Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Review: The Divine Spiration of Scripture

The Divine Spiration of Scripture - A.T.B.McGowan
Extract at IVP website

I've done some thinking about the doctrine of scripture over the last few months and it's place in my life and ministry. In that context it was good to receive this book from IVP a few weeks ago. McGowan is Principal at Highland Theological College. The book is an Apollos one so it's got a more academic readership in mind but I found it readable. There's loads here that I found immediately helpful. Two big take homes are :

1. Spirit & Scripture. McGowan calling us to set our doctrine of scripture within our doctrine of God, under the Holy Spirit. This is helpful because it allows us to think systematically from a Trinitarian foundation and because it keeps in view very clearly that the scriptures come from God.,

2. Divine-Spiration. This is McGowan's alternative to translating theopneutos as 'inspiration' as some translations of 2 Timothy 3v16 do. He argues that inspiration is too soft a term and we need to see that the Scriptures are breathed out by God. All our subsequent handling of scripture changes when we get this clearly [see blogging on the authority of scripture] .

That said, I was always taught that Inspiration meant what he means by Spiration, however softly our culture might think of the term... do we need a new dictionary, or can we just stick to our definitions more carefully...

McGowan goes on to give some very helpful thinking about Preaching Scripture, centred on John Calvin's view of preaching and handling of the Bible. Having spent time reading the Institutes of Christian Religion in 2007 it's helpful to get some more background, and I'm keen to read some of Calvin's sermons in 2008. The Divine Spiration of Scripture is worth it for this seventh chapter alone.

The big question at the centre of this book is McGowan's thinking about concepts and language of inerrancy and infallibility. He says that inerrancy is neither Biblical or helpful -he asks, what is an inerrant poem or proverb, for example? McGowan proposes we think more in terms of Scripture being everything that God intended it to be. He doesn't argue for errancy instead of inerrancy, but rather for a more helpful language and terminology. Could we speak of the scriptures as being authentic. Both in speaking of original manuscripts and what we have today.

The UCCF doctrinal basis says: "The Bible, as originally given, is the inspired and infallible Word of God". Which is a standard European confession about scripture. McGowan's proposals would change this to The Bible is the authentic Word of God. This may be a helpful and positive way of speaking about scripture but something is lost along the way.

I've appreciated this stimulating book, and whatever I finally think about McGowan's proposal the chapters on the Holy Spirit, divine-spiration, preaching and Calvin are beneficial.

Any thoughts?

See also:
Uninspiring inspiration - a more detailed review.
Mike Reeves responds in the course of his lectures on 'Christology & Revelation'


  1. Thanks for this. Interesting.

    Should we distinguish between 'inerrancy' as a term we should use for an aspect of scripture's reliability and 'inerrancy' as the only term we use for scripture's reliability?

    I'd personally be wary of adopting language that could imply something less than 'inerrant'. But of course language that says much much more than 'inerrant' is a necessity.

    It all depends on the question you're asking doesn't it? 'Inerrant' could simply be one of the words needed in answering the question 'Does scripture contain any mistakes?' (once 'mistakes' is properly defined, yada yada...).

    "Authentic' is helpful I guess. But only as helpful as the content you pour into the word, since 'authentic' could just mean something very weak and very vague. A bit like 'inspired by God' which doesn't necessarily suggests 'breathed-out as the very words of God' hence why most translations don't use 'inspired' in 2 Tim 3.

    If we use authentic, we'd still need to define that when asked 'and what does authentic look like with regard to the issue of factual error?', for which i suspect we'd need something like 'inerrant' again?

  2. Hi Dave,
    I'm aware that I'm burying a comment deep in your blog's 'older posts' section, but I just wanted to thank you for this review of McGowan's book.

    I've been reading through 'Divine Spiration', and have posted a review of it on my own site. Your thoughts helped me to clarify some of the many positive aspects of what he writes, as well as focussing on some of my own problems with his views on inerrancy.

    Your blog is becoming a regular stopping off point for me, and I'm enjoying your posts.

    God bless you,