Was the Bible actually inspired of God? Is every word contained in it inspired of God, or does it merely contain some words and statements inspired of God? What is your understanding of the inspiration of the Bible?
No other question is more important than this one, for one's understanding of the Bible's inspiration directly affects one's understanding of everything else in life. What is your understanding of morality? Of family? Of the church? Even of God and His nature? Since the Bible speaks on all of these topics and much more, your attitude toward the Bible will directly affect your understanding of what the Bible has to say about any one of them. If you view the Bible as you would any other human book, then its opinions on these matters may not carry any weight in shaping your own. However, if you understand the Bible to be the very words of God Himself, then its opinions on any subject will command your attention and accordingly mould your mind.
Regrettably, fewer and fewer people today believe in the Bible as the Word of God.1 To them, it is just like any other human book. For most of them, this conclusion is not so much a decision of their intellect as it is a resolve of their will. They do not wish to be under any authority outside of themselves. They do not want to be ruled by the morality of the Bible. They may even question the existence of God Himself.
The Bible's Claims about Itself
The Bible claims to be the very words of God. As one reads the first five books, collectively known as the "Law of Moses" or "Pentateuch" (Greek = "five books"), one finds several places where the text says "And the Lord said to Moses" (forty-one times in the Book of Exodus alone!). In Exodus 4:12, God promises to be with Moses' mouth and to teach him what to say. In the prophets, one reads several times where the Lord "speaks" to the writer (e.g., Isaiah 8:1, 11; Jeremiah 2:1; 7:1; 10:1; Ezekiel 2:1; 3:1; 6:1) or "puts words" in his mouth (e.g., Isaiah 51:16; 59:21; Jeremiah 1: 9). Often God speaks in the first person: "I, the Lord, search the heart" (Jeremiah 17:10).3 Even in the Psalms, which contain the most personal expressions of worship in all of the Bible, one finds writers like King David recording words spoken directly from God. For example, in 2 Samuel 23:2, David exclaimed: "The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me; His word was on my tongue."
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul claims that his message is "the word of God" and not just "the word of men" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). To the church at Corinth, he claims to have "the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 7:40) so that what he writes to them is "the Lord's command" (1 Corinthians 14:37). For this reason, the Apostle Peter categorized Paul's writings as "Scripture" (2 Peter 3:16), a specific term (Greek ?????, graph?) used of divinely inspired, authoritative writings (Thayer 121; Bauer 206).
Perhaps the clearest and most notable statement about the divine inspiration of the Bible is found in 2 Timothy 3:16-17: "All Scripture is God-breathed/inspired and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness, so that the man of God may be prepared, fully equipped for every good work." Here the Apostle Paul uses the same term for "Scripture" as Peter did in the passage just cited. In using this term, Paul intends to include all of the writings in this category. Some scholars (e.g., Bauer 206; Lock 110) understand Paul's use of the term "Scripture" here in 2 Timothy 3:16 to be referring only to those writings known as the "Old Testament," since at this time several of the New Testament writings were not yet written (except for perhaps one or more of the Gospels, the Book of Acts, and Paul's letters). But this conclusion is mistaken. Paul has just referred to these Old Testament writings in the previous verse, where he tells Timothy, "from infancy you have known the Sacred Writings [Greek ?? ???? ????????, ta hiera grammata], which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15). The term "Sacred Writings" here in vs. 15 clearly refers to the Jewish writings that make up the Old Testament. But now in vs. 16, Paul intends a different group of writings, and so he employs a completely different term. Whereas the phrase "Sacred Writings" (note here the use of the plural) in vs. 15 refers specifically to the Jewish writings known as the Old Testament, the term "Scripture" (singular) in vs. 16 refers to that special category of writings that includes the Old Testament but also embraces all of the divinely inspired writings (as in 2 Peter 3:16), even those which were not yet written.
