The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-seven)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

In recent articles about the Holy Spirit, we have considered how the Spirit of God anointed Jesus to carry out the work the Father gave him to do. After Christ’s baptism, the Spirit led him into the wilderness to overcome the evil one in the temptations hurled against him. He succeeded where both Adam and Israel failed. Next, we see that Jesus did his mighty works by the Spirit of the Lord.

The Holy Spirit filled Jesus with power to carry out his ministry. We rightly believe that Jesus is the Son of God. He could easily have done all his miraculous signs through his personal power. But that was not the course the Father had designed for the glory of God. Jesus’ life was one of humble submission to the Father. Listen to the words of Philippians two. Christ Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-7 NIV). This course required him to do his mighty works by the power of the Spirit, as he himself said. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).

The Spirit of God empowered Jesus to do good works (Acts 10:38). This was to undo the chaos of the devil (cf. 1 John 3:8b). Jesus demonstrated that the kingdom of God could set up a new way of life, one free from the ruin of sin. His actions also would bring glory to God (cf. Matthew 5:16; 9:8). Think for a moment. Has the Lord Jesus touched you in your soul with his healing power? Perhaps you need the Healer to heal you spiritually. I have good news for anyone reading who remains spiritually blind. Cheer up, hear his voice, he’s calling you (cf. Mark 10:46-52)!

Jesus received power to set up the new age the new age of the Spirit. The saving reign of God had arrived. After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:14-15 NIV) The year of the Lord’s favor, the new year of Jubilee, had come (cf. Lk 4:14-21).

Are you in the new creation? Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV) You may have new life in Christ today! It comes as the Lord Jesus acts by his saving grace when you have a change of mind and trust in him for salvation. Call on him by faith.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-six)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

We have seen how the Lord Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God for the work that the Father gave him to so. After his baptism, the Holy Spirit led Jesus into conflict with Satan. Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil (Matthew 4:1; cf. Luke 4:1). Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and by God’s will this happened through close combat. The Spirit leads us to overcome the evil one the same way. We engage in struggles with the spiritual forces of evil. We can expect to be attacked! The walk of faith is not a pleasant walk in the park.

Here are two observations about the temptation of Jesus:

  • This was not the only time Jesus was tempted (cf. Luke 4:11; Mathew 16:23). It was the start of an ongoing conflict as the light of the new creation began to push back the darkness of the old, fallen creation.
  • The temptation of Jesus has a two-level significance. Usually Christians consider it as a moral example. Jesus shows us how to face temptation (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; cf. Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11). But it also is significant in redemptive history. Jesus, the Last Adam, entered into conflict with the evil one in a far worse place than did the First Adam. Christ faced the same kind of tests (hunger, ambition, authority), but he defeated the enemy. Jesus was the “first wave” of God’s invasion force. King Jesus stepped out of “the landing craft” first and made a beachhead. We follow in his path.

Consider the Spirit’s leadership of Jesus in this conflict. Notice that Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1 NIV). In other words, Jesus was enabled by the Holy Spirit to go out and declare God’s message boldly. The Spirit led Jesus to defeat the enemy through the Scriptures. Jesus, the new Israel, went into the desert for forty days (a symbolic reflection of Israel’s forty years of wandering) and while there he was attacked by the evil one (in contrast to old covenant Israel, who willingly followed the idols of demons in the wilderness, Acts 7:41-43; 1 Corinthians 10:20). Jesus replied to Satan’s temptations by using the Biblical instruction (Torah or law) given to Israel and he submitted to God’s instruction. As Jesus trusted God and obeyed, he received the fulfillment of God’s promise that Satan had misused (cf. Mark 1:13)

How must you and I face attacks from the spiritual forces of evil? As Spirit-filled people (Ephesians 5:18; 6:10), we must use the full armor of God. Note especially Ephesians 6:17-18! Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people (NIV). Yes, the Bible does “tie together”, being the work of one Master Author, the Holy Spirit. Knowing this is one matter; it is quite another to pray and to be led by the Holy Spirit. It is active dependence on our Almighty leader. Get up, then, and be ready to use the full armor of God!

