Christians believe the Bible is inspired. But, what does that mean? We sometimes refer to a piece of art or a work of literature as inspired if we think its particularly creative or insightful. But, when we say the Bible is inspired, were not simply suggesting its a really good book. Were referring to the fact that it contains Gods own words.
For some that may conjure up the image of God dictating the contents of the Bible the way an executive might dictate a letter, with the biblical authors writing down everything God says. But, thats not an adequate image. There certainly were times when the authors wrote down exactly what they heard God say. But, the individual personalities of the biblical authors themselves also come through in their writing. The different books, for example, reflect differences in style and vocabulary that one wouldnt expect if the Bible were merely the result of dictation. The human authors must have been intimately involved in the writing process. But, if thats true, how can we say the Bible contains Gods own words? Dont we just have the words of human beings the same as any other book? Thats where Gods comprehensive knowledge of each and every person, including the biblical authors, comes into play.
The summer Olympics are coming up in London. Imagine you have tickets to the mens marathon and your local paper asked if youd write an article covering it for the sports page. As the race is nearing the end, the leader enters the stadium well ahead of the other competitors and on world record pace. All of a sudden, his knee twists violently and he collapses into a heap on the track. Soon the other runners, one by one, pass him by as he lays there unable to finish the race.
How would you describe the scene? Wed all no doubt write something different. Our working vocabulary would obviously affect the words wed use: precise medical terminology might come easily for some of us, others would be content to use more general terms. Our personality would affect what we chose to focus on: many of us would focus on the specific details of what happened, others might speculate on the emotional impact the fall would have on the runner. Our range of sports knowledge would affect the comparisons wed make: if were up on our Olympic history, we might think of the falls of Dan Jansen and Mary Decker Slaney, but, if we were a football fan in the 80s, Joe Theismanns horrific leg injury might more naturally come to mind. How can anyone believe the bible is God word? Other personal factors would no doubt play a role in shaping what we decided to say.
That connection between who we are and what we say suggests the better I know you, the better I can predict what youre going to say. My wife, Jeni, for example, knows that when I hear her say the word committee I almost always, in my best Beastie Boys imitation, burst into: They got a committee to get me off the block because I say my rhymes loud and I say em nonstop (I know. Youll never be able to get the image of me trying to rap out of your head. Sorry about that.) If I knew you well enough, Id have a pretty good idea of the article youd write on the marathon. The problem is we dont know anyone perfectly. As a result, we never know exactly what someone is going to say.
But, God isnt limited in that way. God knew exactly what the biblical authors would say because he knew everything about them. More than that though, from the beginning, God was shaping the kind of people they would become. In His providence, God shaped those factors that would shape their writing, including their personalities, vocabulary and worldview (Erickson 2000, 243). As a result, God not only knew what they would say, He knew they would say precisely what He Himself wanted to say. As Wayne Grudem puts it, Gods providential oversight and direction of the life of each author was such thatwhen they actually came to the point of putting pen to paper, the words were fully their own words but also fully the words that God wanted them to write, words that God would also claim as his own (1994, 81).