The Teaching of the Spirit

One of the many difficult balances that a believer must attempt to obtain in their lives is that between a naturalistic and supernaturalistic approach to Biblical study. The problem of obtaining this balance can be exacerbated by an excess or lack of formal education leading to an inbuilt bias towards one approach or another. On the one hand we risk attempting to understand the Word of God using human logic: an approach that is destined to fail. On the other we risk attempting to face life without the benefit of the practical guidance[1], security[2], knowledge[3] and protection[4] that has been afforded us.

The aide we have in achieving this balance is the Holy Spirit Himself. The exact work of the Spirit in this field is somewhat obscured by the fact that He has performs a number of different roles in the transmission of scripture to the believer. The first, which I don't intend to tackle in this essay, is that He was instrumental in the inspiration, or construction and writing of scripture[5]. However that role is distinct and independent of the role that the Spirit plays in Biblical ministry today.

One of the things that needs to be firmly understood is that the Bible is naturally impenetrable to the human mind[6]. In fact scripture states that the wisdom revealed by scripture will appear as foolishness to the natural man. The wisdom of God needs to be absorbed at a spiritual level. Scripture gives a number of reasons that Biblical teaching cannot be received by unregenerate man. One reason is that he simply may not want to accept truth[7]. Another is that natural sensuality and carnality can cause us to measure things using a yardstick other than the divine one[8]. A more sinister reason that scripture states, is that Satan has blinded their minds to prevent them from understanding[9]. Probably the extreme case of this incomprehension is the Cross which is foolish to the logical mind and offensive to the religious one[10] and yet which is the basis of faith for those that are saved.

Whilst I believe the preceding paragraph to be true and accurate there are a number of logical objections that can be raised against it. The first is that a central premise of the inspiration of the Bible is that it is the self revelation of God to man. If God is omnipotent and wished to reveal Himself to mankind then why would he produce a book that is impenetrable? The second is that the Bible appears to be fully comprehensible. It is written in our language, with versions in many dialects and for all reading ages and there are thousands of feet of bookshelves filled with commentaries: surely that would be sufficient to render any reasonable matter comprehensible.

I believe the solution to this puzzle lies in 2Pe 1:20 where we are told that no prophecy of scripture is of any private interpretation. In fact we are told that this fact is a fundamental axiom upon which we should work. The commentators differ upon what this verse means. Some take it to suggest that the prophets did not invent the words themselves[11]. However this verse does not mention inspiration; that is the following verse. Others[12] take it to mean that the prophets did not interpret their own words; whilst this is sometimes true it was certainly not true of Moses. I believe the meaning is very plain[13]; it means scripture has one meaning. Scripture is a representation of global or more accurately universal truth. It can almost be viewed as a description or narrative describing some objects not yet visible. When we read of 'light shining in darkness' the phrase can reasonably be viewed as a torch being shone piece by piece onto some large structure, so that slowly the full picture builds in the readers mind.

However each new image or description coming in is only useful or meaningful insofar as the reader is able to integrate it with what they already know. Further they can only reasonably integrate new information if it is related to a piece of the structure that they already have visualized. It is not unlike doing a jigsaw puzzle; you have to start with a particular piece, find the pieces that are close and then link them together in an appropriate fashion ready to repeat the process.

To continue the analogy the natural mind is therefore presented with a daunting task. To comprehend scripture is to assemble a 30,000+ piece puzzle entirely in your mind. Worse there are no definitive edges, colors or lines. Discernment has to be used to decide if any two pieces go together. Worse the natural man has an inbuilt and inaccurate perception of how the eventual structure should look which will guarantee he assembles the structure in the wrong manner; his position in hopeless.

However it was not God's intent that we should assemble this puzzle ourselves; or that we should be able to solve it ourselves. He has provided the Holy Spirit to teach us. Subsequent to the inspiration of scripture we really only have one direct reference to the Holy Spirit teaching and that is in 1Co 2:13. Here we are told that the Spirit teaches by comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Some take this to mean comparing the New Testament to the Old. I think it does include this but is far more general. When a believer reads a passage it is the Spirit that draws certain things to your notice. It will also remind you of other verses or doctrines which are related. I personally believe it is then to the human faculty to draw and accept the conclusions the verses provide.

If the above illustration is accepted then it provides that balance between the natural and supernatural comprehension of scripture. We are to pray for wisdom and guidance to find the right verses, to recall the right doctrines, to follow the right paths. But then we are to develop the human faculties to allow us to comprehend and then interpret that which we have been shown. In this manner the Spirit not only teaches us the verses at hand but also strengthens our ability to assemble and correlate more truth in future.

There is one additional ministry of the Spirit that is related to teaching although it is not strictly part of the teaching process; that is preservation. In 2 Ti 1:14 we are admonished to keep hold of sound doctrine; however we are told to do it via the indwelling Spirit. This could be as simple as the Spirit keeping our memories fresh and prompting us with verses when we need them. It could refer to the Spirit as our conscience keeping us from swamping our minds with an excess of unhelpful things. However there is a piece of me that believes it may be a little bit more. We are told specifically that the Spirit indwells us. He doesn't leave. I believe He may be the foundational piece within us upon which the rest of truth is 'hooked' as it were.

In this essay I have attempt to stress the impossibility of a naturalistic or purely human based approach to Biblical comprehension. I have then attempted to illustrate what I believe to be the correct method of Biblical interpretation and the human and divine role in that process. I have not provided a magic formula or failsafe process for ensuring the process works because frankly I don't know one. Keeping the balance is one of those things I am still learning and am certainly not qualified to exposit. However the Spirit has led me and given me some insights as I have constructed this essay so my bottom line is that even if we don't fully understand the mechanism we can trust the process.


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