Inspiration, Biblical

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By inspiration of the Bible is meant a unique divine influence in virtue of which the people responsible for the OT and NT were so moved and enlightened by God that their work may truly be called the Word of God. It has been the constant belief of the people of God both before and after the time of Christ that their Sacred Scriptures have been divinely inspired. Testimony to this fact, together with information concerning the nature of the inspired character of the Scriptures, is found in the OT, in Jewish writers, in the NT, as well as in the tradition of the Church.

Existence of Inspiration. Old Testament and Jewish Writers. Toward the end of the 2nd century b.c., the translator of Sirach recognized the normative character of the Law, the Prophets, and other writings for the Jewish people (Foreword to Sirach; see also 1 Mc 1:960; 7:1617;12.9; 2 Mc 2:13; Dan 9:2). The prophetic origin of this literature accounted for its authority. Moses and the great prophets of Israel were themselves conscious of speaking to the people in the name of God Himself (e.g., Ex 4:1516; 19:78; Jer 1:9; 20.79; Ez 38:.1). The phenomenon of prophecy was attributed to the spirit of God that filled the prophet (Nm 11:2526; 1 Sm 10:6; Hos 9:7). Occasional mention is made of the same spirit of God at work in the priest (2 Chr 24:20) and the psalmist (2 Sm 23:2).

The Prophets of Israel were primarily moved by God to speak the word of God to their contemporaries. Others recorded their words at a later date. Some prophetic oracles, however, were originally given in writing (Hb 2:2; Is 30:8); Jeremia was instructed to record all his oracles for posterity (Jer 30.13; 36.13). At the time of Christ the Jews sought the word of the Lord in this threefold collection of the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings (cf. Jn 5:39; 10:35). The rabbis so venerated the letter of the text that they saw a divine meaning in the very flourishes of the script (cf. Mt 5:18).

In the Diaspora the Jewish philosopher Philo wrote of the inspired character of the Hebrew Scriptures in their Greek translation. He explained the phenomenon of inspiration in terms of Greek religious ecstasy: the prophet was deprived of personal consciousness and possessed by God whenever he spoke or wrote (νθουσιασμός: Quis rerum divinarum heres 53.265; Loeb Classical Library 4.418). According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, the prophets wrote by inspiration received from God (κατά τν πíπνοιαν τν π το[symbol omitted]: Contra Apionem 1.7.37; Loeb Classical Library 1.179). The Jews were more concerned with the divine character and authority of their sacred writings than with their human origins.

New Testament. The countless NT references and allusions to the Jewish Scriptures testify to the veneration that Christ and the apostles had for the Law, the Prophets, and the other writings (Lk 24:27, 44; Acts 3:22; 4:25;28.25; Gal 3:8; Mk 7:10, 13; 12:36). In fact, the person, work, and teaching of Christ are presented in the NT as the supreme fulfillment of all that is written in the OT (Heb 1:12; Mt 5:1719; 1 Cor 15:34; Rom 3:21, 31).

In 2 Pt 1:1921 the OT prophetic texts are clearly attributed to the special influence of the Holy Spirit. To confirm the confidence that may be placed in OT prophecy, the author says that "no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation. For not by human will was prophecy brought at any time; rather, holy men of God spoke as they were moved [φερόμενοι] by the Holy Spirit." The permanent value of the OT is insisted on in 2 Tm 3:1516 by explaining that "all Scripture is inspired by God [θεόπνευστος] and useful for teaching, for reproving, for correcting, for instructing in justice; that the man of God may be perfect, equipped for every good work." For these reasons the OT was retained as authoritative and useful in the Church (1 Cor 10:11).

Among the NT writings the Book of Revelation testifies to its own divine origin (1:13), and in 2 Pt 3:16 the epistles of Paul are treated as Scripture. Moreover, the Apostles claim for themselves and their teaching an authority superior to their predecessors (2 Cor 3:78; Eph 3:5; Col 1:26; 1 Thes 2:13; 2 Thes 2:15).

