Interpreting the Bible and the Holy Spirit
Interpreting the Bible and the Holy Spirit
(I Cor 2:9-13)
God revealed the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament for the edification of the true believers. This is the reason they were recorded in such a way that only the believers that would be assisted by the Holy Spirit would be able to understand them. “Why do you speak to them through parables?” was the disciple’s question in one occasion. Jesus’ answer clearly reveals that he did not intend those who resisted the Gospel to understand his preaching (Mat. 13:11, 13). In another occasion, we can see Jesus himself revealing to His disciples everything that was written about him in “Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27). Without Jesus’ direct assistance they would not be able to understand the full and deep meaning of those Scriptures.
From those passages we get to the conclusion that historical and grammatical knowledge are not enough to enable us to understand the exact and full meaning of many Scriptures and to receive the right lessons the Lord wants to transmit to us through them. Instead, we need “revelation” or illumination or, in other words, the assistance of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise we will be limited to our own private interpretation of many passages of the Scriptures which, in many cases, will not be in harmony with God’s interpretation of the same passages (I Cor 2:9-13). Or even we will lose the depth and richness the Word of God may convey to us (2 Cor 3:6).
This is the reason why we must seek the assistance of the Holy Spirit as we meditate on the Bible. For the same reason the Lord Himself raises within the Body of Christ some to be “teachers” (Eph. 4:11). These are men anointed by the Holy Spirit to be elders of the Church and to be used in the ministry of the Word. It is completely different from people who have Master’s and Doctor’s degrees in Theology and for this reason think they are able to understand the Scriptures the full meaning of the Scriptures. By so speaking we absolutely do not denying the need for a good knowledge of the historical, geographical and cultural contexts of the Scriptures as well as a good grammatical understanding in order to draw the correct doctrines from the Bible.
We must interpret the Bible as the biblical authors did, such as Paul, the Apostle, for example. Let us consider, for instance, the way the apostle interpreted the Old Testament in I Corinthians 10:1 to 11. Paul states that the crossing of the Red Sea represented baptism, that the manna represented the spiritual food (the word of God; “I am the living bread”), the rock from which they drank the water represented Jesus, the spiritual Rock, and so on. He, therefore, identifies symbols and types in many passages of the Old Testament. In I Cor. 9:9-10, Paul says that the passage in the Old Testament that speaks about oxen is a lesson for us about Christian workers (also in I Timothy 5:17-18). However, if you would read the Old Testament without the revelation (the assistance of the Holy Spirit) Paul received, you would not understand it in the same manner. In the same line of reasoning, in Galatians 4:22-31 Paul states that the story and lives of Abraham and his sons are symbolic (verse 24) or in other versions, allegoric.
And how did the Lord God interpret certain facts of Israel’s history? In Deuteronomy 8:3 it is clearly shown that through the manna God wanted us to understand that man should live not only out of the material bread but also of every word that comes from God’s mouth. The manna represents therefore the Word of God. Later the Lord Jesus said that He himself was the true manna, the bread that comes from heaven (John 6:32-35). In other words, He is the Word of God (Rev. 19:11-13, 16).
Moreover the whole book of Hebrews shows to us that the Tabernacle and its sacrifices speak of Jesus as the lamb of God, as the high priest, etc. This book is full of interpretations of types, symbols and figures of the Old Testament which could be understood just through revelation. And lest but not least, Jesus’ parables cannot be fully understood without revelation from the Holy Spirit. If we try to read suppose three commentaries on the New Testament and you see that each one contradicts the other as they interpret the parables, even though in many cases they have been written by holy men of God.
As one seeks the deeper meaning of the Scriptures one may make two mistakes. First of all,
not to accept the literal meaning, the direct meaning; by so doing we could miss the first lesson that Scripture conveys. Next to “find” doctrines that are not supported by the doctrinaire parts of the New Testament. An example of misusing the Bible is when you try to find a new doctrine – a doctrine that is not clearly revealed in the other parts of the New Testament – through allegories, or interpretations of types or symbols.
We may, however, use types and symbols as appropriate illustrations of truths that are clearly revealed in the New Testament because they feed our souls. Wherever the Lord speaks to us through the Bible using types and symbols, we try to understand them with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, so that we may receive the edification the Lord wants to impart to us through those passages. Those types and symbols are beautiful illustrations of truths that the Lord revealed in other clear Scriptures, especially in the Gospels and Epistles of the New Testament.
In order to better understand this subject it is convenient to remember that the New Testament is hidden in the Old Testament, and that the Old Testament is revealed in the New Testament. Not to make mistakes in this area of interpretation of the Scriptures, one should never forget that passages of the Old Testament are shadows of realities that would be revealed in the New Testament (Col. 2:17; Heb. 10:1). One will understand, for instance, that Jesus is the Sabbath (the believer’s rest), the lamb (sacrifice for the sins of the believer), the temple (the believer adores in communion with him), the manna (the bread of life), etc.
If we did ask the Spirit’s assistance to understand the meaning, for instance, of the book of Esther, the book of Song of Songs, many parables of Jesus, some parts of Daniel and a large portion of the book of Revelation, then we would miss a significant spiritual benefit from those parts of the Bible. On the other hand, we could even run the risk to accept any human interpretation of those Scriptures instead of a God given interpretation.
We rejoice therefore when we notice that the Lord wants to enable us by His Spirit to understand the whole Bible before the Jesus’ second coming and to preach on all portions of the Scriptures because we believe that every Scripture is inspired by God and useful for our doctrine, reproof, and correction (II Tim. 3:16).