Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Biblical Inspiration in Perspective

     The Bible doctrine of divine inspiration affirms that all scripture is theopneustos, lit. "breathed out of God" (2 Timothy 3:16), including the very logois ("words") of scripture (1 Corinthians 2:12-13). However, this should not be misconstrued as some sort of mechanical dictation whereby the Lord personally selected each syllable and then coerced the writers to place that exact terminology in the biblical text without the possibility of any other expressions being chosen. The subtle and sometimes not-so-subtle variations among the Synoptic Gospels suggest otherwise. For example, in the standard Greek text of the parallel Gospel accounts of Jesus’ statement about a camel going through the eye of a "needle," recorded in Matthew 19:24, Mark 10:25, and Luke 18:25, both Matthew and Mark use the term hraphis (an ordinary sewing needle), whereas Luke the physician uses the word belonē (a surgeon’s needle). Either way the lesson is the same (translated into Greek from Jesus’ Aramaic speech), but it is uniquely conveyed by the respective evangelists. 
     The plural "words" in 1 Corinthians 2:13 refers to the collectivity of words that constitute the whole message (cf. 1:18), not necessarily an isolated focus on each individual term. A single word is of little communicative value without the sentence, paragraph, and surrounding context in which it is employed. Paul and his apostolic colleagues propagated the same religious teaching and acquired it from the same divine source (1:23; 2:6-16), although each used his own unique approach, temperament, vocabulary (word-choice), and presentation style to effectively communicate the inspired message (cf. 2:1-5; 3:5).
     It is important to note the fundamental distinction between "inspiration" and "revelation." Revelation is the means through which God imparts facts and truths previously unknown, i.e. from God to man. Inspiration is the means through which God ensures that facts and truths are inerrantly conveyed, i.e. from God through man. For instance, Luke did not receive through divine revelation the information he recounted in Acts 16:11-17, because he personally witnessed and experienced these events. Nevertheless, divine inspiration ensured that he recalled and reported these things correctly. While the contents of the book of Revelation were received by John through revelation (1:1-3), it was inspiration that guaranteed the accuracy of his written testimony (1:10-11).
     The Bible should not be perceived as an atomistic revelation of each separate word but as a holistic inspiration of all the words collectively. This does not suggest that an individual word is without significance, since the main point of an argument may be centered on the tense of a verb (cf. Matthew 22:31-32) or the numerical value of a noun (cf. Galatians 3:16). The point is, a single term does not stand alone in the communicatory process but is part of a broader context of meaning. This is consistent with, and an attempt to clarify, what is often referred to as "verbal plenary inspiration."
     The will of God has been disclosed through human penmen, each of whom utilized his own personality, background, resources, language, and writing style, while supernatural governance ensured that no mistakes were made in the process and that the words chosen were in accordance with what the Godhead wanted communicated. Since all scripture is divinely inspired, all scripture is necessarily infallible and inerrant. In short, the Bible professes to be the word of God transcribed in the words of inspired men. Either this lofty assertion is true or it is not. There is no middle ground. The legitimacy of the Christian faith is inseparable from the accuracy, reliability, and historicity of the biblical record.
--Kevin L. Moore

Related Posts: The Bible in Perspective, Oral Transmission

Related articles: John Jones' What's the Big Deal About Inerrancy?, Dewayne Bryant's Coincidences Support the Bible  


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  2. Thanks Kevin, this is just what I needed for a discussion I'm having.