June 28, 2017

The Patronage Theory Of Biblical Inspiration

What Does "Theory of Biblical Inspiration" Mean?
The inspiration of the Bible is an interesting topic. The precise way God revealed Himself through Scripture isn't quite as clear as in Islam or Mormonism, which simply has an angel showing up, and telling Smith and Muhammad what to write. However, we have no such story when it comes to our Scripture. The closest we have is Moses on Mt Sinai, and even that doesn't translate over to a specific book of the Bible, let alone the entire canon. This makes it difficult to say exactly what is meant by inspiration.
Yet we insist that it is inspired, and rightly so. And we know basically what that means, and what it entails. To say that the Bible is inspired is to say that God has ordained the content of the Bible. The Bible says what it says because it is what God wanted it to say. And this entails certain properties: authority, infallibility, and holiness to name a few.
But that still leaves the question, by what process did God bring the Bible about, and how does the Bible come to possess those attributes. That is what we mean by the "theory of inspiration".
It is important to recognize that the theory of inspiration does not inform us of what attributes the Bible has. Rather, it seeks to explain the origin of the attributes we know to be there. The authority of Scripture is epistemically prior to the theory of inspiration, and if your theory does not justify a particular feature of Scripture, we reject the theory, not the attribute.
Now for those who are interested in what I mean by the "Patronage Theory", skip to the last to sections.
What Properties Does the Bible Have?
Ultimately, when we say that the Bible is inspired, what we really want to say is that the Bible is authoritative because it comes from God. But this also implies that the Bible has certain attributes. So, what a theory of inspiration has to do is fully and naturally account for all of those attributes.
So, what attributes does the Bible have? Well first of all, the Bible is holy. Holy means that something is set apart in an honorable sense. It is established to be for something important. Generally, what we mean by holy is that it is set apart for God. So, the Bible is different from other books. And we understand this difference to be connected to the idea that in some sense it comes from God. So, the holiness of the Scripture describes two attributes: that the Bible is unique, and that the Bible has a divine origin.
Second, we have the scope of the inspiration. We say that every single word of the Bible is part of that inspiration. This means that all of the Bible has these properties, not just some. It isn’t as if Matthew, Mark, and Luke are inspired but John is just a really interesting expansion of their ideas. All of the Bible is included. The word for this is plenary, or complete. But this also goes down to the very word choice.
1.       Holy/unique
2.       Holy/Divine origin
3.       Verbal
4.       Plenary/complete
5.       Confluent
Alternate Theories
The dictation theory of inspiration is the view that God has told the authors of Scripture precisely what to write. Now dictation in the most literal sense is clearly inaccurate. The text of Scripture clearly isn’t not always written in the Lord’s voice.
Most who ascribe to a dictation theory usually hold to something called accommodationism. On this view, not only does God directly determine each word that goes into Scripture, He intentionally does so in such a way that we can better understand. So instead of giving us direct statements, like in the prophets, He communicates in a variety of different genres in the authors’ voice so that we could better understand and accept what it is that is being communicated.
Dictation hits most of the checkmarks of our list above. Indeed, it is the most natural theory to explain the properties of verbal and completeness. However, it doesn’t sufficiently account for confluence. While accommodationism does dull that problem a little bit, it is only a little bit. After all, we are not just dealing with the mere simplification of language or selection of genre, but the authors’ personal sentiments and passions being included within the text. You would have to limit your conception of confluence to such a point that it seems a mere charade than an actual property.
A providential view of inspiration is when one uses the features of one’s general view of providence to explain the properties of scripture. This is popular among determinists and Molinists. Again, this checks most of the boxes. Because providence views everything that happens as planned by God in some regard, it can than say that each word of God is planned by God in the same way. Therefore, God can simply make sure that the words are what they are supposed to be.
Additionally, it explains confluence. After all, if everything we say or do belongs to use, and yet falls under God’s providence, then it follows the text of Scripture can be properly ascribed to the Biblical authors while falling under God’s problem as well.
However, the think the principle problem is that it doesn’t account for the uniqueness of Scripture. At the end of the day, there is no difference, providentially, between the writing of Romans, Pride & Prejudice, and Percy Jackson. In this sense, providence can be a feature in an inspiration theory, and can be used to prop any theory up really, but it is insufficient.
The supervision theory is the belief that the human authors are the ones who are writing the text, but God oversees the process. So, God is giving advice, and commanding the person to change something if they get it wrong, etc. Now, this nails both the uniqueness and confluence properties that the formal views failed in. However, there seems to be some difficulty in explaining how exactly inspiration is verbal. How is every word considered to come from God if it is the human that is actually coming up with the words?

