We need to make a distinction between the illumination of the mind to the Scriptures, and the illumination theory of inspiration. The illumination theory of inspiration states that “inspiration is merely an intensifying and elevation of the religious perceptions of the believer.” (Thiessen, Henry C.; “Lectures In Systematic Theology”; Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1949, p 106) This is not the topic of consideration in this section.
We desire to study the illumination of the mind which occurs as we study the Word of God. This illumination is not something mystical that falls upon us when we enter the pulpit without studying for the sermon, but is the illumination that comes to us via the Holy Spirit as we study the Word.
There is also a type of illumination which people discuss that is related to salvation. It deals with the fact that all lost are in darkness, and the Lord illuminates them, or illuminates their minds so they can understand enough of the Scripture to understand the Gospel so they can be saved. (This is seen in Acts 26:17,18,
“Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in me.”
Buswell in his theology discusses this some. He mentions that some theologians equate illumination with the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit of the lost unto salvation. (Buswell, “A Systematic Theology Of The Christian Religion”; p 165-166)
Chafer goes into great detail about the darkness that is present in different groups if you want to give additional study to this. The blindnesses that he mentions are: Israel’s blindness, Gentile blindness, Satan’s blindness, and Carnal blindness. This blindness/illumination relates to soteriology not bibliology so we will not be discussing this type of illumination either.
We are speaking in this study of the illumination of the mind by the Holy Spirit. This illumination is dependant on the person being saved and walking with the Lord.
Illumination is not inspiration. Inspiration is the method by which the Word of God was transmitted from God to human authors in the original manuscripts. This was the communication from God to mankind. Illumination on the other hand is the act by which God the Holy Spirit assists mankind to understand that which was transmitted by inspiration.
THE NEED FOR ILLUMINATION
The fact that mankind is fallen and unable to understand the things of the Lord is the only need. We simply cannot understand God’s revelation with our foggy sin-stained minds. All aspects of man’s character were affected by the fall and sin has limited our ability in all areas including our understanding.
The mind that has been cleared by the work of the Holy Spirit can understand as the Spirit allows. The regenerate mind can understand as far as the Holy Spirit is allowed to work. We need to realize that the Holy Spirit is limited in His work by the degree of sin in the life and the control that the life allows the Spirit to have.
1. Pardington mentions, “Illumination may be defined as the divine quickening of the human mind in virtue of which it is enabled to understand truth already revealed.” (Pardington, Revelation George P. Ph.D.; “Outline Studies In Christian Doctrine”; Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1926, p. 41, 42)
It does not reveal new truth, but makes the old truth understandable. Someone said, and I don’t know the source of this, “What light is to the eye, illumination is to the mind.” (Matthew 16:17 may relate,
“And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father, who is in heaven.”
2. Ryrie tells us that “generally the concept of illumination relates to the ministry of the Holy Spirit helping the believer to understand the truth of the Bible.” (Reprinted by permission: Ryrie, Charles C.; “Basic Theology”; Wheaton: Victor Books, 1986, p 116)
3. Erickson adds a thought that is probably assumed in many people’s minds, but it is worth mentioning. When he is commenting on Calvin’s concept of illumination, which he supports, he mentions that the thought of illumination, must have with it the idea of growth in the believer. We have already mentioned this fact; it bears repeating. There must be a continuing growth and walk in the life of the believer for illumination to occur. Erickson also adds a point that is important and that is the fact that illumination is not a one time, once for all occurrence. We are illuminated as needed. The Holy Spirit opens our minds to the possibility of understanding, as well as continues to illuminate our minds as we continue to study.
The term illumination does not appear in our New Testament. Illuminated appears in Hebrews 10:32. It is the Greek term “photizo” (Strong’s 5461) which Strong defines as, “to shed rays, i.e. to shine . . . to brighten up . . .
.” (Strong, James; “Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance”; Waco, TX: Word Books, p 77 of His dictionary)
This term seems to relate to the salvation of the reader. Unger mentions of the term, “In the early Christian Church it was used to denote the baptized.” (Taken from: “Unger’s Bible Dictionary”; Unger, Merrill F.; Copyright 1957, Moody Bible Institute of Chicago; Moody Press. Used by permission. p 516)
The same term is used in Ephesians 1:17-18 and is translated “enlightened.” The Ephesians text is of some interest and might need some of your concentration. Ephesians 1:17,18 states, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation [apokalipsis] in the knowledge of him, The eyes of your understanding being enlightened [photizo]; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints,”
This seems to indicate that there is a relationship between revelation and illumination. To some there seems to be a close relationship between revelation and enlightenment. This is based on the fact there seems to be a sense of meaning in revelation of the idea of revealing that which was not known.
