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The Words of God in the Words of Humankind

If is often said that Scripture is God’s word and not men’s word. The intention is correct, but the choice of words fall short of being helpful. The sixty-six books of the Protestant Bible are a collection of the words of men from many different places and times, written in many different kinds of literature. It might be well to ask, “how did God’s word get to humankind?”

The many and various books in Scripture were written to specific audiences. Some of these audiences are easier to discover than others. The purpose of a specific book, i.e., Galatians, can usually be readily identified from the book itself. The difficulty we face is understanding how these books, which were written by different authors to different people in different times, can be the word of God.

A picture that is sometimes offered to understand this process is that each author was simply the mouthpiece of God, who told the authors exactly what to write, each specific word of it. We have been inundated with this concept. It is as if God was the boss and he dictated the words to his secretary. This view suggests that God overruled the personality of the author and the historical situation played no role in the production of the book. The writers were believed to be like robots with no feelings, thoughts, or words of their own.

By the way, this is not a modern concept. The book of 2 Esdras, an apocryphal book which is dated from around A.D. 120, espouses this thought pattern. While not held as inspired by the Protestant section of the Church, the apocryphal books do provide a window by which we can observe the thought pattern of people living during a specific time frame. Here is one such thought:

So I took the five men, as he commanded me, and we proceeded to the field, and remained there. And on the next day, behold, a voice called me, saying, “Ezra, open your mouth and drink what I give you to drink.” Then I opened my mouth, and behold, a full cup was offered to me; it was full of something like water, but its color was like fire. And I took it and drank; and when I had drunk it my heart poured forth understanding, and wisdom increased in my breast, for my spirit retained its memory; and my mouth was opened, and was no longer closed. And the Most High gave understanding to the five men, and by turns they wrote what was dictated, in characters which they did not know. They sat forty days, and wrote during the daytime, and ate their bread at night. As for me, I spoke in the daytime and was not silent at night. So during the forty days ninety-four books were written. And when the forty days were ended, the Most High spoke to me, saying, “Make public the twenty-four books that you wrote first and let the worthy and the unworthy read them; but keep the seventy that were written last, in order to give them to the wise among your people. For in them is the spring of understanding, the fountain of wisdom, and the river of knowledge.” And I do so (2 Esdras 14.37-38)

If this were the true way in which the books of Scripture came into being, we would have no problems with the text of Scripture at all. It would be only the word of God and in no way would it be the words of men.

However, it can be demonstrated that Scripture did not come to its authors as depicted above. We have received Scripture in three different languages: Hebrew and Aramaic in the First Testament and Greek in the Second Testament. It has been established that the Greek of the Second Testament was not some special holy language used by God, but was the common street language of the day.

The books of Scripture have distinct literary characteristics and styles. In the Second Testament, Mark was written in “sloppy” Greek, while Luke was written in “superior” Greek. Luke used hundreds of words that Matthew and Mark did not use in the production of their stories about Jesus. The human factor of Scripture can not be dismissed. The humanity of Scripture cannot be sidestepped. A true study of Scripture will embrace the humanity of the text which is God-breathed.

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