- More ▼
7 Bible Verses about Spiritual Illumination
Most Relevant Verses
Now I have heard about you that a spirit of the gods is in you, and that illumination, insight and extraordinary wisdom have been found in you.
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.
There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.
For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit,
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,
But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you. read more. “A little while, and you will no longer see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me.”
Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.
- Illumination ( 6 instances )
- Spiritual ( 213 instances )
- God Giving Light
- Knowing About God's Kingdom
- Sharing In Christ
- 103 more topics on Spiritual
- 1 more topics on Illumination
Never miss a post
New American Standard Bible Copyright ©1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation, La Habra, Calif. All rights reserved. For Permission to Quote Information visit http://www.lockman.org
- All Translations (Parallel)
- NASB New American Standard Bible
- KJV King James Version
- HCSB Holman Bible
- ISV International Standard Version
- YLT Youngs Literal Translation
- Darby Darby Translation
- ASV American Standard Version
- WBS Webster
- NET NET Bible
- AMP Amplified
- LEB Lexham Expanded Bible
- WEB World English Bible
- WE Worldwide English (NT)
- EMB The Emphasized Bible
- BBE Bible in Basic English
- WNT Weymouth New Testament
- KJ2000 King James 2000
- AUV An Understandable Version
- MSTC Modern Spelling Tyndale-Coverdale
- MKJV Modern King James verseion
- JuliaSmith Julia Smith Translation
- Godbey Godbey New Testament
- ACV A Conservative Version
- NHEB New Heart English Bible
- Mace Daniel Mace New Testament
- Wesley John Wesley New Testament
- Worsley Worsley New Testament
- Haweis Thomas Haweis New Testament
- Diaglott Emphatic Diaglott Bible
- LOV Living Oracles New Testament
- Sawyer Sawyer New Testament
- ABU American Bible Union New Testament
- Anderson Anderson New Testament
- Noyes Noyes New Testament
- TCV Twentieth Century New Testament
- Worrell Worrell New Testament
- Moffatt Moffatt New Testament
- Goodspeed Goodspeed New Testament
- MNT Montgomery New Testament
- Williams Williams New Testament
- Common Common New Testament
How to go to Heaven
How to get right with god.
What is the biblical doctrine of illumination?
For further study, related articles, subscribe to the, question of the week.
Get our Question of the Week delivered right to your inbox!
Illumination of the Bible
ILLUMINATION OF THE BIBLE BY THE SPIRIT WHO INSPIRED THE BIBLE
THE BIBLE & ILLUMINATION – To illuminate means to have something brightened with light and made clear to the eyes. Figuratively, illumination can mean to be be enlightened spiritually. Simply put, illumination in the spiritual sense is “turning on the light.” The Source of spiritual illumination is the Father, the Channel is the Holy Spirit and the supreme Goal is that He shine "in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." (2Cor 4:6 + ) While some might say this is a bit too mystical, it is thoroughly Biblical. Indeed, illumination is something we should pray for even as Paul prayed for the saints at Ephesus asking that “the eyes of (their) heart (the core of one's being) be enlightened, so that (they) may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints and what is the surpassing (Gk - exceedingly extraordinary) greatness of His power (dunamis - inherent supernatural power to to live a supernatural life = “Resurrection power” - Eph 1:20 + ) toward us who believe.” (Eph 1:18-19 + ) Paul was not praying for new revelation, but for spiritual illumination of truth they already knew. And that is our desperate need, every time we open the Book we should beg God: “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Your Law." (Ps 119:18 + ). As D L Moody said, Spirit led “study of God’s Word brings peace to the heart. In it, we find a light for every darkness, life in death, the promise of our Lord’s return, and the assurance of everlasting glory.” This begs a question - Every time you open the Book, do you ask the Author of the Book to open your heart to receive the truth from His Book? If you do, you can rest assured that with God's Word as your map and His Spirit as your compass, you are sure to stay on course. "Oh, that Thy words, like the beams of the sun, may enter through the window of my understanding, and dispel the darkness of my mind!" (Spurgeon)
I scanned the Scriptures thoughtlessly— My haste had closed my ear; Then prayerfully I read once more— This time my heart could hear. --Gustafson
The Scriptures teach that the Holy Spirit and the Holy Word operate together. As Puritan Stephen Charnock wrote "The Word is the chariot of the Spirit, the Spirit the Guider of the Word." Jesus promised His disciples that “when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” (Jn 16:13) Hallelujah, He has come and now indwells all His children, Paul explaining that “if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.” (Ro 8:9 + ) Paul also taught that "the natural (unregenerate) man cannot accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised." (1Cor 2:14 + ) In contrast believers have received "the Spirit Who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us." (1Cor 2:12 + ) John wrote that we "have an anointing from the Holy One" (1Jn 2:20 + ), going on to explain that "the anointing which you received from Him abides in you (the indwelling Spirit 1Cor 6:19), and you have no need for anyone to teach you." (1Jn 2:27 + ) John is not saying we don't need teachers (Eph 4:11 + ; Acts 13:1 + ), but wants us to understand that each believer is capable and responsible to study the Word for themselves, because the Spirit Who inspired the Scriptures, has anointed and indwelt every believer. As Alexander Maclaren said "He who has the Holy Spirit in his heart and the Scriptures in his hands has all he needs." O blessed holy book, the Bible, for there is no other book wherein the Author Who wrote it is always present with you, ever ready to explain what He wrote! Spurgeon agrees that "If you do not understand a book by a departed writer you are unable to ask him his meaning, but the Spirit, Who inspired Holy Scripture, lives forever, and He delights to open the Word to those who seek His instruction.”
It is better to live one verse of the Bible, than to recite an entire chapter . - Jesus in John 13:17
Spurgeon reminds us that "God, by His Spirit, brings old truth home to the heart, gives new light to our eyes, and causes the Word to exercise new power over us." Warren Wiersbe adds that "Illumination is the work of the Holy Spirit, and we must depend on Him to teach us new truths and to remind us of truths we may have forgotten (Jn 14:26b). When (we are) “in the Spirit,” (see locative of sphere , see Praying in the Spirit ) (Rev 1:10 + ) the Word comes forth with power and penetration. We experience what the little girl in London meant when she said to her mother, “Mother, is Mr. Spurgeon speaking to me ?” (Of course he was speaking to the entire congregation, but she perceived his words were personally for her. So too with the blessed Holy Spirit!) We have an idiom that says " don't take it personally "! Au contraire , we should take it personally when it is the Word spoken by God! The Word becomes personal....The blessing doesn’t come because we hear the Word; it comes because we do the Word (Lk 8:21 + ). Anything else is pure deception. (Jas 1:22 + )" Indeed, it is better to live one verse of the Bible, than to recite an entire chapter. As Jesus taught “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” (Jn 13:17)
When the Spirit of God hovers and the Word of God speaks, order comes out of chaos . -Tony Evans on Ge 1:2 +
Order or Chaos? - Tony Evans observes that " In revelation , God discloses His truth. Through inspiration , He sees that it is recorded for us. And by the illumination of His Spirit, He enables us to understand and apply it. When you get all of this working in your life, you’re going to grow as a follower of Christ! (1Pe 2:2 + , 2Pe 3:18 + ) In Genesis 1:2 + the Spirit hovered over “the surface of the waters.” In Genesis 1:3 + God said, “Let there be light.” Light was not present until the Spirit of God hovered. Why is that important? When the Spirit of God hovers and the Word of God speaks, order comes out of chaos. That’s what happened in creation. The earth was “formless and void” before the Spirit and the light came (Ge 1:2 + ). Does your life ever feel formless and void? Ever feel empty, chaotic in your life? Guess how you move from chaos to order? You do so when the holy Word is mixed with the hovering Spirit. That’s not just reading your Bible. That’s asking God to illumine what you read and submitting your heart to it. Then God's Spirit brings order out of chaos." (See his discussion of " The Concept of Illumination " in his book What Matters Most: Four Absolute Necessities in Following Christ - also read the section on Illumination in Evans' book The Wonder of the Word: Hearing the Voice of God in Scripture )
The psalmist echoes this truth writing "The unfolding (unveiling giving understanding) of Thy Words gives light. It gives understanding to the simple." (Ps 119:130 + ) The Spirit’s illuminating work is not to change the sense of the Scriptures, but to restore us to our senses so that we can grasp the intended sense of the Scriptures!
