|Last revised: 1/29/04
Contained below is a manuscript summarizing the class lecture(s) covering the above specified range of topics from the List of Topics for Religion 492. Quite often hyperlinks (underlined) to sources of information etc. will be inserted in the text of the lecture. Test questions for all quizzes and exams will be derived in their entirety or in part from these lectures; see Exams in the course syllabus for details. To display the Greek text contained in this page download and install the free BSTGreek from Bible Study Tools.
1.2.2 Divine Inspiration
Nigel M. de S. Cameron, "Bible, Inspiration of, " Baker's Evangelical
Dictionary of Biblical Theology, online at
Alfred Durand, "Inspiration of the Bible," Catholic Encyclopedia,
online at http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08045a.htm
Resource Materials to also be studied:
Below is a copy of an article written by Dr. Lorin L Cranford and published in the Encyclopedia of Early Christianity by Garland Press (NYC) in 1996. This article needs to be carefully studied. The article covers the emerging concept from biblical times through the Church Fathers.
Lorin L. Cranford
The modern discussion of inspiration creates many barriers for understanding
the idea in the ancient world. Contemporary concern with precise
measurement generates the mistaken notion that the ancient world was similarly
concerned. Thus ideas of inerrancy etc. never occurred to the ancient
mind simply because these ideas depend on post-enlightenment notions.
The modern struggle to balance psychologically the divine and the human
aspects in the act of inspiration was of no interest to the ancient world.
No discussion of any 'theory of inspiration' ever took place in that earlier
period. Therefore the modern reader -- to understand the ancient
texts accurately -- must lay aside most every modern framing of the topic
and seek to hear the ancient authors on their own terms. Only then
can linkages to modern ideas be set up. Unfortunately all too many
contemporary descriptions of ancient texts on this subject seem to presuppose
naively the modern framing of the issue.
One important perspective is to note the idea of inspiration of persons as they spoke and the inspiration of persons as they wrote. During the biblical period, especially the Hebrew Bible, the former was the dominant emphasis (i.e., Jer. 1:1-9). The Hebrew prophets spoke the words of God as they proclaimed "Thus says the Lord . . . " (400 plus occurrences). The basis for this prophetic speaking was primarily the calling by God to such ministry. Out of their developing relationship with deity came the insight and wisdom to speak in behalf of God. Closely connected was the presence of the Spirit of God (1 Sam. 10:6; Joel 2:28). But the Spirit's presence not only enabled prophetic utterance, all kinds of skills were possible, even to construct buildings (Exod. 31:3; 35:31). The possession of wisdom and understanding came about through God pouring his Spirit into an individual's life. Does this then imply inspiration when the prophet spoke? Seldom, if ever, does the Hebrew Bible directly assert this, even though such evidently was assumed. An important distinction here is the Hebrew concept from the Greek view. Plato typified the Hellenistic mantic view of inspiration "which perceived that the prophet was seized by a daimon or the deity and forced to utter words in a frenzied state that came directly from the divine source" (Gnuse, 17; cf. Vawter, Biblical Inspiration, 8-10, 13-17). Philo became the source of introducing this alien concept into Jewish thinking later. Hebrew tradition focused on the individual relationship with God and cooperation with His Spirit as the basis of being able to speak in God's behalf (Schmaus, Handbuch, 3-4); personality and individuality were never absorbed nor overwhelmed by the divine.
Regarding written materials, the 'Book' in most OT references is the "book of the law (of Moses)" that Moses was commanded to write (Exod. 17:14). No mention of its inspiration is found in any of the references. God's word to the Jewish nation is contained in this book (Deut. 30:10); it formed the written record of the covenant of the people with God (Exod. 24:7; Deut. 29:21; 2 Kings 23:2, 21; 2 Chron. 34:30-31). The closest to a concept of inspiration regarding writing is in Jer. 30:2 where God said to Jeremiah, "Write in a book all the words that I have spoken to you." Yet, nothing is directly expressed about inspiration or the involvement of the divine Spirit in the writing of this material. A similar injunction to write came to the prophet in 36:2. The writing was therefore to be the record of God's words.
