Q: Is "Biblical Inspiration" like Ulysses S. Grant Writing His Memoirs?
A reader has asked this legitimate and quite serious question. I'll include his full context:
I bought your Scripture, Canon, & Inspiration several years ago per a friend's recommendation, and boy did it change how I see the Bible. One question on that which came to mind, if you have a quick reply: The scripture itself says to "speak as the oracles of God" (1 Pet 4:11). OK, so since none of the gospel writers claimed that God wrote it thru them as is stated in other books ("The word of the Lord came to me..." Jer 1:4, etc), and indeed, Luke flatly states he researched his work from witnesses, how do we address this? For myself, I have pointed this out in my discussions, and I currently see these works as "inspired" in the sense much like Ulysses Grant was inspired to write out his memoirs. His motive first was to leave his family financially set after his death, but also to explain what his experience on the war was. Now Luke had greater motivation, his love of God, but have I missed anything in my view that Luke and the gospel writers were NOT moved by the Holy Spirit in the sense Jeremiah and others stated?
Many thanks for letting me steal your insights for my own!
This is well stated. I'll give now an expanded version of my private reply to him. Instead of one long post, I'll break this up into four shorter posts. Part 1 sets the stage.
I believe in the inspiration of our scriptures. I ask you to keep that in mind, because some will say that I don't.
I agree that the book of Jeremiah (a collection of prophecies) and the two-volume Luke-Acts (a story about Jesus, the Holy Spirit, some apostles, and the earliest surgings of the Way) make different kinds of claims. Significantly, the prophecies of Jeremiah make no claim about writing a book; any claim is about the message received. When Paul says, “I think I have the Spirit of God” in 1Corinthians, he is not making a claim about that letter, or any other. He is talking directly about his judgment on marriage in a specific situation. There are countless other such illustrations. Even when texts talk about much older sacred texts (as in 2Pet 1:20-21; 2Tim 3:16; and many, many others), the emphasis is on the content and message, not anything to do with technicalities about the writing, or "original autographs," or which language, or a translation, or any such thing.
The Bible as we have it in its various canonical forms
is scripture in jars of baked clay.
Inspiration [of biblical texts] is God at work through ancient texts
to fill the lives of individuals and communities of faith.
And there is a difference between the message and the container.
Definitions, Assertions, & Descriptions
The fact is, biblical texts offer no definition of inspiration. A few texts overtly assert the idea, and all biblical (and related ancient) texts apparently assume that writings thought to be "holy" came from God. But no definition is ever offered. Any concern for a detailed, finely tuned definition came later, and most attempts at it usually end up as constrictive, depending on the specific theological agendas of the group constructing it.
Personally, I am neither motivated by such attempts nor persuaded by them. My own best description of inspiration is “the attempt of ongoing conversation between God and human kind.” This is clearly not a definition, and it is focused more on function than form or manner. I still agree with my 2012 written comment in Scripture, Canon, & Inspiration, p. 133, which speaks specifically about the inspiration of biblical texts" (notice that I'm talking, now, about texts, not some kind of general sense):
The Bible as we have it in its various canonical forms is scripture in jars of baked clay. Inspiration [of biblical texts] is God at work through ancient texts to fill the lives of individuals and communities of faith. And there is a difference between the message and the container.
There is no way that I consider this the final word on the matter. There can never be such a thing. I do consider it an invitation to others to open conversations about this extremely important matter.