As part of his teaching ministry, Jesus often taught his students (disciples) about the future. On a few occasions he promised them that one day he would leave them and send the Holy Spirit to perfectly remind them of his life and teachings so that they could write and teach accurately and truthfully to complete the Bible.1
The human authors of the Bible include kings, peasants, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, a doctor, and scholars. The books of the Bible cover history, sermons, letters, songs, and love letters. There are geographical surveys, architectural specifications, travel diaries, population statistics, family trees, inventories, and numerous legal documents.
Unlike any other book, the Bible is a book written by both God and man. But it was not coauthored, as is what you are reading. It was not God and humans collaborating, or a human writing a draft with God making revisions, or God giving ideas that the human authors put into words. They were not words dictated to humans, as with the Koran. The Bible is not human writings that become divine when the reader discovers spiritual meaning in them, as with the writings of many Eastern religions. It is not one of many books containing the religious insights of ancient sages, as many liberal Bible critics teach.
People who were providentially prepared by God,2 and motivated and superintended by the Holy Spirit,3 spoke and wrote according to their own personalities and circumstances in such a way that their words are the very Word of God.4 God’s supernatural guidance of the writers and their situations enabled them to receive and communicate all God would have us know for his glory and our salvation.
We call this divine inspiration. Putting it a bit more technically, the writings themselves have the quality of being God-breathed. It is not the authors or the process that is inspired, but the writings.
The belief that God wrote Scripture in concert with human authors whom he inspired to perfectly record his words is called verbal (the very words of the Bible)5 plenary (every part of the Bible)6 inspiration (are God-breathed revelation). Very simply, this means that God the Holy Spirit inspired not just the thoughts of Scripture but also the very details and exact words that were perfectly recorded for us as Scripture.
When we say verbal, we believe that the very words are inspired and important, chosen by God, so every word does matter. That’s why Jesus can say “not an iota, not a dot” of the Bible can be ignored.7 We cannot limit the divine inspiration to concepts that God put in the mind of human authors who did their best to put those ideas into words. Rather, his revelation comes to us in those exact words.
When we say plenary, we mean there are no parts of the Bible we don’t believe, don’t like, or won’t teach or preach or obey. We cannot be like Thomas Jefferson, who brazenly sat down in the White House with a razor in one hand and a Bible in the other and cut out the portions he rejected, asserting his own authority over the authority of the Lord. And we cannot be like those who are more subtle than Jefferson and simply ignore parts of the Bible as primitive, dismiss them as outdated, or explain them away with human reasoning. Paul shows us the proper attitude toward Scripture:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.8
He teaches us that the very words are miraculous revelation. Every part of Scripture is God’s word to us, the product of his creative breathing, just as the world,9 humans,10 and apostles11 were. It is profitable, or helpful. It is not helpful like a phone book, but helpful as a person who loves you, cares for you, converses with you, counsels you, comforts you, and confronts you. The Bible is how God speaks to us.
The leader of the Jesus’ disciples, a man named Peter, says this about the Bible:
We have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.12
Peter tells us that the Bible is not just made up like a fairy tale. Rather, the authors were carried along by the Holy Spirit as a boat is carried by a breeze that fills its sails. Because the Scriptures come from God, they speak to things no human could know and do it with perfection. For example, the writers of the Old Testament could not have made up prophesied details such as a virgin birth in the tiny town of Bethlehem.13 If God had not moved them, they could not have seen the future in such detail. Because God alone is sovereign over and all-knowing of the future, he revealed exactly what would happen.
The biblical authors knew they were writing Holy Scripture. Paul told the Corinthians, “The things I am writing to you are a command of the Lord.”14 He had the courage to give them a commandment from Jesus and then put his own command right alongside it, as having equal authority.15 Paul quotes the Old Testament as Holy Scripture: “For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’” and then he quotes Luke right alongside it, saying, “The laborer deserves his wages.”16 Peter also compares the letters of Paul to “other Scriptures.”17
Taken all together, the Scriptures make incredible truth claims. The Scriptures are:
- given by God’s inspiration;18
- the very words of God;19
- all we need to know God;20
- a perfect guide for life;21
- not to be taken from or added to;28
- for everyone;29
- the standard by which all teaching is to be tested;30
- to be obeyed.31
Speaking poetically, the Scriptures also claim to be:
- sweet like honey;32
- a lamp to guide our life;33
- food for our soul;34
- a fire that purifies and a hammer that breaks us;35
- a sword;36
- a seed for salvation planted in us;37
- milk that nourishes us.38
What statement about God’s Word from the list above is your favorite? Why?