Should we just blindly accept the Scriptures?
For some, the response to these questions would be, “I just believe the Bible and take God at His word” or something to that effect. Some people just accept everything, no questions asked. Some would say that my questions in the previous paragraph are overly critical and could breed skepticism. But is that true? Should we just simply accept things of such importance and magnitude without knowing why or how? I do not believe so.
We believe and accept the gospel by faith, but as Christians we should seek to understand as much of it as possible, and know why we believe what we claim to believe. The same is true of the Scriptures. We don’t just tell people, “believe in the gospel”, we have to first explain to them what the gospel is and why they must believe in it. The same is also true of the Scriptures. It is not right to say, “The Bible is God’s word, period. Just believe it and don’t ask any questions”.
Often when speaking about the topic of inspiration, this verse is quoted:
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
This verse is sometimes used as a once and for all proof that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of the New Testament. But are these words of Jesus even talking about writing down divine Scripture at a later date? If they are, have you ever considered that about half of the men to whom Jesus spoke these words did not even write a single word of the New Testament? So what about the rest of the writers, what about Paul, Luke, the writer of Hebrews? They were not there that day. Jesus did not speak these words to them.
Or what about this passage:
2 Peter 1:20-21
(20) knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation. (21) For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
This is fully true; however in writing this, Peter had in mind the Old Testament Scriptures. At the time that Peter wrote these words the New Testament had not yet been completed, and at this time there were only bits and pieces of it in circulation. In fact, the concept of a New Testament did not even exist at this time, and would not come into being until more than 200 years later. What Peter is talking about here are Old Testament prophets, not New Testament writers.
Inspiration through human sources?
Then there is the case of Luke. It may be a surprise to some that Luke was not even an apostle of Christ, he was not one of the twelve, he did not walk with Jesus on earth, and he was not an eyewitness of His ministry. I realize that may sound a bit crazy, but read the very words that he begins his Gospel account with:
(1) Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, (2) just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, (3) it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, (4) that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught.
So much for the belief that the divine inspiration of the Scriptures was something mechanical or mystical. Luke tells us that he himself was not an eyewitness, and that he consulted other sources to compile his Gospel account. I fear that far too common the belief of the inspiration of the New Testament goes something like this: “God speaks the words and the writers write them down.”, or “The Holy Spirit somehow takes the hand of the writer and causes him to copy everything word for word.” That is not at all what happened with Luke. He took the approach of a historian! It should not scare us at all that God used human sources, and human means to bring us His perfect word.
The human nature of Scripture
Once you begin to read the New Testament and its writers, especially in the original Greek, you begin to see that God gave us His word through human beings. God used men to transmit His word to us, men with different personalities and characters, different vocabularies and levels of education. He did not just overcome them mystically and cause them to write in some kind of Holy Spirit language, as was once a common belief, not at all. In the Greek of the New Testament the personality, literary style, and vocabulary of each writer shines through clearly in their writings. In other words, God led men, through their own intellect, writing style and preference, figures of speech, among other things, to write down His divinely inspired word.
In the Greek New Testament, we can see just how true Acts 4:13 is. We are able to see in the writings of John and Peter, that they really were “uneducated and common men”. Even in Peter’s sermons in Acts, Luke records them in Peter’s Greek, which was a very different one from his own. Even though Paul regarded all of his unconverted life as rubbish compared to knowing Christ, one can see his high level of education and training through his style of Greek.
The Scriptures are fully and divinely inspired by God, through humans, who retain and show their individuality in their writings. This is a beautiful truth. Imagine if every book ever written had the same author. Imagine if we did not have the differences in writings from a complex Jonathan Edwards to a simple J.C. Ryle. The same is true of Scripture. We can see the simplicity and practicality of John, just as we can see the complexity of Paul.
In translation though, this is sadly not as clearly seen, something will always be lost. It is simply impossible to carry everything over from one language and culture to another. Shades of meaning and clarity, however big or small, will always be lost to a degree. For example, for me, it is far easier to translate from English into Spanish, as English is a much more bland language with less passion, culture, personality, and emotion. It is exceedingly difficult to capture the culture, emotion, and feeling of Spanish and translate it into English. I venture to say it is impossible to do it fully. Sure one can translate word for word, Spanish to English, using the same figures of speech; however something will always be lost. The same is true of putting New Testament Greek into English. Greek is much like Spanish in this way, it has culture, feeling, passion, nuance, etc., which cannot survive in a translation, no matter how good it may be. This is one more reason to embark on the lifelong journey of learning New Testament Greek. In the words of John Owen:
- Not only is this the only well from which we can draw the original force and meaning of the words and phrases of divine utterance, but also those languages (Hebrew & Greek) possess a weight of their own – a vividness which brings home to the understanding fine shades of meaning with power which cannot survive the passage into another tongue.