Copr. 1999, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D. All scripture references are to the
HOW INSPIRATION WORKS
(DEUTERONOMY 18:15-22; 2 SAMUEL 7:4-9; NUMBERS 22-24; JOEL 2)
Introduction: For the past three weeks we have been looking at how God
communicates with man. This week we turn our microscope to look
specifically at the technique God uses to give us His messages, and
whether this technique changes with time. This study is very important
in understanding how we should approach the Bible and anyone else who
says they have a message from God.
I. PEN OR PENMAN?
A. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 18:15-18. Read. This is Moses speaking.
1. What did the Israelites want to avoid?
(Verse 16: Hearing the voice
of God directly and seeing His fire (glory).)
a. Do you think that was a mistake? Would
you rather hear from God
directly? (Whether it was a mistake or not, God agreed to it.)
2. What was God's substitute for speaking
directly to the people?
(Verse 18: Speaking to the people through a prophet.)
3. We have gotten into this a little bit
before, and I expressed to
you last week the thought that I might have suggested the wrong thing in
the past. How do you understand verse 18?
a. Does God inspire the prophet so that the
prophet uses his own
b. Or, does God inspire the prophet so that
the prophet uses his own
words to describe God's message?
c. That is to say, is the prophet God's pen or His penman?
4. Moses says that this new prophet will
be like him. One of the most
prominent writings of Moses is the Ten Commandments.
a. How were the Ten Commandments given to
us? Word for word or
thought inspired? (The original copy was actually written by the finger
of God; thus making it a word specific statement. (Compare Exodus 31:18;
5. If the prophet is to be a substitute for
God speaking directly to
the people, which would be more logical: the prophet would give the
specific words of God or the prophet would give God's idea in his own
6. Read 2 Samuel 7:4-9. Does this appear
to be word or thought
inspired? (Sure seems to be specific word inspired for we have Nathan
saying, "I have" "I brought," etc. when the "I" is God.)
Let's go back to Deuteronomy 18. Read vv. 18-22. Does v. 19 give you
the impression that God is talking about thought or specific word
inspiration? (Sure seems to be specific word for v.19 says, "my words,"
referring to the words of God.")
What do these verses say is our obligation when a prophet speaks
from God? (Verse 15: you must listen. Verse 19: if you do not listen,
God will personally call you to account.)
II. HOW TO KNOW?
If it is so critical to obey the prophet because his message is from
God (and may even be God's specific words) what is your first question?
(Deut. 18:21: How can we tell when the prophet speaks for God?)
1. How can we tell?
2. What if the prophet does not speak from
God? (Verse 20 says the
prophet should be killed and/or (v.22) ignored.)
B. What is the extent of the prophet's control over his words?
Read Numbers 22:36-38; 24:10-13. Do you remember this story? King
Balak, worried about the approaching "army" of Israel, decided to resort
to supernatural warfare. He sent for Balaam to curse the Israelites.
Balaam wanted to do it and collect a rich reward. But three times he
tried and three times blessings came out of his mouth instead of curses.
1. What does this suggest on the issue of
whether a prophet is a pen
or a penman? What does it suggest about the ability of a true prophet
to say the wrong thing?
III. HOW DO WE REACT TO THE WORDS OF THE PROPHET?
Let's look at another statement about prophecy in Deut. 4:1-2. Read.
In addition to not ignoring God's words in the Bible, what else are we
commanded not to do? (Do not add to them.)
1. Is it equally sinful to add to God's requirements
as to undercut
a. When I was a young man in academy, I was
taught by the faculty
that if I went to a movie theater I would be in particular peril because
my angel would not go in the theater. (I worried about the theater
burning so I heeded this warning.)
(1) Was this advice sinful?
(2) Was it an addition to the Word of God?
(a) Can we distinguish between Biblical teaching
adding to the
Word of God?
i) If so, how?
Let's look at what we have studied so far. We have seen that God
gives the prophet the specific words to say to the people. The true
prophet seems to be pretty limited in his ability to say something else.
Because of this, the people must listen (with the promise that God will
deal personally with them if they do not). Nothing must be added to
God's words. If the prophet adds to God's words, or is otherwise wrong,
the prophet must be killed or ignored.
IV. THE SAME RULES FOR ALL TIME?
By now you should be saying, "Wait a minute! I have always believed
in "thought" inspiration instead of "word" inspiration. Besides, the
teacher's helps for the lesson talk about "thought" vs. "word"
inspiration and say that we do not believe in verbal (word) inspiration
except in "rare cases." (Using the term "rare," of course, admits word
inspiration and creates the problem of knowing when we have word or
1. So who is right? The texts we have
reviewed or the "teacher's
a. Or, have I misrepresented the texts?
b. Or, can they both be right?