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-five)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

This was Peter’s first sermon to a Gentile audience. Though he knew the Lord had sent him to Cornelius and his household, you can sense the emotions Peter felt by crossing this cultural boundary. He had left “the settlement and had become a pioneer.” He tentatively explored how to address people outside the people of Israel. We have to be ready to do this in our time, as people from many nations now live among us. Sharon and I see this every time we walk at Valley Forge Park. A number of times we feel like the ethnic minority! Peter started from what they knew. They knew that God had given his word to Israel. They knew John’s ministry of baptism. They knew the big events of Jesus’ life. So then, Peter explained God’s purpose of salvation from that starting point. What is written in this section is probably a synopsis of Peter’s remarks. He would have needed to explain anointing and the Holy Spirit. But Peter used those words to tell them the truth about Jesus. We also need to explain words and ideas as we speak for God.

The Lord God anointed Jesus with Holy Spirit for his ministry. Jesus is the “Anointed One”, usually translated as Messiah or Christ (cf. Ac 4:26-27). This anointing occurred at his baptism. The anointing so defined who he is that the term or title “the Christ” functions as his name to most people.

The anointing by the Holy Spirit was part of the preparation for his ministry (Luke 3:21-23). Jesus received this anointing with the Spirit as he was praying. Dr. Luke is making a theological point early in his writing, which he later develops (Luke 11:13; Acts 1:4; 2:1-4; 4:23-31). The Spirit came “in response to prayer and in connection with the advance of the kingdom” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 45). How can your church, or any church, advance and make progress for God’s glory? We can only go forward with the help of the Holy Spirit! So then, we encourage you to gather for prayer with other believers to seek the Lord Jesus for the filling of the Spirit.

Jesus preached with the assistance of the Spirit (Matthew 12:18). Every preacher and teacher must teach and preach in demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might rest in the power of God (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Jesus did his mighty works by the power of the Spirit (Acts 10:38; Matthew 12:28; Luke 11:20).

The anointing proclaimed him as the Son of God (Luke 3:22). Later, the resurrection would proclaim him as the Son of God with power (Romans 1:4). God declared that Jesus received his love (John 17:24; Matthew 12:18; cf. Isaiah 42:1). What must it be like for One with infinitely great capacity to receive love to be loved by One with infinitely great capacity to give love? And this goes on and on eternally! That is except for one space of time as the Beloved cried out to the Lover, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” If you would know the depth of Calvary love, think on that!

God declared that Jesus received his approval (Matthew 17:5). Listen to John Piper’s concise summary of Jonathan Edwards. “In Jesus Christ, he says, meet infinite highness and infinite condescension; infinite justice and infinite grace; infinite glory and lowest humility; infinite majesty and transcendent meekness; deepest reverence toward God and equality with God; worthiness of good and the greatest patience under the suffering of evil; a great spirit of obedience and supreme dominion over heaven and earth; absolute sovereignty and perfect resignation; self-sufficiency and an entire trust and reliance on God” (Piper, The Pleasures of God, p.27). As we see Christ is such glory, we can grasp the reason that God was well pleased with him!

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-four)

Acts 10:37-38

You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached—how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (NIV).

One of the difficulties of presenting biblical teaching in a survey form, like this series about the Holy Spirit, is the presentation of teaching without an adequate understanding of the context. The message of the Bible is the story of God’s glory in Christ through salvation by judgment. Please invest some time in reading Acts 10:17- 48 to grasp the immediate context of this greater story. In his message to his Gentile audience, Peter had to familiarize his audience with the narrative of the Bible to show how God acted in Christ to bring salvation to all nations. Peter explained as an eyewitness how he saw Jesus as he fulfilled God’s plan for his glory. We must never forget this underlying purpose. It is God’s story that we need to listen to and then accept by faith in Christ. We do not read verses merely to collect information. We listen to the Spirit of God speak through chosen men to tell God’s message. As this happens, we learn truth about God and ourselves that can transform us. Peter was not giving an informational talk but one that was transformational. Again, I urge you to read the passage.

