July 2007


Most of the book of Proverbs was written by Solomon, but Proverbs 30 and 31 were authored by Agur and King Lemuel respectively. King Lemuel’s proverbs are said to reflect his mother’s teachings. When it comes to inspiration, when were these proverbs inspired: Was it when King Lemuel’s mother spoke it to Lemuel, when he wrote it down, or when the compiler(s) of the proverbs that became the canonical Book of Proverbs incorporated them into the book?

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Psalm 72:20: “This collection of the prayers of David son of Jesse ends here.” Clearly these are the words of a later editor of the psalms, adding a structural marker to the Psalter. These are not the words of the inspired psalmist. Would you say this verse is the inspired word of God, or is it just an ancient editorial comment that is found in the Word of God?

Conservative Christians (such as myself) hold that the Bible is inspired by God. What we often do not think about, however, is how God inspired the Bible. We know God and man were involved in the final product, but what was the relationship between the two parties? I would venture to say that most conservative Christians picture the process of inspiration as some sort of mechanical dictation, in which God is telling the author precisely what to write, and the author writes it. Others hold to a conceptual model of inspiration in which God directs the author’s thoughts and concepts to reflect God’s intentions for the writing, but allows the author to clothe them with their own choice of words.

Can these models account for all we read in Scripture? It seems not. There are select passages of Scripture that seem to indicate that at least some of the authors were unaware that what they were writing was being inspired by the Spirit. Consider the following:

In I Corinthians 1:12-17 Paul addressed the issue of factions developing around certain high-profile Christian personalities. Some were claiming to be followers of Paul, while others claimed to follow Peter, and others Christ. To expose these factions as unchristian, Paul directed their attention back to their baptisms. Rhetorically, Paul asked if they had been baptized in his name. No. They were baptized in the name of Christ, and as such they must be followers of Christ, not Peter or Paul.

Not only were they not baptized in the name of Paul, but only a few of them were even baptized by Paul. Paul wrote, “I thank God that I baptized none of you, but Crispus and Gaius; lest any should say that I had baptized in mine own name” (vs. 14-15). This completes Paul’s thought. In the next verse, however, Paul adds another name to the list: “And I baptized also the household of Stephanas: besides, I know not whether I baptized any other” (v. 16). While Paul was writing verses 14-15, he only recalled baptizing two Corinthians, but then remembers one more and pens verse 16. Is that all Paul? He wasn’t so sure, so added a disclaimer that he does not recall baptizing anyone else.

Did God direct Paul to forget (or write as if he forgot), then remember baptizing the household of Stephanas, and to add a disclaimer to cover himself lest there be someone else he baptized that the Spirit directed him to forget? Is this a case of a divinely directed slip-of-the-mind? Was Paul aware of what the Spirit was doing? On a mechanical dictation model the answer is yes. I find that far-fetched. It seems highly unlikely that mechanical dictation was the means by which Paul inspired Paul to write, and unlikely that Paul was aware of the Spirit’s inspiration as wrote the epistle. He had a genuine experience of momentary forgetfulness.

Even if Paul was aware that he was being inspired by God as he wrote, how do we incorporate I Corinthians 1:14-16 into our view of inspiration? If the Holy Spirit was inspiring Paul to write, why didn’t the Holy Spirit bring back to Paul’s memory all of the people he baptized in Corinth, prior to writing those verses? Why allow Paul to record his forgetfulness? Doesn’t that cast doubt on the Holy Spirit’s superintendence of the writing? Could this mean that divine inspiration is not enough to overcome the human weaknesses of the authors? Could there be other places in which the author’s memory did not serve him well, but he was not able to correct himself as did Paul? How would you respond to these questions?

Or consider II Timothy 4:13. In a very personal letter to Timothy, Paul asked Timothy to bring him his cloak, books, and parchments when he comes to visit. If Paul realized this letter was being inspired for God, would he have made such personal comments? This is not to say God did not inspire Paul to write this, but it is to say it seems unlikely that Paul knew God was inspiring him to write it. From Paul’s perspective, this was a personal request to a friend, in a personal letter. I highly doubt Paul knew this letter was being superintended by the Spirit, and would be collected into a corpus of writings to be used by Christians everywhere for millennia to come.

What do you think? How does this affect your view of inspiration?

For further reading on my view of Biblical inspiration, go here.

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