By David McClister
A necessary question to be answered is “what is inspiration? ” To fully appreciate the evidence cited in the last article, the answer to this question must be clear. The topic of inspiration may be spoken of and thought of in two ways: (1) inspiration in the sense of prompting or stimulation. This is the modern secular and colloquial use of the term, and may be commonly used in a sentence such as, “The artist was inspired by the beautiful sunset, so he made a painting of it.” This concept of inspiration is far from the biblical idea of inspiration, which means (2) “God-breathed.” The Scriptures themselves claim that they are the product of the creative breath of God (2 Tim. 3:16).
The conclusion to be drawn from the answer above is that it is possible to be inspired in the modern sense, meaning prompted or stimulated, and yet not be inspired in the biblical sense, by the Holy Spirit. Is there anyone alive today in the flesh on this earth that is a member of the Lord’s church who can truthfully say they are inspired in the biblical sense, by the Holy Spirit, as the apostles and New Testament writers were? Of course not. One may say, “I feel inspired to write a book”, but he certainly does not mean that he is being led directly by the Holy Spirit in the matter.
A good illustration can be seen in the inspiration claimed by the Pentecostal preachers today. We all know that the Pentecostals are living proof that one can lead himself, by his emotions, to believe anything. Pentecostal preachers work themselves into a frenzy so they can “speak in tongues.” Now the gift of speaking in tongues has ceased (I Cor. 13:8), but the Pentecostals believe that they can still exercise it.
In the same sense as the modern Pentecostals, so were the ancient oracle prophets and poets “inspired.” In the article from the TDNT on the word theopneustos (inspiration), the following information is found:
Democr.(itus), 18 maintains that the poet writes with enthusiasm and the holy spirit, and the same applies materially wherever what is uttered by inspired men is written down or the work of the poet is regarded as inspiration.(1)
Notice that the ancient oracle prophets and poets were described as being inspired in the sense of prompted or stimulated (enthused). Even more interesting is their claim to the “holy spirit.” Once again we have an example of one claiming to be divinely inspired, yet in reality was not. The ancient Greeks thought, just like the modern Pentecostals, that they were inspired, yet just because they believed they were divinely inspired does not mean that they were.
Why, then, were the oracle personnel and poets called prophets? Because they were thought to have been divinely inspired. Now, I repeat, they were inspired in the sense of stimulated or enthused, but were never inspired with true inspiration, in the biblical sense, as the prophets of God were.
To do justice to this study, the Old Testament prophets cannot be overlooked. In Numbers 24:2-4 we have an example, and a striking one at that, of just how prophecy was uttered. The text explicitly says, concerning Balaam, ” and the Spirit of God came upon him” and speaks of Balaam “. . . who heareth the words of God.” Why are we able to call Balaam’s utterances on these occasions prophecies? It is because on these occasions he spoke as a mouthpiece for God, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. That this communication was direct to Balaam is seen in the phrase “who heareth the words of God.” Even though Balaam cannot be called a prophet along with the great prophets such as Isaiah or Jeremiah, there can be no doubt whatsoever that Balaam prophesied, meaning that he spoke as a mouthpiece for God under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit, on this occasion.
Jeremiah 23:16 gives a working definition of the difference between a false prophet and a true prophet. The prophets who spoke “a vision of their own heart,” who spoke as their own human stimulus provided, were not to be heard. The true prophet was not who spoke “out of the mouth of Jehovah.” The false prophets spoke “revelations of their heart, not what God has spoken, revealed to them.”(2) Again, one can plainly see two distinct types of inspiration: that which is of human origin and is seated in the emotions, and that which is of divine origin, seated with God. Further evidence to this end is found in v. 31. The fact is again made clear: claiming inspiration does not prove the divine origin of the message (see also Jer. 14:13f).
The New Testament fully supports the Old Testament concerning the divine inspiration of God’s prophets. Acts 28:25 clearly shows the source of Isaiah’s utterances. Isaiah was inspired in the true sense of the word – “the holy Spirit spake through” him. Isaiah’s words were not his own words, but they were God’s words. Hebrews 1:1 reveals that God spake “unto the fathers in (Greek en) the prophets” (see also 1 Pet. 1:10f). It was God who spoke in His prophets. The prophets did not speak of their own volition. We may even point to the divine inspiration of the prophets of God in a roundabout way, as seen in Stephen’s accusation against the Jews (Acts 7:51). Stephen charged that the Jews were resisting the Holy Spirit just as their fathers had done. How did their fathers reject the Holy Spirit? Verse 52 supplies the answer: by rejecting God’s prophets. When the Jews had rejected (and killed) the prophets, they had also rejected the Holy Spirit that spoke through those prophets. One of the most conclusive statements, however, concerning the divine inspiration of the prophets of God, is found in Acts 3:21. Peter told the people gathered at Solomon’s porch that “God spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old. “
This, then, leads to the study of the New Testament prophet. The first mention of prophets in the church is made in Acts 11:27. Not much is said of these prophets, but one can know assuredly that they were at least divinely inspired by God because one of them, Agabus, did something that no false prophet (one inspired by his own emotions) could ever do: he predicted the future, and it came to pass exactly as stated. Further investigation reveals that the prophets in the early church were indeed divinely inspired of God. Ephesians 3:5 states that the mystery of Christ was revealed to God’s apostles and prophets “in the Spirit.” This The Sin Of Substitution revelation could not have been anything but direct divine communication, for anything else would violate the When one is dissatisfied with God’s ways yet seeks to be significance of the word mystery (Greek mysterion), which religious, he will make substitution here and there to properly means,
The secret thoughts, plans, and dispensations of God which are hidden from the human reason, as well as from all other comprehension below the divine level, and hence must be revealed to those for whom they are intended.(3)
Also, 1 Corinthians 12:10 lists prophecy as a gift of the Spirit.
This brings us to a very important point that must be clearly understood. All the evidence cited leads to one conclusion: there is no such thing as prophecy without inspiration. The accompanying chart hopefully clarifies much of what has been presented, and basically explains itself. Basically, there are two kinds of prophets: (1) the true prophets who spoke what God communicated to them by the Spirt, and (2) the false prophets who spoke as a result of their own human stimulation (although they thought otherwise).
With the next and final article of this study we shall use the facts that have been presented to identify the “prophesying” of 1 Corinthians 11:4f.
|True Prophet||False Prophet|
|Inspired of God, speaking that which God communicates directly to him.||Speaks that which his own emotions direct him to speak.|
|Inspiration: divine in the true sense, speaking the words of God.||Inspiration: from self, seated in the emotions.|
|The only persons who fit into this category are the true prophets of God in the Old and New Testaments.||Under this category fall the pagan Greek oracle prophets and poets, along with the Bible characters identified as false prophets.|
2. C.F. Kiel, and F. Delitzch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. VIII, C.F. Keil, Jeremiah and Lamentations, trans D. Patrick, and J. Kennedy (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), p. 358.
3. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. William F. Arndt, and F. Wilbur Gingrich, 2nd ed., rev. and aug. by F. William Gingrich, and Frederick W. Danker (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 530.
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 11, pp. 337-338
June 7, 1984