The following is a guest column by Thomas Howard, associate professor of English, Gordon College, Wenham, Massachusetts.

CHRISTIANS, AFFIRMING as they do that the Bible is the Word of God, will naturally look into this book with a set of expectations that they do not bring to any other literature, no matter how exalted, noble, or elevated that literature is. To be sure, Sophocles and Dante are “inspired,” if by that we mean that every gift, including poetic genius, is from above, and is given to men by the Father of Lights. A keen mind, a lithe body, a glorious soprano voice, a quick ability with sums, a green thumb, a special efficiency in housework—these, surely, are all gifts to us men from heaven.

But the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are unique, somehow, on the Christian view. Historic orthodoxy has ordinarily had it that they are the Word of God. Efforts to lessen the difficulties that this affirmation raises for our imaginations have been persistent and inventive. The Scriptures “contain” the Word of God, or they “become” it, or they “witness to” it. All these ways of phrasing it are fair enough, as far as they go, of course, and they are attempts to grasp more realistically the dynamic nature of God’s Word to us men than formularies of, say, dictation, could do, with their efforts to safeguard the uniquely divine character of the Bible.

The trouble with any theory of mere dictation as a description of the dynamics of biblical inspiration is, for most Christians, evangelical and otherwise, that it does violence to our perception of how God appears to work in all other situations. He seems to operate, that is, paradoxically—via the humanity of his human agents. The great patriarchal and prophetic and apostolic ...

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