Scripture Is "God-Breathed"
But what does the Apostle Paul mean in 2 Timothy 3:16 when he says, "All Scripture is God-breathed" (NIV)? The Greek word theopneustos (???????????) literally means "out-breathed," whereas our English word inspiration (from the Latin inspiro) refers to that which is "in-breathed." In other words, Paul is saying that Scripture was ex-spired rather than in-spired. In a study published originally in 1915, Warfield proved conclusively that this word has a passive sense.4 "The thought is not of God as breathing through Scripture, or of Scripture as breathing out God, but of God as having breathed out Scripture" (Packer 693).
Thus, the words that we find in the Bible originated with God. They are His words! Some liberal scholars have tried to argue that God only inspired the "thoughts" in the Bible, and that He left it up to each human writer or prophet to choose the precise words to convey these thoughts (Achtemeier 10). But as we have already seen from several passages in the Bible, the Bible itself says that even the "words" are God's. In fact, God "put the words" in the prophet's mouth (Isaiah 51:16; 59:21; Jeremiah 1: 9). In Jeremiah 36:1-4, 32, God actually dictates the words to the Prophet Jeremiah and to his scribe Baruch.
Other liberal scholars have insisted that there must be different levels of inspiration in the Bible: Some parts of the Bible have a divine origin and so are true, while other passages are merely human and so contain error (Achtemeier 30-31). But again the Bible is very clear in stating that "All Scripture is God-breathed" (2 Timothy 3:16). And in 2 Peter 1:20-21, the Apostle Peter declares: "But first know this, that no prophecy originated in the prophet's own understanding, for prophecy never came about through human desire, but men spoke from God as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit." The Greek word translated here as "borne along" (????, pher?) is the same Greek word found in Acts 27:17, where we read about Paul's ship being "borne along" by the fierce winds of a violent storm at sea. The men on the ship were no longer in control. Their vessel went in the direction that the winds carried it.
Fully Human, Yet Fully Divine
As the men on that ship were unable to steer, so the writers of the Bible were not able to control what they wrote. The words that each one of them used were God's choice. He was in complete control of everything that was spoken and written by His prophets. And yet one does find differences in their writing styles. For example, the Apostle John wrote in a very simple style, while the Epistle to the Hebrews was written in a very elegant, elevated hand. And the process of inspiration itself did not necessarily mean that these writers did not have to do research. In composing his gospel, Luke apparently relied on human sources for some of his information (Luke 1:1-4). Nor did the process of inspiration make the prophets all-knowing. In 1 Corinthians 1:16, the Apostle Paul nearly forgets to mention Stephanas as someone whom he has baptized, even though he was the very first person that Paul baptized there in Corinth (1 Corinthians 16:15). Even though he was inspired, Paul often expresses his own feelings of anxiety (1 Thessalonians 3:5), concern (2 Corinthians 2:12 13), and even anger, which one may perceive behind his sarcasm in 2 Corinthians 11:1, 7, 16, 21; 12:1, 6, 11. Obviously the Bible is fully human, even though it is also fully divine.
And though the Bible is fully human, it was free of error as it was originally delivered by God to each biblical writer. Through the centuries, errors have crept into the Bible through the many manuscripts copied by various hands. But there could not have been any errors in the original copies, since God was in the full charge of their production. If there were errors in the original manuscripts, then?according to 2 Peter 1:21?God Himself would be responsible for these errors. For this reason, the Bible is careful to state that "the words of the Lord are flawless" (Psalms 12:6). "As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless" (Psalms 18:30; repeated in 2 Samuel 22:31).
Just as Jesus, the Incarnate Word, was fully human and yet fully divine without error (i.e., sin, 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peter 2:22-23; 1 John 3:5) while He was here on Earth, so the Bible, the written Word, is fully human and yet fully divine without any error. If the Bible as it was originally composed had errors in it, then God Himself would be responsible for them.
