Conversations on Scripture: Blunt, 4 (Inspiration)

Introduction to the Chapter

After completing a 3-chapter sweep of the Bible itself, its languages, translation, and contents, Blunt now embarks on a 4-chapter theological arc that deals with how Christians should regard and use the Bible. The first chapter in this section is our present focus: “The Revelation of the Holy Bible, and the Inspiration of its Writers.”

No. I don’t know why he felt the title needed a comma in it, but then—I do feel his repeated use of the semi-colon in his prose is odd to the modern eye as well.

This chapter is one of the key reasons I wanted to go in-depth on this work: to see without prejudice (or pre-reading) how a High Church Anglican of the 19th century would describe the mechanisms of revelation and inspiration. I have theories about the default assumptions that I find in American Mainline congregations, and I’m curious to see if his treatment confirms or challenges my hypotheses. In a nutshell, my hypothesis is that his portrayal of these mechanisms will be very much informed by Romanticism, its critique of empirical science, and the image of author as genius in a Kantian mode… (Fair warning: I’m not a philosophy guy, so I’m working with an educated laymen’s sense of Kant and Romanticism, not an expert’s!)

Now—there are two ways to work with a chapter like this; one is to walk through the argument and logic, using his words and headings, with points clarified by means of quotes from the text, the other is to convey a general impression, and then discuss the interesting bits that stand out. The first approach is helpful for clearly displaying the author’s thought (greatly increasing comprehension of the actual argument and reducing the author to a straw man) but is much less readable especially for those looking for a pay-off; the second is the reverse, more readable but less thorough. In a spirit of compromise, I’ll provide both: Up front, I’ll provide my thoughts and reflections, after that I’ll provide a full walk-through (here’s a link if you want to read that first!).

My Thoughts and Reflections

I must state up-front that, as an author, this has got to be a daunting chapter to write! Blunt approaches it from a different angle than I would—presenting it as a simple explication of objective truth—and this decision very much characterizes his approach.

Fundamentally, I agree with Blunt on the majority of his teaching—that the Bible is the revelation of God to humanity, the Word of God written by inspired humans. In the main, he does not attempt to nail down a specific mechanism of inspiration; specifically, there is no reference to verbal inspiration, and no declaration of an infallible text.

That having been said, Blunt presents a number of assumptions with which I do not agree. First, his model of inspiration very much appears to be that the Bible was written by a discrete limited set of named men writing directly what the Spirit inspired them to write. This assumption is supported by his careful attention in the previous chapters to authorship supplemented by which men made additions to which earlier works (usually in the case of historical documents). Additionally, he uses a vague couple of sentences to cover the possibility of factual errors within the histories, worth quoting here:

It is possible that errors may have crept in among the truth; but this is another question, to be answered by careful inquiry and criticism. Of one thing we may be certain, that when we have found reason to be assured that any thing in the Bible has really been revealed by God, or written by men whom He has inspired for the purpose of writing it truly, then we may also be assured that what is so recorded is removed beyond the range of all reasonable doubt, and is absolutely true and certain.

Blunt, 79-80.

With one hand, then, he acknowledges that some (few) errors might have crept in amongst the truth, however he does not make any reference to how or by whom this might have occurred. The next statement doubles down on the principle that whatever has been revealed or has been written by an inspired man is to be believed, free from doubt. The unspoken wiggle room in the middle suggests 1) there may be some additions to the texts, 2) these additions are presumably made by uninspired men, and therefore 3) these additions may contain errors. To me, that’s significant: the unspoken assumption that all inspired text must be the production of a discrete limited set of inspired named men.

Second, I believe that Blunt errors in painting Scripture with too broad a brush in terms of its genre and intention: for him, everything within the historical books is intended to be objective literal history. To me, this reflects an overly simplistic approach to genre, but also an overly simplistic approach to human purposes in writing. Blunt’s clearest statement on the authors’ role in biblical composition appears in this passage at the end of his discussion of unity within diversity:

Thus we find the first traces of a Divine as well as a Human Element in Holy Scripture: the HUMAN ELEMENT in the natural powers of the penmen who wrote its component books, the DIVINE ELEMENT in the supernatural influence by which the penmen were controlled.

Blunt, 69.

