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The Place of the Holy Spirit in the Exegetical Process

“Likewise we must guard against modernist tendencies that would suggest to us that a valid meaning of Scripture is different from what the author intended to communicate.”

Because of our human frailties or “ontological preunderstanding” in coming to the text, that is, our sinful nature we as Biblical exegetes need the illuminating power of the Holy Spirit.17


IV. Some Legitimate Limits of Spiritual Illumination

As we have stated in the above discussion, if we are to have an understanding of the Biblical text we must approach it via a critical methodology. Likewise, if the role of the Holy Spirit in the interpretive process is not “essential” at this level, where then does He enter the process? If His role is not that of bringing cognition of the text, what is it? Although we have addressed these issues earlier we offer the following two observations. D. P. Fuller sets the course in the following statement:

The Holy Spirit’s role is to change the heart of the interpreter, so that he loves the message that is conveyed by nothing more than the historical-grammatical data.18

Along the same lines W. C. Kaiser Jr. notes:

The Holy Spirit does and indeed, he must aid me in assessing, appraising, and evaluating the word.19

First of all, then, the Holy Spirit is He who helps us as interpreters to value and hold in high esteem the Word of God. Because of our predisposition to sin and our tendency to hold in contempt the things of God, the Holy Spirit is absolutely indispensable in breaking through our “sinful preunderstanding.”

“The Holy Spirit is He who helps us as interpreters to value and hold in high esteem the Word of God.”

Basic in the Bible is the teaching that man is a sinner whose problem is so serious that he can do nothing to earn deliverance. Instead he must cast himself upon God’s mercy, which is made possible by Christ who died for him and rose again. But the focal point of man’s sin is his proud self-confidence, which revolts at the idea that he is utterly helpless to save himself. Thus by various means and often without realizing it, the natural man seeks to revise the biblical message so it will not be so offensive to him.20

Consequently then, we as believers, indwelt by the Holy Spirit are not immune to the bias of our sinful nature. Only when we are led and submitted to the work of the Holy Spirit in the exegetical process will we be able to embrace God’s intent revealed in Scripture.

We will do well to conclude this point by observing D. P. Fuller’s three helpful suggestions:

1.) The Christian is utterly dependent upon the indwelling Holy Spirit to check these remnants of pride as he studies the Bible, 2.) Only the Holy Spirit provides the Christian with the ability to be honest with the textual and historical data so that he can come to an understanding of what the Bible means, 3.) Likewise, the Holy Spirit gives the Christian the experience of the truths taught in the Bible so that he can more readily grasp them and thus account them as true.21

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is the one who makes the Scriptures come alive “experientially.” Christians through the ages have been crying out for some valid meaning and significance. Time and time again they have felt compelled to fill the spiritual void by engaging the Scriptures.

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Category: Biblical Studies, Winter 1999

About the Author: William J. Pankey holds a M.A. in Christian Education from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (Springfield, MO), a M.Div. equivalent from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Ill.), a M.I.L.S. from Dominican University (River Forest, Ill.), and a D.Min. also from Trinity Evangelical. He has served as a spiritual leader in a Philadelphia Messianic congregation, and pastored at Bloomingdale (Ill.) Assemblies of God Church from 1986 till 1994. He is Professor and Coordinator of Library Technologies at William Rainey Harper College in Palatine, Illinois. Harper College Faculty page

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