- dictate, verb. lay down authoritatively; prescribe; say or read aloud (words to be written down, typed, or recorded on tape).
- dictation, noun. the action of saying words aloud to be typed, written down, or recorded on tape; an utterance that is typed, written down, or recorded. the action of giving orders authoritatively or categorically.
Dictation seems an unpopular term in the current climate of the discussion of inspiration. Added to that unpopularity is the tendency of detractors to use the term “mechanical dictation.” It seems likely that liberals invented and used the term “mechanical dictation” to mock the views of evangelicals and fundamentalists. Two additional considerations are that:
- 1. Fundamentalists and evangelicals have changed their expressions in reaction to liberal attacks on biblical inspiration (e.g., older writers do not seem afraid of the word dictation, neither of describing writers as musical instruments played by God or God’s secretaries).
- 2. Fundamentalists and evangelicals have now adopted the liberal term “mechanical dictation” as a pejorative descriptor of a view they themselves claim is false. Conservative writers often set it over against and different from verbal plenary inspiration. That is unhelpful.
God did indeed dictate at least some of his word (for speaking or writing; Isaiah 38:4ff.; Jeremiah 30:2; 36:2, 27-32; Revelation 2:1, 8, 12, 18; 3:1, 7, 14). That seems to be a fact that few to none who hold verbal plenary inspiration would dispute. The disagreement for most, then, is whether God did this consistently with the total revelation of scripture. Those on the contrary-wise point out that the writings show variations in style, word choice, grammar – revealing the personalities of each individual writer. So, say they, if the words had been dictated by God to the writers they would show a consistent style throughout the Bible. Is this a necessary inference?
- Could God have infallibly guided men to write his word perfectly and without error, while allowing them to express their own language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities?
- Could God have dictated his word to men perfectly and without error, while preserving the language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities of the writers?
The prevailing view (that God did not dictate the words of Scripture) seems not primarily based on the scriptures saying what happened, but mostly on the observation of how the styles – the writers’ own language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities come out in the writing. This is based on an a priori assumption that God could not dictate the word in a way that each writer’s “style” could or would be preserved. Why not? If God is able to allow the writers to express their own language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities while infallibly guiding them to write his word perfectly and without error, why is he not able to dictate his word to men perfectly and without error, while preserving the language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities of the writers? That different writers wrote in different “styles” only proves that they wrote differently, not how they came to do so.[ii] It is not outside God’s ability to give his word to men perfectly and without error, while preserving the language, emotions, backgrounds, and personalities of the writers.