What is meant by inspiration, inerrancy and the word of God?

"16 All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work".- 2 Timothy 3:15,16 (NAS)

"20 Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation.
21 For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." - 2 Peter 1:20,21 (NIV)

When we say that all Scripture is inspired, do we mean that it records only true statements?

That is not exactly what we mean. The Bible accurately records the statements made by liars and fools ( Genesis 3:4; Psalm 10:4;14:1;53:1). So are those statements true? No, but the lies were accurately recorded.

When we say that all Scripture is inerrant, do we mean that there are no errors in our present copies of the Bible?

No, not exactly. The preservation of 1 Samuel 13:1 that we have today is uncertain. Some copies suggest a different number of years for the reign of Saul. The original record was complete and accurate at the time it was written but we are not certain today what exactly it said. Somehow, someway, many or all of the existent copies were damaged.

Are the uncertainties in our present copies of the Bible of a serious concern?

No. The uncertainties do not affect any conclusions regarding ethics or doctrine.

When we say that all Scripture is the word of God, do we mean that our present copies of the Bible are complete and there is nothing else that would qualify as being the word of God and inspired?

No. Consider this:
  • John 20:30 and 21:25 says that Jesus said many more things, all of which were true and we would consider today to be inspired, inerrant and the word of God.
  • Paul wrote another letter to the Corinthians (see 1 Corinthians 5:9) and a letter to the Laodiceans (Colossians 4:16) which were possibly considered to have been inspired, inerrant and the word of God.
  • The Bible says some of God's revealed truths were never recorded ( 2 John 1:12 Revelation 10:4; 2 Corinthians 12:3,4).
  • Apparently in Ruth 4:1; 1 Samuel 21:2; 2 Kings 6:8 some names were deliberately left out. The Hebrew words here (ploh-nee al moh-nee) are used to refer to people and places whose names are of no consequence and therefore translated as "such-and-such". It may be that at Ruth 4:1 the name was deliberately left out, either by the author or a later copyist, because of the bad reputation of the man.
  • So for a variety of reasons some truths were not preserved as part of the Bible. If God had wanted any of these facts preserved they would have been. But some words were not recorded, either because God specifically said not to record the words or God's servants were not encouraged to record things that were not essential for later readers.

    Would God permit portions of His word to be damaged or corrupted?

    God allowed his sacred word to be damaged as seen at Exodus 32:19;34:1,4; and Jeremiah 36:20-32. However since it was recorded with the intent to be preserved, God insured that it was soon rewritten. It does seem that every historical example where God had His word recorded, and it was intended to be used as a guide to his people, even though it may have been temporarily damaged or kept secret for a time, the writing was preserved and eventually became known (2 Kings 22:8-11; 23:1-3).

    But does not the Bible say that His word would not be lost or corrupted?

    Jesus said his words would last longer than heaven and earth and never pass away (Matthew 24:35;  Mark 13:31;  Luke 21:33) Yet John said that if everything Jesus ever said were written down it would fill the earth (John 20:30; 21:25). Obviously some of the words Jesus spoke in his lifetime were never written down. Even the words that were written down have not been read by every person who has ever lived. So Jesus' absolute statement in Matthew 24:35 about his words enduring does not mean the words would not be lost to some of humanity at some time. It did not mean that every word would be written down or that the paper and ink would last forever. The meaning is that those words, whether written or not, whether remembered or not, are so important that they will determine the outcome of this world and will have eternal impact on the universe (John 12:48).

    Similarly Jesus said (Matthew 5:17,18) until heaven and earth pass away not even a small piece of a single letter of God's word (or law) would pass away unfulfilled. Likewise Isaiah 40:8 says the word of God stands forever. But consider:

    Psalm 119:89 "Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven."

    1 Chronicles 17:22,23;  "For Your people Israel You made Your own people forever, and You, O LORD, became their God. 'Now, O LORD, let the word that You have spoken concerning Your servant and concerning his house be established forever, and do as You have spoken.'"

    Isaiah 59:20,21 " 'A Redeemer will come to Zion, And to those who turn from transgression in Jacob,' declares the LORD. 'As for Me, this is My covenant with them,' says the LORD: 'My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring,' says the LORD, 'from now and forever.' "
    The statements about God's word enduring forever are evidently NOT speaking about the ink and paper but about the enduring truthfulness of God's commands and promises. Though some of God's words were never recorded, and some were recorded but are not in our possession today, those words are just as enduring as heaven and earth and will have eternal significance. We will be held accountable for what has been preserved and what we know of it and what we do with it.

    Suppose someone is certain that a book is absolutely true and without error, would that qualify it to be God's word?

    No, I have had several math books that I am absolutely certain are all true and without error, but the authors would not consider the work to be God's word nor inspired.

    But suppose I feel that a particular writing is so awesome it must be from God. It makes me feel good, it is about godly things and other people have been drawn to God through it.

    There are a zillion books about which people feel awestruck. When we evaluate a book based on how it makes us feel rather than on objective evidence, we are making God in our own image. Every impressive book becomes elevated to the level of the Bible and the meaning of "inspiration" is lost. When God's people asked how to tell what was His word or not (Deuteronomy 18) God did not say to test it by how it made you feel (compare Revelation 10:10).

    Why do we say the written word is God's word?

    Matthew 22:31: " . . . have you not read what was spoken to you by God."
    Acts 3:18,21 : " . . . God announced beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets . . . God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time."

