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What Is Divine Inspiration (and Why Does It Matter)?

guest post

This is a guest post by Gerald Bray. He is the author of God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology.


Inspiration and Its Fruit

A great deal has been written about the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Holy Scripture, though only the first of these terms is found in the Bible itself. Infallibility and inerrancy are best viewed as logical deductions from the principle of divine inspiration. The former term became current in the nineteenth century, when Protestants applied it to the Bible and Roman Catholics to the papacy, but “inerrancy” is of more recent origin.

The general line of argument is that if the Bible is divinely inspired, it must also be infallible because God would not lead his people astray. To be truly infallible, however, it must not contain any errors, because even the smallest mistake might mislead people and cause them to err or (if they discovered the mistake) to doubt the truth of God’s Word. Arguments of this kind make logical sense, but they come up against the obvious objections that we do not possess the original manuscripts and that all the copies we have contain errors of various kinds. This means that no truly “inerrant” text exists, but that does not necessarily imply that the copies we have are misleading and says nothing at all about whether they are inspired by God.

Modern Controversy

A great deal of controversy surrounds these terms, and it is fair to say that in the modern church, belief in what they represent is the hallmark of conservative, and usually evangelical, believers. But it is also fair to say that traditionally orthodox Christians have always believed that the Bible is divinely inspired, and the unique place occupied by its text in Christian worship bears witness to that fact.

In ancient times it was commonly believed that poets were inspired by a muse or other genius, who gave them the superhuman talent they possessed. Inspiration applied primarily to the people who composed literary works, and not to the works themselves. In the New Testament, we find both—holy men were moved by the Spirit of God, but the texts they produced were also breathed out by him. This quality was the mark of their holiness and the guarantee of their supreme authority in the life of the church.

“Infallibility” emerged as a way of saying that the Scriptures do not teach error, and “inerrancy” makes it more precise by insisting that they do not contain it either. Both terms have suffered from the excessive zeal of some of their proponents, who have made extravagant claims that go beyond what can be proved from the texts themselves. For example, some have said that Job must have been a historical person, since he is described in that way in the book that bears his name, but it is just as likely that he is a fictional character whom the anonymous author created in order to make a series of important theological points. To use “inerrancy” as an excuse for insisting on the historicity of Job is going too far, and the term loses its credibility when such claims are made on the basis of it.

Juridical Terms

The best way to look at these words is to see them as essentially juridical terms. The Bible is the written constitution of the church and must be interpreted as such. Its authority is absolute, and therefore it is both infallible and inerrant as far as the life of the church is concerned. No Christian preacher or teacher has any right to distort or minimize its teaching, and every word in it must be carefully weighed and its meaning considered. We do not have to worry if some parts of it (such as the Old Testament food laws) are no longer immediately applicable today, because that is often true of human laws as well. A state constitution almost certainly contains provisions that are now obsolete, but they retain the authority of the document as a whole, and if the circumstances for which they were designed should recur, they would come back into force.

The Bible is very much like that, except that it also contains a spiritual message that can be applied in spiritual ways long after the material circumstances in which it was originally revealed have disappeared. If we view matters in that way, then the Bible will not lead us astray, nor will it teach us anything that is false to the Spirit who inspired it.

What About Mistakes?

We do not need to worry too much about the mistakes scribes made in copying, since many of these can be corrected and few have any real significance as far as the meaning of the original is concerned. Some areas of doubt remain, but as long as we do not put too much weight on words or passages that are unclear, this should not affect our understanding of the overall message of the text.

More serious are the allegations that the Bible contains errors of fact or of judgment that are not accidental. For example, archaeologists have raised questions about the Israelite invasion of Palestine under Joshua because evidence for the collapse of the walls at Jericho or the destruction of Ai is either missing or does not support the claims made in Scripture. Historians have found no evidence for the existence of Esther or Daniel, and many scholars believe that they were made up in later times for what were essentially political reasons.

