It’s easy to get into trouble these days, especially for what you say. Political correctness has gone frankly bonkers to the point that if you believe that something is right or wrong you’d better not say it or you’ll get labelled with the ‘f’ word – ‘fundamentalist’ and ostracised accordingly.
One of the things that you really can’t say any more without making people nervous is that, the Bible, that great work of 66 books of historic narrative, wisdom, letters, poetry and prophecy, is inspired. By God.
The word ‘inspired’ is in itself inoffensive. We’re happy to use it to praise a person’s writing or affirm his or her ideas but say that another work of literature, the Bible, is inspired, and by God to boot, and we get very jumpy and nervous. I suppose we just don’t like what it says.
The verbal inspiration of Scripture is a doctrine I struggled with for a long time, partly because I somehow got the idea that if the Bible was the most important book in the world then I shouldn’t spend any more time reading other books, which, for a book addict was a real problem. I’ve got over that now.
Strangely, help with this verbal inspiration thing came from the world of art – another closet passion. The following works of art illustrate the doctrine and also shed light on its truth.
This is a painting by Caravaggio, called St Matthew and the Angel which dates around 1602. I love how humble the gospel writer, Matthew, is here in this painting, needing the Spirit to move his very hand. I think the artist found it easier to paint an angel than the Holy Spirit but the point is clear! God is inspiring the words Matthew writes.
This is another by Caravaggio entitled, The Inspiration of St Matthew. Here he comes across as more confident with his pen poised in his left hand but no less attentive to God’s voice as he turns his ear to what the Spirit is saying. There’s a sense of urgency in his writing. He hasn’t even taken the trouble to sit down properly on his stool so eager is he to get God’s words down on paper.
2 Timothy 3:16 puts it like this: ‘All Scripture is God-breathed’ literally breathed out by God and 2 Peter 1:20 and 21 makes the same point:
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.
Peter is saying that the writers of Scripture, referred to here as ‘prophets’ which included all the Old Testament prophets, didn’t make up what they wrote themselves. ‘Prophecy never had its origin in the human will.’ Rather, God was the initiating author, speaking through what the men were writing. ‘They spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit’.
Here is Moses with the Tables of the Law by the Italian artist Guido Reni c1624. This is a depiction of the event in the Old Testament where Moses is given the 10 Commandments on Mount Sinai by God. The raised arm on the left hand side clearly points to the source of his inspiration.
Or how about this one? The Apostle Paul Writing His Epistles, a painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne in the 17th century.
This picture of Paul appears to have left out God’s involvement in the writing. He looks very learned and academic but on the right of the painting there’s a sword by his side, which might make you think of Ephesians 6:17 and the armour of God which includes, most powerfully, the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. So behind the human author’s work, his personality and pen, lies God the Holy Spirit, making sure that what the author wrote was what God wanted written. In other words, the author’s words are also God’s words. Double authorship if you like. Augustine of Hippo, the early Christian theologian and philosopher put it like this: “What the Bible says, God says”.
These works of art helped me come to grips with the inspiration of Scripture but books and art more generally made me think about the source of inspiration for all artistic endeavour. Isn’t creativity one of the obvious and most beautiful ways in which we are obviously made in God’ s image?
We talk about being being ‘gifted’ but often forget to recognise the Giver. We talk about words of art being inspired. Don’t let’s forget to ask ‘By Whom?’