In the beginning was the word, and the word was made flesh (John 1:1).
God’s Word is a very important piece of a Christian’s life. We hear scriptures and explanations of it in worship services. Song lyrics repeat Bible verses and help us commit the words to memory. At times of joy and despair, God’s Word comes to mind to comfort us. We may study the Bible in small groups or individually. With all this relevance to the Christian life, it seems natural to believe that the Bible is divinely inspired.
The word Bible is from the Greek word for biblion, which means “book.” In technical terms, the Bible is a large book with a collection of writing recorded from 1200 BC to the end of the first century AD. The original Hebrew Bible of the Old Testament is estimated to have been written between 1200 and 165 BC. The Dead Sea scrolls contain fragments of the Old Testament—the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Samuel, Ruth, Kings, Micah, Nehemiah, Jeremiah, Joel, Joshua, Judges, Proverbs, Numbers, Psalms, Ezekiel, and Jonah. 5800 New Testament manuscripts in Greek, along with 10,000 Latin New Testament manuscripts and 9300 New Testament manuscripts in Syriac, Slavic, Gothic, Ethiopic, Coptic and Armenian have been preserved whole or in fragments.
Human recording of original Bible sources is attributed to many sources. Jewish and Christian traditions hold that a single author, Moses, wrote the first five books of the Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy—which together are known as the Torah (Hebrew for “instruction”) and the Pentateuch (Greek for “five scrolls”).
The Gospels recorded by followers of Jesus were written after Jesus’ death and resurrection. The “good news” Gospels of the New Testament have similar contents, that is, the Gospels contain accounts of Jesus’ teachings and parables. As it states in a PBS online publication in Frontline, however, each Gospel emphasizes the interests of its audience: "The historical evidence suggests that Mark wrote for a community deeply affected by the failure of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. Matthew wrote for a Jewish community in conflict with the Pharisaic Judaism that dominated Jewish life in the postwar period. Luke wrote for a predominately Gentile audience eager to demonstrate that Christian beliefs in no way conflicted with their ability to serve as a good citizen of the Empire.” The Gospel of John has a visionary style of ideas and expression.
In the words of Mike White, founder of the Religious Studies department at the University of Texas, "It appears that between the death of Jesus and the writing of the first gospel, Mark, that they clearly are telling stories. They're passing on the tradition of what happened to Jesus, what he stood for, and what he did, orally, by telling it and retelling it. And in the process, they are defining Jesus for themselves."
Professor Paula Fredriksen, a Professor of Scripture at Boston University, and a featured speaker on the PBS Frontline series “From Jesus to Christ: The First Christians,” stated, "The gospels are very peculiar types of literature. They're not biographies, they are a kind of religious advertisement. What they do is proclaim their individual author's interpretation of the Christian message through the device of using Jesus of Nazareth as a spokesperson for the evangelists' position.”
What Is the Meaning of 'Divinely Inspired'?
In his Ask Roger column, Roger Barrier, s retired pastor comments, “I remember as a child, wondering how God spoke to New Testament writers to give them the Bible. Were they machines that God punched like a computer to write out exactly what He wanted as he dictated it to them? How did God actually inspire the Bible?”
The word “inspiration” means breathing in—whether air for the body or ideas for the mind. As the good book says in Paul’s letter to his colleague Timothy, All scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Roger Barrier asserts that this verse indicates Scripture is produced by God; however, “it in no way indicates the means of God in producing it.”
Theories vary on how God’s Word was produced. One popular school of thought is that the writers of the Bible were simply stenographers. Passive recorders wrote down whatever God dictated. This has been the view of the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. In support of this idea, 2 Peter 1:21 says, For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
In my humble experience as a writer, I have met many authors who do not claim their work came from their own minds. They have been able to describe places and events they never experienced in their own lives. This supports the idea that writing can be divinely inspired, particularly when the writing expresses the thoughts of God.
Barrier also writes in his article that, “The problem with this premise is if God wrote it all by His dictation, then it should sound the same throughout Scripture. When you read Isaiah, it doesn’t sound at all like Ezekiel, or Mark contrasted with John. It’s not the same style and vocabulary…the authors injected their personal feelings, wishes, and tone. Nevertheless, some dictation did occur, as in the case of the Ten Commandments and the Law.”
