Recently I spoke at Veritas about “Can I trust the Bible?” In that talk, I gave everyone a chance to voice some of their more troublesome questions about the Bible. I didn’t have time to address one question that night, “If God used imperfect people to write the bible, how there be no errors in it?” In order to address the question, we need to think about two things: 1) what we mean by “errors,” and 2) what is the role of the Holy Spirit in the writing of the Bible?
First: what do we mean by “errors?” Because the Holy Spirit used the biblical writers’ personalities, knowledge, backgrounds, vocabulary, writing styles, and cultural sensibilities, we must be careful to realize that expressions of these particularities do not amount to errors in the text. Thus when we say that the Bible is without errors, what we are saying is that the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts do not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.
This means that ordinary, everyday expressions and ways of recounting history according to the standards of the time should not be considered errors. This also means that the Bible’s use of loose quotations and unusual grammar should not be considered errors. Many times, what we might think of as errors when we read the Bible are ways in which we are trying to hold an ancient text accountable to a 21st century idea of scientific exactness that we would hate to hold our own speech and writing to. In other words, how I recount the events of my day can by completely truthful and yet not scientifically exact. Thus we need to be careful and very informed about ancient culture before we say that the Bible contains errors.
Second, what is the role of the Holy Spirit? There are two passages that address this. In John 14:25-26, while Jesus is preparing His disciples for his departure, he says this: “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” Jesus promised that after he left his disciples bodily, the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of all the things that Jesus said. Thus, Jesus promised to equip imperfect disciples to write perfect scriptures through the perfect Holy Spirit in due time.
Peter may have even had this promise in mind when he wrote this in 2 Peter 1:20-21: “no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” What Peter is claiming is that when it came to writing Word of God, the writing was not determined by the fallible interpretations and misguided decisions of imperfect people. Instead, Peter says that the biblical writers “spoke from God.” The words they wrote came from and were chosen by God, precisely because they were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit makes the process of inspiration possible. The perfection of the Holy Spirit enabled imperfect people to write the perfect Scriptures.
But what does “carried along” mean? It certainly means that the Holy Spirit was in the driver’s seat during the process even though the writers were in the car. He was the one directing them and ultimately responsible. Although this was an invisible and mysterious process, we have plenty of biblical precedent to see that God has more that enough power to do miraculous, supernatural things through very natural, imperfect people.
We should also be quick to say that although the Holy Spirit ultimately determined the words of scripture, he did not do so apart from or by overriding the will and unique personality of each biblical author. Theologians say that the Spirit “superintended” the writing of Scripture to describe this process. The human authors were “intending” to write the scriptures; their unique personality and writing styles were included, and yet the Holy Spirit “superintended” (supervised, determined) the process in order to make sure that their words were the very words of God.