What are the Four Gospels? They are God’s written testimony to what God did in his Son to save his people to glorify his name. In the Gospels, we read of God the Son in true humanity coming to set up a new humanity from the wreck of the old creation. It is not by accident that John and Mark start their Gospels with words referring to this “new beginning”. John, more profound and theological, starts from the time of the first creation and briefly sketches history up to the entrance of the Son. Mark, more powerful and direct, drives the point home immediately. Matthew and Luke, after setting the arrival of the Son in history, refer to the purpose of God in the coming of the Son as announced in the Old Testament Scriptures (Matthew 4:12-17; Luke 4:16-21). Part of the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures is to show the wreck that human sin has made of everything and our absolute need for a better Redeemer, a better Mediator, and a better Priest than occurred in the wreck of the ages past.

My point in mentioning this is to open up the practical importance of this article. Diamonds are very beautiful, but to enjoy their beauty people set them in place—in a ring, on a necklace, or some other kind of jewelry. The Lord Jesus Christ is the surpassing diamond. And the Father has provided the jewelry of the Gospels to enjoy his beauty until we see him face to face. You and I need to know that the Son of God, in fulfillment of the Father’s purpose, came to set up a radically new age in history. The Bible, like the facets of a diamond, speaks of this great change in various ways: the new creation, the new age, the kingdom of God, and the new covenant. We need to know that God has made us part of this by his grace to us in Christ. And we need to know that to live in this new age involves living by faith in the crucified, risen and ascended Christ in the Holy Spirit poured out on us. Here Peter presents the power of the Spirit of God during the earthly ministry of the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We are part of something glorious! Since we are, we should listen well. And we should live accordingly.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-three)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

We have seen that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures and his “credentials” for that work. He is “the Friend at court” and the Spirit of truth. Next, let’s examine the success of the Spirit in this ministry of revealing God and his words.

We should begin by clearing up three misunderstandings about what Christ said.

  • He is not promising perfect knowledge in 14:26. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you (NIV, my emphasis). “The Holy Spirit is not particularly concerned to impart to the disciples of Jesus an exhaustive knowledge of nuclear physics, astronomy, cell biology, the literature of Tanganyika, or the mating habits of the porcupine. Moreover, even if he had the inclination to attempt this transfer of knowledge, we would not be able to receive it; for our finiteness precludes the attribute of omniscience” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 71).
  • Nor is Jesus saying that we lack any need for human teachers in 14:26 (just “rely on the Spirit”), which would make Christ completely contradict himself in giving pastors and teachers to his church (Ephesians 4:11-16).
  • Nor is Jesus promising personal guidance in 16:13. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come (NIV, my emphasis). That is to rip part of a phrase completely out of its context. There is not even a hint in these words that the Spirit will somehow mysteriously lead Christ’s followers into perfect choices in their lives.

So then, what is the true success of the Spirit’s ministry? First, the Spirit made sure that the disciples learned all things (14:26) that they needed to know about Jesus (his full significance), brought to their memory everything he said (so we have a trustworthy account of his teaching), and he also would tell them (16:13) about things to come; that is, the meaning and significance of what was about to happen to Jesus—his crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Spirit on Pentecost. “This is the test that will show how much of the Spirit there is in each of the various types of supposedly Christian theology that jostle for our attention in these days” (Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 65).

Second, in all this, the Spirit glorifies Christ by taking what is Christ’s and making it known to Christ’s people in the New Testament Scriptures. So then, we see in a dominant Christ-focus in the New Testament writings.