The Inerrancy of the Bible
This belief that the Bible was error free in its original composition is called "inerrancy." Those who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible also believe that the Bible nowhere contradicts itself. This view of the Bible is very old and goes back to the earliest period in Christianity. In the second century, the first theologian of note, Irenaeus, wrote "that the Scriptures are indeed perfect, since they were spoken by the Word of God and His Spirit" (Against Heresies 2.28.2). Also in the second century, Theophilus of Antioch stated that "the teaching of the prophets and the gospels is consistent . . . because all the inspired men made utterances by means of the one Spirit of God" (To Autolycus 3.12). And later in the fourth century, Melitius of Antioch, while commenting on Proverbs 8:22 in a sermon, said, "Believe me, neither elsewhere in the Scripture nor here do the words of Scripture contradict each other, even though, to those of unsound faith or weak wits, they may seem to be in conflict" (a quotation preserved by Epiphanius in his Panarion 73.31.3).
In the last century, challenges to the belief in the inerrancy or infallibility of the Bible came even from believers.5 But the belief in inerrancy accords not only with what the Bible says about itself but also with the very nature of God Himself. In fact, one may argue that a person's attitude toward the Bible actually reflects his or her own attitude toward God Himself. With the rise in challenges to the Bible, there has been a parallel rise in challenges against the belief in God's existence. Many people no longer want to believe in the God of the Bible, and so now they have started to attack the Bible. And such an attack always begins with people questioning the Bible's inspiration and thus its authority.
What Was the Process of Inspiration?
It is probably beyond human ability to understand fully how God inspired the Bible. It is enough for God just to state this fact. He does not have to explain Himself or His ways to humans (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Nevertheless, there are some indications in the Bible as to how the process of inspiration was carried out. Deuteronomy 8:3 explains that actual words "proceed from the mouth of God" (cf. Matthew 4:4). Both King David (2 Samuel 23:2; cf. Matthew 22:43; Mark 12:36) and the Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 59:21) acknowledged that this conveyance of words from God to the prophets was carried out by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit actually "spoke" the words which the prophets uttered (Acts 1:16). The Prophet Ezekiel states that he actually heard a voice after the Holy Spirit entered him (Ezekiel 2:2).
In Exodus 7:1-2, we find a clearer explanation of what a prophet experienced when the words of God came to him: "Then the Lord said to Moses: 'See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh [the Hebrew actually says "I have made you God to Pharaoh"], and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and Aaron your brother shall tell Pharaoh.' " Earlier in Exodus 4:10-16, when Moses complains to the Lord that he is not a good speaker, the Lord appoints Aaron to be Moses' "mouth" (Exodus 4:16). "You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth" (Exodus 4:15). "He shall speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him" (Exodus 4:16).
Like Aaron, a prophet was a go-between, a mouthpiece, a conduit for the words from God to men. Apparently a prophet actually heard the words that he was to speak or write. The words were literally "puts into his mouth" (e.g., Isaiah 51:16; 59:21; Jeremiah 1: 9).
What Is the Proof of Inspiration?
Someone might still be asking, "But how do we know that the Bible was inspired by God? How can we be certain of its divine origin?"
In answer, some have pointed to the historical accuracy of the Bible when compared with the other writings of antiquity or with facts discovered through archaeology. However, historical accuracy is not really a proof of the Bible's inspiration. A newspaper article or a modern history book could be historically correct in every detail, but this fact would not mean that these writings were divinely inspired. Historical errors in the Bible, if they could be proved, would be sufficient evidence that the Bible is not inspired by God. This kind of evidence can disprove the Bible's inspiration, but it cannot actually prove it.
One might also point to the scientific accuracy of the Bible. There is nothing in the Bible that contradicts modern science. If there were, then this kind of evidence would be sufficient to disprove that the Bible came from God. But scientific accuracy itself cannot really prove inspiration, for there are modern school textbooks that are scientifically accurate. And yet this fact does not mean that they originated with God.
So how can we really know whether the Bible is from God or not? Conservative scholar and Harvard graduate Gleason Archer Jr. answered it this way: "There is in holy Scripture a form of evidence which is discoverable in no other religious document known to man; that is the phenomenon of prediction and fulfillment" (Archer 32). In his massive study of biblical prophecy, J. Barton Payne identified 737 separate predictive prophecies in the Bible, making up a total of twenty-seven per cent of the entire Bible (Payne 13, 564). Some of these amazing prophecies include a prediction that the great city of Tyre would one day be destroyed and never rebuilt (Ezekiel 26:14), an astounding feat which Alexander the Great accomplished in 332 B.C. (Could Ezek 26:8 be an allusion to the causeway or "mole" that Alexander had built from the mainland to the island in order to reach the city?).
