The bible: An inspired anthology.

by K.W. Leslie, 22 November

God got people to write ’em. And God gets people to understand ’em.

Inspire /ɪn.spaɪ(.ə)r/ v. Breathe in (air); inhale.
2. Fill with a positive, creative feeling; encourage.
3. Fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something; provoke.
[Inspiration /ɪn.spə'reɪ.ʃən/ n.]

Whenever we Christians talk about inspiration—inspired prophets, teachings, and writings—it’s assumed God did the inspiring. He’s the one who breathed into us. One word we regularly translate “inspired” is theó-pnefstos/“God-breathed,” which is how the NIV prefers to treat “God-inspired” in this verse:

2 Timothy 3.16 KWL
Every God-inspired scripture is also useful for teaching,
for disproving, for correcting, for instruction in rightness.

It’s more than just “I was so excited about my thoughts of God, I decided to create this for him.” It’s God involved with, and behind, this creation process. The Holy Spirit, living within the teacher, prophet, or author, pointed ’em God-ward. Got ’em to describe God with infallible accuracy.

This is what Christians tend to believe about the books and letters which make up the bible: It’s inspired. The Holy Spirit got its authors to describe God with infallible accuracy.

Some of us believe it’s not true of anything else: God inspired the bible, but he’s not inspired anything or anyone since. Which is bunk; of course he has. But Christians aren’t universally agreed about anything other than the bible. (And not all that universally on the bible.) God inspired the bible… but whether he inspired anyone since, is kinda left up to our best judgment… which ain’t all that consistent.

In any event, those who think the bible is inspired, but nothing and no one else is, tend to wander into bibliolatry, which is a whole ’nother problem. And it’s downright weird to hear continuationists, Christians who believe God still speaks to his people directly or through prophets, unthinkingly repeat the claim nothing but the bible is inspired. It stuns ’em when I point out how their beliefs contradict one another. (People aren’t always aware of how much bad theology they have floating around in ’em.)

Fact is, if human beings can’t or couldn’t be inspired, we wouldn’t even have a bible. ’Cause inspired people wrote it, inspired Christians compiled it, and inspired Christians uphold it. True, these inspired people were and are fallible humans. But as people follow the Holy Spirit, he guides us to truth, Jn 16.13 and steers us clear of sin and error. In the moment, we can (and do) write and prophesy infallible stuff. Once done, we might (heck, do) slip up, sin, and make mistakes, and fall right back into fallibility. But the stuff done by the Spirit’s power is still good. The writings in the bible are still authoritative. So we kept ’em.

High and low views of inspiration.

Christians imagine inspiration works a whole lot of different ways, and theologians put these ideas on a spectrum. Looks a bit like yea:

In general a high view figures the bible is super special and worthy of great respect, and a low view figures the scriptures are the same as any other books. Both views are based on the Holy Spirit inspiring the scriptures: The high view leans hard in the direction the bible’s written by God directly. Barely indirectly, through prophets: He told ’em every word to put in there. Or took over their writing hands, and worked ’em like a puppet. Whereas the lower views recognize the Holy Spirit can—but doesn’t—act like that. And, admittedly, many lower views aren’t even sure there is any Holy Spirit.

The problem with high and low views? They’re quite subjective. Fr’instance calling the bible “a really clever book”: Some Christians are gonna figure that’s exactly the sort of reverence we should have for God’s word, and counts as a high view. But in my experience, people say “clever book” because they hesitate to say “inspired book”—so it’s not actually as high a view as all that. No doubt you’ll look at my chart and wonder, “Why’d Leslie put that there?” and wanna move it around. Or add stuff. (Or subtract stuff.) Because it’s all based on what we think best describes the bible.

It’s a pretty common tactic among people who believe outrageous things about the bible, to claim everybody who disagrees with them has a “low view.” (And of course the low view would be bad.) Fr’instance a bibliolater will consider his bible-worship a perfectly legitimate, appropriate “high view.” Anyone who doesn’t imagine the bible as divine as he does, can’t be a real Christian, ’cause he insists real Christians believe as he does. Anybody who tells him, “It’s wholly inappropriate to take the bible out of context like that”: Such a person doesn’t respect the bible’s magical ability to mean whatever the Christian wants it to, and therefore must have a “low view.”

You see the problem. “High view” and “low view” become a litmus test for orthodoxy and self-righteousness. Because all true believers should have a high view like them. They’re the true Christians… and they’re not so sure about everyone else.

Meh. My criteria in creating that inspiration-spectrum chart is that humans are creatures of extremes. The middle of the road (i.e. the middle of the chart) is right on. Going in the “high view” direction starts treating the scriptures as if they’re another incarnation of God, an avatar. Going in the “low view” direction starts treating the scriptures as no better than pagan mythology. Both extremes are wrong. Stay in the middle.

