God's Word in Human Words

Michael S. Horton
Monday, March 1st 2010
Mar/Apr 2010

Like the gospel, a proper understanding of the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture is never something that we can take for granted. This is especially true when we live in a culture that is simultaneously naturalistic and mystical. As contradictory as these positions seem to be, they conspire against any ultimate claim to a revelation from God, given once and for all to a particular people in history and yet obliging universal acceptance. Naturalists don't believe God speaks anywhere, if there is a deity at all. Mystics identify the voice of God (whoever he/she/it might be) with their inner light or pious experience that bubbles up from within. In either case, the self is sovereign. Nothing can judge, disrupt, or rescue from outside the cocoon in which one hides from the approaching footsteps of God.

The Controversy Today

For Christians, as the Reformers and their heirs especially emphasized, the doctrine of Scripture (sola Scriptura) is inseparable from the gospel summarized in the other "solas": solo Christo (Christ alone), sola gratia (by grace alone), sola fide (through faith alone), soli Deo gloria (to God alone be glory). We need an external revelation from God, entirely trustworthy, because we are sinners under God's judgment who need to hear the good news of his rescue operation and the assurance of his favor toward us.

According to Luther, the voice of God does not call us away from created things (such as human language) "into the inner self," but calls us out of our introspective existence through these creaturely means to embrace a surprising Word that we could never have told ourselves. (1) In fact, the Westminster divines pointed out that God blesses the reading "but especially the preaching of the Word of God as a means of grace since it is by this means that the Spirit confronts sinners in their self-enclosed existence, driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ" (Westminster Larger Catechism, Answer 155). This Word calls us out of our subjectivity and renders us extrinsic, extroverted, and social creatures who hold fast to Christ in faith and to our neighbors in love. Stephen Webb goes so far as to suggest that the Reformation represents "an event within the history of sound," an event of "revocalizing the Word." (2)

For all of the announcements of having entered a postmodern era, our Western culture hasn't moved terribly far from the basic dogmas of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. One of its chief priests, Immanuel Kant, denied any special revelation from God outside of the self. We do not need a miraculous revelation of the gospel, Kant argued as a thoroughgoing Pelagian, because we do not need to be saved by grace. We only need "the moral law within"–deeds, not creeds. Turning to a life of introspection, Kant found only the law, moral imperatives, or "what is incumbent upon me," and explicitly rejected anything new imposed from the outside (the gospel). A religious person does "not found his morality on faith, but his faith on morality." This is the "kind of faith that founds not a religion of supplication [invocation], but a religion of good life conduct." (3) The modern individual therefore realizes that once your need is no longer to hear a rescue report from God, but merely to have a little inspiration and direction for life, you hardly need the Bible. In fact, you do not need Christ, because you have "the moral law within."

Taking their cue from Kant, Protestant liberalism is often charged with a naturalistic bias, but this is a half-truth. Actually, liberalism combines naturalism with mysticism. While working feverishly to undermine confidence in the external authority of God's Word that announces the gospel, liberalism widens the concept of inspiration to include not simply the moral law within but just about any and every inner religious feeling that accompanies it. "What is inspiration?" asked the father of theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. "It is simply the general expression for the feeling of true morality and freedom." (4) The Protestant Reformers anticipated this development when they identified the tendency to equate God's Word with inner experience and speculation as "enthusiasm" (from the Greek enthousiasmos–literally, God-within-ism). Such statements as this one from Meister Eckhart were taken up by radical Anabaptists, Enlightenment rationalists, and Protestant liberals alike: "St. Paul said to Timothy, 'Beloved, preach the word!' Did he mean the audible word that beats the air? Certainly not! He referred to the inborn, secret word that lies hidden in the soul." (5) As Paul Tillich observed, it is this doctrine of the "inner light" that unites rationalists and mystics of all ages. (6)

So here we are today, with contrasts frequently drawn between being "spiritual" (i.e., morally sensitive to one's own inner light) and "religious" (believing and doing certain things that come from an external authority), "deeds" over "creeds," both of which empty into the wasteland of what sociologist Christian Smith calls "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

