How Did God Inspire the Bible?
COMMUNICATION is more fascinating today than at any other time in history. Telephones, fax machines, computers—years ago who could have imagined a time when messages would be transmitted virtually anywhere around the world instantly?
But the most intriguing kind of communication is one that man cannot master—divine inspiration. Jehovah inspired some 40 human writers to produce his written Word, the Holy Bible. Just as humans have more than one means of communication available to them, so Jehovah used several methods of communication to inspire the Scriptures.
Dictation. God communicated specific messages that were later put into the Bible record.a For example, consider the regulations making up the Law covenant. “Write down for yourself these words,” Jehovah told Moses, “because it is in accordance with these words that I do conclude a covenant with you and Israel.” (Exodus 34:27) Those “words,” which were “transmitted by angels,” were copied by Moses and can now be found in the Bible books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.—Acts 7:53.
Many other prophets, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Nahum, and Micah, received specific messages from God through angels. Sometimes these men began their pronouncements with the phrase: “This is what Jehovah has said.” (Isaiah 37:6; Jeremiah 2:2; Ezekiel 11:5; Amos 1:3; Micah 2:3; Nahum 1:12) Then they put what God said into written form.
Visions, Dreams, and Trances. A vision is a sight, scene, or message superimposed upon a person’s mind while he is awake, usually by some extraordinary means. For example, Peter, James, and John, “when they got fully awake,” saw a vision of the transfigured Jesus. (Luke 9:28-36; 2 Peter 1:16-21) In some cases a message was conveyed in a dream, or night vision, being impressed upon the recipient’s subconscious while he was asleep. Daniel thus writes of “the visions of my head upon my bed”—or, as translator Ronald A. Knox renders it, “as I lay watching in my dream.”—Daniel 4:10.
A person whom Jehovah put in a trance was evidently absorbed in a state of deep concentration, though at least partially awake. (Compare Acts 10:9-16.) In the Bible the Greek word rendered “trance” (ekʹsta·sis) means ‘a putting away or a displacement.’ It suggests the idea of throwing the mind out of its normal state. Thus, a person in a trance would be oblivious of his surroundings while being fully receptive to the vision. The apostle Paul was likely in such a trance when he was “caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.”—2 Corinthians 12:2-4.
In contrast with those who transcribed dictated messages from God, Bible writers who received visions or dreams or who experienced trances often had some latitude to describe in their own words what they saw. Habakkuk was told: “Write down the vision, and set it out plainly upon tablets, in order that the one reading aloud from it may do so fluently.”—Habakkuk 2:2.
Does this mean that these parts of the Bible are somehow less inspired than passages that were dictated? Not at all. Through his spirit, Jehovah firmly fixed his message in each writer’s mind, so that God’s thoughts and not man’s were conveyed. While Jehovah allowed the writer to select appropriate words, he guided the writer’s mind and heart in order that no essential information was omitted and in the end the words were properly viewed as God’s.—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Divine Revelation. The Bible contains prophecy—history revealed and written in advance—that is well beyond mere human capability. One example is the rise and fall of “the king of Greece,” Alexander the Great, foretold some 200 years in advance! (Daniel 8:1-8, 20-22) The Bible also reveals events never witnessed by human eyes. The creation of heaven and earth is one example. (Genesis 1:1-27; 2:7, 8) Then there are conversations that took place in heaven, like those reported in the book of Job.—Job 1:6-12; 2:1-6.
If not directly revealed by God to the writer, such events were made known by God to someone so that these became part of oral or written history, passed down from one generation to the next until they became part of the Bible record. (See box on page 7.) In any case, we can be sure that Jehovah was the Source of all such information, and he guided the writers so that their accounts were not tainted with inaccuracy, exaggeration, or myth. Peter wrote regarding prophecy: “Men spoke from God as they were borne along by holy spirit.”b—2 Peter 1:21.
Painstaking Effort Required
Though the Bible writers “were borne along by holy spirit,” careful thought on their part was nonetheless required. For example, Solomon “pondered and made a thorough search, that he might arrange many proverbs in order. [He] sought to find the delightful words and the writing of correct words of truth.”—Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10.
Some Bible writers had to engage in considerable research to document their material. Luke, for example, wrote regarding his Gospel account: “I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order.” Of course, God’s spirit blessed Luke’s efforts, no doubt moving him to locate trustworthy historical documents and to interview reliable eyewitnesses, such as the surviving disciples and possibly Jesus’ mother, Mary. God’s spirit would then guide Luke to record the information accurately.—Luke 1:1-4.
In contrast with Luke’s Gospel, John’s was an eyewitness account, written some 65 years after Jesus died. Jehovah’s spirit no doubt sharpened John’s memory so that it would not be weakened by the passing of time. This would be consistent with what Jesus had promised his followers: “The helper, the holy spirit, which the Father will send in my name, that one will teach you all things and bring back to your minds all the things I told you.”—John 14:26.
