The Holy Spirit And The Scriptures


Theories About Inspiration

1. Dynamic inspiration.

‘Mental stimulation that moves artists to compose, paint, write’. William Wordsworth. Daffodils.

Oxford dictionary. Inspiration is ‘exalted thought inspiration continues’.

2. Thought inspiration.

‘God placed ideas into the MINDS of men and left them to express those ideas in their own words’. Not infallible!

3. Neo-orthodox inspiration.

Karl Barth. ‘The Bible contains mistakes and therefore it is not literally true.’ ‘God speaks to us through the Bible, but the words only become ‘true’ as they are understood by the individual reader.’

4. Naturalistic inspiration.

The most extreme view of inspiration, which really amounts to an outright denial of inspiration! The people who hold this view claim that ‘The Bible is just a book like any other book and no more ‘special’ than any other book’.

5. Verbal or plenary inspiration.

Total, complete. The view that Christians have held for many centuries. Critics say they oppose this because it is too mechanical. An ambassador sent to represent his country carried his credential. Perhaps also an official communication from his government. He doesn’t speak for himself, the letters he carried are studied minutely. In matters of state, the words in communication are measured and weighed!

God said to Jeremiah ‘I have put my words into your mouth’. Jeremiah 1:9. This is guaranteed absolute accuracy and precision.

Before Jesus went to the cross, He had a last, intimate meeting with His disciples, during which, because He knew that they were soon to be shocked and depressed by the events that were soon to take place, gave them an amazing promise.

He said, ‘I do not leave you like orphans, ‘comfortless.’ I will send you another comforter, ‘parakletos’ who shall stay with you forever, even the Spirit of truth.’ John 14:17

In this way, Jesus signalled the end of His own earthly mission and the beginning of the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the world, so that today, we are living in the age of the Spirit’s ministry.

Now bear in mind that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, has been active in every period of the world’s history.

1. Active in the creation, as the organiser, life-giver and life-sustainer. Psalm 104:30.

2. Involved in the giving of the moral law at Sinai, the 10 commandment law. The tablets were written by the finger of God. Exodus 31:18.

3. Involved in the giving of the ceremonial law of the tabernacle and later the temple. Exodus 20-31 / Exodus 35-40 / Leviticus 1-17 / Numbers 6-10.

4. Involved in the judicial law, the appointment of the elders to assist Moses. Numbers 11.

5. As to the source of the origin of the Scriptures, Paul wrote to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-16 ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God.’

The inspiration of the prophets, from Samuel onwards.

6. And, as for the method, in 2 Peter 1:21, the apostle wrote, ‘the prophecy did not come by the will of man but holy men spoke from God, as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’

So I want us to think a little more about the meaning of inspiration because the view that people hold on the subject of inspiration determines their attitude towards the authority of the Scriptures because it is impossible to separate the inspiration and authority.

The origin of any document determines its authority If the 66 books which comprise your Bible were merely human productions, no matter how religious, wise, or good the authors were, the Bible has only human authority and men would have the right to accept or reject whatever portions they wished, on the grounds that no human being is infallible, and therefore what a man writes might well contain errors.

If, on the other hand, we accept the Bible as having been inspired by the Holy Spirit, we must also accept that it is true and is authoritative, because we cannot believe that the Spirit of Truth would be responsible for publishing a lie.

Now, if I were to ask you if you believe that the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? I think I know what your answer would be. I think I may take it for granted that your answer would be ‘Yes!’ because you know what Paul told Timothy.

‘All scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for…’ 2 Timothy 3:16

Yes! I know that some modern translations don’t say, ‘All scripture is inspired by God’ but say, instead, ‘Every scripture inspired by God, is profitable…’

Does that really make a difference?

The question we need to ask is what does the word ‘Scripture’ mean? There are liberal theologians who point out that the word ‘scripture’ is the translation of the Greek, the word ‘grammo’, as in telegram, simply means ‘writing’, and so they solemnly tell us something that common sense has already told us, namely that not everything that has been written has been inspired by God.

And so they continue, ‘It is only those scriptures that He has inspired that are profitable’.

But, in fact, that is a pointless argument! No intelligent person would claim that everything that has ever been written has been inspired by God. And Paul, certainly, would not be so foolish as to claim that it is! In the previous verse, verse 15 in 2 Timothy 3, he makes it obvious what he means.

There he expressed his approval of the fact that from childhood, Timothy had ‘known the sacred writings’ i.e. the holy Scriptures. The ‘hiera grammata’, the Holy Scriptures. We know that not everything that has been written is ‘holy’ divinely inspired!

