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What Does the Inspiration of Scripture Mean?

“Listening for God’s Voice.” “Hearing God’s Voice 101.” “How to Hear from God Directly.” “Three Ways to Help You Hear from God More Clearly.” “Four Ways to Know if You’re Hearing God’s Voice.” “Six Things You Can Do to Hear the Voice of God.” “Seven Keys to Hearing God’s Voice.”

These are but a sampling of the numerous “hits” I received when I googled “hearing God speak.” As I perused the various articles, I quickly realized that they all shared a common denominator: they encouraged me to listen for God’s voice in the echo chamber of my mind. Apparently, I’m supposed to make God real in my life by experiencing some sort of identifiable nudge deep within.

This concerns me … deeply. While promising a great experience (hearing God’s voice), the kind of spirituality espoused in these articles is actually quite harmful. Despite all the talk of God, it leaves people alone with themselves by encouraging them to make their relationship with God contingent upon nebulous feelings.

Would you like to hear God’s voice? I sure would. Here’s the place to begin: “All Scripture is breathed out [inspired] by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).

What is Scripture?

When Paul penned these words, he certainly had “the sacred writings” (that is, the Old Testament) in mind (2 Timothy 2:15). It’s entirely possible he was also thinking of those New Testament books that were already in circulation in his day (cf. 2 Peter 3:16). When we affirm the inspiration of Scripture, we’re of course referring to the sixty-six books of the Bible. But why?

We receive the Old Testament (OT) as Scripture because Jesus authenticated it. How? For starters, He recognized the Jewish tripartite division of the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms (Luke 24:44–45), and these contain all of the books of the OT. Moreover, Jesus quoted repeatedly from the OT, employing it to resist temptations, develop arguments, silence critics, teach lessons, reveal prophecies, defend truths, and expose needs. Finally, He accepted the OT as historical, referring to specific events (e.g., the first marriage, the flood, the destruction of Sodom, and the burning bush) and individuals (e.g., Adam, Eve, Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Noah, Moses, David, Solomon, Elijah, Elisha, Naaman, and Jonah).

We receive the New Testament (NT) as Scripture because Jesus authorized it. How? He sent His disciples with the same authority with which the Father had sent Him (John 20:21). That is to say, He made His disciples His authorized representatives. As such, they served as the church’s foundation (Ephesians 2:19–22). And, in that role, they gave the NT to the church. B. B. Warfield explains, “We rest our acceptance of the NT Scriptures … not on the fact that they are the product of the revelation-age of the church, for so are many other books which we do not thus accept; but on the fact that God’s authoritative agents in founding the church gave them as authoritative to the church which they founded … . It is clear that prophetic and apostolic origin is the very essence of the authority of the Scriptures.”[1]

What is Inspiration?

At times, when we use the term “inspire,” we mean “motivate”; e.g. he was inspired to write that book. At other times, we mean “encourage”; e.g., her singing was inspiring. However, when we say that “all Scripture is inspired by God,” we don’t mean either of those things. What we really mean is that “all Scripture is breathed out by God.” Here are two examples of how we’re to understand this.

The first is Romans 9:17, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up.’” When Paul says “Scripture,” he’s referring to Exodus 9:16. When we turn there, however, we discover that it was actually God who spoke these words to Pharaoh. So, why does Paul say that Scripture said it, when—in actual fact—God said it? The answer: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”

The second example is Matthew 19:4–5, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh?’” According to Jesus, God said that a man shall “leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.” But when we turn to Genesis 2:24, we discover that God didn’t say these words. Moses wrote them. So, why does Jesus say that God said it, when—in actual fact—Moses wrote it? The answer: “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”

Are you getting the idea? On another occasion, Jesus says, “David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared …” (Mark 12:36–37; cf. Psalm 110:1). That’s an extremely helpful description of inspiration. David was the author in the hand of the Holy Spirit, whereby what David wrote is God-breathed. This is confirmed throughout the Bible. Based on Psalms 69:25 and 109:8, Peter argues that “the Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David …” (Acts 1:16). Pointing his audience to Isaiah 6:9–10, Paul proclaims, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet …” (Acts 28:25–26). Referring to Jeremiah 31:31–35, the author of the Book of Hebrews declares, “The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us, for after saying …” (Hebrews 10:16).

In short, the Holy Spirit so directed the human writers that the finished product was precisely what He intended. At times, revelation and inspiration were joined; the Holy Spirit revealed truths which were communicated in words which He inspired. At other times, revelation and inspiration were separated; the authors simply wrote about things they already understood or witnessed (e.g., Luke 1:2). Either way, the authors of Scripture expressed the truth in words which were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20). Peter is not talking here about reading and interpreting Scripture, but about its origin. His point is that prophecy wasn’t the result of the prophet’s own interpretation of things. It wasn’t the author’s idea, “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” (2 Peter 1:21). The verb “carried along” was used of a ship “carried along” by the wind (e.g., Acts 27:15–17). This means that the Holy Spirit carried along the human authors in such a way that what they wrote was His, not theirs. The Bible, therefore, isn’t the product of human invention; rather, it’s the Word of God.

Conclusion

So, do you want to hear God’s voice? Read the Bible—it is that which “goes out from [God’s] mouth” (Isaiah 55:11). It bridges the expanse between heaven and earth, infinite and finite, Creator and creature. It’s as powerful as the “rain” and “snow” which “come down from heaven, and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater” (Isaiah 55:10). Thus, we expect God to speak to us—not subjectively through inner urgings, but objectively through His Word. For this reason, we listen to the Bible as if we heard God speaking to us from heaven, rejoicing like those who find “great spoil” (Psalm 119:162).

 


[1] B. B. Warfield, “The Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures” in Westminster Teacher, September 1889.

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