All Christians believe that the words which men of God speak are inspired. In fact, the apostle Paul told Timothy that all scripture is given by inspiration (2 Timothy 3:16). Although this is true, there are different opinions as to what it means to be inspired.
To many they believe that every word uttered or written by a man of God was dictated or delivered directly from the Lord to the world through the use of a human. In other words, the person doing the speaking is only an instrument in the hands of the Lord, much the same way a pen is only an instrument in the hands of the writer. Just as the pen doesn't write what it wants, but communicates only the thoughts of the person using it, so the prophets of God don't speak their own words, but utter only the thoughts of the Person using them.
The reason for this understanding can be found in the words of the apostle Peter when he stated, "For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21). In fact, many newer translations use the word "God-breathed" in place of "inspiration", since the Latin word "inspirare" means to breath upon or into. Thus, we get the impression that the Holy Ghost moves people to speak by breathing God's words through their voice.
Although the Lord can indeed speak to us in this manner, it isn't the only way men receive inspiration from God. The dictionary also defines the word as to influence, motivate, or arouse a feeling in someone that brings about, or causes them to pursue a certain course of action. It can also mean to communicate or suggest in a way that guides or controls someone's actions.
To more fully appreciate how the Holy Ghost moves upon people, it's important that we first understand how the human body works. As Latter-day Saints, we often make the analogy that our physical body is like a coat that the spirit wears. At death the spirit discards the coat, which then lays lifeless upon the ground. As such, it is the spirit of man inside the human form that gives life to the body.
However, I like to compare the physical body to an automobile, because, in reality, the body is a piece of machinery. The heart is a pump, the brain is an electrical computer, the leg and arm bones are levers used for lifting and moving physical objects. Our spirit doesn't just wear the body, it operates it.
A car is a mechanical devise. Although the engine may be running, without the operator steering the wheel, moving the gear-shift levers, and pressing on the gas pedal and brakes, the car is lifeless. But, with a knowledgeable person operating it, the car seems to take on intelligence as it moves about, going from one point to another. Cars even communicate with one another by use of lights and horns.
On the other hand, even though the driver may be in perfect health, if there's something wrong with the carburetor, alternator, spark plugs, or any other part of the automobile's machinery, the car doesn't behave as it should. The same is true of our human body. Even though the spirit inside may be healthy, if there is something wrong with the heart, lungs, gall bladder, liver or any other part, the body doesn't operate as it should.
When we speak, we are actually operating a mechanical devise known as the voice box, or larynx. To make it work, we push air from our lungs out through the mouth. As the air passes the vocal cords in the larynx, it causes the cords to vibrate, which creates a sound. By placing our tongue in different positions and forming our mouth in various ways, we produce different words.
Of course, as adults we do all of this unconsciously, but when we first started to talk we needed to put forth considerable, concentrated effort. In time we also learned that by exercising a little more conscious control, we could change the sound of our vocal cords from words to a series of tones, thereby allowing us to sing. With a little more effort, most people can actual change the tone of their words and make their voice sound like someone else. For example, people who do the voices for cartoon characters and impersonators, such as Rich Little, have become experts at doing this.
But none of this just happens. All of these sounds occur because we make a conscious effort to use the mechanical voice box in all these different ways. And the decision of how to use the larynx and what to do with it doesn't come from the human machine itself, but from the spirit within the body.
We also know from the scriptures that more than one spirit can inhabit a physical body. From the gospel according to Luke we read: "A certain man, which had devils long time, and ware no clothes, neither abode in any house, but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he cried, What have I to do with thee, Jesus, thou Son of God most high? I beseech thee, torment me not. (For he had commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man. For oftentimes it had caught him: and he was kept bound with chains and in fetters; and he brake the bands, and was driven of the devil into the wilderness.) And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him" (Luke 8:27-30). Then Jesus cast them out and "then went the devils out of the man and entered into a the [herd of] swine: and the herd ran violently down a steep place into the lake, and were choked" (verse 33).
In the Roman army at the time of this incident, a legion was a fighting force comprised of six thousand soldiers. Whatever the number of devils that possessed this man, it was considerable, enough that they could inhabit and operate the physical body machinery of a whole herd of swine, causing them to run wildly and violently to their death.
Like an automobile, more than one spirit can occupy the human body, but only one person sits behind the wheel and actually operates it. If we are carrying around a few devils with us as passengers, they'll try to convince us to travel a path that will lead to misery and destruction. Although our spirit may be operating the functions of the body, if we follow their advice, for all practical purposes, they're in control of what we say and do. And if we're not careful, they may even successfully convince us to let them actually move into the driver's seat, which is apparently what happened to the man in Luke's account.
The same is true if we take on righteous spirits as passengers. The gift which we receive at baptism is that the Holy Ghost will come and abide with us as a passenger on a regular basis. He too will give us advise of which road we should travel, but that path will lead to eternal life. Since we are behind the steering wheel, so to speak, we make the final decision of whom to listen to: the devil or the Holy Ghost. Neither will take possession of operating our human machine unless we allow them to.
With this understanding, how does God inspire men?
Since the word "inspire" means to influence, motivate, or arouse someone to a course of action, there are several ways this can happen. One way is by seeing a vision. Notice that when Peter talked about holy men of God being moved upon by the Holy Ghost, he was specifically referring to prophecy. Prophecy is the foretelling of future events long before they occur, and how can someone know what will happen in the future unless it's revealed to them? Prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Malachi and many others where shown, in a vision, the events that would someday come to pass.
