Thursday, May 18, 2017

The work of the Spirit in inspiration

If you have a reaction to this article; please give me some feedback. Having to adjust my assumptions about the Bible was, at times, kind of painful. I think my faith has grown through it; but it is not a smooth ride.

I have been thinking a lot about the function of the Holy Spirit as it pertains to the inspiration of Scripture (the Bible). I have been thinking about it for a really long time. Close to twenty years ago I began to study the book of Isaiah in earnest, it became clear to me that the section of Isaiah that consists of chapters 56-66 were hostile against the official Jerusalem priesthood in the early second temple period. The view that the authors had of God and his character was sharply opposed to the view of God portrayed in other canonical books in the Old Testament, notably Ezra and Nehemiah. Thus, a significant chunk of the Old Testament is an argument over the character of God, what it means to to be God's people and who, really, are God's people.

The Bible appears to have been born from writers' struggles with events of their times and how they should be interpreted with respect to the work of God. It seems that I am not alone with this approach. Paul Hanson wrote this:
Inner-community strife is never benign. The weak, both individually and in groups, inevitably are hurt, and as the contending sides harden in their respective positions, the essential elements of the dialectic of faith polarize; the visionary elements (which focus on a transcendent order calling under divine judgment all existing mundane structures) part company from the pragmatic elements (which concentrate on the embodiment of the divine in human institutions). The Old Testament is not immune to such strife. Indeed, in all periods of the religion of Israel tensions are visible between men with differing notions of what it meant to be God's people, although, at times of crisis like the sixth and second centuries, those tensions are exacerbated to the point of breaking the community into hostile factions. For the modern individual or group which confesses that the Old Testament records the self-disclosure of divine will within Israel's history as a nation, either such inner-community strife and polarization must be ignored, or God's self-disclosure must be discerned precisely within the field of tension between the vision of the transcendent divine order and the Israelite's sense of solidarity with his community's institutions and practices. While the latter alternative arises many questions which must be addressed anew by thoughtful persons of faith (e.g., the meaning of canon, the sense in which a unity of scripture can be ascertained), it does resonate with certain aspects of the modern religious person's experience: God is the unconditioned and is beyond facile comprehension by the human mind; the religious life therefore involves struggle, and can even be characterized as a dialectic of faith. (Hanson 259-260)
Michael Heiser said the following in one of his podcasts:
How can you [I] say the Bible was edited? Well, basically the short answer is because it was; because if you actually read it closely, you can tell. Inspiration is a process, not an event. It’s not a paranormal event. It’s a process. God used many hands to produce the final form of this thing we call the inspired word of God. It’s all God. It doesn't matter if you know who touched it or you don't. You either believe that God is behind the process or you don't. I do. (Heiser)
I sat in on an interview of Pete Enns and I was able to ask him about this question of the definition of inspiration. I transcribed from the poor recording the best I could.
Neil Short: I'm thinking about that passage that Jesus said, when he's talking about the sunrise and the sunset, he says, "You guys know how to interpret the weather but you don't know how to interpret the times that you are in." I wonder if that's kind of what inspiration is. People are struggling with their times and they are wanting to interpret them on a theological level. You know when Solomon was - when the Holy Spirit came on him - what did he get? Wisdom. He didn't blurt out prophecy. In the Old Testament, that is the gift of the Holy Spirit: wisdom.
Pete Enns: Wisdom is about knowing the times. It is about being able to navigate life, in a sense.
Neil Short: Right. So I wonder if the Old Testament view - even the Biblical view of inspiration is that God gives wisdom to help you understand the times and interpret them on a theological level.
Pete Enns: I think that's a very promising way of looking at it because of what it comes out of. The Bible point of view truly isn't what what many Christians think of as a rather flexible understanding of inspiration. Which is, the Bible can be interpreted multiple different ways legitimately and they can all be right. I think what you are saying is this "flexibility of inspiration" whatever that means, accounts for the human drama that we find ourselves in. And if God is present, that makes all the sense in the world. (Enns)
I will make a slight addendum to what I said. In Old Testament examples of the Holy Spirit coming upon a person, the usual understanding of the result is a supernatural dose of wisdom (1 Kings 3:12). However, not always. On occasion, the result is that the person gains superhuman strength (e.g., Judges 12:6). It seems that, on occasion, the manifestation of the Spirit on a person is a strange behavior called "prophetic frenzy" (1 Samuel 10:5-6, 10-13; 19:20-24).

I mentioned above in my question to Dr. Enns the passage where Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees for their inability to interpret their times.
He answered them, "When it is evening, you say, "It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.' And in the morning, "It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.' You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:2-3)
The point really seems to be that Jesus expected people to be able to scrutinize the events of their times and to learn from them something about God.

In light of this conversation, the following becomes a little more interesting.
If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. (James 1:5)
... and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation. So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him.... (2 Peter 3:15)
As far as religious Scripture goes, the Bible is exceptionally earthy and situational. It stands in contrast to strongly unified religious scriptures such as the Mormon scriptures and the Koran.

I believe the Bible is God breathed and inspired. That means that God used the situations surrounding the writers and editors to show them himself and God helped them to understand God through the transpiring of those events. The final result of all those questions, arguments and emotional struggles is the Bible.

Enns, Pete. Interview on 2017 05 04 at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Hanson, Paul D. The Dawn of Apocalyptic. Fortress: 1975.

Heiser, Michael. Naked Bible 111: Introducing the Book of Ezekiel. Accessed 2017 05 18.

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