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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Inspiration And Revelation

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Definition of terms.-Revelation is the ‘discovery’ or ‘disclosure’ (ἀποκάλυψις) of God (i.e. of the being and character of God) to man. Inspiration is the mode, or one of the modes, by which this discovery or disclosure is made; it is the process by which certain select persons were enabled, through the medium of speech or of writing, to convey special information about God to their fellows.

It will be obvious that the two terms must be closely related. To a large extent they are strictly correlative. Revelation is in large part the direct product of inspiration. The select persons of whom we have spoken imparted revelation about God because they were inspired to impart it. So far as revelation has been conveyed by speech or writing we call the process inspiration; we say that holy men of old spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost (2 Peter 1:21). What is meant by this we shall explain later.

A. Revelation.-Revelation is the wider term. There is such a thing as revelation by facts, as well as by words. And revelation by facts is again of two kinds: there is the broad revelation of God in Nature; and there is also a special revelation of God in history.

1. Revelation by facts

(a) Revelation of God in Nature.-The Jew under the OT rose up from the contemplation of Nature with an intense belief in Divine Providence. For him the heavens declared the glory of God, and the firmament showed His handiwork. The sight of the heavens brought home to him the contrast between the majesty of God and the littleness of man. The phenomena of storm and tempest heightened his sense of Divine power and of the goodness which intervened for his own protection. The beneficent ordering of Nature turned his thoughts to thankfulness and praise (Psalms 65, 104). The tendency of the Hebrew mind was towards optimism. His religious faith was so strong that the darker side of Nature did not trouble him; its destructive energies only filled him with awe, or else he regarded them as directed against his own enemies and God’s. The questions that perplexed him most arose not so much from Nature as from the observation of human life.

The most pressing problem of all was the sufferings of the righteous and the prosperity of the wicked. To this problem are devoted several Psalms and the whole Book of Job. But, however urgent the problem might be and however imperfect the solution, it never shook the deep-rooted faith that was Israel’s greatest heritage. The same may be said even of the complicated questions which exercise the author of Ecclesiastes-a late and comparatively isolated phenomenon.

(b) Revelation of God in history.-The truth which Israel grasped with the greatest tenacity was the intimacy of its own relation to God as the Chosen People. Not all the shocks which it endured in its political career, tossed to and fro as a shuttlecock between its more powerful neighbours, could weaken its hold on this. It idealized its history-emphasized its deliverances, dwelt on its few moments of comparative greatness and prosperity, and explained its own decline as due to its faithlessness and disobedience. It saw the hand of God throughout, even through suffering and failure, guiding it in unexpected ways towards the better fulfilment of its mission. The nation became a Church; and even in exile and dispersion Israel still bore witness to its God. Then, on the top of all this, comes Christianity. Another apparently insignificant series of facts-the Life and Death of One who lived as a peasant in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire-is followed by enormous consequences. A wave of religious enthusiasm passed over an exhausted world, and its veins were filled with new life which has lasted down to the present day.

2. Revelation in word.-Ideally speaking, it might be supposed that the historical panorama roughly sketched above would impress itself on the mind of all observers; that, so far as it contained a revelation of God, that revelation would be intuitively apprehended. But to expect this would have been to expect too much, especially when we think of the poor and low beginnings from which the human race has gradually risen. It has always needed leaders and teachers. Large and penetrating views, such as those involved in the process we have been describing, have always belonged to the few rather than to the many, and have been mediated to the many through the few. In this way it will be seen that revelation by facts has had to be supplemented by revelation conveyed in words. The facts have been there all the time; but, apart from Divine stimulus and guidance, working upon minds sensitive to them, the great mass of mankind would have allowed them to pass unheeded. The pressure of mere physical needs is so great that ordinary humanity would be apt to be absorbed in them, if it were not for the influence of a select few more highly endowed than the rest. But these select few have never been wanting-not in Israel alone but in every race of men, and conspicuously in those races that we call the ‘higher.’ The Divine education of mankind has always worked in this way-by an infinite number of graduated steps, leading men onwards from one truth to another, from truths that are simple and partial and rude in expression to other truths that are more complex and more comprehensive, more nicely adjusted to the facts which they embrace.

There is thus a natural transition from revelation by fact to revelation by word. The fact comes first; it is there, so that all who run may read. But it is not read, because it is not understood; it is a bare fact; it needs an interpreter. And the interpretation is supplied by the inspired man who speaks and writes, who seizes on the secret and then publishes it to the world.

