Why I Believe the Bible Has Been Given By Inspiration (Intro)

Diglot recently asked about the nature of the Bible on his blog.  More so than answering the question about the Bible’s nature he raised a number of other questions about the canon of Scripture.  For him it’s futile to even ask about inspiration before answering what books we should be considering in the first place.  I noted a contradictory position (which is consonant with my own) that inspiration is a factor in canonization so it makes all the sense in the world to discuss inspiration prior to canon.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.  Diglot asked me why I believe the Bible is inspired and I want to take a couple of posts to lay that out.  I don’t know how many posts I’ll write or how long it will take me to write them so until the series really gets fully underway here’s my short answer:

  1. I believe Scripture to be inspired because Scripture claims it of itself.
  2. I believe Scripture to be inspired because the Church of which I am a part has always believed it to be.

So my belief is based on both Scripture itself and the Church’s tradition.  The plan is to engage some epistemological issues and discuss my foundational presuppositions.  I’d also like to give an overview of the Church’s belief concerning Scripture’s inspiration throughout history by pointing to the writings of some of its most prominent theologians.  And of course I want to examine some of the claims made about the Scriptures in the Scriptures.

N.B. that when I announce a series I rarely ever complete it.  I hope that this will be different though!




21 thoughts on “Why I Believe the Bible Has Been Given By Inspiration (Intro)

  1. N.B. that when I announce a series I rarely ever complete it. I hope that this will be different though!

    Ha! I know what you mean!

    Thanks for doing this. Hopefully what you say will help me come to a more definitive understanding in my mind concerning the nature of the Bible.

  2. This should be fun. I’ll try to comment when given the chance as well, but anything Ill say was already said by J.I. Packer. I recently saw that the CS Lewis foundation has audio files for free at their website of Packer lecturing on this subject.

  3. T. C.: Yes sir and my epistemological views will become clear very soon.

    Diglot: I don’t know that I’ve ever actually done a series I said I was going to do. All the series I’ve done have just been done with no announcement. In any event, I hope this does help you to sharpen some of your views on the subject.

    Kyle: Awesome! Your insight would be greatly appreciated.

  4. One thing you’re going to find is a remarkable lack of concern with “inspiration” in discussion of Scripture, and in particular the Biblical canon, until the sixteenth century. The two were not conceived as necessarily related by the Church Fathers. Some points to consider:

    1.) The Prophets and Apostles were inspired by, and their lives lived in, the Holy Spirit. The words of the books are records of their lives and that inspiration, but they are not inspired in themselves. How could and why would the Holy Spirit wish to indwell some ink on a page? The idea in itself is bizarre.

    2.) Authenticity is the key to canon formation. There are several stages of formation of the canon, both OT and NT, all relating to authenticity. First was the stage of recognition of a book as part of the heritage of Israel (Old or New): thus you find people taking up numerous apocrypha and pseudepigrapha without any second-guessing, because these genuinely did come from the circles of Israel and the Church. Then came a winnowing, in the face of pseudo-Christian heresies, in which Apostolic authenticity became the key to authority, and only those books recognized as authentically Apostolic (which is not to say “The Twelve”) were considered Scripture. At this stage, likewise, various OT- and NT-related pseudepigrapha were dropped from consideration as authoritative. That was in process during the second century, but really not completed until the end of the third. By the fourth century, the OT canon had been established with a core of generally recognized books (almost identical to the Hebrew canon) and those books approved for use in instruction (varying lists of the OT Apocrypha, “readables” in the language of the Fathers), and the 27 book canon of the NT almost universally recognized (only the Syrians held out initially for a 22-book NT canon, but even they eventually added the remaining five).

    3.) Then comes the modern period, with the Reformers advocating (based, inter alia, upon a selective reading of the Fathers) a particular set of criteria (their own!) which determine what is the canon, irrespective of the history of the canon itself. The shortcomings of self-willed innovation are clearly evident. But their approach still poisons the well this many centuries after them.

