argued that if the Gospels were submitted to the scrutiny of a court of law, “then it is believed that every honest and impartial man will act consistently with that result, by receiving their testimony in all the extent of its import.”

He added, “Let the witnesses be compared with themselves, with each other, and with surrounding facts and circumstances; and let their testimony be sifted, as if it were given in a court justice, on the side of the adverse party, the witness being subjected to rigorous cross-examination. The result, it is confidently believed, will be an undoubting conviction of their integrity, ability, and truth.”

Here’s a 3-minute video presentation by Daniel B. Wallace explaining why we can still trust the New Testament even when the original manuscripts are different.

Conclusion

The Bible both claims and proves to be the Word of God. Both the internal and external evidence overwhelmingly reveal the accuracy of the Bible.

Having examined its origin, nature, and reliability, we may confidently assert that the Scriptures came from God through men of God who recorded it in the Word of God.

Here’ part one of Answering Tough Questions About the Bible.


*Reference:  Who Made God? (Answers to Over 100 Other Tough Questions of Faith)

*Recommended Resource: From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible
By Norman L. Geisler & William E. Nix

The Bible was written in multiple languages by dozens of authors whose lives spanned a period of more than fifteen hundred years. How did it all come together?

Best-selling authors Norman Geisler and William Nix thoroughly answer this question and many more in this revised and expanded edition of a classic which has sold more than 78,000 copies. Helpful charts, photos, and indices have been added, rendering this book ideally suited for Bible students, pastors, and professors.

Major topics addressed include: theories of inspiration, the process of canonization, major manuscripts and recent discoveries, textual criticism, Greek and Latin translations, and modern English translations. The entire field of general biblical introduction is covered.

This is a long-trusted resource for understanding why we can trust the Scriptures really are God’s word.