“What do Bible scholars mean when they speak of the ‘inspiration’ of the Scriptures?”
The Bible makes a claim that most books do not. It claims to be from God. Unlike the few that make the claim, the Bible’s claim is true. This is the concept called “inspiration.” There are several things involved in considering the “inspiration of the Bible.”
First, “inspiration” of the Bible means that it had a divine origin. The term “inspiration” is found in the New Testament one time (2 Tim. 3:16).
“Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness.”
The Greek word theopneustos is actually a compound term. Its two parts (theos and pneustos) literally mean “God-breathed.” For this reason, English translations render the word by the phrase “inspired of God,” rather than just “inspired.”
Paul said that “scripture” is inspired of God. The word “scripture” comes from the Greek term graphe, which means “writings.” Paul was considering a specific body of writings. The word “scripture” is used in the Bible in a technical sense to distinguish writings whose origin is God, from those that originate with men. Practically speaking, the terms, “inspired of God” and “scriptures,” are interchangeable.
The apostle said that “every” or “all” scripture is from God. When Paul said that “every scripture” is inspired of God, he affirmed that the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms — the Lord’s three-fold designation of the Old Testament (Lk. 24:44) — were all from God. Both Old and New Testaments are called “scripture” (see 1 Tim. 5:18; 2 Pet. 3:15-16; cf. 1 Cor. 2:10-13).
Second, “inspiration of the Bible” means that God used prophetic agency. The writer of Hebrews referred to the human element in scripture when he said, “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets” (Heb. 1:1; emphasis added). The prophets were speaking; they were writing with pen and parchments. But, the words actually were God’s.
The apostle Peter noted that “the word of prophecy” was of God’s design. In communicating his will, however, “men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21).
The “inspiration” of the human writers did not mean that they were mere transcribers. God employed their human personalities and experiences in the process. Inspired men were not omniscient or personally infallible. But what they wrote was from the mind of God — and it was recorded without error.
They also used firsthand knowledge, the aid of eyewitnesses, and written sources in the composition of Scripture (cf. Lk. 1:1-4). All of these methods, however, were under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the guarantee of accuracy (cf. Jn. 16:13).
Third, “inspiration of the Bible” means that this book is authoritative. The Bible is the final word in religious matters. As Paul discussed some doctrinal issues in Romans, he said, “What saith the scriptures?” (Rom. 4:3). The Lord charged the Sadducees, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures” (Mt. 22:29). What God has revealed is important when considering any religious matter.
The Bible is the will of God. It is his authoritative word. For that reason, Jesus Christ said, “and the scriptures cannot be broken” (Jn. 10:35). We cannot dismiss God’s written word. It is as authoritative as if God spoke directly from heaven (cf. Mt. 22:31; 2 Pet. 1:18-20).