Let's look at Joel 2:28-31. Why did God speak through Moses, and
then tell Moses (in Deut. 18: 18) that he would have a single successor,
when in the end times Joel tells us that all sorts of people are going
1. When did this prophecy of Joel begin to
be fulfilled? (Acts
2. Why would "all people" be Spirit filled?
3. Does this mean that in New Testament times
the gift of prophesy is
much more wide-spread than in Old Testament times?
If more people prophesy, have the "rules" changed in terms of a
specific person speaking to the people in the place of God (as in the
situation with Moses)?
D. Let's read two texts on this:
1. 1 Corinthians 14:26-32. Does this envision
more than one prophecy
at each church service?
a. Why would you have more than one prophet
in a church service? If
they are speaking the very words of God, how is more better?
b. Verse 29 says that the people should "weigh
carefully" the words
of these prophets. Why not say "listen" carefully, instead of "weigh"
(1) Are the listeners told to judge whether the
words of the
prophets are correct?
(2) If that is so, why doesn't Paul also add, that
wrong, take him (her) out and kill him? (In his book "The Gift of
Prophecy in the New Testament and Today," Wayne Grudem tells us that the
Greek word translated "weigh carefully" (diakrino) means "to separate."
He believes this means the listeners should decide what part of the
prophet's statement is from God and which is not.) (Grudem, pp. 76-78.)
(Both Strong and Thayer give as the first translation of diakrino "to
2. Next read 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21. Does
this mean that we are to
test prophecies and hold on to that part of the prophecy that is good?
Both of these texts seem to say that we have an active role in
sifting the words of the modern prophets to determine what is from God.
Have the rules changed? (I think they have. This reconciles the
discussion in the "teacher's helps" about "thought" vs. "word"
inspiration. God has gone from speaking face to face with Adam, to
placing the specific words in the prophet's mouth to inspiring the
prophet's thoughts (and maybe even then not all of those thoughts).)
We have a God that does not change, why would He change the rules on
prophecies (assuming that He has)? (When God's people had no written
word from God, it would be vitally important that the message be very
accurate. For that reason, we can logically see why God would give the
very words to the prophets just as He wrote the very words of the Ten
Commandments. However, in New Testament times and in the last days we
have a whole body of Scripture which reveal God. In these days it is
not necessary that each prophet have it exactly right. Instead of it
being an unchanging rule (as the authors of the lesson suggest) that God
gives only "thought" inspiration, I think the better idea is set out in
Grudem's book (cited earlier) (Crossway Books, ISBN 0-89107-495-3) that
the nature of "New Testament" and "modern" prophecies (meaning
"extra-Biblical")are different. It is beyond the scope of this lesson to
thoroughly explore this complex area, so a reading of Gudem's book is
V. PRACTICAL APPLICATION
A. Do you know a modern prophet who was wrong?
1. If so, what did you do?
2. What should you do?
a. Kill the person?
b. Ignore the person?
c. Sift what was said to discern God's will?
(As an "officer of the
court," I would strongly recommend against option "A!")
We are going to get into this in more detail in a later lesson, but
this question has extraordinary importance for any church who claims to
have one or more prophets in its midst. For example, Seventh-day
Adventists believe that Ellen White is a modern prophet. Yet, Robert
Olson of the Ellen White Estate wrote a book entitled "One Hundred and
One Questions on the Sanctuary and on Ellen White" (White Estate, March,
1981) which, while not a official publication of the church as a whole,
was written by a man (in cooperation with others at the Estate) who was
charged with preserving the writings of Ellen White. In that book at
page 58 he wrote, "Ellen [White] misinterpreted this vision." (A
reference to White's temporary position was that no one could be saved
In 2 Testimonies 384 Ellen White counsels "a little domestic wine"
would do no injury to a pregnant woman. If the Old Testament standard of
death (or disregard) were to be applied, this would leave those who
believe Ellen White to be a modern prophet in a serious predicament. On
the other hand, if modern prophets are not to be treated the same as Old
Testament prophets (as I have argued and Grudem has explained), then
these and other alleged errors are not a problem. Instead, we should be
looking for every bit of light from those who claim the prophetic gift,
but should test it all against the Bible.
II. NEXT WEEK: "THE PREPARATION AND PRESERVATION OF THE SCRIPTURES."