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Inspiration/Revelation: What It Is and How It Works - Contents
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    Degrees of Authority—An Untenable Position

    Some favoring the idea of degrees of inspiration (or revelation) have recently advanced the idea that prophets also have degrees of authority. The latter position is as untenable as the former, largely for the same reasons. Empirically, there is no evidence from Scripture that one group of prophets had more—or less—authority than another group. However, if there were, indeed, degrees of authority, how would these be determined? And by whom?IRWHW 74.7

    King David’s experience with two literary but noncanonical prophets who ministered during his reign would seem to provide evidence against degrees of inspiration or authority.IRWHW 74.8

    Nathan. In part 2 we discussed the problem of Nathan’s enthusiastically endorsing David’s plan to build the temple without first checking with God to see whether the plan met His divine approval. It did not, and that night God spoke to Nathan telling him to go back to the king and correct the earlier message (2 Samuel 7:1-17).IRWHW 74.9

    Five chapters later we find Nathan back at the palace, at God’s direction, to rebuke David for his twin sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. Using the guise of a parable Nathan courageously drives home to David’s heart the enormity of the monarch’s crimes; and David, convicted by the Holy Spirit through His messenger, confesses and repents. Nathan then assures David that God has accepted his response and has forgiven him (2 Samuel 12:1-14).IRWHW 74.10

    Nathan warns, however, that inexorable consequences will result from David’s acts. These consequences will still take place in spite of God’s generous and merciful forgiveness (vss. 15-23). Later, out of his genuine repentance and remorse, David penned Psalm 51, in which he appeals to God to “blot out my transgressions, ... cleanse me from my sin, ... Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and ... Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee” (vss. 1, 2, 10-13). And God granted him this heartfelt wish.IRWHW 74.11

    Nathan and David were both prophets. A few hundred years later when the Old Testament canon would be drawn up (perhaps under the supervision of Ezra), the Book of Nathan would not be included, but the psalms of David would be. Thus David would become a canonical prophet, Nathan a noncanonical prophet. We know of this encounter not because it is found in the Book of Nathan, but because the author of 2 Samuel 12 included it in his book. 19There is a Jewish tradition that Nathan and Gad authored 1 Samuel 25-31 and 2 Samuel. [See The S.D.A. Bible Commentary 2:447 (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Pub. Assn., 1953).] However, the only source is Talmudic tradition, whose accuracy and authenticity is “problematical” at best, according to Dean Gerhard F. Hasel, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Mich. (interview, November 6, 1981). Whether the last part of 1 Samuel and the whole book of 2 Samuel incorporate portions of the “lost” Book of Nathan and Gad is only conjecture. It is not known whether these books—and the writings of the other noncanonical literary prophets—even survived until the time (perhaps 400 B.C.) when the Old Testament canon was formed; so we do not know whether their exclusion was a deliberate decision on the part of the compiler(s), or whether there was no choice because the books were already lost to history.IRWHW 74.12

    If David perchance had been given a vision of the future, in which he was informed of his subsequent status and that of Nathan, and if David had subscribed to the fanciful theory of degrees of inspiration, the following exchange might logically have taken place:IRWHW 74.13

    Upon being rebuked by Nathan, David might have raised his hand in caution and said, “Wait a minute, Nathan. You must show more respect and deference to me. Yes, you’re a prophet; but you will be a forgotten noncanonical prophet a few centuries from now. I’ll be a canonical prophet; Christians three millennia from now will be singing my psalms in their churches. My fifty-first Psalm of repentance will encourage the hearts of millions down through the ages. But 3,000 years from now no one will know a single word of anything that you wrote in the Book of Nathan!”IRWHW 74.14

    David might even have chided Nathan somewhat, in an effort to defend himself, by adding, “Be careful now, Nathan. Remember, you didn’t get it quite straight awhile back when you delivered your prophetic approval of my plan to build the Temple. Are you sure you’ve got it right now?”IRWHW 74.15

    What about degrees of authority? Well, the story begins very simply, “And the Lord sent Nathan to David.” Did Nathan have authority? Whose authority? How much authority? Those simple words quoted from 2 Samuel 12:1 answer these questions in a most forceful way.IRWHW 75.1

    The experience of Gad, the other literary but noncanonical prophet who ministered to David, is useful at this point.IRWHW 75.2

