Apart from the nature of Christ, there are few matters as divisive among Christians as the doctrine of Inspiration of the Bible. There are two questions that arise from the doctrine of inspiration: (1) How does divine inspiration work? And, (2) What is inspired?
How Does Inspiration Work?
Traditionally, there have been three broad views about how the Bible writers were inspired:
- Verbal Inspiration: The Holy Spirit dictated the Bible, word for word.
- Thought Inspiration: The Holy Spirit inspired men’s ideas; prophets then expressed these ideas in their own words.
- The Bible contains the Word of God, that is, it records the experiences of great and Godly men and so has other material not necessarily inspired. That is, in the judgement of those who subscribe to this view, some parts of the Bible are not worthy of the sacred canon. This might be called “non-plenary”, “incomplete”, or “partial” inspiration.
We will ignore the third view as an example of “Cafeteria Theology” where one is free to decide what parts of the Bible to believe and what can be ignored. Let us assume immediately that the entire Bible, as we have it, is inspired, as declared in 2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Peter 1:19-21. See also 2 Sam 23:2, Neh 9:30, Eze 2:2, 11:5, 24, Micah 3:8, Zech 7:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rom 1:2, 3:2, Heb 3:7, 5:12, 9:8, Mark 12:36, Acts 28:25, 1 Tim 4:1.
- Paul says that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32) indicating that the prophet does not lose his/her personality in the process.
Lastly, if God had dictated the words of the Bible intending that they would be immutable and important, then God would have miraculously preserved the exact words as inspired and “dictated”. Even a casual glace at the history of the Bible text suggests that this was never the case – there are thousands of variations in the Bible text, but all preserve the ideas in the text. That is, while many “errors” and variations exist in the Bible text between manuscripts, none are significant for the message.
Thus, the Bible, God’s Word and its central message of God’s love and salvation, has been miraculously preserved but not necessarily the exact words that the Bible writers used. (It is possible that some Bible writers produced more than one version or revision themselves!?)
What is Inspired?
The question of what is inspired can be asked other ways:
- Might there be other books that have been omitted that should be either included in the canon of Scripture or at least considered inspired?
- Was the gift of prophecy closed with the canon of Scripture or could further prophets arise that, while not adding to Scripture, could still have relevant messages after the 1st century?
The second question is simpler than the first. There is nothing in the Bible suggesting that the gift of prophecy was to finish with John the Revelator. Quite the contrary; the list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament always includes the gift of prophecy.
There are numerous (some valid and some false) prophets who wrote or spoke material not included in the Bible. The NT's Agabus is a perfect example of a valid prophet whose various prophesies were not included in the Bible. The four daughters of Philip are another example.
This still leaves the question about what material was included in the Bible and why. Generally, material was included that was written by someone who had first-hand knowledge of what they were writing either by divine revelation or as a witness to the events as described. All forgeries were excluded by the early church fathers. When examining the many documents omitted from the New Testament, it becomes quite obvious why they were excluded.