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Articles - The Bible

How Do We Know the Bible Is Inspired

When a man acknowledges there is a God, he acknowledges that God is the ultimate authority whose will is binding upon human beings. But, where is this authority to be found and how is his will conveyed to us as men? The answer is that God has drawn back the curtain and shown (revealed) himself through his mighty saving acts for man’s redemption and spoken that men might know the meaning of those acts and understand his will for men (Hebrews 1:1-2). While nature may tell something of God’s divinity and power as its author (Romans 1:20), and the moral experience of men may give some witness to a righteous God hidden from men (Romans 2:14-15), only as God shows himself in saving deed and word can men behold the entire plan of salvation and know how it relates to them. This is what the Bible claims to present to us.

That claim is made very simply in 2 Timothy 3:16, “All scripture is inspired of God” (RSV). The Greek word translated “inspired of God” is theopneustos, meaning literally, “God breathed” or “inspirited by God.” While Paul primarily has the Old Testament in view here, it is against this background he urges Timothy to “preach the word” and “do the work of an evangelist” or bearer of the gospel. Repeatedly through the Old Testament the claim is made that the word of the Lord came to men through chosen men, and the ringing call, “thus says the Lord,” accompanied prophetic messages and the Law given through Moses. The apostle Peter states, “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21, RSV). This word was not something that came through a lofty moment of man’s creativity, but the moving power was from God’s Spirit through chosen men to men in the language of men. For early Christians the Old Testament was a preparatory revelation for the supreme Word of God in a person, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-2). “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” he claimed on the night before his crucifixion (John 14:9). The claim of Hebrews 1:1-2 is that “God has spoken” supremely through a Son, Jesus, through his words and his acts. God has not only powerfully acted to accomplish his purposes in the universe and with men, but he has also spoken that men may know the significance of his acts and may submit themselves in obedience to his will. God spoke through his death and resurrection for man’s salvation. The risen Lord, Jesus Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18).

Since Jesus never wrote a book, our knowledge and understanding of him comes to us through the apostles who received his commission (Matthew 28:18-20), and the promise of the Spirit’s guidance in their teaching (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:12-15). The apostles sent by Jesus were his chosen representatives to bring what he had given them in his earthly life and the things he should show to them as the ascended Lord to his people and the world. They were to be his posthumous spokesmen and penmen. The full meaning of his life could not be grasped by them until after his resurrection (John 16:12). Thus the Christ that is the revelation of God is the Christ shown through the apostolic witnesses guided by the Spirit. This is the Christ of the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews makes this clear in stating that this great salvation was first declared by the Lord and “confirmed to us by those who heard him.” God added his witness to their testimony through doing signs, wonders, and mighty miracles, worked through the power of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 2:3-4). God’s Spirit produced and verified the inspired written message and God’s authority is back of the message.

Paul in a very striking passage in 1 Corinthians 2 talks of a wisdom from above being superior to the wisdom of men and claims he has shared this wisdom with them in proclaiming the gospel to them. It includes things beyond what eyes have seen or ears heard or men have imagined because it is what God “has prepared for those who love him.” Then he tells how we know these things through the Spirit of God which taught Paul in words. “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who possess the Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

Thus, the early church recognized a two-fold authority: the authority of the Old Testament and the authority of the apostles’ teaching, which became embodied in permanent written form in the books of the New Testament. The apostles’ authoritative teaching, which is the teaching of Christ, continues to be the seat of authority for “these last days.”

To return to the title of this article, we know the Bible is inspired because it claims to be inspired. (In using the word “know” we are including knowledge coming from God as truth that can be known, although it cannot be tested against sense experience in the same way truth about observable nature can. See Hebrews 11:1. It makes its claims abundantly in the passages asserting the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures generally (2 Timothy 3:16-17; Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21; John 10:34-35; 1 Corinthians 2:10-13; John 16:12-15), more specific claims for the Old Testament (Matthew 4; Luke 4—the temptation accounts; Matthew 22: 29, 43-44; Luke 24:44; John 5:39) and the specific claims for the New Testament writings (1 Thessalonians 2:13; Galatians 1:11-12; 1 Corinthians 14:37; 1 Thessalonians 4:8; 2 Thessalonians 3:14; 2 Peter 3:15-16; Revelation 1:1-3). Our limited space does not allow us to treat these passages individually. They are only a fraction of the many claims made for the higher authority of the Bible.

Yet, regardless of these claims there is a real sense in which we know the Bible is inspired only as we surrender ourselves to its authority and discover personally for ourselves to its authority and discover personally for ourselves the truth and let that truth convert, transform, shape, and mold ourselves and our lives. Jesus in his great prayer stated it, “And this is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent” (John 17:3). The whole purpose of the inspired word is that men may know God through Jesus Christ, know his liberating redemption and his saving power, and his life-giving love which brings abundant and full life. Unless we allow the inspired word to become the means through which we know God, the fact that it is inspired and the claims it makes for itself will be meaningless for us.

At times there are those who protest our looking at the claims of the Bible. Yet, as I have pointed out elsewhere, a witness in court is even allowed to testify in his own behalf and make his defense. Jesus faced this same problem in his own ministry and gave his own testimony concerning himself despite this complaint because there was no higher testimony than his self-authenticating testimony. “Even if I bear witness of myself, my witness is true; for I know whence I came and whither I am going, but you do not know whence I came or whither I go” (John 8:14).

The final test comes in my listening to his word as God speaks to me through the word, makes known his love for me in Christ, and calls me to obedience and service as one of his people, a child in his family. Here I truly come to know the inspired word and to know it as God’s word because I know the God who has inspired it. Like Paul I can say, “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and I am sure that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to me” (2 Timothy 1:12).

Frank Pack


[Editor’s Note: This article first appeared January 23, 1969, in Gospel Advocate (pp.61-63). Frank Pack (1916-1998) served for many years as dean of Graduate Studies in Religion at Pepperdine University. Professor Pack was a contemporary of Dr. Thomas B. Warren. Concerning Warren's work, Have Atheists Proved There Is No God?, Pack wrote the following: "This is one of the best logical refutations I have ever read, and draws together some of the best insights of modern theistic thinking. .  . . One rarely finds a work in which the process of examination and refutation of a position and establishment of an opposing position are so clearly and beautifully set forth." ]