A LOVE SUPREME

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Did God write the Bible?

Or, perhaps more to the point, Should we call God an "author" of the Scriptures?

Yes, that's a much better question.

Interestingly, enough, while many conservative Christians here in the U.S. of A. would adamantly affirm that God authored the Bible, the Bible itself doesn't really seem concerned to make the point. In fact, as far as I can tell, there is never a statement that identifies God as "author" of the Scriptures.

I remember a few years back in one of my seminary classes (at a very conservative seminary), we were in the midst of a class discussion. Someone referred to God as the "author" of Scripture. So, I casually asked the question, "Is God the author of Scripture." The class (including the Prof.) started laughing; they thought I was provided dry comedy relief, in the distinctive Erdman style. However, they quickly realized I was, in fact serious, and we continued with the discussion for only a short while longer. Most in the classroom quite obviously hadn't considered whether God should be considered an "author" of the Bible.

"But what about 2 Timothy 3:16, Jon!??! What about it??!! Huh! Huh!"

Yes, good friend. 2 Timothy states that all Scripture is theopneustos, meaning "God-breathed." So, what does that mean? Well, honestly, it isn't clear! This is the only instance the term theopneustos is used in the New Testament. It is obviously a metaphor, but a metaphor for what? Authorship? I don't know. I'm not convinced. That all Scripture contains a "breath" of God is one thing...to say that this means God had a hand in the writing process. I don't, friend. Should we stretch the term "breath" and look for an exhaustive definition? Or should we simply appreciate the ambiguity of a good metaphor?

Also, my good 2 Timothy 3:16 friend, bear in mind the context of the metaphor: the Bible has some good practical use. In other words, the idea of Scripture being breathed by God relates to its pragmatic value. I find the Scriptures far more useful when approaching them as a pluralistic perspective on life and faith.

What are the implications of dropping the idea that God is the "author" of the text. While I do not as of yet have anything resembling an exhaustive philosophy of the Bible to give you, there are a few points that seem rather clear to me.

First, let's say that the Bible is written by men. It is most naturally read as a conglomeration of diverse writings. "God-breathed," yes. "Written" by God....let's say "no."

Second, the Bible is highly contextual. It contains perspectives relevant to the issues that people faced in their day. So, for example, according to OT law, if a dude rapes a girl, his "punishment" is that he has to buy the girl and make her his wife. Well, for that day it was probably a good law, considering how badly women were treated. But by our standards today (according to our 21st century American context), this is a ridiculous law! The Bible deals most primarily (but certainly not exclusively) with issues closely related to the context of the day.

Third, the theology found in Scripture is highly pluralistic (even contradictory I would say, though some would disagree!). This third point kind of follows from the first two. One example of this seems to be the character of God. God might be unchanging according to one perspective in one book of the Scripture, but in another, he is shown to respond to what we do and even to change his mind.



Fourth, the Bible itself shows a movement and a progression. The most blatant example would obviously be the New Testament writers recontextualizing the Old Testament to better "fit" and to better understand the event of the coming of the Messiah. That is why some of the "proof texts" that you see in the NT don't seem to fit (at all!) the original context from whence they were plucked! The concern of the NT writers was to BOTH find continuity with the OT but to go beyond it and address the issues of their day and the new challenges and opportunities available to the faithful.

Fifth, in light of all of the above, I think that the point of reading and applying the Bible today is to recognize the need to continue to recontextualize the Scripture, to realize that the power of the written text is primarily to focus our attentions on the current day and to think critically about the unique issues and questions that we face. If there is a "constant" or an "absolute" in all of this, it would have to be the presence of the Spirit of God--the "living and active Word of God" as the book of Hebrews says.

To say that the text is "God-breathed" then, is not to say that it has all the answers to today's questions (evolution, abortion, homosexuality, women's rights and status, sexual ethics, pornography, etc.). The text is certainly a guide, and a very important one; but the primary connection is not to the text itself, but to the God of the text. Karl Barth said that the Bible is not the revelation of God but the record of the revelation of God. I kind of like that thought and approach. For Barth (and others), the Word of God becomes the Word of God as it is proclaimed in the contemporary context. The text, then, seems to become more dynamic.

