Is the Bible the “Word of God” or is it a human book?

I had a thought last week during a Bible study class on Deuteronomy.  The leader of the group is a thoroughly “Bible-Believing” Christian. He is highly educated, with advanced degrees in Biblical scholarship, and is thus immersed in current academic understandings of the authorship of the ancient texts of the Hebrew scriptures.

 This presented a challenge, and something of a threat, to some members of the group, who understood the Torah as being of Mosaic authorship, and any move away from that as a move away from Divine inspiration.

 Now, I have no dog in that fight. But the ideas expressed had a familiar ring to them.

  I have said something here of my own private understanding of inspiration and am frankly not very interested in questions of human authorship, or even dating. I know such questions are the bread and butter of scholars, and they do have some curiosity interest for me, but I am already sold on the principle that the book in my hand is more for me to obey than to analyze. If I get in a quandary about the small bits where I do not know what to do, I can consult with other translations, etc., but my problems are more often a stony and resistant heart than intellectual misgivings.

  But as to the dispute from last week – the difficulty seems to be that, if the Bible is the Word of God, it should be, like it’s author complete, whole and unadulterated. If it can be shown as something of a “mash-up” of J,E,D, and P sources, ancient stories from many cultures combined and recombined in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons, well then, that is a Human book. Quite a different thing.

 Again, this piece is not a settled doctrinal defense, but some introductory meditations only on my part.

 It seems that I hear echoes of this dichotomy in at least two other forms of the transcendent triune God’s revelation of Himself to us.

 The first is in nature, specifically in the cosmos. I am thinking of all the turmoil caused by the assertion that the universe was not centered around earth, that the orbits of the heavenly bodies were not perfect circles, and that the planets were not perfect bodies, but were pock-marked with craters. If the “heavens declare the glory of God,” and they were unmarked by the sin we brought to THIS planet, then they should, they must be perfect. Data to the contrary must be due to the lies of heretics.

 Or even more to the point, along with the Bible, we Christians have another use for the phrase “Word of God,” and that is, of course, the second Person of the Trinity – our Lord Jesus. Along with the atonement, my understanding of the incarnation of Jesus is that, by emptying Himself of His proper glory (as in Philippians) or, in deference to the coming Christmas season, “Mild, He lays His glory by…” the transcendent God became small enough so that we could behold Him.

 Of course, the big scandal of Christianity, at least to Jews and Muslims, is that we insist that this man was also God. They would say “one or the other” and even there, if we say He is God, well, there you are.

 But we say He was (and is) both. True God. True man. Not either/or, not sometimes one and sometimes the other, not a hybrid of some sort, not a human body and a Divine soul, but completely God, and completely human.  

 Much of the first several centuries of Christendom were spent trying to understand quite what we meant be that. There were plenty of errors, either way, and Google (Christological Heresies) can find a summary of them. Some held that Perfect God *could not* be human, because humans were imperfect. They slept, sweated and tired. They ate and drank. They used the toilet. Humans suffer, bleed and die.

He couldn’t have been human.


 He couldn’t have been (and be) God. God is perfect, He knows everything. Needs nothing. Inhabits everywhere.

He couldn’t have been God.

 But there it is. We claim that Jesus was and is both.

 Since I am writing this mainly for Christians, I am not going to here offer a defense of that belief. It is enough for my purpose to remind the reader that it is our position.

 Similarly, the heavens are subject to the same laws of physics that operate here on earth, and the math is what it is, the orbits are what they are – and yet they do in truth “declare the glory of God.”

 The Bible, that other use of the descriptive phase “word of God” may perhaps be understood as a Divine book, in a way that does not deny human processes in laying it on my desk, and also as a human book, in a way that does not deny the hand of God developing it, and applying it authoritatively to my life.

 If I choose to not receive this gift as from God’s hand, I do so to my sorrow, and to my peril.



Filed under ALL, Christianity, Church, Theology

2 responses to “Is the Bible the “Word of God” or is it a human book?

  1. Bruce Glass

    Eric, your pointing to the difficulty of our comprehending the idea of Jesus as fully man while remaining fully God (much like the difficulty of our comprehending the Trinity) is an excellent way of illustrating the enigmatic depths of Scriptural Truth. I will only add this to the question of Mosaic authorship of the Torah:

    We all do well to keep in mind that the Bible was not the result of its authors taking dictation from God (or an angel as Mohamed claimed). We know this because Scripture makes no such claim and because it is imperfect. If it were directly written by God, it would be perfect. There would be no need for Bible study or interpretation of any kind because it would be absolutely, perfectly clear. This, of course, does not mean that it isn’t the inspired Word of God–that it isn’t the Truth. But it does mean that we should not be surprised or troubled by its imperfections. You do an excellent job of settling that issue in your other post (“What do we mean by ‘The Bible is the Word of God'”).

    The question of whether Moses or the writers J,P,E, and D are the authors of the Torah, however, need not be seen as a possible imperfection. Since Jesus and several New Testament authors, as well as the Old Testament itself, made reference to Mosaic authorship of the Torah, among other reasons, many conservative evangelical Christians and others vehemently reject the idea of multiple authorship. But perhaps we need not choose between two, seemingly opposing, possibilities. Given the way ancient Scripture was handed down over many years and through many generations, we can easily imagine that perhaps both are actually true.

    Though the Law of Moses was originally a written account of God’s revelation to Moses as described in Scripture, it would then have been hand copied, and most commonly, orally transmitted through many generations among long separated populations of Jews. Of course from the ninth century B.C. through the seventh century B.C., the Israelites resided in two separate kingdoms—the Kingdom of Judah, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the larger and more prosperous Kingdom of Israel that bordered the Mediterranean Sea to the north. Then there was the Babylonian exile from the sixth century into the fifth century B.C., with groups of Israelites returning during three separate time periods. Naturally, as the traditions of Moses were orally handed down over many generations among separate populations who were also being influenced by the other traditions of the regions in which they resided, they could easily have taken on variously distinguishable characteristics. With this in mind, we can imagine that while the written accounts found in Scripture may have been compiled from multiple written sources, much of the history described and, even more importantly, the fundamental principles that are described, remain the inherited sacred “Law of Moses.”

  2. Pingback: “The Evolution of Adam” byPeter Enns: some early thoughts | Random Musings

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