[b-hebrew] Inspiration

Heard, Christopher Christopher.Heard at pepperdine.edu
Mon Aug 1 22:34:39 EDT 2005


As you know, this question can draw very heated or dismissive  
replies, and as such any discussion of "inspiration" on this list  
tends to get shut down very quickly. The fact of the matter is that  
we have precious little comment within the Tanakh from the Tanakh  
writers about their own writing activity ... but there _are_ some  
such statements. In my exegetical judgment, all such statements refer  
to texts shorter, and other, than our present canonical biblical  
books. In other cases, there are not _explicit_ statements, but very  
easily inferrable factors about how particular texts came to be  
written. If you expand the data to the New Testament, you can get a  
little bit more, but not much.

Over the years, in trying to explain "inspiration" to my students  
(who are mostly conservative evangelical or quasi-evangelical  
Christians), I have tried to use those precious few places where  
biblical writers explicitly reflect on their own writing activity to  
develop a model of the "mechanisms" of "divine inspiration" of  
scripture (and, yes, in putting it that way, I am "tipping my  
confessional hand"). I am actually trying to develop that model into  
a publishable form for a denominational journal, but I would be happy  
to share those ideas and the data behind them. However, that's  
probably best done off-list, knowing the history of what tends to  
happen here when the concept of inspiration is bandied about.

In another reply to your (Kevin's) post, Jim West wrote that there is  
nothing in the Hebrew Bible about inspiration and that it is a purely  
Christian notion. Jim, I don't agree with you on that. Inspiration is  
clearly not a completely Christian notion--in fact, I would argue  
(though I'll just posit for right now) that contemporary Christian  
ideas about inspiration are significantly Islamicized, and actually  
owe more to Islamic/Qur'anic tradition than to the Judeo-Christian  
biblical tradition. But returning to the Hebrew Bible for a moment: I  
do actually agree with Jim _to an extent_. That is, the Hebrew Bible  
has no such thing as a "doctrine of the inspiration of scripture"  
within it, and for that matter, neither does the New Testament have a  
"doctrine of the inspiration of the New Testament" within it. The  
writers of the Hebrew Bible did not know of the existence of any such  
thing as the Hebrew Bible, nor could they have, because it did not  
exist until well after they did their work, and therefore they did  
not theorize or dogmatize about it and could not have done so. The  
same applies, _mutatis mutandis_, for the New Testament and the  
Christian Bible. Even so, the Hebrew Bible does witness to certain  
beliefs about God being involved with the creation of written texts,  
in a variety of ways, and therefore the _concept_ of "inspiration,"  
if I may change Kevin's definition slightly to "the process of God  
causing texts to be written," is definitely present within the Hebrew  
Bible. I would go beyond that to say that there are certain implicit  
dynamics in some texts that would allow us to infer certain things  
about how God will have been involved in the creation of those texts.  
Therefore, the concept of inspiration is, in my exegetical judgment,  
present both explicitly and implicitly in the Hebrew Bible--but  
please note that I mean the inspiration of _texts_, and not the  
inspiration of the _canonical form of the scriptures_, for on _that_  
score we have no inner-biblical _data_.

I probably should stop with this right now in this forum, but would  
be happy to discuss the data, and what I think may reasonably be  
inferred from it (given a belief in God), back-channel with anyone  
who wishes to do, or here if the moderators want to give the green  
light to this topic on-list (which I doubt will happen since the  
topic so often turns contentious).

Best wishes to all,


On Aug 1, 2005, at 6:52 PM, Kevin Riley wrote:
>  A question raised by a recent [and now ended] discussion: is there  
> any
> clear evidence in the Hebrew scriptures or in Hebrew writings from  
> *before*
> the exile that give us a clear picture of how the ancient Hebrews  
> perceived
> inspiration [or whatever you want to call the process of God  
> causing the
> scriptures to be written].  It seems to be assumed that they viewed
> inspiration in one of the ways we do, yet I wonder if we have any  
> evidence
> of that, and if so what it is?  I don't want a reply  that tells me  
> what
> inspiration is, or to start a discussion on which current view is  
> correct -
> just what actual original evidence we have for an ancient Hebrew
> understanding of it.

R. Christopher Heard
Assistant Professor of Religion
Pepperdine University
Malibu, California 90263-4352

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