While looking for something online one day, I stumbled upon a research paper by Reid Bankhead. In 1949 he submitted a thesis as part of earning his Master of Theology degree, where he reviewed every instance of the words revelation and inspiration found in the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and Journal of Discourses. He then analyzed these passages to determine the difference in meaning.
Here is a link to his paper if you would like to review it deeper:
This study topic will present his summary, some quotes and examples, and then show how to construct your collection note for the topic.
Brother Bankhead notes in his abstract that members of the church create a difficulty in understanding our theology when these words are used interchangeably without distinction. We should cement an idea in our minds as to the difference between revelation and inspiration to ensure we not only use the right terms, but recognize the proper source of the promptings and direction we are receiving.
First, lets read Brother Bankhead’s summary.
“The difference between revelation (the knowledge given to the Saints as associated with the gospel and the Church) and inspiration (or knowledge received by the world at large) is primarily in the differences of assignment, office, and power of the Holy Ghost and Jesus Christ, from God the Father. The Holy Ghost is the source of revelation as is given in relation to the Church and kingdom of God when the recipients obey the principles of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The light and gift of Christ which is given to every man that is born into the world is the source of the good and of the knowledge that comes by inspiration.”
To say it another way:
Inspiration comes through the light of Christ that all people have access to. Revelation comes by the power, authority, and calling of the Holy Ghost.
We saw this in an earlier post on the Liahona (tutorial 1) and how it had two different spindles. One points the way they should go, and then from time to time, they had written instruction on them. The first is like inspiration through the Light of Christ, and the second is akin to revelation from the Holy Ghost.
There are many statements and examples that help illustrate this.
In his conference talk titled, “How to Obtain Revelation and Inspiration for Your Personal Life,” Elder Richard G. Scott put it this way:
“The Holy Ghost communicates important information that we need to guide us in our mortal journey. When it is crisp and clear and essential, it warrants the title of revelation. When it is a series of promptings we often have to guide us step by step to a worthy objective, for the purpose of this message, it is inspiration.”
A prime example of this is Nephi in the beginning of the Book of Mormon.
We can see the clear contrast in how Nephi experienced two different things while attempting to retrieve the plates of brass.
First came the inspiration to get to the first goal.
1 Nephi 4:6 “And I was led by the Spirit, not knowing beforehand the things which I should do.”
Then in verse 10:
10. And it came to pass that I was constrained by the Spirit that I should kill Laban; but I said in my heart: Never at any time have I shed the blood of man. And I shrunk and would that I might not slay him.
Inspiration or revelation? This is inspiration because he was directly told to do something. There was no explanation, just follow the prompting and do it. However, he shrunk from doing it because he had never killed anyone. He knew it was against the 10 commandments to murder. He needed a revelation from the Holy Ghost on why he should do something that apparently violated a commandment.
11. And the Spirit said unto me again: Behold the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands. Yea, and I also knew that he had sought to take away mine own life; yea, and he would not hearken unto the commandments of the Lord; and he also had taken away our property.
12. And it came to pass that the Spirit said unto me again: Slay him, for the Lord hath delivered him into thy hands;
13. Behold the Lord slayeth the wicked to bring forth his righteous purposes. It is better that one man should perish than that a nation should dwindle and perish in unbelief.
There is more there in the chapter, but this illustrates the point. When Nephi hesitated because he had no desire to kill someone, the Holy Ghost explained why he needed to get the plates to preserve his people. I’m sure the thoughts in verse 11 were also brought to his mind by the Spirit to further cement the justifications for his actions.
Another example that illustrates a difference between these concepts is in 2 Nephi 33. In verse one, Nephi mentions the Holy Ghost, but in verse two the Holy Spirit showing they are two separate things. (Next week we’ll discuss the exact difference.)
1. And now I, Nephi, cannot write all the things which were taught among my people; neither am I mighty in writing, like unto speaking; for when a man speaketh by the power of the Holy Ghost the power of the Holy Ghost carrieth it unto the hearts of the children of men.
2. But behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught.
All through the scriptures we see examples of both inspiration or revelation though sometimes they are tricky to distinguish. For example, the story of Oliver Cowdery coming to help Joseph with the work of translation. In Doctrine & Covenants 6:14-15 he was told:
“14 Verily, verily, I say unto thee, blessed art thou for what thou hast done; for thou hast inquired of me, and behold, as often as thou hast inquired thou hast received instruction of my Spirit. If it had not been so, thou wouldst not have come to the place where thou art at this time.
15 Behold, thou knowest that thou hast inquired of me and I did enlighten thy mind; and now I tell thee these things that thou mayest know that thou hast been enlightened by the Spirit of truth;”
Oliver had prayed for what action to take and those prayers led him to Joseph to assist in the work of the restoration and he didn’t know why beforehand. That was inspiration to be led there. However, it says Oliver was enlightened and received instruction which sounds like revelation. We’re a little in the dark about everything that happened in his life at that moment. We just don’t know what other revelation may have come to him. Both inspiration and revelation are enlightening because they are divine instructions. Sometimes it’s just difficult to separate the two. Both come through the Holy Spirit, but the revelations of the Holy Ghost are more powerful and enlightening. Personally, I think this was inspiration but I’m not counting out a dose of revelation. 🙂
When Ammon the Son of Mosiah was before King Lamoni, the Holy Ghost gave him revelation to know the actual thoughts of the king. He used that knowledge to show the king the powers that come from God (Alma 17:18).
With these ideas in mind, lets set up our collection note and study project.
Open a search window and do a search for:
insp* or revela*
Title it “Difference between revelation and inspiration” and give it tags of “revelation” and “inspiration.” Copy/paste Brother Bankhead’s quote or Elder Scott’s quote and a link to his conference talk into the master note area. Then in the category dropdown, check the box that says article.
Now you have tagged all these verses as part of that collection note. You could quit and be satisfied that you now have this note associated with the verses, or you can go down through all the verses and look for insights. (Top Hint: look for insights…)
In your search results, you’ll see the words inspiration and revelation are used in the Old and New Testaments. That means we can get Hebrew and Greek meanings for additional insight.
Inspiration in Hebrew: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=H5397&t=KJV
Wow, how does that change the understanding of Job 32:8! Scroll down to the bottom of that entry and look at the other verses that use this same word. When you stumble on something like this while searching the scriptures, you really start to dig. One discovery leads to another study topic…
Inspiration in Greek: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G2315&t=KJV
Note the similar definition, “divinely breathed in.”
Revelation in Greek: https://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/Lexicon/Lexicon.cfm?strongs=G602&t=KJV
Wow again. Isn’t that a wonderful description.
Can you sense the difference between inspiration and revelation? Inspiration has a feeling of divine breath, while revelation is a disclosure of truth and instruction, having something laid bare and manifest to you.
As you study these verses, you may want to create subtopics for inspiration and revelation separate from this main category. It’s up to you how to handle it. You can do everything in one note now, and split it out later, or open multiple collection notes on your screen and work in each simultaneously.
What exactly is the divine breath of inspiration? Next week we’ll tackle what exactly the Holy Spirit is. Till then, leave a comment below about something you learned from your study on this topic.
(image from Mikhail Kokhanchikov © 123RF.com)