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The question of whether the Bible is truly from God or just a collection of human thoughts continues to be a topic of debate among Christians. In a 2014 Gallup poll in the United States, the majority of nominal Christians agreed that “the Bible is connected in some way to God.” However, around 1 in 5 viewed the Bible as a book of “ancient fables, legends, history, and precepts written by man.” This controversy raises the question of what it really means for the Bible to be “inspired” by God (2 Timothy 3:16).
What Does “Inspired” Mean?
The Bible consists of 66 small books written by about 40 writers over a period of around 1,600 years. If these books were written by humans, how can they be “inspired by God”? Simply put, the phrase “inspired of God” means that God is the source of the information found in these writings. The Bible puts it this way: “Men spoke from God as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, God used the Holy Spirit to communicate his message to the writers of the Bible books, much like a businessman dictating a letter to his secretary. The writer records the message, but the author is the one who dictates it.
2 Timothy 3:16
2 Timothy 3:16, a verse often cited in discussions of the inspiration of the Bible, says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.” This verse is key to understanding what it means for the Bible to be “inspired by God.”
The phrase “God-breathed” is sometimes translated as “inspired” or “given by inspiration of God” in other versions of the Bible. The Greek word used here is θεόπνευστος (theopneustos), which combines the words for “God” (θεός, theos) and “breathed” (πνέω, pneō). The word “breathed” suggests that the Scriptures are the result of God’s own breath or spirit. This means that God himself is the source of the content of the Scriptures and that they bear his authority and truth.
In the context of 2 Timothy 3:16, the phrase “All Scripture” refers to the Old Testament writings, which Timothy would have known since childhood (2 Timothy 3:15). However, the early Christian church recognized that the writings of the apostles and other early Christian leaders also carried the same authority as the Old Testament Scriptures, and eventually the New Testament was added to the canon of Scripture.
Thus, when we say that the Bible is “inspired by God,” we mean that the words and ideas contained within it were breathed out by God himself, and that they carry his divine authority and truth. This understanding of inspiration suggests that the Bible is more than just a human book or collection of writings, but is in fact a supernatural communication from God to humanity.
2 Peter 1:21
2 Peter 1:21 says, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This verse is important in understanding what it means for the Bible to be inspired by God.
The word “prophecy” here refers not just to predictions of the future but to all forms of divine revelation. The verse emphasizes that these revelations did not originate from human beings, but rather were conveyed by God through human prophets. This means that even though the Bible was written by human authors, the message they conveyed was not their own invention or personal opinion, but rather God’s message.
The phrase “carried along by the Holy Spirit” is significant in understanding the nature of biblical inspiration. The Greek word used here is φερόμενοι (pheromenoi), which suggests a powerful and active influence. This implies that the Holy Spirit did not merely inspire the prophets with ideas, but actively directed and guided them in the writing of Scripture.
It is important to note that this verse does not mean that the human authors of the Bible were passive or robotic instruments of God’s inspiration. Rather, they were active participants in the process, using their own personalities, writing styles, and cultural contexts to convey God’s message. However, the Holy Spirit ensured that the message conveyed was always true, reliable, and without error.
In summary, 2 Peter 1:21 teaches that the Bible is inspired by God, meaning that the message it conveys is not the invention of human beings, but rather God’s own message. The Holy Spirit actively guided and directed the human authors of the Bible, ensuring that the message conveyed was always true and without error.
Authors Retain Their Writing Style
Although every word of the Bible is considered to be God’s Word, the authors of the Bible were allowed to retain their own unique writing styles. This is because God chose to work through human authors, and He allowed them to use their own personalities, writing styles, and experiences to convey His message.
