Inspired by God The Bible as Word of God
Every day, and certainly every week, there are quite a variety of things ending up in our mailboxes: papers and magazines, advertising, and other printed material. The quantity of mail can be rather substantial. As we browse through all of it there is much that can be classified as “for information purposes only”. However it can be different. Just imagine that you get a letter from a famous personality, someone of international fame. If you were to receive mail from someone like that you would be very surprised and you would keep it and reread it often.
The Bible can be compared to mail. Note well: it is written by the God who is alive. It is something joyful; we simply cannot get over it. The Bible is not a piece of writing about God (libraries full have been written about him), but the Bible is the Word of God. God has inspired it. The Holy Spirit is the first and most important Author. In reflecting on this, in the tradition of the church, he has been called the “auctor primaries” — the primary author. The authors of the Bible are only the subordinate, dependent authors, identified in the tradition of the church as “auctores secundarii” — authors in a secondary sense. The Spirit used them as instruments, as organs. There are many authors of the Bible. In the case of the Old Testament we think of men such as Moses and Isaiah. In the New Testament we can think of Luke and Paul. Ultimately though there is only one Author of all books that together comprise the Bible: the Holy Spirit.
We will discuss a number of aspects.
The Bible is Unique
The Bible is the inspired Word of God. In the circle of light of the revelation of the living God we discover the people of Israel and the person of Jesus Christ. Surrounded by paganism, Israel is the bearer of the revelation of the one true God. Jesus Christ is the embodiment of the promise of salvation spoken by God to Israel. Our eternal redemption has been brought to us in him.
The Bible is closely connected with Israel and Jesus Christ. He is a moment in the whole of the revelation of God. God makes himself known in the Bible. The knowledge of God that results from it brings us security and confidence. The Bible is inspired by God himself and it is the unshakable foundation of the Christian faith.
Such an approach to the Bible and how we deal with it determines our intended basic attitude to Scripture. The Bible is rightly called the Book of Books. But why? The only correct answer is this: the content of the Bible is inspired by God. It was not devised by religious geniuses. The Holy Scripture is God’s Word. This is no less than a confession and as such a lot more than simply a subjective conjecture or a personal opinion.
When we say “Holy Scripture is God's Word” then this has a confessional nature. With it the truth of the Bible is expressed, and this is essentially the objective. Everything that is confessed in faith is objective at the core. This includes the truth of creation, the truth that Jesus Christ is both true God and true man, the truth that the death of Jesus on the cross is the atonement for the guilt of sin and the truth of the bodily resurrection from the dead. It also includes the truth that the Bible is God’s Word.
The expression “inspired by God” is part of a text that we find in 2 Timothy 3:16. The common and well-established term for this is “inspiration”. This concept however was derived from the Vulgate, the translation of the Bible into Latin. In the original Greek text the apostle Paul uses the word “theopneustos”. “Theos” means God, while “pneustos” means “breathed”, or — and that is also a possible translation — breathing. The former “breathed” is the most likely translation and is also preferred linguistically. It is applied to Scripture. “All Scripture is breathed out by God...” The term “inspiration” is not a proper rendition of theopneustos. Inspiration means “blowing in”. This concept is too vague. Theopneustos is a better expression to indicate that the initiative is from God. The secret of the Bible is not interwoven with the originality of the authors of the Bible, but it is connected to God himself, who through his Spirit has inspired persons such as Isaiah and Paul, so that these are words of God and not words of men.
In 2 Peter 1:21 we find mention of the Holy Spirit who has moved particular people to speak God’s words, of which the Scripture is the result. Realize well that 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 1:21 are not the only occurrences in the Bible that speak of the inspiration of the Bible — we will keep using that term, it has become a permanent fixture. Throughout the entire Bible you meet the idea that ultimately it is the Spirit who is speaking, through the mouth of a prophet or an apostle. The Lord speaks through people. In Matthew 1:22 we read, “All this [the birth of the Lord Jesus] took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet...” And in Acts 4:25 we read, “Who [i.e., the Sovereign Lord] through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit...”
Scripture witnesses of itself that whoever hears it hears God, hears Jesus Christ, and hears the Spirit. We understand the voice of God from the mouths of the authors of the Bible, and God’s Word flows from their pens.
The Formal Aspect of the Inspiration of Scripture
The fact that the Bible is inspired by God includes also the form of the Bible as it presents itself to us. Here we are entering a minefield and an area with potential headaches. The scientific aspect of the inspiration of Scripture, and therefore the matter of the Bible as subject of academic investigation, is something that brings with it formidable problems. We are thinking here of the initial questions about the Old and the New Testament, the developmental history of the books of the Bible, the study of the manuscripts, textual criticism, the literary-historical critique and the formation of the canon. All of these subjects together constitute the formal aspect of the inspiration of the Bible and they give rise to multiple issues.
However, that is something that should not surprise us. After all, it is characteristic of the Spirit that he accomplishes his work via people. By definition the Spirit is always busy in a hidden and indirect manner; his work carries the mark of concealment. He has given words to the authors of the Bible not by way of exclusion but by the way of inclusion of who they were — with their unique gifts and education. The Spirit allowed them to be children of their era. We detect this in the format of the Bible as it comes to us. Nevertheless, the content is the trustworthy testimony of God.