In fact, there are over 330 prophecies in the Old Testament that relate to the birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ.6 True, some of these prophecies sound obscure, and no one could have guessed what was being predicted until after the coming of Christ to Earth (e.g., Gen 3:15). But one must keep in mind that God intentionally purposed that many of these prophecies would be couched in such a way that their meaning would remain unclear until after their fulfillment by Christ because He wanted to hide His plans from Satan. Unlike God, Satan is not omniscient. Satan is limited in his knowledge. He cannot predict the future. For this reason, God had many of the prophecies in the Old Testament written in such a way that their true meaning would only become apparent after Christ had fulfilled it.
For example, before Jesus Christ's coming into the world, probably no one had any idea what Isaiah was talking about in the fifty-third chapter of his book. But now that Christ has come, one can easily see that this entire passage is talking about Him. In fact, these predictions do not fit the life of anyone else that has ever lived. Only a biased mind and closed heart can fail to see that these predictions are about the coming of Christ. Isaiah 52:13?53:12 is the last and most striking of the four so-called "Servant Songs" (the first three are 42:1-9, 49:1-6, and 50:4-11). In this passage, one can identify at least thirty separate predictions or prophecies about Christ.
Thirty Prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant
Prophecy # 1:
52:13a, " See, My Servant will act wisely "-He will prosper; He will not be a failure; He will succeed. One can possibly see in this a faint reference to Christ's resurrection.
Prophecy # 2:
52:13b, " He will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted. "-The repetition of the same basic idea using three synonyms is noteworthy. This wording reminds us of Jesus's statement, "If I am lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself" (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32-34), which in John is interpreted not only as an allusion to His crucifixion but also to His ascension and then to His proclamation to the world by His followers.
Prophecy # 3:
52:14a, " many . . . were appalled at Him "-People will be appalled that they could do such a thing to Him.
Prophecy # 4:
52:14b, " His appearance was so disfigured . . . marred "-He would be so terribly beaten that His body and face would be disfigured.
Prophecy # 5:
52:15a, " so He will sprinkle many nations "-The phrase "sprinkling" is used for the cleansing from sin (Heb 10:22).
Prophecy # 6:
52:15b, " kings will shut their mouths "-Pilate was amazed at Jesus's refusal to defend Himself (Matt 27:14; Mark 15:5). Even those who earlier reviled Jesus as He hung there on the cross (Matt 27:41-44; Mark 15:29-32; Luke 23:35-37), later after His death stood speechless, beating their breasts in remorse (Luke 23:48).
Prophecy # 7:
52:15c, " For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand. "-How will those who have not been told "see"? Obviously the event of the cross has already passed, for now it is being "told." So, how can people "see" it at a later time? This very passage is quoted by the Apostle Paul in Rom 15:21, where he then explains " This is why I have often been hindered from coming to you " ( vs. 22). Paul had been hindered often by his sufferings for Christ. As people witnessed Paul's own sufferings, they would be seeing the sufferings of Christ Himself (2 Cor 1:5).
Prophecy # 8:
53:1, " Who has believed our message? "-at first, people did not believe. Even the disciples did not believe Christ Himself when He predicted His death (Matt 16:22; Mark 8:32; 9:32; Luke 9:45; 18:34; John 12:16). Immediately after Jesus's death, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus were completely disillusioned (" we had hoped that He was the One ", Luke 24:21). They believed that Jesus was only " a prophet " (vs. 19). Even when the disciples saw Him resurrected with their own eyes, they could hardly believe it (Matt 28:17; Luke 24:38).
Prophecy # 9:
53:2a, " like a tender shoot, . . . like a root "-These terms bring to mind the "Branch" prophecies made earlier in Isa 4:2; 6: 13 and 11:1.
