Thursday, July 30, 2009

Important article on Biblical Inspiration

I just came across an amazing article on Biblical inspiration that goes into much greater detail, and with much more scholarly foundation, than my series has so far. I haven't had time to read the whole thing yet, but I will. I'll probably highlight bits of it in future posts.

The article is "Inerrancy, Inspiration, and Dictation" by Joel Stephen Williams, and it was published in the Restoration Quarterly, Vol. 37/No. 3 (1995). I had never heard of Williams before, but it appears he's an author and professor at Amridge (formerly Southern Christian) University.

Two quick quotes:

We must realize that the doctrine of inspiration is not the capstone of Christian theology. A fundamentalist view of inspiration does not insure orthodoxy. Many who hold to a fundamentalist view of inspiration are in extreme error on more significant truths such as the deity of Christ. Furthermore, many people come to faith in Christ and salvation without knowing even the rudimentary elements of a doctrine of inspiration.


Positive statements about the usefulness of the Scriptures in instructing mankind for salvation affirm more about the Bible than a negative statement that it is without error. The Bible is not the ultimate end. Instead, it is a witness to God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As John the Baptist pointed toward Christ, the Bible is a witness pointing toward God.

This comes very close to my own perspective, as I expressed it in an email to my Mom last week. Here, then, is my "doctrine of the Bible," if you will:

I prefer to say that the biblical (particularly N.T. and prophets) authors are faithful witnesses to what they saw/heard, and their writings are to be trusted as the testimony of a faithful witness. . .without blurring the distinction between the witnesses and the truth to which they are testifying.


Jc_Freak: said...

Your language is very simular to my own. I do go so far as to say that Scripture is infallible, but I don't mean that in an inerrant sense. I mean that it is an accurate witness, and that the witness if more reliable than just the personal opinions of the witnesses. Instead, the actual content is precisely true.

Joel Stephen Williams said...
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Joel Stephen Williams said...
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Joel Stephen Williams said...

The Greek word that is translated “inspiration” in 2 Timothy 3:16 is theopneustos and it is used only once in the New Testament. Bauer’s Greek-English Lexicon, edited by Arndt, Gingrich and Danker, defines it as “inspired by God” (p. 356). Most other lexicons and wordbooks, such as those by Thayer and Vine, give a similar or identical definition or translation for the term. Ceslas Spicq suggests, “To express the sacred nature of the Scriptures, their divine origin, and their power to sanctify believers, perhaps St. Paul coined the verbal adjective theopneustos, ‘breathed, inspired by God.’” (Theological Lexicon of the New Testament, 2, 193).

More significant, though, is the significance of the word and the implication of the term in regards to the authority of the Bible. Theologians and Bible scholars have given us many fine explanations through the years to help us understand the concept of inspiration. For example, the late Rex A. Turner, Sr., the founder of what is now known as Amridge University, argues that inspiration was “a divine and miraculous illumination which directed the subject writers to select from their background knowledge, vocabulary, and personality the proper words to convey and/or express correctly the message, or messages, of the God of the heavens and the earth” (Systematic Theology, p. 1). Notice that the emphasis in Turner’s definition is on the end result, namely, the revelation of God’s message to mankind.

Similarly, Augustus H. Strong wrote that inspiration “is that influence of the Spirit of God upon the minds of the Scripture writers which made their writings the record of a progressive divine revelation, sufficient, when taken together and interpreted by the same Spirit who inspired them, to lead every honest inquirer to Christ and to salvation” (Systematic Theology, p. 196). Strong rightly stressed the role of the Holy Spirit in the process of inspiration and also the ultimate purpose of inspiration. To use the words of the apostle Paul, it was to give us “sacred writings which are able to instruct [us] for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15).

Joel Stephen Williams said...


Not only is the chief purpose of the Scriptures prominent in the verse prior to Paul’s use of the term “inspiration” (2 Tim. 3:15), it is evident in the words that follow: “All scripture is . . . 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 Tim. 3:16). Frank Stagg agrees wholeheartedly with this conclusion. He states that the New Testament writers “assumed the inspiration of the Old Testament” (New Testament Theology, p. 3). The very fact of inspiration is clearly stated by Paul in 2 Timothy 3:16. But Paul’s emphasis in this text is on the purpose of inspiration.

As Stagg explains, the Scriptures “are not an end in themselves; their purpose is served only when they bring one under the judgment and correction of God leading to righteousness. . . . Merely to say ‘Bible, Bible’ is worth no more than to say ‘Lord, Lord’ yet not do the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21)” (pp. 4, 8). Paul’s brief mention of the doctrine of inspiration highlighted the supreme goal of Timothy and others believing the message of salvation found in the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:15). Paul’s purpose was reminding Timothy that he had a set of Scriptures which he could use in his ministry of teaching and preaching, by which he could instruct God’s people on how they might rightly live (2 Tim. 3:16).

Again, to quote Frank Stagg, “No theory of inspiration itself, however strong, is actual acknowledgment of the authority of the New Testament. To support this, one needs only to remember that the Pharisees, who most stubbornly rejected Jesus, held to a high doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. These made the Scriptures their life by day and night, yet were they blind to Jesus. One needs only to recall that the Council of Trent declared the Scriptures to be Spiritu sancto dictante, ‘dictated by the Holy Spirit.’ Despite this strict doctrine of verbal inspiration, the Roman Church has refused to grant to the Bible its true authority, subordinating it to its own tradition. One may loudly declare his claims for the Bible’s inspiration and authority and yet use this as a smoke screen behind which to hide his own will to power” (p. 8).

One needs to have a proper view of the Bible’s inspiration based on passages such as 2 Timothy 3:16, but this must then be combined with a submissive, obedient attitude toward God. Does one’s view of the Bible lead to obedience to Jesus Christ and his teachings? Does one’s approach to the Bible lead to a lifestyle of holiness and sanctification? Is the teaching of the gospel and salvation the result of one’s view of inspiration? Is the Bible quoted and its authority respected as the guidebook to heaven, because it is inspired and “able to instruct [us] for salvation” (2 Tim. 3:15)? “The Scriptures are not an end in themselves but a witness to him in whom alone is life” (Stagg, Ibid., p. 9). It is in this sort of use of the Scriptures that we best respect its authority.

Dan Martin said...

Joel, I appreciate your stopping by the blog. As I said in my reference to your article, I believe you've done an excellent job of critiquing the commonly-held notions of biblical inspiration in the Evangelical world today, without rejecting the authority of the biblical witness.

The authors you quote in your first post, in their definitions of "inspiration," illustrate why it's fallacious for us to conflate the concepts of divine inspiration and the "Word of God," which are most categorically NOT synonyms. But I particularly appreciate the tenor of the rest of your post, in that belief in scriptural authority that does not result in commitment and obedience to Jesus Christ, is counterproductive.

You're welcome here any time. Thanks for your contribution to the discussion!