As we approach a serious Bible study of a topic as misunderstood and divisive as the Holy Spirit, it bears repeating that careful and correct methods of study are of vital importance. When any topic is being considered, whether it is the Holy Spirit, salvation, or who cut off whose ear in the garden, the reality is that God revealed only one truth. That means that if two of us disagree about that topic, then we cannot both be right, but we can both be wrong. The only way for us to find true unity and agreement is for us both to agree with God.
That being the case, I believe that it will be helpful to take some time to refresh a few significant principles of Bible study that will have a direct bearing on our understanding of the Holy Spirit as He reveals Himself in Scripture. As this study moves forward I will be referring back to these principles, so keeping these ideas close at hand as you study these things might be helpful for drawing your own conclusions.
Good Bible study should bring us closer together
Division and disunity in the religious world cannot be the product of God, because He is “not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Corinthians 14:33). That means that it can only have one of two causes. Either it is the result of stubborn self-will, or it is caused by an honest misunderstanding of Truth due to poor study or improper conclusions. It is my contention that most of us approach the Scriptures with an honest desire to better understand the truth. If that belief is correct, then most confusion and disagreement can be solved by careful and accurate Bible study.
I might take a moment here to recommend a couple of great books on the subject of Bible study that will offer a more thorough and in-depth consideration of these principles that space allows here: Common Sense Rules of Bible Study by Foy Glenn Forehand, and How To Study the Bible by Kevin W. Rhodes. Both of these titles are available from Azimuth Media, and they form the backbone of the hermeneutics course in the preaching schools where I am working in Africa.
Good Bible Study Doesn’t Use Manmade Terminology
As we embark on a study of the third person of the Godhead, we do well to remember that the first major division in church history, and perhaps the majority of the great doctrinal battles that were fought throughout church history were over the understanding of this very topic. I believe that much of the division was caused by simple misunderstandings in which both parties truly believed the same thing, but they used different words to describe their beliefs, or assigned different meanings to the same words. In so doing, they “talked past” each other, with neither truly hearing and understanding the other.
One source of such problems is the introduction of terminology that is completely foreign to Scripture. I have heard people discussing the work of the Holy Spirit and speak of a “non-miraculous supernatural event.” Besides the fact that I’m not even sure what that term means since it seems inherently self-contradictory; one will not be able to find those words in any Bible concordance. This is not really substantially different from words like “Homoiousia,” which became the fault line for the division at the first council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
If we are going to understand the Holy Spirit or any Bible topic in exactly the way that the Spirit revealed it, then it is most helpful that we try to limit our vocabulary, and the definitions of those words, to that used in Scripture to speak to the matter at hand. In other words, let’s use Bible names to describe Bible ideas. If we cannot find an idea in the Bibe, then it cannot be pertinent to our understanding of the topic as revealed in the Bible.
Good Bible Study Does Not Rely on Quotations from Men
One common debate tactic is the counting of noses. In order to bolster a particular position, a list of well-respected men who also held that view is presented. Quotes from some of those men that sound intelligent or pithy can often lend weight to such arguments. The basic line of reasoning is that if brother so-and-so believed the same way I do, and he was a great Bible scholar, then you must think you’re smarter than him if you disagree with me. Or worse yet, you must be a fool to disagree with this great list of smart men. Typically brother so-and-so is no longer living to clarify the position he held, which makes it easy to represent his views the way you want them to be.
Knowing what this brother or that brother said on a topic brings us no closer to a true understanding of what the Bible actually says on the topic, and it is what the Bible says that matters.
He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak.
For that reason, as this study moves forward, you will find that I do not consult any extra-Biblical sources. My only concern is to wrestle with the Scriptures to learn what the Spirit reveals about Himself, nothing less, and nothing more.
Good Bible Study Does Not Create New Doctrines
That statement seems pretty self-evident. Yet, when difficult Bible topics are studied, such as the Holy Spirit, it is not uncommon for new doctrines to emerge. If the study of a topic results in the creation of a doctrine that cannot be found in the pages of Scripture, then something has gone badly awry.
Many of the doctrines surrounding the Holy Spirit are exactly that, new doctrines. That’s the type of thing that Paul warned us about.
I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed.
As together we embark on this rich study, let us hold these basic principles in mind. As together we seek, not to advance our own agendas, but to discover the truth as God revealed it, we will grow closer together in unity, and more importantly closer to our God as we learn more about Him.