What say you? What are the various implications if we drop the terminology of God being the "author" of the Scriptures?

36 comments:

Eve.........Interrupted said...

It has been a while since I have studied this question, and actually it just came up recently before this. Mostly due to watching the History Channel late at night, when I can't sleep. Such intriguing views on the Bible and it's truth vs. untruth, as well as mysterious books left out of the Bible as we know it today. Anyway, my take on the whole thing is that most of Bible as we see it today was "narrated" through the Spirit. The Spirit, the third part of the trinity, acted as the raconteur. He gave the various writers the words he wanted to become part of our lives. And, also has made it extremely important to keep it's original layout entact. I wonder if we haven't lost books along the way, but the text that is most commonly sold, no matter the version, has been around for hundreds of years. Like He has protected it. I think in a sense He is the author. But as God, being God, and not human in His Father God form, does not exactly write. He used men to write it, record it, protect it, and translate it, for thousands of generations.
I am also not completely convinced it was a metaphor. But that is because I believe that God speaks to us in many ways. His breath may not be the same as yours and mine, because we are in fact human. We are his breath. And the Spirit is very much like his breath. It is through His spirit that He speaks to our heart. I am not sure I would use metaphor as the word to describe it. But I am looking for a word... :)

The Spirit being the living and active word of God, can live in us, right? And we can write and breathe, right? So maybe it is through us that he does so. Does this make him less than an author?

I think He is the author. And the men were merely the tools used to write it down in human form for us to read.

As for it's context and what it means, I think that no matter what issue we face in our lives, relative to our day and age, the Spirit can and does lead us to relevant and applicable advice.

That's just my thought for now...

samlcarr said...

That's an interesting proposition Jon. My own take is that God has been (and is) interacting with humanity. I see more of the signs of that interaction in the biblical record than elsewhere, so I think the bible does contain evidence of God's interaction with humankind, though that certainly does not make God (except very indirectly) responsible for the contents of today's bible.

Ken said...

Given that I attend the "said seminary" and ascribe to most of what they teach*, then I am sure you can imagine what I would say. I do hold to a dual-authorship. Man, in the literal sense, did in fact write the Bible. That is why we can see them writing in specific situational and cultural contexts, along with the fact of commonality in vocabulary.

But it is also "God-breathed." As Eve.. noted, this is a figure of speech - anthropormorphism to be precise. God does not literally breathe, but it does provide a hint at how he does work in the formulation of Scripture. What we can say is that God was somehow involved in the composition of Scripture, and then placed his "divine seal of approval" upon it. This is why we can say in the same sentence "God said... Moses said..." The writer was penning words on God's behalf, with God's authority, even being directed by God, having God's approval. So the idea is that in some way these men were divinely inspired, and thus we can trust in what Scripture says.

Ken said...

*I'm still waiting to hear if they will teach that I must be baptized three times, or that I must wash my feet every time I take communion. Of these, among other "lesser" things, I continue to take issue with them on. If they ask me to sign any statement ascribing to those things, I will ask to have it be modified.

Jason Hesiak said...

Was Kaiser Sose the director of The Usual Suspects?

Eve.........Interrupted said...

I just remembered the description of what I believe God was doing when the Word was actually written....He had a ghostwriter type of way of writing it.
Sorry, it just came to mind, and have no more time to expand on that. Working hard today!

daniel hutchinson said...

Another good scripture in this regard is Isaiah 55:11.

New American Standard Bible (©1995)

So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it.

daniel hutchinson said...

Good to see you here again Sam and Ken! Been wondering about you guys!

daniel hutchinson said...

The other pertinent example of God's authorship is of course the life and words of Jesus, recorded as observed and heard in the Gospels. I don't think it is possible to talk about God authoring the Bible and ignore the central accounts of Jesus and his fulfilment of the law with the "new covenant".

Isaiah 59:21

"As for Me, this is My covenant with them," says the LORD: "My Spirit which is upon you, and My words which I have put in your mouth shall not depart from your mouth, nor from the mouth of your offspring, nor from the mouth of your offspring's offspring," says the LORD, "from now and forever."

