8 - Inspiration and Translation


“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God . . .” (2 Tim.3:16).

Our word “inspiration” has been translated from the Greek word theopneustos which means God-breathed, out-breathed, rather than in-breathed, by God. God did not breathe into existing literature or people. He didn’t inspire John or Paul, but rather he breathed out the Scriptures.

I. The Human Element

“Since the Bible is written by human beings, it must be treated as any other human communication in determining the meaning intended by the writer.” (Basic Principle 1 - McQuilkin)

What evidence is there that the Bible was written by human beings?

  1. The Scriptures point to human authorship. Mark 12:9: “Teacher, Moses wrote to us that if a man’s brother dies, and leaves his wife behind, and leaves no children, his brother should take his wife and raise up offspring for his brother.”
  2. The author sometimes stated his purpose in writing: 1 John 5:13.
  3. Research was undertaken: Luke 1:1-4.
  4. Life’s experiences are revealed: Psalms, Hosea, Jonah.
  5. The writing styles vary. This is evident even in translation.

II. The Divine Element

“Since Scripture is God-breathed and true in all its parts, the unity of its teachings must be sought, and its supernatural elements recognized and understood.” (Basic Principle 2 - McQuilkin)

  1. Some Scripture was written by the finger of God: Exodus 32:16.
  2. The Scriptures include the revelation of that which was otherwise unknowable by man: 1 Peter 1:10-12.
  3. Detailed predictions were given centuries ahead of the time of fulfillment. In Psalm 22, the sufferings of the Messiah are described: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (See Matthew 27:46)
  4. Words and visions were given by God. Isaiah 8:1: “Moreover the Lord said to me, ‘Take a large scroll . . .’”
  5. We have the evidence of God’s providential preparation of the nation of Israel and of individuals: Moses, the prophets, Paul.

III. The Extent of Inspiration

1. Verbal

The original manuscripts were inspired by God. Even the very words of the original were given by divine inspiration. Jesus said to the Devil: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt.4:4).

Note also: Exod.4:12; Jer.1:9; Ezek.2:7; Matt.5:18; 1 Cor.2:13; Gal.3:16.

2. Complete

Inspiration extends to all parts of the Bible: all books, all chapters, and all verses, although divisions are often manmade.

3. Inspiration covers:

  1. revelation - a direct communication from God to man
  2. the selection of documents, records etc.
  3. an accurate record of history and teaching.

4. Unity of the Scriptures

The author is the Holy Spirit. There is one theme. Everything fits together.

5. Progressive revelation

Truth is clearest in the New Testament. What may be obscure and incomplete in the Old Testament is revealed more fully as God’s redemptive plan unfolds throughout man’s history.

IV. Inadequate Theories of Inspiration

1. Genius

The idea that Paul, the apostle, was “inspired” like Shakespeare to write is wrong. There is no basis of comparison between Shakespeare’s plays and Paul’s writings. Paul was moved by the Holy Spirit to write what God wanted the people to hear.

2. Degrees of Inspiration

The Gospel of John is not more inspired than Ecclesiastes. All Scriptures are fully authorized by God although they differ in the purpose for which they were inspired and in their application.

3. Inspired Concepts

Some say that the ideas were divine, but men were left to express them in their own way. If this were true, we would not be able to depend on the infallibility of the Scriptures.

4. Partial Inspiration

Some say that the Bible contains the Word of God, not that it is the Word of God. They sit in judgment of the Bible and decide what is inspired. We need to let the Bible judge us.

5. Verbal Dictation

The writers of Scripture were not mere machines to whom God dictated what should be written down. God used the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen. The process is a mystery to us, but God does many things that we cannot understand with our limited human minds.

Jesus Christ gave a very high position to Scripture. He read the Scripture in the synagogues and quoted from the Old Testament frequently. He pointed out that the Scripture was authoritative and could not be broken (John 10:34-38).

