As we stand with our feet planted in the soil of this earth, we can look around and know that we are not our own creator, and sense within ourselves a certain divinity. The evidence of such possession is intangible, yet largely beyond controversy. 1 As we undertake this contemplation of our nature, and the necessary existence of a creator God who has made us and all of the reality that we inhabit, we must seek to order this knowledge of the grand mystery of existence. To do so, unlike so many other pursuits of knowledge however, we must recruit our heart into the equation. This is theology, the contemplation of God, coupled with a right state of the heart. 2

As we undertake the task of theology, we must first identify the truth we seek to understand. In that regard, the most realistic aspiration of our process is to attain the best explanation of the complex world we live in. If empirical proof of a creator God is beyond our grasp, then we must search for an understanding sufficiently comprehensive to afford the basis for ration commitment and ultimately, belief. 3 For theologians, then, we are seeking to collect and organize all of the information that we can attain in order to form a reasonable view of the relationship between ourselves and our creator. We must also recognize and establish that our goal is to arrive at a belief in what the creator God has done, and understanding the methods and means of how God accomplished His many great works is not a critical conclusion we seek.

What data, then, is available to theologians to contribute to our pursuit of reasonable belief? Our primary and most important source of knowledge about God comes from the transmission of His revelation through inspired Scripture. These collected writings self-proclaim God himself to be the author of them. (1 Tim 3:16-17) In order to be both “God-breathed” and the literal product of man, we must first understand the nature of revelation and inspiration. The object of God’s revelation to man is the communication of knowledge, both in the form of truth and understanding. In order to guard the transmission of revelation through the vehicle of man, inspiration from God, through His Spirit, serves to secure infallibility in teaching. 4 God thereby and in tandem with human writers has given theology its starting place, an authoritative text that governs and guides our pursuit of knowledge about and concerning to God.

The Word of God itself, revelation its substance and inspiration its guide, must be then interpreted by man, who is undoubtedly fallible. For this purpose, God instituted the church so that man’s corrupting influence might be mitigated through the establishment of tradition. As we seek to correctly interpret, this tradition acts to keep our interpretation closely tethered to beliefs held universally, in antiquity, and by consensus. 5 It is a certainty that men fail to agree upon these tenets. Nevertheless, theology accepts this fact and does not count it against God, but against man, and furthermore as a motivation to continue to pursue Him.

We must further recognize that Scripture was handed to man in order that we may know him, but not as a list of empirical facts or as an account of all truths. Instead, God provided us with a body of Scripture that bestows on us knowledge through narrative, poetry, wisdom literature, collections of letters, and apocalyptic revelation. Theology, then, must operate within this context, and proceed by finding truth in the forms in which we have received God’s Word. We discover God’s nature and character through narrative stories of His historical dealings with man, and yet still we find deeper understanding through the inclusion of poetry and wisdom literature which illuminates and enriches the narrative. We learn of His plan for humanity, its existence since the beginnings of time, and fulfillment in the life of Jesus, the Son. We recognize that our contemplation of God causes self-contemplation, and thus that theology can only truly be defined between what God is and what we are not.

  1. Calvin, John, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “John Calvin on the Natural Knowledge of God” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 91.
  2. Aquino, Fred, ed. Abraham, William J., Jason E. Vickers, and Natalie B. Van Kirk. Canonical Theism: A Proposal for Theology and the Church. Grand Rapids, Mich: William B. Eerdmans Pub, 2008, 178.
  3. Polkinghorne, John, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “John Polkinghorne on Motivated Belief in Theology” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 63.
  4. Charles Hodge, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Charles Hodge on the Inspiration of Scripture” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 113.
  5. Vincent of Lerins, ed. Alister E. McGrath, “Vincent of Lerins on the Role of Tradition” in The Christian Theology Reader, (Hoboken: Wiley, 2016), 82.

For the Christian faith, the Authority of Scripture is a question which stands at the foundation for all knowledge and beliefs that are derived from it, hence its importance. One of the ideas most crucial to the faith, and self-proclaimed by the biblical text itself (1 Tim 3:16-17) is that Scripture claims to be authored by God himself. How does the faith rectify this idea of Scripture “breathed out” by God, yet authored in the literal sense by man?

If God can be said to be the author of the Scriptures, did God recruit the writers of the New Testament to be his secretaries, to inscribe into the world of man the things God himself spoke directly? I believe that this understanding of inspiration results in a far too narrow definition of the inerrancy of Scripture, as Rahner does.

By perceiving the Word of God as literally spoken, the diversity found in extant manuscripts from the end of the Apostolic Age until the 4th century when canon started to take shape creates a crisis. Any of the deviations we have found in these manuscripts, regardless of arguments about their intentionality, would represent changes to the “God-breathed” originals.

It also stands to reason that if God intended His literal words, directly relayed by the Holy Spirit, to be the standard for authority, He is certainly capable of communicating them in a way in which they would be immune to the infallibility of man and rightly convey such an unquestionable status.

I believe Hodge makes the strongest case for understanding the role and of both God and man and how they relate to authority found in the NT writings. By considering the influence of God on the formation of the Scriptures as the tandem effect of revelation, that is the communication of knowledge to man, and inspiration, which secures the infallibility of teaching set out by man, Hodge has given enough breathing room for man to play his part while still crediting God with His great work.

Man first needs God to reveal to him the things that are entirely beyond his rational understanding, such as the divine nature of Christ and the reason and the result of His sacrifice. Christ revealed many of these things to us himself, and they continued to be clarified and intertextually explained through other writers and inspired authors. Another consideration is that the explanation that we have of such complex and important issues as these is by measure merely adequate to relay these ideas to us in terms that we can comprehend. The ultimate effect of God’s revelation to man is that we are made to understand the things of God while still being so incapable of grasping them.

Secondly, as a whole the NT writers must be able to intertextually explain the ideas of God without confusing, obscuring, or contradicting other writings and writers. In tandem with revelation, God, through the agent of the Holy Spirit, inspired the NT writers such that their words are sufficient enough to explain their immediate purpose, be useful for posterity for the same purposes, and weave into and thereby complete the story of the Hebrew Bible, our Old Testament.

If Hodge rightly sets out the role and necessity of revelation and inspiration for the NT writers, what is left is the role of the human writers themselves. We have ample example of God’s use of man as an agency to bring about His will, both as leaders of His people, communicators for His people, and as oppressors of them. In the case of the NT writers, the human role was to take the revelation of God and, through the lens of inspiration, relay it in a way humanity would be able to live by it. I believe this moves beyond a mere technical aspect and towards responsibility as co-heirs to relay the great goodness, grace, and mercy of God. It was their great responsibility to give human words to the knowledge of God. This doesn’t make the Bible fallible; It makes the Bible beautiful.