What I Believe: Inspiration

When we use the word “inspiration” we are using the English form of the verb inspiro which comes from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The form of the word might make us think that God did something to words that already existed. However, the Greek word theopneustos used in the New Testament means “God-breathed.” This should remind us of the work of the Holy Spirit in physical creation. In other words, Scripture is a creation of God and can be compared to physical creation as a mystery of God’s intentions.

The common source, the Holy Spirit, of both the Old and New Testaments is shown by the linkages between them. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament cited the Old Testament as foundational to an understanding of the new covenant that Jesus had brought into existence.

I regard “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience (2 Timothy 3:15-17; Luke 16:29, 31; Ephesians 2:20).” If this is true, then inspiration is how they got that way.

Inspiration is inextricably intertwined with special revelation and providence. Let me illustrate. Paul’s letters were written to various people and groups of people at different places and times. The circumstances that prompted his writing resulted from the working of God’s providence. The teaching of Christianity, particularly when Paul used the word mystery, was him transmitting the special revelations he received from Jesus Christ. However, when Paul wrote letters he did not intend to create Scripture. That part of it is the Holy Spirit shaping Paul’s writings to Christ’s purposes.

Inspiration is the work of the Holy Spirit in the creation of each of the books. Each book has a unique history of its formation. Jeremiah received God’s special revelation and Baruch wrote it down to give us the book of Jeremiah. The Psalms are an anthology of Jewish music presumably assembled by one of the leaders of the Temple singers. Inspiration guided the selection of songs to be included—special revelation and providence provided the songs.

There are other people who contributed to the coming into existence of the books of the canon in addition to the people whose names are on the books or who are credited with their writing. These are the scribes, collators, copyists, editors, redactors, and all others who contributed to providing us the Holy Bible. These also were inspired by the Holy Spirit. “As inspired, the Scriptures were not produced by human will (2 Peter 1:21).”

I believe grace provides us with the faith we need to understand the inspired words of the Bible. For instance, as new Christians we may have found a favorite verse that had a special meaning for us at that stage of our Christian walk. Perhaps, after a long walk of faith we will find in the begats (those listings of ancient lineages) a richness that eluded us when we first encountered them in our Bible reading. I believe God energizes his Word through the faith and needs of its readers. Where there is much faith there is much finding of inspiration. Where there is no faith we get things such as courses like “The Bible As Literature.”

What I believe is that without faith no one can discover the inspiration of Scripture just as no one can know creation without faith (Hebrews 11:3). This does not excuse anyone for not seeking to find the truth of God’s word in the Bible any more than there is any exemption for people who do not seek God in creation from their responsibility to worship him.

 

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What I Believe: The Canon

The canon, the list of books that are regarded as inspired and authoritative, places a “hedge” around God’s special written revelation to separate it from other Jewish and Christian writings. The canons of the Old Testament and New Testament are separate developments. The coming into existence of the Old Testament canon is lost in the mists of time. In contrast, the finalization of the New Testament canon is well documented and was a complex process. It took until AD 367 for it to be finalized.

Anytime a previously unknown early Christian or Jewish writing is discovered there are people who think the document will reshape our understanding of Christianity. This has, fortunately, not turned out to have happened.  Our canons are sufficient. it is us that is to be shaped by them.

The Old Testament canon accepted by Protestants consists of thirty-nine books that originated over a period of about 1,000 years. Jews and Roman Catholics accept fifteen additional books known as the Apocrypha as a secondary addition to the Old Testament and include them in their Bibles as lesser writings.

The Old Testament was adopted by Christians as essential to our beliefs because of its intimate connection with Jesus and the New Testament. Jesus and the writers of the New Testament extensively quote passages from the Old Testament and Jesus’ life was framed in the context of Old Testament prophecies.

The closing of the New Testament canon means that for over 1,600 years Christians have been hearing and then both hearing and reading the same New Testament. Or perhaps I should say almost the same New Testament. Variants in the copies and the need of most of us for translations mean we do not all have exactly the same book. However, when we read the Fathers, for instance, we can see that they have read and are quoting essentially the same New Testament we have. I believe this is one way God shows us our unity with the Christians who have come before us.

What I Believe: Redemption

Redemption has many facets. It is not enough that people know about good and evil. This understanding is insufficient to do the two things necessary to bring us to God. The first is to free us of the condemnation we have as heirs of Adam’s sin and the second is to free us from our own sinful condition.

 

Freeing us and others from the eternal consequences of Adam’s sin required a life of perfect obedience to the Father that Adam could not accomplish. Jesus lived out for us the perfect life that is beyond our own capabilities. Thus, by faith in Jesus we can be freed from the bondage and consequences of Adam’s sin.

 

What has been provided to Christians through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was offered, I believe, to some people before Jesus came to earth through the means we read about in the Old Testament.

