Originally posted on 10 June 2008
Like all evangelicals, I believe in the inspiration of the Bible. This means that God inspired human writers in such a way that every word in the Bible (in the original language and original documents) is exactly the word God intended to be there. But this does not mean that God simply dictated the Bible, nor that he turned the authors into automatons. He understood the character and personality (and expertise and background) of the writers, and worked in partnership with this to write a series of documents that is truly unique – a divine collaboration that is both infallible and inerrant (in the original).
To interpret the Bible, we must understand both God (as far as possible, and doing so empowered by God’s Spirit) and the human author. This means that, amongst other things, we must understand the author’s personality, culture, context, writing style, background, training and experiences.
A fun example will illustrate…
The story of the woman who had been bleeding for 12 years is repeated in different Gospels. Mark, the most direct of the Gospel authors explains her situation like this:
Mark 5:25-26 – “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse.” (NIV)
Luke was a medical doctor. As such, his two historical accounts are regarded as the most meticulous and historically accurate (in terms of chronology and details), as well as the most eloquently written. In fact, some impartial historians have listed Luke-Acts amongst the “greatest histories ever written”. Yet, probably because of his background, in this story he protects his profession and refuses to implicate the doctors as Mark had done.
Luke 8:43 – “And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her.” (NIV)
Would we say that Luke was lying (in the sense of distorting the facts, or deliberately leaving out information)? Of course not! His omission is completely explained by an understanding of his background – information that helps us to interpret his writings and make them more understandable and applicable to us today.
This example is just a bit of fun. But I think God is happy when we smile, and has hidden some wonderful fun gems like this all over His Word.
Every generation has the mandate to continually look at God’s Word in the light of fresh understandings of Himself (granted to us by His Spirit, who continually teaches us) and the light of new research and findings about ancient culture, Biblical authors and their worldviews. God never changes, but our knowledge and understanding of Him constantly does.