Most, if not all church confessions include a definition on the inspiration of Scripture. The great mystery is why. The doctrine of biblical inspiration cannot be so much defined as described. Paul writes, “All Scripture is God-breathed …” (2 Tim. 3:16). This text immediately binds creation language as the Genesis author notes the Spirit of God “breathed into his [Adam’s] nostrils the breath of life …” (2:7). Narratively, this bridges Peter’s declaration of how biblical composers were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Further, the Book of Hebrews declares that the word of God is alive (4:12). Joining John’s confirming language, referring to Jesus as “the Word” (Greek, “logos;” Jn. 1:1), understanding of biblical inspiration comes full circle. It can be described, but not defined; it can be treasured, sensed, and embraced because, foundationally, inspiration is constituted by the Spirit's breath of life.
Scripture originated under divine influence as the Holy Spirit breathed life into the wondering thoughts of mankind. Prophets, priests, and scribes; poets, kings, and herdsmen – all were recipients, all were carried along by God’s breath of life. From oral stories to written accounts - revised, reformed, redacted; countless processes out of which emerged the story of ancient Israel and following that, the New Testament church. Reading the Bible with an eye to its compositional structure shifts discernment and understanding toward its myriad of literary works and attributes. Among adherents of "final form" literature are those grounded in cross-narrative. Read from this lens, the Bible’s multitude of story collections in the OT and NT coalesces into a unified whole.
Slowly the story solidified and became canonized, both within the Jewish community and the Christian nation. Once hidden away, at times in brittle clay vessels, at others in monasteries, eventually the sacred words seeped out into the world, rolling off the Gutenberg press. With the dawning of the Age of Enlightenment, the ancient scrolls were subjected to human reason. Emphasizing the Pentateuch, queries were launched, eventually a collective analysis emerged referred to as “biblical criticism.” Form, source and traditio-historical branches arose, dominating biblical scholarship from the mid eighteenth century well into the late 1900’s. Propelling this effort was what became known as the Documentary Hypothesis, with its classic alphabetic theory of JEDP. [ J = the Yahwist, God’s personal name Yahweh; E = the Elohist, from Elohim, the more general, categoric word “God”;” D = the Deuteronomist; and P = the Priestly voice.]
Over time, challenges to the JEDP framework mounted, and by late last century serious academic debate fostered not only cracks in the once accepted theory, but chasms opened, threatening its foundational core. Simultaneously, movement of a fourth branch grew: literary criticism.
Literary criticism is vested in the question how; that is, How does the Bible’s varied genres and literary devices contribute to message and meaning? De-emphasized are sources and histrionics involved in biblical compilation. The Bible’s current and “final form” reigns among practitioners examining literary structure. This departure to read, discern, and understand the Bible through composition shifts examination of Scripture toward its many works and elements rather than its sources and forms of compilation.
The foundation for understanding the Bible as inspired literature, as with any literary work, lies in plot, setting, and character development which informs the narrator’s end goal of climax and story resolution. Yet, it is nuance – with its diverse underlayment, perceived through a textual atmosphere of symbolism (metaphor, foreshadowing, types, key words, allusion, even the esoteric communication found in numbers) – that opens the biblical narrative to its rich depths. This alters an exegete’s aim to “go deep” from a vertical model into a landscape approach in which the Bible's breadth and width are guiding pathways. Vertical “drilling down” into Scripture’s substrata of passages and verses, in the end, produces a narrowing of understanding; on the other hand, harvesting the glory of story through horizontal culling, which is wide and broad, best captures and clarifies the alluring call of the meta-narrative voice.
LAST WORDS OF CHRIST – A Call to Understanding
What makes Last Words a unique book and how it provides a “new look into Jesus’ final thoughts” is this alteration of paradigm. No longer are we limited to hear Jesus’ final cry lashed to the restrictive bonds of literalism; rather, we are freed to hear him broadly, through the meta-narrative, God-breathed voice of inspired and literary scripture.