Epistemologically speaking, when a Christian is faced with a given piece of text, manuscript, book, etc., how does he or she go about deciding whether the material at hand is divinely inspired or not? What features of the text itself, or about its origin, or about whatever might be relevant do Christians pay attention to in order to decide if the piece of text they have in front of them was divinely inspired? For example, let's say someone is handing out cards with quotes from the Book of Mormon, and I receive one. What should I do in order to decide if the quote I received is divinely inspired?

I know this question sounds a bit opinion-based, so to mitigate this, I would rather favor answers that reference official recommendations by any Christian denomination, group or institution. I'm tagging the question with 'denomination-survey' for this reason.

  • Textual Criticism is a science which requires lifelong discipline and considerable talents. Robert Young (of Young's Literal Bible) said that the talents required for translation and textual criticism are different and rarely found in a single individual. Such persons as Dean John Burgon, Frederick Scrivener and Herman Hoskier spent their lives in singular devotion to the manuscripts, to the study of the original languages and to piety, in order to be able to the task. This particular question is far too broad and is attempting to deal with several subjects at once.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 18:49
  • @NigelJ - According to the tag's description, Textual Criticism is concerned with identifying and removing transcription errors in texts like the Bible, not verifying divine inspiration. (Although I agree that making sure you have accurate transcriptions of the original sources is an important first step.)
    – user50422
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 19:06
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    Epistemology speaking, your question reflects the consequence when an individual refuses to take into account the epistemic value of a community (who decided on the canon over 100-300 years) who included as authoritative the writings of long-dead authors but who were closer in time and space to the events described (example: 12 apostles who could personally touch and see the fully God-human incarnate Jesus himself) to write the narrative of what they see and touch in the way that God wants preserve for the next thousands of years. (cont'd) Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 20:37
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    @NigelJ A quick research pointed me to this article which introduced me to the 1881 event and current generation's debate. While the article mentions in passing how TR is "doctrinally superior" according to its supporters, the article doesn't go into detail on how the switch affected any doctrine about God and Christ. Another article provides some clue. That's a serious charge, worthy of a question. Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 22:08
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    Nobody (in their right mind) 'puts their trust' in a creed. True believers trust in Jesus Christ, himself. But the truth of Christ is set forth (and defended) in creeds, which define what is believed about Christ. And some kind of statement is necessary to eliminate error : to 'earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints' else there is a merging with error.
    – Nigel J
    Commented Sep 11, 2021 at 23:26

1 Answer 1


From a Catholic Church point of view, it pays attention to its "teaching magisterium".

(Emphasis mine throughout.)

III. THE INTERPRETATION OF THE HERITAGE OF FAITH The heritage of faith entrusted to the whole of the Church 84 The apostles entrusted the "Sacred deposit" of the faith (the depositum fidei),45 contained in Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to the whole of the Church. "By adhering to [this heritage] the entire holy people, united to its pastors, remains always faithful to the teaching of the apostles, to the brotherhood, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. So, in maintaining, practicing and professing the faith that has been handed on, there should be a remarkable harmony between the bishops and the faithful."46 The Magisterium of the Church 85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome. -CCC-

The Orthodox Church tends to the same idea of a written and oral tradition that may only be deciphered by certain people with this church.

Orthodoxy is a profoundly scriptural tradition. The Bible is God's revelation to humanity, the paramount expression of all that is essential to life and salvation. However, the Orthodox tradition does not encourage approaching the Bible outside of the church and its traditions. A single believer, no matter how sincere, cannot properly come to terms with the full meaning of the Bible on his or her own. In one sense this is because the meaning of the Bible is not always self-evident. In addition, the Bible itself discourages solitary interpretation (Acts 8:26-31; 2 Pet. 1:20). -Source-

For Protestants, we would follow two rules. For the Old Testament, it must have been written during the valid prophetic voice. Christ mentions this from Abel to Zachariah. Peter also mentions this.

For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. 2 Peter 1:21

For the New Testament, we consider the author and time of its writing. The Muratorian Fragment comments this way.

But Hermas wrote the Shepherd (74) very recently, [7c] in our times, in the city of Rome, (75) while bishop Pius, his brother, was occupying the [episcopal] chair (76) of the church of the city of Rome. [7d] (77) And therefore it ought indeed to be read; but (78) it cannot be read publicly to the people in church either among (79) the Prophets, whose number is complete, [8] or among (80) the Apostles, for it is after [their] time. -Source-

This Fragment also confirms the idea just mentioned that the Old Testament was complete as written during the time of a valid prophetic voice.

Lastly, the idea for Protestants is that the church has a written book of scripture. It is not to be added to or subtracted from with oral T(t)radition that by its very nature is impossible to source to either Old Testament prophets or New Testament apostles.

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