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Where did our Bible come from? Part 11: Inspiration of Scripture

This is part of a series. Click here for parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10, especially because it has been a while and you might like a review.

So when I left off the series I had given five of the six major criteria the early church had for determining canonicity. These were not criteria that were arbitrarily selected, but upon examining those writings that unquestionably functioned as Scripture, they noticed these criteria in common and they were held exclusively by these canonical Scripture. While books outside the canon may have held one or even a few of these criteria, only those within the canon held them all. However, the one criteria that only Scripture held and all Scripture held is the final, and most important, criteria: Inspiration.

The word “inspiration” is used in a variety of ways in our world today, so perhaps we should be more clear about what we mean. As best as I can tell there are seven ways that inspiration can be used to talk about the bible, six of which assume some sort of divine place and one of which does not. We might think of them as on a scale. I’ll list them below with the top assuming that God is the sole author of the writing and the bottom assuming man is the sole author of the writing. I’ve given them the standard label in theological language here and discuss them below.

1)    Dictation

2)    Verbal Plenary

3)    Dynamic

4)    Neo-Orthodox/Witness view

5)    Spiritually Illuminated Human

6)    Limited Inspiration

7)    Just Inspiring

Now, I should mention that there can be a significant amount of overlap between some of these groups. I also think that one can be perfectly justified in saying different sections of scripture were inspired differently, at least with the ‘dictation’ view. Let me explain. It seems pretty clear that portions of the Torah, the first five books of the bible, were dictated from God to Moses, who spoke with God face to face. Still, it seems unlikely that the same could be said for other portions of Scripture, such as some of the psalms, where the writer is asking God to do rather ungodly things (“Happy be they who dash their infants heads against the rocks”). Still, even with that diversity, I’d maintain that the early church stayed in the top part of that list, and that the contemporary church would do well to do the same, or else risk losing any real sense of authority beyond itself. Let me briefly explain each of these views.

The dictation view states that God wrote the Scripture in its entirety and the human writer functioned merely as a sort of Scribe.

The verbal plenary view states that God fully inspired every word of Scripture completely. It is sometimes taken to the extent that it was inspired beyond what would have been possible for the human author to have known, particularly in stretching to areas beyond theology. For instance the view that Genesis 1 is not only saying something theologically, but is also saying something about history and science is an example of a verbal plenary view of inspiration.

The dynamic view of inspiration indicates that the human author and divine author have a kind of partnership; not in the sense that each does a portion, but that the Holy Spirit works together with the human author to produce something unique to both.

The neo-orthodox view makes an interesting move. Associated largely with Karl Barth (though arguably going back as far as Martin Kähler), this view says that the written Scripture we have is not, itself, the Word of God. Instead the Word of God is God’s activity in history. As such, Scripture is merely the witness to the Word of God and not the Word itself. Jesus is the Word of God. Divine action is the Word of God. Even preaching may function as the Word of God. It is for this latter reason that this theology also began to be called ‘kerygmatic theology.’

The spiritually illuminated view of inspiration is the position that inspiration just means that the human author received some additional divine insight, but that the writing (scripture) is still essentially human.

The limited inspiration view is the position that only some areas of scripture can really be described as inspired and much likely isn’t inspired divinely.

The final view is a non-religious view. It simply states that if something is somehow uplifting it is, therefore, inspired.

As I’ve said, it seems best to keep to the top half of the list, but I wanted to put all these views out there so that you were informed (if you hadn’t been). What do you think? Do you think we should only keep to one particular view of inspiration? Which one?

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3 thoughts on “Where did our Bible come from? Part 11: Inspiration of Scripture

  1. A nice, clear summary!

    Personally, I’m pretty much in the dynamic concept. It seems to me to be more reflective of the God I know and the one that shows His power best. Where else does He “take over” people and use them like puppets? His way always seems to be to take a person, change them, then use what He has made. It is a more difficult and more dangerous thing, and that it works brings more glory to Him, and more hope to us.

    • Yeah I like the dynamic concept, but I think some parts are clearly more than that, especially things like the giving of the Mosaic law, which seems pretty much dictation. Overall though, it is written in cultural types (the NT letters conform to the regular style of writing), but with some dramatic changes (Paul writes much longer letters than normal, the Gospels were a new genre). So its hard to focus on just one view, but yeah I like the dynamic view.

  2. Pingback: Summary of the series: Where did our Bible come from? (part 13) « whytheology

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