Some Thoughts on the Inspiration of the Bible

Contribution Post By Eric Hatfield from The Way? & Is there a God?

 

Starting point

It is best I begin by outlining where I’m coming from. I believe the evidence points to God being the creator and designer of the universe, and of the human race; to Jesus being divine and the revelation of God; and to people having experiences of God in their daily lives. I won’t be discussing that evidence here (you can see my reasons at Why believe?), but that is the basis of how I approach the Bible.

All of these conclusions can be reached without considering the Bible to be anything more than what historians tell us. But once I believe, then I must approach the Bible by considering historical facts and the implications of faith in Jesus.

So I begin my thinking about the Bible believing that the New Testament has historical credibility, understanding that Jesus respected the Old Testament but superseded it, and concluding that I should treat the Bible as a revelation of God. The question is, what does that mean?

Is the Bible inspired?

2 Timothy 3:16 must be the starting point. It says:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness ….

The key here is the word translated “God-breathed”, or (often) “Inspired”. The difficulty is that this is the only place where it is used in the Bible, so its meaning is uncertain.

  • The most common understanding is that the Bible is “breathed out” by God, so it contains the very words of God.
  • NT Wright says inspiration means “by his Spirit God guided the very different writers and editors, so that the books they produced were books God intended his people to have.” This implies God exercised less control than the first explanation.
  • This passage could be translated “Every inspired writing is profitable …”, thus telling us how to use the Bible, but nothing about inspiration.
  • Ben Witherington says inspiration means “God speaks through these words. God breathed life and meaning and truth into them all.” Witherington goes on to point out that Paul doesn’t explain how this occurs, and is more interested in the result – that christians can know how to behave.

Other passages also show there isn’t a clear answer:

  • 2 Peter 1:21, which speaks of human beings being “carried along by the Holy Spirit”, is equally ambiguous.
  • When Paul discusses marriage in 1 Corinthians 7, he distinguishes between various levels of authority – from Jesus’ teachings (v 10), his own opinions (v 12) and his conclusion based on the guidance of the Spirit (v 40).

I conclude then that we should be wary of thinking we can fully define the roles of God and the human authors in the Biblical writings. We should be content with believing that the Bible is an important part of God’s revelation of truth to us, but the authors used their own gifts and style.

Is the Bible without error?

  • The Bible doesn’t make this claim. Inerrancy is generally based on verses which say God’s words are true, and the assumption (also never found in scripture) that the Bible can be understood as God’s own words.
  • It doesn’t look as though it is inerrant, for there are many obvious difficulties and many historical problems we may not always be aware of.
  • Claims of inerrancy only apply to the original writings, and not to any document or translation we have today, so the doctrine has no practical application.
  • It has not been a majority view through 2 millennia of christianity, and is not held by all (possibly not even by most) christians today. Its present-day formulation is relatively recent.

I can only conclude that there is no reason to believe that the Bible contains no errors. That doesn’t mean I believe it has errors, or that any individual problem is an error, for many apparent errors have subsequently been explained. I prefer to think that regardless of possible errors, God inspired the authors and uses the Bible to reveal himself. Some people find this view incongruous, but we are quite used to reading fallible books and newspapers and drawing what we believe are true conclusions, so why not here? – and we have the Holy Spirit to guide us (John 14:26, 15:26, 16:13).

Interpreting the Bible

How should we interpret the Bible?

Unfortunately, both believers and sceptics too often interpret in the way that suits them. I believe we need to learn from the scholars what the words and concepts meant in the original culture, then we need to pray for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, discerned by the body of christians, on how to apply passages today.

Should the Bible always be interpreted literally?

It is clear that some sections are poetry, parable, vision, psalm, etc, and most christians recognise that these types of literature should not be interpreted literally – though unfortunately this doesn’t stop many christians from using the Psalms in inappropriate ways. But the harder question is: which other sections are literal and which are not?

I have no trouble, based on scholarship and the Holy Spirit, interpreting Genesis 1-11 as myth, and Job and Jonah as more folk tale than historic. I have more difficulty with the ‘historical’ books of the Old Testament, but I tend to agree with CS Lewis that they appear to be exaggerated history with legendary elements.

