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Biblical Hermeneutics - Lesson 10

Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)

The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

Robert Stein
Biblical Hermeneutics
Lesson 10
Watching Now
Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)

<p class="out-1">NT510 Biblical Hermeneutics: The Role of the Holy Spirit Part 1</p> <p class="out-1">I. Introduction</p> <p class="out-2">A. Definition of the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical hermeneutics</p> <p class="out-2">B. Overview of the lessons on the role of the Holy Spirit</p> <p class="out-1">II. Historical Context of the Holy Spirit</p> <p class="out-2">A. Old Testament references to the Holy Spirit</p> <p class="out-2">B. New Testament references to the Holy Spirit</p> <p class="out-1">III. The Work of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Hermeneutics</p> <p class="out-2">A. Illumination of the meaning of the text</p> <p class="out-2">B. Interpretation of the text</p> <p class="out-2">C. Application of the text</p> <p class="out-1">IV. The Person of the Holy Spirit in Biblical Hermeneutics</p> <p class="out-2">A. The Holy Spirit as a person</p> <p class="out-2">B. The Holy Spirit as the author of Scripture</p> <p class="out-1">V. Conclusion</p> <p class="out-2">A. Summary of the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical hermeneutics</p> <p class="out-2">B. Final thoughts on the significance of the Holy Spirit in biblical interpretation</p>


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  • Understanding the roots of the English language and knowing the history of the English translations of the Bible gives you a context that can help you understand the meaning of the passage you are reading. 

  • After William Tyndale published the first Bible in English in 1539 that was translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, King James of England assembled a team of top scholars to create an English translation that was published in 1611. More recent translations are still being made to reflect new manuscript discoveries and changes in the English language. 

  • There is no such thing as an exact word equivalent when going from one language to another. Different languages as well as different cultures pose a challenge for translators. It's important to use the best manuscripts for your translation.

  • A few of the challenges that translators face are for the translation to be accurate but understandable, contemporary but universal, and to avoid a theological bias. Contemporary languages are always changing, and each translator holds theological beliefs based on years of training and experience. 

  • Inerrancy of the Bible is an important foundation for the process of translation. Some translations focus more on "word-for-word" equivalents and some focus more on "thought-for-thought" equivalents. Some translations include footnotes to explain a verse that is ambiguous or controversial. 

  • The three components that determine meaning in written communication are the author, the text and the reader. In determining the meaning of Biblical passages, it's important to know as much as possible about all three components. 

  • The author of a passage made an intentional effort to communicate a message. It is the job of the reader to determine the meaning and implications of the message by studying the text itself, then evaluating the literary form and other contextual factors. 

  • The first step in interpretation is to focus on the pattern of meaning the author consciously willed to convey by the words they used. Then, the implications of the text may also include meanings in the text of which the author was unaware but fall within the author's pattern of meaning.

  • It's important to define your terms when you are determining the interpretation and application of Biblical passages. Your goal is to begin by hearing the message of a passage as the author intended it and the first readers would have understood it. 

  • The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension. When 1 Cor. 2:14 says that an unspiritual man cannot understand Scritpure, it is referring to his lack of acceptance rather than his mental grasp of the words. 

  • You will gain a comprehensive understanding of the role of the Holy Spirit in relation to believers, the church, and the world. The lesson covers the Holy Spirit's work in the regeneration and sanctification of believers, empowering and guiding them, unifying the church, bestowing spiritual gifts, the conviction of sin, righteousness, and judgment, and drawing people to God. The conclusion summarizes the Holy Spirit's impact on all aspects of life.

  • Your presuppositions about whether or not the miracles in the Bible took place as they are recorded will affect the way you look at the Bible and at specific events. Three approaches to this question are the supernatural approach, rationalist approach and the mythical approach. 

  • Kinds of meaning and types of meaning are two of the main ideas in the book, "The Language and Imagery of the Bible," by G. B. Caird. Proverbs are short, pithy sayings that express a general truth. Exceptions are allowed. A good example of an exception to a proverb is the book of Job.

  • Judgment prophecy assumes that, even if not stated, if the people repent, judgment will not come. Prophets also tend to speak in figurative language, using cosmic terminology. 

  • The prophets use figurative and metaphorical language to describe future events and spiritual reality. They also use cosmic language to describe God acting in history. 

  • Dr. Stein discusses the possibility of a sensus plenior in some passages. In Mark 13, Jesus talks about coming events that are also prophesied in the Old Testament. 