Even in evangelical circles today, there is a broad spectrum of views concerning Scripture, ranging from fundamentalism to so-called progressive positions that are pretty close to the old liberalism that evangelical scholarship once challenged with remarkable skill over the last century. As such, evangelicalism has always had its feet in two worlds: the Radical Reformation (led by the Anabaptists and mediated by pietism and revivalism) and the Magisterial Reformation (led by Luther, Calvin, and other Reformers, mediated by Protestant orthodoxy). Nevertheless, the latter tradition had the greater influence in the Neo-Evangelical renaissance in the second half of the twentieth century. The giants of Old Princeton–Charles Hodge and B. B. Warfield–helped to shape a new generation of conservative Protestantism, led by Carl Henry, John Stott, F. F. Bruce, Francis Schaeffer, David Wells, James Boice, R. C. Sproul, and many others.

The Radical Reformation, however, is making a comeback in popular evangelical theology. Because evangelicals are more closely related historically to Anabaptist and pietist traditions and therefore more experience based than doctrinal or sacramental, Stanley Grenz wonders why some evangelical theologians still hold to the scholastic-Calvinist "conviction that there is a deposit of cognitive revelation given once and for all in the Bible," together with its "combination of a material and a formal principle [sola fide and sola Scriptura]." (7) Perhaps even more bravely than Schleiermacher (and certainly more radically than Karl Barth), Grenz rejects a direct identification of revelation with Scripture. (8) He argues that "spirituality is generated from within the individual." (9) Consequently, Scripture is not God's Word but "the foundational record of how the ancient faith community responded" to God. (10) Scripture discloses "the self-understanding of the community in which it developed." (11) Therefore, Scripture exists alongside experience and culture, and "these sources must be held in 'creative tension as responding in their different ways to the revelation of God.'" (12) In this way, inspiration is lowered to the level of illumination and therefore broadened to include the whole history of the people of God and their experience of this interplay of Scripture, tradition, and culture.

Another evangelical and Emergent spokesperson, John Franke, argues similarly that "the speaking of the Spirit through Scripture and through culture does not constitute two communicative acts but rather one unified speaking." (13) Here, it seems, the inspired Word of God is indistinguishable not only from the illumined church, but culture becomes a means of grace. Franke does add that Scripture "functions as theology's norming norm" in its conversation with culture. (14) However, the crucial qualifier is functions as. Scripture functions normatively because of the decision of the community to regulate itself by this norm.

More problematic is the view of inspiration that Grenz and Franke propose. Concerning 2 Timothy 3:16, they suggest, "Through the rare use of theopneustos…Paul declared that 'God breathes into the Scripture' thereby making it useful." (15) However, this verse does not say that God breathes into Scripture but that the Scriptures are "God-breathed" (theopneustos). It is not made useful whenever God breathes into it; it is useful because God exhaled it. (16)

What Is at Stake?

At stake is the question as to whether the authority and inspiration of Scripture is ontological or functional. In other words, is inspiration an attribute of the texts themselves, or is it something that happens in the individual or community through the use that the Spirit makes of them? In other words, is inspiration basically the same as illumination? The Bible's authority seems thereby to become merely instrumental rather than intrinsic. The Spirit uses these texts "with the goal of communicating to us in our situation, which, while perhaps paralleling in certain respects that of the ancient community, is nevertheless unique." (17)

Whether individualistic or communal, however, this interpretation remains subjectivistic, treating Scripture merely as an inspiring record of Spirit-assisted ecclesial reflection rather than an inspired record of Spirit-breathed revelation from God. In short, God's agency is made subordinate to human agency, and this inevitably undermines sola gratia (grace alone).