Church Tradition. By the middle of the 2nd Christian century there is evidence that the NT writings were being treated on a par with the OT [Justin Martyr, Apologia 1.66, 67; Dialogues c. Trypho 119; Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. 3.1.12; Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum3.12; Hippolytus, In Cant. 2.8 (XI); Muratorian Fragment, Enchiridion biblicum 17].

Christian antiquity, in its prayer, preaching, and theological writing, universally recognized that the writings of the OT and NT were the work of the Holy Spirit and were all equally the word of God. It was the unanimous teaching of the Fathers that the Sacred Scriptures were free from error and from all contradiction. Even though other ecclesiastical writers were considered to be inspired by God (Clement of Rome says this of himself, 1 Clem 63.2; Gregory Nazianzus, of Basil, In Hex. Proem., Patrologia Graeca 44:61; Augustine, of Jerome, Epist.82.2; Gregory the Great, of himself, In I Reg. Proem. 5, Patrologia Latina 79:21), the canonical Scriptures were always considered to be in a class apart. Athenagoras (c.177) spoke of the prophets as the organa or instruments of God, writing in ecstasy as the flutes of the Holy Spirit (Legatio pro Christianis 7, 9). About a.d. 250 the Cohortatio ad Graecos (8) called them the harps or lyres of the Holy Spirit (see also Theophilus of Antioch, Ad Autolycum 2.9; Hippolytus, De Antichristo 2). The metaphor of the musical instrument is common among the Fathers but tends to minimize the role of the human author. Nevertheless, at the time of the Montanist heresy, Catholic writers rejected the notion that the sacred writers wrote in ecstasy, deprived of their senses and intellectual awareness (see Epiphanius, Adv. Haer. 48; Jerome, In Is. Prol., Corpus Christianorum 73.23; In Nah. et Hab. Prol., Patrologia Latina 25:1232, 1274).

The Fathers inherited from the rabbis the notion of divine dictation ([symbol omitted]παγορεύειν, dictare; see John Chrysostom, In illud: Salutate Priscillam et Aquilam, Patrologia Graeca 51: 187; Augustine, Cons. Evang. 1.35, 54), but it must be remembered that, when used by the magisterium, this Latin word has a wider sense than mechanical and verbal dictation. It expresses origin, causality, and responsibility; the Council of Trent used it of oral traditions (Enchiridion biblicum 57). It remains true, however, that the Fathers investigated primarily the divine meaning of the Scriptures in the full light of Christian faith, and little attention was actually paid to a historical investigation of the human writer's work (see Gregory the Great, Moralia in Job Praef. 1.2, Patrologia Latina 75:517). Indeed, the tools for such a study were lacking to the Fathers. At the same time, however, men such as the Antiochenes, Jerome, and Augustine, recognized the importance of investigating the character, style, and work of the human writers (Jerome, In Am. Prol., Patrologia Latina 25:990; Augustine, In evang. Ioh. 1.1; Civ. 17.6.2; Cons. Evang. 2.12.2729). Augustine (Doctr. christ. 2.5) wrote: "In reading it [i.e., Sacred Scripture], men are desirous only of discovering the thoughts and intentions of those by whom it was written. Through these in turn they discover the will of God, according to which we believe such men spoke" (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 4.64). Again in Epist. 82. 1.3: "If I do find anything in these books which seems contrary to truth, I decide that either the text is corrupt, or the translator did not follow what was really said, or that I failed to understand it" (The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 9.392).

