What is Inspiration?

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

Along with the command to study, found just one chapter previous, this verse of Scripture is of the utmost importance to the Christian today, because it establishes the basis for the faith of Jesus Christ: the Scriptures. As Dr. Ruckman teaches, our lives must be based on Fact, Faith, and then Feeling; the basis for our lives must be the absolute, unquestionably, undeniable fact of the Scriptures.

Inspiration according to the Bible

The word “inspiration” is generally used in modern English to mean something or someone that moves or impresses a person to do something, such as “you inspire me to do great things.” This is obviously a very carnal or worldly use of the term, as “inspiration” is used very loosely today, as are many other words used in the Bible.

However, to understand what the Bible means when it uses the word “inspiration,” we must engage in a little Bible study ourselves.

Job 32:8 But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding.

The “Law of First Mention” states that the first time a word, phrase, or doctrine is found in Scripture, that context sets the tone and definition for the word or phrase in question throughout the rest of the Bible. Now this is not absolute, as many words have multiple meanings, which can be seen in context, but as a general rule it is very useful in exegeting Biblical truth.

Here in this passage in Job, we see Elihu responding to Job’s three friends, and Job himself, rebuking the entire situation. As an aside, Elihu was the only one of the five men involved in this story that God did not rebuke. Very succinctly, Elihu explains the process of God’s direction in an individual’s life. He begins with the spirit in man; this is the part of the human trichotomy that allows communication between us, that is our soul, and God, who is a Spirit, as the Bible says in John 4:24.

He then continues in the second clause: the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them (man) understanding. Very clearly, Elihu is equating “inspiration” with supernatural (Almighty) spiritual (there is a spirit in man) understanding. Note that the subject of inspiration here is a man. There are no “words” being inspired: it is the man that is being inspired by the “spirit” of the Almighty.

There is an aspect to “inspiration” that comes from the etymology of the word. Namely, “in” and “spir,” which is the root word from which come “spirit” and “respiration.” The Greek word for “spirit” is “πνεύματος,” “pneumatos,” where we get the term “pneumatic.” A pneumatic system is one that operates on air. This also involves the creation of man, where God “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.” It is well to note that life comes from God’s breath, and that it is the spirit (pneuma) that connects man’s soul with God.

Thus, the word “inspiration” as it deals with the Scriptures has to do with God’s supernatural understanding through the Spirit moving man to write His words. Another parallel and important passage is in 2 Peter:

2 Peter 1:21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Again, reiterated here, is the fact that inspiration is effected upon a human being, in this passage “holy men of God,” who are “speaking” as they are being moved by (inspired) the Holy Ghost. It is not words or a book that are inspired, but the man writing or speaking.

This is a very important matter, because if we accept that men are inspired, then that means that the agents of the preservation of Scripture were also inspired. If the English Bible we have, hold, believe, and (hopefully) obey is “the Scriptures,” then it must be, according to the Bible, given by inspiration, and that means that the agents of preservation, specifically the scribes that copied it and the men that translated it, were also under the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

TL;DR – Inspiration is the process by which God moves men to speak or write His words. Inspiration is also the giving of life, the “inserting” of the “respiration” into Adam at creation, and one could argue at the new birth at salvation.