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John W. Wyckoff: Pneuma and Logos

The historical background supplied by Chapter two is just the foundation and perspective needed to evaluate contemporary scholars in their treatment of this same question. Wyckoff samples widely from a broad stream of Christian tradition, including numerous Protestant and Catholic scholars. Nevertheless, he sharpens his focus on evangelical scholars who view the Scripture as the work of the Holy Spirit through inspiration. The question to examine is whether these same scholars posit a role for the Spirit in the hermeneutical process. He broadly divides these scholars into two camps: those that deny or limit the Holy Spirit’s role and those that affirm and emphasize it. Once again, which camp one finds oneself in depends on theological and philosophical presuppositions regarding the nature of Scripture itself and how one understands what transpires when a person reads or seeks to understand it. Our author exposes us to scholars who all, to one degree or another, affirm that the Holy Spirit has a place at the hermeneutical table. However, they fail to agree concerning his portion and exact placement. Wyckoff next explores why these scholars posit the necessity of the Spirit in the hermeneutical enterprise. The answer to the question is found in the sinfulness of man and its inherent limitations; limitations that are both ontological and epistemological and must be overcome if God is to communicate his divine truth. What follows is a carefully nuanced theological discussion of the epistemological role of the Spirit as it relates to and merges with the doctrines of divine inspiration and illumination by the Spirit. The consensus that emerges is one that clearly affirms the Spirit’s contemporary role in aiding humanity in understanding the Scriptures. What becomes equally clear is that, due to the transcendent reality being considered, scholars find it nearly impossible to conceptualize or describe this role with any specificity. Dr. Wyckoff should be commended for venturing out and working toward conceptualization no matter how elusive or difficult.

Wyckoff devotes the lion’s share of Chapter three to hermeneutical questions and controversial issues that erupt when asking, “If the Holy Spirit assists the reader in understanding Scripture, …how does the message differ from that understood by ordinary means?” (p.65). The student of hermeneutics is introduced to such issues as the sensus plenior and its relationship to the message intended by the author, the challenges of hermeneutical methods that deny the need or relevance of original authorial intent, and mediating positions that seek to affirm the importance of both the author’s meaning and the “God-intended meaning” supplied by the Spirit. Some may balk at the author’s attempt to find a satisfactory position that allows for “special revelation” mediated by the Spirit, one which the author “may or may not have fully understood.” Our anxiety should subside when we read Wyckoff’s qualifier. Such special revelation via the Spirit enables the interpreter “to gain fresh insight into the meaning of the text”… but “this does not include new revelation” that is divorced from and alien to the meaning of the text originally intended by the biblical author. Nevertheless, our author works hard to articulate the character of this “special revelation.” A variety of terminology is used: “ultracognitive… beyond ordinary human comprehension.” It is what Torrance called “Supreme Truth” that constitutes Scripture’s “spiritual meaning.” It communicates an experiential knowledge of the heart (p.72) which is inherently spiritual (pneumatikos), calling for the mediatory role of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately the illumination via the Spirit communicates the person and work of Christ himself. Consistent with Johannine pneumatology, the Spirit’s illumination is fundamentally Christocentric.

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Category: In Depth, Pneuma Review, Spring 2012

About the Author: James D. Hernando, Ph.D. (Drew University), is Professor of New Testament at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary. He is author of Dictionary of Hermeneutics (Gospel Publishing House, 2005), the commentary on 2 Corinthians in the Full Life Bible Commentary to the New Testament (Zondervan, 1999), as well as numerous articles and papers.

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