There is no sense here that human authors may have ulterior motives or purposes in their writing. I have most fully in mind the reality that histories written and promulgated by a certain regime at a certain historical point are hardly neutral products; they are written with intent to make certain things look good and others less good. To deny the presence of these within the biblical record is difficult and here I’m thinking very specifically of the way that Samuel’s speech in 1 Samuel 8 echoes Solomon’s reign (especially with regard to 1 Kings 9:22; 10:26-29; 11), or the casual dismissal of certain monarchs like Nadab (1 Kings 15:25-6).

One accounting for the discrepancy between the way Blunt and I read is in the very complaint Blunt levies against Jowett and Semler and others: I presume that the Bible is to be read as any other ancient text and is thus open to questions of intent and the presence of ancient propaganda. Blunt’s perspective appears to preclude this.

Third, Blunt’s hermeneutics (theory of interpretation) of Scripture determine his assessment of the content of Scripture. Thus, his discussion of both the Historical Unity of the Bible and proof of its Inspired Prophecy center on the person of Jesus to a degree I simply cannot agree with. Are the histories presented in the OT selective? Yes. Are they selective in order to point solely at the person of Jesus? No. Nor is Jesus the focus of all prophecy in the OT; unless Blunt reads the destruction oracles of various Ancient Near Eastern cities in Isaiah and other prophets more creatively than I, there is a lot of prophetic material that is fairly silent on Christ. That’s not to say I disagree with his broader point, that the New Testament and Church find types, antitypes, and figures of Christ within the history and prophecy of Israel, but to say that Christ is their central focus is not accurate.

Finally, the image with which I disagree the most is likely the one wherein he characterizes the separation between the authors of Scripture in order to emphasize the surprising unity and thus the inspired source of their messages:

Forty men writing at different times, in different languages, in different countries, mostly unacquainted with one another, often not knowing much or any thing of what predecessors among them had written, having no intention of working their writings into the system of those predecessors, and not knowing that their writings would form part of a collection—such a series of writers would not have written in this consistent manner if they had been left to themselves.

Blunt, 69.

This reads far more like the legend of the translating of the Septuagint from the “Letter of Aristeas” than it does a description of the Old and New Testament! I do understand Blunt’s rhetorical purpose, but in his exaggeration he has undercut the fundamental concept of the intertexuality of the Scriptural witness—that many of the writings we have are not only cognizant of one another but are intentionally participating within a dialogue on and through Scripture that grounds and establishes the interpretive process of the Church. I think he believes this has been covered by referring to the Holy Spirit as the author of all Scripture, but in emphasizing the separation of the authors, he fails to grasp what I see as a fundamental mechanism of the Spirit’s authorship itself: the facilitation of a theocentric conversation across time and place and language.

With regard to my initial hypothesis—that Blunt represents a Romanticism-shaped model of inspiration which I refer to as the “Mighty Man of God model”—I believe I am correct, but he largely leaves it at the level of assumption rather than being fully explicit. Truthfully, I was hoping he would be much more explicit on the matter, but nevertheless the assumptions that he makes are telling. Perhaps the most important thing I can draw from this source is the level of implicit assumptions that govern the conversation that I think a lot of modern American Christians also hold.

Full Walk-through

Blunt lays out his argument in this chapter with a clear, formal structure of points to explicate. He presents his central thesis at the start with definitions of his two key terms:

The Holy Bible has been universally received by the Christian Church as a REVELATION made by God, and a volume written by men who were under the influence of His INSPIRATION.

The plain meaning of these two terms is as follows: Revelation is an unveiling of something previously concealed. Inspiration is a breathing into the mind of knowledge which it could not naturally possess.

Hence the Holy Bible has been received as so directly coming from God that men have even ventured to call it by a Name Divinely given to our Lord Himself, The Word of God, the Word spoken by the Father through the Inspiration of human persons by God the Holy Ghost.

Blunt, 65-66.

