Online Encyclopedia

INSPIRATION (Lat. inspirare, breathe ...

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V14, Page 648 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
Spread the word: it!
INSPIRATION (Lat. inspirare, breathe upon or into), strictly the act of drawing physical breath into the lungs as opposed to " expiration." Metaphorically the term is used generally of analogous mental phenomena; thus we speak of a sudden spontaneous idea as an " inspiration." The term is specially used in theology for the condition of being directly under divine influence, as the equivalent of the Greek Bearrveuvria (the adjective Bearrvevoros is used of the Holy Scriptures in 2 Timothy iii. 16). Similar in meaning is EvOouviavµos, enthusiasm (from EvBouai4w from EvBeos). Possession by the divine spirit (Trveuµa) was regarded as necessarily accompanied by intense stimulation of the emotions. The possibility of a human being becoming the habitation and organ of a divinity is generally assumed in the lower religions. In the popular religion of China some of the priests, the Wu, claim to be able to take up into their body a god or a spirit, and thereby to give bracles. In wild frenzy they rush about half naked with hair hanging loose, wounding themselves with swords, knives, daggers, and uttering all kinds of sounds, which are then interpreted by people who claim to be able to understand such divine speech. The Maoris at the initiation of the young men into the tribal mysteries sing a song, called " breath," to the mystic wind by which they believe their god makes his presence known. An Australian woman claimed to have heard the descent of the god as a rushing wind. In some savage tribes blood is drunk to induce the frenzy of inspiration; music and dancing are widely employed for the same purpose. Dionysus, the god of wine in Greece, was also the god of inspiration; and in their orgies the worshippers believed themselves to enter into real union with the deity. In Dephi the Pythia, the priestess who delivered the oracles, was intoxicated by the vapour which rose from a well, through a small hole in the ground. As the oracles were often enigmatic, they were interpreted by a prophet. In Rome the inspiration of Numawas derived from the nymph 4Egeria; and great value was attached to the books of the Cumaean Sibyl. In Arabia the kahin (priest) was recognized as the channel of divine communication. Inspiration may mean only possession by the deity, or it may mean further that the person so possessed becomes the channel through which the deity reveals his word and will. (See J. A. Macculloch's Comparative Theology, chap. xv., 1902). Prophecy in the Old Testament in its beginnings is similar to the phenomenon in other religions. Saul and his servant came to Samuel, the man of God, the seer, with a gift in their hands to inquire their way (I Sam. ix. 8). The companies of prophets who went about the country in Samuel's time were enthusiasts for Yahweh and for Israel. When Saul found himself among them he was possessed by the same spirit (I Sam. x. to, II.) The prophesying in which he took part probably included violent movements of the body, inarticulate cries, a state of ecstasy or even frenzy. The phrase "holy spirit " in Acts, as applied to the Apostolic Church, probably indicates a similar state of religious exaltation; it was accompanied by speaking with tongues, inarticulate utterances, which needed interpretation (1 Corinthians xiv. 27). In every religious revival, when the emotions are deeply stirred, similar phenomena are met with. Such a movement was Montanism in the 3rd century. At the Reformation, while Luther was at the Wartburg, fanaticism broke out, and spread from Wittenberg; prophets went about declaring the revelations which they had received. The Evangelical Revival in the 18th century also had its abnormal religious features. The Revival in Scotland in 186o was marked by one curious feature—the Gospel dance—when in their excitement men and women got up and spun round and round till they were exhausted. Spontaneous praise and prayer marked the revival in Wales in 1go5-1906. Prophecy, as represented by the writings of the prophets, arose out of this state of religious exaltation, but left behind many of its features. Yahweh was believed to guide and guard the history of His chosen people Israel; He controlled the action of the nations that came in contact with His people, so that, using them as His instruments, He might accomplish His purpose. The function of the prophets was to interpret the course of history so as to communicate God's Word and will in judgment or in mercy. They were divinely endowed for this function by their inspiration. While these prophets seem to have continued in the exercise of all their normal faculties, which were stimulated and not suppressed, yet they do claim a distinctive divine activity in their consciousness, and distinguish with confidence their own thoughts from the revealed word. That abnormal psychic states, such as visions and voices, were sometimes experienced is not improbable; but the usual prophetic state seems to have been one of withdrawal of attention from the outer world, absorption of interest in the inner life, devout