The Role of the Holy Spirit in Interpretation

The theological term most commonly used by theologians to express the role of the Holy Spirit in biblical understanding is illumination. While the term isn’t directly used of the Holy Spirit, the concept is present, for example in John 1:5 and 1:9, “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it… the true Light which coming into the world, enlightens every man.” In this context Jesus is the Light, and His enlightening or illumining work is accomplished with everyone.

But if Christ illumines everyone, to what extent does the Holy Spirit illumine? Does the Bible even teach that the Holy Spirit illumines, or is illumination by the Holy Spirit a theological rather than exegetical concept?

Three views

There are essentially three distinct views regarding the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation, including: (1) the idea that “the Holy Spirit brings to the Christian greater cognitive understanding” of the Bible,1 (2) the idea that “one of the unique roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict, convince, and arouse sluggish hearts by applying the truths perceived in the text of Scripture to the lives of individuals,”2 and (3) the idea that “the basic thrust of the Holy Spirit’s illuminating or enlightening work relates primarily to our welcoming of the truths rather than our understanding of them.”3

Simply put, the views are that the Holy Spirit helps in cognitive understanding, the Holy Spirit helps with application, or the Holy Spirit helps a person receive rather than understand the truths of Scripture. To keep things simple, this discussion will refer to (1) the cognitive view, (2) the application view, and (3) the reception view. Let’s examine the biblical data to determine which of these views, if any—or more than one—best represents what the Bible teaches.

We start with the Psalms, a book that makes clear that God indeed illumines. Psalm 18:28 reads, “For You light my lamp; The Lord my God illumines my darkness.” Psalm 19:8 adds that “The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.” Psalm 119, which includes a reference to Scripture in virtually all of its 176 verses, gives some insight regarding the concept of illumination. Psalm 119:18 records the Psalmist’s request—perhaps for illumination: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Your law.”

The Psalmist later seems to acknowledge how the eyes are actually opened: “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” (119:105). This latter passage is particularly helpful because it identifies how God illumines, or specifically through what vehicle He illumines. It is the word of God that is the lamp to the Psalmist’s feet, in this particular context. The Psalmist adds for good measure, “The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” Again, it is the word that illumines. Consequently, none of the three views are addressed in these Psalms, nor is the Holy Spirit directly mentioned at all in these contexts. So we reserve judgment for further examination, armed with the simple knowledge from the Psalms passages that God illumines, and He does it through His word.

In John 14:26, Jesus encourages his eleven disciples, saying to them, “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.” The Holy Spirit will teach them all things. Jesus adds in John 16:13 that the Spirit of truth will guide them into “all the truth,” including disclosing to them “what is to come.” These are vitally important passages to put in proper context. Jesus is addressing eleven men, assuring them of the Holy Spirit’s ministry to them. There is no exegetical reason to suggest that the ministry of guiding into all the truth extends beyond this prophecy that Peter recognizes is fulfilled in the recording of Scripture (see 2 Pet 1:20-21). Once again, these passages do not speak to any of the three views on illumination. Instead these encouraging prophesies from Jesus help prepare the eleven for the challenging task they would face when Jesus would depart.

In Luke 24:45 we encounter Jesus opening the minds of the disciples to understand the Scriptures (specifically the Law, the Prophets, and the Psalms—the three basic divisions of the Hebrew Bible). The passage doesn’t give explanation regarding how He opened their minds, but it appears He did so by explaining, as He appeals to Scripture and explains them in the verses that immediately follow (Luke 24:46-48). He concludes the discourse with a prophecy of power that would come to his listeners—a prophecy corresponding to the promise of the Holy Spirit made in the upper room (Jn 14:26 and 16:13).

This passage is descriptive of an event that happened, but doesn’t provide any data that would lead one to conclude the event (that Jesus somehow opened the minds to cognitively understand Scripture) is normative in the life of the believer. While the passage does provide an instance of cognitive illumination, the Holy Spirit is not identified as having a direct part in it (in fact, He hadn’t even been sent by Father and Son yet), nor does the passage specifically identify how Jesus accomplished this opening of their minds (though the implication is that He did so by explaining). Once again, we cannot conclude in favor of any of the three views based on this passage.