" Do you have an illuminated Bible ?" -- C H Spurgeon
Illuminated Bibles? - In a sermon on the Holy Spirit, Spurgeon asked “Do any of you have an illuminated Bible? "No," says one, "I have a morocco Bible,” or “I have a marginal reference Bible." Ah! that is all very well, but have you an illuminated Bible? "Yes, I have a large family Bible with pictures in it." Yes, but have you an illuminated Bible? "I don't understand what you mean by an illuminated Bible." Well, it is the Christian man who has an illuminated Bible. He does not buy it illuminated originally, but when he reads it – “A glory gilds the sacred page, Majestic like the sun, Which gives a light to every page, It gives, but burrows (hides) none.” “There is nothing like reading an illuminated Bible, beloved. You may read to all eternity, and never learn anything by it, unless it is illuminated by the Spirit; and then the words shine forth like stars. The book seems made of gold leaf; every single letter glitters like a diamond. Oh! it is a blessed thing to read an illuminated Bible lit up by the radiance of the Holy Spirit. Hast thou read the Bible and studied it, my brother, and yet have thine eyes been unenlightened? Go and say, “O Lord, gild (overlay with gold) the Bible for me. I want an expounded Bible. Illuminate it; shine upon it; for I cannot read it to profit, unless Thou enlighten me.” Blind men may read the Bible with their fingers, but blind souls cannot. We want a light to read the Bible by; there is no reading it in the dark. Thus the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, by suggesting ideas, by directing our thoughts, and by illuminating the Scriptures when we read them.” (Read The Holy Spirit Your Teacher ) "Open my eyes, that I may see, Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key, That shall unclasp, and set me free." (Scott)
ILLUSTRATION - Parakeet or Paraclete? - Jesus promised His disciples (and us) “the Helper (Gk - Paraclete), the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in My name and He will teach you all things.” (Jn 14:26) M R DeHaan tells the story of visiting a retired pastor who had a parakeet named Gibby who would say things like “Gibby is the prettiest bird in all the world” without any understanding of what he was actually saying. Many Christians go through the motions of Bible reading without the slightest idea of the true meaning of the text. It is better to read one verse in prayerful dependence on your “Paraclete (Helper), than to rattle off a whole book from memory like a parakeet! We would all do well to ask the question Philip asked the Ethiopian eunuch “Do (I) understand what (I) am reading?” (Acts 8:30 + ) – “Ever-present, truest Friend; Ever near Thine aid to lend; Guide us as we search the Word, Make it both our shield and sword.”
Problem With the Signal? - Tony Evans writes that "Before cable television came into my neighborhood, I used a television antenna. I had a workman come out one time because I was having problems with my reception. He said, “Your signal is strong, but your antenna is not pointed in the right direction.” The Word of God is strong. There’s no problem with the “signal.” But our heart’s antenna is often not pointed in the right direction. A lot of us are fiddling with our lives trying to fix them when the problem is that our spiritual antenna is not pointed toward God. Therefore, we cannot pick up the Spirit’s signal." (See The Wonder of the Word )
John Piper - Our approach to the Bible should be like a miser in the gold rush, or a fiancée who has lost her engagement ring somewhere in the house. She ransacks the house. That is the way we seek for God in the Bible....Praying cannot replace reading. Praying may turn reading into seeing. But if we don’t read, we will not see. The Holy Spirit is sent to glorify Jesus, and the glory of Jesus is portrayed in the Word. Read. Rejoice that you can read....Spiritual apprehension is a gift of God....Don’t replace thinking with praying. Think and pray. Pray and think. (2 Timothy 2:7 + ) (Read the full discussion of Wonderful Things from Your Word - the first section deals with Our Desperate Need for God's Illumination ).
Many books can inform, but only a Spirit illuminated Bible can transform ! - Paul in 2Cor 3:18 +
ILLUSTRATION of the Travesty of Information without Illumination (or Regeneration )! - A seminary professor visiting the Holy Lands met a man who claimed to have memorized the entire Old Testament in Hebrew! Needless to say, the astonished professor asked for a demonstration. "Where shall we begin"? asked the man. The professor who was an avid student of the psalms replied "Psalm 1." So for two hours the man effortlessly and flawlessly recited the Psalms from memory as the professor sat in stunned silence. When the demonstration was over, the professor discovered something even more astonishing about the man-he was an atheist! Here was a man who intellectually could go through the Scriptures, but without the Spirit's illumination the Scriptures never once went through him! Richard Lenski commented that "For all spiritual things, our thinking abilities, however keen and sharp, are not sufficient. The Lord must control, guide, enlighten our understanding.” Many books can inform, but only a Spirit illuminated Bible can transform! (2Cor 3:18 + )
Intellect and Illumination - Paul understood our need to couple intellect and illumination exhorting Timothy to "Consider (seek to intellectually grasp the meaning = Our Responsibility) what I say, for the Lord (the Spirit) will give you understanding (God's Promised Provision) in everything." (2Ti 2:7 + ) John Piper explains that "So many people swerve off the road to one side of this verse or the other. Some stress, “ Think over what I say .” They emphasize the indispensable role of reason and thinking. And they minimize the decisive supernatural role of the Spirit in making the mind able to see and embrace the truth. Others stress the second half of the verse: “ for the Lord will give you understanding in everything .” They emphasize the futility of reason without the Spirit's illumining work. But Paul will not be divided that way. (We must) embrace both human thinking and divine illumination. For Paul, it was not either-or but both-and. If God does not open our eyes, we will not see the wonder of the Word. We are not naturally able to see spiritual beauty. When we read the Bible without the help of the Holy Spirit, the glory of God in the teachings and events of the Bible is like the sun shining in the face of a blind man. (We must be) desperate for God and hungry for God, and this must set us to pleading and crying out to God for His help in reading the Bible. We must pray for it—“Open my eyes.” (Ps 119:18- note ) And if we would stay alive in God and be real and authentic and intense in our love for Him, we must be desperate to have this enabling every day. So pray, pray, pray." May we daily be like the psalmist who declared "I rise before dawn and cry for help. I wait for Your Words. O how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day." (Ps 119:147, 97)
ILLUSTRATION - Tender Heart - Without a heart for God, we cannot hear God's Word. Proper understanding of spiritual truth is not dependent on a keen intellect but on a tender heart, a heart that is "humble and contrite of spirit, and which trembles at My Word." (Isa 66:2) We don’t as much need physical eyes to read the Bible, as we need the spiritual eyes of our heart enlightened to love the Author. The story is told of a poor, blind French girl who obtained a Braille copy of Mark and learned to read it with her fingers. But eventually her fingers became so calloused she could no longer distinguish letters and words. In desperation for the Word, she cut the calluses in an attempt to restore the sense of touch, but sadly the scarring had the opposite effect. Faced with the reality that she must give up her beloved Book, with weeping she pressed the Braille copy of Mark to her lips, lamenting “Farewell, farewell, sweet Word of my Heavenly Father!” To her surprise, she discovered that her lips were even more sensitive to touch than her fingers had been! And from that moment on she "read" the Bible with her lips, and doubtless offered praises like the psalmist who cried "Let my lips utter praise, for You teach me Your statutes." (Ps 119:171)
May our prayer ever be... Open My Eyes, That I May See - Play this hymn by Clara H Scott (or even better pray this hymn!)
Open my eyes, that I may see Glimpses of truth Thou hast for me; Place in my hands the wonderful key That shall unclasp, and set me free. Refrain: Silently now I wait for Thee, Ready, my God, Thy will to see: Open my eyes, illumine me, Savior divine! Open my ears, that I may hear Voices of truth Thou sendest clear; And while the wave notes fall on my ear, Ev’rything false will disappear. Refrain Open my mouth, and let me bear Gladly the warm truth ev’rywhere; Open my heart, and let me prepare Love with Thy children thus to share. Refrain
ILLUSTRATION - C H Spurgeon gives a great illustration of our desperate, constant need of the Holy Spirit to open our natural eyes to supernatural truth...The Spirit guiding into all truth - Truth may be compared to some cave or grotto, with wondrous stalactites hanging from the roof, and others starting from the floor; a cavern glittering with spar and abounding in marvels. Before entering the cavern you inquire for a guide, who comes with his lighted flambeau. He conducts you down to a considerable depth, and you find yourself in the midst of the cave. He leads you through different chambers. Here he points you to a little stream rushing from amid the rocks, and indicates its rise and progress; there he points to some peculiar rock and tells you its name, then takes you into a large natural hall, tells you how many persons once feasted in it, and so on. Truth is a grand series of caverns, it is our glory to have so great and wise a Conductor as the Holy Spirit. Imagine that we are coming to the darkness of it. He is a light shining in the midst of us to guide us. And by the light He shows us wondrous things. He teaches us by suggestion, direction, and illumination.
The Spirit of Truth by Brad Klassen (an excerpt)
A vital component is often missing in books about the Christian mind. Writers emphasize the requirement of conversion to Christ, the uniqueness of the Christian view of truth and authority, the importance of disciplined thinking, the necessity of worldview discernment, and the value of life-long learning. But often treated as an afterthought is the role the Holy Spirit plays in the development and exercise of the kind of thinking that is truly Christian. As with many other aspects of life in the church, Christians are tempted to believe that “thinking” and “the intellect” are predominantly a reflection of the efforts of man—even the regenerate man.
This neglect of the Spirit’s role in the development of the Christian mind can be traced to numerous causes. There is a fear of fanaticism for some. The Charismatic movement has so warped the doctrine of the Holy Spirit that many would rather avoid the topic altogether. For others, the Holy Spirit is seen as the energizer of moral living and not of the mind. Still others have never been challenged to search the Scriptures to see what they really teach about the Spirit and His ministries to the believer. They assume that the Bible is largely silent on this issue, or that God’s will is that believers do not dwell upon it. In any case, the neglect of this doctrine not only leaves the believer ignorant of Scripture’s teaching and unappreciative of the Spirit’s ministry, but this neglect also leads to an unhealthy state of the mind itself.