From this point, Blunt proceeds along this outline:

  1. The grounds on which the Bible is received as an inspired book (in ascending order of importance).
    1. The uniform purpose and impulse despite the diversity of authors
      1. Historical Unity: “Their works were all written with reference to a central subject, the coming and work of Christ, the Messiah-King of the Old Testament, the Incarnate God of the New” (Blunt, 67).
      2. Moral Unity: “God is universally represented as holy, as hating sin, as being a just Judge, as rewarding the good and punishing the evil. Man is as generally represented as being in a lower moral condition than he might have been, aiming (in his better moments) at something higher, and as capable of recovering his original moral condition in a future life” (Blunt, 68).
      3. Spiritual Unity: (“constant representation of man as needing a Saviour; by the sacrificial system…ever-recurring references to the Mercy of God…idea of God as Supreme Spiritual Head of all mankind” (ibid.).
    2. Nature of its Contents
      1. Revelations
        1. Facts of Creation: “could be known only by those who were then in existence to observe them; and as man was the last of all created things, he could have observed none of them” (Blunt, 70).
        2. Person of God: “His Nature is continually spoken of from the days of Adam and Cain, all through the the long line of holy men and holy writers down to the last page of the Bible. … Such revelations all reached their climax in that made by our Lord’s words and work” (Blunt, 71).
      2. Prophecies: “Examples may be found in almost every page of the Bible; for, in reality, the whole Bible revolves around one central object, the Person and work of the Redeemer” (Blunt, 72).
      3. Moral Teaching: “No writings which are not plainly moulded after the pattern of the Bible in this respect make the faintest approach to its purity and its elevation above the ordinary thoughts and rules of men…their very nature reveals them to us as a reflection from Divine Holiness and Perfection” (Blunt, 73).
    3. Direct Assertions that it is a Revelation made to and through Inspired Men
      1. Paul (2 Timothy 3:16)
      2. Peter (2 Peter 1.21)
      3. “many passages throughout the Holy Scriptures in which the writers speak of themselves or their predecessors as speaking or writing that which had come from God”
        1. Moses
        2. David
        3. Prophets
        4. New Testament
    4. [Concluding summary] “And thus there are three distinct lines of evidence which all lead to the assurance that the Holy Bible is given by the inspiration of God:—(1) The wonderful unity of its contents, though written by many men in many ages; (2) the nature of its contents, which are such that they could only be known by revelation from God; and (3) the solemn assertions of the writers that they were speaking and writing what God had put into their minds” (Blunt, 78).
  2. The authority belong to Inspired Writings
    1. God speaks as One who is Omniscient, and who is absolute Truth: “Certainty and Truthfulness are, consequently, qualities which are inseparable from God’s word; and no inspired writing can possibly be untruthful or of doubtful authority: a principle which we may apply to inspired history, inspired prophecy, and inspired doctrine” (Blunt, 78).
    2. Inspired History
      1. [Haters gonna hate]: “Almost every section of these records has been made the subject of controversy and doubt. . . . But there is little or no consistency in the opinions of such sceptics, and the only thing in which they agree is their disbelief” (Blunt, 79).
      2. [No better alternatives offered]: “No more probable history has ever been substituted for the history contained in the Bible; and many of the things which have formerly been doubted by sceptical men have afterwards been proved to be true from independent testimony (such as the Assyrian sculptures) by men of deeper research and fuller opportunity for investigation” (ibid.)
      3. [Possibility of errors?]: “It is possible that errors may have crept in among the truth; but this is another question, to be answered by careful inquiry and criticism. Of one thing we may be certain, that when we have found reason to be assured that any thing in the Bible has really been revealed by God, or written by men whom He has inspired for the purpose of writing it truly, then we may also be assured that what is so recorded is removed beyond the range of all reasonable doubt, and is absolutely true and certain” (Blunt 79-80).
      4. [It’s not you, it’s me]: “Hence we may conclude that when we fail to recognize the perfect truthfulness of the Bible we are in fault, not the word of God” (Blunt, 80).
    3. Inspired Prophecy
      1. Truth of some prophecies proved by their fulfillment
      2. All others to be equally credited [even if some ideas of their fulfillment are wrong]
    4. Inspired Doctrine
      1. Many doctrines unintelligible, but not therefore to be disbelieved
  3. Divine and Human Care of the Scriptures: “How far the preservation of the Holy Scriptures has been owing to Providential care, and how far to the care of Jews and Christians, cannot be defined; but the fact is clear, that they have been handed down from one generation to another in a substantially unchanged condition that is quite marvellous, and all the more so because it would have been the interest of many sects to have altered portions of the sacred volume to meet their own views” (Blunt, 82).

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