“Gabe! you’ve posted this like multiple times!” I know, I know good and faithful readers, however this is an updated version, hopefully the last. But with me you never know. In light of a post that scheduled for two days from now I thought this essay would be good primer for the discussion. So dig in!
Reason, experience, scripture, and tradition,[1]or what have you, is only authoritative on matters to the extent that it accurately represent Truth; for they are not Truth themselves, but are interpretations of the Truth. To put it another way, they are only witnesses to the Truth and any revelation that is revealed from the Truth. They themselves are not self-revelation of the Truth but are interpretations of said revelation and are not free from errors. These sources of interpretations are not authorities in and of themselves but are streams in the epistemological desert that lead us to the source of all being and through which God exercises his authority. Christ himself is The True Scripture. He is The True Tradition, He is The True Experience, and He is The True Reason. The RESTare what point to the True Christ, they indicate that there is something greater casting these shadows and that we must turn around to see this greater person. He is the one that casts these shadows, but we must remember from Plato’s allegory of the Cave that they are only shadows of the True focus of our life. This does not make them unreal, they are in fact real shadows, but they are not the same thing as the one casting the shadows. The shadows indicate the direction we must turn in order to see the one casting the shadows. And perhaps on the day of the resurrection Christ himself will lead us fully out of the cave and into his glorious light.
These REST create conditions or contexts in which God’s presence through his Spirit speaks his Word (Jesus) to us, God’s very self. God’s-Self the presence of God is Revelation. It is not that REST is God speaking to us, these are merely the conditions that grab our attention in which we are made ready to experience God speak, and God’s-Self is pointed to by them. Here it is that God speaks alongside the RESTas a commentator, or rather The Commentator. Imagine a bowl. The Bowl is useless until someone pours water into it. The bowl is not necessary for the water to be poured, but without it—until we reach the stream, the source of the water—we will have nothing to carry the water in. What we come to find out is that the stream is right behind us. But even if we do turn towards the stream realizing the bowl is unnecessary, we still understand the bowl to be useful for drinking from the stream. In the same way, the REST are the bowl, it is not the water (or Word) itself, but carries the Word, and in that way is useful; but we must realize the stream, the Word, God’s very self is right behind us, and we must turn. We can still use the bowl—or REST to drink from the stream to carry his Word from the source because it makes it easier, but it is not necessary. And while we may be unaware of the stream behind us, God as the Incarnating God will himself draw water from the stream and pour into our bowl. Although we may be unaware that God is doing this, or that the bowl is in fact not the water itself, God in his Goodness and Mercy brings God’s-Self, His Word, The Son, through His Holy Spirit to us, and pours it into whatever bowl we have chosen.
The Scriptures as human witness to Divine Revelation serve as a recording of the Hebrew people’s experiences with God, and serve as a written tradition, so to speak, which we can look back to and learn from. These spiritual and physical ancestors of ours model a life of faith that places trust in God as a primary way of living, all the while seeking deeper intimacy with the divine. Here it is again that we must address the pressing issues of authorship and inspiration.
In my opinion it must be stated that Scripture, along with the rest of our streams of authority, are not the product of God speaking to us, but of us speaking about God. We must be humble enough to admit the distinction between our human ideas about God and God’s-Self. Inspiration is not to be equated with Authorship, certainly at least not by our modern conceptions of authorship. Again and again I run into a seemingly unquestioned presupposition that assumes the Bible is God’s Word, and that it’s God’s Word because it’s inspired[2]. In other words, Authorship is seen as synonymous with Divine Inspiration. But are they really the same thing? Does God have to be the author of the Bible to be the Inspirer of it?[3]
First I should address the early church’s view of the authorship of scripture. The early church, at least a large portion of them clearly believed in the authorship of the Holy Spirit regarding the composition of scripture. This seems quite clear, what is not clear however, is that their view of authorship coincides with our modern notion of authorship. It does seem though at least with the church fathers I’ve read that the concept of the Word of God or Logos is understood not to be the scriptures but Jesus Himself. There of course were most likely different strains of thought and emphasis in different parts of the church and with individuals. There seems to be a tension in the early church between the notions that the Word of God is Jesus, and that scripture is written by the Holy Spirit. But those concepts in my very limited knowledge don’t seem to be made synonymous by the early church.
