Saturday, 1 September 2012

Inerrancy and biblical inspiration

There are a variety of ideas about how and to what extent that God inspired the text of the Bible. I hold to a moderately common belief, that of plenary inspiration.

Plenary (complete) inspiration carries the idea that God inspired all of the Bible. That God was involved in overseeing every item of Scripture, that is the Bible includes both the history God wanted included as well an the theology that it contains therein.

Some people add the adjective "verbal", that God oversaw even the words that were chosen. I don't subscribe to such a view, nor do I see how it differs much from the dictation view. Though advocates of verbal plenary inspiration do nuance that God inspires the content taking into account the attributes of the human author such as his writing style, level of education, culture.

Though the verbal plenary view is reasonable, my objection to it is that I do not think this is required by Scripture, nor do I think it happens to best explain what we find in the Bible text. Further, I think that God uses men for his purposes extensively. God voluntarily limits his actions at times based on the activities and prayers of his servants. This includes those whom God used to author Scripture.

I think that godly men frequently recorded events that they were aware of. Theoretically this could mean that an author included events that another author (had God used another) may have left out, or may have given in more detail. I do not intend to imply that Scripture is arbitrary. God's plan for redemption involved Israel, and much of the history of Israel would have been included in any resultant Bible. And I think much is included in Scripture to broaden understanding. But if we had more authors of psalms, or the psalmists had written poems about different events, or not written some at all, then there may have been differences in what we call Scripture.

Other examples may include which proverbs of Solomon were chosen, or proverbs of other wise men, which churches the apostles wrote to and what they addressed. Letters were occasional, that is written in response to issues that arose. While the issues are likely to have some similarities from church to church, the specifics may have meant that letters could have differed from what we have.

One could even consider how much of what a prophet said to his hearers was written down: however given the nature of divine pronouncements via prophets I think the prophetic books have less scope for variance, and I wonder if they are quite exhaustive in what they include.

The occasional nature of letters and prophecies means that the Bible contains much of what it does because of the actions and decisions of men. God works out his purposes, but God's response to David's sin is conditional on David sinning. If central characters of biblical history had made different decisions then the specifics of the Bible text would be different, though still theologically true.

However, even if personal actions were not markedly different I think the specifics could still vary based on who God used to author the Bible, and what such author chose to include.

Given my perspective above, in what way do I consider God the author? Firstly, I think God moved men to include specific events, that is, God ensured that the events he wanted recorded would be included by someone. Secondly, God gave them insight on the correct interpretation of events: why certain events occurred; their supernatural explanation. Thirdly, God prevented writers from authoring error. The first is inspiration, the second inspiration and inerrancy, the third inerrancy.

Taking blogging as an example. It is possible that I could I could write a post based on a topic that I think God wishes me to address, that in fact he does wish me to address. In that sense the particular post would be inspired. It may be that I have a take on the topic (even an uncommon interpretation) that happens to be correct. It is also possible that I could write a post that was without error. Thus the particular post would be inerrant. This does not necessarily make me inerrant, it may be that I was wanting to include a paragraph  that is not quite true but then decide not to include it. Such restrictions would be consistent with plenary inspiration. Yet even considering all these restrictions it is clear that such a post could still be written in a multitude of ways, all of which cover the topic and do not include error. And this just by one author, another author could write quite differently.

The same could be said about a book, or a sermon. Not that such blog posts, books, or sermons should be added to the canon.

What this means is that there is some range of what could have been in our Bible. Our Bible is still reliable because it includes things God wants us to know, and it is without error so we can trust it whenever it touches on a specific topic.


  1. I think it is also important to note God's providance in the canonization process. For instance, it is reasonable to consider that Paul wrote other letters (like the letter to the Laodicians mentioned in Colossians), yet these are not included in the Bible. Why? I would say because they are not inspired in the same way. God preserved the books He inspired, not just the books written by certain men.

  2. Not inspired in the same way.

    I probably agree with you here, but I would say not inspired for the same intent. I think there may be inspiration of God that differs primarily in that it is not intended to be Scripture, not that God necessarily inspired the person in a different manner.

    Think of what King Saul said, or Philip's daughters, or Agabus. Inspired, and not necessarily in a different way to some biblical inspiration, but not for the intent of the canon.

    The canon has to do with God's purposes for man. More than inspiration is required; it is necessary, but not sufficient.



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