How does inspiration work exactly?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #1

Sophisticated theologians (such as Michael Heiser) suggest that divine inspiration is not simply the result of God implanting knowledge into the brains of the Biblical writers. I agree wholeheartedly. But I would go one step further, for me, a Prophet is one who comes to a realisation about the spiritual truths about God and reality through ‘divine providence’, without God necessarily communicating with them directly. I emphasise ‘divine providence’ because I am no longer in the Reconstructionist Judaism camp, which rejects divine inspiration wholeheartedly, and suggests that the prophets came to an understanding of God through their own volition. I do not believe God (a being completely ineffable and otherworldly) can be described as ‘sentient’ and ‘personal’ (though I agree he is something like that). Indeed, Judaism, through Maimonides tends to see anthropomorphic language as purely symbolic. Hence I do not believe at all that God ‘talks’ to people (least of all because such could be mistaken for schizophrenia), rather he providentially guides people, and that is how inspiration truly works.

This links in well with BioLogos’ mission statement, as under my view, the Biblical writers could not have gained advanced scientific knowledge through God, as God has to work with what the biblical writers had with them to achieve his goals.

(btw, I no longer hold to the view that God is ‘being itself’, or some other form of abstract entity, I now hold the traditional view that God is something objectively real and unique, and holds something equivalent to sentience, though I still hold that God is a transcendent, ineffable, indescribable higher mystery, which is primarily the ultimate concern for our lives. I also see it as very likely that the Israelite concept of God evolved out of the Mesopotamian concept of transcendent divinity).

How do you think inspiration works?


(Dominik Kowalski) #2

Well this also sounds rather like God dictating the text, than the writers speaking about their experiences with him, so I fully agree.

Disagree, the catholic church doesn´t consider Aristotle or Plato to be prophets. Would you? Maybe you have to define what you mean by “spiritual truth”. And by “Prophet”. Isn´t this term normally used for people who make predictions about the future?

Certainly not sentient in the way we would talk about it, since our emotions are bound to the physical body, while God is immaterial. I agree on the “personal” aspect, though of course I believe that God is indeed personal. However what Catholics and Evangelicals would describe this personal aspect to mean is different. Let us just keep in mind, that the belief of God being the first person of the Trinity is a common denominator.

I tend to agree, though I´m hesitant to call people who claim to have heard God speak to them (e.g. during an NDE) schizophrenic. Though I agree that the communication between God and his people is generally through guidance and actions.

You know, the one doesn´t rule out the other. Because I see God as the necessary being everything depends upon, it follows that existence or being is rooted in him who is pure existence/being. Some aspects of rationalistic philosophy has influenced your picture, am I correct?

By experience, so I´m hesitant to call the great natural theologians of the past like St. Thomas Aquinas a prophet. I think the status of being a prophet requires some kind of revelation. So I think the New Testament is inspired by the authors experience with Jesus, and in another way I see the Old Testament as inspired through the debate about God, his will and his relationship to his people over the centuries.


(Shawn T Murphy) #3

“Ye have slain, have slain, the all-wise, the innocent, the Muses’ nightingale.”(Diogenes Laertius II 44)

According to the ancient Greeks, inspiration comes from either the Muses or the Nymphs, from Olympus or from Hades respectfully. In the Symposium Socrates spoke of his teacher Diotima. She was most likely a Muse, a teacher that only he could see.

Johann Sebastian Bach is ta good example of inspiration in action. He wrote at the bottom of each page of his compositions ZEG meaning Zur Ehre Gottes or In Honor of God. He called himself just a messenger and recognized that his music did not come from, but was a gift from Heaven.

1 John 4:1–3 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world.

This is the guidance from the bible, regrading communications with the spirit of truth promised by Jesus (John 14:17 15:26 16:13). Johannes Greber’s book, Communications with the spirit world of God , is a great read to understand how these communications work from a technical standpoint. It is important to understand that the Heisenberg principle is the guiding law of spirit communications - the observers and the medium determine what can be said and which spirits speak.