If Christians are to think Christianly, they must consider the Holy Spirit’s role in this duty. After all, the Scriptures distinctly teach that the Holy Spirit is the agent of truth and of knowing. So important is this reality that Jesus refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of truth” three times in His Upper Room discourse (John 13–16) to encourage His disciples as He prepared them for His departure and their future ministries:
- John 14:15–17 (esp. v. 17)
- John 15:26–27 (esp. v. 26)
- John 16:12–15 – “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you. All things that the Father has are Mine; therefore I said that He takes of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
Years after Jesus’s ascension, the Apostle Paul described how Jesus’ promise to the apostles about the Holy Spirit was being fulfilled. The “Spirit of truth” was active in the apostles and New Testament writers, revealing to them the mysterious “depths of God” that no one could otherwise ever know, and aiding them in the communication of that knowledge to others:
1 Corinthians 2:10–13 – “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.’”
The unique truth-revealing work of the Holy Spirit described by these texts is summarized by two important terms: revelation and inspiration. Revelation refers to the disclosure of divine knowledge to the apostles; inspiration refers to the correct articulation of that knowledge in the form of human language by the apostles. But there remains a third term that relates to the Spirit’s work as “the Spirit of truth”: illumination . ( Click for full article and click here for audio )
QUESTION - What is the biblical doctrine of illumination?
ANSWER - Simply put, illumination in the spiritual sense is “turning on the light” of understanding in some area. Throughout the ages, people in every culture and religion have claimed some kind of revelation or enlightenment from God (whether true or not). When that enlightenment deals with new knowledge or future things, we call it prophecy. When that enlightenment deals with understanding and applying knowledge already given, we call it illumination. Regarding illumination of the latter type, the question arises, “How does God do it?”
The most basic level of enlightenment is the knowledge of sin, and without that knowledge, everything else is pointless. Psalm 18:28 says, “You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Psalm 119, which is the longest chapter in the Bible, is a song about God’s Word. In verse 130, it says “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” This verse establishes the basic method of God’s illumination. When God’s Word enters the heart of a person, it gives light and understanding to them. For this reason, we are repeatedly told to study the Word of God. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verses 98 and 99 say “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.”
Regular study of the Word of God will give direction and understanding in the issues of life. This is the first method of God’s illumination and the starting point for us all. In Psalm 119 we also find another type of God’s illumination. Verse 18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” These are not new revelations, but things which have been written and revealed long before, and just now understood by the reader (one of those “aha!” moments). Similarly, verse 73 says, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” The plea is for personal understanding and application of God’s laws as they are studied by the individual. Fifteen times in this psalm, God is asked to teach or give understanding regarding His laws.
One passage that sometimes stirs controversy regarding illumination is John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the upper room, giving them last instructions before His death. This special group of men was to be responsible for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world. They had spent three and a half years with Him, watching His miracles and hearing His teachings. They would relay those things to the rest of the world, and would need God’s special help remembering those things accurately. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of what had been said, so they could give it to others (including the writing of the Gospels). This verse does not teach that the Spirit will do so with all believers (though there are other verses that speak of the Spirit’s illuminating work).
What is the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work in believers? Ephesians 1:17-18 tells us that the Spirit gives wisdom and revelation concerning Jesus Christ, and opens the eyes of understanding so we can know God’s purposes in our lives. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, God has revealed His plans for us by His Spirit, who teaches us spiritual things. The context here points to the Word of God as that which has been revealed. The Spirit of God will always point us to the Word of God for our instruction. As Jesus told His disciples in John 16:12-15, the Spirit simply repeats what the Father and the Son have already said. This repetition helps us remember and fully hear what God has already told us. Sometimes we have to hear things several times before we actually hear them. That’s where the Spirit comes in.
One thing that is sometimes overlooked in the discussion of illumination is the purpose of it. To hear some arguments, it would seem that the whole purpose of illumination is an accurate and academic understanding of God’s Word. There is no question that God desires us to accurately understand what He has given us. Words have meaning, and we must pay attention to the details in those words. If, however, we stop there, we simply have an academic understanding of facts or philosophies, which do no one any good.
Going back to Psalm 119, we find purpose statements connected with the illumination verses. “I will meditate on your wonders” (v. 27), “I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (v. 34), “that I may understand your statutes” (v. 125), “that I may live” (v. 144). The illumination always points to action. Why does God help us understand His Word? So we are able to live in its light. First John 1:6 challenges us, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” We could paraphrase it to say, “If we say we’ve been enlightened, but still walk in the dark, we lie about understanding God’s Word.” The Spirit of God, who enlightens us to hear and understand God’s Word, then takes that knowledge and guides us in living it. Romans 8:14 says “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The illuminating and leading work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confirmation that we are indeed children of God. GotQuestions.org
- Ephesians 1:18-19 Commentary
- Psalm 119:18 Commentary
- 1 Corinthians 2:10-16 Commentary
- 2 Timothy 2:7 Commentary
- Illumination I J. Vernon McGee very brief audio - McGee delights in how limitless the voice of the Spirit in the Bible is. Not even great Bible scholars can discover these treasures in a whole lifetime.
- Illumination II J. Vernon McGee - 24 minute audio
- Inductive Bible Study
- Holy Spirit
- Bible - The Word of God
What is biblical illumination?
Blog By the Waters of Babylon
Illumination—I do not think it means what you think it means
I am convinced that a charismatic theology of the Holy Spirit has infected most of evangelicalism in ways we don’t often recognize. Carl F. H. Henry was right when he observed, “The modern openness to charismatic emphases is directly traceable to the neglect by mainstream Christian denominations of an adequate doctrine of the Holy Spirit.” 1 Carl F. H. Henry, God, Revelation, and Authority , 284.
This influence can be seen in a number of ways, but one that I’d like to focus on here is with our understanding and use of the term illumination . Often we hear prayers like, “Lord, please illumine your Word so that we can understand what it says,” or other similar language. Intentional or not, many believers seem to expect that the Spirit is going to help us understand what Scripture means or that he is going to “speak” to us specific ways that the Word applies to our personal situations.
Neither of these are what the biblical doctrine of illumination means.
Biblical Teaching on Illumination
The term illumination does not appear in Scripture; rather, it describes a collection of concepts involving the Spirit’s work in relation to his Word in the believer’s life.
1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16
One of the key texts is 1 Corinthians 1:18–2:16. In this passage, Paul describes the fact that “the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor 1:18). Though the concept of illumination or enlightening don’t really appear in this passage, it does clearly teach that a key difference between believers and unbelievers is the fact that unbelievers simply do not recognize the truthfulness, beauty, and authority of God’s Word (specifically the gospel), while a believer is one who has come to recognize Scripture as such, not because of any human persuasion, but simply through “the Spirit and of power” (2:4).
2 Corinthians 4:1–6
Second Corinthians 4 makes a similar assertion, this time using explicit language of “enlightening.” The gospel is “veiled to those who are perishing” (2 Cor 4:3), Paul argues. Believers accept and submit to the gospel only because God has enlightened their hearts:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Cor 4:6
This is illumination—a work of God’s Spirit upon a believer whereby he recognizes the beauty and glory of the gospel and therefore willingly submits himself to it.
It is important here to recognize that this concept of enlightening happens at the moment of conversion and is always true of Christians. Once our hearts are enlightened, we will always recognize and accept the Word of God as true and authoritative for us. An enlightened believer does not doubt or reject God’s Word.
1 Corinthians 2:10–16
Another text frequently cited in discussions of Spirit illumination is 1 Corinthians 2:10–16.
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
Two points are important to recognize in this text: First, the “us” and “we” in verses 10–13 are the apostles and other authors of Scripture. Charles Hodge notes, “The whole connection shows that the apostle is speaking of revelation and inspiration; and therefore we must mean we apostles , (or Paul himself), and not we Christians.” 2 Charles Hodge, An Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians , 40. These men certainly received direct revelation from the Spirit of God to the degree that whatever they wrote can be considered “inspired” by God (2 Tim 3:16; 2 Peter 20–21). But we must remember that such inspiration was unique. The Spirit uniquely revealed the truths of Scripture to these men, and these truths are now inscripturated in the 66 canonical books of Scripture. The Spirit does not “reveal” truth to us in the same manner. These verses describe inspiration , not illumination .
This is important to remember in any discussion of illumination: the primary way the Spirit brings God’s Word to us is not illumination , rather, God’s Spirit has already brought God’s Word to us perfectly and sufficiently through inspiration .
The primary way the Spirit brings God’s Word to us is not illumination , rather, God’s Spirit has already brought God’s Word to us perfectly and sufficiently through inspiration .
However, second, verses 14–16 do touch on what we may describe as Spirit illumination.
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.
The key phrase is “does not accept the things of the Spirit of God.” When the natural man reads Scripture, he does not accept it as God’s authoritative revelation. Rather, he sees it as foolishness. He does not understand its spiritual significance.