In some cases Bible writers included compilations from eyewitness documents of earlier historical writers, not all of whom were inspired. Jeremiah compiled First and Second Kings largely in this way. (2 Kings 1:18) Ezra referred to at least 14 noninspired sources to gather material for First and Second Chronicles, including “the account of the affairs of the days of King David” and “the Book of the Kings of Judah and of Israel.” (1 Chronicles 27:24; 2 Chronicles 16:11) Moses even quoted from “the book of the Wars of Jehovah”—apparently a reliable record of the wars of God’s people.—Numbers 21:14, 15.
In such cases holy spirit was actively involved, moving Bible writers to select only reliable material, which then became part of the inspired Bible record.
Practical Counsel—From Whom?
The Bible contains a wealth of practical counsel based on perceptive personal observations. For example, Solomon wrote: “With a man there is nothing better than that he should eat and indeed drink and cause his soul to see good because of his hard work. This too I have seen, even I, that this is from the hand of the true God.” (Ecclesiastes 2:24) Paul stated that his advice regarding marriage was “according to [his] opinion,” though he added: “I certainly think I also have God’s spirit.” (1 Corinthians 7:25, 39, 40) Paul certainly did have God’s spirit, for as noted by the apostle Peter, what Paul wrote was “according to the wisdom given him.” (2 Peter 3:15, 16) Thus, guided by God’s spirit, he was giving his opinion.
When Bible writers expressed such personal convictions, they did so against a background of study and application of the scriptures that were available to them. We can be sure that their writings harmonized with God’s thinking. What they recorded became part of God’s Word.
Of course, the Bible does contain statements of some whose thinking was erroneous. (Compare Job 15:15 with 42:7.) It also includes a few expressions that conveyed the anguished feelings of God’s servants, though such did not convey the complete picture of matters.c While making such personal statements, the writer was still guided by God’s spirit to make an accurate record, which served to identify and expose wrong reasoning. Furthermore, in each case the context makes clear to any reasonable reader whether the writer’s thinking is valid.
In sum, we can be confident that the whole Bible is God’s message. Indeed, Jehovah saw to it that everything it contains suited his purpose and provided essential instruction for those desiring to serve him.—Romans 15:4.
Jehovah’s use of humans to write the Bible shows his great wisdom. Consider this: If God delegated the matter to angels, would the Bible have the same appeal? Granted, we would be thrilled to read of God’s qualities and dealings from an angel’s perspective. But if the human element were completely lacking, we might have difficulty grasping the Bible’s message.
To illustrate: The Bible could simply report that King David committed adultery and murder and that he thereafter repented. Yet how much better it is to have David’s own words, as he expressed heartrending anguish over his course and begged for Jehovah’s forgiveness! “My sin is in front of me constantly,” he wrote. “A heart broken and crushed, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:3, 17) Hence, the Bible has the warmth, variety, and appeal that the human element gives it.
Yes, Jehovah chose the finest way to give us his Word. Even though humans with weaknesses and frailties were used, they were borne along by holy spirit so that there would be no error in their writings. Thus, the Bible has superlative value. Its advice is solid, and its prophecies regarding the future Paradise on earth are dependable.—Psalm 119:105; 2 Peter 3:13.
Why not make it a practice to read a portion of God’s Word each day? Peter wrote: “Form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word, that through it you may grow to salvation.” (1 Peter 2:2) Since it is inspired of God, you will find all Scripture to be “beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
a In at least one case, that of the Ten Commandments, the information was written directly “by God’s finger.” Moses then merely copied those words onto scrolls or other materials.—Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 10:1-5.
b The Greek word here translated “were borne along,” pheʹro, is used in another form at Acts 27:15, 17 to describe a ship that is carried along by the wind. So holy spirit ‘navigated the course’ of the Bible writers. It moved them to reject any information that was spurious and to include only that which was factual.
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Where Did Moses Get His Information?
MOSES wrote the Bible book of Genesis, but everything he recorded took place long before his birth. From where, then, did he get such information? It could have been revealed to him directly by God, or knowledge of some of the events may have been passed down orally from one generation to the next. Since humans had a longer life span in early times, much of what Moses recorded in Genesis could have been passed from Adam to Moses through just five human links—Methuselah, Shem, Isaac, Levi, and Amram.
Additionally, Moses may have consulted written records. In this regard, it is noteworthy that Moses frequently uses the phrase “this is the history of,” before naming the person to be discussed. (Genesis 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; 37:2) Some scholars say that the Hebrew word here translated “history,” toh·le·dhohthʹ, refers to an already existing written historical document that Moses used as a source for his writing. Of course, this cannot be stated conclusively.
It could be that the information contained in the book of Genesis was obtained by all three of the above methods—some by direct revelation, some by oral transmission, and some from written records. The important point is that Jehovah’s spirit inspired Moses. Hence, what he wrote is rightly viewed as the word of God.
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In various ways, God inspired men to write the Bible