February 15, 2008

I. Howard Marshall, Biblical Inspiration

I. Howard Marshall is one of the most respected evangelical biblical scholars of the past generation, and in this short book, Biblical Inspiration, he undertakes a careful and balanced investigation into the nature and authority of the Bible. The book is simply laid out in six chapters:
Introduction: the Problem
1. What does the Bible say about itself?
2. What do we mean by inspiration?
3. What are the results of inspiration?
4. How are we to study the Bible?
5. How are we to interpret the Bible?
6. What are we to do with the Bible?

Through this simple progression, Marshall lays out the logic behind a robust doctrine of scripture, based on its character as God's inspired word. He begins by looking at what the Bible claims about itself, starting with the way Jesus and the authors of the New Testament understood the documents that came to be the Old Testament, and finding that they considered them, from the parts that are prophetic words from God to the historical narratives, to be God's Word, a view that culminates in the assertion in 2 Timothy that Scripture is inspired by God. He then moves on to investigate just what this inspiration is. He looks at different understandings, from a "dictation" model of inspiration to the view that the Bible is "inspired" just like good literature, finally asserting what he describes as a "concursive" model of inspiration. This asserts that human writers wrote the documents that have become our Bible, but that in so doing these documents are from God and are fully adequate for his purposes. He then moves on to look at the "results," that is, the implications of this understanding for what we understand the Bible to be. He concludes, after carefully weighing a number of options, and weighing them against the nature of the Bible as we have it, that the Bible is God's infallible word that is trustworthy to accomplish all that God intends. This can include "inerrancy," though the definition of that contested term must be very carefully laid out so that it takes into account the type of literature and the setting in which the Bible was written.

Marshall then proceeds to defend the "grammatico-historical" method of carefully studying the Bible, asserting that careful exegesis is necessary to better comprehending the message and meaning in the Bible. He then extends this discussion by describing how the fruit of this labor must be translated into our modern world, a world both similar to and distant from the world of the Bible, with an emphasis that the Bible must be its own norm and that we must always carefully guard against our own presuppositions and biases, even as we carefully analyze the Bible's message and seek to apply it. He concludes with a call to recognize and submit to the Bible's authority, based on its truthfulness.

Even though this is a short book, I have only skimmed the surface of Marshall's clear and helpful writing. He undertakes a very difficult and contested topic with great skill and profound insight. The result is a balanced yet also bold statement of the Bible's inspiration and authority. He provides some great correctives to especially a "dictation" model of inspiration and the attendant "inerrant" understanding of scripture that focuses almost solely on the Bible's divine character, and clearly this is a dialogue that he has in view with his writing. In short, I highly recommend this book as a short, clear statement of an evengelical doctrine of Scripture.

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