The communications that Reverend G. Vale Owen received shows this principle in action. The observers were looking for scientific proof and the spiritual world would not support this goal, since they were there to teach their own curriculum. The words of Beatrice Brunner were all recorded and can be examined for consistency across the 35 years that this communication took place. This body of knowledge shows what can happen when the audience is supporting the goals of the spiritual teachers.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #4

Never said people who claim god talks to them are schizophrenic, only that they could be mistaken for such, or even mistake their own experiences for madness.

I prefer calling god the ‘ground of being’, rather than being itself, God is not ‘being’, he is the ‘source’ of being.

Yes, and Maimonides is my main influence.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #5

You are correct, and I’d like to point out that my view is compatible with predictive prophecy. In the ancient near east people made predictive prophecies all the time, one needn’t think god directly speaks to them to make a predictive prophecy, but god could have inspired it providentially in its ANE context and then worked towards its fulfillment


(Jennifer Thomas) #6

@Reggie_O_Donoghue, you’ve raised a lot of complex issues here. The question of inspiration, and how it works, is central to all major world religions, but the answer to how inspiration works is, in my experience, of little interest to those who profess either a great faith in God or a single-minded focus on science. To understand how inspiration works is a matter for both science and faith – the intertwining of the two within the human body (by which I mean brain, central nervous system, and other messaging systems such as the immune system and endocrine system – but it’s easier to just say “body” for the purposes of discussion).

Inspiration isn’t a “single thing” that can be easily explained in a short sentence. Or a short chapter. Or a short book. It’s a vast topic, and although I’ve been working non-stop on it for 18 years, I feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.

At its simplest, inspiration can be understood as a form of communication between the Divine and us. Every human being is born with the hard-wiring that allows him or her to be guided by the Divine through inner experiences we variously label intuition, inspiration, calling, love, wonder, or Divine presence. But no two people experience it in exactly the same way.

The latter point has been very poorly understood by most religious teachers in most major world religions. As a result, there’s a long history of mystics (with mystics being those on the far end of the natural spectrum of intuition) who have tried to insist their own personal way of connecting with God is the only right way to connect with God. This insistence on “the only right way” has messed up countless other people who’ve been led to believe they’re not worthy of connection with God. Many people simply give up and stop trying, which is a tragedy, because our brains are hard-wired to need relationship with God and all Creation.

I know you believe this, Reggie, and I know most other people believe this, too, but unfortunately you’re mistaken. A small number of people can and do talk directly with the Divine, which is the experience of mysticism. But the history of mysticism has become deeply entangled with the history of major mental illness, the history of addiction disorders, the history of occultism, and the history of prophecy. So it’s a complete mess, and only careful, ethical research is going to be able to sort out the different threads that have complicated our relationship with God and have created no end of suffering for those who long to feel God’s presence in their lives.

I’m not suggesting in any way that everybody is a latent mystic or that everybody would want to be a mystic. (Believe me, it’s a hard row to hoe.) But the experience of being able to trust God’s guidance through everything except words – that’s like Rumpelstiltskin turning straw into gold.

God bless.


(Christy Hemphill) #7

Not really how prophets are portrayed in the Bible though. They are messengers who have been given messages. Directly, at least in some way of thinking about it. Surely messages can be given without physically talking. Through dreams, visions, and other ways of communicating directly to the mind.

I really liked aspects of Peter Enns’ Incarnation and Inspiration idea. (which I actually have never actually read, so maybe I should say I liked Kenton Sparks portrayal of it in Sacred Word Broken Word) Basically it uses the Incarnation as an analogy and says that God chooses to give humanity to his words by putting his truth into human language and cultural constructs that are relatable to human experience. (Hence all the anthropomorphism) Just like the Incarnation, this embodiment of God’s words in our words limits God in some aspects. Instead of dictating the story to the authors, it’s more like God “adopted” human stories and infused them with his own timeless lessons and theological ends.


(Phil) #8

It does make you wonder when you start thinking about it. If you consider the New Testament, other than Revelations, I rather doubt that any of the authors considered their writing to be scripture at the time it was written. Ironically, Revelations is one of the books that was eyed for not being included in the canon, as I recall.
So, it only became scripture and canon through time and a pretty messy process, long after the human authors were gone. I imagine they considered some of what they wrote as inspired, but doubt they considered it holy scripture.


