How to write a Bible

Was all Scripture inspired by means of dreams and visions? Can the writers of the biblical books be considered authors and theologians in their own right? Did some of their material come from their own research?

George E. Rice, Ph.D., is an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and author of the book Luke, a Plagiarist?

It is generally recognized that the Bible says very little about revelation and inspiration. We can read a great deal about the power of God's Written Word—how it can enlighten and convert the soul, how it can keep those who adhere to it from the paths of sin. But the passages that make definitive statements about inspiration are few and far between. So it is not difficult to see why people differ as to how God's Word was committed to written form.

The prophetic model

Often we think of inspiration as an experience in which the inspired person received dreams and visions. The theophanies (visible manifestations of God) Daniel and John the revelator experienced exemplify this prophetic model of inspiration. Paul J. Achtemeier has written: "Of all the prophets, Jeremiah is perhaps the clearest example of the usefulness of the prophetic model for inspiration. The words that Jeremiah has spoken to Israel were put into his mouth by God himself (Jer. 1:9; 2:1); but even more, Jeremiah at one point is commanded to write down the words that God had dictated to him (chap. 36:1-4, 32). Here, clearly, is a model that meets the test of inspiration: words written by human hand whose ultimate source is God himself." 1

Achtemeier explains that the Jews applied this understanding of inspiration to all other biblical books even those not directly prophetic. And they passed this concept on to the Christian church, which has continued to preserve this expanded view. 2

Many Seventh-day Adventists think all inspiration follows the prophetic model. They believe that dreams and visions were involved in some way as a source for all the books of the Bible. Some use 2 Timothy 3:16, 17 and 2 Peter 1:21 as proof texts in an attempt to support this concept, but a careful look at these passages does not bear out their being used in this way.

The Greek word theopneustos, used in Scripture only in 2 Timothy 3:16, is a compound word made up of theo (from theos, "God") and pneustos (verb pneo, "to breathe"). The supporters of a mechanical inspiration seize upon this term as evidence that every word in Scripture comes directly from God ("God-breathed"). However, the intent of this passage is to differentiate between the Scriptures that are ordained by God and those other so-called sacred writings that God has not ordained.3

For a Seventh-day Adventist to use theopnuestos as a defense for verbal inspiration or to suggest by innuendo that Scripture resulted from some kind of mechanical procedure is to contradict Ellen G. White's clear statement on inspiration. 4

So, although 2 Timothy 3 does not exclude dreams and visions, it does not suggest that inspiration followed only the prophetic model.

On the other hand, in its context 2 Peter 1:21 asserts that the Holy Spirit moved men to write out the prophetic word. This passage is not dealing with the nonprophetic portions of Scripture. Consequently it must not be used as a blanket statement that covers the origin of all Scripture.

Second Timothy 3 assures us that all Scripture is inspired. And 2 Peter 1 informs us as to how the prophetic sections of Scripture came into existence. Where, then, do we find an explanation for the origin of the nonprophetic books?

The Lucan model

In his prologue (Luke 1:1-4), Luke explains how he constructed his Gospel. He suggests here a model that explains the origin of the biblical books that did not have dreams and visions as their source. 5 Therefore, this passage deserves careful consideration. It reads: "Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things which have been accomplished among us, just as they were delivered to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed" (RSV).

Luke explains the procedure by which his Gospel was put together. But what he does not say is of significance too. As one examines Luke's prologue, his silence on two points that many assume are present becomes obvious.

1. Luke does not claim dreams or visions as sources of his information about the life and ministry of Jesus. This omission is extremely important in view of the fact that Luke does speak of other sources. Surely, if he had had dreams or visions in connection with the writing of his Gospel, he would have mentioned them to Theophilus. The church believed that dreams and visions signaled the divine origin of a message, and such a claim would have added authority to his Gospel.

2. While Luke identifies a group who were eyewitnesses of Jesus' ministry, he does not include himself among them.

If Luke was not an eyewitness and if he did not receive information on the life of Jesus from dreams and visions, one is justified in asking from where he derived his information and what he has to say about the formation of his Gospel. Four points from verses 1-4 attract our attention.

1. Luke identifies the eyewitnesses as being one of his primary sources. In this group we can include apostles, disciples, people who heard Jesus speak, people who were healed and those who saw others healed, as well as Jesus' family.

