Christian scripture is a rich and complex compilation of writings from many authors over many centuries. Scripture is considered an authoritative source for faith and practice by the Church primarily because it is considered writing that has been “inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16).
Others see scripture as purely a human invention, while some religions see their scriptures as dictated to men by God, the gods, or angels. Historically, Christians have taken a somewhat unique position that is neither one of pure human invention, nor one of divine dictation. Between those two ‘extremes’ there have been, and still are, many diverse views about how exactly God is involved, and how exactly humanity is involved.
A few years back, I was reading Chris Wright’s magnum opus “The Mission of God” where he characterizes the Bible as a ‘product’ of God’s own mission in the world – a mission of redemption and restoration. Wright’s view about what scripture is got my wheels turning about what it might mean that scripture was “inspired by God” – God’s involvement and humanity’s involvement.
I also began to notice what some of the Bible’s authors were saying about there own doings and writings. These are a few examples of passages that started to take on a new light…
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life–the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us–that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” I John 1:1-4 ESV
On a couple occasions, Paul refers to “my gospel” (Romans 2:16, 2 Timothy 2:8) as if what he preached and wrote came to him through encounters with Jesus:
“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” Galatians 1:11-12 ESV (See also, 2 Corinthians 12:1-7)
Finally, Peter’s sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 draws on God’s decisive act of self-revelation in Jesus Christ – God’s definitive work in the world – to the point that even the Old Testament passages are fitted around what God is presently doing in and through Jesus. These acts of ‘hermeneutical audacity’ are commonplace throughout the New Testament, as the authors interpret the Old Testament around Jesus. The authors seem to be most impressed by God’s work in the world as the source of inspiration.
Today, I see inspiration is a responsive interpretation of God’s work in the world. “Responsive” because God’s people respond to God’s acts in the world – to the work of the Spirit. “Interpretation” because the text comes to us through the authorship of culturally situated, finite human beings. I think this faithfully honors both God’s involvement, and humanity’s involvement in this ‘product’ of the story of God’s redemptive mission in the world, in and through His people.