Is Claiming the Holy Spirit as Author of the Bible an Unforgivable Sin?

I have been having a Facebook interaction with someone who claims that the Holy Spirit is author of the writings in the Bible.

On the one hand, this claims does not seem to make sense, since the same person also claims to accept that there were human authors as well. But what does it mean to say that Paul authored or composed Romans (Tertius wrote it), and at the same time that the Holy Spirit wrote it? If Paul did not choose the words, if they were not his ideas, then there is no meaningful sense in which he was the author.

On the other hand, the claim that the Holy Spirit authored Romans seems like it may well be blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Because the start of the letter to the Romans names its author: Paul. And so the claim that the Holy Spirit was the true author also makes the Holy Spirit a liar, claiming Paul to be the author when he wasn’t really, and mimicking Paul’s style for good measure just to mislead readers into believing that claim to authorship.

And so let’s take this to its logical conclusion. If you believe the Bible’s teaching about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit being the unforgivable sin, then you ought to think long and hard about the implications of claiming that the Holy Spirit is the author of the works in the Bible. You are in effect saying that the Holy Spirit lied through Paul about who the author of the letter to the Romans was. And that is not something to be done lightly.

Follow Us!
POPULAR AT PATHEOS Progressive Christian
What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • arcseconds

    I don’t suppose it could be a, um… ghost-writing arrangement, could it?

    • James F. McGrath

      OK, my new term for when people talk about humans and/or the Holy Spirit as “author” of the Bible when they don’t really mean it in the normal sense for either party is going to be “Holy Ghostwriting.”

    • Gary

      There’s got to be a way to work “Great Caesar’s Ghost” into this, and my favorite, Superman. Or my fall-back position, Sophia, for my aeon friends, who put our parts together.

    • Chris Heard

      Taking the question seriously for a moment, the concept of “Holy Ghostwriting” would imply that the Holy Spirit was operating so deep in “stealth mode” as to avoid detection—such that to successfully detect the traces of “Holy Ghostwriting” would imply some degree of divine failure, never mind divine deception. The “Holy Ghostwriting” model, when taken seriously, results in problems deeper than the “problem” it wishes to solve.

  • Just Sayin’

    I long for those simpler days of yore when so-and-so wrote something. Now, for some unfathomable reason, it’s deemed necessary to state that so-and-so authored it.

    Bah humbug!

    • James F. McGrath

      Actually, it used to be less clear than it is now – Romans was authored by Paul but written by Tertius. Having someone other than you as author put pen to paper used to be the norm.

  • Bob MacDonald

    meaningful – this is a strange word to be appealing to. Why do you need meaning? What does it matter? It is the material reality to which we must appeal. The Church chose to recognize this letter in the canon. The reality of the presence of the Spirit in the dialogue between Paul and Tertius in that first century is confirmed by those who consolidated the canon 300 years later. Now you will say this is meaningless. Not at all. The impact of Paul and Tertius’ work is manifest even today. Is there no meaning to the material effort you have put into reading this letter, this word from the Lord? It was routine to claim the Spirit as Author of the Biblical texts. Just look at the preface by Robert Young to his analytical concordance which speaks of the Original Scriptures which have “God for their Author, Truth without Error for their Matter, and Salvation for their End.” (1879 – republished right up to 1971).

    You are on to a good set of questions of course – why do Christians say that the TNK and NT are in the canon but the Quran is not? And why do the Muslims call the Quran Holy and the Word of God and the Christians do not? And what would we canonize today as the work of the Spirit? E.g. On the Concept of the Face, Regarding the Son of God

    Would we dare? Play-writes dare to draw attention to such reality.And the religious of all stripes often step up to the plate – but not as a cheap confession. We are called out of such cerebral faith into a real love that expresses itself in action whatever the cost. It is not mere thought-stuff. Spirit is tangible, emphatically so. The incarnation is an ultimate act of profanation. Didn’t some call the early Christians atheist? They had no holy apart from real acts of mercy. So our holy canonized or not, is not a book.

    There is no ‘unforgivable sin’ in the psalms. But there is the obliteration of evil.

  • TomS

    On the other hand, there are those who also insist that the human agent (what does one call him, author, amanuensis, scribe?) be a VIP: that Moses wrote (almost all of) the Pentateuch, that Isaiah wrote the later chapters of the Book of Isaiah, that Paul wrote all of the Pauline epistles? If the human agent were merely a conduit, why does it matter?

