4 Theories of Biblical Inspiration: The Authenticity of God’s Word

Biblical inspiration - the Authenticity of God's word

The doctrine of Biblical inspiration is the teaching that the Bible is God-breathed and is therefore our infallible rule for faith and practice. If the Bible is simply the work of the human imagination, then there is no compelling reason to follow its doctrines and moral guidelines.

The Bible itself makes the bold claim to be God-breathed: “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17). We notice two things regarding Scripture in this verse: 1) it is “inspired by God,” and 2) it is “profitable” for Christian living.

Theories Of Biblical Inspiration

Neo-Orthodox theory

The neo-orthodox view of inspiration emphasizes the transcendence of God. Neo-orthodoxy teaches that God is so completely different from us that the only way we could ever know Him is through direct revelation (Trembath, 1987). This view of the transcendence of God denies any concept of natural theology (i.e., that God can be known through His creation).

Furthermore, neo-orthodoxy denies that the Bible is the Word of God. Rather, the Bible is a witness, or mediator, to the Word of God, Jesus. The neo-orthodox theory of inspiration is that the words in the Bible aren’t God’s words, but they are fallible words written by fallible men. The Bible is only “inspired” in that God can sometimes use the words to speak to individuals.

Dictation Theory

The dictation theory of inspiration sees God as the author of Scripture and the individual human agents as secretaries or amanuenses taking dictation. God spoke, and the man wrote it down. This view has some merit since we know there are portions of Scripture in which God essentially says, “Write this down” (e.g., Jeremiah 30:2), but not all Scripture was created that way. The Pentateuch is essentially a chronicle of the Jewish people before settling in the Promised Land.

While Moses is the primary author, much of the Pentateuch required editorial work on Moses’ part, as he undoubtedly compiled earlier records for some of the history (Geisler, 1968). Luke states in the preamble to his gospel that he performed detailed research into the events of the life of Jesus before writing (Luke 1:1–4). Many of the prophetic books read like journals of the prophets’ lives. The bottom line is that the dictation theory only explains certain portions of Scripture, but not all of it or even most of it.

Limited Inspiration Theory

The theory of limited inspiration is the opposite view of the dictation theory. Whereas the latter sees Scripture as primarily God’s work with minimal human contribution, the former sees Scripture as primarily man’s work with limited help from God. The theory of limited inspiration says that God guided the human authors but allowed them the freedom to express themselves in their works, even to the point of allowing factual and historical errors (Basinger & Basinger, 1983).

Fortunately, the Holy Spirit prevented doctrinal errors. The problem with this view is that, if the Bible is prone to error in its historical accounts, then how can we trust it in doctrinal matters? With limited inspiration, the reliability of the Bible is called into doubt. This view also seems to ignore the fact that the Bible’s story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation is told against the backdrop of human history—the doctrine is woven within the history. We can’t arbitrarily say that the history is inaccurate and then state it contains a kernel of doctrinal truth.

Plenary verbal Inspiration

The final view, and the view of orthodox Christianity, is the theory of plenary, verbal inspiration. The word plenary means “complete or full,” and verbal means “the very words of Scripture.” So plenary, verbal inspiration is the view that every single word in the Bible is the very word of God (Abraham, 1982). It’s not just the ideas or thoughts that are inspired, but the words themselves. Second Timothy 3:16–17 uses a unique Greek word, theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.” Scripture is “breathed out” of the mouth of God. The Bible’s words are God’s words.

External Evidence Of The Authenticity Of The Word Of God

There is internal and external evidence that the Bible is truly God’s Word. The internal evidence is those things within the Bible that testify of its divine origin, but we will look at the external evidence.

The Historicity of the Bible

Because the Bible details historical events, its truthfulness and accuracy are subject to verification like any other historical document. Through both archaeological shreds of evidence and other writings, the historical accounts of the Bible have been proven time and time again to be accurate and true.

All the archaeological and manuscript evidence supporting the Bible makes it the best-documented book from the ancient world. The fact that the Bible accurately and truthfully records historically verifiable events is a great indication of its truthfulness when dealing with religious subjects and doctrines and helps substantiate its claim to be the very Word of God (McDowell and Wilson, 1993).

