O God, you have taught me since I was young, *
and to this day I tell of your wonderful works.
And now that I am old and gray-headed, O God, do not forsake me, *
till I make known your strength to this generation
and your power to all who are to come. (Psalm 71:14-18)
The Thursday morning Bible study group I belong to is reading Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, and today we discussed chapter 14, “Is the Bible Inspired?”
Hamilton starts with Paul’s reminder to Timothy:
But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:14-17)
As the image on today’s blog suggests, I am one of those who “from childhood [has] known the sacred writings.”
Without going into too much detail, I really appreciate how Hamilton draws out the various meanings we attach to the notion of “inspiration.” The writers of Scripture are inspired, we readers find inspiration as we read, and the community’s traditions and teaching inspire us in certain ways (129-38).
He also gently teases apart how some notions read into the Scriptures something that really isn’t there — notions like the “verbal, plenary inspiration” and the inerrancy and infallibility of the Bible. Hamilton disagrees with those who would suggest that “every word in scripture is equally inspired” (140-41).
Today’s Daily Office readings offer an object lesson in one of the stories about David from the tumultuous time just before he is made king of Israel.
David answered Rechab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As the LORD lives, who has redeemed my life out of every adversity, when the one who told me, ‘See, Saul is dead,’ thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag — this was the reward I gave him for his news. How much more then, when wicked men have killed a righteous man on his bed in his own house! And now shall I not require his blood at your hand, and destroy you from the earth?” So David commanded the young men, and they killed them; they cut off their hands and feet, and hung their bodies beside the pool at Hebron. But the head of Ishbaal they took and buried in the tomb of Abner at Hebron. (2 Samuel 4:9-12)
None of the details of the story specifically represent the will of God. None of them offers a command binding down to our time and place. None of them answers the question, “What, then, should we do?” (Luke 3:10).
Instead, they paint a picture of human ambition, ambivalence, power, cruelty, and sentimentality. These are the people through whom God will accomplish his purpose?
Reading this passage in the context of the Daily Office is also important, I think, because immediately after we read this lesson, we respond by saying Canticle 8 – The Song of Moses, which is appointed for Thursday mornings.
The Lord is my strength and my refuge; *
the Lord has become my Savior.
This is my God and I will praise him, *
the God of my people and I will exalt him.
With your constant love you led the people you redeemed; *
with your might you brought them in safety to
your holy dwelling.
You will bring them in and plant them *
on the mount of your possession,
The resting-place you have made for yourself, O Lord, *
the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hand has established.
The Lord shall reign *
for ever and for ever. (BCP 85)
The juxtaposition between these two passages of Scripture further accentuates the difference between David’s political power and cruelty and God’s saving power and constant love.
“The Lord has become my savior,” we remind ourselves, not David the king. God will bring us in and plant us, not any human leader or authority.
Reading the Scriptures in the context of the Daily Office is one way to remember “what [we] have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom [we] learned it.”
That is, allowing the tradition of the community to speak is part of the process of inspiration that we trust is at work. The practice of engaging with the Scriptures in the context of prayer will bear fruit over time if we, like those who came before us, “continue in what we have learned.”
A Collect for Guidance
Heavenly Father, in you we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget you, but may remember that we are ever walking in your sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 100)