Monday, September 28, 2009


Most Christians believe that the Bible is inspired. Fewer Christians have taken the time to actually think hard about what they mean by the word inspired. In my observation, there are about 7 significant treatments of the doctrine of inspiration. These range from one extreme (idolizing the book as divine) to the other (viewing the book as almost or completely human in origin).

The Stork Theory
Some treat the Bible as a completely divine book given to us without any real human involvement. In other words, they think of the whole Bible as being given in a way similar to how the 10 Commandments were given. But outside of that example, this theory doesn't seem to fit with the evidence. It ignores the human element, God's desire to deliver truth incarnationally (as with His Son). This view is closer to the LDS view of how we got the book of Mormon.

The Trance Theory
Some treat the Bible as a basically divine book without anything more than a nominal human role. Indeed, God has been known to speak through people almost against their will (Balaam, Saul). But is this how we got the vast majority of the Scriptures? Were the writers in some sort of trance in which God worked around their humanity instead of through their humanity? It doesn't sound like Luke was in a trance when he thoroughly researched and planned his writing. Nor does it sound like Paul was in a trance when he forgot which people he had baptized. This view is closer to the Muslim view of how a supposedly illiterate prophet wrote a divine book.

The Fundamentalist Theory
Some treat the Bible as a perfect book in the sense that God made sure that every detail was accurate. Most conservative evangelicals take this sort of view. If God is perfect and knows how to preserve His word (by perfectly inspiring), shouldn't we expect a perfect book? Weren't the prophets simply repeating God's exact words to the people? On the other hand, are all biblical texts inspired in this way? Is the NT? Over the past years a few different facts have given me some caution about this solid view. First, we have to be honest about the fact that there are some seeming contradictions. It may be possible to solve them all, but we haven't done so yet. We should allow for copyist errors and we shouldn't de-emphasize the human nature of the authors themselves. Second, we must remember that Jesus (for instance) spoke in Aramaic and the Gospels were written (most probably) in Greek. So the authors were already 'interpreting' Jesus in a sense (and somewhat paraphrasing considering the different wording in parallel accounts). Third, I came to realize that certain aspects of the Fundamentalist theory were more reactions against liberalism than long held views of inspiration. Even still, I think this treatment of inspiration has a lot of merit, especially in regards to the OT prophets.

The Authority Theory
Some treat the Bible as a divine/human book in which authorized people wrote Spirit-led truth. This is the position I favor for the bulk of the Bible (yes, that means I believe different parts of the Scripture are inspired in different ways). The NT sources were not only Spirit-filled Christians (and thus inspired in that sense), but they were also authorities in the field (in that they had been with Jesus). This view allows us to maintain the fully human element of Scripture writing while understanding why only certain people (or other people with certain connections) are allowed to write what is considered Scripture. This view keep Jesus as the possessor of all authority since He's the one who appoints who can speak for Him (the Apostle's).

The Message Theory
Some treat the Bible as a perfect book in its area. God made sure that the message stayed intact. Indeed, it realy was the message of Jesus that changes lives (the earliest church didn't even have the NT yet). And we really do only have copies, not originals. So why bother defending probable mistakes. The Bible isn't so much synonymous with the word of God, but it certainly contains the word of God. There is a degree of truth to this when we're talking about the purpose of Scripture, copied manuscripts, and translational difficulties. But is this view really saying that even the originals were only truth insofar as the main message was concerned? If all of the Bible can't be trusted, can we trust any of it? And who gets to choose what the main message is?

The Masterpiece Theory
Some treat the Bible as a human book that was written with great passion and precision. In other words, the Bible is sort of like Shakespeare at his best. Certainly the Bible is quite beautiful (especially in spots). But in this view Scripture ceases to be revelation from God (and isn't that what Scripture seems to be?). And in this view, wouldn't it be quite possible (even likely) that an even better Masterpiece will be written someday (or already has been!). This is pretty much the view of the Bible that most non-Christians take and, in my opinion, when Christians view their book the same way non-Christians do... that's a red flag.

The Reader Theory
Some treat the Bible as a completely human book, but that inspired readers can glean from it. It's not necessarily the Bible that is inspired (after all, it is just paper and ink), but the readers who read it (as they are Spirit-filled). The Bible was meant to be experienced and has no power unless it is communicated to a human being. Of course, this view suggests that we have to pick either or (Is Scripture inspired, or is it the reader?). Isn't it really a both/and (the Bible works best when an inspired reader reads an inspired text?). Isn't God's word God's word whether we read it or not?

I suggest that the first two views place too much emphasis on the divine side of inspiration and the last two views place too much emphasis on the human side of inspiration. But even these views have elements of important truth for Christians to consider. The middle three views, I think, are where Christians should spend some time in thought. I prefer the Authority Theory mixed with a bit more Fundamentalist theory than Message theory. How about you?


Dena said...

I grew up being taught the Authority theory. I'm not sure I even understand the Masterpiece theory. The Reader theory makes sense to me (I'm not endorsing it, though, just saying I understand). Especially in our post-modern world to say that all things have some truth and value to them makes sense. Someone could read a child's book, an encyclopedia, a holy book or the latest copy of Cosmo and learn something from it (which it quite true, actually). But I don't get the Masterpiece theory. Are we just saying it's a nice book like any other classic?

matthew said...

Hey Dena, thanks for the feedback. Like I said, I think many non-Christians are willing to consider the Bible a masterpiece in terms of literature in that its stories have stood the test of time and impacted many readers.

But there are also Christians who seem to view the Bible in basically the same way. It's just 'just' another nice book, but the 'best' book of all time. And though the writers were 'inspired' in the same sense as shakespeare was inspired, the Bible is more important because of the nature of its content.