This week, we come upon a very interesting and very important topic, the question of how we get information or word from or about God, who He is, what His plans are for earth and us. This subject is very important because it is foundation to the whole of Christian belief. It is not always an easy subject to deal with. And it has been the subject - and is still the subject - of a lot of rather heated debate.
Right at the start it should be said that humans cannot find out about God by themselves. There is simply no place we can go to find God or have a conversation with Him. This means that any information or communication we do have, must have been initiated by God. Not only that, the information - the message(s) - has to arrive in our domain couched in terms that we can understand. A more technical way of putting this is that the message has to be accommodated to our circumstances. It needs to come to us in understandable terms.
It is commonly understood among Christian believers that messages from God come by way of a process that involves “revelation,” then “inspiration,” then “inscripturation,” then “illumination.”
Revelation is a divinely superintended process by which a human comes to understand a fact, an interpretation, an idea that is a message from God to humans. It is very helpful here to keep in mind that the message is much more important than the means of its conveyance. Actually, a message can come by one of many different ways. In the Bible, we see God sending word to humans by different means - dreams, visions, voices, angelic visits, even the voice of a donkey on one occasion. Behind the scenes, the Holy Spirit is active making sure the message is conveyed correctly.
Among Christians, it is believed that revelation comes in two major categories - general revelation, such as we find in nature, and special, such as that which is found in the Bible. General revelation is generally available and general in content. It may give us a clue into the grandeur and wisdom of God, but not into His person or plan. Special revelation, on the other hand, is given to specific individuals and the content is much more precise, such as when a prophet delivers a message from God.
Inspiration is a divinely superintended process whereby the person who received the revelation can then communicate it effectively to others. Inspiration as used here, then, is a technical term that has not so much to do with the mood of a person as much as it has to do with their being able to accurately and effectively communicate the message that came from God.
This subject of inspiration and just how it works has been the subject of a lot of heated debate and discussion for more than 40 years because how you describe this has a major effect on how you see the Bible. One of the complicating factors is, if this is a process that involves both a divine and a human element, how much of each is present? And how do they relate? What is the role of human interpretation here, and how much does the human component affect the divine message? If you think of these, they are not so easy to settle.
Inscripturation has to do with the writing down of the message. The Bible is the residue of this process. Not all messages given by God have been written down, which means there is a lot of revelation that has not come down to us for we have only that which has been preserved by writing. It must therefore be said that the Bible is not exhaustive, but it is sufficient. It is important to remember this lest we claim too much for the Bible, like claiming that Ezekiel saw automobiles in his vision, or some such thing! Certainly, the Bible does not have an answer to every question, but it can and does create a framework for right-living.
Illumination is the Holy Spirit enabling us to understand accurately today the message that was written down a very long time ago. It is this process that makes the message of the Bible come alive in believer’s lives every day.
2 Peter 1:19-21 makes for some very interesting reading in light of the fore-going discussion. Peter points to the historicity of the Bible, looking to actual people and places, to things done and seen, as evidences for the reliability of the Scriptures. He would have us all know that he and the others “did not follow cunningly invented fables” when they told the Gospel story, but merely told what they had seen and heard and done. That is pretty good testimony.
2 Timothy 3:16, 17 also makes for interesting reading in that it explains Paul’s assessment of Scripture. his list of its capacities of remarkable and heart-warming, at least to a believer.
Do you know what Jesus thought of the Scriptures in his day? Have you thought about how he used them? Does the way you use them compare favorably?
The point and goal of the process by which humans get information and messages from God is not just so we can acquire information but that a trusting and faith-filled relationship can develop where by a human being comes to give God a superior place in their lives and is willing to order their living after their understanding of the word from God.
Two factors might be worth investigating here. First, the creatorship of God becomes a big issue especially when talking about general revelation. You might read Psa. 19 and enjoy some moments of reflection on this matter. What are the implications of God is not the creator? Secondly, special revelation will let us in on information that might never otherwise be obtainable by humans, such as the triune nature of God. It also lets us in on the plans God has, both in an ultimate sense but also in an immediate sense such as when a prophet speaks God’s word into a particular situation.
It is interesting to think about the role of a preacher today. How does the preaching of God’s word relate to the whole prophetic scheme? What does it mean for a person to preach from the Bible the word of God into a particular situation? What would it mean for the Word of God to be told in the words of man? Can the message of God survive such a thing?