How was the Bible written? How were the Scriptures “God-breathed”? Explore these questions in a new way with Tim Challies and Josh Byers in this article adapted from A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible: Seeing and Knowing God’s Word. This book makes the deepest truths of the Bible accessible in a way that can be seen, understood, and experienced like never before, by combining graphics and text to teach the nature and contents of the Bible in a fresh and exciting way.
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The text below is adapted from the book, available to order now.
How Was the Bible Written?
In the dark corners of jail, the apostle Paul pens a letter to the church at Philippi. Through tears, he commands the church to rejoice in suffering and live in unity. After writing his final line, which would eventually be translated into English as “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit,” he drops his pen and prays.
Nearly two thousand years later, a teenage boy sits down in church, pulls out his iPhone, clicks on the “Bible” app, and scrolls down to the bottom of Philippians. As the preacher reads, he follows along: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.”
How did these words get from Paul’s calloused hands into a twenty-first century smartphone? For that matter, how did all sixty-six of the ancient letters and books within the Bible survive into the present day?
The Bible was not delivered to us from the sky. It did not come to us fully formed from the hands of an angel. The Bible came from men who wrote the words of God. It was communicated in ancient languages, and it was preserved over the centuries. And yet, while the Bible is a historical artifact, we can be confident that the Bible we have today is far more: it is the very words of God.
The Bible Was God-Breathed
In 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul writes to his protégé, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” This beautiful imagery shows that all of the holy Scriptures (graphē) are spoken out by God, so that every word comes from his breath. This is why it’s no stretch to read a passage of Scripture with the preface, “God says . . .” If it’s in the Bible, then God spoke it, and he continues to speak those words into the lives of his children today (Hebrews 4:12).
This characteristic of Scripture is often called inspiration, although the term has become so muddled in modern usage that God-breathed may be a better term. The Old Testament prophets and the disciples were certainly not “inspired” in the same way that a country music star is “inspired” to write her hit song. The word inspired today has come to connote a vague influence, but Scripture is not just influenced by God. Scripture is spoken by God.
How were the Scriptures God-breathed? There are some instances when God audibly dictated words to a prophet or apostle, which were then recorded word for word (Isaiah 38:4–6; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12). But in many cases, it’s unclear exactly how God spoke through his prophets. As the author of Hebrews notes, God spoke through his prophets “in various ways” (Hebrews 1:1).
In most cases, God didn’t simply dictate his Word and employ the prophet or author as a scribe. God usually breathed out his Word using the personality, style, and circumstances of the author. Luke, for example, wrote his gospel using historical research, eyewitness interviews, and orderly reporting—and yet, Paul quotes the gospel of Luke as holy Scripture (1 Timothy 5:18). Paul himself wrote the Word of God out of the anguish of suffering and persecution (Ephesians 6:20; Colossians 4:18; 2 Timothy 2:9).
God ordained and oversaw the personality of the authors, their circumstances, their style, their training, and their process of writing to bring about his Word. The human authors were really writing, and God was really breathing.
The Bible Was Humanly Communicated
While the Bible is from God, it is for humans. God breathed out his Word to communicate with us. This means that God chose written words in human language as his primary way of speaking to us. The Bible was written in two primary languages—Hebrew and Greek—and one secondary language, Aramaic.
Almost all of the Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew. Coming from the Semitic family of languages, Hebrew was spoken and written by God’s people, the Israelites, until around the third century BC.
While most of the Scriptures are written in Hebrew and Greek, Aramaic also plays a significant role in the Scriptures. Aramaic place names appear throughout the Old Testament, and three extended passages of Aramaic appear in the books of Daniel and Ezra.
Aramaic is perhaps most significant because it was the most likely spoken language of Jesus and his disciples. While Greek was used in writing because of its universal understanding, there is no doubt that the incarnate Lord and the apostles spoke in Aramaic, as is clear in the use of the Aramaic words “Cephas,” “Matthew,” “Abba,” and “Maranatha.” Most memorably, Jesus cried in Aramaic on the cross: “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?”
The world into which Jesus was born was especially prepared for the spread of the gospel and the Scriptures. Alexander the Great’s conquests from Greece to India had spread Greek culture and language across the globe so that by the New Testament era, Greek was spoken throughout the entire Mediterranean.
While Hebrew was a language used mostly by the people of Israel, Greek was the language for all people. As God extended his covenant promises to all nations and commanded his people to proclaim good news to the ends of the earth, the language of his written word shifted to accommodate this transition. For the gospel to go to all nations, it had to be understood by all nations, and to be understood by the people of all nations, it was written in Greek.
It’s important to note that the New Testament authors often quote and make use of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, rather than the Hebrew Scriptures. This shows that while the biblical languages are significant, it was always expected that they would be translated into various languages so that all people could understand it. As John Frame writes, “The Bible does not assume that God’s Word is untranslatable. Rather (in keeping with the nature of Christianity as a missionary religion), the Bible itself uses multiple languages.” God spoke his very words into Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic through the biblical authors so that he could speak to us in our language today.
The Bible Was Carefully Preserved
But how can we know that the Bible that God breathed out and that men recorded has been accurately preserved for us? How can we be sure that God’s Word has remained God’s Word from the time it was first written to this present day?
Explore the evidence in A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible.
—Tim Challies and Josh Byers, adapted from their new book A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible: Seeing and Knowing God’s Word
How To Use This Book
A Visual Theology Guide to the Bible is not only a wonderful introduction to the Christian life, it is a functioning guide for understanding and living out your faith. That makes it perfect for new believers, long-time Christians, small groups, church leaders, and more. Some quick facts:
- It includes key terms, group study discussion questions, and exercises for deeper, more personal reflection on God’s Word
- Is written by authors Tim Challies and Josh Byers, each of whom have a deep desire to convey the deepest truths of the Bible in a fresh, beautiful, and informative way
- Is a companion to Visual Theology and expands on the timeless, historic, biblical truths presented in that bestselling book
Order your copy today and see how it will help you grow in godliness by practicing what you learn.