More than six hundred years before the birth of Jesus, Isaiah wrote, "To whom is the arm of the Lord revealed? For he shall grow up before him as a tender root out of a dry ground: he hath no form nor comeliness; and when we shall see him, there is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.
"But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death; because he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth" (53:1-9).
This is an accurate, detailed account of the entire life of Christ which was revealed to Isaiah. This vision inspired Isaiah to write what he had been shown so that his people would know about the coming of the Messiah and recognize Him when He came. Yet the words which he wrote don't necessarily need to come directly from God. They could very well be his own words as he described for his people what God had shown him.
The apostle Peter was a devout Jew, and as such, believed that salvation was only for the Israelites. Consequently, he preached the gospel only to those who were of the house of Israel. One day, about the sixth hour, Peter fell into a trance and saw a vision of unclean food and heard a voice say, "Rise, Peter; Kill and eat. But Peter said, Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean. And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common" (Acts 10:13-15).
Peter had doubts about what this meant until three servants of a gentile by the name of Cornelius came to see him. That's when he understood that the gospel was to be preached to all men. Inspired by this vision, he was influenced, motivated and aroused to pursue a course that took him to the house of Cornelius where he not only taught them the gospel but baptized everyone in the household.
The same can be said of Saul of Tarsus who saw a vision on his way to Damascus. He was so inspired, influenced, motivated and aroused by what he saw, that it completely changed the entire course of his life.
Inspiration can also come from God through a suggestion or direct communication. If we think of the analogy of a man being in control of driving a car, with the Holy Ghost as a passenger, all the Spirit of God has to do is give a suggestion to the driver and the driver then uses their own intellect of how to carry out the suggestion.
For example: Moses was in exile from Egypt and apparently was content to watch the sheep of his father-in-law, Jethro, until the Lord told him to go to Pharaoh saying, "Let my people go." The Lord also explained to him what kind of signs to show Pharaoh. Although it's true that Moses hesitated at first, the Lord nevertheless inspired, influenced, motivated and aroused Moses to pursue a certain course of action.
Armed with this information, Moses went before Pharaoh and explained, in his own words, the message which God had given him. Moses knew the basic idea of what the Lord wanted him to accomplish. It wasn't necessary for God to speak directly through him, and neither was it necessary for God to tell Moses every single word he had to say. When the Pharaoh resisted, Moses knew what to do next. Using his own words, he ordered Aaron to throw down his staff, and then waited for the Lord to do the rest.
Another way that people receive inspiration comes in the form of being given knowledge and understanding. In the book of Job we read, "But there is a spirit in man: and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth them understanding" (32:8). A clear illustration of how this can happen is found in the book of Exodus. After they had been brought out of Egypt, "Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; and he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; and to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver and in brass, and in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach of the tribe of Dan. Them hath he filled with wisdom of heart, to work all manner of work of the engraver, and of the cunning workman, and of the embroiderer in blue, and in purple, in scarlet, and in fine linen, and of the weaver, even of them that do any work, and of those that devise cunning work. Then wrought Bezaleel and Aholiab, and every wise hearted man, in whom the LORD put wisdom and understanding to know how to work all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, according to all that the LORD had commanded" (Exodus 35:30-36:1).
Notice that the spirit of the Lord moved upon Bezaleel and Aholiab by giving them wisdom, understanding and knowledge so they could perform fine and intricate craftsmanship on wood, stone, gold, silver, brass, and linen. In particular, they received inspiration on how to create the ornaments needed in building the sanctuary. Once they had this knowledge, it wasn't necessary for God to guide them in every single detail whenever they wanted to make something. The Lord had shown Moses what was needed for the sanctuary and these men, through the inspiration from the Spirit of God, were able to draw upon their God-inspired knowledge to build anything Moses requested of them.
The same could be said of the apostles. After his conversion, the apostle Paul went into seclusion for three years in Arabia where he was taught the gospel by revelation (Galatians 1:12, 17-18; Ephesians 3:3). Armed with this knowledge and understanding, Paul could talk all day and throughout the night until sunrise explaining the gospel in his own words (Acts 20:7-11). It wasn't necessary for the Holy Ghost to do the breathing and personally operate Paul's larynx to produce the words which people heard him say. Paul fully understood the gospel, and he had previously been influenced and motivated and aroused to preach it, so all he had to do was explain - in his own words - the knowledge, wisdom and understanding he had already received from God.
It was Jesus Himself who explained this principle to His apostles shortly before His death. He told them, "The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost. whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26).
No doubt there are instances when the Holy Ghost, or the Spirit of God does personally take control of a person's speaking or writing abilities, but this type of inspiration is more the exception than the rule. It's true that the Holy Ghost may whisper words to our spirit and then we ourselves repeat those exact words, but most often the Spirit only gives the suggestion, knowledge or understanding and then lets mortal men relay that information according to their own ability.
The words which holy men of God speak or write are indeed inspired, but that doesn't necessarily mean God is doing the actual talking or writing through them. They may be influenced, motivated and aroused to speak on a certain subject, denounce a particular practice, deliver a specific warning, or reveal a future event, but most of the time, they do so by explaining to us - in their own words - the ideas, concepts and understanding which God has given them through revelation.
In this same way, we too can be inspired by the Holy Ghost. We can be influenced, motivated, and aroused by the Spirit of God to take a certain course of action. Yet, like the prophets of old, we are always in control of the human machine which the Lord has given us as a glorious gift, and He allows us the freedom to choose for ourselves to heed the inspiration of the devil or to follow the inspiration of God.