Monday, December 28, 2009

Editing and Inspiration

In a recent Washington Post interview, J.I. Packer describes his conviction that divine inspiration of Scripture is not compromised if we conclude that an inspired editor shaped the final published form of the biblical text. Here's the exchange:
Q: On a radio program, you explained why different Bible translations have different endings to the Gospel of Mark. How does this jibe with the inerrancy of God's word?

A: The inerrancy of Scripture applies to the material as prepared for publication. I'm saying that quite deliberately because I want to allow the editor in. In some Old Testament books, it's very evident that an editor has been at work. That's quite all right. It's part of the process.

Q: But some people believe that every word written and every "i'' dotted came strictly from the hand of God to the author. At the other extreme, atheists and liberal Christians say, "No one knows what's true in the Bible because it's been changed so much." How do you see this?

A: I'm saying that an editorial process that is preparing the material for publication counts as part of the inspiring process whereby God, in his sovereignty, gave every word. Some people ask for trouble by not allowing for the reality of editorial processes. The editorial process is very important for preparing the work for public consumption. It's part of the inspired process.
I know what I believe on this point, but I'm really curious to hear what the sort of folks who read this blog believe and have been taught. So I'll shut up and look forward to hearing from you.


Don Johnson said...

I would agree that the concept of an editorial process in inspiration is possible. I wonder which books he means as being evidently the work of an editor - perhaps the Chronicles or Kings? I would probably prefer the word 'compiler', where previous sources may have been consulted or certain works added in.

I doubt that the work of an editor explains the various endings of Mark.

Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ben said...


I don't know what he had in mind specifically, but the death of Moses in Deuteronomy and the earlier comment that Moses was the meekest man in the earth come to mind. Many would argue that Ecclesiastes and several of the minor prophets bear indications of editing. And your observations on Chronicles and Kings sound familiar, though I don't remember the specifics.

brian said...

Editing and compiling and ordering (for lack of a better term coming to mind) are a necessary reality for so many books of the Bible. The Psalms and the Gospels come to mind, not just Chronicles or the Torah.

I'm not arguing here that Mark's Gospel was necessarily edited, but that Mark himself was an editor/compiler/organizer of the oral traditions. Luke states this fact as a reality for his work(1:1-4).

A similar question regarding inspiration involves the use of a secretary by Paul or Peter or whomever. Our doctrine of inspiration requires us to believe that God inspired the process of putting into letter form (assuming the secretary likely had a hand in editing) the spoken word of the apostles.

Certainly we would all agree that our God is capable of superinteding the whole process. Only if you have a dictation view of inspiration would you have a problem with the idea of an editor or compiler or secretary.

Paul said...

Good stuff Ben, but don't get distracted from part 2 :)

Garrett Conner said...

The dear Dr. is right. The TaNaK clearly has an editor (Ezra).