A Collection of God’s WordsScripture is a collection of God’s words written in the words of men (humans). 1 In this collection, there are sixty-six books composed by several different authors living in different times and places. Some of the authors, dates, and places to which the books were written are unknown. Books, like the letters of Paul and Peter, were written to specific audiences, which a reader can discover in the books themselves. The history and purpose of these books can be readily identified. Other books, like the Gospels, were written by men who were writing about a person who had lived and the material about him was largely in oral form (i.e., stories, etc.).
The Writers Were Not Robots
The problem, which faces us is: How can these books, which were written by different authors, to different people, in a different time, be the eternal Word of God? The most often given answer among Christians is: God supernaturally inspired the writers of each book; they were, in fact, God’s mouthpiece. This view has been often called mechanical dictation. There has even been artwork, which demonstrates this very idea: pictures of the writers of Scripture listening to God as he dictated every word for them to write down. An equivalent to this idea is a boss who has a stenographer take his dictation for a letter. Essentially, this view says that God overruled the author’s personality and the historical situation played no role in the production of the book being written. In other words, the writer was a robot with no feelings, no thoughts, or words of his own.
This idea is not a modern concept. It can be found as far back as the book of Second Esdras, an apocryphal book dating from around AD 120. In the Protestant church, apocryphal books are not held as inspired, but they do give us a window by which we can view the thought form of the people of a specific era.
So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we proceeded to the field, and remained there. And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, “Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.” Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night. As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days, ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I did so (2 Esdras 14.37-48).
If this process were the true way in which the books of Scripture came into being, we would have no problems with the text of Scripture at all. It would be only the Word of God and in no way would it be the words of human beings.
Distinct Literary Characteristics
It can be demonstrated today that Scripture did not come to the authors in the way 2 Esdras records in the story above. First, Scripture came in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic (a few passages in Daniel, etc.), and Greek. We know for a fact today that the Greek language was not some special “holy” language but the most common literary language of the first century....the Greek language (of the Bible) was not some special “holy” language but the most common literary language of the first century. Click To Tweet
Second, there are distinct literary characteristics of each of the books of the First and Second Testaments. As an example, in the Second Testament, the book of Mark is written in very “sloppy” Greek, while Luke’s Gospel is written in a “meticulous” Greek. As an example, Luke uses medical terms to describe diseases the other Gospel writers do not use. 2
These examples, as well as others, demonstrate that while Scripture is the Word of God, its human factor has not been sidestepped or its human words ignored. As we read Scripture, then, we must take these things into account. To suggest this is not to say in any way that God can and does not speak to us through Scripture apart from any analysis of it. The mere fact, however, that God does speak to us apart from any critical analysis of Scripture should not prevent us from asking questions which are stimulated by the need to know him better and live a fuller life.
An Old Testament Illustration
Let me illustrate using a passage from the First Testament. In Isaiah 7, there is the prophecy concerning a baby, which will be born whose name is to be God with us. When we read translations of Scripture and see that one translation will translate with the words young woman while other translations will use virgin, we should be prepared to ask, Why? We should also be able to examine the reasons without a lot of heat in our system, which often produces no light on the subject at hand.
In the Isaiah passage of Scripture (Isaiah 7.14), the translation young woman is preferable. This allows the prophecy to have a meaning for its first hearer as well as be understood by Matthew centuries later to speak of the birth of Jesus. In the Isaiah account, Ahaz needed comfort and the knowledge that God was with him as king. God gave comfort to him in his time by the word from Isaiah about a child named Immanuel. This concrete act of God provided Ahaz with the faith to believe what the name Immanuel implied, that surely God was with him.
One can see from this example that the words of men, which God’s Spirit allowed to be used, gave an opportunity for comfort and strength in the first hearer’s mind as well as in the mind of the first-century Christian reader.
How Is Scripture God’s Word
In what way then is Scripture both the Word of God and the words of humankind? Scripture is the Word of God, which is a record of the history of God’s acts. Scripture has interpreted these acts with the words of humankind, so that one can find salvation through Jesus.
Remember, that Scripture is the Word of God, which means that it is trustworthy. Scripture is also the words of humans, which means that we have to be aware of its historical and grammatical context. When we keep both of these ideas in harmony with each other, we have the greatest opportunity of hearing the heart of God for a community of Jesus followers and for individual Jesus followers. Your goal as a current reader of Scripture is to know and understand what the first hearer could have understood when faced with the message of the text of Scripture and know that that same message is trustworthy in today’s world.
|Living into the Text!|
It is always important to live into what you have learned. Pause at this point and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to meditate on and put into practice some or all of the following.
- How does the word of God written in the words of men give new meaning to how you may approach reading and studying Scripture?
- Since Scripture is full of stories, why do you think that we study Scripture fragments like verses and words?
- Why is it important for you to think about the concept of how Scripture was delivered to you?
- Describe your thoughts after reading the passage for the apocryphal book of 2 Esdras.
- In what way does the Isaiah 7 passage help you understand that God will still speak through an Old Testament passage today in other than allegorical ways?
The articles below come from various Bible Dictionaries and other sources. The posting of these brief articles are to introduce some readers to the vast amount of information that is provided to enhance your reading of the text of the Bible with a hope that it will lead to a better understanding of the text and will lead the reader to an improved praxis in his or her community of faith and personal life. You might read the articles offline in a number of different Bible Dictionaries. If you do not own a Bible Dictionary, I would recommend New Bible Dictionary 3rd Edition. If you like lots of color pictures, try Revell Bible Dictionary. Revell Bible Dictionary is no longer in print but is available from Amazon. One of these should suit your personal needs.