  • Judges chapters 4 and 5 describe the same events. Chapter 4 uses prose, chapter 5 uses poetry. The book of Psalms is a collection of songs, prayers and reflections about human emotions, and God, his character and his work in the world. 

  • Jesus uses parallelism in the Gospels to illustrate and emphasize who God is and what the kingdom of God is like. In order to understand an idiom, you first need to identify it as an idiom and then determine what the meaning is in the culture.  

  • Exaggeration is overstatement. Hyperbole is literally impossible. When using exaggeration, both parties must agree that the expression is an exaggeration. Jesus uses exaggeration to emphasize and illustrate important teachings. 

  • Jesus uses exaggeration to make his point clear, especially on matters of morality, but doesn't take the time to discuss possible exceptions. Jesus also uses all-inclusive and universal language, as well as idiomatic language that no longer bears its original meaning. 

  • Some of the early church writers and the reformers interpreted parables, like the parable of the Good Samaritan, as allegories. 

  • Adolf Jülicher taught that parables tend to have one basic point of comparison, and the details are just there to make the story interesting. So you should try to understand what’s the main point of the parable. To begin with, seek to understand the parable as the first century audience would have. Consider what the Gospel writers were trying to teach. Ask how it applies to you in your current situation. 

  • In the parable of the hidden treasure and the parable of the pearl of great price, the message of the value of the kingdom of God is more important than the character of the man. In the parable of the ten virgins and the parable of the dishonest manager, it's important to focus on the main point of the parable and not to get distracted by the details. The parable of the lost sheep teaches us to pursue the lost. 

  • When interpreting the parable of the workers, determine the main characters, consider the rule of end stress and pay attention to what gets the most press. 

  • Some parables are best interpreted as an allegory. It's important to ask if Jesus with his audience would have attributed meaning to these details and if the audience of the Gospel writers would have understood the details as being allegorical. 

  • When you are determining how you should apply the parable of the final judgment in Matthew 25: 31-46, who Jesus is referring to when he says, "...just as you did it to one of the least of these, my brethren, you did it to me." In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus makes a point about what causes people to believe in him or to not believe in him. 

  • You read and interpret a passage that is historical narrative differently than a passage that is prophecy, poetry or a parable. Much of the historical information in the Bible is confirmed by archaeological discoveries including literature from other contemporary cultures. In the 1700's there was a group of scholars that began questioning whether the miraculous events in the Bible were supernatural. They tried to find meaning in the stories without saying that a miracle happened assumed that the real meaning is not the same as the author's literal intention. They did this by finding the meaning of the words, then conducting a historical assessment of what really happened. 

  • Supernaturalists believe that the miracles the Gospel writers recorded were supernatural events. The rationalists believe that either the Gospel writers knew that miracles did not take place, but they were accommodating their readers who did believe in miracles, or that they really believed them but they were just myths. This would require the Gospel writers to be liars or not very smart, neither of which seem consistent with the care and precision with which the Gospels were written. When you are preaching a narrative passage, it's important to include the whole context when you are interpreting the meaning of the events.

  • When interpreting the epistles, it's important to identify which words are used frequently, what the meaning of the words are and how the author uses them. It can be helpful to study the etymology of words and the meaning of words in their historical context. The process of moving from norms of language to norms of utterance is important. 

  • We can get information about the meaning of words from studying ancient Greek literature, the writings of early church fathers and the translators of the Hebrew Old Testament. We can also compare letters written by the same author, and also how the word is used within the same letter or passage. It can be helpful to look at the way different authors use the same word. 

  • Once you determine the meaning of the words, it's important to recognize how they are used in the sentence and how the clauses in the sentence are related. Understanding the different ways clauses can be used will help you determine the meaning of each sentence. The distinction between "means" and "cause" is significant. 

  • Romans 13:1-7 is a good example of the development of a logical argument. Most of the epistles follow the form of an ancient letter, which is greeting or salutation, thanksgiving or prayer, body of the letter and conclusion. 

  • Two types of covenants are the parity covenant and suzerain covenant. Covenant language is used in both the Old Testament and New Testament. The parts of a covenant, illustrated in the Mosaic covenant in Exodus 20, are the preamble, prologue, stipulations, provision for continual reading and witnesses.

  • God renews his covenant with Israel in Joshua 24. The three types of laws in the Old Testament are civil laws, cultic laws and moral laws. 

