Aug 15, 2012

Rightly Interpreting the Bible (Part 4)

Ron RhodesBy Dr. Ron Rhodes
Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries

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Dependence on the Holy Spirit

Scripture tells us that we are to rely on the Holy Spirit's illumination to gain insights into the meaning and application of Scripture (John 16:12-15; 1 Corinthians 2:9-11). It is the Holy Spirit's work to throw light upon the Word of God so that the believer can assent to the meaning intended and act on it. The Holy Spirit, as the "Spirit of truth" (John 16:13), guides us so that "we may understand what God has freely given us" (1 Corinthians 2:12).

This is quite logical: full comprehension of the Word of God is impossible without prayerful dependence on the Spirit of God, for He who inspired the Word (2 Peter 1:21) is also its supreme interpreter.

Illumination is necessary because man's mind has been darkened through sin (Romans 1:21), preventing him from properly understanding God's Word. Human beings cannot understand God's Word apart from God's divine enablement (Ephesians 4:18).

This aspect of the Holy Spirit's ministry operates within the sphere of man's rational capacity, which God Himself gave man (cf. Genesis 2-3). Illumination comes to the 'minds' of God's people—not to some nonrational faculty like our 'emotions' or our 'feelings' [like a 'burning in the bosom']. To know God's revelation means to use our minds. This makes knowledge something we can share with others, something we can talk about. God's Word is in words with ordinary rational content.

The ministry of the Holy Spirit in interpretation does not mean interpreters can ignore common sense and logic. Since the Holy Spirit is "the Spirit of truth" (John 14:17; 15:26; 16:13), He does not teach concepts that fail to meet the tests of truth. In other words, "the Holy Spirit does not guide into interpretations that contradict each other or fail to have logical, internal consistency."

It must also be kept in mind that the function of the Holy Spirit is not to communicate to the minds of people any doctrine or meaning of Scripture that is not contained already in Scripture itself. The Holy Spirit makes men "wise up to what is written, not beyond it." Indeed, "the function of the Spirit is not to communicate new truth or to instruct in matters unknown, but to illuminate what is revealed in Scripture."

The Example of Jesus Christ

Jesus consistently interpreted the Old Testament quite literally, including

  • the Creation account of Adam and Eve (Matthew 13:35; 25:34; Mark 10:6),
  • Noah's Ark and the flood (Matthew 24:38-39; Luke 17:26-27),
  • Jonah and the great fish (Matthew 12:39-41),
  • Sodom and Gomorrah (Matthew 10:15), and
  • the account of Lot and his wife (Luke 17:28-29).

In his book The Savior and the Scriptures, theologian Robert P. Lightner notes—following an exhaustive study—that Jesus' interpretation of Scripture "was always in accord with the grammatical and historical meaning. He understood and appreciated the meaning intended by the writers according to the laws of grammar and rhetoric."

Jesus affirmed the Bible's

  • divine inspiration (Matthew 22:43),
  • its indestructibility (Matthew 5:17-18),
  • its infallibility (John 10:35),
  • its final authority (Matthew 4:4,7,10),
  • its historicity (Matthew 12:40; 24:37),
  • its factual inerrancy (Matthew 22:29-32), and
  • its spiritual clarity (Luke 24:25).

Moreover, He emphasized the importance of each word of Scripture (Luke 16:17). Indeed, He sometimes based His argumentation on a single expression of the biblical text (Matthew 22:32,43-45; John 10:34).

(To be continued...)