A Summary of Concepts
© Copyright 2003 by Bob and Gretchen Passantino
Revelation:From God to man (man hears what God wants written)
Inspiration: From man to paper (man writes that which God wants written)
Illumination: From paper to heart (man receives that which God has written)
We know that God spoke to man, but how did He speak? Hebrews 1:1 says that He spoke to the fathers and prophets in many portions and many ways:
- through angels (Gen. 18; Gen. 19; Dan. 9:21-27; Luke 2:8-14; etc.)
- through a “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:11, 12; Ps. 32:8)
- through nature (Rom. 1:20; Ps. 19:1-4; Rom. 10:18; Acts 14:15)
- through a loud voice (Gen. 3:9-19; Ex. 3:14)
- through dreams (Gen. 28:12; Matt. 1:20; Matt. 2:12)
What is involved in transferring the voice of God into the vocabulary of man? There are five different areas to be considered: (1) various theories of inspiration; (2) scripture texts on inspiration; (3) implications of inspiration; (4) importance of inspiration; (5) completion of inspiration.
The term inspiration is found only once in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:16, 17: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
The Greek word is theopneustos and literally means “God-breathed.”
Theories of Inspiration
The natural theory–the Bible writers were inspired only in the sense that a poet or writer is inspired naturally. In other words, that spark of divine inspiration that supposedly is in all men simply burned a little brighter in the hearts of the Bible writers.
However, 2 Peter 1:20 says, “no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”
The mechanical theory–God coldly and woodenly dictated the Bible to his writers as an office manager would dictate an impersonal letter to his secretary.
The Bible is the story of divine love, and God is anything but mechanical or cold concerning inspiration. The Holy Spirit never transgressed beyond the limits of the writer’s vocabulary. We can see this because the highly educated Paul used a larger, more complicated vocabulary than the fisherman, Peter. The Church has never held what has been stigmatized as the mechanical theory of inspiration. The sacred writers were not machines. Their self-consciousness was not suspended; nor were their intellectual powers superseded. Holy men spoke as they were moved by the Holy Ghost. It was men, not machines; not unconscious instruments, but living, thinking, willing minds, whom the Spirit used as His organs….[T]he sacred writers impressed their peculiarities on their several productions as plainly as though they were the subjects of no extraordinary influence.
The content theory–Only the main thoughts of the Bible are inspired. This is the position of the liberal theologian who would cheerfully accept those portions of the Bible which deal with love and brotherhood, but quickly reject the passages dealing with sin, righteousness, and future judgment. But this is contrary to 2 Timothy 3:16 (quoted above). Charles F. Baker writes,
A certain bishop is purported to have said that he believed the Bible to have been inspired in spots. When asked for his authority for such a statement, he quoted Hebrews 1:1, stating that this meant that God spoke at various times in varying degrees. Thus, some spots were fully inspired, others were only partially inspired, and still others were not inspired at all. The bishop was embarrassed when a layman asked: “How do you know that Hebrews 1:1, the one scripture upon which you base your argument, is one of those fully inspired spots?
The spiritual rule only theory–The Bible may be regarded as our infallible rule of faith and practice in all matters of religious, ethical, and spiritual value, but not in other matters, such as some of the historical and scientific statements found in the Word of God.
Jesus said, however, “If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”(John 3:12).
The verbal-plenary theory–All (plenary) the very words (verbal) of the Bible are inspired by God. Matthew 4:4 says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” First Corinthians 2:13 says, “These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” Jesus says in John 17:8, “For I have given them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.” Jesus says in John 6:63, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.”
Scripture Texts on Inspiration
2 Peter 1:20, 21; Hebrews 1:1; John 10:35; Matthew 5:18; 1 Peter 1:25; 2 Peter 3:2; 1 Corinthians 2:4; 15:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 4:15; and the verses already referred to above.
Note: Some people say that when Paul was speaking on divorce in 1 Corinthians 7, he differentiated between what was scripture and what was his own opinion. What is actually the case is that Paul was directly quoting Jesus in the first part, but was “merely” prompted by the Holy Spirit in the second part.
Implications of Inspiration
As one carefully considers the subject of inspiration, he is led to the following conclusions:
1. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not each that all the parts of the Bible are equally important, but only that they are equally inspired.
2. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not guarantee the inspiration of any modern or ancient translations of the Bible, but refers only to the original Greek and Hebrew manuscripts (the autographs).
3. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not allow for any false teaching, but it does on occasion record the lie of someone (for example, Genesis 3:6). Therefore, we have an accurate record of the devil’s words. As one reads the Bible, he must carefully distinguish between what God records and what He sanctions. Thus, while lying, murder, adultery, and polygamy are found in the Word of God, they are never approved by the Word of God.
4. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not permit any historical, scientific, or prophetical error whatsoever. While it is admitted that the Bible is not a textbook on science, it is nevertheless held that every scientific statement in the scriptures is absolutely true.
5. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not prohibit personal research. The New Testament writer Luke begins his gospel with the following account:
Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the Word have handed them down to us, it seemed fitting for me, as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out….(Luke 1:1-3 NASB).
6. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not deny the use of extra-biblical sources (see Acts 17:28; Titus 1:12; Jude 1:14, 15).
7. Verbal-plenary inspiration did not overwhelm the personality of the human author. The Bible writers experienced no coma-like trance as do some mediums today during a seance, but, on the contrary, they always retained their physical, mental, and emotional powers. See Isaiah 6:1-11, Daniel 12)
8. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not exclude the usage of pictorial, symbolic, hyperbolic, or summary language. This is to say the Holy Spirit does not demand that we accept every word in the Bible in a wooden and legalistic way. For example, a case could not be made that God has feathers like a bird in Ps. 91:4. Here the thought is simply that the persecuted believer can flee to his heavenly Farther for protection and warmth.
9. Verbal-plenary inspiration does not mean uniformity in all details given in describing the same event. See Matt. 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38, and John 19:19, about the superscription on the cross.
10. Verbal-plenary inspiration assures us that God included all the necessary things He wanted us to know and excluded everything else. 2 Tim. 3:15-17.
Importance of Inspiration
Of the three tools involved in the making of our Bible, the tool of inspiration is the most important. This is true because:
1. One may have inspiration without revelation. For example, rather than supernaturally telling Luke what to write in his gospel, the Holy Spirit led him to carefully check out all of the records.
2. One may have inspiration without illumination. Peter tells us (1 Peter 1:11) that the Old Testament prophets did not always understand everything they wrote about.
Completion of Inspiration
Is inspiration still going on today? Yes, inspiration is still going on today, but with the close of the apostolic age, God led the church fathers to canonize what we know today as the Old and New Testaments. We have all of the information we will ever need regarding God, our relationship to him, and our salvation straight from God to us.
If someone claims to have a revelation from God, we must check to be sure that it is in harmony with God’s word that has already been revealed.
We have already stated that without inspiration, no scripture would have ever been written. We may now claim that without illumination, no sinner would have ever been saved. Illumination, then, is that method used by the Holy Spirit to shed divine light upon all seeking men as they look into the Word of God. We need illumination because:
1. We are naturally blind because of sin. (1 Cor. 2:14, Matt. 16:16-17)
2. We are satanically blind. (2 Cor. 4:3-4)
3. We are carnally blind. (Heb. 5:12-14, 1 Cor. 3, 2 Peter 1)
There are two main results of personal illumination: that people are saved and then that the saved people are matured.
Implications of Illumination
1. The Holy Spirit looks for a certain amount of sincerity before He illuminates any human heart. We are quick to point out that sincerity is not enough to save anyone, and so it is. However, it should be also noted that it is equally impossible for an insincere person to be saved. This first implication is brought out in John 4:24.
Furthermore, it should be stated that no Christian should ever look on illumination as automatic. This is to say, God has never promised to reveal precious and profound Biblical truths to any believer who will not search the Scriptures for himself. See John 20:31, Acts 17:11, 2 Tim 2:15, 1 Peter 2:2.
2. The Holy Spirit often seeks out the aid of a believer in performing his task of illuminating the hearts of others. See Acts 8:30, 31, 35, Acts 17:2, Acts 18:26, Acts 18:28.
For Further Reading
Bloesch, Donald G. Holy Scripture: Revelation, Inspiration and Interpretation. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1994.
Bruce, F. F. The Books and the Parchments: How We Got Our English Bible. Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming J. Revell Company, 1984 ed.
Bruce, F. F. The Canon of Scripture. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988.
Carson, D. A. And John D. Woodbridge, eds. Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1986.
Demarest, Bruce A. General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1982.
Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. From God to Us: How We Got Our Bible. Chicago: Moody Press, 1974.
Geisler, Norman L. and William E. Nix. A General Introduction to the Bible (Revised and Expanded). Chicago: Moody Press, 1986.
George, Timothy, et. al., eds. The Bible Doctrine of Inspiration. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1995.
Trembath, Kern Robert. Evangelical Theories of Biblical Inspiration: A Review and Proposal. London: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Turretin, Francis. The Doctrine of Scripture. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981.
 This essay is a summary of the information contained in Norm. F. Geisler and William E. Nix’s General Introduction to the Bible. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1986 ed.). It is meant to outline the arguments brought forth in that book and was used originally as a handout in a class taught by the Passantinos using Geisler and Nix’s book as the textbook. Another approach to the issue is in Norman Geisler’s Systematic Theology Volume One: Introduction and Bible (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2002).
 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. 1.