“Then Yahweh stretched out his hand and he touched my mouth, and Yahweh said to me, ‘Look, I have put my words in your mouth.’” – Jeremiah 1:9 – (LEB)
Did God’s Word descend down, or did the Spirit inspire it?
Besides our many letters, much of my wife’s and my dating experience consisted of walking on the streets of London. We planned a visit to the British Museum one day, and I recall two pictures I took of my wife-to-be. In one, she posed near the ancient images of the Ishtar gate of Babylon, which Daniel would have seen. But in the other, she stood near the famous Rosetta Stone. This historical find was one of the first bilingual literal artifacts to unlock Egyptian history. The stone decree revealed how the Greek language deciphered the two hieroglyphic texts, a key to understanding hieroglyphics. Now the term Rosetta Stone refers to unlocking essential clues to an area of study. For Islam, their text is the Quran; for Christians, the sacred book is the Bible. The development of these texts will offer clues that define how Yahweh or Allah communicates to their followers.
The distinct communication patterns observed in Yahweh and Allah indicate that Yahweh promotes a relational indwelling inspiration while Allah presents a complete dictation from above.
The Bible and the Quran came into existence within a context that promoted either a covenant or contract interpretation. For our purpose, we ask how and why these books came into existence. Is the process of revelation in both narratives distinct or similar?
Two Ways to Communicate
The Persian teacher and I had just taught three classes about the Word of God. We explained the beauty and importance of the Word in our lives, focusing on how the Word of God came through inspiration. The Bible speaks the very words of God, given through the prophets by inspiration. After three classes, I thought to ask the question Did God’s Word descend, or was it inspired? Because of my background and assumption that we had clearly taught the subject matter, I confidently thought all would affirm the inspiration of the Word. Thus, I felt no need for debate. Yet these believers from a Persian Shia background struggled and debated the point, with the majority claiming surely the Scriptures came down. Before the question, we had assumed understanding had taken place, but after this question, we realized the students’ presuppositions were in play. Many in and near the Middle East assume the Word of God came down verbatim from above—a process devoid of inspiration
For Sunnis and Shiites, the coming from above provides the exclusive direction of delivery. Let’s explore why these distinct ideas matter for believers in Christ and for a better understanding of how God communicates. These sources, much like the distinct oneness of deity, flow from deity’s nature since each distinctly uses an appropriate means to communicate—Yahweh indwells, and Allah remains above. A oneness-in-unity deity will, much like his own relationality, seek to relate closely in giving his communication, but an Absolute Oneness deity will maintain his lofty position allowing only a downward communication. Both communicate consistently with their covenant or contract nature.
Two corollaries are before us:
- The Oneness in Trinity reveals from within or near to the messenger through inspiration. His communication methods encourage a personal, horizontal manner in delivery.
- The Absolute Oneness of Allah reveals from above, not from within to avoid association. His communication method displays only a vertical impersonal manner.
What is Indwelling Inspiration?
“The Spirit of the LORD speaks by me; his word is on my tongue.” 2 Samuel 23:2
The question, Did God’s Word descend down or was it inspired by the Spirit? and the students’ response motivated me to rethink how inspiration took place and how to teach it. I realized that etching my presupposed ideas into the hearts of believers from a non-Christian background is not an easy chisel. For example, Persians use the biblical word revelation, but I did not realize how they might define it differently for many years.
In a church planting situation with a Persian pastor, we looked at our new group’s translated version of a doctrinal statement. We changed some words and then made a wall poster of the main statements of faith. After a few months, the Persian pastor said, “We need to take out the word revelation and replace it with the word inspiration.” He said the former word would create misunderstanding for new believers, who would think God’s word came down. I wondered, Revelation or inspiration, are they not the same thing?
In light of this, we changed the doctrinal wording in the original statement to reflect biblical inspiration rather than descended-down understanding. Despite these changes, we continued to display the older version on a poster. After some time, an elder from another church came to visit our group since there was talk of churches merging. He complimented the poster and loved that the church displayed its teachings. However, he said, I do not like the word ‘revelation’ in the statement about the Word of God. His statement confirmed our previous point of concern. For believers in an Islamic context, clarity becomes crucial. In Islamic understanding, revelation describes the downward method, but in the biblical perception, God’s revelation comes to us in an inspired manner through various forms.
Indwelling Inspiration is the God-breathed process in which the Spirit of God generates the very words of God through or intimately near the messenger. The inspiration process mysteriously breathes through the personality of the messenger.
Only 2 Timothy 3:16 uses the biblical word inspiration, “All Scripture is inspired of God.” This vital passage translates a Greek term that, etymologically, means “breathed out by God.” John Frame, “The Bible’s Inspiration,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018). The passage parallels another text which says the Spirit carries the prophet along to write the words of God (2 Pet. 1:19–21). Inspiration presents a God-breathed mystery with the prophet to generate an act of breathing out the very words of God. The Holy Spirit breathes, mysteriously generated within or near the messenger or even a personal from-above experience on a few occasions.