The literary transmission of the message of the prophets generated the notion of inspiration (Vawter, Biblical Inspiration, 13-15). Gradually the written record and the oral message of the prophets became one and the same. Other writings in the Hebrew Bible became construed as were the prophets. Yet, in Palestinian Judaism the Torah held a higher place of importance than the other two groups of materials, because of the central role of Moses as God's spokesman and prophet. With the gradual adoption of the Hellenistic view of enthousiasmos (ejnqousiasmov") Hellenistic Judaism spoke of the entire Bible as an emanation of the prophetic spirit (e.g., Philo, Vita Mosis, 2.188-191). Inspiration could be conceived of quite apart from the OT inspiration of the prophet, more in the Greek view of ecstasy (Jubilees 2).
The New Testament inherited both the Jewish and the Greek perspectives, although the Jewish view was the controlling perspective (cf. Heb. 1:1-2a; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). In both Hebrews and 2 Peter the OT prophetic model is clearly in view with emphasis on the oral delivery of the prophet's message being the words of God via the guidance of the Spirit of God. In a secondary sense then, the written record of those prophetic messages could lay claim to being the words of God also. With Hebrews 1:2 similarly could the claim be made regarding the message of Jesus. The inspiration of written materials is treated more directly in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. Several key expressions provide insight into the assertion of this text. "All Scripture" (pa'sa grafh;) refers most naturally to the texts of the Hebrew Bible; only by inference can they be applied to the texts of the NT. The Greek text more accurately reads "every writing" alluding to individual texts, rather than a collection of texts viewed as a unit. Nothing can be gleaned about canon issues here. "inspired by God" (qeovpneusto"). Contra the Vulgate's divinitus inspirata as though the Scripture was in-spired, the Greek term underscores the out-breathing. God did not breathe his word into the minds of the human authors. Rather, that which they wrote was the ex-pression of God (Warfield, 132-33). Although the Greek term comes out of the Hellenistic ecstatic tradition, the context of its single NT use here clearly suggests that it should rather be interpreted within the Hebrew prophetic tradition (Vawter, 15-19). "In a word, what is declared by this fundamental passage is simply that the Scriptures are a Divine product, without any indication of how God has operated in producing them" (Warfield, 133). "useful for" (wjfevlimo" pro;"...). The value of these writings is defined functionally, rather than theoretically; they can shape the behavior and thinking of the Christian for enhanced service. That no legalistic slavery to the written letter prevailed in the NT era is quite clear from the sometimes 'creative' ways in which Paul used the texts of the OT (Schrenk, 758).
The church fathers reflect a convergence of both the Jewish and Greek traditions in the way the texts of the Bible were viewed. While echoing the biblical formulas about the written documents (aiJ a&giai grafaiv, Theophilus of Antioch; iJera; gravmmata, Clement of Alexandria; iJera;" bivblou", Origen et als; cf. Vawter, 20), the meaning attached to these formulas increasingly depended far more on the Hellenistic mantic tradition than the Hebrew heritage, thus profoundly redefining the ideas away from apostolic thinking. Philo's view ultimately had much greater impact on Christian thinking than on Jewish tradition. The earliest group of fathers, the apostolic fathers, made only incidental allusion to inspiration since their concern was "practical rather than doctrinal" (Westcott, 3). Very little distinction was made by the apostolic fathers and the apologists between the inspiration of the prophetic speakers and the writings bearing their names (Schmaus, 12). The apologist, Athenagoras (c. 133 - c.190), reflects clearly the induction of the Hellenistic mantic view of inspiration in his assertion that "while entranced and deprived of their natural powers of reason (kat j e[kstasivn tw'n ejn aujtoi'" logismw'n) by the influence of the divine Spirit, they uttered that which was wrought in them (a& ejnhrgou'nto), the Spirit using them as its instruments, as a flute-player might blow a flute" (Westcott, 10-11).
Vawter, 20-42, has well summarized the developing view by emphasizing the following aspects: (1) God was asserted to be the author of the scriptures by the fathers. (2) The Hellenistic view of inspiration served as an important basis for their allegorizing approach to the sacred texts. (3) Allegorical preoccupation with the words of the text led to Augustine's dictum: Scriptura Sancta in nulla parte discordat (Serm. 82.9, PL 38:510). (4) They struggled continuously with the human elements undeniably present in the written texts. These emerging perspectives developed as Christians fought to defend the faith to external opponents and against the perceived corruption internally, thus utilizing ideas current and understandable in their day.
