the weblog of Alan Knox

Scripture and Inspiration

Posted by on Jun 24, 2008 in gathering, scripture | 13 comments

Last Sunday evening, I took part in another discussion group meeting. As I mentioned in a previous post, some friends of mine have started a discussion groups that meets about every other week to discuss a particular topic. For this meeting, the topic was “Scripture” – which is a very broad topic. We discussed several aspects of Scripture, but much of the time was spent discussing Scripture and inspiration. The following passage found itself woven through much of our discussion:

All Scripture is breathed out by God (inspired) and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 ESV)

I thought I would list some of the questions that we discussed. If you’d like to take part in this discussion (after the fact), feel free to offer your answers, or other related questions, in the comments.

1) If we accept that “all Scripture is inspired”, does this also mean that “all that is inspired is Scripture”?

2) In Colossians 4:16, Paul says:

And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16 ESV)

Paul seems to treat the non-existent “letter to the Laodiceans” as being in the same category as the “letter to the Colossians”. Would the “letter to the Laodiceans” be inspired? Should it be considered Scripture?

3) We know (from Scripture) that God communicated many times with people in the past, but that communication was not included in Scripture. Was God’s communication which was not included in Scripture also inspired?

4) Many would say that God continues to communicate with people today, although many would also say that that communication is not the same as Scripture. Would God’s communication with people today be considered inspired?

Primarily, the discussion last Sunday evening helped me think about the terms “inspired” and “Scripture” separately. I think this discussion is going to continue helping me understand the role of Scripture in my life and in the lives of other people.


13 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-25-2008

    Can I add: this scare me sometimes! Not that I don’t trust the Bible as bible but that at the end of it all what we hold to as bible is rooted in tradition and really is founded upon faith. I was wrestling through this as I was studying through Grudem’s ST. At the end of the day to hold to inerrancy is to hold to Faith, because philosophically the scriptures that we hold to as inerrency provides us with the very faith to hold to inerrancy. If that makes sense. The question is what if we find some of Paul’s or one of the other Apostles writings and it can be proven to be written by them (not the gnostic stuff) what would we do with our current bibles? If we say Canon is closed are we really being consistent?

  2. 6-25-2008

    1) If we accept that “all Scripture is inspired”, does this also mean that “all that is inspired is Scripture”?

    I believe that only scripture is inspired as the written word of God. Certainly, God spoke in ways other than Scripture but I believe the primary way He speaks now is in the Bible.

    2) In Colossians 4:16, Paul says:

    And when this letter has been read among you, have it also read in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea. (Colossians 4:16 ESV)
    Paul seems to treat the non-existent “letter to the Laodiceans” as being in the same category as the “letter to the Colossians”. Would the “letter to the Laodiceans” be inspired? Should it be considered Scripture?

    I have heard it speculated that Ephesians may actually be the “missing” letter to the Laodiceans. However, I believe that God provedentually ensured that all of the books of the Bible were preserved so if that book is not Ephesians then I would say that it is also not scripture nor is it inspired.

    3) We know (from Scripture) that God communicated many times with people in the past, but that communication was not included in Scripture. Was God’s communication which was not included in Scripture also inspired?

    To me, if it is not scripture I would not consider it inspired. WHile it was true (if God reveled it, like Joseph’s dream to marry Mary) that would be communication with that individual for that time. I wouldn’t consider that inspired scripture.

    4) Many would say that God continues to communicate with people today, although many would also say that that communication is not the same as Scripture. Would God’s communication with people today be considered inspired?

    I would say, first of all, that I believe that the primary way God speaks to us today is through scripture (the Bible) and not subjective impressions. Having said that, I know I have felt what I thought was the Spirit of God leading me to do one thing or another. However, I would not say that communication is inspired. I also would add that any promptings of the Holy Spirit will always be in line with scriptural teaching. A lady at a church I served as a minister of music had a sister who taught at Judson College in Alabama, a Baptist school. This woman felt that God was calling her to preach. She said “I know what the Bible says about women preachers, but God is laying this on my heart so strong.” To my mind, when we elevate our impressions and feelings over scripture we do nothing but ask for trouble.

    Of course, I could be wrong about this. I think I’m right but I open to being shown if I’m wrong from scripture. Thanks.

  3. 6-25-2008

    Joe, while I appreciate your last statement very much (being “open to being shown if [you’re] wrong from scripture”), there is an interesting difficulty with that.

