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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Was the Bible Dictated by God to Humanity? (Mechanical Dictation)

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Don Stewart

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It is a popular idea that God somehow dictated His Word to the writers of Scripture. The human authors of the Bible were like passive stenographers who recorded the truth of God in the same manner as a tape recorder records the voice of the speaker. This view teaches that the entire Bible was dictated word for word by God. It is supported from a number of passages in the Old Testament where God tells the writer exactly what to say to the people.

The Bible, therefore, would have been similar to what Muslims claim for the Koran-their holy book. Supposedly it had been dictated from heaven in the Arabic language to Muhammad. The Bible, it is argued, came about in the same way.

Some Parts Were Dictated By God

It is true that some parts of the Bible were dictated by God and recorded by the writer. This is true of the Ten Commandments. Scripture says.

Then God spoke all these words (Exodus 20:1).


God told Isaiah the prophet to say certain words to the king.

Then the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, "Go and say to Hezekiah, 'Thus says the Lord, the God of your father David, I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life. I will deliver you and this city from the hand of the king of Assyria; and I will defend this city'" (Isaiah 38:4-6).

In this case, Isaiah spoke and wrote exactly what God told Him.


Revelation 2:1-3:22 was also dictated by Jesus Christ to John the Apostle.

This Was Not For The Entire Bible

Although a few small parts of Scripture were dictated by God to humanity this is not the case for the entire Scripture. The idea of the verbal dictation of all of Scripture can be found in the writings of the Jewish Talmud, the Jewish writer Philo of Alexandria, and some of the Church Fathers but it is not found in Scripture. It has never been the teaching of the majority of the church that the Bible resulted by some sort of dictation from God to the authors. Mechanical dictation emphasizes the process while Scripture emphasizes the result. God used a number of different ways to communicate His words to the biblical authors. The following reasons demonstrate that God did not mechanically dictate the Scriptures.

The Style Would Have Been Uniform

If God had dictated the Scriptures to the writers, the writing style would be uniform throughout each of the sixty-six books. It would be the sentence structure and vocabulary of the Holy Spirit. The Scripture would be free from all trace of humanity. Yet this is not what we find.

There Are Different Styles And Personalities

The idea of dictation is easy to refute when one looks at the different biblical books. Each writer has his own personality, style, and vocabulary. For example, the New Testament writings of John are in sharp contrast with those of Luke. John writes a very simple Greek with a limited vocabulary, while Luke writes a much better style of Greek showing greater familiarity with the language. Many of the biblical books contain passages where the author's temperament and previous training are revealed. This is hardly consistent with some idea of mechanical dictation.


For example, the language of the Apostle Paul runs the gamut of emotions. It is hard to reconcile some of the sections where Paul's personality is evident with the idea that he was simply a stenographer. He wrote the following to the church at Rome.

I speak the truth in Christ - I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit - I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race (Romans 9:1-3)

Paul's emotions are clearly reflected in these verses.

The Authors Were From Different Ranks Of Society

Furthermore, God chose the various human authors of Scripture from all ranks of society. Each of them wrote from their various backgrounds that included different occupations, different amounts of education, and different languages. All of the differences are reflected in their writings.

We See Different Literary Devices In Scripture

The writers of Scripture employed different literary devices. Paul used allegory (Galatians 4) while Jesus used satire (Matthew 19:24). This is not consistent with mechanical dictation.

The Scripture Is God Breathed

In addition, the very word for divine inspiration, theopneustos means, "God-breathed." The word itself excludes the idea of some sort of divine dictation. The fact that God breathed out His truth through the writers of Scripture shows they were more than passive stenographers.

The Bible Was Written In The Third Person

If God mechanically dictated His words to humanity we would expect the Bible to have been written in the first person, "I." Instead we find the Bible describing God in the third person, "He."

Some Writers Used Sources

The biblical writers also made use of non-biblical sources. The fact that a number of writings are mentioned shows that other historical materials were available and sometimes consulted at the time the Scriptures were written.

Some Scripture Was A Result Of Historical Investigation

Not all writers of Scripture depicted themselves as recording what God told them. Sometimes the words of the biblical writers resulted from their own careful investigation. Luke wrote his gospel by consulting previous works as well as doing his own research. He wrote.

Since many have undertaken to set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed on to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed (Luke 1:1-4).

In addition, we find in Luke's gospel a number of medical terms used. This is consistent with his training as a physician.

Some Material Was Already Written

Some material that found its way into the Bible had been previously written. The writers of Scripture used already written genealogies (Matthew 1:1-18, Luke 3:23-37). These, however, are the exceptions, not the rule.

There Was Some Editing

There was also editing by human hands. We are told that the Proverbs of Solomon were edited by the men of Hezekiah.

These are more proverbs of Solomon, copied by the men of Hezekiah king of Judah (Proverbs 25:1).

God Protected The Scriptures From Error

While the human authors of Scripture did, at times, use some pre-existing materials, the Holy Spirit supernaturally controlled the writers and their writings. Consequently their finished product was without error.

There Are Differing Accounts Of The Same Episode

We also have differing accounts of the same event - something that is inconsistent with mechanical dictation For example, the wording of the inscription that was over Jesus on the cross is different in all four gospels. Matthew wrote.

And above his head they put up the charge against him which read, "THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Matthew 27:37).

Mark writes.

The inscription of the charge against him read, "THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Mark 15:26).

Luke records it this way.

Now there was also an inscription above him, "THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS" (Luke 23:38).

John says.

Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, "JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS" (John 19:19).

The fact that each gospel writer records a different wording on the inscription is inconsistent with mechanical dictation.

There Are Not Just Two Choices

Some would have us believe that there are only two possible ways in which the Bible could have come to humanity. Either God dictated the Bible to humankind or humans alone were involved in the recording of Scripture. This would result in legends, mistakes, and inaccuracies. But neither of these is true. God divinely inspired the biblical writers to use their own personalities, vocabularies, and writing styles to impart His Word to humanity. God revealed Himself at different times and in different ways.

God, after he spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the world (Hebrews 1:1,2).


The mechanical dictation theory teaches the writers of the Scripture were passive as God spoke his Word through them. Rather than writing with their own words and vocabulary, they were more like stenographers. There are indeed portions of Scripture, such as the Ten Commandments where God dictated His Word to humanity. This theory stresses the divine side of the Bible.

However, the idea of mechanical dictation does not account for all aspects of the Bible. There is no evidence that God always dictated the Scripture to the various authors of the biblical books. For one thing the vocabulary and style of the various books of the Bible is not uniform - this is something one would not expect had each author merely wrote down what God had told them to write. For example, the style and vocabulary of Luke is much different from John. Also the writings of Paul express a variety of different personal emotions - this is not something that a stenographer does.

In fact, the very idea of divine inspiration rules out some sort of dictation. Scripture is a "God breathed" work - not a dictated work. If the writers were mere stenographers then we would expect the Scriptures to have been written in the first person rather than the third person.

In addition, the writers do not depict themselves as being stenographers. Luke used sources for his gospel. Also both he and Matthew incorporated genealogies that had already been written. This is hardly keeping with the idea of the writers being passive stenographers.

There is also the different rendering of the same event. For example, we find all four gospels giving a different wording of the writing over the cross of Jesus. This is inconsistent with the idea of dictation.

Scripture teaches that God spoke through the unique personalities of the biblical writers. The Holy Spirit approved the written words of the various books of the Bible as the various writers expressed them. This was accomplished without the author's being mere stenographers. Since the Holy Spirit was the actual source of what was written, He made certain that the writers used the correct words to express God's truth Consequently the Scriptures were supernaturally protected from error.

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