  • The book of Psalms is divided into five sections. The Psalms were written by different people at different times for different purposes. Some were for public worship and some were the result of personal reflection in times of joy, distress or repentance. 

  • In Jesus's day, the Scripture was the books of the Old Testament. Many of the books of the New Testament were written before 70 a.d. The Gospel writers produced a written record of the life of Jesus. Paul and other apostles wrote to churches to encourage and teach them. Eusebius, a church historian in 325a.d., recorded a list of the books that are currently in the New Testament.

  • Factors in recognizing the books that make up the New Testament were apostolic authorship, use in the church over time, unity and agreement and the superintendence of the Holy Spirit. The writing of the books of the Bible was inspired by God and it is inerrant. 

Dr. Robert Stein covers the history of the English Bible and then moves into the rules for interpreting the biblical text, including the role of the Holy Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He then spends considerable time moving through the different genres of literature (e.g., proverbs, poetry, parables, narrative). Dr. Stein did not provide us the notes he refers to in the class, but we did place links for the books he used as a basis for the class on the class page under the Recommended Reading heading.

Recommended Books

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Biblical Hermeneutics - Student Guide

Course: Biblical Hermeneutics

Lecture: The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 1)


For the past two lectures we dealt with the issue of hermeneutics. We dealt with the components of hermeneutics.  We talked about the author, the reader and the text and I have tried to argue as strongly as I could that the one that determines the meaning is the author.  And that our task as Biblical exegetes is to find out what the Biblical author who was inspired by God sought to convey by the shareable symbols or words that the used. Last week we looked at the basic vocabulary that we were seeking to master.

Now the one thing we haven’t talked about yet was what role if any the Holy Spirit has in this. Now what is interesting of course is that we don’t seem to be very spiritual in our task of interpreting the text.  We haven’t talked about where does the Holy Spirit fit in this whole process. Now let me read to you what some people say about the process of interpretation - J. Robertson McQuilken, Understanding and Applying the Bible,

“Although God desires to communicate to all people, not just anyone can understand Scripture.  The Bible is very clear on that point.  Faith is the prerequisite for truly understanding God’s Word. A person who reads without faith may understand some revealed truth, but he cannot expect to fully understand any truth revealed in Scripture.  There are several aspects of faith, all of which are essential for the student who would interpret the meaning of Scripture.”

“Regeneration – Initial faith is necessary, for the unbeliever cannot understand the things of the Spirit.  Regeneration is essential. This is explicitly taught in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16 and 2 Corinthians 2:15-18.”

“The thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received … the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God … But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. . . . For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he should instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.”

The Holy Spirit is the great Interpreter. Without Him all our efforts at fully understanding His Word are doomed to failure.”

According to this, apart from the Holy Spirit we – no one – can truly understand the meaning of Scripture.  Apart from the Spirit no one can truly understand Scripture. Then he goes on,

“We cannot expect to fully understand Scripture apart from the Spirit.”

Millard Erickson in his monstrous tome on Systematic Theology deals with this issue and he says,

“the objective word, the written Scripture together with the subjective word – the inner illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit constitutes authority for the Christian. The Reformers from the Reformation on speak very much about the illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit in the process of biblical interpretation. It is a combination of these two factors that constitutes authority” Erickson writes.

“Both are needed.  The written word correctly interpreted is the objective basis of authority. The inward illuminating and persuading work of the Holy Spirit is the subjective dimension.”

So I think a synonym for the conviction is “persuading”.  

“This dual dimension prevents sterile, cold, dry truth on the one hand and over-excitability and ill-advised fervor on the other. Together the two yield a maturity that is necessary in the Christian life. A cool head and a warm heart. Not a cold heart and a hot head. As one pastor has put it rather crudely, ‘If you have the Bible without the Spirit, it will dry up. If you have the Spirit without the Bible, you will blow up. If you have both, the Bible and the Sprit together you will grow up.’” 

“At the moment in which one becomes convinced of the truth, illumination is taking place. Human nature …”

Again, reading from Erickson,

“Human nature including reason has been adversely affected by the Fall. Man in the natural state has been unable to recognize and respond to divine truth.  When regeneration takes place however, the spectacles of faith vastly improve one’s spiritual eyesight.  Even after regeneration however there is need for continual progressive growth which we call sanctification. In addition, the Holy Spirit works internally in the life of a believer witnessing to the truth and countering the effects of sin so that the inherent meaning of the Bible can be understood.”

