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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God?

Don Stewart :: Can Revelation, Divine Inspiration and Illumination Act Together?

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Question 11

Can Revelation, Divine Inspiration and Illumination Act Together?

Revelation, divine inspiration and illumination are three important terms that are used in explaining the giving of Scripture by God, the recording of Scripture and the understanding of it by believers. Therefore, it is crucial that we comprehend exactly what each of these terms mean and how they relate to each other.

Understanding the Differences Between the Three Terms

To begin with, it is important to understand the differences between these terms. We can simply state it as follows:

  1. Revelation: the Giving of Divine Truth

    Revelation is God revealing His truth to humanity. This truth could not be discovered through any type of human reasoning. It is entirely a work of God.

  2. Divine Inspiration: the Recording of Divine Truth

    Divine inspiration is concerned with the recording of truth. It refers to God supervising the writers of Scripture to say exactly what He wanted said. The result was Holy Scripture: the Bible.

  3. Illumination: the Understanding of Divine Truth by Believers Only

    Illumination is something that only believers can experience through the work of the Holy Spirit. It refers to God giving understanding to His people of what His written Word means.

Observations about Revelation, Divine Inspiration and Illumination

Simply stated, revelation is the disclosure of God’s truth to humanity; divine inspiration is the communication of that truth in written form; illumination is the understanding of that truth. They can work separately, or together, as can be seen in the following examples:

  • There Has Been Divine Inspiration Without Revelation

    Sometimes there is divine inspiration, the recording of God’s truth, without divine revelation; the supernatural giving of God’s truth. An example of this can be found in the Gospel of Luke. Luke wrote the following introduction to his gospel:

    Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and servants of the word, it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus; so that you may know the exact truth about the things you have been taught. (Luke 1:1-4 NASB)

    While Luke based his gospel on a variety of sources, the end result was divinely inspired Scripture, but not divine revelation. His word is true in all that it says, yet the truths were not supernaturally revealed to him. Rather, he was supernaturally guided in what he wrote.

  • Inspiration Has Occurred with Divine Revelation

    Usually we find that divine inspiration and divine revelation go together. For example, we read in the Book of Revelation:

    The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must happen very soon. He made it clear by sending his angel to his servant John, who then testified to everything that he saw concerning the word of God and the testimony about Jesus Christ. (Revelation 1:1-2 NET)

    Here we find that God divinely revealed these truths to John and then divinely guided the writing of the Book. This divine revelation, the giving of truth, worked with divine inspiration, the recording of that truth.

  • There Has Been Divine Inspiration with Illumination

    Divine inspiration can occur with illumination—the writer would then understand the divine revelation they had been given. Paul wrote:

    And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers. (1 Thessalonians 2:13 ESV)

    Paul understood that he was passing along divine revelation to the people. He also understood what divine revelation meant.

  • Divine Inspiration Also Occurred Without Illumination

    There are also examples of divine inspiration without illumination. In these cases, the prophets did not understand what they were writing. Peter wrote:

    Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. (1 Peter 1:10-11 NET)

    While these prophets correctly recorded what God had told them, they did not understand what they had written.

  • Revelation Happened Without Divine Inspiration

    Revelation can occur without divine inspiration—the human author merely recorded God’s words. The Ten Commandments are an example of this:

    And God spoke all these words... The Lord said to Moses: “Thus you will say to the Israelites: ‘You yourselves have seen that I have spoken with you from heaven.’” (Exodus 20:1,22 NET)

    In this case, the human author, Moses, merely wrote down the words that God dictated to him.

  • There Was Illumination Without Divine Inspiration

    Illumination, the understanding of God’s truth, can happen without divine inspiration. John wrote:

    As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him. (1 John 2:27 TNIV)

    Believers have the ability to understand Scripture apart from receiving divine inspiration. This happens, or should happen, constantly in the life of a believer.

Conclusion: Revelation, Divine Inspiration and Illumination Can Act Separately or Together

Therefore, we find that there are a number of ways in which divine inspiration, revelation and illumination can work together, or separately. Each is a work of God. However, only illumination is operating today. God is no longer revealing new truths about Himself; neither is He divinely inspiring any more written Scripture.

Summary - Question 11
Can Revelation, Divine Inspiration and Illumination Act Together?

Revelation refers to the giving of God’s truth, divine inspiration to the recording of God’s Word and illumination to understanding of Scripture. Revelation, divine inspiration and illumination can act separately, or they can act together. The Bible gives examples of divine inspiration occurring without revelation, such as the writing of Luke’s gospel, and of divine inspiration occurring with revelation, such as the composition of the Book of Revelation.

We also find divine inspiration, the writing of Scripture, occurring without illumination or the understanding of what was written. In other instances, we discover that divine inspiration occurred with the illumination or understanding of what they had written.

Finally, there are examples of revelation occurring without divine inspiration and illumination occurring without divine inspiration. Therefore, we conclude that these three divine works can function separately or they can function together.

What’s the Difference Between Divine Inspiration and Illumination? ← Prior Section
Is Every Statement of the Bible True? Next Section →
CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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