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THEOLOGY

Scripture: God's Written Word -- Chapter 4

By Dr. J. Rodman Williams
Theologian

Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

 


Chapter Four

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 writing.

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 ability.

Truly, whatever is set forth in Scripture—prophecy; poetry, history, or whatever else—is 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 God’s 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 God’s 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 Gospels—each 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 God’s 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 God’s 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, and—to repeat—such 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 God’s 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 know—and shall be forever grateful.

Footnotes

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.


Chapters: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7

 

Content Copyright 2003 by J. Rodman Williams, Ph.D.

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