I recall that when one of the Harry Potter books was about to become available, some admirers of ‘Harry Potter’ could hardly wait! And, by all accounts, that particular volume contained a great deal of writing, more than 900 pages. 900 pages of ‘scripture’?

I don’t think so! 900 pages of ‘writing’? Yes! In the ordinary sense of the word ‘scripture,’ ‘that which is written’.

But ‘scripture’ in the sense meant by Paul? Certainly not! I don’t think so! And ‘inspired by God’? Again, certainly not! We must understand that Paul was using the word, ‘grammo’ in a purely religious context, and neither Timothy nor any other sincere Christian of that time would have any problem understanding what he was saying, or to which ‘writings’ he was referring.

He was referring to the Scriptures we have today in this Book, the Bible, and there is no sound reason whatsoever, either grammatically or theologically for abandoning the old translation. ‘All scripture is inspired by God’. But here is my next question!

What do you mean by ‘inspired by God’?

In what way is the Bible inspired? How was it inspired? We ask this question because there are several theories concerning the nature of inspiration.

1. Inspired writers.

Some religious people will say. ‘I believe that the writers of the Bible were inspired, but inspired in much the same way that Mozart, Shakespeare. Rembrandt, Wordsworth, Burns and all the other great authors, poets, musicians and painters were inspired’.

By the way, if you go to the dictionary for a definition of the word ‘inspiration’, you will read that inspiration is ‘A supposed force or influence on poet’s artists and musicians, stimulating creative activity. Inspiration is exalted thought.’

Let me suggest that you should never go to an English Dictionary or any dictionary of any other modern language, for that matter, for a definition of religious words because if you do, you will almost certainly receive misinformation! My Oxford Dictionary tells me that the word ‘baptism’ means ‘to sprinkle the forehead with water’, and that ‘to baptise’ means, ‘give a name or a nickname, to christen’.

Is inspiration nothing more than that? Exalted thought? An influence that stimulates creative activity? William Wordsworth, one of our most popular poets, known as ‘the Lakeland poet’, lived in Dove Cottage, not far from Derwent water, and one day, somewhere near a spot known as ‘Friar’s Crag’, he saw a wonderful bank of golden daffodils.

He was ‘inspired’ by the sight of the flowers to write his ‘Ode to the Daffodils’. Is that the sort of ‘inspiration’ we have in the Bible? If it is, the Bible loses its authority. If the men who wrote the books of the Bible simply responded to some sort of mental stimulation, visual or audible stimulation just like the poets and musicians and artists, then, I say again, it loses its authority. Let’s say again, that authority depends on origin. The authority of the Bible depends on how it came into existence.

If the books of the Bible were written by men and were merely the products of men’s minds, they possess only human authority. If on the other hand, they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and the mind of God is behind them, they are backed by the authority of God. The apostle Peter clears this up for us when he writes, ‘The prophecy did not come by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God’. 2 Peter 1:21

Authorship determines the origin and both determine authority. The impulse of man. The will of man. The words of man, define the authority of man. The impulse of the Holy Spirit, the will of the Holy Spirit, and the words of the Holy Spirit declare the authority of God.

2. Inspired thought.

It claims that the Bible is inspired in the sense that the Holy Spirit put the thoughts into the minds of the prophets and apostles and writers, and left them to express their thoughts in their own words. This sounds very reasonable and impressive.

But just how reasonable is it?

And more importantly, how true is it? Indeed, is such a thing even possible? Let us try an experiment! And please don’t laugh! I am going to think about something, and I want you to tell me what I am thinking! Are you having difficulty? Then I will think a bit harder and attempt to transfer my thought to your mind! Let’s try telepathy! Thought Transference! It isn’t working, is it?

I have not been successful in transferring waves of thought from my mind to yours. Why not? Because thoughts can only be conveyed in words. We might stay here all day, I can continue to think and you can try to figure out what I am thinking and we should end up with nothing! But, if I express my thought ‘in words’ that is a different matter. And that is how the apostles and prophets received the word of God.

God spoke to the prophet Isaiah, about ‘My Words, which I have put into your mouth’. Isaiah 59:21. Zechariah 7:12 refers to ‘the words which the Lord of Hosts (YHVH Sabaoth) sent by His Spirit through the former prophets’.

Not even God can place a thought into man’s mind without using the means by which thought is conveyed. You can’t have music without notes. You can’t have mathematics without figures. You can’t have thoughts without words.

3. Neo-orthodox inspiration.

This is the theory that was advanced by Karl Barth the German theologian and the people who have accepted his theory are usually known as Barthians. This theory claims that there are errors in the Scriptures, and, therefore, the Bible is not literally true.

