The apostle Paul stated at 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired of God.” The phrase “inspired of God” translates the compound Greek word the·oʹpneu·stos, meaning, literally, “God-breathed” or “breathed by God.”
This is the only occurrence of this Greek term in the Scriptures. Its use here clearly identifies God as the Source and Producer of the Sacred Scriptures, the Bible. Their being “God-breathed” finds some parallel in the expression found in the Hebrew Scriptures at Psalm 33:6: “By the word of Jehovah the heavens themselves were made, and by the spirit [or breath] of his mouth all their army.”
RESULTS FROM THE OPERATION OF GOD’S SPIRIT
The means or agency for the inspiration of “all Scripture” was God’s holy spirit or active force. (See SPIRIT.) That holy spirit operated toward or upon men to move them and guide them in setting down God’s message. Thus, the apostle Peter says of Bible prophecy: “For you know this first, that no prophecy of Scripture springs from any private interpretation. For prophecy was at no time brought by man’s will, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.” (2 Pet. 1:20, 21) The evidence shows that this was true of all the Bible writings, God’s spirit operating on the minds and hearts of the writers to carry them along to the goal purposed by God. King David said: “The spirit of Jehovah it was that spoke by me, and his word was upon my tongue.”—2 Sam. 23:2; compare Matthew 22:43.
Even as Jehovah’s spirit moved men or qualified them to perform other divine assignments—the making of priestly garments and equipment for the tabernacle (Ex. 28:3; 35:30-35), carrying the load of administration (Deut. 34:9), leading military forces (Judg. 3:9, 10; 6:33, 34)—so it enabled men to record the Scriptures. By means of that spirit, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, and power could be given them beyond what was normal and according to their particular need. (Isa. 11:2; Mic. 3:8; 1 Cor. 12:7, 8) Jesus assured his apostles that God’s spirit would help them, teaching, guiding and recalling to their minds the things they had heard from him, as well as revealing to them future things. (John 14:26; 16:13) This assured the truthfulness and accuracy of their gospel accounts, including many lengthy quotations of Jesus’ speeches, even though John’s gospel account, for example, was written scores of years after the death of Jesus.
Controlled by “the hand of Jehovah”
The Bible writers, therefore, came under Jehovah’s “hand,” or guiding and controlling power. (2 Ki. 3:15, 16; Ezek. 3:14, 22) Even as Jehovah’s “hand” could cause his servants to speak or to keep silent at appointed times (Ezek. 3:4, 26, 27; 33:22), so it could stimulate writing or act as a restraining force; it could prompt the writer to deal with certain matters or restrict him from including other material. The end product would, in every case, be that which Jehovah desired.
WAYS EMPLOYED IN DIVINE DIRECTION OF BIBLE WRITING
As the apostle states, God spoke “in many ways” to his servants in pre-Christian times. (Heb. 1:1, 2) In at least one case, that of the Ten Commandments or Decalogue, the information was divinely supplied in written form, merely requiring copying into the scrolls or other material used by Moses. (Ex. 31:18; Deut. 10:1-5) In other cases information was transmitted word for word, by verbal dictation. When presenting the large body of laws and statutes of God’s covenant with Israel, Jehovah instructed Moses: “Write down for yourself these words.” (Ex. 34:27) The prophets also were often given specific messages to deliver and these were then recorded, forming part of the Scriptures.—1 Ki. 22:14; Jer. 1:7; 2:1; 11:1-5; Ezek. 3:4; 11:5.
Among still other methods used for conveying information to the Bible writers were dreams and visions. Dreams, or “night visions,” as they were sometimes called, evidently superimposed a picture of God’s message or purpose on the mind of the sleeping person. (Dan. 2:19; 7:1) Visions given while the person was conscious were an even more frequently used vehicle of communication of God’s thoughts to the mind of the writer, the revelation being impressed pictorially upon the conscious mind. (Ezek. 1:1; Dan. 8:1; Rev. 9:17) Some visions were received when the person had fallen into a trance. Though conscious, the person apparently was so absorbed by the vision received during the trance as to be oblivious to all else around him.—Acts 10:9-17; 11:5-10; 22:17-21; see VISION.
Angelic messengers were used on many occasions to transmit the divine messages. (Heb. 2:2) Such messengers played a larger part in the transmission of information than is at times apparent. Thus, whereas the Law given to Moses is presented as spoken by God, both Stephen and Paul show that God used his angels in transmitting that legal code. (Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19) Since the angels spoke in Jehovah’s name, the message they presented could therefore be called the “word of Jehovah.”—Gen. 22:11, 12, 15-18; Zech. 1:7, 9.
No matter what the particular means employed for the transmission of the messages, all parts of the Scriptures would be of the same quality, all of them being inspired or “God-breathed.”
