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:
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.
A long, long time ago—I can still remember how the music used to make me smile. Oh, wait. That’s a different conversation. Let’s try that again.
Several months ago, at the beginning of the 2012–13 academic year, I began a series of posts on “the divine inspiration of scripture.” I began this series in part to provide an exegetical answer to a question posed by James McGrath:
There have been countless books and movies which were inspired by true events, or by the life of a particular individual, or by a song or a poem. If we say that a film was inspired by the life of Mother Theresa, we don’t mean that mother Theresa went and inserted thoughts into the mind of the filmmaker, but rather that the filmmaker found the inspiration for their film in the life of Mother Theresa.
Can we not say the same thing about the Bible’s authors in relation to God?
If this is your first exposure to this series, I’d appreciate it if you’d start with the introduction to the series and read through in order so that you’re able to put this post in context. Previous posts in this series have examined biblical passages which, on their faces, claim either (a) that God dictated words for someone to transmit or transcribe, or (b) that God comissioned someone to share a message with an audience, which that someone delivered in words of his or her own design, or (c) that God revealed, in some direct way, knowledge or information to someone, which that someone decided to transmit or transcribe. Those passages appear primarily in connection with commandments in the Torah, with sermons in the Latter Prophets, or with reports of apocalyptic visions. Such passages testify (accurately or inaccurately) to a fairly direct divine impetus for those texts’ creation and a fairly significant degree of purposeful divine input into those texts’ contents.
But other texts more or less explicitly testify to very different origins and to very different sources of information. Continue reading
Note: If this is your first exposure to this series, I’d appreciate it if you’d start with the introduction to the series and read through in order so that you’re able to put this post in context.
The previous installment in this series examined all the texts I could find in the Bible in which a heavenly being (God, the exalted Christ, or an angelic interlocutor) tells a human to write something, and discloses to that human the content that should be written, but does not quote an exact string of text that the human in question should write. In most of these few instances, the human writer is having or has just had some sort of visionary experience, which he (I haven’t found any such texts involving women) is told to communicate to someone else (as in Ezekiel 40–48). I also dealt with the closely related phenomenon of a biblical figure having a visionary experience and then communicating that experience to other people despite the absence of any divine command to write (as in Ezekiel 1). I called this “inspiration by disclosure” (because “inspiration by revelation” could create confusion with the biblical book of Revelation, and because “revelation” doesn’t start with a d —a point you’ll appreciate more fully later in the series).
But what about straight-up prophetic sermons that don’t derive from visionary experiences of the type associated with Ezekiel and Revelation’s visionary John? Do these represent instances of “inspiration by dictation,” “inspiration by disclosure,” a blend of the two, or something else entirely?