    In 1 Chronicles 21 we read that Satan tempted David to sin by numbering Israel. The king’s general, Joab, protested in vain. Israel was numbered (vss. 1-6), “and God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel” (vs. 7).IRWHW 75.3

    In the very next verse, David engages God directly in conversation. He confesses his foolishness and guilt and asks for pardon. But in verse 9 God does not address David directly, as He surely could have, for prophets have a special “pipeline” with the Almighty.IRWHW 75.4

    No, “the Lord spake unto Gad, David’s seer.” Since David would be a canonical prophet, why didn’t God communicate directly with him? Why did He choose, instead, a noncanonical prophet?IRWHW 75.5

    Notice, further, what God said to Gad: “Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the Lord ...” (vs. 10). Surely this phrase indicates most forcefully the authority of Gad’s message. Did Gad need any more authority than a “thus saith the Lord”? Is there any more authority than a “thus saith the Lord”?IRWHW 75.6

    What did God tell Gad to do? He was instructed to tell David that God was now offering the king his choice of three punishments: three years’ famine, three months of destruction by his enemies, or three days of pestilence in the land (vs. 12).IRWHW 75.7

    God also told Gad to tell David, “Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me” (vs. 12). David had the unique prophetic “pipeline“: but he was not to use it in this instance; rather, he was to communicate back to God through Gad.IRWHW 75.8

    Again, there is no evidence that David claimed inspiration superior to that of Gad. Instead, “David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the Lord” (vs. 19).IRWHW 75.9

    It is absurd to speak of degrees of inspiration. Either a prophet is inspired, or he is not. I recently attended a meeting in which there was a large number of women who were expecting to bear children at some time in the near future. Some were well advanced in pregnancy; some were in its early stages. Sometimes we speak of a woman in the first trimester of pregnancy as being “a little bit pregnant.” But the expression is not only inexact, it is incorrect. You have never seen any woman who was a “little bit pregnant.” Either she is pregnant, or she is not pregnant!IRWHW 75.10

    Likewise, you have never seen a prophet who was a “little bit” inspired.IRWHW 75.11

    It is equally absurd to speak of degrees of authority. On February 2, 1980, respected Adventist scholar Don F. Neufeld 20Neufeld edited the Seventh-day Adventist Bible Student’s Source Book and the Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia (vols. 9 and 10 of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary series), as well as serving as one of the general editors of The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary. At the time of his death he was one of the associate editors of the Adventist Review. preached a sermon in the Takoma Park, Maryland, Seventh-day Adventist church entitled “When Jesus Speaks.” For this, the last message he ever preached, 21Letter of Maxine M. Neufeld, Loma Linda, Calif., n.d. (in response to the author’s letter of inquiry of August 19, 1981). Neufeld took for his text Revelation 19:10: “For the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” In his message he discoursed on the various possible renderings of those phrases familiar to Adventists, “the testimony of Jesus” and “the spirit of prophecy.” And in his conclusion he drove home a very cogent point:IRWHW 75.12

    Through His witness to the New Testament prophets, Jesus predicted that prophetic activity, as one of many spiritual gifts, would continue in the church. In other words, the testimony of Jesus to His people was not to cease once the books that make up our present canon of Scripture would be written. Prophetic activity would continue beyond the close of the canon.

    This brings us to an important question. If in all prophetic activity it is Jesus who is speaking, whether in Old Testament times, in New Testament times, or in post-New Testament times, can we logically draw a distinction and say that what Jesus said in any one period is more or less authoritative than what He said in any other period, at least with reference to the generations involved?

    For example, could something that Jesus said in the first century A.D. be more or less authoritative than what He said in the 19th century A.D.? The answer, I think, is obvious. It doesn’t make any sense to argue for degrees of inspiration, as if what Jesus said in one generation was more inspired than what He said in another. 22Sermon manuscript, “When Jesus Speaks,” p. 10; preached at the Takoma Park Seventh-day Adventist Church, February 2, 1980. Italics supplied.

    Seventh-day Adventists generally hold that Ellen G. White is best understood in the role of the literary but noncanonical prophets of the Bible. As such, her writings were inspired by the Holy Spirit in the same way and to the same degree as the writings that were incorporated into the Bible; yet we do not make a second Bible of them, nor even consider them as an addition to the sacred canon of Scripture.IRWHW 75.13

    Let us note next how Ellen White saw her writings in relation to the Bible.IRWHW 75.14

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