V. Misunderstanding regarding Inspiration:

  • In normal speech, we use round numbers (army of 100,000 men). So does the Bible. Inspiration does not mean exact precision.
    • Num 11:21 But Moses said, “The people among whom I am number six hundred thousand on foot
  • Today we have standardized grammar & spelling. This was not true in ancient times.
    • The Kings sometimes have their names spelt differently in different books.
  • Sometimes we report a falsehood that someone has said. The Bible reports false accounts and does not claim them to be true.
    • Psa 10:4 In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
  • Today we use the figure of speech called a hyperbole, so does the Bible
    • e.g. Rom 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.
  • We normally use descriptive language, not scientific precision
    • Gen 15:12 As the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell on Abram.
  • When we tell a story, we select the most important parts to tell. If several people describe the same even, they will probably select different events.
    • e.g. the gospel writers
  • We summarize
    • Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount is longer than Luke’s
  • Nowadays we expect a narrative account to be in chronological order. In ancient times, material would often be arranged topically or to highlight some aspect of history.
    • e.g. the book of Judges is not in chronological order.
  • Nowadays when we include a quotation, we expect it to be an exact quote. In ancient time, it was acceptable to interpret the quotation as you quote it.
    • We still do this when we are speaking, “Helen said she didn’t like the picture very much.”
    • e.g. quotations of the O.T. in the New
      • John 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’”
      • It is not a direct quotation, but put together from several passages such as:
      • Isa 44:3 For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.

VI. Alleged Errors

Alleged Error #1:

2 Samuel 10:18 1 Chronicles 19:18
But the Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed 700 charioteers of the Arameans and 40,000 horsemen and struck down Shobach the commander of their army, and he died there.The Arameans fled before Israel, and David killed of the Arameans 7,000 charioteers and 40,000 foot soldiers, and put to death Shophach the commander of the army.

Solution: The occasional tiny error in copying the text

Alleged Error #2:

Matthew 27:5 Acts 1:18
“So Judas threw the silver coins into the temple and left. Then he went out and hanged himself.” (later the chief priests used the money to buy the field)“Now this man Judas acquired a field with the reward of his unjust deed, and falling headfirst he burst open in the middle and all his intestines gushed out.”

Solution: Faulty Assumption

Two writers can include different details of the same event for their own purposes. Judas could have hanged himself and then fallen. Peter was emphasizing the fulfillment of prophecy through the death of Judas, while this was not a concern of Matthew.

Alleged Error #3

Matthew 26:34 Mark 14:30
“Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny me three times.’” “And Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, that this very night, before a rooster crows twice, you yourself will deny me three times.’”

Solution: Faulty Assumption

One writer can be more detailed than another.

Alleged Error #4

The Bible claims that the moon is a light. But we know that the moon simply reflects light, but is not a light itself.
Isaiah 13:10 “For the stars of heaven and their constellations will not flash forth their light;
the sun will be dark when it rises and the moon will not shed its light.”

Solution: Over-emphasis on scientific preciseness does not take into account normal human language (i.e., language that speaks from the perspective of the subject).

Alleged Error #5

Proverbs 12:21 Lk. 16:19–22
“The righteous do not encounter any harm, but the wicked are filled with calamity.” The rich man and Lazarus: The unrighteous rich man is unharmed, while the righteous poor man is experiencing calamity.

Solution: Faulty understanding concerning the nature of a proverb. A proverb is a general truth that does not necessarily apply in every situation. Here is a misunderstanding of the ultimate end of both men. The poor man, Lazarus, was the one who ultimately experienced peace, while the rich man experienced calamity after death.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans and also “The Theology Program” at bible.org


Old Testament

  • Centuries before Christ, the Jews had determined what consitituted the Scriptures
  • Transmission by faithful copying
    • Septuagint (LXX) translation into Greek, around 300 BC
    • Masoretes

The Apocrypha

  • Extra books that the Jews never accepted as part of Scripture and are never found in the Hebrew Old Testament
  • There are at least 295 quotations of the O.T. in the new by Jesus and the other writers
    • But there is not a single quotation from the apocrapha.
  • Some apocryphal books, like the books of Maccabees, have historical value, but others are just religious novels
  • Some of the Apocryphal books specifically state that they are not inspired (e.g. Wisdom of Jesus; II Macabees)
    • Maccabes states in several places that there have been no prophets around for a long time, e.g.
    • I Macc 9:27 “There was a great distress in Israel shuch as had not been since the time that the prophets ceased to appear”
  • Some of them have definite error:
    • In Tobit 12:8f. we read: “Good is prayer with fasting and alms and righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than much with unrighteousness. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold: alms doth deliver from death, and it shall purge away all sins.”
    • Such passages clearly teach justification by works rather than by grace.
  • the Roman Catholic church didn’t put these books in their Bibles until 1546 when the reformers challenged them about salvation by faith or by works and about paying money to have prayers said for the dead to get them out of purgatory.
    • some teachings like “praying to the saints” are not found in the Scriptures but are found in the Apocrypha

New Testament

  • Very soon after the N.T. books were written, they were accepted by the church as Scripture
    • 2Pe 3:15-16 “And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”
    • Paul’s 13 letters are always in the same order, no matter where they are found
    • Almost certainly Paul himself organized the collection

Extra “Epistles” that are not part of Scripture

  • Just try reading them and you will not be in any doubt.
  • Quote from “Gospel according to Thomas” (114)
    1. Simon Peter said to them: “Let Mary go away from us, for women are not worthy of life.”
    2. Jesus said: “Look, I will draw her in so as to make her male,
      so that she too may become a living male spirit, similar to you.”
    3. (But I say to you): “Every woman who makes herself male will enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Transmission of N.T. text


The biblical manuscripts were originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Koine Greek (means common Greek of 2000 years ago).