These words “indicate that it is by means of the apostolic witness (now inscripturated in the New Testament), not by direct revelation of the Spirit to individual believers or by corporate revelation of the Spirit to teaching officers (the claim which was to be developed in the Roman Catholic magisterium), that Christ’s person, his teaching and his future purposes are made known.” [Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 71]

In the words of the old song, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus!” The story of the Bible is the true story of God’s glory in Jesus Christ. In it, the Spirit guided the apostles and New Testament prophets to record the gospel narrative and to explain its meaning and significance to the church, that we might live for the glory of God. Thank God for the success of the Holy Spirit as you profit spiritually from reading the New Testament Scriptures.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-two)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

In our last article about the Spirit of God, we saw that the Holy Spirit had a crucial role in the production of the New Testament Scriptures, just as he did in the Old Testament Scriptures. By the way, this is why it is simply silly to pit the Spirit against the Scriptures. The written word is the voice of the Spirit. He caused people to write what the Father through the Son decided to reveal about himself, his work, and his redemptive activity in the whole Bible. He acted to guarantee that what was written was the word of God.

Next, let’s consider the qualification of the Spirit for this important ministry. What are his credentials? Listen to what Jesus says. The Spirit is qualified because he is the “parakletos”. There has been much misunderstanding about this word, which is used only five times in its noun form in the New Testament Scriptures (John 14:16,26; 15:26; 16:7; 1 John 2:1). All refer to the Holy Spirit, except the reference in 1 John where it refers to Jesus. Part of the problem is that there is no exact English equivalent for this noun. The verb form is used over 100 times with various meanings, like invite, call upon for help, urge, exhort, encourage, request, comfort, cheer up, and beg. But the noun is used differently. “Comforter” is definitely an inadequate translation.

We should not try to determine a word meaning by breaking it up into its “root” parts. Nonsense can result! (Think of our English words butterfly and pineapple. The parts of each word bear little connection with the word meaning.) So, let’s avoid such methodology in our understanding of Biblical words. Since the word as used in the Greek of that time had legal overtones of a friend helping another friend in court, but falling short of what we would call a lawyer, perhaps the best translation in all five passages would be, as Ferguson suggests, “the Friend at court”. The Spirit does whatever is necessary to produce what is in our best interests. Since Biblical revelation is instruction that is binding upon us, the “Friend at court” acted in our best interests by making sure that we have a clear record of that revelation.

The Holy Spirit is qualified because he is “the Spirit of truth” (16:13). This phrase is used three times in John’s Gospel in reference to the Holy Spirit (14:17; 15:26; 16:13). Since Jesus is “the truth”, we can again see how the Spirit is “another Friend in court” like Jesus (14:16). Yet as used here, the emphasis is on the Spirit communicating truth. “If the Holy Spirit is the one who completes the revelation of Jesus Christ by explaining things the disciples could not then bear to hear (16:12-15), then it is reassuring to learn that truth characterizes him; for we may be sure his testimony will be true. Just as Jesus authenticates the veracity of the biblical revelation before him (e.g., Matt. 5:17-20; John 10:35), so also he authenticates the veracity of the biblical revelation still to come” (Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus, p. 53).

Let us thank the Lord, who came to reveal the Father, that he left the New Testament revelation in such competent hands! It all points to the glory of our Redeemer and his love and mercy for us. Thank him for the provision of the Spirit and the Scriptures today.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty-one)

John 14:22-26; 16:12-15

In this series, we are examining briefly what the Bible teaches us about the Holy Spirit and his work. To this point, we have considered a Biblical perspective on this teaching, the Spirit’s revelation of himself in the Old Testament Scriptures, and the Spirit’s work in the inspiration of the whole Bible. What we want to look next is the ministry of the Spirit in the inspiration of the New Testament Scriptures. This subject has attained a new importance in our day.

  • It has become important in apologetics. The basis of any religion is its authority, and for Christianity, this is found in God’s Word, the Bible. In our culture, we encounter like never before non-Christian religions and many corrupted forms of Christianity (like the “prosperity gospel”). The Christian must be prepared to communicate the finality of the New Testament Scriptures.
  • It has become important in regard to the Christian life. With the decline of sound Biblical instruction, Christians have fallen into the bad practice of misusing texts, taking verses out of their grammatical and historical contexts to teach novel views. It is important that we understand the correct use of every text.