On the other hand, the spiritual person recognizes the Word of God for what it is and therefore submits himself to it. These verses do not speak of intellectual understanding but spiritual understanding. If we want to use the term illumination to describe what’s going on in these verses, it refers to the Spirit’s work to cause believers to recognize the significance and authority of the written Word of God. Furthermore, this act of the Spirit is not something that necessarily happens in separate points of time as we read the Word; rather, it is something that comes as a result of the new birth—the Spirit gives us new life and enlightens our hearts to recognize the significance of his Word.
In other words, 1 Corinthians 2 refers to two acts of the Spirit: inspiration , whereby the authors of Scripture wrote the very words of God, and illumination , whereby believers are enabled to recognize the spiritual significance of the Word of God.
A text that more specifically refers to what we may call illumination is Ephesians 1:17–22. Here Paul specifically uses the phrase “having the eyes of your heart enlightened ” (v. 18). And what is the result of such illumination? Like with 1 Corinthians 2, the result of this enlightening is that the believer recognizes the value and authority of the truth of God’s revelation. No new revelation is imparted; rather, illumination causes believers to accept God’s Word for what it is—the sufficient, authoritative revelation of God.
Philippians 3:15, Colossians 1:9
In Philippians 3:15, Paul tells believers, “if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.” Here, too, “reveal” refers not to new knowledge but to a kind of spiritual maturity that rightly submits to and appropriates God’s written revelation. Likewise, in Colossians 1:9, Paul prays that believers “may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” Again, this refers not to new revelation or even intellectual comprehension but rather to spiritual recognition of the significance of God’s Word in the believer’s life and the ability to rightly appropriate God’s Word.
What Illumination Does Not Mean
If we are going to use the extra-biblical term illumination , we must base our understanding and use of this concept on a proper interpretation of these texts of Scripture. But first, let us consider what illumination does not mean on the basis of these texts.
The Spirit does not give new meaning
First, as we have seen, these texts to not describe the Holy Spirit giving believers new revelation or even new meaning of a biblical text. As Henry argues, “The Spirit illumines the truth, not by unveiling some hidden inner mystical content behind the revelation . . ., but by focusing on the truth of revelation as it is. The Spirit illumines and interprets by repeating the grammatical sense of Scripture; in doing so he in no way alters or expands the truth of revelation.” 3 Henry, 283
The bottom line is that Scripture is sufficient. The Spirit revealed the things of God to specific men who penned the Words of Scripture (1 Cor 1:10). The meaning of Scripture is in the text, and it is sufficient and authoritative. Our responsibility is simply to apply the sufficient Word to our lives.
The Spirit does not give understanding
But neither does illumination mean that we are given new understanding of the text. In other words, illumination does not eliminate the need for diligent study in order to understand Scripture—it does not give us understanding in an intellectual sense. We must still work to grasp the meaning of Scripture. As Paul tells Timothy, we must work diligently so that we might “rightly [handle] the Word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15).
What Illumination Does Mean
As we more clearly define what, exactly, illumination means, it is important to clarify that it is incorrect to say that the Holy Spirit illumines Scripture ; rather, the Holy Spirit illumines the mind and heart of believers . Illumination does not make Scripture clear; rather, illumination enlightens a regenerated Christian to recognize the truth, authority, and significance of what is already clear but is veiled to those who are perishing.
The Spirit causes us to recognize Scripture as God’s revelation
When an unbeliever reads Scripture, he may understanding everything he is reading, but he simply does not recognize what he is reading to be the very words of God.
An illumined believer, however, simply recognizes that what he is reading in Scripture is from God. As Rolland McCune argues, “illumination removes man’s innate hostility toward God and Scripture and imparts intuitive certainty that Scripture is from God and is, therefore, truth and authoritative.” 4 Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity , I:56.
In this sense, there really is no such thing as a believer who has not been illumined; the enlightening of the mind and heart that removes any doubt as to the truth of God’s written Word occurs at the moment the Spirit regenerates a new believer. J. I. Packer observes that illumination opens “minds sinfully closed so that they receive evidence to which they were previously impervious. . . . It is the witness of the Spirit . . . which authenticates the canon to us.” 5 J. I. Packer, “Biblical Authority, Hermeneutics and Inerrancy,” 143.
The Spirit causes us to recognize the truthfulness of God’s revelation
Second, a fundamental benefit of Spirit illumination is that when a believer reads the Bible, he recognizes the truthfulness of what he is reading. A Spirit-illumined Christian does not doubt that what God has written is the truth, though he may have to work to intellectually understand the meaning of what he is reading.
When an illumined believer reads that God created the heavens and the earth, he simply accepts it as truth. When he reads that he is a sinner in need of forgiveness that is possible only through the substitutionary death and victorious resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, he simply accepts it as truth.
The Spirit causes us to recognize the beauty of God’s revelation
Third, An illumined believer recognizes not only the truthfulness of what he is reading in Scripture, he also apprehends its beauty. Calvin argues, “Man’s mind can become spiritually wise only in so far as God illumines it. . . . The way to the kingdom of God is open only to him whose mind has been made new by the illumination of the Holy Spirit.” 6 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion , II, iii, 20. An illumined believer finds value and worth in what he is reading, because it is the very Word of God. He delights in the Word of God (Ps 1:2); he loves God’s Word (Ps 119:97).
Once again, as Calvin seems to suggest, illumination occurs primarily at conversion, not as distinct occurrences later: “Christ, when he illumines us into faith by the power of the Spirit, at the same time so engrafts us into his body that we become partakers of every good.” 7 Calvin, III, ii, 35. From the moment our hearts are enlightened at conversion, we recognize the truthfulness and beauty of Scripture, and therefore we delight in it.
The Spirit causes us to recognize the authority of God’s revelation
Fourth, illumination causes us to recognize that what we are reading in God’s Word is authoritative for us. Since our enlightened hearts recognize the Bible as God’s revelation that is true and beautiful, we know that it has authority over us. These are not simply abstract words from God, they are words we ought to obey .
The Spirit causes us to recognize the significance of God’s revelation
Fifth, illumination does not reveal to us the meaning of a biblical text, but it does cause us to recognize the significance of Scripture for our lives. Calvin notes that “by the inward illumination of the Spirit he causes the preached Word to dwell in [believers’] hearts.” 8 Calvin, III, xxiv, 8. Because an illumined believer recognizes the truthfulness and beauty of the Word, he also recognizes how important it is that he intentionally apply the Word to his life.
However, the specific ways in which we ought to apply God’s Word to our lives are not going to be somehow “revealed” to us, through direct revelation, a “still small voice,” or some improper understanding of illumination. We have already been illumined, and that illumination is ongoing; we must now work hard to discern ways in which our lives need to change as a result of God’s sufficient Word.
As Paul prayed in Colossians 1:9, we ought to pray for “spiritual wisdom and understanding,” that is, the God-given ability to rightly apply God’s Word to our lives. And he will give us that wisdom. But spiritual wisdom means that we will be able to rightly apply the Word, it does not mean that the Spirit is going to apply it for us. The Spirit gives us wisdom , he does not give us new revelation .
As 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, by the Spirit believers are enabled to “accept the things of the Spirit of God.”
The Spirit causes us to submit our lives to God’s revelation
Finally, an illumined believer will willingly submit to the authoritative revelation of God. This is the natural outcome of all that has come before. Believers recognize the Bible to be God’s truthful, beautiful, authoritative, significant revelation, and since our hearts have been enlightened, we want to obey it.
This is not to say that we will perfectly obey or that we will not struggle with sin. But the same Spirit who enlightened our hearts at conversion also convicts us of sin, and at the end of the day, all true believers will progressively become more and more sanctified as they submit themselves to the authority of Scripture.
Toward a Biblical Definition of Illumination
In sum, we could define illumination as “that special activity of the Holy Spirit by which man can recognize that what the Scripture teaches is true, and can accept and appropriate its teaching” 9 Henry, 282. McCune is helpful here:
In short, illumination does three things: It provides (1) an intuitive certainty that the Scriptures came from God and are truth and authoritative; (2) a removal of hostility toward Scripture caused by depravity; and (3) an ongoing capacity to understand the significance of Scripture.” 10 McCune, 57.
Dangers of an Unbiblical Understanding of Illumination
Why is it important that we understand and use the concept of illumination correctly? If we have an unbiblical understanding of illumination, if we assume that the Spirit is going to somehow speak to us outside of his Word in giving us new revelation, meaning, or understanding of Scripture, it will lead to the following dangers:
We will subordinate the role of Scripture to what we expect will be the Spirit’s work apart from Scripture
First, if we expect the Spirit to do something apart from Scripture, we will inevitably subordinate Scripture itself to a subjective experience. We may say we believe Scripture to be sufficient, but ultimately we will ignore the objective Word, always seeking for subjective experiences, feelings, “inner voices,” or impressions that we assume to be the Spirit’s illuminating work.
Likewise, we will also find ourselves frustrated when we don’t experience some sort of feeling that we assume to be the Spirit’s illumination. We will wonder why he isn’t “speaking” to us.