    How do we identify a writing as being inspired?

    The historical record in the Bible tells how God used supernatural events to draw attention to his servants and His message. Such miracles convinced observers that the human vehicle was inspired of God. As a result, the message was eventually written down, and due to its power and influence, was copied by many people over many years and preserved in secure ways. Even if the message was not directly associated with a supernatural event but was endorsed by someone believed to be inspired, then that too became regarded as the word of God and needed to be preserved.

    But we, being removed by many years from the original delivery of the message without first-hand knowledge of any associated supernatural events must instead look at the historical record about the behavior of the contemporary believers and surmise whether they had been impressed by supernatural events associated with a particular writer. If no supernatural events are claimed, we examine whether the contemporary believers were firmly convinced that the writing in question had been endorsed by a writer already believed to have been inspired. If either is found to be true, we then conclude the text was justifiably considered to have been "inspired by God and profitable for teaching".

    What evidence do we seek to determine if the contemporary believers truly viewed a particular text to have been written by a miracle-worker or at least endorsed by one? We look to accurate historical records to see if the contemporary believers claimed there were miracles and, as a result, guarded the writings with their lives and made many many copies as accurately as possible and preserved them to the best of their ability.

    For example there is reason to conclude that the record in the book of John was written soon after the original events and accurately preserved (see The Journey from Texts to Translations by Paul D. Wegner, chapters 6 and 13). The record claims that Jesus performed miracles. We know from Roman history that contemporary believers knew of the miraculous claims (see The Case For Christ by Lee Strobel) and these believers were willing to be killed for that claim. Thus we conclude that these contemporary martyrs sincerely believed in the claims as recorded in John. From a further examination of the accurately preserved book of John and of how observers responded to Jesus we determine that the writer and the book were inspired. Similarly we extend this reasoning to the Apostles that Jesus selected as foundations for his body of believers and thus the books written by them are considered inspired.

    Next, we read in John 10:34-35 of how Jesus regarded the Psalms as being the word of God. So if we conclude that Jesus was inspired then we would next agree with his endorsement of the Psalms. Likewise there are examples where contemporaries regarded the teachings of Paul to be the word of God (1 Peter 3:15,16;  1 Thessalonians 2:13). Today we know contemporaries made many copies of Paul's writings, preserved them and protected them with their lives. Again we conclude that these writings were viewed by Paul's contemporaries as being inspired of God and reasonably so.

    In general, by continuing in this process, we reach the conclusion that the 66 books of the Bible we have today are the preserved word of God and therefore inspired and inerrant.

    Could there be other writings in existence that were inspired and should be considered to be the word of God?

    In theory that may seem possible, but if there were other writings, and those writings were originally valued as being another valuable testimony of the sacred word of God, they would have been copied many many times by contemporaries that had it and believed it. We would find several copies of it, it would have been carried to other parts of the Christian world, translated into other languages and preserved and protected by the lives of Christians. The fact that no such other writings exist like that is evidence that the 66 books we have today are all those that were preserved and regarded as the word of God by the original contemporaries. Thus while Jesus did say many more things (John 21:25), and someone may have recorded some of those words (Luke 1:1-4), any such records were apparently not viewed as needing to be copied and distributed for essential reading.
    Here is an illustration of what we believe:
    Suppose I wish to write a book about arithmetic. I use a computer that reads and solves my chosen sample problems and prints them all out. I even have other assistants who check my work on their own computers. We compare notes and find we all have the same set of answers. I then print out the text of the book with the computer's answers, write some explanatory material and send it to the book-binder. Even though I am not "perfect" and the computers are not "perfect" I can claim that the output I sent to the book-binder is absolutely correct. I can write in the preface to the book that I promise that there are no errors. But by saying this I am NOT claiming that the examples were written in the best possible way, nor am I claiming that the book is written with perfect english grammar. I am only claiming that the output did indeed come from a process that was free from arithmetical error.

    But when the book reaches the stores we find errors. The preface to the book makes the claim that there are no errors but I know the supposed material did not come from what I sent to the book-binder. What happened? I know that the claims in the preface are true. But a reader would have to evaluate the claim and reason that either I did not produce the book as I claimed OR I lied OR the printer did not accurately reproduce the book. If the reader trusts me and trusts that at least the preface was printed accurately then the reader would reasonably conclude that the original book that went to the binder was without error but that in the process of reproducing the book, errors were introduced.

    This is the standard belief about the Bible. It appears that although there were errors in reproducing the Bible, there are sections we are absolutely certain were copied correctly and in them are statements that lead us to conclude that the writers of the Bible believed the original text was without error. IF we trust those statements, either because of the reputation of the authors or because of the behavior of their contemporaries or due to our trust in another endorsement, and since we find no error in those sections where the text is securely established, we then conclude that the whole was originally written without error.

    Naturally, when we say "without error" we mean that the intended message, written in the language of the time, was an accurate account of what was intended to be recorded. If we could ask the contemporary observers, they would say that the account was true. We do not claim or even conclude that the text was written in the "best" grammar of the time (according to someone's opinion) or that it included all the details that someone would like to read, or that readers would understand it accurately, or that later translations of the message would be clear or even accurate.

    So how do we state what we believe?

    The original writings, the "autographs," were the inspired, inerrant, word of God and the 66 books we have today represent all of the inspired writings that have been preserved.