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Christian beliefs; biblical inerrancy

Did the Holy Spirit inspire the Bible's
authors to write without any errors?

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Definition:

bullet"With regard to the Bible, inspiration denotes the doctrine that the human authors and editors of canonical scripture were led or influenced by the Deity with the result that their writings many be designated in some sense the word of God." 1

Overview:

Inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible are two closely related concepts:

Historically, Christians have generally believed the entire Bible to be inerrant -- free of error -- in the books' original, autograph versions. However, the entire Bible was written by a group of very human authors. The only way in which fallible humans could have written so much inerrant text would have been for them to have been inspired by God. Given biblical inerrancy, one can assume that God must have overseen the creation of the Bible's text in some way, and pro-actively prevented the authors from committing any error.

Fundamentalists and other Evangelicals Christians still follow the traditional belief. Liberal Christians have generally abandoned belief in both inerrancy and inspiration of the Bible. Instead, they analyze the Bible as a historical document using techniques of "higher criticism."

References to inspiration in the Bible:

In the Gospel of John, Jesus is recorded as referring to scripture as being fixed -- presumably because it comes from God:

John 10:35 "If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken..." (KJV)

The Book of Acts refers to God speaking through the mouth of David:

Acts 4:24-25: "...Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is: Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?"
(KJV)

Paul describes the process of inspiration by the Holy Spirit in one of his Epistles:

1 Corinthians 2:9-13: "But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: ...Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual." (KJV)

Paul refers to the Hebrew Scriptures as the "word of God," not of men:

1 Thessalonians 2:13: "For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe."
(KJV)

A key proof text used by conservative Christians to support their belief in inspiration is in one of the Pastoral Epistles. It states that all of the Scriptures are "theopneustos" in the original Greek -- "breathed out by God:"

2 Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." (KJV).

A second popular verse which supports the concept of inspiration is in one of the General Epistles:

2 Peter 1:20-21: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. (KJV)"

The 2 Timothy verse was written circa 64 CE by Paul, according to most conservative Christians or circa 100 to 150 CE by an unknown author, according to most liberal theologians. The 2 Peter verse was written circa 67 CE by Peter, according to most conservative Christians or circa 125 to 150 CE by an unknown author, according to most liberal theologians. The remaining citations listed above were also composed in the first century or the first half of the second century. All were written centuries before the canon of the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) was officially established. Still, the word "scripture" in these passages is now generally interpreted by conservative Christians to refer to the entire Bible -- Hebrew Scriptures and Christian Scriptures combined.

Types of inspiration:

Various Christian groups have different beliefs concerning the mechanism by which  inspiration took place:

bullet"Automatic writing" theory: The Oxford Companion to the Bible states that Philo of Alexandria (20 BCE to 40 CE) "proposed what might be termed the 'mantic theory' of the inspiration of the scriptures, in which the human author becomes possessed by God and loses consciousness of self, surrendering to the divine spirit and its communicatory powers." 6 This is not a popular belief today.
 
bullet"Dictation theory:" This is the belief that the Holy Spirit pre-determined each word that the authors wrote. The "authors" were thus performing the function of a secretary. The words recorded are thus considered the actual, authoritative words of God. 1 The First Vatican Council of 1868-1870 reflects this point of view by stating: "they have God as their author."

Texas Pastor, Johnny Ramsay, writes that the Scriptures "contain the very words (not ideas, notions, advice or concepts) that the Almighty wanted mankind to clearly know. Holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. It was truly not the word of men but the Word of God!" 4

This belief is difficult to support, because a close reading of the Bible shows many different writing styles. According to most mainline and liberal theologians:
bulletThe book of Isaiah and the Gospel of John were clearly written by two authors.
bulletMuch of the Pentateuch is a combination of texts from authors who followed four different traditions.

Paul wrote with "long, complicated sentences,"  in a highly educated Greek style. Mark used "short, action-packed sentences," in a common form of Greek. 2 This is not particularly obvious in most English Bibles because translators have often homogenized the writing styles. But the writing techniques of the different authors is clearly seen in the original Greek texts.
 

bullet"Negative assistance" theory: Jacques Bonfriere (1573-1642)  suggested that the authors expressed their thoughts in their own style and words, while the Holy Spirit only intervened asn needed, in order to prevent them from making any mistakes. There are many variations of this belief, called by various names, such as: Concept Inspiration, Neo-orthodox Theory of Inspiration, Partial Inspiration, Verbal Plenary Inspiration, etc. 3
 
bulletOther theories of inspiration include:
bulletThat the Holy Spirit provided the precise ideas, thoughts and concepts to the authors, who then wrote it down in their own words using their own writing style.
 
bulletThat the authors were inspired by the Holy Spirit so that their normal powers of observation and writing were heightened. They were thus able to describe their religious thoughts with greater accuracy than normal, but not to the level of inerrancy. The term Inspiration as Illumination has been used to describe this concept.
 
bulletThat God did not directly inspire the writers of the Bible. The texts are not inerrant, but were written by authors with a "high degree of religious insight." 3 They were inspired in the same way that great artists and musicians have been considered inspired.

