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, 2012 at 17:47
  • 4
    Probably it's to refute the "dictation by God to scribes" understanding of "inspired".
    – kurosch
    Oct 18, 2012 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, 2012 at 5:39
  • Since when is Bible not capitalized? Just wonderin'. Don Jul 15, 2017 at 15:57
  • @rhe since the fall!
    – Peter Turner
    Jul 16, 2017 at 2:01

3 Answers 3


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, 2015 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.

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    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, 2012 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.
    – JBH
    Jul 15, 2017 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, 2017 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, 2017 at 8:12

There is no conflict between literary style and genres with the assumption of divine inspiration

Scholars who acknowledge the need to study the Bible in its literary context explain that this approach should be the default and essential, not an additional side tool for interpretation. Following are some highlights from Ryken's ESV Literary Study Bible, Introduction. It also includes the article on the 5 fallacies about the literary approach to the Bible.

The subject of literature is human experience rendered as concretely as possible. The result is that it possesses a universal quality. Whereas history and the daily news tell us what happened, literature tells us what happens—what is true for all people in all places and times. A text can be both, but the literary dimension of a text resides in its embodiment of recognizable human experience. [...]

Literature is an art form in which beauty of expression, craftsmanship, and verbal virtuosity are valued as rewarding and as an enhancement of effective communication. The one writer of the Bible to state his philosophy of composition portrays himself as, among other things, a self-conscious stylist and wordsmith who arranged his material “with great care” and who “sought to find words of delight” (Eccles. 12:9–10). Surely our impression is that the other writers of the Bible did the same.

Summary: Reading and interpreting the Bible as literature. Any piece of writing needs to be assimilated and interpreted in terms of the kind of writing that it is. The Bible is a literary book in which theology and history are usually embodied in literary forms. Those forms include genres, the expression of human experience in concrete form, stylistic and rhetorical techniques, and artistry.

These literary features are not extraneous aspects of the text—not optional matters to consider if we have time or interest to do so after we have assimilated the message or content of a passage. Instead, they are the forms through which the content is mediated. If the writing of the Bible is the product of divine inspiration—if it represents what the Holy Spirit prompted the authors to write as they were carried along (2 Peter 1:21)—then the literary forms of the Bible have been inspired by God and need to be granted an importance in keeping with that inspiration.

Catholic Decree on Biblical Hermeneutics

The decree The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church by Pope John Paul II in 1993 laid out the principles required for Biblical interpretation, explaining the Bible study is a never-ending endeavour, and that "each age must in its own way newly seek to understand the sacred books". It affirmed the modern historical critical research and literary methods of interpretation and literary criticism, warning against naive fundamentalism, which is a product of Americans. Some selected quotes with emphasis under the :Fundamentalist Interpretation -:

Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details. But by "literal interpretation" it understands a naively literalist interpretation, one, that is to say, which excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development. It is opposed, therefore, to the use of the historical- critical method, as indeed to the use of any other scientific method for the interpretation of Scripture.

The fundamentalist interpretation had its origin at the time of the Reformation, arising out of a concern for fidelity to the literal meaning of Scripture. After the century of the Enlightenment it emerged in Protestantism as a bulwark against liberal exegesis.

The actual term fundamentalist is connected directly with the American Biblical Congress held at Niagara, N.Y., in 1895. At this meeting, conservative Protestant exegetes defined "five points of fundamentalism": the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Christ, his virginal birth, the doctrine of vicarious expiation and the bodily resurrection at the time of the second coming of Christ. As the fundamentalist way of reading the Bible spread to other parts of the world, it gave rise to other ways of interpretation, equally "literalist," in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America. As the 20th century comes to an end, this kind of interpretation is winning more and more adherents, in religious groups and sects, as also among Catholics.

The basic problem with fundamentalist interpretation of this kind is that, refusing to take into account the historical character of biblical revelation, it makes itself incapable of accepting the full truth of the incarnation itself. As regards relationships with God, fundamentalism seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human. It refuses to admit that the inspired word of God has been expressed in human language and that this word has been expressed, under divine inspiration, by human authors possessed of limited capacities and resources. For this reason, it tends to treat the biblical text as if it had been dictated word for word by the Spirit. It fails to recognize that the word of God has been formulated in language and expression conditioned by various periods. It pays no attention to the literary forms and to the human ways of thinking to be found in the biblical texts, many of which are the result of a process extending over long periods of time and bearing the mark of very diverse historical situations.

Fundamentalism also places undue stress upon the inerrancy of certain details in the biblical texts, especially in what concerns historical events or supposedly scientific truth. It often historicizes material which from the start never claimed to be historical. It considers historical everything that is reported or recounted with verbs in the past tense, failing to take the necessary account of the possibility of symbolic or figurative meaning.

Fundamentalism likewise tends to adopt very narrow points of view. It accepts the literal reality of an ancient, out-of-date cosmology simply because it is found expressed in the Bible; this blocks any dialogue with a broader way of seeing the relationship between culture and faith. Its relying upon a non-critical reading of certain texts ...[ ]

The fundamentalist approach is dangerous, for it is attractive to people who look to the Bible for ready answers to the problems of life. It can deceive these people, offering them interpretations that are pious but illusory, instead of telling them that the Bible does not necessarily contain an immediate answer to each and every problem. Without saying as much in so many words, fundamentalism actually invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide. It injects into life a false certitude, for it unwittingly confuses the divine substance of the biblical message with what are in fact its human limitations

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