    • James F. McGrath

      Indeed, and that is a major part of why the whole thing seems deceptive. If Tertius actually penned Romans, and Paul was just a conduit, the only reason for his involvement seems to have been to put Paul’s name on the letter!

  • DOH

    If only people would go to the Source! The apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy makes it very clear, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Holy Scriptures where written by 55-men over a period of approximately 1,500-years, each under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (who is God). In some instances God provides these men with direct quotes.

    Consider this… there is NOTHING in the Bible that has ever been factually contradicted by history, science or archeology. The Bible is full of prophecy which has proven, throughout history, to be 100% accurate; for example the restoration of Israel in 1948 (for which there are no less than ten very specific prophecies).

    There is one Golden Rule that I apply to the reading of Scripture:

    RULE ONE: Interpret verses in the context of the passage, interpret the passage in context of the chapter, interpret the chapter in context of the book and interpret the book in context of the whole of Scripture.

    To answer Bob MacDonald’s question below concerning the Cannons of Scripture… when one acknowledges Jesus Christ (Romans 10:9) for who He is, the Holy Spirit himself affirms (in the inner man) the truth of what He has written. This cannot be said of any other writing, e.g. the Quran. One ‘experiences’ the Truth.

    • James F. McGrath

      Scripture is not meant to be used as a cannon. Or did you mean canon?

      I wonder which prophecies you are referring to. Many people misunderstand prophecy because they have never looked up the passages quoted in the NT. Do you think that Hosea 11:1 is a prediction of Jesus, just because Matthew quotes it in his infancy story?

      • DOH

        Yes, canon.

        Please follow the attached link concerning the restoration of Israel.
        I believe there are additional prophecies to those indicated.

        Concerning Hosea 11:1, I will borrow a quote: Old Testament prophecy often has several layers of interpretation. That is to say, there may be a near term application, and a future one as well. There are good reasons for this. God was not unaware of the end of history any more than its beginning (or of anything and everything in-between), and His words as given to the prophets deliberately take into account not only the contemporary situation in Israel at the time of writing, but also far future events that often the prophets themselves did not understand at the time.

        Do I think Hosea 11:1 is a prophecy concerning Jesus? I believe exactly what I read in Matthew 2:15. If I cannot believe what is written in Matthew, I cannot believe any of Scripture. For me, it’s all or nothing!

        • James F. McGrath

          That is a very childish attitude. If a fallible human being has a life-changing experience of God and uses their fallible human language to tell you about it, why would you feel the need to reject their important information simply because they are not infallible?

          Moreover, why does the possibility that you have misunderstood what is being said in the text never enter the picture? Why not consider that Matthew’s Gospel was thinking in terms of typology, not prediction?

          That the modern nation of Israel came to exist certainly shows that it is possible for events in later times to occur which match up with earlier predictions. But sometimes that is chance, and sometimes it is because people deliberately chose to work to try to bring about things that they believed had to occur. It is like Elisha’s prediction about Hazael. Elisha isn’t simply forecasting. He is causing.

          • DOH

            James, I am fallible – God is not (otherwise He would not be God). Yes, I may have misunderstood what is being said in Scripture; this simply makes me wrong – not the Scripture itself. I try and take nothing for granted but reinforce my reasoning by what God teaches us through ALL of Scripture.

            As for ‘chance’, I recently read that ‘chance’ does not exist. Chance is nothing. Even the outcome of the flip of a coin is not by chance because the outcome is predicated upon all the applicable physical laws. But that is an aside, either God is sovereign and exists outside of time (which is what allows Him to prophesy what is going to happen at a specific point in the future), or there is no God and we exist by this ‘chance’ which does not exist. God knew exactly what Elisha was going to do even before it entered Elisha’s mind. In fact we read Elisha’s own words, “The Lord has shown me that you will…” in 2 Kings 8:13.

          • James F. McGrath

            You are once again excluding many options. The view that God is outside of time is a philosophical one, not found in the Bible, where God is portrayed as everlasting.

            Why do you insist on presenting false antitheses?

          • DOH

            “I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.” Isaiah 46:9-10.

            I believe Him, do you?

