I have heard on numerous occasions that the Holy Spirit is needed to understand the Bible.  That is to say, the Bible will only make sense to Christians and requires the Holy Spirit’s interpretation.  Why?  Because it contains a spiritual message, as Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 2:6-14.  It is a mystery, that requires spiritual understanding.  The unregenerate cannot understand such spiritual truths.  Because the Bible was written to express spiritual thoughts, it takes the Holy Spirit to provide the interpretation.  This premise treats the Bible like a magic code book and the Spirit is the decoder.  But, I believe that negates the very purpose of the Bible and the work of the Spirit in providing a text that all can understand.

The Bible was put together as God moved through holy men to communicate his message.  This is scripture, as 2 Timothy 3:16 denotes – breathed out by God- and comprises the compilation of 66 books, written by 40 authors over the span of 1,500 years.  It is the very revelation of God and presents a cohesive message that is presented in a variety of genres.  Each author was spiritually motivated but each author utilized language and certain literary styles to record whatever events, or principles or exhortation they were motivated to express.

What this means is that the Bible, while being a divine book, is also a human book.  Meaning, God spoke and what he moved the authors to communicate was produced through literature.  Each piece of literature requires the normal rules of reading as any other thing we read.  There is no hidden spiritual meaning in the words, but the words convey a spiritual message by using plain language to explain it. So in the 1 Corinthians 2 passage, the spiritual message does not mean that when it is explained in plain language it requires a decoder.

What it does mean is that the Spirit is needed to embrace the message.  A person reading the Bible can understand what it is saying but may reject the message, which is why atheists and cult members can understand the Bible, debate it but reject the message.  I think Dan Wallace said it best in one of his comments to his Myth of Liberalism post.

I believe that evangelicals can learn a great deal from ‘liberal’ scholars. It comes down to how we think about 1 Cor 2.14: “The natural person does not welcome the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Many Christians think that this verse means that unbelievers can’t understand anything about the Bible. That’s not what the verse is saying, however. Instead, it is saying that unbelievers do not *welcome* the things of the Spirit of God. He understands the Bible well enough to know that he wants to reject its redemptive message. But some of the best commentaries are written by non-evangelicals (whether they are ‘liberal’ or not may be a different matter; in any event, it is often hard to tell). I have learned much from Bart Ehrman, J. K. Elliott, And David Parker, for example. And I recommend my students to study under them for their doctorates. Some of the best lexical, grammatical, historical, and even theological work has been done by unbelievers. But it always needs to be filtered through a christocentric grid.

So what role does the Holy Spirit play in reading the Bible?  He enables the reader (or hearer) to accept the message – no one comes to the Father except the Spirit draw him.  The indwelt Spirit in the believer testifies that the words expressed through the pages of scripture are true.  It is more than just literature but the life transforming message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The Holy Spirit does not interpret the Bible but will illuminate our understanding of the message so that it resonates in our hearts.  He also can guide our understanding of how each piece fits together, which is tremendously important for grasping the overall message.  This is why I believe it is important to approach scripture prayerfully and humbly in order to receive the message that is being communicated.  It’s also why there are countless testimonies of those who have come to saving faith in Christ by reading the Bible.

Another passage that I believe lends to the belief that the Holy Spirit needs to interpret the Bible is John 14-16, and specifically 16:13 where Jesus tells the disciples “But when He, the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on his own initiative”.  But the context of this discourse is that Jesus is communicating to his disciples how they will testify of Him after he is gone.   The Spirit will teach them and bring things back to their remembrance of what Jesus said to them (14:26).  The Spirit would help them because He testifies of Christ (15:26-27).  This was needed since Jesus would not be with them any longer.  The testimony of these apostles would eventually become Scripture as they transmitted the message of Christ and provided instruction and exhortation to his body of believers.  While there is some application for every believer concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit, it does not mean that the Holy Spirit comes and interprets the Bible for us.

But you may be asking, what of the mystery spoken about in 1 Corinthians 2?  Paul  also writes to the church at Ephesus concerning a mystery.