    None of the points that you made are based on scripture. You started each point with “I believe…” or “To me…” or “I have heard…” or “I would say….” Yet you say you are open to being proven wrong from scripture.

    If I were to address any of your points from logic or reason, as you appear to have used here in making your points, would that be acceptable?

    In other words, if you don’t use scripture to derive your beliefs, why do you only accept refutation from scripture?

    I don’t mean this harshly at all. But you might want to give that some thought on this topic.

  4. 6-25-2008

    Alan, Joe beat me to the “Ephesians is possibly Laodiceans”. But, having acknowledged that possibility (and it is mere speculation), I would say that there are apparently other letters of Paul’s, too, that have gone missing.

    Personally, I have trouble buying the idea that Paul was only inspired for some letters and not others. His testimony appears to be one of a man who lived rather consistently in the Spirit of Christ (I don’t believe Romans 7 was an ongoing reality for Paul, due to the statements of chapter 6 and 8 on either side of it).

    Having said that, though, my issues with the standard definitions of inspiration have more to do with portions of Paul’s allegedly inspired letters that seemed intensely personal to the recipient. Like, for example, asking for his cloak to be brought to him. (2 Tim 4:13) Or his statement in 1 Cor 7:25 that he’s giving his own personal opinion, not a command from the Lord. Yet the “party line” says those verses are also inspired.

    Apparently, for Paul, it was all or nothing (according to the typical belief about inspiration). Either every word he wrote in a letter was inspired, or the entire letter was not inspired and therefore not kept around.

    I’ve mentioned these examples on my own blog in the past, and not really gotten any satisfactory answers. Another one I mention often is the phrase “The word of the Lord came to [insert name of recipient]” which is all throughout the Old Testament. Are those words themselves “the word of God”? Or is it what follows that records the revelation of God?

    It sounds nitpicky, but to me it’s rather significant because it shows the weakness of our current definitions of “inspired”.

    It seems to me that there are these finer points about the topic of inspiration that get glossed over in the “you’re either with us or against us” mentality that often comes with the subject.

    And the argument becomes circular: “The Bible contains all the inspired writings. We know they are inspired because they’re in the Bible. And we know that nothing else is inspired because it’s not in the Bible.”

  5. 6-25-2008

    Lionel,

    Your question about finding writings by Paul or one of the other apostles that is not included in the canon is one of the reasons that I was excited about the progression of our discussion. Separating the definition of “inspiration” from the definition of “Scripture” is very helpful to me. In other words, as Steve shows below, the definitions of Scripture and inspiration are usually circular, which is not helpful.

    Joe,

    I agree with your statements about Scripture. Thus, I agree that Scripture is inspired, and I agree that God does not contradict himself, so he will not contradict Scripture. (Of course, there are still some difficult passages like God telling Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.)

    However, I cannot accept circular definitions of inspiration and Scripture (i.e. This is Scripture because its inspired, and its inspired because its Scripture). Instead, I believe that anytime God communicates his communication is inspired. In fact, since 2 Tim 3:16-17 often translates “God-breathed” as “inspired”, I would say that at least some translators agree with me.

    John tells us that the majority of the things that Jesus said and did were not written down. If Jesus is God – and I believe that he is – then I have a hard time believing that something he said is inspired only because it is written down.

    Steve,

    The problem with most systematic and general statments about Scripture is that those same statements are rarely based on Scripture. This begins with the question of the canon. We cannot define or defend the canon from Scripture, especially the canon of the NT.

    The “Ephesians/Laodiceans” question is also one that is beyond Scripture. Note that if we use a belief that “Laodiceans” = “Ephesians” in order to back up our beliefs about Scripture, we are depending on unscriptural evidences. Interesting paradox, isn’t it?

    Actually, I think its good that we have these questions about Scripture and inspiration and inerrancy and authority etc. For one thing, if we can’t figure them out ourselves, then we’re forced to rely completely on God (as a person not as a writing) and not rely on our own understanding of Scripture. (hmmm… I think Scripture says something similar…)

    Thanks for the interaction on this topic. I wish you could have been part of our discussion group.

    -Alan

  6. 6-25-2008

    Steve-
    Count it all joy, my brother.

