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Divine inspiration of the Scriptures


In the focus of attention of the following articles will be the Book of Genesis, as it is closely tied in with a series of contemporary scientific and moral themes. However, prior to the discussion of the content of the Book of Genesis it is necessary to clarify the issue of its divine inspiration and historic accuracy. The matter of fact is that modern Bible criticism brought forward a few contradictory opinions regarding the origin and truthfulness of the content of the Book of Genesis. Modern heterodox Bible scholars dare to refer many narratives of the Book of Genesis and other sacred texts as myths, legends and distorted facts. Such disrespect of this Holy Book did not come from its content, but was the result of the very premises that the modern Bible science in the heterodox world is built upon. First, modern Bible scholars have a prejudice against those Bible stories, which describe mysterious, supernatural events. Second, when interpreting ancient events, modern Bible criticism gives preference in accuracy to extrabiblical writings on the account that the Bible might contain fiction. The principal demerit of modern Bible science is its neglect, if not rejection, of the divine origin and Godís Providence in the development and keeping of the Sacred Scriptures.

A totally different approach to the Holy Scriptures guides the Orthodox theological thought. We base the study of the Scriptures on the belief in its Divine authoring. The goal of this article is to explain the Churchís teaching about the divine inspiration of the Sacred Scripture, and propose the arguments, which support this teaching.

How can we understand the inspired condition of the writers of the sacred books? Were they just impersonal tools for the operation of the Holy Ghost, as though a pen in a writing hand? In such case, there would be no place in their works to any individual human features. However, authorís personality is always perceptible in any book of the Bible. You would never mistake Isaiah for Jeremiah, or Mark for John, because each inspired writer still has his own style and language. This is the evidence that God, inspiring the content to the writer, did not abolish his natural abilities, did not tie up his mind or his will. In this regard the Apostle Paul wrote: "And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" (1 Corinthians 14:32). On the other hand, shall we consider the divine inspiration as some poetic ardor or excitement, which sometimes comes to secular authors? This understanding of inspiration would effectively deny the divine origin of the Holy Scripture and abase it to the level of secular literature.

The Complete Orthodox Encyclopedia (Volume I, St. Petersburg) provides the following definition: "Divine inspiration is the specific influence of the Holy Ghost on the heralds of Divine Revelation, which guided them in the comprehension and transmission of this latter... At the same time, the human spirit, which thus becomes instrumental for the communication of Divine Revelation, retains and actively displays any of its abilities and skills... Divine and human natures sojourned in Christ in an organic union, and in the same manner for the communication of Divine Revelation everything is inspired by God, and free operation of a man is evinced at the same time."

The relationship of the two wills ó Divine and human ó in the business of communicating the divine truth is manifest in an autobiographical note of the Prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah decided to stop prophesying to the people of Jerusalem about the forthcoming grieves, because this put his life in danger every day. He wrote, "Then I said, I will not make mention of Him, nor speak any more in His name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forbearing, and I could not stay" (Jeremiah 20:9). Here we once again see the action of God, inspiring what to say, and the prophetís comprehension of his freedom to keep quiet about the Divine word. The writers of the Holy books treated with reverence their mission of ushering Godís will to people. The Prophet Moses was slow of speech and tongue, and did not understand how he could prophesy the word of God with this handicap. Then God told Moses to take his brother Aaron as assistant: "And thou shalt speak unto him, and put words in his mouth: and I will be with thy mouth, and with his mouth, and will teach you what ye shall do" (Exodus 4:015). The prophet and king David had the following understanding of his gift of inspiration: "The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue" (2 Samuel 23:2).

Though they were inspired, the authors of the sacred books also brought some human elements into them. The already-cited Complete Orthodox Encyclopedia reads: "as far as the human nature is not perfect, certain imperfections might occur in the sacred books due to the participation of the free human activity in the writing thereof. Therefore the divine inspiration of the Scriptures does not by any means come into a contradiction with genuine human thoughts and senses, inaccuracies and discrepancies, which may be found in them. The works of the holy writers are perfect to the extent that is needed for the divine purpose. Where imperfect human comprehension was sufficient for the salvation of mankind, there God permitted imperfections to appear."

In describing historical events, the Biblical authors used the common tools of learning: written documents, verbal tradition, stories of eyewitnesses and personal observations. Subjective features are present in the historical books of the Bible as well. It is a known fact that the evidence of eyewitnesses of an event would not fully coincide in all details, even if each of them tried to render his observations with maximum accuracy. This subjectivity of witness is considered a norm in judicial hearings. In this respect the parallel narrations of the Bible do not constitute an exclusion.

For example, if we juxtapose the four Evangelistsí descriptions of the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, then we will find its own peculiarities and details in each of them. It is usually not hard to reconcile the differences of the parallel narratives in the Bible, because they do not eliminate, but supplement one another. Unfortunately, modern Bible criticism is often too picky on minor discrepancies in the Bible, and seeks to view them as contradictions. The Orthodox Church recognizes the natural methods of historical knowledge, but it believes that the writers of the sacred books put down the truth only, because the grace of God taught them to distinguish true from false.

Modern Bible criticism emphasizes the idea of sources and authors of the Bible. It attempts to find out who and when wrote each book, or portion of a book. Ample academic literature is available in the field of Biblical sources and authors, but unluckily, this literature is full of controversial and disputable theories. From the Orthodox point of view, the significance of inspiration of this or that Biblical book is not dependent on authorship. We do not know the names of authors of some Old Testament books; however the books that they wrote enjoy equal reverence with books, written by great prophets. The Churchís belief in the inspiration of all canonical books of the Old Testament is based upon the testimony of Christ and His Apostles.

When speaking, our Lord Jesus Christ often referred to the Old Testament books. For example, He witnessed the genuineness of the ancient prophecies about the Messiah: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me" (John 5:39). The Lord often quoted the prophetic words of Moses, King David, Isaiah, and Daniel. He also pointed it out to the Jews that the Scripture was infallible in the affairs of faith: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (Matthew 4:27-28).

By referring to many events, mentioned in the Old Testament, the Lord confirmed their historical accuracy. He mentioned creation of the man by God, establishment of matrimony, Jacobís vision, Abraham, Lotís wife and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Godís appearance to Moses, Jonahís staying in the belly of a whale, coming of the Prophet Elias, etc. In a like manner the Apostles, who had been taught by Christ, instructed Christians to revere the Writing of the Old Testament. Too much space would be needed to list here all Old Testament events, prophecies and quotations that the Apostles referred to in the Gospels and Epistles. This multiple references to the Holy Scriptures of the Old Testament prove that the Apostles believed steadfastly in the Divine origin of these Writings. The Apostle Peter says clearly: "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). The Apostle Paulís testimony is similar: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16).

The clear witness of Divine dignity of the Holy Scriptures, said by the Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles, convince us in the genuineness of everything contained in these books.

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