During Religious Ed. last night the review book had a question that we didn't see explained in the text (using Faith and Life Series for 7th Grade).

It asked, "what part of scripture was not inspired?"

The kids were like, "um, Judas?" and I thought that was a good answer, but said we do learn a thing or two from him. The answer key however, said "the literary style" is not inspired.

I did not understand this and couldn't explain it to the kids. I just told them, the fact that some of it is poetry and some of it isn't is not in it self inspired. I can't for the life of me see how this tidbit will help them to understand the Bible or even how thinking that a poem can be inspired in and of itself.

What does it mean that the literary style is not inspired and why is it not inspired?

This is asked from a Catholic perspective, but I think any tradition that doesn't hold that the literary style was in fact inspired (whatever that means) could help me answer this question.

  • 1
    My guess here is that it means that the fact that an original document is poetry is not critical to the inspiration. A rendering in prose that conveyed exactly the same message would be just as inspired. Therefore the poetry is not part of the inspiration. But this is a guess, and I can think of a few ways to poke holes in the theory even now. Oct 18 '12 at 17:47
  • 4
    Probably it's to refute the "dictation by God to scribes" understanding of "inspired".
    – kurosch
    Oct 18 '12 at 21:22
  • I would guess this refers to the fact that most of the New Testament authors were not native Greek speakers, and as a result the NT (especially the gospel of Mark) contains many grammatical errors. For example, a literal translation of Mark 2:1-2 reads, "And again he entered into Capernaum, after days, and it was heard that he is in the house, and immediately many were gathered together, so that there was no more room, not even at the door, and he was speaking to them the word." Oct 19 '12 at 5:39
  • Since when is Bible not capitalized? Just wonderin'. Don Jul 15 '17 at 15:57
  • @rhe since the fall!
    – Peter Turner
    Jul 16 '17 at 2:01

The understanding of inspiration understood by Baptists (and many others) is that God allowed the authors to use their own literary style, but still write the exact meaning He wanted them to convey. This makes sense, because each book, each author clearly does have their own style.

This view is known as Plenary verbal inspiration. It is not the only view, but but is the one that allows for the author's literary style to show through.

From http://www.theopedia.com/Inspiration_of_the_Bible

Plenary verbal inspiration (emphasis mine.)

The word plenary means "full" or "complete". Therefore, plenary verbal inspiration asserts that God inspired the complete text(s) of the Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, including both historical and doctrinal details. The word verbal affirms the idea that inspiration extends to the very words the writers chose. For example, in Acts 1:16 the Apostle Peter says "the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake" (KJV). Paul calls all scripture "God-breathed" in 2 Timothy 3:16 (referring to the Old Testament). Thus, the Holy Spirit guided the writers along (cf. 2 Peter 1:20-21) while allowing their own personalities and freedom to produce the Bible we have today. This view recognizes and asserts both the human and divine element within Scripture. This understanding has sometimes been compared and contrasted to the understanding of the two natures of Jesus.

Opposing understandings include:

  • Neo-orthodox
  • Dictation
  • Limited inspiration

All are covered on the page I linked to.

  • Allowing the authors to express themselves naturally doesn't mean that God didn't also inspire the literary style. Unless it is thought that whatever is inspired cannot be influenced by the human partner...
    – curiousdannii
    Aug 31 '15 at 12:35

This is a helpful clarification on what exactly Christians mean by "inspired". Specifically, we don't mean that each word and punctuation mark was dictated (mechanical inspiration or dictation theory). Instead the prevailing understanding is that the scriptures came about through God revealing truths and concepts to the minds of the apostles and prophets and even guided the minute details of expression while also allowing that each text to be characterized by the author's own way with words and thus the Biblical books –while fully divine and authoritative down– also bear the mark of the earthly author in the actual diction (verbal plenary inspiration).

Knowing that God didn't make the writers into robots helps us understand both God's work in our lives as well as better handle his words, knowing that the things being said are true and divine while also being a reflection of the pen that scribbled them.

  • 1
    This is how I've always understood it, too. I'd never heard of the "dictation" method of inspiration until someone put a comment on one of my other answers claiming that this was how Inspiration worked. I agree with you, as does pretty much every Christian/pastor I've talked to or hear about the subject. Oct 18 '12 at 22:31
  • Caleb's is a good answer. Look at it from the point of view of, e.g., John's Revelation. He saw a vision. God didn't explain what everything in the vision was, and how could he possibly describe what he saw of our modern world without the vocabulary we have today? He did his best, given his culture, his literacy, and his confidence with the Spirit, to tell people then what we are experiencing today. Frankly, it's comforting to know John was human, too. Jul 15 '17 at 1:22
  • While this post doesn't have anything I'd disagree with, most Protestants would still say that the Bible's various literary styles are inspired. The full texts are inspired, down to the individual strokes and dots, but with the full human involvement of the human authors.
    – curiousdannii
    Jul 15 '17 at 8:02
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    @curiousdannii I agree this is not a great answer. I wasn't too happy to find it was mine. I think my original tried to split the difference and gloss over verbal-plenary vs. dynamic inspiration. I touched it up a little and I think my edit covers your distinction — yet a more comprehensive answer could still break it down better.
    – Caleb
    Jul 15 '17 at 8:12

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