The Integrity of its human Authors

God used men from many walks of life to record His words. In studying the lives of these men, we find them to be honest and sincere. The fact that they were willing to die often excruciating deaths for what they believed testifies that these ordinary yet honest men truly believed God had spoken to them.

The men who wrote the New Testament and many hundreds of other believers (1 Corinthians 15:6) knew the truth of their message because they had seen and spent time with Jesus Christ after He had risen from the dead. Seeing the risen Christ had a tremendous impact on them. They went from hiding in fear to being willing to die for the message God had revealed to them. Their lives and deaths testify to the fact that the Bible truly is God’s Word.

The Indestructibility of the Bible

Because of its importance and its claim to be the very Word of God, the Bible has suffered more vicious attacks and attempts to destroy it than any other book in history. From early Roman Emperors like Diocletian, through communist dictators, and on to modern-day atheists and agnostics, the Bible has withstood and outlasted all of its attackers and is still today the most widely published book in the world.

Archeological Evidence

Archaeological discoveries have confirmed many events of the Bible. The excavation of Jericho reveals that the walls of this city did indeed fall as described in the book of Joshua (Wood, 1999). Indeed, some passages of the Bible, which critics once claimed were merely a myth, have now been confirmed archaeologically.

For example, the five cities of the plain described in Genesis 14:2 were once thought by secular scholars to be mythical, but ancient documents have been found that list these cities as part of ancient trade routes.

Theory Of Evolution As Applied To The Origin Of Man

The modern theory concerning the evolution of man proposes that humans and apes derive from an apelike ancestor that lived on earth a few million years ago. The theory states that man, through a combination of environmental and genetic factors, emerged as a species to produce the variety of ethnicities seen today, while modern apes evolved on a separate evolutionary pathway.

Perhaps the most famous proponent of evolutionary theory is Charles Darwin (1809-82) who authored The Origin of Species (1859) to describe his theory of evolution. It was based largely on observations that he made during his 5-year voyage around the world aboard the HMS Beagle (1831-36). Since then, mankind’s origin has generally been explained from an evolutionary perspective. Moreover, the theory of man’s evolution has been and continues to be modified as new findings are discovered, revisions to the theory are adopted, and earlier concepts proven incorrect are discarded.

Concepts in Evolutionary Theory

The currently-accepted theory of the evolution of man rests on three major principles. These principles hinge on the innate ability which all creatures have to pass on their genetic information to their offspring through the reproductive process. An alternative explanation for homology is a common designer. According to this reasoning, the similarities in anatomical features between species point to a blueprint used by a Creator/Designer.

Microevolution: The first tenet is microevolution, the occurrence, and build-up of mutations in the genetic sequence of an organism. Mutations are predominantly random and can occur naturally through errors in the reproductive process or environmental impacts such as chemicals or radiation.

Natural Selection: The second tenet of evolution is natural selection. Natural selection is a natural mechanism by which the fittest members of a species survive to pass on their genetic information, while the weakest are eliminated (die-off) because they are unable to compete in the wild. Natural selection is often termed “survival of the fittest” or “elimination of the weakest.”

Speciation: The third tenet is speciation, which occurs when members of a species mutate to the point where they are no longer able to breed with other members of the same species. The new population becomes a reproductively isolated community that is unable to breed with its former community. Through speciation, the genes of the new population become isolated from the previous group.

The Scrutiny

The theory concerning the evolution of man is under increased scrutiny due to the persistence of gaps in the fossil record, the inability to demonstrate “life-or-death” determining advantageous genetic mutations, and the lack of experiments or observations to truly confirm the evidence for speciation. Overall, the evolution of man pervades as the accepted paradigm on the origin of man within the scientific community (Seiglie, 2007).

This is not because it has been proven scientifically, but because alternative viewpoints bring with them metaphysical implications which go against the modern naturalistic paradigm. Nevertheless, a closer examination of the evidence reveals evolution to be increasingly less scientific and more reliant upon beliefs, not proof.



