the Bible an Inspired Revelation?
Many, if not most, Christians claim that the bible is the "Word of God". To look at this claim objectively, first we must define terms.
Inspired. What this generally means to the Christian is that God spoke inside the minds of the biblical authors, and this was the method by which God transferred the contents of the bible to those who wrote it. There is some disagreement as to whether the authors wrote based upon their own level of intelligence, life experiences, culture and biases, or whether every word they wrote down was literally given to them without alteration. According to Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority, both of these mutually exclusive ideas are the truth-- the authors wrote down the verses exactly as a person would take dictation, word for word, and yet (somehow) they were able to write from their own perspective and personalities. This is obviously a tactic of trying to cover all the bases-- claiming biblical literalism in general, yet leaving the door open to use the excuse of an author's perspective when it suits.
We are told that the bible is the inspired Word of God. Just what does that really mean? If we think about the concept of inspiration, it is not as black and white as it first appears. The words of the bible were certainly written (and rewritten) by human hands. But what reason do we have for supposing that it did not come solely from the mind of man? Is it a book that no person or group of people could have written? Why not?
I say that believers claim the bible is the inspired word of God for the simple fact that nobody in their right mind would believe it otherwise. They need it to be an inspiration. Miracles, in an "uninspired" book, would be quickly disbelieved. The stamp of inspiration is given on the words so that they might be enforced. "Uninspired" laws might be more easily ignored than laws that come from God Himself. These obvious truths are two reasons why inspiration is claimed for the bible, but not reasons to believe that the bible was actually inspired.
Believers claim the bible is true because it is the Word of God. They claim it is the Word of God because God says so. How do we know this? Because priests and ministers tell us so, and the reason they give for this is that the bible is a "revelation" (revealed to man by God). And how do they know this? The claim that the bible is a revelation comes from the very book that is claimed to be inspired. And so on, round and round in a circle. (It's called circular logic). It sounds like this:
The bible is true because it is the Word of God, and we know it is the Word of God because the Bible says so. And if the Bible says so, than it must be true, because we know the Bible is true because it's the Word of God, and God doesn't lie. We know that because the Bible says so. And that must be true, because it's written in the Bible.
To prove that a book is inspired you must prove the existence of God. You must also prove that this God thinks, and interacts with humans. It is impossible for us to conceive of an infinite being. God is a guess. If the existence of God is ever proved, how can anyone prove that he inspired the writers of the Bible? In the western world, the two ideas-- God and the bible-- seem to be inseparable. But not to everyone. There are some people (such as the Deists) who believe in God, but reject the bible.
How can one man establish the inspiration of another? How can an inspired man prove that he is inspired? How can he know himself that he is inspired? There is no way to prove inspiration, any more than someone can prove he had a particular dream. The only evidence is the word of someone who couldn't possibly know anything on the subject. No one who claims to have been inspired could know for certain if he had not just had a dream, or a temporary insanity. How is it possible for a human being to know that he is inspired by an infinite being? How can we be certain that what they experienced wasn't all in their heads? That's what we say about the authors of "other" holy books, the ones that we don't accept-- the Koran, say, or the Hindu Vedas. Throughout history, some 40 "holy books" from different religions from all over the world have claimed to be "divinely inspired." What makes any one of those books legitimately inspired, and the rest impostors? What is the criteria that establishes this? Is there any?
Taking a deeper look at inspiration, some questions naturally arise. Did God use men as instruments, causing them to write His thoughts? Did He take possession of their minds and destroy their wills? If that's the way it was, then why are there so many errors and contradictory accounts in the bible? How could the same story be written very differently? Why does there need to be more than one version of the same story, if the story comes from the mind of God? It is possible that these writers were only partially controlled, so that their mistakes, their ignorance and their prejudices were mingled with the wisdom of God? Or does it cast doubt on the whole idea of inspiration?
How are we to separate the mistakes of man from the thoughts of God? Can we do this without being inspired ourselves? If the original writers were inspired, then the translators should have been, and so should be the men who tell us what the Bible means today. If God went through the process of inspiring some people to write His Word, and then He let that Word be imperfectly translated by uninspired men, then we are left with an uninspired, flawed book. What is the explanation, then, of the fact that there are dozens of modern translations that are readily available, some versions differing radically from others?
But of one thing at least we may be certain: an inspired book should certainly excel all the books produced by uninspired men. It should, above all, be true, filled with wisdom and beauty -- perfect. If it is not perfect, what is the point of calling it inspired? What if you can't distinguish it from "ordinary", uninspired books?
It is claimed that the bible is the only book on earth that is the inspired Word of god. It's plainly obvious that it is not... that it is only the work of uninspired, flawed humans. I could write a better book than the bible.
A revelation is some piece of information that is revealed to someone, and that person could not have known it before-- otherwise there was no need to reveal it. If you do something yourself, or if you see something done, then this information does not need to be supernaturally revealed to you. In this sense, most of the bible does not come under the scope of the word revelation.
Anything written in which man has been the actor or the witness (which turns out to be almost all of the bible) cannot be called a "revelation"-- a man needs no revelation to tell him something that he saw or did himself. Think about it. All those accounts of bloody battles, the building of temples, hoarding of riches, lists of kings, census-taking, rapes and murders, plagues and famines, wanderings through the desert, conversations and parables-- these are all things that people could have done themselves or seen someone else do. It is not proper to call the bible in its entirety a revelation. It is list of the laws of the Jews, and an account of their history (grossly exaggerated to increase their reputation), mixed in with mythology to control people and divine justification for their wars of extermination.
When Solomon built his temples to store all his gold and house his 700 concubines-- and whether he did so is nothing to us-- he needed no revelation to write it down. When David slaughtered innocent men, women and children during his thieving raids, he needed no revelation to record it. To call the bible "The Word of God", simply doesn't work for this reason alone. It is the word of Man. Nearly all of the content of the bible did not need to be supernaturally revealed, because it was done by people, seen by people, and could have been recorded by those who had done them, or who had seen them done.
Thomas Paine said it best, 200 years ago. He contended that it is a contradiction in terms to call anything a revelation that comes to us secondhand, either verbally or in writing. He asserted that revelation is necessarily limited to the first communication, and that after that it is only an account of something which another person says was a revelation to him. We have only his word for it, as the revelation was never made to us. This argument never has been, and probably never will be, answered.
The bible is not a revelation. It is, at best, secondhand hearsay. I am under no obligation to believe fantastical and miraculous accounts that come to me by way of hearsay. The bible was not a revelation to me, and it wasn't a revelation to you. If god wants to give me a revelation, he can do so anytime.