For example, the Gospel of John has a different style and content than the other three Gospels, which are known as the Synoptic Gospels. John’s Gospel contains more symbolic and philosophical language, while the Synoptic Gospels contain more historical narrative. Despite these differences, all four Gospels are considered to be inspired by God and are recognized as authoritative accounts of the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Similarly, the letters of the apostle Paul have a distinct style and focus, which can be different from other New Testament authors such as James or Peter. Paul’s letters often address specific theological issues or problems within the early Christian communities, while James’ letter focuses on practical matters of Christian living. Again, despite these differences, both Paul’s letters and James’ letter are recognized as inspired by God and are considered to be authoritative for Christian belief and practice.
In summary, the Bible is considered to be the inspired Word of God, even though the human authors were allowed to use their own unique writing styles and experiences to convey God’s message. God chose to work through human authors in order to communicate with humanity, and He inspired them to write down His message in a way that would be accessible and understandable to people in their respective cultural contexts.
Some Bible writers heard God’s message conveyed audibly by an angel, while others received visions or dreams from God. Although at times writers were allowed to use their own words to record God’s message, at other times, God gave them precise wording. In any case, the human writers conveyed God’s thoughts, not their own.
How can we know that the Bible truly is from God? There are three lines of evidence that can build our confidence in the Bible’s divine origin.
The Bible—Accurate in All Respects
Although the Bible is not a scientific textbook, it is precise in discussing the natural world. Let us consider examples from the fields of meteorology and genetics.
Meteorology – Formation of Rain
The Bible says, “He draws up the drops of water, which distill as rain to the streams” (Job 36:27-28 ASV). Here, the Bible describes the three primary steps of the hydrologic cycle. God, as the source of solar heat, causes water to evaporate (1) and ascend. Then, through condensation (2), the lifted water vapor creates clouds that precipitate water down as rain or some other form of precipitation (3). Even today, meteorologists do not fully understand all the intricacies of the phenomenon of rain. Interestingly, the Bible asks, “Can anyone understand the spreading of the clouds?” (Job 36:29 ASV). However, the Creator understands the rain cycle and made sure that a human writer included the details precisely in the Bible long before men could scientifically explain the basic process.
Genetics – Development of the Human Embryo
The writer of the Psalms, King David, said to God, “Your eyes have seen my unformed substance; and in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psalm 139:16 ASV). In poetic language, David speaks of an embryo developing according to the pre-existing plan written in a “book.” Amazingly, this was written around 3,000 years ago!
Yet, it was not until the mid-1800s that the Austrian botanist Gregor Mendel discovered the fundamental principles of genetics. Only in April 2003 did researchers complete sequencing the human genome, which contains all the genetic information necessary to build a living human body. Scientists have described the genetic chemical code as being like a dictionary filled with words formed by letters of an alphabet. The words form the genetic instructions. Based on these instructions, the embryo’s components, such as the brain, heart, lungs, and limbs, develop in precise sequence and with perfect timing. Appropriately, the genome has been described by scientists as “the book of life.” How was the Bible writer David able to be so precise? He humbly admitted, “The Spirit of Jehovah spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue” (2 Samuel 23:2 ASV).
Accurately Predicts the Future
It is very challenging, if not impossible, to know when, how, and to what extent kingdoms and cities will rise or fall. Yet, the Bible prophesied in great detail the destruction of mighty rulerships and cities. Let us consider just two examples.
The Fall and Desolation of Babylon
Ancient Babylon was the center of a powerful empire that dominated Western Asia for centuries. At one point, it was the world’s largest city. Yet, about 200 years in advance, God inspired the Bible writer Isaiah to prophesy that a conqueror named Cyrus would overthrow Babylon, and it would end up uninhabited forever (Isaiah 13:17-20; 44:27-28; 45:1-2). Did this happen?
Cyrus the Great conquered Babylon in a single night in October 539 BCE. Over time, the canals that had once irrigated the surrounding fertile region filled with debris. By 200 CE, the place was said to have been abandoned. Today, Babylon is still in ruins. Precisely as the Bible foretold, Babylon has “become a desolation among the nations” (Jeremiah 50:13 ASV).
Where did the Bible writer get such accurate historical foresight? The Bible reveals that this was “a pronouncement against Babylon that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw in vision” (Isaiah 13:1 ASV).
