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Inspiration and Authority: Nature and Function of Christian Scripture [Paperback]

By Paul J. Achtemeier (Author)
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Item Specifications...

Pages   176
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.54" Width: 5.42" Height: 0.44"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 30, 1999
Publisher   Hendrickson Publishers
ISBN  1565633636  
EAN  9781565633636  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
This book is for the large body of Christians looking for a nonfundamentalistic doctrine of Scripture, it could play a major role in creating a framework for them. He comes across as posessing a deep love and respect for the Bible and for the Lord, and eager for people to place their minds and lives beneath its authority. He offers us in the end of the doctrine of a covenental Scripture given by God to his people for their edification and renewal, a dynamic document which can perform this service two thousand years after its completion, confronting us with God's Word for our situation, through the power of the Spirit.

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More About Paul J. Achtemeier

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Paul J. Achtemeier (1927-2013) was Herbert Worth and Annie H. Jackson Professor of Biblical Interpretation Emeritus at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, Virginia. He served as the president of both the Society of Biblical Literature and the Catholic Biblical Association. He authored a number of books, including 1 Peter (Hermeneia) and, with Elizabeth Achtemeier, The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith, and was the general editor for the Harper Bible Dictionary.

Paul J. Achtemeier currently resides in the state of Virginia.

Paul J. Achtemeier has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Hermeneia: A Critical & Historical Commentary on the Bible
  2. Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
A Rare, Short and Potent Book on the "Inspiration" of the Biblical Text.  Oct 14, 2008
This is a rare book on inspiration in the sense that it is short (only 176 pages). It is also rare in the regard it has for presenting multiple sides clearly and fairly. I cannot fully explain my understanding of what "divine inspiration" means in a book review. I am still trying to figure out a tenable expression of it in the first place. But suffice it to say that "inspiration" doesn't mean what I used to think that it did. This book is likely to help its readers navigate that territory with greater care, even if it does not leave them with nice and tidy definition. A sampling of questions that Achtemeier's book explores is: Does "inspiration" refer to the authors of the Bible's books or to their words? Does it have to do with the meaning behind the message, the Spirit behind the message, or the God who stood behind the Spirit who stood behind all of the authors, scribes and editors of the words? The issues are far more complex than I was ever taught in church.

Because it is so succinct, the author doesn't spend much time discussing the multiple authors, redactors, editors and versions (especially in the Old Testament) of the text that have filtered their way in to the scriptures as we have them now. But, if you have studied that lurching process and been dismayed at its haphazard and seemingly underhanded way of compiling what we have as "the Bible," this book can calm some nerves and maybe even rekindle some confidence in the text. However, IF a reader thinks that the Bible as we have it today is the same as that which all of our faithful forbears (and the original audiences) possessed, then a lot of this book may be lost on him or her.
This is well worth the read, but if you are new to the subject, buckle up.

Thanks for reading,
-C. Lambeth
A must read for all who study the Bible   Feb 2, 2006
All those who treasure and study the Bible should read this book. Paul Achtemeier loves the Bible and treats it as the inspired Word of God. He is also a leading Bible scholar who takes modern Biblical scholarship seriously.

One of the struggles faced by students of the Bible on a college or seminary level is how to respect the inspired content of Scripture and at the same time what to do with modern critical study of the Bible. For some, modern scholarship can feel threatening to the Bible and to their faith.

In a very readable way, Achtemeier walks the reader through the struggles and the inadequate answers offered by both conservatives and liberals to the question of inspiration. He offers a way for Christians to continue to treasure Scripture and to respect its inspiration and authority while being willing to take Scripture seriously and study it with all of the resources available to us in modern scholarship.

I wish I would have read this book when I was in seminary. It should be required reading for all those in advanced Biblical study, but it is written in a way that is accessible to all readers.
sensible and impassioned erudition  Jul 24, 2005
Nearly two decades after initial publication under a different title, this lightly revised and expanded second edition renews Paul Achtemeier's irenic arbitration of a discussion which tends in more acerbic directions. In seven accessible chapters, he seeks to understand how the Bible is different.

After a brief apologia for the study, chapter 1 ('Locus and Mode of Inspiration') tries to locate the phenomenon we call 'inspiration'. Seeking a point of departure on which all Christian readers can agree, Achtemeier treats claims for inspiration as a way of saying that the Bible continues to speak to readers today as it has spoken to readers in the past. From that modest agreement, however, the paths quickly lead us in divergent directions, for it is more problematic to state exactly how the voice of Scripture continues to be heard.