It claims that God ‘speaks’ to us through the Bible and uses the Scriptures as a means of communicating with us, but the words only become ‘true’ as they are understood by the individual reader. The effect of this doctrine is that no two readers of the Scriptures see them in the same light, and it leaves the individual reader to be the final authority on what is true.

4. Naturalistic inspiration.

This is the most extreme view of inspiration, and in fact, it amounts to an outright denial of inspiration. The people who hold it tell us that ‘the Bible is really just a book, like any other book’, and is no more inspired than any other book.

They tell us that although God may have given the writers special ability on religious subjects, the book is still a human production. It is ‘just another book on religion’, describing the religious thoughts and experiences of men from a past period of history.

And what is the result of this theory? It completely destroys and denies both the inspiration and the authority of the Scriptures, so that the Bible becomes nothing more than an interesting story of religious history.

5. Verbal inspiration.

The orthodox doctrine which has been held all down the centuries. Remember what Peter wrote, ‘The prophecy did not come by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.’ 2 Peter 1:21.

And, again Paul’s words to Timothy. ‘All scripture is given by inspiration of God.’ 2 Timothy 3:15.

This means that the Holy Spirit didn’t merely give His servants messages which were left for them to deliver in their own words, but that they were told what to say! In Galatians 1:11-12 Paul wrote, ‘The Gospel that I preached is not man’s Gospel, for I did not receive it from man, neither was I taught it, but it came through a revelation from Jesus Christ’.

And to the Corinthians he wrote, 1 Corinthians 2:12-13, ‘We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is of God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom, but taught by the Spirit’.

This is known as ‘plenary inspiration’ or ‘verbal inspiration’. And there are some theologians who don’t like this doctrine! They object to verbal inspiration because they say ‘it is too mechanical’. It makes the apostles and prophets simply mouthpieces for God.

Do you think that an apostle or a prophet would have objected to being a mouthpiece, a spokesman for God? Would you not regard it as an honour to be so used by God?

Indeed, in the world of International Affairs, this is exactly how an ambassador functions! When the new ambassador of a foreign country comes to the Court of St. James, to present himself to Queen Elizabeth as the representative of his country, he hands over documents given to him by his government. He does not make a case for himself or speak on his own behalf. He presents the words given to him by his superiors.

For instance, God was about to send the prophet Jeremiah to deliver a warning to His people. Jeremiah 1:9. Did God make Jeremiah His mouthpiece? Certainly, He did! This commission caused Jeremiah to experience so much grief that he didn’t like it very much! But he tells us that he simply had to deliver the message that God had given to him.

So it is when an ambassador is sent to another country, with ‘a formal message’, from his government or his sovereign. He is commissioned to deliver a carefully worded statement, which in international diplomacy, every word is significant, and which will be carefully scrutinized to determine exactly what it means.

He doesn’t deliver the message in his own words, but exactly as it has been given to him to deliver. The reason for this is there must be ‘precision, absolute accuracy’.

It is imperative that there must be no room for mistakes or misunderstanding. And when a prophet of God stood before the people and said, ‘listen to the word of the Lord,’ he was making it perfectly clear that he wasn’t responsible for the message he carried. And this formal introduction ensured that the message he delivered was exactly what God wanted to have said so that there were no mistakes.

Am I saying that every word in the Bible is inspired by God?

Sometimes I have heard Christians who have become so passionate in their defence of the inspiration of the Bible, make very rash statements.

‘I believe the Bible from cover to cover!’ ‘I believe that ‘every word’ in the Bible is the Word of God!’

And when I hear the second statement, I feel I have to ask, do you really? Let’s put this to the test! Let’s look at Genesis 3:4, ‘You will not die, for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God’.

Are those the words of God? Well then, if they were not the words of God, did God inspire the Serpent to speak them? Can we really describe them as ‘the word of God’?

Let us try a New Testament example. In Acts 5 we have the story of Ananias and his wife Sapphira. Ananias has already paid a terrible price for having lied to the Holy Spirit. Now, when his wife comes in, Peter asks her a question concerning the price that she and her husband had received when they sold a piece of land. And she lies, and says ‘yes! That was the price!’ Acts 5:8.

Now! Who was responsible for leading Ananias to ‘lie to the Holy Spirit’? Who caused Sapphira to lie to Peter? God? Or Satan? Were these two people led by the Holy Spirit? Their words are in the Bible. Are they the word of God? Where does inspiration come in here?

Well, neither the words of Satan to Eve nor those of Ananias and his wife to Peter were the words of God. What they said was not inspired. But, the record of what they said was inspired!

Let me put it this way. The Bible isn’t only the inspired record of the words of God. It’s also God’s inspired record of words. The Holy Spirit didn’t inspire the utterance of every word found in the Bible, but He did inspire the record of what was said.