Inspiration and Uniqueness of the Bible
Pr. Christopher Varughese
Biblical inspiration is the doctrine in Christian theology that the authors and editors of the Bible were led or influenced by God with the result that their writings may be designated as the Word of God.This is an extremely crucial topic in today's world as, at the extremes, the acceptance of divine inspiration elates one’s understanding of the Bible as the Word of God and the denial of inspiration can render the Bible as a piece of literature like any other.
The word ‘inspiration’ comes from the Latin verb inspirare. Inspirare is a compound term resulting from the Latin prefix in (inside, into) and spirare (to breathe). The term “inspiration” is found in the New Testament only in 2 Tim. 3:16.Some modern English translations opt for the "God-breathed" (NIV) or "breathed out by God" (ESV) from the Greek word theopneustos, and avoid "inspiration" altogether, since its connotation, unlike its Latin root, leans toward breathing ininstead of breathing out.
The Bible contains many passages in which the authors claim divine inspiration for their message, or report the effects of such inspiration on others. Besides the direct accounts of written revelation, such as Moses receiving the Ten Commandments, the Prophets of the Old Testament frequently claimed that their message was divine by the formula "Thus says the LORD" (for example, 1 Kgs 12:22–24;1 Chr 17:3–4; Jer 35:13; Ezek 2:4; Zech 7:9; etc.). The Second Epistle of Peter claims that "no prophecy of Scripture ... was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Pet 1:20–21).
Majority of the Christians believe the Bible to be inspired. But their definitions of inspiration vary. While some believe that the inspiration is extended to every word or thought others contend that the Bible is inspired in the same way as all great literature. Still others say that along with the human myths, mistakes and legends the Word of God can be found in the Bible. Various theories of inspiration can be seen as follows.
1. Natural Inspiration of the Intuition Theory: According to this theory, inspiration is only a superior insight of man; i.e. an elevated or intensified religious perception of the writer.
2. Dynamic or Partial Inspiration Theory: The proponents of this theory say that only those parts that are related to faith and practice are inspired. They claim that God gave the writers the ability needed for trustworthy transmission of this truth for which they were commissioned, while other areas such as those related to history and science may be wrong.
3. Inspiration of Thoughts Theory: This theory claims that only thoughts are inspired. They continue that writers wrote in their own words and as a matter would have used the wrong words. Therefore, literal understanding of passages must not be taken; rather only the ideas or thoughts conveyed through these passages must be considered.
4. Bible contains the Word of God Theory: This theory states that Bible is a human book which God can make as His Word during personal encounter. The authors wrote their idea of God and events and added many stories of miracles according to their taste. Further, they state that while interpreting we have to strip off all the mythical embellishment, or demythologize the Bible so that it can become the Word of God.
5. Dictation Theory: According to this theory, authors were pens pressed into service in the act of inspiration. They claim that the style of the Bible is the style of the Holy Spirit. Even the grammar is perfect. To explain the dilemma of different literature styles found in the Bible, they claim that Holy Spirit took the styles of the particular writers.
Josh McDowell compares ‘inspiration’ with‘revelation’ to distinguish the two and give a clearer understanding. According to him, “Revelation relates to the origin and actual giving of truth (1 Corinthians 2:10). Inspiration, on the other hand, relates to the receiving and actual recording of truth.”
The natural inspiration theory doesn’t stand ground as it doesn’t deal with the illumination of a new truth, but only regarding that which was already revealed. Furthermore, this theory would elate great hymns of the church as the Word of God. The three theories that follow fall in stark contrast to the message of 2 Tim 3: 16-17. The dictation theory fails to justify the use of first person claims of the writers nor finds supportive evidence to claims of the theory itself.
The internal claim of the Bible is that all Scripture is inspired. Second Timothy 3:16-17 reads, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” This gives a clear picture that the process of inspiration extended to every word ("all Scripture"), refuting the idea of myth and error. 2 Peter 1:21, says, "For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God." This also confirms that the writers were moved by God to record that which God desired. Thus, inspiration means that "God the Holy Spirit worked in a unique supernatural way so that the written words of the Scripture writers were also the words of God." This leads to the understanding the process as Verbal Plenary Inspiration. In simple words it narrates that the Bible is God-breathed, though a human character is involved. God used living men and their personality in penning down divine revelation. In the endeavor, Holy Spirit helped the authors such that they would not choose the wrong words. It is termed as ‘verbal’ to depict inspiration extends to the very words of the writers and ‘plenary’ to show that the inspiration is entire or that Bible is fully and totally inspired, without any restriction.
Since God is behind the writings, and since God is perfect, the result must be infallible. If it were not infallible, we could be left with God-inspired error. The fact that the Bible is inspired means that this book is authoritative. The Bible is the final word in religious matters.It is important to understand this concept, for the entire Christian faith is based upon the premise that "God is there and He is not silent," as the late theologian Francis Schaeffer so often said.
The word ‘unique’ is defined as “being the only one of its kind; unlike anything else.” The Bible is unique. It is the oldest book in existence. The five books of Moses were written in approximately 1675 B.C. The religious manuscripts of the Eastern Religions were not written until centuries later. For example, the Zend-Avesta of Zoroaster (holy scriptures of the Parsee (Persians) in the old Iranian language) was written about 1200 B.C.; the IndianVedas about 1100 B.C.; the books of Confucius (Chinese philosopher) about 1100 B.C.; the writings of Buddha (Indian founder of Buddhism) approximately 600 B.C.; and the Koran of Mohammed (Islam) about 600 A.D.
The uniqueness of the Bible stands vivid in multi-faceted areas.
