Weizenfeld mit Sonnenuntergang

The Canon – Part 9: Inspiration

By Christian

“The Bible is inspired by God.” What exactly is meant by this? Does it refer, for example, to 2 Timothy 3:16? Whereby, then the quoted text would already have been decisively changed, because it does not speak of ‘the Bible’ there. In part 2 we had already talked about texts like 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is inspired by God”. And in both Part 2 and Part 8 we talked about the facts that show that the authors of the New Testament autographs meant by ‘Scripture’ what is called the Old Testament. However, as time went on, the writings of the New Testament were held in higher esteem by Christians, and today many feel the same way about the New Testament as well. And so it happens that many make no distinction between the Old and New Testaments on the subject of inspiration.

Conservative evangelical theologians, for example, have formulated their conviction in the so-called Chicago Declaration (Wikipedia) in this way:

„A short statement: 4. Being wholly and verbally God-given, Scripture is without error or fault in all its teaching, no less in what it states about God’s acts in creation, about the events of world history, and about its own literary origins under God, than in its witness to God’s saving grace in individual lives.“

„Article VI: We affirm that the whole of Scripture and all its parts, down to the very words of the original, were given by divine inspiration.“

Chicago statements, 1978

The problem with such claims is that they are still too imprecise, contain many assumptions implicitly, and are very general.

For example, one problem with the first sentence of this statement is what is meant by ‘the Scriptures’. Does it mean the text you read in one of your German translations? Or the autographs (called original there), which we can infer from the second sentence? But what significance then remains if we look again at the diagram from the first part?

What else would have to be true for this idea of inspiration to be useful to us?

Whether the text in the autographs is inspired by God down to the individual words and free of errors, we cannot check, because (a) no autograph has been preserved and (b) we would have to compare its text with God’s thoughts.

For this, God would also have to have prevented any falsifying human influence of the writer or also of the one who dictated.

But this is of no use to us yet, because we only have a translation of a text into a completely different language and culture, which was reconstructed from very many, quite different manuscripts, which the church had included in the canon and which was copied again and again.

So, in order for this absolute statement to make sense to us, God would have to have controlled all the other steps quite equally.

But there were many unintentional as well as intentional changes to the text in the manuscripts. And different translations use different words – are they all literally chosen by God?

For example, did Jesus say this very thing in the Sermon on the Mount?

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3 BSB

So these English words, of course, not. By the way, this translation uses completely different words:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3 NLT

Since he did not say these or the other words in English, that would be an inspired translation at best. But these words, perhaps:

Μακάριοι οἱ πτωχοὶ τῷ πνεύματι, Ὅτι αὐτῶν ἐστιν ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν.

Matthew 5:3 Berean Greek New Testament 2016

But possibly not even these are inspired words, because the Gospel of Matthew, according to some church fathers and also scholars, was written in a Hebrew dialect, more precisely probably Aramaic.

And what about this passage?

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:38 NIV

If we have a literal inspiration, did the teacher of the law or Jesus say it exactly like that? In Greek! I wonder if the Jewish teacher of the law spoke Greek or Aramaic with Jesus? Ok, so the literal inspiration probably does not refer to the words spoken in reality, but at most to the form of the quotation. Did God want to make sure that at least the representation is exactly as he wanted it, even if it is not exactly what had been spoken?

But let us also compare these parallel texts in the synoptic gospels:

And Jesus answering said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation
Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν Ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη

And answering him He says, “O unbelieving generation!
Ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς αὐτοῖς λέγει “Ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος,

And Jesus answering said, “O unbelieving and perverted generation,
Ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν “Ὦ γενεὰ ἄπιστος καὶ διεστραμμένη,

Matthew 17:17, Mark 9:19, Luke 9:41 Berean Literal Bible, Berean Greek New Testament 2016

What did Jesus really say at that time? Only unbelieving generation? Or did he also call them perverted? So the literal inspiration cannot have reproduced verbatim the actual wording. But that the literal inspiration was used by God to write down exactly what should be written instead of the spoken word, cannot be the case either. After all, there are two different versions! And this is only one example, which a synoptic comparison brings to light.

