Questioning Inspiration

I am reading through A. T. B. McGowan’s volume on scripture, and he argues that we should jettison the term “inspiration” from our theological vocabulary – thinking it does not do justice to the original Greek, the appropriation of the term, or the contemporary usage. He prefers “Divine Spiration”. What do we think? It has the advantage of pushing back the discussion on the doctrine of God and focusing the questions on the sui generis reality of the Scriptural text, rather than starting, as many have, with natural parallels. What would be the advantage to holding on to inspiration over divine spiration? Any thoughts?

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14 thoughts on “Questioning Inspiration

  1. One improvement would be to heighten the sui generis reality of the act of “inspiration” by avoiding a term that has come to mean “something that happens to someone which makes them produce their best work.” Here is McGowan’s summary statement:

    “The doctrine of divine spiration (inspiration) is the affirmation that at certain times and in certain places, God the Holy Spirit caused men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these books are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God.”

    The focus of his claim, furthermore, is that the Greek term theopneustos, often translated “inspired” actually means “God-Breathed,” and is not used in reference to the authors of Scripture but Scripture itself. In McGowan’s words, “…the claim is not being made that the authors were ‘inspired’ but rather that the Scriptures were ‘God-breathed’.”

  2. I’m not sure that “spirated” is any better here. The point seems to be that the predicate is properly said of the biblical text, and not the human authors.

    With that in mind, I don’t think I would mind the distinction that the authors of Scripture are not inspired — Scripture itself is. This shifts the weight of the doctrine of Scripture tremendously, though I can hear the hoots and hollars of the conservative Evangelical crowd already …

  3. Warfield the same argument, that “God-breathed” is more accurate than “inspired” because God was not breathing INTO something which had a prior existence (a kind of bibliological adoptionism) but was breathing OUT his Word, bringing into existence from start to finish. Is McGowan’s reasoning something like that?

    • McGowan, at least at this point in the volume, doesn’t make that kind of move, but is satisfied with re-focusing the issue of inspiration/spiration on the text itself rather than the human authors. I don’t think he would disagree with that assessment though, at least from what I can tell thus far.

  4. I would prefer ‘divine spiration’ be reserved for the procession of the Holy Spirit, as that’s it normal reference and throwing in Scripture in there as well seems weird.

    Equally, if the point is to emphasize the ‘sui generis’ nature of the texts and not its ‘natural parallels,’ then I would be even more hesitant, as affirmations that the texts are ‘sui generis’ seemingly lifts them out of material history and thus out of their polemical context with their ‘natural parallels.’

    • Ken, I think this is a good point. McGowan shows similar concerns with the incarnational model as you have with divine spiration. I think he believes that 2 Tim. 3:16 provides justification for playing on the idea of spiration – that scripture is “God-breathed.” It does seem a bit odd though not to draw a sharper distinction between the immanent and economic here.

      In terms of the natural parallels, he does not believe his view undermines, but rather upholds, the material history of the text. In his words, “…God the Holy Spirit cause men to write books and his supervisory action was such that although these boks are truly the work of human beings, they are also the Word of God” (43).

    • McGowan things the NIV’s “God-breathed” is a good translation, thereby making “expiration” more appropriate than “inspiration” – but “expiration” obviously has its own problems! He opts for “divine spiration” to highlight the source and mode of the action.

  5. I’m assuming the book to which you are referring is “The Divine Authenticity of Scripture”, right? I like what he’s trying to do, but I wouldn’t consider his answer to be the final word. The problem (I’ve had) with inerrancy is that there is very little room to move when one is confronted with contrary evidence. For example, I still haven’t figured out how to reconcile Stephen’s comment (Acts 7) that Abraham bought a field in Shechem from Hamor when he didn’t (he bought a field from Ephron in Machpelah, Gen. 23, which is where he was buried, cf. Gen. 50:12-13). Jacob was the one who bought the field in Shechem (cf. Gen. 33:18-20). Under the standard paradigm of inerrancy one can say that Luke truthfully transmitted what Stephen said (though Stephen got it wrong) and it is therefore inerrant (though this dies the death of a thousand qualifications). Or that Stephen had it right the first time and Luke recorded it right the first time so it was inerrant in the original autographs but that it was changed later on. The problem with that is, as McGowan puts it, “What was the point of God acting supernaturally to provide an inerrant text providentially if it ceased to be inerrant as soon as the first or second copy was made? (p. 109)” I’m not saying that these are the only two possible solutions to this problem (if someone has a better answer, please tell me because this has been bugging me for a while), but that issues such as this one can force people to blatantly ignore the problem or to throw out the entire Bible under the inerrancy paradigm. In case you’re wondering, I’ve tended to just ignore the problem until I have the time to struggle through the issue. The point is, McGowan is trying to have room to accommodate an error (Stephen and Luke both got it wrong) while at the same time allowing for the Bible to be truly God’s word.

    Another thought that I got from a T. F. Torrance lecture is that the doctrine of inerrancy is like the immaculate conception for Evangelicals. In order for the Word of God (i.e., Jesus) to be pure, his generation must be pure and therefore Mary was made free from sin by God’s grace (apologies if that is an oversimplification). Likewise, for God’s written word to be pure, it must also be immaculately conceived such that by God’s grace Scripture is generated error free. If Evangelicals think the former to be superfluous and ridiculous, then why not the later?

    In regards to McGowan’s book as a whole, he offers a great historical overview of the issue and whether one agrees with his proposal/conclusions or not, I would suggest reading it for that fact alone.

  6. I believe it truly comes down to what you believe about the scripture. Like awordaboutwords mentioned, if you believe in the inerrancy of the Bible, then you can save “Divine Spiration”. This goes along with the Bible being the Living Word of God.

    However, those who do not believe the Bible to be inerrant would not like the term Divine Spiration as it would not correctly describe the Bible.

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