For this reason, I Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles-if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you; that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief.  By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ…(Ephesians 3:1-4)

But he makes it known by explaining the mystery in vs 6 “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”   What was a mystery is now explained in plain language, which he also does in Colossians

Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I may fully carry out the preaching of the word of God, that is, the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations, but now has been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:25-27)

Interpretation of the Bible comes through studying each book as grasping what each author was attempting to communicate.  It is the same approach we would use in reading any other literature.  Each book must be understood in its cultural, historic and linguistic context.  The use of study aids will enhance the comprehension of cultural and historic background and enable the reader to correlate what is going on in each book to the overall redemptive message.  Each book has been produced under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  He will  indeed guide our understanding of how each piece fits together so that God’s story resonates with us, but that is contingent upon us reading each book as it was meant to be read.

For more on Bible interpretation, see Michael’s excellent post here Bible Interpretation in a Nutshell.

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    66 replies to "Does the Holy Spirit Interpret the Bible?"

    • Hodge


      I’m absolutely dumbfounded when people ask this, as though the historic church is a denomination. We identify ourselves this way today, which is why I’m asking Eric about his church. It tells us usually what people are prone to believe. But the historic church is identified in its theological lineage from the apostles on. I would identify it first and foremost by its rejection of Gnosticism and its acceptance of Trinitarianism against Modalism and Arianism, and so on.

    • cherylu


      So I think you have answered my question–you can’t point to a specific part of the church that we can trust to be the “historic orthodox church” that we can trust to give us the proper theological understanding with which to interpret Scriptures regarding baptism–since that is the example I used.

      So you say that we have to have the right theology first and then we will interpret Scripture correctly. Sooo…..where is it we are to go to get this correct theology anyway from the orthodox historic church? Is there a lineage from the apostles on regarding this particular issue?

      I am simply trying to point out that what you said above can not always be worked out practically in the life of a Christian today. And unless you can tell me where to go get that correct perspective, I believe my point will have to stand.

    • EricW

      52. Hodge on 18 May 2010 at 9:52 pm # wrote:
      We identify ourselves this way today, which is why I’m asking Eric about his church. It tells us usually what people are prone to believe.


      Where I currently attend church is not the primary indicator of what I believe. If you want to know what I believe and where I stand on various things, take the following, mix them together, pour them out, and then you tell me what it looks like: 😕

      I was raised Jewish – circumcised, Bar Mitzvahed, the whole kit-and-kaboodle, in Conservative and Reform synagogues, though I had my Bar-Mitzvah in a Baptist Church. Go figure.
      I then spent quite some time in an Eastern religious, mystical, psychedelic frame of mind.
      I was baptized as a Christian in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).
      That was followed by many years in independent/non-denominational Charismatic Christianity, and there was a stint during that time with a group called Union Life (see Norman Grubb).
      I was in Kansas City during the time of the Kansas City Prophets/Vineyard controversy and knew the players and villains.
      I then spent almost a decade in a small church (Charismatic/Deeper Life) that ended up becoming a cult.
      Along the way I picked up a couple years of seminary NT Greek and Biblical Hebrew.
      This was followed by several years in a large Bible Church, and then I again waded in the waters of non-denominational Charismatic and Evangelical churches.
      This was followed by three years in Eastern Orthodox Churches, keeping the feasts and fasts and services and prayers, etc., being a serious catechumen for nearly two of those years followed by more than a year as a fully baptized and chrismated Eucharist-partaking and sin-confessing member.
      For the past two years, though, I’ve been back in the Evangelical/Charismatic Wonderland, though I have some different perspectives on things than when I first got wet behind the ears in that DoC church.
      Oh, yeah, throw a trip to Israel into the above, and Voila! Now you know what I think, do and say (it’s in the pill I took today), and why.