The use of the word for author in reference to God is late and of Latin origin. Auctor became an important concept of the African Church in its battles with Manicheism as a counter-formula to the denial of God as the scriptor of the OT. The term auctor was capable of a wide diversity of meaning. Some scholars are convinced that it was employed in this battle with the sense of literary author, although Karl Rahner and others have challenged this rigid understanding. Augustine, however, clearly understood it in this sense, but Ambrose viewed it somewhat differently. God was the author of scripture not in the sense of literary author, but as the ai[tio" (cause) of scripture being written: "God's work in the Scripture had been to flood the minds of its writers with the dew of his wisdom (operatur, irrigat mentes rore sapientiae), and he invoked the idea of cause expressly to affirm, based on texts like Mt 10.20, that the words of Scripture were those of God and not of men (see Ep. 8.10, PL 16:912-916)" (Vawter, 23). Justin reflects a similar rigid Hellenized view: "prophetic speech is not the words of the inspired men, the ejmpepneusmevnwn, but of him who moved them" (Vawter, 25). Origen, in spite of inconsistencies and contradictions rampant in his works, stands generally as one of the few voices raised opposing this mechanical view of inspiration. The prophets "voluntarily and consciously collaborated with the word that came to them" (Hom. in Ezek. frag. 6.1, PG 13:709). The apostles could express their own opinions, their ejpivnoia, which he used in his commentary on the fourth gospel to resolve contradictions between the gospels. This did not rule out the view of the divine authorship; rather, it stood along side in his attempt to grapple with the human and the divine aspects in the written texts.
Allegorical exegesis depended upon the Hellenized view of inspiration since every word was 'God-breathed' and thus capable of hidden meaning that only the orthodox could rightly discern. This provided a helpful way of overcoming serious historical problems at the surface level especially of the OT text in opposing heresy. Such a mechanical view of inspiration facilitated the move away from historical interests, since God had completely sublimated the human element in the act of inspiration. Interestingly this interpretive method reflected a paradoxical view toward the words of the text. Disdainful of words in their natural, surface-level meaning as vehicles of communication, divinely inspired words become the word from Heaven. Thus, as Augustine contended, "no discordancy of any kind could be admitted to exist in the Scripture" (Vawter, 33). Associated with the antihistorical interests of allegorizing, Augustine could naively accept the legend of the seventy translators of the LXX as proof of its divine inspiration and truth (Civ. 18.43, PL 41:603-604). Also concluded from this rigid view of inspiration was the assertion that nothing trivial could exist in scripture, every letter had to have a significant raison d'être of its own. Thus, as Vawter, 35, contends, Clement of Alexandria's 'five senses' of scripture resulted, as well as Origen's three, etc. The fathers found themselves resorting to Stoic Platonism for their etymologizing of word for secret meanings, to Pythagoreanism for their numerology.
The connection between the divine and the human in scripture puzzled many fathers. Origen attempted to find a healthy balance while resisting the prevailing mechanical view of inspiration. The Holy Spirit illuminated (fwtivzonti) the inspired writer (De princ. 4.14, PG 11:372), thus leaving the human author with his own mind and thought processes rather than turning him into an automaton (Contra Celsum 7.3-4, PG: 1424-5). John Chrysostom followed a similar line of thinking. Augustine's struggle took a different turn. Not ignoring the signs of human frailty evident in the scripture and often embarrassed by them, "he could only conclude that the Holy Spirit had 'permitted' one or the other writer to compose what he did in apparent variance with other Scripture (Cons. evang. 2.21.52, PL 34:1102)" (Vawter, 38). Jerome, more than any other, was sensitive to the human dimensions in scripture in his translation efforts, but made little effort to link these insights to the contention of the scriptures as divine. The conviction that proved more helpful in resolving this tension between the divine and the human was John Chrysostum's sugkatavbasi" (condescension) perspective. Origen's accommodation view, sumperiforav,was similar though he used it to account for the anthropomorphisms of scripture, but without detracting from the divine authorship view. Chrysostum often extended his notion to human authorship itself of the sacred writings thus accounting for metaphors, deliberate overstatements or captatio benevolentiae. The incarnation of Christ increasingly came to be seen as analogous to the divine/human aspects of scripture.
FOR FURTHER READING:
Gnuse, Robert. The Authority of the Bible: Theories of Inspiration, Revelation and the Canon of Scripture. New York: Paulist Press, 1985.
