(The following comprises Part Eleven of the Saturday series on Secondary Illuminations of Scripture.)
My final negative example comes from a young friend who is developing a corrective prophetic voice. He was thrilled to happen upon Job 32:7-10:
“I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right. Therefore I say: Listen to me; I too will tell what I know.” (NIV)
In a classic secondary illumination error that is based, as many of them are, upon not heeding the rules of sound primary interpretations, my friend took this as a true sentiment and a personal encouragement. The problem is that in this passage’s context young Elihu the Buzite is preparing to light into Job, purportedly speaking for God. He will shortly be seen to be an arrogant young man—zealous, but zealous in part for the wrong ideas and thus redoubling their wrongness.
The literal sense of the passage, then, is that of displaying the pride of a particular young man and showing us the humiliation Job endured even from a relative youth in a society that honored elders. While I don’t believe we need to lay out the literal, primary interpretation to our hearers upon every single use of a secondary illumination, for that could get clunky, we are responsible to apply a well-reasoned standard. If the secondary illumination is in complete opposition to the primary interpretation, it cannot be a true illumination. As far as a primary interpretation can be ascertained, that has to be our basic starting point.
Our inclination to appropriate such a radically contradictory spiritual sense of a text may have something corrective to say to us. When faith healers apply the comments of Job’s counselors—comments which God condemns at the end of the book—to people in distress, it may beg the question of what spirit they are being inspired by. My friend who misappropriated Elihu’s words, however, might find encouragement in some other passages like Jeremiah 1:6-7 and 1 Timothy 4:12 that, with far less bravado, esteem the wisdom and affirm the callings of youths.
Just as we cannot have illuminations that directly oppose primary historical-grammatical interpretations, we also cannot have secondary illuminations that add to scriptural truths either in the sense that they are perceived to hold similar revelatory weight as Scripture or add ideas nowhere else deduced from and confirmed by a sound systematic or historical-grammatical reflection on Scripture.
Gabriel Fackre highlights these latter points in opening his chapter in The Doctrine of Revelation on how the Church may receive divine illumination:
Does revelation ‘continue’? No, if that means addition to, or supersession of, the defining act of Light in Jesus Christ (as in the claims of Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church) or addition to, or supersession of, the inspired biblical testimony to the reconciling deeds of election and incarnation (as in the golden plates of Mormon teaching). What then of Pilgrim John Robinson’s counsel to attend to God’s ‘ever new light and truth’? He speaks here not of new revelation but of new illumination—fresh light shed on the unsurpassable deeds and disclosures in the narrative, and thus ‘new light and truth from God’s holy Word’. (p. 181)
Incidentally, Fackre’s cogent expression of the problem here is why I have chosen to call these scriptural insights secondary “illuminations” rather than “revelations” as they are commonly referenced. This nuance of words, reminding us that illuminations must be founded on the ultimate and sole revelation of the Word in Christ, seems helpful.