In the preceding verses, Jesus has told his disciples that he, by the Spirit, would manifest himself to his disciples but not to the world. Though this might refer in part to his post-resurrection appearances, it seems more likely that it refers to the time when the Spirit is poured out on them, because of verse twenty—on that day they would have confidence because of the “mutual indwelling”. All this causes the other Judas to ask a question. Why is the Lord going to make himself known to the disciples and not to the world? The answer to that question is that the Spirit is given to those who have a relationship with God—a relationship that is demonstrated (not caused) by love for Christ and obedience to his teaching. All of this conforms to the will of the Father who sent Christ.

But then Jesus took the opportunity to tell them about another aspect of the Spirit’s ministry. He would come, not only to produce a close relationship with God, but he would also come to cause the apostles to remember all of Christ’s teaching to them.

Consider the importance of this ministry of the Holy Spirit. As we study the God’s word, we should observe the contrast between God’s revelation of the Old and the New Testament Scriptures. In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Hebrews 1:1-2 NIV). The Old Testament Scriptures came to us through the prophets at many times and in various ways. As we saw, the Holy Spirit guaranteed that the written product was God’s message to us. But in the last days, God has spoken to us through his Son. The Lord Jesus came as a Prophet and Mediator far greater than Moses. He is the One whom all must listen to (Deuteronomy 18:15; Matthew 17:5). All revelation from God in the last days comes through Jesus Christ. He is the chief cornerstone of the whole temple of God (Ephesians 2:20). This gives every Christian a basic test for authority. Does this word come from Jesus Christ? We pay no attention to anyone else who claims to have received messages from God. The New Testament writings restrict us from looking anywhere other than to Old Testament Scriptures and God’s final revelation in Christ, which is written in the New Testament Scriptures.

Therefore, the church needs to be assured that we have a genuine, authentic and reliable record of the full message of Christ. The Spirit was entrusted with making this happen.

  • He made it happen by ensuring that all that is written is in full agreement with the Father’s revelation through his Son (John 16:13,15).
  • He made it happen by teaching and reminding the disciples of what Jesus taught them (14:26). Observe how careful Luke is at this point (Acts 1:1-2). Or think of how John opens the last book of the Bible (Revelation 1:1-2). Or think of how constantly Paul refers to himself as a servant or apostle of Jesus Christ as he writes his letters. Why do they do this? The simple answer is that all the New Testament revelation comes from God speaking through his Son!

Let us give thanks to God for this good ministry of the Holy Spirit! Let us read and meditate on it constantly.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Twenty)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

We have listened to Peter’s teaching that the Scriptures are the voice of God in written form. Next, he explains a little about the process. The Spirit acted in a way that made sure that the content was God’s word—as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of mystery. This brief phrase is as close as the Spirit comes to explaining his communication of God’s message through human writers. He carried them along, is a forceful expression. Compare the use of the Greek word phero in Mark 2:3; 4:8; 12:15-16; Acts 27:15,17. But how did he carry them along? “We take the historic fact; but we decline every attempt to explain the inscrutable mode… no finite mind can venture, without presumption, to say how the human faculties concurred and acted with the Spirit’s activity in the expression of a divine oracle” (Smeaton, The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit, p. 166). Suffice to say that the Spirit took them to his intended destination, which is the breathed-out word of God.

As God the Holy Spirit carried along the apostles and prophets, he “did not destroy the author’s individuality and talents, making the whole Bible stereotyped, with one style from Genesis to Revelation—the style of the Holy Spirit—with all the human differences of the writers overridden and ignored” (Palmer, The Holy Spirit, p. 50). Instead, the Holy Spirit did something different. He used “the experiences of the authors to govern their writing, their different emotions to color their thinking, their individual tastes to be expressed in the Bible” (Ibid.) What would the Bible be like without the strong faith of Abraham in Genesis 22, or the repentant prayer of David in Psalm 51, or Paul’s holy passion to know Christ in Philippians 3, or John’s tender exhortation to his dear friends to love one another in 1 John 4? You see, in the Scriptures you view our holy Maker getting down in the muck of human lives to draw forth gems for his glory and our good. You ought to worship a God like that!