    For the Fathers, authentic meant authoritative because the Prophets and Apostles were considered inspired in a particularly complete and intense way, a way no longer available to us, by God the Holy Spirit. That’s the consistent subtext of the recognition of the authority of these books. But the problem is that this is nowhere spelled out explicitly, although an important distinction remains that inspiration is nearly never mentioned directly in relation to books. And that is for the reason that a book cannot literally be inspired, only its author can. It is only in correlation to the understanding that the author was himself inspired that the books may be considered inspired. It may seem like nitpicking, but it is not. It is a crucial distinction, one which belies the importance of recognizing these texts as the products of a community (The Church of the Old and New Testaments, as the Fathers call it–one continuum of belief in God), and of the readers recognition of them as being within that community: tradition. A belief that ink on a page is somehow inspired can and does lead to the belief that it is a free agent, one independent of its originating community, and so might the reader be. Nothing could be further from the truth. But I’ll leave it there.

  5. Kevin: My reading has suggested that the inspiration of the words (not the ink the words were written in) was taken for granted in discussions of canonization. It wasn’t a formal criteria like canonicity, catholicity, use, or apostolicity, but the presupposition underlying all of that. In other words, someone who was believed to not have been inspired by the Spirit writes a book, that book then is not considered a product of inspiration, that book then is not considered for canonization. But as I noted on Diglot’s blog, inspiration was (and is) attributed to plenty of people and their writings apart from works that made it into the canon. As I said to him, the issue isn’t inspired = canonical but canonical = inspired.

  6. I think inspired = canonical. I believe scripture is inspired because it is the means that God speaks to his people still after all these years. Scripture that continues to speak remains canonical. The canon is what the church points to as those scriptures that God has been speaking to the church through over all these years. Hope that makes sense.

  7. Bryan, your view on inspired = canon is the one I was brought up with. If Nick is correct with canon = inspired but that not all inspired is in the canon, then it seems to rely on the authentic apostolicity of the NT canon as being what separates the canonical inspired from non-canonical. However, the authentic apostolicity of the NT canonical books is something I am not overly confident in asserting.

  8. Bryan: That does make sense. I don’t limit inspiration to only those works that made the canon because historically the Church has recognized other writers and their writings to be inspired even if non-biblical.

    Diglot: What makes you uncomfortable about it?

  9. Nick, at what point does that become permenently the case, though? Even in Jude we find 1 Enoch authoritatively quoted and considered authentic and, by inference, inspired. But this was no longer the case in not too many decades. In that initial century or so of the Church, there was a variety accepted in a loose recognition of authenticity as originating within the respective groups of, for lack of better terms, “Old Testament Church” and “New Testament Church”. It was a relatively unsophisticated approach, but one that was quite accurate at the level it worked at. Eldad and Modad was indeed a product of Israel, just as Apocalypse of John was a product of the Church. As time goes on, in response to heretical forgeries and such, more accuracy was required, and recognition of Prophetic and Apostolic origin became central. It’s only at that point that the concept of inspiration of the originating authority becomes crucial, roughly in the fourth century. Yet notice that even Eusebius doesn’t approach the issue in terms of inspiration, but in terms of recognized authenticity. Likewise, it is extremely important to note that there is no devoted treatise on the subject of inspiration of Scriptures, which would be inexplicable if the concept were key to supporting the authority of the Scriptures. But there is much discussion through to the end of the fourth century about the authenticity of various books, whether they were genuinely Apostolic/Prophetic, or not. This is the level at which the discussion was made. And while it was certainly understood that authenticity was important because these men had been inspired of God, and these books are the record of their inspired lives and sayings, we cannot divorce the books from the people and the community–the tradition–in which they originated, which is just what such a theologically motivated abstraction focusing on inspiration does. Such an abstraction that permits the thoughts to be led away from personal communion is unnecessary and dangerous. It is not that it necessitates such, but it certainly permits it, and might lead to, say, twenty thousand sects.

