Theories Of Inspiration

People may believe in the "inspiration" of the Bible, but define it differently

“Some people mean that the Bible is inspired in the sense that it is inspiring. They would point to the music of Mozart or the poetry of Shakespeare as other inspiring (and therefore inspired) works. For these people an inspired work is one that addresses the human condition in some profound way.”

 

Nearly everyone who claims to be a Christian also professes to believe in the inspiration of the Bible. They give different answers, however, to the question of what inspiration is. These differing answers are sometimes viewed as alternative theories of inspiration.

For example, some people mean that the Bible is inspired in the sense that it is inspiring. They would point to the music of Mozart or the poetry of Shakespeare as other inspiring (and therefore inspired) works. For these people an inspired work is one that addresses the human condition in some profound way. They would see the Bible as inspired in the same sense as Milton or Brahms, perhaps even to a greater degree. They would not, however, see the Bible as uniquely the Word of God. Their view of inspiration leads to take a low view of Scripture and a low understanding of its infallibility and authority.

Others see inspiration as the operation of the true and living God in the production of Scripture, but they wish to limit this operation to only portions of the Bible. In other words, they see some parts of the Bible as inspired but other parts as uninspired. The inspired parts communicate God’s message with His full authority, but the uninspired parts contain only human reflections and speculations, perhaps even errors. This theory could be called partial or limited inspiration.

For example, some evangelicals argue that Paul contradicts himself concerning the status of women. They observe that in Galatians 3:28, Paul states that in Christ there is neither male nor female. This verse is supposed to be the inspired declaration of God’s view of the relationship between the sexes, contradicted (this theory suggests) by 1 Timothy 2:11, which forbids women from teaching or usurping authority over males. The latter passage is dismissed as an assertion of Paul’s rabbinical bias, not endorsed by God. Even though Paul wrote both verses, they would say only one is genuinely inspired, limiting inspiration to only some parts of Scripture.

For those who hold this view, the problem is to decide which parts of the Bible are inspired and which are not. One version of this theory suggests that the moral or ethical teachings of Scripture are inspired. Another argues that the saving message of the Bible is inspired. Both versions would exempt factual matters such as history or science from inspiration. People who hold this theory see the Bible as inspired and authoritative when it teaches morality or ethics or salvation, but they insist that it may contain errors when it records history or speaks to scientific issues.

In practice, the partial inspiration theory turns out to be a way of dismissing those sections of Scripture that a reader finds uncomfortable. Typically, the inspired passages are taken to be those that agree with the sensibilities of the reader. This is a highly subjective method that grows out of a flawed understanding of inspiration.

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