Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Scripture dictation, mechanical or otherwise

When you get older, your mind plays tricks on you (or so I am told). I thought I had recently posted an essay on biblical inspiration and the dictation theory. I looked and looked and did not find it, so I guess my mind was playing tricks on me. I did find I had written a bit nine years ago, HERE and HERE.

For information, dictation in dictionary terms:

  • 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.

Verbal plenary inspiration, at its simplest, means that all the words in Scripture are God’s words, completely true and without any error. Those who hold a dictation theory of inspiration hold that just as firmly as those who verbal inspiration but not dictation. Dictation is simply one explanation of how the process of inspiration took place.[i]

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?
I am reviewing the idea of dictation. I have usually been among people who do not regularly use the term. Additionally, I have never thought the how of God giving the Scriptures was so important as long as we understand that the finished product is the perfect word of God, totally true without any mixture of error. However, we can find in the scriptures that at least some of the word is given by what might be called dictation (that is, in the way the Bible describes it being given in specific instances). It seems the majority view is that since the Bible does not say that about all of it on every occasion, then it must only be true concerning the times when dictation is specifically mentioned. On the other hand, might it not be more likely that God gives us specific examples of what he did on a regular basis? And which view might best accord with 2 Timothy 3:16 and 2 Peter 2:21?

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.

Is it possible that we argue over something where there is not a “dime’s worth of difference” in the outcome? God is the source. He made sure we got his words. Perfectly. Without error. Do you believe that?

Many people do not like the appeal to “mystery.” (Yes, sometimes it can be an excuse.) However, in things relating to Almighty God and puny man there is reason to realize we do not or cannot fully comprehend the power of God. He can do things that we struggle to explain. We try to explain using ideas/things to which we can relate. It is more important to agree on the results of what God did with inspiration – God made sure we got his words. Perfectly. Without error – even though we may struggle expressing how he accomplished it. All Scripture comes from God. 100%!

[i] There can always be exceptions to the rule. However, I have never known anyone who held an idea of God dictating the scriptures to the writers who denied that inspiration is verbal and plenary. They merely disagree on the details with others who also believe inspiration is verbal and plenary but processed in a different way. 
[ii] 2 Corinthians 10:10 at the least suggests that the writing style of Paul was not the same as they perceived of him in person.

No comments: