Did God Dictate His Word?

We are continuing our brief series on the inspiration of God’s Word. Our concern is not to set forth that doctrine as such; rather it is to expose some of the oft-beard caricatures of this position which the church has championed and cherished for centuries.

In our first article we raised the question: How reliable is our Bible? We began with the position: verbal inspiration. does not. pertain to the “apographa” but only to the “autographa.” Thus never has the church claimed that the Bible attributes inspiration to copyists. translators or printers. Yet this position, as we attempted to demonstrate, in no wise allows for the charge that we have at best an unreliable Bible today.

Delving into our subject somewhat more deeply, we now come to a second major claim of the Christian church which too often is ridiculed and rejected today. Verbal inspiration does not mean that the Bible was dictated.

One of the astounding aspects of the debate on the infallibility of the Bible is the almost universal belief of the opponents of inerrancy that verbal inspiration necessarily entails mechanical dictation. Many illustrations are used to explain what is meant by the mechanical dictation theory of inspiration. Some compare the hagiographers (sacred writers) to secretaries to whom the employer dictates a letter. Just as a secretary cannot put her feelings and ideas into the letters but must reproduce only what the employer dictates, so, the argument runs, the hagiographers could not write out of their own experiences, but were completely passive, simply receiving in a mechanical fashion what was dictated to them by the Holy Spirit. The Biblical authors were pens of the Holy Spirit or typewriters or dictating machines or marionettes. The common element in all of these illustrations is that the human factor is almost completely eliminated.

Orthodoxy is accused of holding to a Bible that is similar in method of production to the Koran. In the Koran there are only three passages where Mohammed is the speaker. In the rest of it Allah through his angel Gabriel speaks. Strictly speaking. Mohammed is not the author of the Koran but only the transmitter of the word that he has received from God, a receptacle for divine revelations.


To all this the answer of the historic Christian faith is clear and unequivocal. There is nothing inherent in the fact of verbal or plenary inspiration that would necessitate that the Bible had to come in a mechanical, dictation fashion. In fact, there is everything to indicate that it did not.

In the history of the church, theologians have often used such terms as dictation, pens and fingers in their discussion of inspiration. Perhaps in some cases they used these terms in order to indicate the mode of inspiration. But this has often been overstated. From a personal study of Augustine, Calvin and Rome, this writer is convinced that although they used such metaphors they in no wise believed that the process of inspiration came about in a mechanical dictation process. Rather, the term was used to express the end result of inspiration. When Augustine, for example, used the term dictation in reference to inspiration, it is abundantly clear that he did not refer to the mode, for elsewhere he repeatedly refutes such an idea. He used the term to indicate that the Bible in the autographa is precisely the words with which God desired to convey his thoughts. The words are as much his as if God had dictated them. Thus, if this term is used to connote that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, just as if God had spoken the words audibly, then the term is valid. Usually, however, the term connotes unpleasant thoughts about the method of inspiration. as if the authors were impersonal machines. Therefore, it is best to use another word in discussions.

There is one other way in which it would be legitimate to use the word dictation, even when it applies to the method of inspiration. Although most of the Scripture did not come in a mechanical fashion, yet there are portions that did come that way to a greater or lesser degree. Some of the prophecies are in this category. John was in an ecstatic state when he saw visions for the book of Revelation, and although there was no dictation in the strict sense of the term, yet he had to write only the things that he saw. His book did not arise out of his hereditary and environmental background.

Although the term dictation may be applied to a few small portions of the Bible even when the method of inspiration is in view, it is necessary to stress that the bulk of the Bible did not come by this process. It is a caricature to assert that inerrancy necessarily entails dictation. This is so obvious that it seems almost unnecessary to dwell on the point. Yet because of so great a confusion, it is requisite to call to mind this human side of the Scriptures.

The human factor is seen in the Biblical indications that the authors used source materials. Luke says explicitly that before he wrote his Gospel he “traced the course of all things accurately from the first” in order that Theopbilus might know with certainty the gospel story (1:1–4). When we compare Jude with II Peter 2 and note the close similarity in thought, phraseology and order, then we know that one copied the other. We may safely draw a similar conclusion by comparing Isaiah 36–39 with II Kings 18:13–20: 19; Ezra 2 with Nehemiah 7:6–73; and II Samuel 22 with Psalm 18. Numbers 21:14–15 was quoted from the extraBiblical book of Wars of Jehovah. Joshua 10:12, 13 quotes the book of Jashar in connection with the standing still of the sun. Chronicles and Kings are replete with references to histories, annals and genealogies outside of the Old Testament, as. for example, I Kings 11:41; 14:19, 29; and 15:7, 23, 31. Paul quoted the pagan poet Aratus on Mars’ Hill. and he cited Epiroenides (c. 630-500 B.C.) in Titus 1:12. Jude had evidently studied the Book of Enoch (v. 14).

Closely related to the fact that source materials were used is the probability that editors went over some of the Old Testament books, making revisions and additions. In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), for example, there is evidence that Moses did not write every word, such as the record of his death. Deuteronomy 34:6 says that “no one knoweth of his sepulchre unto this day.” The phrase “unto this day” clearly implies that this verse and probably the rest of the chapter were written by someone after Moses’ death. Such editorial work docs not militate against verbal inerrancy. but simply indicates, along with other data, that the latter redactors were inspired by the Holy Spirit as much as Moses was so that what was written was entirely the Word of God.

The very style of each writer points necessarily to the humanity of the Bible. There is not a uniform, lofty style of the Holy Spirit throughout the Bible. The differences between the books are so obvious. David did not write with the logical thought patterns of one who had sat at the feet of the lawyer Gamaliel. He could never have written Romans. And neither could Paul ever have written the shepherd Psalm (23) or the mountain Psalm (121). He did not know what it was to tend sheep alone under the stars week after week. When God desired David to write a Psalm concerning a thunderstorm (Psalm 29), he saw to it that David knew from first-hand experience many a thunderous storm as he was out on the hills with his sheep. And when moved by the Holy Spirit to write (II Pet. 1:21), David could write from his own experiences in a natural way.

When God desired the primitive Israelites to have the written Word, he could have taken an illiterate Hebrew slave and mechanically forced his fingers over the papyrus. But the evidence is that God was preparing another to write it in a more natural fashion. This providential preparation reveals itself in the causing of a famine in Israel, the selling of Joseph into Egypt and the descent of Jacob into Egypt. God then provided for baby Moses to be seen by a princess, who would love him and give him an education. In the Egyptian court Moses learned to write and legislate. Then God caused Moses to flee to the back side of a mountain. When Moses had been thus prepared in education, humility and piety, God used him to write the greater part of the Pentateuch.

Thus it is not necessary in the slightest to hold to a puppet theory of inspiration, and the scriptural evidence points to the use by the Holy Spirit of the natural, human factors in the inspiration process.