The Holy Spirit and the Scriptures: The Meaning and Method of Inspiration

Baptists love the Bible. This is not to diminish the love other orthodox traditions have for the sacred Scriptures, but it is only to highlight that present-day particular Baptists come from a long line of godly men who have given their lives to studying, preaching, translating, and submitting to God’s Holy Word.

In this post we want to consider the theology of inspiration. That is, what do we believe it means that the Bible is “inspired” and how did this “inspiration” come to be?

The Meaning of Inspiration

The go to passage for the inspiration of the Bible is 2 Timothy 3:16. There Paul says that all Scripture is “breathed out” by God. Thus, the various connotations of the English word “inspiration” do not fully capture what we are communicating when we say the Bible is inspired by God.

We are not merely saying that the Bible is “inspirational.” Nor are we saying that the Holy Spirit gave the Biblical authors good ideas to write about. We are not saying that the Bible “contains” the Word of God. Instead, what we are saying is that the Biblical authors were moved by the Spirit of God in such a way as to write down the very words He would have them to write.

Louis Berkhof puts it this way, “By inspiration we understand that supernatural influence exerted on the sacred writers by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of which their writings are given divine truthfulness, and constitute an infallible and sufficient rule of faith and practice.”

Inspiration, then, means that the Bible is God’s Book containing all of God’s Words that He desires His people to have. The Scriptures are God’s Words in such a way that, in the words of Joel Beeke, “when we read the Bible…we hear the voice of the living God.”

This is what the Apostles believed (see Acts 1:16, 4:25, 28:25, 2 Peter 3:14-16, 2 Tim. 3:16). This is what Jesus believed (see Mark 12:36, Matthew 22:31). This is what Christians believe.

The Method of Inspiration

The Holy Spirit didn’t just send down the Bible from heaven. Nor did He overtake men’s brains in such a way as to put them in a trance and have them write without thinking. The method of inspiration is a beautiful mystery affirming the sovereign praiseworthiness of the Holy Spirit.

What is the method of inspiration of the Bible? I have 4 points here for us to consider.

  1. Providence

I want to mention here that not only is the Holy Spirit responsible for the writings of the Scriptures themselves, but also the circumstances surrounding the writings.

What would the book of Ephesians be like if Paul wasn’t writing under Roman guard? What would Revelation be like if John wasn’t in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day? What would the letter of 1 Corinthians be like if the church at Corinth wasn’t in such a mess?

What I mean here is that the Holy Spirit has ordered the circumstances, timing, audience, and culture surrounding the writing of the Scriptures in a sovereign way so as to give us the 66 books that make up the Bible.

  1. Partnership

The theological term here is concurrence. The idea is this: The Holy Spirit moved in and through the biblical authors in such a way that what they wrote is what they wanted to write while simultaneously being the very words that He had for them to write.

As the writers were writing the Scriptures they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit as He was working in and through them and their circumstances to breathe out His Word (see 2 Peter 1:19-21).

The Spirit carried the writers in such a way that what they wrote is what He wrote. It’s not that He physically carried them or put them into a trance but worked through all of their circumstances in such a way as that when they produced the final product, it was the very Word of God, breathed out by the Holy Spirit of God.

Louis Berkhof notes, “The term ‘writing’ must be taken in a comprehensive sense. It includes the investigation of documents, the collection of facts, the arrangement of material, the very choice of words, in fact all the processes that enter into the composition of a book.”

So, as Luke is doing his investigative work into the life of Jesus, as David is writing his poetry in the Psalms, as the Chronicler of 1 and 2 Chronicles is putting together facts and information, as Paul is penning his letters to the churches, as John is writing down what he saw in heaven, in all of this, the Holy Spirit of God is working through the different circumstances, personalities, cultures, investigations, compilations, research, and languages of these writers. The Holy Spirit worked through all of these events and processes in such a way so as to give us not only the words of these men, but through the words of these men, His own very words.

In the Bible sometimes you have divine dictation. God spoke and said write this down. Sometimes you have a dream or a letter or a poem or a prophecy or a historical account. But what I am saying is that in all of this the human authors wrote even as the Holy Spirit worked by, in, through, and upon them.

Perhaps some read this and say, “I hear you preacher, but these were sinful humans, so the Bible must be tainted.” The reality is that God did use fallen men to write the Bible. Isaiah, Moses, Matthew, Jeremiah: Yes these were fallen men, as were all the biblical authors. But the Holy Spirit used them, nonetheless. And He used them in such a way so as to keep their sin out of the Bible.

I don’t mean the Bible doesn’t record their sin. Of course, it does. What I mean is that the Bible is not tainted or corrupted by the hands of fallen men. John Macarthur put it beautifully this way: “As a person can draw a straight line with a crooked stick, God produced an inerrant Bible through imperfect men.”

