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

Don Stewart :: Is There a Difference Between Revelation and Divine Inspiration?

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Is There a Difference Between Revelation and Divine Inspiration?

Is the Bible the Authoritative Word of God – Question 9

Yes. Although the terms revelation and divine inspiration are often used synonymously, there are differences between the two concepts.

Understanding the Terms Revelation and Divine Inspiration

It is essential that we have a correct understanding of the terms revelation and divine inspiration. Much confusion will be avoided if we have a proper view of how each of these terms are used.

Revelation: God’s Disclosure of Truth

Revelation means, “God disclosing to humanity truths we would not otherwise know”—human beings could not find out these truths for themselves. It refers to God giving truth to humanity. This is the idea behind the term revelation.

For example, when Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah or the Christ, Jesus told Peter that his confession was something that was divinely revealed to him. It was not something that he concluded on his own. We read the following in Matthew:

Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:16-17 RSV)

The understanding of Peter as to Jesus’ identity did not come from any human source, but rather was the result of God’s revelation to Peter through the Spirit; it was divinely disclosed.

Divine Inspiration: Humans Recording God’s Truth

Divine inspiration, on the other hand, refers to the recording of God’s truth. It means that God preserved the writers from recording error when they wrote the various parts of Scripture. All of the things they recorded are accurate. The words were actually said and the events actually happened. Revelation, therefore, is concerned with the giving of truth, while divine inspiration refers to the recording of truth. It is important that we understand the difference.

This brings us to an important point. The Bible is divinely inspired, but not every word was divinely revealed. Divine inspiration does not always imply revelation. To put it another way, we should not necessarily assume that everything in Scripture has been divinely revealed by God.

For example, Moses was divinely inspired by God to record events that he himself witnessed. These events were the actual source of his knowledge on the subject. The subject matter was not beyond human knowledge, but was there for any observer to record. However, the interpretation of the meaning of the event could only come from God. He alone explained the significance of what occurred.

We also have to distinguish between certain words of Scripture and the faithful recording of them. There are statements in the Bible that are lies. Yet the lies are correctly recorded. The statements are not given by divine revelation. The devil was certainly not speaking for God when he made the various statements that are attributed to him in Scripture. Jesus told the religious leaders of His day that they were of their father “the devil.” The devil is someone who lies whenever he speaks. Jesus said:

You are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (John 8:44 NRSV)

The Contemporary English Version reads:

Your father is the devil, and you do exactly what he wants. He has always been a murderer and a liar. There is nothing truthful about him. He speaks on his own, and everything he says is a lie. Not only is he a liar himself, but he is also the father of all lies. (John 8:44 CEV)

The devil lies every time that he speaks; yet the devil’s words are part of Scripture. This is because the Bible records what actually happened.

Revelation Sometimes Refers to Illumination

Something else needs to be emphasized. In the New Testament, the word translated “revelation” sometimes refers to what is known as illumination.

Paul wrote the following to the Ephesians:

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him,?since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened?so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints. (Ephesians 1:17-18 NET)

Paul wanted the Ephesians to gain spiritual wisdom and revelation in their knowledge of Christ. Revelation, in this context, refers to what we call illumination—the ability to understand the truths that God has already revealed. Human beings are not able to impart divine revelation; they are only able to receive it.

In addition, all believers do not receive supernatural revelation to impart to others. That was granted only to a special few. Consequently, in this context, the word translated “revelation” does not mean the giving of God’s truth, but rather the understanding of it.

Conclusion: It Is Important to Understand the Distinction Between Divine Inspiration and Divine Revelation

Because the terms revelation and divine inspiration are referring to two different, but important, concepts, it is crucial that we have an understanding of the meaning of each term and how they are used in explaining the nature of the Bible.

Revelation refers to God’s giving of His truth to humanity while divine inspiration refers to the recording of God’s Word. The Bible, while true in all that it records, was not divinely revealed in all its parts.

Summary – Question 9
Is There a Difference Between Revelation and Divine Inspiration?

Divine inspiration and revelation are not synonymous terms. Revelation is God disclosing truth to humankind that we would not otherwise know. Divine inspiration deals with the recording of God’s Word—it does not always imply revelation.

Statements recorded in Scripture are divinely inspired in the sense that they are the things that God wanted revealed to humanity. However, not everything found in Scripture is divine revelation, neither is everything found in the Scripture true. Furthermore, there are things in Scripture that any observer could record.

However, what they could not record was the divine explanation of the event. Scripture correctly records what occurred—this includes misstatements and lies. What is assured with divine inspiration is that each event and each saying is accurately recorded.

Revelation can refer to what we call illumination—the ability to understand what God has revealed in His Word. Divine revelation has been given to very few people, while all believers are able to receive God’s illumination through the work of the Holy Spirit. We must keep these distinctions in mind.

What Are the Parallels Between the Writing of Scripture and the First Coming of Jesus Christ? ← Prior Section
What’s the Difference Between Divine Inspiration and Illumination? Next Section →
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