What is inspiration?


"It is hard to conceive how the human mind can give assent to such terrible ideas, or how any sane man can read the Bible and still believe in the doctrine of inspiration."

- Robert G. Ingersoll

"Inspiration: a peculiar effect of divine flatulence emitted by the Holy Spirit which hisses into the ears of a few chosen of God."

- Voltaire

2.1 What is inspiration?

Inspiration, or divine inspiration, describes the process by which it is claimed that God enabled men to record precisely what he intended to convey. Inspiration is much more than great thoughts, yet neither is it robotic control. For in each biblical writing, God reveals information (like history and prophecy) that the authors could not possibly have known or discovered. Yet, the writings still reflect the authors' unique personalities. Of course, writings are not declared inspired of God because they were collected into the Bible; they were collected into the Bible because they were believed to have been divinely inspired.

Historically, ancient Israel and later the early church, both with more information and fresher evidence than is available to us today, discerned the inspired books by their origin, truthfulness, and other indicators. With regard to the Old Testament, for example:

Within a very few centuries after the last book in our Old Testament was written, the entire Jewish nation was unanimous in accepting every one of its books as canonical and in rejecting as false the claims of any other book to similar recognition. That such unanimity should thus have been reached is little short of a miracle. 1

2.2 On what basis is inspiration discerned?

Jewish tradition and the biblical writings testify that, in the beginning, God's direct communication with people left no doubt as to who was speaking. Once God directed his words be recorded, those words remained to be identified by what could be considered as God's signature. That is, those recordings had to display the identical characteristics of the previous oral communications believed to have been received from God.

An example of this kind of identification might be a letter from a best-friend: we know the letter is authentic when in every way it expresses the person whom we have come to know - even to the point of being an extension of that person. Likewise, writing inspired by God should itself be an extension of his previously revealed attributes.

2.3 What are the attributes of inspiration?

If God is both truthful and omniscient, writing he inspires will tell the truth and reflect total accuracy (the aspects of truthfulness and accuracy are the subjects of the second section of this book). In addition, if God proclaims to be unchanging in character, his inspiration will be totally consistent with that which he has already revealed.

An inspired writing must also exhibit the integrity of its author (if the author is known). For to whom else would God, or anyone really, choose to reveal himself unless a special relationship is being authentically and visibly shared? It is only to be expected that a truly godly person will walk their talk.

Another trait of inspiration is supernatural confirmation. God performed miracles through Moses, Jesus performed miracles, Jesus' miracles continued through his apostles, and many Old Testament prophets had their God-given prophecies quickly fulfilled which confirmed their own authority within their lifetimes. A divinely inspired writing may even express the power of God. As nearness to God has changed lives, so inspired writing as God's voice on earth has proven to exhibit a similar transforming influence and be accepted by the people of God.



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How can we tell whether or not the Bible is telling the truth?

The Bible and scientific accuracy

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Inspiration is a more concrete term than most people expect in regard to qualifying biblical texts.

This section comes first, not because biblical writings began by being declared inspired, but because writings which eventually proved inspired have inspiration as their most fundamental quality.