communion and inte.cession with God, and the divine response in a moral or a spiritual intuition rather than an intellectual ratiocination. Possession by the Spirit in its external manifestations is ascribed to Gideon, Jephthah, Samson, Saul, Elijah; but even when the same language is used of the later prophets, it is probably such an inward state as has just been described which is to be assumed. A feature inseparable from this later phase of prophecy is pre-diction. For the warning or the encouragement of the people the prophet as Jehovah's messenger declares what He is about to do. Thus the fall of Samaria in 722 B.C., the deliverance of Jerusalem in 701, the overthrow of the kingdom of Judah in 586, the return from exile in 537 were all heralded by prophecy. This prediction was no shrewd political conjecture, but an application to existing conditions of the permanent laws of God's government. The abnormal phenomena of inspiration, the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit, in the Apostolic Church, have already been noticed. While Paul does not deny nor depreciate these charisma, as tongues, miracles, &c., he represents as the more excellent way the Christian life in faith, hope and love (i Cor. xii. 31). The New Testament represents the Christian life as an inspired life. It is living communion with Christ. and therefore constant possession of the Holy Spirit. Every Christian in the measure in which he has become a new as a reply to the claims of Jews and Christians for their holy creature in Christ is a prophet, because he knows by the en- lightening of God's Spirit " what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God " (Romans xii. 2). An occasional state of divine possession in the other religions becomes in the prophets of Israel a permanent endowment for a few select agents of God's revelation; but when that revelation is consummated in Christ, inspiration becomes the universal privilege of all believers. While there is much superstition in the view of inspiration found in many religions, and much imposture in the claims to the possession of it, yet it would be illogical to conclude that this feature of religion is altogether human error and not at all divine truth. Man's knowledge of God is conditional, and therefore limited by his knowledge of the world and himself, and has accordingly the same imperfection. The reality of a divine communion and communication with man is not to be denied because its nature has been imperfectly apprehended. We must estimate the worth of inspiration by the higher and not the lower stages, by the vision of an Isaiah or the consecration of a Paul; but at the same time we must be prepared to recognize its lowly beginnings. In dealing with the inspiration of the Bible, to which the use of the term has in the Christian Church been largely restricted, it is important to remember that inspiration is primarily personal; and that it assumes varied forms and allows varying degrees. Other- religions besides Christianity possess their sacred scriptures. The value attached to the Sibylline writings in Rome has already been mentioned. In Greece, Homer and Hesiod were esteemed a$ authoritative exponents of the mythology; a distinction was made between the poet's own words and the divine element, and what was offensive to reason, conscience or taste was explained allegorically. Hinduism distinguishes two classes of sacred writings, the S'ruti (hearing), which were believed to have been heard by inspired men from a divine source, and were endowed with supernatural powers, and the Smriti (recollection) derived from tradition. While the poets of the Rig-Veda, the oldest of the holy writings, do not claim inspiration, it is ascribed to them in the highest degree. Some of the Hindu sects—Vaishnavist and Saivist—regard some of the later writings, as also divine revelation. In Zoroastrianism, the books of the Zend-Avesta were conceived by later generations at least as having been eternally formed by Ormuzd, and revealed at the creation to his prophet Zoroaster, who, however, guarded the communication carefully in his mind until a very much later date in the world's history. Ormuzd drove Ahriman back to hell by reciting one of the holy hymns. Buddhism has its Tripitaka (three baskets), and the reading, reciting and copying of the sacred scriptures is one of the surest means of acquiring merit. But as it ignores the gods, and places Buddha far above them, it does not claim divine inspiration for its writings. Buddha himself enlightens, but every man must save himself by walking in the true way which has been shown to him. Confucianism has its literature of absolute authority on manners, morals, rites and politics, but its claim does not rest on inspiration. These writings are revered as preserving the beliefs and customs of former ages, which are believed to have been more familiar than the present with the Way of Heaven. Tor the Koran very extravagant claims are made by orthodox Islam. Although Mahomet at first feared that his call to be a prophet was a deception of evil spirits, and wished to take his own life, yet afterwards he uttered his decisions on most trivial matters as divine oracles. God preserves the original text of the