It is worth noting that Jesus and the New Testament writers don’t always interpret the Old Testament in a literal way, but use interpretations common to first century Judaism that we would regard as somewhat fanciful. For the first few hundred years, many christians employed allegorical interpretations, and Augustine (one of the most influential of all christian writers) cautioned in the 4th century against interpreting Genesis literally.

Is the Bible a book of rules for faith and life?

If this is its primary purpose, then its final form is very strange, for it is more narrative than anything else. It certainly contains rules, but the New Testament replaces rules with principles, and a strong teaching that the Old Testament laws have been superseded by the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Luke 16:16-17, Romans 7:6, 2 Corinthians 3:6) – so anything not done in faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

Questions and difficulties

Most common questions and difficulties are removed by the above approach. We don’t expect perfection and unambiguous rules, but more a story of God at work with imperfect people. We don’t expect to understand everything, but we expect the important things to be clear enough, and the Spirit to guide us. Perfect knowledge is not achievable in this life, and we live with uncertainty but also with faith.

Thus difficulties in the Bible are not sufficient to undermine my faith and my reasons for believing, though I must admit I am still troubled by the Old Testament commands to kill.

Living as a christian

I have lived as a christian for almost 50 years, and these convictions have developed slowly. I haven’t found that my changed view of the Bible has led to any loss of faith or zeal for God – at 66 I am still as committed to serving God by helping others to ‘see him more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly’, and playing my small part in bringing justice and mercy on earth.

My wife and I pray together every day and read the Bible together on many days. I study the Bible with the best scholarly help I can get, and lead studies for others in groups. I don’t believe the Bible is inerrant, but I take it seriously and I find that the Spirit speaks to me through it – certainly I find plenty of places where I see the need to improve my behavior.

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About M. Rodriguez

When I first received Christ salvation, I made it a priority to read the whole bible and I did. But it was the Bible that made me question my faith. For I found it flawed and lacking. Due to this I launched a personal inquiry/investigation into my faith, and ultimately realized that the Christian God of the Bible was indeed man-made. Now I Blog about those findings and life after Christ.
This entry was posted in 2 timothy 3:16-17, atheist vs christian, biblical inerrancy, biblical inspiration, debate, God-Breathed, inerrancy, infalliable, inspiration and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Some Thoughts on the Inspiration of the Bible

  1. Pingback: Making Sense of 2 Timothy 3:16-17 | The BitterSweet End

  2. Nate says:

    This was a great article, unkleE. Thanks for sharing your perspective on this issue — I’ll be thinking on it for a while.

  3. unklee says:

    Thanks Nate. I certainly learnt a bit by writing it.

  4. Justin Riddell says:

    Sounds like you have two unbelievers writing on these issues. Believing portions of the Bible and dismissing other aspects of it is NOT displaying Faith. Faith is not exhibited through our own understanding of the Bible. It is through accepting that the WORD of God is TRUTH and realizing our own limitations in understanding the entirety of that truth. Unfortunately the lack of Faith people are having nowadays is a symptom of a much greater issue. All the New revisions of the Bibles you read today NIV, HCSB, NLT, NRS, come from a set of manuscripts (Alexandrian) which are corrupt Catholic translations. Before you dismiss this as another rant – visit

    The main issue is this, the documents your Bibles and all New Translations are based on were widely rejected by true bible believing Christians of histories past. There is a great deal of evidence, and in fact the Bibles speak for themselves. One thing I will note, Wescott and Hort were responsible for this corruption. Instead of revising the vocabulary, updating the english of the true Bible they threw out the manuscripts which had been used for thousands of years and brought in the corrupted Alexandrian Texts to translate from. Not to mention Wescott and Hort had questionable character at best, I have several books containing the letters written by them. ( They supported many practices which would make a TRUE Christian cringe. As well as was good friends with a Lucifarian -Madame Blavatski ) Remember you can judge a tree by the fruit it bears…

    Anyways don’t give up on God, have faith. Pick up an Authorized King James Bible. Accept the WORD of God into your life and I guarentee your lives will be changed. I know because it changed mine. At one time, I too was decieved into believing the statements above. It is unfortunate many will lose faith simply because they do not have God’s WORD. God Bless and I hope the above information helps!