(Shawn T Murphy) #9

Dear Phil,
I am very certain that both Paul and John knew 100% that the visions they were given came from Jesus. And yes, the priests were not enlightened enough to understand Revelations.


(Christy Hemphill) #10

That’s different than saying when Paul sat down to write “I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, for now no one can say they were baptized in my name. (Oh yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas, but I don’t remember baptizing anyone else.)” or “When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments,” that he thought he was writing Holy Scripture. He was writing letters.


(Shawn T Murphy) #11

Paul spent three years in the desert where Jesus taught him (Gal 1:17f and 2 Cor 12:1-3). This is just the same as Jesus’ many visits to the desert where he communed with God and His angels.


(Christy Hemphill) #12

I’m not debating whether Paul saw himself as a messenger of Jesus with apostolic authority. Clearly he did. I am saying I don’t think Paul considered every word he penned in the letters that became canon to be the inspired word of God. We consider them that, after the long canonization process Phil mentioned.


(Dominik Kowalski) #13

Or to sum it up even easier: If the author himself would have believed that what he writes down in his exact way is the inspired word of God, then you can be sure he would have highlighted the rule that this words mustn´t be translated but read in the original.


(Shawn T Murphy) #14

The thread is “How does inspiration really work” and not how does man’s canonization process work. Thus, my comment is to show how Jesus came in spirt to teach Paul in the desert.


(Phil) #15

True, I went off on a bit today a tangent, but when we talk about the “inspired word of God,” we are usually speaking of canonized scripture, not Tom Wright’s latest book.


(Jennifer Thomas) #16

Though Tom Wright has written some interesting and important words, so maybe one day in the future . . . hey, you never know.


(Shawn T Murphy) #17

Many works are inspired, but the real question is, from whom? It seems modern Christianity has no concept of the Spirit of Truth and 1 John 4 method of diving from whence the spirit comes. I have read hundreds of inspired works in many languages and the quality varies greatly. There are only a handful that I see are on par with the words of Jesus. Remember Heisenberg!


(Mervin Bitikofer) #18

We should offer a cash prize to anyone who ever had that on their list of Bible memory verses to work on.

I can only imagine the stories Paul will probably have for all of his vast relief that not all of his correspondence was found. Who knows what grocery lists or juicy bits of gossip narrowly escaped sacred loredom.


(Jennifer Thomas) #19

Yes, there’s a lot of physics involved in the process of inspiration. There’s non-locality, the Uncertainty Principle, the conscious observer, and probability wave functions. But at a human level, most people just want to be able to tell the difference between teachings that are “inspired” by narcissism and teachings that genuinely align with God’s Mind and Heart.

I’m not a big fan of what John or Paul have to say about the gifts of the Spirit. I incline towards the Gospel of Mark, the Gospel of Thomas, parts of James, and bits and pieces from Luke and Matthew as ways to understand Jesus’ teachings.

Mark shows us a man whose chief interest is in teaching other people how to love and trust God, yet among the methods we see in Mark, there’s a distinct absence of teachings on mysticism, occultism, gifts of the Spirit, or religious rituals. Sure, strange things happen in Mark (presumably because God wants others to pay attention to what Jesus was saying). But Jesus himself isn’t teaching strange things. In Mark, it’s all about the basics of relationship – relationship with God, relationship with your neighbours, relationship with yourself. We hardly learn anything in Mark about Jesus’ personal inspiration and guidance from God, but we learn a lot about how we, as regular people and children of God, can heal our relationship with our beloved Mother Father God.

According to Mark, Jesus believed we’re worthy of such insights.


(Shawn T Murphy) #20

Dear Jennifer,
The thread is on inspiration and you seem to have rejected the two most spiritually inspired writers of the New Testament, and chose the historian view. Since we are coming up on Easter and especially Palm Sunday, I would like to share the spiritual meaning of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem from book 10 of Origen’s Commentary on John. I hope you enjoy it!
Best Wishes, Shawn