So, we are discussing the method of inspiration. And we have seen Providence and we have seen Partnership. 3rdly I want to mention:

  1. Precision

Here is what I mean by precision: The Holy Spirit breathed out not just the ideas into the minds of the biblical writers, but the very words. Do you remember what Jesus said in Matthew 5:18? “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

The very dots and marks on the very letters of words were given by inspiration of the Holy Spirit – these very letters comprising the very words they composed were breathed out by God.

This is what we call the Verbal Plenary Inspiration of the Bible. That is, the Holy Spirit breathed out the words of the whole Bible so that every word and the entirety of the Bible is the Word of God. The words and sentences and syntax and grammar – it is all from the Holy Spirit, breathed out precisely as He wanted it to be.

The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy puts it this way: “We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration. We deny that the inspiration of Scripture can rightly be affirmed of the whole without the parts, or of some parts but not the whole.”

So, in every song, in every prophecy, in every epistle, in every historical narrative, the Holy Spirit is not giving the Biblical authors big ideas, but actually words – the precise words that He would have them write.

And so, while He uses their numerous circumstances, individual personalities, and various genres of writing, the Holy Spirit is doing so in such a way as to give us His own very words. Precision.

This brings me to my 4th point here. We have considered Providence, Partnership, Precision, and now:

  1. Power

There is power in the Word of God for sure. But that’s for another post. Consider here for a moment the power of the Holy Spirit in giving us His Word. The power over every circumstance. The power over every jot and tittle. The power over the preservation of His Word.

Put 40 authors in a room and tell them to write a unified story. And then make them speak different languages. And then make some of them kings and some of them paupers. And then demand each of them write in a different genre. And then separate these authors geographically over 3 continents where they cannot communicate and separate them historically over a span of 1500 years.

You’re not going to get a unified story. You are going to get a mess. It would be like taking some of the pieces of 40 different puzzles and trying to cram them together to make one picture. Whatever you get its going to be ugly.

But this is not the case with the Bible. Why? The power of the Holy Spirit! He took these men and these time periods and these languages and these circumstances and He produced this beautiful Book that tells a cohesive, unified story.

The story of Christ! This inerrant, infallible, authoritative, sufficient Book tells us of Christ. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving us this Book. But what the Book points to is exactly what the Holy Spirit wants us to see: Christ! (cf. John 16:14)

Now, I have one more point here that I will mention briefly and then we will close. We have considered the Meaning of Inspiration, the Method of Inspiration, and finally let me just mention:

The Mystery of Inspiration

Here I just mean that while we’ve worked through this and seen the Biblical position on inspiration, there is still some mystery here, isn’t there?

I understand Paul writing and the Holy Spirit writing but fitting this all together takes us ultimately to the mysterious workings of our sovereign God. And yet we see the veracity and beauty of the Scriptures and we trust them.

What a glory it is to trust the Holy Spirit giving us His necessary, authoritative, sufficient, and clear Word. How wonderful that we have an inerrant and infallible Bible!

But this brings up another mystery to me. Since the Scriptures are the very Word of our great and glorious triune God, why are our bibles so dusty? Spurgeon said, “There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write ‘damnation’ with your fingers.”

Let me close this post with some serious implications regarding all I’ve said. If the Bible really is the breathed-out words of the living God (and it is!),

  • Why do you not bring your Bible to church? Or why do you at times leave it there?
  • Why are you not reading it every day? If you do not read your Bible every day but still have a social media account and Netflix, you are living in folly.
  • Why do you not read the Bible with your spouse and children?
  • How much contempt must we have for the Holy Spirit and our own children not to read the Good Book with them?
  • Why do you buy your children new clothes but not furnish them with good Bibles? Do you only care to clothe their bodies and not their souls?
  • Why do you disregard its precepts, its promises, its warnings?
  • Why do you treat this Book so frivolously and cavalierly?
  • Why do you not trust it as sufficient and obey it as the authority that it is? Since the Bible is God’s Word, to disbelieve or disobey the Bible is to disbelieve or disobey God.

We could go on ad infinitum with questions like these! But please consider today, what a Book God has blessed you with. His very words! Do you not think He will hold you accountable for your lack of knowing His Book? You have time for so many things but not for His Book?

Will we prize this grand possession that the Holy Spirit has given us? Will we repent of any disregard practically or theologically that we have had concerning this great Book?

Beloved, let us cherish these 66 Books that tell us the story of Jesus. Let us give our lives to trusting these words. Let us give our time, energy, and resources to knowing all this Book has for us and teaching it to others for the glory of our triune God.

Allen S. Nelson IV is the pastor of Perryville Second Baptist Church in Perryville, AR, where he resides with his wife Stephanie, and their 5 children. Allen is the author of From Death to Life: How Salvation Works and Before the Throne: Reflections on God’s Holiness . His other titles include blogger, rookie podcaster, and occasional conference speaker. Most importantly, he is a recipient of the undeserved grace of God.
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