A LOVE SUPREME

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If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Did God write the Bible?

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets in many portions and in many ways.

Hebrews 1:1


One question that has been rolling around in my mind for a while is whether or not it is appropriate to call God an "author" of Scripture. After all, God didn't actually put the pen to the paper. Furthermore, Scripture never calls God an "author." There is talk of inspiration, etc., but I don't believe the term "author" is ever used.

This passage in Hebrews opens up a labyrinth of hermeneutical possibilities. On the one hand it clearly points out the common sense notion that we have of the multiple authors and voices in Scripture. The written Bible is a composition of a variety of expressions and perspectives. It is diverse and far from monolithic.

In some cases God revealed a specific word through a prophet, presumably in a verbal way. These words were then repeated to the nation(s), and later written down as a testimony of God's spoken Word. In other passages God simply seems to be revealing through a poetic expression via the Psalms. Or he may use the historical account as a means of speaking Scripture. And, in a very rare case, God writes directly upon the stone and reveals his decalogue to Moses on Mount Sinai.

There is incredible diversity in Scripture, which raises the question of how God remains the "author" of all of these "various ways" spoken of in Hebrews 1:1. To call God an "author" in this sense seems vague and uninformative. And yet if God is actually speaking in all of these diverse scenarios then there is a sense in which each and every text is a creation of God's authority.

So, perhaps God did not speak in one, particular way. Perhaps the process of God's inspiritation of Scripture is as diverse as the Scriptures themselves.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

heres an interesting question:
Of all liturature, what isn't God the ultimate author of?

peace and grace,
sad

John said...

Of course "god" did not write the Bible. Please check out:
1. www.dabase.net/proofch6.htm#idol

ktismatics said...

First, though I occasionally appear as John on this blog, I'm not the same guy who wrote the immediately preceding comment.

When I was in seminary the exegesis profs certainly conveyed the idea that Scripture was "God-breathed." Though different writers might have used different styles, the content came from God directly.

I suppose it's plausible. Just as you can witness a physical event, so presumably could you witness God's thoughts: both rely on your ability to detect and interpret information coming from outside of yourself. Heck, God could tell you the very words to write, could he not?

Back in my day, the exegetical task was to get behind the text to the meaning, behind the signifier to the signified, behind the pointers to the reality being pointed at, behind the words to the Word. I understand that this sort of strong inspiration has been toned down. Can you tell me why? Guys like Gadamer were around when I was in school, but Scripture was regarded as a different sort of text than any plain old secular text. What happened?

ktismatics said...

Anonymous -- God finished the Creation on the sixth day. I think humans have to take responsibility for a lot of what's gotten created since then. I once had a similar conversation with a friend at a bar. "So did God create this Guinness I'm drinking?" I asked. "He sure did," my friend replied. Agreeing that he had made a fine job of it, we raised a toast to the Brewmaster and quaffed heartily.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Back in my day, the exegetical task was to get behind the text to the meaning, behind the signifier to the signified, behind the pointers to the reality being pointed at, behind the words to the Word. I understand that this sort of strong inspiration has been toned down. Can you tell me why? Guys like Gadamer were around when I was in school, but Scripture was regarded as a different sort of text than any plain old secular text. What happened?

Interesting question, and I'm not sure what happened. I'm not really up to date as much as I should be on the inspiration debate. And, to be honest, I don't know that it is a very live debate right now, except for the most hard-core Conservatives like Geisler who quit the Evang. Theol. Society because he believed that Open Theists (amongst other things) denied inspiration - despite their explicit claims to the contrary!

Interesting that you bring Gadamer into the discussion because from what I understand he believed that Scripture should be interpreted in a distinct way from other texts....not sure about what all was entailed in that for him....

The point at which I break from traditional conservatives is that I find it hard to conceive of inspiration as being a uniform process in light of the diversity of the texts. Calvin held to some form of the Dictation Theory in which the biblical writers seemed to be simply scribes jotting God's thoughts down....I think this is possible....but what of biblical poetry??? I'm simply undecided on the issue. A this point I just say "All Scripture is God-breathed."

Where do you stand? Do you still seek to get "behind" the text? Or have you moved from your seminary days?

ktismatics said...

Conservative exegetes are like scientists analyzing data; the Scriptural texts are the data. Conservative scientists too presume that the data function as pointers to the underlying phenomena that generated the data in the first place -- kind of like God generating the text flowing out of the writer's pen onto the page. It would be scandalous for a scientist to treat their data the way pomo exegetes do it. "The data don't really support my conclusions, but I can detect the truth behind the data." Yeah, right.

More later perhaps...

ktismatics said...

Suppose God is that little extra oomph that moves you from the mundane to the inspired. God isn't a person but a force. Or suppose God is an event: that experience of insight or transcendence that you describe later in words. Or suppose God never manifests himself in a single concentrated self but is always distributed across the entire collective of Israel/Church, occupying part of each individual's self, perhaps gradually coming into a unified presence over history.

