Lecture 11: Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)
Course: Biblical Hermeneutics
Lecture: The Role of the Holy Spirit (Part 2)
The fact of sin does affect us sometimes, especially when we have existential involvement in texts. For instance, some people might not want to understand what Paul’s clear meaning in Romans 1 is about homosexuality. That might get in the way. So unbelievers may have an axe to grind that keeps them from the willingness to see the text. But that’s not one sided. You have Christians who are so prejudiced to their way of an interpretation that there is no way that any text can open their minds. You almost need an axe to do that. They are so set in their ways.
You have therefore the problem of sin that affects probably – I don’t know the percentage – you can say, but it works on both sides. But think for a minute. You non-Christian friend that you explained the Gospel to. When you prayed for them, what are praying? Are you praying that they may understand the Gospel or that the Spirit of God would bring conviction of their need of the Gospel and open their hearts so that they can receive it? It’s the latter isn’t it?
At a Bible study when you come together and say you are all Christians – what do you pray before you start the Bible study? Do you pray “Heavenly Father, we have had no time to look up a dictionary or a commentary and say ‘We don’t really know what these words mean but we pray through your Spirit you would give us this meaning’” or do you pray “Lord. Help us to see how this text and its meaning applies to our lives.” We usually tend to pray about those areas which we would call implications and significance. We assume that the meaning is fairly clear and open.
Now let us go to this other issue. For instance, supposing the next paper would be for the same two groups. What are some of the implications involved in what Paul means in Romans 4:1-5? Would there be a significant difference with respect to the grading of those papers? I‘m not sure about that either because I think hypothetically they could work out, you know, Paul’s doctrine of justification by faith as correct. That would mean that there is no thing that people can do to earn their salvation. In fact any attempt to do so would be itself sinfulness.
I think in the abstract level of hypothetical implications – be not drunk with wine, some of them would come up “Uh. It probably means not to be drunk with whisky,” even though he didn’t know what whisky was. I think they can arrive at that.
But there are some areas where apart from the Spirit I don’t think we will ever know. Those areas would be personal implications. Not broad specific general kinds of things, but that specific one. So an unbeliever could very well be able to look at Acts 1:8, “But you shall be my witnesses – after the Spirit has come upon you, you shall be my witnesses, in Jerusalem, in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth” and then you could say “It means that for a Christian they are to spread the Gospel throughout the world. But that means that some probably are going to be missionaries. Some will be pastors. Some will be teachers. Etc.”
But as a Christian prays about this and asks God for how he or she will fulfill that command in their own lives, we start finding that specific kind of implication that God wants us to be a missionary. Not just a missionary in general but a missionary to Africa, to a particular country in Africa or to South America or to the inner city and the like. And so specific personal implications, I think are something that only the Spirit can give to us. General implications – yes anyone can have an idea of that but no the specific.
And then the significance in which we respond and say yes. That is something given by the Holy Spirit. And when we put these together, we have another word that is not in our vocabulary. We looked at it once before. Personal implications and significance – application. So it is in this area that I think the Holy Spirit is especially guiding and giving us direction. Now that brings us back then to the definition that the Reformers gave about the role of the Spirit in providing illumination and conviction.
Conviction fits very nicely in what we are saying. But illumination is something else. Remember a number of times meeting with Millard Erickson as he wrote these things. Colleague of mine and friend and asked him to explain what illumination meant. And for him it somehow had to do with understanding. And specifically and I say “How does the Spirit provide understanding for a believer and not an unbeliever as they read this text?”
And I’m sure he would think that he had explained it adequately and maybe he had, but I didn’t understand at all what he meant by that. It was a very fuzzy word and time and time again it looked like illumination started to be equated with significance or conviction. And in fact in one of the quotations, he does say that say that illumination takes place when we are convicted of the truth of what is being said. So I think really for a lot of people, illumination and conviction meld together and involve the general area in what we call significance in that regard.
If you want to redefine understanding and qualify it as truly understanding, fully understanding, a saving understanding, an authentic understanding, a real understanding, a deeper understanding, and so forth and so on. No problem with that but notice that there is always a qualification. And that qualification indicates something and I think it indicates that an unbeliever can understand. It all depends on what we mean by the word understand. And again I remind you we are talking about a definition which means that understand – which says that understanding is a correct mental grasp.
