THE BIBLE
FULLY OR PARTIALLY INSPIRED?

“Does God exist?” If one is persuaded God exists, it is logical to assume God has a purpose for the creation He made. There are many places to begin searching for an understanding of both God and His purpose. One might examine the physical world to find clues about God’s character, or ask seemingly wise people their thoughts on His purpose. But wouldn’t it be useful if there was something or someone that God used to directly communicate his will and purpose for the earth?

The Bible asserts just that. It claims to be God’s revelation or communication to mankind of His will and purpose for creation. If true, this book would alter every aspect of one’s understanding of life and the meaning of the universe. The Bible could explain why we exist. But the Bible’s claim to be God’s word may seem difficult to accept in today’s world. If this book is something we might base our entire lives on, it is essential to be able to trust its authorship. It is important to understand whether the Bible is a book “inspired” by God, written by man, or some combination of the two. In other words, who is “responsible” for the thoughts and words written in the Bible?

The Choice
When posed with the Bible’s claim to be the word of God, we can respond in multiple ways:

  1. There is no God. Therefore the Bible’s claim to be God’s word cannot be true and the Bible must be merely a manmade document, written by a series of individuals as a way of explaining the world around them.
  2. There is a God, but He does not desire to share His purpose for the universe; therefore, the Bible is not God’s word to humanity, it is probably just a manmade document.
  3. There is a God, who desires to help humans understand who He is and His purpose for humanity, but the Bible is not completely inspired by God—it is some combination of His thoughts and man’s thoughts.
  4. There is a God, who desires to help humans understand who He is and His purpose for humanity and the Bible is completely inspired by Him.

Options 1 and 2 realize the same conclusion: that the Bible is just a manmade book. It has no authority other than human wisdom and is merely a recording of history and good advice. Rather than address this response here, additional articles discuss the claim that the Bible is more than a compilation of wise sayings written by noble men but gives evidence that there is a God.

However, option 3 or 4—there is a God, who desires to communicate His purpose to His Creation—affirms that God cares about His creation and desires a relationship with it. He desires for humanity to understand who He is and who they are. God could communicate this to humanity in a variety of ways: angels, messengers, prophecies, direct revelations to people, textual documents, or some combination of these. Since the Bible claims to be God’s communication to man, His self-portrait surrounded by a landscape painting of his plan of the earth and humanity, it is important to understand His role in inspiring the Bible. (See 2 Timothy 3:16, Romans 10:17, 2 Peter 1:20-21)

Is the Bible fully or partially inspired?
Is the Bible the fully inspired word of God, is God responsible for every thought it contains, or is it partially inspired: did God give the authors the general ideas and they themselves determined what and how to write it down? The latter option leaves room for parts of the Bible to be “uninspired”—sections where the ideas are just those of the author, not God. If this were true, then there could plausibly be mistakes in the Biblical text since people aren’t perfect and could have misunderstood or misinterpreted parts of God’s plan.

Could there be a partially inspired Bible?
The idea that the Bible is partially inspired is problematic. It means God has designed His communication to man in a way that does not accurately convey His thoughts. Since God is omniscient [all knowing], He would realize a partially inspired document describing His purpose immediately gives the reader the authority of interpretation! The reader would need to decide which bits of the Bible were God’s “thoughts” and which were the human author’s. This is guaranteed to lead to misunderstandings of God’s plan. Since the human authors are bound to make mistakes and include their own ideas, the reader would be unsure which words were really God’s and what He really intended to communicate. It doesn’t make sense that God, desiring to share His plan with creation, would say, “Here is a book that contains my plan and you should follow it, but remember some of it isn’t mine and there might be things here I didn’t intend to include.” This would lead to complete confusion! Inevitably men would read the Bible, choose the bits they liked, declaring them “inspired,” and reject the inconvenient parts, declaring them “uninspired.” Partial inspiration implies God intentionally communicated His purpose for humanity and the earth in a confusing and ineffective method.

An illustration may help explain the problem. Take the example of an army general who wishes to communicate his orders for an impending battle to his troops and their commanding officers. His ground troops have been trained to trust the orders they receive from their commanding officers and know that following these commands enables the larger attack to work properly. If the commanding officers, after receiving the orders, decided to change portions of the orders, adding or altering the commands even slightly, the consequences would be catastrophic. The commanding officers would jeopardize the entire battle because of their failure to understand the larger plan. The troops would also lose their ability to trust the orders they receive—future orders might not really be what the general had commanded them to do. In truth, the effectiveness of any operation depends on the ability of all people involved to trust the integrity of the instructions they receive.

The only other explanation for partial inspiration of the Bible is that the errors crept in either without God’s knowledge, without His ability to stop them, or without Him caring enough to correct them. Each of these suggestions is incompatible with the very nature of God. When a man writes a book he carefully checks the printers have faithfully reproduced his written text. It is inconceivable that there are errors in the text of which an omniscient God is unaware. The same is also true for an omnipotent God knowing being unable to stop His communication being altered. Wouldn’t the God who created the universe be strong enough to stop man from adding errors into the Bible? If God “laid the foundations of the earth”, “brings forth the constellations in their seasons,” “can tip over the water jars of the heavens,” and “provides food for the raven when its young cry out,” could he not stop man from changing his Holy Word? Finally, since the Bible is God’s intentional communication of His Plan for man and the earth, it is illogical to believe that he didn’t care about errors being added. Thus each of these suggestions of God being unable or unwilling to prevent His Word being error-strewn are incompatible with the character of God, the omniscient, omnipotent Creator of the universe who desires for His creation to know Him.