2. Luke's second primary source was the huperetai ("ministers of the word").

Willard M. Swartley has suggested that these huperetai were chosen by a religious community to memorize the cultic beliefs for the purpose of indoctrinating new converts. Among Christians, these huperetai were selected to commit to memory the sermons, parables, and miracles of Jesus. They then repeated segments of what they had memorized on occasions of worship and instruction. Swartley points out that Acts 13:5 identifies John Mark as a hupereten. 6

3. From Luke's prologue we infer that the authors of the other Gospels received their information about Jesus in the same way he did—from accounts given by eyewitnesses and huperetai.

4. Luke told Theophilus that he had prepared an orderly account of Jesus' life. However, when we compare Luke with Matthew and Mark, it becomes clear that Luke is not speaking of a chronological account. Rather, the sequence of miracles and sermons suggests a thematic order that conveys insights into Jesus' ministry that Luke wished to share with Theophilus.

What Luke is saying about the way his Gospel was put together is clear. He learned all he could about Jesus' life and ministry from the eyewitnesses and huperetai—his primary sources. Then he composed a thematic account of Jesus' life on the basis of this research. Therefore, we can safely say that as Luke wrote, he was working as an author and a theologian.

The model of inspiration that Luke outlines here complements the prophetic model that we all know so well. The two can be found side by side in many of the biblical books. I have chosen to call it the Lucan model of inspiration.

Inspiration in the research model

But how does inspiration work in a research model, and is it safe to look upon such writers as Luke as authors in their own right? Ellen G. White has clearly answered our first question. The Holy Spirit "guided the mind in the selection of... what to write." 7 If we accept at face value Luke's statement that he had "followed all things closely," we are forced to conclude that he was in possession of much more information than he recorded. He was guided by the Spirit as to what to report and what to leave out.

However, this activity of the Spirit did not interfere with Luke as an author. He had something to say about Jesus for the benefit of Theophilus, and the Spirit helped him say it. Some feel uneasy when we speak of a Bible writer, like Luke or Matthew, as an author. Their fears rest in the mistaken idea that if we say these men were authors, we are saying that what they penned came from their own imaginations. However, this fear is as groundless as the fear that the changing of the chronological order of events rendered these events nonhistorical.

It is clear that Ellen G. White looked upon all Bible writers as authors. Consider what she says about these men:

1. Their books present "the characteristics of the several writers." 8

2. Coming from "men who differed widely in rank and occupation, and in mental and spiritual endowments, the books of the Bible present a wide contrast in style, as well as a diversity in the nature of the subjects unfolded." 9

3. "Different forms and expressions are employed by different writers." 10

4. "One writer is more strongly impressed with one phase of the subject; he grasps those points that harmonize with his experience or with his power of perception and appreciation; another seizes upon a different phase; and each, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, presents what is most forcibly impressed upon his own mind—a different aspect of the truth in each, but a perfect harmony through all." 11

5. "Inspiration acts not on the man's words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind." 12

6. "He [God] gave it through different writers, each having his own individuality, though going over the same history. Their testimonies are brought together in one Book, and are like the testimonies in a social meeting. They do not represent things in just the same style. Each has an experience of his own, and this diversity broadens and deepens the knowledge that is brought out to meet the necessities of varied minds." 13

7. "The miracles of Christ are not given in exact order, but are given just as the circumstances occurred, which called for this divine revealing of the power of Christ." 14

As a student of the Synoptic Gospels, I have found the latter quotation most helpful in understanding how they were composed. I had read this statement many times over the years but never fully comprehended what it was saying. It was not until I began to wrestle with the theologically motivated variant readings that appear in Luke's Gospel in the Western manuscript Codex Bezae that I began to understand this statement and to get a feel for what the original writers of the Synoptic Gospels had done.

Ellen G. White tells us two things about our Gospels that clearly indicate she saw their writers in the role of authors. First, she says that they did not record the miracles of Jesus in chronological sequence. That does not mean that the bare bones of chronology are not present. There must be a birth before a death, a childhood before an adult life, et cetera. But when it came to putting the flesh upon the bare bones, each Gospel writer did it in a different way, often following a different order.

