Question: "What is the dictation theory?"
Answer: The dictation theory (sometimes called the mechanical dictation theory) attempts to describe what it means that the Bible is God’s Word. When people claim that the Bible is the Word of God, they are generally referring to the concept known as the inspiration of the Bible. This belief about the Bible comes from 2 Timothy 3:16–17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The word God-breathed is a translation of the Greek word theópneustos, which, broken down, is literally theo “God” and pneustos “breathed-out.” Some translations of the Bible put it this way: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (KJV).
The dictation theory states that God “dictated” His Word to the writers of Scripture, who were nothing more than human stenographers for the Holy Spirit. The dictation theory says that the Spirit wrote through the agency of human writers who were fully under God’s control. With the authors in a state of relative passivity, God dictated every word written with pinpoint accuracy. In this way, human personality and human error could not interfere with God’s intended message. The human writers did not personally contribute anything to the content of Scripture since they were passive instruments of God’s will.
The dictation theory is not one of the more prevalent theories in contemporary theology, but some conservative Christians do ascribe to it. Passages such as Revelation 2:1 and 8 demonstrate that, at times, God seems to have used a dictation method. The prophet Jeremiah was told, “Tell them everything I command you; do not omit a word” (Jeremiah 26:2).
Many places in Scripture contain introductory statements such as “The Lord says,” indicating that a prophet was expressing the very words of God to people. Such instances, however, do not necessarily support the dictation theory, since the message from God was often relayed orally before it was written down.
Also, we see many places in Scripture where the writers include personal histories and expressions of their own personalities (e.g., Galatians 1:6; 3:1; Philippians 1:3—4, 8). Writing style and vocabulary are different from one author to another. Matthew, for example, used the phrase “kingdom of heaven” 32 times in his Gospel—but the phrase never appears in the rest of the New Testament.
The more accurate view of inspiration is the verbal plenary theory. This theory says that every word of the Bible is inspired by God (but not necessarily dictated) and that all portions of Scripture are equally inspired. Second Peter 1:21 reads, “For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” As the writers were “carried along” by the Spirit, they, as individuals, “spoke.” Their personal expressions were guided by and protected under the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The final product is the authoritative Word of God.
Regardless of how God inspired the text of Scripture, the most important principle for all of us is that it is inspired. The Bible was given to humanity for “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” and should, therefore, be applied “so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16–17).