A common misconception regarding the Bible has to do with its origin and production. There are many who allege that the Bible originated through the sole ingenuity of humanity. The statement, “the Bible was written by men,” is a common affirmation by those who often wish to reject its message. With this belief, many limit the Bible’s message to the cultural mores of its authors and affirm it to be out-dated because modern humanity continues to progress in wisdom and knowledge. So the Bible is, to many, an antiquated anthology of religious instruction.
If the Bible speaks of itself as a religious resource, collected over time to give practical religious instruction with no Divine contribution, then the Bible student has no reason to be antagonistic towards this view of the Bible. However, this is not what the biblical evidence demonstrates. In fact, the testimony of the biblical evidence compels us to affirm that the Bible is beyond human production. Consequently, although many today believe –-even some of our religious neighbors-– that the Bible is the sole production of human intellect, the Bible is the product of Divine revelation and Divinely inspired human beings.
But what are these concepts? Do they mean the same thing? How should they impact our perception of the Bible? These are the questions that will be explored here.
The Nature of Revelation
To the average church attendee, the word revelation is not foreign. Quite typically, the word revelation is employed in Bible class and in sermons; however, what does this word mean? Paul speaks of revelation:
For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. (Gal 1:11-12 ESV)
In this context, Paul is demonstrating the independent and authentic nature of his preaching, in contrast to those that were troubling the Galatian Christians (1:6-9). In fact, he mentions his encounter with the Apostles in Jerusalem, noting that they “added nothing” to his preaching or Gospel education (2:1-10).
There are several points of interest in this passage contributing to an appropriate understanding of revelation. The word “revelation” comes from apocalupsis, an “uncovering”; but more particular, when applied to the gospel message suggests “an expression of the mind of God for the instruction of the church.” Again, revelation “has to do with that which could not be known except by direct communication from Jehovah.” Consequently, revelation is God unveiling his mind to his people.
Furthermore, Galatians 1:11-12 gives us three points regarding the nature of revelation. (1) Revelation is not derived from the logistical faculties of mankind; (2) revelation is received – it is not a religious epiphany; but (3) it is received from a Divine Source – here Jesus Christ.
The Nature of Inspiration
Revelation is God’s action of expressing his message to his prophets (1 Cor 2:11-16); inspiration is a related but somewhat distinct term. The apostle Paul’s second letter to Timothy provides the clearest case of what inspiration is. Paul writes to Timothy the following words:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed 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. (2 Tim 3:14-17)
As Paul encourages his young friend to have confidence in his ministry and his training, placing all confidence in the “sacred writings” (here the OT), Paul uses one of the most unique words in the entire New Testament –-used only once, theoneustos (“God breathed”).
The word has often been translated as inspired, an English word that needs some clarification as to its origin. Jack P. Lewis discusses this point in Questions You’ve Asked about Bible Translations. Latin translators of the New Testament used the phrase divinitus inspirata, meaning “Divinely breathed in,” not “God breathed,” and this rendition has affected English translations for subsequent generations.
The difference between the two is this: (a) “Divinely breathed in” refers to a characteristic of Scripture, while (b) “God breathed” is a statement of how Scripture came to be. To capture the meaning of “God breathed” Scripture, E. Nida and J. Louw suggest that the phrase “all Scripture God breathed” be understood as: “Scripture, the writer of which was influenced by God.” Ultimately, inspiration is a characteristic of every ounce of Scripture, but this is not Paul’s point here (a distinction that should be appreciated).
The Relationship between Revelation and Inspiration
Although revelation and inspiration overlap in some aspects in their meaning, it is important to keep them distinct. It has been correctly noted, “all revelatory material contained in the Bible is inspired of God, but not all inspired material was revelatory in nature.” Meaning, there are parts of Scripture that did not need God to reveal them, as in the case of eyewitness testimony. For example, the apostle Matthew would not have needed revelation per se to produce his Gospel account; however, he would need God’s guidance to select the appropriate narratives and emphases.
Furthermore, there are examples where Paul quotes poets (Aratus in Acts 17:28), playrights (Menander in 1 Cor 15:33), and philosophers (Epimenides in Tit 1:12). Likewise, Jude refers to non-inspired Jewish literature in verses 9 (Assumption of Moses) and 14 (Book of Enoch). C. A. Wilson explains: “Jude was probably using a current idea to teach a spiritual lesson, and the Holy Spirit has seen fit to include this particular statement in Holy Writ.” Wilson’s comment on Jude is equally applicable to Paul and any other inspired writer. Inspiration secures that prophetic writers used non-biblical literature –-as noted above-– correctly.
The Impact of Revelation and Inspiration
Turning attention to the question regarding how revelation and inspiration should impact one’s perception of the Bible, it is important to recognize that God revealed and secured the accuracy of the message penned. It is vital to reflect upon the fact that what God had his prophets preach, became the substance of what God had his prophets pen (Isa 30:8-17).
When we read the Bible we are reading the product of revelation (a God given message) and inspiration (God’s message accurately reproduced), observe:
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. (2 Pet 1:19-21)
The Scriptures are God-given, produced through the guiding hand of God into an unchangeable and enduring format –-the written. And “although God’s Word is thus not limited to books or scrolls, the prophetic words are known only because they were committed to writing.” The written word is as authentic and authoritative as the spoken word.
Contrary to the notions of some of our religious friends, all that exists in modern times is the written word and its exposition (1 Cor 13:8-13). As disciples of Christ, we must be impressed with the importance of biblical exposition, because it the not the word of men. Instead, it is the word of God, shining fresh in our modern era to guide us through life’s tempestuous struggles.
When we hear the statement, “the Bible was written by men,” we must not be afraid. Instead, we must understand that God revealed his message to men, guided men to speak this message, and then to ultimately commit God’s message into a written format. Yes, men wrote the Bible, but these were Holy-Spirit-lead men. The Bible is truly the Word of God, no matter if there was human participation (1 Thess 2:13).
- William E. Vine, et al., Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Nashville, TN: Nelson, 1986), 2:532.
- Wayne Jackson, Essays in Apologetics, eds. Bert Thompson and Wayne Jackson (Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, 1984), 2:236.
- Ceslas Spicq, Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, trans. James D. Ernest (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 2:250.
- H. Wayne House, “Inspiration of the Bible in 2 Tim. 3.16,” BSac 137 (1980): 54-61. This is an engaging article on the nature, conception, and meaning of a keystone passage on the inspiration of the Bible. Cf. John H. Bennetch, “2 Timothy 3:16a – A Greek Study,” BSac 106 (1949): 187-95.
- Jack P. Lewis, Questions You’ve Asked about Bible Translations (Searcy, AR: Resource, 1991), 74-76.
- Johannes P. Louw and Eugene A. Nida, eds., Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2d ed. (New York, NY: United Bible Society, 1989), 1:418.
- Daniel B. Wallace, The Basics of New Testament Syntax: An Intermediate Greek Grammar (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 139.
- Jackson, Essays in Apologetics, 2:236; emphasis added.
- Clifford A. Wilson, New Light on New Testament Letters (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1975), 103.
- Ken Cukrowski, Mark Hamilton, and James Thompson, God’s Holy Fire: The Nature and Function of Scripture (Abilene, TX: Abilene Christian University Press, 2002), 28.