Reacting against the practical anarchy of Protestant individualism in our day, the pendulum is swinging in the direction of the assimilation of Scripture to the church (or the "faith community"). Yet, as Calvin noted long ago, in spite of their obvious differences, radical Protestant "enthusiasm" and Roman Catholic theories of the church as the mother of Scripture share surprising similarities. (18) They are simply two ways of reducing God's speech to human speech, whether that of the pious believer or the holy church. "The description of the canon as a creation of the church is not in the least a uniquely Roman Catholic one," John Webster has noted.

Despite its association with Counter-Reformation polemics, Grenz and Franke repeat the increasingly fashionable refrain among Protestants that the Bible is the church's book. "The [faith] community precedes the production of the scriptural texts and is responsible for their content and for the identification of particular texts for inclusion in an authoritative canon to which it has chosen to make itself accountable" (emphasis added). (19) At least the way this is stated, the impression could be given that the church is sovereign in this matter: Scripture is authoritative canon because the church has decided to treat it as such. They admit that this "leads to a broader concept of inspiration." (20) On one hand, Scrip-ture constitutes the church. "On the other hand, it is itself derived from that community and its authority." (21)

This approach, however, is tantamount to saying that the servant rather than the Lord is the author of the covenant. Reformation theology rightly insists, therefore, that the Bible is not "the church's book" if by that one means that the community created its own canon. To whatever extent "the people" create their constitution in modern states, the biblical canon must be defined by its own covenantal history in which God's saving action and revelation create the community rather than vice versa. The positions I have criticized above can only yield what John Webster refers to as a "hermeneutical Pelagianism." (22) Against such views, he insists that we must see the Bible neither as the individual's book nor the church's book, but as God's book. Without diminishing the human character of Scripture, Webster underscores the close connection between sola gratia (grace alone) and sola Scriptura (Scripture alone). At issue in our doctrine of Scripture is the question not of what use we make of it (either communally or individually), but the use God makes of it within the economy of grace. (23)

God's Word in Human Words: The Bible's Testimony to Itself

Jesus regarded the human words of Scripture as his Father's speech (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10; 5:17-20; 19:4-6; 26:31, 52-54; Luke 4:16-21; 16:17; 18:31-33; 22:37; 24:25-27, 45-47; John 10:35). Peter insisted that the prophets did not speak from themselves but as they "were carried along by the Spirit" (2 Pet. 1:21) and in 3:15-16 refers to Paul's letters as "Scriptures" (graphas). Similarly, Paul refers to Luke's Gospel as "Scripture" in 1 Timothy 5:18 (cf. Luke 10:7). Paul calls Scripture "the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus," and adds, "All Scripture is breathed out by God [theopneustos] and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:15-17). A doctrine of inspiration must take into account the "many times" and "many ways" that God has spoken in the past (Heb. 1:1), which cannot be restricted to the prophetic model ("Thus says the Lord: '…'"). Nevertheless, "All Scripture is breathed out by God." As such, the Scriptures are not only a record of redemption but are themselves the primary means of grace, through which the Spirit applies redemption to sinners in the present.

From the Father, About the Son, and By the Spirit

In every external work of the Godhead, the Father speaks in the Son and by the perfecting agency of the Spirit. In salvation, the Father gives the Son, the Son gives the Spirit, and the Spirit gives the Son a bride. Not only because of its authoritative source (the Father's speaking) but also because of its saving content (the speech concerning his Son), Scripture is God's Word. Jesus himself taught that all of Scripture pointed to him. Its authority and its content are inextricably linked. (24)

The mature doctrine of inspiration and inerrancy in evangelical circles was forged by the theologians of seventeenth-century Lutheran and Reformed orthodoxy. These writers argued that the nature of Scripture consists not in the authorization of the church but in the cooperation of the triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We embrace Scripture as authoritative because it comes from none other than the Father, its content is the Son, and its perfecting agent is the Holy Spirit.

