A gracEmail subscriber in Arkansas writes, “I’ve always been taught that the Bible was divinely given word by word (I think this is called verbal inspiration). But some passages just sound like a believer pouring out his heart to others. Could you offer some thoughts on inspiration and the Bible?”
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Unlike the Qur’an, the Bible does not claim to be dictated word for word by God, except for certain portions which repeat oracles given to prophets and which usually are introduced by the statement, “Thus says the LORD . . . . ” The Apostle Paul does say that “all Scripture is inspired by God,” but that is a comment about its quality and its usefulness, not about the mechanics of its origin (2 Tim. 3:16).
The expression “inspired by God” translates the Greek word theopneustos, which literally means “God-breathed.” This word reminds us of the Genesis account of Adam’s creation — in which God formed man from the dust of the earth, then “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7). For humans, breath means the difference between death and life (James 2:26).
Just so, the Scriptures pulsate with the breath or Spirit of God — making them “alive” and “profitable” for the faithful reader (2 Tim. 3:16; see Heb. 4:12). Paul speaks in this verse about those biblical books which Christians call the “Old Testament,” from which Timothy had been instructed from infancy (2 Tim. 3:15). The early church came also to regard our New Testament books as “Scripture,” however, because of their connection to various Apostles, and because Christians across the world found those writings to be powerfully alive as well.