Revelation and Inspiration

The Hiller family of Chicago enjoyed a usual Saturday together.  Clarence spent most of the day painting the trim around his house.  They turned in early that night, and in the wee hours of the morning the Hillers were awakened by a sound.  Little did they know that history was in the making on 19 Sept. 1910.  Clarence went to investigate since he noticed the gaslight by his daughter's room was not working.  The next thing you know, there was the sound of two men scuffling and falling down the stairs.  Then two gun shots were fired and the front door slammed.  Police caught a convicted burglar within a mile of the home whose name was Thomas Jennings.  He had blood on his shirt and had a gun that could have been the murder weapon.  But more evidence was needed.  As the police searched the home, they noticed that an open kitchen window was the point of entrance.  As they looked closely at the fresh paint on the window sill, they found four fingerprints.  No person in the U.S. had ever been convicted by fingerprint evidence.  This technique had just been introduced recently at an international police conference in St. Louis.  This time the pattern of the ridges in the paint exactly matched the fingerprints of Thomas Jennings.  Jennings was convicted, and Illinois' Supreme Court upheld the decision so that Jennings was hanged.  Fingerprint evidence is very common place now in courtrooms.  Not long ago, a man was convicted on a single fingerprint found on the cellophane of a cigarette wrapper.  A fingerprint can sway a jury's decision (Strobel).  In a previous lesson, we discussed God’s existence.  We saw how He was the Grand Designer, the Uncaused Existence, the Unchanging Source, the Greater Rational Being, the Ultimate Good, the Supernatural Spirit, the Greater Conscience, the Joyful Immortal Reality, the Supreme Artist, the Flawless Superiority, the Being of Holy Perfection, and the Divine Author of the Bible.  Since God exists, the next question that we might ask is: “Would this Spirit or Being always remain hidden and beyond our comprehension or would He reveal and communicate more about Himself to mankind?  In what ways would He do this?”  These are some of the questions that we want to answer this morning by looking at the important terms “revelation” and “inspiration”.    

Revelation means “an uncovering or a disclosure of something previously unknown”.  We see then that revelation “is God’s disclosure of Himself through creation, history, the conscience of man, and Scripture” (C. M. Horne in PEB).  God’s revelation has taken place in event and in word.  It is interesting that when we read the first verses in the Bible about God that we see this:  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. … And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.  And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.”  God created—an event, His Spirit hovered—an event, and God said—a word.  Hallelujah!  God did not hold Himself aloof from mankind but manifests Himself through His actions and His words!

There are two types of revelation.  They are called natural and special revelation.  Natural revelation says that mankind can look upon God’s creation, and this can help people to reason toward God.  Psalm 19:1-2 states: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”  By looking at our universe and this special planet called earth, we sense that there must be some Transcendent Cause Who is Immortal and Holy Perfection.  Since we ourselves are intelligent, have complex physical systems, have a conscience, and have a sense of morality, there must be a Designer and Artist of Flawless Superiority who fashioned all of this!  Romans 1:20 states: “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made,” and Acts 14:17 says that God did not leave Himself “without witness, in that He did good and gave you, from heaven, rains and fruitful seasons.”  As important as natural revelation is, it is only a partial manifestation.  It explains the necessity of God and reveals something of His greatness, but it does not help people to know His intentions, attributes, character, or personality.  We see, in essence, that natural revelation starts with the creation and moves upward to God. This is exactly what we did in our previous lesson on God's existence!

When we read in the Bible about God’s deeds and words, we are able to see that God is reaching down to man to manifest Himself to mankind in a much fuller way.  This act of God, of His taking the initiative to reveal Himself, is one of the unique aspects of Christianity that sets it apart from other world religions where man must usually take the initiative to reach up to the divine.  Through special revelation, God allows people to know His intentions, His attributes, His character, and His personality through His acts and words.  One writer states it this way: “God Himself makes Himself known.  He is the true subject of the act.  He teaches what mankind can no longer find out for itself” (G. W. Bromiley ISBN).  “Special revelation is God revealing truth[s] which [people] by no other way or means could have known” (Dickinson).  A great theologian was once asked what was the most profound truth, in his opinion.  His reply was: “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.”  Yes, that’s right.  God’s special revelation, seen in the Bible, has revealed to us the most profound truths!

What are some examples of how God has revealed Himself?  Hebrews 1:1-2 states: “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in times past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom He made the worlds.”  Notice how this verse states that God spoke in various ways in the ancient past.  We might divide God’s special revelation into non-written and written sources.  Many times, God revealed His intentions through visions and dreams (Matthew2:12-13; Acts 10:10).  Sometimes God revealed His will through objects: like casting lots, consulting the urim and thummim, using a rod that blossomed, and hearing His voice in a cloud (Acts 1:26; Numbers 27:21; Numbers 17; Matthew 17:5).  Sometimes God used agents to present His message: like angels, and prophets, and even a donkey (Acts 12:7; Acts 21:10-11; Numbers 22:28).  God revealed His character through miraculous events: such as, the crossing of the Red Sea and the Jordan River, the fall of Jericho’s walls, the defeat of armies who opposed Israel, the resurrection of Jesus, the establishment of the church.  Sometimes, God even spoke directly to another person—to Moses, to certain prophets, to Christ, to the apostle Paul.  We also see that God also spoke through written communication: God wrote the Ten Commandments on tablets of stone (Deuteronomy 5:22); God instructs Jeremiah to put His words in scroll for the king to read (Jeremiah 36:27-31); Luke says that he wanted to write an orderly account with the help of other sources (Luke 1:3).  Aren't we thankful that God did not keep quiet but provided us with a special revelation from about 40 men over 1500 years?  One writer has correctly made this comparison: “All things being true, one might expect that a group of men who were so different, writing on such unrelated subjects, over such a lengthy period of time, would have produced a book that was a tangled mishmash of inconsistencies, errors, and absurdities.  Yet this is not the case.  In fact, quite the opposite is true.  It shows an astounding harmony, such consistent flow, and such amazing unity that no naturalistic explanation can account for it.  It is as if the Bible were a magnificent symphony orchestrated by a single Conductor.  The 'musicians' each may have played a different instrument, in a different place, at a different time, but when the talented Conductor combined the individual efforts, the end result was a striking masterpiece” (Bell and Campbell)!  The Bible is really a miracle!

Now let's look a moment at the concept of inspiration.  If revelation is “the revealing of truth by God to a specified person, then inspiration is God's guidance of that writer or speaker in a way that the truth made known to them might be written or spoken [without error]” (Dickinson).  While revelation is “the body of truth which God desired men to possess, inspiration is the way in which He gave this body of truth to men” (Woods in Dickinson).  Revelation is the communication of information, and inspiration God's work to secure the infallibility or correctness of that teaching.  “Inspiration includes the superintending work of the Holy Spirit, whether what was written came to the writer by direct communication from God, from his own research, from his own experience, or from [other] records” (H. Lindsell PEB).

Now let's look at five terms often associated with inspiration: infallibility, inerrancy, confluence, plenary, and verbal.  Infallibility means that what is written in the Bible is utterly trustworthy and free from being deceptive.  Inerrancy means “when all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible in its original autographs [or manuscripts]... is entirely true and never false in all it affirms, whether that relates to doctrine or ethics or to the social, physical, or life sciences” (P. D. Feinberg).  Confluence is the joint effort that went into writing the Scriptures—there was the human writer and the Holy Spirit working together.  We see that the Bible's “words, though written by men and bearing ... the marks of their human origin, were written [also] under such influence of the Holy [Spirit] as to be the words of God, the adequate expression of His mind and will” (Warfield in Dickinson).  Plenary comes from the Latin word meaning “full,” so it means that all parts of the Bible are equally and fully inspired.  Verbal means that every word of the Bible is there because God willed it so.  Here's an accurate affirmation that shows the relationship of all these concepts: “The Bible in its entirety is God's written Word to man, free from error in its original autographs [or manuscripts], wholly reliable in history and doctrine.  Its divine inspiration has rendered the Book 'infallible' (incapable of teaching deception) and 'inerrant' (not liable to prove false or mistaken).  Its inspiration is 'plenary' (extending to all parts alike), 'verbal' (including the actual language form), and 'confluent' (the product of two agents, human and divine).  Inspiration involves infallibility as an essential property, and infallibility in turn implies inerrancy.  This threefold designation of Scripture is implicit in the basic thesis of biblical authority” (Pinnock in Dickinson).

As we saw, fingerprints can often be used as evidence in a courtroom.  What are some of “the fingerprints” that point to the Bible as being God's Word?  First of all, there is the fingerprint of factual accuracy.  Whenever the Bible has mentioned kings, civilizations, and locations of countries and cites, its accuracy has been confirmed time and time again by archeological discoveries.  For example, Sir William Ramsey, a British archeologist, set out to prove that the book of Acts was full of fiction.  So he spent 15 years following the travels of the apostle Paul as told in Acts.  He then wrote a book saying that he had become a Christian and that Luke was a very accurate historian because all his references had been verified.  Secondly, there is the fingerprint of coherent unity of theme, structure, and focus.  The theme--Sinful humanity is redeemed by God's grace.  The structure—The Old Testament's prophecies and foreshadowings are revealed while in the New Testament those prophecies are fulfilled and those foreshadowings are completed.  The focus—Jesus is coming (the Old Testament's message), Jesus has come (the Gospel's message), and Jesus will come again (the letters' message).  Thirdly, there is the fingerprint of unbiased impartiality.  Ever noticed how the Bible gives both the virtues and the vices of its characters?  An English dignitary was having a portrait painted.  The painter was tempted not to paint the big wart on his nose, but the dignitary said, “No, paint me warts and all.”  That how the Bible presents people—with warts and all!  The Holy Spirit shows no favoritism.  After the Jews exaltation as God’s people in the Old Testament, we find no nation taking prominence in the New Testament because the Gospel is for all peoples and the church is God's new family.  Fourthly, there is the fingerprint of biblical prophecy.  Prophecies in regards to nations, cities, people, events, and especially about Christ were made hundreds of years in advance, with detailed specifics being given.  God once challenged the pagan gods to reveal the future to show their power (Isaiah 41:21ff).  Fifthly, there is the fingerprint of scientific foreknowledge.  The Bible is not a book of science, but it is interesting to see how later scientific discoveries were already found in its pages: Noah's ark was built with an exact ratio for seagoing vessels; the Israelites were using many practices of good hygiene, the laws of thermodynamics are upheld, and the water cycle is mentioned (just to name only a few of these).  Sixthly, there is the fingerprint of enduring quality.  King Jehoiakim tried to destroy God's word, and so have many others down through the centuries.  In an interesting irony, Voltaire once said that in 50 years the Bible would be antiquated, but 50 years after his death, the Geneva Bible Society used his press at his house to produce stacks of Bibles!  Despite the skeptics and communist leaders work to eradicate the Bible, it continues to be the world's bestseller.  Seventhly, there is the Bible's positive influence upon mankind.  Abraham Lincoln said, “Take all this book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.”  The American Bible society once conducted an interesting experiment in Chicago in our generation.  They chose a five-block area in a district with one of the highest crime rates in the city and flooded it with 7000 copies of the Gospel of John.  They included an invitation for anyone who wanted more reading material to send for a copy of the complete New Testament.  They received around 200 requests.  The district police captain later reported that the crime rate in the area dropped dramatically in one month's time.  The same experiment produced similar results in another area with a high crime rate.  Eighthly, there is the fingerprint of divine communication.  God tells men to write His words about 400 times.  The prophets use the expression “Thus says the Lord” about 350 times.  Jesus upholds the teachings of the Old Testament—its statements, its characters, its miracles, its references to historical events.  Jesus, who is the truth, endorsed them all as being true!  Peter calls the writings of Paul “Scriptures” in 2 Peter 3:14-16.  But what about all those contradictions that people often throw up?  One writer was right on target with these words: “That there are divergences of biblical accounts, that biblical writers describe the same things from different perspectives, is not in dispute.  Whether those varied accounts are, in fact, contradictory is in dispute. ... These problems are few and far between.  To say that the Bible is full of contradictions is a radical exaggeration and reflects a misunderstanding of the law of contradiction” (Sproul).  The Bible truly has God’s fingerprints all over it!  It is not just an ordinary anthology; it is a collection of sacred writings!  The Bible is really a miracle! 

But does the Bible ever make the claims that it has been written under inspiration?  Indeed it does!  Let's look quickly at four passages.  The first is 1 Corinthians 2:4,7,10,13: “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. ... But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory. ... But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit.  For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. ... These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”  “Paul says here that the mystery of the gospel was revealed.  It was not spoken by the wisdom of men but by the wisdom of God.  It was not expressed in man's choice of words but by the words guided by the Holy Spirit” (Dickinson).  Now let's read Ephesians 3:3-6: “How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel.”  Paul says that he has been given a revelation by God.  It was hidden to men in the past, but now it can be read and understood by all.  The Spirit disclosed truths to God’s prophets and apostles.  Those truths are that the Gentiles can now be saved in the church through the preaching of the gospel about Christ!  Now let's look at 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  Literally, this passage says that all Scriptures, a reference to the Old Testament, is literally God breathed.  We know also, however, that the New Testament letters were later seen as Scriptures too.  The books of the Bible can complete and equip us because they are not simply the words of men!  Lastly, let's look at 2 Peter 1:20-21: “Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.”  The first part of this verse is saying that men did not write down the results of their own research or their own opinions.  No, indeed, the writers were moved by the Holy Spirit.  The word “moved” was used in Peter’s day to refer to a ship being driven along by the wind.  “The Holy Spirit [was] working in and with the human writers in the process of inspiration.  The writers did not act on their own; they were driven along by the Spirit” (Dickinson).  The Bible is really a miracle!

Aren't we thankful that God did NOT remain hidden and silent?  Hallelujah!  He manifested Himself through natural and special revelation.  He guided the process of the Bible's making so that the product with be infallible and inerrant.  He did not leave mankind in the dark without hope.  The Bible really is a miracle!  One writer has rightly observed: 'Standing outside the umbrella of Scripture is not a privilege of Christian freedom; it is the fool's paradise of rationalism.  For it does not place one in the clearer light of direct revelation, but in the inky murky blackness of no revelation at all.  This darkness in the end reduces the whole universe to an inhuman machine without personal origins, and condemns human life to tragic futility” (Pinnock in Dickinson).  It leaves man wandering aimlessly through time without hope and without promise” (Dickinson).  Without the Bible, God’s special revelation, life would be pretty grim, miserable, and painful.  The Bible has revealed that God wants to get ever closer to man.  Remember, God dwelt with the Jews early on in a tabernacle and then in a temple.  But then God dwelt among the Jews and Gentiles in a person—in the divine and human Jesus.  But God still wanted to get closer.  So He sent His Spirit to dwell within those who are Jesus' followers at the founding of the church!  He wants to be close to each one of us, but He does not intrude or compel.  He gives us the choice as to how close we will let Him come.  Won't you be swayed by the evidence of God's fingerprints?  Won't you accept the Bible as God's Word?  Won't you strive to live your life after its inspired teachings?