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
- For a Greek syntax search on 2 Tim 3:16 and a few comments on that, see my other blog. ↩
Not a lot of time for a long, well-argued, cogent response, but as one of the 2Ti 3.16 quoters, I thought I should explain *why* I quoted it.
I think 2Ti 3.16 is helpful in the discussion because not only does it state that “all scripture” (leaving aside a qualification/definition of what the author considered “Scripture” to be) is god-breathed, or inspired, it also lists some purposes the scripture can be used for.
If God is the ultimate source of Scripture (note upper-case ‘S’; my question on the “ultimate source” bit — how is that different than God being the ultimate source of my writing this blog comment?) then the scriptures are for *his purposes*, not what I think his purposes should be. His purpose was not to provide 100% accurate scientific documentation of creation or anything else. The list in 2Ti 3.16 gives us a picture of what that purpose might be: teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. For these purposes, the scripture can do no wrong; God, through humans, has communicated, transmitted, and preserved exactly what he wanted and what we have needed.
In other words, I’m anxious to see how you handle the second half of 2Ti 3.16. 🙂
@Rairdan: Yep – the second half will come in a few posts, since I’m going to use it as a springboard for the “what was the purpose of the whole enterprise” question that I’ve tied to inerrancy.
Dr. Heiser, Excellent! This is the direction that I thought we needed to begin with. Everything so good so far, I am excited to follow up on this (especially your response to the Jehu problem). I just wanted right now to add a quick note: Your baby analogy making God the ultimate source is good, but also remember that Scripture does not allow us to have God so distant from this process (in the sense that he is only ultimately the source because of his creation of Adam and Eve). Remember that Scripture is clear that God opens and shuts the womb (I Samuel 1:5-6, Isaiah 66:9, Hosea 9:14-16), takes us out of the womb safely (Psalm 22:9; 71:6, Jeremiah 20:17-18), he awards some by childbearing (Psalm 127:3), AND most importantly, God directly forms us in the womb (Isaiah 44:2, 24; 49:5, Jeremiah 1:5). It just seemed that you were making God real distant and undervaluing his direct transcendence. We do not serve a god of pantheism that is distant and only is the ultimate source of things, but he is directly involved with everything. Hence the writer of Hebrews could say of Christ that he “upholds the universe by the word of his power.” I think this transcendence definitely needs to be stressed in this culture and especially with this topic at hand.
Grace be with you,
Chris: I actually don’t think any of these passages require immanence on God’s part. They are expressions of divine care and oversight that don’t require he be (pardon the pun) a midwife. God can, of course, encounter people this way, but that exception only highlights the rule — he’s letting human beings’ bodies work the way he intended.
Dr. Heiser, This is one point where we deviate. If I told you that I formed you in the womb, I think that THAT would imply more than merely divine oversight. To hold your view, would you not have to believe in chance rather than providence in most cases? I think it is biblical and healthy to see God’s immanence in the mundane of life, even the fact that BY CHANCE the ONE particular sperm with certain chromosomes combine with a specific egg that just so happened to be released at that time with certain chromosomes and then they combine to make the particular DNA (healthy or unhealthy) by which that person is who he is. YES, I am even blaming (not really, just observing that he is responsible for permitting such to occur) God for genetic defects. He could have prevented it if he really “forms us in the womb.” But he does not always prevent such things and he does it all for His Glory. It is a sobering thought that should bring us to reverance. I think your view leads (not quite there) to a view that is popular today called panENtheism.
Chris: I think the language here just has God getting credit for each human life. Genetic defects are effects of the fall upon creation. Does God guide the sperm when the conception is in vitro? When the woman is raped? When it’s a lesbian couple who are using a third party sperm donation? What about human cloning (it has occurred, but the results have only been allowed to live a couple days). How immanent do you want God to be? Why would God not “close the womb” in such circumstances, when the aims are (in my view) evil (or at least ethically suspect), save for the rape situation (the conception is not the fault of the victim). Yes, you can say God does this all in Providence, but that still doesn’t do away with the fact that he is aiding and abetting acts that he would condemn. The alternative view doesn’t suffer from these problems. Biology does what it does because that’s the way God made it to work as the author of life.
Dr. Heiser, Good point although I would contend that this language here just has God getting credit for FORMING each human life. Again, as we have discussed before, if we view God’s action they all fall under two heads, either:
1. God Permitting the natural adherence of his creation to his design
2. God Influencing his creation with direct immanence
When he permits he allows his creation to follow the laws and rules that he has designed them to fulfill. Yes genetic defects are the effect of the fall upon creation. However, who permitted such to happen, except God? He could have stopped Eve or the serpent, but he did not (for a reason). In vitro would be something he could permit (often he does not, the success rate for in vitro fertilization is very low) when he does permit, then he forms that individual, if he chooses not to form the individual, then the body aborts. I do not see how rape is an issue. If God chooses not to protect someone from the evil of mankind, then this is another result of the fall and he can use that for his own glory in obvious ways.
I am currently working while in Seminary, and I actually work with a lesbian who had the conception of her kids by in vitro fertilization from a third party sperm donor. And I have pondered the same thing that you brought up and my conclusion is that her sin is no different than mine when my wife and I conceived a child born out of wedlock. I reason that God allowed such healthy children for me and my lesbian coworker because somehow it would bring him more glory than “closing the womb.” I am not sure how that is going to be for his glory in the situation of my lesbian coworker. However, in my own life I have seen how God has dispensed grace upon me revealing his merciful, tender-loving nature and I see how that has brought him more glory than if he would have displayed his just, righteous nature of Sovereign Judge in that situation.
