A Few Thoughts on the Mystery of the Inspiration of Holy Scripture

Friday, September 2nd, 2011

Do you know the difference between the words “irrupt” and “erupt”? Irrupt means to come “crashing in” or “bursting in,” whereas erupt means to burst forth or break out. A volcano erupts, i.e. it spews forth lava, fire and smoke. God’s salvation irrupts into the world. The incarnation is something which comes crashing in from the outside, not something which arises from the inside. Yet, in the mystery of the incarnation, as an historical event, it seems to be both irruption and eruption. It is clearly the intervention from outside time and space, yet it also emerges within the confines of space and time and human history. Jesus irrupts into the world as the Theantropic One, yet he also erupts from Mary’s womb as Jesus of Nazareth. Ah, the great mystery which is ours in Jesus!

The Apostle Paul boldly proclaims in 2 Tim. 3:16 that “all scripture is inspired by God.” The English word “inspiration” implies breathing “in” and, in its normal usage refers to something which happens in us, i.e. we are inspired. The actual word in the N.T. literally means that “all Scripture is God-breathed,” i.e. it is a breath from God. So, what is Scripture? We have, in mystery, both the Word of God and Paul’s Epistle to the Romans or one of John’s Epistles. I want to go on record affirming my own confidence that the Bible is, indeed, the Word of God. It is God-breathed. If we ever lose confidence in God’s Word, the seeds of our demise as ministers of the gospel have been sown. I firmly believe that all Scripture is, indeed, God-breathed and the Scripture is without error. This does not mean, of course, that the Scripture fell out of the sky or was dictated to passive recipients. That is the Islamic, not Christian, understanding of revelation.

Muhammad was, by the Islamic account, a passive recipient who merely heard and recorded what was being conveyed to him by the angel Gabriel between the years 610 and 632 A.D. The Christian position, as I understand it, involves a mysterious intersection of irruption and eruption. Paul, John, Matthew and the other authors wrote their gospels or epistles using their own particular style and force of words (eruption), but the Holy Spirit sovereignly restrained them from making any error such that the documents which were produced were the very words of God (irruption), expressed in the particularities of a specific language without violating the nature of human thought, culture and expression (eruption), yet conveying exactly what God wanted us to hear and to know (irruption).

It is actually a great insight into the Christian understanding of how God draws us into the very center of his redemptive work and allows us to participate with him in his great, unfolding, cosmic plan. God could have dropped the Bible out of the sky. God could have saved people without the church or evangelists or human agency. God does not require partners to be whole and complete. The Triune God is. He is forever and eternally blessed – and we can neither add, nor detract, from that eternal blessedness. As the Puritans used to say, “God is in himself a sweet society.” However, God has chosen to unfold his plan with us, and through us, and in us. We get drawn up into – yea, summoned into – the presence of the very life and work of the Triune God. We become, amazingly, his co-workers, his co-writers, his co-witnesses, his co-servers, etc.

All of ministry must, therefore, be seen (as Scripture itself is seen), as an expression of God’s breath of life through the particularities of human agency. Obviously, in our case, the Holy Spirit does not always restrain us from error, though he surely must restrain us from countless errors or sins which we never realize, as he guides the unfolding missio dei (mission of God) through us. In our own lives His irruption does not always perfectly align with our eruptions.

One of our prayers is that we would fully recognize his guiding presence through our lives and we would be more receptive to the daily restraints and leading of the Holy Spirit. Someday (in the New Creation) when we see him as He truly is, our inhales and exhales (our inspirations and his ex-spirations) will fully match and resonate with his own in perfect and eternal harmony.

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