The Problem with the Word “Inspiration”

When I wrote about “Inspiration Versus Inerrancy” the other day, someone responded that the word “inspiration” is problematic because its meaning can vary so much.  For example, you can read that a movie was “inspired” by a true story or that so-and-so is a truly an “inspiration” to us all.  You can probably think of some such examples yourself.  Thus to say that the Bible is “inspired” can communicate wildly varying ideas, depending on the perception of the person hearing you.

This is a fair point for someone to make, and I agree with it.  I’d only respond further with three quick points.

First, while the word “inspiration” has its difficulties, I don’t think it has as many difficulties as “inerrancy” (for the reasons that I gave in the earlier post).

Second, unlike “inerrancy,” “inspiration” is at least a biblical word; specifically, see 2 Timothy 3:16.   We can’t go too far wrong when using a biblical word to convey a biblical idea.  Note also that in 2 Timothy 3:16, the phrase says that the Scriptures are “inspired by God” – not just “inspired.”  That is, when we declare that the Bible is “inspired” we are actually using that single word as shorthand for “inspired by God” – not just “inspired” in a vague or undeclared sense.

Third, more often than saying the Bible is inspired, I say that it is the word of God.  This statement seems to work well in making clear my view because it gives someone a position to accept or reject.  That is, saying “the Bible is the word of God” doesn’t leave as much room for fence-sitting as the expression “the Bible is inspired by God.”  If the Bible is “inspired” in only a general or vague sense, then there are other books similarly described with which it must compete for attention.  However, if the Bible is “the word of God” it is in a class by itself – and deserves the appropriate attention – because all other books are merely from human beings.

By the way, I cannot imagine that I would have ever believed that the Bible was the word of God unless I had read it for myself.  The more I have read it, the more convinced I have become that it is the word of God.  Human beings simply could not have produced such thoughts on their own.  God truly does exceeding abundantly beyond all human beings can ask or think (Ephesians 3:20).

Inspiration Versus Inerrancy

Conservative evangelicals were tired of liberal evangelicals who proclaimed the “inspiration” of the Scriptures in an equivocal way.  Liberals might agree, for example, that the Bible was “inspired,” but only in the sense that a beautiful poem might be an “inspiring” piece of literature – not in the sense that God was telling us something to believe or do.  In an attempt to prevent the weaseling, conservatives wrote the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy in 1978.  Ever since, conservatives have proclaimed “The Inerrancy of Scripture!” or, simply, “Inerrancy! as the battle cry for this, their unequivocal position.

While I can sympathize with the conservatives’ frustration, their cure was as bad as the disease.  That is, “inerrancy” doesn’t say anything about what the Bible is.  It only says what the Bible isn’t.  To boot, “inerrancy” is not a biblical word.  That is, we don’t find it in the Bible.  As a result, inerrancy is a problematic way to defend the integrity of Scripture.

Let us return therefore to a biblical word, a perfectly good biblical word: inspiration.  That is, the Bible is inspired by God.  He “breathed” His life into its words (2 Timothy 3:16).  The ideas of the Bible are His because He was the one who inspired those who wrote it (2 Peter 1:21).  That some people will want to wriggle out of the plain implication of this word is something we simply have to accept.  We cannot force the truth on people.

Any reference to “inerrancy” sends skeptics scurrying for any of the supposed discrepancies found in the biblical text.  In an ancient text, copied by hand, there are surely going to be words and passages that are difficult to reconcile and understand.  What’s amazing about the Bible is that such difficulties are few and never involve a major theme or issue.  Therefore, the sad fact about disagreements over inerrancy is that they always skew the discussion toward trivialities.  Crying “Inerrancy!” leads to majoring on the minors.

The prophets and apostles of Israel who wrote the Bible were writing on behalf of God.  Thus they were writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  This means that we may rightly regard the Bible as the word of God.  That it is therefore inerrant should go without saying, for how could God speak erroneously?  But to center our faith on what is absent from the text misses the point.  Rather, let us declare the Bible as inspired, as the word of God.  For then we are declaring what the Bible is instead of what it isn’t.

I believe in the inspiration of Scripture.  The Bible is the word of God to me, and I will heed it as such.  My battle cry is “Inspiration!” and I will not equivocate about its meaning nor dispute its authority over my life.  Indeed, I love the Lord of whom it testifies so comprehensively and profoundly (John 5:39; Luke 24:27, 44).

The Keryma According to Wikipedia

Wikipedia define “Kerygma” as:

(Greek: κήρυγμα, kérugma)…the Greek word used in the New Testament for preaching (see Luke 4:18-19, Romans 10:14, Matthew 3:1). It is related to the Greek verb κηρύσσω (kērússō), to cry or proclaim as a herald, and means proclamation, announcement, or preaching.