In essence this is what we view as illumination. We do not know because we are not illuminated. When the Holy Spirit illuminates, then we know that which was not known.
God is in the business in this age of revealing Himself to us, but this is not new revelation. He is revealing Himself to us on a daily basis, but this information has been previously revealed not only in the original revelation of the Word, but quite possibly also to other believers in the past by illumination.
Specifically, revelation in Bibliology would be the revelation of the Word, while illumination is God allowing and helping us to understand that revelation.
Chafer felt that revelation was continuing in a sense. “In place of special revelation, however, a work of the Spirit has especially characterized the present age. As the Spirit of God illuminates or casts light upon the Scriptures, this is a legitimate form of present tense revelation from God in which the teachings of the Bible are made clear and applied to individual life and circumstances.” (Taken from the book, Major Bible Themes by Lewis Sperry Chafer and John F. Walvoord. First edition copyright 1926, 1953 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Revised edition copyright 1974 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House. p 33)
Remember that he is not speaking of new “direct” revelation of God to man. Even so, I believe that he is in danger of confusing the believer that reads his writings. Revelation is completed, not continuing in any way. Revelation is complete, while illumination continues in this age to assist the believer in understanding that revelation.
TYPES OF ILLUMINATION
1. Illumination To All Mankind: There is some illumination for all of mankind that is indicated in the following verse. John 1:9, in the context of Christ being the light John mentions, “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.” There seems to be a sense in which that light affected all men.
What is meant in the John text? Some possibilities: a. The light that brings forth salvation of man as is possible with man’s response to God. The problem with this is that every man does not respond, thus it is not really light to all mankind. b. This may relate to the idea that a person can be drawn to the Lord via the Holy Spirit. The problem with this is that the phrase “every man” is not acceptable when we know that all mankind is not drawn to the Lord. c. The revelation of Romans 1 might be involved. This would be the thought that every man has some light via nature and from within. It relates to the fact that all man is enlightened enough to respond to God if there is a desire to know God. This seems to fit the thought of the John passage best.
Some feel that 2 Timothy 1:10 is speaking of the same thing, however it would seem to me that the two verses are speaking of two different types of light. “But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,” There is a light that is brought to man through the appearing of the Lord, and the gospel is the carrier of that light. It would seem that this light of the Timothy text would be limited to those that have heard of Christ and His work.
2. Illumination To The Natural Man: This technically is the same as number one, in that all mankind is natural man. The difference that is being made is that all mankind has some illumination, while the elect have a further illumination while they are still in their lost state.
The natural man has no desire to know God, nor can he really understand God. 1 Corinthians 2:10-14, mentions that the natural man cannot understand things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:15,
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
Yet, there seems to be an illumination of the Holy Spirit to draw the person to God. This is an understanding of the Gospel so they may accept it. (Hebrews 6:4)
3. Illumination To All Believers: 1 John 2:27 speaks of this type of illumination. “But the anointing which we have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you; but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him.” Part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to the believer is to illuminate the believer’s mind to the revealed Word.
4. Illumination To New Born Believers: The new believer automatically desires knowledge of the Word. This would indicate that even the newborns have illumination available to them. This is only logical, since they receive the Holy Spirit at salvation, and He would automatically begin His ministry to them. (1 Peter 2:2, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that ye may grow by it.”)
Newborn believers don’t always automatically continue to grow. The illumination in their lives is limited, if not eliminated until they begin to walk with God. (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
5. Illumination To Growing Believers: They desire to know the word and God’s information to them. Psalm 119:18, “Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of they law”; 1 Corinthians 2:10-14, mentions that the Spirit helps believers to know things; Ephesians 1:18; Ephesians 3:9.
6. Illumination To Stagnant Believers: Stagnant believers may have to be retaught the basics due to their inadequate memory. Hebrews 5:12, “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God, and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.” Even mature believers need to be reminded of the basics of the faith.
