Revelation (2): The God-Breathed Writings

Previous article in this series: April 1, 2011, p. 306.

The almighty Creator has spoken to us, and we have in Scripture a perfect record of what He has said. God began revealing Himself to His people already in the Garden of Eden. But later, beginning with Moses, God began His work of guiding holy men to write down the word that He had revealed. The Spirit of God guided these men as they wrote, so that they made no mistakes as they recorded for us what God had spoken. 

The Scriptures that God has given us are infallibly inspired, and thus are inerrant. They are accurate in all respects in every passage, including those that speak to us about such things as a six-literal-day creation, the forming of the woman out of the rib of the man, and a worldwide flood that covered the tops of the highest mountains. What Scripture says on every subject is true. It really is our one "infallible rule," as we confess in Article 7 of the Belgic Confession. 

To know and understand this is of great importance. To believe the word of God, we must know with certainty what that word of God is. We must hear and believe the Scriptures when they tell us they are God-breathed. Only in this way can we confess what the Truth really is. 

Scripture: God-Breathed

That the Scriptures are inspired means that they were breathed out by God. "All scripture is given by inspiration of God..." (
II Tim. 3:16). The phrase "given by inspiration of God" is actually a translation of one Greek word—a word that means literally "God-breathed." Thus the Scriptures themselves tell us that they have come forth to us out of the very mouth of God. 

Anyone who truly believes this will confess that the Scriptures are infallible. To be infallible is to be without error and incapable of erring. God, of course, cannot err. So if we believe the Scriptures when they tell us they are God-breathed, then we will confess from the heart that the Scriptures contain no errors. 

We know that the Scriptures were written by men, and that men of themselves are likely to make mistakes. But we also know that these specific men were guided by God's infallible Spirit, so that what they wrote was precisely the word that God had revealed. If that was not the case, these writings could not be called "God-breathed." 

Note that in this passage it is the writings themselves that are said to be God-breathed. Many would have us believe that although God spoke His word infallibly, the writers sometimes made mistakes when they wrote down what this word was. But to say this is to deny what 
II Timothy 3:16 specifically states. The passage says more than that the words that God spoke were God-breathed. It says that the record we have of what God has revealed is God-breathed. God guided the writers of the Scriptures, so that what they put down was precisely what He had said. 

The Scriptures: The Spirit's Words 

Another important passage on inspiration speaks of how these inspired writings came into existence. The first passage quoted above speaks of the inspired writings, but does not mention the inspired writers. This second passage speaks about the writers, and explains how it was possible for sinful men to write the Scriptures without error: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost..." (
II Pet. 1:21). The writers could and did write without error because they were "moved by the Holy Ghost." 

That they were moved by the Spirit means that the Spirit directed them. The term translated "moved" means literally "carried" or "borne." So God in this passage is assuring us that the writers of Scripture were borne along by His Spirit, who guided and directed them, so that they faithfully recorded what He had revealed. 

The Scriptures, therefore, are the words of the Spirit. There are many passages in which they are referred to as such. Sometimes the Scriptures are said to be a record of what someone said "by the Holy Ghost": "For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The Lord said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool" (
Mark 12:36). In other passages, the Scriptures are said to be the words that the Spirit spoke by means of a man: "Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus" (Acts 1:16). "And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers" (Acts 28:25). And in other places, the Scriptures are simply said to be the words of the Holy Ghost. The human writer is not even mentioned. Hebrews 3:7: "Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith, To day if ye will hear his voice...)." 

These passages serve to explain what it means that the writers of the Scriptures were "borne along" by the Spirit. It means the Spirit directed them, so that what they wrote was the word of the Spirit. And if the Scriptures are the word not of men, but of the Spirit, then it must be the case that they contain no errors. 

The Words of the Inspired Writer 

But, someone may say, the Scriptures are also said to be the writers' words. Sometimes, as in
Hebrews 3:7, what is recorded in Scripture is said to be what the Spirit said. But there are also other passages where the words found in Scripture are said to be those of the speaker who spoke them, or of the writer who wrote them. 

Take, for example, the following passage: "The words of Jeremiah the son of Hilkiah, of the priests that were in Anathoth in the land of Benjamin: To whom the word of the Lord came..." (
Jer. 1:1-2). Here the book of Jeremiah is referred to as the words of Jeremiah. And yet what he wrote is also said to be "the word of the Lord." 