That is all mental understanding is. We have a separate word for the conviction of the truthfulness of that. Significance. And that simple sense in which we use the word understand and unbeliever can do that. Now if you say that should not be the right definition of understanding. For me understanding means not only to have a correct mental grasp but to know the truthfulness of something. That’s what I mean by understanding.
Well then I would have to stop putting a not in front of all of these. Not truly understanding. Not fully understanding. Not savingly understanding and so forth and so on for the others. So its how you define it in part. There are times when sin begins to affect a person so much that what is so evident and clear, they refuse to see and almost refuse to understand.
I know that. That is true for a believer and for unbelievers many times. I think for instance on some of these politically correct issues everybody want the Bible to support them. So if you are practicing a homosexual lifestyle, you really don’t want to have to say, “Well. You know I know the Bible says that this is a damnable thing and that it is going to be judged by God and it is not approved by God.”
No one is especially eager that – there are some people however who come and say, “Let us not kid ourselves. That is exactly what the Bible says and that’s why I hate that Bible so much. Its prejudicial. Its narrow minded viewpoint.” And some people who practice a certain lifestyle will say, “This is the way I live. The Bible teaches otherwise, but I don’t care about the Bible.” So they understand. They just reject it.
Let me read for you something from Martin Luther as he writes to Erasmus. He use different vocabulary which will translate into ours but notice what he says.
“To put it briefly, there are two kinds of clarity in Scripture, just as there are also two kinds of obscurity: one external and pertaining to the ministry of the Word, the other located in the understanding of the heart. If you speak of the internal clarity, no man perceives one iota of what is in Scriptures unless he has the Spirit of God. All men have a darkened heart, so that even if they can recite everything in Scripture, and know how to quote it, yet they apprehend and truly understand nothing of it. They neither believe in God, nor that they themselves are creatures of God, nor anything else. As Psalm 14:1 says: “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no god.’” For the Spirit is required for the understanding of Scripture, both as a whole and in any part of it. However if, on the other hand, you speak of the external clarity, nothing at all is left obscure or ambiguous, but everything there is in the Scriptures has been brought out by the Word into the most definite light, and published to all the world.’”
There is an external clarity. Anyone who reads the Bible can know what it teaches about what they need to do to be saved and what is in general a life pleasing to God and how it is to be lived out. However to be convicted of the truthfulness of this, only with the Spirit of God can that take place.
And so we are talking here, whether you talk about irresistible grace that brings that about or prevenient grace that brings it about, everyone is convinced that it’s the grace of God who through the Spirit of God brings the person to know that this is true and brings the divine enabling that somehow allows them to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus.
Alright now let me show some quotations that come out of the Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard text, with regard to the role of the Spirit in this whole process. I think every now and then I find statements that look like they don’t agree with one another. Here are two on the same page,
“If the Bible is God’s revelation to His people, then the essential qualification for a full understanding of this book is to know the revealing God.”
Don’t try to copy this down. Just put page 82, 2/3rds down – 2/10ths down to 3/10ths down.
“Only the one who believes and trust in God can truly understand what God has spoken in His Word. This makes sense, for how can one understand a text from the Bible that purports to be a word from God if one denies that there is a God or that the Bible comes from God?”
This looks like that apart from the Holy Spirit, a person cannot truly understand the meaning of Scripture. There is footnote on that page however,
“The difference between the findings of unbelieving versus believing scholars is often one of volition …”
“… not cognition.”
Understanding – mental.
“… through their careful work, both may come to the same understanding of a text’s meaning. But due to their different faith commitments, only the believer can perceive the text’s true significance and be willing to obey the truth conveyed.”
So here you have – unless you start putting the word, “truly understand” or something like that they are saying that a believer and an unbeliever both can understand the meaning of a text. But apart from the Spirit there is no true understanding and that true understanding involves a correct mental grasp plus a conviction of its significance.
Some other comments and quotations from them,
“We cannot genuinely understand what a text meant without it impacting our lives.”
Another adverb that we hadn’t come across so far.
“Regardless of the pre-understanding, the addition of faith to the interpreter’s pre-understanding allows her to see new meanings in the text.”
“From the position faith the interpreter can see that the Bible records the words and activities of the transcendent God in human history.”
