August 11, 2020

How Do We Know We Can Trust the Bible?

All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

(2 Tim. 3:16–17)

I’m going to ask you to do something silly, but it will help us to get our head around what the Apostle Paul means when he says: “All Scripture is inspired by God.”

Put your hand about an inch in front of your mouth and speak normally. It doesn’t matter what you say—it’s the fact you are feeling your breath on your hand as you speak that matters. It doesn’t matter what volume you speak at. Regardless of whether we whisper or yell, it’s all carried out of the mouth by the power of our breath. Now, try to speak without breathing out. It’s impossible!

‘Inspired’

When Paul says the Bible is inspired he uses a Greek word: theopneustos.

This word means God breathed. Some versions of the English Bible translate this verse: ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God.’ Paul wants us to understand that the Holy Spirit empowered every word that the biblical authors wrote, in the same way our own outward breath empowers our speech.

Why do you think it matters that Scripture is breathed out by God? This is important to understand because when we hear the word ‘inspired’ used today, its exact meaning is usually pretty vague.

Meet Reenie

Reenie is a massive fan of the Great British Bake Off. She watches it every week. This week involved baking cakes for special events, and one of the contestants made an amazing fairy princess cake. This creation stood three tiers high, each covered in a different coloured butter cream, sprinkled with gold leaf and glitter, with a stunning fairy made out of icing on the top tier. Oooh, doesn’t that look gorgeous. Daisy (her granddaughter) would love a cake like that for her birthday next week, Reenie thought to herself.

Reenie hasn’t made anything so adventurous before but, inspired by what she had seen on the TV, she started on her creation. Five hours later, as she looked around the kitchen, her creation looked less like a cake and more like a squashed glitter mountain with a winged gargoyle slapped on the top! She’d been inspired by the TV show but what she ended up with was a bit of a mess.

We use the word ‘inspired’ so loosely in our world today. We talk of a piece of music being ‘inspiring’. We talk of an ‘inspiring’ half- time talk by a football coach. We talk of a sick child ‘inspiring’ someone to run the London Marathon. In all of these examples, we could swap the word ‘inspired’ with the word ‘motivate’ and lose none of the meaning.

That isn’t the case with 2 Timothy 3:16. The Holy Spirit didn’t ‘motivate’ the authors of Scripture to write. He breathed out the very Word of God through them.

So, here’s a question: Why do you think it’s so important that we understand that the Bible is God’s actual Word and not made up by men?

‘Thus Says the Lord’

‘Thus says the Lord’is seen clearly and constantly throughout the Old Testament. A similar phrase, ‘This is what the Lord says’ is repeated often throughout the writings of the prophets.

Moses and Aaron went in and said to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival for me in the wilderness.” (Exod. 5:1)

Reenie, Continued

Reenie grabbed hold of her granddaughter’s hand and said, “NO! Don’t touch—how many times do I have to tell you?” Even before Pete looked over, he knew what his granddaughter had done. She had a fascination for turning the cooker knobs and watching the flames shoot out. Reenie was terrified she’d burn her fingers. “You never listen. I must have told you at least a hundred times not to play with this! Go and sit on the step right now, young lady, before I smack your backside.”

Sometimes we can be told something so often that we stop hearing what’s actually being said to us. The Old Testament writers repeat the phrase, ‘thus says the Lord’ over 400 times. The fact that the writers of the Old Testament repeat this phrase so often tells us that is something really important for us to listen to. They wanted their readers and listeners to understand that they were delivering the very Word of God to them. This is what God says and this is what God requires of us. This is an urgent and persistent claim found throughout the Bible.

The authors are desperate for us to grasp this fact. God is speaking, and when God speaks, we must listen.

Jesus and the Bible

Read the following three parts of Scripture. What do you think Jesus believes about the Bible?

Don’t think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to abolish but to fulfil. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or one stroke of a letter will pass away from the law until all things are accomplished.

(Matt. 5:17–18)

If he called them gods to whom the word of God came, and Scripture cannot be broken, do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming”, because I said, “I am the Son of God”?

