One morning in Bible class a woman insisted that only in the King James Version was every word inspired by God. Opening to the title page, she pointed to the words Authorized VERSION. She refused to believe that this version had been authorized by King James, and not by God.
I was once as dogmatic about my own understanding of the inspiration and authority of the scriptures. I was sure that others were choosing not to believe, and I dismissed their questions and objections as insincere. I can do so no longer.
"All scripture is God-breathed" (2 Tim.3:16). Of course, God did not exhale the scriptures onto a page. Human beings were involved in the writing, preservation, and translation of the Bible. The Bible is a witness of God's Spirit working in the lives of His people.
God Respects Our Free Will
God never forced His prophets to speak. For having created humankind with free will, God surely was careful never to transgress that free will. Although some of God's prophets may have felt compelled to speak, it must also have been their dedicated hearts which motivated them (Jer. 1:7; Ez. 3:27). And in one instance at least, it appears that Balaam was motivated by the fear of God (Num. 22:38).
God never compelled scribes to record the law and history of Israel. No one was forced to preserve the New Testament letters.
God poured out His Spirit, and His people responded. Thus, we find this explicit opening statement in the gospel of Luke: "Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account."
A Mistaken Conclusion
God revealed Himself, and sometimes His people could hear clearly, and sometimes not. God was always fully Himself – powerful, just, loving and merciful. But even His own people were circumscribed by the physical dimensions of this life, and had to struggle to understand His transcendent nature.
Not surprisingly, they sometimes came to the wrong conclusions about how God operates in this world. For example, some of the Old Testament writers embraced the mistaken view that God would sometimes withhold the rain in order to punish the disobedient with a resulting poor harvest and famine.
For examples, we read this curse in Deut. 28:22-24: "The Lord will strike you ... with scorching heat and drought ... The sky over your head will be bronze, the ground beneath you iron. The Lord will turn the rain of your country into dust and powder…" We read in Zech. 14:17: "If any of the peoples of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord Almighty, they will have no rain."
Of course, there is a certain amount of poetic and symbolic language in these passages. Nevertheless they reflect the view that God controls the rainfall to punish or reward.
A Glimpse Of God
The Old Testament prophets concluded that natural calamities must be a just punishment, and that natural blessings must be a loving reward from God. Despite their mistaken conclusions, they are an example of faith for us. They had caught a glimpse of the transcendent God. They knew God as the author and sustainer of creation. Their God was powerful, just, loving and involved. They were mistaken about God's use of rainfall, but they were right about the qualifies of God.
In contrast, other peoples when faced with drought believed their Creator to be good but too far removed to be concerned with human affairs. They called on the spirits of the dead, appealed to lesser deities, or resorted to magic rites to induce rainfall.
Still others believed that rainfall was the result of the union of the Sky God and the Earth, and sought to arouse the Sky God through various means, including sexual orgies. Some peoples blamed evil spirits for the drought, while others blamed the capriciousness or weakness of their god(s).
A Clear View of God
Jesus did not accept the Old Testament view that drought was used by God to punish the disobedient. This is remarkable, since before his death and resurrection He lived under the Law of Moses. In Matthew 5:44, He said: "I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matt. 5:44).
There are two things I want to mention here. First, the term "love" in the Bible implies action, and not merely warm feelings. Secondly, God acts for the good of his enemies, sending sun and rain, both necessary for a bountiful harvest. Jesus regarded God as the author and sustainer of Creation. However, God did not use nature to reward or punish.
God Revealed Himself
Because God was always fully Himself, the Old Testament prophets and writers were able to catch a glimpse of His transcendent nature. They wrote of a mighty, just, merciful and loving God, even while they misunderstood and misinterpreted the natural events around them.
God broke through human ignorance, misconceptions, and mistaken conclusions and revealed Himself to His people. Surely there can be no inspiration more profound than this.