Although the Fathers treated the Scriptures as letters addressed by God to his people (John Chrysostom, In Gn. Hom. 2.2, Patrologia Graeca 53:28; Augustine, In psalm. 90 serm. 2.1), the term auctor (author) is not explicitly applied to God until the time of Gregory the Great (Moralia in Job Praef. 1.2, Patrologia Latina 75:517). In defending the faith against Marcion, the Gnostics, and the Manichees, Catholic writers and the magisterium insisted that one and the same God was at the origin of both the OT and the NT. In this context the Latin word auctor may simply mean principle or originator of both dispensations, although literary authorship cannot be excluded. The Statuta Ecclesiae Antiqua (c. 600) refer to God as "the author [auctor ] of the OT and the NT, i.e., of the Law and the Prophets and [the writings of] the Apostles" (Enchiridion biblicum 30). The Decree for the Jacobites issued at the Council of Florence (1441) suggests literary authorship more explicitly: "The holy Roman Church acknowledges [ profitetur ] one and the same God as author of the OT and the NT, i.e., of the Law and the Prophets and the Gospel, because the holy men of both Testaments, whose books it receives and venerates, spoke under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit" (Enchiridion biblicum 47). The same formula appears in the teaching of the Council of Trent (1546), although the Council itself was concerned primarily with maintaining equal reverence and authority (pari pietatis affectu ac reverentia ) for oral traditions, in view of Protestant insistence on Scripture alone (Enchiridion biblicum 57). [see tradition (in theology).]

Providentissimus Deus. In the 18th and 19th centuries, with the rise of rationalism and positivism, the inspiration and divine authority of Sacred Scripture were seriously questioned. Textual, literary, and historical criticism discovered many imperfections, apparent errors, and seeming contradictions in the sacred texts. The human origins of the Bible appeared to be irreconcilable with divine inspiration. Outside the Church the notion of inspiration was reduced to religious and poetic genius. Within the Church some Catholics taught that the Church made certain books into Sacred Scripture by giving her approval to outstanding human works (D. Haneberg). Others taught that God merely protected the human authors from error in matters of faith and morals (M. Jahn). Vatican Council I (1870) defended the traditional teaching against contemporary errors by a solemn and infallible expression of Catholic faith: "The Church holds them [the books of the OT and the NT] as sacred and canonical, not because, having been composed by human industry alone, they were afterwards approved by her authority; nor only because they contain revelation without error; but because, having been written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author and, as such, have been handed over to the Church" (Enchiridion biblicum 77).

In view of new attempts to restrict unduly Biblical inspiration and inerrancy, Leo XIII, in his encyclical Providentissimus Deus (1893), repeated the teaching of Trent and Vatican Council I, and further explained the Catholic doctrine of inspiration: "Hence, because the Holy Spirit employed men as His instruments, we cannot therefore say that it was these inspired instruments who, perchance, have fallen into error, and not the primary Author. For, by supernatural power, He so moved and impelled them to writeHe was so present to themthat the things that He ordered, and those only, they, first, rightly understood, then willed faithfully to write down, and finally expressed in apt words and with infallible truth. Otherwise it could not be said that He was the author of the entire Scripture" (Enchiridion biblicum 125). It is therefore of divine and Catholic faith that the entire extent of Scripture is inspired by God in such a way that He may be truly called its author.

Leo XIII, reflecting Christian tradition, spoke of the sacred writers as instruments of the Holy Spirit. It is necessary to conceive this divine and human cooperation in such a way as to preserve the free and responsible character of the human author, for modern study has made us acutely aware of the complex historical process that produced the literature of the Bible. The inspiration of the Bible must, however, be seen as one aspect of that divine providence which is leading men to salvation through Jesus Christ. God's supernatural revelation took place in the history of Israel and in the life of Christ before it was recorded in the pages of Scripture. The Bible then is the record of a progressive revelation, written according to the modes of writing prevalent in the ancient Near East at the time. Consequently, it is the fruit of a long oral and written tradition in which early texts were reinterpreted, glossed, and reorganized before reaching the state in which we read them today. Many have played a role in this process, but the work of all had a common social character; it was ordered to the service of a religious community. The prophets and the Apostles were the spiritual guides of Israel and the early Church, but they did not always write. Others recorded their teaching for posterity or sought to inculcate it by a literary presentation peculiar to themselves (see Lk 1.14; 2 Mc 2.2732; 15.39). By His special providence God guided this entire process, whether it involved action, speech, or writing. Such divine guidance may fittingly be called inspiration, since inspiration is simply any impulse brought to bear upon an intelligent creature from without (see Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 68.1).

