Is it right to question inspiration?

Nov 28, 2021

A reader has sent the following paragraph and granted the right to post it: 

Yet, I see the author(s) of the book of Revelation giving their interpretation and ideas of what is going on in their time and context. Yet, who is to say they are correct? Like many others at the time, it is their opinion and interpretation of the "signs of their times". I or we could do the same today talking all about what is happening in America's economy, politics, morality, etc. and have our own beliefs and interpretation about what is happening in 2021 in USA and who is causing the problems. But it is their opinion and visions and interpretation---not necessarily God's or the Creator's communication to them. Yet, because it is in the Bible and our accepted Canon, we think it is from God.  I understand this book of Revelation almost did not make it into the Canon of ours, and many do not think it should be there.

This is very well stated. But let’s be clear: you’re not really talking about the book of Revelation. You’re raising excellent questions that deserve attention about a related but specific set of topics: What is (1) the meaning of inspiration and (2) the nature of canon? And is it OK to question them?

Across the spectrum, churches today generally (not always) offer simplified credal statements as answers to these questions, and, typically, we are expected to assent to them as “statements of faith.” Typically (and of course there are exceptions) church leaders have not thought through the major issues; and the truth is, most Christians have no real interest in thinking through such things. It is much easier to accept what we are told. I’m not condemning churches or preachers or leaders or anyone, for that matter. Rather, I’m saying that the fact is, this is not a topic that most Christians know very much about. Having opinions about it and knowledge are two different things. Most people just want to think about “what makes sense to them” and then form opinions. None of us would go to a medical doctor who made decisions about our medical needs that way. But I mean, we’re only talking about the Bible, right? How hard could it be? (Ok, yes, I’m being sarcastic.)

Across the spectrum,
churches today generally (not always)
offer simplified credal statements
as answers to these questions,
and, typically,
we are expected to assent to them
as “statements of faith.” 

So, then it is good and right to think through all such questions for ourselves.

Now, how do we go about addressing them?

At this point someone will suggest a book or two to go read. That’s the wrong path. Don’t go read any books about this. Not mine, not anybody’s. Not yet. How about this: Decide that before talking to anyone else about this, you’ll ask biblical texts themselves?

A 7 Point Path For Thinking about Inspiration and Canon:

  1. Realize you are asking HUGE questions. That’s great! So don’t expect fast answers. Decide you’ll be patient and take what time you need to look into this. If it takes days— fine. If years—perfect. Whatever it takes. Make it a journey on which you willingly embark. You are not in a hurry.

  2. Decide you don’t need to have “final” answers right now to proceed on the basis of faith. It’s like continuing to get out of bed each day even though you don’t have all the answers to life. You keep going.

  3. Resolve that you won’t assume that inspiration and canon are the same question. These might be two different sets of questions. If so, conflating them (i.e., mixing them together) might be confusing the issue right from the start. If they, in fact, belong together, you’ll figure that out as you proceed.

  4. Determine that you will go to the source: i.e., go directly to the biblical literature itself. If I want to know what you think, I should talk directly to you, right? The same with biblical literature.

    1. Ask each biblical document: What claim does this document make about either question? Anything? Nothing? If there are claims made, what specifically is claimed? What is not claimed?

    2. Ask each biblical document: What assumption does this document appear to make about either question? Anything? Nothing?

  5. Decide that you will make this a prayerful journey. Seriously and humbly pray about this as you proceed.

  6. Now, draw some preliminary conclusions: What do biblical texts claim about these two questions? What do they appear to assume about them?

  7. Now decide you need to have some serious conversations with others about this. NOW is when you read some other books.

Most people don’t want to go to this much work or thought. But they’ll still want to tell you what you are required to believe or not believe about scripture, canon, or inspiration. I would say to do this: Smile and keep on prayerfully reading, interacting with, and conversing with biblical texts. Doing so is not a game or a gimmick. Watching what biblical texts actually do is the very best way of deciding what biblical texts mean when they talk about “inspiration.”

It is also the very best way of deciding just how far we are “obligated” to agree with the solutions they offer.

After all, how many Christian leaders do you know who follow these teachings?

When you build a new house,
you shall make a parapet for your roof,
that you may not bring the guilt of blood
upon your house,
if any one fall from it.
Deut. 22:8 RSV

For if a woman will not veil herself,
then she should cut off her hair;
but if it is disgraceful for a woman
to be shorn or shaven,
let her wear a veil.
1 Cor. 11:6 RSV

Abstain from the pollutions of idols
and from unchastity
and from what is strangled
and from blood.
Acts 15:20 RSV

Since we already know that there are some things we no longer agree with, it is completely fair---and right and necessary---to pursue that question.

I repeat, I like your questions. Even more, I encourage faithful patience and persistence in pursuit of them. 

Gary D. Collier
IABC