Now another work, The Westminster Confession of Faith,

“The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless, we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word”

Then more recently, James DeYoung, Sarah Hurty, Beyond the Obvious:

“Since the Holy Spirit, not the human author is the ultimate author of the Scripture, meanings of the text unknown and unintended by the human authors are possible to discover through the continuing direct revelatory work of the Holy Spirit to believers both in their reading of the Bible and apart from the Scripture.”

That scares the daylights out of me. Unintended meanings of the author we can discover. Whose meaning are we seeking? You say well, “The Holy Spirit’s meaning.” But how do you detect the Holy Spirit’s meaning from reading our meanings into this? What is the objective situation?

Well here we are then. Apart from the Spirit we can’t truly understand, fully understand savingly and we have reference to the need of the Spirit for illumination and the convicting persuading work. Now in our vocabulary, is there something – some term we have that can make conviction and persuading fit our categories.

Significance – through the work of the Spirit – I think that would be the way my friend and former colleague would understand this – that the convicting persuading work of the Holy Spirit is in that area of significance where now we value things differently.

Now let us deal with the question – can an unbeliever understand the meaning of Scripture?  Can an unbeliever understand the meaning of Scripture? 

How many of you have some non-Christian friends and have a pretty good Bible knowledge? Yeah. Do they understand the meaning of Scripture? Do they understand the meaning of Scripture? Let us give a hypothetical question.

Supposing I was also teaching at the University of Louisville and teaching the same course in Hermeneutics and we have a class of graduate students at the University of Louisville who have identical IQ’s as everybody in this class and they are assigned a paper. “What is the meaning of Paul or what the author’s meaning – What does Paul mean by Romans 4, verse 1 through 5. You do a paper as a class, they do a paper as a class.

I grade both papers. What will the curves be like? Will the curve of this class be significantly higher, far more A’s than that class?

No? Yes? That’s about the only two possibilities we have right? {laughter}

Alright one thing I didn’t share with you was that, when the Billy Graham Crusade was here in Louisville, they said somebody was in charge of the counseling program, but they really weren’t. I was. And I noticed that a couple of weeks, before the Crusade that we were short something like a 120 counselors that we absolutely needed to have.  And so I put this ad in the daily Louisville University newspaper saying

“Counselors are needed for the Billy Graham Crusade. Training on site. Faith not necessary but parenthesis (But if you believer in God it won’t hurt). We will train you.” And they came and I told them “Look, when a person comes forward and they want to make a decision, what you do is to say ‘First you have to recognize that you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ And then you point out to them that, this verse that says ‘All have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ in Romans 3:23. And then you say that Christ died for our sins and that God loved us and He gave us His Son to be our Savior and that if we believe in Him, we will be saved. And you have them read John 3:16 and then you say, ‘Now if you are willing to repent and invite Jesus into your life, you can be forgiven.’ And you read to them John 1:12 and then you ask them, ‘Do you want to invite Christ into your life?’ and if they say ‘Yes’ you have them pray this prayer and you should memorize this. ‘Lord I know I have sinned. I believe Jesus died for me and as best as I know how, I receive Him into my life.” When they prayed that prayer, you take him to one of these people wearing a badge and introduce them and that person will take over from that point on.”

Now my question is this: Can these people understand what I just said? Can they lead these people to Christ? Needless to say I was fired very quickly when that ad went in that paper – from that position.

Can a person understand? Now let us look at a couple of passages. One in particular is interesting. 1 Corinthians 2 verse14. This is the passage that most people argue about with regard to the need of the Holy Spirit being present to understand Scripture. There Paul says using the RSV,

“The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the spirit of God for they are folly to him. And he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”

You see the unbeliever can only think of these things as folly.  He doesn’t understand these things. It is foolishness to them. You see they can’t have a mental grasp of this. Well what does that mean?

One of the things that we want to do from going from the norms of language and the possibilities of what this word “foolishness” means is to take a concordance and see where does Paul use this word “foolishness” elsewhere in his letter and I happen to do that and I have some references here. In 1 Corinthians chapter 1 he uses this word and he uses it in its verbal form, but there he writes

“20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has God not made foolish the wisdom of the world?”

Now does that mean God does not understand the wisdom of the world?  Is that a cognitive thing that he can’t figure it out. Or is this a value judgment in which he declares this as foolishness. It looks like it is a value judgment. And if you turn to chapter 3, the next chapter after 2 verse 14. In verse 19 we read,

“19 For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written ‘He knows the thoughts of the wise are futile.’”

