What Is the Mode of Operation by Which the Holy Spirit Worked with the Bible Authors?

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The mode of operation by which the Holy Spirit worked with the authors in order to assure an infallible and inerrant product is a matter of much speculation among theologians. The mystery remains inscrutable, but the process is intelligible and the parameters are definable.

The Parameters of the Mode of Operation

Two factors define the limits within which legitimate speculation may occur:

(1) The product is infallible and inerrant.

(2) Whatever means is used, different personalities, different styles, and the freedom of the authors manifested in their books must be accounted for.

The first point is known from the doctrine of Scripture supported above by numerous references. The second is known from the data of Scripture, clearly manifested in its human characteristics.

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Problematic Explanations

Like illustrations of the Trinity, no analogies of scriptural inspiration are perfect, some are better than others, and still others are misleading. Several fall into this latter category.

In particular, two illustrations should be avoided: that of a secretary and that of a musical instrument. Early church fathers were particularly known to use the latter (see chapter 17). The problem with these illustrations is that they lend to the false charge that evangelicals believe in mechanical dictation.

The musical instrument illustration is unhelpful because a musical instrument has no free will, no personality, and no literary style—it is an inanimate object, and not an efficient cause of the notes but only an instrumental cause.

The secretary illustration is not much better, because faithful secretaries take dictation. While they are not inanimate or nonfree instruments, nevertheless, by the very nature of their occupation they are not creating the material but merely recording it. The words written are not theirs, nor is their personality expressed. This is not true of biblical inspiration, which, as we have seen, employs the freedom, style, vocabulary, and personalities of the various biblical authors to convey God’s Word to humankind.

In his noted Theopneustia, Louis Gaussen (1790–1863) uses the illustration of an orchestra conductor. This is somewhat better, since all members of the orchestra are freely participating and expressing their distinctive sounds while the master brings them together in unity and harmony, as does God with the Scriptures. Even here the analogy breaks down, however, since the whole sound is not really the result of each member playing his own solo. Further, instrumentalists make mistakes, while the Bible does not.

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Many evangelicals have been content to rely on the providentially preplanned personalities model, whereby God preplanned the lives, styles, and vocabularies of the various biblical authors so that they would freely choose to write the correct thing in the right way at the right time, which God, by preordained divine concurrence, has determined would be their part of His Word. While this is no doubt true, even this does not account for the whole story. For one thing, it does not explain how free will fits into the picture. Were the free choices of the various authors causally predetermined? If so, were they really free? Further, how could God guarantee that the results would be infallible and inerrant if the authors were really free to do otherwise?

While some models are better than others, no matter how good the model is there always seems to be some mystery left at the very point where there is a divine/human encounter. This is true of the doctrines of predestination and free will (see volume 2) as well as the doctrines of how the two natures of Christ relate and the mode of inspiration.

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Without attempting to solve the mystery, there are meaningful ways to describe it. Thomas Aquinas offered one of these in his teacher/student analogy, arguing that the relationship between God and the human authors of Scripture is more like that of a teacher to his pupil. The value of this analogy is that it preserves the personality of the human authors while at the same time explaining the commonality between what the teacher conveyed and what the student expressed (see ST, 2a2ae 171, 6; 172, 6).

This analogy also makes a distinction between primary (God) and secondary (man) causality, thus avoiding reducing the human authors to mere instrumental causes. A secondary cause is a cause whose power to cause comes from the primary cause, but the exercise of the power of causality rests in its own free expression. But here too there is a difference, since the secondary cause (the student) can and sometimes does deviate from the primary cause (God). Not so when God (the primary cause) worked in and through the human authors of Scripture (the secondary causes).

BIBLE DIFFICULTIES

CONCLUSION

One final comment is in order: The ultimate process, however, illustrated, retains an element of mystery. Nonetheless, it is correct to say that while the Bible was not dictated by God to secretaries, the final product is as infallible and inerrant as though it were dictated.

Norman L. Geisler, Systematic Theology

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