I’ve reached a point with this subject where I think it’s time to just start putting out what I think about inspiration and inerrancy. It’ll probably take a few posts on the former before I get to the latter. Your comments have been helpful, but I’m sensing that I could be clearer. I’m going to lay out how I think inspiration worked and, in the process, try to clarify where my thoughts diverge (at least in my mind) from the Chicago Statement and other formulations. This way you’ll see how I’m thinking about all this.
Let’s start with 2 Timothy 3:16. I’ve gotten more than one comment quoting this passage to me like it settles the issue. It doesn’t. In fact, it invites questions. Yes, I believe that “All Scripture is inspired (Greek: theopneustos) by God and is profitable …” I take theopneustos as a predicate adjective, not attributive (which would read, “all God-inspired Scripture is profitable …” suggesting some Scripture isn’t God-inspired). Since I don’t accept the attributive adjective here, I’m not in the limited inerrancy camp.1
All well and good – but what does “inspired by God” (theopneustos) mean? Well, Mike, it means God is the source of the Scriptures. That’s nice, but the point of the term is not self evident. We have to make a choice about theopneustos. We could say one of two things about the term’s meaning:
1. The term theopneustos refers to the IMMEDIATE source of the Scriptures – and so we have God breathing out the Scriptures directly to the writers. How did he do that? Did it happen as some sort of audible “whisper in the ear,” or did God implant each word into the head / mind of the author? The former is quite clearly dictation. The latter is very close to that — Is there a difference between aural and mental dictation? Whether you want to call it dictation or not, you have God PROVIDING each word; he is the immediate source of each word. This is probably where most evangelicals are in their understanding of inspiration. This view not only takes theopneustos as meaning God provided each word as the immediate source of all the words, but it also requires that humans aren’t the immediate source of any of the words (remember the Westminster Addendum’s firm denial of anthropopneustos). But humans have to have some sort of role (no one denies the Scripture was *written* or that God was literally holding the pen as it were). This is where the notion that humans are “secondary sources” of inspiration comes in. So, to summarize, God is the immediate and primary source of inspiration, and humans are secondary sources. None of the words of the text ORIGINATED with humans. But again, if we are saying that none of the words of Scripture originated in the mind of a human author, how does this escape some sort of dictation or automatic writing (where the human agent goes into a trance state and is taken over by an outside invisible force that writes for him / her)? What I want to see is an explanation of how this understanding simultaneously avoids both of these dictation options and still has no words ORIGINATING with the human authors. Good luck.
Better, why not opt for the second way of looking at theopneustos, which makes much more sense (at least to me).
2. The term theopneustos refers to the ULTIMATE source of the Scriptures – and so we have God as the ultimate point of origin for the Scriptures and humans as the immediate source of the Scriptures. If you are following, you can seen that this view acknowledges “anthropopneustos” in the sense that the human writers made decisions about what they wrote and so the Scriptures ORIGINATED with humans, albeit at all times under the aegis of the ultimate source, God. Naturally, God could choose to encounter the writer directly, which he RARELY does in the Bible in contexts where he instructs his words to be directly recorded. But this is not the norm. The norm is that humans produce the words of Scripture under divine supervision. This is easy to illustrate.
We are fond of saying that God is the source of ALL life. I agree-but I would qualify that by saying that he is the ULTIMATE source of all life, and not the IMMEDIATE source of life. For example, humans make babies (lots of them). Each baby is not (sorry moms) an individual ex nihilo act of creation by God. Babies are born via sexual reproduction. When the human organism functions as God made it to function and couples have sex, babies are the normal result. And so, humans are the immediate creators of the baby and thus of that human life. However, God is the ultimate source of that human life, since God made and animated the first human beings and created them with a means to reproduce. No human being would exist without the first act by the Maker, who is God.
Another analogy: we create things all the time, say, cell phones. The cell phone in your purse or on your belt was not called into existence by God, even (especially!) if it’s an I-Phone. Rather, humankind was commanded by God (the dominion mandate) to discover and master what made the created world tick and equipped them accordingly for that task. That knowledge has now progressed to the point where human beings can now make cell phones. But it is God who made all the elements of which cell phones are made, and so no cell phone would exist without God’s act of creation of the elements. God is thus the ultimate creator of cell phones, but not the immediate creator. We could say cell phones are “breathed out” by God in an ultimate sense, but not in an immediate sense.
So were the Scriptures. If we take theopneustos as referring to God as the ultimate source of Scripture, the dictation / automatic writing problem disappears. Humans become the immediate source that produced the text via their own abilities and decisions (like they are the immediate source of babies). God is the ultimate source in that (1) he created humans, (2) it was his idea to give us revelation; (3) he hand-picked the people and created the circumstances that gave rise to the Scriptures. Now some logical questions or statements that I’m sure are in the mind of some:
o So how was God only the ultimate source of the Scriptures – how does he “get involved” with humans writing in a way that avoids the dictation problems of the other view?
o It bothers me that you say the words of the Scripture originated with humans under the auspices of God. It doesn’t seem like God gets enough credit.
o Did God preserve the humans from error? Wouldn’t such preservation require the first view – that we have to have extremely close supervision of every word (almost dictation)? How can you have God preserving the originators of the words from error without becoming the originator of the words?
I hope you see from these statements why I argued earlier that we need to model our view of inspiration after the typical (Westminsterian!) view of canonicity. In canonicity, we don’t have God audibly telling leaders which books were in or out. We have humans making those decisions, being guided by divine providence in those decisions. In other words, we say God was in the process; we trust providence.
Ditto to the three questions / objections above.
If God can providentially oversee the process of canonicity through the Spirit working in the believing community without it involving some direct divine visitation, he can do the same in inspiration. How big is your God? He’s up to one task and not the other? Preservation from error in the process gets done however God operates in providence (which operations are myriad). God is involved however he wants to be. He COULD speak to a writer directly (the Scripture itself shows us this is rare), or he could mold a person through a series of life events that lead him to write something, then watch, step back and say “Not bad, Paul; that’ll do,” or “John’s not as good a writer as Luke, but he got the job done. Maybe I’ll let him write something else …”
The point is that God is not required to pick every word himself in supernatural visitation for the end result to be satisfactory to him – precisely because he can intervene in a very human process whenever and however he wishes to prevent human frailty from undermining his intentions. Again, I ask, how big is your God? Can he only work by direct proximity? Is he spatially challenged? No. If you need God to originate every word, thereby reading INTO theopneustos a view that mandates no word can originate with humans, then I think your God is too small. Or, to quote Ivan (the Terrible Postmodern): “Any doctrine of inspiration that tries to write the human authors out of the picture is hopelessly impoverished.”
Next post: II Peter 1:20-21