We finished reading through 2 Corinthians this week in Woodlands in the Word and Paul sounded hot-headed, fiery, and at times, exasperated. “I wish you would put up with a little foolishness from me. Yes, do put up with me!” he writes (2 Cor. 11:1). In fact, throughout chapter 11, Paul writes that he’s speaking “foolishly.” In verse 23, he goes so far as to say, “I’m talking like a madman!”

But wait a minute… we understand someone getting exasperated and frustrated, we understand a leader losing his cool a little – we’ve probably all experienced it. But how do we understand that in the context of Scripture? Those words aren’t just Paul’s frustrated ramblings – they’re also the inspired, inerrant Word of God.

To take this a step further, how can we biblically understand a verse like 2 Corinthians 11:17, when Paul says, “What I am saying in this matter of boasting, I don’t speak as the Lord would, but as it were, foolishly.” If we believe the Holy Spirit was speaking through Paul, how can we understand Paul saying, essentially, “I’m not saying what God would say?” Because… he is saying what God is saying, through him!

Inerrancy and Inspiration

These passages ask us to wrestle with the Christian doctrines of Inspiration and Inerrancy. To give some context, the Statement of Faith at Woodlands Church says, “We believe that God has spoken in the Scriptures, both Old and New Testaments, through the words of human authors.”

There are two things to note in this statement: First, we unequivocally believe that it is God who is speaking through Scripture, and it is ultimately God’s will that we should be seeking to understand in the pages of Scripture. Later in the same statement, it’s confessed that “the Bible is without error in the original writings, the complete revelation of His will for salvation, and the ultimate authority by which every realm of human knowledge and endeavor should be judged.” This is high praise for the Bible, and seeks to articulate the doctrine of inerrancy – the Bible has no error or issue. The Bible is perfect.

But secondly, we need to acknowledge that God has spoken to us “through the words of human authors.” This is a far more nuanced statement than simply saying, “God used human authors to write His Words.” We do not suppose that God puppeteered, overcame, overwhelmed or commandeered humans to write exactly what He wanted. Instead, God cooperated with human authors in an absolutely miraculous process of perfectly Spirit-led direction that didn’t violate the autonomy of the human author.

What does this mean? It means that God didn’t just use the hands, or the pen, or the fingers of the human author, but He rather used the intentions, experiences, passions, and priorities of the human author’s entire life, within the human author’s immediate context, to communicate God’s full, perfect, and complete will for all time and in all contexts.

Take a minute and let that truth sink into your heart. It’s absolutely astounding.

Other Biblical Examples

There are a number of theological or even philosophical questions that could be raised, but let’s pause for a moment and acknowledge this is a way Scripture often talks about God working, especially in the Old Testament.

The books of Esther and Ruth are master-class examples in this type of guidance. In these books, all of the biblical characters act according to their personalities. At no point are they jerked in a direction that is surprising or unexpected by the inbreaking will of God. Naomi returns to Israel in disgrace, Ruth gleans in Boaz’s fields due to poverty, and Boaz seeks her hand in marriage as a faithful Israelite. Esther is chosen to be queen, while her uncle Mordecai is faithful and truthful. Haman is conniving and evil, and Xerxes defends his own honor. And yet God uses these personal intentions and real personalities to bring about the Davidic throne (in Ruth’s case) and the preservation of the entire people of Israel (in Esther’s case). God leads, guides, uses, and directs these individuals perfectly to accomplish His perfect will.

Did any of these people do everything perfectly? Of course not. But did God use their imperfections perfectly? Yes.

In another profound example, Isaiah 45 recounts God’s plans to use the evil King Cyrus as God’s instrument of His will. It refers to Cyrus as God’s “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1), and says to Cyrus that He will, “strengthen you, though you do not know me, so that all may know… I am the Lord, who does all these things” (Isaiah 45:6-7). God promises to use the evil that Cyrus is about to do to ultimately accomplish His perfect will – and says Cyrus won’t be aware. This is how God works.

Understanding Our Passage

And so if the testimony of how God works throughout history is subtle, nuanced, and in cohort with the actions of humanity (“What you intended for evil, God used for good” [Gen 50:20]), then we should expect the same in the writing of Scripture. And of course, that’s what we find.

God works through Paul perfectly, despite any imperfections Paul might have. And those imperfections of Paul in no way detract from the perfections of Scripture! This is why we don’t fault Scripture when the Psalmist writes, in Psalm 113:3 for instance: “From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.” We don’t say, “Psssh – we know the sun doesn’t rise or set – or even move! If this was really written by God, it would be more scientifically accurate!” No, God will work through the vernacular and understanding of the writer of the text to express His perfect will, even if that vernacular or understanding is inaccurate. 

So in 2 Corinthians 11, we can freely acknowledge that God is speaking in and through Paul, even while Paul is saying things that he (possibly sarcastically), is declaring to be foolish. We can freely say, “This is NOT Scripture declaring itself to be foolish!” This is simply Paul showing his exasperation with the misplaced priorities of the Corinthians church. He’s saying, “You think these super-apostles (2 Cor 11:5) are better or more truthful because of their resume? That would be foolish! But let’s even be foolish – look at my resume (2 Cor 11:22-28)!”

We can trust the Bible to teach us accurately about God, even if the language the human author uses is confusing or unclear. The work required to carefully and faithfully understand Scripture is never labor in vain.

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Read along with us in Woodlands in the Word! Text BIBLE to 888-225-7675 for a link to each weekday’s Bible reading and prayer prompts!