Divine Communication

Someone on Facebook asked about God communicating and sacred texts, and I thought I would share the comment here.

I think that, of all the possible ways that God might be thought to communicate, the notion that he communicated the precise words that he desired through human authors, without in any way changing their style or improving their grammar, and then left it up to religious communities to deduce and debate which texts were so inspired, is the least likely scenario.

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  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    James, you are always clearer when you are stating what you don’t believe than when you state what you do believe. So, for example, could you state what you do believe is the way God communicates to people, and specifically through the Bible?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      It is typically easier to indicate a negative assessment of something that has been articulated by others previously, than to put together one’s own statement. But I don’t think that we have anything that is unambiguous, nor anything in texts or prophetic persons that automatically trumps the things that we can observe or can study in nature. I believe that the transcendent is by definition mysterious, and as much as we might desire to have simple and straightforward answers handed to us, we are not given them.

    • taizegoose

      There is a very long, and rich, history of apophatic theology in the Church, though it must be said that Eastern Orthodox theologians know most about this. Western Christians don’t seem to know much about it.

  • BrotherRog

    Indeed, that’d be a harder miracle to believe than walking on water, turning water into wine, or resurrecting the dead. : )

    … and yet, God does manage to communicate Her love to many of us through the messy, fallible Bible that we have before us. On the flip side, the fact that God can manage to come through the Bible, despite the Bible, is partly what leads me to grant the Bible some degree of authority, and to believe in God at all. It’d be hard for me to believe the overarching meaning of those ancient Hebrew writers if they didn’t act out from time to time and to vent, over-state, distort, and otherwise air their dirty laundry for all to see. They didn’t hide their mistakes and blasphemy. I find that to be authentic and compelling.

    Roger Wolsey, author, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity

  • contantlysearching

    And after that, he just stopped communicating all together!

  • Pubilius

    wow… really? I’m curious how you can say this and still be a Christian… Unless by Christian you mean someone who just believes Jesus was a “really good man”.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

      I don’t follow your logic. What leads you to think that being a Christian means accepting one particular doctrine about Scripture?

      • Pubilius

        Hmm… perhaps I misunderstood, it seems to me that your statement says there’s no divine in the Bible– Not even considering biblical literalism, your statement appears to me to state that you reject even the progressive view that God is present in the Bible through the stories and, sometimes, through words God revealed to the Israelites and others, that we have but a glimpse of God through these human-written scriptures…The way I interpret your claim this is “the least likely scenario”.

        • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/ James F. McGrath

          I am still not seeing where you are getting a rejection of a progressive viewpoint from my statement, which focuses on verbal inspiration and the failure of such conservative views to do justice to the characteristics of the Bible, including the authors’ different styles.

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  • Nancy R.

    This may sound horribly pretentious, but it’s true nonetheless. I once had an experience that was undeniably a direct communication from God (it’s a horribly long story). It was a wordless communication, but one that I could very easily articulate. While I know it may not be relevant to make extrapolations from my experience to those of the writers of scripture, it does make sense to me that God can speak to us in a variety of ways, but which are understandable to us. I have no problem believing that he communicated to the writers of scripture other than through means of declamation and dictation.