How to Study the Bible - Lesson One

Revelation, Inspiration, Preservation and Illumination

With this lesson, you begin a course on how to study the Bible. The wonder and richness of the Bible makes it hard to find a starting place. But before you go very far, you must understand a little about what makes the Bible so special. The Bible is unlike any other book in the world. It is a direct message from God.

We will begin with several foundational truths. Later, we will look at four basic doctrines that describe how the Bible comes to us. First, the foundational truths:

  • God exists. We will not argue the point here. The Bible begins with an assumption of God in its first verse: “In the beginning God…” (Genesis 1:1).
  • God created man. Actually, man was created in God’s own image (Genesis 1:26-27).
  • Man disobeyed God and caused a separation between God and man. Man now has a nature that is in opposition to God. He does not know God unless God reveals Himself to man.
  • God desires to reveal Himself to man and desires to remove the separation between Himself and man caused by man’s disobedience (that is, sin).
  • God chooses to reveal Himself to man primarily through a supernatural book we call the Bible.
  • The Bible is contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments.
  • In the English language, the Bible is preserved in the King James Bible of 1611. That is the Bible which we will study in this course.

In this course, we do not attempt to prove any of the above foundational truths. However, you need to understand that everything that is taught in this course is based on this foundation. If you have doubts about any of the above, you need to study them individually. However, the Bible is so powerful that this course can help you, even if you do not believe some of these truths.

In this lesson, we will introduce four doctrines about the Bible. They will help to show you why the Bible is such a special book. (NOTE: A doctrine is something taught and in context we use the word to refer to specific truths taught in the Bible.) The four doctrines about the Bible are:

  • Revelation
  • Inspiration
  • Preservation
  • Illumination

All four doctrines are required for you to receive and understand God’s word, the Bible. If one of them is missing, we will either not have God’s word or not be able to understand it. The order is also important. They are listed in the order they must come from God to man: revelation, inspiration, preservation and illumination. Let’s look at these doctrines one at a time.

Revelation:

Revelation is the act of revealing something. To reveal means to remove the veil (-veal in reveal comes from veil).

Key Verse:

“The secret things belong unto the LORD our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever, that we may do all the words of this law.” – Deuteronomy 29:29

Modern man prides himself on his knowledge. Yet, there are many things that he does not or cannot know. In fact, much of the knowledge man thinks he has is made up of shaky assumptions. Consider man’s limitation of knowledge in these five directions: 

  • Past. Man is limited in his knowledge of the past. His beliefs concerning origins are just that—beliefs. He cannot know of a certainty how things began.
  • Future. All knowledge about the future is made up of guesses.
  • Up. We are limited in our knowledge of outer space. But we are totally ignorant as to what exists outside our universe. Man cannot discover heaven.
  • Down. Some may disagree with this, but man is even limited as to his knowledge of what lies in the heart of the earth. This is especially humbling because it is so close.
  • Inside. This refers to the inner man. Man can never really understand himself. We spend much effort and time in self-discovery only to find that we are much more complex than can be imagined. Understanding yourself is much like trying to pick yourself up. The harder you try, the more frustrated you become.

These, and other things, are impossible to know apart from the revelation of God. They are the “secret things” referred to in Deuteronomy 29:29. They belong to God. Yet, this verse also teaches that there are some things that God chooses to reveal to man. These truths are the object of biblical revelation.

In the Bible, God revealed His truth to man in many ways. He used dreams and visions. He spoke directly to man. In a lesser way, He still uses nature and history to reveal limited truth about Himself. Any time God reveals something to man, God is practicing revelation.

But you must remember this distinction. All scripture (another name for the Bible) came as a result of God’s revelation but all revelation does not become scripture. Many prophecies were spoken by the Old and New Testament prophets that did not get written down as scripture. Technically, revelation is God revealing to man what he would otherwise never know.

Without revelation, there would be no Bible. Revelation makes the Bible a special book. In it, God opens up the doors of a world that man could not know in any other way. Through the Bible, we know eternal and heavenly truths from God’s own mouth. There is not other book like the Bible.

Inspiration:

The word inspiration is related to the words respiration and perspiration. All three words end with –spiration and have to do with some form of breathing. In respiration, we breathe in and breathe out. In perspiration, our skin breathes in a sense of the word. Inspiration also has to do with breathing. It means that something is breathed into something else.

You may have also noticed that –spiration also sounds a bit like spirit. In ancient languages, air, breath and spirit were usually related words. Using Greek roots, we can see that a pneumatic drill (run by air), pneumonia (a disease that effects the breath) and pneumatology (a technical word for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit) all come from the same Greek word. Inspiration has Latin roots but follows the same pattern. The inbreathing referred to by the word is also an inbreathing of God’s Spirit.

Key Verse:

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” - 2Timothy 3:16

The doctrine of inspiration teaches us that all scripture is a result of the breath of God. As such, it is absolutely pure and holy. It is without error or falsehood. It was given by the breath or Spirit of God. How could there be any impurity in it? This purity and fullness of the very words of scripture is taught many places in the Bible. Read this verse:

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him.” – Proverbs 30:5

Inspiration is the act of God by which He made every word of Scripture completely without error and completely what He wanted. This definition will settle many problems. God has established a Bible which is exactly what He wanted it to be. As such, it must be a perfect Bible. But inspiration is useless without preservation. Let us look at the doctrine of preservation.