Matthew 24:35
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away

My perspective is similiar to Sam, and that God continues authoring our lives today, the Holy Bible continues to be written in this sense and no "book" can contain it.

This is the concept of Aletheia, living a life of truth, living a "Bible".

daniel hutchinson said...

I think we must interrogate what is meant by "record".

The life and words of Jesus were recorded, and have been passed down to us in a book.

The life and words only become life to us when they are activated by the person of Jesus, who is alive to us and speaks to us through his Spirit.

It is a good thing Jesus never wrote his own auto-biography, or we would worship the artifact...

Of course, he was not illiterate: he debated with the scribes and priests in the temple at age 12!

But he chose to authorize others to write down the records... hence the Gospels, Epistles, Book of Acts etc.

Yes, Jon, you are right when you speak of a pluralistic Bible. God is a God of diversity, plurality and multiplicity, as He is Himself Trinity, and he desires a people of "every tribe and tongue". And just take a look at the 66 books of the Bible - a diverse collection, different accounts, different points of view, different styles. We need to celebrate this more.

Your point about quotes of the OT in the NT being taken "out of context" shows that the radicalization of context with Christ was so far reaching. This is waht needs to happen in our own lives for the Bible to make any sense and be of any benefit. Its not about literary criticism or textual commentary, but about going to Jesus.

Jesus has the eternal life, not the scriptures. He made this very clear to us. So saying that God did not author the Bible reveals some truth when you take away the shock value.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

Yes, I agree that the "Word" of God is greater than a text. "Living and active."

Jonathan Erdman said...

Jason,

I'm not familiar with the discussion (and/or debate) on who directed the Usual Suspects....sorry....as the Craig David song says, "can you fill me in?"

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ken,

I think the difficulty comes in describing how God "authored" the text without overriding the human element. For example, when I read Paul's letters to Timothy, it seems clear that Paul's mind and his concerns are made known. Also, Paul displays his own writing style, the language reflecting the human author.

In other words, it is clear on face value that Paul authored/wrote his letters, but it is less clear how God was also an "author" or "writer" at the same time.

Interestingly, I was browsing through Norman Geisler's theology on the Bible the other day and I did not see him claim that God was an "author" of the Bible. Maybe I just missed it; however, if Geisler--a rabid advocate of the evangelical view of inspiration/inerrancy--hesitates to use the term "author," then that's significant to me.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

There it is, the other word I have been looking for..."INSPIRED".

The Bible is Inspired by God. That is exactly how I would describe it to a T!

I do a lot of story telling and writing and Jon, I am sure you would agree with the following:
When you or I write, it is because we have been inspired by something to do so. To believe that we are just writing with no purpose or reasoning at hand is not accurate. We write down our opinions, our questions, our commentaries, and stories, because we are inspired.

In my blog it may look confusing and conflicting with the person I portray on the outside to most people. Those of you who read it are a select few who see the "inner-side" of my being, if you will. I write in there what I am inspired to write that day. Certain instances or issues arise during my day or week, that my heart or my mind or my soul conflicts with, and I am inspired to write it out, in hopes to share it with someone else for a greater good. I want people to read it to either question their own conflicts, or relate to some of my own. Essentially so that they know they are not alone. I also use it to subtly speak to certain people of interest, without challenging them face to face.

The Bible is like a book of inspired thoughts that inspires others with hope and peace. It is truly the guide you mentioned. It can be used in so many situations. It is a book of many stories that help us who read it, cope with things in our own lives...we know that we are not alone.

While I still believe that God is essentially the author, I think He used inspiration through the spirit and actual events to get his point across through people like Moses, David, Paul, John, etc. It is a record, but it is also one of the most read books of all time for a reason. It is His gift to us, and it took years to complete.

Another thought: The Bible as we know stop being "written" almost 2000 years ago. How is that "God's record" was deemed sufficient or complete at that point?