The process of the Spirit breathing out the word is full of God’s sovereignty. This is seen in the various ways that he gave the Scriptures (Hebrews 1:1): “dreams, visions, individual illumination and research, as well as ordinary and extraordinary divine providences, are involved in the process” (Ferguson, The Holy Spirit, p. 27).

The Spirit carried along the men who spoke in many ways.

  • By directing their heredity, family upbringing, education and personal history
  • By his continual work in the history of redemption—all stood at a particular point of history for a selected purpose
  • By his influence on their hearts through previous revelation
  • By applying Christ’s redemptive work to their hearts
  • By in some way revealing God’s mind to them so that they had to speak it—Jeremiah (Jer 1:4-10; 15:16; 20:9)

The Scriptures themselves are one of the brightest witnesses to the sovereign grace of God. The Lord the Spirit reached down among men in conformity with the Father’s choice, molded a life, drew that person to salvation, and worked through them in such a way, so that when they wrote the Scriptures, it was the Spirit of God speaking (2 Samuel 23:2; Matthew 22:43; Acts 4:25; 28:25). Now is the time to worship the Sovereign God, who can so powerfully work in human hearts! And here is hope. The same God still speaks through his word today! God the Spirit can use the written word of God to do great and good things to you and through you.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Nineteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

In our studies in the Holy Spirit, our current focus is about the Spirit and the Scriptures. How did the Spirit of God act through people to give God’s message in written form? Some might suppose that the Scripture writers wrote their own “spiritual journals” about their aspiration to know God. But even a cursory reading disproves that idle notion. The content of the Scriptures does not originate with mankind: for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man (NIV).

The apostle clearly teaches that the prophets did not concoct the Scriptures out of their own choices. They did not have superior insight from their human nature into the human predicament. They did not invent cleverly devised tales. In many passages, you can easily observe the artless words of an eyewitness to an event or those stating what they had been told by God. There is no effort to “clean up the text”. The heroic acts of the people of God are present right alongside their miserable failures. Think of David, Samson, Asa, and Peter, too! Instead, often the prophets wrote things that were beyond their knowledge, like Isaiah’s prediction of Cyrus. At other times, they wrote what they did not even like. Listen to Jeremiah Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to me, a man who incites dispute and conflict in all the land. I did not lend or borrow, yet everyone curses me (Jeremiah 15:10; CSB, cf. 20:7-18). Habakkuk had a similar experience. O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you “Violence!” and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted (Habakkuk 1:2-4). Jonah has been called ‘the reluctant prophet”, and that is a charitable description.

The phrase for prophecy never had its origin in the will of man puts at least two necessary limits and clarifications on our thoughts about the Scriptures. “The Biblical writers do not conceive of the Scriptures as a human product breathed into by the Divine Spirit, and thus heightened in its qualities or endowed with new qualities; but as a Divine product produced through the instrumentality of men” (Warfield, The Inspiration and Authority of the Bible, p. 153). So though we might call it a joint product, both parties did not contribute to the written product in the same way. A chef and a server both contribute to a pleasant dining experience, but their participation is different. The Spirit spoke through people embedded in their place of history, human culture, and spiritual experience. The emotionally charged words of the human writers arose from their authentic, personal experience, but at the same time, the Spirit sovereignly spoke through their situation. Yes, this is mysterious.

Let’s put this another way. The apostles and prophets did not respond to cultural situations out of their own wills. Yet many argue contrary to this text in cases when the Word of God comes into direct conflict with one of the darling ideas of a godless and wicked culture, such as gender issues or various kinds of sexual immorality. Paul’s teaching on the role of women in the church is not because “he was anti-female,” which is a ridiculous statement anyway.  He did not speak out his desires, but he communicated God’s desires, which seek the peace, joy, and unity of his people.

