2 Timothy 3:16-17
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction…

The word which is here rendered "inspired of God" is common enough in heathen writers, but this is the only place in which it occurs in Holy Scripture. As the word was common in heathen writers, so is the idea. "Best," says an ancient Greek poet, "is the word of inspired wisdom." Another Greek writer speaks of "dreams inspired of God." The Roman orator Cicero says, "No man was ever great without a certain Divine inspiration." This last example reminds us that in the Bible also inspiration is in the first instance the attribute of men, not of books. The prophet in the Old Testament is also called the man of the Spirit. Men from God, the Second Epistle of Peter tells us, spake as they were moved of the Holy Ghost. There is a spirit in man, we read in Job, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding. The Divine breath, for that is the idea contained in the words "inspired of God," is first in a human soul; it is only through the soul that it can be communicated to any word or work. Scripture can only be a body of inspired writings because it is the work of a body of inspired men. Now let us approach the subject from this side, and I think it will lead us to some serviceable truths. All men are not equally capable of inspiration — some have a much greater fitness than others for receiving the Spirit of God. If we wish to see the perfect type of inspiration — inspiration not limited or hampered by any unfitness in its instrument — we must find one in whom there is no sin, but an entire and perfect sympathy with the mind and will of God. One such there is in Scripture, and one only — the man Christ Jesus. No one ever had the Spirit without measure except Him; in other words, no one ever walked the earth besides who was in the true and full sense inspired of God. The Divine breath was in Him, and Him only, the life of every thought and word. Hence the words of Christ have a solitary and supreme value. He says so Himself: "The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit and they are life." The difficulties which are felt at the present time in connection with inspiration should all be brought under review in this light. Every scripture, the text tells us, at least by implication, has a Divine breath in it; there is a Divine purpose which it has once served, and which, at a certain stage of human progress, it may profitably serve still; but not every scripture is equally inspired; not every scripture has the final and permanent validity of the words of Christ; and as long as these last find their way to our hearts and work the will of Christ in us, we need not disquiet ourselves because we cannot define the inspiration of Esther, for instance, or of Second Chronicles. When we take the words of Christ as the perfect type of inspired words, and the record of them as the perfect type of inspired Scripture, we see what the essential contents and purpose of inspiration must be. Christ's words are not monotonous; they are inexhaustible in their fulness; but in them all there is the undertone: One thing is needful. Christ is always saying the same things, and about the same things. The nature of God, the will of God, the true life and destiny of man — these and all that gathers round these are His theme. He aims at making men wise, but it is wise unto Salvation. He never taught a school of history or of science, or even of speculative theology. It was His meat to do the will of Him that sent Him, to declare that will, to win others to do it likewise. We cannot come nearer than the study of His words brings us to a true idea of inspiration; and if what I have said is true at all, it follows that inspiration has to do only with the will of God. The man of the Spirit is not necessarily an infallible observer, an infallible scientist, an infallible historian; in matters unconnected with his inspiration he may share the ignorance or the prejudices of his uninspired contemporaries; but he is, in the measure of his inspiration, an infallible interpreter of the will of God. Could anything be more true than that the words of Christ are profitable for doctrine, or to put it in commoner words, useful for teaching? The truth about God and man and all spiritual realities is revealed in them, and brought home to the mind and heart. They have filled and fertilised the intellect of Christendom for centuries. Are they not useful also for reproof, or more exactly, for conviction? Are there any words in the world that can quicken a dead conscience and make it sting, like His? How many of us have been revealed to ourselves as we listened to Him, and been compelled to cry like the woman of Samaria — "Come, see a man that told me all things that ever I did"? Are they not profitable also for correction, for the putting right of what is wrong, and for discipline in righteousness? But, some one may say, though all this is plain enough in regard to Christ's words, it is very difficult to apply it to everything in the Bible — for instance, to the historical books; yet the text speaks of every scripture. That is true, and no doubt by every scripture the apostle has the Old Testament in view; there was no other scripture to speak of when he wrote. But I think a little patience and attention will show that this general and practical definition of inspiration is applicable to the whole of the Bible; and if the Bible, from first to last, has this inspiring and educative power for practical spiritual purposes, we must not deny its inspiration on other and alien grounds. Let us take examples from the historical books to make clear what I mean. There are parts of the Old Testament that belong to the clear daylight of history — for example, the story of the last years of David. That story is told in 2 Samuel, from chap. 2 Samuel 11. onward. I hardly need to recall it even by mentioning the names of Bathsheba, Uriah, Amnon, Tamar, Absalom, Ahithophel, Joab, Shimei. No one knows who wrote it, but it is not possible to doubt that it rests on the authority of some one in immediate contact with the facts. Now consider how it might have been written. A newspaper reporter often has to deal with the same materials, and the chances are a thousand to one that in his hands they minister to the defilement and degradation of the community. A secular historian would probably handle them lightly, as the inevitable disorders of an oriental despotism — the natural result of such a situation as David occupied. In neither case would there be room to speak of inspiration. But as it stands in the Bible, that terrible record of crime and its consequences, is in the full sense of the word inspired. It is not written by a sensational reporter, or a pragmatical historian, but by a man of the Spirit. We see lust and blood in it, not with the sensual eye which feels the fascination of moral horrors, but with the holy eye of God. No man ever read it but was awed, shocked, disciplined in righteousness by pity and fear. It is in that sense that the story is inspired. The facts were not inspired; they were the common property of men with and without the Spirit. There could not be a more signal illustration of the power of inspiration than that a narrative like this — all of foulest crime compact — should have virtue in it, when told by an inspired man, to quicken the conscience, and educate the man of God. Take one example more, in some ways the most difficult of all, the first eleven chapters of Genesis. According to the usual chronology these cover a space of something like two thousand years. They do not contain many incidents — Creation, the Fall, the Flood, the origin and dispersion of the nations, are the chief. Now nobody lived through all that period, and at the very earliest these narratives were not written as we have them for centuries after it expired. To what extent they embody traditions; how nearly or how remotely, in any given case, tradition may be related to things as they actually happened; whether a primitive revelation survives in them here or there — all these are questions on which men have been very positive, but on which simple regard for truth precludes positiveness. And what I want to insist upon here, is that the inspiration of these chapters, like that of the rest of the Bible, is not affected by any decision to which we may come on these points. Inspiration has to do with the spirit of the writer, not with his materials. The inspiration of Luke did not provide him with facts about the life of Jesus; he had to learn them from eyewitnesses and catechists; he had to scrutinise and compare documents like another historian. Neither did inspiration, as I believe, supply the writer of Genesis with his materials. What is inspired in his story is what speaks to the spirit, what serves to convict, to correct, to discipline in righteousness; and judged by this standard, there is nothing in the Bible better entitled to claim inspiration than the story, e.g., of the Fall. Compare such a narrative with the use made of similar materials by a pagan writer — a comparison that can fortunately be made — and we see how wonderfully the author must have been filled and uplifted by a Spirit above his own. It is because his writing has this spiritual quality, this permanent power to reveal to us both God and our own heart, that it answers to the description given by Paul of every inspired Scripture. There is only one proof, in the long run, that the Spirit of God is in the Bible; and that is, that it exerts its power through the Bible. The perfection of Scripture is perfection for its purpose, and that purpose is the transformation of character.

(James Denney, B. D.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:

WEB: Every Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness,

How to Profit by Scripture
Top of Page
Top of Page