Hermeneutics is simply a fancy word for describing how you interpret the Word of God. For example, some say everything has some secret hidden meaning—that is their hermeneutic. Others say that the words themselves, as used in context with the words around them give you the meaning of the verses—that is their hermeneutic. We might perhaps use the hermeneutic of peace, where as long as we are at peace with an interpretation of Scripture, we think we are right. Or we might use the hermeneutic of prayer, where as long as we prayed about it, we think that is God’s intent of what the verses say. There are various ways, some more precise and accurate than others, to describe your hermeneutic—your method of interpreting the Bible.
The one this post is about is what I call “the Holy Spirit is my hermeneutic”. It is often restated in one of two extremes. The one extreme is where, instead of actually reading the Holy Spirit inspired Word of God, the person simply claims that “the Holy Spirit told me” in some direct way, and that is enough for them to believe they know what God has said. The other extreme of this approach to Scripture, is the boast of “I don’t need my elders, or good Christian books, or those of the faith who have gone before us, because I have the Bible and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit alone is my teacher.”
But the Holy Spirit is not a hermeneutic; the Holy Spirit is not some mystical method of interpreting the Bible. To put it plainly, the Holy Spirit is the revealer of Scripture, not an interpreter of Scripture. We are the interpreters, and we need to ensure that we are interpreting the Scriptures the way the Holy Spirit revealed to us to do.
Every time in the Scriptures, when we read what the Holy Spirit says, it is a statement of revelation more than it is a statement of interpretation (see 2 Chr 24:20; Eze 11:5; Luk 1:67; Luke 12:12; Acts 21:11; Acts 28:25; 1 Tim 4:1; Heb 3:7; Heb 10:15; Rev 2-3). In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13 the Apostle Paul describes the teaching work of the Holy Spirit as revealing to him and the other apostles the very thoughts of God, and they (Paul and other apostles, the “we” in the passage) being the ones who then imparted the words of the Holy Spirit to the believers. In other words, the starting point to being taught by the Holy Spirit is to pay attention to the Word of God which He revealed to us. In simple terms, read the Bible!
The second way to submit to the Holy Spirit in understanding His Word is to be saved. This is what Paul elaborates on briefly in 1 Corinthians 2:13-14, explaining how it is only those who are spiritual who are receptive to the revealed words of the Holy Spirit. This is what Jesus exposed to Nicodemus to be his problem—he was a teacher of the Bible, and yet did not understand the Word of God, for he was not (yet) born of the Holy Spirit. In other words, simply by having a Bible and being saved, both works of the Holy Spirit, we are already well on our way to the correct method of interpreting the Scriptures.
Third, and this is where it becomes work for us as well, the Holy Spirit has revealed, both in storytelling, and in instructions, how we ought to gain understanding from His Word. In Nehemiah 8 we find Ezra, a gifted teacher (see Ezra 7:6), and the other teachers gathering to teach the people the Word of God. In Nehemiah 8:8 a very precise retelling is given of what faithful teaching looks like.
They read from the book, from the Law of God, clearly, and they gave the sense, so that the people understood the reading.Nehemiah 8:8 (ESV) emphasis added
Clear reading, giving the sense/meaning, until there is understanding—that is how the Holy Spirit produced reform through His Word in the days of Ezra. The verses in 1 Corinthians 2:13 from the Apostle Paul affirm that he too understood that the Holy Spirit works in believers when His words are “imparted” from those who received it, when His words are “taught”, “interpreting” the Spirit’s Truth to those who are spiritual themselves.
Such historical accounts are confirmed for us as normative by the instructions to the Church in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy 3:16 Scripture is again affirmed as originating from God, but profitable to Timothy as the pastor for teaching, reproof, correction, and righteousness training. A few verses later, in 2 Timothy 4:2 he is commanded to preach the Holy Spirit’s Word using the teaching elements of reprove, rebuke, exhortation, and teaching. This matches what we know the Holy Spirit to do among believers. It is the Holy Spirit who commands us to teach and admonish one another (Col 3:16), but Who specifically also gifts certain men to be His appointed teachers (Eph 4:11-12). To such gifted teachers the believers pay attention to, submit to, and even obey (Hebrews 13:7, 17).
When put together, all of this produces unity among the saints. No longer is one person in the body going off on some personal interpretation and some individualistic spiritual path. No longer are personal preferences and communication habits perpetuating spiritual weakness and immaturity. No longer can any stand up and arrogantly claim some special knowledge of God and lead all astray. Instead, when the Holy Spirit reveals His Word, and then makes us spiritually alive to receive His word, and then places us in the body of Christ where He has also placed the other believers and gifted teachers, then unity is experienced and maintained where both love and truth coexist.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints … until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, … so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,Ephesians 4:11-15 (ESV)
To say that the Holy Spirit is my only teacher (through a special word, or through privatised study), is in reality a contradiction. The Holy Spirit is indeed a teacher, but in the sense of revealing God’s Word. Then, by His own explanation, He converts sinners and places them among spiritually gifted believers to accomplish the interpretation, teaching, and application of His Word to the saints. We can confidently affirm that the Holy Spirit grows us spiritually when we 1) read the Bible, 2) are truly saved, and 3) submit to the ministry of the saints, especially the gifted teachers.