What theories are there of biblical inspiration?
Biblical inspiration is a vital teaching of Christianity. Inspiration is the belief that God Himself inspired the words of Scripture, making these words the guiding authority for Christian faith and practice. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 teaches, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
Over time, several different theories have developed regarding biblical inspiration. Four main views of biblical inspiration include neo-orthodox, the dictation method, limited inspiration, and verbal, plenary inspiration.
The neo-orthodox view focuses on God's transcendence. In this view, God is considered "wholly other" and so far above humanity that He can only be known through His Word. However, instead of viewing Scripture itself as inspired, the neo-orthodox view teaches that a person can experience "the Word in the Word." In other words, a person encounters God through the Scriptures. This is what makes the Scriptures inspired. The words are imperfect words from human authors, yet God reveals Himself through these words in encounters with readers.
The neo-orthodox view is not actually a view that considers the Bible inspired. Instead, this view only teaches that that the Bible is a human collection of writing through which a person can experience an encounter with God. As such, it is an inadequate view of Scripture in comparison with the actual teachings of the Bible itself.
The dictation view understands God as the speaker and the human writers as the scribes or secretaries who physically wrote down what He said to write. This view is certainly accurate to a degree. For example, the prophet Jeremiah was commanded to write down something God said (Jeremiah 30:2). Moses was also told exactly what to write down in portions of the Torah. Jesus also commanded the apostle John to write down the vision He gave to him in parts of Revelation. However, other portions of Scripture were not produced in this manner. Luke was written based on the accounts of many witnesses (Luke 1:1-4). Paul's letters were written for particular churches and dealt with issues relating to the situations these early Christians faced. Much of the Old Testament is historical in nature, recounting what took place rather than dictating words directly from God. A close look at Scripture reveals the dictation theory is partly accurate, but is insufficient as a theory for the entirety of Scripture.
The limited inspiration view operates somewhat as the opposite of the dictation view. Rather than being dictation by God, this view holds that the words of Scripture are the work of human authors inspired to some degree by God. In this view, the Scriptures could include some human errors regarding historical or technical information, yet are doctrinally accurate. The concern with this view, however, is in attempting to reconcile the difference between what is inspired and what is not. If God inspired Scripture and God is perfect, shouldn't all Scripture be inspired? This appears to be the view taught by the Scriptures themselves (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
The final view, verbal, plenary inspiration, is the view of historic, orthodox Christianity. "Verbal" refers to the very words of Scripture. "Plenary" means complete. Together, these terms indicate that God has inspired every word of Scripture. As 2 Peter 1:21 notes, "For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit."
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