The Inspiration of the Bible

Sam A. Smith

This brief article is not intended as an apologetic directed at skeptics of biblical inspiration; that line of reasoning would need to be quite different. This information is for those who are already committed to some form of biblical inspiration; it seeks to document the Bible’s own claims about itself, and the nature of its divine inspiration. Because the evidence for each testament is somewhat unique, it is necessary to treat each one individually.

The Inspiration of the Old Testament (i.e., the Hebrew Scriptures)

The Protestant Christian Old Testament is identical to the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, with the exception that some books now standing alone in the Christian Bible were combined in the Hebrew Scriptures, and the names of the books in the Christian Old Testament were derived from the Greek translation rather than from the original Hebrew titles.  While the Catholic Bible contains several additional books in its Old Testament, it is important to recognize that those books were not regarded as canonical (authoritative scripture) by the ancient Jews.

The Old Testament writers claimed to be speaking God’s Word. The following passages are only a brief sample of the hundreds of such passages that could be cited: Exodus 20:1; 32:16; Isaiah 1:1-2; Jeremiah 1:1-2; and Ezekiel 1:3. For the Christian, the most important evidence comes from Jesus himself. Jesus believed in the verbal-plenary inspiration of the Old Testament. Verbal-plenary inspiration means that the very words (verbal), including the grammar, in all of the documents, from the first book to the last (plenary), are inspired, i.e., they are the words that God wanted the human authors to write, though in most cases they were not dictated.

How do we know that Jesus believed in and taught the verbal inspiration of the Hebrew Scriptures? First, he recognized the entire Old Testament (Jn. 5:39; Lk. 24:44-46), as well as all three of the major divisions of the Old Testament (Mk. 7:8-13; Mt. 13:13-14; Jn. 10:34-35) as the authoritative word of God. Second, he quoted authoritatively from many Old Testament books (Genesis cf. Mk. 10:6-8; Exodus cf. Lk. 18:20; Numbers cf. Jn. 3:14; Deuteronomy and Leviticus cf. Lk. 10:26-28; Samuel cf. Mk. 2:25; Kings cf. Mt. 12:42; Psalms cf. Mk. 12:10; Isaiah cf. Lk. 4:17-21; Daniel cf. Mt. 24:15; Malachi cf. Mt. 11:10). Third, he clearly believed the Old Testament to be historically reliable; for examples note his treatment of the fol­lowing Old Testament persons: Adam and Eve (Mt. 19:4-7), Abel (Lk. 11:51), Noah (Mt. 24:37-39), Moses (Jn. 3:14), David (Lk. 20:41), Jonah (Mt. 12:38-41), and Daniel (Mt. 24:15). Fourth, he submitted himself to the authority of the Old Testa­ment (Mt. 5:17-18; Lk. 18:31 [implied]). Fifth, he attributed Old Testament material directly to the Holy Spirit (Mt. 22:41-46). Sixth, he used the Old Testament in such a way as to indicate his complete confidence in what it said (Mt. 22:23-33 cf. Ex. 3:6).

The New Testament writers also believed in the verbal-plenary inspiration of the Old Testament. They quoted from, or alluded to most of the Old Testa­ment books. According to The Dictionary of Biblical Lit­eracy (compiled by Cecil B. Murphy, Oliver-Nelson Books, 1989), the book of Isaiah is referenced a total of 419 times in 23 different NT books; the Psalms are refer­enced 414 times in 23 NT books; Genesis is refer­enced 260 times in 21 NT books; Exodus is referenced 250 times in 19 NT books; Deuteronomy is referenced 208 times in 21 NT books; Ezekiel is refer­enced 141 times in 15 NT books; Daniel is referenced 133 times in 17 NT books; Jeremiah is referenced 125 times in 17 NT books; Leviticus is referenced 107 times in 15 NT books; Numbers is referenced 73 times in 4 NT books, and this is only a partial listing. The book of Revelation draws information from 32 OT books; the book of Luke draws information from 31 OT books; the Gospel of John draws information from 26 OT books; Acts draws in­formation from 25 OT books; the Gospel of Mark draws information from 24 OT books; Romans draws information from 23 OT books; Hebrews draws infor­mation from 21 OT books; 1 Corinthians draws in­for­mation from 18 OT books; the Epistle of James draws information from 17 OT books; and the Epistle of 1 Peter draws information from 15 OT books, and this is only a partial listing. The New Testament writers also referred to many Old Testament characters as historical figures (Acts 1:16; 2:25-34; Rom. 4:6; 5:14; 9:10; 1 Cor. 15:22-45; Heb. 11:9-32; James 2:21; Jude 14), and they referred to the Old Testa­ment as “scripture,” by which they indicated their be­lief that the Old Testament was divinely authoritative (Acts 17:11; Rom. 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16). The New Testament writers also attributed the Old Testament to the Holy Spirit; note the following instances: Psalm 110 cf. Mark 12:36; Psalm 41:9 cf. Acts 1:16; Psalm 2 cf. Acts 4:24-26; and Isaiah 6:9-10 cf. Acts 28:25-27.

The Inspiration of the New Testament

Jesus “pre-authenticated” the New Testament. Since the New Testament was not written until after his resurrection and ascension, it was necessary for him to pre-authenticate it be­fore it was written. Note that he validated all three of the major sections of the New Testament: the historical books (Matthew-Acts) were pre-authenticated in John. 14:26; the doctrinal books (Romans-Jude) were pre-authenticated in John. 16:13-15; and the apocalyptic material (mostly the book of Revelation) was pre-authenticated in John 16:13.

The New Testament writers also believed the New Testament to be inspired (cf. The Apostle John (Rev. 1:1-2; 22:6); The Apostle Paul (1 Cor. 2:13; 14:37; 1 Thess. 2:13); The Apostle Peter, in reference to Paul’s letters (2 Pet. 3:15-16), and The Lord’s brother, Jude (Jude 17,18).
November, 2018
Taken from: Major Bible Doctrines, Copyright 2010, by Sam A. Smith. Used by permission.