The Inspiration of Scripture (3) – Dual Authorship8 min read
No discussion on inspiration is complete without some commentary on the dual-authorship of Scripture – not only the fact that Scripture is written by both God and man, but the implications of what that means and the dynamics of how that functioned. This is a necessary question to assess, because it affects how we approach the authority of Scripture, the interpretation of Scripture, and our appreciation of it.
We must avoid two extremes, however. In the first place, there is a chance of stripping Scripture of its genuine human (though God-ordained) sentiments. We should not feel obligated to deny the humanness of Scripture, since God had sufficient power to speak perfectly while using human instrumentation. We also should beware of stripping Scripture of its divine origin in that its primary purpose is to be the authoritative revelation of God. Thus neither should we feel obligated to deny the God’s part in Scripture, since its power and authority are rooted in His authorship. Balance must be maintained.
As observed in previous sections, Scripture writers found no problem referencing either the divine authorship or the human authorship of the text. But with either factor there were specific limits to how they were viewed.
With the Divine authorship of Scripture, there had to be an acknowledgment that every word of the text belonged to God. This will be demonstrated later. But this fact does not imply that every word recorded by the text originated from God specifically. Narratives are obvious examples of this: while God’s record of the events is fully His own, the events themselves may have contained statements of error. Though this is a simple example, it helps to form one’s general understanding of the nature of Scripture. It is not a transcript of his vocals, but rather a written revelation containing many genres of literature.
However, the inspiration of Scripture does imply that every word of the original text is according to God’s will. But this does not imply that men had no sincerity in writing the text. Again, the balance must be maintained.
Similarly with the human element of Scripture, there were certain limits to what was implied by their part in writing. We do know that genuine human efforts were made to write Scripture texts (Luke is an example). This does not imply those efforts were subject to common human error. Further, we do know that genuine human will was involved in the penning of Scripture, but this does not exclude the overriding of human will in certain instances (Balaam in Numbers 23, Daniel in Daniel 12, Jude in Jude 3). Balance and honesty with the text are key.
At this point it is obvious that inspiration included many factors can’t be summed up by a simple formula. Scripture’s dual-authorship contributes to this claim. This has caused theologians to search for illustrations that might help us grasp the concept more easily.
Some have proposed a comparison with the two natures of Christ initiated at the Incarnation. Notice the parallel:
- Christ eternally preexisted. His birth was (a) by supernatural conception from the Holy Spirit (b) apart from Joseph who would have passed on both Adam’s curse and Jehoiakim’s curse (Jer. 22 & 36) and (c) carried out by natural processes after conception. This combined in one Person the full essence of God in all His depth with the ability to be perceived by man on a human level.
- The thoughts of God eternally preexisted. When God put those thoughts into words it was (a) wholly originated by His Spirit (b) wholly exempt from human error and defilement and (c) written and preserved by many natural means subjected to the providence of God. This combined the thoughts of God in all their depth with understandable words which could be received by human minds.
This parallel is interesting to say the least, yet if it is pressed too far it will give way to nonsense. While the Incarnation can parallel in some sense to inspiration, to say Scripture is 100% of God and 100% of man is too unspecific and unhelpful to be a meaningful application of the parallel.
Another parallel one could bring up is the sovereignty of God in salvation combined with the genuine human response given at the moment of salvation. For instance, John 6 describes God’s work of drawing a sinner to the Son (John 6:37,44); but Romans 10 describes a genuine response to the gospel message. Matthew 11:25-27 describe God’s sovereign work of revealing His Son to sinners, while the following three verses (28-30) describe the sinner’s genuine response to Christ’s open invitation. Perhaps this could illustrate the process of inspiration in that while God was fully behind every word, the mind of man was fully involved in his project. Neither reality invalidated the other. Though such is a mystery to our finite minds, we can at least acknowledge the reality as it presents itself to us.
A few questions undoubtedly arise when the idea of dual authorship is considered. While perfect answers cannot be given, these questions deserve to be addressed.
- Can the will of God and the will of man be one in writing? How would this work? One thing we must understand about the sovereignty of God as presented in Scripture is this: while it is never diminished by human will, it usually works with the will being a genuinely active agent. Perhaps some examples will help. Recall that with Joseph’s brothers their genuine desire was to see Joseph ridden from their company, and they made a genuine decision to sell him. They were not acting against their will, but rather in line with it. Yet when Joseph reflects on the situation, he credits it fully to God in Genesis 45: “It was not you there that sent me here, but God.” Or we see in the cross that men are viewed as both active and passive agents in Acts 2: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands [you] have crucified and slain.” He was “delivered by” God and yet “taken” by wicked hands. The first question is answered quite firmly by these illustrations: yes, the will of God and the will of man can be one in the writing of Scripture, without diminishing the actuality of either. God does not require fatalism or mechanical human choices for His sovereignty to be true and genuine. The fact is clear. The “how” is where we are left without a complete answer. How could we have a satisfactory answer, since it is a paradox to the human mind? Such is where faith comes in. Nevertheless, we can be confident in the full word-for-word inspiration of Scripture, while human sentiments retain their sincerity.
- Why was it necessary for man to have a genuine part in authorship? There are a couple of reasons. Firstly, man’s part in Scripture serves as an apologetic for the authenticity of Scripture. After all, if it was delivered on gold tablets, what viable means would we have to test its authenticity? But since God used man as joint-author, it validates Scripture’s truth since man could not produce a document like the Bible on his own. Secondly, it serves to reinforce our ambitions toward godliness, since real authors spoke of real experiences. Entering into the hearts of Bible characters, we find in them something on our level we can relate to.
- How do we deal with the exclusively human statements of Scripture? An exclusively human statement would be similar to what Solomon conveys in Ecclesiastes, in which there seem to be a number of flesh-based ideas presented. Is God speaking in Ecclesiastes? The point of Scripture is for us to say in every section, “This is God speaking.” Even though there may be records of falsehood and of error, such does not compromise the authenticity of Scripture; rather, it means God has given a perfect record of that error or falsehood and desires to perfectly teach us something through it. In fact, if we had a Bible that contained no record of human error (not of the text itself, but an event or saying the text records), we may doubt its practical application or true connection to our reality. Thus, when we come to a book like Ecclesiastes in which Solomon records his flesh-based pursuits, we do not need to doubt its inspiration; rather we designate it as a practical book perfectly spoken by God that accurately reflects the heart-strains of the human author. Is God not free to tell us what He wants in the way He wants? Why, then, would there be any tension between God’s perfect record of human error and His true voice? Is one not free to quote an error such as, “God does not exist” while himself being free from error in saying, “Skeptics say, ‘God does not exist.’”? While he is not claiming the proposition itself, his record is exactly true, and he is free from error. It can be said legitimately that all of these words are his words, but it does not mean each one holds the same purpose in the same way. So it is with Scripture. There are two main kinds of passages: passages of record (always delineated in some obvious way) and prophetic passages in which God directly speaks (normative). There never has to be a text we come to in which we have to determine, “Is God speaking?” Rather, we must determine, “What is God trying to convey through His speech? Is He teaching us through a perfect record of someone’s experience (always clear in the text)? Or is He speaking directly to me (what is normal in Scripture)?” If we reject Scripture as what God designed it to be due to our preconceived notion of what it should look like, we will always find reasons to question it. But if we accept it as a deliberate and unified revelation from God, all of its pieces will fit perfectly together; and we will be able to claim that every part and the entire whole is fully of God.