Barrier also mentions that Paul’s letters to the early church in the New Testament might lose their punch if they were dictated by God. This is also true of the very human emotions expressed in the poetry of the Psalms.
To explain this individual style phenomenon, there is another theory that Bible truths come from God, but He allowed writers to use their own words and personality in communicating His truth. In my understanding, God—through a gift of the Holy Spirit—inspired the efforts of people to record his message to the world for all time and to a particular audience for a historic time.
If Humans Make Errors, How Can We Know They Didn't Introduce Errors into the Text?
The Bible Study Tools article “How Do We Know the Right Books Made It into the New Testament? ” explains that the Christian church was motivated to organize and publish the canon (approved collection) of original Bible scriptures under the pressure of the intense persecution of Christians by the Roman Empire. At the beginning of the fourth century AD, the Roman emperor Diocletian ordered that all Christian writing be destroyed. This order motivated early Christians to formalize a Bible of accepted scripture—writing inspired by God that would help stabilize the church. The books of the Bible were, therefore, first published under the threat of death. Bible scholars do not know all the historic details of how the Bible canon was established centuries ago.
In the Bible Study Tools article, Matthew Mittelberg discusses apostolic authority, which allows that Scripture authored by an apostle was readily accepted into the Bible canon. Authors associated with an apostle, such as Mark with Peter and Luke with Paul, also had their writing accepted into the canon of Bible books. Writing associated with a godly person was more readily accepted as part of the Bible. In addition, some books of the Bible were accepted because their message agreed with Jesus’ fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies. The book of Hebrews, by an unknown author and one of the last books accepted into the canon of the Bible, is an example of this.
How Can We Know Scripture Is Divinely Inspired?
There are several ideas that support the Bible’s divine inspiration in the Bible Study Tools article:
First, in the New Testament gospels, Jesus quotes Old Testament passages of the Bible. When Jesus is tempted by Satan three times in the New Testament (Matthew 4:1-11), He responds to Satan each time with the phrase “It is written…” and quotes Deuteronomy 8:3 on not living by bread alone, Deuteronomy 6:13 about revering the Lord, and Psalm 91:11-12about the Lord’s protection. Jesus also frequently responded to the Pharisees challenging his authority with the phrase, “It is written…but…” before he added a new twist to the words and meaning of the Old Testament law the Pharisees followed religiously. I heard a minister once say that the best commentary on the Old Testament is the New Testament. Jesus said in Luke 24:44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the Law from Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
Second, if hearing and studying Scripture leads a person to experience good faith and commit good works, that is evidence that the Bible is divinely inspired. As it says in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
And third, Christian church tradition supports Bible scripture. Again, drawing information from the Bible Study Tools article, Tertullian, a second-century church leader, viewed tradition as vital in the interpretation of Scripture. Although the controversy over some passages was inevitable—and people have always been able to distort the meaning of verses by taking them out of context—Tertullian believed that tradition would lead to the right interpretation.
In the world in which the Bible was constructed, there were great religious conflicts, as is still true. Considering this, Matthew Mittelberg, a full-time Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics Fellow and the author of “How Do We Know the Right Books Made It Into the Bible,” states that, “…it is incredible there was such a firm consensus amongst diverse groups of Christians across such a wide geographical area. Therefore, if a writing stood the test of time and continued to be used widely by the church, it retained its standing.”
Why Is This So Important for Christians to Know?
Jesus promised in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit. “… will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.” As Christians, we, therefore, believe that God through the Holy Spirit inspired the authors of the Bible. God also guided early church leaders and editors to recognize divinely inspired writing and place it in the Bible. The Bible we have today is a complete collection of writing inspired by God for Christians’ instruction in how to live.
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman who needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15, King James Version).
For further reading:
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Betty Dunn hopes her writing leads you to holding hands with God. A former high school English teacher, editor, and nonprofit agency writer, she now works on writing projects from her home in West Michigan, where she enjoys woods, water, pets and family. Check out her blog at Betty by Elizabeth Dunning and her website, www.elizabethdunning-wix.com.
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