Romans 8:9 is clear in its assertion that if a person does not have the Spirit of Christ—the Spirit of God dwelling in him—then that person does not belong to God. Paul adds a few verses later that “all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (8:14). Further, Paul explains, “the Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God” (8:16). Clearly, by this point in the early history of the church, the Holy Spirit was the grounding of every believer’s life in Christ.

Ephesians 1:13-14 discusses how the Holy Spirit is even the guarantee or down payment of eternal life. In these Romans verses, Paul identifies the Spirit as indwelling (8:9, 11), leading (8:11), and testifying (8:16). With respect to the indwelling and testifying, there is no action implied on the part of the believer. But with respect to His leading, it is implied that the believer is following. The question in view here is how the Holy Spirit leads, and whether or not that is connected to the concept of illumination.

Four times in the NT the Spirit is mentioned as leading. Matthew and Luke describe the Spirit leading Jesus into and in the wilderness to be tempted by Satan (Mt 4:1, Lk 4:1), and Paul twice refers to the Spirit’s leading—once in Romans 8:14, asserting that all who are being led (present, passive) by the Spirit of God are sons of God, and in a similar context in Galatians 5:18, if believers are being led (present, passive) by the Spirit, then they are not under law. Both of Paul’s references to the Spirit’s leading are present tense and passive from the believer’s perspective—meaning that the leading is ongoing, and that the Spirit is the one doing the action, and the believer is simply responding.

In these contexts the leading of the Spirit isn’t explicitly explained, but Galatians 5:25 gives us a hint of what that leading looks like: if we are living by the Spirit, then we should be walking in Him. There is a connection between His leading and our walking in Him. Simply put, if we are being led by Him, we are walking with Him. But still, nothing in these immediate contexts are indicative of a connection to illumination.

Another term we encounter that is related to knowledge is the anointing believers have from the Holy One that results in “you all know” (1 John 2:20, NASB) or “you know all things” (KJV). In the immediately following context, that knowledge is the knowledge of the truth (2:21). This passage does not identify what the anointing or assignment is, so it would be difficult to support this passage as a proof text for the illuminating work of the Holy Spirit. Yet, in at least two separate contexts in 1 John, the Spirit is directly bringing about knowledge for the believer: in 3:24 we know He abides in us through the Spirit, and in 4:13 we know that we abide in Him, because He has given of His Spirit. Both of these assurances are accomplished simply by the truth of His presence. Once again, no illuminating work is directly in view. However, 1 John 2:27 describes the anointing as abiding in believers, and teaches them about all things.

Besides the reference in 2:27, John uses the term abide in reference to several general relationships: (1) the believer abiding in Him (2:6, 10, 24c, 28, 3:6, 24a, 4:13, 15b), (2) the word of God abiding in believers (2:14, 24), (3) God abiding in believers (3:9, 24b, 4:12, 15a, 16b), (4) the believer abiding in death (3:14), (5) eternal life not abiding in the murderer (3:15), (6) love of God abiding in believers (3:17), and (7) believers abiding in His love (4:16a).

Of these options, it seems that the anointing of 2:27 refers to the word of God, as a neuter pronoun is used rather than masculine (the Persons of the Godhead are not generally referred to with neuter pronouns, but rather masculine ones), and it teaches about (peri) all things. While we certainly cannot exegetically disconnect the Spirit from this anointing, we also can’t directly connect Him in any of the three senses of illumination.

