While searching for Baptist churches online in the Kansas City Northland, I ran across this statement of one church’s belief about the Bible:
We believe the Holy Scriptures, consisting of Old and New Testaments only, to be the plenary, verbally inspired word of God, inerrant in the original manuscripts, authoritative, infallible and God-breathed…1
That is to say: the writings of the early Christians are without error and infallible because they are “inspired” (i.e., God breathed). Is that true do you suppose? The idea that this high status is extended only to the “autographs” (i.e., original texts) of the biblical texts is a tacit recognition that the Bible we use in church on Sunday morning is not inspired and hence is not without error or infallible. What we use in church are not the autographs (i.e., the original author’s copy of a text), but are copies of the autographs. In fact they are reconstructions by Modern scholars. Here is a shocking datum: no two ancient copies of the some 5000 ancient Greek manuscripts surviving from antiquity, virtually all dating from the 3rd century and later, agree alike in all particulars. Most textual critics work with the assumption, however, that the original readings of the autograph of a given biblical text are there somewhere among all the copies of a given text that survived from antiquity, but no one knows exactly what those readings were. Nevertheless text critics imagine they are restoring biblical texts to the “original autographs.” What they achieve, however, are the earliest probable exemplars. The texts of the Bible we use in church are imperfect copies of the original autographs.
Second Timothy 3:16, however, claims that “all scripture is inspired by God.”2 Is that true do you suppose? The term “inspired by God” (theopneustos) is only used this once in the New Testament, but there are a few scattered instances of its use in “pagan” literature. The “sacred writings” (2 Tim 3:15) for which this claim is made is probably the Hebrew Old Testament (cf. 2 Tim 2:19; 2 Tim 5:18). The term “all” or “every,” however, suggests to my ear that the author of this text may have had other individual writings in mind not limited to the Hebrew Old Testament. It could not have been the “New Testament,” however, which did not exist as a recognizable collection when Second Timothy was written.
The really odd thing is that not even God can inspire a text, unless s/he uses an eraser and rewrites the text with the divine quill. That is because texts are inanimate things. Of course, God can inspire the authors of texts to write, but they are still hampered by their abilities and life situations, and the written product will reflect the abilities and inabilities of the author. Nevertheless, any text (no matter how poorly written) has an innate potential for inspiring readers, but when inspiration occurs, it is caused by the reader’s response to the text. In other words, it is the reader that is inspired, not the text. I cannot think of any text that everyone would agree has an innate identifiable quality that can be described as “inspiration,” and that includes the Bible. Although I find First Corinthians 13 to be an inspiring text, that does not make the chapter inspired, for others may disagree, and I am unable to explicitly quantify “inspiration.” The Bible also contains texts that are not inspiring. In my view 1Tim 2:8-15 is an example of an uninspiring text because of its clear hatred of women.3
When we talk about “inspired” texts, we are actually describing how we respond to the text rather than to some aspect of the text. Whereas one may claim that the Bible is “God-breathed,” another may make that claim, for example, for the Book of Mormon because it was given to Joseph Smith by an angel—just as Moses received the Torah (Gal 3:19, Acts 7:38, 53; Heb 2:2; Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 15.5.3).4
What claims does your church make for the Bible?
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
2See Hedrick, “Revelation and Meaning,” Wry Thoughts about Religion, Saturday, August 31. 2013: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=revelation+and+meaning
3Misogyny is the appropriate expression to describe such views as this text contains.
4See Hedrick, “How did Moses Come by the Torah,” Wry Thoughts about Religion, Tuesday, September 30, 2014. http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=moses+and+law