Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Rethinking the Necessary Preconditions of Inspiration and Canonicty

1 Maccabees 9:27, "There had not been such great distress in Israel since the time prophets ceased to appear among the people."

The implication drawn from the preceding text is that the book as a whole is not the work of a prophet. For some interpreters, this raises the question: does 1 Maccabees belong in the canon?

First, a distinction ought to be drawn between inspiration and canonicity. Loosely, a book is inspired if it is the infallible word of God. By contrast, a book is canonical if it is recognized as inspired. This distinction, while important, is not vital for the issue at hand, since even the inspiration of 1 Maccabees is contested.

For those who answer that 1 Maccabees is inspired and ought to be included in the canon, it is argued that prophesy, properly understood, is not a necessary condition of inspiration. A prophet is a person who holds a particular office or role, which may or may not include the writing of inspired Scripture.

Assuming that 1 Maccabees 9:27 and similar passages do undermine the book's own inspiration, it seems that too much is proved. Consider Psalm 74:9, "Now we see no signs, we have no prophets, no one who knows how long." The psalm indicates that no prophet is present. But if prophesy is a necessary precondition of inspiration, doesn't this imply that Psalm 74:9 is not an inspired text?

As far as I can tell, we have two choices. We can either reject Psalm 74:9 as inspired or, as I suggest, adopt a different set of presuppositions with respect to inspiration.

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