Coinciding with our thinking on Scripture, we’re doing the theology course ‘Knowledge of God’ at Ridley this semester. Peter Adam has spoken about the work of the Spirit in the word in two ways: inspiration and illumination.
Inspiration is the idea that the Bible is authored by God but that he used human authors to do it. So, to take the gospel of Luke as an example, you can tell that Luke wrote it. It differs in style from, say, Matthew, with Luke’s characteristic concerns, style, language, etc. However, it’s not only Luke’s work. Every word that Luke wrote is also God’s word.
=> Inspiration defends against the idea that the Bible is merely human words and therefore not authoritative or true.
Illumination is the idea that the Spirit works directly in us to help us to understand the scriptures. Ever had the moment where you’ve heard a Bible verse before and it’s meant nothing but then all of a sudden it becomes so clear, applicable or transformative?
=> Illumination defends against the idea that the Bible’s words are static or only relevant in the time in which they were written.
Peter’s pointed out that you need both inspiration and illumination in order to understand the work of the Spirit and the doctrine of scripture. Most misunderstandings of the two have come from leaning towards one side over the other. For example:
- Leaning towards inspiration at the expense of illumination has the tendency to expect that as long as you explain a passage rationally enough, someone will get it.
- On the other hand, valuing illumination over inspiration can make it sound like the words only have significance if they’re relevant to me.
I think I tend to lean towards the illumination side of things. Partly that’s because I’m keen for us to be dependent on the Spirit’s work in the present, not just the past and partly it’s because I have a somewhat postmodern understanding of text.
It was helpful to be reminded that God’s words are not just powerful because I experience them but because they have been inspired by the Spirit. Harking back to the evangelistic application, I think that gives me confidence to use the Bible in evangelism – because those words are God’s words.
Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.