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What does it mean to say that the Bible is "inspired"?

From the BLB FAQs. Have a question? See if we’ve listed it.

Today, when we use the word “inspire” or “inspiration,” it has the idea of something challenging to the human heart. We speak of a person giving an “inspiring performance” or someone looking for “inspiration” to begin a new project.

Yet when we talk of the Bible being inspired, we are speaking of an entirely different matter. Though millions of books have been written through the ages, and many of them have inspired the human heart, there was only one book that has been written by divine inspiration or with divine authority: the Bible. In this sense of the term, “inspiration” means divinely given or divinely guided.

It Is A God-Breathed Work

We use the English word “inspiration” in the since of “divinely given” because of a verse in Second Timothy. The King James Version translates this verse.

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness .
(2 Timothy 3:16)

“Inspiration” is a translation of the Greek word theopneustos. Theopneustos literally means “God-breathed.” This translation was derived from the Latin Vulgate Bible where the word inspiro is used in 2 Timothy 3:16 to translate the word theopneustos. The emphasis is that Scripture has been breathed out by God.

Inspiration May Not Be the Best Term

The term “inspiration” is an unfortunate term to use when talking about the Bible’s authority. The modern meaning of the word does not convey the idea of God’s divine authority.

The problem is that the term inspiration has taken upon itself a specific meaning in Christian circles based upon its continued usage for the last hundred years.

As we have noted, the proper English term is “God-breathed,” not inspiration. Because the word “inspiration” has been used for a long time to refer to the authority of Scripture we will still employ it, when necessary. However, we will put the word “divine” in front of it to emphasize that we are not speaking about inspiration in the normal sense of the term. At the same time we acknowledge that it is not the best term to use. It is much more proper to speak of the Bible’s divine authority the Bible being authoritative, the Bible being “God-breathed, or the Bible being, “God’s Words.”

How God Guided The Writing Of Scripture

God guided the writing of Scripture through the inward working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of people whom He chose to infallibly write the books of the Bible. This guaranteed that the final result would be exactly what God intended. Thus, the Bible is the written Word of God to humanity, and, when originally written, was without error. It is the final authority for all matters of faith and practice.

There are several elements that need to be expanded upon.

1. Divine Inspiration Started With God

The divine inspiration of Scripture starts with God. The words of the Bible were not self-initiated by the writers. Peter wrote:

Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow
(1 Peter 1:10-11).

Sometimes the writers of Scripture did not understand all that God told them to write.

2. God Guided The Entire Process

God guided with the human authors of Scripture in the various things that they wrote or the sources that they used. The author was guided to go where God wanted him to go, not where he wanted to go. Thus the Spirit of God guaranteed the accuracy of every thing that was written. This process extended until the time the document was written. The divine author of Scripture is God the Holy Spirit. Exactly how this process worked is a mystery. Scripture asserts that this did happen without explaining exactly how it happened.

In addition, the Lord divinely selected the writers of Scripture – there was no volunteering for the job.

3. The Writers Composed The Text

While all Scripture is God-breathed, it is proper to say that the Bible is a book that is both human and divine. Its ultimate source is God the Holy Spirit, yet God used human instruments to compose the books. When one reads the Scriptures, it immediately becomes apparent that the various authors employed different writing styles and different vocabularies. This gives evidence of the human side of Scripture.

The writers of the Old and New Testament were not merely stenographers who mindlessly wrote what God dictated to them. Their own experiences and personalities were involved when the various books were being composed. Ultimately, however, the final result was supernaturally guided by God.

The Bible has all the features of a book written by human beings. However it also has features like no other book.

Therefore, it is proper to say that the divine inspiration of the Bible has its source in God but that human instruments were used in writing and recording God’s Word. This is the biblical teaching on the subject.

4. The Text Is Without Error

The Bible itself claims to be true regarding every thing that it records. Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).

The psalmist wrote, “The sum of Your word is truth; and every one of your righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Psalm 119:160).

The result of divine inspiration is that the Bible is the very Word of God. This includes the works, the ideas, and the specific vocabulary of Scripture. Therefore everything written in Scripture is correct—there are no errors of any kind since the ultimate source is God. This means that there are no errors of fact.

5. Only The Original Manuscripts Are Error-Free

The authority of Scripture only extends to the original manuscripts of the Old and New Testaments—it does not extend to any translations or any manuscript copies. Having said that, good translations of Scripture are, for all intents and purposes, the authoritative Word of God since they faithfully represent what the text says and means. The point here is that if an error is found in copying, or in some mistranslation in a particular version, it does not mean that the original was in error.

Inspiration Is Now Limited To Written Scripture

While divine Inspiration was both written and unwritten, today we only have the written part available to us. Scripture is that portion of divine revelation that God intended to be permanent and authoritative.


When the word “inspiration” is used in reference to the Bible it means more than “the Bible is inspiring literature.” It has the idea of God-breathed Scripture. This is the claim of Scripture itself; it is not something that humans have invented.

When we speak of the Bible being authoritative, it means that it is God’s accurate revelation of Himself to humanity. Though humans composed the various books of Scripture, the result was an error-free work in the original manuscripts. This is because all Scripture was God-breathed. God had His hand on the production in such a way that we can accept the entire Scripture as being trustworthy. Consequently, the Bible cannot be categorized with other literature that causes the human heart to be challenged or inspired.

It is much more than that. Scripture is God’s divine Word to humanity.