Human Authors as God's Instruments. The inspiration by which God moves his free creatures is distinguished according to the various effects produced. Biblical inspiration produces a book of which God is the author. In order to provide the Church with Sacred Scripture, the Holy Spirit elevated all the human activity required for its production in such a way that the books produced were entirely the work of God, the principal cause, and entirely the work of the human authors as instrumental causes (Contra gentiles 3.70). The notion of an instrumental cause is a fruitful one, provided it is not applied too rigidly to the inspired authors. St. Thomas developed the notion in treating the Sacraments (Summa theologiae 3a, 62.1 ad 2). An instrument, such as a saw or a trumpet, cannot produce any effect unless it is used by a carpenter or a musician. When so used, it produces an effect proper to its own nature; a saw is designed to cut wood, a trumpet to make music. The effect, however, surpasses the proper causality of the instrument even though the latter receives and conditions the action of the principal agent.

On occasion St. Thomas spoke of the prophet or sacred writer as an instrument (e.g., Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 173.4; 172.4 ad 1; In Heb. 11.1.7; Quodl. 7.6.1 ad5). These, however, were free instruments and responsible agents. They understood what they had to speak or write and went about their work as conscious and free authors, working according to the methods proper to their own culture. Their work surpasses their human powers only insofar as it has divine authority and efficacy, and insofar as they may not have fully understood all that God intended in the events of which they treated and in the words they used. They are at the same time true authors in their own right, even though they act only when moved by the Holy Spirit. Only in this wider sense (see De ver.24.1 ad 5) may we speak of the sacred writers as instruments of the Holy Spirit. It is not necessary that they be conscious of this divine activity, but it seems fitting that they be consciously aware of undertaking a work of religious significance for the people of God. The manner in which God efficaciously moves a free agent, respecting his liberty and proper mode of action, is treated in the theology of grace.

The intellect plays a central role in any truly human work. St. Thomas's study of prophetic revelation (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 171174) contains valuable principles for Biblical inspiration when wisely and prudently applied. By the natural light of the human intellect a man judges the ideas or species that have been received through the channels of the senses, the imagination, and the agent intellect. In prophetic revelation God may disclose new ideas or species to the mind of the prophet by direct action upon the senses or the imagination, or by reordering existing ideas or species in an original way, or by direct action upon the intellect. When such action is accompanied by an infusion of the divine light, thereby ensuring the truth of the human judgment, one may speak of revelation in the strict sense; for God has disclosed to men truths that surpass their natural powers of reason or which they are naturally unable to attain in their peculiar circumstances. But God may also be satisfied to fortify the judgment of the prophet concerning truths that he has acquired in a normal human manner from tradition, instruction, experience, or investigation. St. Thomas considered this case as an imperfect mode of prophetic revelation (Summa theologiae 2a2ae, 173.2; 175.2 ad 4); some writers prefer to call it inspiration without revelation. The important consequence of this distinction is the realization that everything in Sacred Scripture need not be directly revealed by God, but everything in Scripture is inspired inasmuch as the judgment of the sacred writers is always fortified with the divine light. [see revelation, concept of (in the bible)].

St. Thomas was interested primarily in the communication of divine truth to the prophet's intellect and in the action of God upon his speculative judgments. To communicate this truth to others in speech or writing necessitates many practical judgments if the message is to be suitably presented and to achieve the desired result in the audience for which it is intended. A speaker or writer does not merely instruct the intellect; he may also want to act upon the emotions and move the will to conviction, repentance, enthusiasm, or action (see 2 Tm 3.1516). These practical judgments also benefit from the charism of inspiration, but now the proper effect of inspiration is to assure the most suitable execution of the desired purpose in view of the peculiar circumstances of both the author and his audience. Formal truth and error are no longer at stake, for these are the concern only of the speculative judgment. Hence, in order to evaluate the truth of Scripture, one must consider the purpose of the whole work, the specific intention of the author concerned, and his method of composition. One must allow for the total psychology of human authors in the ancient Near East. If God has chosen to speak to us through such instruments, His intention can be discovered only by the investigating of the intentions of these human authors. In his encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943) Pius XII invited Catholic exegetes to this study (Enchiridion biblicum 557560).

