Who Wrote the Bible: God or Man?
Who wrote the Bible- God or man? How can we trust that the words we read in the Bible are the words of God? These are common questions many people have about the Bible known in theology as the inspiration of Scripture. This doctrine addresses the question: In what sense, or exactly how, is the Bible inspired by God?
To begin, the Bible is indeed inspired by God. To say that the Scripture is “inspired” means that God is the source behind its creation and truth. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to man. A key biblical text which teaches this is 2 Tim. 3:16- 17- “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” The word “inspired” in this verse literally means “God-breathed.” The Bible is not merely the work of man, but are words “breathed out” by God.
A second key text that demonstrates God as the inspiration behind Scripture is 2 Pet. 1:20-21- “But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’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.” The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture seeks to answer exactly how we are to go about interpreting that last phrase- “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”
In general, there are four major views, or theories, of the inspiration of Scripture:
This view states that the author is not divinely inspired, but rather the reader is inspired by the reading. This makes the Bible “inspired” like we would consider the works of Shakespeare are inspired. The theory of illumination makes the source of inspiration not God, but the reader of the text. If this view were true, it would explain apparent “errors” in Scripture since it eviscerates any notion of the Bible being propositional truth. The “truth” of the Bible would be up to the interpretation of the reader. The problem is that this view ignores the statements made in 2 Tim. 3:16-17 and 2 Pet 1:20-21 on God inspiring the text and thus gives the Bible no real authority.
This view states that humans were only stenographers that God used to write the Bible. There is no human element involved and thus the men who wrote the words of the Bible did so as automatons whom God “zapped” to record the Scripture via dictation. If this theory were true, it would answer any issue with supposed “errors” in the Bible. If the men took direct dictation from God there could obviously be no mistakes since God is perfect.
The problem with this view is that it does not take into account the obvious personality, writing style, and background of the biblical authors. For example, when my Greek professor would give us assignments from the Bible to translate, we would always breathe easy when he assigned writings of John. His sentence structure is simple and he uses very basic vocabulary. On the other hand, if our teacher assigned something from Luke or Acts, we groaned somewhat because Luke uses complex sentences and vocabulary. Another example is Mark, whose Gospel is known for its rapid movement. Mark uses the historic present tense a great deal- about 150 times in his Gospel. He clearly prefers this over the past tense, so we read “Jesus comes… Jesus says… Jesus heals…” time and time again. Jesus is always on the move in Mark. Furthermore, to express rapid movement Mark uses the Greek word for “immediately” 42 times whereas Matthew and Luke use it 7 times- “and immediately Jesus got into the boat…” When you read each book of the Bible, it becomes clear that each author has a distinct purpose and emphasis for writing. For example, Matthew clearly wrote his Gospel for a Jewish audience. Luke wrote his Gospel for a Gentile audience.
Another weakness of the dictation theory is that it doesn’t explain why there is so much repetition in the Bible. If God was dictating his word to a scribe, why do we have four different accounts, from four different perspectives, about the life and ministry of Jesus (the Gospels)? Why do we have 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings, and 1 and 2 Chronicles, which overlap much of their material?
This view emphasizes the inspiration of the author more than the actual words they recorded. In other words, God only inspired the thoughts of the authors and left the details of what was to be recorded up to them. With my students, I compare this view to something akin to Deism- that God created the world, then removed His presence, and let naturalism run its course. This theory means that cosmology, grammar, and history are reflective of the author and his times, which explains apparent problems of history and science in the Bible.
Adherents of this rubric of biblical inspiration often cite that the Bible in terms of “religious” things is OK because God inspired their basic thoughts on the subject. However, scientific and historical things are not to be trusted because biblical authors were all members of pre-industrialized society. Their words are not trustworthy in such matters because they did not have access to modern scientific knowledge. The problem with all of this is that it creates a huge slippery slope for biblical authority. If not all of the Bible is inspired, which parts are inspired? We go back to 2 Tim. 3:16-17- “All Scripture is inspired…”
This final view is the most preferable one because it gives strong authority to the Bible as the actual words of God while allowing for the human element to be involved in its recording. The word “plenary” means “full” and the word “verbal” refers to the actual words in the Bible. Thus, the verbal plenary view states that God inspired every word of Scripture. Each statement in the Bible is propositionally true. Yet, at the same time, God used the personalities and backgrounds of the authors to accomplish the task of recording His written revelation of Himself. When people ask me the question, “Who wrote the Bible: God or man? Who wrote Romans: God or Paul?” I always respond with a tongue-in-cheek, “Yes!” God inspired it and He uniquely used unique authors to record the Scripture.
Critics of this view argue that it cannot be adequately explained- it is too much of a mystery. Yet, when it comes to the Bible- the actual words of our Creator, should we expect to neatly package and explain everything that comes from One infinitely greater and wiser than us? This final view best captures what is clearly apparent when reading the Scripture- every word is inspired by God and He used human personalities in order to uniquely and effectively communicate His truth to the human race. What an amazing book the Bible is- and an even more amazing God who inspired it! Yes, the Bible contains the accurate and trustworthy words of God.