Rather, we must recognize that he has already spoken to us through his sufficient Word—we ought not expect any further revelation. We must simply pray that he gives us wisdom to appropriate his Word and then actively apply and submit ourselves to what he has already spoken.
We will not do the work necessary to understand and appropriate Scripture
Second, when we come across a difficult passage of Scripture, instead of studying diligently and seeking the teachers God has gifted to his church, we will become frustrated. Why isn’t the Spirit helping me understand this text?
Even Peter acknowledged that some passages of Scripture are “hard to understand” (2 Pet 3:16). The Spirit is not going to somehow make them less difficult, but he will give us such a love for Scripture that we want to be taught and to engage in our own diligent study so that we may understand. Through illumination, the Spirit has already removed what is the most significant impediment to spiritual understanding—a heart veiled by depravity.
Praise be to God for his Spirit’s supernatural work of illumination in our hearts. Without it, we would not be able to accept the things of the Spirit of God, we would not recognize them as the truthful, authoritative revelation of God that they are, and we would not willingly submit ourselves to them.
But because at the moment of our conversion, our hearts were enlightened to the truths of God, we accept his inscripturated Word as God’s revelation, and we work diligently to apply the truths therein, for it is God who works in us, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:13).
Scott Aniol, PhD, is Executive Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of G3 Ministries. In addition to his role with G3, Scott is Professor of Pastoral Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas. He lectures around the world in churches, conferences, colleges, and seminaries, and he has authored several books and dozens of articles. You can find more, including publications and speaking itinerary, at www.scottaniol.com . Scott and his wife, Becky, have four children: Caleb, Kate, Christopher, and Caroline. You can listen to his podcast here .
"and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free"
The Holy Spirit Illumines Scripture (John 16:12-13)
October 27, 2015 By bro.rory
The Holy Spirit Illumines Scripture John 16:12-13 June 9, 2013
As you know we are in the middle of a study of the Holy Spirit.
Without rehashing all that we have said, You know that we have learned that it is vitally important That we get to know the God who is in us.
In the Old Testament they had God in their midst. God’s glory dwelled first in the tent of meeting and then in the temple and the people were heavily encouraged not to take it for granted.
When Jesus came, they had God with us. God in human form walked the earth and the people were again encouraged not to disregard Him, but they did.
Today we have God in us. The Holy Spirit came at Pentecost to indwell those who believe in Christ. And again we would be foolish to disregard Him.
We want to get to know the God who dwells in us.
Namely we want to get to know Him Because He is the answer to an absent Jesus.
Jesus is no longer dwelling on earth. And that would leave us in quite a bind.
But to answer for His absence Jesus promised “another Helper” Who would dwell in us.
A “Helper” of the same kind as Jesus.
And to reiterate the value of this Helper Jesus actually said: John 16:7 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”
Jesus actually said that it was better to have the Holy Spirit Than it was even to have Jesus on earth.
The reason of course is that in order for God to become flesh He had to relinquish certain parts of His deity.
To some extent He had to “glory down”
Philippians 2:6-7 “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.”
There was a certain emptying that took place in order for The second person of the trinity to become human.
• To some extent He limited His OMNIPOTENT power, subjecting Himself to death. • To some extent He limited His OMNISCIENCE, saying He didn’t even know the day of His return. • And to perhaps the greatest extent He limited His OMNIPRESENCE, being able only to dwell in one place at one time.
We had God with us, but not in His greatest form.
The Holy Spirit however would have no such limits. • He would be omnipotent God • He would be omniscient God • He would be omnipresent God
And so Jesus said, it is advantageous that I return to the Father, And that He come to you.
And then Jesus began to spell out that advantage.
The first was that the Holy Spirit Convicts Sin
That is one of the ways He helps us in ministry. • We can’t see the heart of man… • We can’t convict the heart of man… • We can’t cause man to desire righteousness…
BUT HE CAN He shows the world their sin, and that they miss the mark. He shows the world what true righteousness looks like. He reveals to the world the reality of the coming judgment.
We could not succeed in evangelism without His help. He is the helper.
AND THROUGH THAT WE ALSO LEARNED WHO HE IS. Not only is this how He helps us in ministry, But it is also a way in which we know that it is really Him at work.
I told you last week that one of the things we need to be willing to do is “put God back in the box”
We can’t put God in our own box. The reality is that God has put Himself in a box. God has set parameters of things that He simply will not do.
And those parameters are revealed to us in Scripture.
That means, if you want to know who God is, you read Scripture, He has revealed Himself there.
• Your own logic does not reveal who God is… • Your experiences do not reveal who God is… • Your desires do not reveal who God is… Scripture reveals who God is.
We don’t know all there is to know about Him, But we do know what He has chosen to reveal to us.
Deuteronomy 29:29 “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever, that we may observe all the words of this law.”
God has let us know what we need to know. And God has revealed all that we need to know.
And this is what we see regarding the Holy Spirit here in John 16.
John 16 contains the box that the Holy Spirit dwells in. Jesus doesn’t speak of specifics, but rather generalities.
The Holy Spirit does more than what Jesus mentions here, However, the things Jesus mentions here are always true of Him.
This passage reveals His fingerprints. • In a world were false spirits are at work… • In a world were false prophets are at work… • In a world were even Satan masquerades as an angel of light…
We need to have a criteria by which we discern what is true. Jesus gave us that criteria here.
So if we want to learn who the Holy Spirit is, look here.
Last week we saw that He convicts sin. THIS MORNING WE SEE THAT HE GUIDES US INTO THE TRUTH.
THROUGHOUT SCRIPTURE (both Old and New) WE HAVE SEEN SATAN WORK THROUGH MEN AND WOMEN WHO CLAIMED TO SPEAK FOR GOD
Jeremiah 14:13-14 “But, “Ah, Lord GOD!” I said, “Look, the prophets are telling them, ‘You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place.'” Then the LORD said to me, “The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds.”
Jeremiah battled with those who claimed to have a word from God, But it did not benefit the people in the least.
Jeremiah 23:32 “Behold, I am against those who have prophesied false dreams,” declares the LORD, “and related them and led My people astray by their falsehoods and reckless boasting; yet I did not send them or command them, nor do they furnish this people the slightest benefit,” declares the LORD.”
• In a world saturated with falsehood, how do we know what is true and what is not?
• In a world saturated with falsehood, how will we ever convince the people we are preaching to that we are true while others are false?
THE ANSWER: THE HOLY SPIRIT Just He hates sin, He also loves truth. And this morning we are going to talk about His ministry of ILLUMINATION.
NOW We must remind ourselves who Jesus is speaking to here.
THIS UPPER ROOM DISCOURSE WAS GIVEN TO THE DISCIPLES / APOSTLES I tell you that to help you understand the work of the Holy Spirit here.
HIS AID TO THEM IS VERY SIMILAR TO OURS, BUT IS ALSO DIFFERENT
He aided them with what is commonly called INSPIRATION 2 Timothy 3:16-17 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.”
God, through the Holy Spirit, Inspired the apostles to write the New Testament. John 14:25-26 “These things I have spoken to you while abiding with you. “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”
John 15:26-27 “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify about Me, and you will testify also, because you have been with Me from the beginning.”
The Holy Spirit aided them with inspiration, BUT NO LONGER And I’ll help you see why in a moment.
He aids us through ILLUMINATION He opens our eyes to understand the Scripture.
1 Corinthians 2:10-16 “For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.”
I hope you understand the difference as we get into this text this morning.
And as we look at these two verses, I want you to see Three attributes of the Holy Spirit that will help us identify When it truly is Him who is speaking. #1 HIS SERVICE John 16:12-13a
“I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”
Could you imagine if Jesus had dumped His entire knowledge bank on the disciples in the upper room?
There is no way they could have handled it all. The word “bear” is the same used of a donkey under a heavy load.
So there again we see a vitally important role of the Holy Spirit. (13) “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth…”
And this is a very important statement. The Holy Spirit is not in the business of re-writing truth. He is not in the business of inventing new truth.
He comes to “guide” into the truth of God.
The word for “guide” is the same that is used in Acts. Acts 8:29-35 “Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and join this chariot.” Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “Well, how could I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of Scripture which he was reading was this: “HE WAS LED AS A SHEEP TO SLAUGHTER; AND AS A LAMB BEFORE ITS SHEARER IS SILENT, SO HE DOES NOT OPEN HIS MOUTH. “IN HUMILIATION HIS JUDGMENT WAS TAKEN AWAY; WHO WILL RELATE HIS GENERATION? FOR HIS LIFE IS REMOVED FROM THE EARTH.” The eunuch answered Philip and said, “Please tell me, of whom does the prophet say this? Of himself or of someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this Scripture he preached Jesus to him.” The Ethiopian Eunich did not want someone to give him new truth, He wanted someone to help him understand the truth that was before him.
That is what the Holy Spirit does. HE GUIDES YOU TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUTH THAT IS ALREADY THERE.
THAT IS REALLY WHAT HE DID WITH THE APOSTLES EVEN IN INSPIRING THEM. Almost all of what He showed them had already been recorded in the Old Testament, but it was in a mystery.