Schmaus, Michael, ed. Die Inspiration der Heiligen Schrift. Vol. 1, pt. 3B in Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte. Freiburg: Herder, 1976.
Schrenk, Gottlob. "grafhv," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Gerhard Kittel, editor. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, translator. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company, 1964.
Vawter, Bruce. Biblical Inspiration. Theological Resources. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1972.
Warfield, B.B. The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible. Samuel G. Craig, editor. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1948.
Westcott, Brooks F. "On the Primitive Doctrine
of Inspiration." In The Bible in the Early Church, Ferguson,
Everett, ed., pp. 2-46. Vol. 3 in Studies in Early Christianity:
A Collection of Scholarly Essays. New York: Garland Publishing, Inc.,
In attempting to understand the theological concept of divine inspiration several factors must be held clearly in view.
(1) Modern understandings of inspiration, both at a merely human level and in a doctrine of divine inspiration, frame the discussion very differently than did the ancient world. At the merely human level the emotional aspect is very prominent as is reflected in the Meriam-Webster Dictionary definitions 1b-d of the verb "to inspire": "1 a : to influence, move, or guide by divine or supernatural inspiration b : to exert an animating, enlivening, or exalting influence on <was particularly inspired by the Romanticists> c : to spur on : IMPEL, MOTIVATE <threats don't necessarily inspire people to work> d : AFFECT <seeing the old room again inspired him with nostalgia>" At the religious level (definition 1a), the sense of being carried along by the divine is how the word is defined. The M-W Dictionary defines the noun "inspiration" in somewhat similar fashion: "1 a : a divine influence or action on a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation, b : the action or power of moving the intellect or emotions, c : the act of influencing or suggesting opinions; 2: the act of drawing in; specifically : the drawing of air into the lungs; 3 a : the quality or state of being inspired; b : something that is inspired <a scheme that was pure inspiration>; 4 : an inspiring agent or influence." Although not directly stated, these definitions related to both orally spoken and written words.
(2) A very different understanding of inspiration is found between the ancient Hebrew and Greek worlds. In the Old Testament era the concept of inspiration related to the orally spoken words of those who were labeled as prophets, that is, authorized spokesmen for the God of Israel. Moses was called a prophet also. The presence of the Spirit of the Lord enabled these individuals to declare "Thus says the Lord..." Only after the close of the OT era, does the idea of inspiration become attached to the written documents recording the messages of these prophets. Even then the concept of divine inspiration is never developed to any extent in Judaism, at least in ways somewhat similar to how the concept evolved in Christian tradition. The authority of the written documents of the OT as sacred scriptures containing the revelation of God was not linked to some concept of divine inspiration in Jewish tradition. God commanded various prophets, or their scribes, to write down His words -- as discussed above in my article -- but this was never related to any theory of inspiration.
(3) The Greek mantic view of inspiration where a human being is overpowered by the divine and becomes essentially a robot of the divine for either orally spoken or written words had no influence on either ancient Hebrew understanding or apostolic Christianity at the beginning of the Christian era. In the isolated allusions in the NT to the inspiration of the OT scriptures -- Heb. 1:1-3; 2 Pet. 1:20-21; 2 Tim. 3:16-17 -- the ancient Hebrew model of God's Spirit enabling the chosen spokesmen to speak in God's behalf is clearly the interpretative assumption; not the Greek mantic view. Inside the New Testament itself, absolutely nothing is said regarding the documents of the NT and their inspiration. Later Christian interpretation will assume that what these three passages say about the Hebrew Bible can, by implication, be applied to the documents of the New Testament as well.
(4) Not until Christianity has made a virtually complete shift away from its Jewish roots and into a restructuring of itself based on Greco-Roman models beginning in the middle of the second Christian century does the Greek mantic view of inspiration begin showing up in isolated instances among some of the Church Fathers. Even then the discussion is varied, with some of the fathers applying the Greek mantic view to the NT, e.g., Athenagoras, while others resisted such a rigid view, e.g., Origen. What drove the move toward the Greek view was the theological battles with perceived heretical groups, coupled with the adoption of the Greek allegorical approach to interpreting ancient documents. This view of inspiration enabled the apologists and other fathers of the church to find deeper, hidden meanings in the words of the inspired text that could be used to fight heresy. Gradually this Greek based view of inspiration would dominate Christian thinking until the Enlightenment centuries later.