1. The Uniqueness of its Composition
The Bible is comprised of 66 separate books. It was written over a period of at least 1.500 years by more than 40 authors who for the most part didn't know each other personally.They came from different social and occupational backgrounds (for example Moses – political leader, educated in Pharao's palace; Joshua – general; Solomon – king; Amos – shepherd; Nehemiah – cup-bearer; Daniel – politician; Peter – fisherman; Luke – physician; Matthew – tax-collector).They wrote the Bible in completely different geographic environments and under different circumstances (for example Moses – in the desert; Jeremiah – in a prison; David – in the mountains and in his palace; Paul – in prison; Luke – during his journeys; John – during his exile on Patmos).The Bible was composed on three different continents (Asia, Africa and Europe) and in three languages (Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek).
2. The Uniqueness of its Unity in Content
The drastic diversity in composition would surely result in a disconnected literature in humanly terms. Nevertheless, we see an unparalleled unity in theme and contents of the Bible. The main theme is to give answers to the questions:Who is God?Who is man?Is there a possibility for a relationship between God and man, and if so – how? Thus, the main objectivity of the Bible is to lead humanity to God.Furthermore, the whole Bible revolves around one central figure – Jesus Christ. The complete Old Testament points to Christ, be it through metaphors or be it through direct prophecies. The New Testament shows us the fulfillment of these prophecies and the meaning and the consequences of the coming of Christ.
3. The Uniqueness of its Relevance
Although the Bible is already many centuries old, it is still read regularly and with great interest by very many people.The Bible is a book that has been relevant in every epoch of world history – whether in times of war or peace, in the Dark Ages or in our modern technological age. Millions of people have found nourishment, help, and encouragement in this book.The Bible is the only book in the world that is read by people from all walks of life and from every age group.
4. The Uniqueness of its Circulation
The Bible is one of the first books that have ever been translated. About 250 B.C. the Old Testament was translated into the Greek language (the Septuagint).The Bible was the first major book that was printed – in form of the Latin Vulgate on Gutenberg's press.It is the most-translated and most-spread book in the world. As of 2012 the entire Bible has been translated into 518 languages while portions of the Bible can be found in 2,798 languages.
5. The Uniqueness of its Survival
While a normal book struggles to survive a quarter of a century, the Bible has survived over time under suppressive conditions. Although the Bible was written on perishable material and therefore had to be copied by scribes for many centuries until the art of printing had been invented, neither its accuracy nor its existence has suffered. This has been under the most malicious onslaughts of its enemies like no other book. For centuries people have tried to burn, ban, and outlaw the Bible. In AD 303 Diocletian issued a royal edict demanding every copy of the Bible be burned. Bible has further survived the severest of criticisms and continues to be scrutinized. Voltaire said that in 100 years Christianity and Bible would be extinct. Though Voltaire died in 1778, the Bible has been distributed more, read more and cherished more than any other book in history.
6. The Uniqueness of its Literary Character
According to Arthur Brisbane (a non-Christian), the Bible contains brilliant examples of great literature in any form: lyric poetry – the Psalms, epic poetry – Genesis; dramatic poetry – Job; historic narrative art – the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles; rural idyll – Ruth; patriotism – Esther and Daniel; practical wisdom – Proverbs; philosophy – Ecclesiastes; moving depth – Isaiah; short stories – the Gospels; letters – the various Epistles of the New Testament; thrilling mysticism – the Book of Revelation.A long literary stream of books inspired by the Bible testifies to the influence of the Bible on the world literature.
7. The Uniqueness of its Moral Character
The absolute unique moral character of the Bible forces human beings to make a choice. For that reason the Bible is also the most-hated book in the world by its enemies.Other books may represent certain ideals. But repeated attempts prove the impossibility of lifting fallen humanity up to the level of these ideals. The biblical answer to the moral problem of the modern man is a personal, spiritual new birth, an actual inner change – not the conversion to a system, but to a Person, and the sincere, believing trust in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Christ, found in the Bible, continues to transform societies and people worldwide.
8. The Uniqueness of its Accuracy
Today there aremore than 5,300 manuscripts of the New Testament, more than 10,000 of the Latin Vulgate and more than 24,000 copies of manuscripts of the New Testament available. The copies were so scrupulous and exact, that they were often considered to be originals. The Jews had great respect for the Word of God and took care not to add, correct or omit anything. This is a phenomenon which is incomparable in the history of literature.
Many indicators for the accuracy of the Bible can be found in the fields of science, such as astronomy, physics, medicine, or biology. No historic fact in the Bible ever has been shown to be in error. One of the strongest objective evidences of biblical inspiration is the phenomenon of fulfilled prophecy. The inspiration of the Bible allows its highly unique accuracy in comparison to any other ancient literature. Archaeological discoveries also confirm the genuineness of the Bible, e.g. that the walls of Jericho did not fall to the inside (as they would have in a military attack), but to the outside (JOSHUA 6:20). The Acts of the Apostles, written by Luke, are unparalleled in their historical accuracy - Luke was a perfect historian.
The inspiration and uniqueness of the Bible points us to its importance. The literary world undoubtedly honors it with great esteem. It has transcended the earth’s atmosphere and was the first religious book taken to outer space (on a microfilm). The huge price which people are willing to pay to get a copy of the earlier manuscripts point to its worth. Bible translators sacrifice big to make available a copy of the Bible. People in countries like Chinaare moved to tears to receive a copy of the Bible. In other traditions some even venerate it.
Today, the Bible is available aplenty. We store different versions in our libraries. Fancied varieties are in circulation. Nevertheless, let us not forget its value and honor it as the inspired, God-breathed, Word of God, allowing it to transform us each day.