      Pretty simple to figure out, eh? 😀

    • EricW

      FWIW, I’ve read Jaroslav Pelikan’s THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION (all 5 volumes), several of Paul Tillich’s books as well as several books by Pierre Tielhard de Chardin, Dix’s THE SHAPE OF THE LITURGY, several of Paul Bradshaw’s books on the same, Pelikan’s CREDO, Ferguson’s CHURCH HISTORY Volume 1 as well as his volumes on EARLY CHRISTIANS SPEAK, A HISTORY OF CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE by Cunliffe-Jones, many, many scholarly commentaries, numerous histories of the Christian church, including Eusebius’, J. Rodman Williams’ complete RENEWAL THEOLOGY, Malachi Martin HOSTAGE TO THE DEVIL, several books by Morton Kelsey, Aldous Huxley’s psychedelic tomes, a few books by James Kugel and Noel David Freedman and D.A. Carson and Moises Silva and Philp Comfort, Stanley Porter, the Dead Sea Scrolls in various translations, books by James Charlesworth (and I also have and have read R. H. Charles’ book on 1 Enoch), Margaret Barker, Lee Martin McDonald and Beckwith and F.F. Bruce on the Canon, Graydon Snyder on the early church, David Aune on Prophecy, G.K. Beale on Temple Worship, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox apologetics and convert testimonies galore, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. I’d follow along the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom and other services in my Greek prayer book, and said my daily prayers and weekly Eucharist fasting prayers in Greek as well. To this day, the only way I can recited the Nicene Creed properly in English is to first say it line-by-line in Greek and then translate it.

      And those are largely just the books I’ve kept; I’ve sold and given away more books than I currently still have, and I have 5 bookshelves nearly full, plus some boxes in the attic.

      The 2-volume Calvin’s Institutes is in there somewhere, but I won’t make any claim to have read it except in parts.

      Just sayin’….

    • […] Lisa Robinson: Does the Holy Spirit interpret the Bible? […]

    • Hodge

      Thanks for the biography and bibliography, Eric. 🙂 Of course, I believe that your views aren’t necessarily gained from your current church, but where you choose to attend does tend to speak toward what you believe. That’s why I asked. It really doesn’t matter what you’ve read, or where you’ve been, as all of this is interpreted through whatever you believe anyway (the same as with the Bible). It’s where you are now and what you believe. In any case, I appreciate the rundown, as I was under the impression from what someone else said that you were a Mormon. Glad we cleared that up.

      “you can’t point to a specific part of the church that we can trust to be the “historic orthodox church” that we can trust to give us the proper theological understanding with which to interpret Scriptures regarding baptism–since that is the example I used.”

      No, but I can point to Church Fathers to tell you the correct theology of Christ. I can point to Reformers to tell you the correct theology of the gospel. I can point to the entire church to tell you the correct perspective of most ethical issues. I can’t really solve the esoteric issues, however, as they speculate about what is not revealed in Scripture, or they don’t matter (sprinkle vs dunk, who cares?). So your statement doesn’t stand because it doesn’t deal with what I’m talking about. I’m talking about Lisa’s original question. Does the historical grammatical or plain reading of the text provide only what needs to be joined with the HS in order that the reader might believe, or is their further interpretation that only the HS can give to those who believe? I say there is further interpretation, and one can discern the spirits through orthodox theology (which is what John says in the plain reading of 1 John BTW). So if someone says that the Trinity can be seen in Gen 1:26, I say, Yes, it can. If someone says that modalism can be seen in Deut 6:4, I say, No, it can’t. Because the Spirit who teaches…

    • Hodge

      Finally, yes, there is a lineage from the apostles following. It starts with the apostles who denied that Gnostic interpretations were orthodox. Those same disciples of the apostles who confirmed that also believed in the deity of Christ, and their disciples who affirmed those also believed in the Trinity, and their disciples who affirmed those also believed in the depravity of man and original sin, etc. etc. That, of course, is a little simplistic, but I can’t write a dissertation on it here.

    • EricW

      56. Hodge on 19 May 2010 at 12:08 am # wrote:
      In any case, I appreciate the rundown, as I was under the impression from what someone else said that you were a Mormon. Glad we cleared that up.

      You think you’re glad? Well, then, that makes me double-glad!!!! 😮

      “Mormon”? :eek!:

      Who got THAT impression from what I’ve written here? Maybe they’ve confused me with another “Eric.”