Nineveh – “As Dry as a Desert” Nineveh, the capital of the Assyrian Empire, was considered an architectural wonder. The city boasted wide streets, public gardens, temples, and massive palaces. Nevertheless, the prophet Zephaniah prophesied that this magnificent city would become “desolate, as dry as a desert” (Zephaniah 2:13-15 ASV).
Nineveh was entirely destroyed by the combined forces of the Babylonians and the Medes in the seventh century BCE. According to one reference, the vanquished city then “passed into oblivion for 2500 years.” For a period, people doubted whether Nineveh had ever existed. Only in the mid-19th century did archaeologists unearth Nineveh’s ruins. Today, the site suffers from decay and vandalism, causing the Global Heritage Fund to warn, “Nineveh’s ancient remains could again be buried forever.”
Where did Zephaniah get his advance information? He acknowledged that it was “the word of Jehovah that came to him” (Zephaniah 1:1 ASV).
The Bible Answers Life’s Big Questions
The Bible provides satisfying answers to life’s most significant questions. Consider the following examples.
Why is There So Much Evil and Suffering in the World?
The issue of evil and suffering is covered extensively throughout the Scriptures. The Bible explains:
“Man has dominated man to his harm” (Ecclesiastes 8:9 ASV). Incompetent and corrupt human rule has brought untold suffering.
“Time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all” (Ecclesiastes 9:11 ASV). Unforeseen events, such as serious illnesses, accidents, or disasters, can strike anyone, anywhere, at any time.
“Through one man, sin entered into the world, and death through sin” (Romans 5:12 ASV). Human imperfection and death did not exist in the beginning when man and woman were first created. Sin “entered into the world” when they deliberately disobeyed their Creator.
The Bible does more than explain why people suffer. It promises that God will eliminate evil and “will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore” (Revelation 21:3-4 ASV).
What Happens to Us When We Die?
The Bible explains that death is a state of complete unconsciousness and inactivity. “For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing” (Ecclesiastes 9:5 ASV). At death, our very “thoughts perish” (Psalm 146:4 ASV). All brain activity, including the function of our sensory organs, ceases when we die. Hence, we cannot act, feel, or think after death.
However, the Bible does more than explain the condition of the dead. It holds out the happy prospect that people will be awakened from the deep sleep of death by means of the resurrection (Hosea 13:14; John 11:11-14).
What Is the Meaning of Life?
According to the Bible, Jehovah God created man and woman (Genesis 1:27). The first man, Adam, is thus described as a “son of God” (Luke 3:38). Man was created for a purpose, to build a friendship with his heavenly Father and to live happily and productively on earth forever. To that end, all humans are endowed with a spiritual capacity, that is, a natural desire to want to learn about God. Hence, the Bible states: “Happy are those conscious of their spiritual need” (Matthew 5:3 ASV).
Furthermore, the Bible says: “Happy are those hearing the word of God and keeping it!” (Luke 11:28 ASV). The Bible not only teaches us about God but helps us to live happier lives and gives us hope for the future.
The Divine Author and You
After examining the evidence, millions of people around the world have concluded that the Bible is more than an ancient piece of literature. They are convinced that the Bible is God’s inspired Word, his communication with mankind, including you! It contains God’s invitation to you to get to know him and become his friend. “Draw close to God, and he will draw close to you,” promises the Bible (James 4:8 ASV).
Digging into the Bible opens up a thrilling prospect. What is it? Just as reading a book gives you a glimpse into the mind of the author, reading the Bible reveals the thoughts and feelings of its divine Author, God. Think of what that can mean for you. You can get to know the sentiments and emotions of your Creator! In addition, the Bible reveals:
- God’s name, nature, and marvelous qualities.
- God’s purpose for man.
- How you can develop a relationship with God.
In conclusion, the Bible is an accurate and reliable source of information about the natural world, history, and life’s big questions. This book can help you build a closer relationship with your Creator and give you hope for a better future.