3. Apostolic treatment of these matters.-This, then, is substantially what we find in the OT, and in the Jewish writings which follow upon the OT. The prophets and psalmists and wise men lead the way in expressing the feelings aroused by the contemplation of God in Nature and in history. Such Scriptures as Psalms 19:1-6; Psalms 65, 104, Isaiah 40:12-17 are spontaneous outbursts excited by the external world; such passages as Job 38:39, (cf. 2 Maccabees 9:8) enforce the lesson of Psalms 8:3 f.; Psalms 77:11-20; Psalms 105; Psalms 106, Habakkuk 3 are typical retrospects of the hand of God in Israel’s history; Proverbs 8:22-31, Job 28, Sirach 24, Wisdom 7, 8 are equally typical examples of the praise of Divine Wisdom as expressed in creation and in the ordering of human life.

All this the apostolic writers inherited, and they go a step further in philosophizing upon it. They not only give expression to the feelings which the contemplation of the works of God excites in them, but they distinctly recognize the different forms of external revelation as parts of the method of Divine Providence in dealing with men. The most instructive passages from this point of view are to be found in the speeches of Acts, both in those addressed to heathen (as in Acts 14:15-17; Acts 17:22-31) and in those addressed to Jews (as in Acts 7; Acts 13:16-41). We need not enter into the question how far these speeches represent what was actually spoken on the occasions referred to, and how far they embody what the historian thought appropriate to those occasions. A comparison of the speeches attributed to St. Paul with the contents of the Pauline Epistles would suggest that, however much the shaping of the discourse may be due to the historian, he probably had before him some authentic notes or traditions of the discourses actually delivered (cf. Journal of Theological Studies xi. [1910] 171-173). In any case, the views expressed seem to have been practically common to all the leaders of Christian thought. We may, therefore, proceed to set them forth without discriminating between different circles. At the same time the major part of the extant evidence is derived (mediately or immediately) from St. Paul.

(a) Of the revelation of God in Nature.-It is to be noted that, although St. Paul shared to the full his countrymen’s horror of idolatry-both as inherently wrong in itself and because of its corrupting influences-he nevertheless clearly recognized the elements of good in heathen religions, and regarded them as having a place in the wider order of Divine Providence. The heathen, too-with God’s revelation of Himself in Nature before them-had ample opportunities of knowing God, and it was only by their own deliberate fault that they suppressed and ignored this knowledge (Romans 1:18-21).

And yet all was not lost. God had implanted in the human breast the desire for Himself; men were seeking Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him; even pagan poets had realized that mankind was His offspring (Acts 17:27-28). He took care that they should not be left without witness to His goodness, in that He gave them from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, filling their hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17).

We observe how the Apostle singles out at once the best and the most prominent side of pagan religion, making abstraction of its worst features. The most urgent of human needs was that the earth should bring forth fruits in their seasons. Men were conscious of this, and they were really thankful for the bounty of Nature. At the bottom of most of the pagan cults that prevailed over the East-as, for instance, in the wide-spread worship under the names of Osiris, Adonis, Attis-was the celebration of seed-time and harvest. What there was of evil mixed up with such worship was a product of the root of evil in the human heart, and was capable of being eliminated without loss to the fundamental idea.

The revelation of God in Nature was thus not altogether in vain. And there was another form of revelation which came really under this head. There was a certain reflexion of God in the heart of man: His will was made known through the conscience. And here, too, there was many a pagan who, though without the privileges which the Jew enjoyed through the possession of a written law, faithfully observed such inner law as he had. St. Paul fully recognized this, and used it as an a fortiori argument addressed to his own Jewish converts, and to those whom he desired to make his converts.

Another point that may be worth noting is that, when St. Paul appeals to the revelation of God in Nature, he singles out in particular those attributes of God as revealed which the impression derived from Nature is best calculated to convey: ‘the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity’ (Romans 1:20; cf. Wisdom of Solomon 13:1). The truths that Nature can tell us about God are not the whole truth; it can tell us of His power and majesty and Divine sovereignty, but it cannot of itself make known the infinite tenderness of His love. Nature has its destructive aspect as well as its aspect of beneficence; and even Nature, as we see it, appears to be infected with the taint which is seen most conspicuously in man. To judge from external Nature taken by itself, it might well seem that a malign as well as a gracious Power was at work behind it. Caliban on Setebos is not wholly without reason. For a complete revelation of God we must supplement the data derived from this source by those which are derived from history, and especially from the culminating series of events in all history-the events bound up in the origin and spread of Christianity. It is these preeminently, and indeed these alone, which bring home to us the full conviction that God in the deepest depths of His being is essentially and unchangeably Love. (For strong indictments of Nature as it actually exists, see J. S. Mill, Three Essays on Religion, London, 1874, pp. 28-31; and the hypothesis of a Cacodaemon in R. A. Knox, Some Loose Stones, do., 1913, p. 25f.).

