Theology in 3D

The Men Who Wrote Scripture Were Not Inspired by God

Greg Stiekes | February 2, 2021
New Testament, Theology

Can I take a minute to correct a misunderstanding that I commonly hear when students are talking about the doctrine of inspiration? They often refer to the fact that the authors whom God prepared in his providence and led through the Holy Spirit to write Scripture were “inspired by God.”

I was reminded of this misunderstanding this past week as I read student discussion posts. One student wrote, “The scribes were not inspired but only the original authors were inspired.” Another said, “The Bible was written under inspiration.” Yet another, “I believe that the original authors of Scripture were inspired by God in the original documents that they wrote or dictated.”

Now, I suppose that what I’m about to say all of these students would agree with. So this may be simply a call for greater clarity when we articulate something as important as the “doctrine of inspiration.” Nevertheless, when it comes to inspiration, it is not the authors who were “inspired,” but the living Word itself that was inspired.

The misunderstanding that the authors were inspired is perpetuated, however, by the very term “inspiration” itself, which appears in the traditional English translation of 2 Timothy 3:16. “All Scripture was given by inspiration of God” (KJV and NKJV). Many of the revised or newer translations that have come about over the last century were closer to the original Greek text, but still retain the word “inspired.” For example, “All Scripture is inspired by God” (NRSV, NASB, HCSB, and several others).

But the idea of “inspire,” at least the way we think of it today, is actually absent from 2 Timothy 3:16. The Greek phrase in question is simply three words: πᾶσα γραφὴ θεόπνευστος (pasa graphe theopneustos), or “All Scripture (is) God-breathed.” This, in fact, is the translation you will find in the NIV and a few lesser known versions like the Berean Study Bible. The ESV amplifies the text slightly, with “All Scripture is breathed out by God.”

As every seminary student should be able to tell you, the Greek word θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) is a combination of “God” (θεός; theos) plus “breathed” (πνευστος; pneustos), from the verb meaning “breath or blow” (πνέω; pneō). In other words, the action in question is not “inspiration,” but “spiration”; not a breathing in, but a breathing out.

So what does the phrase in 2 Timothy 3:16 mean then? Simply this, that the Scripture came from God himself. That’s it. It was breathed out from his inner being. The Bible is, through and through, literally, God’s own Word. That simple fact itself is profoundly significant. But we clutter it up by thinking that the phrase speaks to the process of God’s breathing out his Word. And it does not. It does not say anything about how God gave his Word through the human authors, through visions or through direct communication or through angels or sometimes through writing to correcting an errant church. Neither does the term God-breathed say anything about the copies of the original Word (the “autographs”), nor the later translations in various languages, and eventually the English language. The phrase tells us that, when God caused his divine word to be written by human authors, he breathed it through them.

We will, no doubt, continue to use the phrase, “doctrine of inspiration,” even though we have to go out of our way to explain it every time we use it. That is because the word “inspiration” has a deep-rooted history in our theological jargon. It’s like the term “virgin birth.” Even though the phrase “virgin conception” is far more accurate, you could never convince people to start using it rather than the former. But if we’re going to continue to speak of the “inspiration of the Bible,” we should be careful to mean only that. Only the Word of God itself is “inspired.”

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21 responses to “The Men Who Wrote Scripture Were Not Inspired by God”

  1. Marilyn. Lennard says:

    The older I get. ( I’m 85 now). The more I believe what Vance Havner had to say..” put the cookies on the lowest shelf so all the children can reach them”.

  2. Excellent post, Greg. For 20 years of teaching I’ve been trying to correct this misconception. Pedantic a distinction as it may seem to some, I think that if the teachers and preachers of the Church were consistently more biblically precise in their use of language and definition of doctrine, there’d be far less dry tinder lying around for starting pseudo-doctrinal brush fires. I also try to clarify that “God-breathed” doesn’t mean that God “blew” in some kind of mysterious influential way; it means simply that God spoke (put your hand in front of your mouth and you can feel breath with every word). So what Paul or John or James or Mark wrote, God spoke concurrently through them.

  3. Anca says:

    A man wrote that a wife should submit to the will of the husband in everything and you are telling me that those words came from God himself? Those passages justify male selfishness and pride and allow the man to have his way in everything. I take no comfort in the cheap assertion that the husband is doing what’s best for his wife or leading her in any way because that is purely assumption. How to you gauge that the husband’s intent is to do what’s best for his wife and not simply his own preference in the matter? Why does a fully capable woman need another person to decide what’s best for her unless of course the purpose of it is to demean the status of the woman to that of an infant so that the husband can elevate his own status in contrast to her and feel better about his own self worth. In other words the male written scriptures has a given the husband a grandiose status of importance where only he knows what’s best. Since when are your own PERSONAL preferences and desires in private life a service or qualification of leadership for another? These scriptures were clearly inspired by men with a selfish agenda behind them. Manipulation is behind the scriptures, they are man breathed.

  4. Eddie chaney says:

    Man is responsible to lovingly lead his wife and family.

  5. John GrosVenor says:

    One of the problems Americans have is that we don’t need a book that men wrote to tell us how to live
    Our cultures were not a literary people. How do you know God told all these men to write

  6. Rod DeFigh says:

    The Wonderful Holy inspired Word of God. We still argue over what the US constitution really means and it is a recent document compared with the Bible. When one reads the Bible it raises more questions then it will answer, in my humble opinion. When it comes to publishing a book there is a long process of editing and proofreading before a book goes into publication. Have you ever read a book that was clearly rushed through the process? There are some poorly edited books in circulation. I only wish the Apostle Paul had an editing staff who could have worked with him a little bit, you know, so they could work out the kinks and add some clarification where needed. Then if he would have gone on a book signing tour and fielded questions from the press that might have helped as well. Then a revised and expanded edition from the publisher before he kicked the bucket might have alleviated most of the questions we have today. A case in point, the shelves in book stores are sagging under the weight of books by authors who attempt to explain what the Apostle Paul really meant.

  7. Mark S. Bias says:

    Scripture is the Final Autonomous Standard and Authority for faith and practice, wherein and thru which all things external and internal must be screened, sifted, applied and asserted. By Scripture, we mean the 66 Canonical Books as litmus tested and accepted doctrine (Genesis – Revelation).

  8. Thomas Clock says:

    I am a 71 year old man. Having read and study the Bible some I am not even close to being an educated man regarding the Bible. I do feel we need to understand the period the Bible was written in, male dominated society. If we say the litteral meaning of a section of the Bible was due to the society of the times; who makes that decision for more controversial sections such as?

  9. Paul says:

    I believe the holy scriptures were inspired by our wonderful God people must remember that God intended for most humans with out receiving the blessings of Godly knowledge and wisdom from you cannot understand the parables through out our Holy Bible, and understand just about all the Bible centers on the Devine bloodline that concluded with Jesus our Christ but none the less it does contain a lot of wonderful writings, it is my book of directions I love the Word of God unconditionally, knowledge of God is abundant and is there for the receiving all we have to do is sincerely and whole heartedly ask and God is great enough to give it to you until I received my spiritual awakening all I was able to do is read not comprehend when I was first

  10. Luke Hill says:

    I think the author has forgotten a few texts.

    “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
    ‭‭2 Peter‬ ‭1:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given 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 are spiritual.”
    ‭‭1 Corinthians‬ ‭2:12-13‬ ‭ESV‬‬

    These two texts seem to imply that the authors were carried by the spirit of God.

  11. dad gramps says:

    Very well stated and so simply. You get an ATTA- BOY from me.

  12. Becky Field says:

    To put it simply, God is the author of the Bible. He chose the original men to be the scribes to write His words down on scrolls.

    He knew that these scrolls would eventually be rewritten and translated into many languages and distributed throughout the world. God’s sole purpose of these Holy Scriptures is to give people the wisdom that leads to salvation through Christ Jesus.

  13. Mark Bivins says:

    Let’s not forget that we were made in the image of God. Man first then women. God is a spirit however, Adam was made of the image of a male. Hypothesis , God is a male image of a spirit.

  14. Matt says:

    Anca……this is from they have pretty good answers to common questions about the Bible…

    “Ephesians 5:22–24 addresses the issue of submission, which unfortunately has been mishandled by many . Wives are told to submit to their husbands as they do to the Lord. Many females cringe at the word submit because it has been used as an excuse to treat them like slaves. When these three verses are ripped from their context and applied to women only, they become a tool in the hand of Satan. Satan often twists Scripture to accomplish his evil purposes, and he has used this one to corrupt God’s plan for marriage. The command about submission actually begins in verse 18, which says that all Christians should submit themselves to one another. It then applies that to wives in marriage, but the bulk of the responsibility is placed upon the husband to love his wife in the way Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25–32). When a husband lives in obedience to God’s expectation for him, a Christian wife has little difficulty submitting to his leadership.”

  15. LuBirdis Threats says:

    Hello Anca and John
    You have very legitimate, questions and statements, if you find time to read the Bible, pray about rightly dividing the word of Truth, to get a stronger bearing, 2 Timothy 2:15. There is nowhere in the Bible that says a man is supposed to rule over a woman as he sees fit. The Word of God is inspired all by itself, Jesus doesn’t need man’s influence, mankind needs the influence of Jesus’s undying love for us. So, if we as human beings complain about a loving book, inspired words of God, and we never read or study then all we will get is someone else’s opinion. When we read with the drive to Understand what the Holy Bible is truly said by looking and expecting the Almighty God to reveal His truth in His word, by asking and listening that’s what Jesus will do. Give you a clear understanding of yourself.
    Then you will understand what it means to walk with the Lord. I’m sure through revelation you will want the Holy Spirit with is the Power of God to lead and guide you, and comfort you in this world as we know it. He gives us peace in the midst of turmoils and trouble. Just try and go a little deeper in Christ, He will never let you down or let you go. Where ever the both of you are Stay blessed.

  16. Terri Morlan says:

    Thank you, thank you! You have really brought the truth of the Word being “inspired” to light.

  17. Arlie Robinson says:

    Excellent comments. I can see the ones that have been written by those who have prayerfully studied the whole word of God and not taken pieces out of context.
    Thank you Lord for your unchanging infallible WORD 🙏❤️

  18. Jarkko says:

    Amen!The bible is the word of God. God-breathed.”🙏

  19. Alexzandrya says:

    The authors didn’t use their own words that were INSPIRED by GOD, they used GOD’S Words that were GIVEN by GOD. So they weren’t inspired on what to write, they were TOLD what to write. GOD used them to write HIS Word.

  20. Christopher Retzinger says:

    Was there a test to determine who in fact was being told what to write by God – from those who otherwise were only writing what they thought was God breathed – like for other holy books? If so, what was that test? What was the test’s degree of accuracy (as all tests have an accuracy, or error bar)? Also, within the test’s same error bar, how did the test’s results compare when subjected to other holy books during their initial writing? If there was no test, how do we determine which holy book is more accurate (Oldest to younger: Bahá’u’lláh, Sutras, Vinaya Pitaka, Old Testament, Vedas, the Holy Quran, Torah, New Testament, Book of Morman, etc.)?

  21. Rev. Christopher C. Little says:


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