A significant portion of the modern fundamentalist, evangelical church has heretically twisted the Biblically sound notion of divine inspiration in order to blasphemously deny the role of the human authors in favor of creating a doctrine that the Holy Spirit wrote everything in Scripture. This ultimately allows these segments of the fundamentalist, evangelical church to justify its anti-intellectual dogmatism which meets any and all literarily , historically, hermeneutically, or logically based deviations from evangelical, fundamentalist doctrine with the claim that the Bible as a work solely authored by the Holy Spirit can only be understood by the Holy Spirit’s revelation which the fundamentalist, evangelical church just so happens to conveniently, exclusively, and hegemonically possess. This entire paradigm rests on a certain kind of divine inspiration that is contrary to what the books of the Bible say about their own authorship.This entire paradigm of anti-intellectual, unscholarly, and ultimately untenable dogma rests on the supposition of a certain kind of divine inspiration that is contrary to what the books of the Bible say about their own authorship. Click To Tweet
Before I proceed further in arguing for what I just said in that first paragraph, I’m sure it is necessary to clarify a couple things. Firstly, I still believe in divine inspiration. I just believe the modern Church has deviated from a Biblically sound version of divine revelation in favor of a version which it can twist to make whatever doctrine one believes equal to, quite literally, the Gospel truth. The Bible states that Scripture is inspired insofar as God commissioned, motivated, or influenced the authors in order to move them to write and to write the right things. But to say that the Holy Spirit, God, authored the Bible Himself is entirely contrary to Scripture. Yet I hear Christian after Christian say that God wrote the Bible and that the Holy Spirit gives them an unquestionable interpretation of it.
It seems as though fundamentalist, evangelicals are under the impression that their interpretation of Scriptural passages (no matter how unaware of literary, hermeneutical, or linguistic complexities they may be) is to be taken as the only possible true doctrine of God since the Holy Spirit is guiding them in their reading of books which the Holy Spirit itself literally wrote or dictated word for word to the human authors attributed to the various books of the Bible which really served no purpose greater than that of a typewriter.
Ironically, the understanding of various passages which the Holy Spirit supposedly imparts to fundamentalist evangelicals is almost invariably at best the most literarily shallow, unsophisticated, and overly literal reading of a passage to which it could possibly lend itself, and at worst an interpretation of a passage that has nothing to do with the text of that passage whatsoever. Equally invariably, the unquestionable revelation of the Holy Spirit confirms without a doubt the current tenets of fundamentalist evangelicalism.
To be fair, there is not necessarily causation between a questionable view of divine inspiration (which we have not even yet discussed) and hyper-literalist readings or dogmatically believed misinterpretations of Scripture. But in my experience the two issues seem somehow inextricably linked together in the mind of fundamentalists who are convinced beyond reason that every letter of Scripture was handed down through the authorship of the Holy Spirit, and this in turn justifies their superficial interpretations which, of course, are guided by the Holy Spirit itself.
This really is a convenient game. Men may apply their lacking literary faculties to the most influential and most important piece of literature of all time and reserve the right to admonish those who disagree with them by applying the necessary aptitude for understanding Scripture in all of its intricacies for challenging the revelation of the Holy Spirit and squelching it with what fundamentalist evangelicals typically revert to attacking as the depraved wisdom of man. Even better is the ability to apply meanings to passages from which that meaning could never be reasonably inferred if not for the “inner working of the Holy Spirit.”
But if it can be shown that the books of the Bible (or at least some of them) were written by men inspired (read: prompted or commissioned) by God but, nevertheless, authored by the men themselves who were writing in particular times in a particular language to a particular audience, then it follows that we as responsible readers must do the leg work necessary to have a reasonable understanding of the books of the Bible by taking into account complex historical, cultural, linguistic, and hermeneutical factors.
This means that, just like in any other scholarly endeavor, there will be room for debate. Certainly, some things remain undeniably clear. The authors of all four gospels clearly thought that a man named Jesus lived, died, and rose from the dead. But when it comes to other things like a proper handling of Genesis 1, we find that on a superficial, literalistic level it states that the world was created in a calendar week, but when read in light of ancient Hebrew literary techniques and linguistic cues could be taken as figurative while maintaining certain crucial points of God’s creation. Another example is 2 Timothy 3:16 which states that all Scripture is God breathed, and is the most commonly used verse in defense of the Holy Spirit’s direct authorship of Scripture. When read carelessly, 2 Timothy 3:16 seems to suggest that the entire Christian canon comes directly from the mouth of God, but when read more carefully says something similar but distinct (we will talk more about 2 Timothy 3:16 later).
It is no wonder that fundamentalist evangelicals castigate anybody that dares question their view of divine inspiration as a blasphemer since questioning the foundational premise of strictly divine authorship of Scripture brings into question the false authority to which they appeal when their interpretations of Scripture are questioned. But I would sooner blaspheme the fundamentalist evangelical church than blaspheme the texts of Scripture by denying their claims about their own authorship and twisting it to be authored by an unquestionable source which divinely guided my understanding of those texts to just so happen to agree with my doctrinal biases.
Unfortunately for the modern Church, this is exactly what the fundamentalist, evangelical movement has done and it is heretical to what the Bible actual says about its own authorship. I don’t doubt the good intentions of the fundamentalist evangelical church. But good intentions do not excuse teaching which is demonstrably heretical in its contradiction of Scripture.