In 1 Corinthians 2:6-11 Paul describes how God revealed His wisdom through the Spirit. Verse 12 makes clear that the Spirit is a Person, and not an “it.” Also, the verse indicates that we have received the Spirit of God that we may understand (eidomen) that which has been freely given by God. In the thought that follows (2:14-16), Paul contrasts a natural (psuchikos) man and a spiritual (pneumatos) one. The natural man does not receive (dechetai) the things of God’s Spirit—they are foolishness to the natural man, and he cannot experientially know (gnonai) them because they can only be spiritually judged or discerned (anakrinetai). Paul chastises the Corinthians because, while they have the mind of Christ (2:16), they are walking as fleshly (sarchinois) rather than spiritual (3:1ff). In other words, they have an incredible resource at their disposal in order to know intimately or experientially, but instead they were choosing to walk in ignorant immaturity.

In this context the wisdom is available to these believers, but it is not discerned or judged rightly because it is not received by these believers as it should be. There seems no reference here to illumination, per se, but rather to being properly connected to what has already been provided. We have the Spirit of God, He has revealed wisdom, we have the mind of Christ. Consequently, it is an absurdity if we do not understand what God has provided. If we fail in that way, then we are being fleshly, behaving and thinking as natural rather than spiritual people.

From 1 Corinthians 2:6-3:3 we can see how the ministry of the Spirit enables believers to have a better knowledge, but that seems to extend beyond understanding (oida) to more experiential or personal knowledge (gnosis), as indicated by the distinct terms Paul uses. The natural man isn’t receiving, because he doesn’t have the Spirit, and therefore he isn’t discerning or judging properly. But the cognitive understanding seems to be there. It does not appear that the Spirit is active in providing additional cognitive understanding, though clearly through Him God has revealed wisdom, which definitely results in greater cognitive understanding (2:12). But that understanding is not the result of ongoing activity by the Spirit in the believer, it seems more the result of responding properly to what He has already revealed.

The cognitive model for illumination doesn’t seem to fit this context, nor does the application model, as the Corinthians are chastised for not applying properly what they already had—the mind of Christ (2:16). They also weren’t welcoming what God had revealed—not because the Holy Spirit wasn’t doing His job, but because they weren’t doing theirs. Once again, none of the three popular models of illumination seems to fit Paul’s instruction here.

The reference to illumining in 1 Corinthians 4:5 speaks of how the Lord will return, bringing to light that which is hidden in the darkness and the motives of hearts. The context is not of judgment unto punishment, but unto praise or reward, as each person’s praise or excellence (epainos) will come to him by God. The last three verbs in this verse are all future. They don’t describe a present work of the Spirit, but rather a future work of the Son.

After expounding on the marvelous glory of God expressed through the work of the Father, Son, and Spirit in salvation, in Ephesians 1:17-18 Paul offers a prayer for the believers, that God would give to them “a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him.” He has already told believers that they have the Spirit (1:13-14), so this prayer is not that believers would have Him, but that they would have a spirit, in the more general sense, of wisdom and unveiling in the knowledge (epignosei) of Him. The first of these two verses is a request for greater experiential knowledge, whereas the second verse requests greater cognitive understanding (eidenai) of the implications of what Paul had just explained in 1:1-14 and what he would expound on in chapters 2-3—specifically, the hope and riches God has provided to believers.

Paul is praying here that believers would truly understand God’s word. Unlike in his letter to the Corinthians, where Paul puts the onus on the believer, Paul seems to recognize here that the believer has some need that God can or must meet. Because the provision for that is not connected directly to the Holy Spirit in this context, it seems unwise to assume Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit might illuminate believers to understand. Even if that is what Paul was praying for, it wouldn’t be normative, since Paul places the burden of understanding on believers themselves in other contexts (as in 1 Corinthians). Instead, it seems that Paul recognizes the depth of “the surpassing greatness of His power to those who believe,” and wishes for believers to recognize the implications of that greatness.

As Paul concludes the section on the believer’s position in Christ, he offers another prayer that God would grant them “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man” (3:16), ultimately so that they will be able to comprehend or grasp (katalabesthai) the breadth, length, height, and depth, and to experientially know (gnonai) the love of Christ. In this context, Paul does connect the believers’ receiving and experientially knowing with the present and ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit.