Second, she states the reason for this phenomenon: "But [the miracles] are given just as the [literary] circumstances occurred [in the process of writing their Gospels], which called for this divine revealing of the power of Christ [in order to establish or illustrate a point that they were developing]." I hope no one will take offense at my bracketed explanations. I believe that the latter part of her sentence supports her statement about the order of the miracles, and portrays the Gospel writers as authors and theologians in their own right.

Luke the researcher

Taking Luke at his word and understanding what the Spirit of Prophecy says about these men as authors, we can now build a scenario as to how Luke wrote his Gospel. We see him sitting at his desk, sifting through piles of 4 x 6 cards upon which he has collected information about Jesus. As he thinks of the various aspects of Jesus' ministry, the Holy Spirit guides his mind in the selection of what to write.

He sees that the appearance of the angels to the shepherds will better illustrate the theme of salvation he wishes to develop in his Nativity narrative than will the visit of the Wise Men from the East. The Wise Men fit better into the theme of kingship, a theme Luke was not interested in at the beginning of his Gospel. So Luke sets the card with the story of the Wise Men to one side.

Throughout his narration of the ministry of John the Baptist, Luke adds information and details that cannot be found in Matthew and Mark. A careful examination of this unique material shows that it highlights the theme that salvation is not only for the Jews but for all mankind (chap. 3:6).

Luke reverses the order of the last two of Jesus' wilderness temptations and shows that it was in Jerusalem the very heart of resistance to Jesus' ministry in Luke's Gospel that He, at the beginning of His ministry, defeated His greatest antagonist.

Early in his Gospel, Luke introduces the theme of rejection by using the words of Simeon to Mary, "And a sword will pierce through your own soul also" (chap. 2:35, RSV). He then brings this theme out boldly in his narration of Jesus' first visit to Nazareth after His baptism, which only he records.

The evidence of Luke's work as an author goes on from event to event. But he is not only an author; he is a theologian, as well. For each event he records is a theological statement about Jesus, the kingdom, discipleship, the eschaton, or some other theme.

Even a cursory survey of the Synoptic parallels is enough to convince a person that the prophetic model cannot explain what we see in these three Gospels. And a detailed examination of the parallel passages, which uncovers the fact that each Synoptic writer added, changed, or deleted material, makes inescapable the conclusion that these men were writing under a model of inspiration other than the prophetic model. (Alden Thompson has shown, in a recent series on inspiration appearing in the Adventist Review, that the phenomenon witnessed in the Synoptic Gospels can be seen in Old Testament books, as well.) 15

Luke 1:1-4 rounds out our understanding of inspiration. This passage helps us to see that Bible writers who did not receive dreams and visions, who did not write under the prophetic model, prepared their books under a second model of inspiration, a model in which the Holy Spirit operated just as certainly and which just as surely rendered these books a part of the authoritative Word of God.

A detailed look at some examples of how the Synoptic writers worked as authors and theologians under the Lucan model of inspiration will be presented in the concluding article in this two-part series. (MINISTRY will publish the second article in the August, 1986, issue.)

1 Paul J. Achtemeier, The Inspiration of Scripture
Problems and Proposals (Philadelphia: Westminster
Press, 1980), p. 30.

2 Ibid., pp. 30-32.

3 Eduard Schweizer, "Theopneustos," in Theological
Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. by
Oerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. by
Geoffrey W. Bromiley, Vol. VI, (Grand Rapids:
William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1968),pp. 453-
455.


4 See especially Ellen G. White, Selected
Messages (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald
Pub. Assn., 1958), book 1, p. 21.

5 See my book Luke, a Plagiarist? (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1983) for a
further development of this model.

6 Willard M. Swartley, Mark: The Way for All
Nations (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1979), p.
28.

7 White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 26.

8 White, The Great Controversy (Mountain
View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1950), p. v.

9 Ibid., p. vi.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid.

12 White, Selected Messages, book 1, p. 21.

13 Ibid., pp. 21,22.
14 Ibid., p. 20.

15 "Adventists and Inspiration," Sept. 5, 1985;
"Improving the Testimonies Through Revisions,"
Sept. 12, 1985; "Questions and Perplexities
Without End, "Sept. 19, 1985; "Letting the Bible
Speak for Itself, "Sept. 26, 1985.


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George E. Rice, Ph.D., is an associate secretary of the Ellen G. White Estate and author of the book Luke, a Plagiarist?

June 1986

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