When we bring the early church’s and Second Temple Judaism ‘s interpretative framework[4]for scripture into the picture it begins to not only complicate things but maybe also to shed some light on how the early church was able to believe scripture was written by the Spirit. Although due to the nature of this essay I don’t have room to flesh out the second temple and early church’s interpretative framework and methods. Rather I’ll point you to a few books that are written to address that very topic. [5]For our purposes here it will be suffice to relegate with undue justice this Interpretative framework to a short summary.
Essentially beginning in the second temple period the Jew’s reinterpreted their scriptures in such a way that gave them a new meaning nay, multiple new meanings that oftentimes if not always were void of the original and contextual meaning of scripture as intended by the original authors and were unconcerned with how scripture would have been understood by the original audience. They we’re more concerned with how scripture spoke to them in their present moment than they were on how it spoke to its original audience. This was carried on and inherited by not only the authors of the New Testament, but Jesus and going into the later early church after the 1stcentury. One could say this created “two” distinct bibles.
“One would not be wrong to think of this transformation as, in effect, a kind of massive act of rewriting. The raw material that made up the Bible was written anew not by changing its words but by changing the way in which those words were approached and understood. This sounds like an exaggeration when stated so baldly, but I hope the previous chapters have offered proof that it is not. What we have observed all along are two very different sets of documents, the biblical texts in their original settings and meanings and what those texts were later made out to mean by Jewish and Christian authorities. The words of the two sets of documents are basically the same, but they nonetheless make up, side by side, two completely different books.” (Kugel, 2008)
From this “new bible” we can maybe have the notion that the Spirit wrote and authored scripture. With the new bible this would be unproblematic. Any theological diversity, internal inconsistencies, contradictions, or anything that didn’t originally speak about Jesus in its original context and meaning could be given and was given a meaning that was faithful to the Risen Christ. In essence the early Christians retrojected the life and events of Jesus onto a set of documents that in its original meaning had nothing to do with Christ. This new bible was a commandeering of the biblical texts for the purpose of making them relevant to a contemporary audience that spoke to their spiritual needs. All the contradictions and theological diversity in a sense was not there in this “new bible.”
So the idea of God’s-Self writing scripture as the author made a lot of sense. But with the rise of Historical Criticism and as such a rediscovery of the “old bible” this notion of God’s authorship has become more problematic. We now have to account for not only the “new bible” but the “old bible” as well. Don’t misunderstand me. I don’t believe we should get rid of the “new bible” now that we have rediscovered the old, on the contrary we should embrace both, and hold them in tension.[6]But in light of the “old bible” we have to review our understanding of biblical authorship.
“It is highly problematic to claim to adhere to ‘traditional’ view on inspiration, when in fact one is only adhering to a select portion of some ancient viewpoint. In particular, it is not valid to lay claim to an ancient belief (such as scripture’s theological unity), while at the same time rejecting the hermeneutical basis of that belief (namely, that Scripture has a spiritual sense.)” (Graves, 2014)
In the same stream of thought it is also not valid to claim the ancient belief in the truthfulness of Scripture (or the authorship of God) while at the same time rejecting the particular interpretative framework that not only founded that belief but allowed it as a possibility. In other words, without the same creative interpretative framework and hermeneutic of the early church one has no basis to hold to a doctrine of infallibility or complete truthfulness of scripture.
So how should we understand inspiration and authorship of the biblical text today in light of our newly discovered “old bible?” We cannot ignore the forays of historical criticism on our notions of authorship and inspiration as based on our “new bible.” We must confront it head on. This of course cannot be decided by one person or even one generation. Creating new understandings of how we see the inspiration of the bible will of course take time, humility, and an ecumenicity among other things. However, I venture to give my own proposal of how we should understand it.
For example: If I write a Biography about my good friend Brad Pitt (I really don’t personally know him) and publish it, who’s name will be on the cover as the author of the book, mine or his? Well of course mine. I would be the author since I wrote the biography. He, and our friendship together, was merely[7]the Inspiration. He is certainly the source of my Inspiration for the book, but in no way would anyone think him to be the author of the book. He did not write the words, but what he did do was inspire the experiences we had together that prompted me to write the words. Inspiration comes from our experiences together, through our interactions and relationship. Inspiration is primarily, and perhaps entirely, relational. Through Brad Pitt and our experiences together, his Inspiration changes me. I am different now, because of our relationship together, than I was before. He has inspired me for better or for worse. My life would look completely differently if I had never developed my friendship with Brad.
