Is the Bible Inspired?

What is Scripture, and what is it not? Is it inspired, or simply a collection of history and good ideas? Does drawing a distinction matter? Is Scripture alone the word of God, or are there other sources of God’s word to us? How can we know, and if there are multiple sources vying for the distinction of “God’s truth” and there is disagreement among them, how do we know which takes precedence? As is the case with all aspects of faith, we can never absolutely prove our position, otherwise there would be no mandate for faith. In the case of the Bible’s inspiration, we can get close to absolute proof in the same way an attorney can get close to proving his case absolutely. But faith always requires a decision tinged with doubt. God never disregards or absolves our privilege of making our own choice between depending upon Him or depending upon something else. Since it is impossible to please God apart from faith, faith must be part of every aspect of life that concerns God.

With these caveats in place, this article seeks to present evidence and perspective that will enable us to conclude that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But not only that. It also presents the Bible as the lone, inspired voice that speaks for God (i.e. sola Scriptura). The Bible says of itself in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is inspired by God (lit. God-breathed) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God may be adequate, equipped in every good work.”

Let me clarify before proceeding: To assert that Scripture alone speaks for God does not dismiss the significant body of teaching and commentary that illuminates the Scripture, nor does it preclude our ability, responsibility, and privilege to study the Scripture and speak confidently of its revelation. What this article will assert is that any commentary, revelation, or perceived inspiration concerning God must be measured against the Scripture, or if not by Scripture, then by the same standards applied to Scripture that establish its uniqueness among documents and messages.

What standards are in place that might establish the Bible as the inspired Word of God? How should we measure it to see if what it claims is true? Furthermore, once standards are established, do any other sources—written or oral—rise to the level of Scripture?

In his book, More Than a Carpenter, Josh McDowell includes a chapter on the uniqueness of the Bible. He asserts that the Bible should be examined based upon three criteria: bibliographical evidence, internal evidence, and external evidence. The degree to which these are affirmed, and the stringency demanded by these standards, indicates something of the Bible’s uniqueness. If it can be set apart as truly unique, then it can be evaluated more clearly based upon its claims.

Bibliographical evidence compares the Bible to other great works of history by writers such as Herodotus, Thucydides, Aristotle, and Caesar among others not quite so famous or well documented. What McDowell establishes is that no other work of history comes close to approaching the volume and quality of bibliographical evidence that the Bible enjoys. As a matter of fact, there are far more original-quality documents of the biblical text than of all the other ancient works cited above combined. Thus, the Bible is unique based upon bibliographical evidence.

Internal evidence examines what the document claims about itself. In all fairness to the text and its author, you must judge the work based upon what it claims about itself, not what someone else asserts about it. There are many passages of Scripture that make claims as to its veracity. It claims to be inspired, eternal, an accurate recounting of events, eyewitness to its accounts, the truth, and not just in the opinion of the various writers, but of the public and religious officials of the day.

The content itself must also be weighed and examined. There are many details and perspectives offered in Scripture that would not be included were it a fabrication. The highly respected historian,Will Durant, marveled at this aspect of the biblical text as compared to the other documents of antiquity. Thus, the Bible is unique as judged by its internal evidence.

As to external evidence concerning the Bible, with the escalation of archaeology as a science, beginning around 1950, the artifacts corroborating the biblical accounts have grown faster than the ability of archaeologists to analyze and catalog all of it. It is estimated that only 2% of all that there is to be uncovered has been excavated, and of those artifacts uncovered, only about 5% have been evaluated and studied. Nevertheless, these discoveries include many documents and artifacts that underscore the accuracy and validity of the biblical text.

Not the least of these are the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contain huge quantities of the biblical text, and many additional critical texts and artifacts of Hebrew and Greek providing external clarity about the biblical text. This is in addition to the variety of other resources that have been in the hands of scholars for many years. These include the writings of Josephus, Irenaeus, Eusebius, and others all of which affirm the biblical text and accounts.

Professor M. Montiero-Williams, former Boden professor of Sanskrit and ancient literature, spent 42 years studying Eastern books and said in comparing them with the Bible, “Pile them, if you will, on the left side of your study table; but place your own Holy Bible on the right side—all by itself, all alone—and with a wide gap between them. For, there is a gulf between it and the so-called sacred books of the East which severs the one from the other utterly, hopelessly, and forever…a veritable gulf which cannot be bridged over by any science or religious thought.”

The Bible was written over a span of 1600 years and 60 generations. It was penned by over 40 authors representing every walk of life. It was written in different places, different times, and different moods. It was written on three continents and in three languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. Its subject matter includes hundreds of controversial subjects, yet it remains harmonious throughout every page and never diverges from its central message: God’s redemption of man.

The Bible is unique. It has no other close competitor as the single biggest seller of all time, read by more people than any other book, and translated into more languages. It is unique in translation, survival (note that Voltaire predicted the Bible would be extinct by 1850), teaching, and its influence upon surrounding literature. It is safe to say, based upon external evidence, the Bible is truly unique; no other book is even close.

Considering prophecy, which is only one of the unique characteristics of the Bible’s teaching, McDowell devotes fifty pages of his book, Evidence That Demands a Verdict, to prophecy and the probabilities of prophetic messages coming true. While Jesus’ birth alone fulfilled some 300 prophecies, McDowell evaluates just 11 prophecies related to the area of Palestine and calculates the probability of these eleven prophecies coming true. His conclusion? 1 in 5.76 times 10 to the 59th power, a number so incredibly large it must draw upon the size of the universe to be illustrated and comprehended.

Do the preceding paragraphs prove the Bible and remove any doubt that the Bible is the inspired, the sole Word of God? No. But they do narrow the “leap of faith” considerably. There is no other book like the Bible. It takes a laboratory as large as the universe to even begin measuring the unique nature and profundity of its message.

