special revelation

Today’s word of the week is inspiration. This is the doctrine relating how God inspired the human authors to write Scripture. Today’s post will explore inspiration from several biblical texts and highlight five different theories of inspiration. Next week, we will explore a related topic: inspiration as it relates to the manuscripts of the Bible. We are still under the doctrine of special revelation, and our next several posts will unpack various elements of special revelation.

Inspiration means “God-breathed.” We get that word specifically from 2 Timothy 3:15.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)

Paul made the argument to Timothy that God inspired all Scripture. At first glance, we would note that Paul was likely referring to the Old Testament Scriptures specifically. So what about the New Testament?

In 1 Timothy 5:18, Paul quoted both Old and New Testaments.

For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 

1 Timothy 5:18 (emphasis mine)

In this verse, Paul quotes both Deuteronomy 25:4 and Luke 10:7.

“You shall not muzzle an ox when it is treading out the grain.

Deuteronomy 25:4

And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house.

Luke 10:7

Paul identifies both the Old and New Testament texts as Scripture. Peter does something similar with Paul’s writings in 2 Peter.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15-16 (emphasis mine)

The bottom line is that Scripture (both New and Old Testament) claim to be inspired by God. This means that while the human author (around 40 in the 66 books of the Bible) penned the words of the Bible, each author was inspired by God to write the book. Ultimately then, God is the author of Scripture.

The assertion that God inspired the Scriptures brings us to the question of how the Scriptures are inspired. There are several theories of the doctrine of inspiration that have been suggested.

Here are five theories of inspiration:

  • Intuition—Authors had a a high degree of insight. In this theory, inspiration is essentially based on the natural abilities or genius of the Bible writer.
  • Illumination—The Holy Spirit heightened the authors experiences/insights. In this theory, the illumination of the Holy Spirit different only in degree and not in kind from the Holy Spirit’s work in all believers.
  • Dynamic—Combined the divine and human elements in the writing of Scripture. In this theory, the writers personal characteristics came through in cooperation with the Spirit’s guidance.
  • Verbal—The Holy Spirit guided the thoughts of the writers to pen specific words. This theory has also been called the plenary verbal inspiration theory reflecting the idea that every word of the original autographs was inspired by God.
  • Dictation—God dictated the passages of Scripture. This theory suggests the Holy Spirit speaking the words (dictating them) into the minds of the authors as they wrote them down.

It appears to me that the Intuition, Illumination, and Dictation theories are either insufficient or inconsistent. The first two theories leave too much room for the human authors, and open the door for questioning the inerrancy of Scripture or adding to Scripture (continued revelations that equate to the Bible). The Dictation theory makes the doctrine of inspiration too mechanical and doesn’t really comport with the reality of authorial involvement in the writing of Scripture.

The Dynamic and Verbal theories are closely related. The primary difference is the verbal theory goes so far as to state clearly that every word has been inspired by God. I hold to the Plenary Verbal Inspiration of Scripture. This view has several implications for the follower of Jesus.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, we are accountable to them. If the One True God inspired the Bible, then we cannot ignore the truth found in them.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we cannot pick and choose which Scriptures to believe and apply. Part of the problem with the insufficient inspiration theories is that they tend to leave too much room for accepting or rejecting parts of Scripture based on what we like or don’t like.

If God inspired all the Scriptures, then we must allow God’s Word to convict, change, and transform us. God’s Word is not merely for our information, but for “teaching, correction, reproof and training in righteousness.” We are to apply God’s Word to our lives.

Photo by Joel Muniz on Unsplash

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

Psalm 19:1

Last week’s post overviewed the doctrine of Revelation, or God’s unveiling of himself to the world. Today’s post will define general revelation, one of two spheres of the doctrine of revelation. Special revelation is the second sphere and will be the subject of subsequent posts.

General revelation refers to God’s self-manifestation through nature, history, and the inner being of the human person. It is general in two senses: it’s universal availability (it is accessible to all persons at all times) and the content of its message (it is less particularized and detailed than special revelation).

Millard Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, 26.

The distinction between general and special revelation is important. Because general revelation is universal and available to all, it is sufficient for mankind to know that there is a God. But because the one true God can only be known through Jesus Christ, special revelation is necessary. We will unpack this consideration in upcoming posts.

Millard Erickson suggested three areas where God has revealed himself generally to the world:

  1. Nature/Creation (Ps. 19 and Rom. 1:18-32). In nature, which is the focus of natural theology, God makes himself known as Creator. While we will not dive into the arguments for God’s existence from natural theology here, it is necessary to note that the universal tendency to worship gods or nature as gods is an affirmation of God’s revelation through nature. For the entirety of human civilization, gods and religions have been a part of human experience. The primary reason for this is that humanity has recognized that the world we live must have come from something/someone greater than ourselves. While some versions of ultimate reality coming from nature arose during the experiment of Greek philosophy, naturalism as a worldview is a recent development (18th century).(Naturalism is the worldview where ultimate reality is found in nature. The theory of evolution comes from the worldview of naturalism. Hence the phrase evolutionary naturalism). Humans have almost universally believed some deity is responsible for creating the world we live in. Creation testifies to general revelation.
  2. History (the Old Testament). An example of general revelation in history would be the unfurling of God’s character through his dealings with Israel in history. Whatever one thinks about the nation of Israel theologically or geopolitically, it is evident that there is something special about them. As a people, they have been targeted for annihilation (Nazis), persecuted, and disenfranchised throughout history. Their land has been under the control of empires and other nations for most of human history. Yet Israel remains. They remained a unique people even before they returned to their land. Why is this? It appears to me that God’s dealings with Israel reveal his special concern about the people he chose. Israel’s history testifies to general revelation.
  3. Humanity (Gen. 1:28). Being made in God’s image is a vital part of human understanding. It is true that the doctrine of the imago Dei is not universally accepted. But the philosophical definitions of humanity (as an animal or machine or mere product of nature) are inconsistent with human experience and reality. Humanity must be more than what naturalistic philosophies suggest because of our capacity for relationships, rationality, creativity, and morality. The fact that humans have free choice about how to live life reflects the freedom and personality given by a Creator. Humanity testifies to general revelation.

I recognize that connected these three areas to Scripture (special revelation). Understanding and interpreting general revelation sufficiently requires special revelation. We will unpack what this means in the following weeks.

Even so, it is important to recognize one staggering truth about general revelation that should shake us as followers of Christ:

General revelation is sufficient for condemnation, but not for salvation. 

You might read that quote and disagree. You might not like it. But whether we like it or not, it is true. Have a read from Paul’s exposition in Romans 1.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. 
24 Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, 25 because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.

Romans 1:18-25 (emphasis on verse 20 mine)

Theologically, one is condemned for failing to believe in God alone. Human sin, flowing down the generations from Adam to sinners today, is the cause of unbelief. Paul identified idolatry as a rejection of the truth taught in general revelation and sufficient for condemnation.

As Christians, the truth regarding general revelation should drive us three specific applications:

  • Pursue deeper knowledge of God.
  • Seek a greater appreciation for God’s general work in the world (nature, history, humanity).
  • Share the specific truths about God and salvation to sinners who desperately need forgiveness and eternal life.

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