    In any case, we can only examine the blurry outline of what was happening in canon formation. This process amongst the Greek Fathers was never a consuming issue, but one of only occasional interest, which is very telling. All the varying and conflicting lists of East and West to that date were accepted as legitimate (at least the majority: see the second canon of the Quinisext/Trullo Council, which approves the ecclesiastical canons of a number of writers and local councils, amongst which a number included varying lists of Biblical books as determinative for the rule of faith). To this date, there is no single conciliarly determined authoritative/restrictive Biblical canon for the Orthodox Church. The consensus is, however, an OT with a large number of the “readable” books/apocrypha, and the usual 27-book NT canon. But it is not an issue that was ever decided in an Ecumenical Council, which is a very important thing to note. The Biblical canon is not dogma. The Christian’s life is to be lived within the Church, and not by a book, any book, whether the words of it were breathed by God through the Prophets and Apostles, or by the devil through apostates and heretics.

    I don’t think I’m really explaining any of this very well. Sorry about that.

  10. Kevin: I think you might have misunderstood me. I’m not suggesting that inspiration can be separated from the inspired writer or the community in which the writings arose, quite the contrary, that’s crucial to my acceptance of the Scriptures as inspired (perhaps it’s the use of the term ‘inspired’ that’s making me difficult to understand — I could say God-breathed if that would make my point clearer).

    I’m also saying that inspiration was not a criteria of canonicity (so far as I understand the major criteria used), it was simply a presupposition, in other words, a person believe to have not been inspired wouldn’t have their writings considered for canonization. We might say something like, “all Scripture is God-breathed, but not all that is God-breathed is Scripture.” McDonald has a section on this in The Canon Debate (and also The Biblical Canon which I believe is almost exactly the same) where he cites examples (I believe he cites Clement and Ignatius among others — I’ll dig it up and get back to you on that). So 1Enoch could have been inspired and not canonical but it couldn’t have been canonical and not inspired.

    But for my purposes the issues of canon are really secondary. I’m not planning on diving too much into that territory. I mentioned it in the post to say that I think inspiration logically precedes canon and not vice versa.

  11. Kevin: I’ve just retitled this post to be a bit clearer. Not it’s “why I Believe the Bible Has Been Given by Inspiration.” I think that might clear up some of the confusion for future readers.

  12. Yes, the change is much clearer. And your clarification helps, too. Inspiration would certainly precede canon in an objective sense (in that the writing of these documents was inspired), with the subjective sense (explicit recognition of inspiration as the arbiter of category formation) following on later. But it is this latter category I continually stress that we need to be cautious of, because it is only very rarely met with in the earlier Patristic writings. This is not to say it is entirely absent, but it is not, I think it is fair to say, the lens through which the issue was being viewed for most. And in that sense, we should be more interested to appreciate the variety of ways in which these early Fathers approached such issues, rather than trying to find (as has been the case for centuries now) when “our” canon was “established” and by whom and with what criteria. What do they say, explicitly? As it was a different time, and the Fathers were of different concerns and with different presuppositions from our own, we have to let them speak to us in their own words.

  13. Novice here… sticking my toe in shark-infested waters no doubt. In my simplistic view, while I believe the Bible to be inspired based on its own claims, I believe that claim to be quote reasonable based on the historical authentication/testimony of the resurrection (since other religious texts could claim inspiration but none claim to be the Word of someone who rose from the dead) — I suppose this is really almost equivalent to the church’s tradition since it the resurrection-inspired church that carried the gospel into the world. I suppose God could have required us to believe the text on it’s own claims solely but it seems he graciously linked revelation with signs/wonders (in that age) to substantiate the text. And as for quoting from other texts, does Paul’s quoting from Greek poetry imply that is inspired? Of course I would say no.

  14. Roy: Quoting non-canonical material isn’t at issue so much as quoting it in a manner that it’s considered authoritative. Jude uses 1Enoch in such a way while Paul simply draws from Greek poets for examples.

  15. Perhaps there is a difference, what is the quote in Jude you are referring to? I don’t believe Paul was saying that the poet was moved by God (although, in a sense he was), but Paul isn’t just quoting the poet as a factoid – he says the poet was being accurate on that specific point and in the context Paul is speaking of.

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