Did God tell the prophets and apostles exactly what to write in the Bible?
Where did the Bible come from? What drove the writers to put their thoughts to paper? How did the documents become “authoritative” for the Jewish and Christian communities? What led to their selection as part of collections known today as Old and New Testaments, respectively? All of these questions are important to understanding the Bible’s origin. Some of these questions will be answered this quarter, but there are also many resources—including the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary that provide answers and background..
A wide variety of beliefs exist concerning the human vs. divine origin of the Bible. The most fundamentalist Christians, many being evangelical or non-denominational in affiliation, hold that God dictated the text exactly as it was written in the original Hebrew and Greek texts; to be the “word of God,” it had to come directly from Him. On the opposite extreme are those who conclude the texts are the product of human imagination and creativity apart from any kind of divine being; many such people do not believe in a god at all; they are atheists or agnostics. Between these extremes is where most Christians are found across the spectrum, often leaning more to one side or the other. Some believe the Bible merely describes human encounters with the divine, while others believe God’s Spirit actually directed the writing to a greater or lesser degree, but not actually decreeing or imposing on the prophet the exact words to write.
While Adventists have not, as a faith-organization, historically been believers in verbal inspiration, there are some who are; there is even a hint of it in Sunday’s lesson: “Direct verbal communication between God and particular human beings is an inescapable fact of the Scriptures. This is why the Bible has special, divine authority, and we need to take the divine element into consideration in our interpretation of the Scriptures.” The implication here is verbal inspiration, but even Ellen White was careful about not going down this path. See especially the whole context of the 1st chapter of Selected Messages (quoted in part in this week’s lesson), where she argues that God is not on trial in the words of the Bible; God inspired the writers, and the human authors chose the words in their own way to communicate the ideas. Thus inspiration acts on the writer, not always the specific words; even so, the final product is both that of man and God, an incarnational document!
What characteristics can you note about individual authors when you read their books of the Bible? Can you see themes, style, vocabulary, education, etc.?
2 Peter 1:19-21
The context of this passage is important for Peter’s argument. He recounts the amazing experience that he, along with James (“Jacob” in the Greek) and John, witnessed at Jesus’ transformation in glory when he was changed before them (see Matt 16:28-17:9).
If the disciples’ senses were overwhelmed—sight at the vision and hearing God’s very voice—and faith grew from this encounter, how much more does the prophetic word bring conviction.
The most important part of this passage for our lesson this week is in verse 21 where it describes prophetic inspiration as men, moved by the Spirit, spoke from God. The prophet or apostle was actuated, motivated, or empowered by the Spirit of God, so that the ultimate or implied author of the Bible is God Himself. While this is helpful, it still doesn’t answer the more specific questions about exactly how and to what degree God’s Spirit intervenes in the mind of the writer, directing to sources of information (previous written accounts, oral tradition, eye-witnesses), choosing words or eliminating others, or organizing the order of the final content and written product.The lesson directs us to Deuteronomy 18:18, saying God would put His words in the prophet’s mouth, but that “prophet” is none other than Christ, thus the very words are God’s because Jesus is God. The passage from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 points out that Scripture is “God-breathed,” the original wording translated in many modern versions as “inspired.” But again, this isn’t specific to the exact degree of control the Spirit has in the process.
Does the degree of control God’s Spirit had over the writer change how authoritative the Bible is for us? Would we read, use or apply the Bible differently if we thought it was verbally inspired versus if we believed the human author exhibited relative freedom and independence in writing?
The Written Word
The lesson lists a number of places where divine messages were to be recorded, written down by putting writing tool to media source. Ancient tools for writing included an iron stylus imprinting shapes in wax or clay, and quill pens dipped in gall-ink and inscribing characters on papyrus (plants hammered flat) or velum (stretched and dried animal skins). The value of the written word remains with us today—though beware of Ecclesiastes 12:12!—maybe moreso than ever in history.
What is the value of having a written record of God’s Word, rather than just oral tradition?
As meaningful as are the written Old Testament words about God, much more valuable is the message about God in the person of His Son. If the words about God from prophets told of His character, closeness to His people, and covenant, the incarnation revealed far more. And yet the two are not incompatible, or opposed to one another. Rather, the prophets foretold the coming of the Messiah. In fact, the beginning of John’s gospel mirrors Genesis 1-2, where “in the beginning,” God spoke and into existence came the world and everything in it. In these last days, God has spoken to us through one who is Son (Hebrews 1:1). In other words, Jesus is a new creation, a new manifestation of the amazing creative power of God.
Read through these verses in John. How much of the character of God is revealed in the “word made flesh”? What can we know about God through Christ?
Thursday’s lesson concludes with a discussion about approach the Bible from a perspective of faith. Trusting the message of God and allowing the Spirit to bring conviction is vital to spiritual life and growth. But perhaps a more fundamental attitude is humility; we approach the Bible willing to hear God speak, inviting Him to use the document to communicate His love, grace, and transforming power to me personally. The written word, and the incarnate Word, become real to me!