(5) With the Enlightenment beginning in the 1400s and the Protestant Reformation emphasis upon sola scriptura beginning in the 1500s, the concept of inspiration underwent significant changes in understanding. From then on ideas such as infallible, verbal plenary etc. will begin showing up in the discussion of divine inspiration. With the Renaissance development of the modern scientific method and new approaches to historiography, inspiration increasingly became the critical foundation to the authority of the Bible as divine revelation. Only a view of inspiration that could claim absolute truth and historical and scientific accuracy in all matters of reality was acceptable to various segments of the Christian world. Thus inspiration became a synonym for complete accuracy and reliability. If any definition of inspiration allowed for fallible human qualities in the writing of scripture, it had to be rejected out of hand, since such would undermine the credibility of the Bible and ultimately destroy the Christian faith -- so the old domino theory goes. Yet, the obvious human fallibilities in the text of the scripture, as especially noted in comparison of the double and triple tradition materials in the synoptic gospels and also in the way the NT writers used the text of the OT, could not be ignored. Various efforts by the rigid modernist views of inspiration have been brought to bear to explain away these issues. Interpretative efforts at harmonization of the gospel texts, often using a modern version of the earlier allegorization method called spiritualizing the text, have been attempted. Also, the application of this rigid view of inspiration only to the original autographs of the documents of the Bible, which no longer exist, has often been the way to cop out in honestly dealing with the humanness of the biblical documents. Such an argument is phony since it can neither be proven nor disproven because of the lack of evidence to come to any confident conclusions. Any honest view of inspiration must deal with the available NT documents, not with a non-existent set of documents.
Because of the obvious distaste fulness of such an approach much of modern critical scholarship has pretty much abandoned the idea of divine inspiration of the biblical texts completely. Most of the more recent technical methods of interpreting scripture have focused exclusively on the human angle of the composition of the documents found in the Bible. Scientific oriented biblical scholarship in a post-enlightment framework must deal only with the human aspect in order to be legitimately scientific and scholarly. For many in this group, the divine angle of scripture is the work of church theologians, not the work of biblical scholars. Thus a kind of religious schizophrenia has developed over the past couple of centuries in Christian interpretative tradition. Often the same person will function in the university classroom as a technical, critical scholar interpreting the biblical text one way, and then become a faithful churchman worshipping and affirming the same biblical text as the authoritative sacred text for the church. These two very different interpretative worlds never intersect one another!
During the past forty years of ministry I have witnessed a growing shift away from this paradigm among many biblical scholars in North America. In my European experiences I never witnessed this dichotomy between scholar and churchman to any degree near what has been true on the western side of the Atlantic since the middle 1800s. Increasingly, biblical scholars who are committed churchmen are concerned to integrate both the human and the divine angles of sacred scripture as divine revelation. Finding legitimate understandings of divine inspiration of the sacred texts is an important key to that integration.
The proposal offered in the above article on inspiration that I wrote a number of years ago offers an important step in that direction. By detaching ideas of infallibility and scientific accuracy from the concept of inspiration and returning to the ancient Hebrew and first Christian century model, we can find an understanding of inspiration that allows affirmation of both the divine and the human aspects of scripture. These words of fallible men who both spoke and wrote in behalf of God contain the divine breath (qeovpneusto") that permeates them. Thus the presence of God exists in these words. When these words are uttered by human breath, the divine breath comes alive and produces profound spiritual impact upon the reader/hearer. In this way, the Words, i.e., the Gospel, become the instrument of salvation to all who hear them and respond in faith commitment to Jesus as redeemer. Issues of infallibility etc. become a detraction and obstacle to the divine breath being unleashed in the written words of scripture, since these are modern based philosophical abstractions and the scriptures are working experientially to impact lives toward God. Thus even imperfect translations of the Bible -- as all translations certainly are -- can serve as powerful tools of spiritual impact, when God's breath comes alive through them. The key in both public worship and individual testimony is to speak the written words to the hearer; then God's breath is free to turn these words into His words impacting the hearer.
Check Bray's bibliography in appropriate chapter of the textbook.
Check the appropriate Bibliography section
A new bibliography containing almost 400 references has been uploaded in both MS doc and internet html formats.