Different people sometimes use words in different ways. Most of the time, slight variations don’t matter much. But sometimes, the speaker’s meaning is vastly different from the way other people understand it, and the results can be catastrophic. This is especially true when Bible scholars use theological terms to refer to biblical concepts. Sometimes they hold unorthodox views that undermine the Bible, while describing them in terms that sound orthodox.
Inspiration, which describes the “God-breathed” quality of Scripture, is such a term (2 Timothy 3:16).
The human authors of Scripture always wrote precisely what God intended.
In a previous article, we looked at the concept of verbal inspiration, the biblical teaching that the individual words of Scripture—and not just overarching ideas—express exactly what God intended to convey (see “Every Word Counts,” Answers July–September 2014, pp. 91–92). But there is another facet of inspiration that is just as important: plenary inspiration.
This doctrine states, essentially, that all of God’s Word is inspired, not just certain portions of it. This view contradicts various notions of “partial inspiration,” which maintain that only certain elements of Scripture are wholly of God. Proponents of partial inspiration often assert that the Bible’s doctrinal message (its “spiritual content”) is inspired but not its historical or scientific details, thus allowing God to share an infallible gospel message in a flawed human text. Theologians who support the idea of partial inspiration still use terms like “inspired” and “God-breathed” to speak of the Bible, but what they mean is very different from the biblical, orthodox view.
Second Timothy 3:16 supports plenary inspiration, plainly stating that “all Scripture” is “God-breathed” (see also 1 Corinthians 2:12–13).1 This view is corroborated by a logical necessity: scriptural truth cannot be separated into parts. It is impossible to draw a line between doctrinal truths and the historical situations in which those truths are communicated. We cannot distinguish altogether between the doctrine of Christ’s Resurrection and the actual events of the Resurrection upon which this truth is based. So proponents of partial inspiration, who attempt to separate out the spiritual or doctrinal content from the Bible’s historical and scientific content, have adopted a deeply flawed perspective. Such efforts ultimately destroy the message and authority of God’s Word.
We see the importance of the doctrine of plenary inspiration by the results of denying it. Without the truth of plenary inspiration, the reader is left to determine on his own which portions of God’s Word are inspired, and thus authoritative and relevant to daily life. He has no clear basis for knowing what parts of God’s Word he can really trust and what parts he can dismiss as nonessential. He has no anchor to keep him steady against “every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:14). Worse still, the Word of God could say whatever he wants it to say to suit his lifestyle. Understanding how to think and live properly comes down to subjective opinion.
Thankfully, all Scripture is inspired, so the Christian can have confidence in knowing how to deal with every aspect of life in a way that pleases God. Ultimately, it is the inspiration of Scripture in its entirety that makes it genuinely and inexhaustibly “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
Discussion Questions . . .
- All Scripture is fully and equally inspired and useful for teaching (2 Timothy 3:16). However, certain portions of Scripture are more relevant and useful than others for instruction in various circumstances.
(Christ acknowledged degrees of priority in scriptural revelation by acknowledging the “greatest” or “foremost” commandment of the Law in Matthew 22:38.) How does this reality affect your selection
—for personal or family Bible study?
—for sharing with someone to whom you are witnessing for the first time?
—for helping someone from your church to whom you are offering biblical counsel?
- The primary testimony to the inspiration of Scripture is Scripture itself; nothing can be superior to God’s own testimony (Hebrews 6:13). However, the Bible not only declares itself to be inspired;
it also shows itself to be inspired. One of the main ways it does this is through fulfilled prophecy. Man cannot know the future, but because God does, fulfillment of a prediction is evidence for
the divine inspiration of the original prophecy.
—What are some significant fulfilled prophecies that show that the Bible is inspired?
—How might you use these scriptural evidences to support the Bible’s direct claims when talking with someone who rejects (or is uncertain about) the doctrine of inspiration?
- Divine inspiration is the key to understanding the Bible’s authority. Because we know where it comes from, we have all the more reason to heed and obey Scripture.
—What are three specific ways to improve your personal response to the Bible’s authority as you consider its divine origin?
—What should you consider changing about your attitudes or actions to obey God’s Word?