I’m not sure exactly what is meant by “new meanings”. If they are talking about, well, what might they be talking about? Well, significance – yeah maybe I was thinking of implications. Now that might be true. But I am unsure as to exactly what “new meanings” in the text and how that should be understood and interpreted.
Then he goes on,
“Illumination does not provide data or information. The Holy Spirit does not provide further revelation to the interpreter. Nor does illumination guarantee a correct understanding of the meaning of the passage. Given the spiritual nature of the Bible only a spiritual interpreter can accurately assimilate its contents. All other will simply miss the spiritual dimension. They may even ignore it altogether whether consciously or unconsciously.”
So here I think we are going further than simply a correct mental grasp when you are talking about assimilated contents, we are dealing with the area of significance again in that regard. So I think we would have a lot in common with the Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard for the most part.
Let me be overly simplistic. I don’t want to be disrespectful but I want to be as simple as I can. If you what this word means in the Bible, don’t say anything out loud please. Matthew 6:24 in the King James Version reads,
“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Now – don’t anybody if you know what the word means, say it.
Alright now we all have King James Bibles and we don’t know what the word mammon means. So we are going to divide up into teams. We are going right down the middle and you can choose which side you want according to your spirituality when I define the sides ok.
This group over here will be the prayer and fasting group. And you as a group are going to go to the Alumni chapel and you are going to pray. You are all going to pray that God through His Spirit will help you to understand what the word mammon means. Ok?
I’m on this side over here and we are not a very spiritual group. We are going to Baskin and Robbins and getting hot fudge sundae and as we go, I want you to bring our Bible dictionary with you and after we have eaten our first hot fudge sundae and we are ordering the second, we will look up in the Bible dictionary the word mammon.
Now who will have a correct mental grasp of the text? The spiritual group or the unspiritual hot fudge sundae group?
Now you are going to open the Bible dictionary and you look up the word mammon and it will say, an Aramaic word meaning things. Ah – Jesus says you cannot serve God and at the same time serve possessions.
Now what about our group over here?
We are praying and we are asking God through the Holy Spirit to give us wisdom as to the meaning of that word. Now I don’t believe that it is impossible that as you are praying a voice comes from Heaven and it says, the word mammon is an Aramaic word and it means “things or possessions”.
No – really – I don’t think that’s impossible. A voice could come from Heaven and also could say, “Go to Baskin and Robbins. They have got a Bible dictionary over there. They know what the word means.”
Now knowing what the word mammon means, what about you as a group as you pray and you speak and share with one another, what that means in my life. What does it mean that I cannot serve God and things?
And you begin to reflect on what might be the things that are keeping you from serving God fully. We are simply having hot fudge sundaes. Is it not true that the Spirit of God will honor that concern and bring an understanding to you as to implications – personal implications – of what that means in your life? The work of the Spirit is very important in showing how texts personally apply in bringing significance and causing us now to repent and remove those idols in our lives – those things – that mammon, that’s keeping us from serving as we ought.
Here we are only interested in the academic – yeah we know what it means – it means things and so what? That’s where the Spirit is active. And I think to note this - what we have here and never get to the desire to see how that applies specifically in our lives and if anything its worse than nothing to know when not to care.
An example in my own life, I was a Christian at the time and what I understand to be the role of the Spirit in the interpretation of the Bible. I was a junior in college at Rutgers University. It was spring in New Brunswick, New Jersey and we have a meeting across town on the women’s campus at Douglas College and so I was walking there early. And as I was walking some Bible verses were coming through my mind and John 3:16 came to my mind,
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.”
And as that verse came into my mind, something convinced me of the fact that that meant God really loved Bob Stein. And I became convinced that God personally loved me as I walked through the town. And the blue of the sky became deeper and richer and the sun became more golden and I think we would have here what I would call, that personal implication of the text that the Spirit brought to me that day.
But if you asked me does John 3:16 mean that He loves the whole world, before that day, I would have said, “Of course.”
And you say “Are you included in that?”
I would have said, “Of course.”
I knew. I had a correct mental grasp of John 3:16, but there was something about the personal implication of that and the deep conviction of the significance that I had not had before. But it was not in the area of the cognitive as much as the recognition in the heart that the Bible really says “God loves me.”
God loves me and I came to be convinced of it. I think some of you have had experiences like that where something which academically you may have known now the Spirit of God brought home to you and you were convinced of it. I think that’s what I would call one of the major works of the Spirit interpretation.