I saw in the first book of Samuel some very similar accounts that leads me to believe that they come from different traditions.

For example 1 Samuel 24 and 1 Samuel 26 or Saul throwing a spear at David in 1 Samuel 18 and 1 Samuel 19 and then throwing a spear at Jonathan. Is it possible one account was based/patterned on the other?

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    Well you cannot defend the inerrancy of scripture if you believe in the documentary hypothesis, but you can still believe that scripture has been divinely inspired while accepting the fact that the bible is comprised of different versions and different authors that over the years produced such monumental work.
    – bach
    Aug 25, 2017 at 17:10
  • How can it be "divinely inspired" while containing things that are not true ? Aug 25, 2017 at 17:11
  • “God does not put thoughts into a vacant mind. God shapes the thoughts which are there, insofar as the mind is receptive to divine influence, to express something of the divine nature… . It is the shaping of human thoughts to new insights, in ways always ambiguous and distorted by passion and prejudice, yet responsive to divine leading. One is compelled to speak of such ambiguity within the bible itself precisely because of the primitive elements which remain only party digested within it,
    – bach
    Aug 25, 2017 at 17:22
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    Welcome to Biblical Hermeneutics. If you haven't done so yet, please take our Site Tour. This website is for scholarly exegesis of biblical texts, along with their historical contexts. Bear in mind, this is not a Christian site, nor is it the place for discussing open-ended theological questions. or coming up with doctrinal apologetics. [continued]
    – user2910
    Aug 25, 2017 at 20:32
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    [continued] While your question does bring up (large) passages in 1 Samuel, it appears the real focus of your question is not so much any specific biblical text, but more about searching for a way to 'defend the inerrancy of scripture'. This makes your question more about doctrine than exegesis. This sort of question seems a better fit for the Christianity site, though I would recommend using the search function to check if this kind of question has already been asked.
    – user2910
    Aug 25, 2017 at 20:33

1 Answer 1


Traditionally, there have been three broad views about how the Bible writers were inspired:

  1. Verbal Inspiration: The Holy Spirit dictated the Bible, word for word.

  2. Thought Inspiration: The Holy Spirit inspired men’s ideas; prophets then expressed these ideas in their own words.

  3. The Bible contains the Word of God, that is, it records the experiences of great and Godly men and so has other material not necessarily inspired. That is, in the judgement of those who subscribe to this view, some parts of the Bible are not worthy of the sacred canon. This might be called “non-plenary”, “incomplete”, or “partial” inspiration.

We will ignore the third view as an example of “Cafeteria Theology” where one is free to decide what parts of the Bible to believe and what can be ignored. Let us assume immediately that the entire Bible, as we have it, is inspired, as declared in 2 Tim 3:16, 17, 2 Peter 1:19-21. See also 2 Sam 23:2, Neh 9:30, Eze 2:2, 11:5, 24, Micah 3:8, Zech 7:12, 2 Peter 1:19-21, Rom 1:2, 3:2, Heb 3:7, 5:12, 9:8, Mark 12:36, Acts 28:25, 1 Tim 4:1.

The central question here is what does, “God-breathed” (2 Tim 3:16, 17) or “inspired” mean? That is, Did God inspire men or words? Or, Did the Holy Spirit prompt ideas or dictate? To answer this central question of inspiration we observe the following:

  • The mechanism of inspiration in the Bible was quite varied.
  • Some writers saw visions and then recorded the vision (Dan 8:1, 2, 10:1-3, Revelation (numerous times), etc.)
  • The prophet is awake and talking directly with a messenger (Zech 4:1, 2)
  • Luke researched events and interviewed witnesses before compiling his Gospel and Acts
  • Some passages are direct quotes from non-inspired sources (see table below) that the Bible writer used.
  • Balaam was possessed and unable to curse Israel (Num 23, 24)
  • Some passages are clearly direct quotes from God (eg, the 10 commandments in Ex 20:1-17, 31:18, Deut 10:4, 5)
  • Moses even used another person (Aaron) to deliver his messages (Ex 7:1, compare Ex 4:15, 16)
  • A dictation model of inspiration would have all four Gospels recording the same event in exactly the same language; but significant variations are obvious.
  • The language of the Bible is quite varied and depends on the background of prophet. John wrote very simply (at times, stretching Greek grammar to breaking point); Paul and Luke used quite complex Greek constructions with a large vocabulary; Matthew’s Gospel is very Hebraistic is style; Peter’s two epistles are quite different in style because he used different translator-secretaries to record them (Silas in the first instance, 1 Peter 5:12). If the Holy Spirit had dictated the Bible, its style would be uniform.
  • Paul says that “the spirits of the prophets are subject to [the control of] the prophets” (1 Cor 14:32) indicating that the prophet does not lose his/her personality in the process.

Lastly, if God had dictated the words of the Bible intending that they would be immutable and important, then God would have miraculously preserved the exact words as inspired and “dictated”. Even a casual glace at the history of the Bible text suggests that this was never the case – there are thousands of variations in the Bible text, but all preserve the ideas in the text. That is, while many “errors” and variations exist in the Bible text between manuscripts, none are significant for the message.

Thus, the Bible, God’s Word and its central message of God’s love and salvation, has been miraculously preserved but not necessarily the exact words that the Bible writers used. (It is possible that some Bible writers even produced more than one version or revision themselves!)

So, what does this do for the doctrine of bible inerrancy? It depends on what one means by this and different creeds define it differently. Suffice to say here that the Bible itself does not claim inerrancy but simply says that the Bible has all we need for knowing Jesus and imitating His life and obtaining salvation.

  • [4.] That the hypertext is uninspired, but that significant readings depend on reading via 1. or 2. because of internal reading cues from elements of the text set—such as the claim in texts that that text is inspired—and that good faith readings must also account for the text within the light of its own claims of inspiration. Nov 26, 2018 at 6:21
  • I do not understand what you mean by hypertext.
    – user25930
    Nov 26, 2018 at 10:13
  • I apologise. I was using it as a neutral term for the deeply interlinked document set[s], without having to admit "a canon," or a particular canon. The "hypertext" is basically the text under analysis in the context of the texts which that text references or is significantly referenced by. Given that I was dealing with a reading where lack of inspiration outside of the texts' claims is central, I was using an uninspired term for what amounts to canon. At least in the 1990s it was a popular way among poststucturalists to describe densely internally linked text sets, like the canon. Nov 26, 2018 at 10:56
  • OK - I am blissfully ignorant of these ideas. Thanks for the update.
    – user25930
    Nov 26, 2018 at 10:58
  • No worries. Generally I skipped the post-structuralist contributions to literary theory and haven't kept current, because my hermeneutics comes out of historiography. I do like to remind people that the canon is densely internally linked, like world wide web sites. Describing the text set[s] under analysis as a hypertext can be a useful metaphor. And it can draw attention to text set selection. I find Rashi useful, but someone could well call a reading dependent on my reading of Rashi as potentially introducing an improper text to the text set being analysed, etc.. Nov 26, 2018 at 11:02

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