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Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works - Contents
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    Theory of Plenary Inspiration

    In contrast with the view of verbal inspiration, the plenary theory of inspiration suggests that thoughts—rather than words—are inspired. The plenary view is not forced to grapple with the problems of the verbalist. For the Seventh-day Adventist, this view has the added advantage of having been accepted and advocated by Ellen White. 72Selected Messages 1:15-23.IRWHW 52.9

    Let us examine in some detail the manner in which Mrs. White explicates her views. These views have been praised by a number of non-Seventh-day Adventist theologians as one of the most comprehensive and concise statements on the subject of plenary inspiration to be found anywhere in print.IRWHW 52.10

    1. The purpose of inspiration. Ellen White uses two interesting analogies to illustrate the purpose of inspiration. First she likens inspiration to a map—a guide or chartbook for the human family. The purpose of this map is to show weak, erring, mortal human beings the way to heaven, so that they need never lose their way. 73Selected Messages 1:15, 16. Then she also compares inspiration to “hidden treasure”—or precious jewels that may be discovered by arduous digging. 74Selected Messages 1:16. And then, in summation, Mrs. White remarks that no one need ever be lost for want of this most crucial information unless he is willfully blind. 75Selected Messages 1:18.IRWHW 52.11

    2. The human element. Next, Mrs. White recognized the existence of the human element. God committed the preparation of His Word to finite men, 76Selected Messages 1:16. thus, in a sense, making problems for Himself. Why? Because “everything that is human is imperfect.” 77Selected Messages 1:20.IRWHW 52.12

    Speaking to the Adventist workers in Battle Creek, Michigan, in a different context, Mrs. White amplified this thought: “No one has so great a mind, or is so skillful, but that the work will be imperfect after he has done his very best.” 78Testimonies for the Church 1:562.IRWHW 52.13

    Since the Bible writers had to express their ideas in human idioms, the concepts could not be given in some grand superhuman language. 79Selected Messages 1:19, 20. Infinite ideas can never be perfectly embodied in finite vehicles of thought. 80Selected Messages 1:22. The Lord has to speak to human beings in imperfect speech in order that our dull, earthly perception may comprehend His words. 81Ibid.IRWHW 52.14

    In an apt analogy, John Calvin once suggested that God, through the prophets, talked “baby talk” to us humans, much as a cooing mother lisps to her little child in the universal language of love.IRWHW 52.15

    3. The existence of discrepancies. Ellen White addressed the question of discrepancies, mistakes, or errors in a forthright manner. She does not just suggest that these are possible; she says that they are “probable.” 82Selected Messages 1:16. But she goes on, more importantly, to point out that all of these mistakes will not change a single doctrine, or cause anyone to stumble who is not already inclined to do so. These persons will “manufacture difficulties from the plainest revealed truth.” 83Ibid.IRWHW 52.16

    4. Unique divine-human blending. Paul incisively pointed out that “We have this treasure in earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Two elements are thus introduced into the analogy: the “treasure,” and the “earthen vessels.” Mrs. White develops these two elements by first commenting that, indeed, the Ten Commandments are verbally inspired, being of “divine and not human composition.” The servant of the Lord then goes on, interestingly:IRWHW 52.17

    But the Bible, with its God-given truths expressed in the language of men, presents a union of the divine and the human. Such a union existed in the nature of Christ, who was the Son of God and the Son of man. Thus it is true of the Bible, as it was of Christ, that “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” 84Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy, vi (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1911); Steps to Christ, 73 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1956).

    Again, commenting that “In the work of God for man’s redemption, divinity and humanity are combined,” Mrs. White elaborates along a somewhat similar vein:IRWHW 52.18

    The union of the divine and the human, manifest in Christ, exists also in the Bible. The truths revealed are all “given by inspiration of God;” yet they are expressed in the words of men and are adapted to human needs. 85Testimonies for the Church 5:747.

    Thus the truths conveyed by inspired writers are all inspired treasure. But the human element—the “language of men,” is the earthen vessel—that is, the packaging.IRWHW 53.1

    One theologian has suggested that the human aspect of the inspired writings, ancient and modern, is revealed in five ways:IRWHW 53.2

    a. The writer expresses himself in his own style. The Bible has many major stylistic differences in its various books.

    b. The writer expresses himself at his own level of literary ability. For example, the sentence structure of the book of Revelation is crude. John strings his ideas along with the connector and like a string of box cars in a freight train. Stylistically, this book is elementary, not elevated. Its author was a fisherman who was educated by Jesus for three years. John received his education in truth, rather than in rhetoric. In contrast to the book of Revelation, the book of Hebrews exhibits a most elevated stylistic form. Indeed, because of its use of balanced phrases and clauses, some higher critics don’t think that Paul wrote it. But Paul undoubtedly had the equivalent of a Ph.D. from the school of Gamaliel in Jerusalem, and he may well have attended the university at Tarsus before he went to Jerusalem.

    c. The writer reveals his own personality. The Gospel of John can be summed up in one four-letter word—love. The concept permeates John’s Gospel and all three of his epistles. John, more than any of the other apostles, imbibed this spirit, and yielded himself most fully to Christ’s transforming love. 86Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, 250 (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1940). And thus his epistles, especially, breathe out this spirit of love. 87Ellen G. White, The Sanctified Life, 68, 81 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1937). His favorite theme was the infinite love of Christ. 88The Sanctified Life, 62.

    d. The writer also uses his own words—words of his selection, and in so doing,

    e. The writer draws on his own personal background and experience. Luke was called the “beloved physician.” And indeed, a whole volume has been written on the medical terminology employed in the Gospel of Luke. Luke writes with the perception of a scientist. For example, he is the only one of the four Gospel writers to mention that Jesus “sweat ... as it were great drops of blood.”

