The written word of God was so important to the Jewish culture that scribes were a distinguished, respected and critical role in Jewish society. The importance of the painstaking process and precision with which they copied Torah, the Prophets and Writings was embedded into the foundation of Jewish culture going back to Moses.
Moses produced the Ten Commandments etched in stone. Those stone tablets were carefully placed into the Ark of the Covenant, carried with the nation of Israel as they traveled through the desert, and kept with ritual detail in the most sacred place in the Tent of Meeting wherever they came to rest.
Scribes who carefully and painstakingly copied Scripture were still honored at the top of Hebrew culture in the First Century when Paul, also known as Saul of Tarsus, was trained as a Pharisee of Pharisees under Gamliel, the most respected scholar of his day.
For that reason, I find it interesting, to say the least, the way Paul described the process by which the word of God was given by God to the people. He would have been intimately acquainted with the disciplined, careful and thorough way a scribe would copy Scripture. Yet Paul says,
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17
God-breathed, or inspired, is the way Paul described how people received God’s word and passed it on. If Paul wanted to convey the idea of dictation from God, as Muhammed claimed with the Quran, he would have likely described the process like a scribe taking dictation from God, but he didn’t.
I wrestled with what inspiration means in recent articles here and here. Given the way people like Paul described the way Scripture was conveyed and received, it is very likely he didn’t mean verbatim dictation from God.
Instructive are the other ways Scripture is characterized in the New Testament. Peter, for instance, wrote the following in his second epistle:
“But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture becomes a matter of someone’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”2 Peter 1:21 (NASB)
Peter seems to be saying saying that the prophecy was not initiated by human agency, but by divine agency, and it was not interpreted by the people who were moved to communicate what was revealed. They simply communicated what they received.
The Greek word translated “moved” in this text is φέρω (pheró), meaning “to bear, carry, bring forth”. It has the same connotation as the idea of a conduit or conduction.
If Paul meant to say that the Word of God was “dictated” and copied down verbatim, like the scribes copied Scriptures, he would have likely used a word related to “scribe”, rather than inspiration or receipt, as in conduction.
Paul describes his own encounter with the risen Christ in this way. He says:
“For I would have you know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel which was preached by me is not of human invention. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.”Galatians 1:11 (NIV)
Paul uses the same language in his first letter to the Corinthians when he says:
“For I handed down to you as of first importance what I also received….”1 Corinthians 15:3 (NASB)
But what does it mean that the writers of Scripture were inspired, did not invent it, and passed (merely) on what they received without interpretation?
If they didn’t take “dictation” from God, what does it mean that God inspired men, and they passed on what they received?Continue reading “What Does It Mean that the Word of God Was Inspired by God and Received and Passed on By Men?”