“Given by Inspiration” — Three Useful Terms

“That Book in Your Hand”

This post continues thoughts from/related to my first sermon on “That Book in Your Hand,” a series on the Bible, what it is and how we got it.

We have already spent three posts looking at the meaning of the Greek word theopneustos, translated “given by inspiration of God” in the King James Version, with more to come:

  1. “Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos, Etymology, and hapax legomenon
  2. “Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos in Context
  3. “Given by Inspiration” — the Connotations of theopneustos

Again, though we’re looking at some technical terms, I’m trying to give explanations that everyone can understand.  Inspiration matters to everyone, not just those with advanced theological degrees.

“Real ministry” (non-Internet ministry) has intervened, and I won’t be able to post all I intended to write for today.  So I’ll just do part of it by talking about three useful terms.


“Revelation” is not just the last book in the Bible.  When we talk about revelation, we are talking about the fact that we could not know anything about God unless He revealed Himself to us — told us things about Himself.  God is spirit, we are flesh.  He is not of this world, and we are earth-bound.  The God-man dynamic had to start with Him — we could not reach up to Him, He had to reach down to us.  Revelation is God’s communication to us.

Revelation is not confined strictly to truths about God — it also teaches us about ourselves, about right and wrong, about angels, etc.  Revelation is describing how God conveys to us the truths that we need to know.

Theologians like to divide revelation into two main categories, general revelation and special revelation.  General revelation includes (but is not limited to) seeing aspects of God’s nature in creation.  Psalm 19 and Romans 1:18-20 are two Scripture references describing general revelation.

Other examples of general revelation would include many moral statements in the Bible.  For instance, the Scriptures tell us that God is good.  Our understanding of “good” may be flawed, and may need to be corrected by the Scriptures on some points, but God has placed within us a certain level of understanding of what “good” means.  We don’t have to “start from scratch” on that word — general revelation helps us.  Another example is the command to be “kind” in Ephesians 4:32.  We know from our interactions with other people what is “kind” and what is not — the Scriptures don’t precisely define the word, and for good reason.  What is “kind” in one circumstance may not be kind at all in another.  We rely at least partly on general revelation to understand what “kind” means.

Special revelation occurs when God, acting beyond our normal understanding of what is “natural” (thus the word “supernatural”, though the word may be abused or misunderstood), tells us something directly.  When God wrote the stone tablets, it was “special revelation”.  When Balaam’s donkey spoke to him, it was special revelation.  The angel’s words to the wife of Manoah, the prophetic words of Elijah, Elisha, and Isaiah, the dream of Nebuchadnezzar, the hand writing on the wall, these were all special revelation.  God intervened, “breaking the rules” of our understanding of the normal course of nature, to tell people things they would not have otherwise known, to give them words they would not have had without His direct action.


II Peter 1:20-21:

20 Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.
21 For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.

Not every special revelation is Scripture.  We know of only two specific prophecies by the New Testament prophet Agabus, and only the words of one of them were recorded in Scripture.  II Kings 14:25 tells of a prophecy by Jonah which is not recorded anywhere in Scripture.  The choice of which prophecies, which revelations of God, would be recorded in Scripture, was made by God, and God moved in that writing, supervising over it so fully that the result was His handiwork.

“Inscripturation” is that process of writing down what God revealed so that we have the Scriptures.  In many cases, but not all, inscripturation is recording special revelation.  Thus, when we read the book of Joel, we are reading the words which came directly from the Lord to the prophet Joel.

Many historical narratives (such as Acts and the accounts in Joshua through Esther) are a mix of general revelation and special revelation.  Some of the things recorded would have been generally known, while others reveal private thoughts and conversations which could only have been known to the human writers by special revelation.

Inscripturation happened once with each text, each part of the Bible (generally, though the account of Jeremiah hints there might be a few exceptions to this, more on that later).  A copy of the Scriptures is still Scripture, the Word of God is still the Word of God (the piece of paper on which it is recorded isn’t particularly important), but copies were not written by inscripturation.  In general, only the original copy, what theologians call the original autograph, was inscripturated.

In some cases, the revelation came to one individual and the writing was done by another individual.  We see this in Jeremiah (with Baruch) and in most of the letters of Paul.  Romans 1:1 tells us that the letter is from Paul, but 16:22 tells us Tertius did the actual physical penmanship.  Paul dictated the words, and Tertius wrote them.  The truths of Romans were revealed to Paul (revelation),but the process of inscripturation took place when he spoke, and Tertius wrote, those revealed words.  In human terms, both Paul and Tertius were involved in the inscripturation, the recording in written form.

The term “inscripturation” does not appear in Scripture.  It is a technical term, not a Biblical one, and for good reason.  The Scriptures focus more on product than on process.  Nevertheless, process can help us understand the product, so terms like this have value in explaining things, as long as we are clear in what we mean by them.

Immediate Inspiration

This term has somewhat fallen out of usage by many theologians, but used to be standard, and I’ll retain it for this study.  The Westminster Confession (1647) used the term “immediately inspired,” and was followed in these exact words by the London Baptist Confession of 1689 and the Philadelphia Baptist Confession (1742).  Theologians such as the Swiss-Italian Frances Turretin (17th century) referred to “immediate inspiration,” as did the English Baptist Benjamin Keach (roughly the same time period).

As I said in an earlier discussion in this series, theopneustos is an adjective, descriptive of the Scriptures, rather than a verb descriptive of an action of God.  These theologians used “immediate inspiration” as distinct from theopneustos, “inspiration” (though obviously very closely related), to focus attention on the action of God in the giving of the Scriptures.  “Immediate inspiration” describes what we see above in II Peter 1:20-21 — God moving men to write the words He wanted written.

“Inscripturation” is sometimes today used as roughly equivalent to “immediate inspiration.”  An example would be in this article from Rodney Decker.  I find it helpful to keep them distinct.  I am using “inscripturation” to describe the writing of the Scriptures, and “immediate inspiration” to refer very narrowly to the moving, prompting, and/or speaking of the Holy Spirit which was the Divine driving force in inscripturation.  The Holy Spirit was the main actor in the process of inscripturation, though human agents were involved as well.  The Spirit’s work in those human agents to direct the final result of their work was immediate inspiration.

For Purposes of This Study

Others may define these terms differently (which is entirely legitimate), but this describes how I will use them.

  1. Revelation refers to God’s work in making Himself (and other truths) known to man.
  2. Inscripturation is the process by which parts of God’s revelation were recorded (written) in the Scriptures.
  3. Immediate inspiration is the moving of the Spirit (II Peter 1:21) by which the Holy Spirit directed the process of inscripturation so that the Scripture record became that which it continues to be, God’s very Word — that which God wanted us to have.

Next in series:  “Given by Inspiration” — theopneustos, Context Revisited
Meaning of theopneustos.
Main article: The Scriptures — Inspired or Expired?

About Jon Gleason

Former Pastor of Free Baptist Church of Glenrothes
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