We have come a long way in printing books, via printing presses, typewriters, photo copies, and now computer based software. And as I was thinking about this, I wondered how it is that with the advances in printing, that the "Word of God" on paper just ceased to be added upon.
I wonder, and some of you may know the chronological order, but why is Revelation the last book of the Bible and was it the last one written? I know that I studied this at one time, but that was forever ago, and it seems as though it wasn't the last book written....so if that's true, why is it the end of "the book"??

Jason Hesiak said...

I'm not familiar with the discussion (and/or debate) on who directed the Usual Suspects....sorry....as the Craig David song says, "can you fill me in?"

lol i'm not familiar with any such debate, either. i just asked the question as a creative way to get the juices flowing. Kaiser Sose is in a way the main character of Usual Suspects. He's the hidden force, you could say, that makes everything go in that story. He is its beginning and its end. And the story is so well crafted that whoever the "literal" director is did a really good job of getting himself out of the way, and we are pretty much just left with the story, and in the end, with Kaiser Sose (everything I just said makes infinitely more sense if you've seen the movie). So it's being a good parallel to the Bible, I ask again: did Kaiser Sose direct The Usual Suspects? I think the question helps shine light on the question as to whether God is the "author" the scriptures.

:))

Ken said...

Daniel,

I've been around, just too busy to post anything. That and also sometimes you all tend to respond to me and others faster than I can read! I'll come back on here after writing something and there are already 10 to 15 other posts, and the discussion has moved on from where I was. It's hard to keep up with you all. :-)

Ken said...

Jon,

Interesting note about Geisler - I never picked that up, but I can see where both he and you are coming from, and I can honestly say I am probably not far from there either.

I would not say that God literally authored the Bible. But it is His theology and revelation that is behind what the human authors wrote. Thus, while the human authors were responding to particular situations, and it is their personalities that can be seen in the writing, God is the one who guided them in the writing process to ensure the words communicated something that was divinely correct. A sort of revelation/inspiration mix. So while it may be correct to say God did not author the Bible, He did authorize it, guiding the writing process and putting his stamp of approval upon it - thus giving it divine authority. This stamp, you might say, is granted through the work of the Spirit, bearing testimony that what Scripture teaches is true and authoritative.

Now, can this level of inspiration happen today? The Catholic Church obviously thinks so. And now it seems that progressive thinkers are inclined to say the same as well, yet many of them deny Papal teachings. If we can hold to both, how do we judge what is truth and what is not? There is some kind of disconnect happening in this ideal.

This is why I am hesitant to accept any kind of new revelation. I firmly believe the Spirit is now working in the area of illumination. As for inspiration, I guess it is possible, but if it contradicts Scripture in any way, then it must be thrown out. (But then again - could this not be only another form of illumination?)

An example did come to mind, limited as it may be. Picture God as a director of writing, and the actual writer acting as an amanuensis who had a fair amount of freedom in what he wrote. It still had to be approved by the directing author, but still contains the concerns and style of the actual writer. Not sure how far to take this, and I can see how it could easily be taken too far, but it is an idea.

samlcarr said...

I'm frankly quite skeptical about treating the whole of the bible as one 'book' authored by any one 'author'. In fact within the texts of the bible it does seem to me (AS A RANK AMATEUR) that there is evience for many human authors and editors working on any one of the 'books' of the bible.

I do agree wholeheartedly that as humanly confusing as the gospels can be, there is no doubt that Jesus shines through, perhaps all the clearer for all that confusion

Jonathan Erdman said...

Is it possible that all Scripture is "God-breathed," but that the God-breathed-ness varies?

The metaphor of Scripture being God-breathed is so ambiguous to me.

ktismatics said...

Thus saith Norman Geisler in his Christian Apologetics, p. 363:

Simply put: whatever God utters is true and without error. The original writings of the Old Testament are the utterance of God through men. Therefore, the writings of the Old Testament are the inerrant Word of God.

samlcarr said...

One way to get under the skin of this debate is to try to tackle head-on the parallel accounts in the bible, especially here the gospels, parts of the Pentateuch, and Chronicles-Kings-Samuel. Fascinating areas of study and would provide a touchstone of evidence against which any 'theory of inspiration' can be judged.