Hebrew is a language that is about 4000 years old. It died as a spoken language about 350 B.C. It has been revived in Modern Israel but with many changes.

Aramaic is a language that has been dead for many centuries. Translators must depend on ancient secular manuscripts to reveal the grammar and vocabulary of Aramaic. Parts of Daniel and Nehemiah are written in Aramaic.

Koine Greek is 1800 years old. It was the language of the common people when Jesus lived on this earth. Modern Greek is quite different but related.

Hebrew and Greek are rich languages that have an extensive vocabulary and a grammar and syntax that are capable of expressing fine differences in meaning. Sometimes the English language does not express all that the biblical languages expressed.

Moreover, early copies of the Scriptures were written in the ancient style with no space between words, no punctuation, no paragraphs, and with everything written in the equivalent of capital letters. A division by chapters and verses was not added until the Middle Ages.

The translator has to make choices: How is he or she going to move from one language to the other? What will the criteria be?

It needs to be emphasized that God has given us a dependable copy of his Word. Even though there are differences in the underlying manuscripts as well as a different approach to translation, the differences between the reliable translations are few and minor. None of them affects a major doctrine.

1. Types of translations

  1. Literal Translation
    • The translator(s) keeps as close as possible to the exact words and phrasing in the original language.
      • King James Version (1611)
      • New King James
      • Amplified
      • NASB (New American Standard Bible)
      • ESV
  2. Dynamic Equivalent
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate words, idioms, and grammatical constructions of the original language into the precise equivalent in the receptor language. They update the language, grammar, and style.
      • New International Version
      • NET Bible
  3. Paraphrase
    • The translator(s) attempts to translate the “ideas” from one language to another. There is less concern about using the exact words of the original.
      • Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English
      • The Living Bible
      • The Message

2. Samples of Translations

  • Psalm 119:105
    • NIV: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.”
    • Living Word: “Your words are a flashlight to light the path ahead of me . . .”
  • 1 Peter 5:14
    • KJV: kiss of charity
    • NKJ: kiss of love
    • NIV: kiss of love
    • Phillips: Give each other a handshake all around as a sign of love.
    • The Message: Give holy embraces all around.
  • Romans 12:1,2
    • KJV: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.” (Note that words in italics do not have a Greek word behind them. The translators have added English words to make the meaning clear.)
    • NIV: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
    • Phillips: “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God remould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity.”
    • The Message: “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life - your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.”

More Sample Translations

3. Which translation should you use for Bible Study?

  1. For reading, basic Bible study, and memorization, use the literal or dynamic equivalent category.
  2. Use several translations for more extensive Bible study.
  3. Note that a paraphrase can be used to stimulate your thinking when other translations become so familiar that they just slide through your mind without making any kind of impression, but a paraphrase is not an adequate study Bible since it strays from the original text.
  4. If you can read another language, then also use a Bible written in that language.

Credit: Much of this page makes use of material from Sheila Evans

Comparing translations of Ephesians 4:11-12

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,
And He gave some {as} apostles, and some {as} prophets, and some {as} evangelists, and some {as} pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up
It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ,
Some of us have been given special ability as apostles; to others he has given the gift of being able to preach well; some have special ability in winning people to Christ, helping them to trust him as their Savior; still others have a gift for caring for God's people as a shepherd does his sheep, leading and teaching them in the ways of God. Why is it that he gives us these special abilities to do certain things best? It is that God's people will be equipped to do better work for him, building up the Church, the body of Christ, to a position of strength and maturity;
Christ chose some of us to be apostles, prophets, missionaries, pastors, and teachers, so that his people would learn to serve and his body would grow strong.
He handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work, working within Christ's body, the church,


John 3:5-6

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.
Jesus said, "You're not listening. Let me say it again. Unless a person submits to this original creation--the 'wind hovering over the water' creation, the invisible moving the visible, a baptism into a new life--it's not possible to enter God's kingdom.
When you look at a baby, it's just that: a body you can look at and touch. But the person who takes shape within is formed by something you can't see and touch--the Spirit--and becomes a living spirit.