(b) Of the revelation of God in history.-When the apostles or Christians of the first generation preach to Jews, their preaching, so far as we have record of it, is always an appeal to history, sometimes on a larger scale, sometimes on a smaller. When the preaching is fullest and most systematic, it starts from a survey, more or less complete, of the history of Israel as a Heilsgeschichte or scheme of Redemption, pre-determined in the counsels of God and worked out in the history of the Chosen People. This begins of right with the choice of Abraham and the patriarchs (Acts 7:2-16; Acts 13:17; cf. Acts 3:13). Then come Moses and the deliverance from Egypt (Acts 7:20-36) and the royal line culminating in David (Acts 7:45 f.; Acts 13:22, Acts 15:16). Both Moses and David prophesied of One who was to come in the aftertime-Moses, of a prophet like himself (Acts 3:22 f., Acts 7:37); David, of a descendant of his own who should not see corruption (Acts 2:29-31; Acts 13:34-37). This leads on to a bold affirmation of the fulfilment of these and of other prophecies in the Life, Death, and Resurrection of Christ (Acts 2:22-24; Acts 3:13-15; Acts 3:24; Acts 10:39-43; Acts 13:23-37; Acts 26:22-23). In the Epistles especial stress is laid upon the two salient facts of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:3 f., Romans 4:24 f., and in many other places). These two great acts have a significance beyond themselves, as the basis and guarantee of the Christian’s hope of salvation. The historic scheme is completed by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, itself also a fulfilment of prophecy (Acts 2:16; Acts 2:33).

The long series of historical facts is given, and, taken together, they constitute a broad, definite, objective revelation. But if that revelation had remained alone without comment and interpretation, it would have passed unregarded, or at least imperfectly realized and understood.

(c) It is at this point that the other form of revelation comes in-revelation by word. And at the same point we may also cross over to the consideration of that other great factor in our subject-the inspiration by which the revelation is conveyed. There is what may be called a classical passage in the First Epistle to the Corinthians, in which the two conceptions meet in a way that throws clear light upon both.

B. Inspiration

1. The fundamental passage

1 Corinthians 2:7-16.-We cannot do better than begin our discussion of inspiration with this passage, which must be given in full: ‘We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, even the wisdom that hath been hidden, which God foreordained before the worlds unto our glory: which none of the rulers of this world knoweth: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory: but as it is written, Things which eye saw not, and ear heard not, And which entered not into the heart of man, Whatsoever things God prepared for them that love him. But unto us God revealed them through the Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For who among men knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of the man, which is in him? Even so the things of God none knoweth, save the Spirit of God. But we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. Which things also we speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, and he himself is judged of no man. For who hath known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.’

2. The two modes of inspiration.-We have seen that there are two distinct modes of revelation, which may be called primary and secondary, or objective and subjective: the one a series of facts, the other embodying the interpretation of those facts. Inspiration corresponds to the second of these modes; it has to do with interpretation; it is the process by which God has made known His nature, His will, and His purpose in regard to man. But there is some difference in the way in which inspiration works, according as it is (a) intermediate between the series of facts and the interpretation, dependent upon the facts and coextensive with them, or (b) as it were, a new beginning in itself-what might be called a direct communication from God. Speaking broadly, it may be said that the prophetic inspiration of the OT was mainly of this latter type, while the Christian or apostolic inspiration of the NT was mainly of the former. Such distinctions are indeed only relative. The prophets also frequently presuppose those objective revelations through Nature and history of which we have spoken. And yet the great difference between the prophets and the apostles is just this, that the outstanding Christian facts-the Incarnation or Life, the Death, and the Resurrection of Christ-have intervened between them. In the one case a preparation had to be made, the first advances had to be taken and the foundation laid; in the other case the foundation was already laid, and the chief task which remained for the Christian teacher was one of interpretation. We shall return to this distinction presently, when we try to map out the course which the Christian revelation as a whole has taken. But in the meantime we must go back to our fundamental passage, and seek with its help to acquire a better understanding of the nature of inspiration.

