Hermeneutics is the branch of theology that deals with the interpretation of Scripture. My inductive Bible study class in college is a hermeneutical class. My textbook for the class is an eye-opening work entitled Grasping God's Word by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays. I do agree a lot with what the authors state; but there are some things that just bug me about their interpretations. One of my most recent assignments for college was to discuss the topic of illumination of the Holy Spirit. With some of the things that have been occurring lately, I had to make this assignment personal - perhaps more personal that the authors of the textbook advocate. Some of you may be interested in this assignment, so I decided to share it here on my blog. This is what I wrote about illumination:
It has taken me a while to post in this thread, because I wanted to find exactly the right way to express what I believe about the important topic of illumination. First off, if I may begin by stating that while I do agree with the authors of the text on many issues; I think they are limiting God's work in some ways. Yes, I do agree that allegorical interpretation is not the best way to interpret Passages from either the Old Testament or the New. However, I also see nothing wrong with examples. There are even examples in the New Testament of what many believe are Passages from the Old Testament taken out of context. Paul Copan gives several exmaples in his book That's Just Your Interpretation, including this: "In Matthew 2, we read of how Herod had the boys of Bethlehem under age two put to death... Matthew cites this as a fulfilled prophecy of Jeremiah. Yet if we look at the context of Jeremiah's original quotation (Jer. 31:15), we see that Rachel's weeping refers to the Babyolonian invasion of Judah and its exile in 587/586 B.C. Jeremiah does not seem to predict that Herod would kill Bethlehem baby boys at all. How, then, should we interpret the New Testament understanding of 'prophecy' and 'fulfillment'?" (page 189). Copan goes on to list several reasons why there are Passages such as this example found in the pages of the New Testament. I, personally, believe that God used these Passages to help people understand. In the same way, I see nothing wrong with using an example in a sermon to drive home the message of the Gospel. Many pastors rely on examples from their own lives. Others rely on examples from Scripture. Just as Jesus used real examples, I think that is what many pastors do as well. I do not believe in or advocate an allegorical interpretation of Scripture; but I do believe that examples help people to understand more. Who is to say that the Holy Spirit has not guided these pastors to use these examples?
This leads us to the next point - specifically about illumination. Charles Ryrie writes in his book Basic Theology, "Two principal passages describe this ministry of the Spirit (John 16:12-15 and I Corinthians 2:9-3:2)... The experience of illumination is not 'by direct revelation.' The canon is closed. The Spirit illuminates the meaning of that closed canon, and He does so thorugh study and meditation. Study employs all the proper tools for ascertaining the meaning of the text. Meditation thinks about the true facts of the text, putting them together into a harmonious whole and applying them to one's own life. The end result of the illumination ministry of the Spirit is to glorify Christ in the life, or to promote healthy doctrine - teaching that brings spiritual health and wholeness to the believer's life. Illumination is not concerned merely with understanding facts but with using those facts to promote Christlikeness" (page 132).
I love this definition given by Ryrie. While I do agree with the authors of the textbook that we do need to understand the history behind the Passages found in Scripture to get a complete picture; I do also think that it is important to apply those Passages to our own life. Hebrews 4:12-13 reminds us, "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged swort, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughs and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account" (NIV). Just as Ryrie recommends, when we study and meditate on God's Word, the Holy Spirit will illuminate Passages for us. I can say from personal experience that God has never let me down in the area of illumination. A good example occurred several years ago. I was having some difficult times, and God led me to study the story of Jesus calming the sea for the disciples. The words that really jumped out to me were "Where is your faith?" Yes, the literal context of the story is Jesus calming the sea for the disciples who were literally scared they were going to die. But was it wrong to consider that the Holy Spirit led me to this Passage because I was having my own "storms"? Jesus spoke to me through this story, just as He spoke to the disciples. He calmed my emotional storm, just as He calmed their physical one. Right now, I can honestly say that I feel that I am in the midst of a spiritual battle - in more ways than one. I have felt this way for over a year. Through my own studies (and even this class), the Holy Spirit has illuminated several Passages of comfort and encouragement. He has reminded me that I should be anxious for nothing, but to pray and make my requests made known to God. He has encouraged me that when my will is lined up with God's will, that I can ask anything, and God will provide. I have been reminded that we do not fight against natural things, but against principalities and powers. No, my spiritual warfare is not the same as those of the early Christians. My circumstances are totally different. However, the Holy Spirit has illuminated to me, for my life, these Passages that also brought comfort and encouragement to the early Christians in their circumstances.
I think the most important thing to remember about illumination is that we need to allow God to guide us. To quote Ryrie once more, "Leading is a confirmation of sonship, for sons are led. This work of guidance is particularly the work of the Spirit. Romans 8:14 states it and the book of Acts illustrates it... This ministry of the Spirit is one of the most assuring ones for the Christian. The child of God never needs to walk in the dark, he is always free to ask and receive directions from the Spirit Himself" (page 440). I know that I, personally, am so thankful for the illumination of the Holy Spirit.
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