Koran in Heaven, and blots out what He wills and leaves what He wills. By the angel Gabriel God communicated this book word for word to the prophet, so that the Koran is a faithful copy of the heavenly book. The angels in heaven read the Koran. While the orthodox theology asserted, the eternity of the Koran, the Mo'tazilite school denied this for the reason that the spoken sounds and the written signs in which alone a revelation could be given must have come to be Jai time, As Islam was not altogether independent of Christianity and Judaism, this doctrine of the Koran was probably intended writings. The Pentateuch was accepted as authoritative law by the Jewish Church in 444 B.C. About two centuries later the Prophets (including the histories as well as the prophetic writings proper) were also acknowledged as sacred scriptures, although of inferior authority to the Law. In the century before the Christian era the Writings, including Psalms and Proverbs, were included in the Canon. Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism disagreed about the recognition of the books now known as the Apocrypha. The writers of the New Testament use the Old Testament as holy scriptures, as an authoritative declaration of the mind and will of God; but the inaccuracy of many of the quotations, together with the use of the Greek translation as well as the original Hebrew, forbid our ascribing to them any theory of verbal inspiration. By the middle of the 2nd century the four Gospels were probably accepted as trustworthy records of the life of Jesus. The Epistles were accepted as authoritative in virtue of apostolic authorship. By the end of the 3rd century the use and approval of the churches had established the present canon. The doctrine of the inspiration of these writings in the Jewish and Christian Church now claims attention. Inspiration is first of all ascribed to persons to account for abnormal states, or exceptional powers and gifts; in this doctrine it is transferred to writings, and its effects in securing for these inerrancy, authority, &c., are discussed with little regard for the psychic state of the writers. The New Testament affirms the inspiration of the Old Testament. Jesus introduced a quotation from the 'loth Psalm with the words " David himself by the Holy Spirit said " (Mark xii. 36), and in appealing to the law against tradition He used the phrase " God said " (Matt. xv. 4). The author of the first Gospel describes a prediction as that " which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet " (Matt. i. 22), and so Peter refers to " the scripture which the Holy Spirit spake before by the mouth of David " (Acts is 16). For Paul as for Peter the utterances of the Old Testament are " the oracles of God " (Romans iii. 2; r Peter iv. 1x). The final appeal is to what is written. God spoke in the prophets (Romans ix. 25; Hebrews i. I). The use of Oeb1rvevaao in regard to the Scriptures in 2 Timothy iii. 16 has already been noted. The Spirit of Christ is said to have been in the prophets (x Peter i. II); and it is affirmed that " no prophecy ever came by the will of man; but men spake from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit " (2 Peter i. 21). The constant use of the Old Testament in the New confirms this doctrine of inspiration. Contemporary Jewish thought was in agreement with this view of the Old Testament. Philo describes Moses as " that purest mind which received at once the gift of legislation and of prophecy with divinely inspired wisdom " (De congr. erud. c. 24). Josephus again and again expresses his deep reverence for the holy Scriptures, and his belief that the authors wrote under the influence of the Spirit of God. According to Weber the doctrine of the Talmud is that " the holy scripture came td,be through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and has its origin in God Himself, who speaks in it." But the nature of this inspiration must be more closely defined, and hence have arisen a number of theories of inspiration. The first theory is that of mechanical dictation, or verbal inspiration. The writers of the books of the Bible were God's pens rather than His penmen; every word was given them by. God. Their faculties were suppressed that God alone might be active in them. This conception is found in Plato, " God has given the art of divination, not to the wisdom, but to the foolishness of man. No man, when in his wits, attains prophetic truth and inspiration; but when he receives the inspired word, either his intelligence is enthralled in sleep, or he is demented by some distemper or possession " (Timaeus, 71). Philo declares that " the understanding that dwells in us is ousted on the arrival of the Divine Spirit, but is restored to its own dwelling when that Spirit departs, for it is unlawful that mortal dwell with immortal " (Quin rots div. haeres, c. 53). Athenagoras adopted this view doctrine and conduct as closely related to God's purpose in the Scriptures from the remaining contents of the Scripture, and claims for the Bible only such inspiration as was necessary to secure accuracy in regard to these. The theology and the morality of the Bible are inspired, but not its history, science, philosophy. This distinction