This passage would seem to support the third model of illumination, providing a welcoming, leading to better experiential knowledge. If one understands the verb to know (gnonai) as cognitive (I don’t), rather than experiential, then one could easily recognize this passage as supporting the cognitive illumination view instead. Either way, it is clear from this passage that the Holy Spirit is indeed involved in the believer’s processing of the truth. Whether or not that involvement is best represented by the term illumination is the question.

In 2 Timothy 2:7 Paul tells Timothy to think on what he says, and he adds that God will give Timothy understanding (sunesin) in everything. The formula is this: you take action (imperative), and God will take action (future). Perhaps more than any other previous reference, this one shows the relationship between God and man in the process of increasing cognitive understanding. Both Timothy and God have a responsibility here. Once again, this is not tied specifically to the Holy Spirit, but we have seen previously that the Holy Spirit is certainly involved in the process.

Hebrews 6:4 references “the having been enlightened” (photisthentos), as “having tasted” (twice), “having been made partakers,” and “having fallen away.” Because each verb is a participle, and only the first has the definite article, the person being described here has participated in each of these things. This seems a clear reference to believers who are neglecting their salvation (see Heb 2:2-3), and who cannot come to repentance as long as they continue to put Christ to open shame (6:6). The enlightenment here refers to their positional change from death to life, rather than to an ongoing learning or growth process. Enlightenment accompanied tasting the heavenly gift and being made partakers of the Holy Spirit. Ongoing or continuing illumination of the Holy Spirit is not in view here.

Conclusion

From these passages, it is evident that the Holy Spirit is actively involved in the ongoing growth of the believer. It is also evident that He was actively involved in the revealing of God’s truth through the Bible. It is evident from these and other contexts that He uses the Scriptures in the lives of believers, and that those Scriptures are the basis for the Christian’s walking in the Spirit. Further it is evident that the Holy Spirit actively helps believers to understand (2 Tim 2:7), comprehend (receive) and to know (experientially) (Eph 3:16-19).

Yet it is probably best not to describe the Holy Spirit’s work in that regard as illumination. Further, to quantify His ministry specifically as only bringing cognitive understanding, or only helping to apply, or only helping to receive, does not seem to be exegetically justified, and may go too far (or not far enough) in defining His work. It is also important to recognize that His ministry is not remedying any inherent deficiency or limitation in the text. Instead, He uses the text itself to inform and to illumine (Ps 119:105) us.

Paul’s model in Ephesians 3:14-19 is a helpful one: he relies on the text to inform us, and he prays that we too would be able to receive “with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know (experientially or intimately) the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge” that we might be filled up to all the fullness of God. This involves the Father (it is His fullness we are being filled with), it involves the Son (it is His love we are knowing), and it involves the Spirit (it is His power that strengthens us). Ultimately, we are commanded to grow (2 Pet 3:18); we grow by His word (1 Pet 2:2); and God Himself causes the growth (1 Cor 3:7).

Notes

1 Robert Plummer, 40 Questions About Interpreting the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2010), 144.

2 William Craig, Craig Blomberg, and Robert Hubbard Jr., Introduction to Biblical Introduction, Revised and Updated (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 139.

3 Walt Russell, Playing With Fire (Carol Stream, IL: Navpress, 2000), 63.

Christopher Cone 2015 Bio


Dr. Christopher Cone serves as Chief Academic Officer and Research Professor of Bible and Theology at Southern California Seminary. He formerly served as President of Tyndale Theological Seminary and Biblical Institute, Professor of Bible and Theology, and as a Pastor of Tyndale Bible Church. He has also held several teaching positions and is the author and general editor of several books. He blogs regularly at drcone.com.

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TylerR's picture

Editor

I think Cone is right to point out that you can't really just pick only one of the three options he presented. However, I tend toward the second one, that the Spirit applies the Word of God to our hearts and minds by convicting and encouraging us. I particularly want to draw attention to Eph 6:17:

Ephesians 6:17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God: 

In this familiar passage, the Word of God is called the weapon of the Holy Spirit. Believers are commanded to "take" up that weapon. It is the only offensive weapon mentioned in Eph 6:10-18; the remaining "armor of God" is entirely defensive.