      Nope, I’m not and never have been one of the “Schwinn Boys.”

      Besides, I’ve got a thing against wearing magic underwear and a black badge that calls me “Elder.” I know I’m an “elder,” dang-it. I have the gray hairs (or what’s left of them) to prove that I’m “elder.”

      And as for dreaming about being a celestial polygamist for all eternity… Uh, no thanks! One is enough.


    • MikeB

      @Hodge (32 and 33 and 48)

      Because even though Eric is joking, there is such a thing as the

      historic Church. It teaches what is true, and people can reject

      it for their private interpretations.

      I agree that there is a historic church and a set of orthodox

      beliefs, though it is a far cry to assert that these teachings

      are infallible or authoritative on par Scriptures. Not sure you

      were saying that but that is the postion of the RCC.

      Theology that is taught drives one’s interpretation.

      I agree with that statement – that is the way most people

      approach interpretation of a passage. Their theology is their

      primary guide. However we must be willing to let our theology

      change if the Scriptures require it. That is where the HS comes

      into play.

      The Jews had a theology about the entrance into the kingdom and

      the Messiah. They let that guide how the interpreted and applied

      the Scriptures. The problem was their theology was wrong. They

      needed to repent (change their mind) and renew it with truth. The

      Messiah must die for the entrance of the kingdom to be opened,

      and faith not physical lineage or law keeping would be the


      I would go further and say that relying only on one’s a priori

      theology is not a historical/literary hermeneutic. If one can

      demonstrate that their theology is a valid interpretation after

      using the historical/literary hermeneutic that is different


      That said the tradition/church history is an incredible asset

      that one can use as a “tool” as part of working through the

      historical/literary hermeneutics. It will help us understand what

      the early church thought and believed. This too should carry some

      weight since they are closer to the time, culture, language, and

      history that is used to communicate God’s word in Scripture.

    • MikeB

      got cut off in last comment…

      If one does not believe a certain theology, all of the historical

      grammatical interpretation of Scripture in the world will not

      convince them, and they will believe that their historical

      grammatical interpretation is the correct one.

      It should. However I would contend that not all interpretations

      use that hermeneutic.

      …everyone tries to justify his or her denomination and views

      with Scripture. That’s why it is so important to have the right

      views in the first place. That’s my point. And they are using the

      historical grammatical method, so it doesn’t save us from

      disunity, does it?

      I guess I would define historical/literary hermeneutics as

      inductive from which we must build our theology (though I have

      failed miserable at times here) rather than run to texts looking

      to prove our existing theology (which I am guilty of). That is

      why it is difficult.

    • cherylu


      So I guess you think the Trinity is implicit in Scriputure–it can be seen in a lot of places. But in all of the verses dealing with a subject like baptism nothing can be concluded at all? No one can draw any conclusions from them? And further more, it doesn’t matter? How are you be able to draw conclusions in one case regrading the Trinity, but you can’t draw conclusions at all from the Bible regarding baptism? And how in the world can you say a subject that is referred to as much as baptism in the Bible is something that doesn’t make any difference and ask who cares any way? I will make the statement very blatantly that there are many Christians out there that care a great deal!

    • Hodge


      I probably agree with everything you’ve said here. No, I’m not RCC or EO. 🙂

      I think the more commentaries you read, along with the various viewpoints, you will start to see that the historical grammatical method does not start inductively, but in the person’s ideology. I think that’s the one point upon which we disagree.


      My point is that one can see orthodox theology in texts that do not appear in their historical contexts as conveying that theology, and still be correct because of the way the HS opens the eyes of the person to see the truth in hidden places. Where does the Scripture deal with esoteric aspects of baptism? It talks about baptism quite a bit, but in terms of the time of repentance, union with Christ (yet does not tell us how that happens), that it’s with water, etc. My point is that disunity on baptism and the sacraments cannot be settled by Scripture because it never meant, plainly or cryptically, to address these extrabiblical concerns.