How many times did Paul in his epistles reference why he himself was writing to his audience? We see this in Romans 1 as well as 1 Timothy 1:1-3 where Paul states that he (in the first person) is writing to a certain audience, and proceeds to refer to God in the third person as a being that is entirely distinct from him. In Luke 1, the author states that he desired to compose a narrative based on the information from firsthand sources and eyewitnesses concerning the life of Jesus and the early Church. Neither Paul nor the author of Luke say anything about dictation from the Holy Spirit. We have no account of the Holy Spirit taking them over, possessing them, and using them as ancient-printing machines. To suppose that the Holy Spirit directly authored the works of Luke and Paul is unsupported by and contrary to those texts.
It does not need defending that God cannot deceive or lie, yet that is exactly what the Holy Spirit would have done if it had authored Luke, Acts, or the Pauline epistles but claimed in those very works that they were authored by an entirely different source which, in reality, had no more to do with the authorship of those works than a pen in the hand of an author. It is, therefore, contradictory to believe that God would never make a statement that is irreparably false in the very book that Christians believe is infallibly true yet also believe that God would state that men who had no true role in the authorship of the books of the Bible were, in fact, the authors. This leaves only the possibility that the authors falsely claimed to be the authors of their own works, but this again would be a blatant lie within Scripture.
But this is not the only reason it is wrong to believe that God Himself was the true author of every book of the Bible. It is also problematic that different authors have different styles and quirks in their writing. Nobody would ever expect the most perfect of all conceivable beings to write a run-on sentence. But there are run-on sentences in Scripture. The style of John’s Gospel is radically different from that of Luke’s, and it is hardly thinkable that different works all composed by the same perfect author would have radically differing literary styles. If it was all written by God Himself, should we not expect to find uniformity in all manner and conventions of writing throughout the Scriptures? Shouldn’t the prose be absolutely flawless and unquestionably perfect? But this is the exact opposite of what we find.
There are two possible responses at this point which come to mind.
The first response is the most common among fundamentalist evangelicals who refuse to give up their dogmatism. They tend to point to 2 Timothy 3:16 which says that all Scripture is “God-breathed.” But this passage is one of the passages I had in mind when I said that fundamentalists will apply meaning to passages thanks to the convenient leading of the Holy Spirit which could never be reasonably derived otherwise.
It is worth noting that there is debate over whether Paul was even referencing the New Testament in his mention of Scripture since the New Testament had not yet become fully established. But regardless of the outcome of that debate, the true question is what Paul meant by what we translate to “God-breathed.”
While this might superficially seem like a reference to Scripture (which we will grant for the sake of argument included the New Testament in the mind of Paul) coming from the mouth of God Himself — in other words being God’s own literal words. The reality is that Paul was essentially coining his own term — θεόπνευστος. This is a combination of “God” and “Spirit.” In other words, Paul was saying that Scripture is prompted by and in line with God’s spirit (spirit being similar to breath in the ancient Greek mind which is why it is translated to “God-breathed”). To suggest that Paul literally meant “God-breathed” as though Scripture is the actual verbatim words of God ignores the characteristics of the Greek language. It would be like saying that hippopotamus literally references a horse that lives exclusively in the water (since the term is a combination of those two Greek words).
But to further disprove the idea that Paul meant that all of Scripture is the verbatim composition of God’s words, we arrive at a contradiction by supposing both that Paul thought of his own epistles as Scripture, and that all Scripture is God’s exact words. This is because Paul frequently references his own authorship of the book of Timothy. He does not mention any means by which he gained access to the precise words of God, nor did Paul ever claim that his words were God’s exact words.
Therefore, if Paul meant that all Scripture is directly authored by God, then he did not consider his own epistles Scripture since he makes no mention of it coming straight from the mouth of God. Nor should we take Paul’s epistles to be Scripture since it would seem as though even Paul himself did not think he was writing divine Scripture.
But if we do not take Paul’s epistles as Scripture, then why make authoritative his theological remarks concerning divine inspiration in the first place? Perhaps we should grant him a special place on our Christian bookshelves as an early theologian and commentator. But his writings certainly do not give us any reason to think he meets his own criteria for Scripture. In fact, they give us ample reasons to think the contrary.
But if we want to take Paul’s epistles as Scripture (which I suspect most Christians rightfully will), then we are left with only one option. We must return to a sound view of divine inspiration which grants that God can commission, motivate, rouse, or influence someone to write Scripture, and He in His divine providence is more than capable of keeping them from erring on any crucial point. We must forego the false piety and unfalsifiability that conveniently accompanies the heresy that God Himself authored Scripture since most of Scripture claims it was authored by men.
Of course, this leaves us with the conclusion that humans indeed are the authors of Scripture. This leaves us with the sacred responsibility of educating ourselves so that we may better understand the most important piece of literature which they collectively handed down to us.
By all means, the Holy Spirit may lead a person to recognize and feel the divine source of Scripture. The Holy Spirit can guide a person and help them grow as they study God’s word.
But it must be understood that God’s word is His word in the sense that it is the word inspired by Him. It is not entirely His literal words straight from His own mouth. For reasons which have been previously demonstrated, suggesting such a thing is contradictory to what the books of the Bible say about their own sources, and it is worse yet to use such a flawed idea of inspiration to discourage those who seek to better understand the message of these inspired authors of Scripture by better understanding their language, culture, and history because doing so could bring into question the heretically-based dogmatism which the fundamentalist, evangelical church has so comfortably come to rest upon.
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