The Genesis chapter one account of God’s active creation of all things culminates in verse twenty-six with two clauses: “Let us make man in our image” and “Let them have dominion.”  The first has become “the centerpiece of reflection concerning the Christian understanding of the human person” (Stephenson 6).  The second is the subject of volumes addressing the question of the human role in, relationship to, and responsibility for the whole of creation.  Amid the centuries of dialogue engaging these two inquiries, a variety of perspectives have emerged upon the explication of the imago Dei

Having recognized a deficiency in the traditional understanding of imago Dei within its essentially individualistic conception, many contemporary theologians have sought to reinterpret the image, not as an individually held static quality of the mind, but as a relational achievement which is constituted between others-in-relation” (Stephenson 7).  In particular, this relational reinterpretation of imago Dei is based upon an analogy to the relationality of God’s dynamic and triune being. 

The stewardship model generally views the world, not as a kingdom, but instead, as a household.  In particular, the created realm is conceived of as God’s household over which he has placed humans as his stewards.  Their charge is to care for and manage the household to which they also belong.  As stewards, humans are accountable for their management of the household’s diverse facilities and members.  Responsibility for the well-being and preservation of household orderliness lies squaring upon the steward. 


The Bible presents a powerful model of human dignity, spanning and uniting the Testaments. We propose that the teachings of the Imago Dei and Incarnation illustrate that the human person, body and soul, have been forever dignified. Underlying their powerful professions of faith in the Living God is a powerful substructure of thought which concisely depicts the interaction of the “infinite” with the “finite”. 

The teachings of the Imago Dei and the Incarnation should not be dismissed as products of religious zeal, as many minimalists would do, but as the manifestations of thought and writings that have withstood the challenges of time and have been supported by other scientific disciplines. It describes, albeit theologically, the intersection and union between the metaphysical and the sensible worlds, the abstract and the concrete, and infinite power condensed into a finite form.  We would propose, based on these key Biblical teachings that all human persons have an “inherited share” of this union (Globus, 2003).


The writings of the New Testament reflect the belief that a new prophecy has come to Israel for the sake of the whole world. Some of its texts, echoing the prophetic texts of the Jewish Scriptures, recapitulate creation themes not only to memorialize the story of the Creator and the first human beings but also to proclaim new creation and a new human being, a new future when the world as a pleroma of creatures emerges from a divine act of cosmic liberation and renovation.

At the heart of this vision is the redemption of humankind through the messianic mediation of a second or new Adam (Haslam, 2012). The distinctive Christian interpretation of this vision employs a variety of covenantal, messianic, and pneumatological models of agency to mediate this cosmic fulfillment.


For our purposes of investigating the scriptural references to the human being in the SSR this year, I would like to focus upon these two texts to draw out the linkage that is made between imago Dei, the humanity of God, and the humanity of the human being (Day, 2013).

The Christological dimension is included here not only because the New Testament so emphatically makes the connection, but because the Christological manifestation of the imago Dei is one of the most important sources of explanation for the claim that God has not only entered the world in the form of glorious presence as Lord but also in the form of the human as Servant. Recourse will also be made to select passages that convey the New Testament’s ‘Second Adam’ Christology, and so indicate how the imago Dei is presented to connect original creation and new creation.


The human being is not only the object of divine address but also in a real sense the representative of the divine in the world. In John, the Logos of God stands in for the image of God (Day, 2013). Reference to the Logos is now not indicative of a counterpart to God but to God himself.

God is his agent in creation. The Johannine Prologue refers to the relation of the Logos to the being of a primal man, but not the first man and woman. Here, the Logos is personified or hypostatized and are identical with the divine light or glory as ‘he’ comes into the world. God, Himself is glorified through His son who came in His image as a man on earth.

Scriptural Description Of Heaven And Hell

The Bible does not give many details about either heaven or hell. The sayings in the Bible are often phrased in symbolic or metaphorical language. However, the Bible does make it clear that there will be a future glorious eternal life for the righteous and punishment for the wicked (Matthew 7:13-14, 13:40-42, 19:28-29, Luke 10:25-28, 13:24-28, John 5:28-29, 6:40, Romans 6:22-23, 8:18, Revelation 21:8).


Christians frequently use the word heaven to refer to the final dwelling place of people who are saved. It is conceived as a place of perfection where people who have lived righteous lives will live eternally in God’s presence. Heaven (or heavens) has several meanings in the Bible. The physical heaven refers to all of the universes beyond earth (Genesis 1:1, Matthew 24:29, Revelation 12:3-4).

