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The Spiritual Exegete, Part 2
May 21, 2014 J. P. Holding

The Spiritual Exegete, Part 2

Posted in Forum Post

Continuing with what I wrote last time, let’s now look at alleged Scriptural supports for the claim that the Holy Spirit is to be relied on first and foremost to help us interpret the Bible.

Jesus promised the disciples that the Spirit of truth (John 14:26; 16:13; cf. 1 John 4:6) would guide them into truth.”

Are these passages a promise of “Spirit-guided” interpretation for a modern reader? Hardly. John 14:26 has Jesus speaking directly to the Apostles, whom he had specially selected as his evangelistic representatives. There is little reason to think that this promise extended beyond this select group, for whom Spirit-guided recollection would be essential. This is not to say that God cannot, of course, provide such assistance to whomever He pleases; however, there is absolutely no justification for extending this guarantee to all believers, and in every possible situation. John 16:13 fails on the same consideration.

What, then, of 1 John 4:6? Here the field is a little more promising, since John is addressing members of his audience at large, saying, “Hereby we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.” The problem, however, is that John is speaking within the context of a specific situational heresy: “Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God…” (1 John 4:2-3). Interestingly, John has appealed to a matter of historical fact, and one to which he was an eyewitness; namely, the coming of Jesus Christ in the flesh. This is not a strictly “Spirit-guided process” at all. Nor, in fact, does it have anything to do with Scriptural interpretation, but with a fundamental historic fact of the Christian faith. There is absolutely no contextual reason to extend this pledge beyond the borders of John’s historic context.

“The genuine believer is provided with the teaching ministry of the Holy Spirit (1 John 2:26-27 cf. Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-33).”

What of 1 John 2:27 that says, “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you….” As several scholars have observed, “this absolute declaration about the dispensability of earthly teachers appears in the course of a document which is heavily didactic!” (Smalley, commentary on John’s letters, 125) If these words are as absolute as some believe them to be, 1 John would not have needed to be written at all – and all our Bible colleges and seminaries should simply close their doors!

So why would John say something like this? Given the historic context of the letter, it is probable that his words are a direct reaction to false teachers in the church, who claimed that one needed their specialized knowledge for salvation, or for some other purpose. Once again, there would be little justification for expanding John’s words into the wider experience of the Christian church.

The appeals to the Old Testament passages are even less valid. Ezekiel refers to the spirit of God causing God’s followers to “walk in my statutes” and “keep my judgments.” Jeremiah is far less specific, merely referring to the “law” of God being written in the hearts of the people. The indication here is that this has to do with moral judgment and action, with the Spirit acting after the manner of a conscience. This would have little to do with the Spirit as some sort of didactic device.

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