What is Organic Inspiration?
Posted by Joseph Torres
Christians uniformly confess that the Bible is inspired. Paul, in 2 Tim 3:15-17, says that all Scripture is “God-breathed” and thus the very word of Yahweh, the Creator and Lord of the universe. But, Christians also confess that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). In a way that quite parallel (though not identical) with the doctrine of Christ’s 2 natures, the Bible is both the verbal communication of God, and the fully verbal communication of it’s human authors. And we need to maintain this balance of dual-authorship or we’ll go off the deep end. Admittedly, for most Christians we run the risk of denying (in theory or practice) that God really did use human authors.
I would suggest that the best way of thinking about the dual-authorship of Scripture is what come to be known as “organic” inspiration. Now I’ll turn it over to 3 “Dutch masters” to clarify this position. First Louis Berkhof:
The proper conception of inspiration holds that the Holy Spirit acted on the writers of the Bible in an organic way, in harmony with the laws of their own inner being, using them just as they were, with their character and temperament, their gifts and talents, their education and culture, their vocabulary and style. The Holy Spirit illumined their minds, aided their memory, prompted them to write, repressed the influence of sin on their writings, and guided them in the expression of their thoughts even to the choice of their words. In no small measure He left free scope to their own activity. They could give the results of their own investigations, write of their own experiences, and put the imprint of their own style and language on their books. -Louis Berkhof, Summary of Christian Doctrine, chapter 3
This explains a lot, doesn’t it? John writes quite differently than Paul. And even Paul writes differently from letter to letter. Colossians and Ephesians are quite similar, but Philippians and Galatians are quite different. In the former, Paul is happy and rejoicing, in the latter Paul is upset and agitated. Herman Bavinck takes us a bit further, clarifying what organic inspiration is not, contrasting it with “dynamic” and “mechanical” concepts of inspiration:
Inspiration should not be reduced to mere preservation from error, nor should it be taken in a “dynamic” way as the inspiration of persons. The view that inspiration consists only in actively arousing religious affections in the biblical authors, which were then committed to writing, confuses inspiration with regeneration and puts scripture on par with devotional literature. At the same time a “mechanical” view of inspiration fails to do justice to the role of the biblical writers as secondary authors. One-sidedly emphasizing the divine, supernatural element inspiration disregards its connection with the author’s gifts, personality, and historical context. God treats human beings, including the biblical writers, not as blocks of wood but as intelligent and moral beings.
Neither a “dynamic” nor a “mechanical” view suffices. The proper view of biblical inspiration is the organic one, which underscores the servant form of Scripture. The Bible is gods word in human language. Organic inspiration is “graphic” inspiration, and it is foolish to distinguish inspired thoughts from words and words from letters. Scripture must not be read at a mystical, as though each word or letter by itself hasn’t own divine meaning. Words are included in thoughts and vowels in words. The full humanity of human languages taken seriously in the notion of organic inspiration. -Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, 388-389
The organic inspiration of Scripture is about the writings of the biblical authors and not simply the authors themselves. As we’ll close off with a clear representation of the doctrine from John Frame:
Organic inspiration means that God used all the distinct personal qualities each writer. God used the differences of heredity, environment, upbringing, education, gifts, talents, styles, interests, and idiosyncrasies to reveal his word. -John M. Frame, The Doctrine of the Word of God, 142
Frame’s closing words are very helpful in putting this doctrine in perspective:
These differences were not a barrier that God had to overcome. Rather, they were God’s chosen means of communicating with us.
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