So Scripture is the church's authoritative canon because it comes from the Father. In Peter Martyr Vermigli's words, "'Thus says the Lord' (Dominus dixit) ought to be held as a first principle (primum principium) into which all true theology is resolved." (25) Nevertheless, Scripture's authority also derives from the Son as its content. In 2 Corinthians 1, the Father is the faithful promise-maker and "all the promises of God find their Yes in [Christ]." The Reformers and their heirs regarded the characteristics of Scripture (namely, inspiration, authority, and sufficiency) as inseparable from its scope and content (law and gospel, with the unfolding plan of redemption in Christ through the covenant of grace). (26) Christ as mediator of the covenant of grace is the scope of all Scripture.

Yet our trinitarian coordinates are not set until we have included in our focus the Spirit's perfecting work of inspiration and illumination. In every work of the Trinity, it is the Spirit who brings about within creation the effect of the Father's speaking in the Son. The Spirit hovered over the waters in creation, turning a house into a home in which God could dwell with his people, and leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and the desert to the Promised Land. It was the Spirit who "overshadowed" Mary, so that her offspring would be none other than God Incarnate, and who descended over the Jordan waters at Jesus' baptism, who upheld Jesus during his earthly ministry, and who raised Jesus from the dead. We receive eternal life from the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

Three Common Pitfalls

First, if our doctrine of inspiration is exclusively concerned with the authoritative source (the Father's speaking), it will gravitate toward a mechanical view that sees Scripture as dictated by God. Evangelical defenses of inspiration emphasize that Scripture comes from God and therefore is authoritative and inerrant. This is true, but by itself is an inadequate basis for inspiration. A Christian view of the Bible is different from the Muslim view of the Qur'an. First, we believe that the triune God spoke through prophets and apostles, revealing himself and his purposes in Christ in an organic way. The Bible is not a collection of timeless truth that fell from heaven, but a collection of diverse books and genres that testify to historical events centering on promise and fulfillment in Jesus Christ. We also believe that the source of the Bible's authority is inseparable from its content. It is inspired and authoritative because it delivers Christ to us. Lastly, it is inspired by the Spirit, who always works within creatures, through creaturely means, to guide and direct without coercion or obliteration of human agency.

Second, if our doctrine of inspiration is exclusively concerned with the saving content (Jesus Christ), it is likely to yield a canon-within-a-canon approach, limiting inspiration to that which explicitly preaches Christ (leaving such determination to exegetes). There is a big difference between reading the Scriptures expecting to find Christ as the central character in the unfolding plot and reading the Scriptures to pick out the explicit proclamation of Christ as genuinely inspired. Protestant liberals took this second path until it led to a denial of the inspiration of even the most central biblical claims, reports, and doctrines. If the Scriptures are not wholly inspired, then there is no reason to believe that the gospel concerning Jesus Christ is from God and therefore trustworthy news.

Third, if we focus one-sidedly on the Spirit, our view of inspiration will succumb to mysticism and enthusiasm, separating the Spirit from the Word. This is my concern about some of the trends in evangelical theology today. As I pointed out above, Calvin observed that Rome and the Anabaptists collapsed the Word of God into the word of the church or the word of the individual. Both groups erased the line that separates the extraordinary ministry of the apostles from the ordinary ministry of pastors and teachers who followed. There are no prophets or apostles today, and the Spirit is not expanding the canon of revelation but is illumining the church to understand, embrace, and proclaim it faithfully. The foundation has been laid and now we are to build on it.

In 2 Timothy 3:15-17, this scope (content) and inspiration of Scripture converge. Timothy is reminded to digest "the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus." Paul does not say "insofar as" they achieve this but simply states that they do. It is not the parts of Scripture that we find "useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" that we regard as inspired. Rather, because all Scripture is breathed out by God, it is profitable for the purposes for which God intends it. This means that Scripture not only functions as the Word of God at various times, but it is the Word of God by virtue of its origin (from the Father), its content (in the Son), and its inspiration (by the Spirit).