3. The psychology of inspiration.-We begin by observing that the passage is descriptive specially of the Christian or apostolic inspiration. It is, indeed, possible to generalize from it and to treat it as applying to the inspiration of the OT as well as of the NT. Yet the passage implies throughout what we have called the Christian facts-the whole historical series of revelations culminating in Jesus Christ. The preaching which the Apostle has in his mind has for its object that those to whom it is addressed might know-i.e. intelligently know, grasp, and understand-the things that were freely given to them by God, the whole bountiful purpose of God in Christ, the Incarnation with all that led up to it and that followed from it-its consequences nearer and more remote.

And now we must try to analyze the passage and see what it contains. There are two trains of thought.

(a) The knowledge which inspiration imparts is wholly exceptional and sui generis. It is not possessed by the worldly-wise or by the most powerful of secular rulers. It was their ignorance of it which led to the terrible mistake of not recognizing but crucifying the Messiah when He came. It is a knowledge-chiefly of values, of values in the spiritual sphere, of the spiritual forces at work in the world. The knowledge of these values is hidden from the mass of mankind. Any criticism of those who possess it by those who do not possess it is futile. It is as if the critics were devoid of a natural sense-like the varied hues of Nature to the colour-blind, or the world of musical sound to those who have no ear. The expert in this new knowledge stands apart by himself: he can judge, but he cannot be judged; he is superior to the world around him.

(b) If it is asked how he came by this knowledge, the answer is that it was imparted to him by the Holy Spirit acting upon his own spirit. It is a well-known peculiarity of the psychology of St. Paul that he often mentions the Divine Spirit and the human spirit together in such a way that they seem to run into each other. It is often hard to tell whether ‘spirit’ should be spelt with a capital or not; the thought passes backwards and forwards with the finest shades of transition. A good example may be seen in several passages of Romans 8 : e.g. v. 9f.: ‘But ye are not in the flesh, but in the spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness’; and again, v. 14f.: ‘For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For ye received not the spirit of bondage again unto fear; but ye received the spirit of adoption, whereby we cry, Abba, Father.’ In the former passage, the domination of the spiritual part or higher self of man is brought about by the operation of the Spirit of God (or of Christ) which is described as ‘dwelling in him,’ and the result is that the human spirit is instinct with life and immortality, and triumphs over death. In the latter passage, a like operation of the Divine Spirit results in an attitude of the human spirit; without any line of demarcation between to indicate where the one ends and the other begins. The reason for these subtle transitions would seem to be that, while the subject of them is conscious of Divine influence within him, that influence is felt in a part of his being which is beyond the reach of conscious analysis; it is one of those sub-conscious and unconscious motions which are known only by their effects and do not come within the cognizance of the reflective reason. There is something more than an affinity between the human spirit and the Divine; when the one is in contact with the other, it is beyond our power to distinguish the point of junction or to say with dogmatic precision, ‘Thus far and no further.’

When it is said that the Spirit searches the deep things of God and then bestows a knowledge of these deep things on men, it is not meant that there is a mechanical transference of information. The process is dynamic, and not mechanical. What is meant is that the same Holy Spirit which mirrors, as it were, the consciousness of Deity, so acts upon the human faculties, so stimulates and directs them, as to produce in them a consciousness of God which is after its own pattern. The self-consciousness of God must needs be in itself altogether transcendent and incommunicable; the reflexion of it in the heart of man is not absolute, but relative; it is expressed in human measures; it is still a reaching forth of the human soul towards God, feeling after Him if haply it may find Him. But it is such a reaching forth as is κατὰ θεόν (Romans 8:27), what God would have it to be, a human product stamped with Divine sanction and approval.

4. Prophetic inspiration.-The above is an explanation-so far as explanation can be given-of the process of inspiration. It really covers all the varied forms that inspiration can take. But it is natural to ask in what relation it stands to the prophecy of the OT.

The prophetic inspiration is really the outstanding phenomenon of the OT. It is the fundamental attribute which gives to the OT its character as a sacred book; it marks the point at which God meets man; it is Israel’s most characteristic possession.

