What does "inspired by God" mean? How can I know the Bible is without errors?


The Bible is a very unique book with multiple writings styles.  It is one of the oldest books in the world, and yet is still the world's best-selling book.  Those who oppose it have burned it and attempted to have it destroyed, and those who believe it admire it.  It is the most quoted, the most published, the most translated and most influential book in the history of mankind.

But where did it come from and who wrote it?  A full study of how we received the Bible can be summarized into four main sections, Inspiration, Canonization, Transmission, and Translation. Inspiration is what gives the Bible its authority. Canonization is the process by which the Bible received its final acceptance and came to be recognized as Holy Scripture.  Transmission deals with how the original autographs of the Bible were copied and whether these copies accurately reflect the original autographs.  Translation discusses the translation of the Bible into other languages and whether the Bible in our language accurately reflects what the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts said.

We will deal only with "Inspiration" in this article.


The word Bible literally means “ a book.”  The word Bible came into English by way of French from the Latin “biblia” and the Greek word “biblios.”  In the 11th century BC it was originally the name given to the outer coat of a papyrus reed.  In the 2 century A.D. Christians were using the word to describe the accepted writings of God. 

We Bible has two major parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament.  The Old Testament was written and preserved by God's chosen people, the Jews before the time of Christ.  The New Testament was composed by disciples of Christ during the first century A.D.  Today we use the word Testament, but we may better understand it by using the better translation of “covenant.”  Covenant is taken from the Hebrew and Greek words designating an agreement between two parties.  In the case of the Bible we can see it as the following.  The Old Testament, or covenant, is the old contract between God and his people the Jews.  The New Testament, or covenant, is the new contract between God and Christians.

The earliest Bibles did not have chapters and verses.  These were later added for convenience and to help study the Scriptures.  The divisions of the Bible into chapters were done in 1227 by Stephen Langton, a professor at the University of Paris and later Archbishop of Canterbury.  In 1551 in 1555 verses were added by Robert Stephanus, a Paris printer.

The books of the Old and New Testaments can be cast into groups of writings.  There are four separate groups we can place the Old Testament books into.  Genesis through Deuteronomy is often classified as the “Pentateuch or The Law.”  Joshua through Esther is classified as the books of “History.”  Job through Song of Solomon is classified as books of “Poetry.”  Isaiah through Malachi is known as the books of the “Prophets.”

There are also four separate groups we can place the New Testament books into.  Matthew through John is classified as the “Gospels.”  The Book of Acts is classified as the book of “History.”  Romans through Jude are classified as the “Epistles.”  The book of Revelation is classified as the book of “Prophecy.”

The time spent for writing the Bible covers approximately 1500 years.  The writing of the Old Testament was from 1445 - 400 B.C.  The writing of the New Testament was from A.D. 50 – 100.  The Scriptures were penned by more than 40 writers over this span of 1500 years.  Not only was the Bible written over a large span of time, it was also written over a large span of the geography.  Portions of the Bible were written in Asia, Africa, and Europe.  It was also originally written in three separate languages.  The Old Testament was primarily written in Hebrew with some portions in Aramaic.  The New Testament was primarily written in Greek with some portions in Aramaic.

Now that we have provided a background for this book that God provided for his creation let us begin by looking at the inspiration of the Bible.

Inspiration:  The God-Breathed Scriptures

Inspiration Clarified

The most basic question about the nature of the Bible centers in its claim to be “inspired” or to be the “Word of God.”  What is meant by “inspiration” will be the subject of this section.  The Latin word, Inspirare literally means “to breathe into.”  As used in 2 Timothy 3:16 the word inspiration can be translated in the Greek and means “God breathed.”  Inspiration may be defined as the Holy Spirit’s overseeing over the writers, of Scripture, so that while writing according to their own styles and personalities, the result was God’s Word written—authoritative, trustworthy, and free from error in the original autographs.  The “autographs” were the original documents that the inspired writer actually wrote upon.

There are 3 elements to the Biblical inspired Scriptures. 