Preservation:

To preserve is to keep from harm, injury, destruction, decay, etc. Preservation can refer to many things. However, we are looking at preservation as a doctrine that refers to the words of the Bible. You see, if the Bible had only been given in its original copies in a pure form but no action was taken to keep it pure, then the pure words of scripture could be lost today. This is actually what many people think. But God’s word teaches differently.

Key Verse:

“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” – Psalm 12:6-7 

Biblical preservation is the act of God by which He keeps and protects the Word of God so that every word is exactly of His choosing and completely without error. In other words, it is God’s promise to keep His inspired scriptures inspired.

God tells us that “his truth endureth to all generations” (Psalm 100:5) and “the truth of the LORD endureth for ever” (Psalm 117:2). According to this teaching, every generation has God’s truth. The question is not whether or not God’s word is preserved. The question is simply this: Where is God’s truth for this generation? This lesson cannot argue this point. However, in the English language, we encourage you to trust the King James Bible of 1611. You will find that it will not lead you astray.

Illumination:

To illuminate means to give light to something, to explain it, to make it clear. Even when we hold God’s very word in our hands and read it for ourselves, we still need the enlightening ministry of the Holy Spirit to understand it clearly. As a doctrine, illumination is the act of God by which His Spirit teaches us and gives us an understanding of His written word.

The Bible teaches that “the things of the Spirit of God…are spiritually discerned” (1Corinthians 2:14). To discern means to weigh the facts and to determine what is true and what is right. Something that must be spiritually discerned is something that cannot be truly understand apart from the teaching of God’s Spirit through our inner spirit.

Illumination must be distinguished from revelation. Revelation is the reception of direct truth from God apart from His written word. This is an unnecessary gift today because we have God’s complete word in the Bible. Illumination, on the other hand, is the spiritual opening up of scripture that is already written and given to us.

Key Verse:

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.” – 1Corinthians 2:12

To truly understand the word of God, we must be taught by the Spirit of God. The psalmist who wrote the longest chapter in the Bible (Psalm 119 with 176 verses) prayed, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Psalm 119:18). This should be your prayer when you open the Bible to read and study it. You should trust the author of the book (God) to teach you what it really means.

Summary:

We have looked at four important doctrines about the Bible: revelation, inspiration, preservation and illumination. If one of them is missing (if God did not reveal His truth from heaven, if God did not put His truth into the Bible, if God did not keep His words pure, if God does not teach us His word), then we do not have God’s truth for today. They are all required.

When you read scripture, do you recognize that you are reading God’s very words to man? You should have a sense of reverence and awe as you open this holy book. There is no other book like it in the world. It contains the very words of the very God.

Knowledge Quiz:

  1. With what assumption does the Bible begin?
  2. How many books are in the Bible?
  3. What biblical word means something taught?
  4. Are there secret things that God does not reveal to man? Prove your answer with a scripture reference.
  5. To reveal means to remove what?
  6. Does all revelation become scripture?
  7. What common meaning connects the words inspiration, respiration and perspiration.
  8. Inspiration makes scripture profitable for what four things?
  9. What is the doctrinal definition of inspiration?
  10. What are God’s pure words said to be like in a key verse on preservation?
  11. What does the psalmist say endures to all generations?
  12. What is the difference between revelation and illumination?
  13. To illuminate means to give what to something?
  14. Who should be our most important teacher of God’s word?

Discussion Questions: 

  1. This lesson teaches that all four doctrines about the Bible (revelation, inspiration, preservation, illumination) are necessary for us to receive God’s word today. Tell why preservation is necessary by explaining what would happen without it.
  2. Explain why the order of the four doctrines is important.
  3. The lesson gives five areas of knowledge in which man’s knowledge is limited. Describe how man’s knowledge of the past is limited.
  4. Can man ever truly know his own heart? Read Proverbs 18:2 and Ecclesiastes 3:11 in a King James Bible. What do they teach about man’s limited knowledge.

Memory Verses: 

  1. Required Verses (2Timothy 3:16; Psalm 12:6-7)
  2. Recommended Verses (Deuteronomy 29:29; Proverbs 30:5; 1Corinthians 2:12)

Study Exercises: 

  1. God’s truth endures “to all generations” (Psalm 100:5). Look up the word in a dictionary. How would you define the word as used in this verse? Choose and/or reword a definition that makes sense in this verse.
  2. The lesson spoke of the preservation of scripture. However, a survey of passages that use the word preservation shows that God preserves some things other than His words. Read Nehemiah 9:6; Job 7:20; Psalm 16:1; 36:6; 37:28; 97:10; Isaiah 31:5; Luke 17:33; 1Thessalonians 5:23; Jude 1:1. Name some other areas of preservation that would be necessary for a complete study of the doctrine in scripture.
David Reagan

Daily Proverb

Proverbs 21:31

The horse is prepared against the day of battle: but safety is of the LORD.