    Alan-
    I obviously see what you mean by circular. I don’t know that I’ve ever sat and thought much about inspriation apart from cannonical biblcal writings. For instance, I would concur that the things Jesus said and did that are not recorded were God breathed because He was, well, God. There seems to be a spectrum of people on one end who believe that God doesn’t speak to anybody except through His word and on the other side people who believe that God is still speaking in dreams and visions some of which might be the result of having a chili dog right before you went to bed. Anyway, I’m probably closer to the “only Bible side” than the other. I’m going to spend some time thinking about what you’ve suggested a bit more. Thanks all.

  7. 6-25-2008

    Joe, I have a LOT to be joyful about, so no problem there. Although I’m not entirely sure what “count it all joy” has to do with this conversation. :)

    Anyway, I did think about one verse of scripture that might address some of what you’ve written here.

    In Acts 2:17-18, Peter quotes Joel in saying that the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was happening. He says, “And it shall be in the last days…that I will pour forth of my spirit on all mankind…” and goes on to say that men and women would prophesy, see visions, and dream dreams.

    Since no scripture was (to our knowledge) written by women, and since Peter says this is characteristic of “the last days”, it seems that this is not something that would have been limited to that day.

    Or……Are we living after “the last days”?

    Further, Hebrews 1:1-2 draws a contrast between how God has spoken in days past with how he now speaks through his son. There doesn’t seem to be any indication in the NT that God would speak to us primarily through the written word at all. But there are a lot of indications that God would speak to us personally through his spirit (again, Acts 2).

    While Timothy was assured by Paul that the OT Scriptures were profitable for doctrine, reproof, and instruction in righteousness, there is no parallel statement regarding anything in the NT.

    Now, none of my points are to be misconstrued as diminishing the importance or value of what we call the Bible. Not at all.

    But I think it’s important that we put it into perspective as to what scripture actually claims about itself and not just go with what tradition has said about it.

    Alan, yes, it’s an interesting paradox. I’m finding that most of what we say about scripture comes from tradition, and not scripture itself.

  8. 6-25-2008

    Joe,

    I like to chew on questions – and I don’t like pat answers. I like to think through all the evidence – especially various Scripture passages – and I don’t like to brush aside passages that don’t match what I’ve been told. Unfortunately, that means that I don’t always come away with easy and systematic answers. But, I’m okay with that, because I don’t think that God is easy and systematic. I’ve learned that I can trust him even when I don’t understand.

    Steve,

    You’ve brought out some more passages of Scripture that I haven’t thought about… back to the drawing board. :)

    -Alan

  9. 6-25-2008

    Alan,

    I find the differences in opinion concerning what is inspired and what is not to be quite interesting.

    Like you I’ve long held the belief that everything God says is inspired whether it is scripture or not. But, I also believe that the litmus test to know whether He actually said it or not, is if it lines up with scripture.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  10. 6-26-2008

    Gary,

    Could it be that one of the benefits of Scripture is that by reading the narrative of Scripture we get a clear example of what its like for God to speak to us? (Before anyone jumps on me, I’m asking if this could be ONE of the benefits, not the ONLY benefit… there’s a big difference in those two words.)

    -Alan

  11. 6-26-2008

    Alan,

    Yes, I definitely believe that one of the benefits of scripture is the example it provides us in knowing what it is like for God to speak to us.

    A text of scripture that backs this up I feel is John 10:1-5, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But, he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear His voice; and He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out. And, when He brings out His own sheep He goes before them; and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

    I feel that the more we study and interalize scripture the better we’ll know His voice when we hear it.

    Blessings,
    Gary

  12. 6-27-2008

    I agree with Gary’s last comment. One of my good buddies and I often talk about the analogy of the letters that we write to our spouses before we’re married.

    If my wife writes me a lot of letters when we’re dating, I get a real feel for how she thinks, what things are important to her, her “style”, etc.

    If someone later comes to me and says, “Your wife told me such-and-such”, I’m going to have a pretty good sense of whether or not it’s something my wife actually would say.

    I think the same is true of our relationship with God. It might not even be an issue that’s addressed in scripture*, but if someone starts to tell me what they believe my Father said to them, I might be able to say with pretty firm certainty that it’s not from him because I have a good idea of what he says.

    (*This is why I’m not even sure we can simply say that the test for prophecy is whether it “contradicts” scripture or not. I do not believe every subject or every detail has been addressed by scripture.)

  13. 6-27-2008

    Gary and Steve,

    Thank you both for fleshing out this aspect of Scripture. I agree with both of you that reading Scripture helps us to “hear” God’s voice.

    -Alan