"Let There Be" and "Let the Earth Bring Forth"

In the creation account we encounter the fiat declaration, "Let there be…," bringing a new state of affairs out of nothing ("And there was…"). In the same narrative, however, there are expressions that highlight God's indirect and mediated agency: "'Let the earth bring forth….' And the earth brought forth…." We often tend to identify God's action exclusively with the former–perhaps due, at least in part, to a weak doctrine of the Holy Spirit. In Genesis 1, creation is attributed not only to the Father's fiat utterance but to the Spirit's brooding over the waters to make that creative Word fruitful. God not only decrees things into existence directly, ordinarily the Spirit works within creation to draw out its own natural operations with which he has endowed it so that it properly fulfills its created ends.

Obviously, God is not the only speaker in Scripture. He is, however, the original speaker, and his Word always comes before our response. His work in inspiration extends even to the praise offered by his creatures. The Psalms are the inspired hymnal, giving us our lines in the covenantal script, because the Father not only speaks directly in every case but the Spirit also brings about the intended response within creatures. Because the Spirit is at work in the process of inspiration, even the testimony of sinful creatures can be preserved from error, sanctified by God as the authorized paradigm for our own speech.

If we bear in mind our trinitarian coordinates and the distinction between fiat (ex nihilo) utterances and indirect guidance of creaturely speech to its appointed end, we no longer have to choose between a mechanical view of inspiration and a naturalistic denial of inspiration. It is not a contradiction to say that divine speech comes from God through creaturely agency as it is made fruitful by the Spirit. The triune God is the ultimate source of both types of declarations: "Let there be…" and "Let the earth bring forth…." Even when the earth brings forth its fruit, it is because the Spirit is bringing about within it the potentialities given to it by the Father's Word.

In the incarnation, there is the fiat act ("Let there be…!"), with the conception of the God-Man, but there is also the Spirit's gradual work of illumining and strengthening Jesus for his mission ("Let the earth bring forth…!"). Jesus grew in wisdom and understanding. We should not be surprised to see the same patterns in both the direct speech–"Thus says the Lord!"–and the indirect appropriation of human speech that the Spirit directs and inspires for his own ends.

Verbal-Plenary Inspiration

The common teaching of the East and West, Roman Catholics and classical Protestants, is that Scripture is not only in its content but also in its form the Word of God written. This consensus that Scripture is inspired in its words as well as its meaning is aptly summarized by the phrase "verbal-plenary inspiration." (27) The common consensus of Christians is one reason why inspiration was not a special topic in theological systems until the dawn of the Enlightenment. Not even the confessions and catechisms of the Reformation offer a particular theory of inspiration, but they simply identify God's Word with the words of Scripture. It is important to note what is not meant by this formulation.

First, verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean that the prophets and apostles themselves were inspired in their persons, as if everything they believed, said, or did was God's Word. Rather, it is their canonical writings that are inspired. In the passages cited above, Peter refers inspiration to the prophecies, and Paul attributes inspiration to the Scriptures. In fact, Paul says that "all Scripture is breathed out by God." Strictly speaking, then, Scripture is exhaled, not inspired.

Second, this view does not assume that the prophets and apostles were merely passive in the process of inspiration. Of course, there are visions, especially in the prophetic literature, but even dreams have to be interpreted, and it was the human agents who interpreted them. Yet it was the Spirit who ensured that their interpretations were from the Father and focused on the Son. "Concerning this salvation," Peter writes, "the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories" (1 Pet. 1:10-11, emphasis added).

Fundamentalist views of inspiration often reflect this tendency, downplaying the fact that God works by his Spirit through creaturely reality. For example, W. A. Criswell wrote, "Each sentence was dictated by God's Holy Spirit….Everywhere in the Bible we find God speaking. It is God's voice, not man's." (28) To appeal to the incarnation as an analogy, this is a docetic view. This ancient heresy held that Jesus Christ merely appeared to be human. Although Mary gave birth to him, the Son took his human form from "celestial flesh." (In the Reformation, Calvin sharply criticized Menno Simons, founder of the Mennonites, for teaching this view.)

