Saturday, June 28, 2014

Plenary verbal inspiration

I'm going to examine a potential objection to the plenary verbal inspiration of Scripture. According to this objection, prooftexts for the verbal inspiration of Scripture describe the way God inspired OT seers or prophets in distinction to false prophets. A true prophet repeats the words God spoke to him. He's like a stenographer or mouthpiece.

Mind you, proponents of this view regard dictation as a metaphor. But they think that's the effect of verbal inspiration. As if God dictated the message to a scribe. 

But according to the potential objection I'm examining, the theory of plenary verbal inspiration overextends that model. Not every Bible writer is a prophet in that sense. A prophet underwent an altered state of consciousness to receive divine revelations. But (so goes the argument) there's no reason to apply that particular model to a historical narrator or letter writer. 

Let's evaluate that objection:

i) On the face of it, the objection is fairly self-contradictory. OT prophets were typically seers. They received revelatory dreams and visions. But these are not essentially or primarily verbal in nature. 

Revelatory dreams and visions can include auditions. There can be a speaker (e.g. God, an angel) within the dream or vision whom the seer overhears, or who addresses the seer directly. But, at most, that's just a part of visionary revelation. It's mostly imagistic scenes. 

Of course, this experience can be translated into verbal propositions. The seer describes what he saw. So, minimally, prophetic verbal inspiration would be a two-stage process. Even if it didn't originate in words, it resulted in words. 

In that respect, what makes verbal inspiration verbally inspired isn't an altered state of consciousness. It's not as if the seer is still in a trance when he writes down what he saw.

ii) Apropos (i), there was more to prophecy than receiving the message. Prophecy was also about delivering the message. That's why God gives the prophet a message in the first place. And the prophet is not in a trance when he delivers the message.

Does inspiration only extend to the revelatory experience, but not the delivery? That would be counterproductive. Imagine Jeremiah saying, "To the best of my recollection, here's the gist of what God revealed to me." 

iii) It isn't clear that a prophet has to be in an altered state to receive a message from God. Presumably, God could speak to him directly, in an audible voice. 

iv) There's also the distinction between subjective and objective visions. If some theophanies or angelophanies are external phenomena, rather than a private psychological experience, then that doesn't require an altered state of consciousness. 

v) In principle, a Bible author could write under inspiration without being aware of his inspiration at the time of writing. Inspiration could be a subliminal process, where God subconsciously implants ideas and "hypnotically" suggests the choice of words.

vi) In the organic theory of inspiration, especially with a strong doctrine of providence, inspiration doesn't require a special state of mind. God can prearrange all the variables so that a Bible writer will naturally choose certain words to express correct beliefs.

vii) Moses was the paradigmatic prophet, yet he was not typically a recipient of visionary revelation (Num 12:6-8). 

viii) Paul ascribes verbal inspiration to his teaching (e.g. 1 Cor 2:13; 1 Thes 2:13). Even though Paul was a seer, we need to distinguish between visionary revelation and verbal inspiration. Once again, it seems to be a two-stage process. His written word was ever bit as authoritative as his spoken word. 

ix) When quoting the OT, the author of Hebrews attributes all statements directly to God, even though God wasn't the immediate speaker. That equivalence only makes sense given verbal inspiration. 

x) Jesus, the apostles and/or NT writers prooftext their claims by appeal to OT books without regard to genre. So inspiration was not confined to the prophetic genre. 

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