Analogous Notion of Inspiration. Biblical inspiration, however, is not restricted to the illumination of the intellect; it elevates all the faculties of the sacred authors for the limited work they have to perform. Such an analogous notion of inspiration is supple enough to embrace all those who contributed in any way to giving the Bible in its present form to the Church. It may also be extended to the Septuagint translators, if it can be established that their work positively contributed to the progress of revelation [see P. Auvray, "Comment se pose le probléme de l'inspiration des Septante," Revue biblique 59 (1952) 321336]. The suppleness of this concept may also resolve the problem of verbal inspiration. No one today would hold that God dictated the words of Scripture in an audible manner to the ear of the sacred writer. Cardinal Franzelin taught that God could be the author of Sacred Scripture provided He inspired all the ideas, but the choice of words could be left to the human authors. This theory applied a human notion of authorship univocally to God and violated the psychological integrity of the human instrument; for in man ideas are inseparable from the words in which they are expressed. A proper application of the notion of an instrument to a free agent and the analogous notion of inspiration suffice to explain how God may be considered responsible even for the words without violating the personal integrity and human freedom of the instruments He uses. In this way God may truly, though analogously, be called the author of the entire Bible.

Second Vatican Council. The Second Vatican Council while drafting the text of its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation (Dei Verbum ) spent a good deal of time on the subject of inspiration. The Constitution's third chapter, "The Divine Inspiration and the Interpretation of Sacred Scripture," was clearly intended to reaffirm the Church's traditional position. It cited the classic texts, taking special care to include 2 Tm 3:1617 so that there could be no mistake as to how the council fathers understood biblical inspiration and what they considered its purpose to be. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the third chapter of the Constitution verbatim and at length, recapitulates the Church's traditional teaching:

Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures (par. 107).

This quotation from the Constitution on Divine Revelation corresponds to the view of Christians of many traditions who regard 2 Tm 3:1617 and 2 Pt 1:1921 as the key texts in providing a correct understanding of biblical inspiration.

Bibliography: g. courtade, Dictionnaire de la Bible, suppl. ed. l. pirot et. al. 4:482559, with bibliog. Historical. g. m. perrella, "La nozione dell'ispirazione scritturale secondo i primitivi documenti cristiani," Angelicum 20 (1943) 3252. a. bea, "Deus auctor sacrae scripturae: Herkunft und Bedeutung der Formel," Angelicum 20 (1943) 1631. n. i. weyns, "De notione inspirationis biblicae iuxta Concilium Vaticanum," ibid. 30 (1953) 315336. Theological. p. synave and p. benoit, Prophecy and Inspiration, tr. a. dulles and t. l. sheridan (New York 1961). a. robert and a. tricot, Guide to the Bible, tr. e. p. arbez and m. p. mcguire 1:959. p. benoit, "Les Analogies de l'inspiration," Sacra Pagina, ed. j. coppens et al., 2 v. (Gembleux 1959) 1:8699. "Révélation et inspiration," Revue biblique 70 (1963) 321370. a. desroches, Jugement pratique et jugement spéculatif chez l'écrivain inspiré (Ottawa 1958). j. t. forestell, "The Limitation of Inerrancy," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 20 (1958) 918. r. a. f. mackenzie, "Some Problems in the Field of Inspiration," ibid. 18. j. l. mckenzie, "The Social Character of Inspiration," ibid. 24 (1962) 115124. k. rahner, Inspiration in the Bible, tr. c. h. henkey (Quaestiones disputatae 1; New York 1961). d. m. stanley, "The Concept of Biblical Inspiration," Catholic Theological Society of America. Proceedings 13 (1958) 6595. p. grelot, "Études sur la théologie du Livre Saint," Nouvelle revue théologique 85 (1963) 785806, 897925; "L'inspiration scripturaire," Recherches de science religieuse 51 (1963) 337382. d.m. beegle, The Inspiration of Scripture (Philadelphia 1963). p. j. achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture: Problems and Proposals (Philadelphia, 1980). r. f. collins, "Inspiration" in The New Jerusalem Biblical Commentary, (Engledwood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1990), pp.10231033.

[j. t. forestell/eds.]