In what way is the Word of God the Holy Spirit's weapon in our personal lives, as we seek to "stand against the wiles of the devil" (Eph 6:11) and "quench the fiery darts of the wicked" (Eph 6:16)? Paul must be referring to the Spirit's application of Biblical truth to our lives. As we read the Scripture, the Spirit convicts, rebukes and exhorts us - Scripture reading is the fuel the Spirit uses in our personal lives to combat sin, temptation and Satan. 

This ties right in to the applicational role of the Spirit which Cone mentioned. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

The experience of the apostles--hearing Christ say something and realizing what He meant only later--comes to mind here.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Another way to get at the main question is to ask what are the barriers to our understanding Scripture? In the case of unbelievers we have 2 Cor 2.14, but not a complete answer there even in their case.

Whether believers or unbelievers the barriers include...

a. Ordinary human stupidity

b. Bias barriers: when the truth is something uncomfortable we'd rather avoid (this doesn't have to be conscious to be real)

c. Effort/laziness barriers: when the truth takes some digging (Prov 2:4-5 or so comes to mind) and/or hard thinking, and we just don't feel like it (again, doesn't have to be conscious to be real)

d. Expansion/twist on b: "noetic effects of sin"... this is more than stupidity/finite weakness of mind. It's the rebel heart. Believers are basically (and deeply) cured of this, but not entirely rid of it's lingering drive. So sometimes there's just an aversion to truth in general, not just some truth in particular.

e. Inisight barriers: when we "get" the message of the text grammatically, conceptually, etc., but don't see what it requires of us or what its implications are for life today and the choices we are facing personally. So there is a "fuller sense" not in the text but from the text. Easy to miss that.

f. Timing barriers: when we fail to consider the biblical truth we most need to see at this moment.

Well, I could go on. But suffice it to say that some of these barriers can be overcome to some extent by diligent effort, if you're regenerate, but not all of them. And even those that can be mitigated by human means--well, why can't the Spirit graciously help with these as well? I believe He does help our "brains" quite often, as well as our "hearts."

SBashoor's picture

I've been thinking a lot about the doctrine of illumination lately. I like the way he works through (most) of the passages, showing how they often don't say anything directly related to the Spirit. There tends to be a lot of proof-texting with these verses. But I'm a little puzzled by his conclusion, which really isn't a conclusion so much as an admission that no single perspective pulls together all the data.

I'm not sure the promised gift of "understanding" in 2 Tim 2:7 is really about cognition. The verses beforehand are pretty straightforward in their meaning, but their application would have many possibilities. It seems like the work involved there is more about application than comprehension. And the Ephesians 3 passage is not really about the interpretation of texts either, but a deepening understanding of Christ.

I wish he'd mentioned how view 1 has had the lion's share of support in Bible-believing circles for a long time. The idea that the Spirit will personally guide the reader into cognitive understanding of the text is pretty deeply ingrained into a lot of Christians' thinking.

It seems to me that any true Christian is an illuminated person, that they understand, receive, and accept the grand truths of God's work in Christ at least on some basic level. But that's another matter than the interpretation of individual texts. I know many illumined people who are clueless as to what certain texts are saying, though they feel quite certain about it themselves. And I'm quite certain that in some instances I am the same way, Smile

M. Scott Bashoor Happy Slave of Christ

Dan Miller's picture

This is a study I've wanted for a long time. I wish I had time to discuss more. 

Simply put, the views are that the Holy Spirit helps in cognitive understanding, the Holy Spirit helps with application, or the Holy Spirit helps a person receive rather than understand the truths of Scripture. To keep things simple, this discussion will refer to (1) the cognitive view, (2) the application view, and (3) the reception view. Let’s examine the biblical data to determine which of these views, if any—or more than one—best represents what the Bible teaches.

