The Nature of Scripture pt. 2: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN

Daniel 5 opens up with Belshazzar, king of Babylon, enjoying a feast associated with pagan idolatry and the looting of the temple in Jerusalem. During the mass debauchery, something quite strange occurs amongst the polytheistic heathens. “In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. (Dan. 5:5).” Belshazzar and his motley crew were mortified and began trying to decipher the strange words that miraculously appeared upon the wall (Mene…Mene…Tekel…Parsin). Eventually, Daniel the Hebrew is called in and interprets the message of judgment for the king. (See Daniel 5 to see the whole story).

I recall this story and title the blog after it’s mysterious oracle for a specific reason. I’m continuing my blog series on the nature of Scripture and desire to write about the process of inspiration. The reader will find a healthy dose of negative theology within this blog. I’m not throwing my cheerful, bubbly optimism to the wind…the goal of this blog is to show what Scripture is not.

Whatever the process of inspiration looks like, it does not seem to be a “Mene…Mene…Tekel…Parsin” process. The process of inspiration is not God violating the will of man and forcing his hand to write a divinely inspired text in Greek and Hebrew on a sheet of papyrus. When it comes to a Christian perspective on the process of inspiration, the writing on the wall is done by human hands that are carried along by the Holy Spirit. I hear ultraconservative Christians speak about inspiration and come off sounding more like Muslims than orthodox believers. As Islam teaches, Muhammad met the angel Gabriel in a cave and was dictated the holy Koran word-for-word in Aramaic. He supposedly penned exactly what Allah wanted to communicate flawlessly and without any stylistic or personal dynamics. Inspiration within Islam is completely one-sided. I want to assert here that this is not the Christian view of inspiration. John Stott said “The particularity of each author was in no way smothered by the unique process of inspiration. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit first prepared, and then used, their individuality of upbringing, experience, temperament and personality, in order to convey through each some distinctive and appropriate truth.” Unfortunately, the ideas that the Bible fell from the throne of God or that the process of inspiration was completely devoid of humanity are false. Below are verses found in Scripture that show that man had a very dynamic role in the inspiration process.

  • “Not only was the Teacher wise, but he also imparted knowledge to the people. He pondered and searched out and set in order many proverbs. The Teacher searched to find just the right words, and what he wrote was upright and true. (Ecc. 12:9-10)”

These verses within Ecclesiastes do not say the Spirit came over Solomon in a zombie-like state so as to dictate what God was trying to convey in the book. On the contrary, the author said he pondered, searched out, and set in order many proverbs. The author possessed a vast amount of intentionality in his arrangement of the book. Whatever inspiration looks like, it included Solomon working conscientiously to compile a book for his readers.

  • “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4)”

Luke the Physician decides to add to the ample population of texts circulating throughout the Roman world about Jesus. After admitting that he was not an eyewitness and a thorough historical investigation, Luke said he decided to write an orderly account for a fellow brother. The picture is one of a detective pondering over and scrutinizing every morsel of evidence to determine the veracity and perspicuity of an accusation. Luke was not in a Holy Spirit-induced haze but a ferocious investigation the happenings of a Jewish messiah. He did all this so that Theophilus might know the certainty of the things he was taught.

  • “Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)”

The beloved disciple admits there are other things not included in his book. The author reveals his intentionality. The goal of this Johannine work was the belief of filthy sinners in the person and work of Christ. The author purposefully selected each and every story. He had an agenda. Again, the Holy Spirit is not said to have dictated the text. John’s gospel did not magically appear in his thoughts or on his paper without his thoughtful objective.

  • “This is the disciple who testifies to these things and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true. Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:24-25)”

Again, the reader sees John’s intent and agenda. He could have included more within his writing but he was making a point. He was crafting an apologetic work with eloquence, precision, and mixture. There is no “Mene Mene Tekel Parsin” or Gabriel emanating a Gospel. A similar idea is found within the historical books of the Old Testament. Numerous times the authors point the readers to other works if they desire to learn more about a specific king and his reign (1 Kings 14:19-20,29; 1 Chron. 29:29). The authors were selective, not exhaustive.

These few verses hopefully convince the reader of this blog that any idea concerning the process on inspiration must include the human side as-well-as the divine origin. Vern Polythress said:

In the Bible itself, the two authors, human and divine, do not simply stand side by side. Rather, each points to the other and affirms the presence and operation of the other… God Himself points out the importance of the human authors… God Himself requires us to interpret the words of Scripture against the background of what we know about the human author. We cannot simply ignore the human author, when we concentrate on what God is saying… (The human author) is not just any human author. He is the one through whom God speaks. His own intentions are that we should reckon with this. It is not a denial of human authorship, but an affirmation of it, when we pay attention to God speaking… Hence there is a unity of meaning and a unity of application.

A similar idea is expressed by Daryl Wingerd:

The Bible was written by ordinary men. They had their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions which they recorded in both the Old and New Testaments. God did not reach down and take hold of their pens, causing them to write things which they would have never thought to write. And except for the instances where His audible words were recorded, God did not dictate the words of Scripture. Rather, He worked in these men, through their unique personalities, experiences, emotions, and intellects, causing them to record His words.

 It neither fell from the sky nor came from the majestic voice of Gabriel. The Bible included the initiative and will of men. The authors had their own theologies and hermeneutics. They had intent. They had a will. The process of inspiration is not a “Mene…Mene…Tekel…Parsin” procedure.

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