Previously in this series on the inspiration of scripture, I’ve surveyed a range of biblical claims and strong implications about the writers’ own writing activity, ranging from claims of maximal divine input (“inspiration by dictation”) to minimal divine input (“inspiration by devotion”), with a few stops in between. I’m convinced that my spectrum does a decent job of categorizing and illustrating the variety of claims that biblical writers made about their own writing activity, although the spectrum itself can’t (and doesn’t try to) demonstrate the accuracy of those claims. The spectrum as presented thus far, however, relies on a big unspoken assumption, an assumption that I think inheres in most Christian discourse about the inspiration of scripture. That assumption is that the divine inspiration of scripture was a front-end operation, something that happened as the text was being composed. But what if that assumption is wrong? What if, in fact, it’s almost 180° from the way we should be thinking about inspiration?
Next to 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:20–21 may take second place as the passage most quoted when discussing the topic of biblical inspiration. Whether the apostle Peter or someone writing pseudonymously in his name, this author asserts that “no prophecy of scripture represents the prophets own understanding of things, because no prophecy ever came by human will. Instead, men and women led by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (CEB).
In my youth, I often heard 2 Pet 1:20–21 referenced to support the view that, in essence, “God wrote the Bible.” Put in terms of the 4D spectrum that I’ve been developing in this series, this deployment of 2 Pet 1:20–21 basically denies the “inspiration by deeds” and “inspiration by devotion” categories any validity. All texts somehow get folded into “inspiration by dictation” or, at a stretch, “inspiration by disclosure.”
Yet there are texts that not only show no signs of dictation or supernatural disclosure, but which strongly resist such categorization. Continue reading
Almost all Christian discourse about inspiration eventually loops around to 2 Timothy 3:16–17, “Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good” (CEB). This series wouldn’t be complete without some attention to this verse, and to its use of the term “inspired.”
Three details (already known to many Higgaion readers) about the grammar and form of 2 Tim 3:16 demand our attention up front. Before I go much further, I should freely confess that I am no New Testament scholar. My command of Greek is weaker than I’d like, and barely even on the same scale as my facility with Hebrew. If in this post I go too far astray in my handling of the Greek text, I trust that colleagues who are better Hellenists than I will gently guide me back to the right path. Also, I admit that the importance of each of these facts might not be immediately evident, but I’ll strive to clarify everything by the end of the post.
Over the course of this series, I’ve examined a number of biblical texts that contain either explicit claims or strong implications about their own composition. I systematized those texts into a spectrum of “types” or “models” of inspiration, ranging from maximal/direct to minimal/indirect divine input. I divided my spectrum into four categories:
- Inspiration by dictation: God tells somebody what to say or write
- Inspiration by disclosure: God reveals something to someone, and that person passes on these insights
- Inspiration by deeds: people compose texts (oral or written) in response to things they believe God has done
- Inspiration by devotion: people compose texts about various topics, informed by their commitment to God
Neighboring categories obviously admit of fuzzy boundaries, but precise categorization of any given text takes a back seat to fairly representing the range of claims that biblical authors actually made about where they got their motivation and material.
Now the time has come to consider how well this spectrum reflects not just textual claims and implications, but actual reality. Continue reading
Thus far in this series (please start with the introduction if you haven’t read the other segments yet), I’ve surveyed some biblical texts that contain explicit claims or strong implications that they originated in their human authors’ responses to divine dictation, divine disclosure, or divine deeds. But I don’t think those three categories quite cover the entire spectrum of what biblical authors have to say about where their words and ideas came from, so we need to add (at least) one more broad category to the list: inspiration by devotion to the divine.