Spiritual Thoughts, Spiritual Words
by Matthew W. Bassford
The fundamental question of our faith is whether the Bible is the inspired word of God. If it is, we can rely on its contents. If it isn’t, everything we believe in, from the creation to the resurrection, is built on a foundation of sand instead of rock.
Not surprisingly, then, those who are opposed to the Scripture often either deny its inspiration or attempt to limit inspiration’s scope. Those who adopt the latter approach will say that the Bible is inspired in its broad outlines, but its details are the product of human understanding and reflect the wisdom of the time in which its authors wrote. This position seems to be much like ours, but in practice, it leads to very different results. We insist on obedience even to the commandments that we don’t particularly care for (Matthew 19:9, anyone?) because we believe they express the will of God.
However, if we believe instead that not everything in Scripture is necessarily inspired, that gives us the freedom to reject the hard sayings as anachronisms. Surely Paul’s comments about women in I Timothy 2 and the practice of homosexuality in 1 Corinthians 6 are echoes from an unenlightened, barbaric past, mere expressions of the apostle’s own human prejudices! Surely our wisdom has evolved beyond such things!
This perspective allows us to have our cake and eat it too. We get to celebrate the risen Lord and cherish the hope of eternal life while also rejecting every commandment that we find difficult or inconvenient. Only the ones that are amenable to the spirit of our own time need remain.
As convenient as this would be, though, it simply doesn’t align with what the Bible itself says about inspiration. In particular, we must take into account Paul’s words in I Corinthians 2:10-13. Here, he makes two strong claims about the involvement of the Holy Spirit in his work. First, the Spirit has revealed the truth to him. Second, he expresses that truth in words taught by the Spirit.
This does not mean that Paul was a Scripture-writing robot. If inspiration deprived human authors of their authorial voices, every book of the Bible would sound alike. This is not the case. The Pauline epistles don’t sound like the Johannine epistles and neither sound like the Petrine epistles. All reflect the personalities of the apostles who wrote them.
Instead, it describes a subtler process. In some way, the Spirit of God worked with the spirits of the prophets, allowing scope for human individuality yet precisely expressing what God wanted to be said. Because inspiration operated at the word level, nothing that the inspired writers recorded strays from the will of God.
Thus, we can have great certainty about what we read in the Bible. We don’t have to wonder whether any miracle or commandment is a human invention. None of them are. However, it also imposes a weighty responsibility on us. If God has said it all, we must obey it all. To do otherwise represents a failure to honor Him.