The article goes on to outline just what constituted the New Testament Kerygma.

  1. The promises of God made in the OT have now been fulfilled with the coming of Jesus the Messiah (Book of Acts 2:30; 3:19, 24, 10:43; 26:6-7, 22; Epistle to the Romans 1:2-4; 1 Timothy 3:16; Epistle to the Hebrews 1:1-2; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:18-19).
  2. Jesus was anointed by God at his baptism as Messiah (Acts 10:38).
  3. Jesus began his ministry in Galilee after his baptism (Acts 10:37).
  4. He conducted a beneficent ministry, doing good and performing mighty works by the power of God (Mk 10:45; Acts 2:22; 10:38).
  5. The Messiah was crucified according to the purpose of God (Mk 10:45; Jn 3:16; Acts 2:23; 3:13-15, 18; 4:11; 10:39; 26:23; Ro 8:34; 1 Corinthians 1:17-18; 15:3; Galatians 1:4; Heb 1:3; 1Peter 1:2, 19; 3:18; 1 Jn 4:10).
  6. He was raised from the dead and appeared to his disciples (Acts 2:24, 31-32; 3:15, 26; 10:40-41; 17:31; 26:23; Ro 8:34; 10:9; 1Co 15:4-7, 12ff.; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 1Tim 3:16; 1Peter 1:2, 21; 3:18, 21).
  7. Jesus was exalted by God and given the name “Lord” (Acts 2:25-29, 33-36; 3:13; 10:36; Rom 8:34; 10:9; 1Tim 3:16; Heb 1:3; 1Peter 3:22).
  8. He gave the Holy Spirit to form the new community of God (Ac 1:8; 2:14-18, 33, 38-39; 10:44-47; 1Peter 1:12).
  9. He will come again for judgment and the restoration of all things (Ac 3:20-21; 10:42; 17:31; 1Co 15:20-28; 1Th 1:10).
  10. All who hear the message should repent and be baptized (Ac 2:21, 38; 3:19; 10:43, 47-48; 17:30; 26:20; Ro 1:17; 10:9; 1Pe 3:21).

Not bad.

The full article on Kerygma can be found here.

Larry Hurtado on Daniel Boyarin’s “How Enoch Can Teach Us About Jesus”

Here’s how this blog post (titled “Enoch & the ‘Son of Man'”) begins:

In catching up on articles in journals, I came across Daniel Boyarin, “How Enoch Can Teach Us about Jesus,” Early Christianity 2 (2011): 51-76, and am provoked to commenting on it.  Essentially, Boyarin contends that in the “Similitudes” (or “Parables) of 1 Enoch we see reflected “the development of ‘The One Like a Son of Man’ of Daniel 7 [vv. 13-14] from a simile into a title” [specifically in 1 Enoch 71:14], and that “All the elements of Christology are essentially in place then in the Parables [of 1 Enoch],” “a pre-existent heavenly figure, identified as well with Wisdom, who is the Son of Man” (74).

Given that Boyarin takes 25 pages to lay out his case, I can’t attempt a full engagement in a blog-posting (I’m sure readers are relieved to know!).  I will confine myself to a few observations that give some indication of why I find his discussion unsatisfactory.

via Enoch & the “Son of Man” « Larry Hurtado’s Blog.

Sitting at the right hand of an ancient king meant sharing the throne with him

Daniel B. Wallace is here quoting Martin Hengel on the meaning of “sitting at the right hand of,” referring to Psalm 110.  The verse Wallace has in immediate focus is John 17:5:

Now what’s key here is he says ‘Glorify me at your side.’ That’s referring to Jesus sitting at the right hand of God. In fact, Psalm 110, which is used more than any verse in the entire NT, is speaking about sitting at the right hand of God…Martin Hengel…wrote a book called Early Issues in Christology…and what he demonstrated in that book is that to sit at the right hand of someone is to sit on the same throne as that person; and therefore that person shares the same attributes and the same authority. He showed archeologically some images of people sitting at the right hand of another king on inscriptions and things like this, and they’re actually sitting on the same throne…so when Jesus says, ‘glorify me at your side,’ he’s saying, ‘reinstate me on your throne at your right side so that my glory is going to be unveiled again so that everyone will see that I have the same attributes and the same authority as you’…

Here’s the original source, which gives context for this quote.

The author who gave the Wallace quote went on to say:

I agree that ‘sitting-at-God’s-right-hand’ implies that Jesus sits on God’s throne. However, we don’t need Hengel’s studies in archeology to demonstrate this, for the Scriptures themselves reveal this to be true on their own. Notice, however, that in the book of Revelation, Jesus speaks about sitting on his throne and on God’s throne in the following way:

“The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, just as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Rev. 3:21).