My close friends know that I love aquariums and sea life. So, my wife and I bought a little 5-gallon fish tank a few months ago. This small tank has been hard to take care of because even the slightest change in temperature or chemical levels can harm for the fish. We had lost a few fish because the bacteria inside the tank was too high, so my solution was to rid the tank of all bacteria. I cleaned the tank out completely, hoping it would solve the issue. Unfortunately, the problem perpetuated, as I did not realize that fish need some bacteria to live and I had taken all of it out of the tank. This rookie mistake taught me a lesson about equilibrium. Either case, too much bacteria or no bacteria, was problematic. I learned that it is all about keeping the tank perfectly balanced to create an ideal habitat for our fish.
Christian doctrine and beliefs often have to be kept in a similar balance. Emphasize one side of the truth over another side and the full truth gets distorted. In modern-evangelical thought, there is hefty emphasis on the inspiration and authorship of God to the Bible. This often comes from the need, a valid need, to defend the authority and truthfulness of Scripture. If you want to prove that God inspired the Scriptures then, like taking all the bacteria out of a fish tank, it may seem appropriate to take the human authorship out of the Bible’s origin completely. Humans writing divinely-inspired books can seem messy, problematic, and littered with errors. So, why not take that factor out and only focus on God’s role in Scripture?
Now, I fully agree that the Bible is inspired by God and has authority (2 Tim. 3:16). Jesus had said that all authority on heaven and earth was given to him and that all these books of the Bible pointed right at him and his message. So clearly, there is divine inspiration happening. Yet, far too often this is solely what is spoken about when it comes to the Bible’s origin. There needs to be a balance that accepts God’s inspiration the writings of Scripture but does not hide the human participation. I want to look at why we have started to lose this important truth and what makes it so important to know when reading.
Many people are very content to shy away from the human hands producing the Bible. This really comes down to how you view the purpose of the Bible. If the Bible is a collection of moral stories or simply a guideline to life (maybe you’ve heard the acronym Basic. Instructions. Before. Leaving. Earth), then it would be easy to rip the human authors out of their role. From this misconception, the Bible is often viewed as being dropped down from heaven written on golden tablets or there was some trance-like, God-takeover that happened to the writers. Yet, there is no single authoritative person dictating every word. Instead, the Bible was written by people; Jews, a Gentile, shepherds, kings, farmers, leaders, A Pharisee, and fishermen. These authors, as Pastor Tim Mackie aptly calls them”literary ninjas”, were brilliant men who wrote down the events and visions they saw and the words they were told. From their works, the singular, unified story of God’s cosmic rescue plan was revealed.
The Bible is not ashamed of its history and origin, and we should not be either. The truth is that the Bible is very aware of its writers and makes no attempt to shy away from the reality of human authors. The Bible tells us of moments when the author was told to write what he saw/heard (Ex. 17:14, Hab. 2:1-3, Ex. 34:27-28) and even when to rewrite after the originals were burned by a bad king! (Jeremiah 36)
So why is it important to not disregard that the Bible was written by humans? It shows us that God will use different languages, writing styles, backgrounds, creativity, and abilities to get his message of redemption out. It is the perfect reminder that God has desired, since the beginning in Genesis, to work through humans. Instead of dropping it from the sky, he involves man in the process, showing that He is a relational God, not a dictating God. The human report and interpretation of God’s actions in history tells us that God is one who interacts with the world. He does not passively give us rules and wise sayings so we can be nice and go to heaven one day, rather He gives us a story of His dealing with our world’s problem and how He is solving it. When we keep this all in mind, there is great beauty in the humanness of the Bible.
Other resources on this subject:
The Bible Project: What is the Bible?
N.T. Wright: How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?