What Does “Inspiration” of the Bible Mean?

Paul Derengowski, ThM


The inspiration of the Bible is a key to not only understanding the extent of God’s revelation to mankind, but of the authority and vitality the Bible, alone, possesses.  For while the 66 books which comprise the biblical canon are accepted by most Christians as inspired by God, there are a plethora of other books and manuscripts that are not a part of the biblical canon which some have postulated should be included, and yet are not inspired. Nevertheless, before defining exactly what the word “inspiration” means, it is perhaps best at this point to discuss some views of inspiration that are foreign to the biblical understanding of the term.

First, inspiration does not refer to an emotively driven state whereby the authors were excited or motivated to perform their duty.  Often we hear of someone being inspired to complete a great feat of accomplishment or that so-and-so felt inspired to sit down and write their memoirs, as if in each instance there was some inner drive that caused the individual to change their mind to do that which they otherwise would have left undone.  That is not what is meant by inspiration when considering the inspiration of the Bible.  It has nothing to do with the author’s change of demeanor.

Second, inspiration is not illumination.  Illumination entails the result of what happens when a person comes to an understanding of that which was previously unknown or not understood.  Inspiration has to do with God’s initial revelation, some of which those to whom the revelation was given may not have been understood immediately, as in the case with the prophets of God and the salvation to be wrought in Christ (1 Pet. 1:10-11).

Third, inspiration does not mean that the Bible contains the Word of God, as if its divine origin is contingent upon the acceptance of the individual to sanction it as the Word of God.  This is a common view of neo-orthodoxy, which on the one hand confesses that the Bible is God’s Word, but on the other that it is not God’s Word until it becomes impressed upon the individual to accept it as such according to their individual experiences and impressions.  Such a less-than-inspired approach to Scripture ultimately leaves its authority to be determined by human acceptance and understanding, rather than God’s ordination, and that is not acceptable either by definition or proper hermeneutic.

Fourth, inspiration does not mean dictation.  God did not act as a corporate CEO in a private meeting with his stenographer at different times throughout history, dictating to His scribe what He wanted written down and conveyed to the masses.  Rather, God moved men by His Spirit to pen His revelation while allowing their individual personalities, occupations, writing styles, education and backgrounds to express what it was that God wanted humanity to know through them.  Thus their words became God’s words.

Hence, we arrive at a positive definition of inspiration.  “Inspiration” is the English translation of the Greek word theopneustos (qeo,pneustoj), and is found only once in the Bible (2 Tim. 3:16).  It literally means “God-breathed,” but more specifically that God breathed “out” His communication to mankind.  It is a metaphorical expression that represents God’s communication or speech to man.  Yet, as Alan Stibbs points out,

The word “inspired”…is not to be understood as indicating something “extra” superimposed on the writer or writing, to make the writing different from what it would otherwise be.  It indicates rather how the writing came into existence.  It asserts that the writing is a product of the creative activity of the divine breath.  The word thus goes right back to the beginning or first cause of the emergence of Scripture, and indicates that Scripture has in its origin this distinctive hallmark, that it owes its very existence to the direct activity of God himself.  Although men wrote it, it is God who brought it into being.  Its content and character have all been decisively determined by the originating and controlling activity of the creative Spirit.  For this reason the context affirms that Scripture is profitable “for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training for righteousness,” since its character and quality, and indeed its very existence, are God-determined. 1

Therefore, when speaking on the subject of the Bible’s inspiration, one is not talking about the authors being inspired, but that the Bible’s content is inspired, or “God-breathed out,” which is why it possesses the authority, vitality, and trustworthiness that it does in all matters of faith, practice, and living.  And to misuse the word “inspiration” in a way that God did not intend is surely to result in some of the same kinds of confusion and controversy that the Church has witnessed at times throughout its history.  Consequently, attention to details in this respect is an imperative.


  1. Alan M. Stibbs, “Witness of Scripture to Its Inspiration,” in Revelation and the Bible, Carl F. H. Henry, ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1958), 109.

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