• What does it mean that the Bible is "God's Word"? Did He write it? How?
• If He wrote it, why is it so messy, why isn't it more uniform, why is it so repetitive, why is it so... odd?
• Why are there so many different versions? Can't everyone agree to one translation? Indeed, why are there so many different Greek and Hebrew manuscripts? Can't scholars just agree to use the oldest one?
• Why does it contradict itself? Why are there passages to kill and destroy God's enemies, and passages to love and forgive our enemies? Can't God make up His mind?
• Even if it is somehow from God, what do we do with all those passages which don't apply to us anymore? We don't do animal sacrifices anymore. We don't have any Levites around to impose a Levitical law upon. Science has shown us that many things aren't really that bad for us (like the prohibitions against pork, homosexuality, and touching a menstruatous woman).
• Why are there so many ways to interpret it? It seems like you can find verses to justify ANYTHING, if you look hard enough, let alone those people who "spiritualize" passages and find an infinite number of meanings.
• Who is to say that the Bible is God's Word, and not the Koran, or the Book of Mormon? Isn't such exclusiveness the reason for most violence and war in the world today? Indeed throughout all history?
Does this sound like a heretic? Maybe just a stubborn person who is looking for excuses not to believe? Maybe they are questions that everyone asks themselves in their secret moments. (Maybe they are questions that seldom occur to anyone seeing as most people rarely think about the Bible or God.)
Christians are adamant that God has revealed Himself in Scripture, but yet still, after 2000 years, they are not agreed about what He has revealed. The Bible remains an enigma.
This paper will not clear up all mysteries. Some people will still pose hard questions, whether from doubt and confusion, or to convince themselves of their unbelief. Nevertheless, a good perspective can go a long way in helping a person find answers to those questions. That is what is sought for here...
A seminary professor put forth a premise about the gospel of John, "The preacher's words + the Holy Spirit = Jesus' words." The
class was scandalized. Yet, this is the simplest and most elegant theory of inspiration I have heard to date. It may be fairly extended to the entire Bible, viz. The prophet's words, the King's
words, the musician's songs, the chronicler's history, the law giver's code + the Holy Spirit = the Word of God.
Questions of later editorializing by post-exilic priests, conflicting themes, archaic laws and lineages, textual variants, and c. do not blunt the force of the divine equation. When God talks, people listen... and write. And what they write may fairly be called the Word of God if the Holy Spirit intervenes in the word selection process. And the affirmation of a writing by God's People is the evidence that He did in fact inspire it. (That's a Biggie. You should re-read that.)
Moreover, when God does reveal Himself through words, He uses whatever words He finds at hand in whatever mind He decides to inspire. If it is a Spanish mind, then God's Word is Spanish (or in the Bible's case, Greek and Hebrew and a little Aramaic). If it is the mind of a lover of God, like King David (good choice, God), then God's Word is emotional and personal (as in "first person"-al).
God does this all the time, namely, works with whatever is at hand. Take for example how He used the culture He in which found ancient Israel. At that time, animal sacrifice (like slavery and extinction warfare) was the standard of the day, embedded in civil code and conduct. Does God have any use for these? Hardly. But if one is going to communicate with a nation, One must use concepts that said nation can understand. So, God used animal sacrifice to illustrate how He wanted to be related to. But more, He added the personal "sin" and "trespass" offerings, which were heretofore unknown to the ancient mind. He also used animal sacrifice to prepare the mind of the people for a Greater Sacrifice that was yet to come.
God uses whatever He finds at hand to create or reveal or show forth His power. This might be a pre-creation planet Earth or a first century Jew named Saul or a little, tiny lice (a whole lot of them) to humble Pharaoh. Can God create out of nothing (Ex Nililo)? Of course He can. The Bible tells us He spoke and it was. He could have chosen to come to Earth by just "appearing", rather than being born of a virgin. But He didn't. Go figure. (Conversely, on the day of Pentecost, the Apostles spoke in languages they had never studied. Here God caused something out of nothing. God works miracles. But He chooses when and where.)
It is the same when it comes to recording a revelation (or song or history). When the Holy Spirit gets involved, the product is, as it were, from God. And if you're wondering if the writer feels "inspired", I doubt it. Just read Paul's letters. He hadn't a clue that God was going to make his dictations into "Scripture". And it's probably good thing that he didn't realize this or all his writings would have all sounded like the Letter to the Romans (and he would have wrote them himself rather than dictating them).
This brings us to the next point. How do we know that something's is God's Word? This is actually the more important question. In the first century there are plenty of writings circulating around the churches: Gnostic gospels, lots letters from apostles, apocalypses, romances, and c.. Who decided which was divine and which was mundane? It was also the same with pre- and post-exilic Judaism. It was also the same during the Reformation and when the nineteenth century cults emerged (cp. the Book of Mormon and the writings of Mary Baker Eddy).
The answer is: the same Holy Spirit who inspired them, also guided the churches as to which ones to accept and which ones to reject (or simply recommend for devotional reading, but not doctrine). What constitutes scripture was not a result a decision of the educated few, but an affirmation of the faithful many. Church Councils only reinforced what the churches were believing already.
Were there disagreements? Sure. Where there splinter groups? Sure. Did the Church at times over venerate other writings? Sad to say so. But at no time was it suggested that Peter Lombard's "Sentences" or Luther's Commentary on Galatians or Calvin's Institutes or Augustine's City of God be made the sixty-seventh book of the Bible. The Christian Church and Christian churches have ever maintained that God's written revelation is now closed. And those who added more writings to the revealed Word of God were styled heretics, and justly so. Regrettably, heretics were often killed and persecuted; but this is the history of the world, Christian and non-Christian. How sad that we feel we have to kill someone who we think has blasphemed our God(s).