Interestingly, the proper noun, Scripture (graphe), found here assumes the recorded material by God to include every portion of the Word of God by making an emphatic claim in the wording—the Scripture from God is breathed by God.
During the Old Testament days, the Spirit of God randomly indwelt the people of God, but consistently God’s presence resided in their midst. Interestingly, Isaiah 63:10–11 states, “But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; therefore, he turned to be their enemy, and himself fought against them. Then he remembered the days of old, of Moses and his people. Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit.”
Even the Spirit during these days could be grieved as if he indwelt them, yet his dwelling presence was in their midst. In many portions of Scripture, the inspiration’s place remains a mystery. The prophet Micah alludes to the indwelling Spirit for inspiration, “But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the LORD, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression and to Israel his sin” (Micah 3:8). The prophet, empowered with the filling of God’s Spirit, spoke the words of God by breathing out words to declare God’s will and intent. The focus on communicating the very words of God depicts Micah’s close encounter with Yahweh.
The Bible, without hesitation, depicts the message coming from God with the messenger fully interacting in the process. The passage in 2 Pet. 1:16–21 amplifies the inspiration process, “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,’ we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (bold mine).
The voice of God from heaven confirms the prophetic word bestowed on the beloved Son and heard by the disciples who were present. God reveals himself and comes near with his majestic glory. The God of the Bible is near, often evading distance. He shares his glory, and the recipient can sense it. His emotions display his feelings for his beloved Son. He verbalizes approval, and the disciples hear these words of affirmation and love. Even from above, the process shows God’s nearness in a highly horizontal format. The voice came from above to Lord Jesus, but the text says “we were with him” to create a sense of nearness, in that they heard God’s active declaration. He speaks and brings down his glory to the very presence of the disciples. Peter testifies, along with the other disciples, how biblical revelation and inspiration blend, forming what I call participant inspiration.
In Christian theology, the Holy Spirit becomes the main actor for inspiration. Contrary to Islamic thinking, the Scripture says, “As they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet. 1:21). Picture a sailboat moved along by the wind. Similarly, the Holy Spirit personally moves the hand of the messenger to create scripture. God and the messenger were fully involved in the process, yet the Spirit controlled the process in a relatable, intimate manner. Participant inspiration marks a Spirit-led revelation.
In the inspiration process, God’s messenger experiences a carrying along by the Holy Spirit to produce Scripture by God’s will, not by a human hand. Dan Wickwire, a Christian apologist, summarizes the Bible “is just what it is designed to be, namely, a homogeneous, uninterrupted, harmonious, and orderly account of the whole history of God’s dealings with man. The Bible is not such a book a man would write if he could or could write if he would.” Dan Wickwire. Has the Bible Been Changed? Aneko Press, self-published e-book, 2014, location 522. The Bible originated from God, yet the human messengers fully participated in the inspiration process “as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Biblical inspiration stands unique in the ideas of religious revelations. The biblical scholar Warren Wiersbe affirms, “We must not think of ‘inspiration’ the way the world thinks when it says, ‘Shakespeare was certainly an inspired writer.’ What we mean by biblical inspiration is the supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit on the Bible’s writers, which guaranteed that what they wrote was accurate and trustworthy . . . inspiration has to do with the recording of this communication in a way that is dependable.” Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 252. Divine inspiration involves the Holy Spirit speaking through the prophet of God to write an eternal, unchanging word. The Spirit’s supernatural process never manipulates like a soothsayer or similar to poetic feelings produced. Earthly poets write from their heart perspective, but God’s Spirit sources biblical inspiration without the messengers’ private perspective (2 Pet. 1:19–21). Thus, biblical inspiration marks a unique way God’s Spirit created Scripture.
Points of Clarity
A few points need clarity concerning the inspiration process:
- Inspiration describes the overarching idea of how the Word of God came about yet includes various methods to demonstrate God’s relatability. He delivers his message in a fashion consistent with his character of relationality. Creativity in communication varies in any relationship, but inspiration’s essence portrays relatability. God’s creativity in inspiration includes but is not limited to the use of dreams, visions, stone tablets, prophecies, conversational dialogue, stories, and writing on a wall. Poetic inward inspiration and revelations from above encompass the mysterious process.
- Inspiration demonstrates the relationality and closeness of Yahweh, eliminating the possibility of a detached, distant deity who only gives a dictate to recite. Inspiration manifests his dwelling presence in the lives and context of Spirit-filled people. Defining God-breathed inspiration implies intimacy and closeness.
- Inspiration reveals progressively, along with divine decrees, God himself. God, in his inspired words, reveals his will and himself to humanity.
Check out Teaching Inspiration in a Muslim Context
This blog is translated into Farsi, also.
|John Frame, “The Bible’s Inspiration,” in Lexham Survey of Theology, ed. Mark Ward et al. (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2018).
|Dan Wickwire. Has the Bible Been Changed? Aneko Press, self-published e-book, 2014, location 522.
|Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, vol. 2 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1996), 252.