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EXEGESIS > Principles of Hermeneutics > Principles 5-7

There must be a conscious reliance upon the Holy Spirit,
for the One who is the “Spirit of truth” will “guide” into all Truth (Jo. 16:13).

An acute recognition of his utter inability to interpret properly the Scriptures must characterize the theologian’s perspective. Within the interpreter there is not a competence that will insure correctness; illumination is needed from the One who gave the Revelation. “The things that come from the Spirit of God,” according to Scripture, “are spiritually discerned” (I Cor. 2:14). As a redeemed person, the student possesses the Spirit of God; but he is in desperate need for the Spirit of God to work upon his mind, guiding him, teaching him, correcting him. It is the Spirit who makes possible the comprehension of Scripture.

It is not to be just a passive reliance upon the Spirit but a constant entreaty for God the Spirit to teach and to reveal the meaning of His Truth. “The secret of the Lord is with those who fear Him; and He will show them His covenant” (Ps. 25:14). While Daniel was praying Gabriel appeared to him and said: “I have now come forth to give you skill to understand” (Dan. 9:22). Insight and understanding come from God. It is not something we have; it is something we receive. And God gives to those who ask. Conscious reliance upon the Holy Spirit means that one is willing to alter his position on a certain issue as God gives guidance, because the interpreter is disposed to be taught. He does not pridefully assert that he knows all Truth but is willing to be led into Truth; he is not self-reliant but is Spirit-taught.

Today the Spirit’s work is not that of revelation but that of illumination, whereby what was revealed in the past (the Truth of Scripture) is revealed to the reader in the present (understanding of the Truth). It must be pointed out that the function of the Spirit is not to give new Truth but to give accurate understanding of the Truth that has been revealed. That which was closed to the mind previously is now opened; that which was concealed is now shown; that which was unknown is now known; that which was clouded is now clear; that which was not understandable is now comprehended; that which was doubted is now believed. Illumination is insight into the Truth that has already been revealed by God to man; it is not giving new Truth to the believer.

Relying upon the Spirit does not negate the importance of study. Illumination does not destroy the need for learning. There is great value in the investigation of the collective thinking of the Christian church. Knowledge of the early church fathers, the decisive councils, the theological developments of the medieval era, the brilliant minds of the Reformation, and the academic pursuits of the modern age are all vital. These are not detrimental but can be the very vehicle the Spirit uses to give the student insight into the meaning of the ancient Scriptures.

There must be a commitment to the unity of Scripture.

This means that each text is interpreted in light of the context of the Canon, because all passages of Scripture are interrelated. No text stands in isolation and is, therefore, independent of other texts; each text is interconnected with and dependent on all of the other texts.

The significance of this concept of harmony is apparent when consideration is given to the relationship of the Old and New Testaments. Proper correlation of the two Testaments reflects this unity of the Scriptures. The Old supports the New, and the New is built upon the Old; the Old anticipates the New, and the New accomplishes the Old; the Old conceals the New, and the New reveals the Old; the Old predicts the New, and the New fulfills the Old. The Old Testament is not a Jewish division, and the New Testament a Christian division. Both divisions are for the people of God; both reveal God; both reveal sin; both reveal His redemption; both reveal His will for man; and both reveal God’s righteous judgment upon sin. The interpreter cannot interpret the New without consulting the Old, nor can he interpret the Old without anticipating the New (for example, Isaiah 53 must be understood in light of Acts 8).

The proper correlation of the Old Testament and the New Testament makes categories like Old Testament theology, New Testament theology, the theology of the prophets, John’s theology, or Pauline theology improper. These arbitrary selections suggest something that does not exist—a peculiar and unique perspective of the individual author that stands in isolation from the rest of Scripture and, perhaps, over against other portions of Holy Writ. Such divisions are misleading; they compartmentalize Scripture and detract from the unity that distinguishes Scripture.

The so-called theology of Paul and the theology of John, for illustration, are not unrelated compositions that must be reconciled, or at least their variant views taken into consideration when doing hermeneutics. Rather the writings of Paul and the writings of John form a unity that contributes to the Truth that God revealed progressively through all the authors. To stress the message of Paul at the expense of John or the message of John at the expense of Paul is to fail to appreciate the very essence of what the Scriptures constitute: one Book from God. So, all the various writings merely contribute to the whole—together all of them compose the Truth. And the books and the authors must be studied from this perspective, or the study will be predicated upon an inappropriate and unacceptable foundation (see: Unity of Truth).

There must be an acceptance of the spiritual dimension of Scripture,
which mean that the Scriptures are the medium through which spiritual life is imparted.

Note the association in the following verses. “Keep my commandments and live,” the wise man writes to his son (Prov. 7:2). Again, “The law of the wise is a fountain of life, to turn one away from the snares of death” (Prov. 13:14). Jesus says: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit and they are life” (Jo. 6:63). To the Philippians Paul speaks of the “word of life” (2:16). Physical life is not the meaning in these passages, but the spiritual life of God that is closely associated with His Word is intended.

The intimate association of Scripture with the initiation and the continuation of the new spiritual life in Christ speaks of the spiritual dimension of Scripture. It is like no other book; it does what no other book does: it initiates and sustains spiritual life. In this sense the Word is alive and active, not only informing but also transforming. An understanding by the interpreter of this dynamic purpose of Scripture must be maintained.

It is to be remembered that the primary purpose of Scripture is experiential, not intellectual (the Bible does yield normative knowledge and is very intellectual). However, the aim of the Revelation is not the instructing of the mind for the sake of the mind learning facts, rather, the goal is the turning of the soul toward God. There may be much knowledge or little knowledge accumulated by the mind, but if the soul is engaged with God then Scripture has spoken and its purpose has been accomplished (see: Spiritual Life).

It is true, however, that the more one does know the Truth of God, the greater will be his passion for God. Knowledge is a means to an end, not an end in itself. To state that the primary purpose of Scripture is experiential and not intellectual does not limit in any sense the importance of the propositional Truth found in Scripture. God has chosen to work in the life of man through the Truth, through a Truth that is objective and vital. The Truth is the basis for the experiential; the informing leads to the transforming (see: Information or Transformation and Personal or Propositional).     

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