      BTW, I said the mode of baptism doesn’t matter.

      “How are you be able to draw conclusions in one case regrading the Trinity, but you can’t draw conclusions at all from the Bible regarding baptism?”

      Because it is also in the plain reading of the Bible and in the historic Church’s witness/teaching. Esoteric consideration of baptism change between Christians and generations. Why? Because in my view the HS obviously doesn’t care about them unless they go into heresy. That’s why He doesn’t address them in Scripture and has no unity in the historic witness. But I do need to know what aspects of baptism you’re talking about, since there are some things I think the Scripture and tradition teach definitively.

    • cherylu


      I told you the aspects of baptism I was talking when I brought it up as an example. See comment # 34. And remember, this whole issue of baptism was just an example I brought up to show that I didn’t think the thesis you were promoting always worked very well.

    • Hodge

      Yeah, Cheryl, that’s what I meant by modes and esoteric meanings. Where does the Bible talk about what baptism does to a child? It doesn’t. I do think that baptism is for a child, but what happens to the child is beyond me and anyone else. These are things that I would categorize as the secret things the Lord has preserved for Himself, rather than the revealed things He has for His people. I don’t view modes of baptism as important because whatever we think baptism does, it is clear that at the very least, it can function both as symbol for cleansing and repentance (i.e., dying to self and being raised in Christ). Hence, I don’t think the mode between those matters, since the symbol for an orthodox theology of baptism is preserved in either. So my thesis has nothing to do with esoteric speculations that the church has been involved in applying to theological issues. To me, the Church does not have authority to interpret philosophy, so it has been wrong about it and made bad arguments from it before; it does not have interpretive authority of science; etc. It has interpretive authority in the area of theology and practice. Hence, if one sees the Trinity in Gen 1:26, maybe it’s bad in terms of philosophy, but in terms of truth, it’s right on the money. I realize this is not what most of us are used to seeing, but my purpose is to expose this false idea that the historical grammatical method is going to keep anyone in check. Having used it my whole life, and I still do as my primary and almost exclusive method of interpretation, it is clear to me that nothing is kept at bay by it. Hence, it is correct theology accepted by faith by which all methodologies, regardless of what philosophies they are based in, are kept in check.

    • Gordon

      “Each book must be understood in its cultural, historic and linguistic context.” That’s called critical scholarship, and leads to many different doctrines. It allows scholars to believe that Paul is sometimes referring to two types of law (Mosaic and Rabbinical) forcing us to uphold one of these laws or parts thereof to be followed by Gentiles.
      Contextualization of scripture leads to the ordination of Women because of Paul’s progressive stances on feminine dignity and making his prohibition of feminine leadership (or at least usurpation of leadership depending on how you translate “authentein”) a reactive measure to counter Grecian heresy instead of a universal principle.
      It makes the need for women to cover their heads in church about cultural dress and Greek temple prostitution culture (temple prostitutes were the only ones who let their hair down in those days when making oracles) instead of universal feminine submission by God’s decree.
      Contextualization allows homosexuality in the church based off Greco-Roman pedaresty being non-consensual and violent sodomy, just as all sex was at the time, making it something fundamentally different from modern perverts.
      Contextualization Judaizes the understanding of Baptism, church gatherings, and the Greco-Jewish vocabulary in the NT from the LXX that eludes the plain meaning of the text, meanings which were not meant to be given to gentiles.
      Contextualization makes Gehenna into a place of final destruction where the fire isn’t extinguished, and where maggot does not die, but hatches into a fly, rather than a place of eternal torment where the worm does not die and the fire never stops burning the damned.
      Contextualization turns the atonement into a ransom and a Christus Victor raiding/harrowing of hell instead of a penal substitution of God’s wrath. It makes Jesus “being an offering to God,” instead of just being “accursed” the meaning behind calling Jesus anathema.
      Contextualizing the Bible upends the last 1500 years of solid church doctrine in a puff of wind, and dismantles the whole reformation and its purpose.
      The Bible cannot be contestualized. If it isn’t universal in its scope, then it might as well be obsolete and dead.

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