 

When Abram’s name was changed to Abraham it began the process of widening God’s offer of faith and forgiveness to larger groups of people. When we get to Moses, God’s offer continues to widen. However, the fundamental requirements of faith and forgiveness continue. Paul tells us that the Mosaic Law does not save anyone but directs people to the need for faith and forgiveness.

 

The Mosaic Law stayed in effect until Jesus fulfilled it. Now we have a New Covenant but, I believe, it is as impossible for me to live up to it on my own as it would be for me to completely obey the Mosaic Law. The extent to which I am able to fulfill it depends on Christ’s gifts to me of faith, forgiveness, and the Holy Spirit.

 

For our own sins a sacrifice was required. This sacrifice Jesus offered for us by going to the Cross. What Jesus did is made effective in us by our repentance for our sins, our acknowledgment we are not able to present ourselves righteous before God by our own efforts, and our belief the Jesus Christ is the living Son of God. It is in this way we come to redemption.

What I Believe: The Fall

The Garden of Eden appears to be an anomaly. It was unique and set at a particular place on the earth for God to create in two particular people, Adam and Eve, the psychological and sociological characteristics that would eventually come to all humanity.

 

We focus on the disobedience of Adam and Eve and the curse they brought by eating the forbidden fruit. We tend to forget all the other things that occurred in the garden. Adam named animals and found he was not one of them and so could not be satisfied with their presence. God created Eve and marital relations had their beginning. Adam and Eve were given the ability to act outside their instincts. This is why Eve was able to think about her choices, and shape her replies when Satan tempted her. Adam did the same when Eve tempted him. In one of the great ironies of the story, they came to have knowledge of good and evil so they and their descendants could know that they needed the redemption God would provide.

What I Believe: Creation

Creation is a very complex subject. I believe God did create the heavens and the earth (and everything else) but not in six twenty-four hour days. I think creation required a long line of incremental steps and also time for created objects to mature to the state needed to make the earth suitable for human habitation. Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 tells us of God setting the stage for the story. It should not be over-interpreted as a description of all of creation. It is after all a rather short poem and I believe that it, like most poetry, cannot be interpreted literally. That said, there are two significant aspects of it. One is that everything physical in it is real and we have either experienced them or know about them. This led Isaac Newton to think that the passage was a description of end points of God’s creative actions. The second aspect is more subtle. I believe that breaking up the account of creation into days reflects the reality of the world we know coming into existence by stages.

 

This does not mean that I believe in evolution in any way, shape or form. Éttienne Gilson, a French philosopher, wrote in 1975, “Evolution is bad science and worse philosophy.” Since then, the science of evolution has gotten worse due to the vast increase of knowledge in the field of microbiology and the ideology of evolution has gone down several different paths.

 

The evolutionists have one thing, I think, that keeps them in the arena of evolutionist/creationist controversy. That is that life on earth has a long history. This is true even if some of the past and present scientific ideas about the age of the earth and how we got to the present will probably end up some day on a “blooper reel.”

 

We are told many times in Scripture about God’s propensity for creation What we are not told is how he does it.

What I Believe: The Story

The Bible tells, in sixty-six books, the story of God’s relationship to humanity. The story begins before the creation of the earth and ends in eternal blessedness for those people whom he has redeemed. There are three major themes that continue throughout the story. These are God’s creation of all that exists, the disobedience of the first humans and the consequences of that for all of physical reality, and God’s work to make right (redeem) according to his purposes all that has gone wrong. Redemption is a long and complex project and, I believe, cannot be finished in the framework of our present reality.

What I Believe: Special Revelation

Special Revelation is when God reveals to particular people information concerning himself and his purposes through various means of communication. The people who are given the special revelation range from individuals to all humanity. The various ways God communicates in providing special revelations are similarly wide.

 

Special revelation came through dreams and visions to two Josephs, one the son of Jacob and one the stepfather of Jesus. Daniel, Peter, Paul and John, in Revelation, also received special revelation by these means. Angels and people delivered God’s messages to Abraham, David and other kings, Mary, the mother of Jesus, and others.

 

Special revelation came to many people through direct speech including Adam and Eve, Cain, Enoch (this assumes he was told he was going to be taken to heaven before it actually happened), Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, all the true prophets of whom we have knowledge, Ananias of Antioch, and many more.

 

The canonical books of the Old and New Testaments are “God’s preserved, and permanent revelation of himself to mankind.” (See section 1.4.)

 

I believe that special revelation has not ended. If I were to think so I would be saying that God was limiting himself and why would he do that when there are believers open to hearing what God has to say. This is not to say that every revelation that is claimed as of God is actually true. There are preachers, teachers, and self-proclaimed prophets who are deceived as to the source of their understandings and so mislead sincere believers