You can find the rejection of Jesus You can find the betrayal of Jesus You can find the death of Jesus You can find the resurrection of Jesus You can find the breaking off of Israel You can find the salvation of Gentiles You can find the return of Jesus.
BUT IT WAS ALL A MYSTERY, UNTIL THE HOLY SPIRIT GUIDED THEM.
And this is still what He does with us. Not to write more Scripture, but to help us understand what is written.
HE IS NOT WRITING NEW TRUTH, BUT GUIDING YOU TO SEE THE TRUTH THAT IS ALREADY THERE.
Did you catch what Jesus said in verse 13? “He will guide you into ALL the truth”
Now remember, He is speaking to the apostles here. These were the men who would write Scripture under divine inspiration.
DID JESUS SAY HE WOULD GIVE THEM ALL OF THE TRUTH OR JUST SOME OF IT?
He said, “all the truth”
DO YOU KNOW WHAT THAT MEANS? SCRIPTURE IS SUFFICIENT – IT IS ALL YOU NEED
It is simply amazing how prone our world is to wanting new truth. Some don’t like the truth that is there, so they wish to reinvent it. Some are just bored with the truth that is there, and want to spice it up.
I constantly hear this talk of people who want a “new word” Or a “fresh word” from the Lord.
And instantly I think: • “Has the Bible somehow become outdated that we need a new?” • “Has God word spoiled that we need a fresh word?”
Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
You aren’t in need of something new, What you need to understand is what God has already revealed.
Remember when Jesus spoke in parables? Do you remember why?
Matthew 13:10-13 “And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted. “For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him. “Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”
Jesus spoke in parables because These people were always wanting something new, But they had never dealt with what they already had.
Listen to me, when you can honestly say you have plumbed the depths of the truth revealed in Scripture, and there are no more mysteries and you have mastered it all.
Then go to God and ask Him for a “new” word. Until then, I’m pretty sure the one He has given is sufficient.
And the Holy Spirit knows this, That is why He is in the business of revealing that word to you.
People get so caught up in a new fresh word, The Spirit just wishes people would obey what they already have.
He guides you into all truth. He inspired the Apostles to record Scripture, And now He illumines that Scripture to you.
The service of the Holy Spirit is to guide you into the truth of God. #2 HIS SOURCE John 16:13b
Please notice Jesus does NOT say, “He can not speak on His own initiative…”
There is a lot of faulty theology, and faulty leadings that fall under the category of “Don’t you think God can…”
One of the biggest and most common today: “Don’t you think God can save a person apart from Jesus Christ?” But this same backwards theology is used today, Even in the name of the Holy Spirit. “Don’t you think God can speak something new apart from Scripture?” “Don’t you think the Holy Spirit can lead you in a direction that doesn’t seem Biblical?”
And based upon the way those types of questions are asked, You have to say “Yes”, but those are bad questions.
It is not a matter of ability, it’s a matter of God’s will. “He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak;”
This is the same attitude that Jesus had while He was no the earth. John 8:28 “So Jesus said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He, and I do nothing on My own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught Me.”
THE POINT IS THIS. The Holy Spirit does not speak anything other than what God is saying. And we just learned in the first part of this verse That ALL that God is saying is revealed in His word.
SO WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU? The Spirit only speaks according to and through Scripture.
So if you want a little help discerning the spirits, Just ask yourself if what you are hearing is Scripture, Because the Holy Spirit won’t speak any other way.
NOW THERE ARE PLENTY WHO WILL Jeremiah 23:16-22 “Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Do not listen to the words of the prophets who are prophesying to you. They are leading you into futility; They speak a vision of their own imagination, Not from the mouth of the LORD. “They keep saying to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, “You will have peace”‘; And as for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, They say, ‘ Calamity will not come upon you.’ “But who has stood in the council of the LORD, That he should see and hear His word? Who has given heed to His word and listened? “Behold, the storm of the LORD has gone forth in wrath, Even a whirling tempest; It will swirl down on the head of the wicked. “The anger of the LORD will not turn back Until He has performed and carried out the purposes of His heart; In the last days you will clearly understand it. “I did not send these prophets, But they ran. I did not speak to them, But they prophesied. “But if they had stood in My council, Then they would have announced My words to My people, And would have turned them back from their evil way And from the evil of their deeds.”
The world is full of false prophets and deceitful spirits Who cloak themselves as apostles and as the Holy Spirit To tell you all sorts of stuff, but that doesn’t mean it’s from God.
I’ve had many people prophesy over me over the years. (Every one I can remember spoke of my success and glory in the ministry) BUT I AM VERY SKEPTICAL AND PLACE STOCK IN NONE OF IT. The reason is because that is powerless.
I can tell you what the Holy Spirit tells me. 2 Timothy 4:1-5 “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.”
I’ve never been given a promise of success… I’ve never been given a promise of fame… I’ve only been told that most people won’t like it, But I am to preach anyway.
CONSIDER PAUL AS AN EXAMPLE: Acts 20:17-23 “From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, “You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. “And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”
HOW DID HE KNOW THAT WAS THE HOLY SPIRIT? BECAUSE THAT WAS THE JESUS HAD BEEN SAYING IN SCRIPTURE
Matthew 10:22-23 “You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.”
When the Holy Spirit comes He guides into truth, and He speaks what Jesus speaks.
That is His Service, That is His Source #3 HIS SUBJECT John 16:13c
NOW REMEMBER THE FIRST APPLICATION IS TO THE APOSTLES Jesus had a lot He wanted to tell them that they just couldn’t handle, And so the Holy Spirit is coming to tell them all of what Jesus is saying.
SPECIFICALLY “what is to come.”
We are not talking about some prophetic tool Where they could see around every corner and know the future.
What Jesus is talking about here is that The Holy Spirit will reveal the events that are to come. The death of Jesus The resurrection of Jesus The ascension of Jesus The return of Jesus
AND HE DOES THE SAME THING TO US, BY GUIDING US INTO THE TRUTH THAT THE APOSTLES RECORDED.
HE REVEALED WHAT WAS TO COME BUT PLEASE UNDERSTAND, THEIR SUBJECT WAS JESUS.
As we will see next week. John 16:14 “He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.”
WHEN IT IS THE HOLY SPIRIT There is Conviction of Sin There is Illumination of Scripture
And I hope that helps you understand how to tell If it is the Holy Spirit who is speaking.
Don’t fall prey to a deceitful spirit who is speaking something appealing apart from the word of God.
God has said all He wants to say in the New Testament, DON’T GO LOOKING FOR SOMETHING ELSE.
All we need is there. 2 Peter 1:2-4 “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
God gave us EVERYTHING we need for life & godliness.
Where does it come from? – “through the true knowledge of Him who called us”
How do we come to a true knowledge of Him? – “He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.”
Now that is also where the “Helper” part comes in.
The Holy Spirit helps you understand the Scripture And the Scripture provides everything you need for life and godliness.
Now think, even in regard to evangelism. We said last seek that He convicts.
Well let me show you why His guiding into truth is so important.
TURN TO: 1 Corinthians 2:6-16
Notice that there is a wisdom that on our own we cannot receive. There is a wisdom so lofty that the world cannot understand it.
But: VERSE 10-12
And what do we preach? The things God reveals
That is how the Holy Spirit helps us.
So last week we said, if sin isn’t confronted, it isn’t the Holy Spirit. But the fact that He convicts is a tremendous help to us in ministry.
And so it is with this next attribute.
If Scripture isn’t illuminated, if truth isn’t revealed, it isn’t the Holy Spirit. But the fact that He guides into truth is a tremendous help in ministry.
We are going out to people Who are absolutely bombarded with falsehood.
False prophets are a dime a dozen.
We not only need to know how to discern what we hear, But we also need help knowing what to teach.
The Holy Spirit provides both.
MY POINT? The Holy Spirit is a helper. He helps us in evangelism. He convicts sin and He guides into truth.
We desperately need Him, and it is to our advantage to seek Him out.
John 16:7-13 “But I tell you the truth, it is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you. “And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me; and concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father and you no longer see Me; and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged. “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. “But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come.”
It is nearly impossible to give a complete run down as to who we are in one section of a website. To really get to know us you will just have to hang around us, but I can give you a few ideas as to what really makes us tick. A LOVE FOR THE WORD All of our services are planned around an exposition of the Word of God. We place high emphasis on studying God's Word through expository book by book studies of the Bible. The Word of God is active … Learn more >>
9:30am – Sunday School 10:30am – Morning Worship 6:00pm – Evening Worship
1 Timothy 4:13-16 "Until I come, give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation … learn more >>
- Pastor Blog
Colossians 3:16 "Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with … learn more >>
Romans 8:1 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Amy Harris … learn more >>
"These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God (v. 10)."
Today, we are concluding our brief study of the person and work of the Holy Spirit with a look at the Spirit's work of illumination. You may remember that in our study of Romans 8:16-17, we spoke of the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit, which tells us that the Spirit confirms to us that we are the children of God if we do in fact belong to Him. We noted that this subjective internal testimony operates in conjunction with His objective and external Word. Paul tell us that the Spirit confirms our adoption internally in the midst of a passage that tells us unequivocally that we have been adopted (vv. 12-17). The Word operates externally by our reading and hearing it, and the Spirit works internally to apply it to us. The Apostle did not expect the Holy Spirit to work apart from the Apostolic testimony in order to reassure us of our sonship; he expected the Spirit to work in and through the Apostolic preaching and teaching to confirm in our hearts that we are God's children.
