The belief in the OT that prophets were so filled with the ‘spirit’ that their utterances conveyed a divine message (Num. 24: 2), which was sometimes validated by eccentric behaviour (1 Sam. 10: 6). In the NT the Spirit was also regarded as the cause of prophesying, speaking in tongues, healings, and other gifts (1 Cor. 12: 4–11).

Later the idea of the inspiration of certain writings is mentioned (2 Tim. 3: 16) and this is held by some to be biblical authority for the idea of an inspired text. It is also maintained that 2 Tim. 3: 16 means that written scripture is as much the work of God as author as the oracles of prophets; both on this theory come straight from God (1 Cor. 6: 16). From these convictions it is a short step to the idea of biblical inerrancy: the Bible is free from error not only in religious matters but also in history, science, and ethics. It is an outlook broadly known as fundamentalism.

There are, however, serious difficulties about such a view of inspiration: there are the patent inconsistencies and contradictions within scripture itself; there are historical problems; there is an accumulation of knowledge about how books in the ancient world were composed and the clear resemblance of the NT to such books; it is recognized that early Christian Fathers, such as Irenaeus (c. 180 CE), did not regard either the OT or the NT (which he often cites) as supernaturally inspired or guaranteed by God; Irenaeus values the gospels simply because they record what Jesus said and did. Following Irenaeus it could be said that the NT provides no more than data on which the Christian faith can be based (or denied).