The New Testament is less open to this kind of objection because the time period it covers is much shorter and better known, but there are still many details about the life of Jesus and the career of the apostle Paul which are hard to piece together from the texts. Did Jesus cleanse the temple at the beginning of his ministry or at the end, or did he do it twice, as some scholars have tried to argue? More radical scholars might ask whether the event ever happened at all, and suggest that it was concocted by the disciples to make a theological point.

These are hard and perhaps impossible questions to answer, partly because the evidence is insufficient for us to decide either way and partly because the intention of the original author(s) is unclear. Scholars do their best to resolve these difficulties, on the reasonable assumption that the problems were not apparent to those who first wrote or read the texts and so there must be some explanation for them. The explanation may not always be what we would expect, and certain questions remain unanswerable in our present state of knowledge, but it would be most unwise to accuse the text of lying or misrepresenting the facts simply because we do not know what they are. The true researcher, like a good detective, will persevere until he has found a solution and refuse to comment on facile theories which discount the witness of the texts. They, after all, are a major part of the evidence we have, and must be treated with due caution and respect.

Inspiration the Key

From the standpoint of the ordinary believer, arguments about the “historicity” of the biblical text are important because our faith is based on truth, but such arguments are not the heart of the matter. The Bible is not the source of our doctrine and spiritual life merely because it contains no errors, since the same might be said of a dictionary or computer manual. Infallibility and inerrancy have their place, but divine inspiration remains the key to interpreting the text because that is what makes it the Word of God. The apostle Paul spoke to us all when he wrote to Timothy,

The sacred writings . . . are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

In other words, the Bible is our textbook for learning and growing in our faith, so that we may be able to live as we should and bear witness to the truth of the gospel we have received in Christ Jesus.

This post was adapted from God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology by Gerald Bray.

August 4, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Scripture,Theology | Author: Matt Tully @ 9:00 am | 0 Comments »

Video: A Word of Encouragement from Jen Wilkin

Thank You!

We want to thank the thousands of women who signed up for Women of the Word Month! We’re grateful for all the encouraging emails, tweets, and comments that many of you sent our way over the last thirty-one days.

Here’s a final word of encouragement and advice from Jen Wilkin:


A Word of Encouragement from Jen Wilkin from Crossway on Vimeo.

We hope that this effort was helpful to your Christian life and that you learned something along the way.

As we close out the month, we want to remind you of two new resources that may help as you look to studying the Bible this fall:

Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds by Jen Wilkin

We all know it’s important to study God’s Word.

But sometimes it’s hard to know where to start. What’s more, a lack of time, emotionally driven approaches, and past frustrations can erode our resolve to keep growing in our knowledge of Scripture. How can we, as Christian women, keep our focus and sustain our passion when reading the Bible?

Offering a clear and concise plan to help women go deeper in their study of Scripture, this book will equip you to engage God’s Word in a way that trains your mind and transforms your heart.

Learn More / Read an Excerpt

The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible

The ESV Women’s Devotional Bible is a valuable resource for strengthening women in their walk with God. Applicable for women in any stage of life, the Women’s Devotional Bible is theologically rich in content while remaining accessible and practical. Readers will be encouraged in daily, prayerful Bible study, and equipped to understand and apply the Bible to every aspect of life.

The Women’s Devotional Bible features materials designed especially for women. The book introductions, character sketches of key figures, all-new daily devotionals, and all-new articles have been written by both women and men contributors. These contributors include professors, musicians, authors, counselors, homemakers, and conference speakers.

Learn More / Read an Excerpt

August 1, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Life / Doctrine,Marriage & Family,News,Video,Women,Women of the Word Month | Author: Matt Tully @ 4:00 am | (2) Comments »

Video: The Picky Eater Approach to Bible Study

 

We all know it’s important to study God’s Word.

But sometimes it’s hard to know where to begin . . . especially when you’re feeling a bit lost in the middle of Leviticus.

Looking for some help? Check out Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin—a book written to help you develop a plan for engaging, consistent, and transformative Bible study.

