A Biblical View of Inspiration
Over the past couple of days, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on the topic of the inspiration of Scripture. This is a subject that I had always viewed in a more or less straightforward manner. I’ve been reading and studying the Bible for as long as I can remember, and I sort of developed a view of inspiration along the way. In all my years of study, I never found any reason to change my view on this issue, and now, after reading several books and articles on the subject, I still have not found any reason to change. I have discovered, however, that many renowned Christian philosophers have published views on this subject which differ from my own. In light of that, I decided to put my view of inspiration into writing and submit it to my readers for their consideration.
Now, let me say right up front that I understand how divisive this issue can be, and I am not claiming to be more intelligent than all those who have written on it before me. I am simply asking you to consider my perspective, and if you disagree, please leave a comment. My view was developed more or less organically, and I am sure that it could use some refinement here and there. So, having said that, let’s proceed to the actual content of my view of the inspiration of Scripture.
Stated in a nutshell, my view is that every word of Scripture was directly and intentionally authored by God Himself for the purpose of being included in the Bible. To support this view, let me walk you through a few of the Scriptures that were influential in developing it.
Most discourses on inspiration begin with either II Timothy 3:16 or II Peter 1:21, but I’m just going to assume that you’re already familiar with the various interpretations of those passages. I would like to begin, instead, with a set of three verses from I Corinthians 7. Those three verses are:
But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. (I Corinthians 7:6)
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. (I Corinthians 7:12)
But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. (I Corinthians 7:40)
In these three verses, we see that the seventh chapter of I Corinthians is a very unique passage of Scripture, for this is the only passage in the entire canon in which the author specifically states that he is recording his own, personal opinion and not the command of God. The obvious implication is that the remaining portions of Paul’s writings, at the very least, were written at the direct command of God. Paul was so careful to make his readers aware of this instance in which he only had God’s permission to write something and not God’s commandment that the absence of any similar statements in his other epistles clearly indicates that Paul equated his words in the epistles with the very words of God.
Now, let’s move forward several chapters in the same book and consider what Paul wrote in I Corinthians 14.
If any man think himself to be a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things that I write unto you are the commandments of the Lord. (I Corinthians 14:37)
Here again, we see that Paul reaffirms that he knows that his words are the very commands of God. He was not writing mere human thoughts which God later appropriated as representative of His message. No, Paul knew that he was recording exactly what God commanded him to write.
Furthermore, Paul was not the only apostle who made this claim. Peter explained that his purpose for writing his second epistle was as follows:
This second epistle, beloved, I now write unto you; in both which I stir up your pure minds by way of remembrance: That ye may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us the apostles of the Lord and Saviour: (II Peter 3:1-2)
Here, Peter identifies all the writings of the apostles as being commandments on an equal plane with the writings of the prophets, and he closed this epistle with a reference to the writings of Paul in this same manner:
even as our beloved brother Paul also according to the wisdom given unto him hath written unto you; As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction. (II Peter 3:15-16)
Thus, Peter not only claimed that his own words were equal to those of the prophets, but he also identified the writings of Paul as being equal to the Old Testament Scriptures. This level of confidence only makes sense if Peter understood that the apostles were mere instruments whom God was using to issue His commands to the churches. That this view was also shared by Paul can be seen in the fourth chapter of I Thessalonians. There we read:
For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus … He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit. (I Thessalonians 4:2-8)
Paul claimed that the commandments of the apostles were delivered to the church by Christ Himself. Those who rejected those commandments were guilty of rejecting God because of the fact that the apostles, like the prophets of old, were speaking “as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” But there is more to this statement than just another claim to speak the commandments of the Lord. In verse eight, Paul was quoting the instructions which Christ gave to the seventy disciples that He sent to proclaim the kingdom of God throughout Israel. In Luke’s account, we read of Christ telling these disciples:
He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me. (Luke 10:16)
But when we turn to the same account in Matthew, we discover the reason that Christ made this statement, for there we read of Christ’s instructions for what the seventy were to do if any of them were arrested in the course of their ministry. Christ told them:
But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. (Matthew 10:19-20)
Thus, according to Christ Himself, the reason that those who despised the words of the seventy disciples would be guilty of despising God was that the words which those disciples said when they were brought to trial were in fact the very words of God. The disciples were not to interject their own thoughts into their testimony before the court, but rather they were to let God speak through them.
This is the manner in which Paul claimed to speak the commandments of God. He was not conveying his own thoughts when he wrote his epistles. He was merely the instrument which God used in communicating His instructions to the church. The words of his epistles were not his words but God’s words. This is the essence of my view of the inspiration of Scripture. The human writers were mere instruments used by God in such a way that every word of the Bible was directly and intentionally authored by God Himself.
Click here to read part 2.
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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"Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a just man, and he will increase in learning." (Proverbs 9:9)