This is a series of posts about the authority of scripture. You can read all of the posts in the series by clicking here.
In my last post, we saw that God's total purpose for our lives individually and corporately is invisible, inaudible and inconceivable. That is why it has to be revealed. But what the eye, the ear and the mind cannot conceive, God can reveal to all three faculties by his Spirit (v.10). The rest of the passage explains the process. We can put it under four phases each connected with the work of the Holy Spirit.
1. Investigation - The Searching Spirit (v.10-11)
Since our little minds cannot fathom the infinite mind of God we need the assistance of Someone who can. Only a Person can search out the thoughts of another person, so the Spirit is personal. Just as you alone have access to your own mind and know to some degree what is going on in it, so the Spirit of God has complete access to God’s mind and is prepared to ‘search the depths’ of God on our behalf, and disclose them to his chosen prophets and apostles like Paul, so that they could be disclosed to others in Scripture. The word ‘search out’ here was used of customs officials who rummaged through the bags of travellers at border crossings. And the ‘deep things’ was a word hijacked form Gnostic terminology boasting of an elite knowledge of divine things. Only God’s Holy Spirit has that knowledge. The Holy Spirit is God who alone can explore and fathom the depths of the mind of the infinite God. He alone has access to the ‘things’ of God, for He is God.
2. Revelation - The Revealing Spirit (v.12)
What the Holy Spirit finds out he wants to make known. He has done this with the Apostles (the ‘we’ who both ‘received’ and ‘understood’ this data as it was revealed to them). God gave them both salvation, and the ability to understand that salvation in all of its fullness and vast implications. Paul’s understanding is a wonderful illustration. He had a personal revelation of the Saviour on the Damascus Road, and in the years following he saw the meaning of such things as the Cross, the Resurrection, the two age eschatology, faith, baptism, the giving of the Spirit, the two Adams, sanctification, the future resurrection and glorification of believers, the Parousia etc. All of this wonderful doctrine, and more, came to him from the Spirit.
3. Inspiration - The Inspiring Spirit (v.13a)
That same Spirit then enabled him to ‘speak’ and ultimately to write these things for their accurate preservation and transmission to others. There is a chain of transmission from God to the Spirit, from the Spirit to the Apostles, and from the Apostles to others in the pages of the New Testament. Inspiration is thus verbal and supernatural. It is ‘Spiritual truths’ in ‘Spiritual words’. The inspiration was not left to chance, but actually involved the very words the Apostles chose, to communicate what they had seen and heard. This is essential because words matter and they must be used precisely for meaning to be conveyed accurately to others.
This was not a process of dictation, for the human personalities of the authors were preserved intact rather than bypassed in the process of inspiration,. This was an organic or concursive rather than coercive operation, employing the faculties, thought patterns, characters and vocabulary of the human agents. The result was that the literally style and particular theological emphasis of each author were preserved not destroyed in the process of inspiration. They even did their own historical researches and edited their own literary sources (Lk. 1:1-4). Yet the Holy Spirit spoke through each author according to their particular literary genre, and this is to be understood according to the plain natural meaning of the words used in the unique historical context and peculiar circumstances and intention of the writer.
So verbal inspiration means:
a. Not that ‘every word is literally true’ – for there are at least 20 kinds of literature in the Bible (history, poetry, prophecy, apocalyptic, letters, proverbs etc) and we must interpret their words accordingly.
b. Not that every text is true apart form its context – for false statements are quoted in the Bible in order to highlight the truth contrasted with that (e.g. Job).
c. Not that its words were dictated by God – As though the Biblical writes were mere amanuenses, their experience, personalities and gifts totally bypassed and their agency was limited to that of mere reportage of God’s word. The Scriptures themselves indicate a more concursive operation of man and God combined, such that the unique identities of the human authors is conspicuous in the books attributed to them, but that they were preserved from error in that special role.
d. But that what God spoke through the human authors, correctly interpreted is true. This means that the Scriptures are thus infallible in their inspiration, in that it can never deceive us for it is the God of truth who speaks in its pages. Second that its inspiration is clearly verbal in the sense we have explained it, and finally inspiration is therefore plenary or full, inspired in its entirety by God so that whatever the authors intended to say and teach – on history, on ethics, on cosmology, on origins – is all covered by inspiration and is as a consequence, inerrant or infallible.
Which brings me to the fourth and last operation of the Spirit spoken of here.
4. Illumination – The Enlightening Spirit (v.13b-16)
We are not left to ourselves in the attempt to understand what the Apostle and others have written in Scripture. The Spirit works at both ends, in the writers and in the readers. NIV footnote to v.13b says ‘interpreting spiritual truths to spiritual men’ as an alternative translation to ‘expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words’, and therefore connection with the doctrine of illumination not inspiration, v.14 ff not v13a. The verb sugkrino meaning ‘to combine’ can mean ‘to explain’ or ‘to interpret;, and ‘spiritual truths’ (pneumatikois) can mean ‘spiritual men’ – hence ‘explaining spiritual things/truths to spiritual men’ i.e. ‘those who possess the Spirit’. Revelation and Inspiration are to be distinguished from Illumination in this way. Revelation and Inspiration removes the veil over objective realities placed by God before the mind of man so that he sees and understands what he sees. Illumination removes the blindfold on the eyes of others yet to be caught up with such things and that prevents them from understanding what has already been revealed to his apostles. It conveys subjective insight and understanding to them.
This section teaches that God illuminates our minds as we read the Scriptures so that we may understand them. And this is said to be a privilege inaccessible to the unspiritual or unregenerate man (or psuchikos), who does not have the Spirit (v.14). He regards such things as both ‘foolish’ and ‘incomprehensible’. But this is a primarily a moral blindness and incapacity in the first instance, and a culpable one at that, a work of the flesh. This fact goes a long way to explains the natural man’s resistance to the authority and sufficiency of scripture in the quest or pursuit of truth, particularly in the ethical sphere.
It is the man with the Spirit (the pneumatikos) v.15, the born-again believer, who, in dependence on the Spirit, can discern and evaluate things and make proper sense of them. In this way, in submission to the Scriptures, the spiritual man can bring their authority to bear on ‘all things’, assessing and discerning truth and error, right and wrong in all spheres without regard to the artificial boundaries or limits falsely imposed by special interest groups, since nothing is off limits to or segregated from God. God is intrusive in the whole of life and we need to take note that He makes his will known through the intervention, active agency and involvement of his people (v.15-16).
This fact does not guarantee our omniscience, or our infallibility, but it does grant us the right to be heard, insofar as we accurately interpret and apply scripture to each given situation – scientific, political, philosophical, social and moral, and thus bring to bear ‘the mind of Christ’ on that issue. The issue of Spiritual Authority for the believer then, lies in a coalition of the objective and subjective work of the Holy Spirit in relation to Scripture. The objective Word, the written, inspired Scripture, together with the subjective word, the inner illumination and conviction of the Holy Spirit, constitute the authority for the Christian.
In my next post, we will explore the evidence for the sufficiency of Scripture. Check back soon!
// Originally posted on Theology Matters //