I do wonder if there's more overlap than we tend to think. Let's say someone is in a church with a female pastor. And he really likes her ministry. And he reads 1 Timothy. He begins reading having been taught that women can be pastors. 

Several passages give him pause and with further study, he finds theologians who read them very differently. Which of these does he need 1, 2, or 3? For him, #3, and the need for #2 if he changes his view on #1, all will influence his position on #1. 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Several passages give him pause and with further study, he finds theologians who read them very differently. Which of these does he need 1, 2, or 3?

Right. He probably needs all three...  Of course, some of that can come from the ministry of fellow believers, some through the common grace of intellect, etc. Sometimes all we need is a bit of "liberating" from the Spirit so that the mind is freer to do what it is natively able to do. There are so many possible scenarios.

alex o.'s picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Several passages give him pause and with further study, he finds theologians who read them very differently. Which of these does he need 1, 2, or 3?

Right. He probably needs all three...  Of course, some of that can come from the ministry of fellow believers, some through the common grace of intellect, etc. Sometimes all we need is a bit of "liberating" from the Spirit so that the mind is freer to do what it is natively able to do. There are so many possible scenarios.

As publisher of this site perhaps you should know some former posters' assessment of prevailing views expressed here consistently (I am not talking about the skillet site). Several have said that error is rampantly posted here without refutation. This post of yours is typical of being outside of mainstream Christian thought. It is not my intention to engage everything I disagree with or point out error to those who are not listening. so you are free to do as you like with my post.

No "common grace of intellect" exists, period. The "native mind" is at enmity toward God and cannot please Him, period. Again, just because a post is not refuted doesn't make it correct. You are swimming against the stream of most Christian thinkers (obviously not against Fundamentalists).

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I can't answer generalizations about supposed error...  other than to generalize in response, I suppose. In that vein I would say come on over and post. I'd be happy to engage in debate on specific points, though I certainly don't agree with everything I choose to post. That would be awfully boring. The idea is to be challenged. So what I look for--other than the devotional kind of content we all agree on but still need to hear--is thought provoking presentation of interesting ideas. There's bound to be some error when people engage in thinking at all.

Thought that pretty much went without saying...

Anyway, there is one specific one I can answer. "Common grace of intellect." It may be that what I mean is not clear. "Common grace" refers to all the good things God gives to the righteous and the wicked alike and are not specifically the result of faith in Christ.

"...of intellect" refers to the ability of human beings to think. Without the common grace of intellect, only believers would be able to add 2 and 2 (and only when specifically enabled by the Spirit to do so). In fact, without unregenerate intellect applied to language nobody would ever understand the gospel, even formally, much less take it to heart personally.

So the idea is a pretty inescapable inference from the fact that unbelievers are not drooling idiots ... and that God has revealed Himself in a book (an inherently rational medium of communication).

(And if you think this idea is unorthodox, I respectfully suggest that you need to read more.)

alex o.'s picture

The bible refers to the realm of thought unaided by the Spirit as "carnal," so, that is no help at all, rather condemned.

Sure, I know what common grace is about and it is condemnatory in the end if the individual is left with only these initial gifts of creation.

So, in your scheme a believer should not rely on the Spirit but think for themselves. This is a recipe for failure, and rightly. 

As for this article by Cone it is iconic of Dispensational thought, and, to me, impersonal and sterile. It almost seems like he wants to find something mechanistic, a formula. The last two posts on my blog feature other articles by Cone, but this one will never make a reblog on my site. Dispensationalists like to say they follow a Grammatical-Historic hermeneutic but this is not actually the case. They all forget the "historic" or have a shallow understanding of it. I suggest a background like what Keener and N.T. Wright bring to a discussion. Further, the Reformed wing (with which I disagree on points also) applies a "Theological Hermeneutic." I reject the Covenant Theology that comes with it but the approach has many things in its favor. It sees the bible through the lens of redemption rightly (Gen. 3.15) but also makes some unwarranted twists and turns. So, whether it is Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology, a careful student will need to pick and choose among ideas.

