How can God be the Author of the Bible when human beings wrote its words? Read George Knight’s thoughtful response.
Words are slippery things. We often think we know exactly what we are talking about until someone asks us to define the precise meaning of the words we are using.
Take the word inspiration, for example. That’s easy, you may be thinking, I feel inspired to live a better life every time that I read the Bible. Someone else may say, “I feel inspired when I see a beautiful painting or listen to enchanting music.” A third person may say, “I got the most inspiring idea!”
The meaning of inspiration
All these are good uses of the words inspiration and inspired, but are these definitions what the Bible means when it says that “All scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16, RSV)?
The Greek word translated “inspired” means “God breathed,” indicating that the Book we call the Bible has been given to us by God Himself. Peter wrote that “no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21, RSV).
We can say, then, that the “inspiration” of the Bible means that the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit guided the Bible writers so that their writings provide an accurate record of God’s will.
But how does inspiration work? How did the Holy Spirit inform and guide the Bible writers?
Guidance related to information
Many Bible passages reflect the fact that God revealed His will to the prophets through either words they heard or visions they saw. Thus, Jeremiah could speak of “the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord” (Jeremiah 18:1; italics added), and John wrote that he “saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:2, RSV; italics added).
But God also used other ways to inform the authors of the Bible. One is through history. Events such as Creation, the call of Abraham, and the incarnation of Christ are recorded in the Bible as God’s mighty deeds. God has acted in history through a series of divine events that have been recorded in Scripture, and this history makes up a large part of the Bible.
Jesus Christ is, of course, the most complete form of God’s revelation. The book of Hebrews notes that “in many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by the prophets; but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:1, 2, RSV; italics added). All revelations before Jesus were incomplete. None of them individually or even collectively could add up to all that God needed to tell His people. But in Christ God’s revelation came to its fullness.
W. H. Griffith Thomas said that Jesus “is a complete revelation [of God’s will]; instead of being temporary, it is permanent; instead of being preparatory, it is final; and instead of coming through subordinators, it is embodied in One Who is supreme.”1 And F. F. Bruce said that “the story of divine revelation is a story of progression up to Christ, but there is no progression beyond him.”2
It’s tempting to think that all inspired writings came through a special revelation from God. However, Luke informs us that he researched many existing written and oral records to gather information about Jesus. He wrote his gospel only after carefully examining the facts he compiled from these sources (see Luke 1:1–4).
Luke wasn’t alone in his use of research. Ezra 7 is a long letter from King Artaxerxes (see verses 11–26). Other Bible writers used sources such as the book of Jashar (Joshua 10:13; 2 Samuel 1:18) and the official records found in the royal records of Israel and other nations (see for example 1 Kings 14:19; 2 Kings 1:18; Esther 10:2).
So only part of the information we find in the Bible came through some form of revelation from God. Other parts came through researching existing records.
Guidance related to writing
But while only part of the Bible came through revelation, all of it is inspired. Earlier we saw that the word inspiration really means “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). This simply means that the Holy Spirit guided the Bible writers as they wrote down what God showed them or told them. Inspiration also includes God’s help as the Bible writers gathered their information and His help in writing out the message He wanted them to pass on to His people.
Some students of the Bible think of inspiration as God dictating the words and the Bible writers acting as His stenographers. Others think of such dictation as too mechanical and suggest that even though God didn’t directly dictate, He did guide the writers in the exact words they should use. This theory is sometimes called “verbal inspiration.”
It’s true that at certain times God did give exact words to the prophets. But in most cases He seems to have allowed them a large amount of freedom in the selection of words and even in the ordering of their presentations. For example, even though Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all writing about Jesus’ life and teachings in the Gospels, there is a great deal of variety in each writer’s vocabulary and in the way each one ordered the events in the gospel story. Good examples of this flexibility are the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5–7; Luke 6:17–49) and the various narratives of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 1; 2; Luke 1–3).
The author of Ecclesiastes said that “he pondered, searched out and arranged many proverbs” and “sought to find delightful words and to write words of truth correctly” (Ecclesiastes 12:9, 10, NASB). His words are inspired because he was guided by the Holy Spirit as he wrote.
Clearly, then, both divine and human elements were involved in the writing of the Bible. Millard J. Erickson described this process nicely when he said that “the work of the Spirit of God is in directing the writer to the thoughts and concepts he should have, and allowing the writer’s own distinctive personality to come into play in the choice of words and expressions.”3
Thus it’s the writers who are inspired and not their exact words. For that reason James Orr has suggested that “to express the idea of an inspiration which pervades all the parts of the record, the word 'plenary' [meaning full or complete] is more suitable than 'verbal.' ”4 His meaning is that every part of the Bible is inspired through a process that combines divine guidance with human activity.
This is the process by which the words of humans became the Word of God.
Authors of the Bible
There were many people involved in writing the Bible coming from all walks of life. Some of the writers included:
Moses: Born a slave, grew up in the Egyptian royal family, became a murderer, shepherd, and finally Gods chosen leader for the greatest Exodus of His people.
King David: A shepherd, musician, adulterer, murderer, and king of Israel.
Ezekiel: A Jewish priest taken captive by the Babylonians.
Amos: A farmer from Judah.
Matthew: A despised tax collector.
Luke: A doctor.
John: A fisherman writing from prison.
Paul: A Pharisee who persecuted the first Christians, later becoming a church leader.
James: Jesus’ brother and leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem.