Inspiration & Revelation, Reaction Paper Example

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Reaction Paper

God communicates with human beings through revelation, both general, through nature and other means, and special, to lead them to salvation. In some instances, the Holy Spirit inspired people to record these revelations, in the Holy Bible. Inspiration and revelation are often interdependent, but they are not the same: revelation is how God communicates, while inspiration is how God assures us of the truth of revelation.

Revelation is the way in which God communicates with human beings, revealing himself and making himself known.[1] There are two main forms of revelation: general revelation and special revelation. General revelation is how God reveals himself to us through his creations, including nature and human beings, and through his actions in human history.[2] General revelation is called ‘general’ for two main reasons: firstly, because it is accessible to everyone, and secondly, because the message of God that it brings is less specific than special revelation.[3] As Psalms 19 says: “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.”[4] Similarly, Psalms 8 declares: “LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens.” [5] God reveals himself to us in nature, in a way that should command our attention and worship. Romans 1:19-20 is one of the most commonly cited passages in support of general revelation: “[S]ince what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”[6]

God’s human creations are the second part of general revelation: because God created human beings in his image, as Gen. 1:26-27 declares, certain aspects of human nature and personhood bear testimony to the hand of God.[7] Scripture tells us that God is very closely involved with our lives, even before we are born. As God said to the prophet Jeremiah: “’Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.’”[8] God is intimately concerned with our lives: he creates and sustains us, and gives us a kind of general awareness of himself, though it takes special revelation for us to encounter his specific plans for our lives, as will shortly be seen. Moreover, God also gives all people the capacity for morality and spirituality, and this is an important part of general revelation through human beings, even those who do not believe.[9] Romans 2 explains that even unbelievers are capable of doing right, because God has given everyone a conscience: “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves… They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness…”[10]

Even the fact that all cultures, in all places and times, have had some kind of spirituality is testament to God’s general revelation: God has given all people something of a yearning for himself.[11] Without the special revelation of the Gospel, many people have responded by worshipping false gods, but even this attests to their recognition of the need for some idea of the divine and the holy.[12] As the book of Acts relates, in the city of Lystra a crowd tried to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods after they performed a miracle, and the apostles responded by saying: “’Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them.’”[13]

The third aspect of general revelation is God’s intervention in human history. Here, however, there is a problem: although scripture is clear that God is working through history to affect his divine plans, it is not always clear whether the outcome of a specific event can be said to be the result of God’s providential hand in history.[14] Probably one of the best examples of the general revelation of God’s hand in history is the remarkable persistence of God’s chosen people, the Jews, who have survived many persecutions and displacements over the course of centuries.[15] Scripture is also very clear that God does indeed intervene in the fortunes of nations: “He makes nations great, and destroys them; he enlarges nations, and disperses them.”[16]

Special revelation differs from general revelation, in that it is quite specific: through special revelation in the Bible, God revealed his nature and laid out the plan of salvation.[17] Specifically, then, special revelation is God’s revelation through scripture, and many of the events recorded in scripture.[18] Of course, Jesus Christ was the ultimate example of special revelation: as God in human form, he came not only to teach us of God’s ways and God’s will, but also to pay the price for our sins so that we could enter into a relationship with him.[19] As Christ himself said: “’I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.’”[20]

As Berkhof explained, the miracles recorded in the Bible were themselves examples of special revelation. Thus, special revelation encompasses both words, i.e. teachings about God’s nature and will, and deeds, i.e. things that God has done, and is doing, and will do.[21] But still more specifically, it is also God’s revelation of himself to specific people or even groups of people, whether in biblical times or contemporary times: just as God revealed himself to biblical figures such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, and the nation of Israel, so too he reveals himself to believers today.[22] As the scripture says: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”[23]

Inspiration is defined in terms of God’s influence on the writing of scripture: to say that scripture is ‘inspired’ is to say that it came from God’s mind, and was communicated by him to the people who wrote the Bible.[24] Perhaps the best-known scripture passage on this topic is 2 Timothy 3:16-17, which states: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”[25] Thus, inspiration means that all scripture comes from God, and is therefore useful to believers for advancing their walks with the Lord. In other words, inspiration is equivalent to accuracy and validity: to say that the Bible is inspired means that it is an accurate and valid testimony, or revelation, of God.[26] Inspiration is therefore distinct from revelation, in that it is God’s guarantee that the revelation is true and accurate. As Erickson explained, inspiration has occurred without revelation: “The Holy Spirit in some instances moved Scripture writers to record the words of unbelievers, words that certainly were not divinely revealed.” Conversely, there have also been cases when God revealed himself in some way, but “did not inspire anyone to write them down”, as referenced in John 21:25.[27] Finally, there are also different ideas about what it means for scripture to be inspired: for example, did God dictate every word to the biblical writers, or did he move in their hearts such that they expressed his thoughts, but in their words? The first view is called ‘mechanical inspiration’, while the second is called ‘organic inspiration’.[28] Personally, I have to agree with Berkhof that organic inspiration is more biblical, in light of the fact that many of the biblical writers drew on personal experiences, and often responded to specific situations. This view does not diminish the hand of God in the writing of scripture, however, because it argues that God used the authors of the books of the Bible in an active and dynamic way.[29]

Through general revelation, God communicates something of himself to all people in nature, in human hearts, and through history. While this is important, it takes special revelation to have a saving knowledge of God through Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. Only through special revelation can one understand who God is, and his desire for a relationship with us. Finally, inspiration is how God guarantees the validity of his revelations to us, in that he inspired the writers of the Bible. The two concepts are closely linked, but they are not always interdependent, and they do not mean exactly the same thing.

Bibliography

Bilezikian, Gilbert. Christianity 101: Your Guide to Eight Basic Christian Beliefs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993.

Berkhof, Louis. Systematic Theology, New Combined Ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology, 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007.

[1] Gilbert Bilezikian, Christianity 101: Your Guide to Eight Basic Christian Beliefs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 3.

[2] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 4.

[3] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2007), 178.

[4] Ps. 19:1-2 (New International Version).

[5] Ps. 8:1 (New International Version).

[6] Rom. 1:19-20 (New International Version).

[7] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 4.

[8] Jer. 1:5 (New International Version).

[9] Erickson, Christian Theology, 180.

[10] Rom. 2:14-15 (New International Version).

[11] Erickson, Christian Theology, 180.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Acts 14:15 (New International Version).

[14] Erickson, Christian Theology, 179.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Job 12:23 (New International Version).

[17] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 5.

[18] Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, new comb. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1996), 133, 136.

[19] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 5-6.

[20] John 14:6-7 (New International Version).

[21] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 136.

[22] Erickson, Christian Theology, 203.

[23] 2 Cor. 5:17 (New International Version).

[24] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 10; Erickson, Christian Theology, 225.

[25] 2 Tim. 3:16-17 (New International Version).

[26] Bilezikian, Christianity 101, 10.

[27] Erickson, Christian Theology, 226.

[28] Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 151, 152.

[29] Ibid., 153.

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