Again, recall the comparison I made above to the two ways in which God spoke creation into existence: his fiat declaration, "Let there be…!" and his command, "Let the earth bring forth…!" The Spirit was at work in the ordinary lives of his prophets and apostles before they were called to their high office, even though they were unaware of his providential activity. Even in speaking God's Word, they sometimes spoke directly, "Thus says the Lord…!" and in other cases, the Spirit simply brought about the Father's intended effect through ordinary, natural means.

The christological analogy reminds us that the Word became flesh. The incarnation itself was a fiat declaration of the "Let there be…" variety. Nevertheless, the Son's gestation and birth were part of a natural ("Let the earth bring forth…") process. Even his physical, intellectual, and spiritual maturation were gradual gains through ordinary means: "And the child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom" (Luke 2:40). His humanity was not charged with superhuman abilities but was like ours in all respects except for sin (Heb. 4:15). "Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8). If God can assume our full humanity without sin, then he can speak through the fully human words of prophets and apostles without error. As Herman Bavinck expressed the point, "Like Christ, [Scripture] considers nothing that is human strange." (29)

Third, this formulation also does not suggest that inspiration pertains to the intention of the human authors, who prophesied more than they themselves knew. An extreme example is Caiaphas the high priest, who, contrary to his intention, prophesied Christ's atoning sacrifice (John 11:49-53). His office, not his person, authorized him for this role, and it was God's intentions that were communicated. There is no reason to believe the apostles were aware that their letters would become part of the new covenant canon. Although they knew they were commissioned and authorized to speak for God, they could distinguish their own pastoral advice from divine command (1 Cor. 7:6).

Fourth, verbal-plenary inspiration does not collapse all events of inspiration into the prophetic mold. Far from "Thus says the Lord," the speeches of Job's friends are riddled with error, even if they are reliable reports of the dialogue. God even allows the sinful or erroneous responses of human beings to be included in his inspired canon. We must recall that the Bible was generated in the context of a covenantal drama. The script includes the speaking parts of unfaithful covenant servants, whose speech is nevertheless judged and corrected by the covenant Lord within the unfolding dialogue.

The prophetic "Thus says the LORD…" or "The word of the LORD came to me, saying…" corresponds to the fiat declaration, "Let there be…." In such instances, inspiration may even take the form of dictation. More characteristically, however, inspiration follows the "Let the earth bring forth…" pattern, with the obvious evidence of the text's human authorship.

Although inspiration pertains exclusively to the original speech-acts that are included in the canon, God's extraordinary providence ensured the integrity of the process that led to inscripturation. We have no reason to deny that later redactors (editors) committed orally transmitted revelation to textual form and collected them into what we now know as canonical books. In the words of the Reformed scholastic Johannes Wollebius, "God's word at first was unwritten, before Moses' time; but after Moses it was written, when God in his most wise counsel would have it to be sealed and confirmed by prophets and apostles." (30) In this interpretation of verbal-plenary inspiration, the original words of Scripture were given by the miracle of inspiration, and the process of compiling, editing, and preserving the text was superintended by God's providence.

