Genesis Was Human History
Before It Became Inspired Text
For years Bible believers have taught that the Bible is an inspired book, and for good reason. The Bible says exactly that.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. (1 Timothy 3:16)
But the word inspiration needs clarification. The meaning is very different to what most people think.
It translates the Greek word theopnuestos which is a compound word that literally means God-spirited but recent translations have opted for God-breathed because it is closer to how we express words.
The NIV reads:
All Scripture is God breathed.
And many translations follow suit. The clarification is helpful.
Nice, neat, straightforward, and clear.
What I’ve said so far is generally understood and agreed to. There’s very little debate.
How Did Inspiration Work
However, many questions about how inspiration worked are not explicitly detailed in the Bible and the topic gets very little attention.
- We know the Bible is special revelation – check.
- We know the revelation was ultimately from God – check.
- We know that God used humans from all strata of society to record the revelation – check.
What we don’t know is exactly how the mechanics of inspiration worked.
We accept that the end result of inspiration was words – specific words – on paper.
We accept that human opinions, thoughts, feelings, and preferences have no bearing on the meaning of those words but the answers as to how these words moved from God to/thru humans and eventually onto paper are sound bites at most, and when discussions expand they run in circles and are full of vagaries.
It reads more like a he-said, she-said, they-said back-and-forth full of accusations, disputes, and triple-barrelled words than a fair, even-handed discussion.
Those big words, none of which are in the Bible, are thrown in to make unsubstantiated arguments seem sophisticated and prevent further discussion.
Superintend is a good example. The word is used to explain God’s part in the inspiration process but it is found nowhere in the Bible in relation to inspiration.
It’s a good word but it is neither the beginning nor the end of the story.
What The Bible Says
There is only one New Testament verse that describes the mechanics of inspiration and it isn’t extremely helpful. It speaks only in general terms.
Men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)
That one statement is the operational descriptor for every passage throughout the Bible where God was referred to as speaking, leading, or directing His servants in the process of recording His Word.
God moved. Men spoke. That’s it.
Is it significant? Absolutely!
Should we accept that? Absolutely!
Should we stop there? Should we dismiss any discussion on how it worked, what the human writers felt, and how they came to their written conclusions?
I think not.
Forward Progress Halted
This is where the conversation stops moving forward and takes a deep dive into the abyss. It becomes a conversational black hole of sorts, a discussion aneurism. Verbiage expands to the point of bursting with very little in the way of conclusions as a result.
One of my professors referred to these conversational overloads as theological gas. His solution was to open the classroom windows. Unfortunately, the publishing world – both hard copy and digital – where most of this conversation takes place has no windows and the blockage chokes the free flow of ideas.
The discussion is more like a heap than a maze. You can climb over it. Navigation through the core isn’t possible.
To be clear, there are two sides to the matter. One side vociferously claims inspiration is verbal and plenary, end of discussion. That’s all you need to know.
The other side delves into the possible theories about how inspiration worked.
What isn’t immediately clear is that these two issues, though related, are very different.
Inspiration refers to the God-breathed words of the Bible. The mechanics of inspiration focuses on the process by which those words came to exist on paper.
Inspiration answers the question:
What did God say?
Theories about the mechanics of inspiration answer the question:
How did the concepts and ideas associated with God’s Words develop in the heads of humans so they could write them down?
Both very important questions but also quite different.
I admit that the issues do correlate. What you say about one will directly impact the other but they are still two different discussions.
One reason we are loath to discuss the mechanics of inspiration is some people use the ideas associated with the mechanics to suggest the Bible is nothing more than the by-product of human invention, thus reducing the Bible to nothing more than the equivalent of great literary works like Shakespeare.
But that is no reason to avoid or deny the discussion.
Humans Were Invloved But How
There are two points on which everyone agrees:
- The Bible is a God-breathed book
- And God used humans to record it.
It is true that the Bible doesn’t address the mechanics of inspiration directly but there is plenty of evidence as to how it worked. The phrase “The Lord said” – in one form or another – is used almost 2,000 times in the bible, mostly in the Old Testament.
In every case, those words were immediately followed by what the Lord said (dictation).
It proves that dictation did occur and more than just occasionally (I’ll give examples just now). There were other texts that were clearly dictated even though the introductory words, “The Lord said” weren’t employed.
The fact that the phrase was used considerably more in the Old Testament than the New should provoke thought too. It at least means the method of inspiration varied. It wasn’t always the same.
Should we not consider that?
If we disallow the discussion, wouldn’t it create intellectual/spiritual gaps? Is that a good thing? Wouldn’t we miss out on very important observations?
You can, of course, ignore the topic. If God gave us the Book, we can be satisfied and move on to more important things, like interpretation.
But that doesn’t happen! We get bogged down in never-ending disputes and the Bible is left untouched on the shelf.
A few comments on the mechanics of inspiration follow.
Before saying more, understand that nothing I say here questions inspiration. The Bible is God-breathed.
We believe that. We accept that.
The problem is the mechanics of inspiration as a topic is seldom discussed and when it is it is rarely separated from inspiration. The topics are treated as one and mechanics is neglected. Any mention it receives is mostly negative.
The two words used by fundamentalists to describe inspiration are verbal and plenary. Both are good words but neither is found in the Bible and neither addresses mechanics.
Verbal emphasizes the fact that the product of inspiration is words, not just ideas.
Plenary refers to the fact that the revelation is complete. Nothing needs to be added or taken away from the Bible.
