People throughout the ages, and most especially now, are asking, "Is the Bible really inspired?" The terms on this page describe how God the Holy Spirit uses the Bible in a way that makes it critical to the Christian faith, and to the lives of Christians now and through the ages. But we almost never think about how or why this is so. We go off wandering about things we think we know or that others have told us. But your faith will grow when you stop assuming and start thinking about it yourself. All these phrases miss in some way, but most of them add something to the picture. The Bible is the tool of the Holy Spirit, to teach, shape, direct, and, yes, inspire us. Inspiration is still a bit of a mystery, but much can be said. Take up this challenge: think prayerfully about how you use of each of these terms.
Are they helpful, and in what ways?
What does this phrase mean for how I read the Scriptures?
How does the phrase go too far, or not far enough, or lead us nowhere?
How does the Holy Spirit inspire? What effect does that have for your life, and that of others?
Am I seeing the Bible as rules to follow, or as signposts on a journey?
Does this phrase confine or expand the meaning of Bible passages? (Each is needed.)
Is it theological gibberish?
Who is saying such things now? What is it leading them to do?
When speaking of Scripture, what is the meaning of :
Is The Bible Inspired?
definition : to breathe into, animated, coming to life or set into motion.
word forms: Verb: to inspire. Abstract Noun: inspiration.
There are synonyms which mean something like 'to inspire':
to animate (to make live, to give zest, passion, or interest to; to cause someone/something to move or take action.) In Genesis, the Divine Breath animates the shaped mud that becomes Adam. In Ezekiel, the Holy Wind animates the bodies of the dead nation Israel.
to enliven (to make live, breathe life into)
to evince (to cause or prompt a response that is not automatic, instinctual, or habitual)
to invigorate (to give energy or vitality to. This is most used by some Charismatics.)
moving (adv.) (evoking a deep or strong emotional response that leads to action.)
to stir (to put into motion by circular agitation, usually in order to mix ingredients) or stir up (to rouse from repose or indifference into action. This is often used by mainline Protestants.).
There is also the specific kind of divinely inspired speech known as 'prophecy', which is reviewed in greater depth on other pages at this site, including on prophecy itself and on prophetic history.
The Holy Spirit works in and through the Bible, shaped it, and makes it work in us. The Spirit inspired its (human) writing; The Spirit inspired the church's (human) selection of its content; the Spirit inspired its (human) interpretation over the years. The Spirit inspires us (humans) today when we read it with the eyes of faith, or hear it spoken or interpreted aloud, or see it truthfully portrayed and followed (by Spirit-led humans). The Spirit fills the whole process, every step from ancient event to you. One biblical term for the Scripture's inspiration is Greek theopneustia, "God-breathed". Because it is so specially inspired, there is much literature, art, social conscience, personal experience, and patterns of relationship that are inspired by Scripture. The Holy Spirit brings you into the Bible's stories and its story line, leading you to discover how it is your story too.
Through the Bible, the Spirit gives us God's promises and comforts. The Spirit inspires us through Scripture to respond to God's gifts of salvation, grace, and forgiveness in Christ. The Spirit patterns or trains our behavior through the Bible's stories and persons, including the negative lessons. The Spirit uses it to cause new and/or renewed life to begin, to see and live beyond the world we live in and take part in. The Spirit acts to inspire us to go a step past just learning something about Scriptural times - stepping us into a different and fresh future. Some theologies insist that the the Bible is the Church's book, since they are the ones who recognize it as the truth that built them. But if it can be at all called 'the church's book', it can only be because of how the Spirit inspires Christ's followers through it. Thus it is firstly 'the Spirit's book' before it is the church's.
Verbal and Plenary Inspiration
Two other phrases are sometimes used for describing the ways the Bible is inspired. 'Verbal inspiration' means that each word in it is fully inspired by the Spirit - each word is a Word from God. The other term is 'Plenary inspiration' (Latin plēnus, 'full'). It means that the inspiration of the Bible as a whole is special and equal throughout. The words are usually used together, as "verbal plenary inspiration". But, like inerrant and infallible, they are sometimes pitted against each other ("verbal vs. plenary"). They are mostly used in Calvinist and Reformed writings (Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, and most Evangelicals).
Verbal inspiration fits especially well with the view that the Bible is inerrant, in that if each word is a word from God, it can't be in error. (For problems with that, see under inerrancy.) Most mainline Protestants refuse to use the terms 'verbal inspiration' or 'plenary inspiration'. They believe that not every word or section in Scripture is equally inspired. They find a 'canon within the canon' - certain books and passages which reveal the purposes of God in a way that leads us in interpreting the rest. Some Protestants even believe there are passages and happenings in the Bible that are not inspired at all. This comes from a sense of justifiable horror at the truly cruel and murderous stuff that's found there. Yet our judgements about such deeds can't help but be full of human hypocrisy about our deeds and our place with God. Most experienced Bible readers understand that humanity's darker sides, even those of the very-human Biblical authors, have key lessons to teach us from the Spirit. They are fully part of the story it reveals, and thus part of its inspiration.
