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Study Resources :: Text Commentaries :: Don Stewart :: False Views of Scripture

Don Stewart :: What Is the Illumination Theory of the Authority of Scripture?

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Question 6

What Is the Illumination Theory of the Authority of Scripture?

One theory regarding the divine inspiration of the Bible, which is contrary to what Scripture says, argues that it is possible for every believer to write Scripture. This is known as the “illumination theory.”

Claim: Any Believer Has the Ability to Write Scripture

Simply put, this theory holds that the ability possessed by the writers of the Bible to compose Holy Scripture is something that is common to all Christians in every age. Those who hold this theory believe there is the capability within each human being which allows them to receive insight into divine mysteries. This ability is known as “illumination.”

The Bible, therefore, was a result of God’s Spirit heightening the religious perception of the writers. This point of view holds that present-day believers could still write Scripture as God’s Spirit comes upon them. It sees the Bible inspired in the same way as a present-day preacher proclaiming the message of Scripture.

What are we to make of the illumination theory?

Response to the Illumination Theory

This theory contradicts what the Bible says in a number of ways. This can be seen by examining the following evidence:

  1. This View Confuses Divine Inspiration and Illumination

    The illumination theory confuses divine inspiration and illumination. Divine inspiration is the special ability that God granted to certain individuals to write Holy Scripture. It was only given to a few individuals and only for a limited duration. It has not been in operation since the time Jesus’ apostles lived upon the earth. On the other hand, the influence of illumination is common to all Christians from the time of the apostles until the present. Illumination is how the Holy Spirit helps believers understand the things of God that are revealed in the Scripture. Only the believer in Jesus Christ, with the help of the Holy Spirit, is able to understand these truths of God. Paul emphasized this as he wrote to the Corinthians:

    The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NET)

    The New Revised Standard Version translates this verse in the following manner:

    Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NRSV)

    Therefore, this view fails to distinguish between the biblical prophet and the preacher. Divine inspiration was limited to a select group of people that God chose to write Scripture; it is not the same as God presently guiding individuals to preach His message. Today, preachers and Bible teachers can make mistakes in the preparation and delivering of God’s truth to His people. However, the biblical writers were supernaturally guided so that they did not make mistakes.

    The distinction between divine inspiration and illumination needs to be understood to avoid confusion.

  2. At Times, the Biblical Writers Did Not Understand What They Recorded

    There is another point that is fatal to this theory; the biblical writers did not always understand what they were writing. Sometimes the biblical writers did not comprehend the full meaning of their writings. We are told that the prophets, at certain times, received truths by divine inspiration, but were denied illumination for the comprehension of these same truths. Peter himself wrote about this:

    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. They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who evangelized you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven?things angels long to catch a glimpse of. (1 Peter 1:10-12 NET)

    Although the Holy Spirit divinely inspired their words, He did not always see fit to give them the understanding of what they meant. Therefore, the words of Scripture did not come about when certain human beings grasped divine truth. It was the result of God supernaturally working in the lives of certain writers to record His truth, and this truth was not always understood by the writers.

  3. If This Theory Is True, Then Why Hasn’t More Scripture Been Written?

    If the Scriptures were merely the result of an illumination possessed by all believers, then why haven’t we had any further revelation since the first century? Why don’t we have a new Bible written today? There would certainly be no reason to deny this possibility if Scripture were merely the result of a gift given to all believers. Yet we do not find any examples of godly people writing new Scripture since the time of the apostles.

  4. No More Scripture Has Been Given Since the First Century

    There is no biblical evidence that God continued to divinely inspire writers after the New Testament era. To the contrary, Jude informs us that the faith has been “once and for all delivered.” He wrote:

    Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3 NKJV)

    There is no need for any more divine revelation where God divinely inspires writers to set forth His truth. The truth of Scripture is now complete. The writer to the Hebrews said that God has spoken with finality through Jesus Christ. He said:

    After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. (Hebrews 1:1-2 NET)

    The Contemporary English Version reads:

    Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. (Hebrews 1:1-2 CEV)

    There is no further need for God to supernaturally reveal His truth to all humanity. He has said all that He needs to say.

Conclusion: Divine Inspiration Was Limited to a Select Few

Divine inspiration was limited to a small group of men whom God specifically chose to use to put His Word in written form to humankind.

It is not a universally shared experience among believers. In addition, not everyone who had the gift of prophecy was divinely inspired to write Scripture. Therefore, divine inspiration does not occur in the present day.

Summary - Question 6
What Is the Illumination Theory of the Authority of Scripture?

The illumination theory of the authority of Scripture says that the writers of the Bible achieved a certain understanding of God’s truth and then revealed it to humanity. That spiritual ability, it is argued, resides in each believer. Consequently, it would be possible for any enlightened believer to receive and deliver God’s truth, as did the biblical writers.

Illumination, however, is not the same thing as divine inspiration. Divine inspiration consists of God originally giving His truth, while illumination refers to human beings understanding that truth. The illumination theory of inspiration confuses the two.

Furthermore, the Bible gives examples of biblical writers who did not understand what God had revealed to them. This demonstrates they had not reached some spiritual plateau to be able to receive God’s Word. In addition, if this were true in the past, then why is it not true today? Why don’t we see more Scripture being written?

This theory opens the door for any believer to compose Holy Scripture when given insights by God. However, this is not necessary because God has spoken with finality in the New Testament. There is no need for any more divine revelation.

What Is Natural Inspiration? (Intuition Theory) ← Prior Section
What Is the Encounter View of the Bible’s Authority? (Barthian, Neoorthodox) 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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