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Asbury Bible Commentary – Inspiration in the Text
Inspiration in the Text

Inspiration in the Text

The inspiredness of Scripture is axiomatic among evangelical Wesleyans. As Dunning points out, opinions about the mode and extent of inspiration vary according to the weight given to the divine and human elements involved in the development of the biblical books.Ibid., 67.

The primary biblical passages that deal with the phenomenon of inspiration are 2Ti 3:16-17 and 2Pe 1:20-21. These passages refer, however, to the OT, which was the only authoritative Scripture in existence at the time the NT books were being written. The word theopneustos occurs in the former passage to convey the inspired character of Scripture and translates, “inspired” or “God-breathed.” Since the term does not occur elsewhere in the Bible, it is difficult to determine the exact nuance that the writer intended to convey. Classical Greek usage of the term is not helpful either, since the concept of inspiration in that context often connotes the ecstatic seizure in which a prophet spoke words in a frenzied state that came directly from a divine source. Such a usage seems more in tune with the mantic “channeling” process associated with spirit-possession in the occult experiences. This is not the intention in the Timothy passage. As Dunning has stated, 2Ti 3:16 deals more with the use of Scripture than with the method of its production.Ibid., 66. The hina clause in 2Ti 3:17 indicates purpose. The passage indicates that inspired Scripture has the purpose or use of equipping the believer for “every good work.” In this light, both function and origin have a relationship to inspiredness. It is “profitable” for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness as a result of its being given by “inspiration of God.” The common denominator in the relationship between the production and fulfillment of Scripture is the Holy Spirit. The inspiredness of Scripture is, thus, evidenced by its redemptive effect in the lives of believers.

In his Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament Wesley says, regarding 2Ti 3:16:

The Spirit of God not only once inspired those who wrote it, but continually inspires, supernaturally assists those that read it with earnest prayer. Hence it is so profitable for doctrine, for reproof or conviction of them that are in error or sin, for the correction or amendment of whatever is amiss, and for instructing or training up the children of God in all righteousness.John Wesley, Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament (London: Epworth Press, 1966), 794.

Here, Wesley and Dunning agree that the Spirit operates not only in the production, but in the preservation and interpretation of Scripture. Questions surrounding the meaning of inspiration do not get answered by merely accepting the inspiration of Scripture as fact. As William Abraham notes, before the term “inspire” can be applied to describe God's activity in relation to Scripture, on must first observe what the term means in everyday contexts. To do this, Abraham draws the analogy between the way in which a good teacher can motivate and direct his/her students to learn most effectively and the way the Holy Spirit interacts with the personalities and natural abilities of human agents. He notes that “inspiring” involves more than just speaking or performing other isolated functions related to the transmission of information. On the contrary, the routine activity of the teacher's example is also part of the inspiration process—i.e., supervision, teaching, lecturing, discussing, publishing. Thus, inspiration is not simply the dictation of facts to be transcribed by the students, but it is an entire relationship in which the student functions to accomplish the goals of learning.William J. Abraham, The Divine Inspiration of Holy Scripture, (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1981), 63-64. Abraham notes that “inspiration will result in a reliable account of God's saving acts.” Unlike a human teacher who is fallible and may inspire truth or falsehood, God as the agent of inspiration is omniscient and infallible by definition. “Therefore what he inspires will bear significant marks of truth and reliability . . . this has obvious consequences for the content of the Bible as inspired by God.” See p. 68. Inspiration is not just the dictation and transcription of information. It also involves the nurturing and guiding in a process that engages the mind and will of the learner as well as the motivation and superintendence of the teacher. Biblical writers, then, “spoke from God” as they were “borne along” by the Holy Spirit (2Pe 1:20-21). Inspiration involves at least five variables: the relationship between the prophet and God, the setting or context, the perception of spiritual need in the community, the trustworthy communication of truth by the prophet, and the prophet's illumination by the Holy Spirit.

This broader understanding of inspiration is described by both I. Howard Marshall and J. I. Packer as a “concursive” action of the Spirit of God. The analogy of the process of God's creation and providence in the universe is helpful here. On one level were natural phenomena that can be explained scientifically in terms of cause and effect. On another level were supernatural events that must be understood theologically. The creation event can therefore be seen from two angles, with complementary interpretations—the natural and the supernatural.

In a similar way the composition of the Bible involved various natural oral and literary processes such as collection of information from witnesses, composition of letters directed to specific situations, writing of prophetic messages, and gathering of various documents. Simultaneously, the same Spirit who participated in Creation also took part in the process of the production of the Scriptures. The result of this process is that the Bible is the work of God and human authors. From this perspective the Spirit has worked “concursively” with the human processes. Such a view is complementary to both the divine and human factors in the development of the Bible. In this view the human authors are more than stenographers and the Spirit is more than merely an observer of the process.

This idea of a mutual undertaking also deals satisfactorily with the varied character of the diverse material in the books of the Bible. God and humans share in the whole process of composition.I. Howard Marshall, Biblical Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 40-45. The relationship between human authors and the Holy Spirit provides a context in which their research, interpretation, and writing result in a product that has its origin in God as well as in the life of the community of faith.

In the end, as I. Howard Marshall shows, the acceptance of the divine inspiration of Scripture is a matter of faith. If the authoritative guide for our faith is Jesus Christ, then we will share his attitude toward the OT Scriptures. His teachings, and those of the apostles and prophets, should be accepted as inspired based on faith generated by the Holy Spirit. As the Westminster Confession states, “. . . our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth, and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit, bearing witness by and with the word in our hearts.”Ibid., 46; Schaff, The Creeds of Christendom, 603.