Conservative evangelical Christians, such as myself, will confidently say that we believe the Bible to be the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Amen and amen.
Yet when we begin to articulate definitions as to what these mean, an obvious variety begins to take shape.
Some believe that the Bible literally fell from heaven like manna. A person could simply pick it up as a complete and finished product and begin reading. Typical with this view is that the Bible was written for them specifically. Their generation. We can open it and begin to apply it to our lives without having to investigate things like the historical background a book was written in. After all it fell from heaven, right? Thankfully this view is not held very widely.
The next view is that the Bible is indeed inspired by God, but written through human agency as God verbally dictated to them everything He wanted written down. Now this is certainly true in part (the phrase thus says the Lord occurs over 3,000 times!), but here again, historical context is not really a consideration. And the problem with this view is that even a cursory reading of the Bible shows this approach to be erroneous. While the Holy Spirit inspired even the words the writers chose to use, He did not verbally dictate to them every single word. For example, many times the biblical writers are speaking from the first person (“I, Paul…”) and are addressing a particular audience (e.g. see any of the New Testament letters). In other words, as Paul was writing to the churches he planted, he was being led to do so through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. But that is not to say that he verbally heard those words and simply recorded them. The Holy Spirit inspired the authors in such a way that He fully guided the thoughts, phrases, and even words He wanted used while still preserving the personalities and unique styles of each contributor. This leads us to what I think is the most valid view of inspiration…
The theory of verbal plenary inspiration holds that every word in the Bible was divinely inspired (i.e. men wrote as they were guided by the Holy Spirit) and hence carries full divine authority. As I’ve already said, this was done while still preserving each author’s personality and style. Here are a few relevant passages…
“For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” -2 Peter 1:21
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…” -2 Timothy 3:16
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor…” -Isaiah 61:1
“As [Paul] does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” -2 Peter 3:16
[What’s interesting here is that Peter places the writings of Paul on the same level as the “other” Scriptures. Hence: Paul was writing Scripture]
So while these men were inspired by the Holy Spirit, their personality in writing was preserved as well as the historical contexts in which they wrote. In other words, when Paul sat down to write 1 Corinthians he had the 1st century church of Corinth in mind. That is to say, this letter was not originally addressed to us but to the Corinthians. Let’s consider, for example, 1 Corinthians 5:1-2…
“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.”
Here is a real historical situation that took place in the church of Corinth some 2,000 years ago. A son was sleeping with his mother (and you thought your church was dysfunctional!). Clearly this passage reveals the fact that when Paul wrote, he was writing to someone particularly. There was a real situation that was unfolding in real time that he was seeking to speak to. So the shipping address on this letter was not
First American Church
123 Main Street,
The Church at Corinth,
123 Paved Road,
Corinth, Achaia (the province in which Corinth was located)
But while this letter was not written to you it was still written for you. When we understand the original meaning of 1 Corinthians 5:1-2 we are then able to discern the timeless theological principle for us today, which might be something like the following…
The Church should be marked by sexual purity and should remove from their midst those members who are persistently and unrepentantly engaging in sexually deviant behavior.
This principle was true for Corinth 2,000 years ago, it’s true for the Church in the United States today, and it will still be true for the Church in Asia 2,000 years from now.
I say all of this because I want you (reader) to grasp the message intended in the Bible. God has chosen to reveal Himself to people who were in real space and time and who were dealing with real situations. So if we want to grasp that message, we have to place ourselves in that context first and become a listener in the original audience.
Instead of arrogantly demanding that God reveal Himself on our terms, let us be overwhelmed and humbled that He would reveal Himself to us sinners at all! In humility, let’s seek to understand God’s Word in its original context(s) so that we can apply the timeless truths it offers us in our context(s).
No, the Bible was not written to you, but dear brother and sister, it was most definitely written for you.