For more, be sure to check out the infographic (6 Counterproductive Approaches to Studying the Bible) or download a free excerpt from the book!

Stay in the Word with ESVBible.org Reading Plans

ESV Bible header

It can be a challenge to consistently read the Bible, and many times it’s even more challenging to know where to begin!

ESVBible.org has a variety of free reading plans to help you get in the Word and stay in the Word. Examples of these reading plans include a chronological reading plan, the M’Cheyne one-year reading plan, a daily Psalm, or a plan to help you systematically memorize Scripture.

Reading plans on ESVBible.org are available to all users who create a free account. Once you create a free account, you can record your own notes, highlight and share verses, and track your progress.

How it Works:

Visit ESVBible.org and click on the calendar “Plans” icon in the top right corner.

Calendar Icon

 

 

 

A drop down menu will display all of the reading plan options.

reading plan drop down menu

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Create a free account and track your progress!

| Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Bible News | Author: Lizzy Jeffers @ 8:52 am | 0 Comments »

Midweek Roundup – 7/30/14

Each Wednesday we share some recent links that we found informative, insightful, or helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.


1. Tim Keesee writes a letter to the leader of ISIS

Dear Mr. al-Baghdadi,

Recently, you publicly presented yourself as the Caliph, the leader of a new order for the Islamic world. In your inaugural sermon at the mosque in Mosul near the ruins of Nineveh, you said, “If you see me on the right path, help me. If you see me on the wrong path, advise me and halt me.” I’ve given that offer some thought and wanted to follow up with you.

2. The Gospel Coalition reviews Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully by John Piper

The Scripture recommends beautiful words as like “apples of gold” (Prov. 25:11) and illustrates such words in genres from David’s poetry to Jesus’ parables. How welcome, then, to read John Piper’s bracing Seeing Beauty and Saying Beautifully, in which the former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church reintroduces the power of “poetic effort” by considering three titans of Christian rhetoric: the poet George Herbert, the evangelist George Whitefield, and the apologist and novelist C. S. Lewis. I suspect most readers will know something of Lewis, less of Whitefield, and Herbert least of all. But in Piper’s hands, the combination of these three aptly demonstrates the value of Christians’ literary labors for the glory of God and the edification of the church.

3. Michael Patton answers alternatives to the resurrection

When it comes to the resurrection of Christ, there are an infinite number of possible alternative explanations for the development of belief in a risen Christ other than opting for the most obvious (Christ actually rose from the grave). For centuries skeptics and non-believers have offered their possibilities, but, in my opinion, they are never a probability.

4. Gloria Furman encourages us to take confidence in the wake of Easter

Sometimes when we survey the landscape of missions we feel a tremor of despair in our hearts because of either the magnitude or the complexity of the task. My own feelings of boldness come and go for different reasons, and I felt the familiar tremors of discouragement as I read the news this week.

But there is a heart-lifting truth that holds us fast in the midst of the ground-shaking wars and rumors of wars. There is one piece of earth-shaking news that our forgetful hearts need to always remember. We live in the wake of Easter. Two thousand years ago the ground shook as the Son of God died on a cross, and three days later the earth trembled again as he walked out of his tomb never to die again. Our confidence is not in our earthly circumstances, but in a Person.

5. John Piper reflects on J. I. Packer’s 88th birthday

[Packer] is not naïve. He is 88! There is no romantic idealization for the final years of this life. It will be hard. “Aging,” he says, “is not for wimps.” Some may paint a rosy picture of life after seventy. Even John Wesley, Packer observes, said that at eighty-five “the only sign of deterioration that he could see in himself was that he could not run as fast as he used to.” With characteristic understatement Packer says: “With all due deference to that wonderful, seemingly tireless little man, we may reasonably suspect that he was overlooking some things.”

July 30, 2014 | Posted in: AAA - BLOG UPDATE,Book News,Midweek Roundup,News | Author: Matt Tully @ 8:00 am | 0 Comments »