Comparing what we know of OT prophecy with the account just given of inspiration by St. Paul, there is nothing that clashes or is essentially different. It is only the difference of a simpler and a more advanced dispensation. OT prophecy is best known by its effects. The main note of it is that certain men spoke with an authority conferred upon them directly by God; they were empowered to say, ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ In the earlier documents stress is frequently laid on the giving of ‘signs’ as proofs that a prophet’s mission is from God (Exodus 4:1 ff., Exodus 4:30 f., 1 Samuel 2:34, 1 Kings 13:3, 2 Kings 19:29; 2 Kings 20:8 ff., Isaiah 7:10 ff.), and a test is laid down for distinguishing true from false prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:21 f. But in the days when prophecy was most active the confidence (πληροφορία) with which the prophet spoke would seem to have been taken as credentials enough. Even when the prophet was unpopular and his message was resisted by king or people (as in the case of Micaiah and Jeremiah), it was with an uneasy conscience and with a sense of revolt against the Divine will.

It should be remembered that the existence of a prophetic order is characteristic of the NT as well as of the OT. We read in Acts 13:1 of ‘prophets and teachers’ as collected at Antioch. Individual prophets are repeatedly mentioned, as Agabus in Acts 11:28; Acts 21:10 ff., Judas and Silas in Acts 15:32, the daughters of Philip in Acts 21:9. A passage like Acts 13:2 f. supplies the key to others such as Acts 16:6 f; Acts 20:23; when it is said that ‘the Holy Ghost’ or ‘the Spirit of Jesus’ forbade such and such an act, or that the Holy Ghost ‘testified’ to such and such an effect, what is meant is the Holy Ghost speaking by the mouth of inspired prophets. In the Epistles ‘prophets’ are frequently mentioned along with, but after, ‘apostles’ as a standing office in the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28 f., Ephesians 2:20; Ephesians 3:5; Ephesians 4:11). The difference between OT and NT prophets lies, not in the nature of the gift or of the functions in which it was exercised, but only in the comparative degree of their importance. The NT prophets were overshadowed by the apostles, who possessed the special qualification of having been in the immediate company of the Lord Jesus (Acts 1:21 f.). Those who are mentioned expressly as ‘prophets’ occupy as a rule a secondary, rather than a primary, place in the history of the Church. At the same time it was quite possible for an apostle, and even a leading apostle like St. Paul, to be endowed with the gift of prophecy along with other gifts (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:18 f.).

5. Apostolic inspiration.-We may really couple together ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ as representing the characteristic forms of inspiration in apostolic times. But this inspiration must not be thought of as something isolated. It was not a peculiar and exceptional phenomenon standing by itself; it was rather the culminating point, or one of the culminating points, in a wide movement. This movement dates in its outward manifestation from Pentecost; it was what we should call in modern phrase a ‘wave’ of religious enthusiasm, the greatest of all such waves that history records, and the one that had most clearly what we call a supernatural origin. Language of this kind is always relative; it is not as if the supernatural was present in human life at certain periods, and absent at others. The supernatural is always present and always active, but in infinitely varied degrees; and the Incarnate Life of our Lord Jesus Christ, with its consequences, is an epoch in the world’s history like no other that has ever been before or since; in it the Spirit moved on the face of the waters of humanity as it had done before over the physical waters of the Creation. This particular movement was, in a higher sense than any before it, spiritually creative.

The double character of the movement-a supernatural impulse and energy working upon and through natural human faculties-is well brought out in 1 Thessalonians 2:13 : ‘For this cause we also thank God without ceasing, that, when ye received from us the word of the message, even the word of God, ye accepted it not as the word of men, but, as it is in truth, the word of God, which also worketh in you that believe.’ With this should be taken the context immediately preceding, which shows how the Apostle concentrated all the gifts of sympathy and interest with which he was so richly endowed upon the service of his converts. He moved among them as a man among men; and yet they were conscious that there were Divine forces behind him. They were conscious that he was an instrument in the hand of God, the medium or vehicle of a Divine message-a message that was in its ultimate source none the less Divine because it was shaped by a human mind acting in accordance with its own proper laws.

Another very vivid picture of the apostolic ministry is given in 1 Corinthians 2:1-4 : ‘And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the mystery of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.’ The Apostle here discriminates, and the distinction is constantly present to his mind, between the resources which he brings to his work as man and the effect which he is enabled to produce by the help of the Spirit of God. He is nothing of an orator; he has none of the arts of rhetoric; when he first preached at Corinth, he was in a state of utter physical prostration. But all this only threw into stronger relief the success which he owed to a Power beyond himself; the wisdom and the force with which he spoke were not his but God’s.

Besides these Pauline passages there is another classical passage outside the writings of St. Paul. This is contained in the opening verse and a half of the Epistle to the Hebrews: ‘God, having of old time in many portions and in many modes spoken unto the fathers in the prophets, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son.’ Here we have a historical retrospect of the whole course of revelation and inspiration. The history is mapped out in two great periods. There is the period of revelation by inspired men; and over against this there is the great concentrated and crowning revelation by Him who is not a prophet of God but His Son.