Eve...interrupted's idea of "ghostwriting" is a new one to me. How exactly is this supposed to work in practice? As with most real ghostwriting exercises, does the purported author just sign off on whatever the persons in the shadows actually do say 'on their behalf'?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Yes, Ktismatics, Geisler's theory of the text must fit into his larger apologetic and philosophical approach. Hence the Bible must be "true" (the definition of which will be determined by Geisler, of course!), regardless of whether it wants to or not!

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,

Most die hard inspirationalists (and especially innerantists) would reject the Ghost Writer theory, I think. I, on the other hand, think it may be a good explanation for certain parts of Scripture.

And, yes, studying the parrallel passages would be a good way to gauge a theory of inspiration, but I don't know that I've seen it done that way. The modus operandi for most theories of inspiration is to find proof texts to determine "what the Bible says about itself," and then formulate a theory. Whether or not a careful study of the text (on its own merits) and the parallel passages support the theory is usually a secondary matter. Sometimes it can correct a theory, but in practical use, most Christians (from profs. to pastors to laymen) fit the text into their pre-determined theory. At least, that's been my experience. The times they are a changin', though.

ktismatics said...

I agree on your evaluation of Geisler's method: very deductive logic oriented, if A then B, if B then C, etc. etc. I think I mentioned previously that I took Geisler's apologetics class at Trinity. He taught the same way as he writes, but he was quite engaging and entertaining the way he went about it. One of my favorite seminary classes on sheer performance value.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Geisler is definitely an evangelical hardliner. As I understand it, he resigned from the Evangelical Theological Soceity after they voted to allow the Open Theist folks to stay in the club. I believe the actual issue was that Geisler and some of his ilk felt that Open Theism necessarily entailed a denial of a rigorous view of inerrency/inspiration...and this despite the fact that Open Theists explicitely refuted such charge.

Eve.........Interrupted said...

Sam
" How exactly is this supposed to work in practice? As with most real ghostwriting exercises, does the purported author just sign off on whatever the persons in the shadows actually do say 'on their behalf'? "
(I still cannot get the italics thing to work...some help please, LOL)

I do believe this to be so. While they might not have realized that is what they were doing, while most ghostwriters do know. I wonder if he many writers of the books of the Bible knew that God was goingto use their writing in the actual book itself.
I also wonde how many other writing and letters were not included.

Jon,
I am on whole other rhelm of thinking with this subject you brought up. I mean to say it really has me questiong the Bible as a whole. Where it came from, what part God had to do with it, where all these stories and letters and poems were compiled, and who had the last saying saying it was "done". I feel like doubting Thomas today.
The problem, we only "know" what we have been told, not necessarily what has been researched. And most people, frankly, don't research it. That is why I love your blog. You bring up what most "christians" dare not talk about, and just take for granted because they were taught that "it was just what we believe, etc."
I still think it goes back to a faith thing, but I think sometimes you have to question it, so you know why you believe, why you have faith.

samlcarr said...

Eve, (if I may shorten your nomen to this) the italics thing is easy enough, you put this < (and then) i (then) > together just before what you want to emphasize [take out the spaces < i > ]then the same thing at the end but with a backslash '/' before the 'i' like this [ < / i > ]. Why not try looking at the page's source code (in explorer that's in the "view" pulldown menu) when you wonder how things are done - its the easiest way to learn how to use html.

I think its great to ask questions, especially when folks give you that "what sort of a heretic are you?" look, and that itself is a clue that you're getting at something where hand-waving takes over where logic, and particularly evidence cannot lead.

I don't know that God loves me "because the bible tells me so" I know it because I have met God - and She/he hardly resembles a lot of what the bible does make Him/her out to be.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Eve,

I think another important part of the conversation is to ask how our view of Scripture changes our relationship with and to God, with and to ourselves, and with and to others.

Many conservative Christians in the 20th century were taught that if they didn't believe in some very robust theory of inspiration/inerrancy, then they didn't have faith. The argument tends to run like this: your faith in the divinity of Scripture indicates the strength of your faith. Put another way, if you have any doubts about the divinity of Scripture or if you have any doubts about the accuracy of Scripture, then you should call into question your whole faith.

