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What Does it Mean that the Bible is God-Breathed?

Amos makes it clear that he was minding his business, shepherding livestock and caring for sycamore trees, when God called him as a prophet. Just as his calling was divinely inspired, so too is the record of his life. The Bible says that “all Scripture is God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16). So what do Christians believe was the process by which God created the Bible?

Dr. Daniel B. Wallace, one of the foremost scholars of New Testament Greek, fields this question by saying, “We aren’t given a lot regarding the process of inspiration, but we know the Bible wasn’t dictated by God. Look at the Old Testament: Isaiah has a huge vocabulary and is often considered the Shakespeare of the Hebrew prophets, while Amos was a simple farmer with a much more modest vocabulary. Yet both books were inspired. Obviously, this doesn’t mean verbal dictation. God wasn’t looking for stenographers but holy men to write his book.”

Some clues about the inspiration of Scripture are apparent when Matthew quotes the Old Testament, saying, “This was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matthew 2:15, author’s paraphrase). “By the Lord” suggests God is the ultimate agent of that prophecy. “Through the prophet” suggests an intermediate agent who also uses his personality. That means the prophet was not taking dictation from God; instead, God was communicating through visions, dreams and so forth, and the prophet was putting it in his own words.

When Christians say the Bible is inspired, they mean it is both the Word of God and the words of men. Founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer, puts it well: “Without violating the authors’ personalities, they wrote with their own feelings, literary abilities, and concerns. But in the end, God could say, That’s exactly what I wanted to have written.”

Dr. Wallace says, “Remarkably, the New Testament writers didn’t even know they were writing Scripture, so obviously God’s work was behind the scenes. In the end, I think this is a greater miracle than a Bible coming down from heaven on golden tablets, because the books of the Bible are a collective product that men embraced as their own while ultimately — and often only much later — recognizing that there was another author behind the scenes. It wasn’t until one of the final books of the New Testament was written that Peter uses the word Scripture in referring to Paul’s letters” (see 2 Peter 3:16).


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