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Don Stewart :: What's the Difference between Divine Inspiration and Illumination?

Don Stewart

Some people confuse divine inspiration, and illumination. Illumination is the divine influence of God's Spirit that helps individuals understand the truth of God contained in the Bible. Illumination is something that comes directly from the Holy Spirit and is available to every believer. Paul wrote.

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God . . . Those who are natural 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 2:10,14)

When Peter confessed Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus said to him.

And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven" (Matthew 16:17).

Illumination Is For Believers Only

The Holy Spirit can illumine only believers. However Scripture says that unbelievers can actually make divinely inspired utterances. For example, the Holy Spirit divinely inspired the words of the High Priest Caiaphas.

But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed." He did not say this on his own, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus was about to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the dispersed children of God (John 11:49-52).

He uttered a divinely inspired message without being conscious of it. At that moment he was divinely inspired of God, but not illumined by the Holy Spirit - seeing that he did not understand the import of what he had just said.

Illumination Does Not Have The Same Duration As Divine Inspiration

Divine inspiration is something that happened only periodically to the writers of Scripture - God did not divinely inspire them every moment of their life.

Illumination, on the other hand, can be permanent. The anointing that the believer receives stays with them. John wrote.

But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth (1 John 2:20).

On the other hand, divine inspiration was something that was only intermittent - the prophets could not prophesy whenever they wanted to. Scripture says the prophets wrote as the Holy Spirit moved them.

Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation (2 Peter 1:20).

This can also be found in expressions as, "The Word of the Lord came to Jonah," "God spoke to Moses," etc.

Illumination Reveals No New Truth

Illumination does not reveal new truth but rather gives understanding of old truth. We read, for example, of the conversation between two disciples that walked with Jesus on the road to Emmaus on the day of His resurrection.

And they said to one another, "Were not our hearts burning within us while he was speaking to us on the road, while he was explaining the Scriptures to us" (Luke 24:32).

Later that day, Jesus appeared to His disciples.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:32).

Jesus explained, or illumined to them, what the written words of Scripture meant.

There Were True And False Prophets

Scripture makes a distinction between the true prophets who spoke as the Lord led them and false prophets who spoke a message according their own devising. Jeremiah wrote.

Then the LORD said to me, "The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds" (Jeremiah 14:14).

Later Jeremiah recorded the Lord saying.

Both prophet and priest are godless; even in my temple I find their wickedness," declares the LORD. . . This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Do not listen to what the prophets are prophesying to you; they fill you with false hopes. They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD" (Jeremiah 23:11,16).

Ezekiel recorded God saying.

Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination (Ezekiel 13:2).

There Were Degrees Of Illumination, Not Of Divine Inspiration

People vary as to the degree they are illumined to understand God's Word. Some have greater insight than others. However in the case of divine inspiration, a person is either divinely inspired or they are not. There are no degrees of divine inspiration.

There Is No More Divine Inspiration But There Still Is Illumination

Divine inspiration, as far as the biblical sense of the term, is not happening any longer. God is not adding any "divinely inspired, or authoritative words" to Scripture. This was completed with the New Testament.

Illumination, however, continues to this day. Each believer guided by the Holy Spirit has the opportunity to understand and appreciate the great truths of the Word of God.

Illumination Needed To Understand Scripture

Believers need to receive illumination to understand the divine revelation. When Jesus spoke to two disciples on the Emmaus road on the day of His resurrection, He said to them.

Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself (Luke 24:26,27).


Illumination is the God-given ability to believers to understand divine truth. All genuine believers have this ability through the Holy Spirit. It is not possible for unbelievers to receive this divine illumination.

Illumination is not the same as divine inspiration. Divine inspiration happened only periodically in the lives of certain believers whom God chose to write Scripture. Divine inspiration, in the biblical sense, is no longer occurring. God's Word is complete. Illumination is an ongoing process that continues throughout the life of the believer. It is imperative that believers receive the illumination from God's Spirit in order to understand biblical truth.

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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