High and low views miss the point of inspiration anyway. The scriptures, the books of the bible themselves, are indeed holy and inspired. But what makes ’em have value, what makes ’em come alive, is the Holy Spirit. The only way the bible has any power and authority is when the Spirit gets involved in its reading and interpretation. Without him, the bible’s nothing.

Like Paul and Timothy described the gospel:

2 Corinthians 4.3-7 KWL
3 If our gospel was cloudy, it was cloudy for the perishing,
4 unbelievers whose thoughts the god of this age blinds lest the light shine—
the glorious gospel of Christ, who’s God’s icon.
5 For we didn’t preach about ourselves, but the master, Christ Jesus.
We ourselves are your slaves for Jesus’s sake.
6 For God, who says light will shine from darkness, who shone in our minds
for the light of knowledge, God’s glory in Christ’s presence:
7 We have this treasure in pottery jars,
because this abundant power can only be from God, not from us.

The apostles preached the very same gospel… and reached two different types of listeners. Some were receptive and became Christian. Others were doubtful and remained non-Christian. Others hostile and became antichrists.

Now the message was in spoken form, not written; 2 Corinthians was written much later. Principle still applies either way. The message wasn’t wasn’t mighty and effective because the apostles were great men and brilliant speakers: It did its thing because the Holy Spirit empowered it to. But when people resist the Spirit, the gospel to them is clear as mud.

Same with the bible. The Spirit makes light shine in the darkest corners of our minds, and makes the scriptures make sense. When he doesn’t, they don’t. When they won’t let him, he won’t, and they‘ll remain dark and confused. Ro 1.21 God’s here to un-confuse us, and it’s only he who makes the scriptures have any seeming power. The one who inspired the bible, is trying to inspire you. Cool, huh?

Inspired writings for inspired people.

True, I’ve met Christians (and likely so have you) who don’t see the bible as anything special. It bores them, so they don’t read it. But the vast majority of Christians I’ve met, though they’re not always so disciplined about reading it, do consider the bible awesome. Inspiring, shall we say.

The bulk of people who don’t find the bible so interesting, tend to be pagans. They dabble in God, or follow him their own way. To them, the bible’s just one of many religious books they sorta respect. But authoritative? They respect their cookbooks more.

In my experience, few of ’em have ever bothered to read a bible. If they did, they did with a lot of skepticism. They found it uninteresting. Or weird. Or old-timey. Or even bothersome, ’cause they really didn’t like certain commands. Or they found the genocidal passages in Joshua, or the freaky visions in Revelation, and it freaked ’em out. The bible doesn’t resonate with them.

And why would it? They don’t have the Holy Spirit in them to make it resonant. That’s right: He’s a necessary component when we read the scriptures.

In college I studied Shakespeare. My professor made a point of highlighting various passages which the casual reader might miss. Like words which didn’t mean in the 20th century (yeah, I went to school that long ago) what they did in the 16th. Or the medieval philosophy Shakespeare had, which informed his value judgments and influenced his plots. He helped bring depth to Shakespeare, made it make sense, and made it more interesting.

The Holy Spirit does much the same with the bible. Really, he does a way better job of it. My Shakespeare professor found it really hard to break through to those students who didn’t care about Shakespeare, and was only taking the class to fulfill their upper-division English requirements. (I’ve always been a fan, so no such problem for me.) But the Holy Spirit can tap our brains and emotions in a way no professor can.

So if you’ve the Spirit in you, someday you might be reading the scriptures half-heartedly… and a passage plows into you like a sleepy truck driver. That’d be the Holy Spirit, waking you up better than adrenaline.

Folks who don’t understand the Holy Spirit, have a bad habit of assuming the bible does all this stuff by itself. They take the 2 Timothy quote and claim the bible teaches, disproves, corrects, and instructs in rightness. But that’s not what Paul wrote: There are no verbs in the verse. He wasn’t describing what the bible does, but what the bible’s used for. Used by whom? Christian teachers… and the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit uses the scriptures to grow us and fix us. Without him, the bible does nothing on its own. How can it?—it’s an inanimate object. As demonstrated by every pagan who reads the bible, yet don’t profit by it. As demonstrated by many Christians who resist the Spirit and teach unfruitful, godless, downright stupid things about the scriptures.

See, inspiration isn’t limited to writing the bible. It’s part of reading the bible as well. It was written by God’s people, to God’s people. The writers assumed their readers care about God, same as they. Why read their words otherwise?

And those of us who care about God are gonna take the scriptures seriously. We’ll seek God through its words… and find him, ’cause he’s not hiding.