Does the Doctrine of Biblical Inspiration Suppress the Importance of Scripture’s Human Authors?

Here is the single greatest explanation of the divine-human partnership in the creation of Holy Scripture I’ve ever read. Here Scott Swain, in Trinity, Revelation, and Reading, clears away misunderstandings of biblical inspiration. The book is a tad bit pricey, but analyses as good as this make it worth every penny. I quote at length:


Some worry that such an emphasis on the Spirit’s power in the production of Holy Scripture overrides or ignores it’s human authorship. The more the Spirit’s responsibility for this book is stressed, the more the intelligence, freedom, and personal activity of the Bibles human authors are suppressed – or so it is argued.

But this worry is unfounded, because the One who is “the Spirit of the Father and the Son” is also “the Lord and Giver of Life” (the Nicene Creed). The presence and operation of the Spirit’s sovereign lordship in the production of Holy Scripture does not lead to the suppression or overruling of God’s human emissaries in their exercise of authorial rationality and freedom. Rather, his sovereign lordship leads to their enlightening and sanctified enablement. The Spirit who created the human mind and personality does not destroy the human mind and personality when he summons them to his service. Far from it. The Spirit sets that mind and personality free from its blindness and slavery to sin so that it may become a truly free, thoughtful, and self-conscious witness to all that God is for us in Christ. He bears his lively witness and therefore prophets and apostles also bear their lively witness (Jn. 15.26-27). The Spirit creates a divine-and-human fellowship – a common possession and partnership – in communicating the truth of the gospel (Jn. 16.13-15).

In other words, the worry that the Spirit’s sovereignty undermines human agency is based upon a misunderstanding of God and his relationship to his creatures. This worry reflects the fallacy of the “zero-sum game”: either God is active or human beings are active, but never both. But this is a game that Scripture forbids us to play, not only in our doctrines of creation, Providence, salvation, and sanctification, but also in our doctrine of biblical inspiration as well. The truth is that because the Spirit is fully active in the production of holy Scripture therefore it’s human authors are fully active as well.

The Spirit of the Lord who created the human mind and human speech is also the one who sustains and enables human thought and communication by his active presence Exod. 4.11-12; Ps. 94.9-13; cf. Gen. 2.7; Ps. 104. 29-30). More over as the one who calls his prophets and apostles from their mother’s womb’s into his service (Jer. 1.5; Gal. 1.15), the Spirit prepares and providentially governs all the details of their lives (cf. Ps. 139) so that, when in time he does summon them into their sacred service, he summons them not apart from but in and with the full depth and breadth of their humanness. Consider, for example, how Moses’ training in Pharaoh’s court and Paul’s training under Gamaliel ultimately contributed to their prophetic and apostolic ministries. Bavinck hopefully summarizes the proper perspective on this issue: “Their native disposition and bent, their character and inclination, their intellect and development, their emotions and willpower are not undone by the calling that later comes to them but, as they themselves had been already been shaped by the Holy Spirit in advance, so they are now summoned into service and used by that same Spirit.”

Furthermore, the Spirit’s sanctifying work in his spokesmen, the work whereby he increasingly overcomes their innate spiritual darkness and trains their minds to comprehend spiritual light, does not overrule or suppress their thought and activity. The Spirit’s sanctifying work causes their thoughts and activity to be “fully alive” (Irenaeus). The more he sanctifies and purifies, the more active, the more fully human they become (cf. 1 Cor. 15.10). Accordingly, “the Spirit of holiness” incorporates seemingly every facet and dimension of human understanding and communication into the writing of Holy Scripture. Bavinck again is a helpful guide: the human authors “retained their powers of reflection and deliberation, their emotional states and freedom of the will. Research (Lk. 1.1), reflection, and memory (Jn. 14.26), the use of sources, and all of the ordinary means that an author employees in the process of writing a book are used.” There is no reason, moreover, to doubt that this authorial process included the work of amanuenses and scribal editors as well. The doctrine of biblical inspiration affirms that the resulting product of his variegated process, the writings themselves, is God’s holy Word: perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous altogether (Ps. 19. 7-9).

The doctrine of inspiration and therefore is not so much a claim about the manner whereby the Spirit produces Holy Scripture – the means he employees are seemingly infinite. The doctrine of inspiration is simply the claim that the Spirit, through a seemingly endless number of means, has produced a book that in the final analysis constitutes God’s word in human form. [Again, quoting Bavinck:] “Scripture is totally the product of the Spirit of God, who speaks through prophets and apostles, and at the same time totally the product of the activity of the authors.”

The fact that Scripture is Holy God’s word does not undermine its wholly human form, for its human form is the result of the Spirit’s creative, providential, and sanctifying presence in, with, and through the activities of Scripture’s human authors. More over, the fact that Scripture comes to us in a fully human form does not undermine its full divine authorship. Indeed, Scripture is in the external and visible sign of its own invisible divine authorship – its existence is ultimately impossible to explain apart from his hidden, sovereign work. Scripture is the visible and audible proclamation of the invisible God to all peoples and to the ends of the earth (cf. Rom. 10:18). In Holy Scripture God “speaks to his people, not from afar but from nearby [Bavinck].”

Trinity, Revelation, and Reading: A Theological Introduction to the Bible and It’s Interpretation, 66-69

For more on what is commonly called “organic inspiration”, see “What is Organic Inspiration?”

Posted on July 5, 2012, in Holy Spirit, Humanity, Scott R. Swain, Scriptural Authority and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Good stuff. What do you make of the claim that the NT documents are themselves the covenant documents of the New Covenant (says Frame in DWG and Kruger in his canon book)? While the Torah has a plausible claim to this in terms of structure and material (cf. Kline), to me the analogy with the NT writings is not convincing. Hence, I have trouble getting to a certainly closed canon.

  2. Excellent post! I attempt to deal with this topic in a video I posted at It’s titled, “The Inspiration of Scripture.”

    Thank you for your good words here!

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