So who wrote the Bible?
We have shown that it is illogical for God to reveal himself to man through a partially inspired document. 2 Timothy 3:16 states that all scripture is “God-breathed.” This claim is clear and leaves no room for errors in scripture or “partial inspiration.” Just as God spoke or “breathed” creation into existence, He “breathed” scripture. He is scripture’s ultimate origin. 2 Peter 1:19-21 corroborates this by stating that no scripture is given by “private interpretation.” Here Peter stresses the idea that all prophecy is from God. But what exactly does this mean?

Both Jesus and Paul argue that the scriptures are inspired: down to the very word! Jesus makes this point when the Pharisee’s threaten to stone him stating that he claimed to be “God.” He responds:

“Is it not written in your Law, ‘I have said you are gods’? If he called them ‘gods’ to whom the word of God came—and the Scripture cannot be broken—what about the one whom the Father set apart as his very own and sent into the world?” (John 10:35)

Jesus disagrees with the Pharisees over the interpretation of one word. The entire point Jesus makes hinges on the reading of the word “gods.” If the Bible cannot be trusted to be accurate down to a single word, then Jesus’ point seems silly. He would be basing an entire argument, indeed the validation of his own relationship to the heavenly Father, on something that could have been just a human writer’s interpretation of a divine vision. Second, Jesus emphasizes his point by stating that “scripture cannot be broken.” He states that scripture, down to the very word, is inspired and cannot be incorrect, just as God himself cannot be proven wrong.

Paul reiterates this idea in his letter to the Galatians. He, like Jesus, hinges his argument on the interpretation of a single word of scripture. When discussing God’s covenant with Abraham, Paul states:

The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to his seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.” (Galatians 3:16)

Paul argues that an accurate understanding of a single word of the Old Testament is vital for a correct understanding of our own salvation and inheritance. If the Bible cannot be trusted as accurate on such a minute level [i.e. “seed” rather than “seeds”], then humans could be misled in their understanding of God’s fulfillment of the Abrahamic promises.

Why is it important to believe that God wrote every word?
Paul’s point illustrates the crucial nature of believing in the full inspiration of the Bible. If we cannot be sure of the accuracy of every detail in the book, how do we decide what is God’s and what is man’s? How do we know which parts to follow and which to ignore? If the Bible is only partially inspired, then Jesus and Paul’s admonitions to the believers to pay attention to such minute detail become ridiculous.

It is important to notice neither Jesus nor Paul ever questions the authority of the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus frequently quoted the Old Testament, treating the scriptures as completely authoritative and definitive. In doing so he never once regarded the authority of the Law, Prophets, or Psalms as dependent in any way upon the human writers or on the conditions under which they wrote.

Jesus equated what Moses wrote to being what God said. Compare:

Mark 7:10 - “Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother…”
Mark 7:9,10 - “Full well ye reject the commandment of God…” (also vs. 13, “the word of God”)
Mark 12:26,27 - “Have ye not read in the book of Moses…?”
Matt. 22:31,32 - “Have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God?”

In each verse Jesus declares the words of Moses are God’s words: the “authors” are interchangeable. This is not possible unless the words Moses has recorded are fully inspired by God.

Quotations from Moses, the Psalms and Prophets are also considered authoritative pronouncements. Compare, for example, the following:

  1. Romans 15:9 from Psalm 18:49
  2. Romans 15:10 from Deuteronomy 32:43
  3. Romans 15:11 from Psalm 117:1
  4. Romans 15:12 from Isaiah 11:10

Paul assumes that all the Old Testament passages are valid and should be regarded as God’s authoritative word.

Biblical prophecy also points to God’s full inspiration of scripture. Peter writes:

And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:19-21)

All prophecy is from God, not from the mind of the human author. If prophecy were from man then man would only glorify himself and his ability to predict the future when an event came to pass, rather than praising God, the true author. The Old Testament prophets were very aware of their role in sharing God’s prophecy to people. The one clear, central purpose of prophecy was “that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O Lord, are God” (Isaiah 37:20). Prophecy was not about the prophet’s ability to prophesy, it was about God giving His word to His people in order to justify His name. The prophet was merely God’s mouthpiece.

Ultimately, to have a sure foundation on which we base our beliefs and actions, every word of the Bible must be true. Paul’s second letter to Timothy clarifies the connection between the word of God and our behavior. Paul writes:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known through the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)

Paul tells us that the purpose of scripture is to teach us how to act and do what God desires. If we are unsure that each word of scripture is from God—“God-breathed”—then man is tempted to take only the parts he likes and leave the rest. He could easily justify his behavior by arguing a particular section was the human author’s opinion, not a divine commandment. But if we can rely on the answers the Bible provides us in our search to understand God’s purpose, we will be able to do those things God desires more perfectly. When we believe that the Bible is God’s fully inspired word, we will have confidence that our actions are those that please our God.

When we believe there is a God who created this world and that He did so for a purpose, it is exciting to realize that God has communicated His purpose to us in the pages of the Bible. Our Creator has written us a letter! It is our responsibility – and privilege! – to read and discover what He desires each of us to understand and do.


SOME RESPONSES YOU MAY HAVE TO THE ABOVE ARTICLE

But doesn’t modern science demonstrate that parts of the Bible are clearly untrue?

Where can I find concrete evidence that any of this Bible is true?
 

I want to know more about what Bible prophecy actually is and what relevance it has to me.