Did God Dictate the Bible?

Published by DonDavidson on

Some Christians insist that every word of the Bible was written by God, word for word, with the biblical writers effectively just taking dictation. The problem with this approach is that the biblical accounts often differ, albeit in details that are minor and relatively unimportant.

This is well illustrated by the accounts of the Transfiguration in each of the three synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). They agree that Jesus took Peter, James, and John up on a mountain where they witnessed his Transfiguration, when he became radiant like the Sun and was visited by Moses and Elijah. Then the voice of God spoke to them from a cloud, saying:

            “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to Him!” (Matthew 17:5)

            “This is My beloved Son; listen to Him!” (Mark 9:7)

            “This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!” (Luke 9:35)

The Gospel writers are clearly writing about the same incident, and their accounts of it are largely consistent, but they disagree in one detail—the exact wording of the message delivered by the voice of God. The essential meaning is the same—Jesus is God’s Son, who has God’s approval, and the three apostles should pay attention to what Jesus says. But if the writers were simply taking dictation from God, why the disagreement?

To my knowledge, the Bible never says that God dictated the Bible word for word. Instead, Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16 that “all Scripture is inspired by God.” And 2 Peter 1:21 says: “no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.”

These verses are saying that Scripture was written by men, and that these writers were “inspired” and “moved” by the Holy Spirit, so that they wrote with a wisdom and understanding that came from God. Paul talks about this in 1 Corinthians 2:6-13, where he says “we speak God’s wisdom” which God had revealed “through the Spirit.” Having been taught by the Spirit, “we speak . . . not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit.”

In a trial, different witnesses often differ slightly in their recollection and perception of an event even when they are honestly testifying to what they saw and heard, because people vary in what they notice, remember, and think is important. Indeed, if their testimony agrees too perfectly, that raises the suspicion that the witnesses had colluded or been coached on what to say.

The verses cited and quoted above leave room for the differing perspectives of each writer, while nevertheless focusing on the deep spiritual wisdom and understanding that they had received from the Holy Spirit. God allowed the biblical authors to write what they knew or believed to be true, based on their own unique perspectives.

Approached from this viewpoint, the minor discrepancies in the accounts of the Transfiguration are easily explained and understood, for none of those authors was actually present when it happened. Mark is probably retelling what he heard from Peter, who was actually there, for Mark was Peter’s interpreter. Matthew the apostle undoubtedly heard the account from Peter, James, and John sometime after Jesus’ resurrection.[1] And Luke wrote after “having investigated everything carefully from the beginning.”[2]

The fact that these authors agree to the extent that they do, but without the perfect agreement that would raise suspicions, lends credibility to their accounts.

[1]. Matthew 17:9 and Mark 9:9 say that Jesus told the three apostles to tell no one what they had seen until after he had risen from the dead, and Luke 9:36 indicates that they obeyed this command.

[2]. Luke 1:3


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