Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I’ve been thinking about inspiration the last couple of days. Biblical inspiration, to be more precise. I’m having real trouble with the argument that the Bible is divinely inspired. Most protestant Christians argue for the divine inspiration of the Bible based on specific passages in the New Testament (2 Timothy 3:16-17, John 20:31, 2 Peter 1:20, 21). Though, I think anyone with any scientific training or background in argumentation will tell you that a text’s own claim to truthfulness is not a very compelling argument.

Catholics have an interesting perspective on the issue. They argue that fundamentalist/evangelical Protestants are missing the boat for a couple of reasons. First, if you read the scriptural passages in question in context, it is doubtful that they are making the claim that fundamentalists would assert they are. Secondly, and I think more convincingly, that even if those passages were making the claim that all scripture is divinely inspired, the canon as we know it today didn’t exist then! Thus the fundamentalist claim is based on an inaccurate understanding of what constituted “Scripture” when John and Paul (in particular) were writing.

Apparently Catholics agree that the Bible is inspired (but I think they see it differently than fundamentalist Protestants), but they get there another way. First, the reliability of the Bible has been verified by history. Out of the Bible the infallible church was founded. The infallible church tells us that the Bible is inspired. The important implication of this argument is that the infallible church can tell us the correct interpretation of the divinely inspired Bible. In the fundamentalist tradition (the Catholic argument goes), there is no authority to guide interpretation. Loonies like me can read the Bible and run with our own crazy ideas.

I appreciate the Catholic argument against the fundamentalist tradition, but frankly the Catholic argument for inspiration doesn’t do much for me. Basically it boils down to “the Bible is inspired because the Pope says so.”

Before I go on, here are my sources for the Catholic arguments. These come from Catholic Answers, which is a very informative website and has helped me to understand a lot about what Catholics believe. These are some of the tracts from the website:

- What’s Your Authority? – an entertaining imaginary conversation between a Catholic and Protestant evangelist.
- Scripture and Tradition
- Proving Inspiration

If you have some time it’s a fun site to explore.

Going on… If we accept the premise that the writers of Scripture (from Old Testament prophets to the authors of the Gospels to Paul) were divinely inspired, did God stop inspiring people? Is our test of inspiration the fact that they were canonized? Did God stop speaking to the world after 100 or 200 A.D.?

What if Paul was just a guy? Albeit, a very influential guy that did a great deal to create the Christian church. What about other men and women through history? Were people like St. Augustine, Martin Luther, Susanna Wesley, John Wesley, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Maya Angelou, (sorry, I don’t know many female Christian theologians) and others divinely inspired? Could their writings carry as much divine weight as those of Paul?

Really, in either the Catholic or Protestant traditions, how do we know the Bible was divinely inspired? And if we can know that, do we have to believe that God has stopped inspiring? What is the test we use to determine inspiration? Are my writings inspired by God? What if I assert that they are?

I don’t have an answer. I’m not sure that anyone could give me a satisfying answer. Is there an answer?



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