Finding God’s hand in Scripture

All Christians generally agree that the Bible was written down by humans, and most agree that in some way their writings are reflective of their individuality; the question comes in with the nature of divine influence.  Where do we draw the line between the human and the divine in Scripture?

Proponents of inerrancy posit that all information in Scripture was directly contributed by God; the specific form of the information as presented is normally regarded as reflective of the personalities and writing styles. A softened version of this view, which I myself held until fairly recently, was of theological concordism, the belief that despite errors in the authors’ understanding of peripheral matters, all pertinent information in Scripture was (directly or indirectly) contributed by God.

More along the lines of the latter is an analogy for understanding the nature of Scripture known as the incarnational model. Popularized by Peter Enns, the incarnational model regards the Bible as fully human and fully divine in a way analogous to the way trinitarian orthodoxy views Jesus. Saying that the Bible is both divine and human as Jesus was naturally leads to an attribution of the aspect of “divinity” to the Bible in a surprising way for a modern monotheist, and despite his denial of such an explicit divine ontology to Scripture in my interaction with him here, it is a weakness of the analogy that in its articulation it tends to force even Dr. Enns himself to sound like he’s contradicting this denial (p. 228 of this article).

The strength of this model as described by Enns is that it encourages exploration of the “human” characteristics of the Bible; to my knowledge, it just hasn’t gone much beyond suggesting that the “humanity” of the text is somehow of a piece with its “divinity”. This view’s proponents are happy enough to bask in the same mystery that exists with the Trinity, and for this reason I have not found it useful for answering the question at hand about where divine influence of the Bible comes in, which it does with a firm but useless “Yes.” To his credit, Dr. Enns has acknowledged that the sources of this model (Hodge, Warfield, Bavinck, et al.) never properly came to grips with what it really means to see that even errors are inspired by the Holy Spirit in the sense of “divine”; nor, to my knowledge, have its proponents progressed much further in this area despite his encouragement.

My discomfort with the analogy behind the model stems from its claim of the “divinity” in the text, which even in its least literal sense is an extraordinary claim for which he offers no compelling (much less extraordinary) evidence. Enns emphasizes that an affirmation of the divine nature of Scripture is warranted primarily by faith: “The ‘divinity’ of Scripture is a confession of faith, not a end product of proof or demonstration.”  He offers no compelling motivation for this faith assumption beyond its effectiveness in the lives of students of Scripture. Yet to acknowledge that the Bible has been used of God mightily is an entirely inadequate basis for affirming its “fully divine” nature. As I remarked to him, “If we claim it’s ‘divine’ just because God has used it effectively to testify to Him and bring others to a full knowledge of His plan of salvation, I know a few pastors and lay people who would be gratified to know that they qualify for this distinction!” In actuality, this model treats the Bible as fully human but tags on the label of “fully divine” without ever really defining what this means. So what we’re left with is a model encouraging exploration of the humanity of the texts with only a vague sense that in doing so, the divine intention behind the whole thing will be apprehended.

Despite these criticisms, and indeed, precisely because of the just described failure of one of its central claims, I find very little practical difference between his view and my own. My biggest problem is that using the incarnational analogy is, I suspect, primarily a way of retaining a mystical component to the Bible that’s regularly assumed among mainstream evangelicals. I don’t know how to justify positing such mysticalness and have seen it as chiefly responsible for hermenutics that over-spiritualize the Bible in harmful ways. “Would it not be a more modest and defensible claim,” I asked Dr. Enns, “to say simply that Scripture is a tool God ordained as a minister that He has shown an uncommon (even ‘paramount’) preference for and used with uncommon effectiveness as He has seen fit?”

My position is that there definitely was divine intentionality behind the text and divine influence upon it, and that this influence was at times more direct than others (e.g., in certain prophecies and “thus saith the Lord” scenarios), but I ultimately reject the idea of “divinity” intrinsic to the text. I find it most compelling to work within the proposition that the Bible is the direct result of humans interacting with divinity. The best analogy that springs to mind is that Scripture is how the rock shatters when it receives the blow of a hammer: the points of fracture are not individually selected and created by the one wielding the hammer, although his decision to strike, the rock he selects, the location of the blow, and the force with which he strikes it are deliberated and consciously predetermined. (Incidentally, I find this to be in striking harmony with my understanding of His creation of the universe through natural processes.)

I have a hunch that God’s interaction with the modern reader of these ancient Scriptures is more a matter of pneumatology than of bibliology: there’s a crucial difference between affirming that the Spirit of God uses Scripture for certain purposes and claiming that Scripture itself must therefore be “spiritual” in nature and must be interpreted in a special “spiritual” way. What I mean is that a recognition of the Bible’s origination as the interaction of human and divine doesn’t provide new information about its nature that is helpful for determining interpretation. In order to know what it means, we are primarily dependent on treating the Bible as literature, viz. through understanding its authors and their intents, perceptions, prejudices, etc. Practically speaking, it is quite incidental to our interpretation that God is the subject of the Bible. This is related to the profound observation that although the Gallic Wars exercised an influence on Julius Caesar’s writing about that subject, it was Julius Caesar and not the Gallic Wars who authored Commentarii de Bello Gallico. That Julius Ceasar was in fact involved in wars with the Gauls is known through outside corroboration (none of which is infallible, of course); that the authors of Scripture interacted with God is supported by outside corroboration, particularly the kinds of things Enns offers as evidences of its “divinity”, things like its life-changing qualities (again, not infallible witnesses).

I go looking for a moniker or designation for the view of Scripture I have described that presents itself as another model in contradistinction to inerrancy, theological concordism, and the incarnational model (certainly one more modest than “the right view”), but suspect that my view would likeliest be, as ambiguously as dismissively, classified simply as a “liberal approach” to Scripture. It’s not “my” view, since I did not create it and have not contributed significant new insights about it, so I don’t expect to definitively name it. However, as I know of no better alternatives and will find it convenient to summarize this view within my own writings under a specific term, I am leaning toward referring to the view I have described in this post as a ministerial model, in reference to my comment to Dr. Enns quoted above.

Can you identify any weaknesses in the idea of Scripture as “minister” or as “tool of choice”? Can you suggest a better analogy than “tool”, “minister”, or “Incarnation”?

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