The first element is the divine element.  This means that the inspiration of the Scriptures came from God, therefore God-breathed.  God the Holy Spirit superintended the writers, ensuring the accuracy of the writing. Though men are involved in the process, the Bible originated with God and was authorized by Him.   It is the divine which moved the human. We see this by looking at 2 Timothy 3:16, “Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”.  In other words, words that were written in the Bible by the Holy Spirit through the tool of men are divinely inspired words.  Another verse we can look to is 2 Peter 1:20-21, “knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, 21for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”

The second element is the human element.  Though the Bible comes from God the human writers played an important role in the overall process of inspiration.  As they wrote under the direction of the Holy Spirit, they used their own individual writing styles.  In inspiration God is the primary cause, and the prophets are the secondary causes. Thus the divine influence did not restrict human activity but rather enabled the human authors to communicate the divine message accurately.  God used their personalities to convey His intention.

The third element is the written element.  The final product of divine authority working through the prophets or apostles is the written authority of the Bible.  The Bible is the last word on doctrinal and ethical disputes and matters.  The Scriptures derive their authority from God through his prophets.  But let us remember, it is the writings and not the writers that possess and retain the Bible authority.  The writers have died but the writings of God will live forever.

Inspiration of the Old Testament

Let’s present three lines of evidence for the inspiration of the Old Testament.  

The First evidence, the Old Testament writers claimed to be speaking and writing God’s Word (Ex. 21:1; 32:16; Isa. 1:1-2; Jer. 1:1-2; Ezek. 1:3).  

The Second evidence, Jesus believed the Old Testament Scriptures to be inspired.  He recognized the entire Old Testament (Jn. 5:39; Lk. 24:44-46; Mk. 7:8-13; Matt. 13:13-14; Jn. 10:34-35).  He quoted from many Old Testament books (Genesis: Mk. 10:6-8; Exodus: Lk. 18:20; Numbers: Jn. 3:14; Deuteronomy, Leviticus: Lk. 10:26-28; Samuel: Mk. 2:25; Kings: Matt. 12:42; Psalms: Mk. 12:10; Isaiah: Lk. 4:17-21; Daniel: Matt. 24:15; Malachi: Matt. 11:10).  He clearly believed the Old Testament to be historically reliable.  For examples, note his treatment of the following Old Testament persons: Adam and Eve (Matt. 19:4-7), Abel (Lk. 11:51), Noah (Matt. 24:37-39), Moses (Jn. 3:14), David (Lk. 20:41), Jonah (Matt. 12:38-41), and Daniel (Matt. 24:15).  He submitted himself to the authority of the Old Testament (Matt. 5:17-18; Lk. 18:31 [implied]).  He attributed Old Testament material directly to the Holy Spirit (Matt. 22:41-46).  He used the Old Testament in such a way as to indicate his complete confidence in what it said (Matt. 22:23-33 cf. Ex. 3:6).  

The Third evidence, the New Testament writers believed the Old Testament to be inspired.  They quoted from or alluded to most of the Old Testament books.  They refer to the Old Testament as “scripture” (Acts 17:11; Rm. 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 3:16).  They attributed the Old Testament to the Holy Spirit never themselves (Psalm 110 cf. Mark 12:36; Psalm 41:9 cf. Acts 1:16; Psalm 2 cf. Acts 4:24-26; Isaiah 6:9-10 cf. Acts 28:25-27).

Inspiration of the New Testament

We will take a look at three basic understandings to help us with the claim that the New Testament is also inspired. 

The First is the Promise of Christ that the Holy Spirit would guide them in the teaching of His truth as the foundation of the church.  When Jesus first sent out His disciples to preach the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 10:7), He promised them the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Based upon the Lord's promise to his apostles, His divine ability to fulfill His promise, apostles claim that the writings were the fulfillment of Christ's promise (Mark 16:17-20, Hebrews 2:3-4).  The conclusion we must draw is that the preaching and writing of the apostles was not their own, but God's.  To deny this is to call in question the promises of God.  For we see the direct promise from Jesus before He ascends to heaven to again be with His father.  In John 16:12-15, Jesus plainly tells His apostles, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. 15All things that the Father has are Mine. Therefore I said that He will take of Mine and declare it to you.”

A Second is The Promise of Christ Claimed by the Disciples.  The followers of Christ did not forget His promise.  They claimed that their teaching came from not their selves but from what Jesus promised which gave their words the authority of God.  They claimed this in several ways: a) by claiming to continue Christ’s teachings, b) by claiming equality with the Old Testament, and c) by making specific claims in their writings for divine authority. 

  1. The New Testament church itself is said to be “built upon the foundation of the apostles” (Eph 2:20, 3:5).  Christ promised that all apostolic teaching would be Spirit-directed.  The New Testament books are the only authentic record we have of apostolic teaching.  Hence, the New Testament alone can lay claim to be an authoritative record of Christ teachings.
  2. Another indication that the New Testament is inspired is its direct comparison to the Old Testament.  Paul distinctly recognized the inspiration of the Old Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16 by calling it “Scripture.”  Peter classed Paul's the epistles right along with “the other Scriptures” in 2 Peter 3:16 and Paul quotes Luke's Gospel, calling it “Scripture” in 1 Timothy 5:18, quoting Luke 10:7.  The apostles were the channel of God's truth in the New Testament just as the prophets were in the Old.  It is not strange then, to observe that the apostolic books should be placed on the same authoritative level as the inspired books of the Old Testament, both are prophetic.  In fact, Peter wrote that the prophetic writings came by divine inspiration in 2 Peter 1:21.  John calls his book a prophecy and classes himself among the prophets in Revelation 22:18-19.  Ephesians 2:20 lists the New Testament prophets along with the apostles as the foundation of the church.  So the prophetic writings of the New Testament reveal the mystery of Christ who was predicted in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.  Like the Old, the New Testament is a prophetic declaration of God.
  3. The New Testament writers believed the New Testament to be inspired (John: Rev. 1:1-2; 22:6; Paul: 1 Cor. 2:13; 14:37; 1 Thess 2:13; Peter {in reference to Paul’s letters}, 2 Pet. 3:15-16; Jude: Jude 17, 18).  Luke writes in Luke 1:1-4 that he writes in order that the reader should understand the truth about Christ because he has been given a perfect understanding from the Holy Spirit.  John records in John 20:31 -- he writes that in men may believe Jesus is the Christ and the Son of God.  John adds that his testimony is true in Jn 21:24.  We could read many more examples of the apostles asserting divine inspiration from God for their writings.  It is an appropriate conclusion to the claim that the entire New Testament is inspired by God.

A Third understanding to help us with the claim that the New Testament is also inspired is the fact of the Acceptance of the First Century Christians.  The first Century church was not naïve in its acceptance of inspired writings.  Jesus had warned of false prophets in deceivers coming in His name (Mt. 7:15; 24:10-11).  Paul even advised the Thessalonians not to accept erroneous teaching from any letter pretending to be from him (2 Thessalonians 2:2).  John urged the believers, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world” in 1 John 4:1.  There were many false teachings about Christ circulating in the first century (Luke 1:1-4).  So the New Testament church had to be discriminating from the very beginning.  Any books received without apostolic signature were to be refused (2 Thessalonians 3:17).  However, the fact that the letters written by the apostles were read, quoted, collected, obeyed, and circulated within the New Testament church is us assurance that they were received as prophetic or divinely inspired words of God from the very beginning.

Results of Inspiration

The result of the Bible being God-Breathed by God and the Holy Spirit is an Inerrant Bible.   The result of the divine-human authorship is a message without error.  If God is true (Romans 3:4) and the Bible comes from God (2 Timothy 3:16), then the Bible must be true in all its parts.  That is why the Bible is said to be inerrant.  Inerrancy means that God’s written Word is: authoritative, trustworthy, and free from error.

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