111: Inspiration and Interpretation

In this episode John and Gregg discuss some feedback by listener “Anna.”  Anna re-posted a Face Book post by Mick Mooney where he offered some views on what the gospel is. Mick writes:

“The truth is that we all have our interpretation regarding what the gospel actually is, what promises it contains, what power it extends, and whom it includes.”

Out of this Anna was considering, “What does it mean that scripture is inspired by God?” John notes the importance of Anna’s question because he too finds the subject of inspiration to be confusing.

Gregg is impressed with how Anna approached the article and expressed some doubts about the author’s perspective. Gregg values Mick Mooney’s emphasis on how the Christian story can be powerfully transformative of one’s life. Yet unlike Mick, who portrays this story as impacting people in a solely positive way, Gregg sees the need in his own life for critique and rebuke (and sees these as deeply interwoven with the Christian story and the kingship of Jesus—the “gospel”).

Gregg sees Mick’s view as confusing the fact that interpretation is necessary and the notion that, because all people are unique, our interpretations are necessarily unique (and so an interpretation cannot be wrong). For example, Gregg explains that someone can play the notes of a musical score correctly or present the lines in a play correctly and yet fail to play the piece or act the part correctly (through inattention to how loud or soft to play, or to what type of emotion / intensity to display while acting).

Thus there may be four good interpretations to a given biblical passage, but not fourteen or forty. Gregg emphasizes that biblical interpretations—all interpretations, in fact—are a matter of “better and worse,” and so we should strive to come to / embrace the best interpretation possible. Thus Gregg’s view is that endorsing a single, unique perspective or a multitude of acceptable interpretations are both seriously flawed ways of understanding: a) how human beings engage with truth claims and b) what sort of text the Bible actually is.

So Gregg compares Mick Mooney’s view with that of Josh McDowell, who is arguing that inspiration amounts to God ensuring that every word of the Bible is exactly “correct:”

“The process of inspiration extended to every word (“all Scripture”), refuting the idea of myth and error. Since God is behind the writings, and since He is perfect, the result must be infallible. If it were not infallible, we could be left with God-inspired error”

Gregg sees this as mistaken thinking and agrees here, in essence, with Mick Mooney: interpretation is crucial, and not only for how we read the biblical text but how the biblical authors engaged with God and the world around them such that they were able to author texts that are sufficiently accurate in describing who / what God is, who / what human beings are, and how the two are best to relate.

Gregg explains that, contrary to Josh McDowell, we apply interpretation (and indeed, creativity and imagination) not on the level of the individual word but on the level of the sentence and certainly the overall story!  Thus it is not a matter of biblical authors being puppets or biblical texts being “dropped from heaven” but of these texts being a blend of both divine and human production and being sufficiently capable for the purpose of informing human beings (rather than the mistaken notion that these texts are infallibly capable).

John returns to the original notion and wonders about what makes a text “inspired.” Gregg sees inspiration as a threefold matter of i) writing, ii) preservation (of what has been written) and iii) canonization (or recognizing the nature of what is written).

Gregg summarizes inspiration as: the process of God carrying out God’s interest that the biblical text be sufficiently clear and yet robust, diverse and yet uniform, etc., in order that these texts offer indications that are understandable, compelling, and informative about who / what God is, who / what human beings are, and how the two are best to relate.

2 thoughts on “111: Inspiration and Interpretation

  1. Joanne Poelstra

    I enjoyed your interesting episode on defining “inspiration.” In 2 Tim. 3:16 (NASB) the margin note states that a more literal translation of “inspired” is “god-breathed.” In 2 Peter 2:21 “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” infers inspiration. Of course, accurate meaning is understood from reading the whole chapter, not just the particular verse. This is a good topic to explore as it is part of the foundational truths that need to be in place if the “untangeling” is to be done well.

    1. Gregg Monteith Post author

      Hi Joanne,

      I’m glad that you found our discussion here to be thought-provoking. What part of the discussion most interested you, and does this tie in with your comment about inspiration equating to something being “God breathed”? Be glad to know more of your thoughts here.


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