1 [ Back ] Oswald Bayer, Living by Faith: Justification and Sanctification (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003), 28.
2 [ Back ] Stephen H. Webb, The Divine Voice: Christian Proclamation and the Theology of Sound (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), esp. chs. 4 and 5. See also Theo Hobson, The Rhetorical Word: Protestant Theology and the Rhetoric of Authority (Hampshire, England: Ashgate, 2002).
3 [ Back ] Immanuel Kant, Religion and Rational Theology, in The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant, eds. Allen W. Wood and George di Giovanni (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 33.
4 [ Back ] Friedrich Schleiermacher, On Religion, trans. John Oman (New York: Harper, 1958), 89.
5 [ Back ] Meister Eckhart, "Sermon on the Eternal Rebirth," in Late Medieval Mysticism, ed. Ray C. Petry (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1942), 179.
6 [ Back ] Paul Tillich, A History of Christian Thought, ed. Carl E. Braaten (New York: Harper & Row, 1968), 286. Tillich adds, "The subjective view of Pietism, or the doctrine of the 'inner light' in Quakerism and other ecstatic movements, has the character of immediacy or autonomy against the authority of the church. To put it more sharply, modern rational autonomy is a child of the mystical autonomy of the doctrine of the inner light."
7 [ Back ] Stanley Grenz, Revisioning Evangelical Theology (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1993), 62.
8 [ Back ] Grenz, 76.
9 [ Back ] Grenz, 46.
10 [ Back ] Grenz, 77.
11 [ Back ] Grenz, 121.
12 [ Back ] Grenz, 91. In nineteenth-century christological debates, the Lutheran view that Christ's divine attributes were communicated to his humanity was reversed in what was called the "kenotic Christology." In this view, the Son emptied himself of his divine attributes in the incarnation. Something similar may be seen in recent debates over Scripture. On one hand, fundamentalism divinizes the human words, while on the other "kenotic" theories of Scripture empty Scripture of its divine character. As Donald Bloesch observes, referring especially to Ray Anderson, some evangelical theologians have also adopted this course. Aside from the dubious christological implications, Bloesch warns, "If the kenotic theory is carried too far, this means that the divine Word is transmuted into the human word of Scripture, and is thereby emptied of its divine content" (Donald G. Bloesch, "The Primacy of Scripture," in The Authoritative Word: Essays on the Nature of Scripture, ed. Donald McKim [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 150).
13 [ Back ] John Franke, The Character of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005), 142.
14 [ Back ] Franke, 142.
15 [ Back ] Stanley Grenz and John Franke, Beyond Foundationalism: Shaping Theology in a Postmodern Context (Louisville: Westminster, 2001), 65.
16 [ Back ] On the meaning of theopneustos, see the argument of A. A. Hodge and B. B. Warfield, Inspiration (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1979), 5.
17 [ Back ] Hodge and Warfield, 74-75.
18 [ Back ] John Calvin, "Reply by Calvin to Cardinal Sadoleto's Letter," in Tracts and Treatises of the Reformation of the Church, ed. Thomas F. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1958), 1:36.
19 [ Back ] Calvin, 115.
20 [ Back ] Calvin, 116.
21 [ Back ] Calvin, 117.
22 [ Back ] John Webster, Holy Scripture: A Dogmatic Sketch (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), 100.
23 [ Back ] Webster, 2, 19, 45.
24 [ Back ] Herman Ridderbos, Studies in Scripture and its Authority (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 9-11.
25 [ Back ] Quoted in Richard A. Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003), 2:323.
26 [ Back ] Muller, 120. Against the charge that Protestant scholasticism separated the divine form of Scripture from its content (Christ), leading to an abstract theory of inspiration, Muller collects a host of citations affirming Christ as the scope of Scripture, which is intrinsic to its authority. Included are citations not only from Luther (preface to James and Jude in Luther's Works 35, 396; Schmalkald Articles II.i) and Calvin (Institutes 2.6.2 and commentary on 1 Corinthians 3:11), but from Reformed colleagues and successors, including Peter Martyr Vermigli, Theodore Beza, Edward Leigh, Zacharius Ursinus, and William Perkins (98, 198, 224, 227, 342, 367).
27 [ Back ] This doctrine holds that Scripture is "God-breathed" (2 Tim. 3:16) both in its words and its meaning. However, this in no way implies (much less requires) a "dictation theory" of inspiration. According to the common interpretation of this view, inspiration occurred organically--that is, through the distinct personalities and conceptualities of the human authors in their social-historical context.
28 [ Back ] W. A. Criswell, Why I Preach that the Bible is Literally True (Nashville: Broadman, 1969), 68.
29 [ Back ] Quoted in G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics: Holy Scriptures (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 27.
30 [ Back ] Johannes Wollebius, The Abridgement of Christian Divinitie, trans. Alexander Ross (London, 1656), 3.
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Michael S. Horton
Michael Horton is editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation and the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary California in Escondido.
Monday, March 1st 2010

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