It is to be observed that in each case the preposition used is not (as in Authorized Version ) ‘by,’ i.e. ‘by means of,’ ‘through the agency of,’ but ‘in’-in the prophets and in the Son. In each case it is the same internal process of which we have been speaking above. The prophets spoke through the operation of the Holy Spirit working upon their own human faculties. The Son spoke through His own essential Deity acting through the like human faculties which He assumed at His Incarnation. When we think of this internal process we are reminded of the words of our Lord to the Samaritan woman: ‘Every one that drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of this water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up into eternal life’ (πηγὴ ὕδατος ἁλλομένου εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον, John 4:13-14). There are few natural objects to which the process of inspiration can so well be compared as to a spring of what the Jews called ‘living,’ i.e. running, water. The cool fresh waters come bubbling and sparkling up from unknown depths; they gather and spread and speed upon their way in a fertilizing stream. Even so is the way of the Spirit.

We observe that the prophetic revelation is described as taking effect ‘in many portions and in many modes.’ This brings out a new point. It is not in accordance with God’s methods to reveal the full truth all at once. He has revealed Himself piecemeal, in portions, a bit here and a bit there, ‘line upon line and precept upon precept.’ There has been a gradual development, a development in steps, each step marking an advance upon what had preceded.

For comprehensive illustration we only need to turn to the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:21-48). This, it will be remembered, is based upon an authority no less venerable and commanding than the Decalogue. ‘Ye have heard that it was said to them of old time, Thou shalt not kill … Thou shalt not commit adultery … Thou shalt not forswear thyself … ye have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth … ye have heard that it was said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ And then, in each case, a corrected version of the commandment is given; a new commandment is placed by the side of the old: ‘Ye have heard that it was said … but I say unto you …’ The last of these commandments brings home to us in a very vivid way at once the greatness and the limitations of the older inspiration. The old version was, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy.’ The new version is, ‘Love your enemies and pray for them that persecute you.’ Again, there is the well-known incident of the Samaritan village which in accordance with the TR [Note: Textus Receptus, Received Text.] used to run: ‘And when his disciples James and John saw this, they said, Lord, wilt thou that we command fire to come down from heaven, and consume them, even as Elias did? But he turned, and rebuked them, and said, Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of. For the Son of man is not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them. And they went to another village’ (Luke 9:54-56). The reading may not be original, but the sense is rightly given; the longer version does but expand the meaning of the shorter. Such instances may show how far our Lord Himself went in correcting or modifying portions of the older Scriptures, which in their original context had been truly inspired, but on a lower level.

It is difficult to exhaust the significance of this great passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews; but a word must just be said about that other phrase, ‘In many modes.’ It might be taken as including the different classes of persons through whom God spoke; not only prophets, but also psalmists and wise men. These classes too shared in a genuine inspiration, though they did not exactly use the special formula ‘Thus saith the Lord.’ The whole nation, as the Chosen People, was really a medium of Divine communication, though as a rule such communication was conveyed through individuals who were specially inspired.

Then there is the further question of the manner of the communication. There is a large body of evidence which goes to show that, under the New Dispensation as well as under the Old, the Holy Spirit made use of vision and trance and dream. Some of the examples-as, for instance, those from the ‘we-passages’ of the Acts-are very well attested indeed. Another strong example would be the vision of the Apocalypse, though that is probably the case of a book based upon a vision, rather than co-extensive with the actual vision. The book itself would seem to have been constructed upon literary methods. That would be another instance of the ‘many modes.’ The Gospels are really a new and special form of literature. The Epistles are of more than one kind. Some are what we should call genuine letters, others are rather treatises in the form of letters. When once the epistolary type was fixed it would be natural to employ it in different ways.

Before we leave the passage from Hebrews, we must go back to the main point: the distinction between revelation ‘by’ or ‘in’ the prophets, and revelation ‘by’ or ‘in’ the Son. The distinction is sufficiently explained by the words that are used. The prophets were ‘spokesmen’ of God; the Son was the Son-none other and none less. His inspiration came to Him as the Son. It was the product of His direct and constant filial communion with the Father. The nature of this inspiration is explained in that other famous verse: ‘All things have been delivered unto me of my Father; and no one knoweth the Son, save the Father; neither doth any know the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever the Son willeth to reveal him’ (Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22).

