The Holy Spirit is a person of the Godhead. He is one with the Father and the Son (1 John 5:7). He is a powerful force that was, in the beginning, a part of creation (Gen. 1:2) and has been active in the development of God’s scheme of redemption in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Holy Spirit carried out a role in God’s interaction with men in the Old Testament. Prophets and writers of the Old Testament Scriptures were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Sam. 23:2; Acts 1:16, 2 Tim. 3:16). In other instances, the Holy Spirit enabled people to fulfill God’s will (Ex. 35:30-35; Num. 11:16-17). The Holy Spirit has been active in enabling men to do God’s will from creation until the completion of God’s revelation through Scripture.
The claim has been made by many that the Holy Spirit guides those who would read the Scriptures today to help them understand the Bible. Some have gone so far as to claim that one cannot understand the Scriptures unless the Holy Spirit guides them to a proper understanding. Those who are of such persuasion believe that revelation supersedes education in reference to understanding the Bible. In other words, they teach that the Holy Spirit will reveal the true meaning of the Bible to the reader, and the reader cannot otherwise understand the Scriptures through study alone. Let us examine that claim in light of what the Holy Spirit has revealed in the Bible.
The psalmist wrote: “The entirety of Your word is truth…” (Psalm 119:160, NKJV). Our Lord prayed: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). These Scriptures attest to the fact that the Word of God stands alone as truth. Truth is objective. It does not change according to the understanding of it by human minds. The truth of God’s word is as immutable as the God who spoke it. It is of interest to note the many different and contrasting doctrines taught by those who believe the Holy Spirit guides men to understand Scriptures. If the Holy Spirit were guiding men’s minds to understand God’s will in the Scriptures, one would expect to find harmony in doctrine, not division.
The work of the Holy Spirit regarding Scripture was completed in His revelation of it. He inspired those who would pen the words of God. Peter wrote, “For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (1 Peter 1:21). God has revealed His Word through the Holy Spirit. Such is the role that Scripture gives for the Holy Spirit. It is not the role of the Holy Spirit to guide the readers in understanding the Scriptures. Jesus promised His apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to them after His ascension to the Father. This discourse is found in John chapters 14-16. Note the following verses:
“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 things that I said to you” (John 14:26).
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me” (John 15:26).
“However, when he, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13).
In the preceding verses, Jesus promised the apostles that He would send the Holy Spirit to reveal to them the things that Jesus would have them record in the Scriptures. Notice that the Holy Spirit would do the following things:
1. He would teach all things. If the Holy Spirit taught the inspired writers all things that God intended to communicate to men, then there would be nothing beyond the inspired, written Word needed for men to understand God’s will.
2. He would bring to remembrance all things that Jesus had said to His disciples. Evidence of this truth is found in the harmony of the Gospels. Most people cannot remember exactly the conversation of the day prior, but the inspired writers were able to remember the exact words of Jesus, as the Holy Spirit guided them. Thus, the inspiration of the Bible is plenary (full) as both new revelation and inspired memory was granted to the writers of the New Testament.
3. The Holy Spirit testified of Jesus. He is the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father. As both the Father and the Holy Spirit testified of Jesus while He was on the earth (Matt. 3:16-17), the Holy Spirit would be sent by the Father to testify of Jesus after His ascension through inspiration.
4. The Holy Spirit would guide the inspired writers into all truth. This would include both memory and revelation of things to come. This is a crucial point. If the Holy Spirit did guide the writers of the New Testament into all truth, there is no truth yet to be revealed. The work of the Holy Spirit was finished in the revelation of the Word of God, both Old and New Testaments. If this is not true, then Jesus was not speaking the truth when He promised it! Of course, Jesus was speaking the truth.
To teach that one must be led by the Holy Spirit into an understanding of the Word of God is to contradict the Word of God. Paul instructed Timothy that he must “give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Tim. 4:13). He did not tell Timothy to pray for the Holy Spirit to show him the truth of Scripture already revealed. Rather, he admonished him to “meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them…” (1 Tim. 4:15-16). A proper understanding of the Word of God requires diligent study. God expects this of His people. The Holy Spirit has done His part in the revelation of God’s Word. Now, it is up to us to dedicate ourselves to study it that we may understand it, “rightly dividing the Word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15). Having done so, we must then apply the Word in obedience to the will of God.
Michael serves the Boiling Springs congregation in Boiling Springs, SC. He is also on the board of directors for the Carolina Messenger.