THE WRITER’S PART IN THE PRODUCTION OF THE SCRIPTURES
The evidence indicates, however, that the men used by God to record the Scriptures were not merely automatons, simply recording dictated material. We read concerning the apostle John that the “God-breathed” Revelation was presented to him through God’s angel “in signs” and that John then “bore witness to the word God gave and to the witness Jesus Christ gave, even to all the things he saw.” (Rev. 1:1, 2) It was “by inspiration [literally, “in spirit”]” that John “came to be in the Lord’s day” and he was told: “What you see write in a scroll.” (Rev. 1:10, 11) So, God apparently saw good to allow the Bible writers to use their mental faculties in selecting words and expressions to describe the visions they saw (Hab. 2:2), while always exercising sufficient control and guidance over them so that the end product was not only accurate and true but also such as suited Jehovah’s purpose. (Prov. 30:5, 6) That personal effort on the part of the writer was involved is shown by the statement at Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10, there being a pondering, searching and arranging in order to present properly “delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.”—Compare Luke 1:1-4.
This doubtless explains the different styles discernible when examining the books of the Bible, as well as the expressions that apparently reflect the background of the individual writer. The natural qualifications of the writers may have been a factor in God’s selection of them for their particular assignment; he may also have prepared them prior thereto to serve his particular purpose.
As evidence of this individuality of expression, Matthew, who had been a tax collector, makes numerous particularly specific references to numbers and money values. (Matt. 17:27; 26:15; 27:3) Luke, “the beloved physician” (Col. 4:14), on the other hand, uses distinctive expressions that reflect his medical background.—Luke 4:38; 5:12; 16:20.
Even where the writer speaks of receiving the “word of Jehovah” or a certain “pronouncement,” it may be that this was transmitted, not word for word, but by giving the writer a mental picture of God’s purpose, one that the writer would thereafter express in words. This is perhaps indicated by the writers’ speaking at times of ‘seeing’ (rather than ‘hearing’) the “pronouncement” or “the word of Jehovah.”—Isa. 13:1; Mic. 1:1; Hab. 1:1; 2:1, 2.
The men used to write the Scriptures therefore cooperated with the operation of Jehovah’s holy spirit. They were willing and submissive to God’s guidance (Isa. 50:4, 5), eager to know God’s will and leading. (Isa. 26:9) In many cases they had certain goals in mind (Luke 1:1-4) or were responding to an evident need (1 Cor. 1:10, 11; 5:1; 7:1) and God directed them so that what they wrote coincided with and fulfilled his purpose. (Prov. 16:9) As spiritual men, their hearts and minds were attuned to God’s will, they ‘had the mind of Christ’ and so were not setting down mere human wisdom nor a “vision of their own heart,” as false prophets did.—1 Cor. 2:13-16; Jer. 23:16; Ezek. 13:2, 3, 17.
It can be seen that the holy spirit would, indeed, have “varieties of operations” toward or upon these Bible writers. (1 Cor. 12:6) A considerable portion of the information was humanly accessible to them, sometimes already existing in written form, as in the case of genealogies and certain historical accounts. (Luke 1:3; 3:23-38; Num. 21:14, 15; 1 Ki. 14:19, 29; 2 Ki. 15:31; 24:5; see BOOK.) Here God’s spirit would operate to prevent inaccuracy or error from intruding into the Divine Record and also guide in the selection of material to be included. On the other hand, the information concerning the prehuman history of the earth (Gen. 1:1-26), or about heavenly events and activities (Job 1:6-12 and other texts), and prophecies, revelations of God’s purposes and of doctrines—these were not humanly obtainable and would need to be transmitted supernaturally by God’s spirit. As to wise sayings and counsel, even though the writer may have learned much from his personal experience in life and even more so from his own study and application of those parts of the Scriptures already recorded, the operation of God’s spirit would still be required to ensure the information’s qualifying as part of the Word of God that is “alive and exerts power . . . and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:12.
This may be seen by the expressions the apostle Paul makes in his first letter to the Corinthians. In giving counsel on marriage and singleness he says at one point: “But to the others I say, yes, I, not the Lord . . . ” Again: “Now concerning virgins I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion.” And finally, regarding a widowed woman, he states: “But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my opinion. I certainly think I also have God’s spirit.” (1 Cor. 7:12, 25, 40) The evident meaning of Paul’s statements is that he could quote no direct teaching by the Lord Jesus on certain points. Hence Paul gave his personal opinion as a spirit-filled apostle. His counsel, however, was “God-breathed” and so came to form part of the Sacred Scriptures, having equal authority with all the rest of those Scriptures.
