In my previous posts on the authority of the Bible, I presented evidence that the Bible claims that its words are God’s words and argued that we can only know that its claim is true by the Holy Spirit’s assuring us that it is. However the Bible’s being God’s words doesn’t mean that He dictated every word of it to its human authors. In our after breakfast Bible reading time of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (Zondervan, 1994) yesterday, we read his consideration of that idea (pages 80-81).
Certainly, some examples of dictation are referred to in the Bible. For example, when Jesus appeared to John on the island of Patmos, he told him to write letters to seven churches, each beginning with, “And to the angel of the church in [location of church] write:’The words of [description of Jesus]” (Revelation 2:1,8,12,18;3:1,7,14 ESV; all Bible quotations are from the ESV).
However many other parts of the Bible originated in other ways than dictation by God. For example, Luke declares that he used ordinary historical research in writing his gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught” (Luke 1:1-4).
Between these two extremes, dictation by God and historical research by the author, God communicated with the authors of the books of the Bible in various ways, such as dreams, visions, and bringing to their remembrance what they had seen and heard (John 14:26). God allowed them to make use of their distinctive experiences and abilities so that what they wrote was in their own words but oversaw their lives in such a way that what they wrote was also what He wanted them to write.
After considering what Grudem writes about how God used human authors in preparing for our family reading of it, I followed up on a footnote in which he observes that some systematic theologies call the process “the mode of inspiration.” I found that two of the systematic theologies which I have of those Grudem lists in his bibliography, those by A.H. Strong and H.C. Thiessen, consider various modes or theories of inspiration. I also found that each favours a theory of inspiration lying between the dictation and natural theories of inspiration described above.
Strong favours what he calls “the dynamical theory of inspiration.” It holds that God guided the human authors in expressing the religious message that He wanted conveyed but left the expression of other matters to them. Thus what they wrote is infallible in matters of religious faith and practice but fallible in such matters as history and science. A description of it can be found on pages 212-222 of Strong’s Systematic Theology (Judson Press, 1967).
Thiessen favours what he calls “the plenary and verbal inspiration of the Scriptures.” “Plenary” means “complete” and “Verbal” means “in or of words.” The theory holds that God not only guided the human authors’ thoughts and concepts but also oversaw their selection of words and that He provided this guidance in all matters. A description of it can be found on pages 65-66 of Thiessen’s Lectures in Systematic Theology (Eerdmans, 1979 revised edition).
I didn’t share with my family from what I’d read in Strong’s and Thiessen’s systematic theologies. Instead I read to them the explanations given in John R. Higgins’ article “God’s Inspired Word” in Systematic Theology: A Pentecostal Perspective (Gospel Publishing House, 1994) of the theories that they favoured. It concludes by claiming that verbal plenary inspiration was the view of the early church and of almost all orthodox churches until the eighteenth century and continues to be the view of Evangelicalism.