Prophecy # 10:
53:2b, " He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him "-This statement reminds us of the quip by Nathanael, " Can anything good come from there [= Nazareth] " (John 1:46; see also 7:41). Jesus was not some handsome, charismatic young preacher who had the charm, personal magnetism and clever tongue to hold people spellbound with His speech. Though people did marvel at His words (e.g., Matt 13:54), it was simply because of the authority and conviction with which He spoke (Matt 7:29).
Prophecy # 11:
53:3a, " He was despised and rejected by men "-Even Jesus's Own people rejected Him (John 1:11).
Prophecy # 12:
53:3b, " Like one from whom men hide their faces "-The repulsiveness of His tortured body becomes too hideous to behold. Though Jesus did not hide His face from the mocking and spitting (Isa 50:6), we want to hide our faces from beholding His suffering. Again recall the words of Luke 23:48 (cited above in connection with Isa 52:14): " When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away."
Prophecy # 13:
53:4a, " Surely He took up our infirmities "-a prophecy that Jesus will bear our sins on the cross.
Prophecy # 14:
53:4b, " yet we considered Him stricken by God "-The Jewish nation (Isaiah's "we") would regard Jesus's death merely as a punishment from God for His sin rather than as the propitiation for their sins. In the Babylonian Talmud, one reads in Sanhedrin 43a: " On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [the Hebrew form of "Jesus"] was hanged [the Jewish expression for crucifixion; see Acts 5:30 and Galatians 3:13, "hung on a tree"]. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in this favor, he was hanged on the eve of the Passover! " Jesus's death was indeed a punishment from God, but not for His Own sins (2 Corinthians 5:21)-it was for ours!
Prophecy # 15:
53:5a, " He was pierced for our transgressions "-The Roman soldier fulfilled this prediction when he pierced Jesus's side with a spear in John 19:34. Jesus also had both His hands and feet pierced with nails (predicted specifically in Psalms 22:16; confirmed in John 20:25; Colossians 2:14).
Compare this with the prophecy made in Zechariah 12:10, " They will look on Me, the One they have pierced. " (see also John 19:37; Revelation 1:7).
Prophecy # 16:
53:5b, " He was crushed for our iniquities "-This must not be taken to contradict John 19:36. The language can be understood both literally (the physical blows of men's fists and the whip) as well as mentally and emotionally: He was crushed not just beneath the physical and mental suffering but beneath the anguish and weight of our sins (especially Matthew 26:37-38; Mark 14:34; Luke 22:44; see also John 12:27; 13:21).
Prophecy # 17:
53:5c, His " punishment . . . brought us peace "-Rom 5:1. This explains why He is called the " Prince of Peace " (Isaiah 9:6). See also Micah 5:5; Luke 1:79; 2:14; John 14:27.
Prophecy # 18:
53:5d, " by His wounds we are healed "-echoed in 1 Peter 2:24.
Prophecy # 19:
53:6a, " We all, like sheep, have gone astray "-every single person that has ever lived, with the sole exception of Jesus, has sinned and turned away from God (Romans 3:9-10, 23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; 7:26; 1 Peteter 2:22, 24; 1 John 3:5; see also Isaiah 53:9 below).
Prophecy # 20:
53:6b, " each of us has turned to his own way "-a similar statement is found in Isaiah 56:11; see also 57:17. Yet the Bible teaches that " I know, O Lord, that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his steps " (Jeremiah 10:23). The Bible also warns " There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death " (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25).
Since we each want to turn to our own way (that is how we go astray and get lost), Jesus emphatically taught that we each must deny self and follow Him on the path of God's way (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23 ["daily"]; see also Matthew 10:38 and Luke 14:27).
Prophecy # 21:
53:6c, " and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all "-Jesus died for every man (1 Timothy 2:6).
Prophecy # 22:
53:7, " He did not open His mouth; . . . like a lamb is to the slaughter, . . . silent "-Jesus " remained silent and gave no answer " before Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin (Matthew 26:63; Mark 14:61), before King Herod Antipas (Luke 23:9) and before Pilate when the Jews were making their accusations against Him (Matthew 27:12, 14; Mark 15:5) and sometimes when He was alone with Pilate (John 19:9). See also 1 Peter 2:23.
