1 Corinthians 2:6–16 and the Doctrine of Illumination -- By: J. B. Hixson

Journal: Journal of Ministry and Theology
Volume: JMAT 09:2 (Fall 2005)
Article: 1 Corinthians 2:6–16 and the Doctrine of Illumination
Author: J. B. Hixson


1 Corinthians 2:6–16 and the Doctrine of Illumination

J. B. Hixson

Assistant Academic Dean College of Biblical Studies, Houston, Texas

What role does the Holy Spirit play in helping believers to interpret Scripture correctly? This topic often is referred to as the doctrine of illumination. Paul Enns’s definition represents the common understanding of this doctrine: Illumination is “the ministry of the Holy Spirit in enlightening the believer, enabling the believer to understand the Word of God.”1 Klooster concurs when he writes that the Holy Spirit’s role is indispensable “for discerning the true meaning of the Spirit-breathed Scripture.”2 But does the Holy Spirit really enable the believer to understand the Bible? Is there a direct connection between accurate interpretation and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers? Although there are many passages that one might review when studying the subject of the Holy Spirit’s role in interpretation, the scope of this present study is limited to one key passage, 1 Corinthians 2:6–16, and its relevance to the doctrine of illumination.3 This passage is widely considered to be the central passage on the subject.4

Literary Considerations

Sitz im Leben of First Corinthians

Sitz im Leben is a German term that can be translated “setting in life” and was first used by Herman Gunkel, a nineteenth-century German OT scholar. It refers to the historical and social milieu during which a given literary work was produced. Regarding 1 Corinthians, the historical and social setting of the epistle are particularly important.

The ancient city of Corinth was an ethnic melting pot and served as a commercial crossroads in the Roman Empire. Corinth, the capital of the Roman province of Achaia, had a population that consisted of migrants from Italy, native Greeks and some transplanted Jews.5 Geographically, its nearness to the seas and its proximity to Athens (45 miles to the northeast), positioned Corinth as a city of “strategic commercial importance and military defense.”6 Due to its cultural diversity, the city became one of the most religiously pluralistic and amoral in the entire Roman Empire. The Greek goddess Aphrodite, whose temple stood atop a mountain south of the city, was worship...

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