(John 10:35–36)

He told them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you that everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. He also said to them, “This is what is written: The Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”

(Luke 24:44–47)

These passages from the Gospels of Matthew, John, and Luke give us a crystal-clear answer to what Jesus believed about the Scriptures. He believed that they were: authoritative, powerful, and truthful.

John Piper writes:

‘He [Jesus] taught that everything in it (the Scriptures) must be fulfilled; that the Psalm writers spoke by the Holy Spirit; that Moses’s words in Scripture were the very words of God; that not one part of the Scriptures can be broken; that faithfulness to the Scriptures will keep us from error; that it can defeat the most powerful adversaries; that it is a litmus test to show if our hearts are open to know Jesus; and that it is a virtual script being acted out in the triumph of Jesus through His sufferings, death and resurrection.’

To put it plainly: Jesus was and is a massive fan of the Bible.

Verbal Plenary Inspiration

So, let’s answer the first of our two questions in this chapter: What exactly do we mean when we say the Scriptures are ‘inspired’? We believe in what Bible teachers call Verbal Plenary Inspiration, which is a fancy way of saying, every single word of the Scriptures comes from God. As we’ve already discovered, the biblical authors wrote exactly and precisely what God desired and intended to be written without flaw or mistake. This was achieved by the power and work of the Holy Spirit.

Now, you might be thinking: How does this ‘God breathed’,‘ carried along by the Spirit’, ‘Thus says the Lord’, ‘VPI’ stuff leave any room for the personality and style of the human authors? We’ve said the Bible is written by God and human beings but it’s not really a human book if God used the human authors as typewriters, is it?

That’s a fair objection, but if that were the case you’d be right that the Bible isn’t really a human book. Thankfully, that’s not how it happened. All of the 40-plus biblical authors wrote in their own styles, displaying their own quirks and personalities. Some are precise and particular. Others are poetic. Some are technical. Others simple.

There is nothing too difficult for God. He doesn’t have to work the biblical authors like puppets in order to get His Word on to the page. His sovereignty means He is able to order and shape the lives of the authors so that their education, experiences, lifestyle, family, friends, and culture, combined with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, led them to write His words exactly as He wanted them written.

‘I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and no one is like me. I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will’.

(Isa. 46:9–10)

God rules and reigns over all things and, therefore, all His plans take place and His will is always accomplished. Men whose lives were shaped and ordered by His hand penned the Scriptures He inspired.

Big Questions

Life is full of big questions that need answers.

  • Where do I come from?
  • Why am I here?
  • Why is the world the way it is? Why do people suffer?
  • What is death?
  • Am I good or evil?

If we turn our phones off and step away from the distractions of our lives, these questions will crash over us like waves hitting the shore. They can’t be avoided but, even more importantly, they can’t be answered by us. When the crowds walked away from Jesus, Peter and the disciples stayed because by God’s grace they had come to know that only Jesus has the words of eternal life.

The Bible comes from God’s gracious desire to reveal Himself in order to save ruined sinners. This means that we have to take it seriouslyand we must surround ourselves with brothers and sisters who also take it seriously. We need to be close to other Christians who help us learn and apply the Bible to our own lives.

We must be members of churches that:

  • believe the Bible and love the Bible
  • obey the Bible and sing the Bible
  • pray the Bible and preach the Bible

If that’s not a description of your church, then leave and find a church that it does describe.

Every single word of the Scriptures comes from God. The biblical authors wrote exactly and precisely what God desired and intended to be written, without flaw or mistake. This was achieved by the powerful work of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is where we meet Jesus. It’s where we find the answers to the big questions because it is ultimately written by the One who has all the answers. It’s able to make us wise for salvation, and that is why it matters.


This is an adapted excerpt from Andy Mathieson’s book, Bible: Can We Trust It?, which is part of the recently released First Steps series.

Thanks to our friends at 10ofthose, this series is currently heavily discounted. You can purchase it in the UK here and the U.S. here.

  • Andy Mathieson
    Andy Mathieson is pastor of Lochee Baptist Chapel in Lochee, Scotland. He is married to Lauren and they have three children.Read All by Andy Mathieson ›