But one thing the preceding paragraphs regarding the Bible’s uniqueness do establish decisively is that there are no other documents like the Bible. It stands alone. Just as Professor Montiero-Williams said, all of the wisdom of the East can be stacked up together, but in comparison, the Bible is unique, separated from all other writings by a great gulf.

And what of the thought that agrees that the Bible is the inspired, the infallible, the Word of God, but that there are additional revelations equal to that of the Bible? What of the idea that there are in fact words of the Lord that are for today, and therefore, supersede by their modernity the antiquity of the Scripture?

Ultimately, these “new” words or “additional” works must be judged by the same standard as the canonized words of revelation in the Bible. If placed alongside Scripture, and carrying the same weight as Scripture, these current revelations must be subjected to the same standards listed above. Otherwise, we are potentially dealing with conjecture. There was a lengthy debate centuries ago about whether or not the books of the Apocrypha should be included in the canon (collection) of the biblical books. By careful examination based upon whether these books were referenced by the Early Church Fathers, the attitude toward these books, and whether they were recognized as inspired or not, they were dismissed from inclusion in the canon of Scripture.

“Words of the Lord”—whether received from writing and reading, in prayer, or through revelation—must be measured against the same criteria being discussed if they cannot be measured directly against the Bible. When weighed against the same standards demanded of Scripture, there is simply no other book or revelation that passes the test.

As Protestants, we are distinguished from Catholicism by a number of theological tenets. One Catholic doctrine that is rejected by Protestantism is that the Pope can speak infallibly for God (ref. speaking ex cathedra). The reason this is rejected in Protestantism relates to the paragraph preceding this one. Over the centuries the Pope has been observably less than perfect, and those words and edicts spoken by the Popes have yet to stand of the test of time and history against which the inspiration of God is measured in Scripture.

It follows that if the Pope does not speak infallibly for God, neither does any other person. This is not saying that we cannot accurately advocate on behalf of, or teach accurately, the mind and will of God. What it does say in conjunction with the establishment of Scripture as a unique, infallible, inerrant document of God’s revelation is that we measure what any person says against the Scripture as the Word of God. If there is disparity, benefit of the doubt goes to the Bible, not the individual.

Hitler claimed God instructed him to exterminate the Jews. Jim Jones, David Koresh, ad infinitum claimed to speak for God as they led their followers into misguided faith, and in the case of Jones and Koresh, suicidal deception. I have had a number of people tell me, while in the midst of marital unhappiness, that God was guiding them to divorce their spouse. I even had one client claim it was God’s will for him to murder his wife because she was a hindrance to his ministry. I get very nervous when someone says, “The Lord told me….” Let me be clear: I do not dismiss these “words from God,” but I’m anxious to see some Scriptural backup. If none is forthcoming I consider these “words” speculative at best, not worthy of hope in the least, and most likely fallacious.

Scripture alone speaks for God (i.e., sola Scriptura). The best anyone can do under the influence and guidance of the indwelling Spirit of God is advocate on God’s behalf while standing firmly upon the foundation of His Word. Speaking for God is either a wonderful privilege when based upon Scripture or a terror that no one in his right mind would accept. This means that the delineating factor between accurately speaking for God and the arrogance of self-aggrandizement—“I have a word from God”—is whether or not we speak from the platform of Scripture. If not, we could just as easily dream dreams and see visions and utter prophecies in God’s name because we ate pizza too close to bedtime.

Given that there is no other source that withstands the same scrutiny that the Bible has endured, then we must either honor the Bible for what it is or dismiss it by whatever force of will is necessary. We cannot maintain intellectual, moral, and spiritual honesty and be neutral regarding Scripture. In a similar vein, if we conclude that the Bible is the Word of God we cannot afford ourselves the luxury of picking and choosing among its messages or adding to its pages. If the Bible is as it appears, based upon these standards, then we would be wise to discipline ourselves to the diligent study of it and application of its message to our lives.

There are many wise and gifted teachers of Scripture. There is a plethora of great biblical study tools. The prudent student will not listen to one Bible teacher or rely solely upon one study source. In His wisdom, God blessed us with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. It is He who guides us into truth as we consider teaching and opinion regarding Scripture (cf. 1 Jn. 4:1). Keep in mind, one of the qualities of Scripture we discussed earlier is the tightly woven theme and interdependency of the Bible. If you, or anyone offering you a perspective on the Bible, discover a viewpoint or revelation that is not substantiated by the counsel of additional passages of Scripture, then proceed very cautiously.

One of the magnificent aspects of Scripture is that even though studied over a lifetime, its content mined by the greatest minds among us, we will never fully plumb its depths or comprehend all of its truth. However, it is also a document that reveals God in simplicity and careful consistency, so much so that Jesus instructed that we should become like little children when contemplating the kingdom of God (cf. Mk. 10:15).

Read. Study. Enjoy. Bask in the revelation of God. Relish the fullness in your heart as you probe the intricacies of God and His perspective. The Bible is a document unlike any other.

It is the inspired and infallible Word of God, profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that you may be adequate, equipped for every good work. By placing Scripture in our hearts we are guarded against sin. The Scripture sheds light on our path and is able to keep us from stumbling. The Word of God is sharp, like a two-edged sword, and is able to divide what no man can even delineate: the distinction between soul and spirit, thus speaking to the deepest recesses of mankind. Everything around us will pass away with time, but the Word of God stands forever. In light of these things, we should study in the power of the Spirit and carefully consider the Scriptures in order to handle them accurately. [1]

[1] ref. 2 Tm.3:16-17; Ps. 119:11; 119:105; Heb.4:12; Is. 40:8; 2 Tm. 2:15