There is clearly a distinction between the inspired writings of the Bible and other writings that, while manifesting a measure of the spirit’s direction and guidance, are not properly classed with the Sacred Scriptures. As has been shown, in addition to the canonical books of the Hebrew Scriptures there were other writings, such as official records concerning the kings of Judah and Israel, and these, in many cases, may have been drawn up by men devoted to God. They were even used in research done by those writers who were inspired to write part of the Sacred Scriptures. So, too, in apostolic times. In addition to the letters included in the Bible canon, there were doubtless many other letters written by the apostles and older men to the numerous congregations during the course of the years. While the writers were spirit-guided men, still God did not place his seal of guarantee distinguishing any such additional writings as part of the inerrant Word of God. The Hebrew noncanonical writings may have contained some error, and even the noncanonical writings of the apostles may have reflected to some degree the incomplete understanding that existed in the early years of the Christian congregation. (Compare Acts 15:1-32; Galatians 2:11-14; Ephesians 4:11-16.) However, even as God by his spirit or active force granted to certain Christians the “discernment of inspired utterances,” he could also guide the governing body of the Christian congregation in discerning which inspired writings were to be included in the canon of the Sacred Scriptures.—1 Cor. 12:10; see CANON.
RECOGNITION OF THE SACRED SCRIPTURES AS INSPIRED
The evidence is clear that all the Sacred Scriptures, as progressively added to the Bible canon, were consistently recognized by God’s servants, including Jesus and his apostles, as inspired. By “inspiration” is meant, not a mere heightening of the intellect and emotions to a higher degree of accomplishment or sensitivity (as is often said of secular artists or poets), but the production of writings that are inerrant and that have the same authority as if written by God himself. For this reason the prophets who contributed to the writing of the Hebrew Scriptures ceaselessly credited their messages to God, with the pronouncement, “This is what Jehovah has said,” doing so over three hundred times. (Isa. 37:33; Jer. 2:2; Nah. 1:12) Jesus and his apostles confidently quoted the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s own word spoken through the assigned writers, hence as certain of fulfillment and as the final authority in any controversy. (Matt. 4:4-10; 19:3-6; Luke 24:44-48; John 13:18; Acts 13:33-35; 1 Cor. 15:3, 4; 1 Pet. 1:16; 2:6-9) They contained “the sacred pronouncements of God.” (Rom. 3:1, 2; Heb. 5:12) After explaining in Hebrews 1:1 that God spoke to Israel through the prophets, Paul goes on to quote from several books of the Hebrew Scriptures, presenting the texts as though spoken personally by Jehovah God himself. (Heb. 1:5-13) Compare similar references to the holy spirit at Acts 1:16; 28:25; Hebrews 3:7; 10:15-17.
Showing his full faith in the inerrancy of the Sacred Writings, Jesus said that “the Scripture cannot be nullified” (John 10:34, 35), and that “sooner would heaven and earth pass away than for the smallest letter or one particle of a letter to pass away from the Law by any means and not all things take place.” (Matt. 5:18) He told the Sadducees that they were in error regarding the resurrection because “you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.” (Matt. 22:29-32; Mark 12:24) He was willing to submit to arrest and death itself because of knowing that this was in fulfillment of the written Word of God, the Sacred Scriptures.—Matt. 26:54; Mark 14:27, 49.
These statements, of course, apply to the pre-Christian Hebrew Scriptures. That the Christian Greek Scriptures were also both presented and accepted as inspired is also clear (1 Cor. 14:37; Gal. 1:8, 11, 12; 1 Thess. 2:13), the apostle Peter in one statement including Paul’s letters with the rest of the Scriptures.—2 Pet. 3:15, 16.
Thus the entire body of the Scriptures compose the unified and harmonious written Word of God. (Eph. 6:17) All parts share equal authority as to fullness of inspiration and freedom from error. As has been seen, the particular operation of God’s spirit in the various cases did not result in “degrees” of inspiration. For this reason the term “plenary,” meaning “full” or “fully constituted,” applies to all the Scriptures and not merely to certain portions thereof, as some scholars employ the term.
AUTHORITY OF MANUSCRIPT COPIES AND TRANSLATIONS
Absolute inerrancy is therefore to be attributed to the written Word of God. This is true of the original writings, none of which are known to exist today. The copies of those original writings and the translations made in many languages cannot lay claim to absolute accuracy. There is solid evidence and sound reason for believing, however, that the available manuscripts of the Sacred Scriptures do provide copies of the written Word of God in nearly exact form, the points in question having little bearing on the sense of the message conveyed. God’s own purpose in preparing the Sacred Scriptures, and the inspired declaration that “the saying of Jehovah endures forever,” give assurance that Jehovah God has preserved the internal integrity of the Scriptures through the centuries.—1 Pet. 1:25.