The Vigour of the Bible
With the truth of the inspiration of the Bible the church has also aimed to testify of the vigour, i.e., the power of God’s Word. God speaks his Word to us in and through the Bible, specifically his Word of grace and salvation. In the Bible we hear the voice of God. He is speaking to us, directly from heart to heart. In the Scriptures we meet God. The Bible puts us in a direct relationship with God, particularly with God as our Saviour. This was something that was fully recognized by the Reformation. In the Bible God makes us hear the fact of salvation in Jesus Christ.
There is strength and vigour in the Bible. It has intrinsic power. God’s Word is the seed of regeneration, capable of germination. At the same time the Word is the power unto salvation for everyone who believes. The Bible contains the power of the Spirit. God’s Word is the Word of the Spirit.
It is therefore not correct to state that the Bible in itself is only a dead letter, and that it only becomes God’s Word when the Holy Spirit brings life to that dead letter. Scripture itself is the living and life-giving Word of God. At the same time it is the Spirit who gives strength to the Word. You could say: he empowers God’s Word.
The Necessity of Calling Upon the Spirit When Reading the Bible
It is essential in the reading of the Bible to call upon the Spirit. This explains why on Sundays in the worship services of the congregation, before the minister on the pulpit reads from the open Bible and preaches from it, there first needs to be the ministerial prayer for the opening of God’s Word and the enlightenment through the Holy Spirit. Word and Spirit are the two aspects of God’s meeting with us as his people. This takes place around the opened Bible. Right from the start the Spirit has been involved with the Scriptures. God himself has given his words to the authors. In reading it the Spirit is also actively involved. In the hands of the Spirit the Bible is the means of grace par excellence. At the same time, in reading the Bible we need the help of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise the Bible will remain hidden to us in its meaning, and certainly in its spiritual tenor.
The Relationship Between Inspiration and Illumination (the Enlightenment)
In relation to the Bible we can distinguish between two different activities of the Spirit: there is inspiration and also illumination (i.e., enlightenment). Of the former we can say that this is what he accomplished in its origin, and of the latter that this is his activity in our dealings with Scripture. On the one hand the Spirit has inspired Scripture and on the other hand he enlightens us in the understanding of Scripture.
The authors of the Bible therefore occupy an exceptional position. The Spirit gave them the words that they wrote down. It provides Scripture with an absolute authority; it is the source and standard of faith. In addition, in the tradition of the church, the Spirit has enlightened people so that they faithfully interpreted Scripture. We gratefully reap the benefits in the works of church fathers and Reformers, revivalist preachers and Christian philosophers — to name only the great ones. The actual and highest authority however rests in the Bible as God has inspired it. Whatever is said about the Bible, or will be said about it, has a derivative authority and needs to be tested according to the Bible. No one else has the final word.
The Inspiration of Scripture and Scientific Investigation
Can it be proven that the Bible is inspired by God and that it is more than a human product or a human document?
When already God’s existence cannot be proven, or the deity of Jesus, or creation, how could the inspiration of Scripture be proven on rational grounds?
It is exactly in this matter that Scripture comes to the aid of believers who are challenged, who want to be true to the Bible in all their weakness and scientific vulnerability. Scripture proves itself. That is because Someone stands behind it: the living God and the life-giving Spirit. The Spirit is able through the Word to touch the hearts and consciences of sinners in a decisive way.
Someone who is enlightened by the Spirit will understand what the Spirit says to him or her in the Scriptures. Without the Spirit people are groping in the dark when it comes to the explanation of the Bible. A prerequisite is not that one teaches himself the historical-critical method to reach Scripture, but that one should receive help from the Spirit who illuminates us with light so we can understand what Scripture has to say to us.
It is therefore possible that a simple, regenerated child of God is better able to understand Scripture — at least in its core and its spiritual content — than the most academic and university-schooled Bible scholar. It is especially Scripture criticism, conceived in the era of the Enlightenment, that has estranged people from the Bible, and the other way around. It has sown distrust in how we read the Bible. On account of Scripture-criticism the Bible received a dubious reputation. In actual fact, according to it Scripture would be highly untrustworthy — also in its facts of salvation.
Nowadays it is popular to say that we find people in the Bible who have simply shed light on God. It means that God himself was not speaking in the Bible. In this view the Bible has been made into a human book. What remains is only what someone may find of value in the Bible. Little or nothing is left of the Bible as the Word of God, and subsequently not much is left either of the faith of the church of all centuries — a faith that is catholic (worldwide) and undoubted.
We need the Spirit! He lends us an “instrument” that is needed to understand the Bible, and that “instrument” cannot be missed! It is a prerequisite. It does not exclude a scientific formation and an in-depth exegetical study, but it involves it. For the rest — even when you hold firmly to the truth of God’s Word — many difficult questions will remain.
However, for someone who reads the Bible, eager to find salvation and to have a firm point of orientation, the content will become clear. In Jesus Christ we find salvation, and his kingdom is coming.