Am I just being petty now and looking for the proverbial fly in the ointment? No, because the rather broad statement was that God “completely and literally” inspired the text. And if you set the bar that high, then the text must be measured against those claims. Now, is there a problem in the text of the New Testament, or not rather with the claims made about the text?

Next problem. An analysis of the text shows that different vocabularies and writing styles were used. But if God inspired the words exactly, why does God use different writing styles and vocabularies in the texts, creating the impression of different human authors? That would almost border on deception. It would be misleading in any case.

And while we’re on the subject of the Gospels: Is this a literally inspired account of the life and teachings of Jesus. No! After all, there are four in the canon – which differ from each other, especially John. But is each one literally inspired by God? This has been a concern for Christians since the first century. There will be a separate video on this.

And one more thing. If God so precisely planned and literally inspired the text and canon, why do it in a way that rather suggests the opposite? I well remember that every Jehovah’s Witness ‘Bible study aid’ failed to do exactly one thing: look at the New Testament verse by verse from beginning to end. Every such textbook – not just those of Jehovah’s Witnesses – does something quite different: it arranges things thematically. Why is the supposedly literally inspired text of the New Testament not written that way? In the Old Testament you can see that this is possible: When God wants to say how people should live according to his covenant, what does he do? He starts with the most important thing: Himself. See Exodus 34:6,7. Then 10 commandments (Ex. 34:28), then the laws (Leviticus). Who orders the world? Genesis (Genesis). Why does it look different? Genesis (Genesis). Why a covenant with us, the Israelites? Historical account in Genesis (Genesis).

After all, a new era has begun with Christ. Is there anything comparable? Not really. Or it is very, very short: Matthew 22:37-40 “With these two commandments all is said that the law and the prophets will.” And what about the rest? Life of Jesus, history of Jesus’ first disciples, letters of current occasion to certain assemblies. General exposition of the faith. And a revelation. That this is not a thematically ordered law or textbook is already evident from the fact that in discussing practically every doctrine, verses from the most diverse parts of the New Testament must be brought together.

And there is another difficulty with the statement that the New Testament is literally inspired by God with the help of the Holy Spirit of God. For John makes it sound like this:

“There is so much more I [Jesus] want to tell you, but you can’t bear it now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.

John 16:12-15 NLT

So, in reality, what the Spirit of Truth makes clear to the disciples later comes from Jesus? Not from God at all? At least that’s how it sounds in the revelation attributed to John:

The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John,

Revelation 1:1 ESV

However, the spirit of truth is not mentioned here, but the message is delivered by an angel. And as we had already seen in Part 2 – Addendum, it even says that John should write down the words. Did then only during the writing down God’s spirit – the spirit of truth – provide for the literal inspiration?

However, many others translate John 16:14 more literally:

He will glorify Me, for He will take from that which is Mine and will disclose it to you.

John 16:14 Berean Literal Bible

This already does not sound as if Jesus gives the words to the Holy Spirit. Which brings us back to the topic of literal inspiration and translation.

Well, with this we see the true extent of the problem of literal inspiration: If one confronts this idea with the facts, it has to be retracted more and more. This gives the impression that all that is needed is more facts to disprove this claim altogether, and this then settles the issue of the Bible for many. In this case, it may start with the statement that the Bible is inspired down to the words and without error. If with it the Bible is meant, as we or others had it in the past, then these texts would have to have been copied exactly. Then comes the reference to the many deviations in the manuscripts. And already this sentence must be softened somehow. And so it goes on.

We want to proceed the other way around, and work out a statement that is supported by facts and does not need to be changed so quickly (the arguments are taken in part from Michael S. Heiser The Naked Bible’s Thoughts on Inspiration, Part 1 and Following):

The word translated as inspired θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) occurs exactly once in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16. In 2 Peter 1:21 a very different word φερόμενοι (pheromenoi) is used. What could inspired θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) mean?

  • θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) states that God was the immediate source.
    Thus, he must have dictated or implemented every word into the mind of the writer. No word must have sprung from the mind of the author.
    This is similar to what many evangelicals think, as quoted at the beginning.
  • θεόπνευστος (theopneustos) states that God was the ultimate source.
    Humans were the immediate source.
    God chooses people. Rarely does he actually tell them exactly what to pass on. But the norm is that people choose the words – under God’s supervision.

In the German literature, these three terms are used (see, for example, ERF Die Bibel als Gottes Wort (The Bible as God’s Wor):

  1. The verbal inspiration: Not only the content contexts and the authors of the Bible are inspired by God, but also the words themselves. The entire Bible is understood as the perfect, error-free and authoritative word of God.
  2. The personal inspiration: Here the author of a biblical book is filled with God’s spirit. God made him able to say something about God or faith without everything he writes having to be perfect. The person is inspired and not necessarily the entire content of his message.
  3. Th ‚real inspiration‘ (German Realinspiration): In this model, it is the broad thematic contexts of a biblical book that are inspired, not the author or the wording. What is not central to faith is not necessarily inspired by God’s Spirit.

The problem with verbal inspiration is that, on the one hand, we cannot check it at all because we do not know the autographs and also do not know what God wanted to write. On the other hand, it is of no use to us if we cannot read and understand the text in the languages of the autographs with the cultural background of the time. As soon as a translation is available, the choice of words of the translators would have to be subject to a verbal inspiration. And what if two translations have chosen different words? Are then both literally inspired? We see that already in the translation one must extend the idea of a verbal inspiration.

Verbal inspiration corresponds to the thought of an immediate source and personal as well as ‘real inspiration’ to the thought of an ultimate source. God is the ultimate source because, for example:

  1. He created the human beings.
  2. It was his idea to reveal something to us.
  3. Carefully selected people and used or created the circumstances to create the writings.

God as the ultimate source also explains much better why the texts of the Bible themselves had different vocabularies, writing styles and complexity in about the same time. If God dictated every word or placed it in the minds of the authors, why would He have gone to all this trouble? To make it seem somehow human, when it was supposed to contain only his words?

Let us also remember 1 Corinthians 7:12 “But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother …“ (NASB). Do the words after this come from God or from Paul? And if they had been the Lord’s words, would they have been God’s words implanted in the mind of the Lord? That was not necessary at all, because Jesus often enough emphasized how similar he is to his Father. When Jesus spoke, it was in complete harmony with God’s thoughts. And shouldn’t this also have been possible with Paul, with the help of the Holy Spirit, without putting every word into his mind and pen. After all, this was not the case with his lectures either. And did Paul say something ‘wrong’ there?

The God who is thus the ultimate source of the text is much greater and more ‘omnipotent’ than one who dictates every single word as the immediate source. Word-for-word dictation can even each of us. Anyone who believes that God guided the development of the canon should have no problem with the fact that He, as the ultimate source, also so guided the development of the text.

In principle, he probably did it with the prophesying and writing as he did with the craft work with these two:

Then Moses said to the Israelites, “See, the Lord has chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and he has filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills— to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of artistic crafts. And he has given both him and Oholiab son of Ahisamak, of the tribe of Dan, the ability to teach others. He has filled them with skill to do all kinds of work as engravers, designers, embroiderers in blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen, and weavers—all of them skilled workers and designers.

Exodus 35:30-35 NIV

Does that sound like God dictated stroke by stroke and every hand movement and word into their minds? Sounds more like an intelligence and talent amplifier, what the Spirit of God is doing here.

Let’s come back to 2 Peter 1:20:21:

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:20,21 ESV

How must we imagine that prophets „were carried along φερόμενοι (pheromenoi)“. This word contains the idea of carrying, bringing forth, advancing something. When used in connection with intelligent people as in Mark 1:32; 7:32, it never eliminates or manipulates the sense of the person, but simply takes someone where. 2 Peter 1:21 conveys the idea that God caused the prophets to speak and write – as the ultimate source – using their own words. Not that he controlled their meaning and writing hands on every word.