    • Hello Justin

      I did not even know your comment was there I’ve been going through some of my old post to catch any I have not responded to.

      Well, Unklee is definitely a believer, I’m pretty sure of that, just go to his websites and check it out. His love and desire for apologetics does also demonstrate that.

      I don’t believe the answer to my doubts and skepticism is a matter of bible translation because if I was to switch exclusively to the KJV, that would only introduce more errors and inconsistencies. There are errors in the KJV, that are not in any other translation. And they are obvious erros like how many sons did Micahl daughter of Saul had? Was it 5 or zero. Only the KJV has that discrepancy.

      https://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/02/22/did-michal-have-any-children/

      All the other translations checked it against the original greek and hebrew, while the KJV does not.

      Now in regards to the alexandrian being a product of catholic corruption, sounds like nonsense, because in catholic history, The catholic church only authorized one manuscript of the bible, which was the latin vulgate. All other bibles or manuscripts were illegal. So all greek including alexandrian and byzatine manuscripts were illegal.

      Finally in regards to which version, I wrote a post a while back for when people question which translation I use, cause I knew this would eventually be a common comment on the blog… https://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/the-issue-of-translation/

      Here is an excerpt from the post and comments if you care to read:
      The Question: Which is the best and most accurate translation to the original manuscripts?

      A simple question, with a not so simple answer, because these are some of the things one must consider when dealing with bible translations & version: style of translation, which manuscript, how many translator and their level of expertise, methodology of translations, and how they handle differences in manuscripts. In addition when you go into this topic, you go deep into the history of bible: i.e. The first (English) bible, The Septuagint, The Latin Vulgate, William Tyndale, Majority Text, Critical Text, Byzantine Text, Masoretic Text, Translation Methodology, Textual Variants, Alexandrian Text, John Wycliffe, The Apocrypha, Council of Nicaea, Catholic/Universal Church, Various Papyrus manuscripts, Codex Sinaiticus, Textual Criticism, Westcot and Hort Text. One could actually do a textual critique of every chapter and every book in the bible. I could literally start a whole new blog on this topic. And believe me I am far from an expert on this topic.

      In my opinion, YES, anybody who uses the KJV or NKJV should be wary of accuracy and precision.

      I almost find it comical that put so much emphasis on the KJV, since it’s not even the first ENGLISH Bible. I mean it was written over 1500 years after Christ death.

      To put this way, The HCSB, NIV, and NASB, were huge undertaking by large group of experts in their field with extensive knowledge and resources to use.

      The KJV was written by a smaller group of people of about 30-36. These people who wrote this in 1611, they were not the top experts in their field. They did not have extensive resources. In fact they only had a few choices in regard to manuscripts to use as basis for translating the bible. Really at that time in history. One could only have used the Latin Vulgate (which is greatly flawed) or the Textus Recptus, which no modern version is translated from now. In fact the reason why the KJV was written was in response to the Catholic Church not wanting a protestant english bible. Futhermore, when writing the KJV, the group did use the Textus Recptus, however that was not their basis of translation. They actually used the Tyndale Bible as the basis for translation. Scholars ambigously say between 70%-80% of the KJV is word for word the Tyndale Bible. So it was even written mainly form greek-hebrew manuscripts, one could say the KJV was a copy of another english copy.

      There are generlly two families of manuscripts Bynzatine and Alexandrian. most (or all) modern translation now use the Alexandiran family of manuscripts when tranlation/writing new bibles. Most (Almost All) agree that the Alexandrian is more accurate and contains fewer errors and differences in discrepancies within each other. Here is a simple overview of the two family of manuscritps:

      #1–The Byzantine–This family boasts the larger number of mss by far. However, they are also the later ones. For example, there is little evidence that any of these mss date anytime before the 4th century.

      #2–The Alexandrian–While there are fewer mss here, many scholars consider them to more accurate and they are certainly the earlier ones. We even have some of the early church fathers quoting from this tradition.

