The Fact of Inspiration
Augustine in numerous places attributes the origin of Scripture to God. He states variously, “Both Testaments have been written by the one God.” “Let them know that everything, both in the Old as well as the New Testament was written by the Holy Spirit.” In The Trinity he is emphatic that it was God who inspired the Scriptures and that men wrote under the influence of divine inspiration.
He refers to Scripture variously as the word of God, the words of God, the divine word, divine oracles, the book of God, the holy book, divine Scripture, Holy Scripture, divine Scriptures, Scriptures of God, divine letters, prophetic letters, divine authority, divine testimony, and the Testimony of God, to mention but a few. He did not regard his view as being novel, rather he saw himself as holding the ancient doctrine of the Church. For Augustine the fact of inspiration was so obvious that he seldom sought to prove inspiration from the Scripture itself. Rather, he assumed it.
The Nature of Inspiration
Inspiration: the Human side
Augustine’s doctrine of inspiration has been perceived so strictly by some that they have accused him of holding to a verbal dictation view of the process. Such accusations come because of Augustine’s use of the term dictare. In truth, he held to the vital involvement of the human authors with their material. He states: “Each of the Evangelists believed it to have been his duty to relate the matters he was engaged in recording, in that order in which pleased God to bring them to his recollection.” Elsewhere he states: “Matthew followed the authority of the Holy Ghost, under whose guidance he felt his mind to be directed more than is the case with us.” It is under this type of recognition that he is able to deal with stylistic differences between various authors within the text.
So far removed is his theory of inspiration from mechanical dictation, at one point he asserts that revelation is not necessary for inspiration. He notes: “It is permissible for the divine authority to take truthful testimony from whatever source he may wish.”
Augustine stressed the human side of inspiration so much, at times the divine seems to have disappeared completely. While at other times the divine is stressed to the apparent exclusion of the human. Polman in trying to resolve this tension has stated: “The Bible was both the exclusive work of the Holy Spirit alone and at the same time the work of the biblical writers.”
Inspiration: the Divine side
Augustine attributed inspiration to all three persons of the trinity. This was consistent with his belief that the external works of the trinity could not be divided among its members. Rather all three members worked in concert with one another.
God’s part in inspiration begins with an impulse to move the human author who at that point undertakes to compose a sacred composition. He noted: “Indeed it could not be truly said that God is the author of Scripture it the initiative to write came from man himself and not God.” The divine impulse was the sine qua non in the authorship of Scripture. However once moved by the Holy Spirit, the scriptural authors were not left to their own devices. The Spirit continued to influence and guide.
He noted of the process as it related to the composition of the Pentateuch: “The Prophet (Moses) has compiled a narrative of human actions, under the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Ghost.” He even speaks of the Spirit bringing to mind different details to the various evangelists as they wrote. So strong is the divine imprint in Scripture that it is to be regarded as the voice of God.
It should go without saying that the divine inspiration of the Scriptures was plenary. Augustine sees the entire body of Scripture as immediately inspired, yet in such a way as to maintain the integrity of the human authors.
Augustine saw inerrancy as the necessary consequence of inspiration. He held both to the formal inerrancy of Scripture (i.e. it could not contradict itself) and to a correspondence theory of truth. He saw Scripture as absolutely trustworthy. Should a book claiming inspiration be found to contain a single error, it must be ipso facto be rejected as uninspired.
In affirming the non-contradiction of Scripture he notes:
The authority of these books has come down to us from the apostles through the succession of bishops and the extension of the church, from a position of lofty supremacy, claims the submission of every faithful and pious mind. If we are perplexed by an apparent contradiction in Scripture it is not allowable to say, “The author of this book is mistaken;” but either the manuscript is faulty or the translator is wrong, or you have not understood. In the innumerable books that have been written latterly we may sometimes find the same truth as in Scripture, but there is not the same authority. Scripture has a sacredness peculiar to itself. . . in consequence of the distinctive peculiarity of the sacred writings we are bound to receive as true whatever the canon shows to have been said by even one prophet or apostle or evangelist. Otherwise no a single page will be left for the guidance of human fallibility, if contempt for the wholesome authority of canonical books either puts an end to that authority or involves it in hopeless confusion.
The true Christian is not free to doubt the veracity of Scripture at any point. In fact inerrancy was seen as such a foundational doctrine, one could not be saved without believing it. Augustine even propounds the “domino theory” asserting, “If once you admit into the high sanctuary of authority one false statement. . . There will not be left a single sentence of those books which if appearing difficult or hard to believe, may not by the same fatal rule be explained away, as a statement in which intentionally the author declared what was not true.