Divine illumination and the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit are closely related. In both cases, the Spirit works in and through the inscripturated words of God's prophets and Apostles. When it comes to divine illumination, however, we are speaking more about the Holy Spirit's work to give us understanding of Scripture than we are talking about the Spirit's confirmation that we are God's children. There are times in our lives when we are reading the Bible and suddenly we are struck by something in the text that we have never noticed before. Perhaps we suddenly see how the passage applies to our specific context. Maybe we understand the contours of an argument that escaped us previously. These are examples of the Holy Spirit's work of illumination.
In 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, the Apostle describes this work of illumination. It involves the Spirit searching the depths of God (v. 10), not because He does not know the mind of God—for the Holy Spirit is God—but in order to grant to us the understanding that the Lord wants us to have. In other words, He searches the mind of God for our sake. He does not just open our minds and hearts at conversion; instead, He continues throughout our Christian lives to make the gospel make sense to us and convince us of its truth.
This work of illumination does not operate by giving us secret insight that one cannot derive by reading the text in context. Scripture is not a code book or the basis for fanciful allegorizing. Illumination, rather, takes what is already there and makes it real to us.
Without the Holy Spirit's work of illumination, we will never understand the Bible in a saving way. Many people read the Bible, know what it teaches, but never believe its message. It is not that they are somehow less intelligent. They do not believe because they have not been granted the ability to do so. We should thank God every day that He has granted us the capacity to trust in His Word, and may we ask Him to illumine our study every time we read it.
For Further Study
The when of spirit baptism.
1 Corinthians 12:13
The Faith of God's Elect
More on this Scripture
1 Corinthians 2
The Holy Spirit “Illumination” Theory: A Critical Review
There is a doctrine quite common in the denominational community that is making its presence increasingly felt among the people of God.
It is the notion that the Christian has the promise of a direct illumination of the Holy Spirit. This theory proposes that the Holy Spirit directly leads you to understand and interpret the text of the Bible.
The theory suggests that the Scriptures, as they presently stand, are incapable of being thoroughly understood. By implication, therefore, the divine message is incomplete. (But see: 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
And so, in addition to studying the biblical record with correct methods of interpretation, it is alleged that there must be a direct working of the Spirit of God on the heart of the Bible student. This miraculous influence effects an “illumination” that brings the meaning of the divine text into sharper focus.
The History of the Doctrine
The illumination theory is not new. Actually, it is a residue from the old concept of human hereditary depravity.
This is the idea that man is so hopelessly depraved by virtue of Adam’s fall, that the Scriptures are incomprehensible to his blighted mind. This dogma was popularized most prominently by the reformer, John Calvin (A.D. 1509-1564).
Some of the early “church fathers” introduced the idea that the guilt of Adam’s sin was contracted by all of his descendants.
Tertullian (A.D. 150 — 222) contended that a person inherits both his body and his spirit from his parents (De Anima, ch. 23-41). Later, Augustine (A.D. 354-430) taught a similar idea.
Cyprian (A.D. 200-258) had alleged that new-born infants inherit “the infection of the old death” from Adam (Epistle lviii).
Origen (c. A.D. 185-254) suggested that a child is polluted with sin “though [its] life be but the length of one day upon the earth” (Homily in Luc. xiv). On this account, he argued that no Christian should celebrate the day of the birth (Hom. in Leviticum , viii.3).
And so, due to man’s supposed corrupted nature, he cannot understand the Scriptures without direct divine guidance. Calvin, cited Paul’s statement that “no man can say, Jesus is Lord, but in the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3) as proof of this dogma (see Calvin’s Institutes, II, II, 20-21).
But this Corinthian passage merely asserts that belief in Christ’s lordship is dependent upon the revelatory mission of the Spirit. To suggest that it affirms that each individual must have a direct, personal miraculous enlightenment of the Spirit is to assume more than the text states.
The Holy Spirit is the author of the Scriptures. Apart from that body of information, no man can declare Christ’s lordship.
Ultimately, this precious affirmation must be attributed to the Spirit.
But this by no means establishes the direct illumination theory.
Calvin likely borrowed the illumination idea from Augustine. As Norman Geisler has noted, the North African theologian not only taught that the Holy Spirit is “the means by which we receive God-written revelation ( Confessions 7.21), he is necessary [also] for illuminating and confirming its truth” (Homily VI; quoted in Geisler, 331).
Other reformers (e.g., Luther and Zwingli) taught similar ideas respecting the need for some special power of the Holy Spirit in order that one might be empowered to comprehend the Scriptures. This notion has filtered down to many in the modern world of sectarianism.
Henry C. Thiessen, a Baptist writer, wrote:
“[T]he illumination of the Holy Spirit. . . is vouchsafed to every believer. . . [which will] enable us to understand the revelation God has already made of Himself, especially that revelation of Him in the Scriptures” (45).
Roy Zuck is a former Bible professor at Dallas Theological Seminary whom I highly regard. His book, Basic Bible Interpretation , is a valuable volume in my library.
However, Zuck contended mightily for the idea that “[n]o one can fully comprehend the meaning of the Bible unless he is regenerate” (22). He further affirmed that even the Christian “must also depend upon the Holy Spirit” for a correct view of the Scriptures. He quoted H. C. G. Moule who wrote: “The blessed Spirit is not only the true Author of the written Word but also its supreme and true Expositor ” (23; emphasis added).
The doctrine of the “illumination of the Holy Spirit” is not defensible — either on a scriptural or logical basis. Consider the following points.
The passages that are appealed to as proof for the dogma are grounded either in unwarranted assumptions that are imposed on them (see the reference to 1 Cor. 12:3 cited above) or else the alleged proof-passages are extracted from their original contexts and misapplied.
For example, John 16:13 frequently is employed to prove the idea of special “illumination” (see Zuck, 24). “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.”
But this text refers to the apostles and, by implication, others who were to be endowed with miraculous teaching powers ).
Those so empowered proclaimed the gospel in that time period preliminary to the completion of the New Testament canon.
This promise from the Lord does not have a direct application to Christians today (see Jn. 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:12-16; cf. also Mt. 10:19-20; Lk. 21:14-15).
It is a travesty to misuse these contexts in such an irresponsible fashion.
Here are some important questions that must be answered.
- If the Holy Spirit illuminates the mind of the Christian student, is the Holy Spirit as infallible as an expositor as he was in his role of author of the sacred message? If not, why not?
- Furthermore, how would we know if or when we have been “illuminated”?
- If someone affirms that he’s been illuminated with reference to a particular passage, may he ever alter his view of that text? If so, did the Spirit misdirect him earlier?
Then there’s this. If one person has been illuminated regarding a passage, are all others who take a different view in error? If two people claim illumination but they differ on the interpretation of a passage, how could I know which of these is correct — or if either is?
Can the Holy Spirit Do a Better Job the Second Time?
And perhaps the gravest implication of all is this. If the Holy Spirit could not make the Scriptures comprehensible to man the first time by the revelation in an objective written form, how can we be confident that he is able to make God’s will comprehensible the second time around by a seemingly subjective illuminating process?
Note professor Zuck’s concession. He says that the Spirit’s role in illumination “does not mean that one’s interpretations are infallible ” (24; emphasis added).
This is woefully inconsistent with the esteemed professor’s endorsement of Moule, namely that the Spirit is both Author and Expositor of the Scriptures for the believer.
And if the “one Spirit” is illuminating these men (who accept this position), why do they disagree with each other in their doctrinal positions? Common sense says that something is seriously wrong with this theory.
Why Write Books on Bible Interpretation?
If the Holy Spirit provides illumination to men today, why do scholars who subscribe to this ideology write books teaching folks the proper methods of Bible interpretation as professor Zuck has done?
According to their theory, such efforts have no value to the unbeliever, because he has “no spiritual capacity for welcoming and appropriating spiritual truths” (Zuck, 22). And their books should not be needed by anyone who has the illuminating Spirit, the alleged “Expositor” of truth.
A Test of the Theory
What if we proposed the following experiment.
Select two spiritual Christian people and put them in separate rooms. Provide them with a difficult biblical text with which each person is equally unfamiliar.
Let one of them have access to a good library of reference works, and provide the other with nothing but an empty room and his illumination of the Spirit.
Allow each several hours of concentration. Then have each write his explanation of the obscure text.
Most assuredly, the person with access to the library will have a better grasp of the passage than the one who has relied solely on the “presence” of the Spirit.
If someone objects to this test, we need only to appeal to the admonition of Christ’s apostle.
“Beloved, believe not every spirit [i.e., every person making a religious claim], but prove [test — ESV] the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jn. 4:1).
What Do the Scriptures Say?
The doctrine of special illumination contradicts the clear testimony of Scripture. The devout student is promised that he is able to understand the Word of God as given originally.