Without saying so at this early stage, Achtemeier is drawing us towards examination of the common assumption that an individual author is responsible for each biblical book, and therefore that the manner in which inspiration was experienced by that person is among the most pressing of questions. This view of inspiration depends upon the analogy of how a prophet receives revelation. Eventually, Achtemeier will argue that the results of modern biblical criticism oblige us to abandon so individualistic a conception.

Achtemeier sketches two historical lines of approach to inspiration: 'inspired authors' and 'inspired content', usefully pausing now and again to identify ancient and modern proponents of each Tendenz. Indeed, one of the main contributions of his approach is to help the modern reader to perceive that Christians have from the beginnings of the faith struggled with what sometimes appears to be a merely modern problem.

Achtemeier argues that the Greek notion of the 'possession' of poets and prophets-whether or not this means that the possessed individual cedes control of his faculties-was taken over in Jewish and early Christian circles to explain the phenomenon of sacred Scripture, persisting in its effects well into the Reformation, where it was argued that authorship by a prophet is the very sign and seal that a given book is inspired.

The other view-though not necessarily antagonistic to the former one-holds that inspiration has its locus in the words of scripture rather than the prophetic person who wrote them down. For Achtemeier, this inclination culminates in dictation theories found in Protestant Scholasticism, wherein the emphasis is on the entire inerrancy of the product, whether or not the prophet responsible for it fully understood its meaning.

Lying behind this historic debate are attitudes to certainty and how this is to be achieved by the believer. Does the work of faith depend upon a knowledge that is publicly verifiable and immune to doubt? And what must be said of the relationship between revelation and inspiration? Does revelation reside principally in the saving events (the Exodus, the death and resurrection of Jesus, etc.) to which the Bible is a witness? Or does revelation, rather, find its locus in the words of Scripture themselves?

By using the terms 'liberal' and 'conservative' as short-hand for distinct approaches to biblical inspiration, Achtemeier assumes the inevitable risk of over-simplification in the pursuit of clarity (ch. 2, 'Two Contemporary Views Considered'). The liberal method emphasises the human origins and cultural contexts of Scripture, elements which at every term have left their stamp upon the literature. Turning to evaluation, Achtemeier concedes that the liberal view resolves the tension produced by contradictions and the appearance of degrees of 'quality' within the biblical text. However, he is critical of what he sees as the dilution of the concept of biblical authority which this view urges, placing the burden of discernment entirely on the undeserving shoulders of modern culture. The relative brevity of his treatment of the liberal view, combined with his forthright affirmation that it is finally 'not adequate for either public or private spiritual life', may well suggest that Achtemeier has written his little book to enlighten the conservative reader rather than to persuade the liberal one.

His far lengthier and sharply critical treatment of the conservative position equates 'conservative' with 'inerrantist', a levelling that forcibly excludes more nuanced 'conservative' positions, of which there are many. Whilst Achtemeier appreciates the motives of the conservative reader, he is merciless in sketching the absurdities of harmonisation which he believes the consistent inerrantist is bound to practise. In the end, he claims, the conservative approach produces a 'dislocation of the true center of concern' by diverting attention 'from the Bible's witness about God's saving acts to questions about the precise accuracy of minor details'.

His point, however, is not to reduce both positions to a vapid moral equivalency, but to demonstrate that they share a common dependence upon the individualistic, prophetic model of inspiration, a presupposition which modern critical scholarship-here the adjectives 'liberal' and 'conservative' are withheld-renders untenable.

Nonetheless, Achtemeier is concerned to show that both conservatives and 'critical scholars' construct hypotheses to guide their reading of biblical texts. Both 'go behind the text', either to harmonise its details (conservatives) or to trace its historical development (critical scholars). The burden of his third chapter ('How the Scriptures Were Formed') is to demonstrate that 'critical assumptions are truer both to the nature and to the intention of Scripture' than those utilised by conservatives.

Critical investigation shows that biblical texts have historical depth. They dynamically use old materials in new ways, collecting and interpreting traditions in order to maintain their relevance for ever new situations. Indeed, Achtemeier undergirds his thesis with a theological point: God is the God of the future and is able to renew prior revelation in redemptive ways. Indeed, '(i)t is precisely those figures in biblical literature who find their certainty in the traditions from the past who with alarming regularity find themselves opposed to the will and word of God.' There is a payoff for Christian faith in all of this, for the communal dynamics that produced Scripture are in some way-Achtemeier does not yet define just how-exemplary for modern Christian life: 'In some way or other, our understanding of inspiration must reckon with the interrelation of community and Scripture, as well as with the continuing process of reinterpretation imposed on scriptural traditions by the theological reflections of the communities whose life is mirrored in those writings.'