No, I reject your assertion that my view leads to the conclusion that God “is aiding and abetting acts that he would condemn.” If that were true, then we would have to say that by God willing that his Son be crushed and suffer greatly (Isaiah 53:10), then we have God aiding and abetting the murderous acts of many. However, if you do the same thing with God’s will as we do with his actions, then the problem is solved. God permitted the human free agency of murder against His Son to occur because the horrible suffering and death of Christ brought him more glory, then the alternative (such as God rapturing Jesus from such awful things, which the Muslims on the authority of the Koran believe happened).
Our views differ in this: my view upholds the Biblical truth that God ultimately does everything according to what brings him the maximum glory, whether by influencing his creation or by permitting its natural adherence to his design. From what I understand of your view, it does not uphold this. Rather I see your view as having God uphold as ultimate man’s free agency and the free agency of his creation above His Own Glory (especially since in your view things must happen contrary to the ultimate will of God, an example would be The Fall). From what I understand in your view, the Fall must be against the ultimate will of God (for mankind to live in fellowship forever with him) actually you go so far as to call the intent of God after the Fall to change, and his action post-fall is to restore Eden. (you explain in your ‘The Myth That Is True’). With this view you have God reacting to mankind in a way that redefines what the fathers understood as immutable. Where in my view, God permits the Fall as part of his plan because it will in the end bring him the maximum glory, he knew that in the end all of the earth would be filled with his glory (Numbers 14:21, Revelation 5:13); he created us for his glory (Isaiah 43:7); he knew that His glory will be great through the death and resurrection of His Son (as the firstfruits of His elect’s salvation) (Psalm 21:5); my view makes you pray like this: “Help us, O God of our salvation,for the glory of your name;deliver us, and atone for our sins,for your name’s sake!” appealing to that which God cherishes most (his name sake; his glory)(Psalm 79:9, Isaiah 48:11); the glory of his name is the sake of his steadfast love and faithfulness towards us (Psalm 115:1). This very truth is wrapped up in the mystery of the Trinity, for Jesus said that the way that God glories in Himself is by glorifying His Son (John 8:50, 54).
I even see Jesus responding to circumstances according to my view. For Jesus acknowledged the purpose of Lazarus’s death as “It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (John 11:4). If Jesus had your worldview he would have said something like, “God is merely allowing nature to function as he designed it to, so Lazarus is dead due to a pathogen that resulted from the fall of mankind.” I just don’t see how God could require something of us by which he does not have inherent within him, so I Corinthians 10:31. And then Paul explicitely utters my view in II Corinthians 4 (especially verses 1-6 and 14-15) and then again in Philippians 2:9-11, 13. Then I see it affirmed again in Hebrews 13:20-21.
Well that is enough for now, I am sorry for going off topic.
Grace be with you,
@cwmyers007: I don’t know if you realize it, but your view really places you squarely in the creationist camp of “where does the soul come from.” I’ll let you investigate that and its implications, which I’m guessing you won’t like.
Dr. Heiser, I have investigated this because of a mormon I ran into that challenged me with this (they believe all souls are in heaven awaiting bodies of flesh to go through their ‘testing’). Anyway the two views that work are that God creates a soul at conception (which is what I think you were referring to when you said I would not like it). The second is probably your view, that God has designed human procreation to create souls during conception. My view does favor the former, since if God ‘forms’ us in the womb; it seems that that would imply that he also would form our soul also. And you are right; to hold the latter view would force someone to hold the view you take. My view is modified, however, from the former. The former view is that God creates the soul ex nihilo every time. I object to that and rather believe that the soul IS the result of God’s design of procreation and he has designed humans to produce new souls by procreation. However, just like I believe God forms us in the womb according to how it pleases him. So does he form our soul in the womb from the spirit of the mother and father according to what pleases him. So yes, my view is the middle ground behind the two main views, but I think it makes the most sense from the evidence in scripture (which is scant!).
In conclusion, my view is that God forms us in the womb very directly using the sperm and egg and chromosomes that he chooses and producing what pleases him. Also, God must form our souls in the womb very directly using the spirit of the mother and father and producing a soul according to his good will and pleasure.
I do not see how I would or should not like this view. I do not think that it puts me within the ignorance of the creationist camp on this issue. I do wish I had more time to support this view from scripture, but I am afraid it would have to be a thesis argument and not a blog-sized argument.
Grace be with you,
Chris: Here’s the reason why your view (“creationism”) has been problematic for many theologians, is the issue of the transmission of sin/ guilt through all humanity. In the other view (and there are more than these two, but I’m not going to digress – I’ll stick to the two most known), Adamic guilt is transferred by biology, since both body and soul are created by the parents. It’s easy to see how this view has Adamic guilt transferred from human generation to generation. In your view, though, humans don’t create the soul, so the question is naturally “how does it become infected with Adamic guilt?” I won’t answer this for you — I’d like to see if you come up with the answer.
Dr. Heiser, I’m sorry I did not make my view clearer, but my view is not the creationist view, but a modification of it. I solve the problem by saying that Adams guilt is passed on spiritually-biologically, however, I can still say that God does it because he uses what he has available to him (the spirit nature of the mother and father, which is corrupted by original sin) and not ex nihilo.
Is this solution different from your own?
Grace and Peace,
Chris: so, the immaterial thing (the “spirit” of man and its fallen nature) is transmitted by BIOLOGY, but the biological part of man isn’t – God has to do that – ?
The link to the blog post on 2 Tim 3:16’s syntax is 404’d… is there anywhere else that page can be found?
can you email me the intended link destination? Thanks.