Scripture: God's Written Word -- Chapter
By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
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The Mode of Writing
Scripture, as has been noted, is inspired by God; yet it is obvious
that men did the writing, hence, both God and man are involved. How
are we to understand the mode of this involvement?
A. Divine Origin
We begin with the affirmation of the divine origination of the Scriptures.
This, of course, is declared in the statement about Scriptures being
"God-breathed." The Scriptures come from God; they are His
word in writing.
This means that, whatever the human involvement, man is not the originator
of what is written as Scripture. Peter in speaking about a "prophecy
of scripture" adds that "no prophecy ever came by the impulse
of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (II Peter
1: 20-21). It is not human impulse, or will, that is the source of Scriptural
prophecy36 ; rather
it is the setting down in writing of what men spoke as they were moved,
or "carried along,"37by the Holy Spirit. Though
reference here is to Scriptural prophecy, it would seem to apply to
the full range of Scripture. The parallel imagery of "God-breathed"
in relation to "all Scripture" suggests that the phrase "carried
along by the Holy Spirit" refers likewise to the totality of Scriptural
Man is definitely not the originator of Scripture. Scripture does not
derive from human but from divine inspiration. Inspiration in connection
with Scripture accordingly is not to be viewed as human inspiration,
namely, a high level of imaginative human activity. It is sometimes
said of a Shakespeare or a Milton that his writings show an inspired
mind at work. For in such persons there is creative genius with natural
powers lifted up to inspired heights that most people never experience.
The Scriptures, however, are quite different: it is not a matter of
creative genius or natural abilities being elevated. Rather it is the
Holy Spirit, so to speak, "coming down," at work in a variety
of persons who may have little or no claim to creative genius and extraordinary
Truly, whatever is set forth in Scriptureprophecy; poetry, history,
or whatever elseis to be understood as ultimately of divine origination.
B. Human Activity
It is important now to emphasize that human activity is very much involved
in the writing of Scripture. For however true it is that the Scriptures
are Gods word in writing, even "God-breathed," or "God-Spirited,"
they are still human words, words written by men. Hence, while it is
proper to speak of divine origination, there is also human authorship
throughout. Thus there are books of Moses, psalms of David, letters
of Paul. Note, for example, in the letter to the Romans it is not "
the Holy Spirit to the Romans," but "Paul
to all Gods
beloved in Rome" (Romans 1:1,7).
Accordingly, in the writing of Scripture human faculties come into
play. A particular portion of Scripture bears the mark of an individual
upon it. The background, experience, style of the author is often readily
apparent. Paul does not write like Peter, or Peter like John; their
letters differ widely in many ways. Sometimes there is the hard work
of compiling historical data, research for accurate facts, and other
scholarly activities.38 There are
four Gospelseach marked by the distinctive character and orientation
of the human author. Frequently different ways of expressing the same
truth are employed, depending both on the writer's background and the
audience to which he addresses himself. The writing of Scripture shows
signs of the surrounding culture, the world outlook of the time, the
influence of prevailing customs and attitudes: all goes into the human
activity of writing Scripture. The diversity in Scripture is as wide
as the range of authors and also the many centuries spanning their various
writings. The Bible is God's written word in and through the human milieu.
It hardly seems necessary to add that any idea of a divine dictation
of Scripture fails to recognize this human element. There are, to be
sure, portions of Scripture that are said to be given directly by God,
as for example, the Old Testament commandments, wherein Moses seems
largely to occupy the role of a human amanuensis.39Also
God often speaks directly through his prophets, and the prophets or
their scribes put the words down in writing. However, even in such cases,
the word of God transcribed through an Isaiah, for example, sounds quite
different from that of a Jeremiah or an Amos. God truly speaks, but
the message bears the stamp of the human vessel through whom it comes.40
C. Superintendence of the Spirit
Finally, the mode of writing of the Scriptures may be described as
the superintendence of the Spirit. On the one hand Scripture originates
from God, it is "God-breathed"; on the other, human activity
is involved in the writing. This means that the divine afflatus does
not ordinarily signify the words simply coming from on high, but coming
through the human instrument in all its uniqueness and diversity. The
Holy Spirit makes use of the vessels He finds; He does not coerce them
or blot them out, but speaks in the language of men: their background,
idiosyncrasies, culture, and the like. In all of this there is such
a superintendence and direction of the Spirit that the writing of Scripture
is verily the writing of Gods word.
Let us observe carefully. It is not that human words are so inspired
by the Spirit of God that they declare divine truth. It is rather that
the human words are Gods words, spoken in and through the
variety of the human condition. Paul writes the Thessalonians of his
gratitude that "when you received the word of God which you heard
from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really
is, the word of God." (I Thessalonians 2:13). So with the Scriptures,
they are not the word of God and the word of man in some kind of dynamic
interpenetration,41 but are really and truly the word of God in
and through the word of man. To be sure, the word of God as Scripture
is in writing, andto repeatsuch writing undoubtedly is a
human activity in all its wide diversity. However there is such a superintendence
of the Holy Spirit that what is outwardly a human word is indeed the
very word of God.
Finally, this divine superintendence is totally beyond our comprehension.
It belongs to the mystery which surrounds all Gods ways and actions.
How He accomplishes this through the complexity of the human
activity involved, no one can really understand. But that He
has done it we knowand shall be forever grateful.
36 "Prophecy of scripture" is doubtless to be understood more
broadly than portions of Scripture usually designated as "prophecy."
37 "Carried along" is the NIV translation. The imagery is that
of wind (often identified in Scripture with the Spirit of God) carrying
along a boat with sails. For example, in Acts 27:15 and 17 the same
Greek word translated as "carried along" in II Peter 1:21
is used to depict a sailing vessel "driven" by the wind.)
38 The Old Testament historians doubtless labored much over gathering,
organizing, and transcribing their materials. In the New Testament,
Luke, at the beginning of his gospel, speaking of having "carefully
investigated everything from the beginning
to write an orderly
account" (1:3 NIV).
39 See Ex. 24:4; 34:27; cf. 24:12; 31:18; 34:1; Dt. 4:13; 10:1-5.
40 A prophetic "Thus says the Lord" may suggest little or no
activity on the human side. It is to be recognized, however, that sometimes
a word from the Lord comes only after much struggle and prayer. For
example, Jeremiah spends ten days in prayer on one occasion before "the
word of the LORD came" (see Jeremiah 42:1-7).
41 As in the Incarnation wherein Jesus Christ is both God and man, the
two natures constituting one person.
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Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams,
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