Heaven is also the dwelling place of God (Deuteronomy 26:15, 1 Kings 8:28-30, Matthew 5:44-45). When Christ returns, heaven and earth will be re-created or brought to perfection by God’s will (Isaiah 65:17, 66:22, 2 Peter 3:10-13, Revelation 21:1). This new perfect world will be the final dwelling place for those who are saved (John 14:2-3, 1 Peter 1:3-4).

Paradise: Paradise is a Persian word that originally meant a walled garden. At the time of Jesus, many Jews believed life after death would be in a Paradise similar to the Garden of Eden. The souls of the patriarchs of Israel and righteous people would be taken to this Paradise. Jesus referred to that belief in His Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:22-23).

Jesus also told the thief on the cross, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:43). That suggests that Paradise is the same as the intermediate state where souls are taken immediately after death. Paradise is also mentioned in Revelation 2:7.

Third Heaven: In Jewish tradition, there were three heavens, and the apostle Paul mentioned the highest heaven, the “third heaven,” in connection with Paradise in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. There is no further explanation, so Paul may have intended third heaven to be a synonym for Paradise.


Christians use the word hell to refer to the final dwelling place of people who are not saved. It is usually conceived as a place of eternal punishment for people who have lived wicked lives. Several different words in the original Bible languages represent the abode of the dead or state of the dead. Many Bible versions translate all these words as “hell,” but that obscures their distinct meanings. Some newer versions leave these words untranslated to preserve the distinctions and original meanings:

Old Testament: The Hebrew word Sheol was viewed as the dwelling place of all the dead, both righteous and unrighteous. It was conceived as a place under the earth where the souls of the dead existed in gloom, darkness, silence, and oblivion (Job 10:21, Psalms 94:17, Psalms 88:12).

Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. (NRSV, Ecclesiastes 9:10)

New Testament: Hades is a Greek word that is equivalent to the Hebrew Sheol. In the Greek version of the Old Testament, “Sheol” was translated as “Hades.”

In later Jewish writings, Sheol/Hades was conceived as having separate regions of comfort for the righteous and punishment of the wicked, and that idea is also seen in Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus:

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. (TNIV, Luke 16:22-26)

Gehenna (Hebrew ge-hinnom, meaning “valley of Hinnom”) was a valley outside of Jerusalem. At the time of Jesus, it was used as a garbage dump where fires burned continuously. In former times, it was used as a place of idolatrous practices, including human sacrifices (2 Chronicles 28:3, Jeremiah 32:35)

Jesus used this evil place where fires burned continuously as a metaphor for the fate that awaits the wicked after death:

But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. (NAB, Matthew 5:22)

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. You should enter into life maimed than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. You should enter into life crippled than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. (NAB, Mark 9:43-45)

The Christian conception of hell as a place of punishment for the wicked is most closely associated with the word Gehenna as used by Jesus.

The word Tartarus appears once in the Bible. It comes from Greek mythology and is used to represent a place of punishment:

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; (NAB, 2 Peter 2:4)

The book of Revelation uses the term “lake of fire” to describe the fate of the wicked: And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (NRSV, Revelation 20:10)

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (NRSV, Revelation 20:14-15)

Definition Of Terms

Grace is divine help and strength that we receive through the Atonement of Jesus Christ. In Western Christian theology, grace has been defined, not as a created substance of any kind, but as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God desires us to have it, not necessarily because of anything we have done to earn it”, “the condescension or benevolence shown by God toward the human race”.

Sanctification is the act or process of acquiring sanctity, of being made or becoming holy. … To sanctify is to literally “set apart for particular use in a special purpose or work and to make holy or sacred.”

Conversion involves belief (faith) in the Christian God, wherein one notices that one has fallen short of God’s image in what he created man after which was in his love, glory, and holiness, repentance of sin, and confession of their belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the all-sufficient and only means by whom one’s sin can be atoned for and therefore the only route to salvation. (John 14:6)

Glorification is the future and final work of God upon Christians, where he transforms our mortal physical bodies to the eternal physical bodies in which we will dwell forever. 1 Cor. 15:42-44

Substitution means to take the place of something. Christ’s death on the cross was substitutionary in that He took our punishment. Isaiah 53:4-6Our sin was imputed to Christ. That is, it was reckoned to His account so that when He died on the cross, He fulfilled the requirement of the law that states that the wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23).