    Amos speaks the language of the herdsman, the shepherd.IRWHW 53.3

    And Paul? Trained in the methodology and phraseology of philosophy, Paul wrote some things that to a fisherman like Peter were “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16). 89Earle Hilgert.IRWHW 53.4

    Then, the divine aspect, the work of the Holy Spirit, is revealed in four ways, as suggested by T. Housel Jemison:IRWHW 53.5

    a. He enlightens the mind: The writer is enabled to comprehend truth.

    b. He prompts the thinking: That is, He stimulates the reasoning processes.

    c. He enlightens the memory: The prophet is thus enabled to recall events and ideas.

    d. He directs attention to matters to be recorded: This deals specifically with the selection of topic and content. 90A Prophet Among You.

    5. Verbal Versus Plenary. Mrs. White states directly that it is not the words of the Scriptures that are inspired, but rather the men who wrote them—the prophets were “God’s penmen, not His pen.” 91Selected Messages 1:21.IRWHW 53.6

    The semantic problem here is recognized—a given word may convey different ideas to different people. Yet if a writer or speaker is intellectually honest, he can usually convey his meaning plainly. 92Selected Messages 1:19. The same truth may be expressed in different ways without essential contradiction. 93Selected Messages 1:22.IRWHW 53.7

    Basically, “inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts.” 94Selected Messages 1:21.IRWHW 53.8

    6. What the Bible is not. The Bible does not represent the words, the logic, or the rhetoric of God. 95Ibid. “God, as a writer, is not represented.” 96Ibid. Indeed, God says that His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8, 9). But the Bible does point to God as its “Author.97The Great Controversy, p. v. Italics supplied. Christ “Himself [is] the Author of these revealed truths.” 98Testimonies for the Church 5:710.IRWHW 53.9

    7. Totality. Ellen White took the Bible just as it stood—“I believe its utterances in an entire Bible.” 99Selected Messages 1:17. And she urged her hearers and readers to “cling to your Bible, as it reads.” 100Selected Messages 1:18. Amplifying this thought elsewhere, she continues, “Every chapter and every verse is a communication of God to man.” 101Testimonies for the Church 4:449.IRWHW 53.10

    8. God’s superintendency. The Lord miraculously preserved the Bible through the centuries in essentially its present form. 102Selected Messages 1:15. Indeed, the preservation of the Bible is as much a miracle as its inspiration.IRWHW 53.11

    Of course, the Bible was not given in “one unbroken line of utterance.” Rather, through successive generations, it was given, piece by piece, as a beneficent Providence recognized various needs in different places. “The Bible was given for practical purposes.” 103Selected Messages 1:20.IRWHW 53.12

    The continuing hand of God is seen in the giving of the messages, in the recording of the messages, in the gathering of the books into the Canon, and in the preservation of the Bible through successive ages. 104T. Housel Jemison, Christian Beliefs (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1959), p. 22.IRWHW 53.13

    9. Unity. Ellen White draws an interesting distinction with regard to unity: While there is not always “apparent” unity, there is, however, a “spiritual unity.” And this unity she likens to one grand golden thread, running through the whole, which is discovered by the “illumined soul.”IRWHW 53.14

    However, to trace out this unity requires the searcher to exercise patience, thought, and prayer. 105Selected Messages 1:20.IRWHW 54.1

    In the days when Britannia ruled the waves, and ships were propelled by wind rather than by steam or oil, the ships of His Majesty’s royal navy all carried rope that had a crimson thread woven through its entire length. This thread served two purposes: It made identification easy in cases of suspected theft; and it also assured the sailors (whose lives often depended upon the quality of the rope they handled) that they had the very best.IRWHW 54.2

    Applying this analogy to the Bible, the blood of Jesus is the crimson thread that runs throughout the whole Scripture. This unity is exhibited in at least five areas, according to Jemison:IRWHW 54.3

    a. Purpose: the story of the plan of salvation.

    b. Theme: Jesus, the cross, the crown.

    c. Harmony of teaching: Old and New Testament doctrines are the same.

    d. Development: the steady progression from creation to the fall of redemption to final restoration.

    e. Coordination of the prophecies: evident because the same Holy Spirit was at work! 106Christian Beliefs, p. 17.

    10. Degrees of inspiration. Ellen White makes it clear that the Christian is not to assert that one part of the Scripture is inspired and that another is not, or that there are degrees of inspiration among the various books of the Bible. God has not qualified or inspired any man to do this kind of work. 107Selected Messages 1:23.IRWHW 54.4

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