Prophecy # 23:
53:8a, " who can speak of His descendants "-A difficult statement to understand. Perhaps it refers to the fact that Jesus died childless, something that was rare for a Jew since it was normally regarded as a curse (see Leviticus 20:20-21; Jeremiah 22:30).
Prophecy # 24:
53:8b, " for the transgression of my people He was stricken "-again echoing the truth of vss. 5-6.
Prophecy # 25:
53:9a, " He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death "-If it were not for Pilate and Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus's body would have surely had the same dishonorable burial as that of the two thieves who were crucified with Him. But Pilate allowed Joseph of Arimathea, a " rich man " (Matthew 27:57; also Mark 15:42 and Luke 23:50), to take Jesus's body and bury it in a sepulcher in his own garden (READ Matthew 27:57-60). Note that according to John (John 19:39) Joseph was helped by Nicodemus.
Prophecy # 26:
53:9b, " though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth "-quoted in 1 Peter 2:22-23 (see also vs. 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrew 4:15; 7:26; 1 John 3:5).
Prophecy # 27:
53:10a, " It was the Lord's will to crush Him . . . the Lord makes His life a guilt offering "-It was all in the plan of God.
Prophecy # 28:
53:10b, " He will see His offspring and prolong His days "-An allusion to His resurrection, which will lead to the salvation of "many" (see the next two verses below), who are "His offspring." Also note that His resurrection did actually "prolong" his days on Earth: "forty days" (Acts 1:3, 9).
Prophecy # 29:
53:11, " He will justify many "-see the comments on "many" in the next verse.
Prophecy # 30:
53:12, " For He bore the sin of many "-The term many here must not be construed to mean that Jesus did not die for everyone, for clearly " the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all " (vs. 6). Also, He " gave Himself as a ransom for all men " (1 Timothy 2:6). While the expected meaning of many would normally imply "less than all," the term has a special meaning in the Jewish Scriptures. It is used in a special way to indicate "more than the few" and so to convey that Jesus would die not just for the Jewish nation (the few) but for Gentiles (the many as "many nations" in Isaiah 52:15). Note also that "many peoples" earlier in Isaiah 2:3 was an allusion to the Gentiles. Compare the use of many in such passages as Matthew 20:28 and Hebrews 9:28.
These amazing prophecies concerning Christ here in Isaiah 52-53 cannot be explained away by saying that they were written after Christ's lifetime. Even if one denies that Isaiah made the prophesy nearly 800 years before Christ was born, even if one claims that someone later wrote this prophesy, we know positively that it was written at least a century or more before Christ was born. Nineteen different copies of the Book of Isaiah have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, in particular the scroll designated 1QIsaa ("1Q" means that this manuscript was found in Cave 1 at Qumran in 1946) 1QIsaa contains the complete text of the Book of Isaiah (1QIsab also contains much of the text, but it has been badly damaged). Scroll 1QIsaa contains the prophesy of Isaiah 53, and specialists in paleography have dated this scroll to the latter half of the second century B.C., probably between 125 and 100 years before Christ. Thus, the prophesy of Isaiah 53 was definitely written before Christ was ever born. It could not have been written after the fact.
Has the Text of the Bible Changed?
The Dead Sea Scrolls also prove that the text of the Bible has not been altered or tampered with through the centuries. The scrolls found at the Dead Sea in 1946 are about 1000 years older than any previously known manuscripts of Isaiah! Comparisons between their texts and our current text of Isaiah show that their text is virtually the same as the one that we have today, except for some dialectical spellings and the use of fuller forms of the vowels o and u, or the updating of some obsolete words, etc. The text of Bible has not been tampered with. We can be confident that the text that we have today is what Isaiah actually wrote, and the same is true for the rest of the Old Testament.
As for the text of the New Testament, it is the best-attested work from antiquity. With over 5,000 Greek manuscripts, nearly 10,000 Latin manuscripts, plus thousands of other manuscripts in Syriac, Coptic, Ethiopic, Slavic, and Armenian, truly our evidence today for the text of the New Testament is overwhelming. Some liberal scholars (e.g., Ehrman 10-11) try to emphasize those instances where there are differences among these manuscripts. There may indeed be some places where we are still unsure of the original reading, but in none of these instances is our knowledge of God's will for our lives put in jeopardy.