Do you still think that God dictated the scriptures word for word? Then you must also assume that He also remote-controlled those like robots who revised the scriptures. Revised the holy scriptures? That can’t be true! If that is part of your view of ‘inspiration’, then it is also a part that is contradicted by the facts. Even by the text itself! Here are a few examples from the Old Testament, that is, what were ‘the scriptures’ for the writers of the New Testament.

  1. Deut. 34:1-12 “So Moses the servant of Yahweh died in the land of Moab, as Yahweh had said, and he buried him there in the valley opposite Beth-peor. To this day, no one knows where his grave is. Moses had lived to be 120 years old. His eyesight had not diminished and his strength had not waned.”
    How could Moses have written this? Or did God use him to write it during his lifetime?
  2. Genesis 14:14 “Now when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his 318 tried servants who were born in his house and pursued those as far as Dan.
    In the time of Abraham there was neither the tribe nor the city of Dan. But Moses wrote that and knew it! Only Judges 18:29 tells us that Moses couldn’t even know the city by that name yet: “And they called the name of the city Dan, after the name of Dan their father, which was born unto Israel: whereas formerly the name of the city was Laiish.”
  3. “Until that day” is often a reference to a later revision of the text. For example, in Deut. 10:8, “In those days the LORD set apart the tribe of Levi to bear the ark of the covenant of the LORD, to stand before the LORD to minister and to bless in his name until that day.”
  4. Ezekiel 1:1-3 “And it came to pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth ⟨month⟩, on the fifth of the month; when I was in the midst of the wayfaring men by the river Kebar, that the heavens were opened, and I saw appearances of God. On the fifth of the month-that is, the fifth year ⟨after⟩ the going of King Jehoiachin-the word of the LORD came expressly to Ezekiel the son of Busi the priest in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Kebar; there the hand of the LORD came upon him.”
    Did we notice the change from the first person ‘I’ in verse 1 to the third person ‘Ezekiel’ ‘him’? There is a lot of that in the Old Testament.
  5. Psalm 72:20 “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse. (NIV)” Really? No, there will be some later. Then why does it say that? Because it was the end of ‘Book 2’ of the Psalms. After that, others were found. In some Bible translations one also finds the indication that with Psalm 73 ‘book 3’ begins.

There are other examples from Isaiah or various versions of the book of Joshua (See Michael S. Heiser’s blog) or Jeremiah (See blog).

And what does that mean now? Is the Bible now inspired by God word for word? Yes or no? The answer is: This question does not lead very far. After all, we have already seen some evidence that the answer must be no. In this extreme form, we need to shorten the sentence from the first part even further:

“The Bible is God’s Word, the Holy Scriptures, fully inspired by God (dictated word for word) and thus contains exactly what God intended. It has been preserved for us to this day exactly as the Bible itself says so, every book, paragraph, sentence, word, comma and period.”

And while we are at it, it is actually not the holy scriptures, but holy writings. And it’s not really the Word of God, because in the Gospels, for example, the words of the devil in the temptations are also written down. But we will talk about that in the next video, part 10.

Ok. Can it be that these explanations have made you a little – let’s say – ‘nervous’? Make you afraid? Or maybe you react more in the direction of ‘aggressive’: “This can’t be true. This is just undermining my faith!” Another typical reaction is flight: None of this matters. The main thing is that we all love each other. But then Matthew 22:37-40 would be quite enough, Jesus’ summary. Why then 140,000 more words in the New Testament canon? I guess we can’t just brush aside the text and its challenges that easily after all. For better or worse, we will have to deal with this issue further. At least, if we want to base our faith and ideas on the facts – and not on our wishes or handed down ideas.

And that is why in the next part we have to deal with such common terms as ‘the Holy Scriptures’ or ‘the Word of God’, because a whole set of assumptions and ideas are unconsciously connected with them.

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