In the light of these verses, we must all submit to God’s authority in his revealed word and bow before it. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV). This is not a popular position to take in these lawless, anti-God, and anti-authority times, but it is God’s path. Notice how the Spirit commends the Scriptures to us. They are profitable. They convey God’s words to us. We can listen, understand, be transformed, and rejoice. Over the years I have discovered that popular restaurants can be the worst places to get a delicious meal, while neglected ones provide superb dining experiences. Evaluate everything for what it is, not for what the “people manipulators” tell you. Listen to what the Spirit has breathed out in the Scriptures and be thrilled.

Grace and peace, David

The Holy Spirit (Part Eighteen)

2 Peter 1:20-21

Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (ESV).

One of the great questions of humanity involves the study of knowledge. “How do I know?” and “How do I know that I know?” There are only a few basic answers to that question, such as “mankind can’t know,” or “mankind can know through some mystical process,” or mankind has all the ability to know,” or “mankind can only know truly through revelation.” All the first three answers are defective or insufficient for many reasons, which are outside of our theme in this article. What remains is the Biblical position that we can know because God has spoken. This brings us to the place of the Holy Spirit in God revealing himself to mankind.

Revelation has two parts: general and special. General revelation is God revealing himself in creation (Psalm 19:1-6). Special revelation is God revealing himself by speaking to mankind. God chose some of that special revelation to be permanently recorded in written form to speak with God’s authority. The Lord does this so that we might know his person, his will, and his saving activity. This written record God calls the Scriptures, and we often call it the Bible, the Book.

Our focus in this article is the activity of the Holy Spirit of God in giving us the written message. As we begin, it is wise to state that we will encounter mystery here. The Spirit does not answer all our questions in the Bible. In it he gives us true truth, though not exhaustive truth, for a good reason (John 21:25). But though we cannot know fully, we have all we need to know. Consider an example.

The games of the great chess grandmasters have been preserved for people to enjoy and study. If you have some understanding of chess, you can replay them and grasp to some degree how they achieved victory. But sometimes it is a marvel how they could discern the possibilities in a position and bring out its potential sometimes through a sequence of many moves. Watch the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, if you want to see some of this. In a similar way, when we come to the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, we can learn what he has done, but he has not made known the full process of how the Scriptures were written. We will have to stop where the Scriptures stop. Be content that the Spirit knows, even though you do not.

The Scriptures are a joint product of the Holy Spirit and people. We see this divine-human interaction in many areas of Biblical teaching.

  • Christ has two natures (one divine and one human) in his one person. Both are clearly attested in the Scriptures, though the exact nature of their interaction is beyond our understanding.
  • God’s sovereignty interacts with human responsibility in salvation. God clearly chooses people to salvation, yet everyone who is saved repents and believes.
  • The mission of evangelism is another divine-human interaction. Our task is to tell others the good news, but unless the Holy Spirit regenerates, all our evangelistic efforts fail.
  • As we shall see, the whole area of growth in grace involves divine-human interaction.

Each of these divine-human interactions varies in different ways. But the product of the Scriptures is closer in kind to the relationship between Christ’s two natures than the others, all of which involve human sin.

The apostolic teaching is that “men spoke from God” or “holy men of God spoke”, as the NKJV reads following the textual variant. In either case, we are clearly taught that the Scriptures came through human instrumentality: “men spoke”. We see this same assertion made in other places: David (Luke 20:42; Ac 2:34), Isaiah (John 12:39), Joel (Ac 2:16), and “the word of the prophets” with Amos in mind (Acts 15:15). Compare also Matthew 13:14; 15:7; 22:43; Mark 12:36. Yet as these men spoke, God spoke through them (Matthew 2:17; 3:3; 13:35; 21:4; Acts 4:25). We can also see this in the differences of style among the various human writers. Ezekiel does not sound the same as Moses, nor does Paul sound like John. Yet in all, we read the same consistent teaching, sense the same heart of the master author, and are presented with the same zeal for God’s glory in the face of Christ. All this occurred in about forty human writers over the space of 1600 years! The observable facts of Scripture attest to this divine-human interaction.

This should lead us to worship the Lord. “Who are you, Almighty God, that you can work in human hearts in such a magnificent way?”

Grace and peace, David