Personally, I think this can be overcome just by having God’s supervision be more intimate. It isn’t as if God has to go into the other room, wait until the author is done, and then see how He did. If He is every present, then every word that the author puts into the text is approved of by Him. Also, God would be directly saying, “don’t forget to say this.” Indeed, we can simply combine this theory with a providential theory pretty easily and get the best of both worlds. In the end, I think this view has it pretty close. My view is similar, but it does add some additional components that I believe shore up the verbal component.
The Patronage Theory
So, I think the Patronage Theory is pretty simple, but at its core is the understanding that canonization is not separate from inspiration, but is part of it.
Canonization is the process by which a text is recognized as belonging to the biblical canon. Generally, this is considered separate from inspiration, where inspiration is understood as the God governing the writing of the text, and the canonization is how the Holy Spirit helps the church to recognize which texts are inspired.
But if one thinks about it, our assurance of the Bible is actually more dependent on the canonization process than it is the writing process. Now the writing process is important too, for otherwise we cannot say that it is of divine origin. But in terms of authority, canonization has to be given a great deal more attention. After all, if God inspires a text to be written, but it is not included in the canon, what good is that to us? Likewise, if a text in included in the canon but is not inspired, then our trust in it is misplaced, even if it is properly placed in God’s ability to inspire. So, both need to be included.
So, what is the theory? Let us start with an analogy. Back during the Renaissance, if an artist wanted to make money, they would usually be commissioned by a patron. The patron may come to the painter and say, “I would like a painting on The Last Supper”. The artist would accept the commission and begin to paint for what his patron wanted. Afterwards, if the patron liked the painting, he’d pay for it. A more modern example of the patronage relationship could be the relationship between the producer and the director of a movie. What is especially interesting is that both the producer and the director often get credit for the vision of a movie.
However, a second analogy is a bit closer. Imagine that you are in a class, and the teacher assigns a writing assignment. She tells you what she wants you to write, and sets the parameters within which you are expected to work. You then get to work writing the text. Now occasionally you’ll go to the teacher asking for assistance. Also, the teacher asks to see the rough draft of the paper to make sure that you are on the right track. After you hand in your paper, the teacher comes up to you and says that your paper made absolutely no mistakes, and she’ll like to keep it as an example to show her future students what it is that she is looking for. 
The idea is that there are three steps. First there is the commissioning of the text. God comes to the author of the book and tells them that He wants them to write a text, and what it is He wants them to write about and how. This is done through the internal witness of the Spirit of course, but for the sake of simplicity I won’t keep making this caveat.
The second step is the actual writing process. Here the author is writing what God told him to write. But God is still present, so assuming the author is writing in a state a prayer (a pretty safe assumption I’d say), then God would be consistently correcting any mistakes that He may see. While the author is still the one doing the writing, the Holy Spirit is speaking with him, ensuring that there are no mistakes.
The third step is the acceptance from the patron. This is when God is satisfied enough with the work that He wants to preserve it for generations that follow. Here the Holy Spirit is at work within His people, preserving the text, and inspiring them to recognize His fingerprints upon it.
Stacking It Up with Our Criteria
This theory, in my opinion, holds up to the above criteria better than the other theories we mentioned. Additionally, it is not ad hoc either, but rather a fairly simple understanding based off of seeing how things are done in other contexts. So, let’s look at our criteria and see how well it does
  1. Holy/Unique- Only the Biblical texts can be considered to be both originated from God on this theory, and to have been approved by the Spirit in canonization. Because only the Bible is commissioned in the way described above, and preserved in the way described above, it is distinct from all other forms of writing.
  2. Holy/Divine Origin- It is divine in origin because it is commissioned by God, and God is guiding the writers as they are writing the text.
  3. Verbal- While the exact language is chosen by the human authors, every word is approved of by God, or He would not have excepted it as canon. Therefore, we can be confident that every word choice communicates what God wants communicated.
  4. Plenary- This is applied to the canonization process. Because the canonization is part of the theory, all of the Bible is naturally implied by the theory.
  5. Confluence- And here is where I think the theory really shines. Unlike the dictation theory, confluence would be expected from this theory, since the writers really are writing the books.
So, I would argue that patronage theory of inspiration naturally leads to all the attributes of Scripture rather than just some of them. I would also add that the theory will work with any theory of providence: Determinism, Libertarianism, Molinism, or even open theism. It doesn’t presuppose how providence works, only that the Spirit is guiding those involved in the process. This is something that I also think is a strength of the theory.

So, I want to end with something funny, or clever, but I can’t come up with anything: there. That’s the patronage theory of biblical inspiration and you should all believe it because it’s right. 


bethyada said...

My previous comment was: In what way do I consider God the author? Firstly, I think God moved men to include specific events, that is, God ensured that the events he wanted recorded would be included by someone. Secondly, God gave them insight on the correct interpretation of events: why certain events occurred; their supernatural explanation. Thirdly, God prevented writers from authoring error.

I think your supervision and patronage theories to be similar and both plausible. Patronage gives more freedom which may be the case. much Scripture was written occasionally.

I don't so much hold to "word" inspiration as to "concept" or "meaning" inspiration. I don't think that the words are untrue, but inspiration of specific words over others seems to much like dictation.

bethyada said...

Verbal- While the exact language is chosen by the human authors, every word is approved of by God, or He would not have excepted it as canon. Therefore, we can be confident that every word choice communicates what God wants communicated.