Achtemeier makes much of the point that the biblical literature has theological rather than historical intentions. He might have paused to caution us that the Christian tradition has usually laboured to avoid any unnecessary cleavage between 'history' and 'theology', rarely having considered them to be mutually exclusive options. Having made clear his preference for critical assumptions over conservative ones, the sometimes pejorative term 'liberal' drops out of Achtemeier's discussion. It might appear that he has simply exercised a preference for the term 'critical' and that he is arguing for the superiority of a position that can be called either 'liberal' or 'critical' indifferently.

He soon makes clear that this is not the case ('Chapter 4: Problems Old and New') and therein lies the chief virtue of this book for readers of Themelios. For Achtemeier, the liberal understanding of Scripture begins with the phenomena of Scripture but 'is in the end also defeated by them.' If conservatives err by deifying Scripture over against its own claims for itself, liberals have no real alternative, for they have levelled Scripture and all other literature and so have 'abandoned any final sense of Scripture's authority'. More often than not, we are told, liberal scholars simply leave off speaking about the matter of inspiration altogether. For Achtemeier, neither approach will do.

Failure for both camps lies in their adherence to a prophetic model. Neither has correctly defined the 'locus of inspiration', a task which Achtemeier undertakes forthwith. He has signalled clearly enough that his approach is best called 'critical' and that it is meant to provide a third way that avoids the traps of traditional views, whether these be conservative or liberal.

Achtemeier is conscious that his critique of liberal and conservative views fairly obliges him to provide an alternative, a task to which he turns in 'The Inspiration of Scripture: A Proposal'. His 'three key elements' are Scripture's witness to its own nature, the close relationship between community and Scripture, and the importance of the formation of the canon. True to the 'bottom-up' instincts of critical scholarship, Achtemeier wants to allow the literature to define itself before it is subjected to a higher concept of what its intentions are. He finds that Scripture points away from itself and towards a reality of which it is a witness. Further, the community is a protagonist in Scripture's formation. This is the implication of the historical depth that can be glimpsed in the biblical texts, a feature which is the product of a long process of appropriating and reappropriating venerable traditions in changed circumstances. Finally, the process of canon formation occurred in circumstances analogous to those which governed the production of Scripture itself: under some perceived threat, the community of faith came to conclusions about the boundaries of their inspired literature.

Inspired texts take shape in the repeated convergence of a tradition, a new situation, and a respondent, whether a prophetic figure (e.g. Amos) or his editor(s). The anonymity of most biblical texts is not a problem, but a piece of evidence that the prophetic model which pursues an individual's voice as the main fact of a biblical book is inadequate to the task of defining inspiration, a phenomenon that is communal to its core.

Achtemeier has not reached his objective when he has defined the book we call the Bible. In two concluding chapters, he insists that the ongoing witness of the Spirit among readers is an essential part of inspiration, else the biblical text remains mute. Importantly, the Spirit 'retains the function of inspiration and does not delegate it to the words of Scripture.' It is this fact, which empowers interpretation and proclamation. Perhaps a challenge to the apparatus of biblical studies in the academy, Achtemeier insists that the interpreter 'cannot be isolated from the community of faith', where the witnessing Spirit is most present. Concerned to the end with how Scripture functions, Achtemeier believes that 'the fundamental concept of truth in the Bible is not conformity between a statement and "objective reality", but rather a reliability, dependability.' Some sympathisers with this line of argument will still want to ask just how factually mistaken a document can be without losing its fundamental reliability.

Critical inquiry orients the on-going interpretation of the Scripture by attempting to define moments when biblical traditions where generated and reappropriated, since the intentions that drove those occurrences are essential to 'responsible' biblical interpretation at a later day. Though Achtemeier does not explicitly say so, he is here defining himself not only over against traditional conservatism and traditional liberalism, but also against more recent hermeneutical approaches in which it is assumed that authorial and editorial intention is too slippery a concept to be useful. He insists that the biblical canon establishes boundary markers which allow the believing community to evaluate which facts of belief and practice are congruent with biblical faith and which ones are not and are therefore to be rejected. As Scripture assumes this dynamic function, its authority is demonstrated 'not in the literary form in which it has been cast ... but rather in its power to create and shape reality.'

In the judgement of this reviewer, Achtemeier's book-now improved-is one of the clearest and most productive statements on the issue that can come into the hands of inquiring readers and interested students. He has respected readers who hold alternatives to his own position, while requiring of them a fresh look at the liberal or conservative assumptions which bedevil an argument that is nearly as old as the canon itself.

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