  5. Pingback: Does Inspiration imply inerrancy? | The BitterSweet End

  6. Hello Unklee

    Sorry it took me so long to write an official response, but I wanted to finish up a few more post on the history and doctrine of inerrancy before I responded. On a personal when I use to witness to people, and people would ask me about God and why should they believe? My starting point was the bible. And how it was so unique, with 66 books and by over 40 different authors. How it was written not over just centuries but millenums with no discrepancies or contradictions. That it was not just a book for spiritual guidance. But it was a history book. (I sometimes called it our perfect history book)

    One could go to israel and travel the road to damascus. You could go visit the cave of lot. You could go to where the city of Jericho used to stand, and go see where archaeology have found a wall and a house which they believe is the house of rahab. One could go to one of alleged places of golgotha, where they believe Jesus was crucified.

    And that these stories of the bible were not fairy tale, but had historical and archaeological backing.

    But when inerrancy is denied it leads down a slippery slope and we begin to question, are these just exaggerate tales of the truth and are we to believe it.

    Norman Giesler gives this syllogism for the doctrine of inerrancy:

    The Bible is the Word of God.

    God cannot mislead or err.

    Therefore the Bible cannot mislead or err.

    (Geisler & Nix, 1986:55)

    After analyzing what you have wrote, and what others have wrote and the historical backing of inspiration and inerrancy. To deny inerrancy, is also to deny the inerrancy of God. As Ryrie points out, “Even if the errors are supposedly in ‘minor’ matters, any error opens the Bible to suspicion on other points which may not be so ‘minor.’ If inerrancy falls, other doctrines will fall too.”

    https://bittersweetend.wordpress.com/2012/06/21/what-does-it-mean-to-admit-the-bible-has-errors/

  7. Pingback: Is Biblical Inerrancy, Biblical? Does Inspiration imply inerrancy? | The BitterSweet End

  8. Nate says:

    Thank you for your article. I too am a Christian who does not believe in an inerrant bible. I think that my walk with God may have been similar to yours. I started out in a fundamentalist church and I believed that I had to believe that the bible is the inspired word of God and without error to be a Christian.
    When I was confronted with obvious biblical errors it would always bother me and would try to come up with weird pivots in reasoning to support my view of an inerrant bible. It just became too damn hard! To be honest, I nearly went through a crisis of faith. But as a seeker of the truth I came to the same conclusions you have. That there is no reason to believe the bible is 100% true and without error. Actually, once I shed myself of this burden, my faith became much more fulfilling, and searching for what was really happening in the first century without bias has become a very rewarding endeavor.
    When I think about it, my faith was never founded on believing everything in the bible but instead on the Holy Spirit and the power of faith in God. As Paul said in 1st Corinthians 2 “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God.[a] 2 For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. 3 I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. 4 My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.”
    To the bible reader’s comments: I still read the bible daily and draw great strength from it brother without belief in its inerrancy. If I believed, “To deny inerrancy, is also to deny the inerrancy of God” as you put it, I too would feel as you do. But it just isn’t so. People have made the same argument about an infallible Pope. That once you deny the Pope’s inerrancy you also deny God’s. Why would God allow his church to have such a false doctrine on an infallible Pope for so long if it wasn’t true?
    I’m guessing you do not believe in an infallible Pope but are a Protestant, however have you thought that maybe your insistence on biblical inerrancy is more from what you were brought up believing and what you are used to. I imagine that you even feel that through much prayer and supplication you have been lead to stick with inerrancy. I had to face that God allows well minded praying Christians to form untrue doctrines even when they feel that they are being lead by the Holy Spirit. It seems that history is full of such well minded praying Christians, and I have to accept that this is also true for me.

    • M. Rodriguez says:

      Actually I really wasn’t raised in a christian family. I became saved/born-again in college. And as the more I learned and studied my bible and scripture the more fundamental my beliefs became.

      And as a person, Whenever I had a mind-numbing question about the bible or my faith in general I always seeked an answer.

  9. Pingback: My De-Conversion on a Matter of Doubt Podcast | The BitterSweet End

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