Similarly, the New Testament sometimes refers to passages found
 in the Old Testament as the words of the one who spoke them: "And David himself saith in the book of Psalms, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand..." (Luke 20:42). So Psalm 110 is a record of the words of David, and yet it is also the word of God. How are we to understand this? 

The answer is that what we have in the Scriptures are the words that the Spirit spoke in and through the writers. The writers willingly spoke and wrote that which they personally believed to be the word of God. Just as each person speaks or writes a bit differently, so these men spoke and wrote down the word of God in a way that was unique to them. But—and this is the key point—the Spirit was working within each of the writers, so that even though he was writing down God's word in his own unique way, the Spirit was directing him, so that what was put down was precisely the word that God had revealed.

Inspiration: Not Merely Dictation 

When we say that the Scriptures are inerrant, many accuse us of having a mechanical view of inspiration. They say we are viewing the writers to be merely taking down dictation, and recording what God has said in the same way that it was common for secretaries of the past to take down a letter dictated to them by their boss.

It should be quite obvious that the inspired writers were not merely taking down a dictated letter. If a man puts down in writing a letter that is dictated to him, the content of the letter will tell us nothing about the man who wrote it down. Yet it should be evident to all that that is not the way it is with the Scriptures. We certainly can tell something about Jeremiah, David, Paul, etc. from the books of the Bible that they wrote. As has been sufficiently shown already, the Scriptures themselves refer to the Psalms written by David as the words of David, and the prophecies of Jeremiah as the words of Jeremiah. Such is not the case when one is merely taking down dictation. A dictated letter is not referred to as the words of the one who took down the dictation. Inspiration and dictation are not the same. 

So what is it that makes inspiration different? For one thing, a person taking down dictation might make a mistake. He may mishear something, or he may forget what was said. This could happen in dictation. But it never happened in inspiration. The Spirit guided the writers, so that they knew what was said, remembered what was said, and recorded what was said without a single error. 

But that is not the only way in which inspiration differs from dictation. In inspiration we have the word of God as it was revealed to a prophet, was eaten by that prophet, and then came forth from that prophet in a unique way. 

Throughout Jeremiah's life, the Spirit prepared him for the work that God had chosen him to perform. God formed him into a unique human being, who would speak God's word in a way that would manifest some of the characteristics of his unique personality. Yet while he was speaking and writing God's word, the Spirit was guiding him, so that what came forth from him was completely the word of God. 

The Word Not of Men, but of God 

Scripture declares itself to be not the word of men, but the word of God: "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God..." (
I Thess. 2:13a). So the words of Jeremiah recorded in Scripture are the word of God, and not of men. It was not the word of Jeremiah. The things he wrote down did not arise out of his own head. God alone was the source of the word that he wrote. 

This same idea is taught in the verse just prior to the one that speaks of the writers of the Scriptures being borne along by the Spirit. There we read that: " prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation" (
II Pet. 1:20). This passage has often been explained wrongly. It is not making a statement about who it is that is able to interpret the Scriptures. Rather, it is speaking of the origin of the Scriptures. 

The word here translated "is" means literally "comes to be" or "becomes," and the phrase "of any private interpretation" is a translation of two words that together here mean "from one's own interpretation." So, putting it together, we have: "No prophecy of the Scripture comes from one's own interpretation." The Spirit here is telling us that the prophecies found in Scripture did not originate from the prophet's own explanation of things. Rather, they came from the Spirit, who carried along the writers while they were engaged in the activity of writing God's word. 

The Central Importance of This Truth 

Understanding that the Scriptures are God-breathed is of great importance. Genuine faith is a certain knowledge, whereby we hold for truth all that God has revealed. If there were errors in the Bible, we would be unable to know for sure whether any given passage really was the word of God. But our Father in heaven assures us that the Scriptures that He has given to us are infallibly inspired by His Spirit. He wants us to know and to have no doubt about what He has said. 

Therefore we must not deceived by those who would persuade us and our children that the Bible contains errors. Our God really has spoken to us, and has made sure that we know what He has revealed. He has preserved for us a record of it. We have this record today in the God-breathed Scriptures.