Why Was the Bible Inspired?
But one may still be wondering, "Why did God inspire the Bible in the first place? Yes, I agree: 'All Scripture is God-breathed' (2 Timothy 3:16). But why? For what purpose? Was it simply to make the Bible 'profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness' (again 2 Timothy 3:16)? Could there have been another reason for His investing this book with His divine authority? What was God's primary purpose for inspiring the Bible in the first place?"
Perhaps the answer to this question lies in the very next verse: ". . . so that the man of God may be prepared" (2 Timothy 3:17). So that he may be "fully equipped for every good work" (again 2 Timothy 3:17). God gave us these words to prepare us for life. He is our Creator, and He knows what is best for our lives.
Right now, you and I have the opportunity and responsibility to decide what we are going to do with the Bible. This decision may well be the most important one that you will ever make. In fact, it will have a significant impact on all the other decisions of your life.
Jesus once said, "If anyone does not listen to My words and does not keep them, I do not judge him. For I did not come to judge the world but to save it. The one who rejects Me and does not receive My words has a judge: The word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day" (John 12:47-48). Right now, you and I have the opportunity and responsibility to decide what we are going to do with the Bible. But there is coming a day when that question will be reversed. Right now, the question is "What will you do with the Bible?" But on that day, the question will be "What is the Bible going to do with me?"
1 The exact figure is uncertain. The Gallup Poll for the past sixteen years (i.e., starting with the year 1991, the most recent poll being in March 2007) has consistently shown that about one third of all Americans believes that "the Bible is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally, word for word." This figure represents a significant drop from the nearly forty percent who held the same opinion in Gallup Polls taken between 1976 and 1984. But as Greenspoon (esp. 28) has shown, the wording of the Gallup Poll is inherently flawed, for one might regard the Bible as the Word of God but still reject the notion that it always has to be understood literally (e.g., Matt 5:13 does not imply that Jesus's disciples are literally salt). Not counting this one-third, the most recent Gallup Poll shows that nearly fifty percent of Americans believes that the Bible is divinely inspired by God in some sense, even if it does contain some untruths. This figure means that less then twenty percent of Americans believes that the Bible is nothing more than a human book of ancient fables, stories, and legends.
One must be careful, however, in accessing earlier attitudes in America, for many of the quotations commonly attributed to such notables as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and other famous Americans (e.g., Halley's Bible Handbook 18-19) cannot be substantiated and may in fact be inauthentic. Nevertheless, it is generally conceded by all researchers that the number of people holding the Bible as the actual words of God has declined significantly in our country's history and sharply in the past quarter of a century.
2 One should be aware that there are different canons or "lists of books" that make up the Bible in the different divisions of Christendom. Protestants generally hold to the commonly accepted sixty-six books of the Bible. Roman Catholics would expand this number by seven other books plus several additions to the books of Esther and Daniel. The Russian Orthodox Church would expand this number by several more books. In my judgment, the best defense for the sixty-six book canon is that of F. F. Bruce, The Canon of Scripture. One should note, however, that the addition of these other books affects no Christian doctrine except for the Catholic belief in praying for the dead, which may be implied by 2 Maccabees 12:39-45 but is flatly contradicted by the rest of the Bible (see especially Luke 16:26; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 9:27; Revelation 20:13).
3 All of the English translations of the Bible in this essay are my own.
4 Warfield's study entitled "Inspiration" was originally published in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Orr 1473-83, esp. 1473-74), but it was reprinted in Warfield1927 229-59 and Warfield1948 131-66.
5 In his best-seller The Battle for the Bible, Harold Lindsell chronicles how times have changed, and how even believers now question the accuracy and infallibility of the Bible.
6 According to one statistician, the possibility of these 330 prophecies being fulfilled in one person by sheer chance is one over 84,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000th of one per cent (Gerstner 115).