The inspiration of Holy Scripture has become sufficiently axiomatic in conservative evangelical circles that it is in danger of becoming idiomatic. Whilst most would attest and aver that Scripture is inspired; very few are able to define what that means with any precision. In fact there has been such determination to assert the inspiration of Scripture, probably in the face of nineteenth and twentieth century liberalism, that the breadth of belief standing behind the inspirational banner is quite broad.

It is interesting that even those theological dictionaries such as the ATSD[1] describes as inspiration involved a person giving a message which they were familiar with or not and via the mechanism or dictation, suggestion or superintendence. So if one generally precise organization views inspiration as covering everything from direct dictation of a subject alien to the amanuensis through to a divine seal of approval placed upon a writing produced by a knowledgeable author then the chances of the average believer having a accurate opinion is minimal.

Easton[2] perhaps takes a slightly wiser stance; rather than suggesting that inspiration takes a broad range of means he simply notes that we don't actually know how inspiration worked. Instead he focuses upon the result of inspiration; namely that in renders the writers infallible insofar as they were writing Scripture[3]. This stance is perhaps the 'need to know' part of the doctrine of inspiration. The Bible is inerrant, infallible and sufficient. Dr Knapp[4] phrases it that "[the Bible] is perfectly trustworthy in all its parts, as given by God.

However, whilst this theological congruence allows us to trust our Bibles, it is rather ironic that the basis for us being able to study and trust the Holy Scripture is a Bible word that just about everyone accepts we don't understand. If God is omnipotent and has chosen to reveal Himself through the written media and has elected to grant us the assurance that His revelation is reliable then why didn't He chose a word that we had some of comprehending?

I believe the ISBE[5] actually provides the answer. Inspiration is not really a Bible word. It only occurs once in the context of the Bible[6] and that is 2Ti 3:16 and it certainly doesn't provide the meaning of the underlying Greek. The sad part is that at least in my opinion, the underlying Greek is easier to understand. However the distinction between inspiration and what is actually written is sufficiently obscure that it is unlikely to become common knowledge. The Greek is theopneustos which literally means 'God breathed'. The fundamental question is where is the breath going?

The word 'inspire' really pictures a particular object taking in something that then provokes it to abnormal or exceptional behavior. Therefore the KJV, NKJV 'given by inspiration of' would imply God breathing the power to write Scripture into the writers. The common modern trend (eg ASV, DBY, RSV) 'is inspired of God' appears to imply that some breath or Spirit has been imparted to the words themselves. However the ISBE suggests and it seems reasonable to me, although I am not a Greek scholar, that the picture here is not of breath going in to something. Rather the picture is of God breathing out. Young's Literal actually has this translation: "every Writing [is] God-breathed, and ..."

To me this is a much simpler and much stronger statement than the one we usually consider. This verse is not telling us the mechanism of transmission, it is not attempting to assign some supernatural property to this particular combination of letters; it is asserting that Scripture is from God. This may seem too simple to have any theological import. But if we consider the awesome nature of God Himself; what can be more powerful than to say this came from Him? At the most fundamental level: if the message came from God then what else do you need to know? The mechanism He chose, the time He took, the stages of drafting He may have gone through are primarily the business of Him and those whom He chose to help Him. To question the composition mechanism prior to accepting the message borders upon impertinence.

As I warned earlier, this argument is rather arcane and is unlikely to inspire many people. Notwithstanding I believe that if firmly grasped it can significantly alter our approaching to biblical interpretation. Even the most conservative of believers occasionally finds themselves believing that Scripture has to be mined. Whilst accepting fully that the Bible is infallible there can be a feeling that it is inscrutable too. We view ourselves a patiently attempting to reach the meaning despite the layers of textual criticism, translation and interpretation that lay between us and the mind of God. But surely if this message really is from God, and he is all powerful and all wise, then we can safely assume that He got it to us in a sufficiently cogent format that we can just settle down and do what it says.

I am not attempting to negate the thousands of man years that have gone into biblical interpretation; I am fully assured that God Himself has motivated the commentators as part of His plan to ensure we understand what He said. But, fundamentally, we should be able to assume that the Bible says what it means and means what it says. In particular we should expect the Bible to be interpretable independently of external sources. Whilst there are some that argue that we need to know the historic context in order to interpret Scripture I would argue that Scripture provides the historic context that we need to know. Certainly the volumes of photographs and archaeological findings are interesting, possibly even enlightening. But if they are considered necessary to understanding Scripture then we have to accept that the message God sent to mankind was incomplete without our assistance[7].

The other thing that this argument should provide however is motivation and assurance. We obviously know that the primary bridge built between God and man is Christ Jesus. He paved the way for us to have access to God. However it would appear that God has also sent us a map[8]. We may not understand exactly how the map was constructed but He has given it the seal of approval. Therefore we can trust it to guide us forwards in our walk. Looked at more negatively: He has sent us a map. He has told us neither to turn to the left nor to the right[9] and has provide us detailed directions so that we really have no excuse.

In this essay I have looked at the popular notion of inspiration. Biblical Christianity has squarely stood behind this notion to assert that the Bible is infallible: which it is. I have however questioned whether the word 'inspiration' is really giving us the picture that God wanted us to have. Instead I have suggested the simpler: "Given by God" or "God breathed". I then claimed that this definition really transcends the others; we have our instructions from God - now we need to go deal with them.


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