For a further exposition we may turn to the prologue of St. John’s Gospel, where the correct reading perhaps is: ‘No man hath seen God at any time; God only begotten, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him’ (John 1:18). The phrase ‘who is in the bosom of the Father’ denotes exactly that close and uninterrupted communion between the Son and the Father of which we have been speaking. The Son is admitted to the innermost counsels of the Father; and therefore it is that He is able to communicate them to men.

6. The historical setting.-When we were quoting above from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, we were really extracting a page or two from the autobiography of St. Paul; but the Apostle gives us plainly to understand that his experience was shared by many other Christians. That group of phenomena which we call inspiration was part of the movement described in general as the outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and St. Paul, with his natural bent for analysis, classifies and labels the different forms of manifestation which the gift of the Spirit assumed (1 Corinthians 12:4-11). Some of these concern us, and some do not; but the ‘word of wisdom,’ the ‘word of knowledge,’ ‘prophecy and the discerning of spirits’ are all directly in point. In these various ways the men of that day might have been seen to be carried out of and beyond their natural selves; and we possess a permanent written expression of the movement in the books of the NT. The gift of ‘speaking with tongues’ was a by-product of the same movement.

Like all other spiritual forces, these too needed to be regulated; they needed the controlling hand to fit them in orderly fashion into their place in the organized life of the society. Left to themselves, the exuberant outgrowths of spiritual exaltation were apt to run riot and cross and interfere with one another. It is such a state of things that St. Paul deals with in 1 Corinthians 14. From a chapter like that we may form a good idea as to what the primitive assemblies for worship were like in a community that was, perhaps rather more than the average, subject to religious excitement. The Apostle lays down rules which, if observed, would keep this excitement within due bounds.

Great movements such as this which we have seen to be characteristic of the Apostolic Age do not come to an abrupt end, but shade off gradually into the more placid conditions of ordinary times. Hence, though it was natural and justifiable to regard the sphere of this special inspiration as co-extensive with the literature which claims to be apostolic, the extension of the inspiration to the whole of that literature and the denial of its presence in any writing that falls outside those limits, must not be assumed as an exact and scientific fact. The Epistles, e.g., of Ignatius of Antioch are not inferior to those which pass under the names of 2 Peter and Jude. There are two places in the Epistles of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians (59:1 and 63:2) which appear to make what we should call a definite claim to inspiration; and Ignatius reminds the Philadelphians (7:1) how, when he was present in their assembly he had suddenly exclaimed, under an impulse which he could not master, ‘with a loud voice, with the voice of God: “Give heed to the bishop, to the presbytery, and to the deacons.” ’ He clearly regarded this utterance as prompted by the Holy Spirit. He certainly did so in complete good faith; and there is no reason for disputing his claim, any more than there would be in our own day in the case of one who spoke under strong conviction, with deep emotion, and with a profound sense of direct responsibility to God. It would not follow, even so, that the claim, standing alone, was infallible-it would, like all such claims, be subject to ‘the discerning of spirits’-but it would at least have a prima facie right to a hearing.

7. False claims to inspiration.-As in the case of the OT, so also in the case of the NT, we have to reckon with false claims to inspiration. There were prophets who were not deserving of the name. In both Testaments the prophets are regarded as forming a sort of professional class, which contained unworthy members. There is more than one allusion to false prophets of the elder dispensation (Luke 6:26, 2 Peter 2:1). The Jew Bar-Jesus (or Elymas) is described as a magician or false prophet (Acts 13:6). But there are special warnings against false prophets (Matthew 7:15), more particularly in connexion with the troubled times which precede the destruction of Jerusalem (Mark 13:22 = Matthew 24:24; cf. v. 11). False prophets are a fixed feature in the eschatological scheme. As a matter of fact, they must have been numerous towards the end of the Apostolic Age (1 John 4:1, 2 Peter 2:1); and hence it is that in the Book of Revelation the class is summed up in the personification of the False Prophet (Revelation 13:11 ff; Revelation 16:13 f.; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10). The dangers from this source were met by a special gift of discernment between false inspiration and true (1 Corinthians 12:10).

