Are we forbidden on the ground that our Bible is directly inspired? Well, inspiration, as Sir William Davenant observed and rather wittily proved, in his Preface to “Gondibert,” ’is a dangerous term.’ It is dangerous mainly because it is a relative term, a term of degrees. You may say definitely of some things that the writer was inspired, as you may certify a certain man to be mad—that is, so thoroughly and convincingly mad that you can order him under restraint. But quite a number of us are (as they say in my part of the world) ‘not exactly,’ and one or two of us here and there at moments may have a touch even of inspiration. So of the Bible itself: I suppose that few nowadays would contend it to be all inspired equally. ‘No’ you may say, ’not all equally: but all of it directly, as no other book is.’
To that I might answer, ’How do you know that direct inspiration ceased with the Revelation of St John the Divine, and closed the book? It may be: but how do you know, and what authority have you to say that Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey,” for example, or Browning’s great Invocation of Love was not directly inspired? Certainly the men who wrote them were rapt above themselves: and, if not directly, Why indirectly, and how?’
But I pause on the edge of a morass, and spring back to firmer ground. Our Bible, as we have it, is a translation, made by forty-seven men and published in the year 1611. The original—and I am still on firm ground because I am quoting now from “The Cambridge History of English Literature”—’either proceeds from divine inspiration, as some will have it, or, according to others, is the fruit of the religious genius of the Hebrew race. From either point of view the authors are highly gifted individuals’ [!]—
highly gifted individuals, who, notwithstanding their diversities, and the progressiveness observable in their representations of the nature of God, are wonderfully consistent in the main tenor of their writings, and serve, in general, for mutual confirmation and illustration. In some cases, this may be due to the revision of earlier productions by later writers, which has thus brought more primitive conceptions into a degree of conformity with maturer and profounder views; but, even in such cases, the earlier conception often lends itself, without wrenching, to the deeper interpretation and the completer exposition. The Bible is not distinctively an intellectual achievement.
In all earnest I protest that to write about the Bible in such a fashion is to demonstrate inferentially that it has never quickened you with its glow; that, whatever your learning, you have missed what the unlearned Bunyan, for example, so admirably caught—the true wit of the book. The writer, to be sure, is dealing with the originals. Let us more humbly sit at the feet of the translators. ‘Highly gifted individuals,’ or no, the sort of thing the translators wrote was ’And God said, Let there be light,’ ‘A sower went forth to sow,’ ’The Kingdom of Heaven is like unto leaven, which a woman took,’ ’The wages of sin is death,’ ‘The trumpet shall sound,’ ‘Jesus wept,’ ’Death is swallowed up in victory.’