So, I think that as a result many people either stopped using their minds to think through Scripture, or they just up and left the church because the Bible just didn't make sense when it was presented as a Magic Book. (And we wonder why the church is so complacent? Or why the young are leaving in masses?)

But it's unfair to say this. It's unfair to say that there are some areas that cannot be questioned just because the institutional church says so. That makes us all intellectually stagnant. It is just wrong, in my view, to randomly say that an issue that is important to people should be accepted without question.

I think that our faith in the text has little to do with our faith in God. The text is words....good words....but just words. It is only the living and dynamic Word of God--that can never be contained in written words--who can bring transformation, healing, and new birth to a broken world.

daniel hutchinson said...

Jon, in my neck of the woods, young people are joining the church in masses, not leaving.

(myself included).

Eve raised an interesting point about authors of the Bible not knowing if their work would be included in the Bible or not.

Over-simplfying, the Jewish people had the Torah, written by Moses, as their Bible (the "law"), and the Talmud was an open ended collection of books that would be studied in the synagogue.

The modern Bible was chosen by Church fathers, combining the Torah, Talmud (in Greek translation), and selected Gospels, letters of the apostles etc.

So no-one would have necessarily known that there would be ultimately this collection of 66 books called the Bible per se.

However it is interesting to consider for eg. the case of Jeremiah, whom God instructed to "take a scroll and write down the vision", (Jeremiah 36:2), and it is interesting that Jeremiah was the only prophet speaking the truth (impending destruction) while all the others where preaching peace and prosperity.

Presumably those other good time prophets in the time of Jeremiah were also writing scrolls and books, but their words were proved wrong by subsequent events, and so would not included in the collection of "inspired writings".

Eve.........Interrupted said...

I take the Word of God to be truth and believe that however it came to be, it is what God intended for us to read and hear, live by, and believe. I have questioned a lot of things though, merely because i am trying to look through the eyes of someone who has no idea what they believe, as if I were to have no faith at all. Essentially, I want to know why I should make this my belief. I want to step outside the box for a moment and answer myself why I believe it. If in the end all I have is faith, then there is a basis for it. Questioning God as the author is legitamate question, and even though I have taken it by faith, it is good to know the reasons for that faith.
But I also must realize that I have faith through the Spirit. So even when I don't understand or a question is left unanswered, it is then that I take that "leap of faith" and just believe.

Sorry...if this makes no sense....I am on my lunch break. And my thoughts may be redundant or scattered. But hopefully it makes some sense.

daniel hutchinson said...

I think what is also very striking about the Bible is the prophetic aspect.

Many books in the Bible are included for their prophetic nature, and this is directly from God. In this sense, God is the author, because man is not capable of knowing the future, only God is.

For example, a book such as Daniel would probably not be in the Bible if it were just about the lion's den and the fiery furnace, there are many of these kinds of stories in books that were not chosen for the Bible (some made it into the apocrypha).

The book of Daniel and so many others like it is there because of its true prophetic character, which also proves it is of God. This could be only be compltely seen after Christ was revealed, because much of the prophecy concerns God's Kingdom which Jesus ushered in.

For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. (Revelation 19:10)

Jonathan Erdman said...

2 Peter 1:21
"For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."

Jason Hesiak said...

hey...uuhh...prophecy ain't just about telling the future. but that doesn't make it any less...from God...

Jonathan Erdman said...

Tis a good point, Jason.

daniel hutchinson said...

Yes Jason I agree that prophecy is not just about telling the future, 100%, and was thinking of that too. Plus with God, what is the future? It is all present to Him coz He is beginning and end.

I was highlighting the aspect of "future" from a human perspective as evidence in the Bible for God's authorship. With books with far-reaching prophecy like Daniel, you either believe it to be truly inspired by God or else to be fake (i.e. as so many scholars claim it written after the fact) because of the future prophecy being so accurate.

Jon, nice scripture from Peter.

daniel hutchinson said...

Another prophetic book that made it into our Bible is Jonah, and I'm thinking that this is primarily because Jesus referred to the sign of Jonah and was in the grave for 3 days just as Jonah was in the belly of the fish.