Or let’s say I decide to write a journal about my experiences with my wife. Again, no one would say she wrote the journal, but they would say she, and our experiences together, were the Inspiration for my journal. And in this sense, she plays an integral part in the devolvement of my journal. The Divinity of Scripture, its inspiration, isn’t found in the words themselves but in the experiences of the authors who wrote the words.To beat a dead horse, Scripture is not God speaking about himself, but human authors speaking about God from their very real but finite culturally and historically saturated perspectives and localities. They were speaking about God from their subjective experiences and understandings of those very real experiences of the Objective God. Or to put it another way, they were recording their human interpretations of their interactions with the Divine. Must we see authorship and inspiration as the same thing?
When we hear the phrase “God-Breathed,” why do we assume that our understanding of it is correct? Does “God-Breathed” really equal authorship? In the “old bible” what did this phrase mean?We cannot approach this phrase without first questioning our own presuppositions and asking what the phrase meant in its own original, historical, cultural, and linguistic context (the “old bible”). Let alone what is has meant in the last 1,900 years of the church’s understanding of that concept and phrase, or even Israel’s understanding of Inspiration and their particular interpretative frameworks for understanding scripture(the “new bible”).The other two instances of this theme “God-Breathed” are found in Genesis and John. In Genesis 2:7 it says, “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, andbreathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” And in John 20:21-23 it says, “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Neither of these instances seems to be promoting “God-breathed” as a sort of Pseudo authorship.
Do the authors themselves even think that God is speaking in such a way that God the Holy Spirit is writing through them and thus producing his written word? In speaking about what seems to be dictation theory, C.S. Lewis says in a letter from Lee Turner, “Scripture itself refutes these ideas. St. Paul distinguishes between what ‘the Lord’ says and what he says ‘of himself’—yet both are ‘Scripture.’ Similarly the passages in which the prophets describe Theophonies and their own reactions to them would be absurd if they were not writing for themselves. Thus, without any modern scholarship, we are driven a long way from the extreme view of Inspiration.”
Some may be wondering what this does to the doctrine of Inerrancy. Of course, I believe this would obliterate any notion of inerrancy(at least with regards to the “old bible”)[8];but of course even with the equating of Inspiration and Modern Authorship, Inerrancy collapses upon itself. For the common inerrantist says, “By God’s Inspiration He prevents the human authors from committing any errors, thus creating an Inerrant Bible.”But it would seem for God to infringe upon our finiteness for even a moment would hence make God useless to us, for we would be like God ourselves and have no need for him. All this to say maybe we need to create a doctrine of inspiration that is more nuanced and allows for common sense modern biblical scholarship, let alone how the bible actually behaves to influence how we think about the Bible and God’s relation to it.
[1]I have order these in this particular order not because of any priority of one over the other, but simply to create the acronym REST. I will be using REST from now on to reference to these.
[2]Or that it’s God’s Word because that’s what we’ve always believed. Which is ironic in light that many who would make this claim do not believe Tradition has any authority, but this is exactly a claim to Tradition as an authority. .
[3]I should make it clear that my argument is against the equating of inspiration with our modern conceptions of authorship; as I do not know enough of ancient conceptions of authorship to refute that as well. But I quite imagine that the difference between the Ancient and Modern conceptions of authorship would be phenomenal.
[4]The early church’s interpretative framework is rooted in Second Temple Judaic biblical interpretative methods.
[5]“How to Read the Bible” By James L. Kugel, “Inspiration and Incarnation: Evangelicals and the problem of the Old Testament” By Peter Enns, “The Bible Tells me So” By Peter Enns, “The Inspiration and Interpretation of Scripture” By Michael Graves, “Echoes of Scripture in the Gospels” By Richard B. Hays.
[6]In one sense without the “new bible” we would have to admit complete discontinuity with the Hebrew Scripture. But this “new bible” was exactly what allowed Jesus and the New Testament authors to hold on the Hebrew Scriptures as continuous with this new faith.
[7]Although merely may not be the correct word since for without him and our friendship the Biography never would have been written. At least certainly not in the same way, but I am presupposing that Brad Pitt and our friendship is indeed true to reality, and therefore not fictional.
[8]The “old bible” as I am calling it, has such a theological diversity that any concept that scripture is completely consistent in its message is rendered void and useless. Where as the “new bible” may have no contradictions the “old bible” certainly does.