Does that mean God does not understand the wisdom of this world? Well in both these instances foolishness is a value judgment. For instance if you attended a lesson on nuclear physics and you didn’t understand what was going on - would you say “This is foolishness.”?

You can’t say something is foolish unless you understand and are able to pass a judgment on it. And when we get back to 1 Corinthians 2:14,

The unspiritual man does not receive the gifts of the spirit of God for they are folly – or foolishness to him. That is a value judgment. They are saying, “This is stupid. This is dumb. It is nonsense. It is foolishness.” But it is a value judgment. It has nothing to do with understanding.

Now the next thing we have and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Here the word “understand” is being used, but is it being used in the same way that we are using it in or technical vocabulary. In our technical vocabulary, how do we define meaning?
It is a correct mental grasp. Can an unbeliever have a correct mental grasp? I don’t mean can he truly understand or fully understand or saving-ly understand or completely understand or thoroughly understand?

I mean can he understand? Can he have a correct mental grasp? That’s the issue. That’s the issue. There is a passage in Mark chapter 8 … actually chapter 9, verse 32, which uses this word, the word for “understanding” – in verse 31, Jesus teaches the disciples saying “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men and they will kill Him and when He is killed after three days, He will rise.”

“But they did not understand the saying and they were afraid to ask him.”

Now if you were present and you said “Peter, what did Jesus say and mean?” Well you say “I haven’t the faintest idea what He means.” Well would he say, “He is talking about being killed. He is saying He is going to Jerusalem and He is going to die.”  Or would he say, “I don’t know what He means at all by these words.”

Does this word mean that the disciples do not have a correct mental grasp of the words He said? Or are we using “understanding” in this other sense that they don’t truly understand. They don’t understand how this plays a part in the role of God. They can’t figure it out.  I think if you ask Peter what did Jesus say, he would respond this way, “??? This crazy language about going to Jerusalem and there dying. I wish He would stop that silliness.”

He knows what He is saying. But he doesn’t accept it. And I think when we are talking about truly understanding, we are not talking about correct mental grasps. We are talking about being able to accept the truth of what is being said. Peter knows what Jesus says. He doesn’t accept it.

The unbeliever in His judgment of foolishness knows what is being said but doesn’t accept it. Many unbelievers have a pretty good outline of the Gospel. I mean if they were taking a objective exams on how a person can be saved and they have gone through the Campus Crusade lessons they would score very well. You can understand.

You say well, “I am not sure do unbelievers – can they repeat the Gospel to you and say ‘According to the Christian faith, they argue the following – that Jesus is the Son of God. He died for the sins of the world.  He paid their penalty and therefore the penalty of sin doesn’t have to be paid by the individual and if they believe in Jesus they will be forgiven of their sins and go to Heaven forever.’”

Do you think they could come to that understanding?  But they might add, “But it is foolishness.”  In the text they give you the example, by the way – that is an imaginary example – there is no German professor known as Professor Kupdissen. Kupdissen means head knowledge in German. And so we are talking about Professor Kupdissen and he really knows Paul. He knows Paul real well. His wife can’t explain Pauline theology. That is not her area. But when she says it, tears come into her eyes because she believes him. The difference is not correct mental grasp. It is one understands the truth of this which for us is not understanding, but significance.

The professor doesn’t – has a different significance. He think its “foolishness”.

One of the things that I love the story of I think it was John Stott – was it? – where he was asked by a mother to speak to her son who had gone away to the university and lost his faith and when the son came, he said, “Well. You know I no longer can believe in Christianity. I believe in evolution. I believe that the Bible is not the Word of God. I think there are errors in Scripture and so forth and so on.”

And John Stott heard him out – I think it was John Stott, it might have been someone else. Excuse me if it is.  And after the young man had finished, he said to the young man, “If I could explain to your satisfaction all the questions you have, would you then repent and turn your life over to Jesus?”

The young man put his head down and shook it and said “No.” There is a difference between significantly accepting what is true and having a head knowledge. All we are talking about in understanding is having a correct mental grasp.

I think if we had that paper, the curves would be identical. There would be no significant difference between them. You say “Well. We are Christians and we want to do a good job because of our love for Jesus Christ.” That might be a factor and yet tragically I want to confess that there are some students who are not Christians, who are more dedicated to getting good grades than we are in serving Christ. So they may work hard on some level. I hope not, but some of them might.