God Wants to Send You a Message
Imagine for a moment that you have never heard about Christianity. Suddenly you come across a book on the street. You pick it up and it just says “Holy Bible” on the cover—nothing about its author. Who wrote it?
The first thing I do when I pick up a book, other than reading the title, is to look for its author. Having worked in the publishing field, I know exactly where to find this information: on the copyright page. But surprise! When you open the “Holy Bible,” the information about the Bible author is not there.
What should the first-time reader—the one who approaches the Bible for the first time—assume? Who wrote it? How did it come to us? Who put it together? Of course, even a layperson in religious matters knows that Christians claim the Bible had its origin in God Himself. Does that mean the Bible as we know it today fell from heaven? Does God have “secretaries” or editors? Was it written by God or by human beings?
A key decision we must make when approaching the phenomenon of the Bible is to determine whether we will analyze it from viewpoints that are alien to it, or give priority to the way in which it defines itself. For us to gather its meaning, it would not be fair on the book and its author (or authors) to disregard what the Bible says about itself and its origin.
One of the most prolific writers in the Bible, the apostle Paul, bluntly noted: “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)1.
In the same vein, the apostle Peter states: “We also have the prophetic message as something completely reliable, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19-21).
This biblical self-witness affirms that the Scriptures are “inspired” by God. The prophets spoke as they were “being inspired” by the Holy Spirit.
These two Bible passages contain a wealth of in-depth information about the origin and nature of the Bible. They state (1) that the Scriptures had their origin in God, and He is the one who takes the lead in revealing Himself in communicating with human beings; (2) that revelation occurs through the phenomenon of “inspiration” (Greek: theopneustos); and (3) that this phenomenon applies to the entire Bible.
When we consider these verses about the origin of the Bible, it is important for us to keep in mind both what they affirm and what they do not. While the emphasis is on God being the author of the Bible, the passages do not assert that He is the writer. The writers, “holy men of God,” were those who recorded the revelation under divine “inspiration.”
So the apostle Peter clearly states that although human beings are the physical agents of the Scriptures, the origin of revelation—the source of the content that is found in the Scriptures—is God Himself. Human activity takes part in the process, but it is not the source from which the explanations, expositions, or interpretations contained in the Scriptures emerge.
How Inspiration Happens
The question remains: How should we understand the relationship between the divine Author and human writers? What part does each of these actors play? How was this process of revelation embodied in the Scriptures?
Even a superficial approach to the Bible as a book is enough for a reader to realize that the writing of the Bible was not a monolithic phenomenon that developed in a short time and in the same way throughout. On the contrary, the Bible, as it has come to us, is the result of about 40 writers who left their testimony over 15 centuries in three different languages: Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek. A more scholarly approach would show that the many literary styles correlate with the number of authors and the diversity of cultures represented.
So then, how was the Bible put together?
The verses we have briefly analyzed (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:21) categorically state that God “inspired” the Scriptures. This term, however, is too broad to articulate an explanation of how the divine method to communicate the will of God in writing works in practice.
Considering the statements of Scripture itself—the Bible in its written form—scholars have tried to understand how the phenomenon of inspiration works. Although as Seventh-day Adventists we reject the theory of mechanical or verbal inspiration (we do not believe that every word of Scripture was dictated by the Holy Spirit), we do believe that the process of revelation and inspiration influenced the words of the prophets. The Holy Spirit guided the prophets in the writing process, ensuring that the prophets’ own words expressed authoritatively and reliably the message they received. Therefore, “words are intrinsic to the process of revelation and inspiration.”2
In fact, God guided the writers themselves, who in turn expressed the divine revelation in their own words. Consequently, the way the biblical writers expressed themselves—the words chosen to convey the divine message—were their own choice, guided by the Holy Spirit. In other words, the writers of the Bible were the scribes of God, not His pens.
While biblical writers used the “imperfect” vehicle of human language, the Word of God is the supreme, authoritative, and infallible revelation of God’s will. Thus, the imperfect human vehicle communicates the truth. However, in the same way that the divine-human nature of Christ is indivisible, also the content and the vehicle cannot be separated in the Bible; it is impossible. In this divine-human phenomenon, God generates information and guides the writing process without nullifying any human individuality or ability, but He makes sure that the result of the whole process is reliable and true to His purpose.
The way the biblical writers expressed themselves—the words chosen to convey the divine message—were their own choice, guided by the Holy Spirit.
SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYER
1. Pray for insight into the various parts of the Bible and what God wishes to give you from its many parts to increase your understanding.
2. Ask for trust and discernment in the inspiration process through which the Scriptures were given to us.
3. Praise God for the variety of messages given to us in His Word, including parables, proverbs, poems, and prophecies.
¹Bible texts credited to NRSV are from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright ý 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A. Used by permission.
² Raoul Dederen, “Toward a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Revelation-Inspiration,” in North American Bible Conference 1974 (Silver Spring, Md: North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, 1974), p. 10.