There could be any number of theories of inspiration, I imagine. Once you get away from the dictation model, it starts getting harder to separate the inspired part from the all-too-human part of the text.

I personally tend to agree with Carson and the conservatives: once you move away from dictation and inerrancy, you're on the slippery slope to relativism, non-foundationalism, agnosticism. Where I differ from Carson is that I think that's a good thing [insert smiley face here].

Jonathan Erdman said...

I personally tend to agree with Carson and the conservatives: once you move away from dictation and inerrancy, you're on the slippery slope to relativism, non-foundationalism, agnosticism.

I've just never seen the support for this kind of argument: very unconvincing. I've also been very cautious of all "slippery slope" arguments as they often strike me as an excuse to not engage real issues.

The real issue that must be engaged with when thinking about a philosophy of Scripture is the very real presence of the human author. This is the reality that dictation theories do not seem to be able to adequately account for...at least as far as I have seen....

ktismatics said...

The presence of the human author is the real issue, I agree. The human author wrote the actual text. The question is: how do you distinguish the human's thoughts from God's? I don't think you can, in any absolute sense. You have to resort to presuppositions and the interpretive community and other intersubjective criteria. Now you've got the same problem as before, shifted from the individual writer to the collective readership: how to distinguish the hermeneutical movement of the Holy Spirit from groupthink and the movement of the herd?

If you can detect the presence of the human author in a Biblical text, why not just apply Occam's razor and declare that only the human author is responsible for creating the text?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
The question is: how do you distinguish the human's thoughts from God's?

But why do we have to distinguish the "thoughts" of the human author from the "thoughts" of God?

Can't we just say that the received text clearly contain human reflections, feelings, propositions, etc., but that this text was still "inspired" so that the end product (passed down from generation to generation) is the very text which God desired for the church community?

ktismatics said...

Okay, let's agree that in canonical texts the voices of God and man are commingled, and that the end result is what God wanted written. Now you're back to hermeneutics: what does the text say? You're not going to try to split apart the thoughts of God from the thoughts of man, because you accept all of it as God's thoughts. So you do a close reading, using grammar and syntax and all the exegetical tools at your disposal to arrive at the most accurate understanding of the meaning of the text itself.

Alternatively, you decide that canonical text doesn't record God's thoughts. Scripture commemorates an existential encounter between the writer and God, and the writer is describing and interpreting that encounter after the fact. The specific words and what they mean aren't the crucial thing. God was in the encounter, not in the words. Scripture becomes kind of a testimony to God's having worked in specific people's lives: historians, poets, prophets, proclaimers of wisdom. These people were recognized as having had powerful encounters with God, so we should read what they as human beings had to say.

Or, the words have iconic power. If you read and meditate on canonical Scripture, God speaks through those words directly to you. Reading Scripture becomes kind of sacramental. What's important is the personal encounter facilitated by the reading, not the understanding of the text that's conveyed. The writer is a sort of spiritual guide into the personal presence of God. It's through these mystical iconic encounters with the Spirit that the ancient and medieval exegetes got their spiritual readings of texts, I think. Some of them were recognized as being particularly adept at channeling through the texts into the presence of God, so their exegeses were revered as particularly inspired, almost on a level with the original writers themselves. Perhaps this is also where you are: the text becomes a kind of stimulus for your own mystical encounter with God.

Are there other options to consider? Which one would you stand behind?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Which one would you stand behind?

At the risk of sounding glib and cavalier I'm going to say that I stand behind all of them. I can see each scenario opening up the Word of God in a different way, and I don't know that I would want to exclude any of these approaches.

I see my own engagement with the text reflecting all approaches. Perhaps this is part of the "hermeneutics of jazz": The text is diverse and its function is diverse. Our hermeneutic, as such, reflects this diversity.

What do you think? Do you view this as simply a deflection of the issue/question?

ktismatics said...

I think that's fair enough. Does Scripture work any differently from jazz in this regard? I'm not being glib either by asking this question, nor am I trying to trap you.

Jonathan Erdman said...

...nor am I trying to trap you.

Well, that's too bad. I have always appreciated when people are trying to trap me: It makes me feel loved and wanted, secured and fulfilled...but enough about me...

Does Scripture work any differently from jazz in this regard?

I'm going to try to get around to posting on that essay this weekend. In short, I think much interpretation is like jazz, but some biblical interpretation is also like classical music: a set score that we more or less follow to the letter.

ktismatics said...

