The issue of biblical inspiration is judged by many to be a basic tenet of Christianity. Often, we hear that the true and therefore required understanding of inspiration is that God caused the biblical writers to use the exact wording that these writers, in fact, employed when they penned the original texts. This often accepted definition of inspiration leads logically to the conclusion that every word of the Bible is pregnant with special meaning and that each verse should be carefully dissected word by word in order to wring from it every ounce of God’s intended message.
On the one hand, this concept of inspiration gives rise to the church’s longstanding reverence for the clergy, those who have the time and talent to decipher all the many hidden aspects of the Bible. Thus, almost all church members are subject to weekly sermons which often purport to enlighten the hearers to the true meaning of scripture.
On the other hand, this word for word concept of inspiration should logically cause one to ask why inspired words need uninspired explanations. Of course, many who are employed by the church claim a “calling” which others may assume means that God has anointed the called one with special knowledge and privilege; but, if that is true, does it imply that these expositors are inspired? Is it not logical to assume that carefully God chosen words would convey an obvious meaning and importance without further explanation?
Our experience in the use of human language should demonstrate that there is more than one way to express any thought or idea. Certainly, Jesus’ use of parables amply shows that He explained the coming Kingdom in multiple ways. Different explanations resonate with different people. So which of the parables explaining the Kingdom were inspired? “All of them” is the expected answer. Then, which of the parables requires further explanation before they can be properly understood? Again, if one were to observe the general practice of the church, the required answer would be “all of them”.
Every Sunday, preachers around the world endeavor to explain the parables and countless other passages of scripture, hoping to inspire the hearers to respond appropriately. This common practice of the weekly sermon leads to another possible understanding of inspiration. The inspired message is always the one which the hearer finds inspirational. An inspired message generates a response; an uninspired message does not. Under that definition, much of the Bible falls into the uninspired category, because the church and its membership do not find many portions to be inspirational and worthy of response. One need only observe how all of us pick and choose from the Bible those verses which support our conclusions in order to verify that this operational definition of biblical inspiration is the only one that matters. This observation also clarifies why Bible adherents can reach so many divergent opinions about the message and significance of the Bible. It is all a matter of what the reader or hearer finds inspirational. If law and order stability is inspirational, then that message is emphasized. If social activism coincides with your inclination then a different set of scriptures will inspire. Those holding these different views may want to debate the issue of biblical inspiration in terms of how the words came to be placed on the page, and they can do so; but what really matters is what inspires each individual. Words that are not inspirational, i.e. do not generate a life altering response, are meaningless in any practical sense.
Often the idea of inspiration carries with it the notion of newness. Something new is discovered or created. The source of inspiration in the area of human creativity is a mystery. Creative people often admit that inspiration seems to come to them out of the blue. It strikes unexpectedly and in unlikely situations. Such moments of inspiration are the fountainhead of many breakthroughs. Generally, these epiphanies come about because people manage to step outside the boundaries of conventional thought to consider what might at first glance seem nonsensical. Such moments of inspiration inevitable demand a response from the inspired one. Something is created or knowledge is shared. Concrete action is the result of true inspiration.
This more secular concept of inspiration only reinforces the contention that inspired words must be inspirational in order to qualify as such. Uninspiring inspired words, words that are not inspirational, are useless. They are like sounds generated in the empty forest; no one hears, and no one cares.