When Paul wrote to the Ephesian brethren, he affirmed that “when you read, you can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ” (Eph. 3:4). The apostle did not suggest that reading plus a special intervention of the Spirit would be required.
Later, he admonished these saints: “Wherefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17).
If the theory under review is true and if the Christian does not understand the will of the Lord — even though he studies diligently — the responsibility must be laid at the feet of the Holy Spirit.
Finally, Paul’s testimony could not be clearer. The inspired Scriptures are:
“profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction, which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
The Scriptures alone are sufficient for man’s understanding of the divine will.
We have no doubt but that many of those who advocate the theory of special illumination of the Holy Spirit are sincere. But sincerity does not guarantee accuracy (Acts 23:1; 26:9).
Moreover, it should be a matter of great concern to church leaders that so many of our people are beginning to use this sort of language, reflecting unsound beliefs that they have adopted regarding the Spirit’s operation.
The problem is this. We have numerous Christians these days who have a most superficial knowledge foundation in New Testament doctrine. Combine this fact with the reality that many constantly are feeding themselves (or are being fed by others) on sectarian literature that is rank with such ideas.
There is an inevitable result in the wake of such a course.
Surely it is time for some serious teaching in the church of the Lord on matters pertaining to the Holy Spirit.
- Geisler, Norman. 1999. Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics . Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999,
- Thiessen, Henry C. 1949. Lectures in Systematic Theology . Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
- Zuck, Roy. 1991. Basic Bible Interpretation . Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
How the Holy Spirit Helps Us Read Scripture
Illumination of Scripture
Christians have always understood that the Bible is Spirit-wrought and God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). Scripture is inspired or spirated, coming from the Holy Spirit’s work in and through human authors. But the Holy Spirit’s role does not stop with the writing of the texts. Good interpretation is also dependent on the ongoing work of the Spirit to in- spire us to understand, receive, and apply what God has spoken. We call this the doctrine of illumination of the Holy Spirit.
I mentioned above my old theology professor’s prayer: “Lord, open your word to us, and open us to your word.” The first part of this excellent prayer addresses the fundamental need for the Spirit’s work in our understanding of the Bible. We need the word to be opened to us. The good news is that God is willing and glad to grant us Spirit-given understanding, as Jesus himself tells us. We are invited to ask, seek, and knock because our heavenly Father will “give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him” (Luke 11:9–13). This certainly applies to the Spirit’s work of illumination.
Come and See
Jonathan t. pennington.
Jonathan Pennington helps readers understand what it means to know God and provides 3 effective approaches to interpreting Scripture: informational, theological, and transformational.
One of the passages that speaks most clearly and strongly about the role of the Holy Spirit in our understanding is 1 Corinthians 2:1–16. Paul makes clear that everything—from the basic message of the gospel to the deepest theological truths—is bound up with the active work of the Holy Spirit because the Spirit of God alone comprehends the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:11). The difference between those who truly understand the Bible’s teachings and those who do not isn’t based on education, skill set, or intelligence. It’s a spiritual matter. The Spirit reveals, instructs, and enables us to apply the beautiful and mysterious teachings of Scripture to our own lives.
I remember when I was in seminary that I wrestled with how to fit this truth together with the writings of many biblical scholars who were not Christians. I have benefitted from and continue to learn much from many scholars who are not Spirit-filled believers. They often have great insights into various aspects of the Bible, including historical background, grammar, literary structure, inner-biblical connections, and even application. The Spirit’s role in illumination does not eliminate or minimize these insights. We could put these under the category of common grace given to all of God’s creatures. Additionally, there is a difference between knowledge about the Bible and the Spirit-given wisdom that perceives and embraces the reality of which the Bible speaks (1 Cor. 2:6, 13). A nonspiritual person, what Paul calls “the natural person” (1 Cor. 2:14), may perceive certain things about God and the Bible (as Rom. 1 points out), but that person will not be able to receive and accept these things as the truth apart from the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit.
The inability of unbelievers to embrace Scripture is related to the doctrine of the witness of the Holy Spirit through Scripture. Protestant theologians have especially emphasized that the Holy Spirit’s work in us ultimately convinces us of the truthfulness of Scripture. As the Westminster Confession states, “Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.” 1 Theologian J.V. Fesko comments on this helpfully:
In other words, fallen sinners will never humbly submit to the word of God. Rather, the Holy Spirit must first convict sinners of their need for repentance so that they will trust in Christ for their salvation. Once the Spirit has tamed our sinful hearts, we no longer come to the Scriptures with malice and rebellion but as hungry children seeking bread from our heavenly Father. 2
Knowing is a spiritual matter—experiencing God through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Puritan theologian John Owen said it well:
That Jesus Christ was crucified, is a proposition that any natural man may understand and assent to, and be said to receive: and all the doctrines of the gospel may be taught in propositions and discourses, the sense and meaning of which a natural man may understand; but it is denied that he can receive the things themselves. For there is a wide difference between the mind’s receiving doctrines notionally, and receiving the things taught in them really. 3
In John 1, Jesus invited people to “come and see.” This was an embedded lesson in biblical interpretation. Following Jesus by faith (i.e., discipleship) is the foundation of understanding. We don’t simply understand and then follow. We come to understand as we follow. This is the work of the Spirit.
At the end of Jesus’s earthly ministry, on his last night with his disciples, he revisits the matter of how to understand what God is saying to the world. And the key once again is the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells his disciples—who continue in succession down to us today—that after his departure the Father and he will send the Spirit of truth who will reside in and among believers (John 14:16–17).
We don’t simply understand and then follow. We come to understand as we follow. This is the work of the Spirit.
This person of God, the Holy Spirit, will “teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:26). The Spirit will testify to the world who Jesus is (John 15:26), which certainly includes empowering the written testimony in Scripture. The Spirit will bring conviction on the world (John 16:8–10). Jesus taught his disciples much, but there was more to be said and more to teach the world (now recorded in the New Testament). The Spirit of truth will do this work. The Spirit will speak what Jesus says and glorify him (John 16:12–15). This spiritual reality means that we must begin and end and saturate all our interpretation of Scripture with a conscious dependence on the Holy Spirit to enable us to understand and apply it. For me this typically means getting on my knees before opening the Bible and asking God to reveal himself to me. This physical posture is not necessary, but it helpfully communicates to my mind and body that my reading of Scripture is a deeply spiritual activity.
Here’s a great prayer from Thomas Aquinas that reflects this understanding and can helpfully guide our study of Scripture:
Ineffable Creator, Who out of the treasures of Thy wisdom hast appointed three hierarchies of Angels and set them in admirable order high above the heavens and hast disposed the divers portions of the universe in such marvelous array, Thou Who art called the True Source of Light and super-eminent Principle of Wisdom, be pleased to cast a beam of Thy radiance upon the darkness of my mind and dispel from me the double darkness of sin and ignorance in which I have been born. Thou Who makest eloquent the tongues of little children, fashion my words and pour upon my lips the grace of Thy benediction. Grant me penetration to understand, capacity to retain, method and facility in study, subtlety in interpretation and abundant grace of expression. Order the beginning, direct the progress and perfect the achievement of my work, Thou who art true God and Man and livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen. 4
- Westminster Confession of Faith 1.5. See “The Westminster Confession of Faith,” Ligonier Ministries, May 12, 2021, https://www.ligonier.org.
- J. V. Fesko, “The Self Attestation of Scripture and Internal Witness of the Holy Spirit,” The Gospel Coalition, accessed April 27, 2022, https:// www.thegospelcoalition.org.
- John Owen, The Holy Spirit (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1954), 155.
- Included at the end of Pius XI, Studiorum Ducem [Encyclical Letter on Thomas Aquinas], June 29, 1923, https://www.papalencyclicals.net.
This article is adapted from Come and See: The Journey of Knowing God through Scripture by Jonathan Pennington.
Jonathan Pennington (PhD, University of St Andrews) serves as professor of New Testament interpretation at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of spiritual formation at Sojourn East church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is the author of several books including Reading the Gospels Wisely , The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing , and Jesus the Great Philosopher .
What Did Jesus Teach about Discipleship?
Jesus’s instruction about discipleship applies to all (i.e., not simply the twelve) who want to follow him and includes three elements: denying oneself, taking up one’s cross, and following him.
How Do We Read the Bible Differently as Followers of Jesus?
Mark D. Thompson
The Christian attitude toward the Bible is part of Christian discipleship. To follow Jesus is to follow him in this too.
How Does the Holy Spirit Beautify the Church?
We can't talk about the church without talking about the Holy Spirit. He is our helper. He is our beautifier.
Podcast: Growing as a Follower in a Culture Obsessed with Leadership (Richard Langer, Joanne Jung)
Richard Langer and Joanne Jung point out the prevalence of books, podcasts, and workshops on leadership and suggest that the contrasting idea of followership is where our focus should be.
Connect with Us!
- Retail Partners
- International Distributors
- About the ESV
- Read Online
- Mobile Apps
- Crossway Review Program
- Exam Copies
- History of Crossway
- Statement of Faith
- Terms of Service
© 2001 – 2023 Crossway, USA