Revelation, Inspiration, and Illumination

There are three related terms that need to be discussed regarding the source. They are revelation, inspiration, and illumination. Lea and Griffin offer the following explanation:


Revelation is the process by which God communicates to human beings a knowledge of himself. Paul described himself as a recipient of such revelation in Ephesians 3:3. The term “inspiration” relates to that influence of the Holy Spirit by which human beings become organs to communicate the truth of God in words to others. The process of writing Scripture is an example of inspiration. The term “illumination” refers to the work of the Holy Spirit which enables a believer to understand and apply divine truth (John 14:26). The three are related to one another because the concept of revelation, the disclosure of truth, demands inspiration to guarantee its accurate disclosure. The concept of inspiration demands the concept of illumination in order for the written record to be understood properly. The terms “inspiration” and “revelation” appear in Scripture. The term “illumination” does not appear in Scripture with the theological meaning given above, but the concept of illumination is thoroughly biblical (1).


Of these three, inspiration would seem to be the one that would have them most application for our study. As referenced above, Paul told Timothy that there are writings that are inspired and profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). In their discussion of this passage, Lea and Griffin pose four questions and offer solutions to these. The first two questions deal with what he means by Scripture. The context of this passage clearly shows that it is referencing the Old Testament. It is their last two questions that are of importance to us. The questions relate to the meaning of “all” and “inspired,” which is the typical translation for the Greek God breathed. Regarding the “all,” the two options are either “all inspired Scripture” or “all Scripture is inspired” (2).


Kelly lists four reasons for the translation “Each Scripture is inspired and useful,” 1) It seems natural, since the phrase does not contain a verb in the Greek, to take the two adjectives in the same way. 2) If “inspired” were to be translated before “Scripture,” it would be natural to place it here in the Greek text, but this is not the case. 3) The phrase “each inspired Scripture” contains a hint that certain passages of Scripture are not inspired, which Paul certainly did not desire to assert. 4) The construction of this phrase exactly parallels that of 1 Tim 4:4 (“everything God created is good and nothing is to be rejected”), and the translation of that passage seems suitable here (3).


While Kelly’s explanation is appropriate, it overlooks the obvious. The context is the Old Testament and Paul is a devout Jew. Thus, he would consider the writings as a whole are inspired. It is most appropriate to think that he is saying that all Old Testament Scriptures are inspired and profitable. However, if we are to apply this to the New Testament, we are faced with the same dilemma. Nonetheless, if we accept the decision of the early church regarding the formation of the canon, we can easily apply the same logic. The real key to understanding what Paul was trying to relate to Timothy is in the concept of the profitability. The word he uses here that is translated profitable gives us the idea of benefit, value, advantage (4). What this is telling us is that the divine revelation is based on the teachings of the apostles. Additionally, our sacred canonical writings under the inspiration of the spirit have God as their author and are handed on directly to the church. As a result, they provide great profit in the teaching, reprimanding, correcting for restoration, and training for kingdom life. It is for this purpose that we offer to you the Bible portraits of Jesus, presenting his person and nature.

(1) Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 238.

(2) Lea and Griffin, 235.

(3) Lea and Griffin, 236

(4) James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains: Greek (New Testament) (Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997).

Last update: 25 September 2015