All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:16-17
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:20-21
"Where do babies come from?" This is a question that every parent dreads, but one which eventually they need to answer (if they want to have grandkids they do anyway). But seriously it is important for our children, as they reach an appropriate age, to understand not only where babies come from but also where they came from. Eventually all kids ask a question like this. It is almost like it is hard wired into our DNA to want to know how we got here. Interestingly enough there is a corollary question in Christianity which I think we don't ask nearly often enough. "Where does the Bible come from?"
Okay so maybe trying to connect those two questions is a little bit of a stretch but the Christian faith is unapologetically based on the Bible. If there was no Bible, chances are, you and I wouldn't be Christians. This question is especially important for mainline evangelical Christians who teach that the Bible is the inerrant (without error) word of God. For us, understanding how we got the word should be a standard part of our church program. But, as I already mentioned, we just don't seem to talk about it too much. So as I seek to encourage you (and myself) to spend more time in God's word, I think it is appropriate and helpful for us to spend a few weeks learning about God's amazing work in providing this Bible to us.
To that end, this week I want to briefly discuss what the Bible teaches us about how it was written. Some people like to think of the inspiration of Scripture in an either-or manner. Either the Bible is a divine book or it is a human book. If it is a human book then it was written by men and is subject to having errors in it. If it is a divine book then it was written by God and therefore has no errors. It is tempting to jump at this second option because it has a lot going for it. This view encompasses much that Christianity has historically taught to be true about the Bible and it seems to be in line with today's passages of Scripture. It certainly makes clear the truth that the Bible is God's word and God's wisdom. Further it draws attention to the mark of the divine that is so evident in the Bible's pages. Poetry and prose can move the human soul but no poetry and no prose has ever stirred the souls of men and women like the poetry and the prose of the Bible.
So what's the problem? The problem is that this view represents an oversimplified version of what the Bible teaches. Thinking of Biblical inspiration in this way you might imagine an angel leaning over the Biblical author whispering the words of God into his ear as though God dictated the Bible to its authors. Not only is it true that the Bible's teaching on its own inspiration does not go this far, but this does not seem to match up with the reader's experience with the Bible either. "The Bible contains 66 books, written in three languages over 1,500 years by dozens of authors" and while it all fits together as one cohesive whole it also contains great variety. The Bible does not read like a book that was dictated by one person (or God) to many scribes.* Rather, it reads like a book which was directed and inspired by God even as human authors made significant contributions to it. Each individual book of the Bible reflects the character and temperament of its author in addition to reflecting that divine mark which has already been mentioned. For this reason a third option is better. This third option shows that the written word of God reflects the nature of the incarnate Word Jesus in that it is 100% divine and 100% human. In other words, the Bible is a divine-human collaboration. We believe that God so inspired the human authors that every word they chose to write as they were "carried along by the Spirit" was the right word to choose. God so worked in the inspiration of the Bible that the entire Bible is without error but He chose to work in and through men as He did so. So under this understanding the Bible was both ordained by God and written by men.
This is helpful to know, but does it have any import for our lives? Well first of all you can rest assured that your Bible contains more than merely the words of men. It is truly the divinely inspired word of God that contains the very words of life. It deserves to be studied and cherished for it "is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." And secondly, we are reminded that the Bible is truly a historical book written by the men who actually experienced the things about which they wrote. Our God is a god who enters into history and uses men and women carried along by His power to accomplish His purposes to the end of advancing His kingdom in the world. He wants to do the same in your life. He is still calling people to advance His kingdom. He is still calling people to His work. He is still empowering them with His Spirit to accomplish far more than they could do on their own. And He is still using people as they are...their personalities and experiences to advance His kingdom. Are you willing to be directed by God and "carried along by the Spirit?"
For further reading...
- John 1:1-18- Consider how the divine Word is like the written word of God.
- Exodus 17:14- A helpful reminder that the Biblical authors wrote as they were directed to do so by God.
- Jeremiah 30:2- At times the Lord directed them to write the words of His prophecy verbatim. These examples would be considered exceptions to the general rule above. In these cases the prophecy was "dictated" to the prophets to be delivered verbatim to their listeners and written for future generations. Does the fact that the Bible clarifies that this is the case in certain places strengthen the overall argument that in general the Bible books were not dictated or does this weaken that argument?
*Doriani, Daniel. "Interpreting the Bible: An Introduction" in ESV Study Bible. Wheaton: Crossway Bibles, 2008: p. 2561.
**Also I have leaned heavily on notes from my Systematic Theology I class taken at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky with Dr. Bruce Ware in 2008 and on Robert Saucy's Scripture: It's Power, Authority, and Relevance.