In a number of cases the writers of the Christian Greek Scriptures evidently made use of the Greek Septuagint translation when quoting from the Hebrew Scriptures. At times the rendering of the Septuagint, as quoted by them, differs somewhat from the reading of the Hebrew Scriptures as now known (most translations today being based on the Hebrew Masoretic text dating back to about the tenth century C.E.). As an example, Paul’s quotation of Psalm 40:6 contains the expression “but you prepared a body for me,” an expression found in the Septuagint. (Heb. 10:5, 6) The available Hebrew manuscripts of Psalm 40:6 have, in place of that expression, the words “these ears of mine you opened up.” Whether the original Hebrew text contained the phrase found in the Septuagint cannot be stated with certainty. Whatever the case, God’s spirit guided Paul in his quotation and therefore these words have divine authorization. This does not mean that the entire Septuagint translation is to be viewed as inspired; but those portions quoted by the inspired Christian writers did become an integral part of God’s Word.
In a few cases the quotations made by Paul and others differ from both the Hebrew and Greek texts as found in available manuscripts. The differences are minor, however, and upon examination are seen to be the result of paraphrasing, epitomizing, the use of synonymous terms or the addition of explanatory words or phrases. Genesis 2:7, for instance, says “the man came to be a living soul,” whereas Paul in quoting this portion said: “It is even so written: ‘The first man Adam became a living soul.’” (1 Cor 15:45) His addition of the words “first” and “Adam” served to emphasize the contrast he was making between Adam and Christ. The insertion was fully in accord with the facts recorded in the Scriptures and in no way perverted the sense or content of the text quoted. Those to whom Paul wrote had copies (or translations) of the Hebrew Scriptures older than those we have today and could investigate his quotations, in a way similar to that of the people of Beroea. (Acts 17:10, 11) The inclusion of these writings in the canon of the Sacred Scriptures by the Christian congregation of the first century gives evidence of their acceptance of such quotations as part of the inspired Word of God.—Compare also Zechariah 13:7 with Matthew 26:31.
“INSPIRED EXPRESSIONS”—TRUE AND FALSE
The Greek word pneuʹma (“spirit”) is used in a special manner in some apostolic writings. At 2 Thessalonians 2:2, for example, the apostle Paul urges his Thessalonian brothers not to get excited or shaken from their reason “either through an inspired expression [literally, “spirit”] or through a verbal message or through a letter as though from us, to the effect that the day of Jehovah is here.” It is clear that Paul uses the word pneuʹma (spirit) in connection with means of communication, such as the “verbal message” or “letter.” For this reason the Critical Doctrinal and Homiletical Commentary by Schaff-Lange says on this text: “By this the Apostle intends a spiritual suggestion, pretended prediction, utterance of a prophet . . . ” Vincent’s Word Studies in the New Testament (Vol. IV, p. 63) states: “By spirit—By prophetic utterances of individuals in Christian assemblies, claiming the authority of divine revelation.” Thus, while some translations simply render pneuʹma in this and similar cases as “spirit,” other translations read “message of the Spirit” (AT), “prediction” (JB), “inspiration” (D’Ostervald; Segond [French]), “inspired expression” (NW).
Paul’s words make it clear that there are true “inspired expressions” and false ones. He refers to both kinds at 1 Timothy 4:1 when saying that “the inspired utterance [from Jehovah’s holy spirit] says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to misleading inspired utterances and teachings of demons,” This identifies the source of the false “inspired utterances” as the demons. This is supported by the vision given the apostle John in which he saw “three unclean inspired expressions,” froglike in appearance, proceeding from the mouths of the dragon, wild beast and false prophet, and which expressions he specifically states are “inspired by demons,” serving to gather earth’s kings to the war at Har–Magedon.—Rev. 16:13-16.
With good reason, then, John urged Christians to “test the inspired expressions to see whether they originate with God.” (1 John 4:1-3; compare Revelation 22:6.) He then went on to show that God’s true Inspired expressions were coming through the genuine Christian congregation, not through unchristian worldly sources. John’s statement was, of course, inspired by Jehovah God, but even aside from this, John’s letter had laid a solid foundation for making the straightforward statement: “He that gains the knowledge of God listens to us; he that does not originate with God does not listen to us. This is how we take note of the inspired expression of truth and the inspired expression of error.” (1 John 4:6) Far from being mere dogmatism, John had shown that he and other true Christians were manifesting the fruits of God’s spirit, primarily love, and were proving by their right conduct and truthful speech that they were indeed “walking in the light” in union with God.—1 John 1:5-7; 2:3-6, 9-11, 15-17, 29; 3:1, 2, 6, 9-18, 23, 24; contrast Titus 1:16.