8. Temporary element in the apostolic conception of inspiration.-The apostolic conception of inspiration did not differ in kind from that which prevailed in Jewish circles at the time. It was the product of reflexion upon the earlier period of the history when prophecy had been in full bloom. Under the influence of the scribes from Ezra onward, the idea of prophecy and of Scripture generally had hardened into a definite theologoumenon. It was not to be expected that the doctrine thus formed should be checked by strict induction from the facts. The prophets spoke with authority, which they claimed to be Divine. They did not enter into any precise psychological analysis in accordance with which they distinguished between the human element in the process and the Divine. They knew that the impulse-the overpowering impulse and influence-came from outside themselves. It was only natural that they should set down the whole process to this. Thus there grew up the belief that the inspired word was in all respects Divine and endowed with all the properties of that which is Divine. The word of God, whether spoken or written, must be as certain in its operation as the laws of Nature. ‘As the rain cometh down and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, and giveth seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it’ (Isaiah 55:10 f.). It was perfectly true that the broad Divine purpose as such was infallible. But it was a further step-and a mistaken step-to suppose that every detail in the human expression of that purpose shared in its infallibility. Yet the step was taken, and gradually hardened into a dogma (for the Jewish doctrine see W. Bousset, Die Religion des Judentums2, Berlin, 1906, p. 172). The apostles in this respect did not differ from their countrymen. The infallibility of the Scriptures-and indeed the verbal infallibility-is expressly laid down in John 10:35 (where the Evangelist is speaking rather than his Master). Yet the assertion of the doctrine in this instance is associated with an argument which, to modern and Western logic, is far from infallible. And the same must be said of St. Paul (Galatians 3:16), where he argues after the manner of the Rabbis from the use of the singular ‘seed’ instead of the plural ‘seeds.’ There is more to be said about the minute fulfilments which are so often pointed out by St. Matthew and St. John (Matthew 1:22 etc., John 2:22 etc.); on these see esp. Cheyne, Com. on Isaiah, London, 1881, ii. 170-189.

Broadly speaking, it would be true to say that the application of the OT by the apostles shows a deepened grasp of its innermost meaning (e.g. St. Paul’s treatment of ‘faith,’ of the election of Israel, the call of the Gentiles, the nearness of the gospel [Romans 10:8 ff.] and the like). But these are instances of their deepened insight generally, and are not different in kind from the Rabbinical theology, which, though often at fault, from time to time shows flashes of great penetration.

Summary.-In regard to the conception of revelation and inspiration as a whole, the same sort of gradual shading off is to be observed. The idea itself is fundamental; it must hold a permanent and leading place in the mind’s outlook upon the world and on human history. There is a certain amount of detachable dross connected with it, but the essence of it is pure gold. And this essence is not to be too closely circumscribed. There were adumbrations of the idea outside Israel. In Israel itself, in the prophetic order, the idea received its full provisional expression; but the coping-stone was placed upon it by Christianity; God, who in time past had spoken to the Chosen Race by the prophets, at the end of the ages spoke, not only to them but to all mankind, by His Son (Hebrews 1:1).

Literature.-The present writer is not aware of any work dealing specifically with the apostolic conception of Inspiration and Revelation; but on the general subject reference may be made to articles ‘Bible’ and ‘Bible in the Church’ in Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics , vol. ii.; to B. Jowett, on ‘The Interpretation of Scripture’ in Essays and Reviews, London, 1860; G. T. Ladd, What is the Bible?, New York, 1888; C. A. Briggs, The Bible, the Church, and the Reason, Edinburgh, 1892; R. F. Horton, Revelation and the Bible, London, 1892; W. Sanday, Inspiration3 (Bampton Lectures for 1893), do. 1896; B. B. Warfield, articles ‘ “It says”: “Scripture says”: “God says,” ’ in Presb. and Ref. Review, x. [1899] 472ff., and ‘ “God-inspired Scripture,” ’ in ib. xi. [1900] 89ff.; F. Watson, Inspiration, London, 1906; J. Orr, Revelation and Inspiration, do. 1910; A. S. Peake, The Bible, do. 1913; W. Koelling, Prolegomena zur Lehre von der Theopneustie, Breslau, 1890; H. Cremer, article ‘Inspiration,’ in Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3 ix. [Leipzig, 1901]; M. Kähler, Wissenschaft der christl. Lehre, Leipzig, 1905; H. Vollmer, article ‘Inspiration,’ in RGG [Note: GG Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart.] iii. [Tübingen, 1911]; also, on the nature of Inspiration, H. Gunkel, Die Wirkungen des heiligen Geistes2, Göttingen, 1899; H. Weinel, Die Wirkungen des Geistes und der Geister, Freiburg i. B., 1899; P.Volz, Der Geist Gotles, Tübingen, 1910.

W. Sanday.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Inspiration And Revelation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/i/inspiration-and-revelation.html. 1906-1918.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, June 1st, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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