Basics of the Reformed Faith: The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible
In Genesis 1:1 we read “in the beginning was God.” Echoing the opening declaration of the Bible, in John 1:1 we read that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” But John goes on to say “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The fact that God chose to reveal himself in the person of Jesus Christ (the eternal word made flesh) brings us to the subject of the inspiration and authority of the Bible.
It is important to understand what the various human writers of the Bible say about the Bible itself. What kind of book is it? What do they testify about it?
The Bible never claims to be an “inspirational” book which grants its reader some sort of spiritual insight or self-enlightenment. The Bible was not given to motivate us to live better lives, or to motivate us to do great things. As we have seen, the Bible is given by God as a testimony to the Word made flesh (Jesus).
The testimony of the biblical writers is paramount. As Paul says in his second letter to Timothy, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” Although the term “inspiration of Scripture” is used to describe God’s revelation of himself to us in written form, modern translations of the Bible (such as the ESV) correctly note that the verb which the King James Version famously translated as “inspired” (theopneustos) is better translated as “breathed out” by God. This emphasizes the fact that the various books of the Bible (Scripture) are given to us by God (”breathed out”) through the agency of human authors. This is why in Romans 3:2, for example, Paul can speak of the Old Testament as “the very words of God.”
In 2 Peter 1:16-21, we read, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, `This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” In this passage, the Apostle Peter claims to be an eyewitness to key events in the life of Jesus (i.e., Jesus’ transfiguration), and he denies inventing or following myths. For Peter, Scripture is the product of men being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. Scripture does not arise in the will of man (“I think I’ll write a book of the Bible today!”), but only as men are “carried along” by the Holy Spirit, ensuring that human sin and frailty do not rob the Bible of either its divine authority, or its factual accuracy in all that it addresses (inerrancy).
And then there is the testimony of Jesus himself. Our Lord states that Scripture comes from the “mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35), that it is God’s truth (John 17:17). Jesus tells his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come, teach them all things, and remind them of all that Jesus taught them (John 14:26). Indeed, says Jesus in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”
Since the Bible is the very words of God (it doesn’t merely contain the word of God), it comes to us with the authority of God himself. The Bible is God’s word written and must be seen as divine speech through human agency. As one writer (B. B. Warfield) so aptly put it, “It says, God says.”