Illumination is personal and Trinitarian. Just as in salvation, the persons of the Trinity work in the development of the believer. Look at the development of Abraham or David who we have accounts detailing divine action over a period of time. They needed to step by step learn certain things first before more fully appreciating all that God had for them.

Also, it should be noted, that scripture is not univocal. If it is, then it can't be proven at this time because not all prophecy has been fulfilled.

"Our faith itself... is not our saviour. We have but one Saviour; and that one Saviour is Jesus Christ our Lord.  B.B. Warfield

http://beliefspeak2.net

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

alex o. wrote:

The bible refers to the realm of thought unaided by the Spirit as "carnal," so, that is no help at all, rather condemned.

This is an interpretation. Where does the phrase 'realm of thought' appear in Scripture? And where does the phrase "no help at all" appear? My point isn't that you're wrong, necessarily, but that it would be helpful to see some support--both to clarify what you mean and also why you see it that way.

It's significant to me that the Scriptures do not generally locate man's antipathy towards God in the 'intellect.' Usually, terms such as "heart" and "mind" are used (or the very flexible Hebrew term 'lev,' if I'm remembering right). These do not translate as "cognitive thought" or "intellect" per se, though often include it to some extent in the whole of the inner man. But the focus seems generally to be on the will/affections as the main barrier, as far as relating to God goes.

It might be helpful to pause and note what might be some points of agreement:

  • The unregenerate human being (which was not in view earlier the thread, I might note... nor in the main article either) is indeed at enmity/hostile toward God
  • The unregenerate human being cannot, on its own, respond in repentant faith to the gospel
  • The unregenerate human heart does not (and can never) see that the gospel is true, that Christ is His only hope, and that all efforts to save himself are vain
  • The regenerate human being is a new creation

I could go on, but those are a few of the long-agreed-upon basics.... and might help focus us a bit.

Quote:
 So, in your scheme a believer should not rely on the Spirit but think for themselves. This is a recipe for failure, and rightly.

I don't know where you're getting that. There is no either/or. We should use all of what God has given us, including the good ol' cerebrum.... and certainly also seeking the aid of the Spirit. We should not, however, expect God to do for us what He has already equipped us to do. There is no sense in praying for God to stop a speeding train in our direction when He has given us legs to jump out of the way. This is true of things mental and spiritual as well as physical. To do less is to (a) be ungrateful for what He has given and (b) to tempt God. (See Matt. 4:7, and note context)

Quote:
As for this article by Cone it is iconic of Dispensational thought, and, to me, impersonal and sterile. It almost seems like he wants to find something mechanistic, a formula.

Is this an argument? Sometimes the truth is not warm or dramatic, and sometimes formulas work. Sometimes things are actually understandable and repeatable, not veiled in mystery. Often enough, we encounter things we can't figure out, but there is no virtue in injecting mystery where truth has been revealed.

Quote:
I suggest a background like what Keener and N.T. Wright bring to a discussion. Further, the Reformed wing (with which I disagree on points also) applies a "Theological Hermeneutic." I reject the Covenant Theology that comes with it but the approach has many things in its favor. It sees the bible through the lens of redemption rightly (Gen. 3.15) but also makes some unwarranted twists and turns. So, whether it is Dispensationalism or Covenant Theology, a careful student will need to pick and choose among ideas.

That's interesting. I wish you well in that effort, but usually cherry picking from incompatible models produces results that don't cohere well. ... though we all do it to some extent. I suppose it's fair to say that the more we try to stand above mature systems and pick what we like from them, the more likely we are to begin to contradict ourselves. Truth coheres. So it's bad to blindly follow any system, but it's also naive to think we can avoid systematizing.

I'm not sure anybody is disagreeing that illumination is trinitarian, etc... in some sense. But I'm also pretty sure you'll find that it has been seen primarily as a ministry of the Spirit for a very long time. This is not a dispensationalist innovation.

... as for "background," people were taking historical theology seriously long before Keener and Wright, and I think you'll do better to go back further.

 

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