Thursday, June 16, 2016

What, really, is Biblical inspiration?

 What is “Biblical inspiration?” How were the writers of the Bible inspired to write what they wrote?

The answer to this question is not as straightforward as most of us think. I have sat through countless Bible classes where the teacher explained Biblical inspiration and gave such a simplistic answer that the conclusion was not supported by the facts.

I am going to present what I see in the Bible as Biblical inspiration. I do not believe it is the simple explanation. I don’t think it is the comfortable explanation either; but if it is the truth, we should incorporate it into our individual belief systems.

Here is the usual format of a class on Biblical Inspiration. There will be a little introduction that says something like, “How do we know that the Bible is from God?” and then we all turn to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says:
All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.
The introduction plus the scripture reading moves the student to define inspiration as “from God.” That is a pretty good working definition. “All scripture” is assumed to be the Protestant cannon of scripture. That is definitely not what Paul meant by “All scripture,” but that is a topic for another article. The teacher will notify that the word “inspired” means “God breathed.” That’s good.

The class will then take a direction of assuming everything in the Bible is inerrant (doctrinally, theologically, historically and grammatically flawless). The rest of the class time may be devoted to examples of how Old Testament prophecies were fulfilled in New Testament times. The assumption is that fulfilled prophecies prove the Bible is inerrant. The case is not made for inerrancy; but for most pew-sitters, it’s good enough.

I want to highlight inspiration as I find it in the Bible.

The first kind of inspiration I find in the Bible is divine word to a prophet. “The word of the LORD that came to Hosea son of Beeri” (Hosea 1:1). A word or vision of the LORD is the common kind of inspiration that Prophets received. Words from the LORD appear throughout the Old Testament and in the New Testament book of Revelation. It is not transcribed into the Bible word for word. Each writer had a personal style; but we can feel comfortable that the gist of the vision was faithfully recorded.

The rest of the Bible came to be written by another kind of inspiration. It is the inspiration that is provided by the Holy Spirit working through writers. Many of us want to believe that the method of inspiration for all scripture writers is the same as that for the prophets who had visions. It is not.

The usual approach is to examine how the Spirit worked through people in New Testament times. There were Spiritual gifts such as wisdom, knowledge, faith, healings, miracles, tongues (1 Corinthians 12:4-11) and, of particular interest, prophecy (1 Corinthians 14). The New Testament Christian with the Spiritual gift of prophecy can speak the Word of God inerrantly, right? Wrong. Whenever a prophet spoke, the rest of the church (or the other prophets in the church) were supposed to weigh (judge) what was said (1 Corinthians 14:29)! That means, the church was supposed to scrutinize what prophets said rather than accept it hook, line and sinker.

The working of God’s Spirit in the Bible is expressed quite well in Isaiah 11:1-3.
A shoot shall come out of the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and fear of the LORD.
His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
Sometimes the Spirit of God manifested himself in a person by making him strong enough to kick the butts of a hoard of Philistines (Judges 15:14-15). Sometimes God’s Spirit caused a man to act crazy (1 Samuel 19:23-24). The usual way, in both testaments, that the Lord’s Spirit manifested himself in a person was by giving the person wisdom. That gift is described in the passage quoted above. We can see it in King Solomon’s gift of wisdom. In the Isaiah passage, the prophet is looking forward to a Davidic (or Jesse-esque) king who will have similar evidence of God’s Spirit.

Both testaments? Yes. Second Peter 3:14-16 is often quoted in classes about Biblical inspiration.
Therefore, beloved, while you are waiting for these things, strive to be found by him at peace, without spot or blemish; and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.
This passage is quoted to show that Peter considered Paul’s letters as properly belonging to the collection of documents called “the scriptures.” The word “scripture” just means “writing” but in a New Testament context it means the First Century Christian scriptures which is the Old Testament. There were different views in New Testament times of what documents had authority and what ones did not; but Peter definitely ranked Paul among the greats in the Old Testament.

I want to highlight something else in the above passage that is rarely observed. Paul wrote “according to the wisdom given him.” Thus, what moved Paul to write what he wrote is God given wisdom. He did not have a “The word of the Lord that came to Paul.” Paul was able to know God’s will in the church by applying his knowledge of the scriptures.

I think the best example of Paul’s application of Spirit given wisdom occurs in Acts 13:13f. Paul and his companions had been sent by the church in Antioch to do mission work. They did not seem to know how they were going to go about it. They just kind of hit the road. They hopped a boat and did some preaching in Cyprus. They hopped a boat again and came to a place called Antioch of Pisidia. They attended synagogue there and Paul was invited to speak. Paul’s sermon was strongly Jewish, showing how Jesus’ ministry was validated by the history of the Old Testament and by events surrounding John the Baptist, Galilee and Jerusalem—including Jesus’ death and resurrection. He concludes that Jesus provides forgiveness of sins, something that the law of Moses could not accomplish.

Everyone liked the message so much that Paul and Barnabas were invited to speak again the following week. Much to the surprise of everyone, including Paul, was that the Gentiles in attendance had been especially moved by Paul’s message. They must have been particularly impressed by the points that “descendants of Abraham’s family, and others who fear God, to us the message this salvation has been sent” and that Jesus freed everyone from the law of Moses.

The following Saturday, almost the entire town showed up to hear Paul’s message. The Jews did not like that many Gentiles around. They were happy to have a token collection of Gentiles in their synagogue; but they didn’t want the church to be overrun by Gentiles. It’s just too much of the wrong kind of element, you know. They turned against Paul and Barnabas. Paul got the message. Gentiles were interested in salvation for all through Jesus. Jews were willing to add a little Jesus teaching to their Jewish religion. As you read Acts 13, you can see that Antioch Pisidia was a turning point for Paul. Something happened there that was a learning event for Paul. He did not expect that much interest from Gentiles and now he knew that they were more interested than were the Jews. His ministry from that point forward gave equal or more than equal time to preaching to Gentiles.

As you read through the book of Romans you will observe that every doctrine promoted by Paul is supported by scripture. He never says, “God told me in a vision” or “God appeared to me and said this.” Rather, it looks like he scoured the Bible (Old Testament) to see if it supports such an aggressive mission to Gentiles. Paul quotes a lot of scripture in Romans 15. Everywhere the Old Testament passage says “nations” Paul sees “Gentiles.”

Something happened to Paul in Antioch Pisidia that he needed to interpret. Through his God given wisdom and his hard earned knowledge of scripture he was able to determine God’s will regarding salvation to the Gentiles. It was Paul’s conclusions (and Peter believes it was by wisdom Paul received from God) that appear in Paul's letters.

The bulk of Biblical inspiration is the “wisdom” kind. Writers were able to interpret events of their times and apply what they knew of God’s character as well as what was available to them in written form. They preached in person and in writing God’s will by the wisdom (inspiration) that God gave them.

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