I look forward to reading your scripture-music analogy. But I'm also talking about jazz itself, or a movie, or a walk down the street. Presumably any phenomenon can be portalic, opening up a channel to a personal encounter with God. That doesn't make the phenomenon iconic or canonical, in the sense that there's anything intrinsically or permanently spiritual about it. The portalic transport mechanism happened to be triggered by a particular event in space and time. You can remember the encounter with God, but it's not appropriate to build a temple on the spot where it happened. Maybe Scripture is like that: a whole bunch of odes to previous portalic events that have been inappropriately enshrined.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ok, I think I see where you are coming from.

Personally, I would certainly want to preserve teh "portalic" aspect of Scripture that you speak of. This is particularly true of the narrative portions. We have an account of the lived, spiritual experiences of God's people as they embark on journeys of faith. We connect with these journeys as we "portal" into their experiences. This, I believe, is one of the major ways that believers are transformed.

By extension, this is often times how the community of faith transforms itself: Through fellowship we portal into the lives of others and are transformed.

But yet Orthodoxy has always still preserved something unique, distinct, and canonical about the Scriptures. One thing that comes to my mind is the authoritative nature of the canon. The Scriptures act as boundaries to prevent any relativistic free-fall: An authority to limit "endless play" (crf. the Smith's discussion of Derrida). So, from a practical perspective this authority seems necessary to preserve.

ktismatics said...

Preventing relativistic free-fall depends on the hermeneutic at least as much as on the text itself. Mythopoetic genre is a way of accounting for apparent errors in the early chapters of Genesis. What if the post-evangelicals decide that the cruelly barbaric warlike manifestations in the O.T. aren't compatible with Jesus' Father, the loving and forgiving God we've come to know. Other religions have warrior-gods; maybe the harsh O.T. passages were written in the warrior-god genre. The author was using the genre to illustrate the deeper point; namely, that Yahweh is stronger than all other gods and men.

By invoking genre it's possible to clean up the O.T. God without technically abandoning the authoritative Scriptures. What if, as Caputo says, the Gospel portraits of Jesus are parables, that all the purportedly historical life of Jesus bits shouldn't be taken literally?

Jonathan Erdman said...

By invoking genre it's possible to clean up the O.T. God without technically abandoning the authoritative Scriptures. What if, as Caputo says, the Gospel portraits of Jesus are parables, that all the purportedly historical life of Jesus bits shouldn't be taken literally?

Here's my problem with this: I don't see how you can dichotomize the genre from its historio-cultural setting. Genre is birthed from the historical settings and events of a culture and community.

So, in the case of the warrior-god genre we have a warrior motif because of the historical events of violence. Conversely, in our present culture - several thousands of years later - we aren't really comfortable with violence, and hence we would prefer to divorce the historical occurance of violence and simply extract the warrior motif as the meaning of the text.

I don't want to completely undermine Caputo (especially since I've never read the portion that you are referring to) because I do see some validity in it, but for me I would not try to "clean up" the canonical revelation. I've always thought God is big enough to handle any criticism people make against his Scriptures!

John said...

The Caputo book is The Weakness of God. I've read about a hundred pages, and in some ways I'd suggest the book be subtitled "The Weakness of Caputo." He's rather repetitive, and he often seems to rely at length on others' work. Still, the idea of God a weak force, an "even" rather than a person, is something worth considering for agnostic type. He does a treatment of Gen. 1 that more or less equates elohim's work with the impetus behind evolution. So I guess you could say his God isn't quite as weak as mine (insert smiley winky face here).

The idea of Jesus' life being an extended parable would I suppose be justified, and ironically so, by Jesus' extensive use of that genre in his own teaching. I think it's a weak case.

ktismatics said...

The word "even" in my last post should be "event." And that was me, ktismatics, posting as John. And what's with the use of "birthed" instead of "born"? I've seen it frequently lately: is it a sort of linguistic nod to folk language?

Jonathan Erdman said...

How, exactly, would we be able to hermeneutically "justify" reading Jesus' life as a parable? Sure, Jesus taught in parables, but all of what he did pointed to worship of himself. His egocentric demands for allegiance and authority would seem to direct the reader towards decision on the historical person. How would we treat Christs' exclusive truth claims and/or authoritative claims as mere parables???

ktismatics said...

Like I said, it's a weak case. Still, hypothetically, why couldn't parables point to God's claims to truth and authority? Christ used parables in this way: all of them are about the kingdom of heaven. I don't see how you figure the gospels pointed to worshipping Jesus, but that's a different topic altogether.

ktismatics said...

I forgot where you commented on the Flood: something related came to mind, so I'll stick it here. You said you thought the Flood could legitimately refer to all the "known world." Might the creation refer only to the known world too?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sure. In other words, the flood description is an eyewitness account of what the witness(es) sees: Water that covers "the whole world." Only "the world" is referring to the known world. Hence, I think a localized flood is still historically consistent with the Genesis historical account.

I think the same line of thinking holds true in Gen. 1-2 as well....as far as I can see....

John said...

That's very interesting.

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