Preservation, To be saved is to be preserved in the faith to the end. ‘He that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.’ (Mt. 24:13). God promises to hold every true believer securely until He delivers him to heaven, no matter what temptations or trials he encounters. Though the believer sins, he will not finally fail but will be kept by God’s power through the gift of persevering faith.1 Peter 1:5-7

Reconciliation is the restoration of friendly relations. In the Old Testament, the word reconciliation is the Hebrew word kapar, pronounced kaw-far’. Kapar is also translated into English words such as forgive, purge away, and merciful as well as a few others. The Bible says that Christ reconciled us to God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18; Colossians 1:20-21).

Origination is the beginning of the creation of something. Man is created by God and according to His likeness. The whole earth originated from the creation story in Genesis.

Propitiation The word propitiation carries the basic idea of appeasement or satisfaction, specifically toward God. A propitiation is a two-part act that involves appeasing the wrath of an offended person and being reconciled to him.

Remission is an exemption from the consequences of an offense, forgiveness. The remission of sin is therefore a reference to the forgiveness of sin.

Justification in Christian theology is God’s act of removing the guilt and penalty of sin while at the same time declaring a sinner righteous through Christ’s atoning sacrifice.

Redemption is an act of redeeming or atoning for a fault or mistake, or the state of being redeemed. In Christian theology, redemption is an element of salvation that broadly means the deliverance from sin. It is an element of salvation to express deliverance from sin.

Regeneration is a radical change. Another word for regeneration is rebirth, related to the biblical phrase “born again.” Our rebirth is distinguished from our first birth when we were conceived physically and inherited our sinful nature. The new birth is a spiritual, holy, and heavenly birth that results in our being made alive spiritually. Man in his natural state is “dead in trespasses and sins” until he is “made alive” (regenerated) by Christ. This happens when he places his faith in Christ (Ephesians 2:1). Just as our physical birth resulted in a new individual entering the earthly realm, our spiritual birth results in a new person entering the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6).

Imputation “is used to designate any action or word or thing as reckoned to a person. Imputed righteousness is a concept in Christian theology that proposes that the “righteousness of Christ … is imputed to [believers] — that is, treated as if it were theirs through faith.”

Adoption, in Christian theology, is the admission of a believer into the family of God. As a theological word, adoption has similar connotations to the act of legally placing a child with a parent or parents other than those to whom they were born. In the Bible, adoption is one of several family-related terms used to describe the process of salvation and its subsequent benefits.

Supplication is the asking part of prayer. Also known as petitioning, is a form of prayer, wherein one party humbly or earnestly asks another party to provide something, either for the party who is doing the supplicating or on behalf of someone else.


Abraham, William (1982). Divine Revelation and the Limits of Historical Criticism, New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Basinger, Randall and David Basinger (1983). “Inerrancy, Dictation, and the Free Will Defence,” The Evangelical Quarterly, 55: 177-80.

Day, John (2013). From Creation to Babel: Studies in Genesis 1–11. London: Bloomsbury.

Geisler, Norman (1968). A General Introduction to the Bible. Chicago: Moody.

Globus, G. (2003). Quantum Closures and Disclosures: Thinking-together Postphenomenology and Quantum Brain    Mechanics. Phil: John Benjamins.

Haslam, Molly (2012). “Imago Dei as rationality or relationality: history and construction”. A Constructive Theology of Intellectual Disability: Human Being as Mutuality and Response. New York, NY: Fordham Press. pp. 92–116.

Mario Seiglie (2007).Charles Darwin: Evolution of a Man and His Ideas. Beyond Today: Jul 25.

McDowell, Josh and Bill Wilson (1993). A Ready Defense. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, pp. 42–55.

Stephenson, Bret (2005). “Nature, Technology and the Imago Dei: Mediating the Nonhuman through the Practice of Science.” Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith 57.1: 6-12.

Trembath, Kern Robert (1987). Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

Wood, Bryant (1999). “The Walls of Jericho,” Creation 21 (2) March-May, pp. 36–40,

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