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Beliefs of Jews concerning the Hebrew Scriptures:

The famous Hellenistic Jewish theologian and philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, referred to the Hebrew Scriptures as: "sacred books", "sacred word", and of "most holy scripture." 5

Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-95 CE) is believed to have been the first to use the word "inspiration" (in Greek: epipnoia) to refer to the Hebrew Scriptures. 7 According to New Advent:

"He speaks of twenty-two books which the Jews with good reason consider Divine...The belief of the Jews in the inspiration of the Scriptures did not diminish from the time in which they were dispersed throughout the world, without temple, without altar, without priests; on the contrary this faith increased so much that it took the place of everything else." 7

Beliefs of liberal Christians:

Liberal Christians generally reject the concepts of biblical inerrancy and inspiration. They view the Bible as a collection of books written by religious, military, and political leaders whose purpose was promote their own beliefs or the beliefs of their faith group. They see concepts in the Bible that violate contemporary religious and secular ethics. Examples are mass murders and genocides; oppression of women; acceptance of human slavery; torture of prisoners, murder of non-combatants, rape, execution of religious and sexual minorities; polygyny, owning of concubines, burning some prostitutes alive; executing brides who were not virgins, etc. They feel that there is so much material in the Bible that is obviously opposed to the will of God, that the concept of inspiration is untenable.

Can the God's inspiration of the Bible be proven?

At least three proofs have been offered to prove that the Bible could not have been written by humans without the direct inspiration of God. Needless to say, none have been accepted by religious liberals or secularists:

bulletProphecy: Various modern-day writers have counted many hundreds of prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) alone. Conservative Christians generally state that all of the 200 or so prophecies in the  Hebrew Scriptures that foretold the life of Jesus Christ came true; they had a 100% accuracy. Hundreds of other prophecies not related to Jesus have already come true. This could not have happened unless the authors of the Bible were inspired by God. But at lest one skeptic believes that not one "real" prediction has conclusively come true. He has very stringent rules for what defines a "real" prophecy. He points out that the Jesus life story was written after the Hebrew Scriptures were completed. Thus, the writers of the Christian Scriptures could easily have created non-existent events in Jesus' life to match the prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures. 11
 
bulletBible codes: A research team at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, headed by Eliyahu Rips used a Equidistant Letter Sequence (ELS) analysis method to search for hidden Bible codes in the Book of Genesis. They found many names, birth dates and death dates imbedded in Genesis of famous Jews who lived millennia after the book was written. Other researchers examined the entire Pentateuch and found descriptions of recent world events and predictions in our future. At first, it appeared as if the codes were a positive proof of biblical inspiration. This belief is still being circulated as such a "proof." 10 What isn't being reported widely is that other researchers have found similar secret hidden codes in Moby Dick and various other long pieces of text.
 
bulletArchaeological data: In his book "The new evidence that demands a verdict," Josh McDowell quotes a number of archaeologists who maintain that biblical accounts are in total agreement with the archaeological record:
bulletNelson Glueck: "It may be stated categorically that no archaeological discovery has ever controverted a biblical reference."
bulletF.F. Bruce: "...it may be legitimate to say that archaeology has confirmed the New Testament record."

McDowell and others make the point that it is inconceivable that a book covering thousands of years of history could be this free of error unless it was written under the inspiration of God. However, religious liberals and secularists probably agree with the opposite conclusions of a growing group of biblical archaeologists like Philip Davies who wrote:

"The gap between the Biblical Israel and the historical Israel as we derive it from archaeology is huge. We have almost two entirely different societies. Beyond the name 'Israel' and the same geographical location, they have almost nothing in common."  9

It is doubtful whether religious conservatives and liberals will reach a consensus over the inspiration of the Bible soon.

Classroom video:

bulletBible.org maintains a theology program (TTP) which explains various historical beliefs from a conservative Protestant perspective. One free video is Session 6 - Inspiration of Scripture. See: http://www.bible.org/

References used:

  1. B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, "The Oxford Companion to the Bible," Oxford University Press, New York, NY, (1993), Pages 302 to 304
  2. "Is the Bible inspired? And what does that mean?," International Bible Society, at: http://www.gospelcom.net/
  3. M. J. Sawyer, "Theories of Inspiration" at: http://www.bible.org/
  4. Johnny Ramsey, "Precious Bible - Inspired, inerrant, infallible," Brown Trail Church of Christ, at:  http://www.btcoc.com/
  5. Philo of Alexandria, "De vita Moysis," iii, no. 23.
  6. Op Cit., B.M. Metzger & M.D. Coogan, Page 304.
  7. "Inspiration of the Bible," http://www.newadvent.org/ Replicated at: http://www.madrosc.com
  8. Josh McDowell, "The new evidence that demands a verdict," Nelson, (1999), Pages 61 & 62. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
  9. Philip Davies, "What separates a Minimalist from a Maximalist? Not much," Bible Archaeology Review, 2000-MAR/APR Vol. 26, #2, Pages 24 to 27; 72 & 73.
  10. F.L. Walker, "A whisper of thunder," at: http://www.godsbook.com/
  11. Tim Callahan, "Bible prophecy: Failure or fulfillment?," Millennium Press, (1997). Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store

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Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Author: B.A. Robinson
Latest update: 2012-AUG-01

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