Over the years I have spent speaking in different churches, I have been continually reminded of this. I tend to speak topically, because I only have one or two sessions in a particular church. In these topical sermons, I have used the basics of the faith and constantly have people telling me after the sermons that they enjoyed being reminded of some of the things that they had forgotten.
The newborns that aren’t growing, as well as the stagnant believer, are in the situation they are in because they are not allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to them in the area of illumination.
7. Illumination To Future Peoples: There seems to be a coming illumination which will arrive when the Lord returns. 1 Corinthians 4:5,
“Therefore, judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall every man have praise of God.”
Illumination is via the Holy Spirit. John hn16:13 (This was to the apostles, but I think that it shows the principle.) states, “Nevertheless, when he, the Spirit of truth, is come he will guide you into all truth; for he shall now speak of himself, but whatever he shall hear, that shall he speak; and he will show you things to come.” Since the Holy Spirit is resident in all believers then the ministry of illumination is available to all believers.
The verse also tells us that the Holy Spirit is dealing with ALL truth. This would seem to cover all of the scriptures. John 16:13 indicates that this is all to the glory of Christ.
APPLICATION OF THE DOCTRINE
1. We have the promise of the Holy Spirit’s help when we have problems understanding the scriptures. This does not exclude the study of, and the reading of the scriptures. It does not necessarily preclude the use of helps, commentaries and thoughts of other believers. All may add to the ultimate understanding that the believer may have.
2. It also indicates that the minister does not have a corner on the market of understanding of the scripture. It may be that he has done more homework than others, however any minister should be open to the honest questions of his students. They may well have something new that the minister has not seen in the Scripture.
3. Since we know that the Lord inspired the Word, and that it is authentic, and that it is our authority, we now have a promise that we will have help in understanding what It has to say to us. We need not worry about not doing something that we are supposed to be doing. He will show us those things that He wants us to do, or not do.
4. There is a sense in which the writer or teacher of the past and present can share their illumination with others. As they diligently study and are helped by the Holy Spirit they can help others by their teaching and writing. This may be the one redeeming quality in the vast number of books that we have on the market. Those books dealing with the scriptures can have good information in them.
You need to be careful that the writers and teachers you read and listen to are in a proper relation to the Lord before you rely upon their illumination.
5. There is a stiff dose of knowledge in the previous item for those that would teach, preach, and write. They had better concentrate upon the relationship they have to the Holy Spirit so that they know that they are properly illuminated. Keep the sin out of the life. Keep the Spirit in control of the life.
6. Our being illuminated, can help us determine truth from falsehood. Many of the false teachings today come from men that are on a status trip, trying to find new ear tickling things in the Word. If we would concentrate on the Word and what It says to us, then falsehood could not creep in.
7. If He has helped you understand it — then obey it, and share it with others.
8. One final application that we need to consider. A number of years ago I struggled for a few weeks with the why of our needing to accept Christ. I knew it to be fact, but why did God want us to do it. I thought and studied for sometime and then had to lay the study aside due to my schedule. As I was thinking over these things, my mind just seemed to receive a flash from the Home Office on the why of it. I really believe that the Lord wanted me to have that information, so gave it to me through my thought processes.
As we study, we may not immediately understand a passage. If this is the case, we need to go to the Lord in prayer and seek His help in knowing the meaning. He may lead us to other passages that relate, or He may use our thought process to share the meaning with us.
To conclude, we need to restate that God’s revelation is complete. It was given to the writers of Scripture in its entirety. The Holy Spirit since has been in the ministry of illuminating the believer. The revelation was the giving forth of information that was not previously known. Illumination also is the showing of information that was not previously known. Even though both are involved in the same process, they are not the same. Revelation is complete in the Bible, while illumination is continuing via the Holy Spirit.
As we study His Word, might we willingly bow to that information which He shows to us. If we allow the Holy Spirit to illuminate, and allow the information to be integrated into our lives, we will become mature believers that are useful to our Father.
This is the result of all that God is doing in our everyday lives. As we allow Him to do these things, He gains glory. His glory should be the desire of the believer, and submitting to His illumination is an easy method of gaining and giving glory to Him that has done so much for us.
 by Stanley L. Derickson. DERICKSON’S NOTES ON THEOLOGY: A STUDY BOOK IN THEOLOGY.