is already anticipated in Thomas Aquinas' theory of two kinds of inspiration, " the direct, which is to be found where doctrinal and moral truths are directly taught, and the indirect, which appears in historical passages, whence the doctrinal and moral can only be indirectly evolved by the use of allegorical interpretation." This view has the support of such names as Erasmus, Hugo Grotius, Richard Baxter, W. Paley and J. J. I. von Dellinger. It is to be observed that it lays emphasis on the necessity of correct views about doctrine and conduct; and this is an intellectualist standpoint which is not in accord either with the character or the influence of the Bible. Further, it does not explain how the same human mind can by divine inspiration obtain infallible knowledge in some matters, and yet be left prone to err in others. Again it does not take account of the fact that the teaching of the Old Testament as regards belief and morals is progressive; and that the imperfections of the earlier stages of the development are corrected in the later. That it is an advance on the other theories must be acknowledged, as from this standpoint errors in history or science arc no difficulties to the believer in the Bible as so inspired. It is necessary here to add that this emphasis on the infallibility of the knowledge of doctrine and morals communicated by the Scriptures had as its legitimate inference in the patristic and medieval period the claim that the Church alone was the infallible interpreter of the Scriptures. The fourth theory—that of the Reformers (though not of their successors, the Protestant scholastics)—might be called that of vital inspiration, as its emphasis is on religious and moral life rather than on knowledge. While giving to the Scriptures supreme authority in all matters of faith and doctrine, the Reformers laid stress on the use of the Bible for edification; it was for them primarily a means of grace for awakening and nourishing the new life in the hearts of God's people. By the enlightening work of the Spirit of God the World of God is discovered in the Scriptures: it is the testimonium Spiritus Sancti in the soul of the Christian that makes the Bible the power and wisdom of God unto salvation. By thus laying stress on this redemptive purpose of the divine revelation, the Reformers were delivered from the bondage of the letter of Scripture, and could face questions of date and authorship of the writings frankly and boldly. Hence a pioneer of the higher criticism in Great Britain, W. Robertson Smith, was able to appeal to this Reformation doctrine. " If I am asked why I receive Scripture as the Word of God, and as the only perfect rule of faith and life, I answer with all the fathers of the Protestant Church, ` Because the Bible is the only record of the redeeming love of God, because in the Bible alone I find God drawing near to man in Christ Jesus, and declaring to us in Him His will for our salvation. And this record I know to be true by the witness of His Spirit in my heart, whereby I am assured that none other but God Himself is able to speak such words to my soul ' " (in Denney's Studies in Theology, p. 205). The Reformers' application of this theory to the Bible was necessarily conditioned by the knowledge of their age; but it is a theory wide enough to leave room for our growing modern knowledge of the Bible. Briefly stated, these are the conclusions which our modern - knowledge allows. (r) Inspiration, or the presence and influence of the Divine Spirit in the soul of man, cannot be limited to the writers of the Scriptures; but, comparing the Bible with the other sacred literature of the world, its religious and moral superiority cannot be denied, and we may, therefore, claim for it as a whole a fuller inspiration. (2) As different writings in the Bible have more or less important functions in the progressive divine revelation, we may distinguish degrees of inspiration. (3) This inspiration is primarily personal, an inward enlightening and quickening, both religious and moral, of the writer, finding an expression conditioned by his individual characteristics in in regard to the prophets. " While entranced and deprived of their natural powers of reason by the influence of the Divine Spirit, they uttered that which was wrought in them, the spirit using them as its instrument, as a flute player might blow a flute." Other figures used are these; the inspired writer was the lyre, and the Holy Spirit the plectrum, or the writer was the vase, and the Holy Spirit filled it. The extravagances of Montanism threw some discredit on this conception, and we find Miltiades writing a treatise with the title That the Prophet ought not to speak in Ecstasy. But Gregory the Great called the writers of Scripture the calami of the Holy Spirit. After the Reformation the Protestant Scholastics revived this view. Gerhard, Calovius and Quenstedt agree in ascribing to the Scriptures absolute infallibility in all matters, and describe the writers as " amanuenses of God, or Christ," " hands of the Spirit," " clerks," " secretaries," " manus et Spiritus sive." The Formula consensus Helvetica probably reaches the extreme statement, when it declares that the Old Testament was " turn quoad consonas, turn quoad vocalic, sive puncta ipsa, live punctorum saltem potestatem, et turn quoad res, turn quoad verba Oeb,rvevo-ros." Seeing that the vowel-point system was introduced by Jewish scribes centuries after the books were written, this statement shows how recklessly theory may override fact. Of this theory, which has now few advocates, it is sufficient to say that it ignores all the data the Bible itself offers. On the one hand it is impossible to maintain the inerrancy of the Bible in matters of science, philosophy, history, and even in doctrine and morals there is progress; on the other hand the personal characteristics, the historical circumstances, the individual differences of the writers are so reproduced in the writings that the action of the human factor must be frankly and fully recognized as well as the divine activity. The second theory is that of dynamic influence or degrees of inspiration. While the Spirit controls and directs, the human personality is not entirely suppressed. Even Philo recognized that all portions of Scripture were not equally inspired, and assigned to Moses the highest degree of inspiration. The Jewish rabbis placed the Law, the Prophets and the Writings on a descending scale of inspiration. " The schoolmen followed them, and some distinguished four degrees of influence: superintendence, which saved from positive error; elevation, which imparted loftiness to the thought; direction, which prompted the writer what to insert and what to omit; and suggestion, which inspired both thoughts and words " (M. Dods, The Bible, its Origin and Nature, p. 118, 1905). The co-operation of the divine and the human factors is recognized in Augustine's saying about the authors: " Inspiratus a Dee, sed tamen homo." It is interesting to note that Plutarch had to account for the same human peculiarities and imperfections in the Pythian responses as the Christian apologist in the Bible, and he offers a similar explanation. " If she were obliged to write down, and not to utter the responses, we should not, I suppose, believe the hand-writing to be the god's, and find fault with it, because it is inferior in point of calligraphy to the imperial rescripts; for neither is the old woman's voice, nor her diction, nor her metre the god's; but it is the god alone who presents the visions to this woman, and kindles light in her soul regarding the future; for this is the inspiration " (op. cit. p. 119). While degrees of inspiration must be recognized, the distinction must be made objectively, and not subjectively. We may say that where the revelation is the clearest, there inspiration is the fullest, that nearness to the perfect fulfilment in Christ of God's progressive purpose deter-mines the degree of inspiration; but we cannot formulate any elaborate theory of the operation of the Spirit from the stand-point of the psychic states of the writers. While subjectively we cannot separate the divine and the human spirit in the process, so objectively we cannot distinguish the divine substance and the human form in the product of inspiration. This theory neither helps us to explain the origin of the writings nor guides us in estimating the contents. The third theory, which is a modification of the second, is that of essential inspiration, which distinguishes matters of his writing. (4) The purpose of inspiration is practical; the inspired men are used of God to give guidance in belief and duty by declaring the word and will of God as bearing on human life. (5) As revelation is progressive, inspiration does not exclude defects in doctrine and practice in the earlier stages and their correction in the later stages of development. (6) As the progressive revelation culminates in Christ, so He possesses fullest inspiration; and it varies in others according to the closeness of their contact, and intimacy of their communion with Him. (7) As the primary function of Christ is redemptive, so the inspiration of the Bible is directed to make men " wise unto salvation." (8) It is the presence and influence in the souls of men of the same Spirit of God as inspired the Scriptures which makes the Bible effective as a means of grace; and only those who yield themselves to the Spirit of God have the witness in themselves that the Bible conveys to them the truth and the grace of God. In addition to the books mentioned, see: A. B. Bruce,The Chief End of Revelation (1881); C. A. Briggs, The Bible, the Church, and the Reason (1892); W. N. Clarke, The Use of the Scriptures in Theology (1906); H. E. Ryle, The Canon of the Old Testament (1892); B. F. Westcott, A General Survey of the History of the Canon of the New Testament (7th ed., 1896) ; W. Sanday, Inspiration (3rd ed., 1896) ; A. B. Davidson, article " Prophecy " in Hastings's Bible Dictionary, iv.; A. E. Garvie, " Revelation " in Hastings's Bible Dictionary (extra volume). (A. E. G.*)
End of Article: INSPIRATION (Lat. inspirare, breathe upon or into)

Additional information and Comments

There are no comments yet for this article.
» Add information or comments to this article.
Please link directly to this article:
Highlight the code below, right click and select "copy." Paste it into a website, email, or other HTML document.