Uninspired Sources Used in the Bible



Stained glass panel of Paul preaching in Athens by Williams Collins (ca. 1827)


When Paul journeyed to Athens, he employed two pagan citations in Acts 17:28 that were respectively from Epimenides and Aratus. He quoted from Epimenides not only in Athens but also in his letter to Titus (1:12). The line used in Acts 17, however, would go on to support his argument against idols since they lacked life whereas the true God was living, and it was “in him [that] we live and move and have our being.” Epimenides wrote the words that Paul quoted about Zeus – that “we are indeed his offspring.” While used for a false god, Paul believed the sentiment to be one saturated with the truth about the true God that he preached to the Athenians. Paul agreed with Aratus’ conception of divinity up to a point. In each of these usages, Paul drew truths from pagan writers about divine matters. While he did not espouse all that they claimed, he found useful those truths that were actually truthful.

Jude is another writing that uses uninspired sources. In Jude 1:14–15, the author quoted from 1 Enoch, a book that was taught to have been given by the Enoch mentioned in Genesis 5:21–24. At best, this work is dated only a few centuries before Christ was born, but it had a particular appeal that made it popular in many Christian communities. Also, when Jude mentions that Michael the archangel strove with Satan over the body of Moses (Jude 1:9), he was likely familiar with another uninspired work entitled The Assumption of Moses from which this story appears. Though these writings were uninspired, they are now a part of what is inspired.

What are we to make of this? Paul quoting Greek poets and Jude quoting non-canonical works to tell a story? These are but a couple of short examples of the truth that uninspired works and people had something to say that was used in an inspired way. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. However, should this mean that the whole works that were used ought to be regarded as inspired? No, because truth doesn’t have to be inspired to be true, it is simply true.

Though the Greek poets wrote about the gods, they at least understood what was true about divinity though it was not about the true God. Paul took them where they were to where they should have been. Jude also used uninspired works to communicate parts of heavenly truths. These do not pose a threat to the Bible but attest to the usefulness and, sometimes, the truthfulness of other pieces of literature and philosophy. Since these men were guided by the Spirit who preached and wrote, they took every thought captive for Christ (cf. 2 Cor 10:5).

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