I think it's best not to use either 'verbal' or 'plenary' to describe the Bible's inspiration, because most people don't know what they really mean - not even the people who use them. Both terms are most often used for arguing doctrines and polemic (fighting-word) disputes. They are used as presuppositions. That is, instead of discovering its truth as the Spirit reveals it, one starts with it as true and then forces everything else to fit into it - even if it can't. This blocks you from listening, which in turn blocks the Spirit from inspiring your conversations and thinking. Instead, say their most helpful shades of meaning in a different tone and a more understandable way by using other phrases. Many of those are found on our descriptive term list and on this page.
The Bible as Revelation:
God Lets Us In On It
Revelation and to reveal [Latin revēlāre > re- + vēlāre (to cover) > vēlum (veil, opaque separation)].
There are matters we could only have any knowledge or understanding about if God told us. For instance, how could we really understand anything about God -- character, will, plan, being -- if God didn't show it to us? We lack the needed 'omniscience' to figure it out ourselves (that is, we don't even come close to knowing enough to do it). We'd be left with natural vague hints and intelligent wild guesses. We'd be on somewhat better ground about ourselves, but even there, we still can't seem to figure out for ourselves why we are unable to straighten ourselves out, why we hate, why we hurt those we love. Or, why it is that the better we become at doing things, the better we also become in ever-deeper evils (such as H-bombs, monopolism, alternative facts, mind manipulation, and ethnic cleansing). Learning about such things takes 'revelation': the One who knows shares this knowledge with us. God will reveal it to us, as far as we listen. That's what the Bible is. That's what the prophets and the apostles did. Christ was Himself the greatest revelation of God - watching Jesus is to see what God is really like. Through these writings, the Holy Spirit reveals to us that God's already done God's part in restoring our relationship with God, yet is still doing more. The Spirit then goes on to reveal to us so much more -- what God has given us, how God wants us to live and to treat each other, deepening our relationship with God, about love and fellowship and family and justice, and even about the time to end all time when the healing will be completed and all will be revealed. The Spirit lifts the veil, and thus frees us. The primary way for the Spirit to do this is by revealing it through the Bible.
Christians are unlike Muslims on this matter. To a mainstream Muslim, the Qur'an reveals God's will and message, but not God Himself - not character, not depth of love, and not His divine nature. (Sufi Muslims are more open to such talk.) In Islam, Mohammed is the messenger of God, not the revealer of His character or heart.
Theologians and apologists use many terms to describe types or means of revelation. One is 'general revelation'. This is what happens when any person thinks or takes action and in so doing learns what God wants of them. This happens even when the person is not or not yet a Christian. It's often contrasted with 'special revelation'. That's when God takes specific action for the purpose of revealing, such as in prophecy or Scripture. God's ultimate special revelation is Christ Himself. It is through (and as) Christ we know God's character and purposes. That's how we find out God's very being. God's letting us in on what we could not otherwise understand or even imagine. 'Progressive revelation' means that God revealed His will more clearly with each new revelation, at least until Jesus became its fulfillment.
There are terms related to 'revelation' that are not hard to define :
to expose (to remove protective cover, allowing outside forces to influence, affect, judge, or damage.)
to disclose (to make known something that is already there or already true, as if by removing an enclosure. The word emphasizes that which is uncovered.)
to share (in the sense that friends or 12-step groupers tell each other close personal information, emotions, or experiences that are intended to be of help to those they tell it to.)
to show (to cause or allow to be seen, direct one's attention to. This word emphasizes the intent that it be seen.)
to uncover or unveil (to remove a cover over something, allowing what was under it to be seen. The emphasis is on the act of removing the covering.)
to illumine (to shed light on something, so it can be seen for what it is; to light up.)
Source [ < Old French sourse < Latin surgere (to rise (from), surge)] A source means 'where it comes from'. The original Latin verb surgere gives a picture of spring water rising up from the ground.
There are synonyms whose definitions are in some way connected to viewing Scripture as 'source':
wellspring or wellhead (a source of water for an active stream, well, or spring.)
cradle (a low, small bed for infants, who are most precious -- thus also, what holds the precious communication from God. Also, a place of origin or starting-point. This term was used by Martin Luther.)
nest (a shelter made by birds for holding their precious eggs, from which the new life hatches. Also, a refuge or safe haven.)
The Bible is the source of all Christian ways of thinking, a view of the world, a way of life, teachings, and beliefs. US liberal Christianity challenges this description, saying in effect that it is best to source their way of life from the world around them. They ask us to be open to seeing the world in ways different from (even opposed to) what is revealed in the Bible. They hold that the Bible is 'a' source rather than 'the' source. This has been said before in Christian history. Those who hold this view, then and now, slowly become less recognizable as followers of Christ. The Bible holds the only reasonably accurate report of Jesus and the first Christians. It is the only place to find what was discovered by those who lived with Jesus and lived in the community He started. Thus, it is the only source for finding out what makes a Christian a Christian. It's good to draw from a wide range of sources, but the Bible enables us to recognize how and what to draw from those sources. The more a person draws from somewhere else, the more they become something else.
One of the many ways that shows the Scriptures uniquely reveal God and God's purposes: when you use the Bible as your source, it sends your focus back onto God. back to the descriptive word list