          • James F. McGrath

            Is your question whether I believe that Deutero-Isaiah was on the right track with his emphasis on monotheism? Or are you assuming that a text which depicts God as speaking can be assumed to actually contain the words of God without any need for discussion?

          • DOH

            The latter, although discussion is always good as one contemplates the implication of what God is saying.

    • Bob MacDonald

      Yes to James cannon=gun=rule by terror and fear; canon=yardstick=rule by measurement.

      And: if ‘experience’, then what ‘experience’? and why is experience limited to your ‘rule’ or mine re canon? As Shylock notes: hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions; fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, heal’d by the same means, warm’d and cool’d by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, do we not revenge?

      Well maybe on this last we might quote the Old Testament and recognize the enemy within ourselves – and exercise mercy with justice. So also Shakespeare in the same play recognizes that earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice.

    • TomS

      The apostle Paul, in his second letter to Timothy makes it very clear,

      You ignore the point of this discussion. Are you saying that Paul makes it very clear, or is it the Holy Spirit that is making this clear, or what …?

      The discussion is not about a particular interpretation of a particular text, or about the usefulness of it, or even the truth of it.
      To be blunt about this, you give the impression that any thought about Scripture is unwelcome and provokes a canned reaction.

      • DOH

        The original question: “Is Claiming the Holy Spirit as Author of the Bible an Unforgivable Sin?” Jesus teaches us that there is only one unforgivable sin (Matthew 12:31-32). So the simple answer to this question is, “No.” I was assuming the author of the question was looking for a simple yes/no answer. The only place to go for an answer is the Bible (the Source of Truth) – to do otherwise is to merely express an opinion. If one discards the inerrancy of the Bible then the question becomes unanswerable.

        Paul himself teaches that “all Scripture is God-breathed” and throughout Paul’s letters he testifies that he is lead by the Spirit of God (or at least he tries to be).

        I apologize for leaving you with such an impression. Here too, the Bible teaches us to meditate (think, discuss, etc.) on God’s Word. My purpose in commenting is to get participants like yourself to look to the Scriptures for the answers. Reading the Bible is a journey of discovery – the more we read and meditate the more God is able to teach us about who He is, His purposes and how much He loves us.

        • James F. McGrath

          Should someone in a religious tradition simply assume that their Scriptures are inerrant? One can always find ways to harmonize contradictions, and when one does so, one can persuade oneself that the Bible, or Qur’an, or whatever else does not really have contradictions. But shouldn’t the fact that conservative religious people in all religions can do that and do do that give us pause?

          Is it not dangerous to begin with a doctrine about the Bible, rather than the Bible itself? And even then, no one reads the Bible prior to being shaped by cultural, linguistic, and other influences.

    • Steven Waling

      And why, pray, should I believe the forger who wrote 2 Timothy?

      • DOH

        I would have thought God would have been aware of this forger. Perhaps you know something God doesn’t.

  • Monte Asbury

    Early Mormons taught a dictation mode of delivery of the Mormom scriptures (though many modern Mormons aren’t aware of it.) Moroni dictates through a veil to Joseph Smith, who simply writes the words he’s heard. Problem is, Mormon leaders have changed Mormon scriptures dozens of times; now, of necessity, their view of inspiration is less mechanical. Fundamentalism, also shaped in the turmoil of the 19th century, succumbed to some shades of the same temptation. Et voile: inerrancy.

  • Ian

    I know we all have a tendency to think that we’re smarter after our conversion (to or from whatever it is we changed our mind about – in your case, James, out of fundamentalism). But it strikes me this objection is a pretty easy one to give a rationalisation for. So easy in fact that I assume your fundamentalist former self would have not even broken sweat in ‘refuting’ this post.

    Don’t you think?

    I mean, I know that you’d disagree on the status of scripture, but is this issue really that hard to find a theological route around?

    • James F. McGrath

      I am sure that my younger self would have disagreed with me. But since my younger self became my older self, I don’t think that I was entirely impervious to reasoned arguments for other viewpoints. :-)

      • Ian

        True of all of us, but not quite what I was getting at. It doesn’t matter, it was just a minor thing, and not meant as a criticism.

        • James F. McGrath

          Even if it were a criticism, you would be welcome to offer it!

          On this particular topic, I don’t remember being confronted with this particular argument. But there is always some way of finding a workaround, if one is determined enough.

  • brgulker

    I hope not, because I used to think this!