On Inspiration (as in the inspired ’Word of God’)
‘Inspire’ literally means to breathe into. To be inspired is then to have breath blown into one. Spirit and breath are the same word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament, so when God breathed into the clay and brought it to life as the first man in the Book of Genesis, the story is telling us that Adam was animated by the Spirit of God. When we use the word inspired in the church we usually mean in-spirited, i.e. filled with God’s Spirit.
The Bible is referred to by some as the ‘inspired Word of God. But what do we mean by this? Is the ‘word’ animated by the Spirit as Adam was? In the sense that we speak of the ‘living’ Word of God, inspired could well mean that the ‘Word of God’ does not refer to some static and inanimate printed words called Scripture, but something dynamic and alive and growing and changing as required.
A more common understanding of inspired here is the granting of a message, a revelation or an idea to the authors of the Bible. For those who take the Bible literally, this means that God dictated the words to be written down, and therefore Scripture is inerrant. However, the wider church does not ascribe to the latter view. Christianity is not, and never has been, a book religion, as is Islam. Because the Word is deemed to be living, it can never be captured in the written word, for this would, of necessity, limit and constrain it. The best of the Bible, i.e. the most inspired parts, has the ability to communicate the Living Word to discerning readers, but the Scriptures are not, themselves, the words of God.
If the Bible is, indeed, inspired, then it has the capacity to pass on the Spirit that filled its authors, and thus it could be said to be inspiring as well as inspired. It is certainly accurate to say that the Bible has inspired many as, through reading and study, the spirit that resides in the living Word was made available to the readers.
If this seems too religious or too magical, I hastened to add that the kind of in-spiriting that is associated with the writing of the biblical books is no different than the inspiration experienced by any creative person. Artists are often in touch with a transcendent ‘something’; a vision or experience that seems to come from outside their own egos. A good artist, whether a painter, sculptor, poet, author or musician, is able to recreate something of the emotion or the idea or the experience, i.e. the spirit, that gave creative rise to the art in those who perceive it. Good art is both inspired and inspiring.
Is the Bible inspired? Some of it certainly is, but then so are the works of Shakespeare and Keats and Dylan Thomas and Bob Dylan and Michael Leunig and…and…and…