The Holy Spirit Reads the Bible for Me (134)

In this episode John and Gregg discuss the morning discussion that Gregg facilitates every Sunday.

John is interested in the newest developments, and Gregg highlights how engaging with a foreign mindset can be continually surprising.

For example, Gregg summarizes the culture in his church as “hyper-trustful” relative to certain ways of reading the Bible. Yet these poor methods of Bible reading are also acting as a roadblock to serious consideration that God’s will is not being done “on earth as it is in heaven” (as expressed in the “Disciple’s prayer,” in Matt 6, and elsewhere).

In an attempt to address this Gregg proposed J. I. Packer’s view: that the Holy Spirit does not “give us” the right understanding of what the Bible meant—this is down to human skill and effort:

“ ‘The first task is always to get into the writer’s mind the grammatico-historical exegesis of the most thorough-going and disciplined kind, using all the tools provided by linguistic, historical, logical, and semantic study for the purpose.’ Yet he differentiates between the approaches needed for the interpreter to discern what the text meant and what it means. The latter requires the Holy Spirit’s enlightenment.”

Donald J Payne, “J. I. Packer’s Theological Method” in J. I. Packer and the Evangelical Future: The Impact of his Life and Thought, ed. Timothy George, 63 (Italics his).

Gregg chose Packer thinking that most of the participants would have heard of Packer (and so value him enough to consider his perspective). He also argued that Christians are best to understand themselves on the metaphor of a “body,” and as such individual Christians were never meant to “go it alone” when it comes to reading and understanding the Bible!

Yet Gregg’s experience is that many participants balked at Packer’s idea and instead insisted that the Holy Spirit does allow them to know the Bible well enough, on their own, without the need for outside assistance.

John wonders: What is this view based on?

Gregg responds: Good question!

Gregg observes how the biblical support offered by the objectors showed not only misunderstanding of the text but also significant misuse. For instance, one participant cited the following verses as indicating that all Christians can and should understand the Bible with only God’s assistance:

a) Job 32:7-10, which is Elihu’s own opinion about Job’s situation. Elihu is the fourth person to speak to Job and his speech is afterward completely ignored. Commentators view his speech as highly presumptuous and incorrect),

b) Isaiah 11:2-4, a passage relating directly to the Messiah (and not to Christians or anyone else).

Gregg also notes that if the Holy Spirit is guiding each believer rightly to understand Scripture then not only should this person not have made these errors but the other, Spirit-filled Christians in the room should have sensed or know that incorrect readings where being offered and stated this. Yet none of them did!

John notes that it is extremely convenient to think that the Holy Spirit’s assistance means that one can understand the Bible without error! Further, John sees it as completely “slippery” when one of the participants is shown to be in error and then simply chooses another verse to prove the original point (rather than considering that the view they are supporting may actually be incorrect).

So John again wonders: What are the criteria for deciding what is correct?

Gregg sees the entire process as offering a very relevant (though perhaps painful) object lesson in self-deceit, which is the overall topic. Yet is also problematic because Gregg no longer believes that the mistakes being made are honest, but are rather aim at reinforcing the participants’ own views and ideas while not simply disagreeing with Gregg but actually failing to engage with his views at all (while disclaiming them all the same).

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