How Do We Know the Bible is “Inspired”?
Recently the self-described agnostic, and “former Christian” known on Twitter as The Non-Alchemist posed a very interesting question that I think should be considered because it goes right to certain objections often raised by opponents to the faith.
His question—posed directly to theists in general—is, by his own admission, not original to himself, but that he’s simply reformulating and repeating a question from another Twitter user and is fairly simple:
“What counts as evidence *against* the hypothesis that a particular holy text is divinely inspired?
Without a doubt that sent reverberations through any Christian who even has a grasp of a coherent doctrine of inspiration. As another Twitter user, who identifies as a Christian commented,
“You’d have to start with getting us theists to decide on a definition of “divinely inspired”…and good luck with that 😀
That statement seems to sort of assume that a meaningful doctrine of inspiration doesn’t exist. But I think that the problem can be whittled down quickly by recognizing that the question is somewhat of a misdirection, since what we are talking about it the medium by which a message is conveyed.
First, how many “theists” actually operate on the presumption that their “holy texts” are “inspired”? Moreover, does the term “inspiration” even have a meaningful correspondence and coherence in the various theological systems that surround theists of various stripes?
See also: What is Meant When We Say the Bible is “Inspired”
For example: what do Hindus believe about their various religious texts? That would require an extremely broad survey of the various sects and types of expressions that fit under the heading of that religion. Well, what about Muslims? The general consensus is that the Quran is not a product of mere human effort, but rather, “…the Quran is as eternal as Allah himself. It is the very Word of God, without even the slightest imperfection.”(1) In fact, “…Muslims view the mechanism of ‘inspiration’ very differently and have another source of authority (hadith)…”(2) How about Jews? Well, it’s interesting subject to say the least, but these are questions beyond the scope of this interaction.
That seems to indicate that the term “theist” is too broadly directed. In fact, the word “insipration” itself seems to create it’s own problems. Moreover, the entire question seems to presuppose certain categories that only make sense within a specific and uniquely Christian—and by “Christian” one necessarily means that early 2nd temple Jewish period—context.
That being said, Christians derive their doctrine of inspiration from that which is the means which God has designated to be the vehicle of his self-authenticating revelation of himself and his will for his creatures: the Scriptures that are bound into the volume that is commonly called the Bible.
The assumption of the question seems to stem from a false starting point in a positivistic verificationism, which is inherently materialistic, and does not meet its own standard for truth. This is not to say that there is not a test that can, or has been applied, in the past; it is to say that the test that the questioner wants is not one raised from the same worldview as the one’s being questioned, demonstrated by who the question is directed at.
Indeed, the Christian who has a coherent understanding of the doctrine, and what necessarily follows from it (inerrancy), doesn’t start by trying to prove what has to be presupposed in order to begin reasoning at all about anything.
How do you know that the Bible is inspired?
How do you know that the Bible is inspired?
I know that the Bible is inspired because it says that it’s inspired.
That seems circular on first blush, but the question is one of epistemology, and not hypotheticals. The question of hypotheticals assumes something that is not known, or not immediately perceivable with regard to operation or content.
Now, there’s hypotheticals with regard to the mode or the method of inspiration, but that’s disconnected from the fact of inspiration, which is that God speaks to us, today through the written Word of his testimony and covenant in that it expresses both God’s plans for his creatures, and in that it is the means used by God to address them.(3)
When looking at the question of inspiration, one cannot help but bump into certain realities. These realities are boundaries set up to testify to the fact that man knows that God exists, and not merely desires to suppress that knowledge, but engages in active suppression of this fact. Man would rather do a million other things, and will often engage in countless activities in an effort to stop from engaging with the facts of reality, even to the point of conscious denial of what is other wise obvious.(4)
What the question of inspiration that Non-Alchemist proposes, is that one can set up a system that can neutrally sift through claims. The problem is that there is no neutral position from which one can stand and examine propositions, because it requires a standard.(5)
A sieve is specifically constructed to serve as a check against the size of certain particles from passing through undetected, but the fact that certain particles of that size exists is a presupposition. A mental sieve that intends to sort claims of inspiration presupposes that God has indeed spoken. For Non-Alchemist—a self-proclaimed “agnostic”—to believe that such a question is even possible to be asked demonstrates an inherent, if inarticulable, knowledge of God, thereby undermining his own personal claims of “no knowledge”.
The Christian’s knowledge—and therefore epistemological justification for all subsequent knowledge—of what is “inspired” therefore begins and ends with Scripture as the self-attesting, self-authoritative revelation of God by God for God.(6)
None of this is to day that the question is irrelevant, or that it’s incoherent. However, it points out, as something rather obvious to the careful thinker, that the word “inspiration” carries a certain amount of freight, and only does so because there’s a standard, and that standard is ultimately Scripture, better known as The Bible.
1. James R. White. What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur’an. Kindle edition. Bethany House Publishing. Bloomington, MN. 2013. Loc. 203
2. Ibid. Loc. 158
3. John M. Frame. Salvation Belongs to the LORD: An Introduction to Systematic Theology. P&R Publishing Company. Phillipsburg, NJ. 2006. p. 50
4. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19–20, ESV, emphasis added)
5. Greg L. Bahnsen. Always Ready: Directions for Defending the Faith. Digital Edition. Covenant Media Press. Nacogdoches, TX. 2011. p.2-4
6. Cornelius Van Til. A Survey of Christian Epistemology. P&R Publishing Company. Phillipsburg, NJ. 1969. p.11