That’s all well and good but neither word refers to inspiration’s mechanical process. In spite of that, you’ll be hardpressed to find any discussion on the mechanics without verbal and plenary being injected into the conversation to disclaim just about every theory!
Mechanical theories are blocked before they get started.
Following is a representative list of ideas on how the inspiration process worked.
The list is not exhaustive. It can’t be. The Bible provides very little specific detail on inspiration’s mechanical process so anything said on the topic is based somewhat on speculation.
That may be why fundamentalists tend to balk. Speculation can move in any direction but don’t let that bother you. The Bible also doesn’t mention toilet paper or toothbrushes but it says enough about hygiene to support the use of both.
Here’s the list:
- Intuition Theory – God used human intuition to spur written outcomes.
- Dynamic Theory – God provided thoughts/ideas which were then put into words.
- Natural Theory – God used our natural surroundings, abilities, and experiences to spur inspired texts.
- Conceptual Theory – Similar to the Dynamic Theory.
- Dictation Theory – Writers recorded the words as God dictated them.
A few observations about these theories is in order.
One, the complaints about these theories run along two different channels. Some theories are thought to put too much humanity in the process (intuition, natural, conceptual) and others take too much out (dictation).
It’s true. Any of these theories can be overworked to the point where the Bible is reduced to just a product of human effort and ingenuity but stop worrying. The only people who think that are those who don’t believe the Bible anyway.
It’s a waste of time to explain why they and their ideas are wrong. It’s actually damaging. The more time you spend talking about wrong people and their errant ideas, the more prominent they and their wrong ideas become.
We’re letting the wrong people lead the discussion.
Secondly, God can and probably did use all of these mechanisms, and why not? He created us with intuitive, observational, conceptual abilities all of which are natural to humanity. Should it be strange that He would use those God-given abilities?
Thirdly, and more importantly, even though none of the theories are specifically mentioned in the Bible – with the exception of dictation – they were clearly operative.
David was a great thinker. From his many experiences, both successes and failures, he gained insight and developed concepts that eventually became inspired text. Maybe there’s truth to the Dynamic Theory.
Once you have a look at the situations in which inspiration occurred, a variety of theories makes sense.
The Dictation Theory
Take dictation, for example. Parts of the Bible were definitely dictated.
- How could Moses possibly know the design for the Tabernacle had God not dictated the instructions?
- How could prophetic events have been revealed had God not dictated them through visions?
- God plainly told Jeremiah, “write the words I have spoken to you down” (Jeremiah 30:2).
Sounds like dictation to me.
The Dynamic Theory
And what about the Dynamic Theory?
If the end result of inspiration was specific words on paper, where did those words come from?
The answer is very simple. We collect information and from that information, we develop ideas. As we collect more data, our ideas become more rounded and clear.
Eventually, we convey those ideas through well-written statements using words.
Why wouldn’t God use a process like that? As long as He is providing the information, and there’s plenty of evidence to show He did, then there is nothing sinister in believing people processed that information through meditative, prayerful consideration and were moved by the Holy Spirit to put those ideas into written words.
The Ten Commandments
The Ten Commandments were not even written by humans. They were handed to Moses on pre-inscribed tablets, no dictation or writing needed, just here’s the tablets. And there’s reason to believe Moses and the Israelites were already familiar with the ideas.
Concepts associated with adultery, idolatry, murder and more are found throughout Genesis. Take for example texts where adultery is implied but not mentioned specifically.
- In Genesis 2 God said a man should cleave to his wife and the two become one flesh.
- Abraham was humiliated when he offered his wife, Sarai, to another man not once but twice (Genesis 12 and 20).
- Joseph refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39).
These ideas were preserved in historical records produced by the individuals who lived through those events but those records were only history. None of them became inspired literature until Moses produced the edited version of Genesis.
He very likely edited out a good deal of superfluous content under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Joseph may have known the history but it was only history. It became an inspired anthology only when Moses produced the collated and edited version of those histories.
Joseph worked through the historical record, analyzed the events, isolated the concepts, and used sound logic to come to his conclusions.
Joseph also recorded historical data but, again, it only became an inspired text when edited by Moses.
What Were They Thinking
The question is what were the motives of the people before the Ten Commandments were given?
At that point in history, a wife was considered the property of her husband so we have to ask why Joseph refused the advances of Potiphar’s wife. We know he believed it was a sin against God (he said that) but did he say that because he saw her as Potiphar’s property? Did he think adultery was a form of pilferage? Was adultery a property rights issue or did he think like New Testament believers?
What we can say for sure is that Joseph was actually thinking. Even though there was no inspired text to consult at the time, Joseph was familiar with the incidences that occurred before his time and through natural human deduction came to conclusions that paralleled the inspired texts produced by Moses.
No Graven Images
Another example of pre-inspiration understanding involves idols.
Idols were carved images of deities. They had no power and the deities they represented weren’t real but they were prevalent.
There are many references in the Bible to idols but they are mentioned only twice before the Ten Commandments and both in the context of the same event, Jacob leaving Laban for the promised land (Genesis 31 & 35).
Jacob commanded his family members to bring their idols to him so he could bury them. And they did.
How did Jacob know that graven images were not allowed? There was nothing even in the historical record to indicate it was wrong but he still figured that out.
He probably developed that understanding the same way Joseph concluded adultery was wrong. He carefully considered the information he had and drew logical conclusions. It was a human process.
Don’t flinch. Humans were made in the image of God. Human capabilities were created by God. That image and those capabilities may have been tainted but they weren’t destroyed. It makes sense that God would use those abilities in the production of an inspired text.