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Biblical Inspiration

I’m beginning to work toward certification as a biblical counselor through the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (NANC). As part of that effort, I have to respond to a series of theological and counseling questions as if I was explaining them to a counselee. After I finish one, I’ll post them here. Hopefully, you will find these helpful.

The Bible is spoken of as “inspired.” What does this mean?

The doctrine of biblical inspiration is absolutely essential for orthodox (or right) faith and practice, for growth in Christ-likeness, and joy. At stake is the very nature of the Bible and its authority. Is it actually God’s Word or not? If it is God’s Word, to what extent is it so? There is really no other doctrine that is more important in all of Christianity because every other doctrine is built on top of this one.

Let’s define the term. Inspiration means that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Scripture writers which resulted in what they wrote actually being the Word of God. When we say that the Bible is “inspired”, we basically mean that God spoke the Bible to the world through its human authors. This orthodox understanding of inspiration is called plenary-verbal inspiration. “Plenary” means “all”, and “verbal” points to words. Therefore, plenary-verbal inspiration understands every word of the Bible to be God’s Word. In other terms, what the Bible says, God says.

Many theories have been put forth as to how this actually occurred. In looking at these theories, most can be boiled down to two false extremes. One says the bible is completely a work of man, which ignores any divine influence and undercuts divine authority. The other says the Bible is completely a work of God, which ignores the aspect of active human agency and personality that so clearly exists. The best theory of inspiration takes the middle road. This superlative theory is called the concursive theory of inspiration, which states that God so superintended the process of composing the Scriptures that the end result manifests his divine intention, without overriding the human authors and their intentions. In other words, Paul and the other biblical authors wrote exactly what God wanted, at the same time writing exactly what they wanted.

Plenary-verbal inspiration through concursion places the Scripture in the category of special revelation. Scripture is not something that man found out by observation and his own initiative. God revealed it to mankind, sharing His knowledge with us. Therefore, the Bible is a divine document.

Because there is no authority higher than Scripture, we appeal to Scripture itself as proof of its divine origin. 2 Timothy 3:16 is a key verse, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (NASB). The word translated “inspired” is the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.” The NIV translates it best: “All Scripture is God-breathed…” The Bible has been spoken from the very mouth of God. Another important passage is 2 Peter 1:20-21, “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (NASB). Again, the prophecies contained in the Bible have been spoken from God Himself. This truth squares well with the prophets’ own testimonies. Again and again they declared, “Thus says the Lord.” This fact is evidenced in Micah 4:4, Jeremiah 30:4, Isaiah 8:11, Amos 3:1, and 2 Samuel 23:2, to name a few. The precise role of the Scripture-writer as a prophet is to be the mouthpiece of God to humanity.

The culminating statement on biblical inspiration is this: God worked in such a way through human authors that what the Bible says God says, and we should heed it. To disobey any of it is to disobey God. The truth of inspiration renders the Bible trustworthy and authoritative for all of life.


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